Sunday, December 23, 2007

Un chocolat

I overhear the nice guy behind the bar: “It’s like drinking melted chocolate.” Say no more; I’m in for a single shot of hot cocoa.

I’m at Michel Cluizel, world-renowned Parisian chocolatier who opened in ABC Carpet two years ago. It’s a relief to have place for top-notch chocolates that’s not Soho or midtown (and dangerously close to my apartment). Especially on a grey December afternoon when you have the day off from work and want to sit and zen out a bit.

The cocoa comes in a dainty little espresso cup. It hardly looks like enough, but it’s made with heavy cream and a blend of five different dark cocoa beans from different plantations, so drinking any more would be obscene. It’s creamy, smooth and refined; sharp, not sugary. Oui, c’est tres bon.

Michel Cluizel is better known for his bonbons than his cocoa though, so I must also indulge in a few of those. I choose a dark chocolate with a crème brulée butter ganache center, a salted butter caramel, and a milk chocolate filled with almond and hazelnut praline (always a sucker for pralines).

It’s a nice treat. But I’ll have to visit the rue Saint-Honoré boutique next week to see if, as I suspect, everything tastes better in Paris.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The sweet spot

Open wide for homemade truffles.

A stroll through the Essex Street Market has always been a sensory experience: Colorful cans of coconut milk and hearts of palm at Batista, pungent plumes from Formaggio and Saxelby Cheesemongers, and lively chatter of different tongues from the shopkeepers and locals. Now, a new hook exists at #24: the rich scent of homemade truffles.

Though Rhonda (Roni Sue) Kave just opened this eponymous shop, it was a long time coming. After 20 years of making buttercrunch (her signature treat) and bon bons for friends and family, she finally succumbed to the idea of going professional.

Kave fills each truffle with either dense Callebaut ganache or handmade perzipan, a lighter, fluffier version of marzipan (the ganache centers rule). Flavors are both straightforward and unusual, with fruits dominating: pomegranate, raspberry, mango and banana truffles fill the display case. But there are options for those whose palates favor spicy, savory or nutty. The popular Frida truffle, for instance, combines Mexican cinnamon, espresso and Kahlua, and the Zydeco is a medley of chili jams and confits, infused tequila and sea salt. Each truffle is then delicately topped with a sliver of whatever lies inside.

It will be nice to see what new flavors she whips up as the seasons change and the business ramps up. On standby, I am.

120 Essex Street (#24 Essex Street Market)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Fiona and her very cool crew are melting, whipping and molding hard candies down on the LES (an art akin to blowing glass). Yum to bergamot, mango and grapefruit flavors. Yea for amazing design and packaging.

380 Broome Street

Pretty Please

Beth Pilar and Ellen Sternau have parlayed their 18-month custom-order cake business into a full service neighborhood café on the Lower East Side. Darling and delicious are the words that come to mind.

The décor is pink and flowery—sort of like being on the inside of a sponge cake (yes, please). Petite and tidy, a cushy window seat overlooking Allen Street is the only place to sit in-house.

Of the 12 signature items, Beth gives highest praise to the linzer tart, chocolate caramel sea salt tart (loving that combo, and seeing it everywhere lately), filled cupcakes (like a devil's food cake cupcake filled with chocolate mousse), and a lemony cheese puff. She's just as excited about the proprietary blend of Counter Culture coffee they offer (along with Serendipity Teas and Ronnybrook Farm milk. Perfect.). There's a pretty mean sticky bun, too, and croissants are on the way.

How Sweet It Is
157 Allen Street

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A New Classic

Is the peanut butter cookie better than chocolate chip?

The City Bakery is a powerful force in New York. On myriad “Best Of” lists, it’s referenced and revered for its absurdly thick hot cocoa, juggernaut cookies, and even its luxe salad bar. You could spend an entire day sampling the goods, riding the waves of sugar high after sugar high. Which means it’s tough to put just one sweet on the throne. But, when forced to do such a ridiculous thing, I could easily point to the peanut butter cookie.

