Times Square Cheese Tour!

Monday, December 20th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No, not THAT kind of cheese.  The metaphorical kind that is reserved for places like Times Square.  There comes a time in a young New Yorker’s life when you just have to grab a touristy spot by its points (of interest) and rediscover its “charms.”

And thus, after stops at the Whopper Bar for dinner, then the Charmin Ten Star Restroom Experience (in that necessary order), my friends and I began the dessert portion, which included Pop Tarts World, M&M’s World, and the Hershey’s Store:

At Pop Tarts World, we sampled the famous Pop Tart Sushi.  Although the pieces looked like charcuterie, the flavor was far from meaty.  The filling tasted like a ground-up Pop Tart wrapped up with a Fruit Roll-Up.  Not God-awful, but not good either.  We then tried a Cinnamon Roll Pop Tart, which was quite good (“buttery” and sugary) and the S’Mores Pop Tart, which was just a-ite.  The warmed up tarts come in plastic clamshell packaging, which is pretty depressing– one measly tart per whole huge container.  Our planet is going to look like the beginning of “Wall-E” soon enough at this rate.  They also had free gingerbread Pop Tart samples, which were like graham crackers filled with icing.  They were very dry and would have been much better warmed up.  I did not attempt to use the Pop Tart Varietizer where, for $15, you can literally make any kind of Pop Tart you want, although there are enough to choose from in the store– seriously.  I was also not strong enough for the Pop Tart sundae station, where, instead of ice cream as your base, you use a Pop Tart.  Then you cover it with even more frosting, sprinkles, marshmallows, and a billion other things– talk about gilding the “lily.”

Next up: M&M’s World, which is a 25,000 square foot, Disney World-like three floors of all things M&M’s, like earrings, shot glasses, guitars, puppets, and Monopoly Board Games, in addition to countless silos of the candies themselves in every imaginable color including an unappetizing gray.   You can get almond, peanut butter (my favorite), pretzel (a rip-off), dark chocolate (disgusting, as Mars chocolate isn’t good enough to do dark), minis, and peanut.  Coconut was M.I.A., however.  A chocolate scratch ‘n sniff sticker smell permeates the place when everyone knows that M&M’s actually smell like poop.  In my hallowed Dairy Queen days, I recall a time when I was filling the M&M’s bin for our Blizzards, and one of my coworkers (whose back was turned to me) wrinkled up her nose, and said, “What is that smell?!”  The store has a sad little “Green” section towards the back on the 3rd floor devoted to something or other about Indonesians using chocolate tree bark to make paper that is selling– for a Limited Time ONLY– at the M&M’s Store (so, um, aren’t all those people going to be out of work soon?).  Well, inevitably, my group and I started craving M&M’s and inquired as to the whereabouts of those normal, boring M&M’s packets that you can get literally everywhere.  “We don’t carry them,” an employee informed us.  Crestfallen, we spitefully responded that we’d just have to get a Hershey bar across the street.  Oh, all the water in the world and not a drop to drink!  The mediocre chocolate covered in a sweet candy shell sang its siren song to us.  And yet you have to either go through the bother of buying the M&M’s in bulk from the silos or your have to buy an extortionately-priced plastic shape filled with them, such as a champagne bottle for $18.95.  We grudgingly purchased a pinwheel shape, which was totally unergonomic as once you pried the damn thing open, many of the candies jumped out of the tray onto the floor.  And the pinwheel spaces were too small for adult hands and had tight corners for the candies.  Ironically, just outside the store, there was a street cart vending the coveted packets of M&M’s, including the suntan-lotion-tasting, yet oddly delicious, coconut ones!

