22 April 2011

Wet in NYC: Part 1

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to plan our most recent trip to NYC around. My first inkling was a burger tour, three great NYC burgers in one day, but as my idea developed and the Mrs. added her input, the goal developed into a reaffirmation of NYC favorites. It’s tough to put my Micro stamp of approval on a dish that I’ve only sampled once, you understand? So, I moved forward with that idea in mind.

As a travelling food blogger, sometimes one chance is all I have. Luckily NYC is only a (relatively) short bus ride away, so I planned accordingly. Our first planned stop was actually an insistence on behalf of my wife and her unstoppable rebel force of a sweettooth. But as we emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel, the idea of a piping hot cup of coffee to accompany our cookies popped into our heads. While, yes, there is a Starbucks literally right across the street from where Megabus drops us off at 7th Ave and 28th Street, I insisted we make the short 3 block walk to Stumptown Coffee in the lobby of the Ace Hotel.

I ordered my standard medium soy latte and my wife opted for the Mocha. Our friend K went with a cup of English Breakfast. My latte art was the usual heart shape, or a mean case of the green (or in this case brown) apple splatters, but my wife’s was a very cool looking flower (sorry for not getting a picture, I only saw it in passing.)

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With our hands warming from the sides of our coffee cups we made our way back to the subway and snagged the train (I was VERY pissed to find out that they no longer offer unlimited day-passes… WTF?) to the UWS and our first planned stop: Levain Bakery.

Welp, the plan was to drink coffee with our cookies, but mine was gone before we boarded the train. I don’t know theres just something about soy foam that I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF. It’s funny because foam is one of the last things on earth I thought I would be obsessed with, but it’s just that good. I always drink my lattes with a straw so I can imbibe equal parts foam and coffee. What’s the point of ordering a latte if when you’re done all the foam is sitting in the bottom of the cup? Don’t knock it till you try it! My latte was just as delicious as I remembered it, but the Mrs. didn’t think the mocha quite lived up to the one she was truly craving at Roasting Plant in the West Village. I actually thought it was quite interesting, not tasting of the sweet mocha syrup, but tasting of real true cocoa powder.

While doing my research I’d read that there are a few other items to check out besides the jumbo cookies. The Chocolate-Stuffed Sourdough and the Chocolate Chip Brioche were front and center and they both looked heavenly, especially the brioche. But with burgers dancing in my head I refrained from over-indulging (we had quite the day planned!) and just ordered one chocolate chip walnut cookie to share, and two to take home (only one actually made it, but more on that later.) K bellied up to the counter and placed one hell of an order, I don’t remember the specifics, but she walked away with 6 or 7 cookies in total. She apparently had a soup kitchen to feed back home.

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I had previously deemed this my favorite cookie, and after a third tasting, I can’t quite say it retained it’s crown. It might be that my tastes have changed (that seems to always be the case with me, hate it one day, love it the next), but my wife agreed that it just wasn’t as good as last time. For me, what I really missed was chewiness, which this cookie completely lacks. There is a slightly crusty/crumbly outer shell containing a gooey center of straight raw cookie dough.

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The chocolate chips are melty and awesome, but the walnuts were chopped much more finely, and while they could still be tasted, I missed the large nutty chunks. It’s a goddamn great cookie, don’t get me wrong, but chewiness has become a crucial quality in my perfect cookie, and Levain left me wanting more. As we walked on to our next destination, I couldn’t help but think of the supremely chewy gooey decadent The Situation Dark that my brother and I had the pleasure of sampling from Dessert Club Chikalicious. As we left I noticed a couple sitting on the bench out front enjoying two very sexy Chocolate Chip Brioches. I yearned.

At this point we had some time to kill before we made it back down to the West Village for brunch, and once K pointed out she’d never seen Central Park we headed in that direction. We skirted the Western edge, stopping a few times to snap a few photos…

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…and to pet the fattest Pug I’d ever seen. We made it all the way down to Columbus Circle and caught the train down to Christopher St – Sheridan Square. Brunch service at the Spotted Pig starts not a minute before 11am, and when we arrived we were happy to find only a few couples standing outside. The strange part was there were people dining inside. We asked what was going on and apparently if you know the right people, you get in early. Bah! They redeemed themselves however when they let us all in to stand in the waiting area to get us out of the brisk morning air. I was relieved when after telling the host we were a party of three he immediately lead us upstairs to a corner booth by a window. We weren’t crammed into the small round tables downstairs and we had natural light, score!

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I asked our waiter if I could sample the Six Point Cask Conditioned Chocolate Rye Porter and was very pleased with it. It had a surprisingly light body, with a very persistent head, a fine carbonation and went down so smooth.

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There was no sweetness whatsoever, a hint of chocolate, and a bucketful of rye goodness, and was served at the perfect slightly cool temperature. I was lucky that the Mrs. ordered the other drink I had my eye on, the bloody mary, which the Spotted Pig is known for.

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The best BM (hehe) I’d had in a while, it was rimmed with salt (and pepper?) and garnished with two supremely briny Kalmata olives. Again, it drank very smooth, even though there were visible chunks of freshly grated horseradish floating around in the glass. If we didn’t have such a long day of eating and drinking ahead of us I would’ve lingered and drank one or two myself. One to our orders, I ordered the burger medium rare, my wife ordered the Dutch Baby with house cured bacon and maple syrup, and K, being a huge fan of ricotta (more on that later) went with the Prosciutto & Ricotta Tart with marjoram.

