10 days, tightly packed
In such matters, there’s no better place to begin than breakfast. In late morning, and with an oscillating fan as musical accompaniment, we tore into a fresh Balthazar baguette and smeared hunks of it with cool Double Devon cream butter, layering on paper-thin slices of crisp radish from the Union Square Greenmarket, sprinkling each bite with French gray salt, and washing it down with purply-red blood orange juice. Each mouthful was salty and soothing, crunchy and yielding, peppery and cooling, delicious. And so it began.
A day and a half later, with a wedding reception, a falafel, and two trips to Jersey behind me, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow-blogger Amy, in town from Sweden to visit family and friends, for a warm evening of drinks, dinner, and the sort of conversation that keeps two girls firmly planted in their seats until well past midnight. We met at The Dove, a red brocade-lined bar near Washington Square Park, and after a gin and tonic for me and red wine for Amy, we moved on to Otto, where we shared a bottle of wine, two pizzas, and a side of cauliflower “alla Siciliana.” Though the place felt more cavernous and less intimate than I’d expected (and, as Amy noted, the bathrooms could use immediate attention), the pizza was fine and the cauliflower appealingly roughed up with lemon and capers. It was the company, however, that made the meal. I may have come to New York on official Brandon-related business, but I plan to always time future trips to coincide with Amy’s visits from across the Atlantic. Especially if it means getting to attend another barbeque at her family’s home in New Jersey, as we did the following afternoon. Her friends were more than welcoming to this West-Coast outsider; her father was an excellent partner for a porch chat; and her mother makes a mean oatmeal cookie.
And speaking of family, I managed to sneak out to Long Island for a few days with my own—my half-sister Lisa, her husband, and their five children. Between Little League games, school plays, and loads of laundry, Lisa introduced me to her favorite haunts, from her plot in the nearby community garden to Azure Chocolat*, a little light-blue shop on a quiet street in Centerport. And there I discovered the Azure s’more, surely the loveliest specimen of the genre retro-goes-ritzy, homey-goes-haute.
A palm-sized cube layered with homemade rosewater marshmallow, maple rose truffle, and thick homemade graham crackers, the s’mores are generously dipped in dark chocolate and topped with chopped walnuts. They are blessedly subtle in their sweetness, with a complex, hard-to-pinpoint floral quality, and but more importantly, they are blessedly easy on the tongue. Lisa and I took one home, sliced it thickly with a paring knife, and hovered over it, chewing thoughtfully and dabbing at the cutting board with our fingertips to catch every stray shard of chocolate.
And though I bought three more Azure s’mores for the road, that didn’t stop me from seeking out more sweets—also of the nostalgia variety—back in Manhattan. Brandon, ever food-savvy and already keenly aware of my sweet tooth, had studiously compared cupcakes around town and suggested a visit to sugar Sweet sunshine on the Lower East Side, where we, after only minor negotiating, decided to share an “Ooey Gooey” (a chocolate cupcake with chocolate-almond buttercream) and a pistachio cupcake with “the Moose” (a shiny, satiny buttercream).
We sat down at a table by the window with our napkins and chosen cupcakes, as well as a free bonus: part of a pumpkin cupcake with lemon buttercream, a baker’s “mistake” offered to us by one of the girls at the counter. We made fast work of the soft, creamy little cakes,
and as we were discussing the merits of sugar-laced kitchen errors, I noticed a strangely familiar-looking couple standing near the counter: it was Clotilde, of Chocolate & Zucchini, and her boyfriend Maxence! I had known that they were visiting New York from Paris, but, as Clotilde noted in her sweet description of our fortuitous meeting, the odds were razor-thin that we’d find ourselves in the same colorful little cupcake bakery at the same time on the same Saturday afternoon. But we shook off our disbelief, swapped notes on the city, and chatted a bit, and then we parted ways as surreally as we’d come together. Unfortunately, I missed her get-together at Otto the following evening, since I was on my way to JFK and back to Seattle. With any luck, though, we’ll find another time to meet—this time, maybe even with prior planning!—in New York or Paris, or on sait jamais, Seattle.
But in the meantime, I made my way home with a bag full of New York: three little vats of ultra-creamy Sabra-brand hummus; a dark and sour Balthazar pain de seigle; three cheeses from Cato Corner Farm; Jacques Torres chocolates from Brooklyn’s Blue Apron Foods; and fruity, not-too-sweet liquid loot from the greenmarket, strawberry-rhubarb and apricot wines from Château Renaissance. And as a parting gift, I also got to bring home a wonderfully food-obsessed New Yorker, at least for a few weeks. It should be enough to keep me busy—and well-fed—until next time.
*Azure Chocolat’s website is still in the works, but you can find them at 90C Washington Drive in Centerport, New York; telephone: 631.425.1885.