May 15, 2016

The Stars Align for Madeline’s Brunch

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Do you believe in fate? I didn’t — until one recent Saturday afternoon as I sat in a café  downtown, writing my latest Sun article and researching a paper for class. Like any good student, after staring at a blank screen for an hour, I was starving. I packed up my laptop and walked out onto the Commons.

Four serendipitous conditions aligned: (1) Despite being late April, it was freezing out and (2) I was naïve enough to be wearing only a light jacket. (3) Madeline’s happened to be the closest restaurant to me and (4) I recalled seeing a sign announcing that they now served lunch. Desperate to escape the cold, I hurried inside.

To my surprise, Madeline’s wasn’t serving lunch; it was serving weekend brunch. Even better! Brunch is my favorite meal of the day. I spend my free time scoping out brunch menus in Ithaca. So why hadn’t I heard that Madeline’s, one of my favorite dinner locations, served brunch? Well, here’s the most fateful occurrence of all: This was their first day serving brunch. And I was their first customer.

I love good food. But I also love good dining experiences. I love restaurants where you can sit for hours and not notice the time passing. I love restaurants that offer more than food to sit over while you make small talk. I believe that dining should be an event. Madeline’s was able to offer this.

I was expecting a traditional brunch menu, but there was no menu. Instead, Madeline’s was offering a dim sum-style brunch. Other than eating egg rolls in the dining halls at 10 in the morning, I had never tried a dim sum brunch, nor did I know what it entailed.

Essentially, the waiter comes around with a tray filled with dishes that you can either eat by yourself or share with the table. He explains what each dish is and you choose whatever sounds good to you and take it from the tray. The best part is that as soon as you’ve finished all the plates at your table, the waiter comes back around with an entirely new tray of food. It’s like a continuous bombardment of delicious food, a meal that never ends. I’m pretty sure I’ve dreamed about this.

At Madeline’s, the chef didn’t hold back in creating these dishes. Everything was amazing and the portions were fairly large.

Madeline’s has long marketed itself as an Asian fusion restaurant, which always used to confuse me, as very few of its options seemed geared toward that cuisine. In the past year, its menu has transitioned closer to this Asian fusion brand, which their brunch really solidified.

The brunch menu drew inspiration from Thailand, Vietnam and other Southeastern Asian influences. The first dish I had, which ended up being one of my favorites, was a brunch banh mi. Their brunch version was a playful twist on the Vietnamese traditional sandwich that incorporated the same sauces and flavors but also contained scrambled eggs and sausage. The rest of the menu spanned from more traditional dim sum dishes like egg rolls and dumplings to more creative and unique options such as sesame eggplant (I don’t even like eggplant, but this version was delicious) and kimchi pancakes.

One of the nicest parts of the experience was that the waiter took note of what kinds of dishes I was selecting and had the chef cater the menu selection to my taste. He ended up coming around four times with four different trays and I tried a lot more dishes than I intended. I was genuinely terrified for the bill — had I just accidentally spent my last paycheck? But to my surprise (and to the relief of my bank account), each dish was only $4.95 — extremely reasonable, especially if you share each one with a friend.

Since I was their inaugural customer, Madeline’s was kind enough to give me free brunch dessert: a plate of cream puffs with caramel on top and a tiramisu. Madeline’s is known for their desserts, and these were some of the best I’ve ever had there. It’s unclear whether they will be offering brunch desserts every weekend, and I’m no business expert, but I believe it would be in the best interest of everyone involved if they did.

In typical-for-me fashion, I went back the next weekend. They were offering free mimosas and an entirely new menu of dim sum dishes. The portions had nearly doubled in size since the previous week, but the prices had remained the same. They weren’t offering special brunch desserts (Madeline’s, if you’re reading this: start those back up!), but everything else was just as good as it was the previous weekend.

I tend to latch onto favorite restaurants, and Madeline’s is definitely going to be my new go-to brunch spot. If you want a real dining experience with top-notch food, go to Madeline’s next weekend from noon to 3 p.m. Maybe, if fate will have it, I’ll be there too.