February 10, 2008
Gelato, Abraço, Shanghai Cafe, and a Cake-Filled Birthday Bash
It was just another one of those days. The kind that starts with gelato and ends with cake, interrupted by a feast of Chinese food to pad the stomach in between snacks. That's all that dinner is anyway: "The act of nutritional replenishment that occurs between snacks." I didn't get that from a dictionary—it's all in here...[taps skull]...
[hollow noise resonates]
At my request, Kathy, Raphael, and I visited the nearby Il Laboratorio del Gelato after briefly hanging out at Kathy's apartment as she finished up her laundry. Although Il Lab used to be my favorite gelateria (current favorite being L'Arte del Gelato), visits have been rare since it closes at the retarculously early hour of 6PM. Except for when I'm in Italy, where it seems perfectly reasonable to eat gelato for breakfast, most of my gelato eating occurs after dinner, closer to 9PM. Some people like to cap off their night with a cocktail—I prefer a cup of sweet, fat-laden frozen goodness. You can buy Il Lab's gelato at the Bowery Whole Foods, which closes at 11PM, but going there instead of the original storefront just isn't the same to me.
I exercised some restraint and simply ordered a small cup of creme fraiche and banana gelato. Textures at Il Lab tend to fall more on the side of what I would attribute to ice cream over gelato, that is, firm instead of spreadably soft and smooth. The first "uhoh" sign to me was when the gelato was scooped instead of paddled into the cup. I likey the paddle. Of course, the gelato tastes great—most of their flavors have that clean "punch you in the face" intensity (without the subsequent throbbing pain or open wounds), fresh banana and mildly tart creme fraiche being no exception—but I wish the texture of the gelato were softer and creamier. The banana was creamy enough while the creme fraiche tasted too frozen. I recommend Il Lab for the awesome flavors (their fresh mint makes me weep tears of herby joy, followed by a cool, refreshing aftertaste!), but the textures usually throw me off.
Next we headed to Abraço, a vibrant coffee shop with a sliver of standing room, for coffee and pastries. You may already know about my nonexistent love for the liquid steepings of coffee grounds, but Kathy insisted that this coffee was on another plane of existence, one that made all other coffee taste like piles of dirt and sticks and hatred, a description that kind of already fit my opinion of normal coffee.
I took a few sips of Raphael's piccolo milch (a cafe au lait, methinks), a few because it didn't make my taste buds suicidal. It was smooth. Creamy. Pleasant. Brown. I couldn't fully assess its awesomeness with a few sips, but it should mean something that Raphael gave it the thumbs up since he drinks coffee like he breathes oxygen. That is, he will die without it. He will die.
Cardamom-orange bundt cake tasted of cardamom and orange. Yeah, really! I wouldn't have changed a thing about this cake—texture was just moist enough with a bit of crumble to it and the flavors and sweetness were well balanced. It was my favorite item out of everything we ordered (the others coming...forthwith).
Guess what the lavender and salt butter cookie tasted like. ...Yes. Well, more lavender than salt, although not too heavy on the lavender. This cookie was of the thin and crisp variety, kind of like a tuile.
I'm afraid I couldn't get into the rose water pain perdu with sweet ricotta; the overpowering rose flavor gave me the sensation that I was eating soap. But if you really like rose-flavored things then you'll love this. It's like eating roses in the form of bread and sweet ricotta goo.
Kathy also got a glass of almond milk, her favorite almond milk in the city. In the history. Of all. Nut squeezings. Since this is merely text you'll have to imagine me saying that in an overly dramatic tone. Can you do that for me? Nut squeezings. Okay.
For less moronic descriptions of these items, check out Kathy's blog.
Sticky rice in bamboo leaf is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I can't deal with sweet sticky rice; it has to be the savory kind, preferably stuffed with pork because most things that contain a heart of pork will blow your mind away, like BOOM!, an obliterative force of brain hemorrhaging deliciousness. This version of sticky rice was gluier than what I was used to, requiring a strong scraping to release it from its bamboo leaf container, but it still tasted like awesome, smushy, sticky rice. It comforts the belly. Warms the ol' digestive system. Eat it.
Since life is not complete without soup dumplings, we ordered both the crab and pork and pork soup dumplings. The crab and pork ones could've used more crab—I couldn't tell that they even contained crab until I ate the pork ones and realized that yes, those tasted like pork, although that could also be a result of my malfunctioning taste buds—but overall I liked them. How could I not like soup dumplings? I'd probably like them even if they sucked. You've got a meat nubbin sitting in meat juice all wrapped in a thin dumpling skin. It must be among the top five delicious foods that comes in the shape of a pouch.
The rice cakes in Shanghai rice cakes are more like rice-based pasta slabs than "cake." Thick, chewy slabs. In some kind of...sauce. I'm afraid I can't describe anything today. We all really liked it; I think that's all you need to know.
Broccoli with garlic sauce reminded me how much I love vegetables from Chinese restaurants. It was just cooked to the point of not being raw. You know. Crisp and crunchy. I like.
We ordered the pork ball with vegetable casserole not really knowing what the hell it was beyond something with pork balls and vegetables. The result was a heavy clay pot of pork-based meatballs—whose sizes measured somewhere in between that of a golf ball and a tennis ball, which is a pretty big range but I'm unable to think of other widely known ball sizes—sitting in a flavorful, somewhat medicinal (er, in the Chinese sense) broth of...um, meatness and sweetness, along with thin bean noodles and cabbage and things. This dish is also known as Lion's head, named after the "shape of the cabbage, which together with the meatball and a bit of imagination, resembles a lion's head." A bit of imagination? If you're taking hallucinogens, sure.
The meatballs were the most tender form of balled meat that I had ever eaten due to the meat being ground to some kind of microscopic size and mixed in such a way to give a light, fluffy texture that reminded me more of tofu than meat. Kind of. I don't know if that makes any sense. The sweet flavor was initially off-putting, but I got used to it after a while.
The sweet red bean pancakes, kind of like a crispy folded-up crepe filled with mashed red bean goo, tasted more like banana than red bean. How does red bean taste like banana? We had no clue. It was a bit odd. Thumbs down.
At the end of our meal Kathy tacked on another dish of Shanghai pan fried noodles at the slight goading by Raphael. And shortly after the order was placed we realized, "Crap, we don't need more food."
But it came. And it was really good. A crispy nest of thin, fried egg noodles smothered in vegetables and whatnot, like bamboo, bean sprouts, carrots, snow peats, and other things I couldn't identify. Since our stomachs had already been stretched beyond that of a healthy capacity, the noodles had the sad fate of sitting on the table unfinished.
Aside from the noodles, I'd say we did a good job of not leaving behind excessive leftovers.
We stopped outside of Paris Sandwich across the street to take a look at their menu. I was enraptured by the beauty of the sandwich display—the undulating letters, the brightly colored backgrounds, the uniformly diagonal orientation of the sandwiches—it was poetry on so many levels.
Actually, it was mostly the undulating letters. Who designed this display and decided that straight type just wouldn't cut it? "Make em wavy! We'll sell more sandwiches!" I can't read "Sardine Fish" without attributing different levels of stress to the letters, like, "SardINe FISHuh," and ending with a wiggle of my trunk-like torso. You cannot understand the great degree of my weirdness.
Since we were going to be in the West Village for Anna's party, we stopped at L'Arte del Gelato for dessert, probably at my request. There's nothing wrong with eating gelato twice in one day. Nothing at all.
I can't go to L'Arte del Gelato without at least getting the pistacchio di bronte, usually paired with something in the sorbet cateegory, this time fruits of the forest. The pistachio was buttery smooth as always and the fruits of the forest tasted of...fruits. Berries. Redness. It made for a nice palate cleanser.
Again at my request because I wanted to buy cookies for Anna and another friend, we killed some time at Birdbath Bakery, basically overtaking the whole corner seating area. I swear to you that by this point I was way too full to eat anything. Or at least to enjoy anything. Despite that it's one of my favorite cookies in the city, I declined taking a bite of Olivia's chocolate chip cookie. I later bought two chocolate chocolate chip cookies since it was two-for-the-price-of-one by that time (after 9:30 PM?) and I could barely eat it. Stomach was still too full and the cookie was too chocolate filled, more chocolate than cookie. Kathy had no problem finishing it off (oh Kathy, she's so reliable) but I found it too bitter for my tastes. If it had been more milk chocolate-y I probably would've been all over it.
Raphael and Erin parted ways to go bar hopping while Kathy and Olivia joined me to attend Anna's 23rd birthday party at her friend's apartment. An apartment of such massive proportions that it would make anyone who has lived in, say, any other apartment in NYC break down with blubbering jealousy and then question the purpose of living in NYC at all. Or living in general. It was straight out of The Real World.
One of the resident's (out of...six?) parents had owned the building since the 1970s, a time when the West Village probably sucked. Or wasn't as inhabitant-friendly. They stuck some rooms into the gallery space (I suppose the only possible downside to living here is not waking up to sunlight, but as soon as you step out of your room you enter the cavernous kitchen and living room, so WHO GIVES A SHIZZ) and...voilà, awesome apartment. There was a room in the back that was so large they planned on either renting it out as a photography studio and/or installing hand holds on the wall to make it suitable for indoor rock climbing. Yes, the walls were that big. Jebus.
Anna picked three awesome cakes for the evening. You can read her cake reviews on her blog. Here's my rundown:
Chocolate layer cake from The Chocolate Room: I recommended this cake after falling in love with it back in 2006. I described it back then as, "a fluffy, moist, light, evenly crumbed, soft-as-a-bunny's-butt chunk of heaven unlike most other chocolate cakes. Everything—cake, frosting, sweetness, chocolate-y-ness—was perfect." It's still the same, pretty much. If the sensation that my stomach were about to explode had been weaker, I would've enjoyed it more.
Cheesecake from Two Little Red Hens: I'm not a big fan of cheesecake—I usually find it too thick, too sweet, too something. But this cheesecake tasted perfect. Not too heavy but not super light like a Japanese-style cheesecake. Smooth and creamy. Just sweet enough and not overly sticky. My stomach forgot it was bubbling over with predigested goo to make room for this cake. So good.
Spicy pumpkin cake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine: I have a feeling that my opinion of this cake has a lot to do with it being the last cake I ate that evening. All my digested juices had been used up by then. But I did try it. And...well, of course it was good—it was from SSS after all—but it was noticeably sweet and heavy compared to the other cakes and OH MY GOD MY STOMACH EXPLODED the end.
There was also lots of alcohol. I didn't drink any. ;)
The plateware for the evening were these ridiculously cute animal-shaped paper plates with two extra nubbinly compartments to act as feet or ears, depending on the animal. This peacock made my brain fizzle witwh squealy joy. I'm so easily amused.
Fellow Vassar-ites Amy and Alex were also at the party to see Anna and feast on her cake and booze. That's the equation for fun, pretty much: cake, booze, and good friends. Many thanks to to Anna and her friends for organizing the party!
It was hard to have to pull myself away from all the awesome people, but I put it off as long as I could...by taking the last train home back to NJ. Which was when I found out that the last train back to NJ has a rather high percentage of semi-drunk guys who converse at an irritatingly high volume. Hooray for intoxication: it makes NJ a little stupider every night.
That was a fun Saturday.
Posted by roboppy at 5:44 PM
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