Tag Archives: chelsea

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.

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Cheap Eats NYC: How to keep your date (and wallet) happy

As learned from the women of Sex and the City, dating in New York City can be rough. It’s even rougher when you’re a college student, living on a college student budget. If your parents are anything like mine, they are reluctant to give you much “food money” because of the amount they’re already spending on your meal plan. With that being said, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country doesn’t help much either. No one wants to blow his or her entire weekly allowance on a first date. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for “wining and dining.”

Don’t worry, though, there is hope! Believe it or not, nice date spots that won’t break the bank exist. So, in an effort to ensure that you don’t disappoint your date and get to see them again, I’ve compiled a list of tasty (cheap!) spots.

CREAMLINE NYC in Chelsea Market

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Chelsea Market is an experience in and of itself.  Inside its brick walls lie dozens of restaurants and shops. One of which, is the all-American restaurant, Creamline.  From peanut butter/jelly/banana sandwiches to grilled cheese fingers to fried oreos, Creamline NYC satisfies all of our childhood cravings.  Follow dinner with a walk on the High Line, which is right to the market. Trust me, you’ll need to walk off this meal.

P.S. DO NOT skip the malted milkshake. Worth every calorie.

Click for their menu. 

MIMI CHENG’S DUMPLINGS in the lower East

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http://www.mimichengs.com/gallery/

Treat yourself, and your date, to some mouthwatering dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s. My personal fave is the steamed ‘Reinvented Classic’ dumpling, made with pork and baby bok choy. The laid back environment is the perfect place to bring someone you’re just starting to get to know. For dessert, order the caramel apple pie dumplings- they are a must-have!!

Click for their menu. 

S’MAC in the East Village

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S’Mac, aka Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese, is basically every mac and cheese lover’s dream come true. They offer specialty mac and cheeses and made-to-order mac and cheeses. For me, the best option is the build your own mac and cheese. With 15 cheeses, 4 herbs, 12 veggies/condiments, and 6 proteins to choose from, there is something for everyone. It’ll be hard for your date not to be satisfied.  And, if you’re “of age,” follow dinner with drinks at one of the quirky bars that the East Village has to offer.

Click for their menu. 

Gaia Italian Cafe in the Lower East Side

http://www.gaiaitaliancafe.com/Some-photos.html
http://www.gaiaitaliancafe.com/Some-photos.html

As long as Gaia exists, there’s no need to spend $25 on a plate of pasta at some fancy Italian restaurant. This little hole in the wall serves up prime Italian food with rich flavors. My personal favorite is the spinach and ricotta gnocchi; it’s the perfect consistency! They also do daily pasta specials, which keeps things interesting (hopefully like your date).

Warning: they do close relatively early and fills up quickly, so plan ahead, and make a reservation!!

Click for their menu.

Happy eating, and happy dating!!

All About the Culture: Tremendous Tapas at Toro

On April 12, 2009, I ate at Toro for the first time. It was Easter, and my family was in South Boston, and my mom had seen it as we drove by. Six years later, and I have met and interviewed Chef Jamie Bissonnette, cooked with a chef who used to work at Toro, and eaten at Toro many, many more times.

Now, a confession: I haven’t actually eaten at Toro NYC (though I have been to the space), Chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s latest venture (an offshoot of the original Boston Toro). However, most of the dishes are similar, and I trust these two chefs enough to recommend the New York location. I trust Pete Wells, too, who reviewed Toro NYC for the New York Times and wrote “I can’t remember what we were eating at Toro, the new tapas restaurant in far western Chelsea, when one of the people at my table looked up in wonder….But I remember his smile and his question: ‘How can a place this big have food this good?’”

Wells is right. The food is damn good. When I talked to Bissonnette, he remarked that he thought “good art” (in terms of food) was if someone returned from Toro saying “Oh my god, the food at Toro was so good; I ate too much.”

What he didn’t know is that this has happened every time I’ve gone to Toro. Bissonnette and Oringer have a touch for these Spanish-inspired tapas that is just brilliant. The combinations of flavors showcased on Toro’s instagrams, both Boston and NY, are just brilliant: schnitzel with Serrano, idizabel, mustard, and pea greens. Whipped foie butter with tangerine and chestnut mostarda. The DTF.

Bissonnette also mentioned that a restaurant wasn’t just about the food; “It’s about the dining room, it’s about the culture.” Toro has drawn crowds from its opening night in New York, bringing a young, lively, hip group of eaters to the former Nabisco factory in Chelsea. And while it may be all about the culture, in his mind, it’s all about the food in mine.

I like to think I know a fair amount about food—and I do. But talking to Jamie Bissonnette, it became clear how much I have to learn. I left the Toro NYC space—which is gorgeous—feeling like I knew nothing about food. It wasn’t as if Chef Bissonnette had made me feel stupid; in fact, quite the opposite. However, the way he pulled extremely specific examples—at one point, he cited a “stew of chickpeas, chorizo, and blood sausage” as if that was everyone’s go-to example—from thin air showed a level of expertise with food I can only hope to achieve someday. And it is this expertise which allows him to create such incredible combinations of food, and hire chefs and cooks who will as well.

