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Posts from the ‘sweet treats’ Category

Jane’s Sweet Buns: Buns All Liquored Up

Jane’s Sweet Buns is a new bakery on the Eastern reaches of St. Marks Place. In a city replete with ‘cupcakeries,’ cookie shops and, of course, cheesecake purveyors, it has a unique perspective on baked goods – infusing a Southerner’s love of bourbon and cocktails with classic sweets like sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, and tarts. Jane’s Sweet Buns’ unusual boozy spin on baking certainly has something to do with the influence of owner Ravi DeRossi and his partner Jane Danger, the mixologist at nearby cocktail den Cienfuegos. And the bakery’s distinct quirkiness extends not only to its alcoholic confections but also to its bubblegum pink-mixed-with-gothic-decor interior.

The bakery is reminiscent of an old school sweets shop. Cake stands displaying treats and tarts perch atop glass cases lined with trays of sticky buns; gingham curtains hang in the windows and the walls are painted in bright cotton candy colors of pink, lime green, turquoise and sherbert orange; outside, a hot pink painted metal bench, of the sort found in English country gardens, beckons patrons to sit in clement weather. However, despite all this girly sweet decor, a twisted edge punks up this Southern-inspired spot; moaning and screeching alternative rock blares in the background and the tattooed ‘gal’ that served me was a refreshing mix of sugar and spice; gothic renditions of retro posters, paintings, and portraits hang on the walls; and of course, hidden beneath the sugary glaze of the delicately-displayed bun is the boozy bite of bourbon.

The goods at Jane’s are pretty tasty. They’re not orgasmic or the type of baked good I’d dream of for weeks on end, but they’re perfect for a late-night treat or to tote along to a house-party. My personal favorite is the Strawberry Fix, a sweet bun stuffed with strawberries, lemon and sugar, soaked with Aperol liqueur, and glazed with berry cream cheese frosting – it has got some serious zing and tastes genuinely fruity. Also great is the Rum Runner, a sticky bun with cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg and raisins that is positively doused in aged rum – it tastes like Rum Raisin ice cream transformed into a baked good. Unfortunately, the Old-Fashioned, the bourbon-based bun for which I had the highest expectations, was not so successful. Despite the generous topping of candied pecans and hints of vanilla, neither the advertised bourbon nor the angostura bitters came through enough to save this bun from blandness. On the non-alcoholic side of things (and yes, non-alcoholic goodies do exist at Jane’s Sweet Buns for those wishing to abstain), the savory tartlettes are delicious. It’s hard not to love thick slices of bacon and melted cheddar cheese stuffed inside a flaky buttery pastry crust – its the holy trinity of decadence (pork, cheese, bread) altogether. It get’s even better when you add apple butter,  blue cheese and pecans to the bacon.

Jane’s has 3 barstools in the window and a hot pink bench outside – it’s more for take-out or quick bursts of enjoyment than for sitting and leisurely noshing. But that arrangement seems just fine for the neighborhood, where inebriated youths regularly like to congregate after dinner hours. Though empty on a Friday afternoon, I can easily imagine a scenario where Jane’s becomes a late-night mecca for the quirky NYU students sure to stroll St. Marks after too many beers in the East Village.

Perfect For: NYU students, the drunk munchies, a different breakfast treat for the office, being indulgent

Jane's Sweet Buns on Urbanspoon


La Grainne: Contender for Chelsea’s Best Brunch

Brunch is a New York-y thing to do, and finding your neighborhood’s best brunch is almost a right of passage for those new to an area. Lucky for me, I had the inside scoop from a friend already living in Chelsea, and so finding the best brunch nearby was easy as pie. The winner? La Grainne, a no-pretense French cafe with some of the most flavorful food as I’ve had in Manhattan.

