Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NYC Eats

While we were in NYC, one of my top priorities was visiting all the bakeries whose cookbooks are in my collection in order to pay homage and try a few of their classic treats for myself to see if my baking measures up at all to the real deal. Thus, the only real planned food we had in NYC was the few bakeries I had listed out for us to see and everything else was pretty much on a whim. We basically ate when we wanted to but made sure to just keep everything simple, inexpensive, and in-line with typical New York tourist fare. Below is a complete list of everywhere we ate (and drank) something as well as my detailed review of the experience. We certainly did not go hungry during our visit!

Shake Shack
691 8th Avenue, Midtown/Theater District

We hadn't eaten a true dinner before we made our way into the city, but as we were walking towards Times Square at 11:00 PM and I spied the glowing, neon sign of this iconic spot for burger lovers, I knew exactly where I wanted to feast. We stood in line for maybe 10 minutes and decided to order a single Shackburger with pickles (mine), a SmokeShack with bacon and cherry peppers (his), and a coffee milkshake to share. The atmosphere was upbeat, hip, and overall pleasant and the workers all seemed to be happy and eager to banter with silly tourists like ourselves. Most of the seating was taken, but they had a couple bar tables where you could stand and after sitting for hours and hours in both the car and the train, neither of us had a problem with standing. Our food came after another 10 minute wait and we scarfed down the burgers. They were simply fantastic - fresh ingredients, the perfect proportion of sauce (and that shake sauce is dynamite!), and I was in love with the potato bun squeezing all that meat, cheese, and vegetables together. Excellent, excellent, excellent burgers. Beats Five Guys by a long shot. Paul's only critique was that he wished that the burgers had a little char on the outside rather than being simply steamed on the griddle. We both agreed that the milkshake, while delicious and well-made, was fairly forgettable next to the burgers. I let Paul drink most of it. Overall, a great first meal in NYC.

831 3rd Avenue, Midtown

I was super excited to try New York bagels during our visit and researched the heck out of all the various bagel shops and Ess-a-Bagel continually came up as a local favorite. We got there bright and early and the line was still out the door. We waited for maybe 30 minutes to order food, longer by far than any other wait at every other place we dined. The wait was pure torture because the yeasty smell of bread baking was so intoxicating and the mouthwatering display of various cream cheese spreads, thinly sliced smoked fish, and other bagel toppings only intensified my hunger. When it was finally our turn to order, we both chose the Bagel with Lox sandwich with capers, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and chive cream cheese because neither of us can resist smoked salmon and it's kind of a New York classic. I got mine on a plain bagel while Paul chose an "everything" Bagel. The sandwiches actually took a while to make because the bagel artists definitely took the time and the care to ensure that each order was satisfactory. It was well worth the wait - this was probably my favorite thing we ate during our trip. Salty, chewy, creamy, crunchy - this sandwich had everything going for it. I loved the bagel - so chewy and dense with an excellent malt flavor. We ate in pure silence because we wanted to savor each and every bite. I was stuffed to the gills after finally finishing that glorious bagel and wasn't hungry for the majority of the day. If you are in the NYC area and craving bagels, I would definitely recommend this place!

Birch Coffee
750 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side

While winding through Central Park, we suddenly started to crave a pick-me-up and then wandered just a bit into the Upper West Side in search of this popular coffee house. The shop had a nice interior that was open and airy and there was plenty of seating. I ordered a Mocha Latte and Paul ordered a Vanilla Latte. Great coffee, great espresso. I loved that my mocha was not overly sweet like most of Starbucks lattes end up being. Definitely gave us the kick we needed to keep on touring.

Milk Bar
561 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side

Note: I have pictures from Milk Bar somewhere between our three phones but for some reason can't find them. I'll post them on here once I do!

