Posts Tagged ‘city’

black and white

Cookies, no. Cupcakes, yes. On Saturday, after an Australian-themed brunch with two excellent New York friends on the Lower East side (complete with bottomless mimosas, in proper brunch fashion), three of us trooped down the street to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a retro-vibed bakery on Rivington. I’ve talked about Magnolia Bakery and Billy’s Bakery here on the blog before, and in fact ended that entry, exactly 364 days ago, with the lament, “I wish we’d gotten to Sugar Sweet Sunshine, located on the Lower East Side and apparently the next big thing.”

Finally, that wish has been granted — and vindicated. Sugar Sweet Sunshine may no longer be the next big thing. Just a big thing. A big deal. It has legions of followers, and I feel (once again!) a bit late to the party. Nonetheless, their cupcakes are sensational. Late date notwithstanding, I am jumping on the bandwagon.

The problem with Magnolia is that, while the cake was always light, fluffy, and flavorful (and I know I am increasingly in the minority here), their frosting was over-poweringly, tooth-achingly sweet. The frosting at Billy’s is a sight better, but the cake is too dense. I know I am Goldilocksing you all, and I’m sorry, but there’s a light at the end of this paragraph: Sugar Sweet has that fluffy cake AND the sweetly balanced frosting.

We bought three. Two were the “Black and White,” evidently chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. The other was their eponymous “Sunshine,” or yellow cake on vanilla buttercream. (In this case, dyed green.) B and I each had one when we got back to the apartment . . . and I ate another when we got back from a friend’s house that night. A cupcake at 10:30pm, when the alarm clock’s set for 3:00am for a 6:00am flight? Probably not the best idea.

But it was worth it.

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our favorite late-night bites

Whenever B and I come back to New York, our mealtimes eke out a tender balance between returning to our favorite college haunts and keeping up with new restaurants. It makes the list quite long — indeed, often too long. A trip to Motorino is made at Grimaldi’s expense; breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company likely means postponing the Donut Shop again. But there are some non-negotiables.

For Billy, it’s Pommes Frites, a tiny shop on Second Avenue that attracts out-the-door lines of nightly visitors. They fry the thick-cut potatoes in two vats of boiling oil directly behind the counter, toss them with seasoning salt, and pack them into paper cones for on-site or take-away consumption. And the sauces, of course. They are the point. Dozens ranging from basic mustard to Vietnamese Pineapple Mayo and Parmesan Peppercorn. The Sundried Tomato Mayo is our favorite, a sort of gussied-up, glossy ketchup.

For me, it’s dessert from the Dessert Truck — which began as an actual, roving truck about four years ago, but soon after switched operations to an actual brick and mortar store. I’m sure business has only gone up since, but I selfishly hated their move. The truck always parked on Third Avenue (extremely central), and the store is in deep into the Lower East Side (less so). But last night, as B and I crossed Astor Place, there was that little truck, making an exceptional appearance in its former stomping ground for this week only. Their chocolate bread pudding makes me cry. It’s warm and dense, surrounded by a moat of creme anglaise and a hat of whipped cream. No ordinary creme anglaise custard, mind you: get the bacon flavor, which won the Throwdown against Bobby Flay and imparts a smoky flavor to the whole thing, balancing the sweetness of the chocolate and pushing the entire dessert beyond.

the quintessential pillow crust

It’s possible I could have planned this better. Maybe called Delta to rework some flights and emerged with a minimal price difference. But perhaps that would have been more trouble than it’s worth. In any case, less than 36 hours after returning to Iowa from London, I boarded a plane back east. B and I were off on spring break and bound for Washington, DC. (Tomorrow, we leave for New York. I’ve been a little behind.)

I was shocked to realize that I’d never taken B to the best pizza in the city, 2 Amys, so we set about remedying that terrible oversight on Saturday. It felt a little eager (or obsessive) to be walking into a pizzeria at 11:30am — and seeing their homemade doughnuts so prominently displayed only intensified this feeling — but by noon there was already a line. Early bird, meet worm.

2 Amys is a local institution, and for about a year I was extremely spoiled in having a friend who lived across the street from it. We call in our order, pick it up, and walk out feeling quite superior to all the poor suckers waiting for a table. But then our school schedules and summer plans stopped coordinating and well, the world turns ever on. The fact remains, 2 Amys’s crust is perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. The center of the crust — the bit that supports sauce, cheese, and other toppings — is extremely thin, sometimes learning toward the under-baked. And then the edges are massive, pillowy puffs of dough, some regions charred to perfection and always a light, chewy consistency. It is a singular, always delicious combination of the razor-thin with the doughy. For what it’s worth, 2 Amys is also a member of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, an Italian organization which strictly regulates what can be called Neapolitan pizza (and theirs can be).

On Saturday, we started with their bruschetta, slices of grilled bread topped with their tomato-basil ragout, which tastes just like summer. B had their hearty Abruzzese pizza: polpettine (little meatballs), garlic, parsley, and pecorino. I went with their Santa Brigida, a more traditional bent with tomato, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and arugula. I think the best I’ve had, though, remains a specialty from this December: thin, long strips of grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes and olive oil, with a mound of burrata mozzarella in the middle. Simply heavenly. But then, that’s the rule here.

the last of london

Believe it or not, I did do things in London other than eat. I went to most of the city’s big museums — starting with a duck inside the British Museum for an hour before closing time on Thursday to glimpse the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, and finishing with several hours at the National Gallery, during which I am convinced I saw every room. I took the obligatory Big Ben and Parliament photos. I walked through the Kensington Palace grounds and the perimeter of Buckingham Palace. So here are some final images from last week’s trip.

On Friday, I found the row (or just a row?) of colorful houses that feature prominently in Notting Hill, the movie, and actually exist in Notting Hill, the neighborhood. I walked the entire way down (up?) Portobello Road, stopping of course for a cupcake at Hummingbird Bakery and to examine the kitschy knick-knack antique stores.

Then I walked down through the Kensington Gardens (and glimpsed the palace through the iron wrought fence). Families, cyclists, grandparents resting on the park benches — everyone seemed to have started the weekend early. I walked on to the V&A and the Natural History Museum.

I hadn’t planned on the Natural History Museum. I had quite enough on my hands with the art museums. But when I popped into a friend’s boyfriend’s gallery, near Notting Hill, he said I should absolutely make time for it; that it was perhaps better than the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This was enough to persuade me, and I was immediately rewarded with this dinosaur in the entry hall.

After walking through Borough Market on Saturday, Clara and I spent a food-coma hour at the Tate Modern. It was definitely not enough time — but frankly, we couldn’t have managed more. We were cold and weighed down with blocks of cheese and bottles of vinegar. It was enough to take some photos of inside, stream by Ai Weiwei, and return home for an immediate nap.

On Sunday, I went to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square and got lost in its labyrinthine maze of galleries for several hours. Well, lost on purpose. It was a wonderful way to pass an unseasonably cold afternoon. Afterward, armed with gloves and a camera, I walked down to the Thames and wound my way towards Parliament, past the London Eye, as the sun set and nighttime lights clicked on.

The Westminster Bridge was packed. Don’t let this photo deceive you. Tourists, photographers setting up long exposure shots, what I shall charitably call “magicians” doing tricks with coins and cups, even a man with a bagpipe. But it was very pretty.