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Well was I 0/2 you ask? Yes, actually I was. The burger simply wasn’t as good as the last time I had it, and therefore I could no longer label it as the best burger I’d ever had. If you want all the reasons why I loved this burger the first time I had it, please click me. Firstly, the fries were not quite as crispy as last time, and they were just a touch thicker. We all still really loved them, especially combined with the ample amounts of rosemary and slivers of roasted garlic. Combine that with a healthy dose of Maille French Dijon, and you’ve got yourself some damn fine fries. Onto the burger, there were two major faults that threw off the perfect balance it achieved last time.

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Firstly, the bun seemed almost over-buttered, weighing down the burger and making it entirely too rich and heavy. The bun also seemed to have an unpleasant cottony texture which I didn’t care for at all.

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Secondly the cheese was extremely salty. I think my sensitivity to salt is due to my semi-recent diet change, but this simply couldn’t be ignored. No, unfortunately this is no longer my favorite burger. What is? I have no idea.

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The Dutch Baby didn’t fare much better. House cured bacon, eh? Welp, it may have been good, had they cooked it right. This bacon was flaccid and fatty, the only crispness being at the very edge. Had it been nice and crispy it would’ve provided some much needed textural contrast. She said she was expecting a more substantial pastry, something akin to a pancake, and so her overall assessment of the dish was that it wasn’t substantial enough to justify the $15 price tag. I’m not so sure I agree with that, it kind of comes with the territory my burger being $17 and all, but I can see where she was coming from. She’s a simple gal, with simple needs.

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The Tart was the unanimous table favorite, although it suffered from some structural problems. K claimed that due to the substantial pile of greens it was hard to cut through and get a little bit of every component. Those complaints aside, this was a much more balanced dish with salty, creamy, and bitter points (from the ricotta, prosciutto, and greens respectively) and while greens were perfectly dressed, a little acidity from some citrus would’ve gone a long way. The bite I had didn’t contain too much of the pastry, but it looked quite flaky.

As expected, obtaining our check and then paying it required more time than I would’ve liked, but again, this is a very popular brunch spot so I was expecting it. The restaurant was about half full as we left, with a line running just to the door, I’m sure it would only be a matter of moments before the every seat was full. There are still a number of dishes I’d like to try at the Spotted Pig (Devils on Horseback, Cubano, Ricotta Gnudi) but with all the other great destinations in New York, I don’t see myself returning anytime soon.

Afterwards we wandered down Bleecker, poking our heads into shops, mostly so the women could check out clothing. We walked into Faicco’s and also tasted some spectacular olive oil and aged balsamic at O & Co. Sadly the imminent forecast of wind and scattered t-storms began to rear it’s ugly head, the grey clouds flowed in and the gloomy drizzle began. On a positive note, my friend R who was supposed to meet up with us at Levain recovered from his hangover and caught up with us at Murray’s Cheese Shop. Ah finally, a beer drinking buddy! I immediately directed our party to Blind Tiger Alehouse.

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Ah, now this was my type of place! Full, but not cramped, bustling but not loud, and very friendly efficient bartenders. I could’ve spent the rest of the day whiling away the hours over a couple mugs of great brew here and been fine with it. My choice was the Stone Self Righteous which is a Black IPA out of California at 8.7%.

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It tasted very very similar to the Back in Black IPA I love from 21st Amendment Brewing, but was a touch smoother and had quite a bit more piney hops. It was a bit much for me, but I could see it being great under the right circumstances. Like taking a money shot from a can of Pine-Sol. Did you know they like to be snowballed, too? Sick bastards.

On a whim R tried the Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball an (8.8% American strong ale also from California) on the cask list and congrats to him for choosing the better beer of the two (a trend that would continue throughout the day.)

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This was a very complex beer with many layers of flavor. It starts slightly bitter, then transforms into this smooth and spicy-sweet beast of a beer. Smoooooth drinker this be. Yar, me thinks. The wife ordered a nice tall bottle of Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic, which tasted a bit sweeter and less tart than I remember. It must be that palette changing thing again. Or maybe the lambic changed, fuck if I know.

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R also perused the food menu to get something in his stomach before he started binge drinking again, so he went with a nice plate of tampenade.

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Even though we were sitting at the bar, the bartender gave him one of those little flashy vibrating devices they give out at Chili’s to signify him when his food was ready. I thought this was a strange practice because the doorway into the kitchen was about 6 feet away and only a blind drunk would’ve missed the food runner bringing it out. Maybe they get a lot of blind drunks wandering the streets there in the West Village, who knows? It was the deep dark purple of kalmata and while not quite as awesome as the olive that came with the BM, it proved to be some pretty terrific tampenade. The buttered toast made the dish.

Besides Levain, the wife had voiced interest in trying some Bubble Tea while we were in the city and I thought this would be a great opportunity to head down to Chinatown to reassess another one of my all-time favorite dishes in NYC Xi’an Famous Foods’ Liang Pi. So, we weatherproofed ourselves as much as we could, and started heading roughly Southeast.

Stay tuned for the stunning conclusion to this 2 part series. Micro—out.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon
Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon
Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon
Blind Tiger Ale House on Urbanspoon

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