Things that spring to mind when I think of Valentine's Day:
a) It marks yet another year of my unloved existence.
b) Oo, chocolate!
c) I totally want Polish food.
While the first two points are 0% false, I'm fudging it a bit with the third. Polish food is not holiday specific to me (because I don't know what the Polish holidays are) and brings no images of Valentine's Day to mind, which is why John and I were so bewildered when we stepped into Polonia and felt like we had stumbled upon the vomitous aftermath of a monster that had eaten the entire V-Day section of a Hallmark store. In addition to the bright red walls (which I assume exist year-round and aren't a holiday special), red paper hearts of various sizes telling me to have a Happy Valentine's Day adorned the walls and heart-themed napkins decorated every table. I was most taken by the ornament hanging above our table of a plush heart embroidered with the words "Be Mine" in script and tightly hugged on each side by a smiling polar bear, either out or love or because of dependency issues.
I started off with a milkshake because there ain't nothing more that my body could possible want, except a vitamin, a nutrient, or a gram of soluble fiber. The vanilla milkshake wasn't the worst I've had, although not worth getting either. I probably should've drank it all while it was still deceptively "thick" from the frothiness instead of drinking it throughout the meal and getting disappointed by the final strawfuls of thin vanilla-flavored liquid.
Since I'm indecisive I went with the non-vegetarian friendly combination platter that included some type of sausage, bigos, four fried pierogies and cabbage stuffed with something meat-based. I'm sure this isn't how they do it in Poland, but it's acceptable in the East Village. And as I don't have much to compare this food to, all I can say is that...I liked it all, save for the sausage since I inherently don't like sausages (except for the sweet, fat-laden Chinese version). The bigos was actually my favorite, something I could imagine going well ladled on top of a bowl of rice, but I have a feeling they don't do that in Poland either.
John went with the vegetarian combination plate which came with a blintz (cherry), two potato pancakes, and four pierogies (boiled, just to mix things up a little). Of course, vegetarian doesn't imply that there are vegetables, just that there's no meat. We split our plates 50/50. The pierogies and potato pancakes were alright, but the blintz was disappointingly not one of the 150% crispy kind. I like it when they resemble sweet spring rolls more than a crepe.
Polonia is alright, but I prefer Teresa's. The service at Polonia is, as the people at menupages say, a little...not there. The waitresses are nice; they just have a tendency to not notice your presence. Also, I need me some crispy blintzes.
Japanese and cupcakes!
On Friday night I went to Chiyono with Melanie and Jamie, two friends I went to middle school with in Taiwan. I've been meaning to try Chiyono for a long time for Japanese home cooking, not that I've ever really eaten in a Japanese home, but...anyway. It does feel quite homey if the home is for a family of 12 and they all sit at the same, black, elongated, slightly curved table.
We started with agedashi tofu and pork gyoza. Although I've had agedashi tofu before, I wouldn't say it's one of my favorite things. Unless it's uber-fried. Which this wasn't. Not that there's anything wrong with that; its' just my preference. As you've already figured out, I like my blintzes deep fried until the dough turns into fat. And possibly everything iside the dough as well. Oh, tasty acrylamides.
For my entree I ordered the menchi katsu, "deep fried ground pork and vegetable", which comes with a dollop of mustard at the edge of the plate and a small dish of katsu sauce. Entrees are only mildly larger than the appetizers, so don't come here looking to get full. I was satisfied enough with the three surprisingly dense meat patties, although the fullness of my stomach also depended heavily on the bowl of chestnut brown rice I ordered to go with the meat. Nothing really blew me away, but it all tasted...good. It's hard for me to talk at length about anything if it didn't fill my belly with glee or immediately make me wonder, "Why the hell did I just swallow that?" This food...it is good. Uh. Uhhh. [scratches head]
Jamie's saikyo-yaki, "grilled cod marinated in miso", was so tender that it was nearly impossible to pick up with chopsticks without breaking into tender little bits. Melanie's salmon Yuu-an-yaki, "grilled salmon marinated in yuzu and soy sauce", tasted like...oh, I just wrote the description. I only tried little bits of each so it wasn't easy for me to get much from those bites. Ahhhrhrhr god I fail. Someone put me out of my misery of being unable to find anything meaningful to say.