First off, they’re small. Well, not really, but by City Bakery’s King-Kong standards, they are. These, like a scoop of sorbet, are modest enough that you can indulge in a couple. Second, they’re magically moist. The downfall of many peanut butter cookies is their tendency towards brittleness, sending crumbs and chunks into your lap, snapping off in rude pieces. But City Bakery’s hold together almost as if you were taking a scoop of peanut butter straight from the jar, sticking to the roof of your mouth and everything. And then there’s the flavor. Sweet, just as any cookie should be. But the creamy, nutty, savory balance couldn’t be better. A king is born.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oh, Almondine

Too much chocolate is never enough.

I already know the response to my criticism but here it goes: Almondine’s pain au chocolat is delicious. Superb, even. Light, flakey pastry, slightly browned and crunchy at the ends. Chewy and moist, it tastes like it was only moments ago pulled from the oven.

But it needs more chocolate.

If I’m going for the pain au chocolat instead of a plain croissant, I want chocolate, and lots of it. The demonstration of French restraint is commendable, but this pastry needs another dollop of chocolate goodness to really put it over the top where it belongs.

But there are plenty of other Almondine treats beckoning for a return visit: chocolate chip cookies, financiers, chocolate fondant, madeleines and a killer looking cupcake to name a few. It will be a happy autumn day when I go back under the bridge, settle into the wee bakery on the cobblestone street, and break out the chocolate barometer once again.

85 Water Street

Sunday, September 16, 2007

5 Best Plates of French Toast

• Extra Virgin: Banana French Toast
With caramelized banana and whipped mascarpone. Ridiculous.

• Café Cluny: Brioche French Toast
With raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. Perfect for one. Bonus points for Cluny’s adorable atmosphere.

• Jane: Vanilla Bean French Toast
Brioche bread, crème brulée batter, confectionary sugar. Big enough to share. Be prepared to wait for a table.

• Good Enough to Eat: Fruity French Toast
Cinnamon swirl bread and fresh fruit, like peaches. Ditto on the wait.

• Norma’s: Very Berry Brioche French Toast
Selected from an overwhelming variety of cakey options, an obscene portion of bread saturated in sugar and syrup, topped with fresh berries. Enough for a family of four.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mad About P*ong

Give your palette a break from the usual vanilla.

Although there is nothing expected on the menu at Pichet Ong’s P*ong, you can expect each dessert to have a little something crunchy (crushed walnuts, cookie crumbs), a little something creamy (sherbet, mascarpone), and a little something exotic (wasabi, lemongrass). It’s these surprising combinations that set apart this West Village eatery.

Take the soufflé, for example—it’s a walnut-crusted stilton cheese soufflé served with basil-arugula ice cream. Perfect for someone who wants an alternative to a cheese flight for dessert. Likewise, the chevre cheesecake croquette is light, fluffy and savory, save for the sweet diced pineapple. The rosemary shortbread cake stacks roasted pluot with crisp shortbread in honey sabayon, and is paired with peach wedges and sherbet.

If you’re holding out for something more familiar, there’s the malted chocolate Bavarian tart. Creamy ganache filling hides within a chocolate crust beneath a layer of crunchy caramelized bananas and is served with Ovaltine ice cream. It’s decadent on every front.

150 West 10th Street near Waverly

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hot in the City

Mister Softee's soft ice cream, still a hit.

Picture this (not too difficult this time of the year): it's hot, hazy and humid. You can see heat waves rippling from the asphalt, feel sweat trickling down your back. You're parched. Dying for something to revive you. And then you see him: Mister Softee.

Though the ubiquitous ice cream trucks can no longer play that nostalgic jingle (a citywide noise ordinance went into effect earlier this summer), the trucks, parked on corners in every neighborhood, and ice cream are much the same. For most New Yorkers, they are beacons of happiness and relief on sweltering summer days.

