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Posts from the ‘fit for foodies’ Category

Lure Fishbar: A Seafood Lover’s Heaven, But Boy What a Scene

Lure Fishbar is an anomaly of sorts. It has been impossibly trendy for years, with a never-ending stream of supremely fashionable young ladies, tanned and slick older men, and cougars draped in fur; and yet, despite the at times overwhelming scene, it still turns out top-notch cocktails, flavorful food, and beautifully-executed sushi, all with warm and competent service.

Designed by the eponymous Serge Becker, the basement-level Lure Fishbar is gorgeous. The theme is nautical, but not in the cutesy New England marina with a lobster shack vein; instead, Lure Fishbar is designed like a mega-yacht with sparkling portholes for windows, gleaming wooden walls with circular golden lights, white lacquer accents, polished boat-deck flooring, and just a hint of the requisite blue and white. Circular booths coated in white leather face inward, allowing diners to gaze upon the bustling and glittering dining room. Up a half-level from the dining room is the darker bar area, with navy-and-white striped upholstered booths and a long bar, inevitably packed with groups of over-dressed women in their mid-30s and banker types.

Fittingly, seafood is the specialty at Lure Fishbar. The menu offers almost every imaginable type of mainstream seafood, from oysters on ice to raw bar specialties like littleneck clams and caviar to a full sushi menu with high-end products to tartares, ceviches and carpaccio, clam chowder, grilled octopus, salmon, and whole daurade, and a lovely lobster role. It is indisputable that the kitchen at Lure Fishbar is very good at preparing seafood. The sushi is marvelous – subtly flavored, perfectly wrapped and made with the freshest product, it is worth every penny. For tuna lovers, the spicy big eye tuna roll is luscious. With six or seven varieties of oysters on the menu any given night, there is a type of anyone – briny, sweet, bitter. With any choice, the sweet taste of the ocean floods in, cool and refreshing. From the appetizers, the crab cakes are delicious – lightly breaded, stuffed with sweet crab meat, and not too bulky. Other options are the famous fried blue point oysters with a classic caper tarter sauce, a twist on bagels & lox with a crispy grilled flatbread topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and dill, and beer-battered soft shell crab with creamy avocado.

From the entrees, stick with seafood – why eat meat when the seafood options are so good? The lobster roll is amazingly tasty with a hot buttery brioche roll, heaps of sweet tender lobster meat, lightly tossed in mayo, and served with a side of crispy salt and vinegar potato chips. Also wonderful is the Asian-inspired seared tuna, cooked to a beautiful medium rare, on a bed of soba noodles coated in a slightly spicy and rich peanut sauce. The menu has enticing diversity with everything from steamed snapper in red curry to juicy roasted scallops with chorizo and thick bucatini pasta to roasted shrimp with spicy short ribs, radish and mint. For the more adventurous eaters, an impressive grilled whole daurade comes plated with dill gnocchi and tomatoes. In the seafood entree section alone, there is something for every palate.

If you’re not prepared for the scene, Lure Fishbar can be immediately overwhelming. The music is loud, the chatter of tipsy fashionistas reverberates through the long space, the scent of men’s cologne wavers near the bar, and everyone is just so damn good-looking. But, if you know what you’re getting yourself into, Lure Fishbar is just plain fun. It’s a chic party where both the food and the drinks live up to the hype. And the best part? The table service is immensely friendly and efficient – not an ounce of pretension from anyone except the frazzled hostesses. All in all, Lure Fishbar is a great place to celebrate, to give visitors a taste of what’s it’s like to ‘go out on the town’ in New York City, and to enjoy the wonders of well-executed seafood.

Perfect For: stylish young things, seafood lovers, big blowout dinners, late night bar snacks, cocktails and oysters

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The Fat Radish: A No Man’s Land Secret Garden

Despite it’s goofy name, The Fat Radish is magical. Tucked into a discrete space in the no man’s land between the Lower East Side and Chinatown, walking into The Fat Radish is like discovering a secret garden. Inspired by the original industrial Covent Garden market in London, the Fat Radish bills itself as a healthy and simple sort of place – with a veggie friendly menu, biodynamic and natural wines, and an emphasis on seasonal cooking. And yet, it is so much more than the “simple, airy and elegant room” it considers itself.

