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)


kees_logo1The economy is in miserable straits, and the companies most impacted are financial institutions. To combat plummeting revenues, financial institutions are finding all sorts of ways to boost the bottom line, from the obvious like massive lay-offs, to the more indirect methods, such as letting external vendors squat at their lobbies. I am not 100% sure, but speculate that this is how Kee’s chocolate counter in the HSBC building at Bryant Park came to pass.

I’m not complaining of course, because this move only brings one of the best artisanal chocolatier a scant 5 city blocks away from my office and removes the need to travel to soho for a quick cacoa fix on one or multiple of Kee’s delicious confections. My mouth water for the dark chocolate with balsamic ganache, the glossy dark chocolate shattering to uncover a rich ganache flavored subtly with a sourish yet mellow flavor. And I cannot decide if I prefer La Maison du Chocolat’s rustic champagne truffles dusted with cacoa powder or Kee’s sophisticated looking pyramid filled with heady alcoholic chocolate truffle. I did not purchase any of Kee’s jewel colored macarons, fearing they would compare poorly to the perfect specimens from Laduree and Pierre Herme that I have been gorging on for the past week in Paris, but they definitely looked beautiful on an aesthetic point of view, albeit somewhat lacking in height and glossiness.

To be sure, Kee’s chocolates are expensive at over $2 per tiny piece, and I have to tighten my belt both figuratively as well as literally after my excessive gorging in France. But the chocolates are super-indulgent and you can be sure it is made fresh locally by an independent artisan, therefore totally worth losing that daily cup of joe for. I guess I’ll just drink pantry coffee from now on.

Kee’s Chocolates

80 Thompson Street  

452 5th Ave (within the HSBC Bryant Park building lobby)

Its been a rough week at work, and I’d been seeking solace in snacks. And I found this funny little thing called Happy Hippo at the food world deli on Thursday that completely made my day. Its made by Kinder, the maker of Kinder surprise and kinder bueno, and is shaped like a pea pod with the facial features of a hippotamus down to a pair of dopey looking eyes and flaring nostrils. Each of the three segments made a mouthful, so this is definitely smaller and less sinful that eating an entire bag of m&ms (Wednesday’s poison.) The body is made of a crisp and crunchy wafer, and the insides are filled with 2 different creams, a dark chocolate hazelnut spread and a light milk flavored cream that were thick and creamy without being cloyingly sweet. Sprinkles decorate the edges of the hungry hippo to prevent the two halfs from splitting and provide added texture if not taste. Definitely one of the more fun candy I’ve had in a long time!



I find it hard that anyone would dislike Economy Candy. It is both a purveyor of kitsch and candy for serious chocolate connoisseurs, with the candy types ranging from wacky giant PEZ dispensers and anatomically correct chocolate babies (taste more like taffy), to hard to find imported Cadbury chocolate from the UK and chi-chi Scharffen Berger bars. You may go in with a certain item in mind, but you’ll never know what you’ll end up buying, because temptations are abound. If in case you’re just browsing, rest assured you’ll find something calling your name. And no matter what you end up buying, you are quite certain you are getting quite the bargain here. Case in point, a 1 oz bar of Scharffen Berger milk chocolate, retailing for $4.50 per bar on their website only costs $3.50 at Economy Candy.
I, for one, was highly distracted the moment I was let into the shop, literally on a sugar high by just inhaling the sweet scent of the hand-dipped chocolate and the huge slabs of halvah. I saw the colored candy buttons of my childhood (the ones my mum told me were toxic and would stain my stomach neon pink and yellow) ; really hard to find European items such as Kinder-Surprise eggs with a toy inside and those Mozart chocolate and marzipan balls that my choir friends and I raided the Germany supermarkets for; the Giant PEZ dispensers, gummy dentures; different types of dried fruit and old fashioned American candy bar, some that I’ve never seen.
Being rather ignorant of the history of candy in the U.S., I picked up the Sky Bar, an unconventional chocolate bar with 4 distinct fillings that was produced by Necco, only to go home and find out that it has been in production since the 1930s. And all I thought while getting it was “hmm.. tt’s a great bar for a commitment-phobe”!!
While I think everyone would like this funky sweet emporium, the economy candy store is truly highly recommended for those who are 1. nostalgic for some old school candy; 2. looking to experience the LES pre- the invasion of the bobo eateries and 3. in serious rebellion against their dental surgeon. In any case, eat up and have fun!

