In desperate need of a mini-vacation, I packed an overnight bag and set off to visit one of my closest friends, M, in New York City. Seeing him and experiencing a change of scenery did a lot to ease my wandering mind, and goodness gracious was it good to be in New York City. My stomach is still thanking me for all the treats and delicious food. Let the gushing begin!

Levain Bakery

I may or may not have been summoned to NYC by pictures of these cookies floating around the interwebs. I may or may not have made a beeline straight to the bakery immediately after getting off the bus. I played it safe and ordered their famous chocolate chip walnut cookie, although they had other cookies and other pastries, along with a pretty decent beverage selection. In this situation, playing it safe was the way to go! This is one seriously good, and seriously big, cookie, packed with chocolate chips and HUGE pieces of walnut. I swear the cookie was at least two inches thick! Because it was so thick, the edges were perfectly crisp while the middle remained chewy and ever so slightly under-baked. Chocolate chip cookies number among my favorite foods, which means a disappointing chocolate chip cookie can break my heart, but an amazing one can be the thing that keeps me smiling like a goofball all week. This cookie did just that. My only qualm was the price tag – four dollars a cookie! Worth it when it’s a special treat on a much-needed mini-vacation, though I can see how that could be dangerous if you lived near one of their locations!

Jacques Torres Chocolatier

While eating my cookie from Levain Bakery on a bench, someone asked me if there was a famous chocolate shop nearby. Not being from the area, but wanting to be nice, I told her I wasn’t familiar with a chocolate shop nearby, that I was just there for the cookies (she politely declined my mouth-full-of-food cookie recommendation, which sounded a lot like “thish cooookie ish goooood YOU PROBABLY NEED ONE”). After finishing my cookie, I turned the corner onto Amsterdam Ave and, lo and behold, there was a Jacques Torres retail location right in front of my face. I felt like a jerk for not having noticed it on my way to the bakery, which turned into my not being able to help a poor lady who just wanted some chocolates, so I went in to cheer myself up. What better pick me up than the experience of picking out a few chocolates at a chocolatier?! I picked out four chocolates – dark chocolate covered dark chocolate ganache with honey, milk chocolate covered milk chocolate ganache with a touch of cognac, milk chocolate covered cinnamon hazelnut praline, and milk chocolate covered peanut butter and jelly (pictured). It was a big operation, which made me worry about the quality of the chocolate, but each piece was divine. I thought the cinnamon praline one tasted like chocolate cinnamon toast crunch (YUM), the cognac was perfect with milk chocolate, wildflower honey dripped out of the honey piece, and the PB&J truffle was too cute.

Murray’s Bagels

I’m not sure what needs to be said about Murray’s, because, from what I’ve read on the internet, this place is getting all the attention it deserves. I loved the fast paced atmosphere and the sounds of paper bags, slicing bagels, pouring coffee, people chatting, and newspapers rustling. It was an almost perfection amalgamation of my love of being around people, my love of good food, and my love of everything breakfast. My order was a pumpernickel bagel with scallion cream cheese and tomato, with an onion and an everything bagel to bring home, and M’s order was two bagels, one cinnamon raisin and one whole wheat everything, both with plain cream cheese. He received, instead of a whole wheat everything, a whole wheat bagel, which was kind of lame, but everything tasted so good and we ate breakfast sitting on the highline. You can make up for a lot with good company and pretty scenery. The thing I liked most about my experience at Murray’s though, was that they wouldn’t toast the bagels because they had come straight from the oven! Nuts!! You could tell, too, because the warmth of the bagel made the cream cheese all melty and delicious.

Madison Square Eats

My night at Madison Square eats was one of the most impromptu, most wonderful experiences of my life, no exaggeration. It was early evening and we were deciding on a place to eat for dinner, both of us being kind of tired (M from school and me from… life?) and not wanting to make a huge fuss but still wanting something new and delicious. Somehow I came across a few blogs talking about the Madison Square Eats that happened during the summer, and I silently lamented the fact that we totally missed it until coming upon this blog and reading that they had just reopened, and would stay open until October 21st. The decision was made and we made the long trek from the 190th Street station to Madison Square Park. It had just rained and was a bit chilly, so we basically had the place to ourselves and were totally overwhelmed by how pretty and homey and charming it was. There were lights strung over our heads, tables and umbrellas with chunky, bright colored patterns, vendors chatting each other up, the smells/sights/sounds of food sizzling and popping, and the sheer amount of food for the choosing sealed the deal – it was totally amazing. We had lamb meatball subs, hot dogs with kimchi and nori, pastrami sandwiches, steamed buns, mini cannolis, and cupcakes. There were also mini doughnuts, soft pretzels, pizza, tacos, crepes, liege waffles, and chocolate and wine pairings. I fell in love with everything that night, head over heels with M, NYC, food, people who love food, you name it. See what happens when I have good things, like PB&J mini cannolis and pecan french toast cupcakes? I’m just beside myself with the gushing… or is it the sugar talking?

