Montag, 22. März 2010

On the prowl, pt. 3

Finally, in part 3 would like to keep hold of my multitude of wonderful culinaray experiences in DC and NYC.

I know I can claim to be lucky as I had the chance to live the whole last summer in Paris, had some weeks of holidays afterwards in Vietnam, am living in Vienna, a.k.a. a place that claims to have a long and important culinary past and present. (I could speak on that for ages. About how much culinary inheritance matters for the Austrian self-understanding, about how many Austrian chiefs are misunderstood as being German, about how much that hurts Austrians - you can't imagine! - , about the influence it still has on other cuisines and especially on desserts/pastry. I better stop here...) And I am or did profit of all this in the last year in a culinary sense at the fullest.

Americans, on the other side, are in my altitudes not know for being gourmets. For many, that might be still true. I remember the latest Jamie-Oliver-initiative (not that I would be huge fan, and I even think you can be very critical about this project). I remember the US administration's reaction when they found out that children do not eat healthy enough and especially lack vegetables in their school-menus (declaring ketchup as vegetable). I remember lots of asian girls involuntarily slimming during their first time in NY because their stomachs couldn't deal with the huge amount of fat in american dishes. And I often heard Americans wondering that in Europe, yes, big, adipose and fat people also exist, but it is just not as common and as much a problem, especially speaking about kids. And all that did not happen in kind of a mesolithic stone time, aeons away, but just in the last years (except the ketchup story - this was the Reagan administration). But I also have to aknowledge, that limiting American food culture to this:
is far too easy nowadays. Especially when it comes to sweets, I have to say that there are huge ways to learn from them. I can't remember having seen Brownies before the big Starbucks-invasion in 2003/2004. What I associated with American sweets was mostly Donuts (I guess the Simpsons have something to do with that),  and what I have seen in other series (on Friends or Seinfeld they sometimes ate Muffin). But I couldn't name a place where you could have bought them in Vienna, and I had no idea about the almost infinite possibilities for these little "cakes". And, yes, I have to admit, I only know that something called "Cupcakes" exists due to Sex and the City. Donuts did fit my image of american taste very well. Extremely sweet (Still, I think that many american sweets are way too sweet and I guess that is not only my impression. Sweets in Europe are just made with less sugar), fried, very very fat.

Nevertheless, I was excited, curious and forward looking to my trip to Washington and NYC also in culinary way. What happened?

First, since last summer my impression of the food/americans-combo got all mixed up thanks to this dude and this gal. Secondly, over the years I did not only get used to Brownies, Muffins&Co., but integrated them in my eadible favourites. (Double-chocolate muffins at Starbucks, this almost completely black treat with the cheesecream in it's middle and the dark chocolate chunks... oh my goodness, thanks so much for them!) In fact, in Paris I ate a lot more typical american than french patisserie.
And secondly, since I started to bake myself, I am dealing a lot with american sweets, chefs, home-bakers and recipes. And I found out that there is so much to discover, so many people, amateurs and professionals, putting a lot of lot of love and effort in their kitchen-adventures. I follow the mostly american crowd on TWD, and have to admit that they all are far better then the snobbish "I am Austrian - what do you want to tell me about baking?"-me, and they all are very inventive and creative. And, last but not least, I just had to give in that if you start to go into it, you (i.e. me) have to rethink your prejudices...
[I am wandering from the subject.]

In DC, it started with a cupcake from Cakelove at U-Street. There I saw for the first time in my life a Red Velvet Cupcake (believe it or not... that's something that didn't make it over the ocean up to now!). I found an absoultely wonderfil little chooclate shop, Biagio Chocolate on 18th street. The salespersons there where so really interested in what they sell. You could see that they are not just employees but really interested. Besides a whole lot of chocolate, many american brands I never heard of before, they sell pralines, caramels, individual chocolats and truffles from mostly local createurs. They are lovely, perfectly looking, and taste wonderful! And I always like to taste things from local producers.

