I met Shravani for breakfast at one of my favourite coffee shops in the city. Located on the Upper West Side, the 40 minute subway ride from the Lower East Side is certainly not the most convenient, but my visits to Arte Around the Corner always leave me quite happy with a sense of peace.
Inside Arte Around the Corner
It’s been months since the last time I’ve seen Shravani – the very first friend I made as an NYU freshman, and one of the few NYU people I still keep in close touch with.
L to R: Rustichella (Lemon Oil Cake), Flourless Chocolate Cake
We walked in around the 10 o’clock hour and sat down to a morning catch-up of times past. The place never fails to be packed to the brim on weekends, yet there is always a constant sense of calmness and efficiency in what sometimes seems to be a crazy city.
It’s hard to pick a ‘favourite’ item here, as everything I’ve sampled has been either good or amazing. In the ‘amazing’ category one can place the Rustichella, a classic lemon oil cake. Now I have no clue how they make this, but if someone knows, please do tell! The cake bears a thin and dark golden crust that breaks into soft, yellow innards. It’s beautiful to look at. But that is just the beginning.
On a different visit, the Rustichella came with a sugar dusted top!
Take your fork and cut all the way down from top to bottom. Put the slice in your mouth and wooosh, it sits for a moment, just long enough for you to take in the fragrant touch of lemon and the moist, full, texture much akin to a well done pound cake. And then, as you dare take a chew, it kind of, sort of…for real, just melts. Just like that. As if it were made from powdered sugar and lemon oil alone. It melts. And disappears. Like the most lovely of memories.
Many loaves to pick from!
But if it’s your first visit here, you must go with one of the herb-honey loves. The come in three simple and pungent flavours. Honey + rosemary, sage, or basil. You cannot go wrong with any of them. It may look like an innocent slice, but do not be deceived.
It is POWERFUL. It is dense, it is intense, it is soaking in honey and the herbs play a dominate and unforgivingly delicious role. The taste of rosemary in the photo above was not a whisper or even a touch. It was bammed in there, straight in your face. Coupled with honey in equal intensity, it tastes as if it were bathed or baked in a river of honey. The golden crumb is rich and solid – this loaf is strong and not for the weak. A cup of coffee or tea is a must. It’s a great morning treat, and sure to wake you up with its intensity! My first taste of this loaf was way back in spring of 2006, when Robyn mailed me a slice (along with many other goodies :) to Claremont. Oh goodness, that was a very delicious package!
Simply ‘good’ pastries here are the muffins, above is the Peach-Banana muffin I had on another occasion. The muffins are best thought of as mild and plain. Not overly sweet, but on the same hand, not exactly fully of flavour either.
It’s a very light muffin, boring if you will, studded with a fair hand of chopped peaches and bananas.
Shann’s strawberry croissant with worth a shot just to try it once, but I wouldn’t get it again. Memorable croissants are already hard enough to come by in this city, and it’s simply best not to eat it if you’re not going to be a good one! As far as pastries here go, it is best to stick with the sweets that you don’t find in most bakeries: the various herb-honey loves, pear-ginger bread, lemon & pine nut polenta cookies and ricotta cheesecakes. You can find scones, muffins, and rolls at near any corner bakery, but it’s rare that you’ll come across sage/rosemary/basil-honey loves!
We decided to walk over to Zabar’s after breakfast, get some fresh air, and perhaps burn off a few unnecessary calories.
Burn off? Well we burned off maybe one or two crossing a couple avenues…but we piled it all back on as we passed the front doors and fell into the temptation of Grom.
If you don’t know about Grom already, read more on it here, here and here. As you can see, there is much to be expected!
I’ve only sampled Grom once before, and that was when I took a spoonful out of Shann’s order. I recall thinking it was very nice, though far from spectacular. So I figured I give it a try for myself today. The pristine clean shop was completely empty as we entered and debated over the variety of flavours. One thing that bothers me about this place is that they cover the gelato so that you cannot actually see the gelato itself. Just metal. And the tag reading the various flavour names. But you cannot see the gelato! Why hide it? :(
I handed over five dollars and some change for a small cup – the most I’ve ever paid for gelato. But if it’s good, it’ll be worth it right? That’s a scoop of the Marron Glaces to the left and Green Tea to the right. Easy on the eyes. The Marron Glaces was somewhat of let down, for it tasted of a bland vanilla gelato with super tiny nidbits of candied chestnuts. No complaints on the texture, smooth with a creamy mouthfeel. I moved on to the Green Tea.
Oh god. It was terrible. The Green Tea. It was gritty. Sandy. Have you ever had gritty gelato? I pray that you never will. The flavour itself was nice, if not mild and pedestrian, but at least the matcha taste was clear. But…SANDY? It was as if the granulated sugar did not dissolve in the process…or something. But. Yes. The Grom Green Tea gelato was gritty. It was disgusting. You never walk into a gelateria expecting a gritty scoop, and you most certainly would never in your right mind pay over $5 for below average gelato. Most other people seem to have had better, or even incredible experiences at Grom. Has something happened since they first opened? Was it an ‘off’ day? I sure hope so. Such ridiculously poor quality was completely unexpected.
Shravani’s Nougat and Gianduja fared better, but I was so letdown/surprised by how disappointing my order was that I did not focus too much on hers. Bah. Am going elsewhere for my gelato fix.
