Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Friday, October 06, 2006

New York # 1 - The Sweet Life

The great thing about eating sweeties in New York was that they abound on almost every street corner. Stretch out a hand in any direction and you're likely to see a shopfront with heaps of goodies in the window. It was quite hard to resist temptation, from the Godiva chocolate store just 2 streets away from our hotel, to the dessert menu at every restaurant we visited. Of course, not everything that looks wonderful tastes just like it looks but we were lucky many times over. While the sweeties we will remember best are from some of New York's institutions, which we hadn't set out to look for, but stumbled upon in our walks downtown in the various 'villages', what made the memory of eating these sweets are that they mostly lived up to their (much deserved) reputations.

Cupcake Goodness

Sugar-packed goodness!

These cupcakes need no introduction, having achieved worldwide fame after an episode in Sex and the City. I happened to be wandering down Bleecker Street after checking out Marc Jacobs and other tiny boutiques listed in Lucky Magazine's New York Shopping Guide and had walked past their shop front before doing a double take and scurrying back to peer through their window. I nearly fell over in excitement at the shelves piled high with cupcakes iced in a variety of pastel colours and other assorted cakes. Hurrying in, it was like an Aladdin's cave of choices and when I hesitated, the girl at the counter nodded irritably to the cupcakes in the corner and told me to help myself.

There wasn't a huge selection available after a couple of pink-shirted guys ahead of me had made off with a couple of boxes between them. Thankfully, the staff replenished the cupcakes and I choose some each of the vanilla and chocolate cupcakes.

Understandably, the counterstaff at the Magnolia Bakery would be jaded by the crowds snaking around the corner block at the West Village store daily to stock up on the cupcakes. Surprisingly though, the afternoon I was there (Monday at around 4pm) only had a couple of people milling around inside, which was perhaps why I had walked right past it. But even with the bored girl ringing up the sales at the counter, it was quite hard not to fall for these old-fashion cupcakes with sprinkles on sugar/buttercream icing and leave with a small box. That was all I could carry though, despite the other tempting cakes I spied, as I was already lugging bottles of fig vinegar and tomato powder and all my shopping from that morning and still had a fair bit to walk before reaching Chelsea!

I had previously read mixed reviews about Magnolia's cupcakes and was curious as to what they really tasted like. Later that night, A and I divied up the loot. A loved his for the sugar rush it gave him, while I thought the cupcakes although delightfully light and fluffy, were made too sweet from the pile of sugar icing on top. That said, I do see where the attraction in Magnolia's cupcakes lie; a whole load of them, pastel icing contrasting with your simple white platter, definitely makes for a great centrepiece at your next dinner party. Of course, this sort of visual picture mostly appeals to girly girls and some girly guys.... Before consuming one of these sugar-rushes, just remember to scrape aside half of the icing and I'm sure you'll get along fine.

A couple of days later, my friend Cal, told me that he had it from a friend that Magnolia's Banana Pudding was hands down much better than their cupcakes. I didn't think A and I could stomach downing a pudding for 6-10 persons in the few days we had left and sadly had to pass on this tempting treat. That and other cakes such as the Hummingbird Cake (described as "A southern cake with bananas, pineapples, and pecans topped with cream cheese icing and toasted pecans") and the Red Velvet Cake (the menu's blurb informing that it was "a famous beautiful cake made red with cocoa, a little vanilla, and a lot of southern mystery....with its own special whipped vanilla icing") which piqued my interest would have to be left for another trip to New York instead!

Magnolia Bakery
401 Bleecker Street (this is the side of Bleecker St in the West Village; cross street - 11th Street)
Tel: 212 462 2572

Italian Pastry Delights

Yummy bite sized treats

Established since 1894, we stumbled on Veniero's when we went down to the East Village for a ramen lunch one Sunday afternoon at Momofuko's (more in a separate post). While waiting for Momofuko's to open, we took a quick walk around the block and spied this old-style Italian café. Checking my Zagat guide, we noted that Veniero's was well-known for their Italian cannoli's, essentially cream-filled pastry shoehorns (these are in the right hand corner of the picture above), and fruit tarts and made a mental note to drop by for dessert after we were done with lunch.

Feeling sick to the stomach from the excellent Iowa Berkshire pork in the ramen, it was all I could do to toddle, groaning and moaning, around the corner to Veniero's, much less squeeze in more than one of these little pastries as a sweet ending to lunch. Even in my pain, I thought the yellowish custard delightfully light and not at all sweet, and the sweet pastry crisp to the bite. A box of these pastries, with milk coffee, a good book and fabulous weather under a tree, would be a perfect way to while away the afternoon.

We bought a pound of these pastries for dinner with my old friend, Cal, that night, and again to my everlasting regret, Cal had fed us so well (including 2 desserts!!) that we both couldn't fit a couple of these pastries into our tummies. So the memory of the sole strawberry/blackberry tartlets (with custard and fresh cream) we had space for that afternoon will have to carry us until we next scoot up to New York and order a box just for ourselves.

Veniero's Pasticceria & Caffe
342 East 11th Street (East Village)
Tel: 212 674 7070

New York Cheesecake

No pictures for this as in our eagerness to try the cheese cake, I had forgotten that I hadn't gotten any shots! Smooth and creamy without being cloying, and a dry graham cracker crust, the mini-sized cheesecakes (we tried the classic and the blueberry) were the perfect end to our time in New York.

It was on one of our last nights in New York when we met our friend Greg, and A's cousin, Sarah, both of whom had flown in to meet us. We took them on a short walking 'tour' of SOHO on route to Greenwich for dinner at a lovely Italian pizzeria with an outdoor garden (more in another post) and had walked past Eileen's. Since I had missed the cheese cake at Veniero's for which I understand they were quite famous for, I suggested we start with a couple of cheesecakes for dessert before we headed for dinner. Understandably, the guys didn't buy my enthusiastic blurb about how we can't leave New York without eating New York-style cheesecake (I was told later that when I get into such spiels, I made for a very convincing tour guide) and made smacking sounds about how much longer dinner would be so I packed a couple of their pint-sized cheesecakes for later.

Now I'm not ordinarily a fan of cheesecake, having been subject to many friends' interpretation of this classic New York dessert. I've tried many versions from cheesecakes I've classified as gag-inducing "stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth" types to those that tried to infuse flavours like blueberry/peach/strawberries and the like to that truly horrible Japanese sponge-cake concoction at Tio Glutton (and it's predecessor, Momiji - or some equally faffly name like that). I will eat good cheesecake that isn't difficult to swallow and light on the tummy though, although it's definitely not my dessert of choice.

Having tried Eileen's, this is a cheesecake which I would happily eat again (if not all the time). If you like your cheesecake lighter in texture, these would be a good choice. Grab a mini-sized one, which is sized so as not to leave you feeling like a bloated beached whale and skip all the funky fruit-topped ones and stick with the classic. Sometimes, the simplest choices turn out to be the best.

Eileen's Cheese Cake
17 Cleveland Place (corner of Kenmare & Centre Streets)
Tel: 212 966 5585

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