Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Culture With a Side of Espresso

Nestled in the heart of the Garment District is an adorable little coffee shop that goes by the name of Culture Espresso. I would argue that the culture itself comes from the artistry in the coffee being served along with the decor.

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This picture does not do the coffee shop justice. Inside, it felt like a little oasis in the middle of Manhattan, somehow away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. While I sat looking out the window drinking my coffee, I felt, for just a little while, that I was no longer a part of the stressful and fast paced world of New York. Sitting looking out the window, I was just an onlooker, not a participant. Finally I had a break.

Vanilla latte
Vanilla latte

I decided to be boring this time around and order my usual drink, but there was something slightly different about this vanilla latte compared to most. The vanilla syrup that Culture Espresso uses is homemade, along with their maple syrup. I wish I could say that I tasted a difference between their homemade syrup and any run of the mill syrup that most coffee shops use, but I could not.

My latte definitely looked like a one of a kind masterpiece, but it did not taste like one. The espresso in my latte was very flavorful, but it was overshadowed by the amount of milk that was added to it. I honestly tasted the milk more than I tasted the espresso, which was very upsetting, especially considering I am not a big fan of milk to begin with.

Chocolate chip cookie
Chocolate chip cookie

I also ordered a chocolate chip cookie with my latte. I was hoping it would taste better than it looked, but sadly it did not overall. The cookie was very hard and crunchy, which is not something I ever want in a chocolate chip cookie. One redeeming factor was that the chocolate chips were melted inside the cookie, giving it a molten center, similar to that of a chocolate lava cake (my favorite dessert).

Ultimately, I would not recommend this coffee shop from my experience, but it does have excellent reviews, which make me want to give it another try at some point.

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Not-So-Crumby Crumbs

I was walking through Central Park on a beautiful Friday morning when I started craving cupcakes. I opened my beloved Yelp app and searched for cupcake shops near me. The nearest shop was called Crumbs Bake Shop, located on the Upper East Side. It didn’t have spectacular reviews on Yelp, but I decided to give it a shot, so I headed over to Lexington Avenue to try some cupcakes.

The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.
The exterior of Crumbs Bake Shop.

When I arrived at the store, I was a bit disheartened. After going to Molly’s Cupcakes a few weeks before, I was expecting a warm, inviting environment. Crumbs Bake Shop had a couple tables set up, but it wasn’t the kind of place where you want to sit down and enjoy your cupcake. Nonetheless, they had a very impressive selection of cupcakes and baked goods in general. It was quite difficult for me to pick only two cupcakes from the vast array of culinary creations in the display case. In the end, I settled on two very different flavors: chocolate salted caramel and lemon lemon. I paid for my cupcakes and took them to go, deciding to eat them in my cozy dorm room.

Crumbs' display case full of cupcakes and more.
Crumbs’ display case full of cupcakes and more

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake looked pretty appealing. It was a chocolate cake with a caramel cream cheese frosting, topped with chocolate chips, a caramel drizzle, and a bit of sea salt. Sounds amazing, right? In truth, it just tasted okay. The chocolate cake wasn’t moist and decadent like I had hoped, and the frosting was quite dense. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything special either. Much like the store itself, it lacked that homey and comforting feel. Overall, the cupcake was solid, but not exceptional in any way.

The chocolate salted caramel cupcake.
The chocolate salted caramel cupcake

The lemon lemon cupcake was a cheerful yellow cupcake. There was no description of it at the store, but it appeared to be a lemon cake topped with a lemon frosting with yellow and white sprinkles and a little dollop of lemon jelly on the top. Personally, I found this one more enjoyable than the chocolate one, though it’s probably because I have very high chocolate standards. The lemon cupcake was pleasant to eat. It was a wonderful balance of sweetness and tartness, and although it tasted somewhat artificial, the cake itself was a nice consistency. I’ve certainly had better lemon cupcakes, but it was still a pretty good cupcake.

The lemon lemon cupcake.
The lemon lemon cupcake

All in all, Crumbs Bake Shop was a bit of a let down, but it was not awful either. The cupcakes were not very expensive (cupcakes ranged from $2 to $3.50), and they were quite large considering the price. Additionally, Crumbs is a chain bakery, so there are many locations conveniently situated around the city (unfortunately, the one near Columbia is permanently closed). If you want a decent and fairly cheap cupcake, go ahead and give Crumbs a try!

I’ve Never Felt Grater: Mac N Cheese

Ah. Yes. Comfort food.

