Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bubbly, Bon Bons

Cheers to champagne… truffles.

In the 1950’s classic, The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s character is a big fan of champagne and potato chips. It’s a charming combination when proposed by a breathy Marilyn (“It’s just a wonderful party!”). But there are other bubbly pairings that fare better. Champagne and chocolate, for example.

If you’re heaving a sigh of delicious agreement, go directly to the Swiss chocolatier that houses the Cristal of champagne truffles: Teuscher. The Upper East Side gem, which is nearing its 30th anniversary, is smaller than many a closet in the swish neighborhood. Yet the space is a larger-than-life fantasy, dripping with vibrant color, draped in floral garland, and wrapped up like a pretty present that you want to tear into. Gifts like these rarely disappoint.

Along with pralines, marzipan and other assorted chocolates in the display case are Teuscher’s world-famous champagne truffles. Each dark chocolate conical shell, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, conceals perfectly creamy dark chocolate (made of cream, butter and cocoa), which, in turn, envelops the tell-tale caramel-colored champagne center. When you bite into one (for these should be relished with two, if not three, bites), the flavor of champagne is so strong that the only thing seemingly missing is the fizz. They’re delicate, decadent and perfect for the most special of occasions — like, say, today.

673 Madison Avenue (entrance on 61st Street)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


How do you say “wow” in Japanese?

As dessert bars become nearly as common as corner pubs in Manhattan, they have to distinguish themselves somehow. It appears the three partners of Kyotofu, the latest dessert destination, have done just that. Not only does the Hell’s Kitchen gem specialize in Japanese desserts, but they use soy as the base of most of their exquisite creations.

The rotating menu is short and sweet, making the most of fresh and seasonal ingredients like lychee and mochi. Sansho-pepper cheesecake ($10), for example, is made with homemade tofu, with hints of candied ginger leaving a tangy aftertaste. Black sesame sweet tofu with hoji-cha tea syrup ($8) hits just the right note of sweetness. And bite-sized cookies use okara, a form of soybean, to create moistness and texture that would make Martha proud. Each dessert is artfully composed, making it both a pity to destroy and irresistible to sample.

The proof of Kyotofu’s superiority isn’t just in the (soy-based) pudding. It’s also in the flatware and teapots, the white leather banquets and cherry-stained floors, the backlit walls and retro music. In other words, Kyotofu takes design almost as seriously as dessert. So even though they’re adding takeout items to the menu, do yourself a favor and make it a ritual to dine in-house.

705 Ninth Avenue

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Smart Cookie

Snacking our way to a more sustainable future.

Before going to Build a Green Bakery, a minute eco-friendly spot in the East Village, it’s worth visiting their web site. explains how the floor is cork, the walls are colored with milk paint (“We’re a bakery, what could make more sense?”), and both the cash register and light fixture are throwbacks to previous generations. In short, it’s a “green” business. But it’s quite clear the cookies, made with certified organic flour and other natural ingredients, don’t suffer for the principles.

Artfully displayed atop a recycled denim and bamboo serving table, everything appears as decadent as a sugar junkie could hope for. There, behind the luscious mixed berry scones and squat blueberry corn muffins, stacked between the oatmeal raisin and reverse chocolate chip cookies, is the quintessential afternoon snack: the chocolate chip cookie ($2).

As cookies go, these are monstrous. About five inches in diameter, they’re flat, golden and studded with, not chips, but blocks of rich chocolate. With each bite, you can taste the butter and brown sugar banding together to deliver a perfect, chewy texture. Complementing the soft middles, the edges are hardened just so.

Cookie connoisseurs might recognize these juggernauts as sneakily similar to City Bakery’s. They wouldn’t be wrong. Build a Green Bakery is a project of the Manhattan giant known for its chocolaty treats — a project that should fly with both sweet and organic purists.

Build a Green Bakery
223 First Avenue

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sweet Tarts

Every day deserves a happy ending.

Once upon a time, there was a small bakery south of Houston Street in the big city of Manhattan. Although it was less than a block away from four lanes of traffic and steps away from trendy clothing boutiques, this bakery quietly churned out wholesome sweet and savory treats. Inevitably, all those who stumbled across it came to love this bakery.

So it is in New York. Often the most charming (not to mention, delicious) establishments are those that take you far, far away from the incessant hustle of city life. At the SoHo bakery, Once Upon a Tart, the humble café décor and home-fresh baked goods offer the perfect respite from a harried workday or ambitious shopping expedition.

Although they offer salads and sandwiches, along with classic sweets such as cookies and muffins, they shine in the tart department. Being the height of autumn, ’tis the season for flavors such as apple and pumpkin, but other more imaginative options, like pear & almond, also reign baker Jerome Audureau’s menu. And, as evidence that everything’s better with chocolate, the chewy and dense banana & chocolate tart is a must-eat. Sized at five inches ($5.50), the tarts are perfectly portioned for self-indulgence. Unless, of course, you get two. Or three.

Once Upon a Tart
135 Sullivan Street

Monday, October 30, 2006

French Superiority

The ultimate pain au chocolat, complete with French attitude.

There are very few things worth getting out of bed for. Some of them unmentionable here. So if you’re not a morning person and are looking for something to lure you from the sweetness of slumber, try Patisserie Claude.

File this West Village bakery under the “city’s best-kept secrets,” which could be chalked up to its innocuousness existence: No loud storefront. No fancy packaging. No clever advertising. At Patisserie Claude, the products speak for themselves. With barely room for four tables, it’s usually a medley of locals, reading the paper over coffee and perhaps exchanging a few words with Claude himself — if he’s in the mood. For 25 years, he’s been baking pastries here in the city that transport you to the steps of Montmartre.

The plain croissants are, in a word, sublime. Light and buttery, they’re textbook examples of French prowess in the kitchen. But the Sweet Freak philosophy is to choose chocolate whenever the option exists. The pain au chocolat has the same layers of flaky dough as the plain croissants, but the rich, oozing center pushes the pastry from sublime to otherworldly. Especially if you go in the morning when the pastries are warm from the ovens.

Patisserie Claude
187 West 4th Street