The consensus was that we really liked our food—we just wished there had been more of it. Sure, it's not fun to be so stuffed that you can feel semi-digested matter rise in your throat every time you attempt to open your mouth (actually, I really hope you don't know what I'm talking about), but it's not fun to eat a small amount of something tasty that makes you just want more of it. Melanie and I had that feeling, Jamie less so because she ate a huge cupcake before dinner. I wouldn't not recommend Chiyono, but despite the obvious well prepared-ness (someday I will think of a better term) of simple ingredients, it didn't leave a deep enough impression on me. It wasn't terribly pricey, but it would've felt more "worth it" if the prices were a little lower or if the plates had more stuff on them.
Maybe I'm too picky. Maybe I'm a cheap glutton. Probably more of the latter.
Oh, they have a really nice bathroom!
As I said, Jamie was full from eating cupcake-zilla for a pre-dinner snack. Melanie and I still craved our own cupcakes. I suggested Sugar Sweet Sunshine, but its location was deemed inconvenient. And then I remembered that I had just passed a bakery the other night...
When John and I were strolling around for foodstuffs I spotted Pinisi from across the street. I excitedly ran to the other side (looking down the street to make sure no vehicles were aiming to kill me, of course) and wondered how I could have failed to notice an American-style bakery on a street that I had walked on many times. I should know all the bakeries in the area, dammit. Every time a bakery is born, a little ding should go off in my head. God knows I probably wouldn't give a crap for any non-bakery storefront. I could sense the tiers of freshly baked goods pushed up against the window before I could see them. However, since I wasn't hungry at the time I just took a photo to remind myself to check it out later.
Uh...where did all this tastiness come from? Jebus. I don't even like most cream puffs, but I was tempted to try one of theirs for looking so perfect. The friendly man behind the counter (actually, everyone working there gave off an air of friendliess, which shouldn't be unexpected but sometimes it is) told me that they had been open for about 3 months. Now I had an excuse for not knowing about the bakery; I wasn't here. But other food bloggers go bakery hunting too, right? Mrrh?
Besides cupcakes, fruit tarts, millefeuilles, and poofy things filled with cream, they had lots of cakes. I intend to attack one on my next visit.
Their blackberry-topped red velvet cupcakes were tempting, but not as appealing to me as the two-frostinged pink vanilla cupcakes ($2.50). BI-FROSTINGED. Double the frosting for double the sugar coma. The pink frosting is regular buttercream while the white is cream cheese based. I'm pretty sure the cake is just vanilla flavored, but I guess it also tasted bright pink. I'm sure many cupcake lovers know what I mean when I talk about an optimal frosting-to-cake ratio, which tends to veer more to the "too much cake" side. (Too much frosting is a rarity, but that's fine because it's less desirable than too much cake. Trust meee.) The ratio on the double frostinged cupcake was just right. While the cake wasn't as tender and light as most cupcakes I've had and it could've used a little more moisture, I enjoyed it enough so that I'd want to eat it again. 50% of that probably has to do with the frosting, which was creamy, light, and not too sticky nor sweet.
Since Jamie opted out of the cupcake madness, she took a gazillion photos of Melanie and I as we shoved cake down our throats. Melanie got a lemon cupcake, which was also very good. Except that it wasn't double frostinged.
They also have mountains of cookies. And what do you know; I like mountains of cookies! Next time, I'm afraid.
They're open from 6 AM to 11 PM every day. I sense a new late-night hang out! Not that I hang out late at night, but you know...just in case I get the urge to socialize at a time when people are typically in bars. Or something. I really don't know what "normal" people do.
It's amazing to have these friends that you sadly don't see often (even though we all go to NYU), get together for dinner and dessert after god knows how many months and feel like no time has passed. I guess all that time we spent together in middle school stuck deep, deeeep inside out brainmeats. In a good way, not in the mentally damaging "requires professional help" way.
"Remember Kara and Taylor?" said Jamie with maybe a little too much excitement.
The names Kara and Taylor will always make us laugh. You don't really want to know why...but I will explain just a smidge. One of our best friends Karen and I had beanie babies and we named two of the dog ones Kara and Taylor after our English teacher and her husband (who also taught at our school). We played with them a lot. The beanie babies, not our teachers. I still have a photo of Melanie smiling somewhat crazily while holding both of them on one of the last days of 7th grade.
...You don't want to hear any more, trust me. We were oddly much more vulgar in middle school than we are today. For better or worse, we can never forget about Kara and Taylor.
