Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Big Booty Takes the Cake

While searching for bakeries within walking distance of my office downtown, I stumbled upon Big Booty Bread Company, and of course, I was first struck by the playful name.  But then I scrolled through the menu, and the Latin American-inspired pastries sounded too good to resist, particularly the namesake booty buns.

The exterior
The exterior

Escaping the harsh winds of New York and stepping into a cozy niche in Chelsea was the perfect conclusion to a long day at work, and I was immediately impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of the location, devoid of the pretentious attitude that some patisseries have.  Dining alone that day, I definitely welcomed the calm.  There was an expansive display cabinet and counter at the front of the store, while the back contained simple wooden tables, topped with flower vases.  There were also some examples of apparel hanging on the wall, and I might have to return again just to purchase a shirt that reads, I <3 Big Booty.

The seating area
The seating area

I arrived with a very clear sense of what I was going to order (having already scoured the menu), but the packed display case made me pause because all of the fresh pastries and baked goods were so tempting.  Beyond cupcakes and cookies, Big Booty also offers paleo and gluten-free options with a Latin American flavor, like a cheese bun or guava pocket.  I probably could have ordered one of everything, but I decided to stick to my original order: one strawberry booty bun (a brioche bun stuffed with strawberries and topped with sugar) and a ham and cheese empanada with chimmichurri sauce, completed with a half tea, half lemonade.

Just some of the delicious looking pastries
Just some of the delicious looking pastries

The warm empanada melted in my mouth, and the sauce added that little bit of kick to put it over the top.  The booty bun was the perfect complement, with a crunchy, sugar-coated exterior with a soft bread in the middle.  I will definitely be returning to Big Booty Bread Company, so I can sample all of the booty bun flavors because one just wasn’t enough.

My empanada, booty bun, and drink
My empanada, booty bun, and drink
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Narcissa at The Standard, East Village

Narcissa was a very happy find for me. Looking for farm-to-table restaurants is not exactly the easiest task. Thankfully and despite the lack of several choices, I am thrilled to have discovered Narcissa.

Walking in, I thought I had come across a 21st century Garden of Eden. Its design is very modern and sleek. Wood panels, white marble countertops, colorful pieces, and abundant flowers can be found inside. There is a beautiful lush garden that highlights the restaurant’s farm-to-table take. All of this is made more idyllic by ubiquitous bright light. It is fresh and green, yet manicured and neat.

Since it was brunch and I was in such a nature-inspired restaurant, I wanted to order something cool and different. Yet, I ordered a burger. This can seem to be a rather basic plate, but with the right ingredients and in the right place, it can be magnificent.

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And it was. It was accompanied by guacamole, Manchego cheese, and a spicy orange sauce. Need I say anything else? It was pure perfection. A mixture of very diverse flavors blended in my mouth each time I took a bite from this moist dish. When the guacamole fell off the other end of the burger, I grabbed a knife and rubbed it back unto the burger. I think that pretty much sums it up.FullSizeRender

I would return any day to this inviting, cozy, hip, and elegant locale!

16 Handles

Location: 325 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY, 10023

Hours: 12:00 PM to 11:30 PM (Mon-Thurs and Sunday), 12:00 PM to 11:30 PM (Fri-Sat)

I love healthy food, but I also love frozen yogurt. The compromise? Get a green smoothie from a frozen yogurt shop. I had bookmarked 16 Handles since the beginning of the semester for its raving reviews on Yelp. It did not disappoint.

Located on Amsterdam Avenue between 75th and 76th, 16 Handles was extremely easy to locate, especially with its lively music and brightly lit environment. There is a wide range of options for frozen yogurt, with low fat, fat free, gluten free, and vegan options, and fresh fruit amongst other toppings. What caught my eye, however, were their green smoothies.

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I ordered an “Oh Kale Yeah!” smoothie made of fresh IQF pineapple, banana, spinach, kale, coconut water, and white grape juice. There are no artificial ingredients or ice. The staff was extremely friendly, inviting me to test out their new frozen yogurt flavors while I waited for my smoothie.