With not much more than chocolate or vanilla soft serve, you can choose from an impressive menu of cones, sundaes and shakes. "Everybody gets a chocolate dip," claims one Mister parked in Union Square, though other toppings include sprinkles, crunchies and peanuts.

While traditionalists are satisfied with strawberry shakes and butterscotch sundaes, many of the trucks show a little flair with their offerings. Try the Red Merlin, for example—a cone that's partly covered with rainbow sprinkles, partly with cherry dip. Or the Chocolate X-Mas with chocolate dip and whipped cream. It's no LA fro-yo or Italian gelato. But, yeah, that's sort of the point.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grand Finale

This East Village dessertery sets the bar high.

The joint that kicked off the dessert bar trend in 2003, ChikaLicious is as good as watching a friend whip up magic in her kitchen while you get to prop yourself up at the counter with a glass of sherry or a cup of chamomile. As you sit back and relax, Chika prepares your meticulous treats in the open kitchen while her husband-partner-sommelier, Don, offers the perfect accompanying wine. Rounding out the chez-amis vibe are homey details like mismatched china, jazz music, and lots of small talk and genuine smiles.

For better or worse, however, the desserts are creations your friends probably wouldn't attempt at home. ChikaLicious' prix fixe menu starts with an amuse (watermelon sorbet) and ends with a sampling of petit fours (a sliver of chocolate cheesecake, a coconut-dusted marshmallow, and a mini butter pecan sandwich cookie). In between, you get your choosing of one of a half dozen dainty desserts. The menu changes daily but think: poached cherries with white corn ice cream and toasted-warm cornmeal poundcake, or fromage blanc island cheese cake served atop a mound of shaved ice. Precious perfection.

203 East 10th Street

Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer Snack

Another irresistible treat from Mr. Chocolate.

When you’ve been a New Yorker for some time, chances are you’ve warmed up more than one cold winter moment with a cup of Jacques Torres’s wicked hot chocolate. So what to do in a summer of soaring temperatures? Dig into the polar opposite: an ice cream sandwich.

Made with homemade ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, these frozen sandwiches give credence to the expression of two great tastes tasting great together. The cookies: loaded with bricks of thick dark chocolate. The ice cream flavors, they vary according to what Torres is creating in his factory. Rotating options include everything from espresso and hazelnut, to raspberry and banana, to standard chocolate and vanilla. There’s even a Wicked sandwich, made with the same spicy chocolate as his cocoa, to remind you that the chilly days of winter won’t be too far behind.

Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pie Hole

An American classic, served just fine.

Pie lovers are a devoted lot. While a cookie monster can be sated with a brownie, and cakes, cupcakes and baked breads can be interchanged without seriously gypped feelings, people who love pie, really love pie and are evangelical about their favorite slice. This is something 22-year-old Little Pie Company gets. In addition to seasonal flavors, their menu includes little pies, whole pies, and slices in about 10 varieties.

Their success is as varied as its menu.

The best seller, Sour Cream Apple Walnut, is a richer version of the American classic. The sour cream lends a nice savory flavor to the thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples that are layered beneath a brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and walnut crumble top. The pie is served warm with whipped cream (albeit it Redi-Whip).

The Mississippi Mud pie is less pleasing. Also heated, the combined German chocolate, brownie streusel and Oreo cookie crust is like eating warm brownie batter—a bit much. It'd probably be better served chilled. The Banana Coconut Cream Pie is a mash of bananas and coconut cream—a light, yummy balance.

Both the midtown and MePa locations offer old-fashioned soda fountain counters so you can eat your pie (or sundae, or cupcake, or cheesecake) in-house. While there, indulge your voyeuristic side and spy the pies in their various stages of baking in the open kitchens.

407 West 14th Street between 9th and 10th

424 West 43rd Street between 9th and 10th

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Patriotism is a Cupcake

Homemade Bakeshop by Kitchenette
383 Amsterdam

Kee'p 'em Coming

Thompson Street, now twice as delicious.

