Thoughts/Reviews from a recent Manhattan Foodie Trip
- uhockey May 24, 2009 07:51 AM
Full review with pics in Context Here: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/e...
After a great meal at Crop in Cleveland I made my way back to Toledo for the evening and subsequently flew out of Detroit the following morning with little in my belly aside from a salad from 7:00am (had to finish off what was left in the fridge.) Arriving at LGA and waiting around forever for the tram I noticed I was quite hungry – a good thing considering my plans for a Lower East Side Food Crawl for breakfast followed by the New Museum, Morrison Hotel, CoSM, and parts of Chelsea prior to lunch snacks and an evening dinner at Scarpetta.
Hopping off the awful super-shuttle (yes, I travel cheap, it allows me to eat expensive) into the heart of Chinatown with map in hand the first stop on my list was impromptu. Having tried an egg custard for the first time weeks ago in San Francisco and seeing myriad Chinese bakeries I stopped and asked a man (the first I passed who I heard speaking English) who had the best Custards and he said “you want Egg Custard King – Mott Street.” Pointing me in the right direction I was afraid I’d miss it due to the all-Chinese signage, but thankfully the brightly colored restaurant stuck out like a sore thumb.
Entering the shop I was greeted by wonderful smells of sugar, butter, and yeast as well as multiple pastel colors – both on the wall and on the egg custards. Inquiring what the difference was it took three employees to understand my question and tell me that the colors were flavors – “regular, lime, strawberry, and coconut” are what I think I heard. At 90 cents each I asked for regular and a strawberry and made my way to the street again. Still warm from the oven I first tasted the “regular” and was instantly struck by the relative blandness of the custard – eggy and well prepared, yes, but not sweet and with only the butter in the crust as a notable taste. Disappointed I next tasted the strawberry version which, while better, tasted only mildly of berry (more “fruit punch” to my palate) and moreso like the sugary egg custard I sampled in San Francisco. Again well prepared and still warm/fresh I certainly can’t say it was bad – especially for the price – but I’d not rush back either.
Continuing my walk, the next stop planned was the much hyped Donut Plant, but on the way I saw something too famous to pass – Kossar’s famous Bialys. Having tried a bialy once prior I vaguely knew what to expect – garlic/onion/carbs but honestly I must say I was surprised that such a famed institution was so – boring and unfriendly. Despite there only being 2 customers in the place aside from myself the small elderly lady at the register snapped at me quite annoyedly when I failed to order immediately on command and asked me to step aside until I “figured it out.” Not wanting to further inconvenience her I asked for one bialy to go. Ninety cents later I was handed a warm and garlicky piece of flat bread that despite its good texture really didn’t blow my mind – it was basically a warm pita pocket, nothing more and nothing less. Reading others opinions perhaps I’m just more a bagel guy than a bialy guy, but either way I don’t think I’m a Kossar’s guy – I like friendly service.
A bit let down so far, but still miles from sated, I continued to my previous destination just two doors down – Donut Plant. In a city that seems to live and breathe Dunkin Donuts (for reference, I think we have two total in Columbus) I have to admit I was intrigued as to how a small shop in the LES had gotten so much attention from foodies and I was even more interested by some of the flavors listed on their online menu. Arriving at the small bakery (smaller, even, than Kossars) the place was packed (IE, 10 people) so I stood outside and read the specials board for a moment. Given the fact that my trek still contained a few more stops I decided I would order two donuts – a crème brulee and whatever was fresh from the oven.
Entering the doors I was greeted by a relatively strong yeasty-yet-sweet scent that mingled with strong coffee tones and was greeted, once again in a less than friendly manner, by a young lady behind the counter. Seeing the crème brulee donuts were just being passed from the baking area to the front along with tres leches and a square donut entitled peanut butter and raspberry jelly. Opting for the PB+J as my second option and paying the exorbitant cash-only fee of $7 for 2 donuts I sat down in the window to enjoy.
Starting with the crème brulee – small, yet heavy and dense and loaded with well caramelized vanilla custard I must admit the yeastiness of the donut managed to shine through the sweetness and although the custard was good it did suffer from a graininess that was somewhat unexpected. Considering the focus on high quality ingredients and the overall pretentiousness of the shop I must admit that although good I was underwhelmed.
Moving on to the second donut I expected better – I love Peanut Butter and Jelly, especially Raspberry. Lacking artificial flavors I fully anticipated a great peanut butter flavor from the donut, however what I got was anything but. Apparently using a “peanut butter glaze” on the outside, the overall taste of the donut was actually “burned peanuts” – like the shell of a peanut at Yankee Stadium after you suck the salt off – while the inside featured a miniscule amount of fresh jam which, while good, was not even close to the level of the filling in Keller’s Bouchon Beignets or the wonderful Raspberry Donut at Payard. Another disappointment in the LES, I actually saw these donuts two more times during my travels (at dean and delucca) but opted not to taste any further flavors. Perhaps I’m more a cupcake guy, but if I’m craving a donut in NYC I’d rather spend 1/5 the price and get a Pink Donut from Dunkin.
Exiting Donut Plant I’d begun to think that this trip was to be for naught and I’d have been better off going for a proper brunch at Allen and Delancey or the Spotted Pig – too full for either of those and seeing the 50+ person deep line at Clinton Street I decided to conclude breakfast with a cupcake – the decision was whether to go with Babycakes or Sugar Sunshine Sweet. Considering the options, my location, and my plan it seemed that Babycakes would be the better of the two options for the day and I checked my map and started moving. Arriving shortly I was amused by the shoddy appearing exterior and even more amused by the fact that there was a short line. Entering the store I was greeted by a very friendly pair of females and heard Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre playing loudly over the boombox. Browsing the selections I must admit there was a bit of sticker-shock, but considering the ingredients the prices didn’t seem TOO outlandish. Making two selections (not the gluten free versions – I don’t have Sprue yet!) I received my cute “holder box” and paid (cash only) before making my way to the streets.
Planning on one for now and one for later I decided to go with the Red Velvet first. Moist and dense without much crumb I must admit my first bite was actually quite the surprise – I did not expect a vegan cupcake to be so good! Sweet and slick frosting without that “grit” which plagues many sugar-based frostings was another bonus. All that noted, I must admit that despite being tasty it really didn’t taste much like Red Velvet – it lacked the cocoa essence and tasted more vanilla and sweet.
Given the small size of the cupcake I decided “what the hell” and proceeded with cake number two (hey, I’d just had healthy Donuts, a Kosher Bialy, and now Vegan donuts – this is HEALTH FOOD!) Entitled Carrot cake I assumed a vegan restaurant would do a good job with the preparation and I was indeed correct this time. Notably sweet and dense like a carrot cake should be, I found the rough-cut texture of the carrots to be particularly pleasing in contrast to the smooth (I-know-its-not-cream-cheese-but-it-damn-sure-tastes-like-it) frosting. Small bits of nuts and raisins added additional sweetness to the agave and all told the cupcake was excellent.
Given the fact that I have no allergies and am not a vegan I can’t say I’d frequent Babycakes if I lived locally, but at the same time I’d certainly try their desserts before going back to Donut Plant or many other New York Cupcake joints. Pricey, but at least for the price you can pretend you’re being healthy and receive service from friendly people with good business ethics.
Sated for the time being, it was time for some fine art – first the New Museum on The Bowery and then Morrison Hotel, the amazing John Varvatos converted CBGB’s, Big Robot, and a second Morrison Hotel gallery. After this a walk across the lower half of Manhattan to the famous Jacques Torres to pick up some confections for my aunt – and a hot chocolate for myself. Impressed by the immense size of the store and the open manufacturing area as well as the helpful staff, I must say I was less impressed by the hot chocolate. Described on the walls as everything from “amazing” to “famous” to “spectacular” I ordered a small on reputation alone and on first sip honestly wondered if my taste buds were out of whack – a second sip confirmed that my buds were correct – creamy, thick, and hot – but the flavor was so bland and ...chalky perhaps...that I considered adding splenda. At $3.50 for the cup I tried another couple of sips before giving up and tossing the rest. From what my aunt tells me the chocolates were much better (and comparable to La Maison, Payard, and Max Brenner) but to me, the hot chocolate was not only unimpressive, but downright bad.
Browsing some random shops and galleries between the LES, SoHo, and the lower part of Chelsea plus stopping into Scarpetta to secure a reservation I next made my way through the Chelsea Market – a place that failed to wow me on my previous visit and really offered nothing new this time aside from L’arte del Gelato. Having heard good things about the small-batch artisan approach I approached the counter and was immediately greeted by a pleasant young lady offering samples. Beginning with a taste of potent chocolate sorbet that was absolutely wonderful and following with samples of a mellow pistachio, potent and splendid uva (grape) and finally a decadent cinnamon based sorbet I decided to order a small ($4.00 for 2 small scoops in a cup) of the Butterscotch and Cafe au lait.
Using traditional Italian mixing methods (essentially a mixing process occurring during freezing to eliminate air and ice) the flavors were incredibly creamy and the Butterscotch was absolutely a joy to taste – enough so that I would rank it in my top-10 frozen treats ever. The coffee/milk flavor, however, did not fare as well as the butterscotch and actually tasted more like Hazelnut and Vanilla than truly coffee – not bad, but not what I expected. With a limited number of flavors changing each day I could definitely see myself coming back if I were in the area, but for my money I’d sooner pick up some Ciao Bella from Whole Foods and the overall taste certainly wasn’t on par with the artisan ice creams at Jeni’s of Columbus or Humphry Slocombe of San Francisco.
With the day still young and evening plans secured I turned northbound for a trip through Soho up to visit the (unfortunately relocated and much maligned) CoSM of Alex Grey. Arriving slightly earlier than opening time I browsed some of the Prime discount stores for a bit and after seeing the exhibit decided to stop in for another somewhat famous New York treat – a pretzel croissant at City Bakery. Mired in construction the location seemed a little obscure to me, but the lines indicated something good was going on – entering the doors I made note of their “famed” chocolate room – and was vastly underwhelmed by its small size and limited selection. Browsing the warm foods and baked goods I was more impressed and subsequently made my way to the register to make my purchase. Friendly service despite the large lunch-time lines, I noted a fresh batch of pretzel croissants being brought from the back and asked if I could have a fresh one – “sure thing!” Reading the signage I was made aware, again, of a “famous” hot chocolate – this time, however, available as a “shot” so I figured I might as well see if this was better than Jacques Torres or if New Yorkers simply don’t know good Hot Chocolate.
Taking my items to a seat by the window I had a good time watching the passers-by while I ate. Starting with the croissant – how in the world has no one else thought of this before? With all the flakey/buttery/deliciousness of a well prepared French classic, the pastry pulled apart effortlessly yet somehow also managed to maintain the salted/doughy texture of a pretzel from a street vendor. Duely impressed I moved on to the hot chocolate and was met by yet another surprise – THIS is what hot chocolate is supposed to taste like. Thick, rich, smooth – like a piping hot chocolate milkshake – and with the unmistakable flavor of a high quality bittersweet dark chocolate, honestly I was glad I’d only ordered a shot given its potency – any more would have been risking overload. Simple, straight forward, and without unnecessary “extra flavors” or mix-ins, I imagine this stuff would be sublime on a cold wintery day in Manhattan.
More walking and shopping led me to a stop at the James Gallery at CUNY where I must admit the ongoing exhibit is definitely worth the stop – despite the somewhat raunchy topic, and subsequently some more browsing and walking to check out the NYU Medical Center – damned impressive, though I’d hate to be a patient dealing with traffic and parking in the area. With 4ish hours before dinner I decided to make my final stop of the breakfast/lunch scavenger hunt at Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery.
Despite being a fan of “haute cuisine” and service like that at the French Laundry and Charlie Trotter’s, I come from a (very) humble background and as such David Chang’s approach and personality strike me right. Even after getting shut out on Ko reservations because they don’t answer their phones (long story, but my buddy cancelled and I had to drop reserves for 2 because I was uncertain if I’d get dinged for the $150 penalty if I simply showed up solo) I have respect for the process – random and not dictated by status, money, or clout – truly an egalitarian and “every-man” in approach. Chang’s interview with Charlie Rose further solidified my love – if you’ve not seen it, invest the hour, it is well worth it.
Entering Milk Bar I was first struck by how empty the place was despite being 2pm on a Sunday – Ssam was hopping. I was second struck by the artwork and wonderful smells – and the music, Rage Against the Machine’s (unedited) Killing in the Name Of – nothing quite like eating fatty pork while Zack drops the F-bomb. Browsing the items and chuckling at the sacrilege of the chorizo-challah, the hilarity of the crack-pie, and the frank bizarreness of sour gummy and fireball soft serve I opted for their breakfast sandwich – the pork & egg bun with pork belly, deep fried soft poached egg, cucumber, hoisin, and scallions and a piece of pie – plus a sample of the red licorice soft serve – it really does taste like a twizzler and a coffee. Service was aloof, as expected, neither friendly nor surly – just sort of indifferent.
Standing at one of the tables awaiting my food after filling my cup (the first of three) I was a bit annoyed by the lack of sweetener options – I really don’t understand why New York hates Equal so much (thankfully I carry some with me and reloaded at Bouchon the following morning.) Produced by a company called Stumptown I will admit I was impressed by the nutty yet mild undertones of the coffee and actually enjoyed it much more than the non-refillable options at Starbucks these days. Approximately 5 minutes passed before my food was “order up” at the open kitchen.
Receiving my two Styrofoam containers I opened the first to find my bun. Having tasted Chang’s Pork buns at Noodle Bar last year and loving eggs in all forms I fully anticipated loving this dish, but overall I was left underwhelmed – especially for the $9 price tag. Receiving only one bun with minimal hoisin, the purportedly “soft poached egg” was actually quite solidly poached with no liquid to the yolk at all and the cucumbers/scallions were overly cooked and soft. While certainly tasty and dripping with fatty pork, I rather wish the preparation had been more on par with the descriptor – more textural contrast would’ve been ideal instead of moist/chewy pork, moist/chewy egg, moist/chewy vegetables, and moist/chewy bun.
The second dish was definitely a step up from the pork bun - cinnamon bun pie served warm with brown butter and cheesecake filing was actually quite excellent and the price ($5) much more in line with the portion . Like Cinnabon with more nuance and infinitely more texture and butter, the pie crust did a great job of standing up to the molten cinnamon/strudel/cheesecake filling without being too tough to cut with a fork. While not quite as superb as the cinnamon Monkey-Bread at Craftsteak LV, I can definitely say that this was the second best Cinnamon Roll-esque dessert I’ve ever tasted and on the “must order” list for any future visit.
All told on the morning/afternoon of 05/17 I managed to stretch breakfast and lunch across the span of nine hours and 6 miles of walking, shopping, and galleries – in the process I got to sample a whole lot of what New York Foodies rave about in the lower half of Manhattan and while some choices were less impressive than anticipated, others were truly impressive and I had a great time – while I love the urban sprawl and country-side of the Midwest, I love the “neighborhood” feel of many big cities, the people, and the never-ending list of options.
Terrific report, uhockey! Actually, I read it on your blog because I figured you'd have photos -- which you do. :-)
I am sorry you ran into some service that was less than friendly, and that you were less than bowled over by some of the things you sampled. However, considering how prodigious your appetite is (in a word: wow!), enabling you to eat a mega-boatload of stuff, it appears the ratio of disappointments to succcesses was fairly low.
