Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sprinkles is, sadly, delicious

The other day, I made my way to the new NYC location of Sprinkles to check out the competition. I'd actually had a Sprinkles cupcake once before, flown across country by a coworker who had visited LA. It was a red velvet, and it was okay, but granted it was a few days old at that point.

This time, I would have a fresh-as-a-daisy specimen and see what all the fuss was truly about. The Sprinkles store itself is bright, clean, airy, and sort of disorganized. Sure, the cupcakes are all orderly and very attractively presented, but there's no real line-- just some people milling about at the counter. Then you place your order, the person writes it along with your name on a pad and rips off a little slip, then someone takes the slip, fills the order, and puts the order and the slip on a back counter. Then the cashier picks up the bag and the slip, calls your name, and summons you to the register to pay. It's one of those systems that probably works really well when it's absurdly busy, but given that I was the only one ordering at the time and was standing at the counter the whole time, it was about 10 steps too many and sort of silly. Also worth noting is that the cash register is hidden in a tall podium, so to pay you sort of slip around the side where the employees enter and exit; there's a trash can there but no counter or place to set a bag or wallet while you're paying. That seems like a bizarre oversight to me.

My cupcake booty

All right, enough. You want to know about the cupcake, right? Right. I chose a black and white cupcake, chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and tiny square chocolate sprinkles decorating the top. And, much as I'd love to slam Sprinkles as terrible and overrated and all that, it was pretty darn delicious. The cake was strikingly chocolatey as well as notably moist, with a springy crumb that held moisture well. The frosting-- and there was quite a bit of it-- was the perfect mixture of buttery and sweet (erring on the sugary side, as you know I like), and the little chocolate sprinkles added some textural contrast as well as more chocolate flavor.

And it's pretty, too


So, sadly, this was one of the better cupcakes I've ever had. And while it's not cheap--$3.50 a pop!-- it's pretty big as well. Sprinkles, you win this round...

780 Lexington Avenue, between 60th and 61st Streets

Monday, June 20, 2011

A foray into ice cream bars

A while back, courtesy of the lovely folks at Foodbuzz, I received a coupon to try the new Magnum ice cream bars making their debut in the U.S. Once they showed up in my local Food Emporium's freezer case, I redeemed the coupon and shoved the bars in the freezer. And then kinda forgot about them.

But last week, on one of those blistering hot days, I popped one open and set to work. Here's what it looks like:

Wrapped in gold...


And here's the first bite:

You can kinda make out the layers there

Whoa. This thing is powerful. I chose the caramel version, which is filled with vanilla bean ice cream, which is enrobed in a thin layer of chocolate, and then a slightly thicker layer of caramel, and then a much thicker layer of chocolate. In case you missed it, that means there are TWO layers of chocolate on that there bar.

How does it taste? It's very rich. The ice cream, while probably pretty rich on its own, is completely eclipsed by the chocolate and caramel. The caramel is sweet and slightly gooey; the exterior shell of chocolate is smooth and delicious. Curiously, the only part of the bar that didn't quite do it for me was the interior layer of chocolate; it tasted like a different kind from the outer shell, and it had a bit of a mockolate-y aftertaste for me. I actually think if they'd done away with the interior chocolate layer and just gone ice cream-caramel-chocolate it would have been a more balanced confection. But overall, this was one delicious indulgence. And if you want to enjoy it, don't look at the calorie count. Trust me.

Magnum ice cream bars. Available in grocery stores.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

L'arte del Gelato comes to the rescue

You may have read about a certain dessert debacle at a certain parents' anniversary dinner at a certain "Kitchen" in Soho. Well, clearly something had to be done; I couldn't end my evening on such a disappointing note. So after the last bite had been eaten and our time at the restaurant was up, I set out with the parents for a walk into the West Village. The destination: gelato. Any gelato.

We first stopped into Cones, but the long line and "one flavor per small" policy made it a no-go. So around the corner we went to L'arte del Gelato, which was the winner.

I really wanted the olive oil gelato, and there was a label for olive oil in the case-- joy!! But when I got to the front of the line, the scooper told me they had run out of some flavors and hadn't changed the labels. This, of course, included the desired olive oil. Disappointing. I tried tastes of nutella and what was described as "cookies"; both, strangely, had weird textures and odd flavors (like freezer burn?). And due to the two-sample-per-person limit, I couldn't vet any other flavors before I dug in. Ah well; I gambled with a small cup of half hazelnut, half peanut, and fortunately it was successful.


They were both pleasantly nutty, with smooth textures and no distracting chunks or bits of nuts. While it may not have been the best gelato I have ever had, it satisfied and left me happy in the way that certain Kitchen's ice cream most certainly did not.

L'arte del Gelato

75 Seventh Avenue South

Monday, June 13, 2011

David Burke Kitchen delights... until dessert

Last week marked my parents' 38th wedding anniversary (!!!), so to celebrate, we all went out to dinner at David Burke Kitchen in Soho. I'd heard good things about the new outpost of David Burke's empire, particularly about the desserts, so I was excited.

