Friday, March 27, 2009

Great Find: Baked By Melissa Miniature Cupcakes

I was minding my own business, shopping in Soho today, when I pass a line of more than dozen people all leading up to a little window in a wall. I get closer and realized this closet-sized establishment is called Baked by Melissa (on Spring Street between Mercer and Broadway), and their sole fare is miniature cupcakes, as you can see.So although I've already bought macarons from Ceci-Cela, I stand in line. I know all of you would want me to report back. The line doesn't move very quickly, as it turns out, because the girl who works the window has to climb up on a stepladder and retrieve each mini-cupcake from racks stacked to the ceiling behind her. What a work out.

The question those of us in line had was how small are these things and how many should I buy? The minimum purchase is 3 for $3. Then it's 6 for $5.25 and 12 for $10. I decided on the dozen, so I could try all the flavors I wanted to, and have leftovers for City Guy.Of the seven flavors, I tried five (skipped the Tie-dye and Peanut Butter & Jelly), and let me tell you, as I type, I am experiencing a truly great sugar high. The answer to the burning question in line is illustrated below. That's the red velvet sitting next to a soup spoon. I'd say four or five of these things make one regular size cupcake. As a snack for one person, the three is perfect. For two people, the six is good, but if you're hungry go for the 12. The genius of the thing is the cake to frosting ratio, which is very high, as you can see. All of the cupcakes except the Tye-dye and Red Velvet have injections of filling into the middle. The cake is very moist and blends well with the flavorful frosting, and someone has obviously put a lot of thought into how to evoke the quintessential flavors of each cupcake--the s'mores have the graham cracker bit stuck in the middle, the peanut butter cup has a strong peanut buttery frosting, sticky cookie dough is injected into the middle of and tops off the cookie dough cupcake, the red velvet has a white cream cheese frosting that evokes homemade, the cookies and cream has Oreo bits on the top and the white frosting tastes like Oreo filling.

My favorites were the S'mores (check out the graham cracker bit laced with marshmallows in the chocolate ganache frosting) and the Cookie Dough (the yellow cupcake to its right, both injected and topped with a dollop of cookie dough), but they're all good.Someone who works in the area says the window is only a few weeks old. In case you're wondering where they fit the oven in the crawl space of a store, the girl at the window says the bakery is in a separate location downstairs. You can also order in bulk (100+), but you have to order in advance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Great Find: Momofuku Milk Bar

Let me just say Momofuku Milk Bar isn't technically a "find" - every foodie in town knows about it, and well, it' s been on my list since it opened, but on this blog, if I try it and I like it, it's filed under "Great Find." So you already know how I feel about the place. Went there last night with Book Babe. Whenever she and I get together, we talk writing, books, Gossip Girl, our dysfunctional families...and we eat, dinner and dessert always, in separate places.

Last night, we concentrated our efforts in the village. Dinner at Soba-ya--I had the kitsune soba, my go-to dish, which comes with a side of two inari sushi. Not mind-blowing soba, but tasty nonetheless and friendly, fast service. Our entire dinner took a record 45 minutes. I always enjoy my meals there.

Afterwards, we took a stroll in the cold up to 2nd Ave and 13th to go to David Chang's sweet heaven. First impressions--good vibe. The entrance is actually around the corner on 13th, not on 2nd, but you can see everything going on in the place b/c of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Last night, the crowd was downtown couples, hipsters, Asian foodies, and Momofuku Ssam reservation holders (the ones wearing the ties) standing around, eating out of cardboard containers.(where the neon "milk" sign is is a hallway that links the bakery to ssam--don't even have to go outside; very clever)
Between the two of us, we had:
  • Pork Buns: slices of pork belly cradled in Chinese buns; very tasty, although the roast pork at Big Wong's still can't be beat (2 for $9)
  • Cereal milk: let cornflakes sit in milk until soggy; strain and serve in soda cup, and you have a hit on your hands; I admire the creative effort, but this was just too weird for me; then again, I'm not crazy about cereal, unlike the people standing nearby, who seem to be enjoying the cones of cereal milk frozen yogurt, one fruit loop flavored ($4/cup)
  • Composte cookie: this chocolate chip cookie supposedly contains potato chips, pretzels and other stuff in it; the cookie retains the crunch of the chips - I had thought they were cornflakes, but cornflakes were on the brain, b/c of the above; good texture, crispy on the edges with a chewy center peak, just how I liked my cookies, but very rich ($1.75 each)
  • Candy Bar pie: this thing called to Book Babe from the display case - topped with chocolate covered pretzels, in the cut view, you can see the chocolate crust, peanut butter filling, caramel oozing out the sides and topped with a layer of hard chocolate; what a Reeses would be if it grew up and moved to NYC ($5/slice)
  • Key Lime cake: the surprise winner of the night; took a slice home for City Guy, who likes fruity desserts. With competition from all the above, I have a feeling the key lime cake gets overlooked here. The girl who packed it up for me hadn't even tried it. But I tried a bite when City Guy was enjoying it later and wow - this is amazing cake - the cake layer is flavorful, but not too fluffy or dense; sour cream frosting and a surprising layer of crispy graham crumbs and a base of graham crackers ($5/slice)
Really fun little spot and I definitely want to go back. Glad to say for once, the food has lived up to the hype. What looked good for next time: crack pie, dulce de leche cake, cinnamon bun pie and blueberry cream cookie.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This NY Moment: Dinner for No Special Reason at Park Avenue Winter