Go, Kee! Expanded space and macaroons on the menu. Her chocolates are just the prettiest - check out the perfect Guggenhiem swirl of the Honey Saffron, the present perfection of the Hazelnut Praline, and the boldly beautiful truffles dusted in almonds, sesame seeds, and pistachio nuts. The expanded menu with more exotic flavors ups the ante for every New York chocolatier.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cupcakery, Cool

An unsung cupcake bakery in a city crowded with competition.

There’s nothing precious or pastel at Bruce’s Cupcakery—a welcome departure for those of us who don’t want to feel like we should be wearing ballet flats or reading Candace Bushnell in order to eat a cupcake.

But this humble corner spot deserves the spotlight for another reason: “cupcakery” is a cool term, unemployed by the legions of places pawning cupcakes in this city. And Bruce’s delivers on a range of mostly delicious options. They’re divided into frosting flavors and toppings, each of which comes with either chocolate or vanilla cake. The cake, unless it’s more than a day old, is a good foundation that’s firm, moist and not saturated with sweetness. The frosting is slathered on thickly, from the rims upward to the center, creating a half-inch-thick dome. A sprinkling of confections is added when the flavor calls for it. The Caramel Top, for example, has walnut bits and caramel drizzlings. The Oreo cupcake has crushed bits of Oreos, and the Hazelnut Top, well, is decorated with almond slivers.

For an innocuous bakery in a rarely-trafficked part of town, these are worth an afternoon visit.

Bruce’s Cupcakery
1045 First Avenue at 57th

Monday, June 18, 2007

Greek American Belgian Bonbons

I was excited to try Leonidas Belgian chocolates on Madison Avenue. A trusted source told me they were the best. They're good, but… Teuscher and Neuhaus still have them beat.

The selection is great: butter cream, ganache, praliné and caramel centers come enrobed in white, dark and milk chocolate. There are truffles (pistachio, cocoa, champagne), marzipan, and chocolate-covered orange and lemon peels.

Ultimately, though, Leonidas chocolates don't have the same je ne sais quoi quality of their Belgian and Swiss counterparts. The shells are harder (maybe more tempered?), and I like my bonbons soft and creamier. They should melt in your mouth and smack of freshness. The flavors should meld together yet explode in your mouth. These flavors are good, very good, but not sublime.

And what's up with the weird Greek name on Belgian chocolates? Leonidas Kestekides was a Greek-American confectioner who found is way to Brussels in 1913. There, he met success as a chocolate-maker and he met his wife. The brand made its way to New York in 1991.

Check out a nice explanation of the traditional chocolate-making process on Leonidas' corporate site:

485 Madison Avenue between 51st and 52nd

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Royal Tastes

My high regard for the chocolate éclair.

Springtime in New York. It may not be Paris in April, but with the lilac blossoms and endless twilights, who’s complaining? Besides, we have un peu de Paris on the Upper East Side with Payard pastries.

Though Francois Payard’s lovely Lexington Avenue patisserie features a dining room with top-notch lunch, dinner and high tea menus, the bustling upfront café is more suitable for the quick sugar fix. A half dozen tables are nestled between curved glass display cases of French chocolates and desserts. So stake your territory amongst the European tourists and neighborhood families, and quit counting calories already.

Some pretty confectionary creations that evoke the Right Bank include The Opera, a rectangular three-layer almond cake with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, and the St. Honore, a vanilla cream puff topped with whipped cream and caramel. But what of the chocolate éclair? You’ll find Payard's is divine (but, of course!)—if you get one before they sell out.

The éclairs are chilled in the display cases, but they’re better at room temperature (an excuse to indulge in another dessert first?). The crispy pastry shell envelops a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth, chocolaty cream center, and is topped with dark chocolate icing. Go against your American tendencies of eating the éclair with your fingers, and use a fork and knife. Otherwise, along with self-respect, you risk losing some of the to-die-for pastry filling in your lap.

1032 Lexington Avenue

Thursday, May 24, 2007

S'il te Plait

I have a new favorite pastry, thanks to my new favorite restaurant.

