Saturday, November 26, 2011

NYC part 4: Saturday

 Yeah, I'm still not done writing about my New York weekend.  I know, you're over it.  You read about the Chocolate Show.  The rest is just touristy, it's true.  But I'm still gonna write it.

Saturday we had every intention of heading downtown to Doughnut Plant for breakfast.  Wouldn't you like to start your day with a creme brulee or coconut cream doughnut?  This place has been on my list to try since before I lived in New York (that's 7 years ago), ever since I saw them on the Food Network making rose petal glazed doughnuts for Valentine's Day.  I lived in Brooklyn for 3 years, and do you think I ever made it there?  (It's harder than you'd think.) 

So we started walking the block-and-a-half to the 7 train, but the the subway entrance was closed.  Which meant we had to walk another block-and-a-half to Grand Central subway station to catch a 6 train.  No biggie.  But that also meant we had to cross Lexington Avenue, which when we did, we saw this.

"What's going on?" we wondered.  We decided to walk north a bit and find out.  And would you believe, it was an honest-to-goodness street fair.  Two blocks from our hotel.  And we almost missed it.  But we didn't.  Going to a street fair is something else that was always on my list, but never happened when I lived there.  They go on from about May to November, a different location in the city each weekend.  It's a lot of cheap stuff, but some great stuff too, that you can't really find anywhere else.  So we walked and shopped and shopped and walked. 
 Then we remembered we were hungry. And there was a crepe stand.  So Doughnut Plant will have to wait, because we couldn't. 
 Nice choice, Juli, getting strawberries and Nutella.  But I got banana and Nutella, and that's awfullly hard to beat. 
 So what did we buy?  Oh, who can remember it all?  I got some hair thingies - a cute lady with gorgeous long hair showed me how to do my hair up in a fancy chopstick.  She let me film her on my phone so I could practice at home, but I had to promise not to film her face or put her on YouTube, so I guess I won't put her on here...but it was cool!  She did my hair for me nice and tight, so I know it can be done...but strangely I haven't been able to do it like her since I got back.  I think the street fair was magic.

We also got gifts for the kids.  It was the perfect place for gifts.  Juli got her daughter a stinkin' cute tiger winter hat.  I got my girls pretty cloth scarves - they love to borrow mine - and were they the HIT when I got home!  Ginger has worn hers to school every day.  And...some other cool stuff. 

So, only a few blocks from the hotel, we were already heavy laden so we made a quick dash back to drop off our stuff.  But only after popping into the Gap, which was also on the way, and which had an irresistible window display we had walked past a hundred times by now.  Which contained this - did I mention irresistible? - kids' skirt.  Which I went ahead and got for Ginger's birthday.  And a shirt to match. Who can resist this?!

And here's the Chrysler Building in the daytime.  Reminds me of The Fountainhead.  Just love it.  

Moving on.  Shopping is very tiresome, but we pressed on into what turned out to be an amazingly gorgeous day.  Since we were sore and blistered from Friday, we figured, let's walk the mile-plus across the Brooklyn Bridge!  Despite our ailments, it was a great idea to get some sunshine and views.  

 So one of our reasons to walk to Brooklyn was for Grimaldi's extremely famous coal-brick oven pizza.  When we got there it was about 2pm on a Saturday.  And the line outside was down the block, about a 1 1/2 hour wait.  So...our official story is that we came that far, and had that good pizza.  An alternative possibility is that the line at an inferior pizza place around the corner was much shorter, and we wanted to make the most of our last day in New York, so we didn't and said we did, so to speak.  Either way, we had great New York style pizza.
What was next?  Central Park of course.  Because it's so close to Brooklyn.  And because it's so amazing, and it's fall, and Juli wanted to see it.  She realized quickly the scope of the park, something that's almost impossible to imagine until you see just how big it is.  We got there just at dusk, and walked and talked until it was dark.  It reminded me of Time and Again.  If you like New York, or history, or time travel books, I highly recommend it. 

A sidenote: On Thursday, Juli immediately observed everyone in NY wears black.  I hadn't noticed, but it was true, as evidenced in this photo.  Didn't stop Juli from wearing her lime green trench, or me from my purple fleece...mostly because those were the only jackets we'd brought.
 By now it was about 5pm and we weren't hungry for dinner yet, so we chose to kill some time at the Empire State Building.  And here's what I have to say about that.  It is incredible, it is beautiful, and I'm so glad to have seen the view at night.  It is also one of the worst tourist traps I've ever visited...and, being from D.C., that is saying something.  Just know, if you ever go, it is not like in Sleepless in Seattle.  Enter, go up an escalator, wait in line to go through security, wait in line to get tickets (and they ain't cheap - and the "laminated" souvenir map ain't laminated), wait in line for the first elevator.  Go up to the 80th floor, wait in line for the second elevator.  Finally come out at the 86th floor observatory, which has an indoor enclosed area and and outdoor observatory like in Sleepless but much more narrow and crowded.  And breezy!  It was the first time all trip I was actually cold. Good thing I had my new scarf from the street fair, how do you like it?
But like I said, the views were spectacular. 

 Then when you're done, you guessed it, you wait in line for the first elevator, get down to the 80th floor, where the only way to get to the next elevator is through the gift shop, wait in line again, then finally get down to ground level and taste your freedom again.  Beginning to end it took us almost 3 hours, and the crowd wasn't even that bad. 

Time for dinner!  This time we did make it to Baluchi's and Juli was kind enough to let me order all my old favorites - samosas, naan, raita, lamb rogan josh and chicken korma.  Everything was as good as ever - love that place!

But for dessert, and as punctuation to our entire escapade, we needed something extremely special.  No Paris Baguette, definitely no Crumbs.  What we needed was the BEST dessert New York had to offer.  Luckily, Brian had already told us where that was. 

Kyotofu is a cute-but-chic little Japanese dessert bar & bakery in the hoppin' Hell's Kitchen district.  And it makes a Chocolate Souffle cupcake that New York Magazine voted the best in the city.  Awfully surprising for something made with white miso, Japanese bread flour and tofu...and not even frosted!

But when we got there, the menu had other enticings as well.  We actually ordered the fresh ginger crème brûlée with green apple sorbet and vanilla bean tuile (and something purpley-black and crunchy on top, very delicious.)  Amazing.  Fabulous.  And we got a couple cupcakes to go.

Saturday ended with our great feat of hailing a cab...on a very busy taxi night, no less.  After having several stolen from us, and the last from some very cute girls in short skirts, we got aggressive, and slunk exhausted into the back seat for a rather harrowing, but, in the end, safe ride back to the Hilton.

We stayed up late packing, a little depressed to be leaving.  But even well-fed, chocolate-filled, sites-and-sounds intensive, perfect-weather, seriously-perfect weekends in New York have to come to an end.  

Next post:  we head home; Disco Mom reflects.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NYC part 3: The Rest of Friday

Oh no, was it already a week ago that we were in New York?  Time is weird.  I miss it.  I'm already forgetting.  Gotta write it down!  That Chocolate Show post took me a lot longer than you might think.  I don't have a lot of big time blocks in my life to write like that.  So I think the rest of the posts may be brief.  Maybe.  At least nothing else will require that much description.

You might think after the Chocolate Show we were chocolated out.  In a way, yes.  I was done eating it for awhile.  But I was hardly sick of it.   And there was no way I was going to New York without a stop-in at Jacques Torres.  Yeah, he had a booth at the Show, but I wanted to go to his store.  It was like coming home. 

 Here's what I love about Jacques Torres.  His chocolate...specifically his 60% house blend dark.  But also his dark-chocolate-covered pumpkin seed brittle, seasonal in fall (got some.)  His "wicked" pecan brittle (also got some.)  His hot chocolate.  Serious WHOA.  Got some.  His chocolate croissants, chocolate covered corn flakes, chocolate pretzels, caramels, marshmallows, grahams, and everything else in the shop.  The only thing that stopped us from getting some salt-and-pepper ice cream was that it came in a pint, not by the scoop, and it was too much for us.  Love that place.
 By now it was about 2:30 and we were hungry for some lunch.  I suggested we head to Baluchi's, my favorite Indian restaurant, in Tribeca - a good antidote to all the chocolate.