Before sitting down to dinner, first enjoy a cocktail at the tiny bar behind the hostess stand. Nina Simone and Nat King Cole croon softly in the background while a swarthy English bartender, clad in plaid, pleasantly whips up one of the fresh house cocktails; industrial Edison lights shed a golden glow on the stacks of artisan and mainstream liquors, causing the glass bottles to twinkle softly. Suddenly, waiting for your guest to arrive is a marvelous experience. When heading back into the main dining room, take in the illuminated sprays of fresh flowers nestled into archways carved into the distressed white brick, the large antique mirror in the back listing the day’s specials, the rough hewn wooden furniture, decorated simply with dishcloth napkins and a tealight candle. Unique design touches make the room pop – such as a retro scarlet “R” letter sign, illuminated like a Broadway marquee with small white light bulbs or the cool blue modern ceramic squares, arranged neatly into a rectangle on one wall.  The Fat Radish is a charming gastronomic sanctuary in a part of town better known for graffitied storefronts, massage parlors, and fresh produce stands; it is warm and welcoming and yet somehow effortlessly cool, frequented by an unpretentious yet fashionable crowd.

The food is seasonal American, focused on fresh flavors and simple preparations. At dinner, something as simple as a warm potato salad, an arrangement of roasted fingerling potatoes topped with a poached egg, is truly tasty when the rich yellow yolk covers the herbs and shards of potato; the celery root pot pie is vegetarian, yet rich and homey, reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing and the chicken pot pie we all know and love. Salads are well-dressed and just taste good, garnished with baby beets, crispy bacon, or a well-cooked egg. Entree dishes are traditional – Colorado lamb loin with miatake mushrooms, glistening with fat, green curried monkfish with wild rice, a heritage pork chop with tomato jam, and, of course, a thick bacon cheeseburger with perhaps the best side ever, duck fat fries. While dinner is wonderful, brunch is perhaps even better – warm banana bread, soaked with melted butter, is irresistible; rich thick slices of avocado 7-grain toast, with eggs in a spicy tomato broth, is unusual, innovative and ridiculously delicious; ‘eggs purgatory,’ swimming in a flavorful tomato sauce dusted with pecorino, is the ideal savory brunch dish; and the homemade cheddar biscuit, served with gravy and bacon, is just … sinful.

The Fat Radish is a marvelous find for people who just love food. The atmosphere is pleasingly low-key, just trendy enough to feel hip yet also approachable, warm, and immensely likeable. The service is friendly and unobtrusive, present and efficient yet not nagging. The food, by and large, really tastes delicious – it’s not fussy or over-thought; instead, it has the taste of being cooked from the soul, cooked with love. When the atmosphere, the service, and the food all work together so seamlessly, with such a unified front, it’s truly difficult not to love The Fat Radish.

Perfect For: trendy vegetarians, Lower East Side locals, fashionistas, laidback dates, boozy brunch, schmoozing with a friendly bartender, a cozy night out with good friends

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Txikito: Basque-ing in Goodness

With Tia Pol, Salinas, El Quinto Pino and Txikito all within a 10 block radius of each other, it seems as though the western reaches of Chelsea are turning into a verifiable Spanish Tapas home-base. A self-described “love letter” to the simple and “unencumbered” cuisine of the Basque region in Spain, Txikito prides itself in its simplicity. And simple it is, a simply wonderful ode to the salty, savory and generally excellent traditional Basque fare.

The restaurant is easily missed, located in a low-rise and nondescript strip mall (also housing Co and the soon to arrive Chelsea outpost of the Sullivan Street Bakery) and totally devoid of any identifying signage. I first noticed it in the summer, when the floor-to-ceiling glass windows were pulled up, exposing the scarlet-topped metal bar stools stored under the white tile and slate-grey marble bar. A hip and young crowd chatted excitedly in the window, spilling out onto the street. Inside, the long and narrow main dining room is covered in faded clapboard, from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The furniture is sparse and minimalist, consisting entirely of recycled plastic chairs and chintzy metal tables. Only simple lights adorn the rough walls, shedding a soft simple light over the generally disheveled and youthful crowd. The vibe is relaxed, with waiters sauntering around in hipster plaid, and nonchalant – there is no rush here, no stress.

