Monday, March 30, 2009

[NYC '09: Dessert, day 5] Dessert Club Chikalicous: Cute Desserts in a Not-So-Cute Place

After dinner at the Stanton Social, we hailed a cab to try Chikalicious, the dessert place endorsed by New York magazine's Adam Platt. We were still too full from brunch so we nipped into the Dessert Club for individual dessert portions instead of the prixe-fixe three course dessert bar across the street. I have to say, the place was totally different from what I had expected. For a place praised for its dainty Japanese-styled desserts, I had imagined a bright, cutely decorated place only to find that the space was the size of a shoebox, had minimal decorations and had two bulking Mexican guys working the counter.

Oh well, at least the desserts are still pretty damn good. Their take on the New York cheesecake (4.95) is served in a small plastic cup. The balance between sweet and zesty tartness is spot-on and the cheesecake manages to be satisfying without being overly heavy. I got the banana custard ($4.95) which was served in similar cup as the cheesecake. The custard had a strong banana flavor which made me all-smiles and the texture was wonderfully smooth and creamy. The pudding tasted best when eaten in a bite mixed with the crushed graham cookies. The mix of textures was wonderful. The desserts at Chikalicous are decent – great, even – but definitely not something to rave about. I heard they were famous for the bread pudding but they were all out by the time we got there. Oh well, maybe next time…

FOOD: 3.75/5

204 E 10th St.
New York, NY 10003
(212) 475-0929

[NYC '09: Dinner, day 5] The Stanton Social: Only for the PYT

(A promising opener: Amuse Bouche)

To celebrate our final night in Manhattan, we made a reservation at The Stanton Social for dinner. This place was exactly as I had expected – loud, dark, young and pretty. To be honest, places like this make me nervous. But oh well, I like looking at pretty things and eating good food and, most importantly, I was with good company.

Stanton Social operates on a shared small plates/tapas dining style. Small plates have been all the rage in the last couple of years and it still seems to be going strong. The waitress (who reminded me of a pre-thievery Winona Ryder) recommended about 2-3 plates per person but, being that we were still stuffed from a heavy brunch, we decided to just start out with 5 plates first.

An amuse bouche of ricotta and tomatoes on toasted bread was brought to our table. The flavors and textures complimented each other perfectly – the salt-seasoned tomatoes cut through the mildness of the ricotta and the smooth creamy cheese played off the crunchiness of the bread. It was definitely a promising opener.

(Can't-taste-the-tuna tuna tartare rolls)

Next up were the nori spiced tuna tartare rolls ($12). This was something I suggested and, sad to say, I was pretty disappointed. I couldn’t taste the tuna at all – the fish was completely overpowered by the spices and the sauce. Also, with the mouthnumbing effect of the sauce, it was difficult to tell how fresh the tuna was but it was definitely not sushi grade. Oh well, I guess this dish just confirmed for me that I will never like tuna tartare no matter how hard I try.

(Good texture: Mushroom Risotto Cakes)

The second dish was the wild mushroom risotto cakes with parmagiano and mushroom chips ($12). I liked the texture – it was dense and interestingly moist and grainy but not coarse. But it was just a little too sour for my personal taste. Not bad but nothing special either. This was getting dangerous – Stanton Social was batting a zero so far in the food zone. So Thank God that the next dish to come up was the butternut squash and sweet potato ravioli ($14). This was hands down the best dish of the night. It was lightly doused in a vanilla brown butter sauce and sprinkled with candied pecans – a perfect blend of sugariness with a slight tinge of saltiness to really bring out the sweet creaminess of the filling. It tasted almost like a sweet potato pie! Great stuff. I wish they would turn that dish into a full sized entrée – I would DEFINITELY order that.