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Vacation Week: NYC

February 28, 2011

I’m back in Boston, staring at the rain and clutching a box of tissues. Not a pretty picture. Unfortunately I got sick halfway through my week of vacation relaxation, but luckily it was a week of fun and sun, not of work and rain! Because of being sick I didn’t get to do as much as I had wanted, but I’ll share some of the food related things I was able to do before falling under the weather!

NYC, a magical place where I can’t get enough food. The options and amazingness are totally overwhelming, so much so that if my friend and I don’t plan ahead, we end up going to the same places. Talk about a bubble… but I figure if that bubble involves Momofuku Milk Bar (East Village) in any capacity, I’m the happiest of campers.

One of the things I love most about the Milk Bar is the addition of new flavors and new treats; I don’t get down to NYC as often as I used to which means that every time I go to the Milk Bar there are new soft serve flavors, new cake truffles, and sometimes new cakes. The pretzel cake truffles were new, and I physically/emotionally cannot say “no” to cake truffles.

Apple Pie Cake Truffle. Does anyone else think it’s funny when it seems like there are too many nouns in a name? On a more relevant note, I’m enamored with (enamored of?) the cake crumbs that their pastry chef created, especially when they shine in the blueberries and cream cookie.

We did make it to a new place: Sugar Sweet Sunshine bakery. I heartily enjoyed the cupcakes and flavors. The cupcakes pictured above are Strawberry Peanut Butter and Pistachio. If there is pistachio anything on a bakery menu, I’m a goner. I loved how the cake was ever so slightly salty. The strawberry peanut butter was fantastic! It had creamy peanut butter frosting, which tasted like spreadable peanut butter egg filling, and strawberries baked throughout the cake. I think the cake was supposed to be peanut butter, but it must have taken a back seat to the strawberries and peanut butter frosting. My friend got the chocolate-chocolate cupcake, and the icing was chocolate almond. I love, LOVE the chocolate almond pairing, and feel like I don’t see it enough outside of chocolate almond candy.

Another cool thing about Sugar Sweet Sunshine? They do pudding flights one night a week, where you get a pudding sampler containing all four of their flavors. Now that I’m thinking about it, one of the new ways of eating at the Milk Bar was to order a soft serve sampler, which came with a little of all their soft serve flavors. Dessert flights might just be the best idea… EVER! Perhaps a little gluttonous, but it helps those of us who can’t make decisions because they want everything me.

There wasn't a line, but the pies were almost sold by 8:45 am!

Since I work in retail, my “weekends” consist of Monday and Tuesday, which for a long time made me sad because everyone does all the cool things on the real weekend! I thought twice about whining this particular “weekend”, because I was able to not only visit one of my dearest, loveliest friends in New York City, but also because I got to eat lots of dessert! And get a pie for Thanksgiving!

A few days back, I was reading about different bakeries in the city on account of my being obsessed with Baked Explorations, and my friend sent me a link to this article. We had (sort of) been reading about the same place! Around the same time! Holy same-wavelength Batman! After my brain melted a little, I read that the week before Thanksgiving they only make a hundred pies a day, sell them and only them from their storefront, and close up shop once they sell out. The flavors sounded intriguingly delicious (bittersweet chocolate pecan, salty honey, bourbon sweet potato, salted caramel apple, and honeyed pumpkin), and we had to go. It was a necessity. Salty honey?! The thought of salty honey custard made me really excited.

At 8 AM, we trekked from his room in Chinatown to Brooklyn, getting there around 8:30 AM and seeing that they only had a handful of pies left. I panicked a little for no reason, as per usual, but we got our pies, two bittersweet chocolate pecan, and went to Prospect Park to come down from a pie purchasing high. And discuss our next visit to Four and Twenty Blackbirds to try everything else.

It’s sitting in my fridge, calling me… but no, I’m staying strong until tomorrow. You’ll get pictures. I’ll try not to include any of me drooling on a plate.

(Side note: Are pies the new cool thing?)

Because we had to save the pies for Thanksgiving and, well, other people, we had to fulfill our dessert quota for the trip. He mentioned there was a place that ONLY served rice pudding, and I started to make some odd, involuntary noises that are code for “TOO MUCH EXCITEMENT!!!”, which luckily he understood. It’s called Rice to Riches, and it’s set up kind of like a gelato bar, except with rice pudding.  My friend said it reminded me of a retro spaceship from the future, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

They had at least twenty flavors to choose from, among those were pumpkin, cherry mascarpone, chocolate chip, cranberry orange, just to name a few. And you got to choose a topping! And it came in Tupperware! I love Tupperware! I love rice pudding!  We ended up getting a chocolate hazelnut puddin’ with “cloud nine”, or whipped cream, and spiced eggnog with “black magic”, or crumbled chocolate cake bits.

I have a few friends who don’t care for the city, which is understandable in the sense of commotion, noise, buildings, dirt, the sheer amount of flesh squeezed into tiny places, et cetera, but I’ll never be able to rule out New York City, or any city, because of the phenomenal food offerings. NYC in particular, really, because every time I visit, there is always something new and wonderful and DIFFERENT to try, different in the sense of the food or atmosphere. The best part of all? In the city, even Mondays and Tuesdays can feel like a real weekend!

Rice puddin' on a space table. How amazing is that?!