Arriving in NY, the first thing I did was not to drop of my baggage, but to head from Penn Station to Mizu Salon on Park Avenue - because there Dorie& Josh Greenspan presented the Cookie Bar. My train was very late and my New Yorker friends live in Brooklyn, so the only chance to grab some cookies was to directly go there with my huge suitcase. Must have been a funny picture. Nevertheless, it was so worth it! It was just the week when the group made Dorie's Best Chocolate Chop Cookies, and I was very excited to see how they were ment to be originally. Additionally, I took a Peanut Butter Crisscross, a Chocolate Chunker and a World Peace Cookie. Boy, they were all so good! I never had a World Peace Cookie before and was overwhelmed. How can only one cookie have so many different textures and tastes combined and assemble to one perfectly fitting piece?

I continued my prawl at Junior's with a Chocolate Cheesecake and a Carrot Cake Cheesecake. No, I didn't eat it all on my own. :o] I can't imagine that anyone can eat a slice of them alone. Well maybe one. But for sure not two...

Staying in Brooklyn, I went to Jaques Torres, but I gotta say that I was very, well, maybe not dissappointed, but underwhelmed. I know better shops, especially with a much bigger variety and nicer salespeople, from Paris. A lot of. Generally, I found that all chocolate shops I visited in NY (Vosges Chocolates, L.A. Burdick) where not so special.

Brooklyn Icecream Factory was closed (the pictures might give an explanation... It was the only snow day I had in NY). But I found a very nice coffeeshop on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens instead, the Fall Café. Maybe it's not the most fancy coffee shop with the most extraordinary selection of sweets and beverages, but I liked the atmosphere. I did not especially like the italian bakery on Court Street, (Monteleone), but that was my own fault, as I generally am not so much the Italy-lover. So I headed over to Sweet Melissa (never heard of it before, but when I saw it, I thought there might be a link to Sweet Melissa Sunday?), and had my first Red Velvet Cupcake in my whole life. (This one was slightly too sweet for my taste, but still didn't keep me away from having many more the 10 following days...)

Over in Manhattan, I buyed a huge amount of Bread, Scones and Biscuits whenever I passed by Amy's Bread (or whenever I made it possible to "just by chance" pass by a shop). I have not been at Magnolia, because the only time when I really passed by was on a Sunday afternoon, what might generally be the wrong time, and additionally it was Valentines Day.... The line was out the store, around the corner and a long way down 11th street. Instead I had a cupcake at Billys Bakery  and I had Brownies and Blodnies from Fat Witch. Both were ok, but not overwhelming. For the Brownies: I had only minis, so maybe the normal sized ones are better. I was at the City Bakery, but did not get a Pretzel Croissant, even if that's what they are most famous for. I realized that I think of croissants as the most boring of all Viennoisserie (and I think it is not worth it - with a Brownie or a Muffin you are better of  for mostly even less calories/fat), and I am not a huge Pretzel-lover (I reall can't understand the craze about them in America), so a combination of them might not be the reigth item for me. But I completely liked their Peanutbutter Cookie!
I went into Grandaisy Bakery, but left without buying anything (the italian problem, again). I had two little treats from Minamoto Kitchoan (a Katzukaori and a Forgotthename, a mochi with chestnut, which is pictured right). I went there because in Paris I know at least two  excellent japanese bakeries and wanted to see if this was special for Paris, or if japanese bakeries are just like that. (The ones in Paris are different. They have french pattiserie and chocolates and just happen to be japanese guy who make them. Kazukaori offres real japanese sweets) If you like asian food and sweets (I do!), than this is the right place to loose a big amount of money for a little amount of sweets. (But they are tasty, tasty, tasty)

