Sweet Treats in NYC: Oppa Peanut Butter Style

This week I had the privilege of returning to NYC for my NYU graduation ceremony.  It’s kind of bittersweet to return to the city after an extended period of time; entire streets and buildings have transformed in a matter of months, offering exciting new opportunities for exploration, but also serving as slightly cruel reminders of how quickly the city moves on after you’re gone.  That said, there are some things that you can always count on to stay the same–like the surplus of absurdly delicious, budget-friendly sweet treats.  Here are some of my absolute favorites, which, incidentally all involve peanut butter:

1) Everything Ovenly, with an emphasis on the Salted Peanut Butter Cookies:

Ovenly Peanut Butter cookies

Jar of Peanut Butter Perfection

I stumbled upon the Ovenly peanut butter cookie in a Joe the Art of Coffee about a year and a half ago, and it changed my life.  It may seem odd, but this cookie might literally be my everything.  I am a peanut butter fiend, and this is undoubtedly the best peanut butter cookie I’ve ever had.  Strangest part is that it’s gluten-free, yet it has the perfect texture (a bit hard and slightly crumbly on the edges, but chewy and almost creamy in the middle), richness and salty-peanutty flavor. The Salted Chocolate Chip cookie is also a wonder–and is also shockingly vegan!  I don’t know how they do it, but they are geniuses.  Cookies are $2.25 each, and are highly addictive.  Alternately, the Chocolate, Black Caraway & Smoked Salt shortbread is also a great way to develop an addiction/become religious, and shortbreads are also $2.25.  The “Best New Bakery” title from the Time Out New York 2013 Food and Drink Awards was well-deserved.  Ovenly, I salute you.

www.ovenly.com

2) Fresco Gelateria:

Fresco Gelateria

Little Italy in the East Village

I walked into Fresco Gelateria in the East Village last fall when I decided I was tired of pretending that fro-yo was anywhere near as satisfying as real ice cream.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the best gelato I’ve ever had–even better than the Gelateria di San Crispino in Rome (bold statement!!!).  The peanut butter gelato is particularly mind-blowing; it boasts a perfectly sweet ‘n’ salty flavor that is dramatically enhanced by the addition of caramelized peanut butter bits (!).  If peanut butter ain’t yo thang, the salted caramel, fig, and rose water flavors are also out of this world.  All of the gelato is fresh, handmade and amazing, with a lot of interesting flavors rotating in and out.  Expect tons of free samples and great service.  It’s $3.50 for a small, but this cup will always runneth over.  And they are happy to let you mix and match flavors, no matter what size you get.

www.frescogelateria.com  

3) Levain’s Legendary Cookie:

Levain Cookie

Cookie Monster’s Fantasy

This one is a bit of a no-brainer.  Levain’s monstrous cookies are about as “under the radar” as Beyoncé.   Okay, maybe they are a little less famous than Beyoncé, but they are pretty well-known to most New Yorkers.  However, I will be the first to admit that I never felt compelled to schlep to the Upper West Side to try them (judge me) until last year.  Ever since, I’ve been hooked.  These things defy expectations.  Not just because of their laughable size, but because they are so perfect, it’s just kind of magical.  Like unicorns.  In spite of their overwhelming size, these cookies have an ideal texture.  The crispy outside gives way to a soft, chewy core that is complemented by a generous portion of evenly-dispersed chocolate- or peanut butter-chips (depending on which cookie you get).  My personal favorite is the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip cookie.  Imagine another unicorn a huge, endearingly misshapen blob of sweet, dark fudgy perfection, dotted with salty peanut butter chips.  Heaven. On. Earth.  Theoretically, these are not cheap–one cookie is $4, but if you aren’t splitting this with another person, then you’re kind of foul (or you just had a real bad day, it happens).  If you haven’t been, run!!!!!!

www.levainbakery.com

Posted in Brooklyn, Dessert, East Village, New York City, Uncategorized, Upper West Side | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste of My Travels: Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Co in Ventura, CA

Ahi Pockets

Pockets of Love, and Ahi

I know I have been terrible about updating in the past few months, but my life has been slightly nomadic.  Almost immediately after graduating from NYU in December, I embarked on the first of a series of exciting journeys around the world; I spent January and February backpacking through Australia and New Zealand, which was unbelievably fun.  Since returning to the States, I’ve been making quite a few trips domestically.  Most recently, I spent time in San Francisco, Ventura, Denver and Austin.  I’m passionate about traveling for a lot of reasons, but succumbing to gluttony trying new foods/restaurants is undoubtedly one of my favorite parts.  Suffice it to say, I have eaten supremely well in essentially every city I’ve visited in these past couple of months.  Oddly enough, one of my most memorable and delectable meals was in perhaps one of the more unlikely places–in adorable Ventura, California.

