I was so looking forward to a weekend in the city around the holidays, to celebrate co-Bitch Becca’s holiday housewarming, meet a dear friend’s newborn, and celebrate another’s 30th. The things you love at 30. The weekend would conclude with a low-key brunch with one of my nearest and dearest, Dani, who is a successful magazine editor at Cosmopolitan and has been my friend since I was 16 in Florida, getting too tipsy to drive my Mustang convertible home. She is so gracious as to not retell these stories but then I often blow my own cover.
Located conveniently on Bleeker street in the bustling West Village, Pagani is inconspicuous. So much so that I walked right past it when my Uber dropped me off. I had to redouble my steps and turn right around. I blustered in from the cold to meet Danielle, who is always prompt to our brunch dates despite knowing me for almost 15 years.
We began with black coffees, and a mimosa for me. The cocktail menu at Pagani offers $2.89 mimosas and Bloodys, a cheeky homage to its address on Bleeker Street. Additional cocktails with an Italian flair, like an Aperol Spritz and a Bellini, are available on the menu for $10-12.
The food menu has a great variety of egg dishes like omelets and Benedicts, a selection of pancakes, salads, and sweet treats like Nutella French toast and cinnamon Challah French toast. There are also classic dishes that you’d expect from an Italian restaurant, like spaghetti, tagliatelle, and carbonara.
Danielle and I were eager to catch up and in no rush to get back to our respective offices and continue working. So, we opted to share everything, from appetizers to pancakes for dessert.
We ordered a smattering of appetizers, both healthy and not. The biscuits were large, dense and most, but unfortunately not, warm or fluffy. That said, they were pretty good biscuits, made even better by being served with honey butter.
We Bitches are particular about our fruit plates, and this one met our high standards. It comprised sliced bananas, granny smith apples, blueberries, strawberries and orange slices, with a dollop of yogurt in the center. It was large enough and easy to share, and made us feel healthier instantly.
The real winner of the meal was the burrata. Plated simply and topped with pine nuts, the burrata was served with beautiful veggies— carrots, celery, watermelon radish, and zucchini—sliced ever so thinly and dressed lightly in olive oil. It was fresh and perfect; an absolute perfect starter for sharing at brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Then, it was time for our entrees—an omelet for Danielle, the poached eggs and the “Eggs of New York” for me. When in Rome, as they say. We also ordered a side of bacon, as always. the bacon was crispy and delicious. Not too oily, not too crispy, but just right.
Meanwhile, Danielle’s omelet was presented with a light, fresh salad and crispy hash browns. I couldn’t envision a better, simple set of side dishes: the salad comprised shaved radishes, shaved carrots, halved cherry tomatoes and mixed greens dressed lightly in a vinaigrette. The hash browns were cubed, salted and crispy. Absolutely delightful. Of the four omelet options, she selected the spinach and goat cheese, which was clean, simple and well-executed.
We chose to sample the chestnut banana pancakes, which happened to be gluten free. The tall stack was topped with powdered sugar, sliced bananas, and served with a side of classic syrup. The hotcakes had great flavor, particularly when drenched in syrup, which played well with the nuttiness and bananas. They were a bit too crumbly and dry, but unfortunately that seems to be the nature of gluten-free pastries.
As this was a complimentary brunch—and the service had been hit-or-miss—they tried to curry our favor by bringing out dessert. And, let’s be real: dessert usually helps your case. Sadly, these desserts were just average—an Italian restaurant in Manhattan should make great dessert. All of these sweets were cream cheese based: a cheese cake, a tiramisu, and panna cotta.
As I love tiramisu, I was disappointed in this one, which was all cream and lacked flavor. I kept digging for more flavor and more lady fingers—or at least that was my excuse—only to be disappointed on the second bite. Similarly, the cheesecake had a great consistency but was pretty lacking in everything else.
While I tend to prefer chocolate to fruit in my dessert, I favored the panna cotta, topped with a thick strawberry sauce and a pistachio crumble. It had a smooth, subtle consistency and a great flavor, without being too sweet or too overpowering.
The Bitches say: B-. The space is cozy, bordering on dingy, and the service lackluster. But the location is prime, the food is surprisingly good, and the mimosas are bottomless.
289 Bleeker Street
New York, NY
Pagani serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays starting at 11 a.m.