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Expecting a more starchy bland smoothie, I was blown away. The smoothie was not extremely heavy, and provided a nice citrus-y freshness. While the banana seemed overpowering at first, it blends extremely well with the spinach and kale, which tone down its flavor. The natural sweetness of the white grape juice balances the acidity from the pineapple, allowing me to enjoy every sip I took. The spinach and kale substantiate the smoothie, making it slightly more filling. This was definitely the best green smoothie I’ve had in a long time, and believe me, I drink a lot of green smoothies! I am addicted! The “Oh Kale Yeah” would be perfect after a workout, or just for a slight healthy boost before shopping at the Sephora nearby.

Green smoothies in a frozen yogurt shop: unexpected, but extremely well-made.

Hope you had a great break, and till next time!

Fiona

 

 

Juice Generation

644 9th Ave, New York NY 10036 (Between 45th and 46th St)

Mon–Sat: 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.; Sunday: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

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This healthy little gem is located on 9th Ave, between 45th and 46th St. It’s not too far from the Times Square subway station, making it very accessible if you’re shopping nearby. This famous chain also has many other locations, including one on 117 W 72nd St, which is much closer to campus. While the physical store is quite small and has no seating available, they have a wide variety of options. 2017-02-18 16.44.13

Need a quick pick-me-up?  They have healthy juices and smoothies. Want something more filling? They have nicely portioned açai bowls, vegan lunch options (rolls, burgers, and noodles), and vegan pastries. What is unique about this chain is their “juice farmacy,” which is made up of small drinks with jam-packed nutrients. One such drink is the “lemon lozenge,” a blend of lemons, cayenne, and ginger, to help clear an irritating cold.

I ordered a “Green Guardian” smoothie and a “Jackpot!” açaí bowl, while my friend ordered an “I Heart Watermelon” smoothie, sweetened with agave and an “Almond Butter Bliss” açaí bowl. For smoothies, you have the option of almond milk or hemp milk and you can sweeten them with either agave or dates.

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“I Heart Watermelon” Smoothie and Almond Bliss Açaí Bowl

“I Heart Watermelon” Smoothie: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and watermelon.

Overall, the smoothie had a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, and was not too overpowering. The first note of the smoothie had a very strong raspberry taste with a subtle hint of watermelon that was gradually brought out upon further tasting. It was very light compared to the “Green Guardian,” with a more liquid texture (as opposed to starchy), and would be perfect for a post-workout refreshment.

“Almond Butter Bliss” Açaí Bowl: açaí, almond butter, almond milk, banana, coconut shavings, hemp granola, and strawberries.

The “Almond Butter Bliss” açaí bowl had an overall extremely nutty flavor that my friend thought was slightly overpowering. The bowl could have used slightly more acidity with the addition of more citrus-y flavors. Interestingly, she tasted a hint of chocolate milk, which could have been caused by the mixture of almond milk and banana.

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“Jackpot!” Açaí Bowl and “Green Guardian” Smoothie

“Jackpot!” Açaí Bowl: açaí, almond milk, banana, coconut oil, coconut shavings, hemp granola, jackfruit, kiwi, and strawberries.

The açaí bowl was actually more liquid-y than I had expected, and didn’t look too appetizing by looks alone. I was blown away by the taste. The textures in the bowl brought a nice variety and they struck a perfect harmony between the chewy and crispy granola, the tarte fruit, and liquid-y açai. The nutty flavor contrasts the typical sweet and sour açai bowl and provides a nice base note. Kiwi is an unusual fruit to add into açai bowls, but it definitely works here and provides the desired citrus-y acidity. The fruit used in my açaí bowl was really fresh. After eating this açaí bowl, I felt a lot healthier and even  refreshed!

Green Guardian” Smoothie:  avocado, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, spinach, strawberries, and swiss chard.

At first, I regretted my decision to order this smoothie. It was rather bland compared with the “I Heart Watermelon,” and I wished that I had chosen to sweeten the smoothie with dates or agave. The smoothie was rather starchy and thick. About half way through the smoothie, it was difficult to obtain any more liquid and I had to constantly poke around the cup. The more I drank, however, the more my opinion of this smoothie improved. The almond milk fragrance became more identifiable and there even seemed to be a banana-like taste in the background. Definitely sweeten the smoothie if you order this drink!

Juice Generation has a nice variety of healthy options and I can’t wait to try out the many other options that it offers.

