I am a huge fan of The Leopard At Des Artistes so I recently had to go check out their widely heralded jazz brunch for myself. The live musicianship is top notch but it takes a back seat to the the very special items on the menu and the stunning nude murals painted way back in the late 20s and early 30s by an artist-in-residence at the rather gothic Hotel Des Artistes (now an historic condo building that has thankfully been kept in its original form).
Sure, there are the brunch classics like French toast with strawberries and veggie omelets but I say that when you go, talk to your server about the beautiful dishes that you can only find at The Leopard. The frittatini with beautiful, tender porcini mushrooms—served with skin-on fries lightly sautéed in EVOO—is one for the Manhattan brunch record books.
But let me tell you something, there are must-have buratta and mozzarella that The Leopard has made with milk from their own herd of cows in Tuscany and then Federal Expressed to New York. The Leopard not only gets these world class cheeses to serve but so do their two sister restos on East 54th between Fifth and Sixth Avenues—Mozzarella E Vino and Il Gattopardo. Il Gattopardo gets a lot of customers from the nearby University Club and the Peninsula Hotel.
The brunch staff is super-helpful and will make you a custom dish of buratta or miss with fresh basil, prosciutto and tomatoes and a strongly recommend it as the starter for ANY meal at The Leopard. You might actually be unable to eat anyone else’s buratta or mozzarella again—I kid you not.
They have some unusual pasta specials and one that my dining partner was gnudi with asparagus in a buttery sauce. I have never heard of gnudi before and it is shaped like a matzoh ball. The best was to describe it would be to say that it is a super sized older and rounder cousin to a ravioli. It is a thick homemade white pasta with a huge amount of ricotta in the center. It is a mind blowing pasta experience and about two of them will fill you up. I could barely eat my main course, which was the wonderful aforementioned frittatini.
The desserts are positively breathtaking to look at and are aestheticall pleasing as the murals on the walls. I had the almond frangipane tart filled with vanilla custard and topped with a melange of lightly glazed fresh fruit including kiwi and strawberry. It was almost a sin that I put my fork in it because it was pretty enough to be framed. My dining guest Gail had a Nutella chocolate mousse over a delicious buttery “crunch” and topped with homemade banana gelato. The dark chocolate butterfly on top was a stunning “topper” to this homemade chocolate sauce drenched spectacular “sweet.”
The Leopard is actually very reasonably priced for what you get. This is as high end as Italian eateries get, and that is really saying something. The staff will constantly surprise you with both tried and true classics and dishes that you have never heard of before. There are indeed dishes for those who like to eat light including highly-acclaimed Dover Sole and Chicken Paillard, not to mention traditional Sicilian couscous with shellfish ragout.
Reservations are recommended. For more info, go to www.theleopardnyc.com. Definitely peruse their online menu before you go so that you can dream all weeks about what you want to order! And just for the record, the jazz brunch rotates several top local live jazz and bossa nova acts and happens every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 AM to 3 PM.