Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho, Manhattan
Undoubtedly, most of you guys have heard of Dominique Ansel Bakery since he's the famous pastry chef who invented the infamous donut. And no, I did NOT get up at some ungodly hour and even attempt to line up for a cronut, because screw that. As awesome as a croissant-donut hybrid is, I was on vacation and I was not getting up before 9AM.
So instead I waltzed in at around 2PM in the afternoon and decided that I was going to get the next best thing at the bakery: a Kouign Amann. Unfortunately, they were sold out of that too. In fact, they were sold out of almost everything! Because truth be told, the bakery was kind of a disorganized clusterf*ck, mostly consisting of a long corridor and an even longer line. There was lots of pushing and yelling at the staff by customers. Yikes. I panic ordered and got a "Magic Soufflé", which their menu describes as "an entire Grand Marnier chocolate soufflé baked inside an orange blossom brioche", made to order:
Again, I was disappointed by the pastry. I guess my reading comprehension skills were a little off that day, but for some reason, I was envisioning something more akin to a chocolate croissant — that is, melted and gooey chocolate in the center of the brioche, as opposed to chocolate bread. But after doing some research, it seems like I waited too long to eat my Magic Soufflé. According to Serious Eats, I had let it sit too long and allowed the molten center to bake through and turn into chocolate cake? Oh well.
My friend Vikram, however, got a Lychee Coconut Pavlova that was much more exciting (if a little too sweet):
So again, let's talk about the hype. Was there any other bakery that received more hype than Dominique Ansel this year? No probably not. But was it worth it?
Overall, I feel like Dominique Ansel's bakery was kind of a victim of its own success. Although the desserts were pretty good, I felt like they were mostly gimmicky and looked better than they tasted. To top it off, the bakery's ambiance kinda ruined it all. If you're fine with long lines and unruly crowds, by all means, give it a go. But I'm going to have to give this a pass. Not worth the hype.
Doughnut Plant in the Lower East Side, Manhattan
Doughnut Plant came highly recommended to us by Erlend's parents. A family business that started in 1994, Doughnut Plant has since expanded and provides donuts for places like Dean and Deluca and other fancy grocers and cafes.
The bakery is known for its filled cake donuts with original flavors. These cake donuts are unique in that their filling is piped throughout the donut's circle, ensuring you get filling with each bite. Below is the seasonal Marzipan flavor, along with my favorite, Tres Leches:
Doughnut Plant also claims to be the inventor of the first ever Creme Brûlée donut; that is, a vanilla custard filled mini donut, topped off with brûléed sugar that actually crunches when you take a bite:
Now I'm not sure what the hype factor of this place is, but I really liked their creative flavors. I recommend this place, but with a warning: these aren't your average Dunkin Donuts type donuts. These are fancy gourmet cake donuts, which has a different flavor from traditional yeasted donuts. But go and get the Tres Leches or the Creme Brûlée — you probably won't regret it.
Ladurée in the Upper East Side, Manhattan
Yep, this is the famous macaron house that dates all the way back to 1862. According to this New York Times article, Ladurée was first established as an ALL MEN'S tea room (that is, no women allowed!) near the Place de la Concorde in Paris back in 1862. The bakery was responsible for the macaron as we know it, replacing the traditionally round cakes with the sandwich cookies that we know today.
The New York location is located on the ritzy Madison Ave in the Upper East Side, just a stone's throw away from stores like Chanel and Christian Loboutin. When we went, there was a long line outside the store (which resembled a jewel box). Grumbling, Erlend and I got in the long line, wondering if it was worth it to wait in the rain. And so was it?
Oh yes, yes it was.
The macarons, at $2.70 a piece, were surprisingly cheap considering their quality and the fact that they are flown in from Paris every day. From left to right, these were the flavors we got: chocolate, pistachio, salted caramel, chestnut, praline, raspberry, rose petal, and orange blossom.
I was especially partial to the rose petal, orange blossom, and pistachio flavors. I'd never had an orange blossom flavored macaron before, and I loved its delicate, citrusy flavor. It wasn't too florally or perfumey either. The pistachio one was another winner. Most pistachio macarons tend to run dry, but Ladurée's was perfectly textured with a flavor that almost tasted like marzipan.
So with the hypemeter running at an all-time high with Ladurée (these are said to be some of the most famous macarons in the world, with over 15,000 sold every day), I'm pleased to report that yep, these macarons DID live up to the hype! Yay!
