Ouch! This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around! This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.
Petit Abeille – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!
Max Brenner – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense. They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!
[Ohnoes, no pics!]
ChikaLicious – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.
Big Gay Ice Cream Truck – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks). I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche). I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland. Far from fabulous, I’m afraid. Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.
Dirt Candy – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ
pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.
A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.
Whew! Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant! Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/ (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).
Les Halles – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller. The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth. Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC). Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains. The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like. The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary. The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy. And mayo with the fries? My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them. As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak. The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal. To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit? It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway. A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!
A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City. If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have. I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know! If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!