Welcome friends and future friends. Follow my taste buds around the world as they engage in gastropornographic ecstacy.
A Glutton in Manhattan: Ess-a-Bagel posted at 11:18am 04 Jan 2004
Yes after calling Cafe Lalo the grand finale, I must document today’s bagel experience.
7:30am on a Sunday. Ess-a-Bagel is empty but for me. As a simple gal, I get a sesame toasted with plain cream cheese.
It’s delicately warm. Chewy around the edges and rips perfectly with every bite. Well I give up. Too hard to express on paper. But trust me. They’re damn good especially just out of the oven.
It’s at E. 51st and 3rd Ave (A highlight of my trip: when first looking for Ess-a I did a google search on my Sidekick. I pinpointed the quadrants, looked up to see what corner I was on, saw the I was on THE corner, glanced across the street and there I saw Ess-a-Bagel. Did the Sidekick teleport me or was it fate?)
What better way to follow a dinner at Mr. Tangs on Mott St in Chinatown than a visit to another world: a European style dessert cafe awash with Talouse Latrec style art.
I’d heard my favorite soul-gourmand (a strapping Uktanian fellow) orders 5 desserts at a time when visiting Cafe Lalo, confirming this to be the perfect finale to my gluttonous rampage.
The line at 201 W. 83rd St (convenient to Zabar’s, which unfortunately was closed) extended the length of the cafe with patient sugar fiends piled on sidewalk benches.
Raised above street level, Lalo feels distinctly old world with huge windows, small marble bistro tables, and a consistent bustle that clearly was driving the staff loopy.
Tables of two are first come first served, and you wait in line along the two, 3-tier pastry cases. Call it foreplay if you will. The 1/4″ thick to-go “book” (it’s a lot more than a menu) also gives a good preview of the county to come. Cakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes, cookies, ice creams…
Mango cheesecake or maple pecan? I went with the latter. Light, creamy, chock full o nuts, a chocolate bottom crust. All in all a great cheesecake, only lacking in maple flavor. My friend ordered her usual: a banana/strawberry chocolate mousse cake. While I didn’t try it, it didn’t entice.
Tables of revelers drank tall coffees or chocolate shakes. Loud music and loud conversation made it difficult to converse. But that didn’t matter. Watching the crowd enjoy their desserts was the real great experience. We headed out at 11:30pm, admiring the dedicated fans shivering down the sidewalk waiting for their apple walnut crumble pie.
Fate smiled upon the Chocolate Garden which I very very randomly enountered at 80 Thompson and Spring Street. Twice I had looked up the address of this much vaunted chocolatier before deciding finding it wasn’t worth the effort.
The flower shop sized store had one two-shelfed case with about 10 truffle varieties, definitely a small time operation. A girl stood in the back dipping truffles. (Frankly this glutton is not a huge truffle fan and finds them overrated given they are fairly easy to make – especialy when rolled in a topping that would hide any imperfections.)
Kee Ling Tong is yet another former corporate worker gone sweets. Her eclectic ganaches of green tea and fruits have won praises of multiple reviewers.
Each piece runs $1.75, or $10 for 6, just the ticket so I could use my charge card.
While surely the truffles were not made to be sampled in a Broadway intersection, I simply could no longer resist. And worried they could be getting crushed in the crinkly plastic bag within my purse. Being near dinnertime, a pistachio truffle seemed appropriate. Greedily I ripped off the orange colored raffia.
Creamy white chocolate center, not too sweet, rolled in coarsely chopped pistachios only slightly soft (ultra crunchy might have been too much to ask). A dark covered orange confit, heart shaped ganache with passion fruit, and mango truffle await. One can only hope the fruit infusion knocks me out.
(Postscript: It did not. The mango had a small white center surrounded by chocolate ganache. Frankly I don’t even recall a mango flavor. The white-based fillings seemed better with less competing with the essences such as green tea.
However, in retrospect, packing my 6 $10 truffles in a plastic bag was a little shoddy. They all cracked and got scuffed up. Sure it was evident these were to be consumed by the buyer, but still.)
The line of 25 or so people wrapped around from the famed Magnolia Bakery at 401 Bleeker, down W. 11th street in Greenwich Village.
It was 4:48 and all I could imagine was cupcakes went half off at 5pm.
“Is there any reason the line’s so long or is it just that good?” I innocently asked. “It’s just that good.” A smiling customer assured me.
I promised I was just looking, as I cut through to peer in. White cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes. Multicolored frosting.
Rarely (or never) have I had a to die for cupcake. I’d rather indulge in caramel than buttercream and the cake’s usually too fluffy for me.
“Well that was expensive” commented a guy toting a box of purple topped cupcakes.
At the end window two bakers furiously spread toppings on naked cakes.
I smiled and walked away, glad that even a glutton has her limits.
