I missed Macaron Day NYC last year and had to read about it after the fact, so you can bet I was on top of it this year, watching the website and following the planner of the big day, @francoispayard, on Twitter.
When the website revealed the date, it happened to be the very weekend my boyfriend and #1 dining partner would be out of town, celebrating Persian New Year in California with his family. I was distraught! He encouraged me to go with someone else, but I couldn’t think of anyone who’d be able to keep up with me for an entire afternoon of meringue-chowing.
A few hours later, though, my good friend Ash’s chat status changed to “I want French macarons!” It turns out she hadn’t even heard about Macaron Day but was just feeling the craving. How serendipitous! We consulted the map and decided to hit the four stores just below Central Park.
Sunday afternoon at 1, we met in front of the Time Warner Center to sample the fares at Bouchon Bakery. As it’s owned by Thomas Keller of Per Se and The French Laundry fame, we had both been wanting to check it out, anyway. And from all I can tell on the website, it does function as a bakery somehow, but when we approached, all we could see was a café area full of people and a line outside waiting to get in. There was a coffee bar, but that didn’t appear to have any bakery items, either. So call us cowards, but time was a-wastin’, and we left without hesitation.
The FC Chocolate Bar at The Plaza Hotel was a completely different story. When we came down the escalator into the concourse, there was a table set up outside the café where a woman was handing out macarons to everyone who passed. It was super-orderly and impossible to miss.
I got a cranberry macaron that was so delicate it started falling apart in my hands and actually did fall apart upon first bite. The veeeeery outside of the cookie was crusty, but everything farther in was moist and slightly chewy. The filling was creamy and helped hold the cookie together once it decided it wanted to crumble all over my plate, and the flavor was intense without being bitter.
Basically, for me, this is the ideal French macaron.
While there, I also decided to sample their George V, a baseball-sized disk of dark chocolate and vanilla mousse, filled with caramel and peanuts and covered in even darker chocolate. I took it for a three-bite dessert at first glance, but it was so rich it demanded grandma-sized bites (not the size of grandma but the size grandma would take). All of the textures–the creaminess of the mousse, the stickiness of the outer shell, the crunch of the peanuts–and the different chocolates made it a pleasure to eat. At $6.50, it was half the price of most of the desserts I’ve had lately and twice as delicious.
Plus, we got to see François Payard himself there! He came in with his motorcycle helmet, shook hands with the employees, and made trips back and forth from the counter to the kitchen. Not that we were, like, creepily watching his every move or anything.
Next, we were excited to try Macaron Café to experience an all-macaron restaurant. And it was glorious! Rows and rows of macarons in every color and flavor filled a display case, and friendly employees lined up to offer suggestions. I ordered the three above–pumpkin on the bottom, grapefruit in the middle, and pineapple on top–and chose the almond one to the right from their selection of smaller Macaron Day giveaways.
I absolutely loved all of the flavor choices (that was one thing lacking at FC Chocolate Bar), but the macaron texture was a little less successful for me. Ash had told me that in her experience, French macarons in France are very chewy and firm and not so moist. If that’s the case, Macaron Café is making authentic macarons, but I guess I’m not as much of a fan of authenticity. I like my macarons to melt in my mouth.
However, the decor at Macaron Café was very cute, as modeled by Ash here. The high-backed leather booths and marble café tables reminded me of dinner at Serendipity 3.
Next, we walked one block to the Park Avenue Mad Mac, but try as we might, we couldn’t find it. We had the building number and Google Maps on our phones, but even after walking all the way around the block and trying various locked doors, we never located it.
Instead, we decided to walk down to Rockefeller Center amidst the throngs of tourists and try the Jacques Torres in the lower concourse of 30 Rock. But they had run out of macarons! So I ate a super-melty chocolate chip cookie warmed on their burner, and Ash bought a bar of chocolate creme brulée she said was fantastic, and we were plenty happy.
Macaron Day NYC 2011 wasn’t quite as successful as we’d hoped between the confusion at Bouchon and not even being able to locate Mad Mac, but hopefully the kinks will be worked out before next year’s. And hey, five French macarons and a mound of mousse isn’t bad for an afternoon.