When I went to New York City last summer, it was a birthday present to myself. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve been, and was timed with getting my big fat stimulus check, which resulted in a nice bout of clothes shopping. This time I had a significantly smaller budget and the focus of the trip was FOOD. I went to check out the French Culinary Institute (and with any luck will be starting pastry classes as the end of the summer) and ate my way around the city. While the mostly-crappy weather and my stomach capacity didn’t allow me to eat at as many places as I would have liked, I made a point to take lots of pictures. Not of everything, but of all the prettiest things.
One of the first stops we made was to Jacques Torres’s shop in Brooklyn. As you can see, I got a little box of fancy chocolates. The empty spaces are where my best friend’s chocolates were. I’m good at sharing. I also bought a 2 pound bag of quarter-sized dark chocolate disks, but unfortunately left them at my friend’s apartment. She’s supposed to be coming up here soon, though, so my chocolatey treats and I should soon be reunited. The only ones I ate so far were one of the white chocolate chai pieces (intensely chai flavored and very good) and the dark chocolate wine one (filled with a chocolate-red wine ganache and totally yummy). The others are a dark chocolate passionfruit heart, a pistachio chocolate (I like to live dangerously) and, um…I forget what the green-swirled one is. I’ll fine out soon, though, I hope!
At the FCI (among many other things) I was given a list of places in the city owned by graduates of the school. While I didn’t get to visit most (this time!) I did make a point to go a few blocks away to Kee’s Chocolates, since they gave me a little card for one free chocolate. I bought a box of seven, in tiramisu, pignoli, creme brulee, coconut, green tea, lemon basil and lavender. Unfortunately, I found most of them to be a little lacking in their respective flavors, with the exception of the green tea and lemon basil. Most just had a plain-ish but still high-quality chocolate filling, but the lemon basil had an actual yellow, intensely lemony filling, and the green tea was white chocolate with a gooey, very matcha-flavored filling. I didn’t eat the pignoli one, though, because that belongs to my friend. It’s still in the fridge.
While debating flavors at Kee’s I happened to notice a little case with two macaron flavors to choose from. Yes please! The one pictured above was rosewater-lychee, and it was good. The rose flavor was strong but not overpowering and the lychee filling was buttery and delicious.
The other flavor offered was lavender, and I was surprised and thrilled to realize, upon biting into it, that the filling was lavender-chocolate, which is such a great combination. I really liked the macarons at Kee’s, and my only complaint would be that the shells were not quite crispy enough on the outside. I won’t fault them for that, though, as it was a miserable rainy day. I guess that means I’ll just have to go back and try them again on a sunnier day!
A trip to New York would not be complete for Z and I without a trip to Soho for cream puffs at Beard Papa’s. They rotate their cream flavors throughout the week and we were lucky enough to be there on a matcha day. I love their cream puffs so much, and I made a serious mess eating mine. A picture exists of me making that mess but I don’t have it.
After Beard Papa’s, we headed a couple blocks over to Pommes Frites, another New York necessity.
I couldn’t get a great picture but they were so damn tasty that I’m posting it anyway. We got pomegranate teriyaki, cheddar cheese and rosemary-garlic mayonnaise dipping sauces and they were all incredible. If you haven’t been there, it’s a shame. They fry roughly-cut frites fresh for each order, put them in paper cones and you have your choice of several unique and delicious sauces to dip or have pumped over the frites. It’s worth it to order a few and alternate between different types of greasy, yummy potato goodness. One of my favorite things about the place is sitting on the rough wooden benches in the back, with holes in the tables to set the cones of fries in. Behind the tables is the tiny stockroom, where you can see gigantic bags of huge potatoes. So many potatoes.
Eventually we made our way over to TAFU, a tiny little Japanese green tea place nestled into a Doubletree hotel. I had heard that the absolute best source for macarons in New York was a little lady named Mitzi, and that she sold her little treats exclusively at TAFU. Plus I love my tea.
We each got a little bowl of matcha, which was green as can be and totally delicious. Hot and energizing, just what we needed after walking in the cold, windy rain.
I noticed they had daifuku, which I hadn’t tried before, so I got one with matcha filling. It was really good, simultaneously light and rich at the same time, icy cold with a chewy rice exterior and creamy matcha interior. If I hadn’t had two people to offer bits to I couldn’t have finished it myself – it was intense!
Halfway through my matcha-licious snack I was presented with this fancy little box of goodies. My six precious macarons!
One of the hardest parts of the whole trip was deciding what flavor NOT to choose – there were seven flavors and only six spots in the box. I ended up leaving matcha, just because I was already consuming so much of it. And I’m pretty sure they always have the matcha ones, since it doesn’t appear to be a monthly flavor on Mitzi’s site. Also they specialize in matcha, so that would make sense.