"Remember when we said we would all live together?" Jamie said referring to our numerous lunchtime conversations about our group (Melanie, Jamie, Karen and I) going to college together and living in the same apartment.
We unintentionally got pretty close to fulfilling that idea.
Last Friday Ed, Alaina and I went to Patsy's for our lunch break from eating seriously. Like a gazillion other pizzerias in NYC, it's a pizzeria that I had heard of but had yet to try. Although not my favorite, it's a lot better than most pizza I've had. I like light toppings, especially when they involve fresh mozzerella and basil. (Sausage is alright too.) The crust was thin enough. By that I mean...it didn't feel like I was holding a wet napkin that could rip at any point. Have you had pizza like that? I have. And it's kind of weird. I don't like uber doughy pizza either (if the ingredients don't balance it out, at least). So by "thin enough" I mean that it's in between the two extremes. Kind of like how "warm" is in between "cold" and hot".
...Yeah, that explanation sucked.
I go to Paris for a few months and this is what I see when I return? How many vegans are there? And how many of them go to City Bakery? There's nothing wrong with catering to our fellow vegans, but this can't taste as good as the regular chocolate chip cookie. Right? You take away my butter goodness, I GIVE YOU PAAAAIN.
Of course, the regular chocolate chip cookies fit for omnivores were in great supply. These babies are huge. Like the size of...babies. I could almost swear that the first time I ate one of these cookies a few years ago the cookies weren't this big. It used to look conquerable, but not I feel like the cookie is conquering me. I ate the whole thing, although whether it was enjoyable by the last few bites that I glared at while silently shouting, "GOLDEN CRUMBS OF BUTTERY AWESOMENESS, YOU WILL NOT DEFEAT MEEEE!!!", is still unclear.
My diminishing appetite probably had something to do with the malted milk hot chocolate that had become part of my stomach lining. City Bakery's hot chocolate is very rich and thick without being unbearably sweet or chocolatey...initially. And then you get three-quarters of the way through (this point may be reached sooner by normal folk) and realize, "Ohh, I shouldn't finish this, unless I want to feel hurty." That's what happened ot me. And you can ask why I didn't get the hot chocolate shot, but have you seen the hot chocolate shot? It's like two sips! Two very large sips. I got it once last year and felt unfulfilled after emptying the baby cup. Sure, it prevents the drinker from ingesting a gazillion chocolatey calories, but if you're going to go for it, you may as well go for the gold. The shot is too small and the regular cup is too big. It's probably best for two people to share a cup. Not that I've ever done it. I think Saturday was the first time I failed to finish an entire cup, which I attribute to having eaten an entire baby-sized cookie.
Although we weren't hungry, we wandered over to Tisserie just to take a look. The offerings improved since the last time I went there (there are many more French viennoiseries!), but the prices are still a smidge more than I'd be willing to pay on a regular basis. I may need to try the almond croissant though—it looks promising.
God knows I wasn't hungry, but macarons don't require hunger. They require...insanity. And what do you know; I have plenty of that. If you see a mac with potential, you must eat it. So I did. For $2.50 (plus tax).
I carried the lonely, fat lil' mac to the second floor, but all the tables were full of...people. Susannah and I didn't know where to sit in the overly packed bakery until we noticed two very small, white, plastic seats with an equally small table right across from the cashiers. The furniture set looked like it was meant for toddlers. Or puppies. Despite not fitting into either category, we plopped out bums down.
Upon first look I could tell that the outside was dry and the crust was thicker than I'd like. Otherwise it probably would've broke. I still remember when buying macarons at Pierre Herme that the macaron handlers would have to put the less-than-perfect specimens in the trench for broken macarons adjacent to the boxes of perfect macarons. ...Okay, I shouldn't compare anything to PH. I really wished they would've given the rejects to the customers, but no dice.
Overall the macaron wasn't that bad, but as you can see the crust is pretty thick and the atypical fatness/height of the macaron is due to it being 25% air. Air is okay, but more when it's distributed through the cookie, not when it's a bubble. The non-bubble part was moist and chewy, but I found it overly sweet. Really sweet. And you know what my sweet tooth is like, right? My favorite part was the filling for being most pistachio-y and not as sweet as the cookie (unless I just couldn't tell because there was more cookie than filling). I'm glad I tried the macaron, but I wouldn't feel compelled to get it again.
I should do some kind of updated NYC macaron taste test, eh? [scratches head]