(If only all the dishes tasted like this: Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Ravioli)

Sad to say though, it was all a downhill slope from there on. The Rhode Island style lobster roll ($9/individual portion) was uninspired. I’ll give it credit though for the lobster meat – I’m not a big lobster fan but I do recognize the beauty of a well prepared fresh lobster. The lobster meat in the roll was definitely fresh and had a good bouncy texture. But that aside, it was nothing special. The bun was probably the best part – airy and soft but a little too much on the greasy side. Which actually is my main criticism of the food at Stanton Social – it’s just too greasy in taste. The chips that came with the lobster roll were flat-out gross and tasted like pure oil. Ech.

(Only OK: Lobster Roll)

The last dish of the night was the apparent biggie – the Stanton Social beef Wellington ($21). This dish as a concept was already a little too much for my personal taste – grilled filet mignon with foie gras mousse and mushroom duxelles wrapped in puff pastry. I liked all these components individually but I had a feeling that tossing all these things together could “crudify” them. It was almost like turning a Carolina Herrera dress into an 80s prom gown. But we were at Stanton Social and this was one of the must-try dishes so I put my ambivalence aside. Again, on the level of purely personal taste, I wasn’t feeling the Worcestershire based sauce (I never do) which is also why I didn’t like the pastry since I soaked up all the flavors of the sauce. The beef was cooked really well though (medium rare) but I was still riding on the memory of the wagyu skirt steak at WD-50 and that steak just set the bar way up there. But my biggest qualm with the dish was with the foie gras which seemed to be completely absent from the dish. I’m not a “I HAVE to order foie gras if its on the menu” person but if I DO order it, I expect it to…well…be there. I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t taste it and trust me, I was REALLY concentrating on my bite. I was rolling the piece in my mouth for a full minute and still, no dice.

(Not worth the calories: Beef Wellington)

Although the food is disappointing, the atmosphere is really great. It’s great for drinks and catching up over a light meal and it’s a place to go to if you’re into the see-and-be-seen loud eateries. The kind of place to meet up but not the kind of place to carry out a deep conversation (good luck battling the noise level). And it’s definitely not a place which gets five stars for its food. Personally, it’s not my kinda place…I’m too old and grouchy for hip places like this. I’ll stick to places like Barbarini Alimentari and I’ll leave Stanton Social to all those Pretty Young Things.

FOOD: 2.5/5

99 Stanton St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 995-0099

[NYC '09: Brunch, day 5] Max Brenner: Savory or Sweet? Well, Let's do Both!

(Little Miss Pinky: a great Brunch Cocktail)

Debs and I met up with our beloved Shoe for brunch in Union Square on day 5 of our Manhattan trip. It was unreal seeing Shoe in NY! The weather was a little too gloomy and gray for brunching on farmer’s market fare outdoors so Shoe took us to Max Brenner a couple of blocks away.

Max Brenner was surprisingly uncrowded when we arrived. I could smell the rich chocolaty-ness of the place even before I stepped into the restaurant. So much for a light brunch! The brunch menu is so extensive – we took at least twenty minutes to decide on what to order. Debs was the first to close the menu after deciding on the tuna salad sandwich ($11.25). Shoe and I were both vacillating between the sweet and savory offerings so we decided to order two dishes to share. From the savory end, we got the guilt-free omelet ($14.50) and on the sweet side, we went with the spiced apple and walnut French toast ($14.50).

(Mmmm...waffle fries)

Food took a while but we didn’t really mind since we were busy catching up. I also ordered an absolutely delicious Little Miss Pinky Martini ($10) while we were waiting for our food. The cocktail – a mixture of vodka and triple sec with strawberries was a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness and with a name like that, how could I not order it??

Anyhow, the food came eventually and the portions are huge! We should’ve expected it. Shoe and I started with the omelet…which, as we had guessed, was hardly guilt free (trust me – we didn’t order it to be healthy). It was extremely well-made – the omelet was huge and fluffy and chock full of flavorful garden veggies and melted cheese. It was extremely substantial and tasted almost meaty even. The eggs came with a side of well-seasoned hash and a buttermilk biscuit. The biscuit was a shining star. It was buttery, fluffy and crumbly all at the same time. Amazing stuff!

