It was a month or two ago that my friends Paige, Alex and Adrian first began raving about the brunch at Saro Bistro on the Lower East Side. Their eyes widened as they spoke and there were all sorts of passionate exclamations. It is when your non-foodie friends sing the praises of a restaurant that you know it has got to be truly special, and on a recent weekend, Rene and I met with Alex and Paige for this promising meal.
Executed by Israeli-born chef Eran Elhalal, the menu at Saro Bistro seeks to revive the comfort foods of two long lost empires – the Austro–Hungarian and the Ottoman. The restaurant is named after Elhalal’s grandmother and the recipes are hers, too.
The homey Norfolk Street space seats twelve, plus a handful more by the reclaimed wood bar, so you’d be lucky to score a table during brunch for which reservations are not accepted. The walls are wallpapered, the tables and chairs are wooden, the flowers are fresh, and the vintage china and silverware don’t match. Being inside Saro feels more like paying a visit to your Eastern European grandma’s than performing the oft-rushed ritual that is brunch in New York.
While deciding what to order, the friendly waitress enticed us with complimentary warm sugar doughnuts and already I felt at home, as these reminded me of the phantom ponchiki of my childhood. I started with a unique cocktail called the Pijani Pear, consisting of house-made rakija (a Balkan fruit brandy), preserved pear, mint and soda water. The drink was only slightly sweet, and the warmth from the brandy was a welcome respite from the freezing conditions outside.
Rene sweetening his tea with an old-timey sugar cube.
Following Paige’s lead, I ordered the Saro a.b.l.e. – an egg sandwich featuring a slab of bacon, arugula and aivar – a house-made roasted pepper and eggplant spread – served on lepinja, a traditional Yugoslavian bread (house-made as well). The chef served us himself and even suggested that we try his spicy mayo to dip our fries into. All the sandwich ingredients were superbly fresh, and the accompanying fries, absolutely divine – well browned yet soft on the inside, exactly how I like them. The star of this dish for me was the aivar. Up until this meal, I was sure that this condiment/dip was Russian since it has graced every holiday table I’ve seen throughout my life, but I guess its roots reach farther than I expected. It tasted exactly like my mother’s – smoky and slightly acidic.
Rene’s Saro Benedict.
Short rib hash for the table.
In conclusion, Saro Bistro is a truly authentic, unique and warm place. Its limited size allows the staff to really focus on and perfect each dish, which you can sense as you eat. I am glad that some of the foods I grew up eating are finally getting exposure in the NYC dining scene and am excited to see what’s in store for this restaurant.