I took Thursday off, part of the plan to purge my 2008 vacation days before the unused ones are sacrificed to the strict “3-month rollover” rule. Food was my constant companion for most of the day, starting out with a strong cup of coffee from Simon Sips in the 1st Avenue park with heart-shaped foam on top.
Capuccino on 1st Ave

Capuccino on 1st Ave

After coffee, I cross the street and voila! Breakfast in the form of a sesame seed bagel with scallion cream cheese and the loveliest, fatty nova lox from Russ & Daughters. Weekdays are nice and quiet, with the countermen eager to serve you and only you, performing surgery on the fish to dole out perfectly thin slices of samples for the smoked fish fan.

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Fish eaten, it was off to Brooklyn via foot, across the Brooklyn Bridge, amidst the rain and fog.
Brooklyn welcomes me!

Brooklyn welcomes me!

Yes walking on the bridge is touristy and sort-of cheesy , but it was one of those things I had wanted to do for a while, and since I was alone, there was no fear of recrimination by sophisticated friends.

Manhattan through rain and fog

Manhattan - a misty view

 I stepped off the bridge on the Brooklyn end, and landed in Dumbo, home to trendy design stores, art galleries and Jacque Torres

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Home of floridly colored chocolates, tuxedoed marshmellow peeps, mountains of oversized chocolate chip cookies and wickedly thick hot chocolate. Restraint was definitely needed when it came time for decision making. In the end, it was 2 truffles for me, with good flavors, lovely designs but rather mediocre shells.
tuxedoed peeps

tuxedoed peeps

 The jaunt in Dumbo took longer than expected and by the time I got back to Manhattan, it was well past lunchtime. I foolishly thought I could check out Minetta Tavern, Keith McNally’s newest hot spot for some Gallic-inspired grub, but forgot to check the opening hours. Lunch, my dear is not served.

Too hungry by now to haul myself crosstown to Balthazar, I then substituted the French for the Italians at Lupa, Mario Batali’s Roman trattoria, where the wine is plentiful and food robust.

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

A bowl of Bucatini All’ Amatriciana really hit the spot on a damp, chilly day, the tomato sauce spicy and meaty, the chunks of guanciale (cured pork jowls) imparting an amazing smokiness. Soft grill onion slices were sweet as fruit, I could almost eat them as dessert.  A bowl of shaved brussel sprouts provided some fiber to the meal, the raw slaw tossed in a mixture of oil, pepper and sharp pecorino, something effortless yet tasty, and definitely one to replicate at home. For dessert, a bracingly sour cup of grapefruit sorbet, the initial reaction “Ooo! sour!” mellowing to a refreshing sweetness, characteristic of the fruit.
Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

It took me a while to nurse my wine, so I hung out at the bar till 4-5, just marvelling at the number of people who drop in to eat at irregular hours (including people with babies. I thought baby schedules are like clockwork?). It is nice though to have functioning restaurants and good service during shift changes, and something I appreciate about Lupa.

Unfortunately, the fooding was cut short by the big bowl of pasta, and after that all I consumed was a pint at the bar with my coworkers and a handful of chocolate covered edamame I had lying at home. Was a nice day out, but I must say, I was expecting my appetite to be better than that!

Simon Sips (72 E 1st St)

Russ & Daughters Appetizing Store (179 E Houston St)

Jacque Torres (66 Water St, Brooklyn)

Lupa (170 Thompson St)


Random things that I like about Simon Sips:

Great space – East village match-box sized but very bright and neat, with floor length windows allowing for the sun to stream in, unfettered. It’s decor has a rough hewn, home made feel that I appreciate, that’s not over-designed. And unlike Abraco, another coffee place I love, it has seats, so no more stoop squatting!

Well-made drinks – Coffee beans are provided by Counter-culture, and each cup is expertly made with thick crema. While the cappuccino was too milky the one time I ordered it, everything else was perfectly done.

The sweet display – I’m still on a cake free diet, but the minute I’m off it the glass display beckons. The slices and bars are all baked in house (with a simple home-made look to them) and feature some interesting flavor combinations that looks very very promising. 

They serve real food! – at very reasonable prices,with everything on the menu kept under $8. Of course, the plates are sized to the pricing and not big, but good enough for a light meal. The sandwich I ordered  was a foretaste of future meals. It was made with excellent bread from Sullivan Bread Company and the  frittata sandwiched between was moist and eggy, sweetened by caramelized onion and sharpened with the taste of gruyere. A novel brunch for someone that doesn’t enjoy eggs.

The name! – What can I say? I like alliteration. Also, like the game Simon Says, I hope this cafe has staying power.

I’ve befriended Simon Sips (even virtually on facebook to get a 25% discount) and found a new spot in the neighborhood that satisfies my caffeine urges. Will you too?