Till next time!

Fiona

Sedutto – Unexpected Ice Cream Haven

I love ice cream. Coming to New York City, I’ve made it my mission to  try all the ice cream shops the city has to offer.

Working a job on the Upper East Side, I spent my night looking forward to a late-night treat. I had not really known much about Sedutto before visiting but had it bookmarked on my Maps as an ice cream shop to try. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find the shop lighting up the corner of 78th and 1st Ave.

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I walked in to find a cheerful yet modern shop with a plethora of flavors, toppings, and choices. Having trouble making decisions, it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. They had over 40 flavors of hard ice cream, ranging from Red Velvet to Pumpkin to Banana Fudge to Green Tea. There was two full freezers in front with a list of more that they had in the back. They also had several soft serve ice cream choices. To narrow my options, I just considered the hard ice cream flavors. While contemplating what I should order, the man behind the counter let me taste try a few samples, one being Red Velvet.  I finally decided on Birthday Cake and Midnight Cookies in Cream, two of their most popular flavors, in a cookie crumb waffle cone. I was amazed at the varieties of cones they offered. They had multiple speciality waffle cones in unique flavors like birthday cake, and of course the classic cake and sugar cones.
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With the first bite of my ice cream I knew this place was a hit. Of all the other ice cream places I had tried so far, this was definitely the best quality. The Birthday Cake flavor was undeniably frosting sweet and had wonderful cake chucks perfectly mixed in. I often order this flavor, and Sedutto’s version was definitely one of the best. Reaching Midnight Cookies and Cream, I was amazed at the stark contrast between the sugary cake-like ice cream and a decidedly rich chocolate flavor. Midnight Cookies and Creams successfully combines the depth of chocolate with the classic taste of cookies and cream. My cookie waffle cone held up well, and the ice cream was hard set, allowing me to leisurely take my time-consuming this richly flavored ice cream.

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I was sad when I finally reached the bottom of my cone, but I look forward to returning and trying some of the other hard-to-find flavors.. This ice cream shop is definitely a gem that does not get the attention it deserves. 
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ABC Cocina

ABC Cocina is Jean-Georges’s Ibero-American take on its famous sister restaurant, ABC Kitchen. It is an airy, hip, and modern place located in the Flatiron District that manages to marvelously mix the city with nature.

The restaurant has a very cozy feel to it, filled with a very young and refreshing crowd of urbanites. Dimly lit by an abundance of widespread lights throughout the restaurant, it has a very natural look. I was glad to notice the silence that permeated the place: not due to a lack of customers but because of spacing arrangements to give customers a very individual experience.

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The menu has abundant influences from the Spanish and the Mexican kitchens. There are plenty of tapas options, reminiscent of a Madrid restaurant, from jamón ibérico to octopus. There are also many tacos and corn-heavy plates that show its Mexican influence. All of these plates feature a noticeable twist from the norm with their farm-to-table attributes and healthy ingredients. Fruits, plants, and spices are highlighted throughout the menu as the centerpiece of the site.

I chose to have a more Latin American experience by ordering guacamoleempanadas, and finally flan. They were all wonderfully splendid. The guacamole came with tortillas, a red, mildly spicy sauce, and nutty seeds in it that gave it a fresh taste. The empanadas were absolutely amazing. They were filled with moist mushrooms and accompanied by a green chili sauce. Lastly, the milky flan was incredibly soft; it dissolved in my mouth.

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This place is a must!

Irving Farms Coffee Roasters

Now that finals are upon us, I decided to try a coffee shop closer to campus so that I wouldn’t spend too much time away from my work. I wish I had known ahead of time that Irving Farms’ location on W. 79th St is the perfect place to study. The second I walked in, I noticed the comforting and trendy atmosphere as well as the multitude of tables. Unlike most coffee shops in Manhattan, which are extremely cramped, Irving Farms’ location on the Upper West Side is massive. This location has both a front room and a back room, each of which are larger than most New York coffee shops. Though it was quite crowded, I was still able to find a table because the shop was so large. I encountered numerous students who definitely had made Irving Farms their frequent coffee shop because they had come prepared with all of their studying materials.

