Last post on Guatemala to provide some closure. Fernando’s Kaffee was really difficult to find, thanks to limited language skills and nonexistent map read abilities. Oh, and the fact that cafe hopping seem to be a gringo thing doesn’t help when I ask the locals for directions because they don’t know where it is. Thankfully I persevered, and after wandering around haplessly for a good half hour finally arrived at the cafe. The small shop is cozy, with a dark front room set up with the espresso machine and pastry displays opening up into a very cozy courtyard with tables set around a lush garden. I could have spent all day just sitting in that garden reading a book or surfing the web, wifi enabled.

Fernando's espresso

Fernando's espresso

 Of course, I would also order a drink, an espresso in fact. The owner, Fernando, is a coffee fanatic and roasts his own coffee on-site for extreme freshness. The double espresso I sampled was testament of his fervor, impossibly smooth with a beautiful golden crema and fragrant aroma. As a souvenir, I also brought home a few packs of hand peeled, home made chocolate covered cacao beans, each enrobed in a dark, bitter sweet chocolate and packed with crunchy, nutty cacao bean segments. The spicy version, where the chocolate has been spiked with pepper is especially addictive and gone in minutes once I brought it back to the office to my ravenous coworkers, so I am excited to hear that Fernando is planning to start an e-commerce site with global shipping too!

Fernando’s Kaffee

7 Avenida Norte No. 43D


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)

With time to spare before or after church on the UES, I’ve found myself, thanks to Karen’s recommendation, headed towards Nespresso’s boutique on Madison Avenue for a cup of coffee. Unlike your neighborhood coffee shop, the cafe is part of an international luxury brand of coffee shops showcasing, besides the coffee, its ultra-modern coffee machines. The samples are cups of coffee patrons unfortunately still have to pay exorbitant amounts for, but thankfully they are expertly made with one’s choice of roast ranging from the fully astringent to the very mild-bodied. Experts may be able to taste the difference between the different blends, but for now, I’m just content lounging on one of the comfortable seats, sipping my foamy cappuccino while simultaneously munching on good but overpriced pastries. At $10 for a cap and a canele, its a good thing I don’t live nearby.

Nespresso is the upscale brand amongst the stable of Nestle brands, complete with branches on Madison Avenue and Champs Elysees and an ad campaign featuring George Clooney. It is admirable how successful the price discrimination exercise has been, that no one upon entering the Nespresso boutique would associate it with the chocolate bar or 3-in-1 coffee Nestle is known for. In fact, the line of cleanly designed coffee machines and the shiny aluminum capsules filled with different coffee blends that line the back wall whispers luxury, discernment and worldliness. It also sends subliminal messages such as “Buy me, buy me” to my brain. Indeed, if I’m not careful, I’m going to end up with a brand new machine and a box of multi-hued coffee capsules.  

Nespresso Boutique Bar

761 Madison Ave (Between 65th & 66th Sts)

I cannot think of a more ideal way to start the day than to have a croissant in one hand and a cup of joe in the other. Unfortunately, that thought apparently isn’t too unique, and my original breakfast spot, Petrossian, a place better known for its caviar flights and cans of imported foie gras but also a seller of a superior croissant was filled with like minded people at 10am today. Disappointed but not defeated, I weighed my options, and decided that a croissant to go was better than none at all.
Luckily for me, a standby cafe was only 1 block away. So I paid up and toted my croissant, along with 2 crunchy on the outside and custardy on the inside canneles to my standby, FIKA espresso bar, a Swedish cafe that invites all to ” drink coffee“. I ordered a cup of cappuccino brewed from swedish coffee beans from a cool Nordic blond (but only in appearance, she was v. nice), perched myself on a steel countertop and uncomfortable bar stool that exuded Scandinavian design asthetics, stopped myself from getting a swedish meatball sandwich with lingonberry sauce and dug into my croissant.
The coffee was smooth and nutty, but the croissant, with its glossy exterior, a great shatter factor, flaky and light insides and a 100% buttery but not cloying taste stole the show. If only it wasn’t so bad for me would I eat one more gladly for lunch.
So the moral of the story is this. Do not allow a little hitch like the lack of sitting room to get in the way of good eating. Oh no! Apply a little thought and always have back-ups, and you can have the same great breakfast one-two punch like me =)