Now might be a good time to say we did a lot - and I mean A LOT - of this:

 And just because we were riding the rails doesn't mean we weren't walking.  Luckily NY has an extensive subway system, and you can pretty much get anywhere from anywhere.  But there are lines, stairs, platforms, more stairs, and still lots of walking from stations to locations.  Friday night, when we called home, Juli mentioned to Brian how much we had ridden the subway.  "Why aren't you just walking?"  he asked.  Really?  Trust me, we did a TON of walking.  And we had the blisters to prove it.

So.  We got to Baluchi's and guess what?  They are closed from 3-5pm, after lunch and before opening for dinner.  And it was exactly 3 o'clock.  And we were really hungry for something savory!  So we consulted the map and Brian's list, and headed over to Macbar (in Nolita), a tiny gourmet mac & cheese bar.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Despite the bright yellow storefront, we walked right past it and had to consult the address to actually see it - it was so small!  But super cute, warm, and also shaped like a macaroni noodle on the inside.

As you can imagine, it was kinda hard to decide what to get.  But in the end we got three smalls to share - cheeseburger mac (this AIN'T no Hamburger Helper), margarita mac, and mayan chipotle.   SO DELICIOUS!  I could seriously go for some of that right now.  It was amazing and cheesy and really high quality, descriptions that don't always go together. 
 And since we were not too far from it, we stopped into Billy's for some cupcakes. 
 It was near the end of the day so pickings were slim.  I got a dreamsicle cupcake.  It was OK.  I'm pretty nit-picky on cupcakes, though.
 It was getting dark now, so we headed back to the hotel to drop off all our heavy chocolate we'd been carrying around.  Did I mention we walked past the Chrysler building every time we walked from our hotel to the subway?  I think it's my favorite building in New York.
 Once we were lightened of our burdens, and had changed our shoes, we skipped off to the Gershwin theater to try for lottery tickets to Wicked.  The way it works is, they save 25 (or so) front row (or so) tickets from each show for the lottery.  Two and a half hours before the show, they start taking names.  Two hours before the show they draw names.  Each name drawn has the chance to buy one or two of the tickets for $25-30 cash on the spot.  Really awesome opportunity, horrible chances.  We guessed there were maybe 150 people there.  We still tried.  We had really high hopes.  I mean, Juli even matched the signs!
Alas, Wicked was not in the cards for us this time.  But Godspell next door did their lottery a half hour later, so we tried for that, too.  Alas, again, no.

But our disappointment was brief because we had dinner reservations at Artisanal Bistro (just in case we didn't get tickets.)  Which was, as you might guess, amazing.  Granted, our waiter was a little odd and aloof, and we debated whether his French accent was real or not, but the food spoke for itself.  So perfect to end a long day on our feet.  We shared a beet salad (with endive, walnuts and goat cheese) and ordered the artisanal blend cheese fondue for dinner, with bread, chicken, fingerling potatoes, and pears for dipping.  Exquisite!

But we weren't wowed by the dessert menu, and decided to consult Yelp on my phone for nearby options.  (Editorial:  My iPhone was THE BEST part of the trip!  Between Google map, Yelp, and the NY Subway app, we were girls on a mission, and usually headed in the right direction!)  We found Paris Baguette nearby, which you may, as we did, think is a French bakery.  I was so in the mood for an eclair.  But I had one more chance to sigh, "Alas!" this fateful Friday.  As we got nearer, we realized we were in a "Little Korea" area, and when we stopped into Paris Baguette, we found choices like green tea chiffon cake, "glutinous pastry", and milk bread.  Huh.  Turns out Paris Baguette "ranks as the top brand in the highly competitive Korean bakery market."  Hey, I like an Asian bakery as much as...some other people, but I wasn't in the mood.  Slightly deflated, and very footsore, we hobbled into a Crumbs bakery on the way back to the subway, where I got a great hot caramel apple cider, and a mediocre cookie, and we made our weary way back to the hotel, where we called our husbands, I took a hot bath, and we crashed.

