Bouchon… Ladies Who Lunch In the Mall
I can count on a single hand the chefs whose name and reputation could bring me to utter the phrase “let’s get lunch in the mall,” with Robin Scherbatsky-style exuberance. Yet here I was, on a beautiful Saturday afternooon in Manhattan, leaving Central Park and heading into the Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual bistro located only one floor below the hallowed (or not, if recent reviews are to be believed) Per Se. The space itself was surprising. The 60-seat cafe is plopped right in the middle of the 3rd floor, making up for its open exposure with a flood of natural light from the six-story front window of the building. A counterfront bakery is down the hall, not quite adjacent but within eyesight, so you can take some of Keller’s baked goods home with you to devour later.
I’ve never dined at a Keller restaurant before so my expectations were fairly open. I was hoping to see a nice mix of California and French cuisine, with a heavy focus on seasonal ingredients. I wasn’t disappointed. The menu is honest and simple with standard bistro fare turned up a notch by better-than-average ingredients. My wagyu beef reuben, served with cheese and wilted arugula on a crusty bread, was rich and decadent for a lunchtime sandwich. However, it was my companion (and soon-to-be-tour-guide) Amanda’s quiche that had my full attention. I had order envy as soon as it was placed in front of us. The quiche was creamy with a perfectly scorched top layer, served with glistening fresh greens. Simple, rich, delightful. I don’t know if I’ll make a beeline for Bouchon on my next visit to New York but it was a great spot for a hearty, flavorful lunch before powering through the rest of our day. It is absolutely worth a visit if you find yourself hungry in the middle of Central Park.
Cookies, Custard and Sunday brunch after the jump!
Levain Bakery… quite simply the world’s best cookie
I don’t take cookie making lightly. First off, when done corectly they are the world’s most perfect dessert. Secondly, cookies are a classic make at home treat. So I have high expectations if I am going to pay retail for someone else’s efforts. After lunch at Bouchon, Amanda worked some kind of magic, convincing us to forgo Keller’s baked efforts for Levain Bakery, her neighborhood favorite on the Upper West Side. This tiny basement bakery can hold about six ordering patrons at a time. More might be able to squeeze in but the combined body and oven heat would make the wait unbearable. Still, the wait is worth it.
We perched on a neighboring stoop to dig into our desserts. These cookies are enormous. One cookie is about the size and heft of a hearty scone, broader than the width of my palm and at least an inch thick at its thinnest point. It is perfectly golden on the outside and bottom – none of that golden top and blackened bottom we so often see from homemade cookies. The first bite is delicious. My chocolate chip walnut cookie is crammed with gooey, rich choclate chips. If this chocolate chip cookie were a metro train, it would be the red line 8 am. But here is the best part – as I continue to bite into my cookie the middle gets softer and softer. Until finally I’m in the perfect middle and what do I taste? Cookie dough. Not completely raw, mind you, but this is the soft goey stuff that dreams and late night binges are made of. Levain Bakery is in New York and the Hamptons. I hope the owners will expand to DC so I can get my fix any day of the week. In the meantime, future visits to Manhattan will most definitely include a side trip to the Upper West Side for a monster cookie and time to explore the neighborhood.
Shake Shack… Danny Meyer’s snack attack on Madison Square Park
For five years now, foodies in the know have been raving about…hamburgers and frozen custard? Sure, it’s New York, where almost every food commands a cult-like following, but there’s something about the quality ingredients and the consciously-retro vibe that make this place a hit. Imagine a stripped-down Good Stuff Eatery (or a fancified Ray’s Hell Burger, if you will) in the middle of Rock Creek Park and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re in for at the Shake Shack.
Burgers are ground daily, are available with or without cheese and are served plain. Lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion come by request, or you can get a ShackBurger with its special ‘Shack sauce.’ Hot dogs come New York or Chicago style. Fries can be enjoyed with or without cheese sauce. Beer, wine and soda mean you can wash down your meal in as much or as little style as you’d like.
For us, the Shake Shack was all about the frozen custard. Rich and sweet, this dense ice cream concoction coats your mouth as you savor its silkiness. Actually, the Shake Shack IS all about the custard: they offer it in cups, cones, floats, shakes, sundaes and ‘concretes’ (shakes with blend-ins). Even on a cold, rainy night we found ourselves vying for the last spoonful of the Cinnamon Roasted Fig on offer last October. In warmer weather, the Shack offers new custard menus every week, highlighting a unique flavor every day (in the winter, they tend to stick to the same daily flavors all month long). A word of warning – the Megabus and the Bolt pick up at Penn Station/Madison Square Garden, not at Madison Square Park. You can still grab a custard for the ride back to DC, but it’s a 10-block walk (with luggage).
Home… Backyard Brunch in the Village
Sunday morning brunch is a multitasking event. A really great brunch menu and location will simultaneously serve an array of needs, from speeding the end of a hangover to providing a neutral backdrop for casual date or gossip session. Wandering around the Village on a recent Sunday morning, Winter and I began to get a craving for our next meal. It was early enough on Sunday that few shops were open and many of the restaurants we passed were either too high-end for our end-of-weekend budget or, frankly, not brunchworthy. Finally we happened upon Home, a polka-dot of a space on Cornelia Street. The outside gives no hints about one of Home’s most appealing features: a perfectly cozy and romantic outdoor space tailor made for brunch on a warm spring morning.
Have you ever read a menu and had a plate almost literally call your name, as though you dreamed it up yourself? This is what I felt when I saw my brunch order of bacon grits with two poached eggs circled with a light tomato sauce. I felt like George McFly meeting his density destiny. Piercing the perfectly poached golden egg yolks into the dish was a simple pleasure all its own. They took the grits, which were already rich and creamy, to new heights. Thick cut bacon provided salt and contrast to the texture while the tomato sauce circling the dish provided a soft acidity to the overall flavors. My tastebuds were working overtime on this dish and loving every bite.