3 Week Chowfest; Help!!!
LA hound here who literally just flew in this morning for work for the next 2.5 - 3 weeks. I'm scrambling, since this was so last notice (hence the lack of due diligence research that I would normally do), but am looking to experience the best NYC has to offer over the next few weeks.
I'm thinking of everything from Per Se to street carts, from Pizza in Brooklyn to Szechuan in Flushing. We are willing to travel to any borough for a great meal, and I am also willing to do great lunches, too -- I should have the flexibility to pull that off.
I'm up for anything, though Thai/Japanese/Chinese are cuisines I would move down the list due to the preponderance of amazing joints in Los Angeles. That's not intended as a slight on NYC at all ... and please feel free to recommend places you think excel in those areas.
Cost is not too much of a concern, though palate fatique is ... and also the ability to get reservations at so many places on such short notice. I would probably do a couple of nicer/finer type places for dinner and then the next few nights look for some more rustic/ethnic/local cuisine.
One thing to note is that we are very comfortable getting around the city, as we both lived here for a couple years right out of college, though God bless us we didn't have a clue what we were missing out on foodwise here ... sigh ... c'est la vie.
Here's what we (my wife and I) are avidly looking for, and what we're fine with missing this trip:
1) I have a Sweet Tooth. Well, more like an entire mouth of them. I love layered pastries, cakes, cupcakes, candies, ice creams, gelatos, etc etc etc. If it in any way is fit for being called "dessert", I want it! I only had a quick time to scan some threads but it looks like some recs were the following:
Batch, Chickalicious, Dessert Truck, Magnolia, Mitzy’s Macarons, Tafu, Milk at Momofuku ... what else am I missing? Are any of these worth skipping, or musts? Please feel free to chime in with any and all thoughts.
2) I love Italian, and no place in the US does Italian like NYC, or so I've heard. I was able to swing a late res at Babbo sunday night, but what are some other places to try? Again, a quick scan brought me the following:
Lupa, Scarpetta, Otto, Del Posto, Convivo ... what else? Thoughts on these?
3) Ethnic! The one thing LA does best is a variety of ethnic foods, and I am betting NYC has some great places as well. I'm thinking Morroccan, Lebanese, Jamaican (or any Carribean, for that matter) Israeli, Greek (gotta be in Astoria, right?), Indian (not great Indian in LA, either Northern or Southern) ... what's the best in NYC? What do you guys have that I can't have better anywhere else unless I actually go to said culture/country? Again, we're willing to hit any borough.
4) Street Food, yay! Where are the best carts (feel like I saw there's a great halal cart somewhere around the 50s and 6th ave)? Any other places like such? I'm thinking here, unless it's MINDBLOWING that I'd prefer to keep in Manhattan, but if it's good it's good, right?
5) Pizza? Yes please! NYC is home to some AMAZING pizza, so where must I go? I'm thinking of trying Di Fara tonight (if I can make it in time), but I am sure there are other great places, both in Manhattan and in Brooklyn, to hit too.
6) Lunch options near/in Hell's Kitchen; I'll be working around 46th and 10th, so places in the general vicinity that are note-worthy (I'm thinking 5 Napkins Burgers) are certainly appreciated.
Oh, and in general I will say that, being from the South, I am willing to pass entirely on BBQ and Creole/Cajun/Southern.
Sigh ... there are so many places to consider that it IS a bit overwhelming. Spotted Pig, Blue Hill, Degustation, Shopsin's, EMP, Daniel, Per Se, Le Bernardin, La Grenouille, Gramercy Tavern, Momofuku, wd-50, Gotham B&G, Jean Georges, etc etc etc ... and that doesn't even get into considering burgers, steaks, etc.
Taking an opportunity for a bit more time to head out to lunch than I normally would have, we decided to meet up and head over to the vaunted Hallo Berlin Cart (not realizing, since I’m an absolute idiot that there were two locations right around the corners from where I was working in Hell’s Kitchen … sigh).
After waiting in quite a line, we made our way up and ordered, deciding on sharing the Triple Soul Food, which is a combo of three different wursts.
We chose the Mercedes (Bratwurst), BMW (Bavaria Lite Wurst), and the Porsche (Berliner Curry Wurst). These were each cut up and all placed in a tray, and came with German Fries, Red Wine Cabbage, and a Crusty Roll – with everything but the roll in one container.
Wow! Yum! This is outstanding, and if I worked in midtown I’d be hitting up this cart ALL the time! I love the onions and the red wine cabbage, all mixed in with the chunks of potatoes. And the wursts!!! Such beautiful sausages! I wish I could be more descriptive but we inhaled this it was so dang delicious. You really should check this out!
Afterwards we walked over to Bouchon in the Time Warner Center to pick up some pastries. Before I tell you more, I have to say that I was ready to be done with Keller before Per Se, and I have not had great experiences at Bouchon (including earlier this trip).
That being said, we ordered several items and then headed out to the park to relax and taste them. First up was the Maple-Bacon Brioche.
Yum!! This was really good! Soft and giving bread, not hard or crunchy at all, this was great! I loved the hint of cinnamon, and the maple glaze was perfect. And bacon … I know it’s currently a huge thing, and it’s getting ever more popular, but it really is delish, and added just the right salty/savory/porky contrast to the bready sweetness. My only wish is that I could have gotten this hot and fresh from the oven.
Next we tried the Cherry-Ricotta Pound Cake, which just like the brioche was great! The cherries were AMAZING, so fresh and delicious, a little tart & sour … YUMMMYYY!!!
The Fuhgedaboutit was the only weak spot. It wasn’t bad, just not great. Basically it’s a pretty weak version of Rice Krispy Treat, but this one had a little too much salt, though actually the caramel was nice. It wasn’t horrible, just not a standout and nothing I would feel the need to order again.
The Nutter Butter was something I had tried at the Bouchon in Vegas, and there it was just OK at best. But I love Peanut Butter, so I had to give this another shot, and man am I glad I did! This one had AMAZING filling, so luscious and thick and peanut buttery. And the cookies had great flavor, and were really fresh!
The last thing we tried was the Peppermint Paddy, which was really good, with high quality chocolate and a very fresh burst of gooey mint in the middle, but to be honest I don’t know if it’s worth $3.
I returned to work a VERY happy and satisfied man.
Later in the evening, we went to a show, so by the time we got out we knew we had to try something before it closed, and that was the wd-50 Dessert Tasting Menu!
One of our favorite meals, ever, was at Alinea in Chicago, and knowing that Chef Stupak was the Pastry Chef there before coming to wd-50 really filled us with high hopes and expectations.
We walked in and were seated promptly, and instead of doing the actual tasting menu, we decided to just order a few different desserts that looked good to us and create our own.
We ended up ordering three, and started with his “Cheesecake”. These were good cheesecake “balls”, tasting just like an amazing cheesecake, but the lemon ice cream that accompanied it was WAAAAYYYY too eggy. Obviously he’s using the French method for his ice cream, but in this particular instance it tasted far too much of cooked egg with a hint of lemon – maybe that’s what he was going for, I’m not sure, but for me it did NOT work it was so overpowering.
The next dish we tried was the Corn Pudding. This was … nice. In fact, it might very well have been the best of everything we tried. I am a lover of corn, and this tasted so sweet and fresh, and I really liked the tuile that accompanied it, lending a nice bit of crisp to the dish.
We ended with the Caramelized Brioche, which was the weakest by FAR. I like apricot a lot but this just wasn’t happening. It was far too much apricot, and in fact my wife made the point that she felt it tasted like baby food, which is certainly not a ringing endorsement.
Overall this was a real letdown. Being familiar with some avant garde cooking techniques (and having taken a couple of cooking classes focusing on them), we were not as blown away here as maybe others would be … maybe it’s because we’ve had a glimpse of the “man behind the curtain”. The techniques were cool, and the plating was beautiful, but at the end of the day when I take a bite I want it to TASTE good, and there were definitely some issues to me with these dishes.
Leaving there we both felt in the mood for something salty, so knowing we were close by and that it would not disappoint, we headed back to Crif Dogs.
Not wanting to overindulge we simply split the Spicy Redneck and an order of their Tots, and MAN did that hit the spot! I’ve already told you about my experience at Crifs so I won’t prattle on, but I really, REALLY love this place. MmmmmmmmmMmmmmmmmmmmmmm, this is lip-smacking good!
So our time is coming to an end, and at this point I think we are experiencing both palate fatigue as well as a desire to go back and try some of our favorites.
So today we decided to hit up the Halal cart on 53rd & 6th for a shared lunch; man, this is the same meal, and the same greatness. I really, really love this cart, and getting the half chicken/half lamb is definitely the way to go for me. Doused with their red sauce and then having that heat cut with the thick and cream y white sauce, this is just delish!!!
For dinner we decided to head back to Shake Shack. It was such a beautiful night, and there was a bit of a line, but it was enjoyable just hanging out in the park and reminiscing about our time in your beautiful city thus far. We finally made it to the top and placed our order.
I got the Double Cheeseburger, which was as delicious and yummy as the first time, and my wife tried their Shroom Burger.
Winner!!!! Wow! I absolutely loved this … it might be their best burger. A perfect, meaty alternative for vegetarians/non-beef eater, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the garlic-y cheese oozing out! Yum!!!
We skipped out on their fries, which are not to my liking, and instead just got dessert – a “Shack Attack” (with Vanilla). This was just “meh”. Really, I could only taste the sprinkles for a large part of the time; I mean it wasn’t bad, just not special.
To round out the night we headed over to Pommes Frites – ummm, I freaking LOVE this place!!! I tried the Wasabi and the Horseradish, and went with the latter; these are GREAT fries!! So perfectly crunchy and then billowing clouds of potato on the interior … Yum!!!
a213b -- These reviews are great: informative, energetic, descriptive, passionate, and simply more fun to read than Frank Bruni in the NYT or NY Mag, or wherever! So kudos to you for posting such great content! I have lived in NYC for nearly 20 years and feel like I've rediscovered the city reading your blogs... Having said that, I'd definitely add a recommendation for your next visit: Marea. It's on Central Park Soly uth just by Columbus Circle. Apparently the chef came from Fiamma in SoHo, making fantastic pasta... It's an Italian inspired seafood place: crudos to start, amazing pastas, lots of fish mains, and awesome desserts. One dish in particular that's gotten attention is their uni appetizer: Warm uni on toast, with a "wafer thin" slice of lardo melted over the top! It has the perfect balance of smooth and cruncy, sweet and salty, with "umami" (that 5th sense) coming from the lardo. Every course I had was great, and I think it's now my favorite restaurant in NYC! For better or worse, Frank Bruni just reviewed it, giving it 3 stars, so I guess it's going to be harder to get into now... :-) Anyway, pls add to your list - I'd love to hear what you think!
So after a very hectic and frustrating day at work, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do for dinner. My wife suggested Gramercy Tavern, which had been on our list, and though we did not have a reservation we had hopes of getting into a table on the Tavern Side.
Arriving we were greeted cordially and told the wait would be a half hour or so, which was perfect as that allowed me a chance to have a drink (or two) from the bar while we perused the menus – this was the perfect way for me to get settled and calm after being quite frazzled.
We were shown to our table, introduced to our server, and off we went.
First, let me start by saying that the service was simply phenomenal, yet not pretentious or stuffy in the slightest – basically like a more relaxed and scaled down version of EMP. We discussed the menu with our server, and I was having quite a hard time choosing between the Merguez Sausage (which she highly recommended) and the Pastrami, but I eventually went with the Pastrami while my wife had the Sweetbreads.
Our dishes were brought out, and lo and behold out came an extra order of the Merguez! “I really wanted you to try this”, said our server, and boy am I glad she had it brought!
Yum!!!! This was really freaking good! It had a nice bite to it, and I loved the al dente chickpeas. The broth was perfect … so tasty!
The Sweetbreads were divine! LOVED ‘em! So light and pillowy, they had the perfect texture – you could cut them with a fork with no problem. They had a beautiful, clean crisp flavor. YUM!!!
Lastly came the House Cured Pastrami – this was really nice, not overly salty, but not at all comparable to Katz; still, it had a lovely flavor, more on the subtle side than the Katz’ punch you in the mouth side … we only ordered a half order because Pastrami can tend to be so filling, and there was plenty left to consume.
Next came the mains – Mushroom Lasagna for my wife, with a side order of their Cauliflower, and the Pulled Pork Sandwich for me.
First off, let me start with the Cauliflower – my wife freaking LOVED this. She immediately decided she was going to have to try and replicate it, it was so yummy. Beautiful, lovely almonds, a nice crunch from the breadcrumbs, with a perfect citrus contrast of Lemon … these were simply delicious!
She also really enjoyed her Mushroom Lasagna, and I have to say that Mushrooms are one of the few things I am not a big lover of, and even I had to admit this was outstanding. Such great flavor, beautiful pasta … yum!
I dug into my Pulled Pork Sandwich and Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!!!!!!!!! It was like I just fell off a cliff! This was just not good; no, not at all. It had a nice bun, but there just was not a great BBQ Pulled Pork flavor happening here, and the cole slaw just was not good … I literally only had a couple bites and was done.
To the entire staff’s credit they could tell I wasn’t digging this, and they immediately whisked the plate away and offered me anything else on the menu, with their stated goal just being my happiness and enjoyment. I ended up deciding on their giant meatball, and man was it giant!
This had a good, solid flavor, though it was not the best meatball I’ve ever had. I think I would have preferred the more traditional Veal/Pork/Beef mixture, but this was still really nice – I really liked the Parsnip puree underneath it. Overall this was good, and hearty, just not mind-blowing.
When it came time for desserts, just like with the apps I was having a hard time deciding on what to get – I’m pretty much always a sucker for chocolate and peanut butter together, so I was really eyeing the Peanut Butter Semifreddo, but the server was really telling us just how great the Chocolate Pudding was, too.
My wife had already decided on the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, so I ended up going with the Semifreddo. What can I say? I TOLD you I am a sucker for chocolate and peanut butter together!
They brought out our desserts, and what to my wandering eyes should appear – you guessed it! She brought out the Chocolate Pudding too!
It had a rich, deep, just lovely chocolate flavor with great salty contrast from the caramel, and a perfect crunch from the Brioche “croutons”. I really appreciated it after having some of the pineapple sorbet with toasted coconut.
The Pineapple Upside Down Cake – umm, YYYYuuuuum!! Such a great cake, man I love warm cake. It had a nice crumb, not super dense or overly moist, but not dry either. Beautiful flavor; I really enjoyed the toasted coconut on top of the pineapple sorbet! This was faaannntastic!
And lastly, the piece de resistance … the Peanut Butter Semifreddo.
Oh.My.God. Holy freaking moly! Love it! So decadent and rich, with that yummy, creamy peanut butter!! I love the chocolate/macaron crust, as well as the chocolate macaron that came with it. Yum!!
All in all, I’d say Gramercy Tavern is a gem. Granted, we did not try the dining room, but the tavern side of the menu seems diverse and well planned; sure, there might be a miss or two in it, but with such amazing, humble, service, this place is somewhere I will definitely return, and definitely recommend.
In addition to Scarpetta, we took your and Kathryn's suggestion of GT this week when in NYC. Had reservations for the dining room but pit stopped at the bar beforehand. Great cocktails and bard staff - esp. the New Deal w/ rye and cherry liquor. Nice to know they pool tips. Loved the setting & style of the Tavern.
Dining room service was exceptional - our waiter was so well informed, he answered questions in considerable depth with great enthusiasm. The service staff worked great as a well oiled team taking care of patrons.
Had the smoked trout (terrific), venison (ditto), lamb ragu (nice) and seabass over spaghetti squash (not good - had to send back to the kitchen, so overly salted the fish was inedible), cheese plate, cookies and drinks. Again, the service was superb at every step of the way but the sea bass entree was a big misstep. Be forewarned - the tariff here is steep.
355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014
This being a day of rest, and definitely needing to take a break from the voracious eating we have been doing, we decided to scale down our culinary ideas and take a much lighter approach to the day. So we ate some leftovers for lunch, and then went walking about town.
We ended up down by Chelsea Market, and decided to go in and take a peek. Ok … so it wasn’t by accident; we made a purposeful trip to check out Fat Witch bakery.
While inside we stumbled on Amy’s Bread, which I remembered from some reading on the board, so we thought we’d give it a shot, too.
Not wanting too much we just got a dinner roll, as much in an effort to have a taste of home as to have a little snack.
Yuck! Dry, dry, dry! This was tough and just NOT good. Honestly, this is an affront to all Southerners. I mean, I’ve 100% had better from frozen, store-bought packages. Blech!
I told them, politely, that they might want to consider pulling them as they were clearly old/dry what have you, and the very nicely offered me something else. I asked for whatever they recommended, and they gave me a sourdough.
Now I love sourdough. Love it. This one had delicious flavor, but (sigh) again it was REALLY FREAKING DRY. I mean, I know SD is normally a bit chewier than other breads, but this one was like a full-on jaw workout, and not in a good way. I had to gulp down some water so that my body didn’t instantaneously dehydrate entirely. Sigh … I guess we’ll strike this off the list.
Hoping for redemption and a taste of something sweeter, we made our way down to Fat Witch Bakery where we ended up ordering several: the Fat Witch, the Raspberry with White Chocolate, and the Caramel.
First up, the Fat Witch. This was good, but not great. There just was not a deep, intense enough chocolate flavor for me, and it was WAY too oily/greasy. I mean, I love a dense & moist brownie as much as the next guy (probably even more-so), but it’s just too much here.
Next we tried the Raspberry/WChocolate. This was our favorite, because we both love the flavor pairing. Really tasty, but again, WAY too moist and oily.
The Caramel, aside from being (you guessed it!) far too oily, was nice, but like the chocolate it definitely was in need of a stronger caramel flavor.
Our conclusion was that there really is no need to go back; the basic problem is that brownies are so easy to make that they have to be REALLY impressive (as in blow my mind) to warrant me paying more for a couple in the store than it would take for me to make some at home. Take that for what it’s worth.
After all the great food we’ve had, we decided we needed something a little more rustic, a little meatier. So off we went to Burger Joint.
What a cool, funky little place, and in such a strange location! I ended up ordering a Cheeseburger and fries, and this place did not disappoint.
The burger was cooked perfectly, meaty, with a great grilled/seared in flavor. Love the melted cheese, this was just delish! The fries were definitely better than Shake Shack, and a bit more like McDonalds in terms of size and texture (not a bad thing in my book … who doesn’t love fried potatoes in pretty much any form?). Down and dirty, these were really good.
We left and headed over to Kyotofu to check out their raved about cupcakes.
Trying to save our arteries and waistlines, we only got the Chocolate Soufflé Cupcake, which (finally!) had a GREAT chocolate flavor, and perfect crumb. It was really outstanding! Yum!!!
So on Saturday we finally got to try the long-awaited lunch Prix Fixe at Jean Georges. First things first, I like the room … nice, elegant, understated but with those windows. I don’t like it quite as much as EMP, but it is certainly nice, and conducive to haute cuisine. After being seated and ordering some cocktails we placed our order and awaited our delicious lunch.
We were started with some lovely amuses … Mozzarella with Rhubarb Ribbon, Crab Cake with Spicy Mayo and Mango Sauce, and a Potato Green Onion Soup. All were scrumptious and a great way to start off the meal.