Little Cupcake Bakeshop in Nolita, Manhattan
So of all the bakeries I wanted to visit on this trip, the Little Cupcake Bakeshop was probably the least famous. I wandered into it by chance when I was last in New York, peeked in through the windows, but never got to try a cupcake. When I got home, I was intrigued by their website (like... why is Giselle the supermodel posing for this neighborhood bakery?) and subsequently put it on my list of places to visit on my next trip to New York. Since then, the cupcake store has been featured in a deleted scene for Girls (of course).
I ordered three cupcakes — a Brooklyn Blackout cupcake, a Red Velvet cupcake, and the somewhat mysterious Blue Velvet cupcake. I was hoping that the Blue Velvet cupcake would be an exotic new flavor, but unfortunately, it was actually just Red Velvet with blue food coloring. Oh well. Excellent Brooklyn Blackout cupcake, however.
No hype here, so here's my 2 cents: if you're in the neighborhood (which you should check out anyway, Nolita's adorable), stop by and grab the Brooklyn Blackout. But overall, it's probably not worth traveling for — cupcakes are everywhere these days, and there's nothing distinguishing this shop from its counterparts... except for the fact that Giselle is modelling their cupcakes? Which I still can't figure out why? Oh well.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream in the East Village, Manhattan
Van Leeuwen's is another neighborhood place that I came across by chance. Vikram, one of my good friends that I've known since middle school, lives a few buildings down from the cafe and often hangs out in their inviting space:
Van Leeuwen's was a nice change of pace from the other bakeries we visited. It was a lot quieter and we were actually able to relax and catch up with Vikram as opposed to standing in long lines and dealing with bustling crowds. And let's not forget that Van Leeuwen's makes killer ice cream:
In the pictures above, Erlend is devouring a sugar cane and pistachio ice cream cone. The pistachio ice cream was especially delicious, made from really high quality Italian pistachios that are only imported every 6 months or so and cost something like $95 for 4 ounces. Not bad for a $3 cone! Definitely check out this place if you're in the East Village.
Baohaus in the East Village, Manhattan
Oh my god, bao! Steamed fluffy Asian buns with fillings like slow-braised pork belly and five-spice fried chicken. Why isn't there a place to get bao in Portland? WHY?!
Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, Manhattan
You've heard of Shake Shack, yes? Delicious burgers, fries, frozen custards and shakes. Long line, but oh so worth it. Pro tip —get a double burger because a single's not gonna be enough. Trust me on that one.
Flushing Neighborhood in Queens
That yep, you guessed it, sells Peking duck buns for a dollar each. A DOLLAR. They are absolutely, unbelievably, indescribably delicious — not even the picture below does them any justice:
While I am happy to travel on the subway for an hour just to get a box of these buns, Erlend is especially partial to this, uh, "secret" food court. I use parentheses around the word secret because, well, I'm not exactly sure what it's called. The name on the entryway sign reads "Golden Mall", but really, past the entryway are a set of stairs that lead into a cramped, windowless basement:
Inside the basement are different stalls and vendors serving all sorts of Chinese deliciousness, like hand-pulled noodles, fresh rolled dumplings and pork belly cooked in more ways than you can even imagine:
Since then, Xi'an Famous Foods has expanded to several Manhattan outposts with great success. I believe that, with the exception of the Flushing location, all other Xi'an Famous Foods outposts have their noodles hand-pulled in the same kitchen. The Flushing location is the only branch that still handpulls their noodles on-site! Another reason to justify the hour+ train ride out to Flushing.
Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
If you're a serious food lover, Smorgasburg is NOT to be missed. It was overwhelming being in there, and reminded me a lot of the Night Market at Feast Portland (a food festival I attended earlier this year). Most of the food is fusion cuisine, featuring famous vendors like Asia Dog to Adobo Shack. And perhaps the most famous fusion item there is the infamous ramen burger:
Yep, that's right. A ramen burger. Meaning a regular burger, but instead of being sandwiched by hamburger buns, the burger is sandwiched by RAMEN:
Okay, so I made the rookie mistake of ordering from the first few stalls I saw as opposed to walking around and figuring out what I wanted. By the time I saw the ramen burger, I was two strawberry champagne macarons, one BBQ sandwich and half of an adobo rice bowl deep. I could not make room in my stomach to try this delicacy. Shame on me, I know.
But eitherway, as I said before, you can find all sorts of food being sold — from BBQ to bubble tea, lobster rolls to pupusas. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves: