Category Archives: Cafes, Bakeries, Ice Cream…

NYC Food Adventures: Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery

blueberry knish

What the heck is a Knish?

I’ll be honest, before planning this trip to New York City, I had never heard of knishes, and had no idea how to pronounce them (the K is not silent). But while researching the neighborhood around Katz’s Deli, I came across Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery and I knew we had to stop and try a knish.

Yonah Schimmel’s has been on this tiny store on Houston St. (pronounced “HOW-ston”) for over a hundred years. Schimmel, a Romanian rabbi, started selling knishes from a cart in Coney Island back in the 1890’s, and eventually was able to open a brick and mortar store in Manhattan. The shop is now owned by his grand-nephew.

Knishes are baked dumplings, consisting of a thin flour dough enveloping a filling, often mashed potatoes with onions, but it may also include ground meats. They seem similar to pierogis, but as the latter are usually boiled or fried, the texture is different. There are also sweet, fruit knishes. As we had just had lunch at Katz’s, and as we had no method to reheat a savory knish back at our hotel, we got two sweet ones to eat as dessert later.

I got the blueberry cream cheese knish ($8.50). It was exactly what it sounded like: a thin pastry surrounding slightly sweetened cream cheese and cooked blueberries. It was very rich, not very sweet and very tasty. A very grown up dessert – and one knish is certainly enough for two people. Mike got the apple strudel knish ($8.50) and that was less successful. It was basically apple pie filling in that same, thin dough, but it wasn’t sweet enough for his liking. He was terribly disappointed.

If we went back to NYC, I’d be curious to try to savory knishes, and I’d get a blueberry one again. Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery does ship nationwide through Gold Belly. A 6-pack of knishes will cost you $80, shipping included.

Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery
137 E. Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 477-2858
MON - SUN 11AM - 6PM

NYC Food Adventures: A Bagel with Cream Cheese and Lox

A visit to Ross & Daughters and Pick a Bagel

Among the many food items New York City is known for are bagels. The claim is that New York City tap water makes both bagels and hot dogs particularly delicious. My husband and I are not huge bagel eaters, as we try to watch our carbs, but we had to try one while in the City. And it had to be an everything bagel (though we ended up getting plain) with cream cheese and lox, as that’s probably the most popular bagel combination among New Yorkers.

There are a plethora of places where to get bagels in NYC, but among them Russ & Daughters holds special distinction. The small deli has been at its current location on Houston St., a block away from Katz’s deli, for over a hundred years – though in recent years they’ve open a few other branches. It specializes in smoked fish and caviar, though they also have some spreads, soups, salads and baked goods. I had read in several places that their bagels weren’t particularly good, and we had just had lunch at Katz’s and weren’t particularly hungry, so we stopped by to pick up some lox and cream cheese for later.

salmon

The genius of great lox, I was to find out, is not only how it’s cooked, but how it’s sliced. The knife skills of the cutter were phenomenal. He chose the best part of the fish from where to hand cut paper thin slices of salmon. The cutter offered Mike a taste of the salmon of his choice, and he decided on the Norway, a strong tasting lox that he loved. Still, he decided to get a 1/4 lb of the Gaspe Nova ($14) to take home, as that’s the one Russ & Daughters is best known for. We also got 1/4 lb of scallion cream cheese ($3.50) as they’re also known for it.

It wasn’t until our last morning in NYC that we were able to actually get some bagels to eat with the cream cheese and lox (just cream cheese for me, as I don’t like lox). We got the bagels at Pick A Bagel, which seems to be a chain, with a location a few blocks away from our hotel.

The plain bagels ($1.75 each) were good. I liked them, they had a nice chew and good flavor. Mike thought they were just average – then again, he doesn’t particularly like bagels, so maybe that’s at play. We ate the bagels untoasted, as this seems to be the most common way to do it in NYC. I feel that most of the bagels we get here need to be toasted to be really edible, but this one really didn’t need it. We also got a bialy ($1.75), which is an unboiled bagel topped with onions. I had it after we got home and I did enjoy it, but again, I didn’t think it was particularly remarkable. Still, I did like the chewiness and not needing to toast it.