FIKA espresso bar
41 W58th St (bet 5th and 6th Ave)
911 7th Ave (bet 57th and 58th St)

Of all the days in the week, I choose to be the most productive on Sunday. Sunday, of all days… i don’t get myself….
Anyway, a typical routine would be like this: Wake up a little past 8 am and immediately panicking, for church starts in an hour. Rush out to church at 9 and by 10:30, I get out of the service, and have a good day ahead of me to waste. With the extra time on my hands, compared to the more sensible people who are still sleeping in, I also have the tendency to wander around the UWS more, buy things I don’t want and shop for food I am certainly do not need. Case in point: I had 2 breakfasts today. I certainly wasn’t starved the day before, nor even mildly famished after i devoured my first meal, but I felt compelled to have the second breakfast, because it was pastry =p
First stop: Le Pain Quotidien for a good cup of latte in a handle-less cup, and a huge eggy brioche, slathered in marmalade and strawberry confiture. Although its part of a chain, the big and brightly lit room and the fresh smell of baked bread and other yummy sweets gave the place a friendly, warm personality unlike regular chains.
Next stop: Soutine Bakery for a thick slice of honey cake. Unlike the brisk efficiency experienced at Le Pain Quotidien, service at the tiny storefront was a little more languid and even warmer. The shop assistant served up freshly made croissants, cakes and tiny fruit tarts filled with seasonal fruits to all her customers, regulars or not, with a wide, lazy smile. The honey cake, bought in a whim, was really sweet, tasty and very filling, particularly after being heated up in the microwave and paired with tart yogurt. I would definitely eat it again. So thanks to some spontaneity and a good appetite, I had yet another productive and happy fooding sunday.

Le Pain Quotidien
60 W 65th St
Soutine Bakery

104 W 70th St

51 Wilkinson Rd as I know it no longer exists, with my parents having moved out and the construction crew moving in. I haven’t lived there permanently since 2001, but it is home as i know it and the only home i acknowledge, the apartments in chicago and now nyc are still just long-term accomodation.
So it was with some sense of delight that I found casa about 10 streets away from my apartment that channeled 51 wilkinson. Why do I say so? Like 51 wilkinson, casa is probably owned by a master hoarder of things, and the room and walls reflected the owner’s sensibilities. The decor is an odd mish-mash of stuff inherited from grandparents, lugged in from the flea market 2 streets down, but all lovingly collected and exhibited. I was complimenting the guy manning the store about the beautiful antique cash register and he promptly told me about its history, its design and where he got it from. And proceeded to talk about the coffee grinder next to it, as old and as well maintained, and fully functional as the cash register had been. Just like the way it was at home, where my mum couldn’t bear to throw a lot of the old stuff that she had amassed throughout the years and had to bring them to the new place.
It was also odd that the cool and dark room at the back of the store felt like the dining room at home, where i spent many hours poring over my study notes on the dining table, which was the only table big enough for me to spread my junk all across it. Which was incidentally what i did in casa, I picked the biggest table n dumped my cfa notes on it, ordered some breakfast and coffee and pretended to be a good student when I was actually paying a lot more attention to the coffee and warm strawberry waffle that i was to what I was supposed to be reading.
Anyway, casa’s supposed to be an offshoot of the popular cupcake cafe a mere block away, so there’s obviously fresh cupcakes. But when i was there, the barista, also the cashier and server (v. capable one man show) was making another customer waffles on a double waffle iron, and the smell of freshly made waffle, compounded with images of me slathering it with butter and dousing it with syrup just meant that I had to get it too… I also got a nice big cup of iced coffee that went brilliantly with the sweet syrup… I’m no real coffee connoiseur even though I drink a lot of it, but the coffee was not bitter and the expresso to milk ratio was just right. just one of the best way to start a productive saturday morning.

545 9th Ave (40th and 41st st)