What a contrast the Hershey’s Store makes.  Underneath the massive 16-story marquee proclaiming Hershey’s “The Great American Chocolate Company” is a tiny, cramped, and sad little store.  The lighting is a harsh white and we kept bumping into things– an employee informed us that the popular Hershey’s water bottles get knocked over all day and that the majority of their stock has rolled irretrievably underneath various display stands.  There is an entire section of the store devoted to Reese’s, which I was ecstatic about as I am a huge fan of the peanut butter cups.  (I used to microwave them until they were melty, then I would gobble them up and lick the leftover chocolate off the plate.  What can I say?  “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.”).  Continuing my tour around the store, I discovered that Hershey’s owns Scharffen Berger and Dagoba (sigh).  There is also a poopy chocolate smell that would waft through the store periodically– just like the fragrant aroma of the Kisses.  Instead of three floors of all things Hershey, the tiny spiral staircase here leads to a visible storage area on a kind of balcony.  The only excitement comes from The Original Automatic and Gravitational Chocolate Machine where you get to wear a Hershey’s Factory hat, crank a metal wheel, and watch assorted chocolate bars come down a twisty shoot and go into a bucket.  Woot!  Out into the cold, we divided our spoils: bags of Hershey’s Nuggets (truly delicious “extra silky” milk chocolate with toffee bits) and Reese’s Clusters (chocolate-covered peanut butter, pecans, and caramel that seemed totally unnecessary).

We also made a stop at The View lounge at the top of the Marriott Marquis, which is a bar up 48 stories with seating on a lazy Susan that features a 360° view of the City.  You pass by the tempting dessert buffet every 50 minutes or so (as well as the dinner buffet, bathrooms, and, you know, exit).  The chocolate fountain and petits-fours called to me as I ever-so-sloooowly orbited.  Had I not spent $14 on a cocktail plus $8 cover for being present after 8pm, I might have considered the $17 for the desserts.  Cruel The View.  I’ll have to go back on a reconnaissance mission soon.

Pop Tarts World
128 W. 42nd St.
New York, NY 10036
M&M’s World
1600 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
Hershey’s Times Square
717 7th Ave.
New York, NY 10036
The View at the Marriott Marquis
1535 Broadway, 48th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Szechuan After-Dinner Soup: Waiter, there’s a bean in my dessert

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 | Restaurants | 1 Comment

Imagine after finishing a wonderful meal of spicy Szechuan food at an excellent restaurant in Flushing, Queens, you are presented with a bowl of something that appears to be lentil soup.  You didn’t ask for it, but there it is, sitting in front of you.  Your dining companions have some, too, and you shoot questioning looks at each other.  Did the waiter bring you someone else’s order?  Isn’t everyone stuffed to the point where a bowl of soup is really not welcome so much as a nap?  Did the waiter just mumble something about green beans?  You take your spoon, swirl it around, and bring some soup up for closer inspection.  There are stock-like meaty-looking particles as well as lentil or barley-ish bits floating in a green and brown “broth.”  A sniff reveals nothing.

A slurp and you realize that you’ve got a sweet (dessert?) soup that doesn’t taste like much other than lentil soup with a lot of sugar in it.  There’s no meat flavor, just bland sweetness.  Later research reveals that, as an antidote to the extreme spiciness of the cuisine, Szechuan cooks make this soup from green (or mung) beans, which are believed to cool and soothe the palate.  Cooling?  Yes.  Tasty?  Meh.  Neat-o?  Definitely.

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Empire City at Yonkers Raceway’s Lillian Russell Café’s Dessert Buffet

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 | ice cream, Restaurants | 2 Comments

Who doesn’t get excited about all-you-can-eat dinner buffet? Because what usually accompanies it? All-you-can-eat dessert buffet, that’s what! And where can you find this treasure? Well, lots of places, I’m sure, but the one I’m going to talk about is found at this post’s title, which I really don’t feel like writing out again.

Why was I at such a location in the first place? Another walking tour, of course– this one beginning in beautiful Riverdale, the Bronx and ending up in Yonkers (one of my favorite New York place names). I also like horsies and was excited to see harness racing for the first time. After dazedly making our way through the celestial lights and sounds of the electronic slot machines on the ground floor, we found the restaurant and dropped $24 per person for the prized buffet. We grabbed our plates and raided the numerous shiny steam trays containing such old-school delights as prime rib and chicken francaise.  Some of us moved quickly from dinner to dessert, some saved time and combined dinner (beef slice) and veggie-containing dessert (carrot cake slice) on one plate, and the shocking verdict is this: nothing was very good, some things were very bad. 


The highlight of the dessert buffet was easily the Edy’s soft serve ice cream sundae station.  Being a cocky Dairy Queen alumna, I was sure I’d make a sundae of exquisite beauty– “You own this,” I chuckled to myself.  When I first pulled the soft serve handle, however, the ice cream took forever to emerge, and then when it did, it spewed forth with such speed, that it immediately filled my tiny bowl and went right over the edge.  So… ugly and… no room left for toppings!  I tried to fit in what little chocolate syrup that I could, but mine was a sad ice cream-laden creation.  My friends heeded my advice about the dastardly handle and made the necessary corrections for their sundaes.  One friend made a concoction that was all toppings; another hid a “cookie surprise” on the bottom of his bowl; another made two sundaes and proudly plowed through each one of them (to get his money’s worth, of course).  One more word: have you ever heard of pancake syrup as a sundae topping?  Neither have I.  And judging by the high level of pancake syrup left in its bin at the station, neither had most of the other patrons, either.

The rest of the desserts featured in the buffet– rugelach, cheesecake, and éclairs– were just horrendous.  If you look at the picture I have here, you might agree that everything “looked as if it had been dragged across the carpet, then thrown onto a platter,” as my friend mentioned.  To uphold my journalistic integrity, I actually tasted the rugelach (unspeakably awful) and the éclairs (which were oddly moist, as if they’d just been thawed out from the freezer). There were also some unidentifiable sugarless cake (?) slices that made me thank my stars I’m not diabetic. 

I’m sure you can’t wait to go now!

Empire City at Yonkers Raceway
Lillian Russell Café
810 Yonkers Avenue
Yonkers, NY  10704


Myanmar Baptist Church 15th Annual Fun Fair

Thursday, October 14th, 2010 | Events | 1 Comment

Another day, another wonderful walking tour, this one of Flushing, Queens.  Our first stop was the Myanmar Baptist Church’s 15th Annual Fun Fair, and indeed it was fun, especially for my tastebuds!  We feasted on amazing, never-before-tried Burmese dishes and desserts; listened to some intense rock and roll covers of well-known Western pop songs (“La Isla Bonita,” anyone?); and played a game trying to figure out what the individual letters that many of the church kids were carrying spelled, which turned out to be “IN GOD WE TRUST” (doesn’t that make you think of money more than anything else, capitalist heathens?).

Our dessert spoils:

I apologize for not giving you the proper name of all of these treats, but the signs were mostly written in Burmese script, and when I tried to ask what things were, I think I taxed the vendors’ English lexicon and was usually only able to glean something about coconut.  Therefore, some dessert research was required (the best kind of research, according to a recent poll).

I loved watching the preparation for the shaved ice, which included lots of exciting fixins like: crushed peanuts, aiyu jellies (made from the seeds of a variety of fig that become gelatinous when rubbed together with water), ABC Special Grade raspberry syrup, Hale’s Blue Boy grape syrup (featuring a dancing little boy in short pants on the label), and Houston Cowboy pineapple syrup (featuring a suspiciously familiar dancing little boy in a cowboy costume on the label).

The milk shake line was the longest, so course I had to join it.  The drink turned out to be a lovely concoction of sweet rosewater syrup and melty ice cream, various jellies, and tulsi seeds, which come from a plant in the basil family, look like poppy seeds when dry, but when soaked, get a nice clear coating.  They have no taste, but add a tiny crunch of texture.  I’m not a fan of flower-flavored desserts, because I feel like I’m eating perfume, but the rose taste here was quite subtle.  The shake overall was refreshing indeed.  It was very similar to falooda, another South Asian dessert, but without the vermicelli noodles and tapioca.

As far as the coconut and rice cakes go, I know that one was brown and the other was reddish, but I assure you that they tasted largely the same– kinda bland.  Not enough sugar for my sweet tooth.  I was tempted to run back over to the shaved ice lady and steal some of her cowboy syrup to douse the cakes with.

If you’re interested in trying Burmese food in a festive atmosphere with welcoming church folk, keep your eye out for this fair next year (around mid-August?).

Myanmar Baptist Church
corner of 84th Drive and Smedley St.
Flushing, Queens, NY

MBC’s specially dedicated fun fair page: http://www.emallbay.com/funfair

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Better Together (B.T.) Baking: Brownie Bliss

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 | Store-bought | 3 Comments

I think my brother’s trying to kill me.  For my birthday recently, I very innocently asked for something to expand my mind, and I thought a book about NYC garbage would do nicely.  But noooo, my brother decides to expand my waistline instead by sending me 12 humongous brownies from Better Together (B.T.) Brownies out in Haverford, PA.  Good Lord, what am I to do with these things?  Eat them all?  Well, if you insist…

Now, I’m the kinda dessertatarian who likes her brownies to be on the fudgy side.  I understand where you cakey types are coming from, but there’s just nothing that beats a nice dense, moist, rich-as-hell brownie, and B.T. is feelin’ me.  You know you’re really cooking with fudgyness when the first ingredient is eggs.  Organic eggs, that is.  In fact, all the ingredients in these brownies are organic, so they’re good for you, right?  And they’re Fair Trade, locally farmed, proceeds going charity, no refined sugar, hormone free, yadda, yadda, yadda…  They’re basically just dense bricks of chocolate bliss:

The Cookie brownie is the best, because it’s about one-quarter soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie, and three-quarters brownie.  So you get the best of both worlds in every bite.  The Peanut Butter has a visible stripe of p.b. and is so very rich, they should send a glass of milk with it in the mail.  The B.T. Chocolate stands up to its flashier compatriots by being made with 70% dark chocolate, so its siren song is subtle sophistication.  Who can resist?

Kudos to you, Todd Kelly, owner and baker for B.T., and former financial analyst who’s finally found his calling (aren’t they all?), for making a fiiiiiiine product.  And thank you, bro’, for very smartly picking a brownie place that is not only amazing, but also close enough to NYC for me to receive these delights at their freshest.

B.T. brownies are sold at select locations around Philly, PA, and VA, but if you don’t live anywhere near those places or are lazy, just fire up your computers and order away:


**UPDATE**: They now have a pumpkin brownie (with cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate chips) and they’ll have a mint brownie with white chocolate chips available around Thanksgiving!

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds: It’s the early bird that gets the pie slice

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 | bakeries | 3 Comments

What else do you do on a Sunday after brunch if you’re a dessert blogger?  That’s right, it’s time to find some pie.  A friend of mine suggested Four & Twenty Blackbirds, which I had been wanting to check out for awhile.  Some of her favorites: pear-apple-rosewater, grapefruit custard (inconceivable!), and Derby pie.  She also loves the bread, but who cares?  I wanted PIE!  F&TB is found on a lonely stretch of 3rd Avenue, in Gowanus, Brooklyn.  Its lovely little black and white old-timey storefront is like a desert oasis.  A chalkboard sign out front made us panic: peach, salted caramel apple, and apple blackberry were all crossed off, leaving nectarine blueberry and lemon chess.  We dashed inside and quickly ordered one of each at $4.50 a slice.  No nectarines, by the way, just blueberry:

Now, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of blueberries for much the same reason that I’m not a big fan of raisins– I can’t stand the darn stems that often remain intact in cookies and pies.  This slice of blueberry pie was astoundingly good, however.  The fruit was vibrantly fresh tasting and not too sweet, and the crust had a lovely raw sugar top that complemented the filling perfectly.  And a little dollop of unsweetened whipped cream was just the perfect accompaniment.

I had never had lemon chess pie, so I was very curious.  Chess pies are apparently a Southern sugary custard pie made with corn meal.  No one seems to know the origin of the name.  Perhaps it’s from keeping it in a chest or from saying that it’s “‘jes pie,” as opposed to cake or something.  Whatever it is, this slice was quite good, but not as amazing as the blueberry.  The lemon flavor was very delicate and it wasn’t overly sweet at all.  My only problem with it was that it was a bit soggy, but that was really probably due to the fact that it was 80 degrees in there.  I guess they don’t have AC?

