the grande dame of brunch
August 25, 2006

While we're on the subject of other people opening up their tiny kitchens to cook, my friend Jillian must be given her due for hands down the best brunch in town (and I'm including Sarabeth's on that list). She and her husband have just moved into a new apartment on Central Park South, which comes complete with a mirrored-wall living room, the world's best back yard and—you can't have everything—a very tiny kitchen.

But Jillian has always had the ability to extract wonders from a tiny kitchen (or from the very large, rather ill-kept kitchen courtesy of Columbia grad-student housing that she had when I first met her). She can successfully roast garlic in a lasagna, find space to brine a turkey for eight in an apartment that barely holds two—and feed me fat-free half-and-half all morning without my noticing. (She added cinnamon.) That Jillian can dish out such feasts and still adhere to low-fat dictums is nothing short of miraculous.

There is very little, however, that is low-fat about the Blue Cheese Cheesecake, the star of this particular brunch and served alongside a watercress salad (I think this is part of a deconstructing trend in food—or at least that's what Bon Appétit would suggest). Sure, she says you can use fat-free cream (?!), but this breakfast food is as decadent as they come. I eat three helpings, and then I kind of want to curl up in a ball and hibernate.

But that's only the beginning: She's made two quiches (Lorraine and a goat cheese-carmelized onions variety, pretty decadent in its own right); hash brown casserole; french toast casserole (the opposite of deconstructing food?); tomatoes stuffed with orzo and salmon; and a too-pretty-to-eat tiered dish of yogurt, granola and fruit.

The next morning I'm standing in my own kitchen, uninspired. Krista is coming for brunch, and there's no way I can reproduce the culinary fireworks of yesterday. Sure, I think my scrambled eggs are pretty good (and I've even refined them with advice from Jean-George and Mark Bittman). They're softly scrambled, with goat cheese and pimentón—but rich, gooey goat cheese quiche they are not. I wrap cantaloupe in prosciutto, which admittedly sounds elegant, but through my later child years my mother packed these in every picnic basket I ever needed, so to me they seem a little too tried-and-true. And I finish us off with a green salad of blueberries, hearts of palm and avocados that ought to have arugula, but I can't be bothered to walk to the further-away store that might have it.

So I face the fact that the modus operandi of my tiny kitchen (at least until I attempt that Blue Cheese Cheesecake), might be simplicity. And as I think this, I can hear my boss repeating his favorite phrase: "Simplicity is the keynote of elegance."

That may be so, but nothing is as elegant as a deconstructed watercress and blue cheese salad.