Shrimp Wontons

Shrimp Wontons with extra Fire Sauce!

Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company is the kind of place you dream about while watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  The little shack’s divey, unassuming exterior may not reveal it, but Spencer Makenzie’s has some of the freshest and most delicious seafood ever.  Best part?  It’s ridiculously cheap.  While pretty much everything on the menu can be categorized as yummy and budget-friendly, the Ahi Pockets are a revelation.  The Ahi Pocket consists of a mildly sweet tofu pocket stuffed with sushi rice, topped with “Dynamite” sauce & blackened Ahi tuna.  The pockets are $3.25 a piece, although it would be foolish not to get two of them–not because they aren’t filling, but because they’re too good and too cheap not to (YOLO).  The Wontons, which are $5, are also rad city.  These little puppies are filled with shrimp and cream cheese, and topped with a sweet and spicy sauce. I suggest getting extra Fire Sauce, because it is spicy, sensational and tastes good on just about anything.  Ventura may be small, but it is a powerhouse when it comes to cheap, awesome food.

If you ever get the chance, Ventura is only about an hour away from LA, and is well worth visiting.  If not for the beautiful beaches or cozy antique/vintage store-packed downtown, then at least for the superior budget eats.  Lucky for me, I’ve got a sister and a canine nephew calling me back there, so my next Ahi Pocket is always just a few months away!

http://www.smfishco.com/ 

Sharky puppy

My gorgeous nephew, Shark

Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company on Urbanspoon

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To Cure a Hangover: Williamsburg Edition

We’ve all been there.  Sometimes you have a little too much fun, and the next morning all you need is a perfect hangover cure.  Manhattan is literally overflowing with greasy, eggy and cheesy hangover helpers, but my faves are definitely in Williamsburg.  From the East Village (where I live), Williamsburg is easily accessible.  Plus, it’s quirky, charming, and far cheaper than Manhattan.  My absolute favorite cheap spots for greasy, yummy eats are Whirlybird for breakfast tacos, and Pies N Thighs’ for their legendary chicken biscuit.  If Williamsburg is indeed the hipster capital of the universe, then by God, those hipsters have mastered the art of curing hangovers in the most delicious way possible.  P.S. each of these places is equally wonderful without a hangover–although a certain degree of shamelessness may be required to gobble down the chicken biscuit under normal circumstances.

Not your average breakfast taco

Not your average breakfast taco

Whirlybird kind of represents Williamsburg in a nutshell.  It is a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop serving exclusively organic, gluten-free breakfast tacos and some mean espresso.  Oh, and it doubles as a  record-label gallery (natch).  Eccentric, adorable and affordable–just what the doctor ordered!  The basic Whirlybird breakfast taco involves gooey melted Oaxaca cheese, fluffy scrambled eggs, homemade salsa and is topped with crumbled jalapeno potato chips and a nice sprinkle of cilantro.  Without chorizo, that breakfast taco is just $3, but I definitely suggest adding the chorizo for the extra dollar.  One breakfast taco with chorizo is a really great breakfast, not to mention a generally fulfilling experience.

Whirlybird on Urbanspoon

Chicken biscuit from Pies N Thighs

The harmonious marriage of trashy and gourmet

I first fell in love with Pies N Thighs at the 2011 Time Out New York Annual Food and Drink Awards, when they won “Best Southern Comfort.”  They were sampling their chicken biscuits, and I know I ate an obscene amount of them because I walked past the table multiple times sneaking samples while trying to look coy and curious as if I had yet to try them.  As I said, there has to be a degree of shamelessness involved when you are eating a Pies N Thighs chicken biscuit.  Anyways, the chicken biscuit is really baller.  This ingenious creation encompasses a juicy fried chicken cutlet atop a warm, buttery biscuit with hot sauce and honey butter.  It’s simultaneously sweet, salty and spicy, but more than anything, it is just the utmost manifestation of comfort food.  Very filling and guaranteed to solve your problems, no matter what they are (unless your problem is obesity).

 Pies 'n' Thighs on Urbanspoon

I am 100% obsessed with Williamsburg.  As much as I complain about hipsters, they have created a cheap food paradise in Williamsburg.  If you are anywhere near the L train (or even if you’re not), I highly suggest taking advantage of what Williamsburg has to offer, foodwise.  Whether you are hungover, poor or just love walking in cutesy neighborhoods, Williamsburg has got just what you need.

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This Way or That Way at This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef in the East Village

That Way Roast Beef Sandwich From This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef

That Way!