(Delicious but DEFINITELY NOT guilt-free)

We moved onto the French toast which was plated along with two cute vials of syrup and melted white chocolate. The French toast was wonderfully eggy and fluffy. Too bad they didn’t use thicker bread (when will places learn?) to really bring out the toast’s potential custardy goodness. The spiced apple and walnut combo was perfect and everything was made even better with a generous dousing of melted white chocolate…but then again, what isn’t :) ?

(Pass the White Chocolate)

Service at Max Brenner’s is excellent. All the waitstaff are super friendly. Must be from all the endorphins from working at a place like this. The place was getting packed by the time we left so I guess, arrive fairly early if you want to try brunch here. Food was fantastic and the company was even better. It was so great seeing Shoe again. Well, hopefully, before long, we’ll be able to meet up in Manhattan again :D

FOOD: 4/5

841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0030

[NYC '09: Brunch, day 4] Rong Hang Restaurant: Noisy, Dirty, but Oh-So-Good

(Spare ribs and beautiful cubes of taro)

After our dinner at WD-50 and our shopping extravaganza at Century 21, Sunny and I decided to economize for our day 4 dinner. Initially, I had planned on grabbing soup dumplings from Joe’s Shanghai but, being a Friday night, the place was packed full with – you guessed it – White people. It was already close to 8pm, I was starving and I wasn’t about to wait 45minutes for my food. So, instead, the two of us walked over to the part of Chinatown on the other side of Manhattan Bridge.

We stepped into Rong Hang Restauarant and were greeted by the loud ruckus of clanking bowls and beer bottles and indiscernible Chinese dialects. Yes, it’s scary and unnerving but it’s also a pretty certain sign that the food is probably really good.

Since the dine-in menu was in Chinese only, Sunny gave me ordering carte blanche. The menu boasted that the restaurant served authentic Fuzhou fare which, I have to say, I’m not very familiar with but seemed to be made up of a lot of animal innards. Well, knowing that Sunny is a non-innards person, I skipped over dishes like sautéed pig stomach and crispy duck intestines and went for the spare ribs with house special sauce ($8.95), the stewed lamb Chinese style ($9.95) and two mountainous bowls of steamed rice.

Both dishes were awesome. Though both the pork and lamb were both bony cuts of meat, the meat was cooked to such tenderness that it fell easily off the bones. The pork was so flavorful – it was cooked in a sort of sweet and sour sauce which was close to being addictive. But what REALLY was addictive was the cubes of taro sprinkled throughout the dish. They were my favorite part of the meal. The sauce really enhanced the taro flavor and the tartness of it really cut through the crumbly soft texture of the root vegetable. The lamb stew was a perfect compliment to the pork dish – it was a lot milder in flavor so it balanced the meal out. Also, the stew broth was perfect when mixed with the steamed rice. The sheets of dried bean curd soaked up all the flavors of the lamb and the broth and turned into a sheet of pure deliciousness. These dishes were a welcome respite from the days of eating heavy Western food – both the pork dish and lamb stew had a hearty balance of veggies and the cuts of meat were cut to small bite-size pieces which made the overall meal less stuffy. That being said though, the portions are huge – we left about half of each dish unfinished…and the total for the two of us still only came to $20. I love Chinese food.

(Lamb stewed to tenderness)

Service is iffy – especially if you don’t speak the dialect. This place is DEFINITELY catered to its regulars. I mean, I could converse with the staff in Mandarin and I still had only mediocre service. But then again, at places like this, it’d be stupid to expect red carpet service. As long as the food is awesome – which it was – I’m a happy camper. I’m glad Joe’s Shanghai was packed. Rong Hand is off the beaten path but it’s a definite gem if you can put up with its seeming rough unprettiness.

FOOD: 4/5
SERVICE: 1.5/5

38 Elridge St.
New York, NY 10002

[NYC '09: Brunch, day 4] Bouchon Bakery: The Lake

(Ingenius Coffee-to-go Lids at Crumbs)

On day 4, Sunny and I decided on a second round of Bouchon Bakery + Central Park. We hopped off the C line at Columbus Circle and picked up a few baked goods before hopping back on the subway out to West 70th. We took a little stroll around the upper west side, stopped at the 72nd street station (so beautiful) before ducking into Crumbs for a coffee-to-go.

