Archive for January, 2010

Abraço: Minuscule made Magic

January 22, 2010

1. Drip coffee: Potent as espresso with none of the bite on the backwash.  Worth the wait.  Pulled coffee is superb, but I prefer the less violent touch of the slow filtered brew.

2. Sweet side: Olive oil is more of a mystery ingredient here than an overwhelming front note.  This type of cake is now ubiquitous in the city, but this is still the best I’ve encountered.  Compares favorably to the greasy number at Café Pedlar.  NB: Orange blossom pound cake is also a worthy option.

3. Service: Jamie is a one man cult of personality backed up by hard skill competence.  He’s also one of the least condescending and most hospitable people in the coffee business.  Easy for just about anyone to feel welcome here.

4. Music: Brazilian tunes hummed and sung along to in NoCal inflected Portuguese.  It’s hard to argue with the double mellow whammy of Samba and San Fran.

5. Savory: Sandwiches and soups are always a surprise and nearly always delicious.  Like the baked goods, they also hold up well throughout the course of the day.  A nice contrast to the typical day old by midafternoon sandwiches you find in many coffee shops.

Conclusion: The combination of stellar baker, savory chef and barista gives Rush a run for their money in the power trio business.  I hope and fear this place will open more branches beyond its 7th st./btw 1st and 2nd Aves original.

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Momofuku Milk Bar: Sweet Food, Rotten Prices

January 21, 2010

1. Coffee Milk: A nice nod to the Rhode Island tradition that somehow surpasses the original in intensity without losing balance of flavor.  Captures the smell of coffee in taste form.  A rare feat that  Chef Tosi somehow pulls off.  This is everything a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee–with its beady, come hither photos–promises and fails to deliver.

2. Tuesday Focaccia: Selections vary from week to week. Best of all was a candied kale number soaked in bacon fat and drizzled with honey.  Sriracha cuts through the sweet and brings out the savory. Sounded like overkill, turned out to be a neo-Baroque delight.  But six dollars for a slice of focaccia?  Even the Vinegar Factory and Jim Lahey’s bakery offer better prices for their versions.

3. Day old cookies: Blueberry cream and chocolate chocolate chip hold up well on day two and ring in at half price.  Under a buck makes them worth it.   Tosi hasn’t entered the straight chocolate chip cookie wars yet, and for good reason.  These are fun little numbers, but they’re nowhere near Levain Bakery’s or Jacques Torres’ league.

4. Le Cirque prices: The ingredients all come with stories, but provenance doesn’t explain the customer hating prices, especially when combined with tattooed hipper than thou service.  In Chang’s world, enlightened hospitality meets its evil counterpart, unenlightened hostility.

5. Soft serve: Flavors are best enjoyed in sample sizes.  Cucumber and horchata are two bite pleasures, so no need to order more.  Cereal milk is the one glorious exception to the “more interesting than delicious” rule.  Taken in milkshake form, it’s one for the ages. NB: Avoid stuffing ice cream at all costs.  Utterly repulsive.

Splendor in the Parking Lot or Splendor in the Grass: Ted Drewes vs. Shake Shack

January 21, 2010

As a kid, I used to frequent the St. Louis operation that inspired  the dairy side of the Shake Shack empire, so I thought it would be fun to compare the two operations over the course of a weekend.

1. Custard Base: Shake Shack wins hands down for the custard base. It’s sweet and luscious without appearing to work at it. Like good foie gras or a hundred other death dealing treats, it doesn’t taste of fat or sugar, just flavor. No one needs to know the details. Ted Drewes custard, on the other hand, tastes not just sweet but sweetened, a bit like Ben & Jerry’s. You can perceive the effort to candify in the hints of honey: Honey Nut Cheerios style honey. Conclusion: Meyer found the spirit of the Shake Shack in St. Louis but not the recipe for the custard.

2.Custard Mix-Ins: Ted Drewes by a landslide. Their chocolate chips are ground to a sharded consistency that never goes waxy but still tastes like real chocolate. Great paired with blueberrry or cherry. Shake Shack has some delicious flavored custards on its calendar, but its house designed concretes are as over the top as a Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby or Phish Food pint, but not as creative.  Sometimes too much is too much.

3. Service: Ted Drewes by a thin margin. The servers have all the Danny Meyer friendliness plus a surprising age range that means you can get three generations’ opinion on the ideal size t-shirt for a toddler plus. Further, Ted Drewes has also been handling hour plus lines for more than half a century, which gives it a slight edge in smiling its way through that crackle of irritation we all bring to the counter when finally called up to order. This is enlightened hospitality taken to a buddhistic extreme. Saint Louis style service is simply best done by Saint Louisans.

4. Splendor in the Parking Lot: In the summer months, South County (St. Louis) has its charms, from Astroturfed front porches with friendly folks sipping Budweiser and talking baseball, to inexpensive houses and relatively low crime rates. First and foremost, though, it has the city’s best tailgate in Ted Drewes’ parking lot. The big crowds give it a festive air at night, and the heat off the asphalt and from neighboring cars makes it pleasant even into the fall. Then again, it’s a pile of concrete covered in idling cars.

5. Splendor in the Grass: Park beats parking lot. Madison Square Park is a year round glory.  Ted Drewes and its terrain are a seasonal delight.  Enough said.