NYC: CCCs at Jacques Torres and Levain Bakery

Once upon a time, I endeavored to bake the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. To this end, I used a beloved recipe: Jacques Torres’ 36-hour labor of love, made famous by The New York Times. While the end result was delicious, my curiousity wasn’t sated; I had to know if my rendition did the original justice. Obviously, then, when I found myself in NYC, a trip to Jacques Torres Chocolate found its way into my agenda.

However, I’d also heard whispers in the streets about a competing cookie. From the sound of it, Levain Bakery made a pretty penultimate CCC. In the name of science (and future holiday cookie bake-offs), I also scheduled a stop by their storefront. I scuttled from Manhattan to Brooklyn in the interest of testing out these two different sweets… and how did they compare?

One thing was certain. Even if there’s not a single “best” recipe for a chocolate chip cookie, there does appear to be a formula. That, my friends, is as follows:

Big + buttery = success.

Jacques Torres’ original CCC.

Frozen hot chocolate!

Goods to go.

Whereas Jacques Torres’ are broad, pliant discs marbled with oblong dark chocolate fevres, Levain’s are craggy heaps of tender dough and melted chocolate. Torres caramelizes his cookies until they achieve a rich mahogany color, with thin crispy edges and a chewy center. Levain’s cookies, on the other hand, are clearly underbaked, resulting in a lightly browned exterior and nearly custard-like center. We requested the Torres cookie warmed (highly recommended); the Levain cookie magically retained its gooeyness straight off the shelf.

Because we can’t control ourselves, we also tried an extra treat at each store. At Jacques Torres, Jay ordered the “frozen hot chocolate” smoothie – a delicious treat for a hot day. The drink was a bit bittersweet to pair with such a sweet cookie, however, and was nearly too rich for even three people to share. Speaking of rich, Jay bought another cookie after tasting our first at Levain; the dark chocolate chip flavor delivered dreamy cocoa-based fulfillment after only a few bites.

At the end of the day, both Jacques Torres and Levain produced top-tier chocolate chip cookies, with personal preference being the deciding factor. Levain’s chunky, rich cookie won Jay over, while I leaned towards Torres’ golden-brown, chewy version. We acknowledged each other’s choices and respectfully agreed to disagree. Emotions often run high when discussing things like politics, religion, and classic chocolate chip cookies. Unlike debates over the former two, however, discussions over baked goods typically end well. After all, they involve sugar.

Levain’s mind-blowing CCC.

Double the chocolate if you dare…

Levain Bakery
167 West 74th St.
New York, NY 10023

Jacques Torres Chocolate
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201


NYC: noodles at SobaYa and Xi’an Famous Foods

… And now, back to recapping NYC!

Jay and I were pretty excited about hunting down Asian food while we were in Manhattan. Luckily, it wasn’t difficult to get our fix, being that we were staying only steps away from Eastern eateries of all stripes. We stopped by a mid-range restaurant and a low-brow shop for variations on a favorite: noodles.

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NYC, Williamsburg: Pies N Thighs, Traif

Williamsburg, your reputation precedes you.

In an attempt to prepare myself for the well-publicized hipness of the ‘hood, I did a visualization exercise. If Brooklyn is to Manhattan as Oakland is to San Francisco, what would that make Williamsburg? I pictured, as its equivalent, the Temescal district: young, eclectic, and cool. I quickly discovered that both areas were every bit their caricatures of 20-something-dominated gentrification. Unlike its West Coast counterpart, however, I found Williamsburg sprawling, residential, and cleaner cut. I also found it full of delicious eats.

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NYC, Brooklyn: Smorgasburg

Last time I was in NYC, I didn’t step foot in Brooklyn. As I pictured it, the borough was just too much to do justice within a single trip. This, I now realize, can be said of nearly any metropolitan area. I had to accept that I was never going to see it all, neither in breadth nor depth, and still give travelin’ my best shot. With that in mind, on a Sunday afternoon, Jay and I boarded a ferry bound for BK.

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NYC: parent pleasers at Pylos and Pio Pio

While Jay and I particularly enjoyed pinching pennies at Manhattan’s finest holes-in-the-wall, there were occasions where the pendulum swung the other way. Take, for example, the dinners that we shared with Jay’s parents, who were coincidentally visiting New York at the same time. Lovely and easygoing as they are, I couldn’t imagine digging into chicken and rice with them in some dingy corner of the city (as amazing as that sounds…). It just wouldn’t do. The situation called for real, sit-down restaurants, with ambiance, class, and a discernible lack of drunk people puking in trashcans by the front door. (Not that that ever happened, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility, right?)

Anyway. Twice in New York, Jay and I put on our best business-casual and headed out to respectable establishments for Dinner with the Parents. We had delicious Peruvian at Pio Pio and to-die-for Greek at Pylos. The wine flowed, the family feasted.

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NYC: classic cheap eats at Halal Guys and Mamoun’s

The Bay Area is often painted as a food-lover’s paradise — the cradle of the slow-food movement and a modern-day mecca for local and sustainably-sourced cuisine. Nowadays, turn a corner and you’re bound to stumble upon artisanal, gourmet goods. As spoiled as we are, however, there’s one area in which SF’s food scene can be found wanting: cheap, good eats.

There are a few places where one can stretch a dollar — but, for the most part, dining out in San Francisco is generally pretty pricey. Not so in NYC. Inexpensive eats abound. I like to imagine an alternate East Coast life wherein I live in a shoebox and subsist off of bagels, coffee, and dollar slices all the livelong day. Anyway… back to the food. In particular, Jay and I made sure to try the Mediterranean street food impossible to find in our fair city. It came as no surprise that these unpretentious meals were among our very favorites in all of New York City.

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NYC: sandwiches at Katz’ and Café Habana

Sandwiches tell stories. That’s true for any food, really, but especially so for sandwiches. For one thing, they’re ubiquitous; I can walk into a corner store in Anytown, USA, and rest assured that there’ll be bread and meat waiting for me behind the counter. Their universality, however, doesn’t mean predictability. The simple, unassuming sandwich has yielded endless permutations, each representative of specific places and times. There’s the New Orleans muffuletta, the Kentucky hot brown, Los Angeles’ French dip, the New England lobster roll, and so on and so forth. Sandwiches are culinary traditions, carried across geographical boundaries, merged with other foodways, and engrained into new cultures; take, for example, the Vietnamese banh mi. Pretty special.

All that is to say: Jay and I found some damn good sandwiches in NYC.

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NYC: brunching at and around Clinton Street Baking Company

One cold February day, I found myself at the computer, dreamily clicking through a photo gallery of pancakes. I stared, enraptured, at combinations like fresh coconut batter + kumquat syrup + bruleed bananas. I fantasized about trying Japanese pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin seed streusel and warm maple butter. A single tear trickled down my cheek when I read, “If pancakes were a churro, they would be like this.” Later that night, I laid in bed and paged through the #pancakes hashtag on Instagram for nearly an hour.*

To those in New York, it was pancake month at Clinton Street Baking Company. To those not (e.g., myself), it was torture.

On our recent trip, however, we made up for lost time/calories by breaking fast in and around the East Village.

* My Instagram-browsing also led me to discover #porncakes, which is (mercifully) more about food and less about freakiness.

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NYC: a sampling of sweets

I’m a fraud.

Only a few weeks ago, I posted about the new heights of health I’d reached. Through months of careful, committed diet and exercise, I’d gotten to my ideal body composition. I’d dropped to under 20% body fat and built muscle. I looked fit. I felt great.

Then I went to New York. I indulged in every sweet that caught my eye… and gained back every single pound I’d lost. While the results of my regime were very real, they most certainly weren’t maintained. As I write this, my hard-won abs are obscured by a pleasant little layer of padding.

Was it worth it?

You tell me.

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NYC: Dominique Ansel — and yes, the Cronut™

It was still dark outside when I woke up. Murky blue light filtered in through the lightwell, dimly illuminating our New York City flat. Jay lay fast sleep beside me. I got up, got dressed, and slipped out of the building. I was a girl on a mission.

Briskly, I walked down Houston Street, crossing from the East Village into Soho and praying I wouldn’t be too late. From a few blocks away, I spotted the line. Already?, I thought to myself. Hurriedly I placed myself in the queue and breathed a sigh of relief.

I was at Dominique Ansel Bakery… and I was about to get me a Cronut.

If, for some reason, you haven’t heard of a Cronut, then why are you reading this blog? Just kidding. Really, though, this hybrid croissant-doughnut has “rocked” the “food world,” infiltrating “mainstream pop culture” and effectively “going viral.” According to the Cronut 101™ page (yes, really), chef Dominique Ansel spent two months developing his proprietary recipe for laminated, fried and filled dough. Since then, it’s enjoyed nearly hyperbolic popularity, with people going to very great lengths to obtain one. People lose their shit for this baking breakthrough; think five-hour waits, black market prices, and three-week advance reservations. It’s also launched legions of knock-offs — and subsequent copyright infringement lawsuits. What, did you think this was some kind of joke?

It was an absolute given, then, that I’d spend one of my mornings in NYC in pursuit of this popular pastry. On a Wednesday morning, at 7:30 am, I was lucky number 13 in line. Already, there were staff on hand to control the unruly mob [of sleepy tourists with nothing better to do on a weekday]. The employees would periodically make announcements: we would enter in small groups and could buy two Cronuts max; this month’s were flavored with morello cherry and toasted almond cream. About an hour before doors opened, a person donning a chef’s toque used shiny silver tongs to hand out tiny, freshly-baked madeleines: a deliciously light treat, with delightfully crisp edges. This amuse-bouche was followed by small plastic cups of juice, which made me feel like I was running a marathon (except I’d been standing around instead of engaging in physical activity and I was drinking fancy lemonade instead of Gatorade). This also made me feel like I was a mentally unstable person, waiting an inordinately long amount of time for a $5 treat and receiving charity/pity in the form of free samples.

At 8:00 am sharp, none other than the man himself opened the doors to the establishment. By that time, the line had grown and stretched around the tennis court by the shop. As part of the first batch of customers entering, I paused to gaze meaningfully upon Dominique Ansel’s noble visage. He smiled noncommittally back at me. I prayed that some of his brilliance and success had rubbed off on me through our shared moment in time. Satisfied with our exchange, I went inside — and after half an hour, I had the goods.

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