Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 2

The City Bakery

"You have to try the hot chocolate at the City Bakery," my friend said, "I can never finish it."

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Now, granted that he has his hot chocolates with marshmallows, but I still thought that was a pretty poor showing. I, for one, had no trouble finishing my hot chocolates on two occasions.

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The City Bakery is a popular cafe specialising in viennoiseries and brews, although apparently they also do salads, soups and other health foods.

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The best thing about the place, however, is the thick, luscious hot chocolate made from the molten, lava-like melted chocolate that is just poetry in motion. In general the Americans treat hot chocolate with a lot more decency than the British, but even so most of the time it's sickeningly sweet and rather insipid - a few squeezes of Ghiradelli's chocolate syrup and hot milk.

While the City Bakery's version is still a bit sweeter than I prefer, the richness of their chocolate broth makes up for it, and for the ultimate morning drink, you can even ask for marshmallows, and see if you can finish it.

The City Bakery
3 West 18th Street
Union Square, NY 10011
Tel: 212 366 1414

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

More for the novelty than anything else, I went to try some ice cream in Chinatown.

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What makes ice cream in Chinatown special? Apart from the fact that after a big dimsum lunch you really just want some ice cream, there is the fact that the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has some really unusual flavours; everything from mango and lychee, to egg tart.

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The egg tart ice cream tasted more like cream than egg tart, though there was a hint of custard. In the end, I had two scoops of lychee and mango, which, while authentically fruity, were not particularly spectacular.

But, if you're in New York, chances are you'll be in Chinatown at some point, and where else would you get Zen Butter ice cream?

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street, Chinatown
New York, NY 10013
Tel: 212 608 4170

Serendipity 3

Still on the subject of ice creams and desserts, I was watching Oprah one day (I swear, there was nothing else on; it's not like I'm not a regular fan), and she decided to feature the best frozen hot chocolate in New York City.

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I didn't actually remember the name of the place, but I do remember her raving about the concoction, and serving it free to all her studio audience, who were filmed looking suitably enthused (though I bet they were really wishing for a free car).

It wasn't until my friend suggested Serendipity 3 for dessert, that I saw a picture of their trademark frozen hot chocolate and was reminded that I've been wanting to try it for ages.

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On first appearances, however, Serendipity 3 is pretty bizarre. It's decorated with all manner of kitsch and queer ornaments, from odd-looking lampshades to positively creepy dolls and mannequins.

Still, I'm not here for the decor, and the first thing one notices is that Serendipity 3 operates a "minimum order" policy, at a price such that every person has to order one frozen hot chocolate (or something equivalent in price).

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I generally think minimum order policies are a tax on people's choices, as we were pretty much obliged to order a slice of Devil's Food cake. Unfortunately I don't think this policy is going to change in the near future, so if you do go make sure you either have a big appetite or a fat wallet. Preferably both.

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The next things one notices is that the frozen hot chocolate is huge, and is what most Singaporeans would more naturally call an 'ice blended'. Served in a massive bowl with an enormous spiral of whipped cream, the behemoth is definitely large enough for two people to share, or maybe it was the effect of the cake, which was also rather large.

Having said that, both chocolatey treats were delicious, and Serendipity 3 is a great place to come when you're in that quirky mood that only copious quantities of chocolate can satisfy. Beware though, that the place can get incredibly crowded on weekends, and they do not take reservations.

Serendipity 3
225 East 60th Street
Between 2nd and 3rd Avenues
NY 10022
Tel: 212 838 3531


I met up with some friends of my parents, who were kind enough to take me out to dinner at one of their favourite restaurants, Morandi.

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The owner of Morandi, Keith McNally, has actually opened two other restaurants prior to this one: Pastis and Balthazar. The most ironic thing is that despite Pastis and Balthazar being French restaurants, and Morandi Italian, there is nothing Continental about Keith McNally, leading one reviewer to compare his restaurants to theme parks, with European cuisines as the themes.

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It's true that Morandi has all the (deliberate) trappings of a rustic Italian trattoria, with exposed brick pillars, fairly chintzy lamps and wine that comes in carafes with wicker-bottoms. However, it's also true that McNally is clearly doing something right: all three of his restaurants are wildly popular.

This may have something to do with the fact that he squeezes an uncomfortable number of people into his restaurants, though, as Morandi becomes somewhat deafening and claustrophobic once it fills up.

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My hosts were incredibly generous; ordering a surfeit of starters and pastas, in addition to our individual main courses. One that stood out in particular was the burrata with arugula, garnished with cherry tomatoes and olives. Rich, creamy, yet sublime, the burrata was fantastic, as were the sweet little cherry tomatoes.

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The bucatini with pecorino and black pepper was similarly excellent; al dente and plain, but not boring, allowing you to isolate the various flavours, from the salty cheese, the spicy pepper and the smooth, silkily unctuous strands of pasta.

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The calamari alla griglia, or grilled squid salad with peppers, capers and olives, was competent, with the squid turgid without being rubbery, but apart from that I didn't think the dish was spectacular.

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The hand-rolled spaghetti with lemon and parmesan, however, was somewhat overcooked, resulting in slightly soggy noodles, and in any case I felt the combination of parmesan and what was, in effect, lemon juice, didn't work very well with the pasta.

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After that prodigious amount of antipasti, I really should've known better than to have ordered the weekend special, but still I went ahead with the abbacchio, or roasted lamb. I tried my best to get through an enormous portion of spring lamb served with roasted potatoes, but there was really no chance. To be fair, the lamb was pretty tasty, though I thought serving a quarter rack, unchined, would have been a challenge for anyone without a chainsaw.

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Other sizeable carnivorous servings include the roasted veal chop with prosciutto and fontina cheese, as well as chicken, pork and bistecca (for two).

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Of course, what stomach-bursting dinner would be complete without dessert? The panna cotta here is similarly large, served with honey, plums and grappa. Unfortunately, it also came with nuts, that I am extremely averse to, and that rather spoilt it for me.

211 Waverly Place
NY 10014
Tel: 212 627 7575

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