French toast: What a difference a week (and a change of scenery) makes. Brunch at Le Central, 112 East Eighth Avenue, was a world away from the previous Sunday's meal at Firefly Cafe. I ordered the same dish--eggs Benedict--and paid 45 cents less ($4.95) than at Firefly, but this time received big, fluffy, toasted English muffins, real hollandaise and smoky Canadian bacon. For the same price, my husband had an omelette filled with bacon, Brie, goat cheese and sauteed leeks. Both meals came with steamed asparagus, parsleyed carrots and a tomato Provencal. Despite the crowd, the staff was cheerful and we were in and out in forty minutes.
Spirited away: A late work night and lack of wheels left me looking for a meal within walking distance--and I found myself at a rather crowded City Spirit Cafe, at 1525 Blake Street. The hostess kindly pulled two tables apart to squeeze me in, and I thoroughly enjoyed a hearty bowl of the linguini with marinara sauce and garlic bread ($5.25). The marinara had a hint of heat and lots of fresh tomato chunks; the garlic bread was soft and buttery. A serving of what City Spirit calls banana cream pie ($3.75) was a glorious pile of mashed bananas and whipped (a bit overwhipped) cream sprinkled with cashews; the whole mess was blessedly unsweet and even tasted healthy. On my way back to the office, I was stopped by a gentleman who almost scared the meal out of me when he popped from a doorway to ask for the time. After telling him it was 7:50 (and privately giving thanks for daylight savings time), he asked, "Daytime or night?" "Night," I answered. "Oh, shit," he said, lurching out onto the sidewalk. "Wait," he commanded, stopping me with a filthy hand. "Is this Friday or Saturday?" Friday, I replied, and he bowed his head and gave thanks. "I thought I was late for work," he sighed. As we parted ways, he shook his head. "See what drinking can do?"
Labor of love: The April issue of Food Arts Magazine has a story about a salad that's been credited with sending overdue pregnant women into labor. The salad and its dressing, creations of Caioti owner Ed LaDou, has people driving to the California restaurant from as far as 400 miles away; according to author John G. Watson, doctors say it's entirely possible that the "combination of vinegar and spices might contain the types of ergot alkaloid derivatives that could indeed induce labor." Over the phone, LaDou told me he's sold at least 2,500 bottles of the dressing in the past year, and that pregnant women are now a regular part of his clientele. Although he has no statistics as to how many have gone into labor after dining at his restaurant, "it's a significant enough number that word of mouth keeps orders coming in," he says. "Even if it doesn't work," he adds, "it's a good meal."
I may try it myself when the time comes. Fortunately, LaDou told me I can order the salad recipe (lettuce, walnuts, Gorgonzola and watercress) and a bottle of the dressing (a basil/balsamic vinaigrette) by phone (213-650-2988) for $35--it's sent Federal Express. Talk about special delivery.