Simon Sips

72 E 1st St (Between 1st & 2nd Aves)

From wikipedia: The word ciao (pronounced “chaow” /tʃao/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either “goodbye” or “hello”.
How apt in this case to be greeted a good day by the lovely glass displays of stacked home baked goodies and a whirring espresso machine dispensing the scent of roasted coffee beans and fresh cups of daily joe. The adjoining dining room, where the walls are bare and interior design rustic, like the cookies and cakes they make, is the best place to enjoy a sit down breakfast. There is the added entertainment factor of watching children from the nearby kindergarten interact with their parents and of course, the fish in a television set.
While I cannot opine on the savory options (save for a not so satisfactory huevos verde a few weeks before), I have been savoring every pastry I’ve bought so far, be it a sticky cinnamon bun, any of the scones or my favorite square muffins, in traditional and some flavors that are more out there, like polenta with lemon lavender and golden pineapple. Their cupcakes are tiny and topped with just enough buttercream, quite unlike the frothy, frosted confections out in the market. Plain is good, when the flavors are there.
Ciao for now does not feel like New York, and instead of rushing from point A to B on the weekdays, I linger there for a while on my precious Sundays, reading the weekend news and taking in the neighborhood sights. Ciao. Goodbye when every crumb has been polished off the plate, and hello to the promise of another languid Sunday next week.

Ciao For Now
523 E12th St (Between Aves A and B)

Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.



   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)
Donut Plant

Donut Plant

Do you believe in serendipity? I do, since how else was it possible that the day I decide to randomly hop on a bus just to see where it goes, the bus winds up right in front of the Doughnut Plant? The Doughnut Plant is famed throughout the city (and apparently Japan) for innovative doughnut flavors and fillings, yet I have never actively sought it out, because fried sweet dough as we all know, are BAD. Tasty but sends you to calorific hell.

However, since the bus deposited me right in front of the store, there was no way I was not at leasting trying one. The tres leches cake doughnut it was, and wow was it worth the hype. The fried tube of cake dough was filled with a semi-viscous condensed milk that just oozes out. The firm cake and the warm filling milk collapses in my mouth and melds together into a sweet mush. Delicious.

Since the first trip, I’ve been making occasional sojourns back to the doughnut plant since I now know how to get there. I love their cake doughnuts, be it the pumpkin that’s packed with cinnamon and spice, and the ultra-indulgent chocolate blackout cake. I have been unimpressed with the yeast doughnuts however, finding them too leaden and greasy, but they too have their followers. And while you’ll find the doughnuts sold in many other locations such as Dean & Deluca, they are still best in the original store, where turnover is fast and the supplies always fresh.

The Doughnut Plant

379 Grand St (at Suffolk St)

The boyfriend was in town for a whirlwind 36 hours and I sent him off to the airport at 5 am this morning with promises to meet again soon. The next rendezvous, we decided, was going to take place in Paris, city of light. Thus french pastries were in my mind as I journeyed home and in spite of only 4 hours of sleep under my belt, I decided to postpone rest and find consolance in a good croissant.

I landed up at Patisserie Claude after a good walk from Union Square, where I was so early that the vendors were only setting up for the greenmarket. Luckily for me,  Claude has already begun churning out his pastries and was serving a discerning cabbie when I reached his shop at 740 am. The notoriously ill-tempered Frenchman was sweet and all smiles this morning as he plucked out a hefty pain au chocolate and a brioche from the trays into my paper bag. Sitting on a stoop overlooking Washington Square Park, I bit into the chocolate croissant, still warm from the oven, with a rich, glossy, semi-sweet chocolate paste oozing into my mouth. Objectively, the buttery dough is flavorful but too heavy in texture, and the interiors were a little too wet, but that did not take the pleasure of eating away. I meant to save the brioche for mid-morning, but could not resist pinching the topknot off for a bite. The broiche is excellent, with a tender crumb, slightly salty and with a deep eggy flavor. I applaud my self-restraint to keep the rest until I got home. Claude’s coffee is mediocre but did its job of washing the pastries down, and I walk home a little more awake and with slightly better spirits.

I look forward to Paris, to daily visits to local boulangeries and patisseries, to discovering favorite tarte tatins with Pak. But for now, I have Claude, and I am satisfied

Patisserie Claude

187 W4th St (bet Barrow & Jones Sts)

Of the neighborhoods I frequent in the city, the upper west side ranks highest in terms of baked goods. While the rest of the city sleeps in on weekends, the upper westsiders and eastsiders, typically a more mature bunch with children in tow are up and about by 9-10 am, hitting Fairway and the other supermarkets for cooking ingredients and on the lookout for breakfast and strong coffee. There are fewer generic bagel chains and more independent bakeries, and Arte around the Corner is one such shop, simultaneously a specialty store for Italian foodstuffs and purveyor of very gooey and addictive pastries and cakes. This morning, a honey and blueberry loaf looked extremely attractive on the cake stand, with pristine blueberries lined uniformly in the crack of the loaf cake like a row of edible buttons. I picked another honey-flavored item, a honey and fig muffin. Unlike regular muffins, it was a lot moister, the crumbs were less compact and suffused with the heady scent of honey. The muffin is not perfectly dome shaped, as the more liquid batter ran over the baking tin, rendering crispier bits that linked one muffin from the other. I picked up chunks of fresh figs in each bite, the caramelized fruit contributing to the overall stickiness of the muffin, sticky enough to have to lick my fingers afterwards. The muffin is paired with a potent cup of coffee. Not a bad start to Sunday at all.

Arte Around the Corner
274 Columbus Ave (73rd St)

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