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Monday, November 26, 2012

My Day in Paradise

I consider New York City to be the "food mecca". Last week, a friend and I had the pleasure of taking a gourmet food tour with The Cooking Cottage. (http://thecookingcottage.org/) The Cooking Cottage is a company located in Bucks County which offers cooking classes as well as culinary tours. I highly recommend the gourmet food tour in NYC. We had a blast! I've yet to try one of their cooking classes, but that's next on my list. The price of the tour included the bus ride to and from NY, breakfast, and wine and a snack on the way home. We made three stops in NYC during which we had free time to shop and eat.

First stop- Upper West Side

We were very eager to get off the bus and spend some money! The first store we hit was Fairway Market. This place was bustling on a Sunday morning! We had to wait in a little line to filter into the store, but it was worth it. Once inside, my senses were on overload. I couldn't focus! So much food, so little time! We made our way back to the tea department. There were so many kinds to choose from. I've tried Tazo tea before, but this market had varieties that I've never seen before. Two that caught my eye were Berryblossom White, which is a white tea with flavors of blueberry and white cranberry, and Cucumber White, with flavors of cucumber, peppermint, and lime. Yum! Fairway market also had a great selection of cheese. I picked up a wedge of fresh Parmesan and some Gruyere, one of my favorites. I also had a "Malteser sighting" in this store. The story behind Maltesers is my boss recently went to London and brought this candy back for the staff. I had one bag and I was hooked!!! Maltesers can be described as "spherical malt honeycomb centers surrounded by milk chocolate." They are similar to a Whopper, but much, much tastier! They literally melt in your mouth! So I had to pick up some of those as well. Fairway Market also had an amazing fresh seafood counter. There were all types of fish, shellfish, even octopus! It was fun to look at, but we didn't want any stinky fish on the bus with us.
We left Fairway Market and went right next door, to Citarella. This store was beautifully laid out with two floors of gorgeous displays of tasty treats! Here I found caster sugar and almond flour to make French macarons. I also found a candy/deep fry thermometer which I've been needing for a while, and it was a great price. Citarella has the nicest dessert counter with food that looks too pretty to eat. I also purchased some assorted chocolates for holiday gift-giving. While waiting in line I had my eye on this chocolate raisin bread pudding. I picked it up and it felt like a little loaf of squishy deliciousness. I put it back deciding I already had too much in my basket, but then quickly picked it up again before getting to the register. I just can't resist a good bread pudding. It's the ultimate comfort food, and my husband loves it too. After warming it up at home, I can say I definitely made the right decision. I almost forgot to mention the yummy Citarella's dark chocolate bar with sea salt I bought. I've totally jumped on the "sea salt bandwagon". Now I think I like everything better with some sea salt! Caramels, chocolate, even the cookie bars I made the other day.
Next, we walked six blocks down to the famous Zabar's. This market was fairly similar to Fairway Market. But that didn't stop us from finding things to take home with us! It was packed, but we squeezed and pushed our way through the store like the native New-Yorkers do! The cheese selection blew me away! I purchased an aged Irish cheddar that is phenomenal. I've been eating it with crackers or honey mustard and it's just delish! I also got another wedge of Parmesan (I know, I already bought one at the first stop, but this one just smelled so buttery and nutty that I just couldn't resist.) We've been grating it over Cesar salad and it's just fabulous! I also picked up some NY sharp cheddar just because you can never have too much cheese around the holidays! It's great to put out with crackers and an antipasto platter. Zabar's has a second floor devoted to cooking tools and supplies. Too bad it was ten-thousand degrees up there so we lasted about five seconds and then went back downstairs. I really wanted to get some coffee since that's what Zabar's is known for. Their coffee beans are roasted on the premises and they sell over 8000 pounds each week! That's a lot of beans! Unfortunately the line was really long and we were running short on time, so we didn't get any coffee. I plan to order some on their website for Christmas gifts. If you purchase 4 pounds, you qualify for free shipping! I'm dying to try it!
At this point I already have a bunch of really heavy bags and I'm ready to get the bus to stop two! 

Second stop- Bleecker Street/Greenwich Village

Our first priority on this stop was lunch. Our Cooking Cottage guides informed us of several popular places to eat in the area. There were so many restaurants, we didn't know how we would ever choose. We decided on Po in West Village. Po was opened in 1993 by Mario Batali and one of his friends. The cuisine is labelled as Italian, but it's not your typical pasta and chicken parm kind of place. We started with a glass of Pinot Grigio and some fresh baked bread with olive oil. Our server also brought a white bean bruschetta on baguettes which was creamy and garlicky. I chose the grilled guinea hen which was served over fregula with pumpkin and scallions. At the time I had no idea what "fregula" was, nor did I care because I really wanted the hen! It turned out to be a little pasta and after more research I've discovered that it's similar to couscous, however it is roasted to give it a more nutty flavor. It was really yummy with the roasted pumpkin pieces and there was also some sort of cheese blended in that gave it a stringy appearance when picked up with a fork. The guinea hen was cooked perfectly. The meat was juicy and tender and the skin was perfectly seasoned and crispy. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. It was small inside, but warm, cozy, and inviting.
After lunch we started our stroll down Bleecker Street. There were so many stores and cute little bakeries. I instantly knew there was no way we would have time to see it all, which was a little disappointing. Some of the highlights were Rocco's bakery and Bisous Ciao macarons. After our tour guide informed us of the famous cannolis at Rocco's, I had to get some. I took two home with me and later that night bit into what was most definitely the best cannoli I have EVER tasted! Absolutely divine with little bits of pistachio in the filling! I regret only buying two and I really regret sharing one of them! Rocco's, however, had much more than just cannolis. They had these ginormous cookies in the window that were about as big as my head! I got a chocolate chip one, which was not nearly as impressive as the cannoli, sad to say. I also didn't realize until going on their website, that Rocco's has a large selection of drinks including espresso, coffees, and flavored hot chocolates. I guess I will have to go back. Darn.
Bisous Ciao was the French macaron store I scoped out on the way to Po. I am absolutely obsessed with French macarons. If I could chose only one thing to eat for the rest of my life, this would be it! The store itself was extremely simplistic allowing the macarons to stand out in all their glory. So many vibrant colors, but I chose simple vanilla since it's my favorite. After buying macarons at Laduree last time I visited NY, I wasn't sure if these could live up to their standards. However, I was proven wrong when I took my first bite. Once you bite through the crispy shell on the outside, you reach the chewy layer and then the creamy buttercream in the middle. I think the chewiness is my favorite part. These ones had little flecks of vanilla bean in the filling. They were amazing. Too bad they cost a near fortune or I would have bought more. Sadly, macarons intimidate me. They are the only thing I'm afraid to make at home. I did buy the ingredients and need a few more supplies before I take the plunge. They are said to be an extremely difficult cookie to make since you're dealing with a meringue. It's sure to be an adventure and I will be sure to write about my experience.
Time to get back on the bus. We are headed to our third and final stop.

Third stop- Chelsea Market

At this point I'm thinking, "how have I never been to this part of NY?" I always go to Fifth Avenue and the area around Central Park thinking that's the best of NY. What was I thinking??? I was missing out on so many amazing places! Chelsea Market is considered a "food concourse" and is literally a hallway lined on both sides with store after amazing store! I think the one thing I will always remember about Chelsea Market is the lobsters. Everywhere we looked, people were eating these HUGE lobsters. Then we realized they were from The Lobster Place, a seafood market. They were the biggest lobsters I have ever seen on a plate. Too bad we had just eaten. A few of my favorite places in the market were Buon Italia, Chelsea Market Baskets, and Manhattan Fruit Exchange.
Buon Italia is a store filled with bulk, imported Italian foods. Believe it or not, Rachel Ray was in this store while we were in Chelsea Market! One of our tour guides had her picture taken with her! I was in my own little world and didn't even think twice when we saw two body guards in the store. In here I found some balsamic glaze to drizzle over fresh caprese salad, apricot preserves to use for my Christmas cookies, and fregula! I was so excited my friend found the fregula that I had for lunch at Po. I'm very excited to try it at home!

Chelsea Market Baskets is a store with something for everyone. They had a large selection of chocolates, teas, and jams. They also had reasonably priced baskets outside the store which could be used to put together a gift basket with items inside the store. They are known for their large assortment of Belgian chocolate.
Another great store is Manhattan Fruit Exchange if you're looking for the freshest produce or specialty foods. They offer typical fruits and veggies along with more exotic types such as different mushrooms and tropical fruits. They also have a whole bunch of grains, nuts, dried fruits, and honey. I got a nice big jar of Tupelo honey for the cheapest price ever and also picked up a package of lo mein noodles. I've never made lo mein at home, but thought it would be fun!
There are lots of other cafes, restaurants, and specialty stores inside Chelsea Market. Our last stop was in Jacques Torres Chocolates for a hot chocolate. Here they specialize in a classic and "wicked" version of hot chocolate. Their Wicked hot chocolate features allspice, ground ancho chili peppers, and smoked chipotle chili peppers! Sounds interesting, but my friend and I were feeling 'boring' so we opted for the classic version. Upon the first sip, it was the creamiest, most decadent hot chocolate I have ever had. It almost tasted like a melted candy bar. It's thick consistency, however, became overwhelming after just a few sips. Both of us could only finish half of our cup of "sludge". They sell the hot chocolate mix at their store and I wonder if it would be better if it was more diluted. They flavor was very good and intense. The consistency was just a little thick for our liking. So, back to the bus we went with our bags filled with goodies. We ate some snacks and sipped on wine during the ride home. Overall, we loved our gourmet food tour in NY. I'm hoping to go to NY again before Christmas and will definitley revisit some of these places that have become my new favorites! NYC truly is a "foodie's paradise!"


  1. Hey Alissa, thanks for writing about your day in NYC with us! I will definitely be picking up some Maltesers on our next trip to Fairway's... they sound amazing!! Also, if you haven't seen it already, here's a GREAT tutorial for making macarons: http://www.joepastry.com/category/miscellaneous-desserts-and-cookies/macarons/
    AND I love your coat! Hope to see you again sometime soon at The Cooking Cottage :)

  2. I've gone on this Cooking Cottage trip to NYC in the past, and really enjoyed it. Your blog makes me soooo jealous I couldn't make it this time. I am definitely going back to these amazing stores sometime soon