I have found it difficult to find vegetarian options when considering this type of food. So I went to Kitchenette this week in order to find some eats that would be suitable for my special diet. Although not everything was vegetarian/vegan, I still looked at some great options.

Kitchenette Info:

1272 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027   |   8am-9m

When you first walk into this restaurant, you see polka-dotted tables with mismatched chairs. It’s absolutely adorable, and there is really a sense of home when you step inside. I feel like this atmosphere makes the restaurant all the more unique. This off-kilter nature made me feel so welcome and warm.

Kitchenette is often a great place for brunch, even if I went for dinner. The menu is extremely extensive and holds many kinds of comfort food (many of which do not contain meat).

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I ordered mac n cheese, and it was HUGE. The portion is so large, considering the price. My friends ordered kale salad, biscuit sandwiches, and meatloaf, and they were all satisfied. Although there are foods that are non-vegetarian, there are still so many options for people like me. Here are some of the vegetarian/vegan options available.

Vegetarian:

Kale and Brussel Sprout Cesar

KMC (Mac n Cheese)

Rigatoni

Herb and Goat Cheese Omelet

Plain/Blueberry Pancakes

Fancy Grilled Cheese

Cookie Jar Milkshakes

Vegan:

Griddled Cornbread

Veggie Eggplant Meatballs

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Field Green Salad

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Vegan Veggie Club

Vegan Chickpea Burger

And many many more 

I ordered the KMC, which contained three different types of cheese. It was crispy on the outside and crunchy on the inside, which was exactly what I needed. Since the mac n cheese was very gooey and heavy, I just wish that it came with a side of veggies of some kind. However, the meal was overall a success, and I would still recommend the food!20161118_18054320161118_181000

Kitchenette, located on 123rd street, gets a solid 4 Bobby Flays!

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See you next time!

Tiny Treats with a Big Heart

As soon as I stepped into Georgia and Aliou’s Tiny Treats Café, I sensed an immediate difference from every other bakery I have visited in New York City. This bakery truly felt like a local neighborhood spot, with regulars entering in a steady stream, their names and orders already known by the staff. One woman confided in me before she left, “This is the only place I go to buy my bread. I don’t go anywhere else.” This approval from a dedicated customer only intensified my excitement to sample from Tiny Treats’ wide selection of items. The display case was packed full with an arrangement of gorgeous floral cupcakes, French pastries, whimsical smiley face cake pops, breads, and so much more.

One view of the display case
One view of the display case

When I first entered, I was immediately drawn to a brioche cinnamon roll, generously topped with icing. Choosing to pair the pastry with a latte, I sat at a table by the window, observing both the passers-by outside and the constant flow of entering customers. The cinnamon roll had just the right amount of cinnamon filling without being overly sweet (though I didn’t like it as much compared to the other items I bought later). I normally add a fair amount of cream and sugar to my coffees, but this latte only needed one sugar packet for me to find it delicious.

My first orders: cinnamon roll and latte
My first orders: cinnamon roll and latte

The eating area was a cozy space with warm red walls and small tables, but with added touches of elegance, like a chandelier and gilded frames.  The atmosphere is best suited for an intimate breakfast/lunch date (due to the majority of two-person tables) or some alone time, a chance to catch up on reading emails or just relax.

All in the details
All in the details

After realizing I just couldn’t leave without trying one of the delicate and detailed desserts, I selected the Dacquoise, without really knowing what it was. I just knew that anything chocolate topped with toasted almonds was bound to be good, but my expectations were immediately surpassed after I took my first bite. The inside was filled with almond meringue and mocha buttercream, dotted with whole almonds, giving the pastry a different taste with every bite.

La Dacquoise
La Dacquoise

Yet again, I realized that it was now lunch time, and I couldn’t leave without selecting something from their additional menu of sandwiches and lunch dishes. For the low price of $7, I bought a quichette, filled with turkey, bacon, onions, and mozzarella, which came with a side salad. Though it looked small initially, the quichette turned out to be very filling, the perfect accompaniment to a day of resume editing.

Quiche, side salad, and olive oil dressing
Quiche, side salad, and olive oil dressing

Though Tiny Treats Café might not technically be in my neighborhood, I know that I will definitely be returning in the future, in the hopes of one day becoming a regular customer with a weekly bread order.

Toby’s Estate: Flatiron Espresso Bar

Just down the street from the Flatiron Building (Fifth Avenue between 20th and 21st St) is a tiny coffee shop nestled in between two clothing stores, Club Monaco and the Loft. Before walking inside, you would never guess that the two clothing stores were actually part of Toby’s Estate itself. Although the espresso bar is extremely tiny, it is a very open space because, in addition to the two clothing stores, it is also connected to a Strand Bookstore/Club Monaco partnership. What better than a chance to read and shop for books while enjoying your morning (or afternoon or nighttime) coffee?