While waiting at the bar of Café Cluny for my friends to arrive for brunch, I couldn't help but notice how pretty the three-tiered trays of pastries looked, and how sublime they smelled. Since I was sticking to a self-imposed no-sweets week (I even skipped Cluny's yummy French toast), I didn't taste, just got the name of the supplying bakery.

Which brings me to today: the sweets moratorium is off!

Petrossian is a French-Armenian bakery with 80+ years of history. Since it's also an exquisitely elegant restaurant with an Art Deco interior and Osettra caviar, I never paid much attention (though I'm keen to go for dinner now). The bakery is separate from the restaurant, with a different pastry chef, supplying baked goods and breads not only to Cluny but also Mercer Kitchen, Jeans George and others. Clearly, there's a certain level of sophistication and quality.

Take the apricot Danish for example—my new favorite. Good grief! They're amazing. Flaky pastry dough, (like a perfect Parisian croissant), twisted at either end and dusted with crushed pistachios. Inside, almond paste (one of the best things ever created) and apricot compote make a ridiculously delicious combination. Not too sweet. Not too large. Just a (relatively) modest pastry that's unique in both form and flavor. Another kiss from France.

Seventh Avenue between 57th and 58th

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

5 Best Cookies

• Levain: Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie
Heavy (about six ounces); mountainous (studded with chips); and rich (chocolate on chocolate action).

• Grey Dog: Chocolate Peanut Butter Coookie
Ginormous (a good six inches in diameter?); two great tastes that taste great together.

• Porto Rico: Gingersnap Cookie
Moist & chewy; sweet & savory; under a buck.

• The City Bakery: Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookie
Yummy white chocolate/dark chocolate blend; flat as opposed to fat, but big nonetheless.

• Petrossian: Chocolate Chunk with Pecans
Ordinarily, not a fan of nuts with my chocolate chips, but these cookies are so huge and chocolaty, the pecans break up the richness nicely. (Plus, bonus points for using pecans instead of walnuts.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


A slice of old-fashioned goodness.

On the eve of 2004, before the cupcake craze had really spun everyone's sugar tops, a near replica of Cupcake Central (that would be Magnolia Bakery, if there was any doubt or if you've been detoxing under a rock) opened in Chelsea: Billy's Bakery. Indeed, opened by a Magnolia alum, the style and menu are nearly identical, but there’s one thing Billy’s doesn’t have: lines around the block. TG!

Inside the snug bakery, a couple Formica tables give you a place to sit and inhale luscious baking smells. Key-lime pie, blueberry muffins, snickerdoodles, caramel pecan cheesecake and, of course, cupcakes in myriad flavors are all on the menu to tempt you. But to save you from waffling in indecision, go for the best cake in the house.

A slice of Billy’s Banana Cake is heavy. Not only because it’s ginormous but also because the cake is dense and moist, and the frosting (cream cheese frosting—the better to temper those sugar jitters) is spread unabashedly thick. This is serious stuff. Made with fresh ripened bananas and the goodness of unrestrained dairy like butter and eggs, this two-layer cake is Billy’s most popular. But don’t worry, you shouldn’t be caught short: the bakery churns out a few every day. And if you want to go really bananas, you can special order your own.

Billy's Bakery
184 Ninth Avenue

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Take Two

Birdbath Bakery spreads wings, heads westward.

Is it Build a Green Bakery? Or Birdbath Bakery? Or is this naming business trickery to ratchet up buzz? Does it matter? No, so long as the cookies and scones and muffins and croissants remain so tasty (and the ingredients, organic).

The City Bakery's second Birdbath offshoot is open in the West Village. Which means candied ginger scones, raspberry bran muffins, pretzel croissants, and chocolate chip cookies, served in eco environs, can be found twice as easily.

Pedal your bike over and get on the green bandwagon. It's more delicious than you ever imagined.

