You know that friend of yours who tries too hard to dress fashionably? The one who has just a few too many colors, or accessories, or flourishes, to the point where it overwhelms? Norma’s is that friend.
In fairness, if you are looking for the best breakfast in New York, Norma’s has to be high on your list. Located at the Parker Meridien Hotel, Norma’s is open every day until 3 pm and serves breakfast that whole time. Norma’s is a great option on weekends, and a fantastic alternative to the usual lunch spots. In 2002, Eric Asimov described Norma’s breakfasts as “more fairy tale than real,” and a decade later — with Norma’s serving up cheesecake-stuffed French toast, a $1000 lobster frittata (with 10 oz. of caviar), or a $5,022 Caesar salad (which, in fairness, comes with the Presidential Suite) — the description is still true, even if the prices are higher. But in the quest to be “fairy tale,” Norma’s tries too hard, to the point where the dishes don’t quite hold together.
One interesting thing about Norma’s is the little “shot” of juice that starts off each meal. I’m actually missing notes on exactly what this juice was, but I think it was some sort of orange-grapefruit-miscellaneous blend. Whatever it was, it was pretty good, and It’s a neat little touch — a play on the idea of an amuse you’d get at a typical restaurant, but (at least the two times I’ve been) a juice that goes well with breakfast foods.
Norma’s, as you might expect, does a good job with vegetarian options. The majority of the sweet options, and a good number of the savory options, are vegetarian friendly. Most of these options are things you’d expect (eggs, pancakes, etc.), but you would not expect Norma’s take on them. Think chocolate waffle with peanut butter and toffee crunch, or mango-papaya brown butter cinnamon crepes. On the savory side, there are Arepas (which presumably can be made without the chorizo) and, on the weekends, grilled cheese with “magic mushrooms.”
I got the “Artychoked” Benedict. This is one of Norma’s several takes on Eggs Benedict. Here, the eggs are delicately perched atop some artichokes, smothered in a porcini mushroom and truffle sauce. The sauce is great and an improvement over the Hollandaise that is typical of the dish. The artichokes are served with some home fries, which pair really well with the mushroom/truffle sauce. The artichoke is a little hard to get through, though, and it doesn’t absorb the poached egg the way an English muffin might on traditional Eggs Benedict. So you have runny eggs mixed with the potatoes, and then a big hunk of artichoke that’s left over looking lonely. I get the sense that Norma’s isn’t always thinking at this level of detail — they are trying to be cute and clever, which they often are, but sometimes that gets in the way of putting together a dish that actually works.
I went to lunch with some friends and we could not decide if we wanted a sweet or savory dish. Eventually we decided that we would order savory dishes and then split a sweet dish: the “Donut Even Go There French Toast,” which is described as being “Cheesecake-Stuffed, Coconut-Rolled With Orange Drizzle and Vanilla Ice Cream.”
Well it was exactly as described. I cannot imagine how one person could finish it themselves, at least without getting diabetes halfway through eating it. And if it wasn’t sweet enough as it was — I am not making this up — it was served with Maple syrup.
Cheesecake, or French toast, or ice cream, would have been enough of a dessert by itself. Combined, they were a bit much. We cut the monstrosity into quarters but I barely had a bite before throwing in the proverbial towel.
Overall, Norma’s is a good option for lunch, if only to mix up the usual and have “breakfast for lunch” in a nice restaurant (as opposed to a diner). Norma’s puts together outlandish and whimsical dishes–but they try a bit too hard. On the eggs, the porcini sauce would probably be enough; no need to force the artichokes onto the scene. The French toast would do well to ditch the cheesecake or the ice cream, or both. In fairness, there are lots of things on the menu I haven’t tried. But given the few things I’ve had so far, I’m not itching to go back. Two and a half stars.