Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Enough to Eat, Two Little Red Hens, La Maison du Chocolate, New York NY

Vastly unimpressed by my visit to Norma’s (great food, worst service ever) on my last trip to New York and quite impressed by the myriad great bakeries my original plan was to not sit down for any “proper” breakfasts while I was in New York – I wasn’t about to wait 2 hours for Clinton Street and, on my previous trip to Shopsin’s the place just seemed very stand-offish and ‘sceney.’ Browsing the online reviews I read of a lady named Carrie Levin and a store called “Good Enough To Eat,” however, and it piqued my interest – especially considering the impressive “down home” breakfast I had at Dottie’s during my trip to San Francisco. Pancakes, French Toast, and a bakery case with cupcakes sold me.

With plans for the Met before lunch and then a long tour of Chelsea I arrived at GETE approximately 10 minutes after they opened the doors and there was no line. Seated promptly at a small table (oddly with another solo diner despite the place being near empty) I was amused by the quaint appearance and amazed at how fast the place filled up – literally, full by 8:25. Expecting good things I browsed the menu and made my selection plus a coffee and a water. Checking the bakery case there were no cupcakes present and most of the pies/cakes simply didn’t look overwhelming so I held off to see if more would appear as the meal progressed.

Waiting for approximately 10 minutes as the restaurant filled up I asked my server once again about my coffee – the (very) young girl responded “oh, I forgot.” Fine and dandy, I guess – “my water too, please.” Waiting another 5 minutes I got my coffee – the water would come shortly thereafter. The coffee, quite frankly, was terrible – a mix between Folgers and something worse even with equal (brought by myself from Bouchon the previous day.) Sitting and waiting I looked around at the amusing baubles and trinkets strewn across the room and had an peculiar Cracker Barrel meets Bob Evans kinda vibe – it suddenly occurred to me that, perhaps, some of the appeal of this place was simply that New York City doesn’t have “down home cookin’” in the plethoric number that Ohio does.

Another 5 minutes passed and my order arrived – called “Good Enough to Eat French Toast” the dish was apparently the house signature and for an extra $2.50 I added the cocoa, sugar, raisins, and walnuts to the cinnamon-swirl bread, maple syrup, and ‘famous’ strawberry butter. Despite the awfulness I requested another cup of coffee to go with the dish – at $3 I at least wanted my caffeine fix – and it took until I was nearly done to receive it (and I’m pretty sure the waitress said MAYBE 10 words during the whole course of the meal.)

First tasting the butter I was quite underwhelmed – it tasted like standard grocery store butter mixed with a bit of sugar – I could barely taste fruit, let alone strawberry. Next, examining the dish, I wasn’t really sure what I paid the $2.50 extra for, but whatever it was there is no way the “topping” should have cost extra – all 7 walnuts, 6 raisins, and cocoa of it – I’m certainly not cheap, but I don’t like getting ripped off either. Topping the bread and “topping” with some “famous butter” and syrup I dug in. My first impression – no lie –was “my mom used to make this out of wonder-bread, eggs, and skim milk with cinnamon – but she cooked it more firm.” Eggy, limp, boring – barely “Good Enough to Eat.” Finishing up and sipping my water to cleanse my palate I asked for the check – a check that took about 10 minutes to arrive and was simply set down in front of me without a word. Paying with credit, per always, a small tip was left – along with some written “tips” on how to be a better server – life is all about feedback.

I’m from the Midwest – in the Midwest we do “home cooking” and although I haven’t been to Bob Evans or Cracker Barrel in easily 7 years I would go to either before ever going back to GETE. Dottie’s this is not…one of the worst breakfasts in recent memory it was. I’d sooner go to Norma’s again.

Disappointed/annoyed but leaving GETE by 8:50 and not even close to full I strolled across Central Park only to make it to The Met 20 minutes before opening – and the line was about 200 deep. Having done my research I knew that two “agenda” stops were nearby and decided to keep right on walking and head back to the Met when things settled down. No cupcakes at GETE – time to get some cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens!

Having read very good reviews of Two Little Red Hens despite its obscure location I admit I went in with high – but tempered- expectations, especially given my breakfast. Walking up to the shop it certainly appeared quaint and entering the doors I was struck by its uncanny farmhouse resemblance to Good Enough to Eat. Greeted pleasantly by one of two friendly young ladies and offered a sample of the lemon pound cake the service was already better than GETE and browsing the selections I decided two would be optimal – first selecting the standard Red Velvet and then asking the other lady what she suggested – Black and White – I made my purchase (a bargain $2.75 each considering the size) plus a coffee (an organic fair trade blend whose name I unfortunately forget – though it was quite tasty.)

Making my way to the street and the bright New York Sunlight I stopped to photograph my cakes and decided to dig right in – clearly confusing a short elderly lady who stopped to ask why I was taking pictures of my cupcakes “like a dang fool.” Ignoring her and taking a bite of the red velvet my tastebuds jumped for joy – THAT is what Red Velvet tastes like! Truly creamy cream cheese frosting that is dense but aerated, super moist cake with a great cocoa base but hints of vanilla, and a perfect cake to frosting ratio – the best Red Velvet I’ve tried outside of Bouchon Las Vegas and the one at Bouchon only gets the nod for the cake density and the fact that it was filled.

Unable to resist I next took a bite of the Black and White cupcakes – apparently a mix of the “Brooklyn Blackout” and Vanilla according to the sales girl – and another run-away winner. Half Vanilla with creamy and airy white frosting, half chocolate with a thick ganache and entirely excellent in taste, texture, and proportion. Paired with the coffee the cupcake was actually possibly even more delicious – almost as if the coffee had been selected (Citizen Cake or French Laundry style) to “compliment” the sweets. Having now been to Magnolia, SSS, Babycakes, Crumbs, Dessert Club, Amy’s, Ruthy’s, Eleni’s, and Bouchon in NYC only Chef Keller can hold a candle to the Hens and that is DEFINITELY a compliment.

With one last stop on my morning walk before heading to the museum I decided to make the trip south to the Madison Avenue La Maison du Chocolat. While I am not really a chocolate guy, I do admit I can tell the difference between a good chocolate and an average one - additionally, my aunt is a chocolate lady and as such I made it a point of my trip to New York to get her some chocolates from La Maison.

Despite my lack of love for “chocolates,” I do love macarons that comes from my mother who loves the amazing little cookies. Not having the opportunity to try the originals in Paris, I will admit I've tried a number here stateside from Keller's at Bouchon to Paulette's in Beverly Hills to my personal favorites - those at Pistachia Vera in Columbus.....or, I should say my previous personal favorites.

Recommended by another foodie I really didn't figure one Macaron could be THAT much better than all the others previously tasted - and I was wrong. With smalls at $2.50 each (a single bite - or two if you want to stretch it) and larges $5.00 (3-4 bites) both varieties were perfect - a light and airy crumb, heavenly intense yet creamy filling, that familar "crack" of the shell giving way to a transcendent pillow of flavor.

Sampling a large chocolate with chocolate ganache center, and two smalls -pistacchio with chocolate cream center, and a caramel with chocolate center each were amazing and buying my mother two larges at the time (and a box of smalls the day before I left town, at the Wall Street Shop) she was able to sample the wonder as well. Refined, perfect - pricey but every bit worth it.

As noted above, I visited both the UES and the Wall Street Shops during my visit and found the service at Wall Street to be much more friendly (giving me a sample of a candied honeycomb and a dark chocolate covered prune while I shopped for my aunt's chocolates) while the selection was better and less picked over - to be fair, there was almost an air of snootiness to the lady at the Madison Avenue joint, who despite my shirt, tie, and blazer acted as if I "didn't belong" because I told her I was uncertain which chocolates I wanted as I was shopping for my aunt – thus preventing me from buying them on the initial visit but instead holding off until the following day (05/20,) a day on which both the chocolates and the macarons I bought were actually removed from the mailer direct from Paris and handled with white gloves from removal to placement in my box/bag which was tied with a golden bow.

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