The food is, as touted, classic Basque. The style, tapas. For two people, the recommendation is 4-6 dishes, and with five, my friend Sarah and I felt happily satiated. The cuisine proffered by the kitchen is uniformly delicious and craveable. The kroketas are a wonderful way to start – the size of golf balls, these creamy pork filled croquettes are gooey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and completely addictive. I could go through a basket of these daily if given the opportunity and promised no possibility of egregious weight gain. Also addictive are the salty, oily but not too oily, and spicy blistered peppers – served in a little dish, I think I went through my half of them (and more) a bit more rapidly than I care to admit. On the heartier side are the lamb meatballs, small, savory and served in a wonderful slightly minty broth – as someone with an English passport, the nostalgic reference to lamb and mint was appreciated. For those who love grilled cheese (how can you not, really?), the bocata sandwich is a great option. It’s on the larger side for tapas and undeniably well-made. Thick slices of uncured bacon, a cross between pork belly and Canadian bacon, and Spanish cheese are layered between two slices of grilled sandwich bread – the result? An oozing, meaty and satisfying Spanish twist on an American favorite.

Lastly, even though the standard menu offered is jam-packed with scrumptious options, in the words of our sage waiter, “the specials are where it’s at,” and on any given night, the kitchen at Txikito presents a vast array of specials. The real winner when I visited was a cross between an enchilada and cannelloni – tender pasta sheets were wrapped around a filling of ground pork, beef and veal and the entire package was topped with melted cheese and a Bechamel sauce. It was decadent and soul-satisfying, the type of hot meaty food filled with flavor that you want on cold rainy nights.

Txikito seems content to fly under the radar, attracting passers-by, neighborhood locals, or those actively seeking out tapas/Basque cuisine. And that’s A-OK with me also because it makes Txikito the ideal neighborhood spot – a place you can pretty much always walk into, a place not packed with those who don’t know the difference between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, a place not crowded with travelers from the surprisingly nearby Penn Station, a place not impacted by trends and thus not interested in catering to trend-setters and trend-followers. In short, it’s a wonderful place where you can settle in with a friend, a bottle of Spanish wine, and some delicious, unusual, and elegant tapas.

Perfect For: after-work bites and wine, Spanish food lovers, girls night out, hipsters on dates, Chelsea locals, quick bites before hitting the town

Txikito on Urbanspoon

Apizz: Ending the Quest for Manhattan’s Perfect Date Spot

I’ve heard good things about Apizz on the Lower East Side, pretty much since I started paying attention to restaurants in New York. And, as I discovered this weekend, all the buzz is for good reason. The sister restaurant to ricotta-lovers’ favorite Peasant in Nolita and to nearby The Orchard, Apizz has a familiar look and feel to the others in its family, though, without question, it’s just plain betterthan its siblings.

Tucked away on a quiet block of Eldridge Street and thus removed from the drunken hipster disaster that is the Lower East Side after 9pm, Apizz is a charming find. Small and intimate, Apizz just about oozes an all-encompassing coziness. The mood is set by the seemingly signature low amber-orange glow of Apizz, Peasant, and The Orchard. It’s virtually impossible for someone to look unattractive in such universally flattering light (though, naturally, I can’t promise the world here…). The look is rustic, with a tiny open kitchen, pulsing from the heat of the pizza oven, a verifiable explosion of exposed brick everywhere, bottles of house wine perching on the hanging industrial ducts, simple wooden tables, and so forth. Chances are, if you live and ever eat out in New York, you’re familiar with this cozy and charming rusticity that’s all the rage right now. In the back is a miniature bar area, competently-manned and a pleasant place to enjoy one of the fairly delicious house cocktails or perhaps a quick bite to eat if you can’t get one of the coveted tables.

The food is straight-up Italian, without frills or anything nouveau, and it’s delicious. Think: a crispy and simple margherita pizza, classic antipasti with bresaola, mortadella, roasted peppers, and buffalo mozzarella, among other things, roasted and marinated mushrooms over plenta, a traditional polpo (octopus) salad, and perhaps, best of all, a marvelous dish of tender butterflied shrimp and chorizo in hot bubbling herb-infused olive oil. And those are just a few of the starters. The kitchen is known for their meatballs, and its tennis ball-sized variety is very good. A combination of veal, pork and beef, they are satisfyingly meaty and savory; a generous dollop of creamy, fluffy, decadent ricotta is worth the price of the dish itselfl and the ‘tomato gravy,’ a thick pomodoro-style sauce that tastes like its been brewing for a luxuriously long time, is just heavenly – the sort of thing you’d expect from an Italian grandmother’s kitchen in the homeland itself.
If you make your way to Apizz, you must sample one of the homemade pastas for their bold, homey, and nostalgic flavors. It’s virtually impossible to choose from housemade gnocchi in a tomato ragu with braised short ribs, lasagna made with wild boar and parmesan, a mushroom risotto with creamy mascarpone and fresh herbs. The fazzoletti, a hand-torn pasta variety, is remarkable and unique with lumps of fresh crab meat doused in an addictive creamy tomato-basil sauce that’s so good I wanted to lick my boyfriend’s plate while he was in the restroom. And of course, after you’ve stuffed your belly full of traditional Italian pastas and antipasti, it would be sacrilegious not to finish off the meal with one of Apizz’s classic New York Italian desserts: cheesecake, apple crumble, a dark chocolate torte, tartufo, and of course, spumoni. *NOTE: if you want to obsess over a dessert for about a week, treat yourself to the chocolate torta. You will not regret it, even if you need to unbutton your pants for the rest of the meal.*
If you can snag a reservation or weedle your way into the bar, Apizz is pretty much just plain awesome. It’s the perfect combination of hip dining, fantastic food, romance, and the comforts of a neighborhood spot; it’s hard to imagine going wrong at Apizz. And while there may be a few service snags here and there (the host when I stopped by was a little bit … difficult), it’s virtually impossible not to forget them when you’re being plied with such delicious food, affordable wine, and boozalicious cocktails. Yup, I’m pretty much obsessed.
Perfect For: any and all date nights, eats at the bar with a friend, romancing, Italian food connoisseurs, meatball mavens, LES locals

Apizz on Urbanspoon

What Happens When: A Culinary Chameleon with Thrilling Bursts of Inspiration

Chances are, by the time you read this review and decide to try What Happens When, the menu will have radically changed or, even more drastically, the restaurant will have disappeared. No, I’m not just being wildly pessimistic about the state of restaurant ownership in New York; I’m just underlining the simultaneously frustrating and thrilling nature of ephemeral ‘pop-up’ restaurants, one of which is Nolita’s wildly popular What Happens When.

The brainchild of Dovetail chef John Fraser, a photographer, a composer, and two designers, What Happens When rides the currently red-hot trend of creative and funky pop-up restaurants in Manhattan. It is temporary, occupying the former Le Jardin space on Cleveland Place, and unique from other eateries of its kind in that every 30 days during its 9-month tenure, it completely reinvents itself. Each month, the menu changes; the decor changes; the inspiration changes.
The first ‘movement’ at What Happens When was a modern Scandinavian winter-scape with potato skins on the menu and a chilly black & white decor. Movement #2 was a riff on the magical world of Where The Wild Things Are and the wonders of an enchanted forest, with an earthy menu following suit. Just today, What Happens When metamorphosed into Movement #3, a lush new incarnation inspired by French impressionism, Paris in the 1880s and the quaint charm of a Renoir-esque garden party. Regardless though of how the look of the space changes, unfortunately nothing can hide the uncomfortably cramped nature of the dining room; low ceilings and too many tables in too little space can make claustrophobic folk turn green, and those who like to eat with their elbows are out of luck.
It’s safe to say that the food at What Happens When demonstrates Chef Fraser’s unrestrained joy and boundless inspiration in the kitchen. Though there a few execution foibles here and here, the new American fare is thrilling, inventive, and bold. The menu is a 3-course prix-fixe, and the delicious nuggets I ate are already ‘out of fashion.’ And so, I won’t wax poetic about what you absolutely have to order. However, you should know that the smoked hen egg tastes golden, with marigold-colored yolk dripping over rich smears of chicken liver on crusty toast; the braised short rib entree with cheddar cheese polenta is a case study on how to pack some of the boldest and brashest flavors into one dish while still exhibiting deftness and delicacy; the ‘pig’ entree, simply stated and lushly presented, thoughtfully wastes not with a big bowl of cooked pig parts; and the crispy chocolate dessert cake, a girl scout’s thin mint cookie punched up a few hundred notches, woos and seduces with more game than the most charming guy you’ve ever met.
What Happens When is fun. It’s something different from the typical New York eating-out grind. Not everything is perfect, but that’s OK because What Happens When isn’t looking for that 4-star review or a never-ending stream of regulars to keep it afloat for years to come. Instead, because of its ephemeral nature, What Happens When and its ambitious owners just ‘have fun with it.’ They offer the type of relentlessly creative product that is probably just too risky for more established restaurants. This is too bad – What Happens When is invigorating; I wish there were more restaurants like it; and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Oh, and we saw Natalie Portman. A very pregnant Natalie Portman. That was cool.
Perfect For: trendsetters, adventurous eaters, impressing a first date, people-watching