For my first course I just HAD to get the Foie Gras Brulee on Brioche with Pineapple & Meyer Lemon Jam. Mmmmmm … silky, rich, delicious foie. I loved the Brulee, which provided that nice sweet touch (I had a similar dish at NoMi in Chicago that was also fantastic), but my complaint here was the brioche – it was kind of tough, actually … really had to work at it with a knife and fork. The taste was great, but there’s really no excuse for a restaurant at this level to serve tough bread.
My wife started with the Nishiki Risotto, Yuzu Foam, Parmesan, and Thai Chili. This was a dish that neither one of us loved … it’s not that it was NOT good, the texture was perfect to be sure, but the flavors didn’t pop. It just seemed to be lacking that certain “oomph” that takes a dish like this to the next level.
For my main I chose the Braised Veal with Lavendar, Artichokes, and Parmesan-Butter Sauce. Umm, is it possible for a butter/parmesan sauce not to be good? No! I love the sauce!!! And the veal is cooked really well, too, and has great flavor. I can tell they really source their product well (which I would expect nothing less at a place of this stature). However, again like other dishes, there’s something not quite working here … I think it was too much lavender, which granted I feel I am highly susceptible to. Again, like others this dish was good/solid, but lacking that certain je na sais quois.
My wife had the Beef Tenderloin with Smoked Tomato Compote, Gold Potato “Crisp”, and Spinach. Yum!!! This was like a refined take on a classic BBQ Brisket with Fries & Greens. The meat was delicious on its own, perfectly cooked and then when paired with the compote (which was smoky) it was like a nice BBQ sauce. The potato was fantastic … I could’ve eaten several more, and the spinach was nice & fresh, a good balance against the heaviness of the rest of the dish. This dish definitely worked for me.
We decided to share a dessert, and ordered the Jean-Georges Chocolate Cake, which came with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Warm Chocolate Gnocchi with Grapefruit, Gianduja, and Basil. Mmm Mmmm!!! This was a great cake, nice & molten, with a deep, rich chocolaty flavor. The Gnocchi … not so much. But the ice cream did have a nice vanilla pop, which I love.
We finished up with some Mignardises and settled the bill. Overall I think we were both a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps this is due to it being a lunch service, but nowhere in this meal did I get the feel I was dining at a true event/destination dining spot (including the check, thankfully). I mean, it is certainly good, but not “special”. That being said, I would definitely recommend people get it for lunch, as it IS a steal of a deal.
I had to go in to work for a bit, but was able to leave early enough for us to head uptown to check out Patsy’s for a slice.
As with most everywhere else I chose a Margherita slice (to make comparisons fair). This has a very nice crust with a bit of crunch. The sauce was tangy and delicious, and I liked the proportions. This slice is better than John’s to me for sure, though it does not surpass the amazingness we had at Di Faras (which I realize is a different animal).
In the mood for more pizza we headed down to Union Square to try the famed Artichoke.
Taking the recommendations of numerous others we each got a Sicillian slice. Yuummmmmyyy!!!! What a great, crackly, crunchy crust, and I loved the toppings! Maybe it’s because this is such a different slice from all of the other places we tried, but I really, really enjoyed the change in texture and style. Very good!
Not quite full, we rounded out our evening with a trip to the great Pommes Frites for some delicious fries (again, beautifully salted and perfectly crunchy exterior with that lovely pillowy potato interior), and then swung by Milk again and grabbed a Fruit Cereal Cookie, a Banana Cookie, a Corn Cookie, a Candy Bar Pie Slice, and another Cereal Milk. I enjoyed them all, but the standout was the corn cookie. I am a sucker for corn desserts, and this was just scrumptious!
As luck would have it, I had a light day at work and could take the morning off. Based on articles, reviews here on Chowhound, as well as other recommendations, there was one and only one place we planned to head …
We arrived at the market (side note: I love that it’s RIGHT by the subway exit) and headed inside, curious about what we would find. Walking past the cheese monger we stumbled on Shopsin’s, with a disheveled, rounded fellow occupying one seat with his arms crossed across the back of another that I knew could only be Kenny himself.
Taking two of the seats at the bar, we were quickly handed menus by one of the sons (not the youngest; he was cooking) and quickly glanced at them before placing our order.
Slutty Pancakes – My wife ordered these, and they were certainly good, but not amazing. They did have a LOT of pumpkin flavor, with little bits of pistachio thrown in, but pumpkin was BY FAR the predominant flavor. Nice texture, and certainly enjoyable … and what a serving! Two people could share these for sure.
Mac & Cheese Pancakes – These were my order, and my first thought was just mehhhh. I didn’t get a big M&C flavor; in fact, these were kind of bland/one not. Truth be told, I felt I had to use a good bit of the provided hot sauce to give them any zing, but then at that point I could’ve been eating almost anything.
This place seems funky and interesting, but I’m baffled as to the love it gets. Granted, there are about 8000 other items from which to choose, so I’m certainly no expert on the menu … we may very well have hit an off moment, or ordered the wrong items (though I doubt it based on the number of times both of these get recommended on here).
It certainly has a peculiar, unique charm to it – at one point we did get to see some of it as the youngest son (whose name escapes me) kind of snapped at a couple because they did not follow the appropriate protocol. It certainly did not help their case that they tried to fudge their way out of it instead of just coming clean. But that being said, maybe it’s because we’re both from large families with many siblings, but that element of Shopsin’s is not a great draw. I could definitely see how that could be the case for others, though, because it really is like showing up for a meal with a family who clearly loves each other and are clearly comfortable in their own skin. That being said, on leaving we both agreed that neither one of us had any great compulsion to return.
I went in to work afterwards, but it being such a light day was able to get out in the early afternoon and we trekked back up to the UES to take another stab at …
Two Little Red Hens Bakery:
I really liked this place; I felt right at home immediately, and the staff was super helpful in helping us narrow down what to get from all of their tasty looking items. I’m sure it did not hurt that I mentioned we were sort of doing a tasting of many of the different bakeries of NYC, which I could tell piqued their interest. So with that we ended up with the following:
Mini Red Velvet Cupcake – Mmmmm, I love Red Velvet, and growing up in the South I had more than my fair share of it. This cake was nice and moist; on texture alone one of the better cakes we’ve tried thus far. For me, there was not enough cocoa flavor, though I feel like that is a complaint I’ve read from some review or another – and in fact, they staff did mention it tended to be on the lighter side of cocoa.
Don’t get me wrong, it was really good, and when paired with that lovely cream cheese frosting that was just sweet enough but not overly so, this turned out to be a very delicious cupcake. Not my favorite, but quite tasty.
Mini Vanilla Cupcake with American-Style Buttercream – Yum! This tastes of classic 50’s Americana. I could definitely get a little bit of the grittiness of the confectioner’s sugar in the frosting, though that should be expected in this style. This had a very nice flavor, not too bold but certainly not bland. The cake was (like the Red Velvet) a great crumb and moist without being overly so. This was just a good, solid cupcake, though I feel like you’d be better served trying another style there.
Cheesecake Slice – Yuck! I couldn’t quite place it but the taste was definitely a bit acrid … perhaps the burnt/browned topping? As I kept tasting it, though, it ended up having a nice, luscious, thick, creamy cheesecake flavor. I would never dare call myself a cheesecake expert, so I’m not sure what defines authenticity, that being said, this one seemed good but not amazing. Each bite started with that acrid flavor that was always very hard to get past.
Brooklyn Blackout Cupcake – I knew I had to try this one, even though I’m thinking I don’t love chocolate cake (at least with respect to cupcakes, donuts, and the like).
WOW!!!! This had a beautiful, deep, rich chocolate flavor, and was super moist! With the pudding/frosting/cake, it was like a chocolate explosion in my mouth. THIS is what a chocolate cake should taste like!!!
Chocolate Cookie – On their recommendation we tried their chocolate cookie, and boy was it just yuck! It was supposed to be fudgy (with, I’m assuming, a crisp exterior), but instead it was a bit dry. Ok, really dry. Unlike the Brooklyn Blackout – in fact, quite the opposite – this did not have a great chocolate flavor. In fact, this was one of my least favorite desserts of the trip … we ended up throwing the majority of it away. At least we had the awesome Blackout, though.
We enjoyed these treats on a lovely walk through the park on this beautiful day, and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.
Before moving on I feel it necessary to point out that, I don’t know if it was palate fatigue or what, at this point in the trip we noticed we were starting to weary of multi-course meals – heck, even 3-course meals. Maybe that helps explain our experience for dinner, I don’t know.
We didn’t have any reservations, and we bandied about ideas as we were cleaning up and getting ready, but nothing sounded great. I did a quick OpenTable search, and we almost settled on Convivio when my wife mentioned that she would really prefer to try Scarpetta over it.
Unfortunately OT did not show any availability, but I called them up and they said it shouldn’t be too hard to squeeze in if we were willing to wait a half hour or so, so off we went …
We took the train down, walked over, and put our name in; fortunately, we only had to wait 20 minutes or so before we were seated in the main dining room (around 9:15 pm), which was a very lovely experience. I really loved the ambiance of the room – not too formal, but with a touch of casual elegance.
We started out with drinks which were OUTSTANDING! We’re both more cocktail drinkers than wine, and these were some of the better ones we’d had on the trip. All 3 were delish!
That gave me hope, then out came the bread.
Oh my *(#$#( God!!!!! Are you freaking kidding me!!!!! Most of the bread was quite tasty, but the roll with Pancetta, Basil, and Mozzerella was like a freaking sandwich!! So flipping good, this was absolutely some of the best bread we’ve had on the trip. I loved the accoutrements, which included a lemon-olive oil, eggplant, and mascarpone. Yum yum yum!!!!
At this point, between the drinks, the fantastic server we had, and the bread, I started to think that, a la our EMP night, this could be REALLY good meal.
After the bread, out came our two apps, which were the following:
Polenta – What! WHAT!!! Seriously, this might approach being the best I’ve ever had; I don’t even love mushrooms that much and this was UNGODLY good. So thick and creamy, like Joel Robuchon’s famous potatos, it was so thick, buttery and creamy it was heavenly – especially with the mushrooms and jus included. OH MY GOD!!!! I can’t stop using exclamation points!
Short Rib with Farro Risotto – Holy crap! This was freaking amazing. Cooked for so long it was fall-apart tender, beefy goodness. I absolutely loved the creaminess the faro brought to it, an interesting spin on risotto (which I LOVE), and the reduced sauce included was just yummy. I used bread to sop it all up, and still I wanted more.
At this point I’m starting to get VERY excited about this place, and then out came our mains.
Tagliatelle with Guanciale, Fresh Veggies and a Truffle Zabaglione – Sick. Just sick. This was outstanding. Like a carbonara, but lighter and bursting with more flavor. I heart the truffle flavor, and the veggies were so crisp and delish, each a perfect little bite of Spring exploding in my mouth. Don’t even get me started on the perfect pasta … some of the best I’ve had in I cannot even remember how long. Holy Moly!!
Agnolotti dal Plin – Filled with a veal/pork/chicken combo of meat and Fontina cheese, this was just heavenly. Topped with white mushrooms and parmesan, and coated in butter, I wanted to marry this. Dear lord was it good – seriously … a carb lover’s heaven.
Somehow, and don’t ask me because I really do not know, we were able to show restraint and left a decent sized portion of the Tagliatelle for them to pack up for a lunch/snack one day; also, we wanted to order some dessert. I know, I know … shocker, right?
Seeing that I had set aside a couple of the amazing bread rolls to be included, the server (with no prompt from me whatsoever) had the kitchen throw in like 5 or 6 more!!!
We ordered dessert, and man am I glad we did.
Rhubarb Compote with Vanilla Risotto “Pudding”, Phyllo and Muscatel Gellee – What!!! So damn good, I crushed this all up and mixed it together and it was beautiful, just beautiful. Definitely on the lighter side, which was nice after all of the carbs, but good grief was this delicious. Thank god I ordered it. Yum!
Olive Oil Cake with Tangerine Sorbet and Tangerine Slices – yum! Love the savoriness of the olive oil hen mixed with what was close to a sponge cake. Sorbet really added a nice sweet, fresh flavor, and the acid from the actual slices brought it all together!! Yum!!!
I'm going to Scarpetta this weekend, and drool! I can't wait to try it. Sounds like the food is heavy enough that you didn't feel compelled to order an appetizer, pasta, and protein.
Re: Shopsin's, I find the mac and cheese pancakes get livened up with the jam they (sometimes?) provide. But I'm all about the random sandwiches, soups, and the bacon/egg pancakes there these days.
A213b & Kathryn - Thank you for steering me to Scarpetta. Had an excellent dinner there three days ago when in NYC for business meetings. We had the tasting menu which covered almost all of A's selections. Terrific food, service and presentation. The room got a bit noisy and was darker than I prefer but the experience was first rate. Did the wine pairing with the tasting menu - thoughtfully chosen.
Thanks for updating your report. I agree with you that the red velvet tends to be light on the cocoa. And I LOVE their blackout. Loved it so much that it was my wedding cake!
Hopefully I won't get flamed as this board is so pro-Shopsins. But I also agree with you about Shopsins, and I've been there a few more times than you have had. I find the food to be good but not earth-shattering. I think I wrote this in another thread, but I find it go to go there if you want to satisfy your curiosity about this place or nobody in your group can come to a consensus on what he or she wants to eat. It is indeed a very unique experience, but not a place that I find super chow-worthy.
And I haven't been to Scarpetta, but your review is making me want to check it out!
a213b, I have been a long time lurker and just had to sign up for an account after following this thread. I bookmarked it awhile ago and have been really enjoying all of your posts! My BF and I are going to NYC for 3 nights, 4 days for the first time over Memorial Day weekend. I plan to take my own bakery/cupcake tour but, outside of that, we had previously planned to go to quite a few places you reviewed here and you further emphasized the fact that we're making the right choices!
Please continue to post! Your journey is amazing. :-) I'm sure there are many others like me who are living vicariously through you and your chow.
You are too kind! I am so glad that my reports are helpful to anyone; that's the point, afterall ... well, that and I just want to share my love for the great places we tried. Thanks to all of the NYC people who helped us out ... like I said, I will be posting the remainder, though it might take me through the next couple of weeks or so to get them all down -- life!
That being said, again, thanks so much for the kind words -- I am really pumped to read that these are at all helpful.
Thank you chloe ... I actually still haven't finished, though I am now long gone from NYC. This adventure has been in a state of suspended animation, while life took my travelling throughout Central America.
But now, back in the States, I fully intend on completing the reviews -- thankfully I kept very detailed notes! So, Coming Soon!
I know, I know ... I'm terrible. I've actually been back in the city since Labor Day, and am here for another couple of weeks. I've been keeping track of my experience and am going to start another thread in a few minutes, but I felt like I had to finish this one too. So here goes ... sorry for the delay!
Yes MM, I will definitely be finishing up my final 8 days in NYC; as I mentioned upthread, the last week I was really swamped at work, and then we flew back to LA and are settling back in here (working again, so still crazy).
Needless to say, I THOROUGHLY loved my time in NYC -- it really made me miss living in the city, and I am working on finding more work opportunities there to at least visit more often, if not move back.
Nobody has mentioned Payard yet. Which may be just as well... It sounds like you were very very busy. And profitably! So... go drink water and let your liver clear, yes? ;->
But when you are back... be aware that Payard (1032 Lex, www.payard.com) does amazingly good classic french cakes and pastries. The one I like best is called the Louvre. It is a chocolate mousse/hazelnut dacquoise beast, and a wonderful thing to have with a little espresso when your sweet tooth starts to harass you for a little bit of something.
Sorry for such a long delay in posts ... was really swamped with work in my final week in NYC, and have returned (sadly) to LA and am settling back into life here.
I've been to the Payard in Vegas; is it the same? I remember not really falling in love with it there, but that's probably because I went at 8 or 9 at night, so the items were not at their optimal level of freshness.
(Three in one day! I should win a prize, or something)
Today I felt I needed to hit another NYC Street Cart, and opted for the Rahman’s Kwik Meal Cart on 45th & 6th.
This was pretty cool, seeing as how Rahman himself was back behind the window after, from what I gather, spending a lot of time recently at his other carts. Even a news crew was doing a piece on it – which was cool, except it held up the line, which totally sucked.
That being said, we ordered two things: the Lamb & Rice, and the Falafel on Pita.
My wife had the Falafel on Pita, and I only had a bite, but it was really good! Great pita, not dry at all, and I loved the falafel! It was very different from what one gets in LA, not so astringent tasting (less spice or chick peas, maybe?). Be that as it may, I quite enjoyed it and would happily get it for lunch.
Except, I don’t think I could EVER order anything other than the Lamb & Rice. Whoo-ee! This was scrumptious! It had great lamb flavor (real lamb! not pressed gyro meat!) and was beautifully spiced. It actually had a little bit of heat to it, and there was this zing to it that I simply loved. I LOVED the yogurt sauce that accompanied it – it was thick and pleasantly cool, and paired wonderfully with the Lamb. Big fan!
After a soul-satisfying meal, I headed back to work and finished out the day before making my way back down to the LES (apparently where I should live if I moved back, given how much time we’ve spent there) for another of NYC’s highly recommended pizzas …
Una Pizza Napolitano:
We didn’t have a wait when we walked in the door; thankfully, there was a two-top waiting right there for us. We sat down and without even looking at a menu ordered a Margherita Pizza.
Before getting to the pizza, I feel compelled to say that the service here S-U-C-K-E-D sucked! And we are far from needy diners. I mean, this was a pizza place, not a temple of haute cuisine, so I was not expecting EMP levels of service.
It basically boils down to the fact that we ordered water when asked what we wanted to drink, and despite asking again, asking another server, asking yet ANOTHER server, being reassured it was coming, then having to ask AGAIN, it still took 25 damn minutes! It’s f’ing water! Out of a tap! Pour it into a fucking glass and bring it to me. It’s neither hard nor complicated. Whew … rant over.
We eventually did get some water, and then our pizza arrived (in a perfectly acceptable amount of time).
Let me preface this by saying I’ve never been to Naples, and I am FAR from a pizza expert. Qualifications out of the way, I thought this pizza had great flavor, and I loved the fresh cheese. The sauce was outstanding, and I really dug the crust ... except for the fact that, were it alive it would literally have been drowning in oil.
Again, I do not know what’s authentic and what’s not, but I would’ve really liked a bit more tomato sauce and a LOT less olive oil – as in, ounces less. I will say, though, that from looking at the pies on the plates of diners around us, many others did not seem nearly as wet, so maybe it was just ours.
I halfway wonder if the server(s) said, “You want some damn water? Here, how’s THIS for wet!”
In summation, it was really good, though it could’ve used less oil (which would’ve helped make the crust on the pointed ends crustier and less mushy) and more tomato sauce.
From here we headed over to (drum roll please) …
Ok, what can I say, I love this place! We decided to try a couple more cookies that they did not have the last time, and got a slice of one of their pies as well.
Cinnamon Roll Pie: Do you like Cinnamon? Check. Do you like Sugar? Check. Have you been on a cinnamon & sugar kick for the past 6 months? Check.
Holy freaking Moly!
I followed their instructions to nuke it for 30 seconds, and when it came out it was hot and gooey and … sigh … just about everything a boy could ever dream of.
Ok, it wasn’t the most AMAZING thing I’ve ever had, and I know I am being a bit hyperbolic, but it was really, really good. It was basically a cinnamon roll, with a yeasty, bready crust topped with this delicious cinnamon-sugar topping. Yum!
