Rock Love Austin: NYC, My Sweet

9 Jun

scute

When we were in Paris, I came upon a book with a really beautiful cover called Paris, My Sweet:  A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate). Amused by the title, I read the summary to see if this would be a book I might enjoy. Would it ever. I discovered that this was a book about a woman from New York City who got an opportunity to live in Paris for a few years for work, and who was obsessed with all things sweets and documented a sort of compare/contrast list of best-of sweet shops in both of my most romanticized urban giants. I was sold, and read the book on the flight home to Austin, dreaming of a time when I could visit as many* of the sweet shops described in the pages as possible.

*She’s not kidding. This was a serious list. I didn’t think we’d get to more than 3-4. I was wrong.

So, when it came to planning out our New York City trip, my first order of business was flipping back through the book and writing down the names of two pages’ worth of sweets shops, from the best place for french toast to the most delicious chocolates. Apart from this list, there wasn’t much else on my must-do agenda*, apart from at least one Broadway show, a trip to the Hayden, and some time in Central Park. And, thanks to author Amy Thomas, Zack and I ensured that our trip was, quite literally, one of the sweetest we’d ever taken. Of course, we had to eat some substantial meals as well, and there, we got a little help from our friends. Read on for our ranking** of the best food we had on our trip (spoiler:  basically everything was the best).

*My must do list was bike in central park, see good stand-up comedy and a Broadway play.

**Technically not a ranking. More of an awards type of deal. 

ramen

Best Meal: Ramen at IppudoWhen my dear college friend Kim and I were making plans to meet up, she suggested we dine at one of her favorite restaurants in NYC, which served ramen. I agreed, but in my head, I thought, “Ramen? Really? The best meal NYC has to offer*?” Boy, am I glad that I put my doubts aside, because this may be the best meal I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE**. We kicked off the night with some edamame with a specialty yuzu salt that gave it an extra tangy kick. Then, came the ramen. My god, the ramen. I got the wasabi shoyu ramen***, which I feared would be super spicy for my uber-plain tastebuds. It was perfect, mild as can be, but the soup tasted buttery-rich, and the noodles were the perfect consistency. I can’t do it enough justice, honestly. You have to go and taste for yourself.

*The Ramen craze must not have captured Caitlin’s attention as much as the chocolate shops. I’ve been aware of the trend, but hadn’t gotten a chance to try some top ramen before. 

**I’m not ready to say “in my life” but the best meal I’ve had all year for sure. Just looking at the picture makes my knees weak. 

***Kim and I split the pork buns which were the perfect texture and then I had the “modern” version of the pork ramen with thigh and added egg. It was so decadent. I want some right now.

greydog

Best Comfort Food: Grey DogWe headed to Grey Dog, a block from our hotel, because Zack’s friend Zach Collinger recommended it. They were super hip (when we went for brunch, our waiter just sort of eyed us suspiciously and was quiet until we addressed him) but it still felt comfortable to be there, and the food was AMAZING. Everything I ate, from the challah french toast to the grilled cheese and sweet potato fries, was like a big hug inside of my stomach. Reliable and delicious, we were glad to have this place so close to our “home base.” It’s always nice to have a place close by that you can stop in for any meal. Grey Dog was just down the street and right in front of the subway stop we often used. The chicken club and challah french toast I had hit the spot.

goodfrench

Best Brunch: GoodThis was one of Amy Thomas’ recs, and it did NOT disappoint. She recommended the banana-cream-cheese-stuffed french toast, so I went for that rec and was very happy I did. I don’t normally love banana-flavored things, but this was rich and delicious and a perfect day-starter. Zack strayed from the tried-and-true but was equally satisfied with his brunch meal at this Greenwich gem. I knew Caitlin was getting the famed dish, but felt like a hearty brunch more than sweet. I went for the Basil & Goat Cheese Egg Scramble over Sourdough with asparagus, tomato and pesto and it filled me up just right for a long walk on The High Line.

