Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I heart New York like WOAH!

I arrived back from my New York trip two weeks ago - and haven't quite known how to tackle the task of explaining in any meaningful way quite what went on over there. It's like this: take a person (me) who has a massive sweet tooth, dispatch them to a city that was founded on sugar, pique that person's curiosity with hundreds of tips, articles, blogs and general heresay and then set them loose for three weeks to rampage the streets and devour all in sight.

Of course it wasn't just sugar I was shovelling - but savoury stuff can be discussed elsewhere. This is the sweet spot and it was as evil as it was good.

Not that The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck's famous 'Choinkwich' didn't deliver a stealthy layer of salt. I tracked the highly amusing Doug down in Union Square on his last day of trading for the summer. He was holed up in the truck, dipping and grinding - thrusting out of his hatch all manner of precarious and obscene looking ice cream snacks.

I went straight for the Choinkwich. I needed to know. Between two crunchy choc cookies were voluptuous layers of chocolate soft-serve, on top of which, stretched out in a translucence that was awkward, lay two slices of streaky bacon. I got stuck in, the soft-serve exploding out of either side of the cookies, a crumble, then into the fatty fronds. A kind of glycerined saltiness prevailed, then grease. Grease alongside cold, creamy choc - and cookie crumbs all up in my new Brooklyn nails. I thanked him for the experience and got the hell out of there.

My friend Josh who I stayed with in Williamsburg introduced me to his favourite restaurant in all of New York. All the way down Grand St, under the tracks and to this really odd, pointy little building lies Moto, sold to me as 'just like the restaurant in Delicatessen'. Three of us were given a table for two. A gravel voiced guy sang Ragtime with his group. Questionable items dangled from the ceiling and the lighting was LOW. The grilled donuts came after pudding - we couldn't resist those soft, sugared mounds.

Uptown in West Harlem on a grey, hungover day. I cut through Morningside Park at just the right side of daylight and then chanced upon Make My Cake - a contender for best red velvet cake in New York. I'd already had Cake Man Raven's in Brooklyn so thought I'd give it a whirl. I loved both but there was something about the cosiness of this spot on 116th St that got me all caught up by the cake - and all those other cartoon-like extravaganzas in the counter.

Frozen custard. Those two words are like a great jolt of joy to my entire system. The Shake Shack was high on my list of places to check out - but when we got to the front of the line I froze. How the frick was I supposed to make one choice? I went for a malted chocolate shake in the end. We hauled our orders over to a table and then set about the challenging task of sucking up what was essentially a pint of ice cream - with perhaps a 5 second blast in the microwave. Fat bitch!...but rich and delicious and full of (naughty)goodness.

Someone told me about Roni Sue and her Pig Candy when I was in Paris. Here she was in a little shop in Essex Street Market in the heart of the super Jewish Lower East Side peddling choc-covered bacon. Apparently her sales go soaring right before Passover. Originally sold by her neighbour (and Steve Buscemi look-a-like Jeffrey the butcher), the Pig Candy really caught on and now she's one of the market's main attractions. I tucked into a maple and bacon lollipop and bought some hog choc for the good folk back home (not really my kinda thing as it turned out but great for the looks on people's faces when they receive it).

Clinton Street Bakery: home of the city's best blueberry pancakes. I've had a thing about short stacks ever since being taken to California in the '80s. I was then removed from my new spiritual home and taken on a hippy trek round Mexico via brake-less buses. The highlight for me was whenever we got to stay in 'American style' hotels and I got to re-live my diner dreams. These ones were giant, pillowey discus' of berry studded perfection, drenched - so as to make each 'cake lousy with syrup - in warm maple butter.

Needless to say my walking style took on a heavy waddle character for the next two hours and totally hindered my eat/walk ratio for the rest of the morning.

Hungover in Williamsburg, en route to Queens - a Van Leewan ice cream truck appeared. Unable to consume coffee for fear of feeling like the the end of the world is nigh for the next six hours, I went for the next best thing: a scoop of espresso ice cream. It got me all the way to Greenpoint - a wonderful, warm October day, striding along thinking I was doing ok - before dumping me as soon as I'd finished it, into the truth of the matter: wretchedness.

I picked up this pecan Chelsea Bun from the hottest baker in Bristol, Rhode Island. Well, that's what I was told anyway. The bun was like a meal.

My pal Simon urged me to visit Otto. 'Forget about the mains' he said, 'straight for the gelato'. I almost took heed but can almost never turn down a plate of rigatoni with salsicce, so began with that. It was damn good and a perfectly manageable size, which was unusual. Then to the gelato: salted caramel, milk choc-chip and olive oil with Maldon sea salt. Meredith Kurtzman is New York's best ice creamist according to many. It was light, super smooth, intensely, cooly flavoured and really pepped me up for the hike uptown that afternoon.

A tray of pecan blondies from Kim's fabulous Treats Truck. We became fast friends as soon as the words 'choc treats from a van' were mentioned. It was so fascinating being in someone elses mobile sweet zone. Kim is a proper grafter and as much as I put in the hours at all sorts of unsociable times, this girl never stops. Her chocolate chip cookies were my ideal kind: chewy, extra buttery and studded with deep, dark, fruity choc chips.

And as for her peanut butter cookie sandwiches...fugeddaboudit.