The open doorway leads to first the Strand Bookstore and then the two clothing stores
The open doorway leads to the Strand Bookstore first and then to the two clothing stores
The Strand Bookstore connected to the espresso bar
The Strand Bookstore connected to the espresso bar (it also had a little flower shop)

When it was time for me to order, I figured I should try their version of my usual order but was surprised when I couldn’t find it. I am normally very boring when it comes to my coffee order and almost always get a vanilla latte. This time around, I was forced to try something new (definitely a good thing in this case). I asked the cashier for his recommendation and he suggested their maple sage latte; it sounded good so I figured, why not?

Medium maple sage latte
Medium maple sage latte

Although I was upset to see that the medium latte I had just paid $4.50 for was so tiny, I was pleasantly surprised by both the presentation (isn’t it pretty?) and also the flavor of the latte. It was probably one of the best lattes I have ever had due to the quality of the espresso itself and the maple sage flavoring. This flavor seemed to enhance the very taste of the espresso, making it the perfect choice.

Considering I went to the espresso bar around four o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday, it was surprisingly busy, unlike the Starbucks around the corner. As a result, I would say that this is a favorite spot for many and now also me. I will definitely be coming back to have another maple sage latte or maybe something new again.

For those who don’t normally venture down to this area of Manhattan, Toby’s Estate actually has three other locations, each of which are very diversified but of course all share the same amazing quality. They have one location in Brooklyn, and the other two are in Manhattan: Midtown East and the West Village. None of the other locations are connected to bookstores, which definitely sets this location apart from the rest.

Molly’s Takes the (Cup)cake

I’m a sucker for a good cupcake because it has all the wonderful aspects of a normal cake (the moist, fluffy cake and the smooth, creamy frosting) compacted into an adorable little pastry, which sometimes even has a bonus filling. There are so many varieties of cupcakes just in New York City, and I want to try as many of them as possible.

I started with Molly’s Cupcakes, located downtown near New York University. I learned about Molly’s from “Cupcake Wars,” a cupcake-baking competition that airs on Food Network. In one episode, Eileen Kerbel, a pastry chef at Molly’s Cupcakes in Chicago, won with her scrumptious cupcakes. After watching this episode, I knew that I had to see what made Molly’s Cupcakes so good. I took the 1 train down to Christopher Street and walked down Bleecker for about five minutes, at which point I was standing in front of a bright yellow storefront labeled “Molly’s Cupcakes.” I walked into a relatively spacious room, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the fun swing-like stools at the counter. The atmosphere was cheery and playful; there were even board games on the shelves, along with educational books.

I walked over to the display of the cupcakes and was immediately overwhelmed. Every flavor looked good to me, making my decision extremely difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to try three cupcakes: pumpkin spice, cake batter, and chocolate decadence. I chose these three because they all seemed different, so I knew I would get a better idea of the range of flavors.

The first cupcake I tried was the pumpkin spice, with a creamy pumpkin mascarpone center and a sweet cream cheese frosting. I chose this cupcake because I love everything pumpkin (basic, I know) and I wanted to try it while it was in season. I had high expectations for this cupcake, and it did not disappoint; it was everything a pumpkin spice cupcake should be. It had a strong pumpkin taste that went well with the sweet frosting. It was quite large, but that just meant more pumpkin-y goodness. The only critique I have is that there was too much frosting for my taste. Overall, this cupcake was wonderful for this time of the year.

The pumpkin spice cupcake.
The pumpkin spice cupcake

Next up was the cake batter. This cupcake had a vanilla confetti cake with a raw cake batter center, topped with vanilla buttercream and birthday sprinkles. Just looking at this cupcake made me happy; the frosting was an adorable light blue color, and the rainbow sprinkles were lovely in a childish way. Biting into this cupcake made me even happier. The gooey batter in the center was absolutely delicious, and it paired nicely with the light vanilla cake. It was fun, tasty, and nostalgic all at the same time.

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The cake batter cupcake

Last but not least was the chocolate decadence. This cupcake was a chocolate cake with a chocolate mousse filling, topped with chocolate ganache and dark chocolate curls. I saved this cupcake for last because I expected it to be my favorite, given my love for chocolate. This was easily one of the best chocolate cupcakes I have ever had. It was moist, rich, and certainly decadent. The cupcake looked sophisticated and tasted even better. However, this cupcake is not for everyone. Only true chocolate lovers could handle this cupcake and its intense chocolate flavor.