The food is also incredibly colorful and photogenic. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. My mind is blown every time I eat there. Here are some of my favorites, all offered at Toro NYC:

Hamburguesas - Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion
Hamburguesas – Grass fed mini burgers with smoked tomato, aioli and pickled red onion

Oh, these are so good. Small enough so that you don’t get tired. The aioli, tomato, and pickled onion are incredible complements.

Atun Crudo - Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado
Atun Crudo – Yellowfin tuna with white soy, spicy cucumbers, citrus and avocado

Another classic. Sometimes the citrus is yuzu, sometimes it’s lemon, but it’s always good.

Tartar de Atun - Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like
Tartar de Atun – Tuna tartare with stuff that we really like

I can never tell exactly what the “stuff” is, but they’re right to like it.

Pato Con Albaricoque - Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze
Pato Con Albaricoque – Smoked duck drumettes with apricot mustard glaze

Sweet, tender, duck-y (duck is my favorite poultry) these were just amazing.

Boquerones - Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil
Boquerones – Marinated‎ white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil

I’m usually not even a fan of anchovies, so I’m not sure why we ordered these.

I am now a fan of anchovies. These were not fishy or bony, and the spices complemented the fish perfectly.

Patatas Bravas - Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce
Patatas Bravas – Fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce

You can’t go wrong with fried potatoes, and even for fried potatoes these are really, really good.

Jamon de Pato - Aged duck ham
Jamon de Pato – Aged duck ham

I’ve never heard of duck ham. This is just plain great.

When I went over spring break, I had one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve eaten in a while: Asado de Huesos; roasted bone marrow, served with oxtail marmalade and toast, with citruses and radishes. At Toro NYC they make this with beef cheek instead of oxtail.

Asado De Huesos - Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade
Asado De Huesos – Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade

That is just art, both visually and gustatorily.

Chef Bissonnette, Chef Oringer: I don’t know how you do it. But what I do know is this: at your restaurants, you make good art.

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Toro:  

85 10th Ave; (212) 691-2360

Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: Hamburguesas, asado de huesos, patatas bravas

Price Range: $$

Hours: 5:30-11 Mon-Wed; 5:30-12 Thurs-Sat; closed Sunday

Reservations: OpenTable

Affordable Eats at Chelsea Market

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The colder weather is not making life easy for this aspiring street food blogger, but thankfully there are indoor markets, such as the Chelsea Market on 15th and 9th Avenue, which is the focus of this post. Chelsea Market, according to Wikipedia, is located in the building that used to house the National Biscuit Company, which incidentally, invented the Oreo cookie, which can only be a good thing.

I visited Chelsea Market two years ago in the summer of 2012, just as the hipster movement was becoming mainstream. I remember being very taken in by the grungy, underground feel of the place, with it being a former factory and all. I was very much looking forward to pay another visit to the place and see what had changed and what didn’t. Also, having the benefit of having more disposable income the second time around, I was hoping to try more food than I did the last time.

The first thing you notice when you enter is that the Market is actually a lot smaller than you would think. There is a walkway from the entrance at 9th Av, that leads through the building. When you exit at 10th Avenue, there are restaurants, shops and bars on both sides. I decided I had to check out this European bakery, called Amy’s Bread, where I laid eyes on a Ham and Swiss quiche. They say that real men don’t eat quiche, but that’s not true. Everybody eats quiche, real men admit they do. When I was in Nice, France in April this year I was having one for breakfast every day for the three days I was there, from this little bakery on the corner of the road, with a very nice French lady eager to speak to us in English.

Ham and Swiss quiche
Ham and Swiss quiche

The ham and swiss quiche looked promising and it did certainly smell good when served up. While I liked the filling, I felt that the pastry to filling ratio was a little too high for me, and, the bottom of the quiche was a little burnt, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the filling was good.

I then wandered into this seafood hall called the Lobster Place, a brightly-lit, ridiculously crowded place stocked with the freshest looking seafood and a very tempting sushi bar. As I entered I saw Japanese tourists carrying plates of the largest, reddest looking lobsters I had ever seen – and boy did they look good. Unfortunately, I do not have THAT much disposable income, so I settled for a chowder, which was supposed to be quite good. I was going to go for the classic New England clam chowder, but I saw a scallop and bacon and a lobster bisque option. I went for the scallop and bacon, and I was really glad with that choice. The chowder was so flavorful – salty with the sea and enriched by a glorious bacon back note. I would highly recommend doing that if you’re on a budget, or perhaps try the lobster bisque that I saw other folks making a beeline for.