145 Seventh Ave South at Charles Street

Friday, April 13, 2007

verē yummy

Evolved chocolate for ethical beings. (Wait—it's much more delicious than *that* sounds.)

What has less sugar than an apple, more antioxidants than two pounds of broccoli, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread? Oh, and tastes more heavenly than any of those good-for-you foods, as well as many desserts?

That would be verē chocolates, my friends.

Just entering its second year of business, and founded by the same mastermind of HUE tights (you know you used to wear them), Kathy Moskal's high-quality, low-sugar, simple, sophisticated, rich, and luscious chocolate line is, in a word, divine.

The 75% dark chocolate bars are made from sustainably-grown, Rainforest Alliance-approved cocoa beans from the Ecuadorian Rainforest. Velvety ganaches are made with cream and butter sourced from Ronnybrook's local, grass-fed dairy cows. And wafers, tiles, and clusters—products names, those are—have decadent ingredients like roasted nuts, Cognac, Earl Grey tea, and pink peppercorns. So good are these products, you can eat them for breakfast. (Repeat: you can now eat chocolate for breakfast.)

verē won't spike your blood sugar into orbit, won't clutter your conscience with sad images of migrant workers and destroyed rainforests, and, unless you down a box of truffles in one sitting, shouldn't make you feel guilty. And even if you do feel guilty, there's enough good going on so you should get over it quickly. verē, verē quickly.

Check out Factory Fridays.
verē chocolates
12 West 27th Street b/w Sixth Ave and Broadway

Saturday, April 07, 2007


A hung jury.

Sugarless cupcakes rank right up there with your best friend’s boyfriend, whom you know you’re supposed to like, and you really want to like, and you like in theory because he’s your best friend’s boyfriend, but… there’s something there you can’t completely embrace.

And yet you do.

As my sugar-high crashes are getting more intense, and I’m trying to be more conscious of what I eat and where my food comes from, a bakery like BabyCakes is genius. It has all the sweet charm of an old-fashioned bakery (a cozy window seat, retro signs claiming “Quality our motto, Courtesy our hobby,” and seersucker candy-striper dresses as uniforms). And yet there’s not a smudge of refined sugar or flour anywhere in the wee kitchen. It’s enough to make a vegan, or repenting sweet freak, do a jig.

Sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan cupcakes, tea cakes, crumb cakes, layer cakes, cookies, muffins, scones, in chocolate, vanilla, pumpkin, raspberry, ginger snap, and banana chip flavors. How do they do it? Spelt flour, garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, and blue agave nectar are a few of BabyCake’s key ingredients. Ah — but how do they taste?

Like any dairy-free baked good, the consistency is moister. And, without refined sugar, the sweetness less likely to produce a toothache. Which is both good and bad. The sweets are rich and satisfying, for sure. But different. No sugar rush. No “omigod.” No eyes rolling back into your skull. But, then again, no serious crash 15 minutes later.

So, like your best friend’s boyfriend, give it time. Make no rash judgements. You like him okay. But since your best friend likes him a whole lot, you know he’ll probably grow on you, too.

248 Broome Street b/w Orchard & Ludlow

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Love Bites

A bouchon is a bouchon, not a brownie

To state the obvious: the path to finding the perfect brownie is paved in decadence. And while it may not be easy to choose the best of the best in a very delicious field, it’s easy enough to find unexpected delights along the way. Like finding the aforementioned decadence and deliciousness in a different form, and in… a mall.

When Bouchon Bakery opened in the Time Warner Center, everyone who worships at the altar of Thomas Keller was thrilled. Keller has received nearly every culinary accolade possible and, for those who can't score a resy at Per Se, or afford the tab, a place to nosh on top-notch food is a golden gift. But, since “Bakery” is in the eatery’s name, skip the tuna sandwich. And, since “Bouchon” is in the name, go straight for the goods: i.e. the chocolate bouchons.

