Living downtown in Alphabet City, I don’t often get a taste of “old New York.” Sure, we have classic East Village dive bars like Lucy’s and Doc Holliday’s, but there’s something about the Upper East Side’s white-gloved doormen and regal architecture that still gives me a little thrill.
I was invited to brunch at Paola’s after sampling their delicious catering at a recent event at a stunning Villeroy & Boch showroom visit. If their brunch was anything like their bite-sized crostini, I knew I was in for a treat. I asked my friend Meghan to join me for the occasion as she too is Italian and resides in the Upper East Side.
We were promptly seated in a sunny dining room accented with white tablecloths and fresh roses. Smartly dressed elderly couples and large families surrounded us, many arriving straight from Sunday church in the neighborhood. The eatery truly had a neighborhood feel as Paola herself mingled with diners on a first-name basis.
Mimosas arrived with a flourish and we began to survey the expansive brunch menu. It contained a nice mix of traditional breakfast fare and lunch entrees and we had a difficult time deciding between the various house made pastas, egg dishes, and salads with brunch accouterments. Ultimately, Meghan and I trusted our attentive server’s recommendations and split a few items.
After reading the description of the warm mozzarella with peppers and fresh basil, it was a no brainer. As an extremely thoughtful touch, the Paola’s staff split all of our menu items in beautifully plated half portions so we didn’t need to awkwardly transfer food from plate to plate. This small plate was the perfect start to our meal. The mozzarella was gooey, the peppers were flavorful, and the basil was refreshing. We consumed enough to warm up our appetites for the impending feast, but saved room for the main courses.
Next was the uova con polenta tartufata, or poached eggs with truffled mushrooms and polenta. Mushrooms are one of my favorite vegetables, not to mention when infused with truffle oil. The eggs were perfectly poached and the runny yolks complemented the warm polenta cake. My only qualm was that this dish was a tad rich, but we had knowingly opted into a decadent brunch.
Next was the insalata di asparagi con uova, an asparagus salad with poached eggs, a light, healthy dish that was a far-cry from the lavish polenta plate. The asparagus was lightly grilled and still a little crunchy, just how I like it. It was a refreshing bite and we were glad to get our veggies in.
Saving the best for last, we both gasped when bowls of fresh pasta with thick cuts of white truffles were placed before us. Neither of us had ever been served such generous portions of truffles and immediately whipped out our phones for Instagram fodder. It didn’t happen if you never posted it, right? This dish was the star of the show and Paola graced us with her presence to explain its various elements. It was cooked perfectly al dente and didn’t require much sauce as the truffles were overpowering in flavor, in the very best way. Neither of us could finish our half portions at this point in our gastronomic adventure, but we savored every bite.
Just when we thought we couldn’t handle any more food, the dessert and coffee menu arrived. We both digested over traditional Italian espressos while our server convinced us to sample one sweet treat. Given my propensity towards anything chocolate, he didn’t need to twist my arm too hard to settle on the ricotta and mascarpone cheesecake. This was a little slice of heaven wrapped in dreamy dark chocolate and cream. We could only muster a bite or two, but we ended our meal with a sugar high.
Pushing through an eminent food coma, we followed Paola around the restaurant for a quick tour of the kitchen and walked right past Jon Hamm enjoying his own brunch quietly at the corner table. An A-list celebrity sighting sealed the deal that Paola’s was a locally revered Italian mainstay in this Upper East Side corner.
The Bitches say: A-. We adored the white tablecloths, stellar service, and home-cooked Italian at this neighborhood establishment. Perfect for brunch with your family or a fancy pants get together with girlfriends.
1295 Madison Ave.
New York, NY
(Upper East Side)
Paola’s serves brunch on Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.