Now This is Winter
City Guy surprised me by taking me to dinner at Park Avenue Winter on Saturday night. There's nothing like getting dressed up and going to a nice restaurant for no particular reason.When we arrived for our 6:30 reservation, the restaurant was still bathed in the warm light of the setting sun, and I struck by how peaceful and beautiful the space was. AvroKo, the celebrated design firm, responsible for making the restaurant over every season, really captured the best things about winter in their 2009 space, with soft grey fur on the wall, matching fur lined throw pillows on leather banquettes, bare branches in glass vases, gossamer white curtains, snakeskin place mats on wooden tables. These photos taken with my camera do not do the space justice.

Almost Perfect Meal
After taking our drink orders, the server came over with an amuse bouche of a potato fritter topped with a dollop of lemon creme fraiche. Crunchy on the outside, moist and warm on the inside. A great beginning. Then came a bread basket with brioche bun, walnut/raisin, pumpkin loaf and flat bread. The first two were very flavorful; the flat bread too hard.

I started with the cured lemon caesar salad; City Guy with the sweet bay scallops appetizer off the special menu. Both superb. The caesar salad had a tart dressing I really enjoyed; the scallops had been seared and covered in a sweet cream sauce--so soft and delicious, they melted in your mouth.

For my main course, I had the miso glazed lobster with clam chowder beurre blanc. The server brings you the split lobster then pours the beurre blanc over the lobster. You can use the toasted mini-baguette to sop up more of the sauce. It also comes with a small onion and arugula salad. This was by far the highlight of the night. Sweet, salty, tender, delicious.

I would highly recommend the potato latkes--crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, served with two kinds of sauces--one was a rosemary sauce; the other, which was tangier, like a yogurt, was my favorite.

Sorry to say, City Guy's filet mignon over braised short rib was dry and flavorless, the nadir of the meal, if you will. Braised short ribs should be moist and the muscle fibers falling off the fork, but this had a consistency closer to pulled pork. Oh well. Perfection is a rare thing.

For dessert, we had to try the Chocolate cube--a box of hard chocolate filled with chocolate mousse with pieces of what I was told was fruit cake (though I didn't taste the fruit ), served with a side of ancho chill chocolate sorbet (okay, not great). If you're a chocoholic like me, you'll enjoy this sugar high. If not, you might find it too sweet. City Guy wished he had ordered the apple pie in a box.

Over the course of the night, the lights were dimmed, and couples and quads of Upper East siders, many of them over fifty and wearing jackets (which surprised us since the restaurant was recently on Gossip Girl), filled very corner of the dining room. The service was okay--not the best or the worst in town--a bit cold--but it did grow more negligent as the room filled. After our main course, it took our server a very long time before checking with us for our dessert order and later, to bring us our check. As Downtowners, we did feel a little out of place, but sometimes it's fun to be a tourist in your own town.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On My Mind: It's Officially Spring!

Dreaming of a White Easter?
What was up with the snow flurries this morning? But wait! That's a question a newbie would ask. I, on the other hand, have learned that there is always a snow storm in NYC the second or third week of March...I think there was one in April a couple years back, though I can't be sure. Just saying - snow during spring ain't no big thing.