(Sweet, moist coffee cake)

We entered the park on 75th – I was planning on enjoying our food at the Ladies Pavilion (remember when Carrie and Miranda talk about forgiving Steve in the SATC movie? Yes, there) but the place was occupied by a wedding ceremony. How cute. Well, we settled instead on one of the benches facing the lake. It was equally lovely.

I took a bite of Sunny’s coffee cake which was crumbly and moist. The brown sugar topping really brought it up a notch too. Stellar stuff. And after falling in love with it the first time, Sunny bought the raspberry and almond croissant ($3.25) again. This croissant is a MUST-TRY. It’s so amazingly flaky – it melts on your tongue and leaves a soft, tart sweetness. SOOO good. I wanted to get that too but since Sunny got it already, I decided to try something else with the hazelnut and fig croissant. I’m not a big fig fan – I got it mainly for the hazelnut. This croissant was also flaky and soft but the fig taste was probably a little too much for me. Definitely get this if you are a fan of figs. It’s chock full in every bite.

(No other croissant will be good enough after this: raspberry and almond croissant)

(Hazelnut and Fig Croissant)

I wanted to try Bouchon Bakery’s famous TKOs (i.e. Thomas Keller’s Oreos) but, since I’m not a crazy big fan of Oreos to begin with, I decided to forego them and opted for a second round of macarons ($2.75/ea) instead. I got the chocolate this time and also got the caramel (my favorite!) again. The chocolate was well and a definite chocoholics’ dream but I definitely preferred the lighter flavors like vanilla and caramel. Seriously, the caramel is so amazing.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. I love Central Park and I love Bouchon Bakery. And, of course, the company I was with :D Sunny and I did manage to sit in the Ladies Pavilion for a while after we had finished our food. So peaceful, so beautiful. And it’s times like these that you know life is good.

FOOD: 5/5

10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10019
(212) 823-9366

[NYC '09: Dinner, day 3] WD-50: OH MY GOD

(Sesame Bread "Basket")


I can’t believe I finally ate at WD-50. This was probably one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve had thus far. STELLAR stuff. WOW.

I was actually scared that WD-50 would be just riding on the gimmick molecular gastronomy wagon but OMG (that’s going to be the word of this post) the food was amaaaaaaaazing. Hands down the best meal during this trip.

(Corned duck on rye crisp)

I was a little put off at first when the waitress insisted we order an appetizer. I mean, I’ve never been imposed upon by the waitstaff to order so it was a little off-putting. But dayam am I glad she made that suggestion. We ordered the corned duck, rye crisp, purple mustard, horseradish cream ($15) which was my first taste of meat since about half a year ago. The smoked duck was sliced to a paper thin thickness, ensuring maximum tenderness and that melt-in-your-mouth meat was wrapped around my new favorite condiment – mustard. Great flavor combination, and it was especially enhanced by the slight sweet tinge of the filling. It was great stuff but it was definitely overshadowed by…

(Absolutely AMAZING: THIS is eggs benedict!)

THE eggs benedict ($16). This was some trippy-ass shit. It was mind-blowing already as a visual concept. I ate the “egg yolk” by itself at first and thought “meh.” Then I cut off a bit of the fried hollandaise cube, ate that in one bite with the crispy bacon and a bit of the egg yolk and, oh wow…one small bite packed massive flavor. AMAZING.


(Cutting open the fried hollandaise cube)

We tackled the entrée page right after and this was all the more special for me because it marked my official reentry into the land of meat. Debs ordered the tile fish celery root, wood ear mushroom, chinese sausage consomme ($29) and Sunny took a stab at the pork ribs, fried plantain, hibiscus, jerk consommé ($29). And as for me, I ordered the wagyu beef skirt steak, long bean, tamardine with peanut butter "pasta" ($35).