I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the scallion cream cheese from Russ & Daughters. It was fine, but it wasn’t special. Other than the scallions, I can’t say it was better than Philadelphia. Mike, however, raved about the lox. He thought the Gaspe Nova was absolutely delicious. It did, indeed, have a mild flavor, but he didn’t mind at all. While the two types of lox he tasted were different, he isn’t able to find a favorite, he’d like them both again. And he does think these may very be the best lox he’s ever had – indeed, he thinks it’s very unlikely he could find a better lox, at least outside NYC.

So now you know, if you’re in NYC and you love smoked salmon, get some lox from Russ & Daughters. You can also order it online, but the shipping fee through Goldbelly is $55 for a pound of lox, on top of the $56 for the salmon!.

You might also try a different place for bagels, feel free to comment below on what your favorites are.

Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St
NYC
212-475-4880, x1
M-Su 8:00AM - 4:00PM

Pick a Bagel
891 8th Ave 
New York City
(212) 582-8333






NYC Food Adventures: Magnolia Bakery

bakery

Is the banana pudding worth the hype?

Magnolia Bakery apparently became famous because of a scene in Sex and the City – an early 2000s show about four single women living in NYC. While I watched the show, I didn’t remember the bakery at all, but it came up repeatedly during my research of what to eat while in New York City.

Magnolia Bakery is particularly famous for its banana pudding. So much so that, at least in the case of the branch at Rockefeller Center, they have a line dedicated for people ordering the banana pudding alone. As you can see, very few people seem to visit the bakery and not order it.

banana pudding

The pudding is prepackaged into ice-cream style cartons, and comes in thee sizes. We had the medium (12 oz, $7.25) the first time, and the large (16 oz, $8.75) in a subsequent visit.

The banana pudding is light, with large chunks of cooked banana. The top is somewhat frothy. It has a strong banana flavor but it’s not as sweet as I feared – though that’s relatively speaking, as cooked bananas are incredibly sweet. I liked it, as far as banana pudding went, but I didn’t love it. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of banana pudding. My husband, who is, was in love with it. He pronounced it “really good” and went back our last night, after an incredible dinner at Kochi, to get more.

So, is the banana pudding worth the hype? I think yes, if you are a banana pudding lover – and no, if banana pudding is not your “go to” dessert.

Magnolia Bakery serves, of course, a plethora of other baked goods. The cupcakes and cheesecake are said to be particularly good. However, we didn’t try anything else.

Magnolia Bakery has 9 locations in NYC, one in West Hollywood and one in Chicago. In addition they have a plethora of locations in Asia and the Middle East.

Magnolia Bakery
1240 Avenue of the Americas (at 49th Street)
New York City
(212) 767-1123
Hours of Operation

Sun-Thurs: 8 AM - 10 PM EST
Fri-Sat: 8 AM - 11 PM EST

NYC Food Adventures: L’Amie Pierre

Real French croissants!

We had a lot of great food in our trip to New York City, but I wasn’t expecting having so much great French food. Then again, why not? The enormous day population in Manhattan means there is market for all sorts of food, and enough competition so that not-so-great-restaurants probably don’t survive for long.

L’Amie Pierre, a casual eatery serving French pastries for breakfast and salad, soups, sandwiches and quiches for lunch, was located very near our hotel. I’d scoped it out online before the trip, but Mike saw it on the taxi ride from the train station. He was excited to hit it our second morning in NYC, and it proved to be just as good as its reviews.

In all, we ate breakfast there once, and got take out twice more. I didn’t take any photos of the fare, but you know what a croissant looks like. My description will have to suffice my memories.

We can’t say the plain croissants ($4.2) were as good as any we had in Paris – because it’s been too long since our Paris days to actually remember them – but they were the best croissants we’ve had in the US. They were flaky, buttery and soft and everything you want in a croissant. The flavor was on point, and they were delicious with the butter and jam available at the store.

The ham and cheese croissants ($7) were even better – but only when warm. They have a good ratio of ham to cheese, they are not overwhelmingly salty and they were just very tasty when warm. Cold, however, they were just OK.