(I subsequently persuaded the line monitor to let me in for a quick peek. That is when I became knowing:
1. The downhome cake smell intoxicated me.
2. The carrot and butter cakes, bar cookies and cheesecakes look amazing. They even have the folkloric Red Velvet Cake.
Thank god for determination: in my effort to get to an Amy’s Bread, I find myself not at a standalone store but at Chelsea Market, possibly the most thrilling food market I have yet to encounter (barring the produce and Cowgirl Creamery at SF Ferry Plaza).
But backing up a bit I would like to point out that I have dimensions other than eating and bargain hunting.
For example I decided to spontaneously get my hair cut, after a 9 month or so hiatus.
The sign at International Cutters promoted a shampoo and cut for $18. As someone who finds Super Cuts often serviceable (especially on Polk St. in San Francisco), I’d give it a go.
Gary, a possibly crazy englishman who developed a crush on me, “loved” my long hair, and said I didn’t really need a cut. A dye, major lopping, and blow later, the bill came to $50 (after he said he hadn’t been giving me a sell job; the idea of me dying my own from a box just didn’t cut it for him.)
He gels and blows it to death while a smile plasters on my face. “What?” he asks. “Well, it will just never look like this again.” He starts to explain how to dry it while I secretly note I could pass for a Jersey girl (see Exhibit A) and hope I don’t end up passing for Chrissy Hynde.
I promised to call the next time I’m in town, but as he has twice commented on his orneryness in bars I’m not so sure.
75 9th Avenue looks like the giant REI store in Seattle. No markings tell me it’s Chelsea Market so what lies within is pure pleasure.
The bread at Amy’s will have to wait for another time. Currently, a giant “everything” cookie ($1.50) is rocking my world. It’s 1/2″ thick, soft in the middle and crunchy on the edges. Just enough oatmeal. (At some point it dawned on me I didn’t need to finish the cookie in one sitting. But I did anyway.) The cashew butterscotch bar with shortbread base is indeed the “great snack” they proclaim it is.
Several other bakeries crowd the market which has an artsy charm, with brick walls and columns, brushed steel elevator doors, and exposed metal pipes that somehow make everything taste even better.
Dear to my heart is Eleni’s which tells the story of how this former Californian quit corporate life to chase her dream of opening an oatmeal cookie store. 🙂
Sarabeth’s is the most high end, with several locations in the city and a James Beard kudo to boot. Ruthy’s sells all kinds of sugar free pastries and cakes, luring in those on Atkins. The thought of artificial sweetner in desserts made me glad I’m a non atkins glutton. Fat Witch bakery’s brownies didn’t do it for me. But the 7″ long almond encrusted croissants at Goupil & DeCarlo Patisserie had what I can only describe as real sex appeal.
The Green Table is a darling red walled tiny restaurant that uses only farm produced ingredients and features organic popcorn from Oak Grove Plantation on the menu. An accompanying store sells take out.
Ronnybrok Farms Dairy sells yogurt, ice creams EGGNOG* and cheeses. Hale and Hearty soups is a local chain with a store serving over 10 kinds of soup. Locals get fishy at the Lobster Place.
Plus there’s a Portico housewares outlet and basket store that sells neat foods and toys to make gift baskets. Several international markets sell bargain priced cheeses, oils, etc. A nursery, thai and italian places, delicatessen, news stand and wine store round out the great array of shops here.
Boy do I wish I’d come here before lunchtime!
After much diligent plowing through the newyorkmetro.com website for eateries (because clearly I did not have enough of my own in mind), the City Bakery became a “must” destination.
I’d expected a smallish trendy casual restaurant and arrived at 3 W. 18th St to find a high ceilinged, 2 story bustling room with roman columns down the center.
An island in the middle is encircled with huge $2 cookies (the chocolate chips sadly nut-free), muffins, and decadent fruit and nut tarts for $5.
At the very back, an L-shaped salad bar at $12/lb had a delicious looking array of lettuce based salads (the caesar creamy and parmesan heavy, yum), salmon (fished by line from the ocean – not farmed – making it a true bargain and sustainable feel-good food), lentil salad, kale, fennel braised green beans (great combination and cooked to a near chewiness), potato salads, beets and a lot more.
Light, flavorful, non-fishy and virtually creamy, the salmon is possibly the best I’ve had. Various small pizzas and macaroni with cheese caught my eye. but in my effort to slim down (ha ha) I passed.
All tables full and abuzz with happy diners, I can see why this place gets such kudos.
While not a brownie hound* as the City Bakery won NY Metro’s Best Brownie award in 2003 (and they claim said brownies have guest-starred on Sex and the City)….well.
The Chocolate Room has Scharffenberger, Cluizel and other premium chocolates in a small dimly lit enclave.