(Abstract: Tilefish)

(melt-in-your-mouth blocks: pork ribs)

The food at WD-50 isn’t JUST food, they’re works of art. Debs’ tilefish and Sunny’s pork ribs looked like they had popped out from the Guggenheim. My skirt steak was probably the least “abstract” and molecular gastronomy-esque out of the entrees but I totally DID NOT MIND. Seriously, I can’t think of a better way to reenter the meat-eater’s world than with WD-50’s skirt steak. I ordered the steak medium rare and it was cooked to ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. It was literally, melt-in-your-mouth richness. I could tear the beef apart with a fork alone. The flavor was also absolutely on target. The smokey flavor of charred beef shone through while the inner part of the steak was still juicy and moist. I’m sorry, I have to say it again: OMG. The dish came with a side of long beans which had a weird plasticy taste. I’m going to blame it on the tamarind. The other side was the peanut “pasta” which turned out just to be Asian bean curd sheets cut into strips. Distinct peanut taste and an ingenius balance to the heavy, meaty wagyu.

(What perfection tastes like: Wagyu Steak)

Desserts are amazing too. I ordered the coconut (of course!), hazelnut “tart” ($15) and – wow – how do I even explain this? The tart was more a pudding flan than an actual tart. The “crust” wasn’t a crust at all but another layer of custard that rims the filling. The chicory foam was strong and smokey and the hazelnut shavings were sandy bits of sweet sweet goodness. The dessert tasted like a sophisticated Kinder bueno bar – I could eat this forever. Debs ordered jasmine custard, black tea and banana dessert ($15). The banana and jasmine custard was silky smooth and rich. But the “tea” components were the real stars. The desserts were extremely well executed and every single individual component shone through. The meal ended with complimentary ice cream truffles in cocoa nibs. Perfect balance of cool, and smooth vanilla-y sweetness and coarse bitter cocoa. Perfect.

(Coconut + Hazelnut + WD-50 = VERY good times)

(Bring on the tea: Jasmine Custard)

(Truffles in cocoa nibs)

Service swung both ways for me. In general, I thought the service was great. I just didn’t really like our serving waitress. She was pretty cold. But the other waiters/waitresses and the maître d' made up for it. The atmosphere was great as well. It’s nice to be able to have such transcendently fine dining in such a casual, fun environment. I loved every bit of WD-50. And as a icing on the cake, the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant gave me a view of the genius Wylie Dufresne at work

FOOD: 5/5

WD-50 ($$$)
50 Clinton St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 477-2900

[NYC '09: Afternoon Tea Con't, day 3] Teany: I'll Stick to his Music

Trying to avoid the rain, we ducked into Teany on the lower East side for an afternoon coffee. Leave it to Moby to come up with a smart punnish name. I have to say though, as much as I love Moby and his music, I was less than impressed with Teany. The place looked cute from the outside but the inside was way too cramped for comfort.

On top of that, service was the speed of slug. Don't get me wrong, the staff was nice but, regardless of niceness, does it REALLY take 15 minutes to churn out a coffee drink? I decided to be adventurous and strayed away from my usual black coffee order and went for the snow globe ($4.50) instead. BIG MISTAKE. The menu claimed that said drink was a mixture of coconut, frosted mint and vanilla. I am in LOVE with all three ingredients (especially the first two) but I tasted NONE of them in my drink. It just tasted like a regular latte. What the hell?

Oh well, maybe it's my problem. Because the place was super packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying their organic teany-machiatto-chino-with-soy milk. I guess I just wasn't made for a place like teany. Yes, I'll stick to stick to my corporate Starbucks black coffee and I'll leave Teany to the skinny-jeans hip organic crowd.

SERVICE: 2.75/5

90 Rivington St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475-9190

[NYC '09: Afternoon Tea, day 3] Eleni's: I Still Love You;

After our midtown tour, we headed down to Chelsea. This worked out perfectly for me since I felt like I NEEDED a picker-upper after that disappointing lunch at Emporium Brasil and what better way to cheer my stomach up than by treating it to my favorite cookie place in the world, aka Eleni's in Chelsea Market.

