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Niu Kitchen's Unconventional Catalan Brunch: Cardamon Mimosas, Watermelon Gazpacho, and Ribs

If you're looking for a brunch to rid you of all the prior night's mistakes by way of pancakes slathered in condensed milk and topped with cereal or cookies-and-cream French toast, Niu Kitchen's Saturday and Sunday affair might not be for you.

If you are, however, looking for inventive, hearty, and delectable Catalan fare that will satisfy even the most insatiable gourmand, head to this downtown gem for a brunch unlike any other in town.

Owners Karina Iglesias and Deme Lomas decided to begin serving the popular breakfast-meets-lunch mashup at their small space for the extra business. And although during New Times' visit, Iglesias called the offerings "OK," we were amped.

Brunch is by no means a custom in Spain. In fact, breakfast is often overlooked (except for coffee). Thus, weekend mornings are usually spent sleeping off last night's alcohol binge and then going for lunch around 2 p.m. True to form, Niu doesn't begin service until 1 p.m. and closes up shop at 4 to prep for dinner.

As with Niu's dinner menu, Lomas, who was recently nominated for Best New Chef by Food & Wine, has put an unexpected "brunchy" twist on traditional Catalan fare.
Of course, no brunch would be complete without booze, and though Niu isn't proffering the mainstream bottomless option, it is mixing up some original libations. Think cardamom-infused mimosas ($11), jasmine-infused wine spritzers ($11), botanical wine cocktails with vermouth ($11), and cava sangria with berries and grapefruit ($12). There's also coffee with crema catalana ($5.50).  If you've been to Niu for supper, you're familiar with the cold tomato soup topped with a scoop of mustard ice cream and basil manchego pesto. Lomas and Iglesias came up with it as a gazpacho substitute, but now they're serving the traditional cold summer soup as part of brunch. Well, almost traditional — it has shrimp, watermelon, cucumber, and scallions ($12).
Wahoo crudo ($13) with lemon vinaigrette, apple purée, and trout roe is delicate and mouthwatering. The apple purée adds a nice hint of sweetness to the acidity of the vinaigrette and brininess of the fish.
Jamón ibérico with melon is commonplace in Spain, and what's better than fatty ham paired with succulent fruit for brunch? When yogurt, raspberries, and grated manchego cheese are added to the mix ($12).
If you like white anchovies, you'll love this anchovy-marinated salad with avocado and tomato ($14). 
Perhaps you weren't craving beans when you woke up, but after trying the esmorzar ($12), you will do so every weekend. Think of it as a brunch alternative to fabada and not a soup. It includes sautéed white beans, botifarra (Catalan sausage), bacon, and a fried egg in one bowl. It's a beautiful and delicious disaster.
Talk about presentation. This calamar a la plancha (grilled squid) with potato cream is not only stunning but also salubrious and rich.
Middleneck clams ($15) swim in a sofrito broth spiked with sherry vinegar and bits of jamón ibérico. Make sure to ask for bread to sop up the savory liquid — or use your clam shell as a spoon.
Arroz bomba (literally "bomb rice") is prepared with with sofrito, parsley, tomato, and white wine and then capped with confit oil bay leaf baby-back ribs and spinach ($17).
Because Niu's chefs lack a fryer, they can't prepare torrijas (the Spanish version of French toast). To make up for it, Lomas soaks bread in milk, cinnamon, and lemon. It's then topped with crema catalana brûlée and tangerine gelato ($8). The result is a lightly decadent, unique dessert you'll think about for days.

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