sush

Best In-the-Budget Sushi: Asuka SushiWe were hungry for sushi, but didn’t want to break the bank, so I Yelped the crap out of our area in Chelsea and discovered this amazing sushi restaurant just around the corner from us. Although we didn’t indulge in the Yelp deal of “one free jello shot*,” we did try out their Sakarita, a sake-based margarita with grenadine and some other exciting stuff, and it was strong but good and a lovely pinky-red color. The sushi was KILLER, and there were tons of vegetarian options for me to choose from. I went for two tempura-based rolls (aka the veggies were fried):  pumpkin and sweet potato. It was SO good, and I got very full. And, all within a reasonable budget! I think we ended up spending $50** on the drinks (they had an awesome 2-for-1 happy hour special that let us each get a ‘rita for $4 apiece), two rolls for me and three for Zack, AND edamame apps. Seriously, if you live in NYC and you enjoy a sushi*** meal every now and again, Asuka! Get on it!!

*Aww man! I didn’t know that was how we could get the jello. I totally would have.

**It was like $42 before tip! An insane bargain.

***It’s not a place for sushi snobs. But if you’re looking for a quick, cheap meal, definitely hit it up. I enjoyed my tuna, salmon and eel, but it’s especially good for vegetarians who are sick of having only a cali roll as an option.

kee's

Best Chocolates: Kee’sAnother Thomas recommendation, Kee’s was tucked away in a little shop just south of us in Manhattan, and when we popped in there was just one woman working the counter, with two customers in front of us. That gave us time to admire the spread of goodies before us — there were traditional flavors, like chocolate caramels and hazelnut, but then there were also passion fruit chocolates and champagne and all other manner of goodness. When it was our turn at bat, we got a box of a dozen chocolates, and EVERY SINGLE ONE was delicious, y’all. Seriously. The woman working the counter was super sweet, too, and ended up giving us two complimentary truffles: one of those passion fruit chocolates for Zack (which he let me taste and I melted into my knees), and a white-chocolate delight for me. I highly, highly recommend Kee’s if you’re into delicious chocolate. You can’t go wrong. This place definitely stood above the others. The passion fruit was way better than it should have been. The turtles were in a class of their own. The hazelnuts and caramels and every little bit was a gift from the chocolate gods. If you go to one chocolate shop, make it this one.

crackpie

Best Sweet Shop, Always & Forever: Momofuku’s Milk BarI guess I’ll start by saying, Momofuku’s Milk Bar is the only sweets shop we visited twice*. Per Thomas’ suggestion, the first time we visited we grabbed a slice of crack pie, a concoction of sugar and butter and cream that is truly a slice of heaven. You might say, the crack pie is what hooked us. Not to mention, both of the Milk Bar locations we hit up (one in the East Village and one in Williamsburg) were open until midnight, which is helpful for all your late-night munchies. I also personally adored the confetti cookies – I got one the first time, and three to bring back to Texas the second time (they are gone, in case you were wondering). We also had soft serve on our second go-around, with Zack enjoying the milk-and-cereal flavor** while I indulged in the huckleberry cheesecake. Every single thing we purchased at Milk was knee-knocking good. You cannot go wrong. We are now looking to hire these folks to make our wedding cake – and, they do a through-the-mail tasting for just $25! That’s a steal no matter who you are. We ate our second crack pies in bed and woke up the next morning with dry mouths. I told Caitlin that we had actually become crack heads. The pie’s name is no lie. Moving forward, we have little to no idea what we’re going to do about food at our wedding, but knowing we have Momofuku cake at the end means whatever else we serve more or less won’t matter. This stuff is where it’s at.

*That says it all, doesn’t it?

**They somehow captured the perfectly sugary milk after an especially sweet bowl of sugar and made it into ice cream. It’s other worldly.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 7.59.37 AM