Scallop and bacon chowder
Scallop and bacon chowder

Lastly, I decided I needed a burger to wash it all down, and went to Friedman’s Lunch for a takeaway burger. A proper beef burger with fries would be the best way to end the day. I had the Friedman’s burger, medium rare, which was cooked to perfection. Many times you don’t get a perfectly cooked burger, dark and caramelized on the outside, soft and pink inside, but Friedman’s did it just right. You’re allowed other toppings as well: lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, cheese, mushrooms and avocado. I settled for the veggies, Swiss cheese and bacon (again), which I believe you can’t go wrong with anyway. The fries were very well-cooked, but I had too much to eat by then that I unfortunately couldn’t finish them all. If I were to be critical, I would say the patty needed a good twist of seasoning, which was a shame, because the actual cooking of the patty was spot on and the buns perfectly toasted. But, hey, everyone’s a critic.

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Burger from Friedman’s Lunch was well made.

Perhaps I don’t sound too enthusiastic about Chelsea Market, which is true, because Chelsea Market left me pining for London’s famous Borough Market, which I miss greatly, with its cooked food and produce stands run by people from all over the world. Chelsea Market is not too expensive, and dishes out quite decent grub, but lacks a certain market vibe – it feels more like a decked-out hipster food hall than a bona fide market, and I admit I am being harsh here. I guess it’s an expectations problem. What impressed me at Chelsea Market, though, were the grocery shops, specifically BuonItalia and the Manhattan Fruit Exchange. BuonItalia especially was great, selling every type of pasta you could imagine and lots of types of cheese and other Italian goodies, for reasonable prices as well. Definitely worth a trip just to take a look at what they have available. Also impressive, coffee from ninth street espresso, which was aromatic, full, proper coffee that, at $2.50, was a decent price for your standard pour.

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What Chelsea Market does well though, is reflect what New York is. They’ve fit a mind-boggling, almost overwhelming array of shops and variety of cuisines in what is a very small area. You can get almost anything you might want here, everything will seem expensive, but if you look hard enough you could find a good deal. There will be hits and misses, bored-looking hipsters, tourists in New Balance sneakers and mums with kids in tow, it will be hustle and bustle but if you take your time to scratch beneath the surface you just might unearth some gems.

 

A Middle Eastern Gem, just a trip down the 1 train away.

If you have a case of the Sundays, don’t worry–Melina’s got just the place for you.  Take a ride on the 1 train down to Chelsea and experience another part of the city and try to forget that Monday’s tomorrow.  Melina makes it quite easy.

In the heart of Chelsea lies an eatery that offers an innovative approach to Middle-Eastern cuisine.

Ilili is not a hole in the wall. Far from it. But for much of the Columbia University community, everything south of 42nd street might as well be hidden. For those of you who have been hoping to make a journey sometime soon to the highly raved about “downtown,” Ilili is a great starting point.

The two-story restaurant radiates a trendy, young urban professional vibe and still manages to retain a traditional Lebanese culture. If you are only in the mood for drinks and appetizers, the downstairs lounge area offers inviting ottomans.

There is a famous Greek proverb that goes a little something like this: “A restaurant is only as good as its bread.” Okay, it is not a proverb. But I am Greek, and I wholeheartedly believe the aforementioned statement. It suggests that one could already predict the quality of the entire menu upon tasting the warm pita at Ilili. The bread, steaming with freshness, disappears fast. After the pile is gone, a server comes back with more in record time. Magical. Ordering a few dips is a must, since they complement the pita bread so nicely. The “Mouhamara” molasses dip has walnut and pomegranate bits inside. The hummus comes in several different flavors. You can choose the plain one, which will not disappoint, but the jalapeño version has a nice and spicy kick. Continue reading A Middle Eastern Gem, just a trip down the 1 train away.

Eleven Spontaneous Courses

Pork chops with olive and fennel

Covering for Rachel’s post, Kierstin is another new blogger who’s going to be talking about ice cream recipes and whatever else tickles her fancy.  Kierstin brings us through the magic of a multi-course meal at the Institute for Culinary Education.  Adventure is out there!

I admit: along with the flu, Friday classes, and dark alleyways, spontaneity is something I typically prefer to avoid. Don’t get me wrong– I love adventures, big challenges, new pursuits. But I also love to plan for them.

Yet, I made an exception this past Saturday night. Though I had planned to stay around campus that evening, I was nowhere near campus when evening came. Instead, due to a couple coincidental cancellations and one very fortunate connection (i.e. my friend Catherine), I found myself in an industrial-sized kitchen in Chelsea, at an Institute for Culinary Education recreational cooking class.

Upon arriving, I learned I would be there for four and a half hours, our class of fifteen students collectively making and eating eleven different traditional Tuscan recipes. After surveying our recipe booklets, Catherine and I exchanged glances that said, “this is impossible.” After safety briefings and introductions, we had only two hours before the “buffet” was scheduled. Two hours to cook eleven dishes? The task seemed all the more unrealistic given that some students had little experience cooking at all; some had only come because their wives dragged them along.

At the same time, of course, the challenge was exciting.  The deadline, the high quality appliances, the white aprons– I felt like I was in a real restaurant kitchen…

Continue reading Eleven Spontaneous Courses