Looking forward to reading about your dinner at Scarpetta. (I haven't been yet.)
Scarpetta: Full review with pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/s...
I’ll admit it – being from the Midwest where “good Italian” pretty much entails Olive Garden it is easy to get swept away by the hype surrounding Batali’s joints, Il Mulino, and other well established New York institutions – with that said, my meal at Babbo last year was absolutely fantastic and the pizza at Otto was pretty darn good – my attempts at dishes from the Babbo cookbook have also fared quite well. Those things noted, after two good Italian visits to New York in past years I’ll have to admit I’ve been largely unimpressed by other “fine dining” Italian aside from Spiaggia in Chicago and Rigsby’s in Columbus ever since – from La Botte to Valentino to Batali’s Mozza the California Italian left me mostly indifferent and as such I looked forward to getting back to NYC for some good haute-Italian.
Originally considering Del Posto I sought the opinions of other foodies and found the reviews to be mixed – at best. Complaints of small portions, snooty service, and high prices seemed to dominate and when I e-mailed the restaurant for information I must admit the response was quite condescending – the responder explaining to me “the complexities” of the menu and how I “might not understand.” Knowing I’d be in the area I sought another option and was offered Scarpetta – a place I’d not heard of and not recognized in the Michelin guide…yet. E-mailing the restaurant I was assured walk-ins would be accepted, but that reservations would be safest. Not knowing my friend’s schedules until the day I left I held off, but when it turned out they were unavailable I made sure to swing by Scarpetta on my foodie travels to secure a reservation – 6:30pm in the bar area as the main dining room had been booked a month in advance (Sounds a bit Babbo-esque to me!)
Arriving after a great day of eating and browsing the galleries and stores of lower Manhattan I checked my bag at the hostess stand and was immediately led to a small table near the window up front – great for people watching out in the meat-packing district and with a full view of the main dining room and bar. While I will admit the music was a bit loud for my liking, it certainly was no more-so than Babbo and the temperature up front was cool enough to wear a jacket, yet not so cold that I felt chilly or that it affected the food – though my neighbors did complain of both. (note, I was the only solo diner present and the complaining diners were an older couple who seemed quite confused by the “new Italian” menu – the male particularly grumbling about everything non-spaghetti – thankfully they were later replaced by a younger male-couple who were quite friendly and inquired about my picture taking and job and had great recommendations for what was/wasn’t worth seeing in Chelsea – much more pleasant, for sure.)
Shortly after seating I was greeted by my server, an attractive and friendly yet professional young lady named Anastasia (seriously, the service at Scarpetta – even in the bar area – was on par with what I received at Jean Georges and with more personality.) Handed a menu to browse I was also presented with a bread basket featuring a hearty and crusty ciabatta, oiled and aromatic rosemary forcaccia, and an absolutely mind-blowing Salami and Mozzarella Bread with a trio of toppings including Citrus infused Olive Oil (good, but standard), Roasted Eggplant Caponata (superb, I finished 3 servings,) and Mascarpone Butter (tasted like a sheep’s butter, but more airy and succulent.) While I must say I have a strong love for Bread Baskets in general, this example was particularly impressive and in-and-of-itself a reason to love Scarpetta.
Taking my focus of the breadbasket for a moment and focusing on the menu I was suddenly faced with a conundrum – there were 3 appetizers, 4 pastas, and 2 mains that sounded delightful. With wishful thinking on my mind I asked Anastasia (who I must note I think I may have fell in love with during the meal – any friendly and attractive woman who bears salami mozzarella bread is a winner in my eyes) whether half orders of the pasta were available – alas, no luck. Judging my hunger and knowing dessert was a must I decided at that point 2 pastas would be my max and as much as I wanted to try the spaghetti I just couldn’t do it – thankfully I picked up a copy of Chef Conant’s magazine at the front which contained recipes for both the Spaghetti and the creamy polenta with mushrooms – for free. Placing my orders I sat and listened to the music and the conversation around me while devouring more bread.