Economy Candy
108 Rivington St

I have a sweet tooth and am unabashedly upfront about it. As a result, I’ve borne a fair share of good natured ridicule from time to time, when colleagues jokingly hand me the largest slice of cake during “birthday tea-breaks” or snarkily inform me about leftover cookies sitting in certain conference rooms. However, my well-publicized weakness for candy has perks too. For example, I do get the largest slice of cake around, and people remember to bring me desserts whenever they go on trips. John for example brought back some interesting Indian traditional sweets back to the office after his whirlwind trip to India and I was the lucky recipient of my own box when others had to share… MUAHAHAHA
For the uninitiated, India is a sugar-loving nation, but one can hardly tell from surveying the dessert menu at most Indian restaurants in the US. Besides the standard gulab jamun and ras malai, desserts are pathetically under-represented. And you are hardly missing anything if you choose to skip the commercially produced and oversweetened balls of flour and sugar. But sweets, or mithai, are a big part of life, featuring not only during festivals and religious days, but also as common fixtures during weddings. More importantly however, the small but intensely sweet nuggets are so good that you want them to be part of a daily routine, as a after dinner sweet or something you savor with your cup of chai tea.
Of the selections within my personal box of Delhi sweets, I adore the pistachio and almond burfi, decorated with edible silver leaf most. While not as pretty as some of the more colorful sweets, the blocks of candy made from condensed milk, flavored with a smoky nutty flavor are simply irresistable. The ladoo is another popular sweet, reminiscent of a gulab jamun in its shape and sugar-soaked nature, but even more sinful (and thus better tasting) since its deep-fried in ghee. Unfortunately for the health-conscious, we all know that the best sweets are made with real butter, lard, and in this instance, ghee, but sacrifices have to be made, and for now, taste trumps calories, even as I fruitlessly try to limit my Indian sweet consumption to one after each meal….

Trust the French to call a less than healthy obsession on haute chocolaterie “un péché mignon”, or an adorable sin. Well, adorable or not, I do have a pretty big sweet tooth, and an appreciation for good chocolate. Thank goodness I live in New York, the land of $5 chocolate bars and gourmet chocolate shoppes, ranging from artisanal local names like Kee’s to conglomeratized mega- brands such as Fauchon and La Maison du Chocolate. Chocolate Haven sits in the middle of the spectrum, a large enough enterprise to have 2 factories and a website selling a whole gamut of cocoa-loaded goodies and a celebrity chocolatier at the helm, but still small and localized enough to be quintessentially New York.
Chocolate Haven’s owner is Jacque Torres, dessert wunderkind and ex-dessert chef at the legendary Le Cirque. Besides all those titles, he has also been called the city’s Willy Wonka and in his shop/factory down on Hudson Street, I could see why. Instead of the austere decor in La Maison du Chocolate, the walls within Chocolate Haven are painted in vibrant reds and oranges. The servers (aka. Jacque’s Oompa Loompas) were likewise dressed in bright reds, greens and yellow tops and all wore weird multicolored braided headdress of sorts, as though as they were wrongly transplanted in the greyish cityscape, and should have been in a tropical rainforest instead.
Some things to try while in the shop are the signature hot chocolate (in the normal and wicked version, wicked being spiced i think); the chocolate truffles and the chocolate chip cookies, and during the hot summer months, the decadent cookies and icecream, in the form of an ice-cream sandwich. And if you are looking for some more durable gifts, the chocolate bars, as well as the bags of chocolate dipped sweets, ranging from marshmallows to expresso beans to malt balls. While not as blatantly New York as bagels and pretzels, these chocolates make an equally worthy food present from the Big Apple.

Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson St