My friend Kim online-introduced me to her hometown-friend-with-a-blog Katie Qué (pronounced kay) a few months ago, telling me that she’s a much more interesting blogger than I am and that I’d love her posts about “Game of Thrones” and her many and varied photos of her much-personalitied cat. Within days, we had created a House Katie sigil and motto. (Sorry if that means nothing to you. Wait, no, I’m NOT sorry. Watch “Game of Thrones”. And also “Girls”. Mostly “Girls”, actually.)
Katie Qué came to visit her friend Patrick last weekend and was kind enough to invite me to be a part of her wallet-emptying/belly-filling/Alice-in-Wonderland-obsessing odyssey. My portion of the adventure included brunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, the beloved Upper East Side café with a Saturday morning waitlist far too long for me to ever bother with it. But Kim luckily lives mere blocks away and put our name in early so the rest of us could arrive an hour and a half later with none of those this-better-be-worth-it feelings that a long wait usually leaves me with.
To put it bluntly, I don’t give a crap about tea and didn’t really even plan to order any, but then I decided on a dish that came ready-made with a pot, so the four of us ended up sharing pots of Alice’s Tea, a blend of Indian black vanilla tea blended with Japanese green tea and rose petals, and of Darjeeling Earl Grey, a Darjeeling flavored with bergamot.
I was really, really surprised by how much I liked the tea. Especially the Darjeeling, which was just bursting with that deep, dark, depths-of-winter orange, both in smell and in flavor. The mismatched cups and saucers, the sugars and milk, the little spoons–I loved the shabby formality of it.
Katie Qué looks so petite behind her giant cup, and Patrick appears as if he’s plotting a bergamot-fueled bank heist. In the 1950s.
Kim just looks pretty.
I ordered The Nibble, a two-tiered stand with a sandwich of my choice on top; a scone, a pot of clotted cream and preserves, and an assortment of cookies filled the bottom plate. My sandwich was the Black Forest ham and gruyere, and I was probably about as excited by the look of it as you are. It’s kind of a piddly thing next to the mile-high Katz’s pastramis of the world, right? But I soon forgot how flat and unadorned it appeared when I bit through the golden-raisin-studded bread to the whole grain mustard and then to the sweet and salty ham and cheese. It was more complex than I expected and also more filling.
I couldn’t have been happier with my pumpkin scone, which was glazed crunchy on the outside but stayed warm and soft on the inside so as to melt the sweet, thick clotted cream. I wasn’t sure the berry preserves would go well with pumpkin, but together, they were this perfect end-of-summer/start-of-fall, warm/cool combination. If the wait wasn’t so unmanageable, I can see myself coming to Alice’s every weekend for their $10 two-scones-and-a-pot-of-tea deal just to have this again.
Everyone else ordered the vegetarian egg white omelet to punish themselves or something, but this dish ultimately got the last laugh by including these roasted pears that the three of them couldn’t stop raving about. I think Katie Qué may have been inspired to write an entire cookbook centered on roasted pears that afternoon.
My cookies, on the other hand, inspired me to remember to stick to the scones in the future. There was a chocolate chip, a sugar cookie with sprinkles, a cranberry, and a white chocolate-macadamia. As someone who only likes fresh, soft cookies so heavy with butter they can barely maintain their cookie form, these seemed old and stale to me. Between the four of us, we only ate half of each.
A good time was had by all, and I can certainly see myself coming back to Alice’s to have a chance to eat that preserve-laden scone and drink that orangey tea again. It’s a charming little café for people in the neighborhood. I have no idea why this is a destination for out-of-towners, though, in the same way I don’t understand why Serendipity 3 is. The Alice in Wonderland theme is minimal, unless you consider adding the word “Alice” to “eggs Florentine” a real nod to Lewis Carroll. The service is plenty nice, but we were taken aback when our server brought us our last pot of tea and told us we’d reached our time limit for taking up a table at the same time. I guess they know I don’t know where else to get clotted cream.
If you want to buy me a cupcake (hint), make it one from Crumbs Bake Shop. Yes, it’s a chain. No, it’s not as fresh-from-the-oven as Magnolia Bakery. Yes, each one contains half your daily recommended caloric intake. That’s sort of the point. When I eat a cupcake, I want it to be an event.
Or just, you know, a Saturday afternoon when I’ve already eaten half of a baguette slathered with cheese and honey, dumplings, pizza, and Cadbury Eggs. Don’t judge.
My boyfriend can’t resist caramel, so he chose the dulce de leche with chocolate cake filled with caramel cream cheese frosting, covered in caramel cream cheese frosting, and zigzagged with caramel and chocolate. It did not disappoint.
I chose the Elvis for the peanut butter chips. I always get the Baba Booey for the peanut butter chips, even though I secretly prefer white cake to chocolate a million times over. So when I saw a cupcake with peanut butter chips AND white cake, it was
It’s soft banana cake injected with banana cream, frosted with peanut butter and banana buttercream, and rolled in peanut butter chips.
Peanut. Butter. Chips.
You know how I have a blog? That’s called donuts4dinner? Well, until a couple of weekends ago, I had never been to Doughnut Plant.
Dunkin Donuts, where the doughnuts come stale and in ultra-boring flavors and always seem way more delicious in my mind than they actually are? All the time.
Doughnut Plant, where the doughnuts are continuously made fresh while you watch and come in flavors you’ve never seen before and are actually more delicious than you expect? Never.
I won’t tell you all of the things my boyfriend and I had already consumed during our walk around Chinatown and the Lower East Side that day, but suffice it to say that we only needed one doughnut.
After much deliberation–coconut cream? cinnamon bun? tres leches?–
OH, CRAP. I just remembered the most amazing thing that happened while we were waiting in line. It was all quiet in the store, and behind us, I could hear this skinny blonde saying, “Should we get the tres leches?” to her companion. Only she was pronouncing it tray lesh. You guys, she thought it was French or something. Which is hilarious on its own, because what kind of hole are you living in that you’ve never heard of tres leches cake and can’t figure out that it has a Spanish pronunciation?
But MORE IMPORTANTLY, if leche is a word in French–and I’m not even sure it is–it sure doesn’t mean “milk” like it does in Spanish. So what did she think this doughnut tasted like?!
I swear I’m not trying to be elitist here. I’m just so interested in what was going through this girl’s mind and am dying to know if she was visiting from Ohio, because that’s the only place I can imagine tres leches cake still being unknown.
Anyway, we ultimately decided on the peanut butter and banana square doughnut, because
1) the squares are the biggest and most gluttonous,
2) jam filling is too healthy,
3) peanut butter is, like, my favourite thing in the world next to pizza.
It did not disappoint. This thing was fluffy, fresh, crunchy, sweet, nutty, banana-y, and huge. I have to be honest here and say that I don’t even really care about bananas, and I loved the banana cream. I’m not saying marshmallow cream wouldn’t have been better, but still. I also don’t like eating sweet things with nuts in them, because long after the sweet taste has vanished, I’m still finding savory nuts in my teeth, but these nuts were brittle and easily crunched, as if they were caramelized. And when I found them in my teeth later, it was a treat.
220 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011 (map)
My best friend‘s husband is one of the pickiest eaters I know. He claims an allergy to all vegetation, likes all of the most boring items from chain restaurants (the Mr. Misty at Dairy Queen, chicken nuggets at McDonald’s), and so has to be in the mood to eat that his favourite chocolate bar is kept in the freezer because the mice would feast upon it in the months it takes him to consume it all.
But he loves Caffe DaVinci in the Upper Arlington neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Every time I go back to my home state to visit my best friend, she and I try to convince her husband to come to Olive Garden with us (what?), and he instead tries to convince us to go to Caffe DaVinci. I’m used to underwhelming Italian food in NYC, so I usually suggest that he stay home by himself and eat his chicken nuggets, but one night, he finally got his way.
And that night, my life was forever changed. Because amidst the everyday spaghetti and chicken caesar wraps were the glorious words “Chicago Style Meatball Pizza”. I grew up on my mom’s thick crust pizza and took years to finally appreciate the floppy slices associated with NYC, so my mind immediately went back to Friday nights at home rolling out the dough and slopping on the sauce and piling on the cheese and pulling pepperoni out of bags and mushrooms out of cans (we were classy). But this ain’t yer mama’s pizza.
It’s a pizza bread bowl, people. And it is loaded with toppings. So many that the bowl split open in front. And having once asked for a bread bowl full of chicken salad instead of soup at Panera Bread despite public shame, bread bowls are kind of my thing.
Unlike the unseasoned marinara sauces of NYC, this sauce was rich with herbs and what tasted like hours simmering on a stove. The crust was just crusty enough to snap apart but just chewy enough not to flake all over me. I added the pepperoni to up the gluttony, and I’m not dramatizing when I say I’d be perfectly content if this was the only pizza I could eat for the rest of my life.
I had my first taste of the famous/infamous Sprinkles cupcake last year in their homeland of California when my boyfriend’s sister brought an anniversary cupcake cake to his parents’ party. My cupcake was yellow cake with chocolate frosting and a pink block letter of questionable edibility that seemed to be made of sugar but refused to melt in my mouth.
Hardcore New Yorkers will stand loyally behind their Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, but I prefer the much more elaborate/gluttonous cupcakes from Crumbs Bake Shop and really only go to Magnolia for the banana pudding, so I was completely open to trying Sprinkles. And it was fine. Not life-changing. Not make-me-move-to-California-immediately-ing. But fine.
Well, my friend Kim got a coupon to try four free Sprinkles cupcakes at the first NYC location in the Upper East Side, because she is the princess of New York City, and she invited me to try them with her, knowing that I’d insist on buying a couple more. The employees are very nice, and the store is veeeeery cute, with the trademark Sprinkles dots decorating the outside, bright colors everywhere, and enough low tables with corresponding ottomans that we didn’t feel any pressure to move for the couple of hours we sat there.
The cupcakes were still fine.
My only complaint about Crumbs is that I feel like they spend so much time working on the filling and toppings that they forget to care about the cake; it usually tastes a couple of days old. My complaint about Magnolia is that it’s too simple; I can and have made their cupcakes at home myself. Sprinkles hits a nice balance between quality cake and quality toppings. The cake was fresh and moist, and the frostings and accoutrements were all creative. In the end, though, I missed the way Crumbs fills the cake with a dollop of frosting, and I missed the sheer size of the Crumbs cupcake. Sprinkles is good for people who want to splurge without bursting their bellies, and that ain’t me.
There’s one reason I might choose Sprinkles over Crumbs in the future, though. The drinking chocolate:
It’s bittersweet Belgian chocolate with a vanilla bean marshmallow, so rich and dense you feel like you’re wearing a mouthguard of hot chocolate when you’re finished with it. The marshmallow was so thick that it lasted almost to the end of the cup, making each sip creamy and flavorful.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
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• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)