• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
I try to avoid carbs and sugar in my day-to-day life, so I never let myself have cereal for breakfast. I can’t tell you the last time I ate it, but I’m guessing it was in college, and it was probably something with “fiber” in the name so I could feel like an adult. But I secretly love cereal and was delighted to learn that Kellogg’s NYC opened in Times Square and that I’d need to eat a huge bowl of the stuff in the interest of reviewing it. The sacrifices I make, you know.
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Last week, I was surprised by a visit from to Tom Szebeni, the CEO of Duran Sandwiches with a huge box of his handmade European-style open-faced slices of wonder. I knew I was getting a complimentary taste of his creations, but I never expected that the President himself would walk over from their first U.S. location in NoMad to deliver them. But after talking to him for ten minutes, it made perfect sense. The guy just oozes passion for what he’s doing. He explained to me that he worked on the Budapest version of the reality TV show “Big Brother” for years and used to leave the dark studio (and his 48 monitors showing people stuck in a house doing the most mundane things) to get sandwiches across the street at one of the Duran locations. He wanted something more, though, so he decided to leave TV and spend weeks in the shop learning to make the sandwiches so he could bring them to NYC. He kept emphasizing how this is real food. Food that someone cared about when they made it.
I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve eaten sandwiches before, buddy.” And then I opened the box, and a light shone down from heaven.
Here’s a secret about me: though my blog is called donuts4dinner, I find most donuts disappointing. The idea of them is always perfect in my head. They always look perfect when I see them. Even the sight of the simplest glazed donut makes me drool like a bulldog. But most of the time when I actually taste one, I realize that the idea of a donut is usually better than a donut itself. And then there’s Holey Donuts.
When they found me on Twitter and invited me to their grand opening here in NYC, I was super mega skeptical. Low-calorie, low-fat food is exactly the opposite of what I’m all about. But I’m all about donuts in any form and am always trying to find this perfect donut unicorn, so of course I planned to line up after work with stars in my eyes.
I went to the grand opening event with my friends Kim and Ash, where we were promised a box of free donuts to sample, a Holey Donuts tote bag covered in pictures of the most ridiculously good-looking donuts, and other gifts that were completely unnecessary, because they had me at “box of donuts”. The line was long, but the people surrounding us were nice, as people are wont to be where donuts–free or otherwise–are involved. When a woman wheeled out a waist-high container of juices for us to sample while we waited and accidentally spilled the entire thing, ice and all, all over the sidewalk, people came from all directions to help. And no one took advantage and stole extra purple carrot juice, as far as I could tell.
Halfway through our wait, a man from the store brought around a tray of these cinnamon bun middles, which were outrageously large for supposedly only being the middle of the bun, but we weren’t complaining. I think we all bit into them apprehensively, expecting the worst from something meant to be gluttonous but with all of the delicious fat and calories removed. And they were . . . The Best! So chewy and moist and with just the right amount of glaze to leave some to lick off our fingers when the bun itself was gone. We couldn’t believe they were just giving these things away. They ended up being Kim’s favorite thing we ate that day.
Once inside, we saw why the line was so long and slow-moving. The donuts were cooked plain and kept warm in heated racks behind the counter. When you ordered one, your pink-clad donut artist grabbed a plain donut and then topped it for you while you watched. Of course there was one large old white guy who left his place in line to yell at the girls and their manager for how long things were taking and then stomp out of the store in an old white guy huff once he was already inside and mere moments away from getting his free donuts, but for the most part, people were excited and happy to wait for fresh donuts. Sure, it took a little longer than your Dunkin Donuts, where they just grab a pre-frosted donut from a display case, but the experience of watching my donut being built was incredibly satisfying.
The counter was lined with vats of different kinds of filling,
which naturally I wanted to dunk my whole hand into a la Veruca Salt in the “Pure Imagination” scene of Willy Wonka.
They had little nozzles in front that the donut artist would shove into the center of the donut for filling. (I plan to buy one of these contraptions for my home and fill it with Trader Joe’s cookie butter.)
Next, she would bring the tray of donuts to vats of frosting and lightly press the top of the donut down into it. Then, she would scrape the donut against the side of the container to wipe most of the frosting off. This part, of course, physically hurt me to watch, but I guess that’s how they keep these things low-fat and low-calorie.