I tried to mend my broken gelato spirits in the busy aisles of Zabars, basking in the glow of apple-cheese strudels, chocolate babka, and a bounty of rugelach. We browsed though buckets of olives, a befuddling variety of cheeses (the burrata looked especially nice!), and went upstairs to oogle kitchen timers and madeline pans.
Zabar’s on Weekends = Madhouse
The day was bright, cool with a light breeze, sun shining straight down and not a cloud in the air. We browsed a wide selection of books from vendors laid out along Broadway from 83rd St all the way down to 72nd. Save for the gritty gelato, the day was good.
We parted ways post-Grom & Zabars, and I went off to do some work and a bit of what I call ‘organizing my life’. I love organizing my life, which might sound a little crazy, but it is lack of organization which drives me crazy.
Robyn came over to the apartment for dinner, where we feasted on spam musubis (Robyn’s first ever!) and mochi doughnuts she brought over from a bakery in K-town. I didn’t take pictures from our musubi-making night, the lighting in my apartment is pretty awful…BUT! Robyn took photos, and hopefully it will be up on her Flickr soon.
(Edit: Robyn posted! Notice her MAGIC with photos. My apartment was dark at the time of musubi making, but it looks like daylight in her pictures! :) My favourites: TOWER OF MUSUBIS…and ROBYN HAZ LAU LAU).
Later on in the night, we headed to L’Arte del Gelato in the West Village, by far my favourite gelato place in the city. Yes, I did have gelato just a few hours before. But because it was quite awful gelato, I saw no harm in yet a second, hopefully redeeming dose for the day!
L’Arte del Gelato, much like Arte Around the Corner always makes me happy. For a month or so back in November I’d visit L’Arte at least twice a week just cause it was soooo awesome. I’ve never been disappointed here, and it seems to taste better with every visit. Pricewise, L’Arte is just a negligible $.50 less than Grom, but the quality is a million times more dependable.
We each opted for the Pistachio, and while Robyn picked Lemon Sorbet as her second flavour, I went with the Stracciatella. We took our gelatos to a table and ate. Oooooh. Geezus, the L’Arte del Gelato’s gelato was a world apart from whatever it was that I had at Grom in the morning. The pistachio tasted like as if they had churned pistachio into a creamy rich butter, heavenly on the tongue.
The thing about the flavours here is that they taste so honest, and pure. That thought was further confirmed halfway though our cups as the owner brought over two sample spoons filled with the banana gelato with speckles of chocolate. OMG. Gaaah. HOW COME SO GOOD?! (Insert Intense Drooling). Like perfectly ripe bananas in the form of gelato. Silvers of dark chocolate, just so that they melt on your tongue the moment it hits. The same goes for the chocolate in the Stracciatella, the chocolate shavings nestled in simple, unadulterated vanilla gelato. It tastes whole. And clean. And just the way gelato should. They don’t mess around here. The people are always so nice, and more than happy let you sample flavours. But most importantly, you’re paying for an excellent product.
So. For the record. As far as my books go, Grom = NO. L’Arte del Gelato = Yes, please!
Mighty content, and glad to have ended the day on a happy note, Robyn and I wandered around the West Village, poking into various supermarkets and pausing to look at many restaurant menus. We each went home later in the night, and I tucked to sleep well past midnight, quite satisfied with the day.
Sunday = Cave Day
Sunday, as long time readers are aware, are my cave days, and so I went about my meanderings today, doing the things I do…running errands, drooling over lovely home furnishings for the apartment I do not yet own, and people watching.
I popped into Joe’s on 13th Street between afternoon Open House visits for a cup of coffee and muffin.
I’ve always relied on Joe’s for consistently delicious muffins, and thus was sorely disappointed by today’s blueberry muffin. Strangely spongy with a stingy bits of blueberries smashed up on the bottom left of the muffin, it left much to be desired. The saddest part was the crumb topping, light, and near tasteless, it barely bound to the muffin, and proved to serve only for visual appeal.
As I drank the coffee I could not help my let my mind wander back to yesterday morning with Shravani, more specifically to that book we spotted outside Zabars. I wanted a copy of Secret Ingredients since it first came out, but didn’t want to pay the list price. I could get it cheaper on Amazon or at Strand…but still…The vendor selling books right outside Zabar’s had it for $20, which is pretty good, but $20 is a bit much to spend on an everyday reading book. I hemmed and hawed a bit yesterday, but decided against it.
The book guy in front of Zabar’s
But. But like my food cravings, my book cravings are never satisfied till I have either eaten the food or own the book. And such was the case. So I dashed up to the Upper West Side on a quick whim and, lucky me, the book was still there. $20 poorer, but much happier, I can finally call the book my own.
I tend to be pretty good controlling my spending habits, but like many of us, I do have a few weaknesses when it comes to money management: baked goods, food literature, and black dresses. Only three vices. I think that is fair ;)
I still haven’t finished The Gospel of Food, which I bought only a few days ago…and with the busy tax season at work…I’ll pray for more subway delays so I can have more time to sit and read the books while waiting for the ever slow F train.
Arte Around the Corner
274 Columbus Ave
NY, NY 10184
NY, NY 10024
L’Arte del Gelato
75 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Joe the Art of Coffee
9 East 13th Street
NY, NY, 10002