I absolutely LOVE Eleni's and I still remember my first ice-cream cone shaped cookie from years ago. I actually contemplated placing an order for their cookies while I was in LA. Yes, THAT good. This time around, I got a cute, sparkly sheep-shaped cookie ($5.00) which, of course, was fantastic. Sure, Eleni's is not cheap but I am more than happy to dole out a fiver for a piece-of-art cookie.

The only thing that put me off this time was the service. You'd think that people would be friendly and happy at a place like Eleni's (they were the first time I went) but not so this time. Blegh.

FOOD: 4.75/5

75 Ninth Avenue.
(in the Chelsea Market)
New York, NY 10011

(888) 435-3647

[NYC '09: Lunch, day 3] Emporium Brasil: Don't Pass the Salt

Times Square and Midtown was on the main agenda of day three in Manhattan. I had initially wanted to grab lunch at the Dean and Deluca café near Rockefeller – for those who don’t know me, I am IN LOVE with Dean and Deluca. I don’t really know how this love started but I think that place is absolute genius. But blegh, bad luck – we hit D&D right during lunch hour and couldn’t find an empty table anywhere so we had to improvise somehow. We walked down to 46th and turned into a small side street and settled for Emporium Brasil instead.

Sunny and Debs both went for the rigatoni com brócolis e frango/rigatoni, broccoli & sautéed chicken ($12.25) while I ordered the espaguete primavera/spaghetti with mixed vegetables in tomato sauce ($11.25). Personally, spaghetti is my least favorite type of pasta but the spaghetti dish was the only vegetarian option on the pasta menu. Anyhow, the chef at Emporium Brasil must not know that pasta is a filling carbohydrate because the pasta dishes were HUGE. The three of us all left at least half of our pasta untouched.

(Salty rigatoni)

But the size aside, I was pleasantly surprised by how well cooked the spaghetti was. It was perfectly al dente. On the flip side though, I was disappointed by the dish as a whole. The veggies was cheap, probably bought-in-bulk-frozen stuff – broccoli florets, carrots and mushrooms. On top of that, the dish was probably 80% salt. I mean, I was brought up on an HK diet of MSG-rich instant noodles and even I couldn’t take the saltiness. Sunny and Debs complained about the over-saltiness of their dishes too. Someone needs to hide the kitchen’s salt shaker.

(Would not go near this if it weren't for the al dente-ness: spaghetti primevera)

Having said that though, the service was pretty great. The waitstaff are attentive and I actually think that the service is too good for a place like Emporium Brasil. This was the first disappointing meal we’ve had during the NY trip. Oh well, I guess I can’t expect 100% perfection…even in New York City.

FOOD: 2/5

15 West 46th st.
New York, NY 10036
(212) 764-4646

Sunday, March 29, 2009

[NYC '09: Dinner, day 2] Katz Delicatessen: When Dorothy met Deli

I have a soft spot for greasy Jewish-American diners and I have another soft spot for cheesy 90s chick-flicks. Put the two together and what do you get? Katz Delicatessen in N-Y-C!

Katz is definitely a New York institution. The ordering system can be super overwhelming for an out-of-towner – we were all really confused about the ticket vs. waiter system. It took three UCLA educations to finally crack the system and we eventually grabbed a table near the front. The self-serve counter is where most of the action is. It’s the epitome of NY speediness: you come in, put down your order, grab your sandwich and go. But we had been trekking around East Village and the Lower East Side the whole day and all we wanted to do was plop our asses down and have a meal.