I adore Christina Tosi's cakes, cookies, and other creations that have helped her build her Milk Bar empire. Milk Bar has several locations around NYC and Brooklyn, but since we were already in the Upper West Side and not too far from this location, we headed to this small, unassuming bakery. It was fairly deserted when we walked in and I have to say that I was quite disappointed with how few offerings were in the bakery cases. There was a wide selection of cookies, a couple sad-looking slices of Crack Pie, but only one layer cake (the birthday cake) was on display and it didn't even look all that neatly put together as it was listing a bit to one side. Overall, I was unimpressed. But, since we were there, we picked up a couple cookies - a Blueberry Cream Cookie (mine) and a Chocolate Marshmallow Cornflake Cookie (Paul's). As much as we were unimpressed with the bakery itself, the cookies were fantastic. That blueberry cookie was a revelation and I vowed to try making them soon after getting home. Paul's Marshmallow Cornflake cookie was also good in flavor, but I wasn't a huge fan of the texture of the cornflakes. Paul like it a lot though, so that's what counts!

Levain Bakery
167 West 74th Street, Upper West Side

This charming little Upper West Side bakery is located is ensconced in the basement of a residential building and bakes up some of the best cookies in NYC. They are famous for huge, big-as-your-face cookies that are always warm from the oven! At four dollars a piece, the cookies are expensive but you have to keep in mind that they are quite huge so you're really getting four regular cookies for that price! We ordered a single cookie to share, the chocolate chip walnut, and had every intention of saving it for later but it was so warm and smelled so inviting that we wolfed the entire thing down before we were a block away. Amazing. I wish we had ordered more!

Magnolia Bakery
200 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side

What a charming little place this was! Serving up cakes, pastries, cookies, and desserts along with coffee and tea, I was familiar with Magnolia from their cookbook and their Banana Pudding is one of my favorite easy desserts to make! I have never made it for Paul because he has an aversion to all things pudding so I typically reserve that recipe for times where I know other dessert options will be available for him. However, once we were at Magnolia, I wanted to try the Banana Pudding from the source and Paul actually agreed to "just have a bite." Well, even he couldn't stop eating it. Smooth, creamy, rich yet surprisingly light, it was way better than the one I've made for some reason. Maybe it was because we were enjoying it on site? I also enjoyed wandering over to the section of the bakery where you could watch workers decorate layer cakes for special events. I picked up quite a few piping techniques while watching them work. It was a very, very neat experience!

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street, Chinatown

This small eatery located in a tucked away alley in Chinatown serves up some of the best dim sum in the area. The smells of the various dumplings, shu mai, and pork buns leaving the kitchen were intoxicating and made me hungry even though I'm sure I actually wasn't! The only thing I really wanted to try was the BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu) but we also ordered a five additional varieties of dumplings to try. I wanted to be adventurous and try the chicken feet but Paul wouldn't let me. The place was busy but the ordering process was really quick and fairly effortless given how few people were actually speaking fluent english. The dumplings came fast but not all at once, giving us time to finish one plate before moving on to the next. When everything arrive, I had no idea which dumpling was which but everything was delicious! However, everything paled in comparison to the pork buns which were HUGE and insanely delicious - a slightly sweet, sticky dough folded around a sweet pork filling. I wanted to eat about 15 more of those and was sad we only ordered one apiece! During our time dining here, it became even more glaringly obvious to me how terrible I am at eating with chopstix. The dumplings were quite large and very, very slippery and I basically made a mess of my plate trying to pick them up with those two tiny sticks! And there were no forks in the entire establishment so I was stuck with hacking my way through the meal. I'm sure I provided ample entertainment for the staff because I definitely seemed to be the only one struggling in the entire restaurant.

Bravo Pizza
360 7th Avenue, Midtown/Garment District

Our taste of New York style pizza was not a pleasant one. Granted, it was very, very late - around 12:30 AM I believe and this was pretty much one of the only places still open that looked somewhat clean. However, the pizza was overly greasy, the sauce was too sweet, and everything was incredibly overwhelming. I also ordered a salad on the side because after all the sugar and salt I had consumed that day, my body was craving something plant-based. I thought everything was quite expensive for the quality. I would not recommend this place.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters
18 West 29th Street, Chelsea

This is where we grabbed coffee early Sunday morning. A cute little coffee shop located in the basement of the Ace hotel, I enjoyed petting the numerous numbers of little dogs who came to the shop with their owners while out for their morning walk. The coffee, while still delicious and smooth, was a little on the weak side for our tastes. I felt like our lattes were infused with a single shot of a espresso rather than two. I enjoyed the coffee at Birch more.

Laduree Patisserie
864 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side

Paul and I have been longtime lovers of macarons. So, it was a no-brainer when I read about my friend Diana's most recent trip to NYC on her blog (in search of tips before our trip) and she mentioned purchasing macarons from this cute little patisserie that we were going to head there in search of those delicate little cookies as well. Luckily for us, Laduree has two locations - one in SoHo and another on the Upper East Side just two blocks away from the Frick Collection. It was the perfect place to stop in for a snack after perusing all that beautiful art. Since we were starving, we ended up purchasing a walnut croissant and a selection of six macarons - passion fruit, coffee, cherry almond, pistachio, blackberry, and strawberry cream. Everything was a bit pricey - the macarons were about two dollars a piece and they are tiny ones! The croissant was another four dollars but it was quite large, certainly enough for us to share. The croissant was absolutely heavenly - a sweet and nutty filling hidden inside beautifully flakey, buttery dough. I instantly regretted having to share it with Paul when I took my first bite. The macarons on the other hand, while very good, were not the best I have had. The flavor of the fillings were very bright in flavor but I felt as if the cookie itself was off a bit in texture. The best macarons we have ever had came from a tiny little french bakery in Ithaca, NY and we are still in search of ones that live up to those!

Breads Bakery
18 East 16th Street, Union Square

Based on another recommendation from Diana, we headed to Breads bakery in search of chocolate babka. I had read in a Serious Eats article about Breads' unique take on the tradtional chocolate babka. They utilize a laminated dough over the traditional enriched, egg-heavy bread of most bakeries as well as a nutella-based filling. I wanted to try this unconventional take on the babka so we headed there for a loaf to bring home with us. While we were waiting in line, Paul also spied an almond cookie with strawberry filling that looked appealing, so we purchased one of those as well. Paul ate the cookie at Union Square Park before we continued heading into the Lower East Side and you would not believe how much he raved about it. He still claims that that cookie was the single best thing he ate in NYC. I have no comment on that cookie since he gobbled it down without sharing. The babka, however, was divine. I enjoyed a slice for breakfast as we were driving home the next morning but then the majority of the rest of the loaf was demolished by Matthew. He literally sat at the counter and helped himself to the entire thing. I told him he could have a slice (singular) and then headed outside to pick up after the dog. When I came back inside, I found only a small end piece remained from the entire loaf and Matthew sitting there licking chocolate from his fingers and declaring that snack one of the best of his life. Pretty high recommendation coming from him!