A bouchon? Qu'est-ce que c'est? Think of it as a French brownie. Shaped like a delicate beehive, it has the texture of a homemade brownie from the pan’s perimeter: tough and chewy at the edge; moist and chocolaty at the center. Making this four-bite treat even better are the chunks of chocolate that punctuate the cake inside.

If the mall setting doesn't bother you, sit under the Samsung sign and have the chocolate bouchon with coffee ice cream. Otherwise, make like a Parisian and take your bite of heaven chez-vous.

Time Warner Center
Third Floor

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Milkshake Is Better Than Yours

Danny Meyer proves that all shakes are not created equal.

Since opening in 2004, Shake Shack, the “roadside” eatery in Madison Square Park has developed a cult following — which means crazy-long lines. Luckily, most people are waiting for burgers, which have been declared among the city’s best. For milkshakes, there’s a separate queue that moves quicker.

What makes these shakes worth waiting in any line for is the quality and simplicity of their ingredients — think: Gramercy Tavern, not Carvel. Flavors are limited to chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, caramel, coffee, and black & white. Each is made with frozen custard — as opposed to ice cream or soft serve — milk and one other ingredient. The black & white, the most popular choice, for example, is vanilla custard, milk and hot fudge. The strawberry shake, made with pureed berries, is perfectly sweet and the caramel, which uses caramel sauce, tastes as decadent as an entire sundae.

Even sweeter? A portion of Shake Shack’s proceeds goes to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which keeps the park in tip-top shape.

Shake Shack
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park

Monday, March 05, 2007

Chocolate Pops

A new way to eat crème brulée: in one giant bite.

With the plants and orchids in the front window of Kee’s Chocolates, an under-the-radar boutique in Soho, you could easily walk by with nary a glance. But what a shame that would be. Once you step inside the wee spot, the heavy scent of chocolate seduces you, preparing you for the perfection that awaits.

Since opening in 2002, proprietor Kee Ling Tong has whipped up fresh bon bons daily, with her chocolate molds and fresh ingredients there for everyone to see. Thai chili, Earl Grey, mint mocha, and green tea are just a few flavors that might be infused in the homemade chocolates at any given time. But one that’s always on the menu — that is, if you get there before it's sold out — is the signature crème brulée truffle.

The outer chocolate shell of the truffle is thin and brittle, attesting to it being well tempered. But inside, it’s soft, sweet and creamy. “Pop the whole thing in your mouth so it doesn’t spew,” the staff advises. Indeed, the custard filling explodes inside your mouth, with the subtle vanilla flavor perfectly balanced against the dark chocolate. And hurry up, and binge: Because of the custard’s freshness, the crème brulée truffles need to be refrigerated and eaten within two days.

Kee’s Chocolates
80 Thompson Street at Spring

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

Indulge your sweet tooth first thing in the morning.

Sometimes the smell of Dunkin’ Donuts’ jelly doughnuts wafting through the air is so beguiling, so inviting, that it’s all but impossible to pass a franchise without — literally or figuratively — inhaling a half dozen. But after a visit to the Lower East Side’s Doughnut Plant, you realize that indulging in anything but these perfectly puffy fried cakes borders on sacrilegious.

Even if you’ve never been to “the plant,” there’s a good chance you’ve seen these monstrous doughnuts around the city. The gooey, doughy, sometimes square treats are sold everywhere from Dean & Deluca markets to Bubby’s restaurant in Tribeca. Whether you’ve tasted them, or just feasted your eyes on them, you know they’re something special.

From the flour in the dough to the fruit and nuts in the glazes, Doughnut Plant uses all natural ingredients based on recipes from owner Mark Israel’s grandfather. The Tres Leches and Chocolate Blackout cake doughnuts are so moist, there are actual pools of creamy milk and chocolate baked into them. The yeast doughnuts are equally divine. Light and spongy, sweet and delicious, they come glazed or filled with jelly or cream, in flavors like blackberry, vanilla bean, and banana pecan. And in case you need excuses to return again and again, Doughnut Plant also cooks up new recipes for holidays and seasons throughout the year.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Haute, Haute, Haute!