Corn Cookie: Oh my god! Thank god for middle-America and the Corn Farmers. This was like sweet corn meets a sugar cookie, with a pinch of magic dust sprinkled on top for good measure. It was so dense and moist, I loved it! If you love corn, you will go crazy for this!
Blueberry & Cream Cookie: This, too, was good (though not great). Chockablock with blueberries and touched with some yummy blocks of cream in the middle, this was quite nice. I overheard the counter girl telling another customer that women go nuts for these, though in truth it’s been my wife’s least favorite (though still good) item from Milk.
Lastly, the Cornflake, Chocolate Chip, and Marshmallow Cookie: I don’t know how many ways to put this, but this place is a gem. This cookie was really scrumptious, with a nice crisp crunch from the Corn Flakes, lovely stickiness from the marshmallow, all rounded out by bits of nice chocolate flavor. I love this place!!!
Lastly (because, you know, we hadn’t eaten enough already), we made our way West to Sweet Revenge.
This place really has beautiful looking cupcakes. I especially love the packaging/wrap, as well as the frosting “ridges” on top. That being said … how do they taste?
Pure (Mexican Vanilla cake w/Mexican Vanilla Butter cream): This had nice flavor, though the cake was a little dry – the frosting was pretty thick, but it too had a nice flavor. Aside from a more moist cake and pulling it back a notch on the frosting, I would maybe prefer this to be Madagascar Vanilla, with its notes of Bourbon. Good flavor, but not great.
Very Strawberry (Mexican Vanilla Cake w/Strawberry Cream Cheese): Outstanding flavor! Love the strawberries cooked into the cake, which unlike the vanilla cake was definitely moister. This cupcake had a rich, deep flavor with great frosting. Big-time lover!
Crimson & Cream (Raspberry Red Velvet Cake w/Cream Cheese Frosting): Yum!!! This is delicious! Moist with a nice chocolaty/cocoa flavor, but then offset and matched wonderfully by the raspberry. Who doesn’t love cream cheese! This was a great cupcake!
Sweet Revenge (Peanut Butter Cake, Ganache filling w/Peanut Butter Butter Cream): This one had nice, peanut buttery flavor, but overall it just wasn’t working so well for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad at all, just not something I loved. I think this is one that would work best as fresh as possible (as in still even warm, possibly), so that the ganache inside is still warm and gooey.
(On a side note, this is my chief complaint with cupcakes, and bakeries in general – keep your ish moist!!! Seal that stuff in air-tight containers and just have a few pieces of your product out for display … PLEASE, I’m begging you!)
Not so Dirty (Valhrona Chocolate Cake w/Milk Chocolate Ganache): This was fine, but certainly not great. In truth, it was a little one-note and lacked a certain chocolate wallop that I look for when eating, well … anything chocolate.
Dirty (Valhrona Chocolate Cake w/Dark Chocolate Ganache): Same as the other – these chocolate cupcakes were our least favorites, and by far.
I’m starting to realize that making a GOOD, solid chocolate cake is really hard for bakers. Either that, or I am really, REALLY picky. So far I’ve yet to taste one that’s just knocked my socks off, despite having numerous other amazing baked products.
I'll include it in my "review" of today when I get around to posting it, but we stopped by Amy's Bread today when checking out FatWitch, and I was very unimpressed.
Granted, it was towards the end of the day (after 4pm), but we just wanted a little something so we tried their dinner rolls -- NOT good. As in, poor enough for me to tell them, mainly so they could pull them from the shelf. They didn't but they did offer me something else, so I asked what they'd recommend and they offered their Sourdough/Rye Bread.
This, too, was WAY too hard/dry/tough. It did, at least, have good sourdough flavor -- I dunno, maybe those are two things NOT to get there.
Yes, listen to Kathryn. Actually I haven't had the cake at Amy's Bread but I love the blackout cake from Two Little Red Hens. Really fudgey and moist. Instead of a traditional white wedding cake, that was my wedding cake of choice. They also have a cupcake version of it. Two Little Red Hens is located on the UES. So if you're going to the Met or the Guggenheim, you may want to stop by there. There's also Andre's Cafe nearby for Hungarian baked goods if you're into that as well.
re: steve h.
Thanks for the knowledge Steve. Based on that, it would seem UPN would not bee authentic, since their crust was far from chewy. It was actually good, and had a little bit of chew on the outer ridge, but the "point" on several slices was limp from so much liquid.
Still, I would happily eat there again if in the neighborhood -- though I might bring my own water ;-)
Thanks Kathryn, I know it takes awhile to get them up some time ... the biggest problem is that, sort of opposite of most NY'ers, I can't post at work. Thus, I can only do it at nights/weekends, and most of my nights are chockablock with traipsing around for good food, which pretty much just leaves the weekends.
(Look, two in one day!!!!)
So, after numerous multi-course feast extravaganzas, and just as many nights spent running all around the city, we decided we needed to change up the pace and go for a night a little more contained, and a little more “Classic NYC”.
From the moment we walked in the door we were enveloped in old school, classic NYC steakhouse charm and ambiance. You want history? You want masculinity? You want to feel like you are in a temple of meat? Then this is where you belong.
Seated upstairs next to a fireplace with a MASSIVE moose-head mounted above it, we very quickly perused the menu, and based on the help we received on here, placed our order.
We started with the Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese dressing. Mmmmmmm, this is exactly what the doctor ordered. Nice, fresh, crisp Iceberg lettuce with a super creamy Blue Cheese dressing. The dressing was like a sea of creaminess, dotted with hundreds of floating Blue Cheese islands. This was just a classic steakhouse salad, with neither fuss nor pretention. And that’s just what I wanted.
Next out came the Porterhouse for two. Holy Crap! This is a friggin’ Fred Flintstone steak! With steaks like these, this place should permanently have a doctor on staff. Buttery, meaty, pure beef tastiness – this was an AWESOME steak! This was just WAY too much food for two people, but freaking awesome nonetheless. I absolutely LOVED soaking up the juice with pieces of bread.
With it we had a side of their Gold Mashed Potatos, which again were no fuss no frills, just pillowy, potato-y goodness. I, being the glutton I am, also would spoon some of the steak jus over these. Sure, this meal might have basically been a “Coronary on a Plate”, but god was it what we needed, and totally worth it.
We walked out of there in a meat coma, and I was still suffering from it the next morning, too.
THAT, my friends, is how you know you had a great steak.
After work we immediately headed over to Grimaldi’s, thinking that the combination of lingering foul weather and it being a Tuesday would reduce the wait time.
Thankfully, we were correct. It was a WAY better wait, with just one couple in front of us when we arrived around 7:30. We quickly ordered a Small "Plain"/Cheese/Margherita (however you want to call it), and it came out quickly.
The Crust was chewy, but not nearly to the level of John's. It also has some blackened spots from the coal oven and just enough of a crisp crust. The sauce had a tiny bit of spice to its “tomato-ness”, and the cheese was thick & stringy.
We both felt that this was good pizza, with no complaints per se, but not GREAT pizza. I'm trying to put my finger on it, but it just lacked that ... Je ne sais quoi.
The one thing I do feel strongly about, though, it that I would just *absolutely* NOT wait for it – in fact, I wouldn’t really make a special trip for it, unless doing it in conjunction with walking the Brooklyn Bridge, or because I am planning on visiting any of the other food spots in DUMBO.
We left here and caught the trains to the Lower East Side to try some other sweet shops … first stop on the tour, Rice to Riches …
I have to say, this place was a REAL disappointment. I must have tried about 7 - 8 different flavors, and none of them impressed. The texture was way too mushy/gelatinous, which I feel like many places tend towards when making rice pudding. I ended up getting a coconut just out of a sense of obligation for so many samples, but like everything else it was just far too gloppy, gluey, and I did not even love the flavor.
I will say, though, that I like their containers – it will make the perfect risotto container when I take leftovers to work (once I am back in LA).
Needing to turn this night in a positive direction, we decided to return to the site of one of our previous “Successes”, and headed round the corner to Sugar Sweet Sunshine.
Here we, again, opted for 4 cupcakes: Strawberry (again), Lemon (again), Pistachio, and Spicy Pumpkin.
Strawberry – After having it before and loving it so much, I just had to get this again, and boy am I glad! Again, this was un-freaking-believable … so dang good! Moist, packed with strawberry flavor, and topped with that lovely cream cheese that works so well. This is one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had!
Lemon – Just like the Strawberry, I had to get it once more. So tart but sweet, this is really tasty, though a bit on the dry side. Well, not dry, but it had probably been out for longer than the others. Still, it is super tasty, with great lemon flavor.
Pistachio – I’ve been on a Pistachio kick lately, and this one really helped scratch that itch. It had great pistachio flavor, wonderfully moist cake and … uh-oh! The dreaded whipped frosting! But you know what? I didn’t mind it. In fact, I quite liked it! It just seemed to work perfectly with that moist cake … yummy!
And lastly, the Spicy Pumpkin – this looked delicious, and the looks did NOT deceive! This is a great spice cake, though very “Fall” for this time of the year. Nevertheless, it packed a punch, with a burst of that Fall flavor I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you KNOW I always love the cream cheese frosting. Really fantastic.
This place is, officially, the Bee’s Knees!
Walking up to Union Square for our train, we stopped in Pinisi, but unfortunately they did not have any of their Chocolate/Spicy Peanut Butter cupcakes, so we passed and move back up to hit another favorite, Milk.
We grabbed a couple of PB Cookies, and a couple of the Compost; we also “sampled” the Old-fashioned and the Jelly (again, I know), and picked up a Cereal Milk for the morning for my wife who needs it like a junkie needs her fix.
First bite? Oh … my … this is a cookie! Let me put it like this: if you like your cookies dainty, or crispy, or thin, then this is NOT the place for you. At all. Seriously, just don’t even walk in the door.
But if you love dense moist cookies from bakers who are NOT afraid of using all of the fat they can squeeze in to make their wares tasty, then you simply MUST drop by … you owe it to yourself.
From the moment my wife popped the first bite in my mouth, and it felt like a rock (I was definitely surprised by the weightiness of such a small piece), I knew this would be my kind of cookies.
The Peanut Butter tasted like you took a scoop of PB, sucked it off the spoon and then took a bit of butter and poured a little bit of sugar and a pinch of salt in your mouth. I realize that sounds disgusting, and for some it may be, but it was really freaking good. Heck, they’re only $1.50, just try one for yourself and see.
The Compost is actually lighter, though still moist and dense … I think it’s because of the various toppings/fillings. Nevertheless, it’s very, very tasty. It’s not in the same vein as the PB (or other cookies we’ve subsequently tried), but it’s just really dang good.
I love this place.
> We both felt that this was good pizza, with no complaints per se, but not GREAT pizza. I'm trying to put my finger on it, but it just lacked that ... Je ne sais quoi.
I think the crust may be suffering. My ideal crust is a little charred, just a little crisp on the bottom, but with enough of an internal structure with some nice airy holes. Good hole structure is key for me. It can't be too chewy or dense and, of course, not undercooked. And it helps if the crust has a good flavor (sometimes some are a bit bland).
I have never been impressed with Rice to Riches (technically Nolita, if I recall correctly). Make sure you take care of that rice pudding container; in the past, mine have leaked.
In Soho/Nolita, I like to get my sweets fix at Grandaisy (sandwich cookies!), Kee's Chocolates, the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck, selected items at Dean & Deluca (like cupcakes from Sage or Two Little Red Hens), the pastries at Taralluci e Vino inside the Alessi Store (bombolini from Sullivan Street Bakery), the chocolate croissants at Ceci Cela, fruit foccacia at Balthazar Bakery. Friends of mine also love Caffe Falai and Oro Bakery, in that general vicinity. Yum.
Don't feel bad; I'm a native Manhattanite and don't know where so-called "NoLiTa" begins, either (it obviously ends at Houston St., which is a big enough street to form a clear boundary). Rice to Riches is on Spring, a block or so down from Lombardi's, as I recall. Kathryn, isn't that kind of in Little Italy, such as it is now? OK, maybe it's "Northern Little Italy," which amounts to "NoLiTa"...
I'd say Kee's is definitely destination for me, ditto for Grandaisy although if you're planning a trip to Sullivan Street Bakery in Hell's Kitchen, some Hounds would say it's better (a husband and wife team divorced and she kept the Soho location while he kept the name and the HK location).
The Sage cupcakes at Dean & Deluca are definitely destination for me since Sage is located outside Manhattan but if you just went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, it might be redundant.
So Monday night we had, thankfully, been able to score some late minute reservations for the vaunted Momofuku Ko. Braving the deluge, we headed down to the East Village and got there a few minutes before our 10pm reservation.
I was very excited to see David Chang behind the counter; I'm sure he is there a lot, but I know the guy must take SOME day(s) off, so it was cool to me that the night we went was not one of his off nights.
Now, on to the food!
1st Course: Chicharon & Biscuit. The Chicharon was alright, not really anything special – in truth, needed a touch more salt. I'm partly critical because we can get such amazing ones in LA, but I've even had better at other restaurants that are just as sophisticated (if not more so) than Ko -- e.g. Alex in Las Vegas.
The Biscuit, on the other hand, was $&*%$! A-MAZING!!!!! I could almost hear Handel's "Hallelujah" in my head. It actually made me say “Oh My God” out loud. I could easily have eaten 20 of these and then called it a night. So dense and moist, I knew this would be my kind of place if they are not scared to use that much fat in their products. Yes!!!!
2nd Course: Fluke with Whipped Buttermilk, Poppy Seeds, and White Soy Sauce. The Fluke was nice, clean, and exceedingly fresh – I really liked the Buttermilk, whipped it wasn’t as heavy as normal buttermilk but you still got that thick, creamy/fatty flavor. And I really appreciated the contrasting crunch of and astringent taste the poppy seeds provided; they helped to offset the rich buttery flavor of the milk and the clean taste of the Fluke. The Soy rounded it out by adding a perfect amount of salty flavor to offset everything. This was a sophisticated dish that did not blow me away, but the more I think about it after the fact, the more impressive it becomes.
3rd Course: Uni in Dashi Broth, Mustard Oil, some sort of Green, and Sweet Peas. This dish was good, but not “Wow!” The broth was delicious, clear and with clean, crisp flavor.
I definitely would have preferred more bite by having a touch more of the Mustard Oil, but then again I am one of those people who, when at Thai restaurants, tells the servers to tell the kitchen that a Thai is ordering, so they’ll make it Thai spicy.
The Peas were super fresh, nice and crisp … and the Greens tasted fresh from memory, but I simply cannot recall what they were exactly.
The Uni … well, it just didn’t do much for me. Granted, I am not an Uni lover, so I rarely have it, but it just didn’t provide any real unique flavor or texture that I could pick up on.
But then again, I’m basically a Philistine, so what do I know?
4th Course: Smoked Chicken Egg, Caviar, and “Potato Chips”. Ok, I’ll admit it … I’m tired of slow-cooked eggs. They seem to be one of the hot “Dish du Jours”, and while I love a runny yolk more than any other type of egg, I’m a bit over seeing it at most every fine dining place. It’s becoming as ubiquitous as Pork Belly, which is another thing I love but am getting turned off by seeing EVERYWHERE.
That being said, I will say that this one was plated interestingly – but that was a HUGE egg. I mean, like a Pterodactyl egg, and it looked like it was taking a caviar shit. Then I tasted everything, and realized that I am simply not a fan of this dish
I did not get any smokiness (and I’m a big fan of many (all?) things smoked), there was just WAY too much egg for me, the caviar (which I don’t love in general) actually did not have ENOUGH brininess to it ... the whole thing just didn’t make sense to my mouth, which was disappointing. The Potato chips were alright, I guess. I wasn’t a fan.
5th Course: Hand Torn Pasta, Snail Sausage, Crispy Chicken Skin, and fresh Pecorino: Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This dish was INSANELY good; I mean, like we say sometimes in the South, it was “Slap you mama!” good. Salty chicken skin with Pecorino bite meets Snail sausage zing, all loving plated over BEAUTIFUL al dente pasta and buttery goodness. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum!!!!!
6th Course: Soft-shell Crab, Celery & Hearts of Palm. After that last dish this was bound to be a little bit of a letdown, which turned out to be the case. The Crab was alright, nicely paired with the bite of the celery and the hearts of palm; I ate it and felt it was fine, but not in love – I could take it or leave it
7th Course: Shaved Foie Gras Torchon, Riesling Gelee, Pine-nut brittle, and Lychee; AHHHH!!!! Holy F’ing Moly!!! I will knock you off your stool and call you names if you don’t love this dish. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Seriously … don’t test me ;-)
This is ridiculous, just simply, decadently, stupendously stupid sick amazing delicious. I love the texture; love the depth of flavor, the layers, the crunch of the brittle with the smooth richness of the foie and the thickness of the gelee. JHC, this was f’ing superb!
8th Course: Deep Fried Short Rib, Grilled Ramps, Spring Onion, Pickled Shallot. Seriously, I’m swooning. I think I have a man crush on this guy, which doesn’t make sense because I think I am actually older than him, even if just barely. Who would have ever thought of deep frying a Short Rib? Who? Seriously, I’m asking … I’ve never heard of it nor thought of it before.
He said it was cooked Sous Vide for 48 hours at 59 Celsius, which makes sense because you HAVE to break all those proteins down in order to have it be anything other than a rock when it comes out of that fryer.
I can’t even think of anything to say at this point other than it was awesome. Just … awesome!
9th Course: Guava Sorbet with Cream Cheese “Skin”. Wow, such a perfect palate cleanser. I love the rich guava flavor offset by the thick film of the cream cheese. Had he incorporated a little crisp of pastry on the side this would have been a beautiful “Deconstructed Guava Cheese Roll”, a Danish I love from a bakery in LA (minus the deconstructed part).
10th Course: Black Sesame Ice Cream, Lemon Curd, Coconut Sauce with “Funnel Cake” – umm, yes please! Again, I defy anyone to tell me s/he does not love fried dough. The best part was it was almost an afterthought because the rest of this was so damn tasty. Tart lemon, tropical coconut, and the accompanying more savory Black Sesame ice cream – deeeeelish!
We left, after spending 20 minutes speaking with David and the other two chefs, stuffed and more than satisfied. While not every dish was a home-run, and some were more miss than hit, you can see real talent at work here – literally, right in front of you. To me this place is everything Degustation is striving to be, with a slightly different bent of cuisine.
If you loved Degustation, you simply MUST come here. And if, like me, your meal at Degustation left something to be desired, then please, PLEASE come here … like I said, this place is everything Degustation is striving to be, and more.
That sounds fantastic, a213b! Your eyes must have lit up when you heard you could snag those reservations! I'm not sure if you mentioned this, but is this your very first time in NYC? If so, what do you think so far? What things that you have had so far will really stick out in your mind, say, a couple years from now?
LOL, nope ... I actually lived here for a couple years earlier this decade, so I'm not new to the city at all.
That being said, I didn't have 2 nickles to rub together back then (outside of for rent and alcohol, what with being fresh out of college), so there are innumerable great places within this city I did not have the chance to hit.
I guess I'm more than trying to make up for it now. I'll do a comprehensive summary when everything is said and done ... maybe something like a "Best Bites" list. I dunno, we'll see what time allows.