Next post:  A serendipitous morning, round-the-corner pizza, and my toesies finally get cold!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NYC part 2: The Chocolate Show

 We made a bad call Thursday night.  Which was to take the subway back to the hotel at 12:30 a.m. instead of a taxi.  Mostly because I'd never hailed a cab (pathetic, right?) and we were pinching pennies, wanting to save all our cash for the good stuff.  But it put us to bed at 2 a.m., so you know what that means for Friday morning.  No kids, quiet hotel, AND late night?  We slept in.  But we got over it quickly because it was our vacation and we can do what we wanted.  I have to say, Juli and I had very compatible travel styles.  Either that or she was amazingly accommodating.  Either way, it worked for me.

So we pulled out of the hotel between 10 and 11, grabbed a breakfast sandwich at Pret a Manger, and took the subway down to 18th Street.  On our way down the block to the Metropolitan Pavilion, we stopped for a few fresh reinforcements.  I remember from last time, you need an occasional palate cleanser at the show.

Alrighty, cracking knuckles, stretching shoulders.  Here.  We.  Go.  
 After checking our coats and getting our programs, here's what greeted us around the first corner.  Very clever - the guys from Spices and Tease had little scoops on long sticks and were selling their wares, including flavored salts, sugars, spices and teas (including several chocolate tea blends) by the baggie, tin or 3-tin sets.  In the top left corner, that's a hunk of Hawaiian red salt they were chipping away at. 
 Then we opened our programs, which contained this floor plan - sorry, I scanned it, it's not that legible - descriptions of all the vendors, a schedule of demos and events, and lots of nummy ads.  Also a card redeemable at the Lincoln sponsor booth for a chocolate car.  Which of course we got.
 FYI I am eating a salad for lunch while I write this.  The pictures bring it all back for me, and it was - and is - intense.  Here are a few more sights along the first aisle - "Bittersweet Chocolate Blvd" on the floor plan:

George Duran was there mc'ing some of the demos.  Which, we discovered, were not following the printed schedule very closely. 
 We did catch a little of what these guys from American Heritage Chocolate were doing, which was making chocolate the way they did in the 1700's - rubbing cocoa nibs on this heated lava rock to make chocolate paste which is then combined with ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and more, and added to milk or water for drinking.  I had a sample - totally intense and not like modern chocolate.  Amazing.  You can watch a video that explains it here.

 Here's a shot of the crowds.  And keep in mind, this was the Friday crowd.  True, it was a holiday but Saturday would be much worse.  And some of the booths were already running low or selling out of their goods, so I'm glad we went when we did.  At one booth, I got the very last one of what I was getting.  Sorry I can't say, it's a Christmas gift for someone.  But so glad I got it!
 Backing up...on Thursday night the Chocolate Show has a fashion show and charity silent auction to open the show.  You can go for $150.  Maybe another year.  The fashions are haute couture clothes and accessories made of chocolate by fashion designers, so cool.  The theme this year was Broadway.  They had some of the designs on display in corners of the pavilion.  Can you name the shows?  I was so busy eating, smelling and being jostled I didn't read the cards. 

 And then there was the bookstore!  An enormous square made of long tables like this, with cash registers in the middle and big bouncer guys watching for shoplifting and keeping the stacks straight.  I didn't buy any books (nor did I steal any), but I did get some ideas, and it was thrilling to walk along the piles, and say, "I have that one.  I have that one.  I have that one."  Made me feel like a real insider.
 Chocolate kisses, NY Chocolate Show style.  They're filled with a cherry caramel; we had a sample. 
 That's the thing about the Chocolate Show.  Everyone has samples.  Remembering last time, I brought a package of tiny baggies and two Sharpies - Juli and I took samples and bagged and labeled them.  At least at first.  Juli kept it up longer than I did, knowing Brian and her kids would want a formal tasting session when she returned.  Some tables were too busy to even reach the samples, much less actually inspect the products.  But as the afternoon wore on, you could sometimes stop at a table and talk with the staff, or even the chocolatier herself/himself, and learn about their brand and their specialties. 

 Some booths were bakeries, many getting off the ground hoping to open their own shop.  Some did mail order, some sold through stores like Dean & Deluca.  Some had a slant, like vegan (sorry, the vegan hot chocolate was bland), truffles, or single origin.  Some were industry-related like the spice guys and chocolate fountains.  Palmer's cocoa butter lotion makers even had a booth.  But most vendors were chocolatiers, and many were French.  Since I tasted Jacques Torres chocolate many years ago, it's been my favorite.  And he's French, so in my mind French is good.  But I hadn't really dabbled in a wide range of French chocolate, so I didn't realize just how superior it is. 