Despite the fact that it was empty when we arrived (literally-- we were the first group to be seated that evening, which is always awkward), the space is quite nice. It's subterranean but still full of light, bright and whimsically decorated.

We started off with a bottle of prosecco to toast the parents' achievements (the wine list skews quite pricy, so budget accordingly). This went well with the bread course, which offered a choice of sourdough, multigrain, or olive walnut bread-- as much as you could eat throughout the meal, courtesy of an obliging bread man. The olive bread was luxuriously studded with enormous olives and was delicious with the soft, spreadable butter. My only gripe was that they only provided one tiny dish of butter for the table of five (maybe two tablespoons total)-- upon request more arrived, of course, but still.

LOVE olive bread!

Then came the appetizers. Mom and Dad both ordered the market salad, which we'll get to later. The bro went for the lobster soup, which came first as a bowl of just the included lobster dumplings and associated garnishes. As the maitre d' placed the bowl on the table, he asked the bro if he'd like more soup; "Sure, a little more," D responded in slight confusion. Of course, then the soup was poured tableside from a teapot-looking contraption, the plan all along. Mad props to DBKitchen for punking my brother. Culinarily punking.

Ashton, is that you?

While the appetizers were appreciated, the entrees were even more successful. Mom went for a soft-shell crab special, which the waiter offered to prepare in an entree portion (it was designed as an appetizer). As a lover of soft-shell crabs, she loved this preparation, which is visually bizarre yet kind of cool.

Tentacles everywhere

Dad and LM went for the pork chop, a huge Flintstones chop crowned with a couple of gargantuan onion rings. I took a bite of LM's onion ring, and it was exemplary-- fluffily battered yet still sweet and toothsome. They both really enjoyed the pork chop, though they noted it was a bit on the fatty side. LM also ordered a well-received and visually quite pretty side order of basil whipped potatoes.

Crowning onion rings

Purty potatoes

The bro went for the short rib, which got crowned with a dollop of truffle cream tableside (guess he was all about the tableside preparations that night, eh?). Along with the accompanying cavatelli and wild mushrooms, the bro pronounced the shortribs perhaps "the best plate of food he's ever had." Cheers to that!


My choice was the same market salad Mom and Dad had had as an app. I got mine sans bacon, but it was still plenty interesting. It was a huge tangle of lightly dressed greens crowned with some translucently-thin shavings of what seemed to be pear; in the mix were roasted walnuts, caramelized dices of some sort of root vegetable (could easily have been potato or turnip), and a few large hunks of aged goat cheese. This was one of the more interestingly composed salads I've encountered-- a fine and satisfying balance of textures and flavors, and quite filling to boot.

Highly recommended

So the meal seemed to be on an upward trajectory, and given the raves I've heard about the desserts, I couldn't wait for the final showdown: dessert. We were all quite full at this point, so only Mom and LM got a real dessert (the chocolate caramel fudge cake), while I got an assortment of three of their ice creams.

The fudge cake went over well; it was pretty much just as you'd expect from the photo: chocolatey, cakey, pretty to look at. It got the job done.

Chocolate cake

But my ice creams-- for shame! This was, without a doubt, the worst ice cream I've ever had. And if you read this blog regularly, you'll know how much ice cream I eat and how much I love ice creams and frozen treats of all kinds. All three flavors here-- vanilla, cajeta (goat's milk caramel), and chocolate-- were atrocious. Icy, thin, flavorless, not rich at all: it tasted like eating ice with a bit of skim milk poured over it. The texture was all wrong. The flavor was all wrong. I took a couple bites, and once I realized what was going on, I did the unthinkable: I stopped. Not sure if this is sad or not, but this is the first and only time I've ever stopped eating a dessert a few bites in because it was terrible and simply not worth the calories (even at Scarpetta, when I should have stopped, I didn't.) It's just such a puzzler, because it's not difficult to make delicious ice cream, and if you can't, just order it from any of the many fantastic companies that deliver to restaurants (Il Laboratorio del Gelato, anyone?). Also, on a completely separate note, it's a little disappointing for an ice cream dessert preparation at an upscale restaurant to come with no garnishes or fun add-ons (whipped cream, cookie garnishes, anything); given that the ice cream was so vile it didn't matter, but had it been delicious the three small shot glasses of plain ice cream still would have been somewhat disappointing.


Anyway, dessert screed over. Aside from that, the rest of the evening was pitch-perfect-- food was delicious, space enjoyable, and service prompt and friendly and everything you could ask for. In the right context and with a much improved ice cream service, DBKitchen could be pushing five spatulas. As it was, it landed at a low four, providing a memorably delicious evening to most of the party and unfortunately only truly disappointing the reviewer.

David Burke Kitchen
23 Grand Street at 6th Avenue

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Otto satisfies once again

The challenge: a venue for dinner with AS and his girlfriend, during which I would cast judgment on whether she was good enough for one of my oldest friends. Harsh, harsh judgment. (Spoiler: She is. By a long shot.) The place needed to be fun, not too expensive, upbeat, non-threatening, and most importantly, offer Otto's olive oil gelato for dessert. What's that? The only option would then, obviously, be Otto? Roger that. A reservation was made, and we arrived to dine.

The traditional paper-wrapped wedge of bread and tiny Italian breadsticks were offered, though we had to request olive oil for the bread. And then, a reasonable time after we placed our order, came the entrees.

For me, the escarole and sunchoke salad. This was a sprightly and surprisingly filling salad, thanks to its sprinkled cheese and ample handfuls of crushed marcona almonds. The escarole and sunchokes were bland but crunchy, serving mostly as vehicles for the lemony vinaigrette. This is a quintessential spring salad, perfect for a blistering hot day.

Pastel salad

And then came the pizza. For delightful couple, one pepperoni pizza and one quattro stagioni pizza. Both were received with raves and exclamations.

Good 'roni coverage

Artichokes, mushrooms, swiss chard, cotto.

Then came what we were there for: dessert! I've been having weird cravings for the olive oil gelato, and as such it's been on my do-before-I-leave-NYC list. Welp, consider that checked off. The two ladies at the table went for the gelato: for me, olive oil, hazelnut stracciatella, and caramel; for S, olive oil, hazelnut stracciatella, and milk chocolate chip. The caramel, the only flavor I hadn't tried before, was pleasantly bitter and a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the other flavors. The olive oil was just as intriguingly herbacious as ever, and the hazelnut stracciatella was mild and alluring. Unlike the in-yo'-face hazelnut flavor that most gelatos go for, this one is demure, letting the crunch of the chocolate offset the pleasing nuttiness. Delightful all around.

Caramel on the left

Milk chocolate chip on the left

Oh, and AS got an affogatto. 'Cause he's classy like that.

I mean, dainty, but classy

Otto is the perfect restaurant for this kind of occasion-- casual but incredibly delicious, not too expensive but high quality. And the gelato is out of this world. If you're one of the four remaining people in NYC who haven't tried it, go. And get the olive oil gelato. Even if it sounds repulsive, you won't regret it, I promise.

One Fifth Avenue, at Eighth Street

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hola, Patron

Remember Flavor? The martini bar whose arrival I announced last November? Well, it was open for approximately a week and a half, and then it closed. Whenever I walked past it, even when it was ostensibly "open," the grate was down. I'm not sure I ever saw anybody in there. It's been closed for good for a while now.


So it wasn't a surprise when I walked past earlier this week and a brand new awning was up. Welcome, Patron Mexican Grill! If your cartoonishly bright primary color scheme doesn't get people in the door, nothing will. Best of luck in what is perhaps a cursed space (four-plus restaurants/bars in the four years I've been here...).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lunch at the Plaaaaazahhhhh

Friday marked (drumroll please) my last official day at Billy's Bakery before I leave for business school in July. So to celebrate, my coworkers MB and CC and I met for lunch at the Plaza's downstairs food court.

If you've never been, the space is really cool-- it kind of reminds me of Harrod's food halls in a way. There are different "stations" around the room, all intermixed with seating; you're seated anywhere and can order from any of the vast number of options populating the menu. Pizza? Sushi? Raw bar? Tater tots? You got it. Usually such a melange of different foods in one place spells disaster, but here it actually works.

MB and CC shared three dishes, starting with the prosciutto and fig pizza, about which they raved. It has a very thin crust, charred in places, but if you like that style this will be right up your alley.

Translucent pig

Also a favorite was the mac & cheese, complete with pulled pork, caramelized onion, and gobs of melted cheddar. It came in a whimsical cast-iron pan and looked alluringly cheesy. Though this was positioned as a side, it's more than enough for a shareable appetizer or even a small individual meal.

A whole meal. Of food.

Less successful were the chicken dumplings, which were reported to be bland. They were also, curiously, not served with any dipping sauce; rather, there was a tiny squirt of pesto decorating the plate (not sure if that's supposed to be for dipping or just for garnish). They did, however, come with a complimentary dish of super-spicy kimchi on the side.

Pretty, though

Mmm, spicy

My choice-- don't laugh-- was strawberries. And darn it if these weren't some of the best strawberries I've ever had. They were ENORMOUS but rather than being the flavorless, mealy kind of enormous strawberries, they were fragrant, juicy, and succulently strawberry-y. Plus it was quite a generous portion.

Superlative strawberries

We were also graciously comped a sampling of the desserts, which (being three employees of a bakery) we demolished. I loved the red velvet cake, particularly the admirably tangy and thick cream cheese frosting. MB and CC preferred the extra-chocolatey chocolate torte. The apple tart was somewhat less successful, although I did eat all the beautiful apples off the top, so who can complain?

Decadently delicious

Dark and mysterious?

Like a tiled roof, that is

It was a lovely lunch to cap off an amazing experience at the bakery. Though I'm excited for my next step, I'm definitely sorry to go!

Plaza Food Hall
Plaza Hotel
One W. 59th Street, Concourse Level