What Happens When on Urbanspoon

David Burke Kitchen: Every Neighborhood Could Use a Little Burke-ian Whimsy

I haven’t been to a David Burke restaurant in a long time, and before last year, he seemed to have fallen off the ‘famous chef’ radar. Yet, with an appearance on Top Chef All-Stars recently and the opening of his new restaurant, David Burke Kitchen, it appears as though Burke has decided to re-enter the spotlight. And what a delight this is, for Burke’s whimsical and passionate approach to food, regardless of how successful his creations are, is truly a thrill for diners.

David Burke Kitchen is in the basement of the new James Hotel on Grand Street in Soho. Yes, it’s in the basement, of a hotel. To many, this would be a recipe for disaster. Hotel restaurants get a bad rep for uninspired cuisine and cookie-cutter atmospheres, yet David Burke is joining the ranks of famous chefs looking to change this image by opening their new culinary hotspots in hotels all over Manhattan (others: Michael White’s Ai Fiori in The Setai Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club in The Chatwal, Sam Talbot’s Imperial No. 9 in the Mondrian Soho, and April Bloomfield’s The Breslin in The Ace Hotel, and so forth). David Burke Kitchen is, well, nice. It’s certainly got a fabricated feel, with modern wooden furniture and a funky undulating wooden ceiling, all tried to be made up as ‘rustic’ with blue-and-white checkered napkins. Yet, all the same, despite a certain “been there, done that” decor, David Burke Kitchen is warm and welcoming, friendly to all, and, most importantly, comfortable.

David Burke’s quirky and whimsical interpretations of traditional American dishes are the real reason to visit David Burke Kitchen. And, in general, the kitchen executes Burke’s visions very well. A pork chop entree is hefty, enough to feed two, yet wonderfully complicated with a large bone-in chop cooked to the perfect temperature and marinated in something wasabi-like, tasty nuggets of tender braised cheek, and an addictive salty-sweet marmalade made from bacon and apple. It is completely in-your-face flavor. The appetizers are a treasure trove of inventive bites: ‘ants on a log’ are reinterpreted from a popular childhood snack to include sophisticated bits of bone marrow and snails soaked in garlic, crab cakes bound with pretzel and filled with green peppercorns and white beer, a succulent duo of juicy seared scallops perched on a tangled mess of ultra rich braised oxtail, all topped with a dainty quail’s egg. The menu virtually overflows with Burke’s imagination – nothing is left alone. Fries are not just fries, they’re ‘fancy fries’ cooked in smoked beef fat and topped with sliced jalapeno; a baked potato comes topped with classic English rarebit; jars of chicken liver with prunes and pistachios are offered for adventurous eaters as a tempting (and heart attack-inducing) bar snack. The options are endless and diverse, often thrilling, and always complicated.
For some, David Burke’s ebullient enthusiasm may be overwhelming or, even worse, tiresome. However, if you’re prepared for the sometimes unusual outpouring of creative flavor combinations, your meal at David Burke Kitchen can be exciting and adventurous, a break from ‘the norm.’ Burke sets customers at ease with a refreshingly friendly and competent staff; our waiter was exuberant and respectful, informative and clearly inspired by David Burke. All in all, though not perfect and with a few kitchen kinks to work out, David Burke Kitchen is a fun new addition to an otherwise barren corner in Soho.
Perfect For: fashionable foodies, first dates, adventurous eaters, non-hipster carnivores, giving visitors a thoroughly ‘New York’ dining experience, drinks and dessert

