Place: Cafe Lalo
Neighborhood: Upper West Side, 201 W. 83rd St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Note: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, no photos accompany this review.
The scoop: With a week off for the holidays, my mom and I made our way to the Upper West Side for a midweek brunch at Cafe Lalo, one of the few restaurants in NYC that serves brunch on weekdays. Cafe Lalo seemed like the perfect spot for us since parts of “You’ve Got Mail” — a movie my mom loves — were filmed in the cafe.
From the outside Cafe Lalo looks like a cute, quaint cafe. I did like how the restaurant wasn’t on street level. Rather, you have to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the entrance. Once you’re inside, though, you’ll soon realize it’s more like a zoo. They pack in the people and lots of small tables — so many that the servers had a hard time of getting to tables. (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks had a lot more space.) While we were waiting for a table, we were wedged between the counter/bakery case and the tables where people were eating. There was no room anywhere!
The cafe was decorated nicely for the holidays, and there were French posters on the walls. We were seated at a small table by the window in the corner of the restaurant. There were three chairs at our table, and I have no idea how a third person would have fit. I had to literally climb over one of the seats to get to another seat. French music played in the background, but it was hard to hear because of the chatter of nearby tables. The diverse clientele was mainly tourists that spoke different languages. I was surprised by how much of a tourist trap Cafe Lalo was. I didn’t think people would travel to the Upper West Side to eat at a place where a movie was filmed, but, boy, was I very wrong.
The service was below average. Our server was slow and wasn’t knowledgeable about the menu. Nearly every item on the menu was overpriced ($15 for quiche? C’mon.).
Bossa Nova $8 / Champagne with Amaretto
We were pleasantly surprised that Cafe Lalo offered 10 different brunch cocktails, all with a champagne base. There was too much Amaretto in the Bossa Nova for my liking. It dominated the drink. Stephanie and I both agreed the Rose Petal was better.
Rose Petal $8 / Champagne with Chambord
The Rose Petal cocktail was one of Cafe Lalo’s few bright spots. The touch of Chambord gave the drink a sweet taste and a pretty pink hue. I would imagine it’s hard to mess up a drink with only two ingredients, but it wouldn’t have surprised me at Cafe Lalo.
Chew on this:
Authentic Belgian waffle $13 / Served with your choice of plain yogurt or plain or cinnamon whipped cream, seasonal fruits or strawberries and pure Vermont maple syrup
I was so excited for my waffle, but after one bite, all excitement was zapped. The waffle was ice cold! I can’t believe they actually served food that cold. Normally, Belgian waffles are warm and fluffy. This waffle was all crust. There was no substance to it. It may have been the worst Belgian waffle I’ve ever had. The strawberries were fresh, but that was the only good thing about this dish. The cinnamon whipped cream was actually plain whipped cream with cinnamon sprinkled on top. A cinnamon shaker was on every table, so even if I ordered the plain whipped cream, I could have made it into their “cinnamon whipped cream.”
Viennese Breakfast $6.75 / Your choice of fresh danish (apricot, blueberry or walnut) served with hot chocolate, cappuccino or Viennese coffee
None of the food items on the menu caught my eye. They did catch the attention of my wallet, though. I wanted to try one of the hot drinks, and since I don’t like coffee, the Viennese Breakfast was my best bet. I went with the blueberry danish, and I’m convinced they use the term “fresh” pretty lightly. You know those prepackaged danishes delis have? That’s what this danish tasted like. The blueberry filling was lumpy and had a weird texture. The hot chocolate was way too chocolatey. I didn’t like it at all. I tried to mask the unnecessarily strong chocolate taste by adding whipped cream from the waffle to the drink, but to no avail. The two large marshmallows that were served on a stirrer across the mug were good. They were warm and gooey after sitting in the drink for a while. To sum it up, this dish was a big waste of calories.
The final bite: Our brunch experience at Cafe Lalo was extremely disappointing. If, for some reason, you have your heart set on Cafe Lalo (although I highly recommend going elsewhere), go for a cup of coffee and steer clear of brunch.
Reviewed by: Stephanie