"That being said, I didn't have 2 nickles to rub together back then (outside of for rent and alcohol, what with being fresh out of college)" - Haha, very true. Isn't that what a job is for - having the means to eat great food? :P
I had another question on your Ko experience. What is the feel of the place? Looking at some of the pictures of the interior, it looks to be a bar-type seating with the patrons all facing Chang. Is it a quiet, whisper-tone feel or more "upbeat?"
Also, I'm not sure if anyone can answer this (well, maybe the all knowing kathryn :P), but who fills in for Chang when he is not there? And, is the experience any less enjoyable?
The feel is pretty mellow, at least it was for the night we were there. Keep in mind that there are only 12 diners, each sitting on a stool facing the counter/kitchen.
They play music whilst working, but it's not obtrusive, and I dug it (I think it ran the gamut from Johnny Cash to the Pixies to some Metallica).
Also, I would imagine the vibe would change based on the make-up of the diners; namely, a boisterous group there to have a good time (by group, I mean 4) could really inject energy, versus a group of hushed-toned foodie types.
Regardless, go, have fun. It's pretty mellow and entirely unpretentious.
We started off our day by heading down to Doughnut Plant, where we tried a variety of their flavors and styles.
Tres Leches Cake Donut: Ho - ly Crap! Unlike any cake donut I’ve ever had! Soft & moist, with great Tres Leches flavor, this single doughnut was better than almost every Tres Leches cake I’ve tried here in the States.
Crème Brulee: Again, awesome! Luscious custard filling, crackly bruleed top and a perfect donut … what else could anyone want? Yum!
Strawberry (yeast): Great flavor, but a little tough. It wasn't hard, just not soft and moist like the cake. In general I feel like yeast donuts need to be eaten hot & fresh to achieve maximum greatness, and this one had been made hours before. Nevertheless, it had a really great strawberry flavor.
PBJ: Love the PB glaze with actual peanuts!!!! And I really enjoyed the blackberry jelly filling. Vibrant and sophisticated, it was like an adult PBJ. The only thing I would have changed is I just wish this was a cake donut instead of yeast.
Strawberry (cake): SO much better than yeast! It had the same great flavor which was heightened by the rich, moist cake. We scarfed this down!
Chocolate (cake): I’m learning that, while I love chocolate, I don’t love chocolate donuts. This was really good, and I feel that if anyone likes chocolate donuts s/he would love this one, but I’ve finally determined, officially, that I am not a chocolate donut guy … which is weird seeing as I love chocolate in pretty much any and every other iteration.
After killing some time, we headed out for a late (2pm) brunch at 5 Points:
We narrowed down our choices to the Lemon Ricotta Pancake, the Mac & Cheese (I am a M&C FANATIC), and the Churros. I really, REALLY wanted to try the churros, but we decided to take the “Wait and See” approach and determine if we wanted them after having our meal.
We placed our order, and as we were waiting for the food I saw a waiter walk by with one of those MASSIVE platters of the Churros. I was definitely craning my head to get a better look, and he must have seen me because he asked if we ordered them.
“No, but I’m wishing we had,” I replied. So he just gave them to us!!! Apparently it was an extra order, and he said, “You look like you guys would enjoy these.”
OMG, flipping AWESOME!!! Just a touch of cinnamon, these were nice and hot, airy with a perfect, oh so mild, crispy exterior. I ended up eating pretty much all of ‘em … my expanding waistline thanks me.
I just HAD to order a side of their Hot Chocolate to go with them for dipping. I really liked it alone, but prefer something a bit thicker for churros. That being said it was good just as hot chocolate; nice chocolate-y flavor, not overly sweet or thick.
They brought us out our dishes, and we dove in.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes: So good, light and lemony. Not too sweet, cooked perfectly, and they came with a great maple syrup. I really liked these.
Mac & Cheese was still bubbling when it arrived. It had a very nice, crisp breadcrumb crust with great noodles and an oozing, cheddar-y (not too sharp) béchamel cheese sauce. I did not detect the usual grittiness associated with melted cheddar cheese. This was delicious on its own, but was made perfect by just a few dashes of Tabasco. Yum, yum, yum!
We settled up and walked all over town trying to mitigate the disaster that has become our weight, and passed by the Shake Shack. Umm, this line was WAY too long … looked like at least an hour, and we were both glad we did not try it for lunch.
That being said, we headed back a bit later for dinner, having read so many good/great comments.
We ordered a Single Shackburger, a Double Cheeseburger, a side of Fries, and then got a Hopscotch Concrete as we were leaving.
Shackburger: Tasted great; tomatoes were good, though not the most amazing; didn’t really get much sauce flavor, but the lettuce was nice and crisp. Granted, I only had a single bite of this, and my wife said she really enjoyed it, so I would recommend others try it. For me, though, I would definitely go with the double.
Double Cheeseburger: This was, simply put, an outstanding and delicious burger. It had some nice greasy drippings, but was not super messy – and the meat melded together perfectly with the cheese and the bun.
This is basically an In-n-Out Double-Double, taken up a few notches. I ordered it Plain & Dry, just as I get my I-n-O DD, and confirmed it is much higher in quality. This was SO satisfying and delicious! I loved the gooeyness of the “cheese”; it’s like melting Velveeta on a burger. The bun was great, and perfectly apportioned for the size of the burger; juicy and delicious!
Is this the most refined burger I’ve ever had? Heck no. But is sure is FLIPPING awesome!
Regular Fry: I only had one problem with these, which was they needed salt. Ideally they would have used a final finish of some coarse salt (Fleur de Sel or Kosher), but I know that is unrealistic for what is basically a fast food joint. They were very nice & crisp, with good potato flavor and a soft interior. Not at all greasy, these were good/solid, but not great.
Hopscotch: Yum! Like a refined blizzard; loved the custard, had great flavor … after a day of sweets it was nice to have the saltiness of the caramel in there. One might think I was all sugared out, but no! In fact, this was so good that my wife, who didn’t want anything sweet at all, ended up sharing it with me and LOVING it. Big fan of these, and we will definitely be heading back once more before leaving.
Dang, what a great day. You went to three of my favorite places and ate many of my favorite things! Yum.
For the Shake Shack fries, I have sometimes found unequal distribution of salt, so we always grab a packet or two when picking up our food.
PS You should try to get to Shopsin's one morning and try the mac and cheese pancakes, with a side of jam.
a213, Glad you had the PB&J at Donut Plant. It's one of my favorite sweets of all time. People rave about the cake donuts, but the only I've had is the chocolate, and I didn't really care for it. Maybe I need to try another variety of the cake. I loved the creme brulee too, but the PBJ is my favorite.
I'll be there at the beginning of May, and your reports are really hitting home. You're hitting many of my favorite spots and some I've yet to visit like 5 Points.
Was the Nutter Butter shake still on the menu at Shake Shack? I hope it's there when I get there because I love frozen (and unfrozen) peanut buttery desserts.
You HAVE to try the cake donuts. I'm not even normally a lover of the cake donut (like them yeasty and fresh-fried), but these are just sick. I mean, just absolutely, devilishly sick ... like little 8-balls of crake fried up for you.
Like I said, I tried the chocolate cake, which was the only one I didn't love (for reasons I mentioned). You HAVE to go and try the others ... especially the Tres Leches.
As for Shake Shack, I don't recall seeing a Nutter Butter shake, though I am sure I will head back and will double-check ... not just for you, but becase I, too, am a lover of the PB desserts!
I love the enthusiasm, a213. Don't take this wrong way, but it's nice to see a fellow pig around here. The descripition of the cake as a fried crack was top notch.
I can't wait to get there May 5th. I will definitely try the cake donuts (other than the chocolate that I didn't care for the first time).
Don't forget to update us on the shake selection next time you hit the shack.
Please! I'm not offended in the slightest. I love eating good food, and will not apologize for it.
Plus, we ARE trying to minimize the damage this is doing to our waistlines by walking a lot, only taking the trains, and working out as frequently as possible.
I'll def. let you know about the Shake update; at the very least I am sure at some point I'll be in the area and will check, whether I eat there or not.
Thanks, we're just people who love good food ... whether it's high end Michelin 3 starred or off a street cart with no name, doens't matter.
If it tastes good, it tastes good, which is the whole point.
Thanks to so many here for helping me figure out where to go and, just as importantly, wheere to avoid!
Well, unfortunately I ended up having to work on Saturday -- and what's worse, I was so slammed I did not even get the chance to eat anything all day before dinner. Yuck!
That being said, I got out and met my wife to head over to Brooklyn for some of that famous Grimaldi's Pizza. Catching the train and making the short walk, we were greeted by QUITE the line. I'm sure it was in part due to it being a Saturday, but also because of how beautiful the day was.
Ummm, No. I absolutely refused to wait in that line, knowing it would be an hour to an hour and a half. Calling an audible, we decided to have dessert first and got in the much shorter (and faster moving) line at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory; we traded off keeping our spot, with my wife walking around and taking some pics and then trading off so I could head over to Jacques Torres.
Knowing I didn’t want to fill up, I only ordered a small Wicked Hot Chocolate – Mmmm, this was very nice. It had a beautiful, rich chocolate flavor but then that chili (chili oil?) added a nice, spicy pop to it. I don’t know that I’d say this is the best Hot Chocolate I’ve ever had – truth be told, even in the city I preferred the one I had from the Dessert Truck a few days ago – but it was quite tasty.
The difference between the two is that Dessert Trucks is thick, viscous and worthy of a stand-alone dessert on a cold night, while Jacques Torres is what I would choose on a cold day to warm me up while walking about the city when I wanted something sweet … love that pepper!
I rejoined my wife where it was almost time to order our ice cream.
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory:
I love the setting! It’s a very cool building, and even better, they have some really tasty ice cream. I got the Butter Pecan, which was rich, smooth, and buttery with a nice hint of maple/brown sugar flavor.
My wife ordered the Strawberry, which was fresh tasting and had a lovely strawberry bite to it. Great texture, creamy but not overly thick, these were both scrumptious.
From here we decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, which was wonderful and something I would highly recommend. It’s not long at all, and doing it at twilight seemed to be the perfect time … and of course make sure to sample some of the delicious food right at its base in Brooklyn.
We ended up on the Manhattan side and, pizza craving as strong as ever, we made our way over to the West Village, eventually ending up at …
John’s on Bleeker:
This place, too, had a line – though thankfully it was not nearly as long as the one at Grimaldi’s. After waiting for a few minutes, I got wise and called them for takeout. Brilliant! We were told it would be 15 minutes so we walked around exploring the area before grabbing our cheese pizza and taking it to eat at Father Demo Park.
Hot and fresh, this pizza was good, but not great. It had a nice crust with some chew, though in truth after a couple of slices it became a too chewy – I noticed my jaw tightening, kind of like what happens after putting a bunch of Skittles in your mouth and chomping on them. The sauce was nice and tomato-y with a little bit of zing, and the cheese/sauce/crust ratio was well-balanced.
This was fine; good, even, and it definitely fixed a craving. That being said, the difference between this and Di Fara is night and day; Di Fara was amazing, and while I would eat John’s again if in the area, I am not sure I’d make a special trip for it
It was only 10:00, so we decided to make one last stop, and walked over to …
We had to get some dessert!
We ordered the trio, and had Lemon Sorbet, Olive Oil Gelato, and Salted Caramel.
First up, the Lemon Sorbet. Wow! Perfecly tart, beautiful , great lemon flavor. What perfect texture! Real zing! Love it
Next, the Salted Caramel. Man, what a letdown, this was absolutely pedestrian; don’t get me wrong, it was not bad, but it was far from great. I’m probably spoiled because we make a great one at home, but still … something about this just left me a bit bored.
Lastly … you guess it, the Olive Oil. This was rich and unctuous; a great blend of olive oil peppery-ness & lusciousness contrasted/complemented with a subtly sweet, really creamy gelato. I don’t know if I am in love with it, and I am not sure I would make a special evening planned around it – that being said, it was certainly tasty and worthy of trying.
A day that started off as a food disaster (not eating!) turned out alright, in the end. Thankfully this is a city that’s easily navigated, though I will stress that having a “cheat sheet” is SUPER handy – whether you’re out for fine dining or street food, it’s always helpful to have a list on hand of a good variety of your favorite foods.
Your stamina is admirable, I salute you! If you are ever in the West Village and are looking for a NY style pizza head to Arturo's on West Houston. Some contend Arturo's isn't truly NYC style but it's close enough for government work. Coal oven baked and one of my favorite old school places in the neighborhood.
Re: Grimaldi's, even when the weather is not gorgeous, there is usually a line on the weekends.
Regarding John's of Bleecker, I have also found the crust to be a bit chewy and underdone, perhaps that is what kept your pie from being just a little bit better.
For hot chocolate, my favorites in the city are at La Maison du Chocolat, or Vosges' spicy hot chocolate (although this year they toned it down, sadly...I wonder if you ask for it extra spicy).
I dropped into Otto tonight with some friends and tried the Salted Caramel gelato. Strangely, it was a miss, and most of their gelatos are hits for me. The caramel flavor seemed a bit absent. Almost as if the gelato was watered down, and someone had greatly dialed down the flavor! Ick. It was nowhere near as intense as the olive oil or the coffee gelatos. The olive oil gelato was as good as ever though.
(And for post #100)
Frankie & Johnnies:
I know, I know ... let's just say that this was not a place of my choosing; rather, someone at work wanted to check it out for old-school, history's sake.
I did not have high hopes, but they did have a good deal for lunch Prix Fixe. I ended up just getting the Grilled Chicken Caesar salad, which was EXACTLY what I thought it would be, and even good in a "comforting, middle-America Caesar" kind of way.
The grilled chicken was good (if plain), the salad was crisp, but browning in some spots (I’m sure it was several days old), and it was certainly not overdressed (dressed with Grade-A Sysco "Classic Caesar" Salad Dressing).
But still … buy a bag of lettuce, grill a chicken breast and slice it, pour on some cheap grocery store dressing, and voila! Thankfully it was expensed, and it did the trick ... I wasn't hungry when I left.
Knowing we needed to improve upon that experience, we cancelled our Keens reservation for Friday night and opted to head to the Time Warner Center and try our luck with Per Se, especially after perusing their posted menu for the day, which incidentally is a VERY nice touch by them, as it lets potential diners decide if that day's menu is one to their liking.
After dressing in our best, we took a cab up and walked in around 8:00. Immediately greeted with warmth, when we asked to dine in the Salon they promptly set us up with the best seat in the house –the couch and table looking out the main picture window over Columbus Circle and into the Park. Such a beautiful setting! We felt like the King and Queen of NYC!
Our server came over and introduced himself, and we immediately hit it off. So nice and unpretentious, with an obvious love for what he does – this is REALLY starting off well, and we haven't even had a bite!
We started off with the ubiquitous Thomas Keller Gougeres. Yum! I mean, who doesn’t love hot bread with cheese? I could’ve mowed through about, oh … I dunno, 20 or 30 of these and called it a night.
Next up came the just as standard Salmon Cones. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am not a Salmon guy, usually. In general, fish with stronger flavors are ones that I do not find I enjoy a great deal, but that being said, these were quite good.
We’d had both though of these before at TFL, but for some reason the ones at Per Se were better than my memory of the ones at TFL (I theme consistent throughout the night).
First up came the two 1st courses we ordered …
Russet Potato Gnocchi with Split English Peas and Pea Tendrils, "Cacio e Pepe": First thoughts …
Good lord, this is a TINY portion! I know this is on the tasting menu, but I feel like this is a tasting menu portion. Both of us were kind of chuckling at the thought of having a stereotypical “Fine Dining” meal where you leave hungry after having miniscule portions.
Thankfully, this was utterly delicious, like little buttery, peppery, cumulonimbus clouds with super fresh peas that had beautiful flavor. The peas were so fresh and divine; really fantastic! Already better than any dish we had at TFL (there’s that theme again). Yum, yum, yum, yum YUM!
Mascarpone-Enriched Fava Bean “Agnolottii”, with Castelvetrano Olives and Petite Basil with Villa Mille Rose Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Freaking awesome!!! What? Yup, freaking AWE-SEOM! Nicely al dente, great bite from the olives, delish, like taking a bite from a fresh Spring Garden … I could almost feel the cool kiss of dew and the warmth of the first rays of the Sun. I ate this like Pac-man … gobble, gobble, gobble!
Next up, our two mains …
Crispy Skin Fillet of Long Island Striped Bass, Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus, Caramelized Cipollini Onion and Field Mizuna with Hobbs Shore’s Applewood Smoked Bacon "Gastrique": Ummm …
Yes please! So mild, buttery and clean; perfectly cooked with a great crisp on skin and fork tender meat. I LOVE the bacon and the gastrique! And the Asparagus? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Snake River Farm’s “Calotte de Boeuf Grillee”, “Crispy Bone Marrow”, La Ratte Potatoes, Heirloom Carrots, Morel Mushrooms and Turnip Purée with “Sauce Bordelaise”: Perfectly cooked (MR), meaty and juicy and oh so tender. This was like a Fillet Lite, with even more flavor packed inside. Loved the complementary sauces, and again, the veggies were super fresh and delicious – where do they get these?!?!? Oh, and the Bone Marrow was like a tater tot for adults. “I’ll take an order of 20 to go, please!”
Oh, and lest I forget … better than TFL? Check, check, AND check!
Now it’s time for what I’m sure everyone knows by now is my favorite course – dessert!
“Bombe au Pamplemousse”, Chocolate "Roulade", Manjari Chocolate Mousse and Grapefruit Curd with Pink Grapefruit Ice Cream: First off, this dish is BEAUTIFUL! I almost didn’t want to eat it … ok, who am I kidding, I jumped right in.
Fresh, biting grapefruit flavors, and a great contrast between the spongy chocolate cake and the crisp chocolate shell. Rich, decadent, dark chocolate flavor offset beautifully by the citrus bite of the grapefruit. And I llllooved the grapefruit ice cream!
Also, Coffee and Donuts. These were something we really wanted at TFL but did not get. Whimsical, what with the doughnut and the hole sitting on top, these were hot and fresh – and really, who doesn’t love hot, fresh, sugary balls of fried dough? As for the accompanying Coffee Ice Cream (presented as a play on a Cappucino with foam on top), it was super flavorful and perfectly treaded the line between sweet & creamy and roasted & bitter.
We were finally left with some mignardise and a couple of take home treats; everything was delicious (though I am blanking on what everything was) – I will say they were a perfect way to end the meal!
Now for the nitty-gritty; we were disappointed, as in utterly let-down by our meal last year at TFL. I mean, I even got to meet Chef Keller but remember thinking at the time, “Ehhh, that was far from the best meal I’ve ever had, he’s not so special”.
Then, again, I’ve had the feeling reinforced by my brunch experience at Bouchon in Las Vegas … and even by the assortment of goodies and pastries I tried from Bouchon (on several different days, mind you).
So it was with some great hesitation that we went to Per Se … truth be told, I would’ve been fine had we missed it, and was NOT going to commit to an expensive tasting menu when I had no real reason to believe it would be anything other than TFL: Part Dieux!
Boy was I wrong! This meal was everything the others were not, and on our way out we made a reservation for the formal dining room next week. Soooooo good!!!
My only quibble is portion size could be a bit more substantial, but that’s just because I am greedy and want more of that delicious food. Was this meal the best we’ve ever had? No.
Was it one that made us rethink our opinion of TK and his artistry? Yes.