I did not arrive to get a place at the Clinton Street Baking Company, so I dropped it. Dessert Truck Works, just next door, was always still closed when I was in the street, but I had nice breakfasts at Atlas Café and Café Pedlar on Clinton Street. I arrived to be at Orchard Street once when Il Laboratorio di Gelato was open, but it was the only other day with wheather that was really not made for eating icecream. I had a Frozen Yoghurt from Pinkberry the other day instead (Frozen yoghurt is still not very common in Europe. In Paris, there is an increasingly famous shop ,but I never saw it anywhere else), and I for sure had a coup from Ben&Jerrys (I love Ben&Jerrys! They are just about to try out if other Austrians share this love and started to sell a few sorts at videostores in Vienna. Cross your fingers!!)  I didn't arrive neither to have a look at Bouley Bakery or the Bouchon Bakery and I guess that's really a pitty, nor at William Greenberg, Lady M or Barney Greengrass - ha, I arrived to get the curve away from the sweet side...). I passed by Katz's, but was not inspired to step in, and got a Bagel from Russ and Daughters, topped by a dessert from the Veselka kiosk near by. (Boy, the Lower Eastside is a gourmet everglade I could get lost in forever...)
I spent some time at the Chelsea Market. Ok, to be honest: I spent a lot of time at the Chelsea Market. Not only for the many great food stores, but I also liked the atmosphere there!

I went by Shake Shack, but had no Hot Dog. Mostly because I had something else to do on Madison Square... I had lunch at 11 Madison Park. I really like to go to great restaurants, but in cities like Paris or New York I absolutely cannot afford this, despite I take a lunch prix-fixe menu and limit myself as good as possibly to this. After some research my choice was made for this restaurant. In the end, I am really happy with it. The problem only was, that I did not really understand what I did order for the main course, but I am always willing to try out something I don't know. Yeah. Good thing, very often. I am not so much the pork-parmesan-type. But here, it was a big mistake. Because what I thought could eventually be fish turned out to be kind of a sausage. And if there is something I really do not want to eat at such an expansive and luxury restaurant it is a sausage...
Well, bad luck. But for the rest it was fine. More than that. I was told afterwards that it is typical for american waiters that they feel they have to entertain you. Especially if you are a woman eating alone. Well that's not really my understanding. I had something to read with me and feel intimidated and daunted if somebody is around me all the time. Eating alone is not that funny anyways and if the waiter is standing next to me, trying to make small talk, that doens't improve the situation. However, I guess that's a "cultural differences"-story that can not be solved. After all, they only wanted to be nice and polite. The ambiance was quite impressive (the room is wonderful!), the food was excellent (I would not go further. For its class and price it was good, but not incredible), and I got the feeling that I got a good price-quality-relation out of it. I only regret I did not opt for the dessert, because I wanted to get something at a place called "New York Cake". Yeah, good idea. Unfortunately, New York Cake is a baking supply shop, and not a bakery :o] 

On my very last day (the rainy day, unfortunately), by chance I found Economy Candy, where you can buy all kinds of chocolates, bonbons, chocolate bars, at a moderate price.
But, more excitingliy, I ran into a shop I had read somewhere about but had completely forgotten: Babycakes. They are a vegan and mostly gluten-free, sugra-free, lactose-free bakery specialized on, you already guessed it, cupcakes, muffins and brownies. maybe you are wondering if all this xx-free leads also to tast-free.Without any exaggeration, there I had the best, best, best cupcake (it was a carrot cake cupcake) and the most wonderful brownie of all NY. Maybe it was the fact that they were just not as sweet as the others. Maybe it was because they use a lot of things I often bake with and I am just used to these tastes (spelt flour, agave nectar). Or, maybe they are just amazing...

And this is it. More or less, that's what has been on my list. I found some nice coffee shops, where you might not have expected them (Bread Stuy and Miss Dahlia near Nostrand Avenue stop), a great polish restaurant (Lomzynianka on Manhatten Avenue in Greenpoint, where else), whereby "great" is only a description of the food - the restaurant is very small. And prices are, too, although some friend assured me that they raised over the last years continously. And I was introduced to a wonderful place to brunch in Williamsburg. I know, I know, there are about a million. But Bistro Fada is really nice and special, and very close to french bistros, and it has this wonderful winter garden and terasse! In summer it must be great to sit out there. And they have Sancerre, my favourite wine, at a comparatively modest price compared to what it cost in Vienna.

And so, finally, I found kind of a link back to the beginning of this blog-entry, to Paris and Vienna. :o]
(@ MoMa)

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