One of my inspirations for beginning Choc Star happened when I was last in New York. A visit to Mariebelle and a taste of their Aztec hot chocolate really got me thinking about our own, largely hopeless hot chocolate offerings over here. It was small, powerful, spicy and gave me that inside grrrr that makes the world seem right. That was five years ago when my taste buds were perhaps a bit less focussed. This time, I'm sad to say, the hot choc tasted like it was from a packet - albeit a far superior packet than an Options or Galaxy sachet.

Egg, a diner round the corner from where I was staying was a revelation. A bit rock n roll, brilliant service, warm, inviting and serving almost wholly egg related dishes. Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, Chelsea Buns, omelettes and great big doorsteps of brioche French toast. If you're feeling cheeky (I was) then you can get a grapefruit Mimosa to help things along. We didn't want to leave.


Things got kind of strange at Momofuku Milk Bar. There we were, sheltering from the horrific, whipping rain and just up for a small slice of something each...when the order got messed up and they decided to bend over backwards to make it better by giving us one of practically everything on the menu. We got compost cookies (pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips), candy bar pie (chocolate crust, caramel, peanut butter nougat, pretzels), cereal milk flavour soft serve, cornflake choc-chip cookies, more soft serve and then...CRACK PIE.

I'd heard talk of this stuff all the way over in Brooklyn. It was described to me as like taking all the pecans and the pie crust out of a pecan pie and then turning up the volume on that...stuff in the middle. What we were confronted with was a pie made entirely out of sugar, save for a delicate lacing of rolled oats, there to give the impression of a base.

I'd nearly finished it before I remembered to take a pic - and was wired for the next thirty minutes, whereupon I wanted more. That's how it works.


Sweet potato and pie crust flavour bowls of soft-serve in Momofuku Noodle Bar. Pie crust :), sweet potato not so much.

Chocolate bread pudding at the Hudson. We sat in this strange Harry Potter-esque hall with long banquet tables and enormous high-backed chairs, dining on the finest mac 'n' cheese and chicken Caesar salad. We shared the pud - I ate most of it.

Chocolate and peanut butter ice cream from Emack & Bolios in the West Village. The woman really tried to hard sell me these freaks of nature...

...but I said 'Listen lady, that is just a bridge too far'.

There were all sorts of other treats I managed to find space for in my body but think I'd be pushing it to fit on here. The long and the short of it is that New York is a mecca for all kinds of sweetness. You can't move without seeing a heavy frosted cupcake or a big bulging Rice Krispie treat. Ice cream parlours are round every corner and open til way late at night and I've never seen so many cake shops in all my life - not even in France.

If you like food - of any description - go! Jump into that adventure playground of greed and let it swallow you whole. There may be hints of gout nuzzling up to you by the end of it but that town will feature in your day and night dreams for years and years to come.

Big up to the city that makes you feel brand new!

14 comments:

Jennifer said...

Oh my god, Petra. It looks amazing. My own trip has been postponed :-( but I will definitely be hitting you up for tips whenever I finally get there! Chocolatey, sweet awesomeness...
Can't wait to hear more about it when I see you next!

The Ample Cook said...

What a fantastic trip. The photos had me dribbling.

I heart cupcakes said...

Great post! I am jealous you made it Momofuku - we kept getting waylaid. Clinton St Pancakes were the best - I had the banana ones and they were HUGE.
Sounds like you had a great time - and your hot choc is definitely the best I've had in London, actually probably just the best!

Steven Pierce said...

Fantastic photos, Petra! It's reassuring that I'm not the only person who takes photos of everything they eat!

Edd said...

looks like you had a great trip, NYC is definitely my favourite food city especially for the sweet stuff cant wait to get back

LoveFeast Table said...

I just had a delish dessert at Momofuku. I don't remember what it was called but it's the 7th picture in my post here: http://lovefeasttable.com/blog/fancy-friday-duex/ The most amazing thing about it was the fried tea leaves sprinkled on it! Yeah, tea leaves...fried. And, they were yum!

Petra Barran said...

Jennifer - not postponed for long I hope? We can de-brief properly soon!

The AC - there are bibs for that you know...!

Anne - Thanks for complement. See you at next Slow Food?

Steven - I get told off by people all the time for it but I can't help it.

Edd - don't they just rock it? In such a light-hearted, OTT way.

LFT - properly out there, aren't they? We need one in London!

scandilicious said...

Reading this was a form of slow torture - I LOVE New York and the States in general, and forget how utterly moreish "American" food can be. Those pancakes...

If you ever do a ChocStar trip across America and need an extra baker/shaker behind the pedal count me in dude! S. xx

Helen said...

Oh my word, this post is EPIC! What a trip. What a feast! The Choinkwich is twisting my brain inside out. I am loving the idea of choc covered bacon. I know you don't dig it too much but I love those sweet and savoury combos, especially the bacon ones. I nearly died and went to heaven when I made Bompas and Parr's bacon donuts: streaky bacon in a krispy kreme. Sick and wrong and brilliant.

Petra Barran said...

Sig - you got it. It's going to be the trip of a lifetime and perfect for the anthropology!

Helen - I love your turn of phrase. I do like the choc/bacon thing but the BGIT just had the textures a bit odd and Roni Sue's ratios were all messed up. I did try a bacon bar at Haute Vosges while I was there and this was much more agreeable - salty little studs of chicory smoked bacon within a dark/milk choc.

Helen said...

PLEASE start making chicory bacon studded chocs. Please.

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Suzanne said...

After looking at all of these dessert pictures, I feel like I'm in dessert heaven!

roger cossey said...

Where have you been hiding, this is the first time that I have heard about you!