And finally, because it’s just A Thing One Does, I walked to Buckingham Palace on Monday morning before catching the Tube to Heathrow Airport. None of the things there were open — the stables, the queen’s gallery, the palace tour — when I arrived, and I had to leave at eleven o’clock, but I was still happy to check this final London activity off my list.

five things

{having inherited my mother’s need to eat at least every two hours, i never travel without a snack — this time, it’s trail mix plus peanut butter and and milk chocolate chips}

In just a couple hours, I’ll be getting on a plane to Dallas, and from there a plane to London. I can’t wait: I’ve only been to London once before, and that over ten years ago, so I remember little apart from Big Ben, a Thames river cruise, and the crown jewels. I’m so excited for a new, grown up experience that’ll include the British Museum and the Tate Modern, Indian food and gastropubs, vintage markets, and a walk down Portobello Road. This visit is ostensibly a test drive to see if I’d like living in London for a year (I’ve been accepted into a graduate program there), but I’m sure to have a splendid time with Clara, high school friend and London resident, either way. In the meantime, as I ready myself for a jet across the pond, here are five things I can’t travel without.

{my increasingly ancient ipod loaded with some new favorites like adele and florence + the machine}

{scarves are my jam: my collection numbers in the dozens and i wear them as much in summer as in winter. this floaty turquoise number will be coming with me and doubling as a blanket or pillow on the plane}

{i was super proud to score this watch one for over 60% off the retail price on ruelala}

{books are friends, and i can’t wait to travel with this new one — i’m counting on its 330 pages to last me the way there and back home}

a fancy sandwich

We actually got a good dumping of snow last night — and it’s still flurrying — and I say “actually” because I didn’t know it was supposed to snow at all. Way to check the weather report! Way to salt the driveway! The view out the window this morning was quite a surprise. When we left Chicago yesterday afternoon the snow was just beginning to dust the city, and it must have crept westward under the cover of night.

Another thing sticking with me from the weekend: our Friday sandwiches at Grahamwich, of Graham Elliot restaurant fame. We made a beeline for the joint immediately after checking into the hotel, and after a few minutes of purposeful hovering managed to snag a corner seat at their long communal table in back. Otherwise, there’s some counters for elbow-parking and sandwich-chomping, but most people, on Friday at least, we taking away. I’d hate to think of the crush on Saturdays.

We started, as is our wont, with the truffle oil popcorn, the same kind diners get for free at Graham Elliot, and which they have thankfully exported here. It’s five dollars, but comes in a huge bag that we could only barrel halfway through. And I kept thinking, kernel after kernel, We could make this at home. Hold the truffle oil, sure, but grated parmesan, chopped chives, black pepper and sea salt? Pantry items! This may be worth investigating.

Billy, in his Billy way, got the reuben: pastrami, rutabaga sauerkraut, toasted caraway seeds, gruyere fondu and 1000 island dressing on marbled rye. I’m not a reuben girl, but this was fantastically delicious. And messy. Plus, just look at it! Beautiful!

I am a grilled cheese girl, though, especially if it’s Wisconsin cheddar (for taste), cheese curds (for ooze), prosciutto, and tomato marmalade on a Pullman loaf, all toasted together. It was one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had: savory, powerfully gooey, with some salty meat and the tomato soup already built-in. Not that I’m biased or anything, but we definitely got the best options on the menu. (Except maybe the short rib sandwich. And the pork shoulder press.)

It’s true, hipsters don’t have any problems finding the place, but don’t let that stop you. It’s just one good bite after another. And if at all possible, leave some real estate in your stomach for their desserts, including Greek yogurt soft serve sprinkled with dark chocolate, pomegranate seeds, and glazed chestnuts, which I did not try but have dreamed about. Yum!

truffle oil popcorn

I promised to tell you about Graham Elliot, the restaurant Billy and I ate at last Saturday night. I forshadowed with three of the most beautiful words in the English language: Truffle. Oil. Popcorn. This is what they give you to nosh on, instead of bread and butter. They give you popcorn in small, industrial boxes, drizzled with truffle oil and tossed with black pepper and shaved parmesan. It is, as our waiter warned us, “addictive,” but luckily that is one part of the meal that arrives, and refills, free of charge.

I say the “the one part” because the rest is expensive. Not prohibitively, not necessarily, but you should know that the menu online doesn’t come with a price list in a gesture of, If-you-have-to-ask, __________. (Fill in the blank.) At one point during dinner, B leaned over and said, “I’m glad that we are both happy spending all our money on food.” You have to be.

Graham Elliot is what would happen if the French Laundry and its three Michelin stars met a grunge rock band. There will be foams and deconstruction. There will be loud music and a tongue in cheek menu notes like “if you feel like taking yourself too seriously during dinner, ask your server for our house copy of ‘war and peace'”. The header for the hundred dollar wines will be called, “big whites and reds (the baller section)”. There will be truffle oil popcorn in an industrial tin.

romaine. anchovy. parmesan. brioche. anchoide. peppercorn. How better to start than with a deconsructed Caesar salad: a brioche twinkie crouton (with dressing subbed in for the twinkie marshmallow fluff) topped with a shoot of lettuce and topped again with a whole anchovy and “parmesan fluff.” It’s a great conceit — GE would call it “awesome”, as in “keep an open mind and awesomeness will result,” which is in print and I am NOT making up — but I wanted a truer, crunchier crouton. And more leaves. And basically, I wanted it to taste miles better than the Caesar-dressed romaines I haphazardly throw together on a regular, lunch basis, and it didn’t taste miles better. Not because I AM AWESOME or MY RECIPE IS, but because there wasn’t so much taste following the presentation.

butternut. curry. coconut. lemongrass. ginger. lime. The second course was a soup. It was outrageous. I could eat the vat. But first, let me tell you that they bring out soup bowls, with pepitas and other crunchies arranged artfully on the bottom. The liquid comes in a beaker. (A lab beaker! Seriously!) At the table, the server pours the soup over the nom nom crunchies, and you are instructed to please taste the soup immediately, then swirl it with the crunchies and “observe how the chemistry changes.” Did I roll my eyes? I confess nothing. But the change was extraordinary. At first, a sweet, mellow, and well, squashy taste and then — swirl — it turned sharper, with those faintly bitter and sour hints of lemongrass and lime. This was one of my favorites.

scallop. persimmon. endive. walnut. vanilla. gooseberry. Then the sea course. Two scallops on the plate, each occupied with their own favor, one sweet with vanilla and persimmon and the other a more savory take. There were also some incredibly pillow-light and fluffy gnocchi, and I found myself wishing for an entire plate of just that. I didn’t love the flavoring on this dish. The scallops themselves were lovely, so was the gnocchi. I’m a simple girl. Just give me that. Or soup.

waygu. potatoes. more truffle. (Can you tell this one isn’t on their website?) The land course! Two rounds of perfectly rare waygu beef, tucked over miniature purple potatoes and baby carrots, all topped off (at the table, from a beaker) with more truffle broth. I find this complaint almost unbearably “let them eat cake,” so please don’t mock or hate when I’d had, by that point, too much truffle. There. Now I will always be the girl who ate too many truffles. But I just wanted my perfect meat and potatoes on their own.

chocolate. marshmallow. graham. peanut. honey. brulee. I am just going to go die now. Do you know what this was? It was a homemade, haute s’more with peanut butter and vanilla ice cream foams. It weakened me. A cut of graham cracker. A slab of good, but really good milk chocolate. A bouncy, from-scratch and perfectly square mashmallow, browned right to the point of gooeyness. Did I mention there were two s’mores? I ate it as nature and campfires intended, hands and all, and the waiter laughingly told me, “That’s the first time I’ve seen someone eat it like a real s’more.” People! When it’s called high-low, you gotta act like it!

Graham Elliot actually hit the nail on the head with this declaration on the website:

It does redefine fine dining. Sometimes, the resulting cleverness leaves a little taste to be desired (deconstructed caesar, I’m looking at you), but it’s ultimately a successful experiment. Right down to the beakers. And next time, I’m going five rounds on the haute s’mores.