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The chocolate decadence cupcake

I was very pleased with Molly’s cupcakes. The fun atmosphere combined with delicious cupcakes made for a really great experience. It’s not the place to go when you want a cheap cupcake in a convenient location. But if you’ve got some money to spend and want an outstanding cupcake adventure, Molly’s Cupcakes is worth the trip!

Location: 228 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Hours: Monday – 12pm to 10pm, Tuesday through Thursday – 8am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday – 8am to 12am, Sunday – 9am to 10pm

Like Naan Other

Before I start this review of Ayurveda Cafe, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Dena Cheng, and I am currently a first year student in Columbia College. For the culinary blog, I will focus on great vegan and vegetarian eats you can find throughout the city of New York. I am so excited to share my opinions and excitement for food with you this year. I hope you enjoy!

Ayurveda Cafe 

 706 Amsterdam Ave   New York, NY 10025

Monday thru Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm

Sunday 11:30am-10:00pm

Located just past 95th street, Ayurveda Cafe is a great location close (ish) to the Columbia campus. If you are looking for some delicious Indian food, look no further! With a serene ambience, delectable foods, and welcoming staff, the cafe does provide you with a wonderful eating experience.

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A dinner dish filled with beans, yogurt sauce, rice and more!

One of the most unique parts of the restaurant is that there is no set menu. The food constantly changes everyday, and you get to pick and choose from, essentially, a sampling platter. There is a range of different dishes within little bowls, so you can taste different types of beans, rice, and cooked vegetables. The price is very fair, with lunch at only $9.95 and dinner at $15.95. Moreover, one serving can feed more than one person. 

 

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The papadum (a crispy lentil treat)

I personally shared a dinner plate with two other people and was completely satisfied. The wonderful staff even offered papadum, lentil wafers, with various sauces beforehand. Servers also provided warm naan and a free chickpea dessert at the end. This was more than enough food for me.

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A very satisfying cup of mango lassi

I also ordered one of my favorite drinks, a mango lassi. Although it was not necessarily the best lassi I had ever tasted, it was quite delicious and sweet. The yogurt based drink was creamy and tangy without being overly syrupy.

Finally, I would probably rate my experience 4 Bobby Flays out of 5.

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Overall, my stay at the Ayurveda Cafe was pleasurable, and I would definitely go again. Check it out!

Broadway Joe’s Pizza-Van Cortlandt Park/242nd Street

A$AP Rocky once said “Anything is better than that 1 train.” While we have all chanted this after the conductor announced the “train will be held momentarily” for the fourth time in ten minutes, we can all agree it holds a special place in the hearts of all Columbia students. After all, it grants us access to the world outside of the MoHi bubble. Commuting can be rough, especially when the train is not coming for 12 minutes, skipping the stop you need and the closest subway stop is a fifteen minute walk in -32° weather or a heat wave. In times like these (and quite honestly, anytime), there is nothing more convenient and comforting than a quick, cheap slice of pizza to sustain you. My mission for this semester is to explore the world along the 1 train through eating one of the foods that defines New York. The rules are simple: Take the 1 train, curse price hikes, get off, and look up the closest pizza joint. I am a firm believer that even bad pizza is good pizza, and the local joints that sustain New Yorkers throughout the city deserve recognition. This is an ode to the shops that are overlooked treasures as well as to those who may be mediocre but serve an essential role to the community of commuters.

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My quest begins at the first stop on the 1 train- Van Cortlandt Park/242nd street. The trip was faster than I anticipated and in less than 30 minutes, I was breathing in the fresh air courtesy of Van Cortlandt Park’s 1146 acres. After walking thirty nine feet from the subway station, I arrived at Broadway Joe’s Pizza. At around 4:30pm, Broadway Joe’s had the universal afternoon pizza joint patrons of rowdy high school and middle school students. The design was straightforward, no frills. Close your eyes and imagine any pizza place anywhere in America, and that is Broadway Joe’s.

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A plain slice cost the standard $2.50 and it was worth every cent. I ordered the second to last slice of plain pizza behind the display case. The pizza looked promising- the image does not do justice how much larger the slice was compared to the plate. The cheese glistened under the perfect amount of grease. I folded my slice and took my first bite. Not sure if this was beginner’s luck, but I hope every random, local pizza shop is as great as this one. The crust somehow had the perfect combination of crisp and chewiness. To confirm my observations from the initial taste, I took another bite and tested how far the cheese extended- perfectly elastic and bouncy. Lastly, the tomato sauce, while not a major player, passed the test of not being too sugary (a pitfall of many $1 pizza places) and if anything, approached the tangier side of the spectrum.

