I guess I'm starting to understand what people mean when they tell me I come from a place where there's a vibrant cafe culture. There aren't streets after streets of little cafes in New York or Boston - there are diners, ethnic eateries, restaurants and chains. If you want a coffee, you usually go to Starbucks. There are as many Starbucks (and Dunkin Donuts, in the case of Boston) as Pret a Mangers in London. Scary.
I need places that are open for breakfast in the morning, right through lunch and afternoon tea, probably even early dinner that serve good coffee, light meals and are nice to sit in in between Olympic shopping sprees. Actually seemed kinda hard in the States. Maybe I'm just not "in the know", but it was with great relief that I found Caffe Falai. It's exactly what I wanted, and they have their own bread (probably not baked on the premises but I know the owner has eateries/bakeries elsewhere, like Falai and Falai Panetteria, which I also visited the next day).
Caffe Falai is a recently opened small 20-seater-ish place (definitely small in American terms - everything seems bigger over there haha) on the border of SoHo and Nolita, perfectly located for shopping. It's bright and airy, in an all-white space with two large shopfront windows facing Lafayette St. The fittings are probably best described as modern day vintage. Think granny's furniture, mirrors, and her tiny tile bathroom floor, but all white. Nice.
It's about 14.30 when I step in, a bit beyond the usual lunch peak, but Falai is humming along nicely. Guess I wasn't the only person who was attracted by the news on Gridskipper or wherever. Seat spacing is Parisian - i.e. be slim or it's elbow to elbow. How pompous, just like me! Haha. Nah, not really, it's actually really chill, but classier than sister store Falai Panetteria down in the slightly dodgy LES.
They have two menus, one for breakfast (all day as all good cafes should - 0800 to 1700 - yay!) and one for snacks and lunch - simple pastas, panini etc. Prices are very friendly; you can definitely leave for under $10 if you aren't starved. I order something entitled "root vegetable" under the insalate section, expecting a cold salad, and a minestrone. The vegetables were actually served hot, and in shallow pool of clear broth and were fresh, sweet, and perfect beyond description. They were all baby veggies - dutch carrots, brussel sprouts, parsnip etc. and despite it being late winter, seemed like spring vegetables. Really never had anything quite like it. Hopefully they'll keep up with the fresh ingredients, because that's what makes the dish.
The minestrone was good too - more like a stew than a soup and was great with the crusty fennel seed bread. It came in a quaint soup dish, complete with a cover. Coffee was decent, typically less strong than what I'm used to, as with every American coffee I've had thus far, plus they use the infamously smooth but hard-to-extract-flavour Illy.
Perfect perfect perfect is all I can say. Excellent value, swift service, and exactly what I want from a cafe. Better than the best in Melbourne (bar the coffee). Now that's saying a lot.
265 Lafayette St (near corner of Prince)
Tel: +1 917.338.6207