Tag Archives: upper east side

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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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!

Beyoglu: Istanbul, a Short Walk from the Met

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the city is to visit the Met and then walk over to 3rd avenue and 81st St. to Beyoglu, a restaurant that serves traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern fare. Beyoglu is the name of a beautiful district in the European side of Istanbul, written about extensively by Orhan Pamuk, Columbia professor of comparative literature, in his award-winning novels, including The Museum of Innocence and My Name is Red. You walk in to Beyoglu on the Upper East Side, and it is as if you were in the lively Istiklal Street in Istanbul. There is a feeling of tradition, but also a comforting informality.

Mezze and Turkish bread
Mezze and Turkish bread

The first thing my friends and I look forward to when visiting Beyoglu is the bread. The BREAD! It is soft and on the inside and coated with a salty, crispy crust. Unlike what you would expect at a Middle Eastern restaurant, this is not pita bread. I actually prefer having mezze with this bread than with traditional pita bread. Mezze are shared small-plate appetizers served with bread in many Middle Eastern and Balkan countries, usually in the form of a dip.

We ordered three small-plates: cacik, cucuk, and patlican salatasi. Cacik is a cross between yoghurt and cheese, known in other Middle Eastern countries as labne. I personally prefer the Turkish cacik to other versions of this mezze because it is creamy, silky, and not very salty – resembling the American cream cheese, but mixed with cucumbers, which adds freshness to a dip that might otherwise be too rich and dense.

Cucuk is a type of spicy sausage found in Turkey and the Levant region. At Beyoglu, the sausages are served with fried potato cubes. Normally, these potatoes are very good, but last time I visited, my friends and I that the potatoes were very bland. This was a disappointment, because the crispy, salty potatoes pair up really well with the spicy, meaty sausages.

The last mezze we ordered was the patlican salatsi, a mashed up eggplant salad that is delicious scooped with a piece of bread. The salad is earthy, as roasted eggplant should be, but it has a nice tangy kick to it that makes me want to have the whole plate for myself.

When it came to the main dish, I was almost too full to even order anything, but I caved when I saw the waiter carrying some plates of kebab over to the table next to us. I decided to order the Iskender kebab. This dish consists of slices of lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, the Turkish cousin of the Greek gyro. The meat is served over crunchy croutons, the very same ones you would have in a caesar salad, but coated with a delicious warm tomato sauce. The whole dish is then topped with a large dollop of fresh yoghurt. The sauce and croutons make a perfect flavor combo: sweet tomatoes, tangy yoghurt, and salty crouton. The meat itself is very tender and filling. I am usually afraid of ordering this kind of kebab anywhere else since, more often than not, it comes out tough and almost gelatinous, which is not pleasant at all.

So, whenever you are at the Met on a beautiful day, you should take a beautiful walk along the fancy townhouses of the Upper East Side and treat yourself to delicious comforting Turkish food.

Restaurant Confidential: First Installment

The eggplant appetizer at Amali

It’s time I write this down, in hopes of making sense of it: I’m a declared pre-med neuroscience major. I have two years to take three years’ worth of classes (I jumped on the pre-med bandwagon a little late). I could have easily taken some courses this summer to lighten my load. I could have taken a clinical internship or worked in a lab to amp up my resumé. But no. I’m working at a restaurant. By choice.

It may be one of the least practical and yet best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m a firm believer, after all, in the concept of summer vacation. The whole idea of “break” tends to intimidate Ivy-Leaguers. “Break” feels like we’re erring from our destined path. It’s the one thing we don’t do well, but also the thing that would perhaps make us even more successful if we were more open to it. Breaks are healthy for the mind (a fully developed neuroscientist could prove it, but to be honest I’m just not on that level yet).

The point is, I’m taking a break from pursuing my scientific life goals for the summer, and I’m extremely okay with that. I’m exploring something that has always fascinated me; something that I will perhaps never have another opportunity to explore: the NYC restaurant world. I’m interning at Amali, a Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper East Side that prides itself on delicious farm-to-table cuisine, local and organic sourcing, and giving back to the community. It has been chosen as an NYT critic’s pick, raved about in Wine Spectator, and named one of the “Top 100 Greek Restaurants” by the National Herald. To say I’m proud to work there would be an Olympus-sized understatement.

Owner James Mallios is my direct supervisor. He’s been called a “Greek Tony Soprano”—an eerily accurate description. Following him around has been an eye-opener in many ways. Most importantly, I’ve learned that owning a restaurant is a ridiculous amount of work. No, really—a ridiculous amount. I’ve learned that behind every cool-and-collected wait staff is a to-do list longer than the menu itself and a memory bank of every loyal customer’s favorite bottle of wine. I’ve learned that behind every polite “hello-gentlemen-how-are-you-this-evening?” is a whole lot of nerves and stress. I’ve learned that the restaurant world is basically show business. Or, to give it its own genre (which it certainly deserves), reality show business.

There are the daily tasks before and after meal service—cleaning and setting and resetting tables, moving tables upstairs and downstairs for private events and parties, making coffee, folding napkins, bleaching the counters, polishing silverware, washing the windows. The staff groups up and eats a meal before the dinner service. They are quizzed on the evening’s specials, and get to taste them if the dish or the server is new. They are informed of any VIPs who will be visiting the restaurant that night (on the UES, there are many). They are assigned to certain sections of the restaurant, and anticipate the arrival of their first guest.

When I’m not taking part in all this, I’m assigned other miscellaneous tasks: running errands around the city, emailing back and forth with event coordinators, trying to keep track of an ever-changing inventory, reorganizing the wine cellar (also a never-ending task), writing grants to build a rooftop garden, writing a dinner invitation from Amali to Michele Obama (a long shot, we realize), responding to nice (and nasty) Yelp reviews, updating online menus. There is always something that needs to be done. Though Amali is only open from 12-3 and 5-10, there is always someone at the restaurant working on something—even in the wee hours of the morning. Work is far from over after the last customer goes home. Actually, serving customers is a small percentage of a restaurant staff’s overall work.

I’ve also learned to be a hostess and a back waiter (the one who isn’t your server, but who might bring your food to your table), and I’ve just trained to be a server. There was also one occasion on which I bartended for a party of UES socialites. More on this feat next time.

I’ve tried almost every dish at Amali. My favorites so far are the eggplant appetizer, the lamb ribs, and of course the ricotta doughnuts for dessert. I’ve memorized most every dish’s preparation, ingredients, and presentation. I’ve come to love just watching the chefs work. It is truly a dance. The more chaotic the kitchen, it seems, the more perfect its final products. Even more amazing is the unwavering calm of chef Nilton “Junior” Borges, “a soft-spoken Afro-Brazilian with an easy laugh.” A million things are happening at any given moment, and somehow Junior is at peace. This is why he is a chef.

Just like the cast of a Broadway show, the staff at Amali is a family. We joke and tease, but we all have one common goal: making Amali successful. While other restaurants’ employees may begrudge going to work, Amali’s are happy to be there. It is, after all, a beautiful space run by hard-working, funny, close-knit leaders who do in fact deserve to be wildly successful.

Most importantly, I’m having fun. I come home exhausted, but “good exhausted,” ready for another day—and another show.