The display case
The display case

In addition to the multitude of coffee options available, there is also a menu for those looking to have a meal while enjoying their coffee. I decided to take advantage of both. I ordered a medium vanilla latte and a caprese sandwich with Narragansett fresh mozzarella, slow- roasted tomatoes, and homemade seasonal pesto on a ciabatta. My latte was probably the best latte I have had in a long time. The sandwich was also delicious, but nothing out of the ordinary. Though both my latte and sandwich tasted delicious, honestly, they did not compliment each other. I still enjoyed both, but I would have enjoyed them more if I had tried each separately.

Medium vanilla latte
Medium vanilla latte
Caprese sandwich
Caprese sandwich

I definitely plan on going back to Irving Farms and next time, I will be sure to bring studying materials with me. It is definitely the perfect place to study during exams if you are looking for a calming atmosphere that isn’t too crowded (the exact opposite of Butler). I also look forward to trying another one of their many other locations in Manhattan. I would recommend this coffee shop to anyone looking for good coffee and/or food as well as students looking for a nice spot to study.

Tiny Temptations: Baked by Melissa

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, I decided to go with my friend, Victoria, to find and devour some delicious cupcakes. We took the 1 train down to 86th Street and walked to By the Way Bakery, a gluten and dairy free bakery with excellent Yelp reviews. Unfortunately, they did not have any cupcakes, even though there were photos of cupcakes on their Yelp page. So I decided to go to a nearby bakery famous for its delectable mini cupcakes: Baked by Melissa.

When I walked into the store (after longingly examining the Christmas trees for sale right outside the door), I noticed that the inside was very plain and modern. There were no tables or chairs, and the room itself was completely undecorated. It was like the Apple store of cupcake shops. But while the store itself was lacking in color, the cupcakes were certainly bright and fun to look at. Having had Baked by Melissa once before in my life, I knew the cupcakes would be little, but I forgot just how tiny they are. Each cupcake couldn’t have been more than an inch and a half in diameter. Furthermore, one cupcake costs $1, which is definitely not a bargain. I decided to buy six cupcakes for Victoria and me. The flavors we chose were cookie dough, chocolate chip pancake, cinnamon bun, mint cookie, sugar cookie cheesecake, and triple chocolate fudge.

The display case.
The display case.

The cookie dough cupcake is a yellow cake with cookie dough in the middle, chocolate frosting, and even more cookie dough on top. This cupcake had a wonderful texture; the cake and the cookie dough were very moist, and the chocolate chips added nice variation to the softness of the cupcake. In addition to having excellent texture, the cupcake had an intense and delicious cookie dough flavor, especially for such a tiny cupcake. Overall, they nailed this cupcake!

The cookie dough cupcake.
The cookie dough cupcake.

The chocolate chip pancake cupcake is a yellow pancake cake with chocolate chips throughout, topped with maple syrup frosting and even more chocolate chips. As a pancake aficionado, I was really intrigued by the idea of turning a pancake into a cupcake. I found that the cupcake did resemble a pancake, but it definitely didn’t taste identical to one, which was a slight disappointment (to be fair, it was an ambitious goal). The cupcake itself was quite sweet, perhaps even too sweet, but it still tasted good.

The chocolate chip pancake cupcake.
The chocolate chip pancake cupcake.

The cinnamon bun cupcake (part of their winter collection) is a cinnamon bun cake filled with vanilla glaze, topped with cinnamon frosting and a white chocolate drizzle. Unlike the pancake cupcake, this cupcake tasted exactly like the breakfast food it was trying to emulate. The soft cake, delicious glaze, and cinnamon frosting combined perfectly to mimic the experience of eating a cinnamon roll. My only wish is that the cupcake had a bit more cinnamon in it, as I love a strong cinnamon punch, but otherwise this beautiful cupcake was excellent.

The cinnamon bun cupcake.
The cinnamon bun cupcake.

The mint cookie cupcake is a mint cake with a fudge filling, mint cookies and cream frosting, mint cookie butter, and green drizzle on top. The first thing I observed about this cupcake is that it is a bold green color, which I thought was playful. Victoria and I thought the flavor of the cupcake was lacking in mint, but the cupcake was still satisfying and had a nice crunchy element.

The mint cookie cupcake.
The mint cookie cupcake.