Beautiful weather today aside, winter weather has arrived in New York.  And nothing screams winter weather like comfort food.  Personally, when I am all bundled up in the cold, all I want is something cozy and hot to eat; fortunately, there is one little roast beef joint dangerously close to my casa that can fulfill those cravings whenever necessary.  This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef, as one could probably conclude based upon its name, is just precious.  In addition to combining two of my favorite things–cutesy themes and shamelessly trashy yet absurdly delicious comfort food– This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef is wonderfully cheap, open late, conveniently located and consistently yummy.

Right now, This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef is even cheaper than cheap, as it is currently featured on Scoutmob for BOGO on any rolls or heroes.  If you don’t have a Scoutmob app and like free food, then you had better get all up on that ASAP.  Anyways, the two most famous sandwiches served at TLPHRB are the “This Way,” featuring roast beef with au jus and cheez whiz, and the “That Way,” a roast beef sandwich with gravy and fresh mozzarella.  A roll of either one is $5.50, and a big hero is $9.50 for each.  Go with a friend with your BOGO Scoutmob deal and pay as little as $2.75 each for a massive sandwich.  Or be a little piggy and go by yourself and have two roast beef sandwiches.  Whatevz.

I went with a friend and we each got a roll.  Make no mistake, the rolls are exceedingly large and filling, so unless you are massive really hungry, I would really recommend sticking with the rolls!  The real beauty of going with a friend is that you can double-whammy and try more than one thing.  I honestly can’t decide what I like better between the This Way and the That Way.  They are both exquisite, and they are both very different.  Each one features the classic fresh, juicy, cooked-to-perfection TLPHRB roast beef.  There is no freezer or microwave in the restaurant kitchen, so you can be 100% sure that your luscious beef is fresh as fresh can be.  Anyways, the This Way may not sound gourmet per se what with the cheez whiz and all, but rest assured that the cheez whiz lends an amazing texture and flavor to the roast beef.  It melts really nicely onto the sandwich, and its saltiness perfectly complements the slight sweetness of the au jus.  It’s a perfect, endearingly trashy spin on a classic roast beef sandwich.  Unbelievably good.

This Way sandwich at This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef

This Way!

The That Way is also a force to be reckoned with.  The mozzarella that is generally heaped on the That Way is really delicious, and combined with the rich gravy, it makes for a truly decadent sandwich.  The That Way is perhaps a bit more filling as a result of its heavier components.  Both, however, are wonderful options, and I can’t imagine being dissatisfied with either one.  Whether you opt for the This Way or the That Way or any of the other beefy creations at This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef, you can take solace in knowing that you are in the hands of roast beef pros, and therefore no option is a bad option.

This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef on Urbanspoon

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Sweet Deals at OatMeals in the West Village

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Oatmeal’s Pumpkin Pie Halloween Costume

See, this is why I love Manhattan.  Themed restaurants galore.  I would take a themed restaurant over a themed party any day; this is the kind of shenanigan that really gets me going.  When I discovered that a precious little oatmeal-themed resto opened up right near the NYU campus, I was overcome with joy.  I’ve got to hand it to them, if any food deserves its own shop, it’s oatmeal.  So props to the folks of OatMeals NYC for developing such a wonderful and completely necessary concept–and especially for doing so in an adorably locavore manner.

As you can imagine, when oatmeal is the star of the menu, the possibilities are endless.  Who knew oatmeal was such a culinary chameleon?  Don’t knock oatmeal until you try OatMeals NYC, because they’ve got a little fun for everybody.  Oatmeal-themed pastries, sandwiches on fresh-baked oatmeal bread, sweet oatmeal, savory oatmeal, customizable oatmeal, OATMEAL GALORE!  There are three sizes–8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz, naturally entitled “Baby Bear,” “Mama Bear” and “Papa Bear” respectively.  And prices are very fair.  Baby Bears start at $3.50, Mamas $4.50, and Papas $5.50.  Add-ins for the customizable options range from $0.25-$0.50 a piece, and milk and spices are free.  The add-in list is massive–all of the nuts and fruits and sweet and savory appendages you could dream of.  Awesome for a cheap brekkie or lunch.  And they’ve got great coffee, tea and juices available as well.

I will vouch for the Pumpkin Pie oatmeal.  It was the perfect fall morning breakfast.  It made me want to wear a festive sweater and spend the day in a pumpkin patch.  Included in this delectable creation was pumpkin purée swirl, pecans, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, and milk.  In an attempt to make my oatmeal a little healthier (a rare moment indeed), I skipped out on the brown sugar and added some flax seed for $0.50.  The medium size cost $5, and it was way too much food.  The $4 small would have easily been more than enough food.  But I was extraordinarily pleased with my $5.50 breakfast.  It may have been because I skipped the brown sugar, but this was not too sweet at all.  It was perfect, texturally and flavor-wise.  An ideal fall breakfast.