Would I recommend making a reservation (or dropping by the Salon)? Absolutely.
What a gem!
Did you feel ripped off and not full since you describe the portions rather small? I always wanted to try Per Se but am worried I will leave there disappointed like I did Del Posto. That place commits highway robbery with the prices they charge considering their portions. I also had this fear with EMP, however EMP turned out to be one of the best meals of my life. How does Per Se's portions compare to EmPs?
Sorry it took so long to respond; Per Se definitely has smaller portions, but I did not feel ripped off -- especially because I went with the Salon where I could control how much I did or did not spend. I think the total bill for 2 cocktails, 2 apps, 2 mains, and 2 desserts was right around $240 (including tax + tip).
I would not call it a great value in terms of food quantity, but then again our meal at EMP was around twice Per Se's. Both are outstanding, go ... I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Heads up -- if your wife hasn't gone to Mitzy's for macarons yet, I highly suggest that she do so very soon. Tafu (the place where Mitzy's is sold) will close this Friday. They're better than the macarons at EMP. While not exactly like Pierre Herme (that man is like God to me), they're damn close.
re: Miss Needle
Ooohh, thanks for the head's up! We missed out on Amai, and I am bummed about that. But if they're better than EMP, I definitely do not want to miss.
Sure, I don't expect them to be Pierre Herme or Laduree, but I loves me some good Macarons and am almost always exceedingly disappointed in the ones here in the States.
I'm sure your pizza experience at Di Fara's still looms large, but if you have the chance before you leave town to head uptown to East Harlem, I'll second kathryn's recommendation of Patsy's on 117th Street & First Avenue.
Classic NYC Coal oven pizza.
Loving this thread and your reports, BTW. :)
Patsy's has most DEFINITELY been added to the list, though only time will tell if we can make it.
As an aside, just looked at what we've spent thus far, and my eyes goggled a bit. We might have to tone it back (pricewise) for the next few meals. Good thing there are such great, cheap eats here in the city!
After back-to-back nights of EMP and Degustation, we decided we needed to scale back the ambitious nature of our meals and do something a bit more down and dirty. Thus we headed down to ...
This place is perfect, a nice little hole-in-the-wall kind of joint. Yes, I know about the ultra-cool secret spy room phone booth cum "Speak Easy", and no, I did not try it out ... the wait was an hour and just did not have the stamina for it.
Anyway, we ended up ordering a couple of dogs -- the Spicy Redneck and the Chihuahua.
Spicy Redneck: Wow! Really!?!? Where have these dogs been all of my life! Crunchy, meaty, spicy, cool slaw … DELICIOUS! I hated having to share it, wanting to greedily keep it all to myself. But I was nice and let my wife have some while I tried the ...
Chihuahua: Yum! Crunchy, fresh avocado, cool sour cream … ecstasy!
My god, these are outrageous! These take hot dogs to another level … to an art form. I read the hype, I’ve tasted them, and my friend, these are hot dogs that EXCEED the hype! I’m SO happy we went.
We also tried their Tater Tots, which were just absolutely perfect. Piping hot, with a great crunch but then a light potato inside … not too greasy, yum!
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts here, and I am a convert -- we will ABSOLUTELY be hitting this place up again before we leave.
After Crif’s, we thought we would walk up and check out Pinisi for dessert. Boy, am I glad we did!
Pistachio: Holy cow! This was a really moist cake with little bits of Pistachio in it that gave it a great crunch, and it had a nice, sugary tang from the Cream Cheese. Really Tasty!!! Loved their look, too … nice and rustic. Mmmmm, Mmmmm!!!
Chocolate on Fire: Again, very moist, beautifully red cake with an almost solid layer of chocolate amidst the red velvet. “Interesting” frosting, in that it was more like a glaze, but I quite liked it. Great cocoa flavor!
At this point we COULD have called it a night, but why? We felt we should take another stab at Momofuku Milk, because there were still so many things we wanted to try.
We had quite a wait, but we ended up trying each of the following: the Chocolate Donut and Bavarian Cream Soft Serve, and the Cereal Milk.
The Chocolate Donut tasted just like it sounds; I am not really a fan of chocolate donuts, so this wasn’t something I loved, but if you like chocolate cake donuts, you will love this.
The Bavarian Cream, just like the Chocolate Donut, tasted just like … well, Bavarian Cream. And just like the Chocolate Donut, it was good, but not a hit for me. These both probably suffered by comparison to my taste earlier in the week of the Old Fashioned and the Jelly … ESPECIALLY when paired together! When that happens, it’s something beautiful!
Lastly, we had the Cereal Milk. My first thought? Interesting … this is one of those things I try and then wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It tastes very much of corn flakes, and though I was expecting something sweeter, this turned out to be delicious once I got used to it. My wife LOVED it; I mean, L-O-V-E-D Loved it! She wants to make her own as soon as we get home, though in truth the only way we could think to do it would be to literally let some cereal soak in the milk and then strain it. But surely this is not what Chang does, is it?
Anyway, we have to get back there, both for some more soft serve and Cereal Milk, but also because I really want to get some of their delicious looking cookies.
a213: Enjoy reading your post tremendously. Spicy Redneck and Chocolate on Fire! Yum! I hope you make your way to Rice to Riches to try those sinfully rich and ultra sweet rice puddings! Btw, today is the last day Amai Tea is in business. Hope you get to try their Green Tea Cupcake and cookies before they shutter the store (at 6 pm?). I ordered 10 boxes of their cookies to be shipped to me in LA. Too bad can't ship those cupcakes.
Momofuku Pastry Chef Christina Tosi told New York Magazine, "We take corn flakes and toast them and steep them in milk, strain them, and then there’s a very small portion of sugar and salt just to balance it a little bit."
There's a cereal milk panna cotta recipe from her in the NY Times from a while back, too:
Well, it was bound to happen -- we'd had such great luck with all of our meals thus far, but from past experiences I know not every meal can be a hit. Unfortunately for us, this was our night for just such a meal, which was made all the worse by the restaurant in which it happened ...
This is a board favorite, and seems to be raved about by most everyone ... Bruni gave it two stars, and it's certainly on most everyone's "Must hit" list when visiting NYC. So in we went with high expectations.
After a bit of back and forth, we opted for the oft recommended 10 course tasting menu. At $75 a pop this is a great deal for food with this level of sophistication. Alas, on our night more than a few of the dishes/flavors just did not work for us.
Here was our menu, and our thoughts ...
Amuse – Jamon Serrano and Gruyere Croquetta, and Spanish "Tortilla" with Quail Egg. Both of these were quite tasty; I love croquettas in general, and this was well fried with a beautifully flavorful crunchy exterior and a pillowy interior of salty, "piggy" Jamon with that distinct creamy depth of flavor from the Gruyere. The tortilla was good, too. I love quail eggs, and it worked well as a small bite.
1st Course -- Almond soup with Spanish olive oil, and Muscat Grapes. This, too, was really good. Served cold (or cool, rather), it had a great almond flavor that paired well with the rich olive oil and the crisp sweetness of the Muscat Grapes. It certainly had a bit of a rustic texture, in that it was not fully pureed, but this was not bothersome -- in fact, it added another level of interest to the dish.
2nd Course -- Hamachi Crudo with a Sweet Salsa/Relish, and Olive oil. This was just ok. It's not that there was anything wrong with it, per se, it just ... I don't know. The fish was from New Zealand and the flavor was clean and very fresh. This was well-composed and certainly well executed, but it lacked a distinctive "pop" that made me want more.
3rd Course -- Grilled Squid with Maitake mushrooms and a Dashi Broth with Lemon. First things first, this was great broth, well flavored with a beautiful, distinctive lemon burst. The mushrooms were good, too, but where the dish failed was the squid. It lacked in flavor, and even worse, was extremely rubbery, even bordering on tough and chewy. Not a fan ...
4th Course -- Sardines served 3 ways: Ok, I'm just gonna say it.
I guess it would help if I at all liked sardines, but I find that I am very susceptible to "fishy" flavors, thus I am always attracted for more mild fish, which sardines certainly aint! The frist one was grilled and served with roasted red peppers. I did really enjoy the peppers, but was not too keen on the sardines.
The second was like a fried sandwich with jalapeno and pickled onions ... I mean, you could fry the fork I was eating with and I would like it, so it was good, but not impressive.
The third was marinated and served with a potato salad and was just WAY too strong for my palate (though I did like the bit of horseradish on the potato salad).
5th Course -- Duck Egg with Toasted Breadcrumbs (what are these called again?) and Duck Bacon: Served in it's eggshell, this was thick and custardy, with a good amount of pepper. It was a lot like a polenta, and I enjoyed its pepperyness and the salty tang of the duck bacon. Topped of by the crunchy breadcrumbs, this was a tasty dish, but still didn't blow me away. Again, I couldn't put my finger on it, but, I dunno ... hmmmm.
6th Course -- Grilled Quail with a Beet Salad and Candied Pistachios. This was good, with nice flavor, and well cooked quail. Beautifully plated, well-seasoned, but (again) there was just that little bit lacking that really made it wow. It was a nice dish, but not a great one.
7th Course -- Slow Poached Egg, Crispy Quinoa, Ramps and Pork Belly. Angghhhhh! Wrong answer! As in, not happening. The Pork Belly was just gross, some of worst I've ever had, and I am a HUGE lover of pork belly. Yuck! This dish really, REALLY did not pull together, and it seemed really disjointed ... there was a lot going on but no cohesion.
8th Course -- Sweetbreads: What?!?!?!?! Like the Pork Belly, these just did NOT work. As opposed to Babbo, these were very “glandular” and rubbery, which was really off-putting. Served over a white bean chili puree, I actually liked the puree flavor but couldn’t get past the texture of the sweebreads; chewy, perhaps undercooked a bit? Or maybe just a bad piece? Possibly the preparation?
9th Course -- Oxtail Canneoloni: this was actually my wife's favorite dish. Accompanied by a variety of herbs, this was pretty tasty, though not earth shattering. I like the accompanying veggies ... sliced radishes, jalapenos, and baby turnips.
One thing I will say is I love that these guys are not afrarid to use Jalapenos. I was impressed they opted to use them with food of a bit more refined bent ... certainly not Tex-Mex, which is where one normally finds these.
10th Course -- Carmelized Brioche: Oh. My. God!!! Where have you been all of my life? This was so freaking good, it almost made up for rest of meal! Like bread pudding but richer, deeper, and just better. Served with grapefruit and orange wedges … this was flipping AWESOME!
All in all, it actually pains me to write a less than glowing review. I'm not sure if it was that particular menu, or just that particular night, but while some dishes were good (and that dessert outstanding), there were many "misses" on the night. I'll be honest, at several points of the meal we were both just wishing it would end ... I know, that sounds horrible, and I don't intend it to be mean-spirited or overly harsh; but it's the truth.
What makes writing this all the worse is that the main server was SO nice -- she even gave us the recipe for that dessert!
We walked out down $200 and really disappointed -- especially after all the glowing reviews on here. Again, I have to wonder if it was just an off night, or maybe even a situation where the majority of that menu did not appeal to either of our palates ... I dunno, but I'm sad to have to write this review.
Needing a "Pick Me Up" afterwards, we decided to head up to St. Marks and check out The Dessert Truck once more.
Specifically, we wanted to get some Hot Chocolate, and with no line we walked right up, ordered, and after a couple of minutes were presented with our warm cup.
Yum!! Rich, thick, chocolatey; this was everything Max Brenner's HC was not. In fact, if anything was wrong with it, it might have been too thick, like the chocolate in which you would dip a churro. This was like a melted chocolate bar mixed with a bit of cream and then spooned (I don't know how else one gets chocolate that is so thick) in a cup. Yum yum yum!!!
From there we decided to head up to Chickalicious Dessert Bar, and after a few minutes walked out with a Triple Chocolate Cupcake, a Coconut, and a S’Mores.
First off, these are beautiful. Really just a pleasure to look at, with their perfectly smooth frosting, and in the case of the S'More, beautifully browned marshmellow topping. They each and every one had good flavor, but they were a little dry, which I might chalk up to the fact that we got them at the very end of the day.
Truth be told, neither one of us loved these for one main reason -- whipped frosting. This is a HUGE turnoff to me; I much more prefer cream cheese frostings, buttercreams, ganaches, etc. There's just something about whipped toppings that I don't enjoy, for the most part. I do want to mention the Marshmellow topping was thick and sticky, well crafted and (again) nicely browned.
Again, these were well-flavored, beautifully crafted, and certain to please many a customer; it just so happens I am not a lover of the whipped toppings, but I would certainly suggest to anyone that s/he stop by ... at the very least before or after a visit to Chikalicious proper.
a213, Thanks for the honest report on Degustation. I was a huge fan of the 10 course tasting menu, but I certainly appreciate seeing a dissenting opinion. I find it a little disturbing sometimes on here when opinions get a little too universal.
I certainly agree with you WHOLEHEARTEDLY on the pork belly. It was grotesque when we had it a couple weeks ago. It was just a big glob of fat with no meat on it.
I, however, disagree with equal vigor on the sweetbreads. It was one of my favorite courses on the menu. They were super tender and very smooth in flavor. Mine cut easily with a fork. If Babbo's are better, then I will certainly have to try them in a couple weeks when we eat there.
The dessert was insane. I just wish it was MUCH bigger because I could have eaten 5 of them. I didn't care for the sour fruit with it because it kind of wiped the sweet delicious taste from my palate too quickly.
Thanks for your appreciation. Like I said, they staff was so pleasant that it really did pain me to write something less than positive, but (and everyone should note this) *on that particular night* that was our reality.
It sounds like the Pork Belly might be a consistent miss, but unfortunately, whereas your Sweetbreads sound perfect, ours were rubbery/chewy. Sure, I *could* have cut them with a fork ... it just would have required me to lean forward a little to gain some leverage to exert the extra force necessary.
All that being said, they really do seem to want to please -- based on the many reviews on the boards, I strongly suspect ours was just "one of those nights", and not indicative of the usual meal one would have there.
You're very generous. If I hadn't loved my 10-course tasting menu, I would have been REALLY disappointed, given the price.
I didn't love the pork belly, but then, I never love pork belly, which in my experience has tended to be half fat. I otherwise liked that course, though (which also came with squid or cuttlefish). I also had a course with raw oysters, and I hate raw oysters. On the other hand, the sweetbreads - the same dish you had - were outstanding and certainly not undercooked.
It sucks that they evidently have consistency problems. Too bad you got struck by those. I'm amazed, though, that you were able to eat anything else that night after those 10 courses!
The service was great when we were there too. And Chef Wes seemed like a real good dude too. He interacted with us a little and was very cordial.
I really liked the totality of the experience with the exception of the room being uncomfortably warm the night we were there, the courses being spaced out way too long at times, and just a miss or 2 on the dishes. I definitely want to go back, but my girlfriend wasn't as enthused with the place as I was.
I know, I know ... I'm steadily falling behind. In an effort to catch up these next few reports will be a bite more "impressionistic" versus some of the others. Though, in truth I say that and then they'll turn out to be the same. We'll see.
Started the day with lunch at 5 Napkins Burger, which is right down the street from where I am working.
Ordered the Original 5 Napkin Burger (when in Rome, right?) and it was brought out fairly quickly. First impressions? Looks good, now let's see how it tastes ...
Bun looked really good, tasted nice too, but turned out to be pretty soggy underneath ... sigh. The Rosemary Aioli was WAY too strong; like, punch you in the nose and take your wallet strong. I like rosemary, but come on! It turned into not only the predominant, but the flat out dominant flavor.
The onions were nothing special; in fact, they were actually kind of flavorless. They certainly did not taste very fresh. Maybe they were working from the back of the veggie drawer?
The cheese was nice and salty, at least when I could get a clean taste, and lastly, the burger was overcooked by one temperature, which might have been part of the reason (along with that dang aioli) there was no depth of flavor to the burger.
All this being said, it certainly was not awful, but it was nothing special ... maybe it was an off day, but if this is one of the best NYC has to offer, I'm wondering if this is really a burger town.
As for the fries – they were well salted, but were more than a bit limp, and some were soggy; decent flavor but poor texture.
Lastly came the Black & White Malted Shake – again, could’ve been much better. What this SHOULD be is malted chocolate ice cream and malted vanilla, layered; instead it is malted vanilla ice cream blended with chocolate syrup.
I didn’t get a lot of malt flavor ... it basically tasted like a regular chocolate shake, and was nothing to write home about in the slightest.
All in all, 5 Napkin is fine for a neighborhood joint; I'd try one of the other burgers, ask for the fries well done, and skip dessert.
Dinner at EMP:
We waffled, as we didn't have reservations for the evening. I got "home" from work and did a quick search for tables on Opentable, and saw EMP had an opening at 8:45. Alright ... not HUGELY enthused, but let's give it a shot.
All I can say is THANK GOD! This place was fabulous! I'll get into more detail in a bit, but it's unfathomable that they have nary a Michelin Rosette -- I don't know if that's a function of the fat Michelin man having his head up his ass, but this place easily was as good (if not better) than several 2 stars we've been too on the West Coast. Thank goodness I don't live my eating life based on Michelin, since they're pretty much clueless (esp. when it comes to LA).
Anyway, we were treated like royalty from the beginning to the end -- easily in the top 3 for best service we've ever had (note this is the first time I've really brought up service in any of my posts/reviews). Simply divine, and SO many places could use a lesson from Meyer on how to properly treat guests. Always there, but unobtrusive; the antithesis of unpretentious -- these are people who clearly "get it", and who enjoy what they do and love good food, good wine, and good service. I could go on forever ...
On to the food!
1st Amuse – Cucumber with Salmon, Foie Gras Terrine with fresh Rhubard gelee on cracker, and ??? (I can't recall, but it was something wrapped in a cone and then tied ... anyone, anyone?). These were all fresh and delicious, a great start to the evening (even the salmon-cucumber, which I don't love salmon).
2nd Amuse – Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive Oil and a bit of cooked Sturgeon served in Egg shell. Crap this was freaking good! I love the presentation (seems everyone is serving in eggshells these days), this was smooth, creamy, wonderfully fresh. Yum!
3rd Amuse – Celery Root Soup with Scallop. I am not the biggest scallop lover in the world, but this was delish … silky smooth yet creamy soup with a perfectly textured scallop the size of my thumbnail (maybe a bit bigger). Man, these keep getting better and better. Love the way the meal is starting!
1st App – Foie Gras. I usually prefer my foie seared, but this terrine was like buttah! Oustanding! Loved the sweentess the fresh rhubard gave to it, and hello! I'm ALWAYS happy to see ramps. These were pickled and had great bite. My only complaint is the Brioche could’ve been a bit warmer (and replenished a la TFL party-way through), but this is quibbling. I'm beginning to think this could be a special place.
2nd App – Ricotta Gnocchi: These were little, fluffy, airy clouds of ricotta. So rich and decadent ... just buttery goodness with a bit of salty bacon thrown in. I'm salivating just thinking about them!
Main 1 – Atlantic Halibut with Meyer Lemon, Capers, and Parsley: This was perfectly cooked with a nice crust -- light, very fresh and clean; massive capers (looked like olives) gave a beautiful brininess to the dish. The sauce was tart and sweet, and everything worked really well together. I could easily have this again right now.