The best thing about winter? Duh. Hot chocolate.

Baby, it’s cold outside. But thankfully, it's bustling and warm at The City Bakery. This Flatiron uber-bakery and café is filled with the beckoning scents of fresh baked goods. Unfortunately, it's also filled with New Yorkers looking for a fix of something good — "good," in this case meaning either good for you, or just yum-good.

The Bakery boasts an enormous salad bar tucked in the rear, and it's nothing to turn your nose up at. Parsnip chips, buckwheat noodles, scrambled tofu, and macaroni and cheese are made with greenmarket ingredients, vibrantly colored and decadently dressed. But what's more decadent are the baked goods up front — pretzel croissants, lemon tarts, peanut butter cookies — and a vat of hot chocolate that is so thick, a mini-waterwheel device keeps it stirring so it doesn't coagulate into a solid block of chocolate.

This is the crème de la crème of cocoa.

The chocolaty treat, served in a sturdy white crock and dusted with cocoa, is the most decadent cup in the city. Super thick and rich, it warrants a "wow" and a totally satisfied smile — maybe even a fit of giggles. If you want to be positively sure that it can’t get any better, order it topped with a sweet homemade marshmallow. Is enduring the hustle and bustle and long lines of The City Bakery worth their famed hot chocolate? In a word, yes.

The City Bakery
3 West 18th Street

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Raising the Bar

After a trip to chocolate bar, you’ll never look at a Snickers again.

Upon entering Alison Nelson’s chocolate bar, it takes the discipline of a monk to pass by the Kahlua-and-cream bonbons or decline a peppermint mocha. But ultimately chocolate bar is the destination for — you guessed it — chocolate bars. Happily, it doesn’t disappoint.

With flavors like milk sesame and white chocolate infused with lime, the big blocks of Brown Label chocolate ($6.25) are for true gourmands. Me, I went straight to the two lines that are more kid-in-a-candy-store-fun.

Retro Bars ($3) boast such nostalgic ingredients as raspberry jam and caramel apple, but are made with today’s high-quality cocoa. Of the six flavors, the Salty Pretzel is the most popular with its nearly perfect sweet-salty balance and delicately crunchy texture. But for my money, the scene-stealer is the Peanut Butter Caramel, which tastes like a Tagalong Girl Scout cookie — very nostalgic, indeed.

To counter the guilt of chomping into a 2.25-ounce chocolate bar, try an Artist Bar ($4). The ten flavors come in wrappers designed by cool pop artists, such as Gary Baseman and David Horvath, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Third Street Music School Settlement in the East Village. The Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts is enveloped in a portrait of a red Cyclops in mid-bite, and is all the invitation I need to tear in myself.

Chocolate Bar
48 8th Avenue

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hey, Cupcake

The cupcake brigade just keeps getting louder.

“Look at these cupcakes! They’re ridiculous!” This is exactly what you hear, standing in line at the new Crumbs on Eighth Street. What started in 2003 as an Upper West Side bake shop is now a sugar magnet for locals and tourists alike. At the newest café—the fourth in the city—NYU girls duke it out in front of the display case with parents toting baby strollers and pirouetting two-year-olds for a view of the candy-studded creations. It’s the sort of perverse glee that pretty, sugary pieces of cake inspire.

Carrot and raspberry swirl cupcakes are relatively modest in appearance, if slightly oversized beneath their dollops of buttercream frosting (“Mini” cupcakes, about the size you’d bake at home, are also available). But what Crumbs does really well is inventive and irresistible flavors. Reese’s Peanut Butter, Fluffernutter, S’Mores and Banana Split are just a few of the 25+ options, many of which are topped with chunks of candy and drizzled in chocolate.

The cake is moist; the frosting, sugary; and they’re next to impossible to eat with any dignity. But who’s thinking of dignity with a Devil Dog cupcake in hand? As another fan put it, “We’re coming here for breakfast tomorrow.”

37 East Eighth Street