Special are the moments when travel uncovers a memorable culinary experience. Nigiri sushi near the waterfront, homemade Linguine Puttanesca after the theater, or perhaps charbroiled burgers and thick shakes at a neighborhood pub. It's no secret that one of the first thing travelers do when planning a new trip is check out the food. Perhaps more than any other destination, New York City — with its five famous boroughs and distinctive food offerings — entices travelers with unique culinary experiences. Sunday Brunch at the venerable Waldorf Astoria Hotel is one of these.
The Waldorf Astoria has been serving a lavish Sunday brunch at its Peacock Alley Restaurant to its discerning guests for 40 years and remains the only NYC hotel to offer such an elaborate affair week after week. Expertly supervised by Director of Culinary David Garcelon, seasonal specials are added often and many items are changed each week. The most popular dishes remain the classics: Eggs Benedict, which are made to order on house-made English muffins, Beef Wellington, carved by one of the friendly chefs on hand, and chilled North Atlantic lobster and oysters. The pastry chefs' display is always a big hit as well.
Peacock Alley has been the place to be seen in Manhattan for many decades and Sunday Brunch extends the restaurant into the lobby and around the historic clock. As such, there is always a crowd watching which offers a great atmosphere as people enjoy the food and make multiple visits to the stations. On average, 400 to 600 guests enjoy the festivities each Sunday, about half of whom are hotel guests with the other half being tourists or locals. Attire is a mix of business, chic and elegant.
"The buffet is quite impressive in our lobby so it attracts a lot of attention from our in-house guests," explains Garcelon. "From a culinary perspective we try to give a stunning visual display on our buffet and friendly service from the six chefs at the buffet. Of course, everything needs to taste spectacular as well."
Executive Chef Garcelon took his first kitchen position at the age of 14 and soon recognized his love of food and culinary passion. Throughout his career, Garcelon has consistently developed his culinary expertise to successfully lead some of the largest hotel kitchens in the world.
"As someone who has worked in hotels for the majority of my career, the opportunity to be part of The Waldorf Astoria is something I have always dreamed of," he remarks. "Leading kitchens where numerous iconic dishes were created instills a powerful drive to expand upon and innovate the hotel's culinary offerings."
The Waldorf Astoria is credited with the creation of such American staples as veal Oscar, lobster Newburg, eggs Benedict and — of course — the Waldorf salad. The hotel helped popularize culinary traditions like Thousand Island dressing and red velvet cake.
"We work very closely with our vendors to ensure that all of our cooks have the best ingredients," says Garcelon. "We try to cook with the seasons and in particular we look at what fresh seafood and vegetables are in the market each week. We have smoked salmon custom smoked for us by a company in the Catskills that is very popular, for Brunch we add several different flavored smoked salmon such as bourbon peppered, pastrami salmon and vodka dill along with smoked sturgeon, smoked trout and mackerel."
Words to the wise: Pace yourself. Considering the buffet's bounty, guests don't know which way to turn first. Brunch normally features two soups, such as a delectable garden vegetable soup made from scratch every morning using a rich vegetable stock garnished with mixed seasonal vegetables. A salad of Heirloom tomatoes, fresh sliced mozzarella, sweet basil, red wine vinaigrette and Micro arugula is delightfully presented. Bourbon pepper salmon, Scottish smoked salmon and Tequila cilantro salmon — along with smoked rainbow trout — head the appetizer selections.
Sumptuous chicken apple sausages made from ground chicken thighs mixed with spices and diced apple stuffed into sausage casings are pan fried for a golden brown color. Crispy applewood-smoked bacon offer a welcomed meaty texture. Of course, why limit oneself to breakfast foods when a raw bar featuring caviar, clams, oysters, shrimps and crabs is only a few steps away? The temptation is too great.
Carving stations also receive a lot of attention from guests, and the aroma of Beef Wellington and roasted leg of lamb permeates the room. Other entrees include tender Airline chicken breasts that are pan-seared, skin side down, and then finished in the oven. The accompanying spaghetti squash is roasted with butter, thyme and salt and seasoned with black truffle oil, salt, butter and chives. Succulent duck breasts are highlighted by a mushroom ragout made with sauteed mushrooms, butter, garlic, cloves and thyme topped with Broccolini. Lastly, a majestic chocolate fondue fountain is surrounded by over 100 gourmet desserts. Don't miss the Croissant Bread Pudding whose custard is made with milk eggs honey cinnamon and rum.
According to Garcelon, there are many challenges he and his skilled staff of 60 face when planning Sunday brunch. "We all enjoy planning the menu and preparing for brunch, but the biggest challenge perhaps is coordinating the setup of the huge buffet we build in the lobby each week," he notes. "The team starts very early Sunday morning after the Peacock Bar closes and we are adding the finishing touches of food until just before we start seating guests."
The chefs can accommodate special dietary requests with gluten free breads and pasta, and there are items for guests who are lactose intolerant as well. Peacock Alley has a strong local following of regular guests and many that come for family occasions, such as birthdays. However, they always have spaces reserved for hotel guests.
The next time you're in New York City it's wise to take a delicious bite of the big Apple by enjoying Sunday brunch at the Waldorf, a truly memorable culinary experience. Brunch is served every Sunday from 10 to 2:30 p.m. and a Mimosa or Champagne glass is served to each guest — but not until noon according to state laws. Cost is $98 per adult and $68 per child (ages 5-11), plus taxes and gratuity.