Main 2 – Suckling Pig with Garden Peas a la Francaise: Unbelieveable vegetables! Seriously, these were just as good (if not better) than the suckling pig, which was perfectly cooked and outstanding. I even told our server to pass along my compliments to the chef working veg, because these were just jaw-droppingly stunning. The suckling pig was beautiful, especially with the crust. It was very tasty, but again, I was amazed by the vegetables; the spring peas, fresh carrots etc were the winners here (and that's with the amazing pig!)
Main 3 – Muscovy Duck, glazed with Honey, Lavender, Rhubard, and Spices: This dish was a big whiff for us, at least on the breast side. It was cooked perfectly, with that great crust but rare-ish meat, but there was just WAY too much coriander … it was overpowering! I tend to think that maybe we're both just sensitive to it, and that it wasn't an execution issue from the kitchen, just a flavor issue for us. Kind of like how some people can REALLY taste even the smallest bit of Cilantro. I don't know if that's the case, but perhaps.
The Confit, on the other hand, was tender and delicious. Served with that Rhubarb I love so much, it was divine.
When asked we did tell our Captain about the Duck, but made sure to point out our thoughts on how it was not an execution/kitchen issue, just something that did not work for us.
Pre Dessert – Strawberry Cheescake “Spherification”; LOVE the goat’s milk sphere!!! Sweet and with enormous complexity and depth of flavor, with that tiny bit of graham cracker crumb on top really tying it together. But my GOD!!! The Strawberry one was perfect! It was like a literal explosion of flavor in my mouth… I LOVED this!
Dessert 1 – Tahitian Vanilla Souffle with Passionfruit sauce. This, too, was perfectly cooked, pillowy, light but rich. The Passionfruit was knock your socks off bold and tart – served by poking a hole in the soufflé and pouring it in tableside, this was really refreshing and delicious!!
Dessert 2 – Chocolate and Caramel/Salted tart: Ok, I have to be honest here ...
Absolutely one of THE BEST tarts I've ever had! So rich, such perfect crust! I adored the layer of thick caramel wedged between the chocolate and the crust, and the salt provided just the most strikingly perfect counterpoint. It was served with chocolate ice cream, and the entire dish was super rich and insanely satisfying.
This was so good that my wife only half-jokingly asked, as they cleared our plates, if it was possible to order an entire one of these ahead of time and just come in and pick it up. They mentioned this might be possible at lunch, when the "Tart Cart" (cute name!) rolls around for dessert. I may just have to pop in and steal one for a late-night dessert back at our place!!!
Dessert 2.5 – When we were looking at the menu, there was one dessert that had a component I REALLY wanted to try ... the Malted Vanilla Gelato. I asked if it was possible to get literally just a caviar spoonfull to taste, and instead they brought us basically a portion equal to what they'd put on the plate. It was really malt-y!! loved the malted meringue that came with it, which gave it a nice texture contrast with good crunch. Yum!
Petit Fours – Lastly came the Macarons. Now, I simply adore macarons, especially good ones. While nothing ever compares to the ones we all get in Paris, these were pretty damn tasty!!! There was Toasted Sesame/Chocolate, Pistachio/Rose, White Chocolate/Olive, PBJ, Violet, Chocolate/Banana, and Hazelnut/Brown Butter.
OH ... MY ... GOD! So freaking good!!!!!!! The PBJ was the absolute best, and I loved the Brown Butter too (it had great lemon confit pop at first, then a nice brown butter-y finish). We seriously wanted to take the whole tray home with us! These were so good we just HAD to ask for a few more, especially the PBJ. Yum yum yum!
By now we were one of the last two tables of the night, and as we were settling our bill the sommelier (who was GREAT the entire night, always checking in on us despite my only ordering one glass of wine the entire night, to pair with the Foie) came up and handed us a bag. Thinking it was the usual "To Go" treats finer establishments send with their guests, I smiled and continued filling out the receipt ... 'til she uttered these magic words:
"I put some extra slices of the tart in here for you."
RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH! (Record Scratch)
How freaking totally cool and awesome is this place! I dare you to name me 5 ... no, even 3 places where you've received (top to bottom), more attentive yet unpretentiously personal service? I triple dog dare you.
You can't do it, can you? See ... SEE! What'd I tell you! -- EMP rocks my socks off! This place was just fantabulous!
I know plenty of people have bagged on it since Humm took over, but this meal blew away our meal last year at TFL, in each and every aspect (except number of courses). Is the food super cutting edge or wildly sophisticated? No and no.
Nevertheless, it's supremely delicious, and the service is ... well ... I'm not sure, the best words escape me.
Guess I'll just leave it at that.
Ok, here's Sunday. As I mentioned elsewhere on the thread, I had basically the entire thing typed out when I accidentally deleted it. Doh! I just had to shut the laptop and walk away. Man it was frustrating! Anyway, this one's probably gonna be way shorter, only because I don't have the energy to redo it in its entirety.
After an enjoyable morning, we left to head down for a late lunch at Ippudo. Arriving at 2:30 I thought for sure there would be no wait, but you guessed it ... it was HOPPING! We were told it was at least 45 - 60 mins, so we put our name in and decided to head out and explore.
We used the opportunity to head to Max Brenner and opted to try their original Hot Chocolate, with dark chocolate. I can only think of one word to describe it …
Are you freaking kidding me? I’ve had better hot chocolate from a Swiss Miss packaged mix – not even doctored! It was not sweet at all, but then on the flip side it had NO depth of chocolate flavor, which is disappointing since, you know, it’s a friggin’ hot chocolate! Yuck! Looks like maybe we should have gone with the Italian (read: thicker) version, but if it’s twice as good as the one we had it’s still worthless.
At least we killed some time, and when we returned to Ippudo, we only had to wait 5 or 10 minutes before being seated. As we had done our research ahead of time, we perused the menus and then placed our order fairly quickly – one order of the Hirata Pork Buns, to be followed by an order of the Akamaru Modern to be shared.
The Hirata were brought out fairly quickly, and we each grabbed one to take a bite.
What! What, what! Holy freaking MOLY!!!!!!!!!!!! Not only are these better than the ones at Momofuku Ssam (which are certainly outstanding), these are like little mini buns from Heaven. It’s like someone else posted – they’re little Crack Sandwiches.
At one point I told my wife that if I wasn’t married to her I would marry the Hirata … I know, I know, I’m babbling, but that’s what happens when I eat something that’s so %&*$! delicious. I briefly though about taking the place hostage – I figured, hey, I could have those things for at LEAST 24 hours straight before NYPD sent in SWAT. Yes, they are that good, and I DEFY anyone to tell me they’re not.
Next the Akamaru Modern was brought out, and it was fantastically delish too. My wife enjoyed it more than I, but that’s because I was day-dreaming about the Hirata … after those, nothing would’ve kept my attention. Don’t get me wrong, the Akamaru was delicious, and I would happily recommend it and have it again, too … but, for me, it paled in comparison.
As we walked out I though, not a bad meal for $30! This place is DEFINITELY a keeper.
From there we headed up to the UES to check out Two Little Red Hens, but unfortunately they closed early due to Easter. I’m sure we’ll find ourselves back up that way soon.
We relaxed for the rest of the day before heading out for our late dinner reservation at Babbo.
We arrived at Babbo promptly at 9:45, and unlike some others were treated very pleasantly by the Maitre D’. Shown to our table in the upstairs dining room (we made no request either way), we were soon happily ensconced and looking over the menus.
We took the ideas many have posted on here and decided to take the 2 Apps, 2 Primi, 1 Secondi, and 1 Dessert route … at least, that’s what we were thinking ‘til we saw the specials. We quickly knew we just had to add a side for our Secondi.
We ordered the Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette and the Crispy Pig’s Foot, the Paparadelle with Boar Ragu and the Goose Liver Ravioli, and then the Fennel Sweetbread to be accompanied by a Soft Polenta with Walnut & Ramp gremolata.
The Lamb’s Tongue was really freaking good. A perfect portion and something I didn’t want to share. I mean, wow! Mark me down as a fan. I wanted to lick the plate!
The Crispy Pig’s Foot was good, but nothing I would say you HAD to order. My main quibble is that it’s so thin that once crusted and then pan-fried, it could really be anything. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted good, but at that point the flavor was predominantly something that was pan-fried, not Trotter deliciousness.
The Paparadelle, on the other hand, were REALLY yummy. Perfectly made and cooked, with that rustic (yet refined) taste from the ragu that brings satisfying warmth to one’s belly on a cold night. Scrumptious!
The Goose Liver Ravioli was the one dish that didn’t wow. Let me start off by saying that I LOVE foie gras, but am not a big fan of liver … I know, I know, I’m a study in contradictions. Anyway, the pasta was cooked perfectly, and the filling did a fine job of treading the line between being “liver-y” and more rich like foie – but the sauce (oh the sauce!), well, it was great, at first … for a bite or two. But it quickly overwhelmed everything else, and we ended up not finishing the dish (though I did dab so bread in the sauce which was pretty tasty).
Next came the Sweetbreads, which were probably the most perfectly cooked sweetbreads we’ve ever had. Seriously rich with a multitude of flavors, we mowed through these. If it were at all socially acceptable, I would have picked up the plate and licked it (my GOD that mushroom sauce!), but I settled for using the remainder of my bread to soak it up and devour it.
Accompanying the Sweetbread was the Polenta, which was perfectly cooked and thick – rich with butter and cheese, and the zest and nuttiness added by the gremolata really rounded this off perfectly. Throw in ramps (who doesn’t love ramps?) and this was darn near the best polenta either of us has ever had.
Then came time for dessert, and boy did we have a dilemma here. Pretty much everything on the menu looked outstanding, so we finally had to alter our plans and add another dish …
And then another!
I’m pretty sure people thought we were nuts, but I really don’t care. I get one life, and I never know when my next great meal may be my last, so by god I am going to eat what I want. Incidentally, isn’t that half the fun of being a food loving adult?
We ended up ordering the Zeppolini, the Chocolate & Pistachio Semifreddo, and the Lemon Crostata.
Before I go into too much detail, let me just say that as much as we loved our meal at Babbo up to this point, we loved the desserts THAT much more. They were outstanding, and the perfect coda for the meal – equal parts hot & airy; cold, rich & decadent; and tartly, bitingly refreshing. Mmm Mmmmmm!!!
Those donuts were so light and coated with powdered sugar … I think there were 5, of which I ate 4! Accompanied by three sauces – chocolate, raspberry, and vanilla – these were so tasty.
The crostata was a perfect blend of crisp, buttery crust and shockingly tart lemon filling – like a lemon bar, only way better.
Lastly, the semifreddo – simply put, this is the best semifreddo I can recall ever having. Like a cold, pistachio mousse (but a little more “crisp”, if that makes any sense) encapsulated in a hard chocolate shell, this was devastatingly, sinfully bliss.
We’re not really drinkers, so our meal at Babbo proved to be a really, really good meal at a fair price. Is it the best meal I’ve ever had? No, but it was delightful in every way (service was good, though not stellar) and I can see why so many people love it. Please do go and enjoy!
I'm sorry you ended up at Max Brenner when you could have gone to Sundaes & Cones or Chikalicious Dessert Club or Bespoke Chocolates or Pinisi or Abraco or Butter Lane in the East Village! Boo!
At least you had a very good meal at Babbo. I'm surprised you guys managed to pack away all that food and add on three desserts! Wow. My hat is off to you.
And if you do get a chance, stop at Otto for some olive oil gelato.
I know, c'est la vie. We were just doing it to kill time, so all's well that ends well (and we had two GREAT meals that day).
We did have a couple of leftovers to bring back from Babbo -- the Paparadelle and the Polenta, both dishes we felt would keep well. As for the desserts, well, I DID say I was a big fan of the sweets!
Definitely planning on trying Otto's gelato -- actually had reservations there for tomorrow (well, I guess tonight), but had to cancel due to work. Still might manage to make it down for that gelato, though, since everyone keeps on raving.
Perhaps you should keep a cheatsheet / todo list in your pocket, organized by neighborhood should you find yourself in the same position! :)
If you find yourself with some free time during the day, you can definitely just drop in at Otto and order some at the bar, or grab a snack at a table. They serve continuously throughout the day.
I'm glad you enjoyed your meal at Babbo. I thought the Goose Liver Ravioli were great and loved the bracing balsamic vinegar-based sauce that came with them when we got them, but what was really amazing to me were the casunziei, one of the best dishes I've had at any Italian restaurant in the world, including in Italy. I wasn't as blown away with our desserts as you were with yours, but I definitely considered the whole meal a fair value for great food.
a213, I hope you don't tire of doing these reports because this is the best thread I've read on this board. Packed with info and descriptions. It's been fun to follow because my girlfriend and I do the same sort of stuff when we visit NYC. It's just on a much shorter stay schedule (we usually visit for 3 days at a time and have a hard time cramming in all the places we want to hit).
Sorry, I'm behind ... first day of work today coupled with a frenetic day yesterday. Here's the rest of Saturday.
After a very enjoyable experience eating out late lunch at Di Fara and The Orchard out in Brooklyn, we returned to our hotel with ideas of dinner – and of COURSE dessert – dancing in our heads. We took our time getting cleaned up and ready, and around 7:45 rolled out heading down to the East Village, first stop …
Momofuku Ssam Bar:
Greeted by the hostess, we put our name on the list and took her suggestion of heading down the hallway to Milk to relax and await our table.
First impressions, both of these places are really cool … I really dig the vibe, the hip/chic servers and crowd, the décor, and the electric crackle of buzz that permeates both of these places. This is a place with energy, but at the same time it’s not “scene-y”, if you know what I mean (at least in the LA sense).
We leaned up against one of their tables to get our bearings around Milk, and were quickly approached by a server who said she could get us started on drinks while we waited for our names to be called. I ordered the Maine Ginger Beer, and then we walked up to the pastry counter to see what Milk was all about.
There are some DELICIOUS looking cookies going on here; I really wanted to just get one of each and try them all, but rational thinking beat out my more basic desser … err, desires, and I decided to be a bit more prudent and ask for a tasting portion of one of their soft serves.
I chose the “Old Fashioned Donut”, and my wife the “Jelly”, and good GRIEF were these fantastic! Especially when you took a bite of one, and then another … it was like having a fresh, jelly-filled Old Fashioned … but it was ice cream! I had thought these flavors might be gimmick-y, but they were outstanding.
These were truly delicious, and had we not had other plans we would have immediately headed back to Milk after dinner for a more in-depth examination of their tasty treats. Don’t worry, we will DEFINITELY be back … I’m already salivating at the thought!
The server brought out the ginger beer and a couple of glasses for us to use; it was great, with that nice ginger spicy tang that I love. I really appreciate that she took the time to talk me out of one of the other ginger beers, explaining that this one (based on my comments) would be the one she would recommend for me. Really cold and refreshing, it was like a palate cleanser after those frozen goodies.
Knowing we had a bit longer to wait, and with other plans for later in the evening, we decided to go ahead and order the famed Pork Buns. I grabbed ‘em and took them back to the table, where we sampled.
Yahtzee!!! Instant homerun, and already one of my favorite bites of the day.
The pork belly was cooked perfectly, and had just the right amount of fat. The hoisin gave it nice bit of heat, which was perfectly contrasted by the coolness of the cucumbers. All of this perfectly ensconced within a delicious, fluffy bun … these were like Asian Pork Belly Tacos, but oh-so-much better. Truly scrumptious, we were already off to a fantastic start to the night.
Right after we finished we were called for our table, so off we went. We were seated, and after a few minutes perusing the menu we made our choices: Fried Brussels Sprouts, Beef Tendon, Crispy Pig’s Head, and the Spicy Pork Sausage with Rice Cakes
The Fried Brussels Sprouts came out first, and we each took a bite – whoa! Each of us looked up at the other and smiled. This dish was simply amazing. Crispy and crackly outer leaves leading way to the more dense heart of the sprout; these were fresh and cooked to utter perfection. The fish-sauce vinaigrette perfectly accompanied them – light and with just a hint of fish flavor, when combined with the fresh bite of mint all of this together was sheer bliss. Yum!
Before we had even finished the Brussels Sprouts out came the Beef Tendon. Sliced super thin with julienned (IIRC) green mango and peanuts, this dish was good, but not revelatory. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just seemed to be lacking. It might have been hurt coming immediately after the Brussels Sprouts, which had such an explosion of flavor, but neither one of this dug this dish nearly as much as many others that we had tried up to that point. Again, it wasn’t bad (and the people next to us really seemed to enjoy theirs), it just wasn’t a big hit.
These were cleared away, and after an appropriate wait out came the Crispy Pigs Head. Accompanied by Frisee, a Vinegar-Mustard Sauce, and some succulently sweet raisins, this dish was definitely an improvement over the Beef Tendon. Cooked perfectly (who DOESN’T love something dipped in Panko and deep-fried?), by itself the dish was good though not outstanding.
BUT … when combined with the Vinegar-Mustard sauce, the Frisee, and the Raisins, it became a very delicious dish. Still not a true eye-opener, but very tasty. I would absolutely eat this again (in conjunction with other dishes). The crisp crust, the buttery fatness, the tang of the vinegar and mustard then rounded out by the sweetness of the raisins, this was really good.
After it was cleared away, we had to wait a bit for our next course, which was the only service issue of the evening. I was pretty sure the server or kitchen had forgotten our final dish, but before it got long enough to say something they presented us with a complimentary side of the pork buns to do the delay.
Umm, ok! I got no problems with that! I inhaled one before discretion got in the way and I decided to save the other for another time. You know my thoughts on these, so I won’t bore you with them again other than to say I am a REALLY big fan.
We were quickly brought out the final dish, which turned out to be outstanding, and possibly my wife’s favorite of the night. Warned of the spiciness (in particular the chilis), we were presented with a beautiful dish. Amazing pork sausage accompanied by some fluffy, chewy rice cakes, this was a definite hit.
The pork was had a touch of sweetness to accompany the spice, the rice cakes provided a fantastic contrast in textures, the Chinese Broccoli and the chilis really helped to round this out. I loved the heat the chilis brought! Man this was freaking good. This was really a smash hit of a dish, and I can guarantee you it keeps well and works great the next day after the flavors have had even more time to meld together. Mmmmm Mmmmmm, this was yummy!
All in all, I see what all the hype is about both Ssam and Milk, and I think it’s certainly deserved. I am very much a fan of both, and would strongly encourage anyone visiting to go. Service is comfortable and unpretentious, and the crew really seems into the food and making sure one leaves happy. Oh, and I would absolutely make it a point to hit Milk afterwards for dessert.
Lastly, don’t be scared away by wait times! We went in on a Saturday night around 8:30 and were probably seated in no more than 30 minutes. Go and enjoy!
NEXT STOP, Chikalicious!
We walked the 3 blocks South down to Chikalicious, arriving right around 10:15. There were maybe 6 people or so ahead of us in line, but it moved fairly quickly and we were seated by 10:30 … thankfully at the bar, so we could watch Chika and her Sous Chef (cannot recall his name off the top of my head, but a character and someone who obviously enjoys food) work their magic.
We each ordered the Prix Fixe with wine pairing, with my wife choosing the Baked Apple with a Caramel (?) Crisp and Vanilla Sorbet while I went with the Fromage Blanc Cheesecake … I also decided to go with the Warm Chocolate Tart with Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream and Red Wine Sauce as an additional course.