(Welcome to a NY diner: pickles)

(Fries should be FAT. With Lox omelet)

(Debs' Pastrami Omelet)

Although I had planned on returning to a carnivorous diet during the NY trip, I didn’t want to overwhelm my palate with five inches worth of sliced pastrami on rye after over five months of meatless-ness so I opted for the lox and onion omelet ($13.40) instead. The omelet was huge and came with a generous portion of steak cut fries. The plate was greasy as hell but whadda’ expect? This is, after all, an American diner. The omelet was pretty good but I couldn’t find any onions at all in it :s the lox was also good but a little bit too salty for me. The omelet was too overwhelming for me halfway through – both in size and saltiness and I just couldn’t go through with the whole thing. I did pretty well though. The fries were the bomb though! Thick crunchy wedges with fluffy, piping hot innards – I finished all of them with no problem. I also got a bottle of their in-house lemonade ($2.50) which was the perfect washer-downer for the food.

(Trust me, skip the snapple)

I wouldn’t say that the food was amazing (but the fries were!) but Katz does have an absolutely fantastic atmosphere. It’s SO New York. The subway musician eats at the table next to the Wall Street financier just off from work; the waiter (yes, SINGULAR) has been working at the diner for years, stays for a chat, cracks jokes and asks if you want “caw-fee” at the end of your meal. Katz is not just a diner serving greasy sandwiches and omelets. It’s part of New York and there lies its charm

FOOD: 3.75/5

205 East Houston St.
New York, NY 10002

[NYC '09: Lunch, day 2] Bouchon Bakery: Because God Loves Us

(A picture is worth a thousand words...)

Bouchon Bakery has been on my “to-go” list for the longest time. I could’ve gone last year when I was in Manhattan but I couldn’t drag my lazy ass from the upper west side down to Columbus Circle and I was preoccupied with the cupcakes from Crumbs and everything else from Zabar’s. Well, this year, I was determined to visit Thomas Keller’s casual eatery so, on our first full day in New York, we subwayed out to Columbus Circle.

The bakery’s system is a little confusing at first – there’s the dine-in area at the front and there’s the to-go bakery counter in the back. We ordered from the to-go counter since we had planned on picnicking in Central Park. Also, everything costs about $3.00 cheaper if you order to-go. Good, my poor wallet needs that extra $3.00.

(Achingly Flaky Pastries)

It’s difficult to describe exactly how I felt when I laid eyes on the glass desserts case. It was a feeling beyond joy and excitement even…everything felt almost transcendent. Beautiful works of art disguised themselves as tarts and pastries and I could own a piece of that art in exchange for mere money. Wow. VERY wow.

(Reminds me of someone I know. Cough *YVONNE* COUGH)

I opted for the hot-pressed vegetable jardiniere sandwich on toasted multigrain ($9.75) for my main lunch meal. And, on top of that, I bought three macarons – caramel, vanilla and pistachio ($2.75/ea). Yep, there was no way I wasn’t getting Bouchon’s macarons. I had pretty much made this cross-country pilgrimage FOR these delicate cookies. I was brimming with joy when I was handed my small bouchon to-go bag, complete with paper-wrapped sandwich and boxed up sweet treats.

(High quality: Even the coffee kicked ass)

With Bouchon in one arm, we skipped over to my favorite spot in Manhattan: Central Park. Personally, I like the upper parts of the park more (think the Conservatory Garden and the Reservoir) but since we had come out of Columbus Circle, we entered the park at 59th and trekked our way around the lower side and eventually settled down to eat at the Chess and Checkers House.

The food at Bouchon is absolutely amazing! The veggie sandwich was so well-made – I loved every single bite of it. The crusty multigrain bread was spread with a layer of pesto and sandwiches layers of roasted eggplant, portobellos, red onions, bell peppers and wonderfully ooey gooey gruyere cheese. It was wholesome and filling.

(Say [gruyere] Cheese!)

But the star of the show was definitely the macaron selection. $2.75 a pop sounds expensive but Bouchon’s macarons are literally three times the average size. The meringue shell is a little less airy and delicate than, say, Jin’s but that’s understandable given the size (it was as delicate as you can get without shattering under its own weight). The fillings were all amazing. The best I’ve had so far! It’s so rich – it tastes almost like ice cream! The caramel macaroon was definitely my favorite and tasted like a small piece of heaven. The vanilla was light and sweet. The pistachio macaron had a distinct nutty flavor. All three macarons were extremely well-made. I’m a definite fan. And I totally disagree with those who think Bouchon is overpriced. The food quality is outstanding and, after trying their macaroons, I can’t believe Paris Pastry has the gall to charge $2.50 for their macarons when Bouchon’s are about five times bigger and better!