While we were eating our spoils, a huge group of tourists/vultures came in and snapped up the rest of the lemon chess pie, and under “PIES:,” the in-store chalkboard soon read “♥ Blueberry.”  It was only about 4pm, and they were almost out of everything.  But that’s really the way every bakery should be.  The fact that they run out of stuff means that their stock is always fresh.  Well done, proprietresses Melissa and Emily Elsen, now that my G-train is running all the way to 4th Ave., I’ll be visiting your shop again soon!

Four & Twenty Blackbirds
439 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11215

Note: you can’t buy whole pies on the spot– you have to call ahead and place an order with 48 hours’ notice.

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Sugarcane Juice: Not as good as it sounds

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 | Uncategorized | No Comments

On a recent 100+ degree day here, I decided to go on a 10 mile walking tour down the length of Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn.  Did “Hot times, summer in the city, back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty…” run through my head relentlessly all day?  Did the search for water or any other refreshingly cold drink occupy the rest of my brain space?  Yes to both questions.  And so, when my fellow walkers and I stumbled upon a Rastafarian juice place somewhere along the way, we oozed in the door… and were utterly devastated by the total lack of AC.  As we stood in our pools of sweat, we saw an interesting sight.  The proprietress was busy funneling sugarcane into a juicing device that had a feed hole that looked specifically designed for sugarcane, um, canes.  We had to try it!

The juice had a kind of yellowish-green appearance, and tasted of slightly sweet vegetable matter.  Not so good.  No one in my group could bear to finish the bottle.  I wonder how sugar itself is so yummy, then.  Also rum.  And the billions of other things that are made with sugar.  Other countries apparently add ginger, lemon, or mint to their sugarcane juices– that’s a really good idea.  The proprietress claimed that this juice would be very good for us on our hike, since it’s similar to an energy drink.  She also said it helps with digestion.  I did at least find that I had more energy for a bit and I did not notice any stomach demons, so I guess it worked?

William Greenberg Desserts: UES Fanciness

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 | bakeries | 2 Comments

It was after work, I had an annoying errand to run on the Upper East Side, and my blood sugar was low.  Under the best of times, it is difficult for me to pass a bakery without checking it out.  But in my state, I caught a glimpse of a decent-looking cookie in a window out of the corner of my eye, and I fell upon the place like a vampire at a hemophiliacs convention.  

The place was William Greenberg Desserts.  I was delighted to discover that this was a Jewish specialty bakery, vending such delights as hamantaschen, black and white cookies, and rugelach.  Still dreadfully missing the hamantaschen from Gertel’s, an amazing Jewish bakery that closed up shop on the LES a few years ago, I figured I’d try three varieties here: cherry, apricot, and poppy seed.  Now, at most bakeries, when you buy some cookies, they just throw them into a white paper bag, you pay a couple of bucks, and off you go.  But, I guess since I was on the UES, they had to go the fancy box and store sticker route.  I got a bad feeling that the $10 bill I had ready would maybe not quite be enough.  The final bill for three cookies was $10.50 — yeesh.  And, since I really needed one to eat immediately, the whole box and sticker sitch wasn’t good.  I managed to wrestle out the cherry one and was surprised by how soft it was.  It was so soft, in fact, that its own weight on either side of my fingers made it crack in half, and almost $1.75-worth of precious merchandise nearly fell to the ground!  But my lightning quick dessert-saving reflexes kicked in, and my cookie escaped a wretched fate.  A passerby who must have witnessed my fumble called out, “Wow!  You really dodged a bullet with that one!”  That’s true, dude, I really did.