If you're new to NYC, you think, "Spring equinox! Yay. Time to shake out the spring dresses and pack away the wool. Time for long walks in the park!" Well, hold your lambskin a few weeks. I don't know about you, but I was still wearing my winter coat yesterday...and my hat and gloves. The weather will be in the 50's and even lower in the evenings for a while.

Blink and You'll Miss It
Spring, like fall, in NYC is a fleeting, wonderful, almost imagined experience. It lasts for maybe a week, and if you're not paying attention, you'll have missed it, finding yourself on the other side of hot and humid. But if you're stopping to smell the roses, or in this case, tulips, courtesy of the Department of Parks and Recreation, you'll enjoy observing the entire city waking from its winter doldrums.

Spring Wishlist?
Another difference between NYC and LA--in LA, I didn't shop for the seasons. Here, the beginning of spring means thoughts of shopping. But who can afford it? If I had to prioritize, this is what I'm eyeing this spring:
  • The perfect raincoat. Last spring/summer was a wet one. Rain on me once, shame on me; rain on me twice, I want to look cute
  • Colorful statement accessories...especially earrings, hats and shoes. I'm getting kinda sick of black, tans and greys, though somehow, in winter, they seem very chic
  • The perfect cardigan. A little secret about myself - I'd rather be hot than cold. Which is why I hate being caught without the right outerwear when: a> the a/c is blasting in some store that I stepped into to escape the heat, b> a cold front is moving in and I'm in line for bbq or c> the sun has set and I'm people watching at a sidewalk cafe. For several seasons, I had the perfect lightweight white cardigan, but then the ultra delicate fabric turned dingy, so now I'm in the market for a new perfect cardigan--an impossible task, but wish me luck.
What are you looking forward to this spring?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This NY Moment: Shop Windows on 19th St

This week was apparently Barbie's 50th birthday. Loved Kristin Wiig's Barbie impression on SNL's Weekend Update! Did you catch it?

Anyhow, mannequin maker Adel Rootstein had an exhibit of life-sized Barbie mannequins in her showroom window this week. Sorry you can't see the Barbie in this photo. I didn't have a polarizing lense with me. But hope you get the idea.

Right next door I saw this cute lingerie store called Sugar Cookies - what a great name! Didn't have a chance to stop in because I was on my way to an appointment, but thought I'd share.

NYC Birthday: Daniel

City Guy took me to dinner at Daniel Boulud's four star restaurant, Daniel, on my birthday. So did you guess right? The restaurant was recently renovated and is really stunning inside. I felt a little cheezy snapping shots of my food on my birthday and at such an upscale establishment, but I did sneak in a shot of the beautiful light fixtures with my cell phone camera:
We had the six course tasting menu. We figured, hey, let's splurge - don't know when and if we'll ever be back. And boy were we stuffed by night's end. City Guy and I ordered different things so we could try everything, and I'd have to say my favorites were:
  • Maine Peekytoe Crab with really yummy hearts of palm
  • Beaufort Ravioli with peppercorn, black trumpet and ham
  • Black sea bass with syrah reduction
They showered us with desserts at the end of the meal, including a special birthday cake with a candle in it, the tasting menu desserts, fresh baked madeleines and petit fours.

All in all a really enjoyable night. How did it compare to Le Bernardin (last year's b-day spot)? Well, I'm a seafood lover, so I think I'll have to give the edge to Le Bernardin. But the ambiance at Daniel is truly stunning - one of the most lavish and romantic in the city - so what can I say? I love that we have an embarassment of riches when it comes to food in this city.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NYC Birthday: This Was Dessert

After my kalbi lunch, I decided to treat myself to a birthday dessert and sought out the Crumbs Cupcake Shop I knew had opened recently in the Financial District (I always get excited when new food destinations open in the FiDi). I have to confess that I was late to the party on the Crumbs Cupcake thing. I know it's been a "thing" in NYC for years now, but this was my first time. And boy was it hard to find!

