Waldorf Astoria Peacock Alley
It's not every day that you have lobster and caviar for breakfast.
Unless you drop some serious cash at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Midtown for the Peacock Alley breakfast/brunch buffet.
Brunch is held next to the sumptuous check in area. The theme of the cavernous room seems to be elegance in darkness: the walls are rich dark wood, the carpet underfoot is dark, and there's minimal spotlight lighting on some of the food. In one way, I guess it makes it fun since you feel like you're in an 19th century rich person's Victorian library. In another sense, I would have loved for it to be a brighter, more minimalist and modern experience.
Darkness aside, the spread was spectacular. From the entrance of this delightful food maze, we have huge silver vats of soups, a veritable mountain range of bread rolls and pastries, and charcuterie plates with tons of meats and cheeses. Next door is a towering rack of little glass tumblers filled with none other than the namesake Waldorf Salad (cubes of apple, celery, walnuts, and a breadstick).
Turn a right and your jaw drops because here you're faced with an assortment of smoked fish and caviar. Hello! First we've got plates of lox, all smoked or brined in fun things like bourbon or vodka or pastrami seasoning. Scoot a little further with your already-heaping plate and you arrive at the caviar bar: tiny glass bowls set over a rack of crushed ice - each holder tiny shiny orbs of black and orange - over more accessories like the cutest, most circular blinis I've ever seen (for the base of your caviar bite, of course) chopped egg, finely diced shallots, chives, and creme fraiche.
If there's room on your plate, the next station is the shellfish tower. There is a huge brass pot, maybe big enough for an adult human to bathe in, filled with ice, and topped with all sorts of shellfish you find at a raw bar: lobster claws and tails, oysters and clams on the half shell, jumbo shrimp, crab legs. I might have had a couple of plates that were solely from the raw bar.
I was so distracted with the seafood assortment that I probably missed what was going on in the aisle behind me, but one might find other breakfasty things like an omelet station, eggs benedict station, and things like bacon and home fries. While some people adore breakfast food, I am not one of them.
Soon, the end is in sight, but not until you hit up the hot entrees and desserts. I didn't have the stomach capacity to try everything here (roasted chicken, beef stew, mashed potatoes, and the like).
We made a separate trip back (many plates later) for only dessert, and found that while the desserts were beautiful, everything looked better than they tasted.
The caviar and shellfish were delicious and eating unlimited quantities was certainly a new experience for me, but my favorite dish was the lobster mac & cheese from the hot entree station. Oddly enough, the bits of lobster were more chewy than I'd usually prefer, but I actually liked that chewy texture that allowed the flavor of the lobster to linger and shine through the powerful savoriness of the cheese. The best bites were ones that had crusty crunchy breadcrumbs at the top or edges of the casserole dish.
We were really lucky to be seated in a separate room, farther away from the food but also farther away from the hustle and bustle. There was a harpist playing some awesome Edith Piaf and Adele instrumentals while I violently cracked lobster shells open (so romantic!). I also really enjoyed people watching, especially in a room filled with such colorful characters. Obviously everyone is pretty well off, and we were hypothesizing if the huge bald man next to us, having brunch with his beautiful fiancee, was a celebrity or pro wrestler; wondering how much the bill came out to for a huge party of about 20 Chinese folks in the corner; catching the Barbie doll of the little girl next to me who kept flinging it at my chair.
Maybe one day, I could see myself back here, the morning after a wedding, having brunch with bridesmaids and groomsmen, and ready to stuff our faces with post-celebratory gusto. ;-)