So, the cherry hamantasch was a-ite.  Kinda “cherry pie filling,” if you know what I mean.  And its cookie portion was actually the only really soft one– the other two were the more traditional (?) “short,” or buttery-crusty kind.  The apricot one was very sour and sort of acrid-tasting.  But the poppy seed was quite good– a nice balance of sweet and bitter.  I’ll probably give WGD another try if I’m in the area.  I think I did the world a disservice by not trying the black and white cookie, so that will have to be remedied.

William Greenberg Desserts
1100 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10028-0327

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French Délices Part 5: Wedding Bliss

Friday, July 2nd, 2010 | Events, Travel | No Comments

It was about 12:30am– many hours into the wedding reception of good friends at a château in southern France.  I was busy working on my substantial cheese course as a procession of waiters carrying fancy giant pastries, cakes, and puddings began to wind its way between our tables and into a dedicated dessert room.  I sneaked over to this magical chamber to check out the spread before the other guests could descend upon it.  And what wonders did I see– 17 (count ’em) different delights!  The pièce de résistance was a traditional French wedding croquembouche, a tower of profiteroles stuck together with caramel and decorated with candies and sparklers.  My cup, it overfloweth-ed!

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French Délices Part 4: Pastry Passion

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 | bakeries, Travel | No Comments

It was my 21st birthday, and I was studying in Aix-en-Provence.  The program had just started, and I didn’t know anyone yet, so who cared about my little-ole’ big 2-1?  I turned to our local patisserie, Le Pavé du Roy, to ease my sorrow.  It was the castel praliné that caught my eye– square, powdered-sugary, layered, and creamy-looking, would it be any good?  It wasn’t my type– there wasn’t a hint of chocolate or fruit, but dang, I thought, I’m 21, maybe I should try something new?  I stood outside that shop and took my first bite of utter heaven–  layers of pastry dough, crunchy meringue, and hazelnut cream sent my head spinning.  One of my program mates called my name, but I couldn’t respond.  I was in a pastry passion– my heart and soul were lost forever.  When I got back to the States, I searched in vain for the castel praliné.  I stopped in every French patisserie over the years to no avail.  No one had even heard of it.  And then a pastry chef at Almondine informed me that I would NEVER find the castel in this country because the sugar here is too coarse.  Devastated, I bided my time until I could return to my long-lost love…

After ten endless years, I did come back.  Would the castel be different?  Would I be different?  I worried.  But when my castel and I were in each other’s presence again, there was no doubt that the love would be stronger than ever.  After sating my desire, my head turned towards other temptations, such as a chocolate cakey delight and a chocolate-raspberry-pear hybrid.  These were equally amazing.  I tried to explain in my now-limited French how much I adore the unassuming Le Pavé du Roy patisserie to the other patrons there.  They gave me blank stares.  Of course this place was good– there would be another revolution if every little hole-in-the-wall patisserie in every crappy town wasn’t good.

In my travels, I encountered some over-the-top fancy pastries, too, that were way outta my league.  They looked like ottomans, and were almost scientific in their perfection.  The ones from Richart were accompanied by geologic-like schematical diagrams, so that you could see cross sections of exactly what was in each masterpiece.  They had serious names likes “Fire & Ice” and “Sun’s Zest.”  After scratching my head a bit trying to read the pastry “maps,” I discovered the one I would have chosen had I grown an extra stomach: “Crisp Flavors,” made up of layers of green lemon and caramel mousses, caramel-infused madeleine cookies, almond nougat, salted butter caramel cream, and toasted almond dacquoise.  Just writing this description made me feel faint– does anyone know where I put my smelling salts?

Final note: there is a specialty in Lyon called praline rouge, which you find topping many pastries.  The first time I saw it, I attributed the red color to a fruit, but a pastry proprietor told me that it’s basically just nuts (usually almonds or hazelnuts) ground up with butter, sugar, and some red food coloring; she had no idea why this trend started, and they never use any color other than red.  Weird.  Also not that tasty, really, because it’s a little “one-note” and makes you crave raspberries for some reason…

If you ever find yourself in Aix-en-Provence, by the way, hie thyself to:

Le Pavé du Roy
9, cours d’Orbitelle
T: +33 0442262281

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