Presented first with an Amuse of Coconut Sorbet with a Jasmine Gellee, this worked perfectly well as an utterly refreshing Palate cleanser (I’d be surprised if that wasn’t part of her intention, knowing people are coming from various dinners beforehand). Cool and refreshing coconut sorbet gave way to the more earthy, peppery flavor of lavender. I quite liked this, and the portion size was perfect.
Next up came my Fromage Blanc and my wife’s Baked Apple. The Fromage Blanc was, without a doubt the favorite dessert of the evening. Creamy yet luscious, each bite was absolutely divine. And, it paired beautifully with the chosen wine (Alvear Pedro Ximinez ’04), which provided a smoky, molasses syrupy complement to the “cheesecake”.
The Baked Apple was also quite nice (though I’m not a huge cooked apple fan); I liked it much more than I thought I would, with the soft, not-too-sweet apple going quite well with the perfect crunch of the crisp, all rounded off perfectly with a beautifully tasty vanilla sorbet. This was really good, but paled in comparison to my dish.
Next came the Warm Chocolate Tart; cutting into it, it had a beautiful crust and oozed warm chocolate. Yum! Super delicious and offset beautifully by the bite of the pepper ice cream, this dish was fantastic! Still, we felt the Fromage Blanc was the best of the night.
We rounded out the evening with some Petit Fours while we chatted with Chika and Don, both wonderfully nice, beautiful people.
I would HIGHLY recommend this place; while the desserts were not the best I’ve ever had in my life, this is an experience that any sweet lover should not miss … especially when you consider the price!
Hopefully you've seen these!
Don't Leave NY Without Eating
As for pizza...
There are a few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York style (gas-oven), Neopolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two (usually coal oven). (And Di Fara is kind of out there, Dom is definitely doing his own thing with the olive oil drizzle and multiple kinds of cheeses.) Then to throw another wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke). Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are pies only. John's, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are famous, a bit touristy, and I think some newcomers are kicking their butts lately.
My favorites in Manhattan are:
Co. aka "Company" (pies only, no takeout). Neopolitan style with nouveau toppings, similar to Mozza in LA but less broad/puffy crust. 7-8 pies to chooses from. Very popular. Lunch and dinner.
Una Pizza Napoletana (pies only, no takeout). Neopolitan style with only classic toppings. 4 pies to chooses from. Dinner only, 'til they run out of dough. Thursday through Sunday.
Patsy's of East Harlem (117th street location only, pies and slices, there is a dining room and takeout area). Coal oven. A NY classic.
Artichoke (I recommend the square slice only, takeout only). Tasty, they are from Staten Island, but I feel like they are kind of doing their own thing since the crust is VERY thick for NY pizza.
* Honorable mention to the Pizza Bianca at Sullivan Street Bakery, which is run by the guy who runs Co.
Una Pizza is pretty expensive on the pizza scale ($21 for a pie that is on the small side).
My favorites outside Manhattan are Di Fara and Totonno's Coney Island but you've already been to Di Fara, and Totonno's just suffered from a fire and are in the process of fixing the place up. In Brooklyn, Lucali and Franny's are spoken quite highly (I haven't tried yet), and Motorino's been picking up steam lately.
Also, if you are cocktail fan, I highly recommend you try out Death & Company, Pegu Club, PDT, Milk and Honey (milkandhoneynyc.com), and Tailor. Fresh juices, chilled glasses, big ice, etc.
So what’s better after hot, crusted, cheesy, tomato-y goodness than … (drum roll please) …
Just a few blocks walk down Ave J to a left on Coney Island takes one to a place alleged to have the absolute best produce in the NYC metro area.
Now, before I get to my review, let me qualify it by saying that my wife and I are fortunate to be living in Southern California. We have access to some of the most amazing produce in the world, year round. Super fresh, one can get it directly from the farm at any one of the numerous Farmer’s Markets scattered throughout the area. It is one of the reasons I relish living there – the ease of accessibility to world-class produce is something that VERY QUICKLY spoils someone.
So, when we walked into The Orchard I tried to temper my expectations, not wanting what we can get so easily (and fortunately) to influence our opinions of this place. I mean, one has to realize that we are in the middle of an urban jungle, right? There aren’t any citrus groves for, well, I don’t even know how many miles.
In we walk, and the place is small; in fact, a lot smaller than I had envisioned. I don’t know why I thought it would be big, maybe the name, but I did. Nevertheless, we were greeted with a smile by one of the employees and we started browsing.
My first clue that this place might truly be something special was the Mangosteens we spied halfway up the middle section. As someone who’s grown to love many of the fruits of SE Asia during my travels there, I am ALWAYS eager when I spy some Mangosteen (or Durian, or Salak … you get the picture). I left them there and continued to browse, my interest piqued.
As I approached the register/scale area, the same super nice employee who greeted us asked if we’d like a taste of anything. “Sure, I mean, we love fruit so we’re up for anything”, I replied. He immediately gave each of us a wedge of Grapefruit, as well as a half of a mini-orange.
I took my first bite of the grapefruit wedge … and then another … and another … and another, until I was furiously (though subtly, I hope) tearing away each and every morsel of pink, acidic flesh.
Holy Moly that was friggin’ delicious!
I then took to the orange, thinking maybe I just got lucky. After bite one? Nope! This place is the real deal. I mowed my way through that orange, and then it hit me …
Whoa! What just happened! How is this fruit so amazingly fresh, plump, juicy and delicious? It’s freezing outside … and raining … and we’re surrounded by concrete for miles. I mean, how the HELL does this tiny store in the middle of a stretch of average looking shops in the middle of Brooklyn have fruit that is on par with what we can get in a location that's climate is optimal for perfect fruit? Tell me, how!?!?!?
We moved on to try the Raisins-on-the-vine, the Fuji Apples, the Pink Lady Apples, a variety of grapes, and Passionfruit.
Everything, with the exception of the Passionfruit, was succulent and delicious, and a perfect encapsulation of what that fruit should be.
I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you. Never did I think we would find such amazing produce in this city (except for at some of the finer restaurants). And $50 we walked out with a big bag full of grapes, raisins, Pink Ladys, Mangosteens, and a fat Haitian Mango that looks like it could be amazing in another couple of days.
Was this the best fruit I’ve ever had? No, but when taking into account the location and context, you all are seriously lucky to have such ridiculously, awe-inspiring produce a short hop away (assuming there’s no construction on the Q lines).
It’s expensive, but if you are a lover of exquisite fruit, then it is absolutely, undoubtedly worth it.
Great reports! I do love the Orchard, but it is quite expensive. I agree with you -- there's better fruit around, especially if you're out on the West coast. To this day, I still remember my first bite of the most awesome white nectarines I had at a farmer's market in San Francisco -- so good that I'd rather eat that than eat cakes, pies, chocolate, etc.
How much were the mangosteens, btw? I'm afraid to find out as fresh mangosteens are expensive enough at a stand in Chinatown. But I'm kind of curious. Thanks
re: Miss Needle
Yikes is right! But surprisingly, it's cheaper than I expected. I've heard prices for mangosteens here have gone up to as high as $35/lb! Oh, mangosteens! They are the perfect fruit! The mini oranges sound good as well. I'm not a fan but DH has been so disappointed with the oranges we've been getting all over town -- I know it's not really orange season, but he just has to have them. So I'll definitely try to make a trip down there one of these days.
I know LA is a big doughnut town, but if you are in the mood for upscale doughnuts, Doughnut Plant located in the Lower East Side is very good for CAKE doughnuts. Their yeast-raised ones are really heavy and greasy -- kind of tastes like lead if you could eat lead. But the cake ones are really moist and delicious. I wanted to hate them because I couldn't stand Mark Israel (owner) when I saw him on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. But the cake doughnuts won over my personal feelings for the man. My favorite flavors are the blackout and dulce de leche.
And to echo Kathryn on WD-50, I thought the food wasn't that great but the desserts were stellar. I believe it's possible to just do a dessert tasting if you go at certain times. So if you want to free up a meal to try something else, I would recommend seeing if that's possible.
And since you're staying near the 53rd and 6th Cart and you were looking for Jamaican food, the Jamaican Dutchy Cart is probably up your alley. While I'm not an expert on Jamaican food, I have had Jamaican in Flatbush (Brooklyn), and can say that the cart is pretty decent.
I'd also like to add that I think Degustation would be a good one for you because the food is pretty unique -- it's like French-influenced Spanish-style small plates. Only 14 bar seats (reservations necessary), and it's an open kitchen. So you get to watch these guys make your meal in front of you, which I think is a cool experience. And the cost is a bargain compared to what you are getting.
I have to say that I'm quite impressed with the amount of eating you're doing here, especially as this is a business trip. Nice job with your blow-by-blow reports. Looking forward to reading more! Thanks!
re: Miss Needle
I have to disagree on the yeast donuts at Donut Plant. The peanut butter and jelly donut is one of the best treats I've EVER had. When it comes to taste, though, everyone is different. So, I won't quibble over it. But that donut is really awesome, and it's not lead-like at all.
I haven't had the peanut butter and jelly doughnut. But I've had the Elvis doughnut (peanut butter and banana, I believe) and some of the other flavors, and thought it was way too heavy for my taste. You're right -- taste is subjective and it's good to know different viewpoints.
re: Miss Needle
Got res for Degustation tomorrow night, and don't for one second think I am not going to hit up the Donut Plant! I'm just trying to coordinate it so I can go earlier than later ... that way I can get them as fresh as possible.
And thanks for the kind words Miss Needle! I am really enjoying being back in the city. I know I am behind on reports, but I'll get to them all, I swear!
In fact, I had a long one typed up last night and then literally deleted it all RIGHT before I was going to post. Doh! Erg! ... sigh.
I've learned the hard way (although I often forget to actually do it!) to write long reports in an email to myself, and then copy and paste to CH. My common "faux pas" is to check something (e.g: name of a restaurant or dish...) on another page, and when I return to the post I was writing - Aaagh!
After awaking to a rainy day and getting in our morning workout, we decided on our food options for the day (with backups) and set off. First stop, Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn on Avenue J.
When we set out for Di Fara, I realized it would be a bit of a commute, but having read everything on the boards (and elsewhere), it seemed like it would be worth it. Little did I know what was in store.
First we hit the 42nd St train station and got to the Q platform to await our train. "Easy", I thought. "We can take this all the way and we'll be there in 30 mins, 45 tops". Maybe I should've spoken those words aloud; you know ... a "from [my] lips to God's ears" kind of thing, because that is exactly what did NOT happen.
After being informed the Q was basically not running due to construction (shout-out to the MTA for all of the easily seen service announcements!), we caught an R to Atlantic Ave where we then caught a “free shuttle” (read: the 41) down to Prospect where Q service began. We finally made it to Avenue J a solid hour and 45 mins after walking out our front door.
Emerging into a still steady rain, we quickly stopped to let our portable GPS sync so we could find our way to Di Fara … only to realize after a minute that we could literally see it from where we got off. Oy!
But then we walked in, and our day brightened considerably.
First impressions – this is a place that absolutely SCREAMS to be photographed in B&W. From the interior and décor that looks like it hasn’t changed in at least a couple of decades, to the myriad awards and glowing reviews on the wall, to the most important fixture … Domenico himself – I cannot think of a place I’ve been to recently where I really, really wished I’d had my camera to capture its essence more than here.
Signore DeMarco is a slight man, with a bit of stooped shoulders from years of rolling out dough and reaching into the ovens to pull out his pies. This is a gentleman who personifies the quintessential NYC Pizza maker, a well-dressed fellow with more than a hint of an accent from his home – this man is the creator of pies that stir the soul.
We were fortunate; it was almost 3:45 by the time we actually made it, and thankfully there were but a few people waiting. Thank you god for rain! We ordered a couple slices to stay, and one for the road. While waiting for the lady (his daughter?) to ring us up and get the slices, I watched the master work his craft.
This man must have asbestos for hands! I’ve never seen anyone just reach into the oven and pull out a pie bare-handed like he did! Then he took his $3.99 K-mart special scissors and cut fresh Basil all over the pies and I realized I was in heaven … and this before I took the first bite!
Sitting down, I grabbed the crust and took my first taste …
Mmmm … (chewing) … oh my! … (chewing) seriously, Wow! … (swallowing) … Oh. My. Heavens!
This is some seriously amazing pizza. As in, while I’m not ready to call the competition yet, some SERIOUSLY amazing pie; as in, maybe-the-I’ve-ever-had pie.
How does his sauce taste like I plucked a tomato off the vine and am eating it fresh and raw? And how does each slice have a perfect ratio of cheese-to-sauce-to-crust? And my GOD is that Basil scrumptious, the perfect flavor foil for the crust with its beautifully light crunch and the melted cheese and its salty gooey-ness and the sauce tasting of fresh tomatoes.
Seriously, this is just about a perfect slice … a gathering of simple components rounding into Nirvana with each bite. This makes an almost 2 hour each way commute seem completely reasonable, as in a “Why wouldn’t you make that round-trip commute?” It makes perfect sense when you go.
For those of you who have been, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you who have yet to go, I cannot urge you strongly enough, go. Just go! You must experience this for yourself. Even as I sit here this morning I’m thinking “If I leave now I can be there JUST in time for opening … even with all the hassle in getting there!”
Oh, last thing ... that 3rd slice (you know, the one "To Go")? It didn't stand a chance. It would take the Jaws of LIFE to pry me from that place without having eaten that second slice. I might have hit my own mother if it meant I could have it. Maybe ... ok, probably.
This place is AWESOME!
For cakes I really like Two little red hens and Financier.
Pizza has got to be Di Fara... Best pizza ever.
Italian also try Crispo.. Del Posto is a rip off.
Steaks (my expertise)- Peter Luger, Strip House, Keens, Old Homestead, BLT Prime, Del Frisco's, Uncle Jack's, Smith and Wollensky, Quality Meats all great.
Breakfast- Clinton street bakery and Sarabeth's- these two have great pancakes for someone who has a sweet tooth.
Definitely try to get to Craft and EMP.... two of my favorites
Steak, thanks for the head's up.
I've done Peter Luger before and thoroughly loved it, but would probably try something different this time just because ... well, just because that's how I am, always looking for the new. Same reason I would pass on Craft; I love the one in LA (and Craftsteak in Vegas), but am primarily looking for pretty much "quintessential NY" type places.
As for Pizza, I'll give you a sneak peak -- we made it out to Di Fara today for lunch, and the review will come later tonight (or tomorrow morning). I definitely wasn't disappointed.
Thanks for the other recs; hopefully I can check them out!
My recs to satisfy your sweet teeth:
Sugar Sweet Sunshine (located just a few short blocks from Katz's). Their dreamy cupcakes will permanently wipe out that Magnolia nightmare.
ChikaLicious. Sit at the counter at Chika's flagship and watch her create tiny, artful, seriously delicious upscale-style desserts.
Dessert Club Chikalicious is directly across the street from the flagship. Wonderful puddings, cupcakes, cookies, etc. Take-out, though there are a few seats.
Madeleine Patisserie has sensational macarons, pastries, fruit tarts, and croissants. On the savory side, all the quiches are excellent. There is also a menu of sandwiches, but I haven't tried them. Seating at the rear of this charming shop. Menu on menupages.com.
I'd give Mitzy's macarons a leg up on Madeleine, but Madeleine does have a very large selection. Mitzy only does 6 flavors and changes them up monthly. I think I've complained about it before, but I think Madeleine's are too cold/moist. Mitzy's are sometimes on the too moist side, but she's been doing better over the last few months.
You said you are open to lunches - definitely give Jean Georges' lunch a try. It's a good deal and spectacular food! $28 for two dishes, $12 for each additional. Comes with amuse bouche and cute little desserts at the end. You won't even need the additional plates other than the first 2 to be full.
Definitely try and make your way to Momofuku Milk bar and bakery. Their desserts are delicious and their cookies are just "wow!" You can also get their famous pork buns there as well. Chikalicious has very delicious and different cupcakes and it's not far from Momofuku. For delicious ramen, you must go to Ippudo. There will be a wait, but well worth it. As far as Italian is concerned, if you want "red sauce" italian, not fancy but v. good try John's on 12th street in the East Village. Very old School. While you're there, you can go around the block to Veniero's for some cannoli and Italian cookies.
John's is controversial on this board. I went with a group of 13 last summer and had a good experience. However, I don't recommend Veniero's. There was a time when it was good and reliable, but now, you're likely to get dry, stale, or/and tasteless stuff there. I'd suggest staying away from there.
Ok, first night's report ...
1) Katz's Deli: We struggled trying to decide between Katz's and either Grimaldis or Di Fara. Thank GOD we decided on Katz's.
What a blast from the past! From the moment you walk in and are handed your ticket, you realize this place is something special. It's a bit chaotic at first trying to make head's or tails of where to get what, where to sit, the table-service tables versus the "free-for-all" tables, and more. Nevertheless, stepping to the side for just a minute and observing quickly allowed us to take the scene in and figure out or plan of attack.
We grabbed a table with no problems at 8:00 and my wife took a seat while I went up to the sandwich counter to order. I waited in line but a second when one of the countermen, who looked like he was as much as part of the place as its foundation, asked if I was ready. "Absolutely!"
I ordered the Pastrami on Rye, and he asked if I wanted it Juicy like Lucy, to which I eagerly nodded. I tipped a couple bucks (directly to the tip jar) and while he was prepping he set up a plate with 4 - 5 slices of the pastrami on it for me to sample whilst waiting.
Oh. My. God! Juicy, succulent, mouth-wateringly tender and juicy, packed with flavor ... absolutely divine.
I felt my eyes might pop out, and I most likely would've gone slack-jawed ... but I realized that if I did so I'd lose some of that delicious meat that God himself must have cured in the back of house. It took all of my control not to reach over the counter and grab the entire piece and flee the place like a man crazed with thirst who finally spies an oasis in the distance.
Seriously, this sandwich is like crack, and my wife is of the same opinion. I texted both my father and sister (who's trying to decided if she wants to attend Columbia Law) and told them, "I just at the most amazing Pastrami sandwich of my life; maybe the best sandwich EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Perfectly complemented by the Rye and the tangy mustard, I'm already having difficulties trying to make myself go somewhere different for lunch tomorrow ... heck, I want to go back right now! Washed down with a Dr. Brown's, this was an almost perfect meal.
2) Dessert Truck: LA is known for it's numerous Taco Trucks, which I very much enjoy, so when I read there were similar style trucks in NYC, but one was based on desserts(!), well, I knew I just had to try it.
We "walked off" the sandwich on the way up to St. Marks in order to try the Dessert Truck. Did I mention I have a mouth full of sweet teeth? Well, I do.
There was a bit of a line (maybe 10 people total), but it moved quickly. When I got to the window we ordered the Brioche Donuts and the Chocolate Bread Pudding. After a short wait we had both in our hands, ready to eat.
As for the donuts, they were tasty -- warmt and cinnamon-y, the vanilla creme inside provided a nice contrast in both texture and taste to the dense donuts. I really enjoyed these, but would have preferred them to be hotter. $5 gets you three donuts, each one that one *could* eat in a single bite, but best served to eat in a couple. Very tasty, and not oily nor greasy at all. I would definitely eat these again.
The Chocolate Bread Pudding was very tasty, but certainly unlike the bread pudding I am accustomed to when I visit my family in the South. It was more like a Chocolate Pots de Creme, which is not a bad thing at all ... just not what we were expecting. That being said, it was very tasty -- rich, but not overly sweet, with the occassional chunk of soaked bread providing a slight contrast in texture.