Best Frozen Yogurt: YogorinoZack and I have become froyo connoisseurs of sorts, enjoying frozen yogurt all around Austin, but neither of us had ever had what Yogorino dubs “Italian-style” frozen yogurt. When we walked into the dessert shop, we looked around for the standard self-serve stations, and were surprised and confused to find none. When we asked if there was a list of flavors, the guy behind the counter smiled and said, “There’s just one flavor.” This had stumped us a bit, but once we got back on track, we ordered the size we wanted, and then just threw on a personalized combo of toppings. I went for the melted Nutella, cookie dough bits, and some sprinkles on top, which the server said he felt was “a pro move.” The tartness of the yogurt with the sweetness of my combo was absolutely amazing. I will not be sated until I find this Italian-style yogurt in Austin. Someone make this happen, stat!! I was kinda skeptical about this place overall. Yeah, fro yo, we get it. We have you three times a month in Austin. Aside from the hilariously titled “16 handles” shop we passed by a couple times, I wasn’t too intrigued by fro yo. But man, oh man. This stuff does not taste like your local fro yo shop. It’s so elegantly textured and rich and tart. It’s just perfect. And the nutella and strawberry sauce on top was just to die for. Seek this place out if you’re in Greenwich Village.

Best Traditional Cake: Billy’s BakeryBilly’s was another Amy Thomas favorite, and it was the first dessert shop we hit up on our trip. While Amy swears by the banana-cream cake, as I mentioned before, I’m not the biggest banana fan. So when I saw the moist-looking chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, I knew what I had to do. I also had my eye on a cookie sandwich with cream cheese frosting connecting the cookies, so I ordered one of those, too. Then, the girl behind the counter and I got in a conversation about the sweater I was wearing, one that had a galaxy print and said “I am a dreamer” on it that was given to me by Zack as a gift. We chatted it up about the Hayden Planetarium, which Zack and I had visited earlier that day — and I got her so off track that she only gave me the slice of cake (and only charged me for the cake, too). As we were leaving, Zack insisted that I check the box, and when we realized what had happened, he ran back in to see if he could buy a cookie sandwich for us, too. The bakery not only comped us one cookie sandwich — they gave us TWO, for free!! I was totally impressed by the sweet gesture, and my stomach was very happy about it, too. The cake was extra moist and delicious, and the cookies were a fantastic midnight snack. The people were really cool and the cookies and cake were delicious. Having said that, it isn’t a “must visit” like the others.

cocoa

Honorable Mention: Max Brenner, hot chocolateAfter Zack and I spent some time in Strand Bookstore, we popped into Max Brenner across the street so Zack could wake himself up with some coffee, and so I could indulge in a creamy hot chocolate delight. Zack goaded me into getting the one infused with sea salt caramel, and I’m glad he did. While it doesn’t quite live up to the same richness that we experienced at Angelina in Paris, it was still a nice little afternoon treat. Another good, not great spot. Though I didn’t try all that much to be fair. The woman sitting next to us said this was her favorite restaurant. Tied with The Cheesecake Factory. Uh huh. There are better places, honey.

Honorable Mention: Bisous Ciao, macaronsThis was another Amy Thomas recommendation, and the store was absolutely adorable. The macarons are a gorgeous rainbow of color, and we had trouble picking out the ones we wanted. By far, the caramel were the best, and I wish we’d bought more of them and fewer of some of the more odd flavors – I’m afraid I just don’t love having roses in my food. But pistachio, hazelnut, and vanilla were also excellent. All these macarons were far better than anything we had in Germany and find around Austin, but didn’t hold up to the best Paris had to offer. Still quite yummy.

Honorable Mention: Jacques Torres, chocolatesAmy recommended this chocolatier in her book, but I’d already known about Jacques from when I used to watch his show on Food Network, where he’d mold chocolate into every imaginable shape. We didn’t go to the location that Amy recommended, which I’m a little sad about – we ended up in one that was closer to where we were staying. But, while the caramel truffles were underwhelming, all the others we got, like the blood orange, passion fruit, and hazelnut, were delicious. Good, not great. Like this pizza below, not worth writing home about. But SO much of the food we had was. What a tasty week. I’m glad Caitlin did all that research.

pizzaface

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2 Responses to “Rock Love Austin: NYC, My Sweet”

  1. Amy Thomas (@GodILoveParis) June 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Love this! So happy you found Paris, My Sweet and had such an amazingly delicious tour of NYC!

    • Caitlin June 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      Thank you so much for reading, Amy! I was so pleased to come across your book – I felt like I was reading the words of a kindred spirit, to be sure. Hopefully we’ll make it to all of your favorite places the next time we’re in Paris, too:)

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