That’s the black sesame macaron. It was slightly nutty, slightly seedy and probably Z’s favorite.
But, it was not my favorite.
That’s the mint macaron. That one was definitely one of my favorites. The filling was chocolate, but that’s not what was so interesting about the macaron.
Mitzi somehow gets her mint macarons to taste like mint LEAVES as opposed to mint extract. It’s incredible. I guess she just uses actual mint leaves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are mint fairies who sprinkle magic mint dust on each one or something.
That was another of my favorites – the passion fruit chocolate. I really like passion fruit, I’ve recently discovered, but was not sure how well it would go with chocolate.
It turns out that passion fruit and chocolate are more than a perfect match. The two flavors melt seamlessly into one another. It’s almost enough to convert this straight fruit-loving girl into a chocolate dessert kind of girl. Almost.
That’s the mango macaron. It was really interesting, because you don’t taste mango immediately upon biting into it.
The mango flavor actually comes once you have chewed each bite and are about to swallow, creeping up from the back of your mouth. Sensational.
Ah, jasmine. Another of my favorites. It doesn’t look like much, but damn is it good.
The jasmine flavor is more of an aroma. You don’t really taste it with your tongue, the jasmine comes from your sinuses and the back of your throat. And it’s amazing.
That’s caramel-chocolate. It was pretty good.
No real complaints about it, but it couldn’t touch the mint, passion fruit or jasmine.
There were lots of other places we went but either I didn’t take pictures or the pictures just sucked. The first night we went to a little falafel place in Williamsburg, I don’t remember the name but it was on a corner at a bus stop and was tasty, with gigantic spicy, cumin-y falafel balls tucked into big floppy pitas with a creamy sauce and shredded red cabbage. I didn’t think I liked cabbage, but I think I just don’t like it cooked, as it provided a nice crunchiness that went well with the creamy sauce and chewy falafel.
We also went to Almondine Bakery, across the street from the Jacques Torres shop. I heard their madeleines were great so I got a couple, and noticed they had passion fruit and red currant macarons, so I got one of each of those as well. The madeleines were all right, but I didn’t have any tea to dip them in. The macarons were very sweet but good, with nice crisp shells and good flavor, especially the passion fruit. The red currant had a jelly filling, which was the first one I’ve had like that.
It’s not particularly foodish, but we did stop in at the Brooklyn Flea Market. I really liked some antique lithographs of fruits and vegetables, but they were, well, antique, and the prices reflected that. I did get an adorable little red enamel pot and lid, which I had to leave at my friend’s place.
We had dinner at the Brooklyn Red Bamboo one night, which was good but nothing too special. I just had rice and teriyaki mixed veggies with mango juice, which was just what I needed. Usually I find that when I go to New York I tend to mostly eat pastries and junk food, and by the end of the trip am feeling awful and just want some fiber and greens. By eating a big old pile of steamed vegetables and fragrant rice mid-trip, I was able to keep my enthusiasm for sugary items up and my energy high.
We were also treated to a free lunch at L’Ecole, the FCI’s restaurant. Unfortunately they don’t cater much to the vegetarian crowd, but the baguettes were delicious and the desserts were phenomenal.
We popped in to Evolution at one point, which I believe is basically the East Coast branch of LA’s The Bone Room. It’s essentially a museum where you can buy everything on display. Human child skull? Sure. Various animals’ penis bones? Yup. 10,000 year old cave bear skeleton, on sale for nearly as many dollars as it is old? You bet! Pretty hardcore and awesome. With an authentic embalmy smell. They had ancient fossils of sea critters and shiny crystals and stuff, too, but the cave bear skeleton was probably my favorite.
The final stop we made was to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which was all right. It was loud, overpriced and crowded – just the thing I don’t like about the more popular areas of Manhattan. But a place with bulk bins of jelly beans and gummy candies is a place with bulk bins of jelly beans and gummy candies. Plus they had really awesome candy-in-resin stairs leading to the other floors. And the smell of fresh cotton candy. Yum. Honestly, though, I’ve found better selections of both Jelly Belly flavors and other candies at little cheap hole-in-the-wall candy shops.
There were lots of places I would have loved to visit but the weather was terrible most days and the trip sort of sloppily planned. I missed out on the Fred Flare storefront (they closed earlier than I thought), Momofuku Milk Bar (we left the neighborhood it was in, thinking it was closer to our next destination and were too cold and tired to trek back), Rice Ball Cafe (cold, tired and still stuffed with frites), The Doughnut Plant (just didn’t get there), Chikalicious Dessert Bar (just didn’t have time and it was lower on the list)…
So there you go. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to visit again between now and when I plan to start classes, but either way there will be more review-y type entries whenever I get the chance to stuff myself silly on yummy junk food in The Big City. Unless you guys don’t like when I do that. Then there won’t be.