I wish this would have been warmer as well, and more "bread-y", if that makes any sense. Nevertheless, the flavor was delicious.
3) Magnolia Bakery: I had heard good things about this place from friends who'd visited NYC, so we were off from the East to the West Village. Upon entering, we found ourselves greeted by the warm, delicious smell of butter and sugar and flour baking, and quite a crowd.
We quickly settled on Red Velvet and Vanilla Cupcakes, as well as a slice of their Lemon Cake, which is the special this month. Instead of eating there we brought it back to the hotel.
The Red Velvet Cupcake: Hmmm ... what's the best way to put this?
Disgusting! Dry, with a horrific whipped cream-cheese frosting, this cupcake contradicts everything my Southern sensibilities dictates should comprise a red velvet cupcake. We literally each ate one bite and tossed the rest. Words can't do this cupcakes poor execution justice.
That being said, we still had hope ...
Only to have it dashed (again) with the Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream frosting. Again, the cake was dry, and the buttercream had hardened. Also, I'm pretty sure I got the tongue-coating taste of shortening used in the frosting. This, too, was a failure.
Lastly, we held out hope for the special, the slice of lemon cake. Again, 'twas dry! Ugh, it is NOT hard to make moist cakes people!!! The frosting was another whipped confection, which just was not working for me, though I will say the lemon curd used to fill the layers was good, especially when used to moisten the dry cake.
I think it's fair to say we will NOT be headind back to Magnolia, in any of its locations.
But, Katz!, my god Katz! I will see you again soon, my friend. I'm drooling already ...
Sorry you had to experience the disgusting cupcakes of Magnolia. There are tons of Magnolia haters on this board (including me), and we've been kind of vocal about it. But whenever you pass by their Greenwich Village store, it's always packed (usually with tourists) so one may assume that the haters are just hating because it's popular. But their cupcakes are seriously bad.
I agree with Chikalicious and Two Little Red Hens for cupcakes. I'm also a fan of Mitchel London's for the red velvet and yellow cake with dark chocolate ganache. Here's a recent round-up of cupcakes in NYC that may interest you. Magnolia was somewhere in the middle.
re: Miss Needle
Just to comment on some of your other requests:
1. Desserts -- Batch is closed for now. If you're into higher-end dessert bars Chikalicious is probably for you. In terms of taste, though, I actually preferred items from the Chikalicious Dessert Club as opposed to the regular restaurant (they are two separate storefronts). I thought Dessert Truck was very good. Transcendent? No. But I think some of the high praise comes from getting higher end desserts from a truck. My favorite item there is the bread pudding with the bacon creme anglaise. The bacon is really subtle. I also liked the pot de creme. Not a huge fan of the well-touted olive oil chocolate cake. Mitzy's Macarons are the best macarons in NYC right now. Best time to go is on a Monday when the orders come in. Macarons don't have a very long shelf life. And if you go by Friday or Saturday, chances are they may have sold out, or whatever they have won't be too fresh. Momofuku Milk Bar isn't really my favorite because I find their stuff way too sweet, heavy and cloying. But if you're a dessert buff, I think you should try it out because a lot of the stuff is really creative, and you won't find things like this anywhere. I haven't tried the soft serves, but it seems like that's what people are raving about. You should definitely try the cereal milk creations as I think very unique to Milk Bar. They even trademarked the name "cereal milk." For gelato, I'm a huge fan of Otto and Grom for gelato. Most posters here seem to love Il Labatorio del Gelato. It's good, but they seem to serve it way too cold, and it kind of mutes the flavors.
4. Street Carts. The cart that you're talking about is on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th during the NIGHT (I think after 7P or 8P). There's a day cart on the SE corner, but I wouldn't recommend them as there isn't great turnover and the meats tend to just sit there. But I still prefer the Trini-Pak cart on 43rd and 6th.
6. Lunch places near Hell's Kitchen -- I do love Five Napkin. Another place you may want to consider is Azuri for falafel. They're Kosher so they may be closed for Passover.
I know the choices in NYC can be overwhelming. Hey, I think the same about LA. If you want to try Per Se but not experience the sticker shock, recently they've had an a la carte menu in the lounge. It's still not cheap, but it's less expensive than the tasting menu. And no reservations are required for now. And I do think that you should try one of the Momofukus when you're in town as that type of food is unique (for now, as I surmise a lot of Momofuku copycats as time progresses). Momofuku Ko is difficult to get in (reservations are only online). Momofuku Noodle and Ssam are good (but don't order the ramen at Noodle -- I know, counterintuitive, but it's really not their strongest dish).
re: Miss Needle
For gelato, L'Arte de Gelato is also very good. But I drool for the Otto olive oil gelato. Oh, and since the OP is going to Babbo anyway, they'll probably get to try it there, as well. I love their sorbet and/or gelato sampler.
> The cart that you're talking about is on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th during the NIGHT (I think after 7P or 8P).
And it's great, but be careful the red sauce is HOT. Nuclear hot. Ouch.
More info on the famous chicken and rice cart:
Don't get pulled in by imposters. Make sure they are serving it in round containers. Yellow bags. Red and yellow circular logo! Many carts, if asked, will say, "yes, we're them," even if they are NOT!
kathryn (et al):
Thanks for the rec! Just tried the cart tonight and it was DELISH! I got them to mix the chicken and the lamb, and then mixed in the white sauce and (eventually) the full SMALL container of the hot sauce -- did I mention we like spice?
It was the perfect dinner on a night where I just wanted to relax and take it easy. Mixing everything together it was a fantastic meal, equal parts tasty morsels of grilled meat, crispy iceberg lettuce, chewy orange rice, the thick creaminess of their white sauce and the heat of their spicy red sauce. At heart I'm a meat and rice kind of guy ... put some meat and rice on a plate, let me mix it up, and I am ONE happy camper! This did not fail to deliver on the promise I've read about on these boards.
Just an FYI, we split one order and it was the perfect amount for the two of us -- and for $6, that just CANNOT be beat.
One last questions -- there's a cart on the opposite side of 6th Ave that had a WAY shorter line and looked to be the exact same, with the round containers and yellow bags. Is it?
Yeah ... was there 'round 8:45 or 9, so that must have been it. It looked EXACTLY the same as the one on the SW corner, but I opted to go with the one that had the longer line in an effort to ensure authenticity.
Regardless, as I am staying just right down the street, I will most assuredly be headed back.
re: Miss Needle
Miss Needle, thanks for the words (both in this post and the one below).
I should've realized when I heard all of the Aussie and French accents that it was tourist central, but then I felt like hitting the original location (certainly NOT the one in Rock. Center) would guarantee me my best shot at getting their best efforts.
I will have to read over your linked thread for more ideas on great cupcakes. Thanks!
And it sounds like Chickalicious is a MUST hit for someone like myself. And, too, as a lover of Macarons, I will make it a point to get to Mitzy (or have my wife go since I'll be working) on Monday to get the best, freshest assortment ... thank you so much for your tip on that.
Please feel free to chime in with other thoughts as you have them ... I've sort of decided this will serve as my "pseudo blog" whilst here in NYC.
I guess I'm too late...I was going to warn you to NOT go to Magnolia's. And the two you got are probably the worst ones. The only thing that is 'ok' is the chocolate frosting and the banana pudding. For real cupcakes, go to Sugar Sweet Sunshine. They're awesome. Moist cake, great frosting, not too heavy.
a213b-I enjoy reading your report. I had the same feeling about Magnolia. :) Having just came back from a week of food and theater (and my fourth trip in the last 12 months) in NY, I look forward to reading more about what you're gonna eat in the most culinarily diverse city in the world.
A few things that I particularly enjoyed in the past and that I can't really find anything comparable in LA:
Rice Pudding: These are not your ordinary rice puddings. They are very rich and very sweet, and they are served cold. If you are in SoHo, you should definitely stop by Rice to Riches. It's a funky place. I've recommended the place to many people visiting from LA and they all loved it. I've even had hem ship out here to LA for my kid's birthday. My favorite flavors are chocolate chip and anything with tangy fruits like lemon, raspberry and apple.
Dessert Tasting: I concur with other CHers' recommendation of Chickalicious. I ate at the dessert counter (love their gelato), then went across street to get some cupcakes and cookies to go.
Brownies: Fat Witch in Chelsea Market is so good. I like the Original Witch Babies, Blonde Babies, and Red Witch. This is a hit with all my friends in LA. Oprah loves it, too. :)
Green Tea Cupcake: Amai Tea and Bake Shop in the East Village makes a really amazing green tea cupcake. Their green tea cookies and scones are also amazing. (This place is within walking distance from Momofuku so you can do both on the same day.)
Pork Buns: Being a Taiwanese, I grew up eating pork buns but I like Momofuku's version much better than our own version. You can have them at both Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar. While at Momofuku, also try their kimchi apples.
Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes: Had some very delicious ones at Alice's Tea Cup. Scones are also very good.
Chocolate: Pierre Marcolini on Park Ave. makes some of the highest quality chocolate in the world. Stop in for a cup of hot chocolate if you are in the area.
Cookies: Every time I'm in NY, I always get some Amy's Cookies from Dean & Deluca. They are so good. I also had a very delicious Red Velvet Cupcake from the DD at Rockefeller Center once. I don't remember which bakery it's from though.
Millefoglie: A layered puff pastry, like a Napoleon,with vanilla cream and shaved chocolate from Sant Ambroeus in the West Village (they also have a location on UES). This reminds me of the millefuille I had at Hotel de Crillon in Paris. They also make very good gelato. You can stop in for desserts only at the bar.
Rugaleh: I love the ones from 2nd Ave Deli. Always get a tin to take home.
Smoked Mussels: from Zabar's (not in the cafe but in the market side). These are so tasty. Also get some of olives, some bread and wine for late night snack in front of the TV.
Hot Dog: The Spicy Redneck at Crif Dogs is GOOD! Deep fried bacon-wrapped dogs with spicy toppings. Yum!
Izakaya: We have plenty of izakaya in LA but nothing like the quality of Sakagura. I go there everytime I'm in NY. They also make the best green tea ice cream (real strong and rich green tea flavor) and black sesame creme brulee.
Pastrami: Yes, you've found the best! I even brought 2 lbs back to LA for my son, and now he wants more.
Some restaurants that I've tried in the past:
Per Se--I'm not a big fan of Per Se or The French Laundry for that matter, but since they serve a la carte menu now, you should try it.
Jean-Georges--definitely must take advantage of the lunch special.
Le Bernardin--if you like seafood, you should try it. Nothing like it in LA.
Bar Boulud--great anything from the charcuterie menu (must try head cheese)
dbModerne-I had great desserts for after-theater once.
wd-50--fun food, good cocktails. I didn't get to do dessert tasting but heard that's the thing to do.
Annisa--love this place in West Village. Must try their Lemon Poppy Seed Bread Pudding.
Wallse--great Austrian food
Sfoglia--I was thrilled to find my favorite Italian dish, Vitello Tonnato, at this tiny UES Italian place. Great pasta, although sauce could be on the salty side. Reservation is a must.
So, what are you eating today????
fdb, thanks! It's awesome getting a fellow LA hound's perspective, knowing what we have in LA and how it compares to what's here in NYC.
I'll probably wait 'til later today to post an account of our eats today, but so far I've been VERY happy. We'll see about tonight, since we're winging it, but I have high hopes there, too.
I just secured a res at Jean Georges for lunch next Saturday, and I got one for Babbo tomorrow night (dunno how you feel, but I've very much enjoyed both Mozzas) and Degustation Wednesday night.
We are definitely going to hit Per Se (if possible); but I am one of the few people either dumb enough or brave enough, depending on your viewpoint, to admit that my meal at The French Laundry was really underwhelming, especially when compared with my expectations going in. But I will definitely try the "First Come, First Serve" a la carte at Per Se, or maybe even the more formal dining room.
Thanks for the head's up on wd-50! I just made a reservation there for not next Wednesday, but the one after ... and I am hoping also to stick around and do the dessert tasting -- ESPECIALLY because Alinea was the single greatest meal I've had (to date).
Thanks for all the dessert recs ... I LOVE a good rice pudding, and am certainly going to throw that into the mix, along with many of the other places.
Whew ... I'm going to be a big fat FATTY by the time this is over. But it's certainly worth it.
Jean Georges, Babbo, and Degustation are some of my favorite restaurants in NYC. I hope you have a fantastic time.
I loved Alinea when I went, and, frankly, I think Alinea is much better than WD-50. Although the dessert tasting at WD-50 is very good. But I loved the savory dishes at Alinea much more than at WD-50. Dufresne pushes the envelope a bit too far in terms of "tastiness" whereas I never felt that way during my Tour at Alinea.
You may also be interested in Tailor. Fabulous cocktails by Eben Freeman (solid cocktails, walnut-infused cognac, brown butter-infused rum, etc), great food in the same molecular gastronomy genre by Sam Mason. Mason is ex-WD-50. In fact, he used to be the pastry chef there. I've actually enjoyed Mason's stuff more. Oh, and they also do dessert tastings.
Rice to Riches: I would skip because I think the Kyotofu rice pudding is better.
Amai: You'd better hurry! Amai will be closing. Sunday, April 19th will be the last day.
Momofuku: Ssam Bar is the one with the kimchi apples but given that spring is on the horizon, they will probably not have this dish for much longer.
Chocolate: I would go to La Maison for hot chocolate. Vosges for spicy hot chocolate. Kee's and Bespoke for truffles/bonbons/whatever you call them. Jacques Torres is good but chocolate covered pretzels, orange peel, malt balls, cookies, chocolate bark. But for filled chocolates, I'd do Kee's or Bespoke. Mariebelle is OK. Vosges is kind of hit or miss; reads well on paper, not executed as well as you'd hope. Martine's is nice if you like more milky, creamy stuff, but very expensive for what you get.
Personally, I think the dessert tofu is kinda weird, but I do really love the warm miso chocolate cake and the cookies. The rice pudding is sweet but not cloyingly so. Maybe the more Western-ish desserts are on the sweeter side? Not super-sweet, but just a touch. The potato-tofu cheesecake sounds kinda odd.
I agree on the Amy's cookies recommendation, but instead of buying them at Dean and DeLuca get them fresher either near you at her original Hell's Kitchen location on 9th Avenue and about 46th Street, or go to the big location at Chelsea Market where there are many other foodie options worth checking out.
Another one item place to check out near enough you is Bisco Latte. A biscotti bakery with dozen of different flavors on 10th Avenue at 46th.
Also agree on the Rice to Riches recommendation. I love the cherry flavor, but they will let you taste before you commit
re: Stuffed Monkey
I'm glad someone other than me also likes Rice to Riches. I never get to taste cherry flavor because it's seasonal but I can imagine it being sweet and tangy and yummy! umm....
I'm not aware of Amy's Cookies being sold at Chelsea Market, which by the way is one of my favorite destination in NY. There is an Amy's Bread there that I adore.
Some quick thoughts from a non-NYer (who traipses in regularly!)
Carts: Search that word! There are several favorites that will be easy to find.
Hell's Kitchen Midtown/9th and 10th avenues: lots of well-prepared round the world food. Again, just searching 9th and 10th (or spelled out) in Manhattan will get you there quickly and easily. Also try Columbus Circle, as there was a fairly recent thread, and "gourmaniac", who is a friend and recently asked the same thing.
You know this, but do the Outer Boroughs board: Indian, there's Saravanna's (spelling??) - well-loved in Manhattan; OB board - Wafa's/Lebanese; Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing (with other close by street food) is a must do! Hints: In "mall": ChengDu Heaven (Szechuan) now has English menu, Xian for lamb burger and liang pi has pictures. You must get Xianjiang lamb skewers on street nearby (look for link to Moskin/Flushing/NYTimes guide...), and unfortunately, Roosevelt Mall seems to be shutting down, so skip that. GO WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH - There's TONS to eat there!
And a personal favorite - look for kathryn's great posts (in general) with great links - always a treat! (Edit: As I was saying (just saw this!) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6109...)
Oh - Also try (websites) MidTown Lunch, Eating in Translation, Sietsema at the Voice, and Serious Eats/NY, for other compendiums of interesting food (Well, MTL has "edible" food, but they sniff out better whenever they can!)
The spelling is Saravanaas, and I highly recommend it.
Flushing is indeed the best neighborhood for Sichuan-style (I haven't been to Chengdu Heaven but love Spicy & Tasty), but Szechuan Gourmet on 39th St. between 5th and 6th is also excellent, though in my experience, for spicy dishes only (whereas almost everything on Spicy & Tasty's menu is at least solidly good if not quite a lot better than that, including non-spicy dishes).
a213b, loads of people here would have told you the same thing you report about Magnolia. I think the nays have it if we were to take a vote of Magnolia posts on this board, and I'm among the naysayers.
For Greek in Manhattan, Kefi on the Upper West Side (Columbus between 84th and 85th) is a very good restaurant, but right in Hell's Kitchen, there's a great bakery - Poseidon - on 9th between 44th and 45th, where there's nowhere to sit, but you can get great savory and sweet pastries. I understand there's an even better place in Astoria, but if you feel like taking advantage of what's going to be nearby, Poseidon is very likely to really make you happy. I know it gives me a lot of joy.
Thanks for some pointers on Sichuan; I'm saving that for when I am in definite need of a change of pace, spice and flavor wise. Also appreciate your other pointers, too. Poseidon is almost right around the corner from where I will be working, so I will for sure hit that up.
As for Magnolia, well, let's just say I will now be taking the recs from said friends with a HUGE grain of salt ... as in, Dead Sea evaporated puddle sized grain of salt.
The salt will come in handy because Magnolia's cupcakes are in dire need of them! Their cupcake recipe does not include any salt in the cake batter. Grrr.
There are FAR better cupcakes around town. My favorites are at Chikalicious Dessert Club, Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and Sage American Kitchen (available at Dean & Deluca).
One of our veteran cupcake fans did a run down a little while ago:
Note: Batch recently closed and is in the process of relocating to Chelsea.
I've been to Chengdu Heaven, Spicy & Tasty, and Szechuan Gourmet, and I think I would have to say that I actually liked Spicy & Tasty the least. They are all good but it's possible I ordered wrong! I go to Szechuan Gourmet quite frequently and it is excellent, but I'm not sure I've done enough Sichuan in Flushing to say that it is the best in all NYC. But we have an embarassment of riches.
Tried Sugar Sweet Sunshine tonight ... some of THE best cupcakes I've ever had from a bakery!
We got one each of the Sunshine, Ooey Gooey, Lemon Yummy, and their Strawberry Cupcake (can't recall the name). Each of these was moist without being super-dense and heavy, and all of the frostings were delicious.
In order I would rank them as follows:
1) Strawberry: Holy Crap! This thing was freaking AMAZING!!!!
3) Lemon: No, the numbering is not a mistake ... that's how flipping good the Strawberry was. That being said, the Lemon was really tasty, too. Had I not had the Strawberry, this would have been my favorite, easily.
4) Ooey Gooey & Sunshine: These were each very good, nice and moist with a good, thich buttercream that wasn't sickeningly sweet. Nice frosting-to-cake ratio too. I'd be happy with these, but each of the fruit ones were superb.
I've tried many of the cupcake places in LA (and other cities), and tend to find the vast majority of them are dried out, or under-frosted, or the frosting's too sweet (or not sweet enough). These were better than almost all of the ones I've had in LA. This place is a real gem!