The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake (part of their winter collection) is a vanilla cake with a cheesecake filling, topped with sugar cookie frosting, and red and green nonpareil brittle. This cupcake certainly looked festive, with the red and green decorations on top. The flavor itself was a bit strange: we came to the conclusion that it tasted like a sugar cookie, vanilla cupcake, and bread combined. But the texture of the cupcake was wonderfully creamy. Overall, it was a solid cupcake, albeit a little unusual.

The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake.
The sugar cookie cheesecake cupcake.

Of course, I saved the chocolate cupcake for last. The triple chocolate fudge cupcake is a chocolate cake with a fudge filling, topped with chocolate frosting, and a chocolate cookie crumble. The moment I bit into this cupcake, I knew that I made the right decision to eat this one last. It was without a doubt one of the best bites of a cupcake I’ve ever had. It was rich, bitter, and decadent – everything a chocolate lover wants in a cupcake. In a small dose, it was absolutely incredible, though perhaps it would be too much if it were a normal sized cupcakes. This cupcake was the perfect finale to my cupcake-eating adventure.

The triple chocolate fudge cupcake.
The triple chocolate fudge cupcake.

Baked by Melissa has their baking down to a science. Each cupcake was moist and complex. My only complaint is that a few of their cupcakes – mainly the cinnamon bun cupcake and the mint cookie cupcake – could have used a bit more flavor, as a mini cupcake should be packed with flavor to make up for its diminutive size. Baked by Melissa is certainly one of the most expensive cupcake places I’ve been to, so don’t go there expecting to leave with a full stomach unless you have $20 to spend. But on those days where you need to treat yourself, you can’t go wrong with Baked by Melissa.

Nearest Location: 2325 Broadway, New York, NY

Hours: Monday through Thursday – 9am to 10pm, Friday – 9am to 11pm, Saturday – 10am to 11pm, Sunday – 10am to 10pm

La Maison du Macaron

Emerging from the 23rd Station on the 1 line, I found myself in an unfamiliar area of Manhattan, one currently dominated by scaffolding and construction.  Yet amid all that, the twinkling window lights and cursive lettering advertising La Maison du Macaron stood out clearly, even from the opposite side of the street.   Upon entering, my eye was immediately drawn to the macaron display case, showcasing at least 20 different flavors.  This is the brightest rainbow of macarons that I have ever seen, from traditional flavors like chocolate and raspberry to more unique ones like apple cider and mango.

The vibrant macarons
The vibrant macarons

After taking in the abundance of macaron options, my gaze moved to the front of the store, decorated with lavender accents and elegant detailing.  The quaint, delicate nature of the entrance and display cases is juxtaposed with the cozy sitting area in the back of the store, full of mismatched leather couches and wooden tables and accented by exposed brick walls.  This fusion of styles creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, perfect for doing work, meeting with friends, or just relaxing with a macaron or a pastry.

Lavender accents and other pastry options
Lavender accents and other pastry options

Before eating my macarons, I wanted to try something slightly more substantial, so I decided on the friand, which is almost like a small tart of croissant dough, enclosing ham, melted cheese, and béchamel sauce.  It is like a Croque Monsieur but with a light, buttery exterior that melts in your mouth.  My lunch was presented to me on a silver tray, and I promptly devoured it within minutes.

My friand, with the backdrop of leather couches
My friand, with the backdrop of leather couches

After lunch, it was finally time for my favorite part of the afternoon: picking out and tasting macarons.  Although there were many box sizes (in purple and gold), I opted for the less expensive option of a clear box for 6 macarons (still not cheap at $17). After much deliberation I selected: caramel flour du sel, almond, vanilla, raspberry, passionfruit, and pink champagne.

My final selections (along with the chic bag I carried them home in)
My final selections (along with the chic bag I carried them home in)

In terms of aesthetics, I loved the pink champagne macaron the most, with its hot pink interior and gold-dusted exterior.  But in terms of flavor, my favorite would have to be the almond, which surprised me.  Usually the more decadent flavors (like passionfruit or caramel) tend to be my favorites, but the subtle sweetness and smooth texture of the almond captured my attention this time around.

Next time I visit, I will definitely bring along a book or some work to do in order to extend my time in this cozy atmosphere – and to provide an excuse to eat more macarons.

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.