(Er uh while they don’t seem to have brownies, a man ladled out huge scoops of cream-thick hot chocolate into cups. Just a foot away stood a stack of homemade marshmallow 12-packs, for $10. The gastropornographer in me immediately fantasized about dunking a marshmallow into the hot chocolate and sucking it off a fork. But luckily as a mature adult, I realize we don’t always have to act on our fantasies. Off to Craft at 43 E. 19th which, they say, has the best chocolate tarts in town.)
*guess the movie
I take my claim as a glutton seriously. And so it was that I set out for Amy’s Bread on a Saturday morning when I couldn’t sleep anymore.
But the fact that I’m en route to Amy’s isn’t the glutton part. The fact that I couldn’t help popping into Ess-a-Bagel on 51st and 3rd Ave is.
The long line and crowded tables nearly deterred me. I’d been up in the air over “I shiould have a bagel because I’m in New York” to “I can have a bagel anytime, I should try a heralded bakery.
So I marched up to 70th and Lex (I’ve been here enough days now to use the familiar), ripping into my “everything” bagel. Was it me or was it not fresh?
On my last trip, I’d happily discovered Oren’s, a small local coffee roaster – a welcome antidote to the ever-present Starbucks’ mediocre drip. 3 sampling plates of moist muffin pieces sat atop the glass countertop. Moist buttery goodness. “Are these from Amy’s?” I asked hopefully.
“No, a bakery called Margaret Palca.”
Oh the irony of it all.
Enormous ginger cookies for $1, glazed donuts that looked surprisingly fresh, and scones beckoned. But I resisted it all; plans changed, as I remembered it’s Union Square farmers’ market day. Should I want Amy’s, there’s always the nearby Hell’s Kitchen location.
Oren’s $1.50 small coffee was robust yet smooth. With only 4 stools at a cramped bar, the spot definitely focuses on the to-go customer. Yet the cramped quarters led a sweet Montreal couple to engage in chatter, ending with a discussion over Oren’s beautiful recycled glas terrazzo countertops. Friends made for $1.50. Not bad.
Apparently Smith St has recently blossomed as a restaurant row. It has an old west gold mining town for some unexplainable reason. Perhaps because on this grey day the streets are nearly empty.
I’d expected Vinny’s (295 Smith) to be overflowing with loud mobster types but at 1pm find it half full, two large UPS drivers enjoying family sized pasta and fried calamari (they call it “cala” here it seems) dishes for a reasonable $10-12.
“None of that small portion business,” Lee had promised me. Being already full, small portion business was just what I wanted.
“Does the eggplant parmesan sandwich have fried calamari in it?” I asked, trying to confirm what I thought Lee had been waxing about as something that sounds strange but was delicious. “No but we can do tha.” “NO THANKS” I replied with relief and ordered the smaller eggplant parmesan on a roll for $4.50 rather than the $6 larger hero size.
Two guys next to me plowed through a pound of fried calamari (which looked so crispy I was hoping they’d offer me some). THEN they followed with heroes. The waitress and I later grossed out about the sheer amount of food consumed. (She stays so skinny by eating vicariously.)
It’s a nice low key, warm joint, lively but with a nice neighborhood feeling. “All homemade” didn’t quite turn out to be what I expected, but rather cafeteria metal pans lined up from which the food is served. Even so, it was a solid eggplant parmesan.
Plus a crew of NYFD guys sauntered in, in full garb. Just seeing New York’s finest eating well made it all worthwhile.
Sahadi’s: more a state of mind than place. First, forget any hangups about patronizing a middle eastern business. Sahadi has been around since 1948, and wherever you live it’s likely your local market carries tahini or other products by Sahadi.
As I reached the block that Sahadi’s is on, at 187 Atlantic by Brooklyn Heights, my pulse raced in anticipation.
Two doors down, Damascus Sweets lured me in with cases of baklava, raibe (butter cookie like rings), as well as other freshly prepared pastries and candies not easily found in my stomping grounds of California and DC.
Still full from the morning’s damage, and with a backpack full of rugalach, I managed to escape with a large chunk of pistachio rosewater turkish delight (known as tuttli in Syria and Turkey). At $9.99 a pound it wasn’t cheap but it will certainly delight.
I’d last been to Sahadi’s 6 years ago and memory had failed to remind me just how well they could exceed my culinary fantasies. A can of walnut oil for $4.75. Never before seen cans of Brooklyn-made walnut paste, pistachio paste*, and of course almond paste. I curbed my imagination of the possibilities (balls of walnut paste dipped in the Guittard brick chocolate Sahadi sold for the dirt dirt low low price of $3.25/lb). To get that premium chocolate for less than the cost of a bag of Guittard chips – and less than I’d seen it in California for – redefined “steal.’
Sahadi makes their own Armenian string cheese, priced at about $4.50/lb (vs $8 at the market). Their decent cheese selection includes parmaggiano reggiano for about $10, also a steal. Shall I stop ranting about their low prices?
Sorry I can’t.
In the spice and bulk room I grabbed a number and scouted around so as not to delay the waiting crowd when my number came up.
Roasted, unsalted hazelnuts for $3.50 a pound. Want salted or raw? They haven em too. Dried cranberries, also $3.50. The usual spices as well as middle eastern. A vast selection of olives in barrels at about $4.50/lb. Jordan almonds and many other bulk candies, which I refrained from in a post new year’s attempt at “being good.”
Trader Joe’s has nothing on Sahadi, and I’m glad. It’s nice in this world of gentrified, mallified, chainified cities to have a truly eclectic, sensory filled, well priced destination to look forward to.
As I headed out, marvelling that my large haul came out to a mere $25, my glance lingered on the 7″ high chunk of halvah by the door. “Down girl!” I thought and raced out, smelling of ground cardamom.
*I happened to pop into an artisanal ice cream maker “Cones” on Bleeker the next day. The Italian owner seemed perturbed as I questioned if the green pistachio ice cream got its color from nuts or from dye. “We-a use-a pistachio-a paste-a from Italy. Eet is-a very expensiv-a.” I resisted asking if he’d tried the paste from Brooklyn’s own.
Ooops. at americanalmond.com I am distressed to find pecan paste as well! mmmmmmmm http://www.americanalmond.com/Products/proddescrips.htm
I had specifically wanted to avoid Margaret Palca as I knew what awaited: the best rugelach I’d ever had. But Lee insisted on giving me a ride to the bakery. As one with little to know willpower, my path was set.
As we drove over to Carroll Gardens, Lee and his daughter argued about whether I should get some of the carrot cake (which only those in the know have access to as it’s kept in the back…for what reason I did not ask). She hated it, he loved it. I knew I’d skip it since I could make that at home.
He deposited me right in front. And when I saw the small cookies tightly rolled, spilling over with cinnamon and nuts, I was glad to be there.
On the way over, Lee had sung the praises of Palca’s sourdough, possibly the best in the city. the night before I’d read a similar review in New York Metro and was glad to have the opinion corroborated. (Dateline: Dinner time. Indeed I may have to return tomorrow for some souvenir bread. It’s fluffy but chewy, sweet yet not too. Very reminiscent of ciabatta I used to get from Gayle’s bakery in Soquel, California.)
The 5″ circular buns sitting on a metral tray atop the counter indeed looked good. They didn’t have a perfectly semi circular shape but rather sagged in places. And with the trained eye of one who had packed away many a baguette I knew these buns were all about the chewiness factor.
I picked up one to go with my fresh bocconcini balls for an appetizer, and a dozen rugalach at $11/lb. (Compare to $15/lb at Dean and DeLuca where the rugalach there had a cold, gummy texture.)
The $3 4″ wide fruit and nut tarts beckoned as well but I said adieu and headed diligently up Sackett Street to my lunch, with full stomach.
193 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY; 718-802-9771
His name was Lee. He’d proudly tipped his Johnson & Wales baseball hat while his daughter told me about her pastry school program.
I’d just expended the day’s calories on 2 flaky pain au chocolats and one marzipan bar at Jacque Torres. Located by the Brooklyn Bridge’s warehousey area at 66 Water St, the shop lures both tourists and locals to sample pastries, coffee, and of course chocolates.
The seating area had only 2 tables, with 2 stools at the coffee bar, foiling my plan to hunker down after my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. However at the counter, the barista made friendly chaater and I enjoyed watching the back room goings on in the bar mirror.
At $1.50, the croissants and pain au chocolats are a bargain, as are the 3″ filled bars at $2. The dark chocolate peanut brittle impressed me, as more an English toffee than brittle. The marzipan layered over a thin spread of apricot paste was nearly tasteless, perhaps overpowered by the thick dark chocolate coating. In all fairness, I ate the entire bar to make sure my taste buds were fully operational before criticizing the bar. It’s important to practice Fairness in Gluttony.
Milk chcolate bark with almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios at $16/lb (or $1/oz as they like to say) is a pretty good deal as well.
You know a business is successful when Christmas goodies aren’t discounted on January 2nd.
As someone who can take or leave ganache filled chocolates, I was able to get out of there with little damage. (Postscript: The dark covered caramel was buttery but firmer than I like. The coffee caramel coated with milk was lusciously liquidy. Pistachio marzipan in dark had more nutty flavor than the bar.)
Jacque whisked out from the back to hand all the visiting kids chocolate lollipops while I bitterly muttered “I’m a kid too!” I thought they said age didn’t matter.
Lee was persuasive. Not only had he convinced me to visit Margaret Palca’s bakery but he convinced me I must lunch at Vinny’s Luncheonette despite being stuffed with 2 pain au chocolats (that’s another story).