This will not be the last time I come here. The combination of Broadway Joe’s and the beauty of Van Cortlandt Park created a very convincing reason to ride the 1 train to the first stop to have a New York autumn picnic.

 

A Dessert that Hits the Spot

Nestled downtown on Saint Mark’s Place, a few steps below the main street level, Spot Dessert Bar could be easy to miss to the unsuspecting pedestrian, but I had my eyes peeled for the location of my first true experience with Asian-inspired desserts.  I was first introduced to Spot by an online photo of Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb cup, proudly held up against a backdrop of a bustling New York City street. Having just been introduced to the sweet, milky flavor of Thai iced tea, I, of course, wanted the experience of drinking it out of a lightbulb (note: a plastic one, not a real glass one), and Spot’s seasonal dessert tapas menu made the trek downtown even more compelling.

My dessert, "The Harvest"
My dessert, “The Harvest”

With its clean white tile walls and bright orange accents, Spot Dessert Bar stands out from its predominantly gray and brick surroundings, as well as from the other bakeries that I have visited.  The friendly yet relaxed atmosphere makes it the perfect getaway from the Columbia bubble, for an evening with friends or a date.  Worried that the limited seating (only about 10 small tables) would fill up quickly, I chose a somewhat random time to visit – 6 pm on a Thursday evening, and my choice paid off.  It was completely empty when I arrived, yet was swiftly occupied by the after-dinner crowd in the following hours.

Spot Dessert Bar, as the name suggests, focuses specifically on desserts, and their menu is composed of everything from larger, seasonal selections like Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake or Love Fondue to smaller items like macarons or sorbet.  But it is the unique “Asian Flare” of the desserts that sets Spot apart, particularly in their combination of unexpected flavors.  In addition to the dessert options, Spot also offers a wide selection of teas and other beverages, both hot and cold.  For only $2.50 extra, I was finally able to live out my dream of drinking bubble tea from a lightbulb (and I got to keep the cup).

I finally experienced Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb
I finally experienced Thai Iced Bubble Tea in a lightbulb

For my dessert, I chose “The Harvest,” which came in the form of a very realistic looking potted plant and accompanied by the whimsical instructions to “water my plant” before I began eating.  So I poured a tiny pitcher of black rose milk tea over the dish, which consisted of seemingly endless layers of crumbled cookies (for the dirt), cheesecake, sliced berries, and finally a moist cake at the bottom.  All of this was accompanied by a berry sorbet and puree.  Although it was a significant amount of dessert, the light and airy nature of the dish kept me from feeling too weighed down.  Unlike some of the other bakeries I have visited, Spot Dessert Bar also offers customers a charming dining experience and a comfortable setting, a secluded bubble of fun where you can embrace your love for dessert.

"Watering" my plant
“Watering” my plant

 

 

The Cinnamon Snail: Vegan Food on Wheels

For my last blog post of the semester, I decided to try something a little different, and the Cinnamon Snail is definitely something out of the ordinary. The Cinnamon Snail is known for having vegan food trucks scattered throughout New York and New Jersey, but recently they opened a location in the Pennsy, a new food hall above Penn Station on the corner of 33rd street and 7th avenue. The food hall has numerous other options other than the Cinnamon Snail (and all of them looked great).

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Although their menu is limited, their food is truly spectacular. You will not regret visiting either their location at the Pennsy or one of their food trucks. I decided to order the Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich, which was made with roasted garlic aioli, marinated kale, tomato, onion, and of course, tempeh. They were very liberal with their use of garlic aioli along with all of the other ingredients used. The garlic aioli was delicious and tasted great with the maple marinated tempeh. This sandwich was filled to capacity and as a result, I left completely stuffed. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed this sandwich. All I can really say is that you must try this for yourself because you will not be disappointed!

Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich
Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich

Even though I was completely stuffed, I couldn’t resist trying their Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie because I could already tell from their display that it would taste good, but I didn’t realize just how good it would taste. It was probably one of the best brownies that I have ever had because the chocolate was very rich in flavor and the peanut butter cheesecake layer in the middle was utter perfection, especially with the contrast of the chocolate.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie

I’m so glad I got a chance to try the Cinnamon Snail because it is probably one of my favorite places I have tried thus far. There really is nothing quite like it in all of Manhattan. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a quick bite in a casual atmosphere (and of course great vegan food).