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tia Pol: Being Neighbors with New York’s ‘Best Tapas’

For a restaurant the size of my living room, Tia Pol has a whole lotta hype to live up to. Recommended by pretty much every food-loving person I know in Manhattan, Tia Pol has been touted as New York’s Best Tapas (nymag), as offering a cerebral meal (nytimes), and as one of Zagat’s favorite Spanish spots in New York. Luckily for me, it’s next door to my new digs.

In what I like to call a hot up-and-coming neighborhood, near the high line, most art galleries worth visiting, and a slew of tasty eateries, Tia Pol is barely a sliver of a space. Long and narrow, it seats just 34 customers, and 9 of those seats are at the itsy-bitsy and bustling bar upfront. What little decor there is consists of weathered exposed brick, dotted with small lanterns glowing dimly, bottles of Spanish wine tucked into nooks and crannies, and a cramped open kitchen offering a peek into the magical world of authentic Basque tapas. The seating is a little torturous (consider it a right of passage before the scrumptious food to come), with high bar-height tables, stools with no backs, and little-to-no room to spread out; however, if you’re willing to put up with mild discomfort, it is 100% worth it once you start eating.

The menu is authentic Spanish tapas, offering traditional dishes from the Basque, Cataluna, Andalucia, and Galicia regions of Spain. There are a myriad of tasty treats to choose from, with a core menu offered all the time and varying options at brunch and lunch. Each dish is moderately priced, depending on size, and big enough for two people to have a few bites. With so many tantalizing plates to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start, and where to end for that matter. For first-time Tia Pol patrons, don’t skip the txipirones en su tinta, a generous bowl filled with succulent rounds of squid, soaked in a savory ink sauce, and a small tower of aromatic saffron rice; it is well-seasoned, fresh without reeking too much of salty seafood, and remarkably complex. Another favorite is the gambas al ajillo, shrimp in olive oil with chili and garlic. The mini-shrimps are perfectly cooked, served piping hot in a bubbling bath of luscious chili oil, red-hot, spicy, and marvelously garlicky – a guilty pleasure for anyone who loves a lotta bit of heat. The chorizo al jerez is a treat for meat-eaters; obviously of the highest quality, this chorizo is fatty (in the best of ways), steeped in thick smoky flavor, and doused with a hint of slightly sweet sherry sauce. The result? A seemingly simple dish of diced meat turned thrilling.

Tia Pol’s kitchen can even turn something so ordinary as a lamb skewer into pinchos morunos, two tiny bites of perfectly-cooked lamb marinated in moorish spices that pack in all sorts of salty, bitter and funky flavors – talk about efficient eating. Other hits are the crema de higado de pollo, two pieces of flaky and chewy baguette topped with generous dollops of creamy chicken liver mousse and a drizzle of the honey-sweet dessert wine Pedro Ximenez, and the extraordinary bocata de lomo adobado, a warm not-your-average sandwich of thinly-sliced pork loin, roasted piquillo peppers, and gooey melted tetilla cheese between two slices of the perfect crusty baguette.

Tia Pol is a place for people with a passion for food. It is simple spot, devoid of atmospheric distractions, with a marvelous menu of classic Spanish dishes. The kitchen must be populated by magical elves in order to churn out such remarkably flavorful and well-executed plates not only with so little space but also in so little time! Unfortunately, one of the down side’s of such an intimate and popular spot is the impossibility of nabbing a table during peak times without a significant wait. The way around it? Stopping by for lunch or brunch, calling ahead to see if they’ll take a reservation that night, or sacrificing your normal mealtime for something very early or very late! Regardless of how you strategize your visit to Tia Pol, just make sure it happens because it’s worth every minute you wait and every penny you pay.

Perfect For: post-gallery hopping wining and dining, first dates, lunch on your lonesome, Spanish wine aficienados, West Chelsea residents, an intimate and quirky brunch

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