(This makes me happy)

Bouchon is definitely my new favorite bakery. FARK…I wish I lived in New York :(

(Bite of heaven: Caramel Macaron)

(Pistachio ice-cream-like innards)

FOOD: 5/5

10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10019
(212) 823-9366

[NYC '09: Dinner, day 1] Barbarini Alimentari: I Love New York

After our 5 hour long flight from LA (a 7am flight, no less), the three of us were in no condition to venture far for dinner. After consulting my list of dinner places in the financial district, we decided to try out this small eatery near our hotel. We battled the strong NY windy night for a few blocks before nipping into the welcoming warmth of Barbarini Alimentari.

(The Food Counter)

Barbarini Alimentari is a neighborhood gem. In fact, it’s pretty much the real-life representation of what I think the perfect restaurant should be like: great food, great service, and a cute and cozy atmosphere. In one word, the restaurant is adorable. It’s tucked away in a quiet street near South Street Seaport. It’s not fancy or anything; a few clean chairs and wooden tables set in a small room with a glass counter at the front displaying the daily offerings. What the restaurant IS, though, is a perfect setting for a small group of friends to catch up over dishes of hearty American-Italian food.

(Just a part of the large dessert selection)

The three of us all ordered off the daily special chalkboard menu. Sunny got the penne with meatballs ($14.00), Debs got the orecchiette with shrimp in pink sauce ($16.00) and I ordered the vegetable lasagna ($14.00). We had just gotten off the plane and were literally STARVING so we all dove into the bread basket when it was brought to the table. Thank God we didn’t eat too much bread (cold and too tough – nothing special) because our piping hot pasta dish portions turned out to be quite hefty.

(Penne with Meatballs)

The orecchiette was a little bit too much on the al dente side for my personal taste but the sauce was great. I took a small taste of the penne and the sauce which I thought was a tad too sour but Sunny seemed to enjoy it. And the vegetable lasagna? Layers of pasta and grilled zuchinni, mushrooms, minced eggplant, cheese and more veggies…OMG it was SO GOOD. The pasta texture was perfect – not too mushy and not too chewy. The creamy béchamel sauce was spot on with the salty/cheesy/creamy balance and although the dish looked super greasy, the dish was surprisingly unheavy, relative to its ginourmous size. The minced eggplant lent the lasagna an almost meat-like texture. Really, with something THIS good, who needs meat?

(orecchiette in pink sauce)

When we were nearing the end of our meal, a sweet, intoxicating smell came wafting slowly from the kitchen. I have no idea what it was but it smelled absolutely amazing…which SUCKED because we were all way too full after finishing our pasta dishes. The chef, however, brought a small dish of complimentary amaretti to our table. How cute! The cookies were bite-sized pieces of sweet, crumbly goodness. The amaretti settled a pretty much solidified my love for this place.

(Meaty Meatlessness: the BEST veggie lasagna I've had so far)

Service was top-notch. Friendly, laid-back and attentive. The prices were also extremely reasonable – nothing was over $18.00 and many items on the regular menu run under
$10.00. The adjoining Barbarini Mercato grocery store is also absolutely adorable, stocking fresh fruits and imported wines and foodstuffs.

(Sweet and Almond-y Amaretti)

Between the soft glow of the restaurant lights and the warm fuzzy feeling in our happy stomachs, the atmosphere in Barbarini Alimentari felt Christmasy to me. And being at the table with those two ladies, I couldn’t ask for a better way to start our New York trip.

Here’s too good food and good friends.

(And an espresso to end a perfect meal)

FOOD: 4.75/5
SERVICE: 4.75/5

225 Front St.
New York, NY 10038
(212) 227-8890