Soft serve perfection

If you know me, you know I love soft serve ice cream and eat a ton of it, so you should take it seriously when I say some of the best soft serve in this city is in the Flatiron District and as soon as you’re done reading this, you should go there and get some. If you don’t live here, A.) good for you, you probably have a healthy lifestyle and live in a beautiful home that you paid peanuts for, but B.) maybe you should come visit just to try this soft serve and maybe to feel good about living somewhere that isn’t overrun by rats.  

I’ve already mentioned this place before (refresh your memory here) because the last soft serve I had that was this damn good was actually from the same place: Made Nice, the fast-casual spot from the people behind Eleven Madison Park and The Nomad (i.e. two of the best fine dining establishments in the city, for those of you who don’t wile away your hours on food media.) It was with that soft serve in mind that I went to Made Nice, but then decided to get their other option, something I don’t remember being on the menu the last time I was there, and OH MAN was that a good idea. 

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I want to eat you forever, soft serve.

First of all, yes, it is comically unphotogenic, or at least it is in the iPhone photos I took. While you might first look at it and think, wait, what is that, I promise it’s infinitely better than the over-the-top, cartoonish viral sensations you see on Instagram and the like.

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A perfect bite. 

It’s a pretty generous cup (which already right there, had me cause I’m not a cone girl) of thick, creamy chocolate soft serve, covered in a praline shell with hazelnut crumble and plump, tender roasted bananas. As someone who loves a variety of textures and flavors in her foods, it was perfection. Cold soft serve and warm bananas, rich chocolate and caramelized sweetness, crunchiness and creaminess. Also, having grown up in Miami in a half-Hispanic household, fried sweet plantains were a staple, and the oily, sweet, mushy ones were, and still are, my favorite. The roasted bananas here, while not exactly Instagram-bait, were reminiscent of the ones I love and because they were sweeter, I loved them even more.

I haven’t felt motivated to write here in weeks, but as soon as I cracked into that praline shell and ate a spoonful of soft serve, I knew I had to tell you about it. Trust me, don’t sleep on this one. I know what I’m talking about.

Same same but different

You ever run into an old flame and things are just so different from how they once were that it kind of makes you feel a whole bunch of things? Maybe a little sad, relieved perhaps, mostly nostalgic?

You think about the good times, and remember how sweet they really were at their height, but then you snap back to the present and maybe you notice the former flame’s lost some hair, put on some weight, looks tired or just different. Maybe it’s you, maybe you’ve changed. Either way, it’s not the same and even if the experience of seeing that person is pleasant enough, and you’re ok where you both are in life now, you can’t help but miss how things once were.

IMG_6839Yea, well, that was the experience I had with one of the great loves of my life this week: a sandwich from Antico Noè. When I lived in Florence, Italy, what really does feel like a whole different lifetime ago, I went to Noè more than anywhere else. I tried different things a couple of times but for the most part I got the same panino every time: the # 4, stuffed chicken with prosciutto, mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms and rosé sauce. It was warmed up briefly in a press, wrapped in a couple of napkins and handed over to me by the same hunky Florentine who seemed to never have a day away from the shop.

A few years ago, Antico Noè opened a shop in midtown Manhattan of all places. (Apparently, some enterprising, panini loving Americans bought the rights to  use their name here and promised to keep it as close to the original as possible.) I’ve been a couple of times since they originally opened and always had a decent enough sandwich. This past week, I found myself in midtown and actually on the same street as Noè, so I thought I’d drop in for lunch.

Feeling ever nostalgic and wanting to recapture the magic, I ordered my usual, the # 4. Staring at a mural of Florence and the same painted logo from the original shop while an Italian pop ballad played in the empty shop (I was there later in the afternoon, after the lunch rush), I ate my sandwich alone.

IMG_6840It wasn’t bad, by any means. The bread was warm and had been pressed down just right to squeeze everything together and make it easy to eat. The mozzarella, warm and melted, oozed out in long strands. The mushrooms gave their earthy, subtle flavor and weren’t slimy or wet as the sautéed kind sometimes are. The meat was alright, flavorful enough and a nice contrast to the other ingredients, though anywhere else I probably wouldn’t have ordered stuffed chicken. The rosé sauce, my favorite, was tangy and creamy.

IMG_6841And yet… it wasn’t the same. As far as lunches go, I was satisfied yes, but I wasn’t raving. If I had friends visiting from out of town, I wouldn’t insist that they eat there, they way I do with every single person who’s ever asked me where they should eat in Florence over the last ten years. The ingredients were the same they use in Florence, but not the exact kind I’m sure. I doubt it was the exact type of mozzarella, or the same sauce, and the bread was baked here, not there, which has to make a difference. In fact, I had my sandwich on whole grain, which way back when in Florence, wasn’t even an option.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t even the sandwich. Maybe it was the fact that I was in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers and stressed office employees, I myself being one. Maybe the sandwich just tastes better in a city that’s looked the same since before the Renaissance, when you’re in your early 20s and worried mostly about where you’ll go out that night or where to travel next weekend. It’s likely that it was both.

I’m sure New York’s Noè outpost does just fine. I’ve been there during the lunch rush and business seemed to be thriving. Lots of framed articles and media mentions line the wall when you walk in, and I’m sure Instagram has no shortage of dedications from people who studied abroad and then came back to try and relive their Florentine lunches.

But for me it felt too different. Not bad, not good, just different. And since I’d like to keep the memory of that sandwich I loved so very much all those years ago exactly as it was, I think I’ll just hold out on Noè and the # 4 till the next time I’m back in Florence, whenever that might be.

New job, new eats

The past week or so has been all about adjusting to changes. I just started a new job so with that came a new office, new coworkers, a new schedule, and lots of new daily routines and processes to get used to. And while all of it’s been great so far, my favorite might just be the fact that even though my new office is only five blocks away from my old one, because this is New York I’m now in a whole new part of town: Koreatown!

So let me rephrase that: my favorite part about all this change is the new food choices I’m surrounded by! K-town’s a small neighborhood when you consider that it’s mostly just one block, 32nd street between 5th Ave. and Broadway, but it’s a pretty densely packed one when it comes to all the places you can eat and drink (and karaoke, if you’re so inclined).

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Nothing says welcome to the neighborhood like a kimchi croquette!

Just last week I popped into Tous Les Jours, a Ktown bakery, for a celebratory breakfast treat (first week done!) and was faced with no less than one million things I wanted to eat. Luckily (for my thighs), I only had a few minutes to spare so I grabbed the first thing that looked interesting, a kimchi croquette, and practically inhaled it on the rest of my walk.

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SO. GOOD. 

The croquette was doughy and soft and about the size of a doughnut, but because it was also fried, the outside had a crispy crunchiness to it. Inside, it was stuffed with warm, slightly spicy kimchi making this a savory treat that would be great for any meal or snack really. I’ve had lots of different croquettes in the past but none with a korean slant like this so I enjoyed it even more.

Based on my penchant for stress eating, and the fact that I’m going to be learning the ropes and juggling lots of new things at work, I think it’s safe to say there might be a few more kimchi croquettes  in my future.

Treat yo’self…after the doctor

Except for the time I kicked my pregnant dentist during a harrowing visit to get a tooth pulled, I was always a well-behaved kid during medical appointments. I sat quietly through the poking and prodding and the embarrassing buttcheek injections and was usually rewarded for my stoicism with some small token— a lollipop or a sticker or a cartoon Band-Aid.

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Doc’s orders… if I’m the doctor

I’m now solidly into my 30s and very much still in the habit of no matter how routine the appointment, how good or bad it goes, but especially if it had anything to do with stirrups, getting myself a treat almost immediately after.

Yesterday, as I hobbled out of a podiatrist appointment with a bandaged ankle and strict orders to not go running again until I’d had an MRI of my leg and the doctor cleared me, I was feeling all sorts of deflated. But as I limped back to my office, moping as I went, I passed Bourke Street Bakery, and knew I had to go in for a post-doctor’s visit reward / pick me up.

The small ginger creme brulee tart with roasted pistachios I had there did nothing for my leg or the fact that my marathon training is temporarily derailed, but for the couple of minutes that it took me to eat it, I actually didn’t even care. A good pastry will do that, and hence this tradition continues.

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I feel better already!

As my spoon shattered the crispy, caramelized top, it gave way to a creamy, butter-colored custard underneath it. The crust below it was buttery and thick, a firm base to hold everything without getting soggy or mushy. As someone who appreciates different textures in her food, I loved that each bite was a mix of creamy, crumbly and crunchy, with the roasted pistachio bits sprinkled on top adding a nutty element.

If there’s an upside to this whole injured leg of mine and the follow-up appointments to come, it’s that it means more post-visit treats. And with my podiatrist’s office just a couple of blocks away from Bourke Street, ginger creme brulee tarts might be the new tradition.

I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

The land of Milk and Honey… soft serve

I grew up going to church as a kid, pretty much up until I moved out and went to college, so I’ve read a decent amount of the Bible over the years.

Of all the things to take away from the Good Book, it was one repeated mention that always struck me: milk and honey. It seemed someone was always being delivered from oppression and being promised a land of milk and honey. Streets would flow with milk and honey. If you were good, you could have eternal salvation… and all you can drink milk and honey.

The combo always confused me. Was milk and honey a thing? I was more of a chocolate milk girl myself. Wouldn’t that be weird, to live somewhere flowing with milk and honey? I mean, are we talking waterfalls? Rivers? Could there be floods if there were too much milk and honey?

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Cue the trumpet-playing angels!

Well, let me tell you, dear reader, I’ve come to spread the good word: I FINALLY GET IT. After having the milk and honey soft serve at Made Nice, I can now fully imagine what kind of idyllic paradise would be flowing with the stuff.

The milk flavored soft serve at Made Nice is rich and creamy, like a cold glass of whole milk, and not extra-sweetened like a vanilla soft serve might be. And really the subtlety here is in support of letting the toppings shine because along with adding lots of interesting, fun textures, they’re what make this a delicious godsend. Honey brittle and shortbread add a crunchy, crumbly richness while the milk meringue plays up the cream flavor with a crispy edge, and the buckwheat honey and sprinkle of sea salt round everything out and give it an earthy, flavorful depth.

Everyone imagines heaven differently, but it’s safe to say in my version, there’s definitely an endless supply of these milk and honey soft serve sundaes. Calorie free, obviously.

Limited time only collab? Fine, I’ll get in line

Every time I find myself waiting in some absurdly long line for something—which in NY is often since we’re always queuing up for a pastry or an art gallery or even Metro cards— I swear it’s the last time I’m gonna do it.

And then I go and read about a limited time only special collaboration Dominque Ansel breakfast sandwich at Shake Shake in the West Village and I think, “OK FINE. One more time. And then that’s it!”

Just a couple of days ago I read about the special edition egg katsu sando being sold only Friday and Saturday and until supplies lasted each day.  I knew there was no way I’d make it there on Saturday morning so I made a detour on my way to work instead.

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