 One thing at the show that made me so happy was seeing kids there.  They had a kids' corner where they made chef hats and chocolate crafts, it was cute.  Strollers, not so cute.  But what I'm talking about is older kids.  One of my favorite moments of the whole show was at a tasting table, there were three middle-school-aged boys, and they weren't scarfing the chocolate and acting like idiots.  They were tasting.  And comparing.  And discussing.  And I LOVED it.  Just a few more years and I'm bringing all my girls. 

 So we wandered around most of the show, collecting samples, talking to people, tasting tasting tasting.  Then we went back to buy buy buy - Christmas gifts, things for ourselves and our families.  In most cases we knew just what we wanted and where.  In others, we had to sample some more.  Poor us.

At most booths, if you wanted to taste something they didn't have out, why they'd just open one up and cut it up for you.  People trying to feed me chocolate!  Here, let me get you a piece of this one!  Amazing.  Heaven. 

In the end, Juli and I agreed on the two chocolatiers we liked the best, and not just for their French accents.  They were the ones we bought from, and whose chocolate was just better than the rest - one was Francois Pralus (below - too bad that's the only shot I took of that booth!)  The man himself was there and he totally looked like a French Paul Newman, ooh la la!  At that booth I bought a tube of hazelnut creme (like nutella but thinner and much more hazelnutty) and a box of chocolate pearls, which I can't find on the website - little pea-sized chocolate balls, a mix of dark and milk, with a crunchy wheat center.  They are so small but we couldn't believe the gorgeous chocolate flavor they had!  You can eat them plain or put them on stuff - last night the girls and I had them on ice cream and then just ate a bunch out of the box.  Juli got Brian a stack of single origin squares.
Later, when I read about Pralus, I wasn't surprised to learn he owns his own chocolate plantation and produces his chocolate bean-to-bar.  Seriously, you can taste that difference.  

Our other favorite was Comptoir du Cacao.  At first we were drawn in by their charming packaging, and the ooh's and aah's coming from chocolate tasters at their table.  Then we tasted it ourselves and we basically couldn't get enough.  Their "flaky pralines" won 1st and 2nd prize at the Paris Chocolate Show (when am I going to that one?)  And their white chocolate, not usually my favorite, was out of this world.  I bought some presents here, too.
 I also want to give honorable mention to a few booths I don't have pictures of, but where I shopped and really liked their stuff:
  • Jer's Chocolates had some seriously awesome chocolate-peanut butter bars, and Jer himself was so glowing and smiley I could have spent an hour at his booth.
  • Christophe Roussel had some amazing salted butter caramels - I bought two boxes!  He's also the one that made the chocolate kisses above, and he seemed a little stressed out at the show.  But he was cute and French and some days it's hard to be fabulous.  
  • Aux Anysetiers du Roy makes these totally clever little fondues in a stoneware cup, that you can warm in the microwave or in hot water to melt, making yourself yummo fondue without a sterno, candle, pot or mess.  Just dip what you like.  And they have so many flavors!  It was hard to choose.  They even make egg-shaped ones for Easter, how cute is that?
  • Salt of the Earth Bakery was there, handing out very generous pieces of brownies and cookies, and they were amazing.  We tasted their signature brownie that's in your face on the website and Juli went back and bought two before we left - she said it's the best brownie she's ever eaten.  We also tasted their chocolate-filled cookies and they, too, were amazing.  My whole goal in life now is to go back and taste their mud pie.

On our way out of the show, about 3 1/2 hours later, I stopped at Spices & Tease again.  How could I not get something?  So I got a sampling of flavored sugars - pistachio, strawberry and pomegranate.  I waffled whether to get some onion bacon salt but decided I'd dropped enough cash.  Too bad, now of course I wish I'd gotten it.  Can you imagine that on a baked potato?!

 But I'm not worried.  There's always next year.

Next post: the rest of Friday, including a lot of subway rides, and mac & cheese like you've never had it before!

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