Perhaps my favorite treat, however, was the baguette with butter and jam ($3.50). The mini baguette also had great flavor and crunch, and the butter was very high quality. The jam is Bonne Maman strawberry preserves, if I recall correctly. They give you a little jar of it. I’m not sure if there was a choice, as Mike was the one who ordered.

The restaurant itself is very casual, with some regular tables, counter space facing the window and other tall tables, that I think are meant to be shared. Their coffee and cappuccinos were good, but not particularly remarkable. You really come here for the pastries – and bread.

L'Amie Pierre

149 West 51st Street
New York City
917-639-3991
Monday - Friday: 7:00 am - 7:00 pm
Saturday: 09:00 am - 5:00 pm


 85°C Bakery Cafe Sells my Favorite Pastries

Review of the San Leandro location

Since 85°C Bakery Cafe opened in San Leandro Plaza, I’ve been a devotee. This Taiwanese bakery chain has over a thousand locations worldwide, with 75 of them in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Texas. I’m sure they’ll continue expanding. They offer Chinese inspired pastries with global flavors. The pastries tend to be light and airy with cream fillings, and they usually range from good to delicious. This will be an ongoing review, where I add new pastries as I try them, for my own future reference of what I liked a lot and what I liked less. As we shouldn’t be eating too many carbs, we only get pastries from 85°C Bakery for special occasions – but that makes it even more important that we choose the right ones.

85°C also serves drinks, from flavored coffee and tea drinks to smoothies, slushies and boba (if you always wanted to try a boba latter, this is the place to have one), but I have yet to have one there. Next time. They do have tables to eat inside (but no outdoor sitting), but due to the pandemic we’re avoiding all indoor dining.

Our last visit to 85°C Bakery was on the fourth day of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM). I had told my daughter how I preferred the pastries from 85°C Bakery to those we’d had the day from As Kneaded Bakery, and she wanted to try them. I sent Mike to get them – but I had mistakenly texted the list of what we wanted to a friend – so Mike got to chose what he brought home.

85°C Bakery has a huge variety of pastries, cakes and other desserts. Many are serve yourself, but more delicate ones – or ones needing refrigeration – are behind the counter. Pastries are individually wrapped, which is not environmentally friendly but it’s safer from a food handling perspective. While they concentrate on sweet pastries, they also offer some savory ones.

Aussie Meat Pie (vegetarian)

This is a light bun with impossible ground “beef” sautéed with peppers.

Ham & Cheese

This is a light bun filled with ham and American cheese. It’s quite tasty, and I liked it as much as the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagel.

White Chocolate Strawberry

This bun is filled with a very light white chocolate and strawberry custard. It’s a tad too sweet for my taste, and maybe not one of my favorites, but it’s quite good.

NOT PICTURED

Mango Custard Bun

This bun is filled with a creamy mango custard. It’s quite tasty and light.

85°C Bakery Cafe
San Leandro Plaza
1299 Washington Ave. C-1
San Leandro, California
510-483-8585
M-Th 7 AM - 7 PM, F-Sa 7 AM - 7:30 PM, Su 8 AM - 7 PM 

As Kneaded Bakery: I don’t know what all the fuss is about

Review of the San Leandro Bakery

I had long heard great things about the As Kneaded Bakery in San Leandro. Located on Victoria Court, in a space where many restaurants tried their luck unsuccessfully, it has gotten a buzz both on the press and on social media. I had long wanted to try it and my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) seemed like a perfect time to do so. So I sent Mike one Saturday morning to get some stuff so we could see what all the fuzz was about. And boy did he do it! He brought a wide variety of the noshes they had available so we got a good idea of what As Kneaded can do.

It is very clear that As Kneaded puts a lot of effort and high quality ingredients on their pastries, which they call “noshes”. Most are very substantial (and yet we managed to eat them all over a couple of days) and well made. However, all in all, we weren’t a huge fan of them and I wouldn’t go back to As Kneaded for pastries. I did like the loaf of bread we got, and I’m curious about trying others – so I probably will in the future.

The first pastry we tried was the large round thing. It’s not listed on their website right now, but based on what is listed, it seems to be some sort of danish. It had a custardy filling and slices of some red fruit (I couldn’t tell what) and we all really enjoyed it, it wasn’t too heavy and we love the filling. Unfortunately, it went down hell from there.

Our second try was the cardamom twist (“a brioche twist containing a cardamom poppy filling and topped with sugar pearls”). This was light enough and I appreciated the poppy seed/cardamon filling, but those are flavors that I like. They are less popular in my household so I’m the one who finished this one of.

The chocolate chip brioche (top left) competed with the banana tahini muffin (top right) for the biggest waste of calories and carbs. They were both dry and had very little flavor. The latter is vegan, but that really is no excuse. The former is directed to toddlers, so perhaps the point is not trying to please adult palates. In either case, we would not bother eating these again.

Finally, the chocolate croissant (top middle) was unremarkable. The chocolate was good quality, but the croissant itself lacked the flakiness and buttery taste of the best exponents. I fell in love with chocolate croissants during college, where I’d treat myself with one from Le Petit Boulangerie, a now defunct bakery chain, and this one was inferior to those.

The saving grace for both the blueberry maple walnut bostock and the raspberry bostock were the crumble topping. These were both thick pieces of challah , one topped with sugar, apricot jam, walnuts, butter, blueberries and maple syrup and the other dipped in simple syrup and then topped with raspberry jam, almond cream and sliced almonds. They were both very heavy (literally) and dense, a little bit dry but otherwise quite tasty. But neither were worth what are likely to be an astronomical number of calories and carbs. They tasted far healthier than the ingredient list suggested they are. Again, I wouldn’t turn my nose away from them, but I wouldn’t seek them out.

Finally, the ham & cheese danish was also a disappointment. It was tasty enough, don’t get me wrong, and the ham and gruyere were obviously good quality – but the flavor was diluted by a completely unnecessary bechamel sauce. In all, this pastry did not compare favorably to the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagels, which no one would accuse of being high brow

I didn’t actually take a photo of the bread but found one of it in the background of another picture I took that day.

In addition to the pastries, Mike brought home a loaf of sesa miche, a whole wheat rye sourdough bread baked with sesame seeds. This was a very dense, heavy bread but it was also quite tasty. I wasn’t completely blown away by it, but I liked it and I’d have it again if I was a big bread eater. As it is, none of us are, and the loaf went hard in a couple of days (my fault, as I didn’t refrigerate it or tried to preserve it.

Now, I don’t really want to throw shade on As Kneaded Bakery. Lots of people love it and more power to them. At this point, I’m writing my food blog more to remind myself of what I thought of a place in case I’m thinking of going back than for anyone else. What As Kneaded offers is basically rustic breads and pastries, and I have to admit that we are just not big fond of this style of baked goods. But you might be. So give it a try.

As Kneaded Bakery
585 Victoria Court
San Leandro, CA
(650) 503-9285
W-Su 10 AM - 3 PM

Belgian Waffles

One of the delights of downtown Brussels is their waffle stores.  Here, you can eat freshly made waffles with a variety of toppings.  A big variety.  The ones I tried were delicious but a pain in the but to eat on the go, specially as the plastic forks provided were too weak to easily cut the thick waffles.  The flavors were great, however.  I might want to recreate this at home.

OrangeGlad Sweet Box Subscription Review – March 2015

IMG_20150311_152206

OrangeGlad, sweets from artisan bakeries, $22/month
Promo: LACOOKIES15 for 40% off or SPRING30 for 30% off

OrangeGlad is a subscription box that sends you goodies from bakeries around the country. It’s a great concept but it’s pretty expensive at $22 a month, in particular because they send very few treats. This box had a value of approximately $15. They do have coupons, though, and if you catch a good one and use it on a 6 month subscription, you can bring your costs to the low teens. I got this box with a $15 off coupon, so I only paid $7. It was worth it for that price.

Apparently the box used to have packaged much more nicely. It’s pretty utilitarian now. This is what it had:

IMG_20150311_152228

Itty Bites from OrangeGlad

Chocolate Almond Macaroon from Smackaroons

Kiss Me I’m Irish Cake Pop by Sweet E’s Bake Shop

Russian Tea Cakes from Lark’s Fine Foods

San Juan Sea Salt Milk Chocolate Truffle Bar by Seattle Chocolates

IMG_20150311_152257

Itty Bites from OrangeGlad, bag of 10, est value $5

These are cute and tiny little shortbread cookies. I’m estimating their value because they are not currently for sale at OrangeGlad. Unlike regular shortbread these were pretty short and came with instructions to eat right away (as if I wouldn’t). We all thought they were delicious.

IMG_20150311_152317

Chocolate Almond Macaroon from Smackaroons, 1 macaroon, value $1.25

This was your run of the mill macaroon. Delicious like macaroons are. I did find it a little dry, however, which is to be expected.

IMG_20150311_152331

Kiss Me I’m Irish Cake Pop in red velvet by Sweet E’s Bake Shop, value $3.75

I love red velvet cake and this cake pop was very good – but also pretty generic as far as red velvet cake goes.

IMG_20150311_152418

Russian Tea Cakes from Lark’s Fine Foods, 3 cookies, est. value $1.15

I’m a fan of Russian tea cakes and these were delicious – though a bit on the dry side.

IMG_20150311_152344

San Juan Sea Salt Milk Chocolate Truffle Bar by Seattle Chocolates, value $3.5

This was probably my favorite item in the box. Oh so good. Unfortunately I left it out and my dog ate most of it. But I’ll keep an eye for these bars ’cause they are yummy.

Unsubscribing from OrangeGlad was quick and easy, just took an e-mail.

Joan’s Bakery Cafe

Joan’s Bakery Cafe has been opened for just a few months and is already in its last legs.  It’s clear from the offerings that its owners don’t have the capital to keep it running. My bet is that it will close soon, very soon.

The space that Joan’s occupies has been having troubles for years.  It seemed fairly successful when it operated as Planet Coffee under its original owners, but a series of new owners and new names were unable to make it succeed.  I’m not exactly sure as to why, as before this latest incarnation as Joan’s Bakery, the offerings were both good and well priced.

Joan’s Bakery Cafe, however, is a mess.  First of all, it’s not a bakery.  I don’t know if it ever was, but right now all they sell are pre-packaged, dried Chinese baked items from a bakery in Oakland and old and stale bagels and doughnuts, I recognized as sold at Grocery Outlet.  They do have cafe offerings, though I cannot comment as I didn’t try any.  Though I did order a large glass of orange juice, thinking it’d be freshly squeezed (it should have been, for the $4.50 price), but it was not.

The place was empty, both of customer and of stock, and it seemed to me like the owners had run out of money and couldn’t keep with the expenses of daily operations.  Indeed, it turns out that the space is up for lease.

The food itself wasn’t bad, though grossly overpriced.  I had the lamb shawerma ($8).  The tiny sandwich came with lamb, thick slices of cucumber, tomato and sauce.  The lamb was nicely spiced, it definitely had some curry powder, but not an overwhelming amount.  However, there were no sides (not even chips) and I was nowhere close to full after eating it (the doughnut I bought for dessert must have been a week old).

Mike had the rib-eye blue cheese sandwich ($8) and it was also minute but very tasty.

The whole cafe is in charge of a young girl with limited command of English. She has to attend to customers, answer the phone and prepare and serve the food.  That means limited service even if you’re the only ones eating there.

In all, I’m sad this cafe was such a bust – but I look forward to the space being occupied by a good restaurant one day.

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews

Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbet

CB_bloodorg_lgI have a pretty nasty cold, so I only want to eat things which are smooth going down my throat and so flavorful that I can taste them despite my stuffed nose.  Ciao Bella blood orange sorbet fit the bill perfectly.

Of course, I can’t tell you how someone that has their 5 senses would experience it, but to me it was delicious.  The sorbet had a strong orange flavor, with some welcome bitter undertones.  It was very creamy and smooth.

They have these at Grocery Outlet here in San Leandro for $2 now, and I think I’ll stock up.