Located on the corner of 21st and 9th Avenue, La Grainne is in the heart of Chelsea – and you can tell that most of its clientele are locals that just keep coming back. After treating myself to a few meals here, with friends, family and just by myself, I can certainly see why it’s so loved; La Grainne is a total gem! It doesn’t have a name that pops up in Grubstreet or Eater or the New York Times as a ‘hotspot’ for weekend brunches, and that’s part of the charm. There’s no fuss, no muss here with a staff that is both friendly and wildly efficient, a rustic cobbled-together decor, and a menu of crowd-pleasers.
The small dining room is almost always packed to the gills at lunch hour, both during the week and on weekends. Crowds will mill awkwardly at the door, spilling out onto the small sidewalk patio, until a table opens up. The open kitchen is the beating heart of the restaurant, always bustling, throbbing with energy, and surrounded by soaring lush bouquets of fresh flowers. Bistro-style furniture crowds almost every inch of floor-space, pushing diners elbow-to-elbow at peak hours. The best seats are those in the window, away from the crush at the center of the dining room, swathed in natural lighting, and prime spots for some pretty quality people-watching. The feel is warm, vibrant, relaxed – the perfect neighborhood spot that you can just keep going back to time and time again.
Perhaps the best thing about La Grainne though is the food. It’s hearty and comforting, the sort of un-prissy French food that makes you wish you were in Paris…all the time. And the best part? It’s relatively inexpensive and served in truly massive portions. The menu reads like a laundry list of classic Parisian favorites: gooey and pungent french onion soup, escargots in a traditional garlic butter sauce, quiche lorraine, the largest salad nicoise you’ll have in a Manhattan restaurant, a simple yet delicious bowl of mussels marineres, both sweet and savory crepes, golden roasted chicken with potatoes, and of course decadent desserts like tarte tatin, creme brulee and chocolate mousse. The croque monsieur and croqur madame sandwiches are marvelous, made with thick crusty bread, hearty slices of ham, and gooey gruyere cheese; they’re not too greasy and big enough to feed a small army. For a lighter sandwich option, try the baguette au fromage; simply a toasted baguette with layers of creamy soft brie (or swiss) cheese, this Parisian lunch favorite is easy on the stomach and luscious without over-doing it.
The ratatouille is somewhat of a house specialty at La Grainne, and it’s just about mind-blowingly delicious; a blend of baked tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and onions, this rendition of a French ‘peasant’ dish is immensely flavorful, aggressively seasoned, and nothing short of perfect with a slice of crusty bread. Similarly mouth-wateringly good is the brunch special ‘oeuf maison,’ a house egg dish featuring a delicate poached egg perched atop a moist potato cake, all surrounded in a pool of the ratatouille. It’s a hangover cure in a dish and not in the least bit prissy.
La Grainne is just wonderful – great for enjoying soul-satisfying meals with friends or for sipping a citron presse over a goat cheese salad with the day’s paper. It’s got an infectious energy, making it quite literally a ‘happy place.’ And the best part? There are no pretensions here – not among the crowd, the staff, or the food. It’s just simple, friendly, delicious. What more could you ask for from the neighborhood hangout?
Perfect For: francophiles, Chelsea locals, weekend brunching, a solo lunch, people-watching on the patio

Le Grainne Cafe on Urbanspoon

David Burke Kitchen: Every Neighborhood Could Use a Little Burke-ian Whimsy

I haven’t been to a David Burke restaurant in a long time, and before last year, he seemed to have fallen off the ‘famous chef’ radar. Yet, with an appearance on Top Chef All-Stars recently and the opening of his new restaurant, David Burke Kitchen, it appears as though Burke has decided to re-enter the spotlight. And what a delight this is, for Burke’s whimsical and passionate approach to food, regardless of how successful his creations are, is truly a thrill for diners.

David Burke Kitchen is in the basement of the new James Hotel on Grand Street in Soho. Yes, it’s in the basement, of a hotel. To many, this would be a recipe for disaster. Hotel restaurants get a bad rep for uninspired cuisine and cookie-cutter atmospheres, yet David Burke is joining the ranks of famous chefs looking to change this image by opening their new culinary hotspots in hotels all over Manhattan (others: Michael White’s Ai Fiori in The Setai Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club in The Chatwal, Sam Talbot’s Imperial No. 9 in the Mondrian Soho, and April Bloomfield’s The Breslin in The Ace Hotel, and so forth). David Burke Kitchen is, well, nice. It’s certainly got a fabricated feel, with modern wooden furniture and a funky undulating wooden ceiling, all tried to be made up as ‘rustic’ with blue-and-white checkered napkins. Yet, all the same, despite a certain “been there, done that” decor, David Burke Kitchen is warm and welcoming, friendly to all, and, most importantly, comfortable.

David Burke’s quirky and whimsical interpretations of traditional American dishes are the real reason to visit David Burke Kitchen. And, in general, the kitchen executes Burke’s visions very well. A pork chop entree is hefty, enough to feed two, yet wonderfully complicated with a large bone-in chop cooked to the perfect temperature and marinated in something wasabi-like, tasty nuggets of tender braised cheek, and an addictive salty-sweet marmalade made from bacon and apple. It is completely in-your-face flavor. The appetizers are a treasure trove of inventive bites: ‘ants on a log’ are reinterpreted from a popular childhood snack to include sophisticated bits of bone marrow and snails soaked in garlic, crab cakes bound with pretzel and filled with green peppercorns and white beer, a succulent duo of juicy seared scallops perched on a tangled mess of ultra rich braised oxtail, all topped with a dainty quail’s egg. The menu virtually overflows with Burke’s imagination – nothing is left alone. Fries are not just fries, they’re ‘fancy fries’ cooked in smoked beef fat and topped with sliced jalapeno; a baked potato comes topped with classic English rarebit; jars of chicken liver with prunes and pistachios are offered for adventurous eaters as a tempting (and heart attack-inducing) bar snack. The options are endless and diverse, often thrilling, and always complicated.
For some, David Burke’s ebullient enthusiasm may be overwhelming or, even worse, tiresome. However, if you’re prepared for the sometimes unusual outpouring of creative flavor combinations, your meal at David Burke Kitchen can be exciting and adventurous, a break from ‘the norm.’ Burke sets customers at ease with a refreshingly friendly and competent staff; our waiter was exuberant and respectful, informative and clearly inspired by David Burke. All in all, though not perfect and with a few kitchen kinks to work out, David Burke Kitchen is a fun new addition to an otherwise barren corner in Soho.
Perfect For: fashionable foodies, first dates, adventurous eaters, non-hipster carnivores, giving visitors a thoroughly ‘New York’ dining experience, drinks and dessert

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Balthazar: A Socialite’s Brunch

Balthazar proves that brunch has become a blood sport in Manhattan. Getting a table there involves jostling baby strollers and 6-children families, holding on a reservation line for 20minutes, or just plain ole waiting for a good long while. If you’ve won out over the many others and nabbed yourself a table, you’re pushed into the Balthazar brunch machine, a well-oiled contraption that moves at an alarming speed, crams as many patrons as possible into a cavernous dining hall, and pushes out classic Parisian fare with impressive quality.

Despite the factory-like flavor of Balthazar’s manic brunch, the restaurant manages to maintain a certain urbane French charm revered and extolled by New York’s fashionable set. The sister restaurant to Pastis, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, Morandi, and the rest of Keith McNally’s rapidly expanding empire, Balthazar has the look, feel, and attitude typical of McNally. No expense is spared in painstakingly recreating the look of a classic Parisian bistro. Converted from a leather warehouse, the expansive and airy dining hall can seat up to 200 people at the long zinc bar, luxe red leather banquettes, and large circular tables, all arranged helter-skelter in the rollicking maze. Everything from the gigantic antique mirrors to the sunny distressed yellow ceilings to the polished dark wood finishes seems authentically Parisian. Slowly turning ceiling fans, bright golden light, and a beautifully tiled floor complete McNally’s masterpiece. It is clear that at Balthazar, as at his other thematic restaurants, restauranteur-extraordinaire Keith McNally is not selling food; he is selling an experience.

The food won’t blow your mind, but it’s certainly good enough to attract a rabid following. High points include the bakery’s baked goods, a best of compilation offered in the bread basket, and the wide range of beautifully-prepared egg dishes. The Eggs Norwiegan and Eggs Benedict offered perfectly poached eggs that when cut into oozed golden yellow yolk all over a crispy toasted English muffin and salty soft breakfast potatoes; the Eggs Florentine, served piping hot in a cast iron skillet, baked poached eggs in with fresh spinach and artichoke, seemingly healthy yet surely loaded with delicious butter and cream; the Eggs in a Puff Pastry was a spruced-up and fancy Egg McMuffin, impossible to eat like a sandwich yet composed decadently of flaky pastry, fluffy eggs, rich cream.

Other notable dishes include the Sour Cream and Hazelnut waffles, unusual yet also found on Schiller’s menu, and the Apple Cinnamon pancakes, made to the perfect consistency and somehow imbued with a savory rather than sweet quality. Fresh and generally well-prepared, the food at Balthazar is beyond decent yet seems to come second fiddle to the incredible bustling scene and distinct decor. Typical of McNally restaurants, atmosphere and experience reign supreme at this Soho brunch mecca.

Of course, the price of such a lovely spot in such a hoppin’ neighborhood is crowds, crazy, fashionable, pushy crowds. In order to eat in peace, you’ll first need to contend with the stressed-out hostess, bitchy Manhattan desperate housewives, too snobby for their own good gay mafia, baby strollers brigade, and bankers in tshirts used to getting what they want when they want. Once you get past such obstacles though and work up an appetite, the servers treat you like gold and the food will make you think, for at least the length of the meal, that it was all worth it.

Perfect For: feasting with the fashionable, family get-togethers, birthday celebrations, francophiles, a classic New York experience, boozy brunch, hosting out-of-towners

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Butter Lane: Cupcake Nirvana

Butter Lane, a cupcakery on E.7th Street in the East Village, has enjoyed a fantastic reputation since it opened – it is cute, cozy, charming, and wildly good at making cupcakes. It is so good at making cupcakes that I would go so far in as to say that the bakers at Butter Lane produce the best cupcakes in Manhattan.
The tiny storefront on E.7th street has some illustrious neighbors: Luke’s Lobster, Desnuda, The Bourgeois Pig, Porchetta, and Caracas Arepas Bar, all of which are suspiciously good at churning out their specialties as well (lobster, ceviche, fondue, pork, and arepas, respectively). Perhaps, there’s something in the water. Upon entering the bright and cozy store, a large blackboard greets you on the right with a tantalizing array of frosting flavors to choose as toppers for your vanilla, chocolate, or banana cupcake. If you’re lucky enough to wander in during off-peak hours, you’ll get served immediately; yet, more often than not, you’ll have to wait and salivate.
Now, on to the important part, the cupcakes. They are divine; they are soft, sweet but not too sweet, and satisfying. The cakes come in three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and banana; the frostings are available in many flavors, including french vanilla, cream cheese, peanut butter, cinnamon, caramel, maple pecan, grapefruit ginger, blueberry, raspberry, coconut, and, of course, chocolate and plain ole vanilla. Butter Lane pre-makes the most popular combinations, yet will spread any frosting on any cake for you upon request. After trying, 8 different combinations, the banana cake in general is the most moist and the banana cream cheese combo gets 5 gold stars. The chocolate cake with maple-pecan and banana cake with peanut butter are also astonishingly good. Out of all of the variations I sampled, the only even remotely poor option was the coconut frosting, which ended up being a tad too sweet for me. All in all, the diversity of options and general quality of both cake and frosting push Butter Lane above and beyond competitors.
Also, if you can’t get enough of Butter Lane’s cupcakes, they not only hold classes for cupcake-making but they also do weddings and events. Check it at!
Perfect For: a cupcake craving, late-night snacks, gifts and goodies, romantic moments

Butter Lane Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Tartine: Brunch Special and Special Brunch in the West Village

Tartine is one of those revered West Village brunch spots with a line of hungry New Yorkers a mile long, rain or shine. It is cherished and raved about, so beloved it could be considered a hotspot despite its simple and shabby look. Located on a picturesque corner off W. 4th, this tiny pastry shop and restaurant is consistently packed to the gills with locals, regulars, curious passers-by, foodies, hipsters, celebrities, and the like.

Stuffed into a cramped and tiny shoebox of a room are about 16 wooden, metal, and marble tables with chairs askew and blocking every possible passage, a pastry case displaying to-die-for pastries, tarts, and croissants, and an array of nautical-inspired tackle box paraphernalia cum decor. The look is shabby chic with mis-matching furniture, paper napkins, diner-like flatware and dishware, bright green flapping kitchen doors, kitschy christmas lights, and cheap wood-paneled walls. Ultra-casual, convivial, and friendly, Tartine manages to attract the celebrity set and local literati without an ounce of pretension.
The food is simple French and Belgian fare. Don’t expect culinary fireworks or delicate presentations here; Europe’s comfort food comes flying out of the kitchen with lots of seasoning, no frippery, and hulking portions. The $15 prix-fixe brunch, Tartine’s most celebrated meal, includes bottomless coffee and OJ and a main course. Options range from a divine croque monsieur to apple pancakes to brioche french toast to eggs benedict, omelettes, and a house gravlax plate. While these are all homey classics, the kitchen transforms them into immensely flavorful and satisfying dishes absolutely worth waiting in the rain for.
After shivering in cold drizzle for 20 minutes, my friend Sarah, my boyfriend John and I all finally tucked into hearty dishes, all served with well-seasoned roasted potatoes in an addictive hollandaise sauce and washed down with fresh-squeezed OJ and a great cup ‘o joe. Ravenously hungry after a long night, I opted for easily the most decadent option, the French Toast. Served on a gigantic plate, this tasty treat of perfectly done brioche with lots of butter, potatoes, and slabs of juicy bacon is absolutely the best french toast I’ve had for brunch yet. Sarah opted for her childhood ‘greedy pleasure,’ the croque monsieur. Probably the best croque monsieur in Manhattan, Tartine’s rendition dazzles with perfectly buttered bread, thick and gooey cheese and juicy ham (no dryness here!). John went for the Grilled Chicken sandwich, a complex combination of grilled chicken, guacamole, portabello mushrooms, arugula, tomato, mozzarella, and chipotle mayo on focaccia bread. Zesty and savory, he lapped this up with much satisfaction.
Don’t be fooled by the ‘hole-in-the-wall” laidback vibe of this sea shack equivalent. The rabid fans patiently waiting in an orderly line outside speak volumes to the talent in the kitchen. Tartine epitomizes the concept of a ‘neighborhood joint’ – the food is simple and very tasty; the service is friendly; the vibe is as casual as can be; the young hipster clientele is chatty and easy-going. Perfect for a filling brunch with friends or a cozy dinner in the ‘hood, Tartine proves that good things can come in small packages.
Note: if you’re one to be bothered by close quarters, at times awkward seating positions, or neighboring conversations, try Tartine in the off hours to avoid the crowds!

Tartine on Urbanspoon

Cookie Monster

Do you live in the Village? Do you like cookies?

Then, check out Insomnia Cookies, the most amazing straight-from-Penn-grads invention ever:

a) night-time delivery of fresh-baked delicious cookies to your door
b) they deliver milk too
c) brownies may also be in the mix
d) still warm upon delivery

Can you get any better than that?, frequent that.