After approximately 20 minutes my first dish arrived – and oh what a dish it was. Entitled DUCK AND FOIE GRAS RAVIOLI with Marsala reduction I’d experienced similar once before – the famous version at Babbo…as a matter of fact, aside from the Gnocchi at Bouchon it was probably my favorite pasta of all time – until I took my first bite of this. Words cannot describe the texture – like silk, butter, cream – you get the picture. Pasta so thin it seemed impossible, a marsala sauce clearly enhanced with balsamic vinegar, butter, chives – sweet and savory all at once – bringing the meaty perfection of the duck/foie filling to a peak that permeated the nose and palate as much as the tongue – completed true Scarpetta style I wiped the plate clean with a piece of the ciabatta.
Already impressed yet perhaps wishing I’d received the Foie second in order to “save the best for last” I once again waited approximately 15-20 minutes (while trying desperately to keep my hands out of that damned bread basket) before my second dish arrived on a covered dish and dramatically “unmasked” by a male from the kitchen-staff at tableside. Entitled BLACK MACCHERONI with mixed seafood, sea urchin & bread crumbs the very first thing to strike me was the beauty – the thick, long, and perfectly al dente noodles intermingled with long strands of long-cut calamari and glistening with hints of a light broth highlighted with yellow chunks of uni, fresh pieces of crab and lobster, and breadcrumbs accented with a spice I couldn’t identify (perhaps a refined oregano.) The second aspect of the dish, the smell, matched the visual effect – it smelled like the sea, capturing its very essence with a hint of spiciness and butter providing a base. Finally, the taste – incredible – not since Kinch’s “tidal pool” at Manresa have I experienced so many different tastes and textures with the spongy pasta, meaty yet flawless seafood, smooth and light broth, crunchy bread crumbs, and fatty/melt-in-the-mouth uni. Once again a piece of bread found its way into my hand as I sopped up every last drop – and considered licking the plate.
Feeling somewhat full at this point I opted to skip the interesting cheese plate (essentially a “select your own” approach with each cheese paired with 1 or 2 complements) and stick with a single dessert – although 3 sounded amazing. In my traditional fashion when faced with such decisions I deferred to my server who began by saying everything was good but quickly corrected herself to saying the Chocolate Cake was “amazing.” “Amazing works,” I said – “and I’ll take some coffee as well.”
Thankfully with the bread basket was taken away from me at this point and the coffee was brought quickly (again without Equal) – a bold yet somewhat boring blend that, for me, seemed more like a breakfast coffee than a “feature” coffee, but it certainly wasn’t bad. Another 10 minutes later my dessert arrived. Apparently Scarpetta’s signature dessert - AMEDEI CHOCOLATE CAKE with burnt orange-caramel gelato and espresso sauce. Having had a great chocolate lava cake the night before at Crop and two weeks earlier at the Ritz Dining Room (and subsequently having the fabled version at Jean-Georges) all I can say is that if you’re going to have a signature dessert, make it this well! Utilizing the deep Tuscan chocolate to the maximum of its breadth by accenting both the sweet (with the sublime caramel-blood orange gelato – possibly as good as the balsamic caramel at Humphry Slocombe) and the bitter (with the rich yet understated espresso sauce) the cake was absolutely amazing – the best I’ve ever had and, like the breads and pastas, reason enough to return.
All things stated, I simply cannot recommend Scarpetta enough. Reading Conant’s magazine (and soon ordering his new cookbook) I love his simplistic ideals of enhancing the very essence of the ingredients without “overdoing it” and everything about the restaurant, from the ambiance (not casual, but not stuffy) to the food (both Conant’s incredible pastas and Minos’ surreal desserts) follows that goal with great aplomb. If I were to offer one complaint (more a suggestion) it would be a Babbo-esque pasta tasting menu because, quite frankly, if I went back I’d want to order things I hadn’t tried but would have a hard time not re-ordering the same thing because it was that excellent.
uhockey, EXCELLENT review of Scarpetta. I, too, love Scarpetta. I had the risotto and short rib apps, the spaghetti, and the foie gras ravioli along with a delectable dessert. The service was about the best I've had in NYC on my various trips. And the atmosphere of the room was also fantastic.
The entirety of the experience puts Scarpetta right at the top of my list of favorite NYC restaurants.
Thanks - I love keeping my blog, it mostly serves to remind me of great times during times of stress - a lasting keepsake of something "fleeting" as it were. It also allows me to give something back to the locals who steer me to great places I may overlook - and to give some good publicity and/or feedback to the restaurants who bust their butts each night to provide both the educated and uneducated diner with a great meal. Scarpetta certainly would have escaped my attention were it not for RGR and Ulterior Epicure and that would have been a damned shame.
Regarding bland egg tarts - yup, I've often found that too. To cut down on costs, a lot of places seem to be thinning or watering down their egg custard tarts, which is a shame. I only get them in Flushing Chinatown these days.
For Donut Plant, I've become a 100% convert for the CAKE donuts. I rarely get the yeast raised ones any more.
For hot chocolate, Jacques Torres' shop is good but not the best in town (my favorites at Vosges spicy hot chocolate -- which is the only thing I recommend there -- and La Maison's hot chocolate, City Bakery's version I find too rich). You should have gone to La Maison for hot chocolate! Or stopped into Kee's for her chocolates, as she is in Soho. At Jacques Torres, I much prefer the chocolate covered cornflakes, chocolate malt balls, ice cream sandwiches, chocolate covered orange peel, etc. And I don't think anybody really calls the "chocolate room" at City Bakery famous except for the people at City Bakery.
I looooove the hot chocolate at Angelina's in Paris (I have some of it in my fridge from my last trip!).
Uhockey, et al: I'm so very excited that I will be teaching this fall on 16th St, between 5th and 6th, so I will be o-so-close to City Bakery and the hot chocolate. Not a bad way to start the morning. I've never been offered any sort of whipped cream at City Bakery?!? I've had one of the homemade marshmallows, but I'd love some whipped cream to "thin" the hot chocolate!
Bouchon Bakery Full review w/ pics: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/b...
Only 11 months prior to this post my sister and I had a lovely meal at the Bouchon Café in Time Warner Center and since that time I’ve visited the Bouchon in Las Vegas twice, Bouchon Bakery in Vegas thrice, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and Bouchon Bakery in Yountville – and had the best meal of my life at an extended tasting of the French Laundry. I’m not going to lie – I am a Keller fan-boy. His approach, his personality, his food, and his cookbooks all strike a good chord with me and the service I’ve received at each of his restaurants has been near-perfection. Returning to New York I’d originally considered Per Se, but instead opted to save this for a later special occasion (a year from now, on completion of residency.) That said, I certainly wasn’t going to leave New York without my fix – Bouchon Bakery for breakfast would suffice. Getting on the train from Queens at 7:05 and hoofing it quickly from Penn Station I managed to make it to Bouchon by 8:15 while products were still coming fresh from the oven.
While rumor has it that a Bouchon Bakery cookbook is in the works, for the time it must be noted that aside from some items such as the TKO, Macaron, Nutter Butter, Chocolate Bouchons and a few others the variety of goods at each Bouchon bakery is different and seasonal – as such each experience is different and each season is different at each place. Quickly browsing the selections in the case I was surprised by some of the selections and knew that I’d have to select carefully in order to get a good mix and not regret missing out on a flavor – clearly that was impossible, but I tried. Not making the cut – yogurt raisin croissant, pistachio cherry brioche, ricotta cherry pound cake, carrot muffins, lemon tartes, the list goes on and on – but I’m only one man.
Selections made and knowing I’d have to return to buy my mother some Macarons prior to leaving town I made my way to the seating area after grabbing a handful of Equal packets – this alone is a bonus point for me! Uncrowded as none of the stores had yet opened I must admit I absolutely loved the serenity of the café area looking out onto Lincoln Center and the south end of Central Park – the view alone makes me look forward to per se.
Starting off, my first taste was the seasonal macaron – Blueberry Cheesecake. A source of complaint from some, I personally quite like Keller’s large-style macarons and find the crumb to usually be quite nice while the fillings are always quite sweet yet not “sugary.” Soft and delicate within, the crisp shell of the Macaron gave way to my bite quite appropriately and I was immediately surprised by the potency of the blueberry flavor and the creaminess of the filling – quite literally like a handheld blueberry cheesecake and quite excellent. For what it is worth, my early birthday gift to my mother was a selection of Macarons from around New York (Jean Georges, La Maison du Chocolat, Payard, Bouley, and Bouchon) and she ranked the versions from Bouchon #2 behind those of La Maison – having tasted a sampling of each I would agree, though for mom it was “close” while for myself the choices from La Maison simply blew everything else out of the water. – also purchased for my mother and not tasted by myself was a “peppermint patty with spearmint fresh from the TFL gardens” – she said it was amazingly creamy and better than the mint chocolates from La Maison.
My second selection, quite literally 2 minutes post-placement in the bakery case, was the Maple Bacon Brioche. In a weekend that featured fantastic breads at a number of New York’s best restaurants, this one was undoubtedly my favorite – having had Keller’s toasted brioche with the foie gras at TFL and the Citrus Brioche at Bouchon Bakery Yountville I thought I had some idea what to expect – but I was wrong. More buttery, more flaky, more airy – the bread itself was perfect. Coupling this wonder with the thick cut bacon brought forth memories of my amazing meal of Providence while the additional maple glaze harkened to Charlie Trotter’s Maple Bacon Roll – the best of both worlds and an absolutely sublime bread that despite its great flavor didn’t weigh too heavily on the stomach.
Next up, always amused by Keller’s “Showdown” style desserts – taking on the concepts of famous desserts such as oreos, nutter butters, etc I simply had to taste Bouchon’s take on the classic Ho-Ho – an absolute favorite snack of my childhood (and likely largely contributing to my 285lb frame at age 21.) While I’ve likely not had a Hostess cake in 8 years this wonderful chocolate roll instantly rekindled my love at a whole new level. Featuring Valrhona’s wonderful dark chocolate and the same incredibly intense whipped cream that topped the bread pudding at Ad Hoc this chilled dessert’s shell literally melted in the mouth as the cake’s spongy texture held up beautifully (not collapsing feebly like a classic Ho-Ho) to each bite. Approximately three bites large, another excellent choice.
The final choice – well, I love cupcakes and Keller’s Red Velvet in Vegas is the best cupcake I’ve ever tasted – as good as all the other options appeared I really didn’t have a choice. Called “Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcake” and carrying a hefty $4 price tag I needed to be amazed – and amazed I was. Per the server this cupcake was cocoa, Sharffen-Berger, and Crème Fraiche with Hazelnut reduction – per me, it was like a cupcake formed out of Cream, Nutella, and Spongy Devil’s Food Cake. Intense, rich, hefty, filling and worth every penny – like the ho-ho the cake stood up on its own and while melting in the mouth retained perfect texture throughout chewing – the mouth-feel alone of this cupcake justifies its price.
Although there were 10+ items I wanted to taste, plans for the day still included a Michelin 3-starred lunch, museum and gallery hopping, Ssam, and a Yankees game so I had to pace myself – no worries, I’ll be back in Vegas in September.
I really enjoyed your detailed reports!
I haven't tried the creme brulee donut at Donut Plant but loved their tres leches donut when I tried it. I also find Dunkin Donuts inedible. But everyone's taste is different, and it seems to me that you may be in some ways harder to please for dessert than I.
As for Scarpetta, I haven't been there yet, but did like a lunch at had at L'Impero a few years ago, when Scott Conant was Chef there. One of the dishes I had was the duck-foie gras ravioli you had, and they were delicious.