times square


Something made me happy and a tad heavier on Saturday.
Trying to avoid the weekend masses at Starbucks, I decided to do some work instead at CyberCafe on 49th St instead. Since it’s an internet cafe, there is obviously no free wifi to freeload, and there were all but a handful of tourists making use of overpriced internet quietly. No soccer games were showing on the projection screen slung across the backwall either. Peace and quiet finally.
What makes CyberCafe even more perfect for an antisocial reader is its bounty of more than decent coffee and food. While there are no pies on weekends, Madeleine, a sweet old French lady is on board to make some traditional French crepes. I was extremely pleased with my crepe, the simplest of them all, with all but a squirt of lemon, a brush of honey and a fairydust of powdered sugar. The crepe was paper-thin, crispy on the edges and with a little chewy give, not fat, doughy and tasteless like the foodcourt variants. Sweet, sour, buttery. It was delicious.
While I was polishing off my crepe, I felt a tap on the shoulder. There was Madeleine, smiling away with a fat slice of cake in her hands. “Here you go”, she said. “You’re my first customer today, so this is on the house.”
Wow… When did I ever get so lucky? And it wasn’t just some day-old cake she was trying to clear too! She had just baked it that day, an unassuming but rich butter-cake, almost dripping with moisture, topped with a compote of fresh plums to celebrate the end of summer and stone fruit season. The plums were sticky, sweet and tart at the same time, and a splash of grand marnier (her secret ingredient, she smiled conspiratorially as she told me) gave the jam a heady scent. The fresh cream that accompanied that cake was the real deal, creamy, milky and fragrant. Definitely not from a can. It took me willpower not to finish the cream. But the cake, I did. After all, it was a gift from a most charming hostess. One that made me heavy, but more importantly happy.

Madeleine the crepe lady
CyberCafe
http://www.cyber-cafe.com/
250 W. 49th St. (btw. B’way & 8th)

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I spent New Year’s Eve doing what thousands of New Yorkers most loathe, or at least will shudder when hearing about it. I spent the 7 hours preceding midnight on the streets near Times Square, in anticipation of watching the infamous crystal ball drop and ushering in 2007 with a million others, 85% of which was estimated to be out-of-towners. Luckily Gerrie and I had 2 enthusiastic out-of-towners in tow too, or else we would never have the bravado to brave the crowds or the courage to face our friends or colleagues who scoff at the idea of even stepping within the 3 blocks radius of tacky Times Square. Being fully unprepared for the size of the crowd, how boring it could get while waiting and how cold the temperature could drop, we went without food, without entertainment and for gerrie, without socks. The first 2-3 hours were bearable and the almost stampede that nearly killed us was exhilarating to say the least. By 9 pm however, the novelty had waned, our legs were killing us, the crowd made us claustrophobic and the stale air started to stink of lit cigarettes and unwashed hair. After skipping on dinner, we were also ravenous that Applebee’s -a chain I snobbishly turn my nose up at during normal circumstances- right across the street from where we were standing never looked more morbidly inviting. Unfortunately, leaving the insides of the barricades to enter Applebee’s would mean us giving up our hardearned space, something we were too invested in by then.
Luckily at a little past 9, we noticed enterprising deli employees from BellyDelly Deli and La Famiglia walking along the barricades taking orders for overpriced pizza and drinks. The order taker from Bellydelly was really sweet, but the hot chocolate was extremely vile. Still we cupped it in our hands and enjoyed the warmth. The pizza from La Famiglia is something i usually won’t touch from a ten foot pole. Even the picture reflects the radioactive orange emanating from the pie. Still, it was gooey, greasy and most importantly hot, and filled our starving stomaches. It was the best slice of pizza I’ve had.

A danger one faces when dining around Times Square is picking the wrong places, places that are meant as tourist traps serving expensive and bland food in a cheesy environ where servers, beyond bringing food to the table, try their darndest selling you sparkling water and expensive bottles of wine. Thus, when we decided to eat on the infamous restaurant row on 46th st this weekend, I sifted through recommendations from friends, authoritative new york food blogs and review sites to weed out the duds and to shortlist some potential places. In the end, I picked Pomaire over Becco, for the great reviews it got and the prospect of trying a novel cuisine, Chilean to be exact. Also, the thought of the All You Can Eat pasta deal at Becco was far too allluring and a truly dangerous path to take for a carb fanatic such as I.
Pomaire, advertised blatantly as the only Chilean restaurant in Manhattan serves up some traditional Chilean alongside entrees, such as panfried salmon and steak, that would not look out of place in most new american restaurants. I cannot judge the authenticity of the food, this being my first Chilean meal, but everyone thought favorably of their entrees. Ceci admired the texture of her pan fried hake while Ruoying’s combo of juicy ribs and warm mashed potato was full of flavor. I ordered one of the most traditional dish on the menu, the cazuela, or a chicken stew with root vegetables and rice and enjoyed it too, although it tasted too much like the chicken soup I cook at home and didn’t merit the $17 price tag.
Appetizers were less successful, the tamale being too watery and the empanadas just normal. And desserts were quite a disaster. The Thousand Layered cake tasted stale, the merengue cake tasted like confectionery sugar and the papayas in syrup were just that, papayas in syrup. All were too sweet, and a real pity because if done properly, the desserts could have been a stellar end to the meal.
We did however, love the extra attentive service. The servers were funny, patient, and went the extra mile to 1) turn an order of 2 large empanadas to 5 small ones so that we could have individual empanadas and 2) to gallantly retrieve my root vegetables from the cazuela to prevent them from disintegrating in the broth and bringing my extra hot sauce to spice the broth up. They weren’t overly pushy about selling overpriced drinks, but I thought they figured that we were an easy sell because Gerri’s Dad was eager to try all their recommendations and they could have taken some liberty by recommending a pricier bottle of wine and pushing more desserts than we could handle. Then again, I could be overly cautious, this being Restaurant Row and all.
So overall, the meal was enjoyable although the food was only average and a tad expensive, truth to be told. The ambience was quaint but not too chintzy and the warm service redeemed whatever misgivings I had about the food. However, it will be a while before I go back as the quality of the food just didn’t warrant the price tag. Still, big thanks to UNCLE & AUNTY for the wonderful meal!

Pomaire
371 W46th St (bet. 8th & 9th Ave)