Then, she would press the frosted donut down into the topping of your choice. Finally, she would drizzle more frosting over the whole thing.
The results were BEAUTIFUL.
AND SO DELICIOUS.
Seriously, this was my unicorn donut. Where yeast donuts are so fluffy they collapse and cake donuts can be crumbly and dense, this was the perfect marriage of fluffy and substantial. What I loved most was that the donut base was more savory than sweet, adding some complexity to what could have been otherwise overtaken by the sugary frosting. I described it as a frosted dinner roll, but Ash and Kim said that didn’t do justice to what we all agreed were some of the best donuts we’d ever had.
I tried the Strawberry Frosted with pink sprinkles, a Raspberry Vanilla Truffle, and a Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted.
1) The strawberry was sheer fruity perfection, and I would’ve never guessed that I’d just seen half of the frosting scraped off the donut before my eyes; the proportions were exactly what I would have wanted.
2) The Raspberry Vanilla Truffle was delicious but my least-favourite of the three because of the filling. Usually the filling is the point of a donut, but this fruit filling was too chemical-y and fake-tasting for me. I couldn’t wait to finish the middle so I could go back to eating the edges made of just the regular batter, which is something I’ve never said in my life. That’s a testament to how much I liked the batter.
3) The Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted was my favorite, because the chunks of lemon topping started out crunchy but then immediately melted into this tangy tart liquid.
Although my friends and I agreed that these were some of the best donuts we’d ever tasted, we were all put off by the price, and that’s really the only complaint any of us had. At $21.95 for a box of 6, they come out to about $3.66 each (and don’t even look at the shipping charges if you’re ordering them online), which is way more expensive than even your most beloved NYC donut shops like Doughnut Plant. I guess sticking to your diet has its cost.
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.
Bouchon Bakery is part of the Thomas Keller empire of restaurants you can’t afford. You think you can, because from the outside, it appears to be an innocuous bakery, twenty times more casual than Per Se and without the need to make reservations a month in advance. But as soon as you walk in the door of the Rockefeller Center location, you notice the display of peanut butter cups for $3 each. (And those are mini ones; the regular-sized cups are $5+.) The sandwiches are $9, the French macarons $3.25.
What my boyfriend and I ordered was a little hit or miss depending on which one of us you ask. I wish we’d been hungrier so we could’ve sampled more than a sandwich and a cookie apiece (which still set us back a healthy $31), but it gave me a good idea of what I’ll come back for.
The sandwich selections were paltry on a Sunday night, so I went with a classic belly-warmer to see how Keller’s team could transform it. On paper, it sounds pretty incredible: this sandwich, inspired by the traditional French charcuterie, is prepared with Madrange ham, a slow-cooked, delicately flavored ham. The combination of sweet butter and Dijon mustard complements the subtle nutty flavors of Emmenthaler cheese.
In my mouth, it tasted like a pretty standard ham and white cheese. The one thing this sandwich has going for it is that the bread couldn’t be better-suited to it. It was crunchy on the outside but didn’t flake into a million crumbs with every bite. The buttered interior was chewy and light in contrast. I wish the filling had done it justice.
This was quality beef, cooked tender and sliced thin, but there was unfortunately very little of it on the bread. My boyfriend liked the roasted tomato garnish, but I needed more of the acidity to be cooked out of the tomatoes before they could be sweet enough for me. This tasted like a more complete thought than the ham and cheese because of its bright vegetable filling, but I couldn’t help but think of the $7 sandwich we buy on weekends from Tudor Gourmet, piled high with spicy pastrami and crisp arugula and served with a friendly joke instead of a haughty scowl.
After the disappointing sandwiches, I was prepared to roll my eyes at this $7 peanut butter cookie sandwich, but I walked away from it feeling like a little whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate shavings would make it into a plated dessert I’d willingly pay $12 for. I was expecting–and desiring–a soft, gooey cookie, but what I got was this crispy thing that snapped and crumbled apart. And I loved it.
The pastry chefs must be using a stick of butter per cookie, god bless them, because this thing was greasy as a pig in a wrestling contest and twice as delicious. The peanut butter filling, leaden with sugar but then whipped into a fluffy frosting, spilled out the sides of the cookie with each bite. My last mouthful was nothing but the peanut butter left on my hands, and it was perfection.