Katz's Delicatessen
205 East Houston Street, East Village

Paul and I knew that we wanted to sample some type of traditional New York deli while we were in the area and we figured that there was probably no better place than the famous Katz's Delicatessen. I expected crowds for I was sure that this was a tourist hot spot, but I was completely unprepared for the utter commotion that was ordering at Katz's. First, they have a bouncer type set up at the door where a beefy, stern man hands you a ticket and orders you firmly, "Don't lose this or we'll never ever let you out!" Once we got our tickets and squeezed our way inside, we found that you could either wait for one of the limited dine-in tables in the way back where a waiter will take your order and bring you your meal directly to your table, or you could go to one of seven ordering stations and wait in line there for your turn. We were told that there was a long wait for the waiter option, so we found our way to what Paul thought was the shorter of the seven lines and stood there for nearly an hour. I was quite claustraphobic in this setting because there were people squeezing their way in and out, balancing trays piled high with sandwiches, coleslaw, and matzo ball soup, and nobody was particularly friendly. I began to stress about how, once we got our food, we would ever find a table because there seemed to be literally 400 people scrambling to eat in there. However, I needn't have worried, for when it finally came time for us to order, our "meat carver" was so pleasant and jolly that he made me finally relax. He gave us samples of the corned beef with mustard and then we ended up ordering a Pastrami Sandwich on Rye to split along with extra pickles. As soon as we turned around with our tray to find a table, one opened up right in front of us and we immediately grabbed it. Luckily, it ended up being the table where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal shared a meal while filming When Harry Met Sally which, being a huge fan of that movie, was a stupid-special moment for me. And our sandwich - piled high with hot, freshly sliced pastrami with a generous smear of mustard on thinly sliced rye - was incredible. It was so large, that I could not imagine eating a whole sandwich on my own! I could barely finish the half I had! My only complaint was, as a pickle fanatic, I found their pickles a little off-putting. The sour pickles had a strange, allspice after taste to them and I really did not enjoy the slightly mushy texture of the sweeter pickles. After our meal, I enjoyed perusing the back wall of the restaurant and seeing all of the many, many pictures of various celebrities and political heroes who have paid a visit to the restaurant. It was really impressive! Despite the pickle disappointment and the massive crowd of fellow sandwich-seekers, our experience at Katz's was an extremely pleasant one!

Baked NYC
279 Church Street, Tribeca

You have probably heard me mention the Baked cookbook on more than one occasion on this blog. Their brownies were a revelation for me and their creative, not-too-sweet layer cakes have been among the finest desserts to come out of my kitchen. Naturally, I just had to visit one of their many locations across the city and, since we were wandering around Soho/Tribeca area, we went to their location in that area which, I believe, is one of their newer spots. The atmosphere was akin to that of a hipster coffee shop and Paul was thrilled to find that they did serve coffee drinks there along with a wide variety of desserts and cake, many which I recognized from their famous cookbooks. When we arrived, they were actually in the middle of their "Cake Happy Hour" where you may purchase a slice of cake for half off. Naturally, we jumped on that and ordered a slice of the Malted Chocolate Cake along with a glass of milk (for Paul) and a Nitro cold brew coffee. The cake was everything I knew to expect from a Baked cake - not too sweet, slightly salty, with a light crumb. I loved the malted flavor and was very happy to try a cake that I had not yet baked from their cookbook. The bubbly nitro coffee was fantastic - probably the best coffee we had during our entire time in NYC. On top of it, the staff was so fun and friendly. I highly recommend this place!

The Lobster Place
75 9th Avenue, Chelsea (Inside The Chelsea Market)

Amid the overall crowded and underwhelming Chelsea Market, we were so glad to find this gem of a seafood market. An amazing variety of fresh seafood lined the room, large tanks in the back held live lobsters freshly caught from Maine, and several centrally located bar arrangements featured sushi chefs crafting fresh sashimi to order, boiling lobster for some incredible-looking fresh lobster rolls, or shucking clams and oysters to be served on the half shell. We immediately pulled up to the oyster bar and ordered a variety of the sweetest oysters to try. It was quite the experience watching the shucking and preparation process of the various platters, one I will never forget! And when our oysters came, they were among the best I have ever had. So refreshing! If seafood is your thing, this place is really worth the visit!

Whole Foods Market
1095 6th Avenue, Midtown

So tired were we from all of our touring, that we decided to take it easy on our last day and had a lame picnic-style dinner on our bed in the hotel room. We picked up a bottle of wine, some cheese, and a loaf of bread as big of your head at Whole Foods. I also visited the fresh food bar and dumped a bunch of arugula in the bottom of a to-go box and topped it with a variety of the various prepared salads they were featuring. While certainly an anticlimactic way to end our weekend of touring, it was pretty perfect given the circumstances and was actually really, incredibly delicious!

Until next time NYC!

1 comment:

  1. I am rereading your NYC blog as we start to prepare for a trip to NYC with Diana and our Lucy. Lucy and Diana ate pigs feet in Shaoyang, China this summer when we took Lucy to see the her mother country/city! Thanks for all the tips on places to eat. We will give some a try. Colleen Nistler