On Google Maps, the address was listed as 67 Wall, but the shop entrance is actually on a less trafficked part of Beaver St, right around the corner, so I kept missing it. I had to ask a couple people before finding it. See how small the storefront is? Easy to miss. Inside, my mind spun with the vast selection of sugary sweets. I was a good girl and bought a single Oreo cupcake, though in retrospect the Hostess (which looks like a giant Hostess cupcake) or the chocolatey Blackout might have been better picks. I took my giant cupcake home and stuck a candle in it and made a birthday wish. Then I ate the whole thing. I'm an Oreo lover, so I was expecting an Oreo taste explosion, but not so much. The Oreo cupcake is just a chocolate cupcake with Oreo frosting and two Oreo stuck in the top, as pictured above. It wasn't as good as I had hoped, and I probably won't have it again. Also, the cupcake was so big! I'm not sure how I feel about that much cupcake in one sitting.

But I feel trying a new dessert place in NYC is never a lost cause, no matter how underwhelming the product. Maybe I didn't pick the right flavor. In any case, it was nice to have a moment to myself to wish myself a happy year ahead. Thanks again to all of you who left birthday wishes for me! They really made me feel less alone and happy on my birthday.

NYC Birthday: Kalbi Lunch Box at Seh Ja Meh

Seh Ja Meh is my neighborhood Korean restaurant, right next to Trinity Boxing on Greenwich St, just north of Rector St and west of Wall St. Filled with bankers at lunch time. Wait staff is not the friendliest. But the kalbi is really really good. It was what I was craving today, so I treated myself.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On My Mind: NYC Birthday

Come to think of it, this isn't a great city for a Pisces...
Guess who's got a birthday coming up? Yes indeed. Your favorite Girl Next Door Piscean. For those of you unfamiliar with the Piscean personality, a quick search of "Pisces" on Google produces the following:
pros: creative, artistic, poet, dreamer, sympathetic, compassionate, intuitive, sensitive, selfless, kind, old soul, emotional
cons: escapist, idealistic, weak-willed, secretive, vague, daydreamer, passive, melancholic
Sound like me? Should someone fitting the above description live in NYC? You be the judge.

I don't know how much I believe in astrology. I used to read Susan Miller's Astrology Zone to give me that extra push every month (Ah! The new moon promises a financial windfall - got to be on the look out for that). But I grew disillusioned when they consistently got things wrong (No financial windfall. The wind, however, did knock me off my feet...?), but I still leave room for doubt. I got my chart done once, and it was uncannily specific and accurate.

It's No Party
Anyhow, I've always had trouble with birthdays. I think I'll know that I really feel at home in NYC when I have the guts to throw a big birthday party.

I guess I don't quite trust that my friends in the city would show up. Horrible thing to say, but people disappoint all the time, and I just don't know which of my friends in the City would drop everything to have dinner with me on my birthday. Funny thing, I had dinner with another Piscean, Book Babe, recently, and she admitted the same fear of being the birthday girl with no birthday guests. I think my nostalgia for LA is partly to do with my nostalgia for my friendships there--I had great parties then.

One Perfect Day
So, what will I do? Well, City Guy always makes it special. :) Roses, cakes, present, fancy schmancy dinner--the works. He always gets me a cake from Black Hound Bakery (my favorite, the Choc Choc Mousse Heart Cake is pictured above). This year, he's taking me to one of Frank Bruni's four star restaurants - not saying which until I blog about it after the fact, but there's only five (and he took me to Le Bernardin last year), so your odds are 1 in 4.

My birthday falls on a Tuesday, and City Guy will be at work for most of the day, so how will I spend the day? Last year, my birthday fell on a Monday - crappy day for a birthday - but I had a lovely day. I planned it all out. I wanted to relax and indulge all my senses, so I got a massage at Oasis Day Spa, treated myself to a warm chocolate chip cookie at Jacques Torres, bought myself a small gift of a fragrant Tocca candle ("Stella" was the scent) from Bigelow Chemists and ate lunch in K-town at one of my favorite down-home Korean restaurants.

I'm not sure what I'll do this year. Maybe a repeat of last year? I feel less hopeful and less solvent this year, so I don't know, but I do know this--I've got to get out of my apartment. With the snow days and the freezing temperatures, you know I've been hunkered down a lot lately.

Birthday Wish
In any case, dear reader, you can make one of my birthday wishes come true by leaving a birthday wish or a simple "hey hey hey" for me on the comments thread for this post. I hardly ever get comments--is that because I'm writing this blog anonymously? Or some other reason--so that would really make my day. If I don't get any comments, I'll know a> no one read this post, b> everyone who reads my blog is shy or c> it's a good thing I didn't throw that party.