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.

EmailShare

Say Hello to Fresh Meals

This lamb is so undercooked, it’s following Mary to school,” yells Gordon Ramsay in an episode of MasterChef U.S. His method of mentoring aspiring chefs and young cooks is a little too harsh and overbearing for my taste. Yet he often describes the process of cooking as an act of passion, and his passion comes through in his work and attitude.

In contrast, cooking had not been an area of interest for me up until recently. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is a great cook and whipped up several inspiring meals for me for as long as I lived at home. From the creamy tomato-potato soup I had every day during the brutal Delhi winters, to the Rajma Chawal[1] I craved while eating food that tasted like cardboard in boarding school in Rajasthan, to the weekly Penne alla Vodka I miss every time I have to mix boiled pasta and a bland sauce on my plate in John Jay. But none of that pushed me to explore my own skill in the kitchen or experiment with ingredients.

I watched season after season of MasterChef (I recommend the Australian version over the U.S one), stumbled upon interesting shows on TLC and had a general interest in hanging out in the kitchen whenever I got bored at home. But nah, none of it made me want to cook for myself. Point is, there was enough inspiration for someone who was looking to get inspired. I am addicted to cooking shows when I can afford to be, and I could spend hours describing balance in food and sampling texture of dishes with the right person. I mean who doesn’t want to describe a PB&J sandwich as a puréed nut spread with a grape relish reduction paired with a brioche bun?

The inspiration I’d been looking for came recently when I heard about services in New York that send you a box of pre-packaged and measured ingredients, a recipe card illustrated with pictures, and detailed instructions on how to cook. They deliver right to your door. Maybe the idea of shopping for endless ingredients and spending so much time preparing and planning a full-fledged meal (on top of my never-ending to-do list) deterred me from trying my hand at cooking. We can go with that version or we can just cut the crap and jump to a project that single-handedly pulled me out of my cocoon of sheer cooking laziness.

I mean can you really blame me for getting excited about a package that promises neatly organized fresh ingredients with a detailed guide to healthy and hassle-free cooking? It sounds like the Christmas gift from Santa I never got. I might be digressing. You can blame Bublé’s Winter Wonderland that just started playing on my Spotify or my growing excitement for a charming upcoming holiday season. Stay tuned, I will be sharing my experiences of cooking out of a box in my future posts. We can collectively decide if these services really deliver what they promise (or if Santa’s gift sucked this year).

In store for the following week: Say hello to Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh say hello back. I just did this for the fun of making you say hello five times.

[1] Indian rice and beans

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.

Soup for the Soul

On November 12th, the world celebrates Chicken Soup for the Soul Day.

Okay, well probably not most of the world. It’s a little-known holiday (though it does exist)! But especially with a rough past couple of days – from surprise election results to the expected-as-usual chilly weather – we could all use some chicken soup today.

Chicken soup is one of the easiest things to make ever, and is something I ate a lot my first few weeks of university. There’s something about it, be it chicken-flavored ramen or your mom’s homemade stuff, that can warm your soul all on its own. If you’ve got a kitchen, the steps are simple:

  1. Buy chicken and vegetables
  2. Boil it all in a pot*

However, most of us either a) do not have a kitchen, b) lack motivation to cook a pot of soup, or c) tried to cut corners and just had ramen but feel it lacks soul.

For everyone this applies to (which let’s be honest, is all of us at some point), here’s a handy list:

WHERE TO FIND SOUP AND SOUL IN NYC

1. Jin Ramen

img_2541

The Harlem Jin Ramen is hidden just behind the 125th St. stop on the 1 – and every bit worth seeking out. Help yourself to a hearty bowl of delicious soup or donburi – the delicious rice bowls that are only $7 for a [HUGE] small size. Close to campus and just…yum. It warms you to the core.

Though it tends to be crowded on Friday and Saturday evenings in particular, go for an early lunch and you’ll have no wait at all.

2. With a friend and chicken ramen

img_2743

Leaving your room/suite/apartment is hard; being hungry and alone is harder. Solve the dilemma – invite a friend! Stock up on cheap soup cups right now to make sure you’re prepared for this situation!

3. Sylvia’s

img_2542

Sure, it takes twenty minutes to get there – but you’ll make up for burned calories as soon as you walk into this Harlem soul food staple. Defined by its friendly staff and delicious fried chicken, it also features unlimited free cornbread.

Yes. That does say unlimited free cornbread.

4. Alone in your room, with a blanket

img_1899-copy

Sometimes, your own soul is enough. Light a Christmas-y smelling candle, curl up in a comforter, and maybe just order soup from Seamless. Jin Ramen without the wait.

Stay warm inside and out!

*For a bit more in-depth chicken soup recipe, check out this from the Food Network’s Tyler Florence!

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.

img_3843
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.

img_3842
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.

20161103_221440

20161103_214103
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. 

 

20161103_213718
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.

20161103_213913
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.

bobbyflay4

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

Fort Washington Greenmarket

Location: 175th and Broadway

Directions from Columbia

Travel Time from Columbia: 20 min

Hours: Tuesdays- 8am to 4pm, June through November 22nd

Produce Quality: 4.5/5

Prices: 6/5

The Fort Washington Greenmarket is a good option for the local foodie interested in moving a little off of the beaten path. This isn’t a farmers market to visit for your first farmers market, but if you know what you’re looking for and come with a shopping list and some basic Spanish in hand, you can find organic, locally grown produce fresher than a lot of the more upscale, downtown markets at much more student-friendly prices.

For those of you who are already preparing to skip to the bottom of this article because you’re put off by the location, please reconsider. The market is far closer than most other options and is actually only blocks from the Columbia University Medical Center. The trip is a 13 minute subway ride on the 1 followed by an 8 minute walk down the thriving center of Broadway where you can pick up supplemental produce from street vendors.

The market itself is a bright mix of food and clothing stalls hawking paisley shirts, thick knitwear and long scarves for the coming chilly weather, and there is an energetic atmosphere that probably stems from it not being a weekend market. Among the food stalls, there are noticeable absences of the customary honey and bakery stalls and there isn’t a drum circle in sight. Instead, the produce is laid out efficiently, vegetables as well as unidentifiable roots, berries, and fruits. If you cook using unusual ingredients and are wondering where to find them, many of them are hidden here among larger crates of the customary apples and oranges. Some of the fruit does have scarring or small blemishes, but it’s not noticeably different from the offerings in our local Morton Williams. After some sight seeing, I walked away pleased with a grocery bag of pomegranates and avocados that I will leave to slowly ripe.

Absolutely come if you…

. . . are interested in great food, great prices and a convenient location

. . . don’t like having your morning ruined  by a vaguely cult-like drum circle in the midst of your market

. . . are searching for the perfect persimmon

. . . listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights without ever having been to Washington Heights

. . . are considering expanding your scarf collection

Huge avocados for $1.50, ten cent limes, and a bustling morning in NYC.
The market stalls from a distance. Notice that about half the market is conveniently devoted to stalls selling pashmina and silk scarves.
My haul for today: two avocados and three beautiful pomegranates for when the weather gets colder. Total: $6

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.

1train

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.

img_0486

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