If sweet oatmeal ain’t yo thang, try some of the savory options like The Canadian, with bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, roasted apples, maple syrup, and sea salt.  Or the Fig & Gorgonzola, with dried figs, crumbled gorgonzola, and balsamic vinegar glaze.  If you’re all about the super-sweet, ch-ch-check out the S’mores Oatmeal with dark chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate syrup drizzle.  For serious you guys, there are so many options to delicious-ify your oatmeal, it’s absurd.  And the people behind the counter are the sweetest.  They will gladly give you advice about flavor combos and guide you through the oatmeal abyss towards your perfect concoction. 

Oatmeal-scoffers, you would be well-advised to give the breakfast staple another shot at OatMeals.  Chances are, these folks can dress it up in a way that even oat-haters will appreciate.

http://www.oatmealsny.com/

OatMeals NY on Urbanspoon

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Cost-Effective Cambodian Fusion at Num Pang Sandwich Shop

Ginger Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

As Told By Ginger Barbecue Brisket Sandwich

Fusion is a beautiful thing.  There are few things that beat the pure, unadulterated joy of biting into something that’s not just delicious, but completely surprising.  That is precisely how I felt when I bit into Num Pang Sandwich Shop‘s Ginger Barbecue Brisket Sandwich.  The sandwich shop, located in a tiny storefront on E 12th St near Union Square, pays homage to traditional comfort food-y lunchtime sandwiches, but shakes things up with a vibrant Cambodian twist.  Indicative of the exemplary quality of Num Pang is its astonishing 26 rating for food in the Zagat guide– the highest rating for a sandwich shop in all of New York City.  Long had my friends been gushing about Num Pang sandwiches, and now I am mourning the amount of time it took for me to finally go there.

Aside from the unique Cambodian influence of the sandwiches, my favorite part about Num Pang is that it provides numerous less-than-$10 lunch options made out of the freshest local ingredients.  These sandwiches are nothing short of gourmet, but their low prices allow them to be enjoyed by everybody.  Renaissance sandwiches!  Really though.

I will advocate fervently for the Ginger Barbecue Brisket Sandwich.  At just $8.50, this luscious pile of tender, meaty deliciousness is a total steal.  As if traditional brisket wasn’t amazing enough, Num Pang innovatively incorporates ginger into their barbecue sauce. The result is a totally surprising, tangy, and rich sauce that shines through in every bite of the perfectly marinated beef.  But the fun doesn’t end there!  Like every sandwich on the Num Pang menu, this one includes cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and chili mayo.  Another addition specific to this sandwich is pickled red cabbage; the pickled veggies on this sandwich especially lend an excellent crunch to every bite.  The added spice of the chili mayo, along with the salty and slight sourness of the pickled veggies, complement the sweetness of the barbecue sauce.  Topped with cilantro for a bold, refreshing kick and sandwiched between a freshly toasted semolina flour baguette, this is truly a world-class creation.

Whether you are a starving NYU student, a commuter passing through Union Square, or are a businessperson working near the Grand Central location, Num Pang will always provide you an interesting and scrumptious sandwich at an exceptionally reasonable price.  Just remember to bring cash, and don’t try to make any substitutions on the sammies!  PS, the grilled corn on the cob ($2.75) is pretty exquisite too!

http://www.numpangnyc.com/

Num Pang on Urbanspoon

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Dumpling Fun at Din Tai Fung in Bellevue

Dumplings from Din Tai Fung in Bellevue

Edible art!

Downtown Bellevue has undergone an almost shocking and rather impressive makeover over the past decade. It’s like the city version of Anne Hathaway’s makeover in The Princess Diaries. I say that reluctantly because, as a person who has shamefully grown up in Bellevue, it has been difficult for me to accept that the once character-less strip mall is now a booming, even trendy culinary destination. However,  I am eternally grateful for the wealth of amazing food that is now accessible without having to spend time and gas money schlepping to Seattle from the Eastside. One of my favorite places that has opened up (and certainly one of the trendiest) in Bellevue is Din Tai Fung, an adorable Taiwanese import conveniently located right in Lincoln Square.

The claim to fame for Din Tai Fung is that, in addition to being very reasonably priced, it features incredibly authentic Chinese dumplings, each meticulously hand-crafted, fresh and luscious. Long(ish) waits are inevitable, but they are worth braving for these puppies.  But it’s not just the dumplings that will tickle your taste buds; I am also particularly fond of their delicious pork buns.  Don’t sue me New Yorkers, but I honestly like these better than the over-hyped Momofuku pork buns.  Sorry I’m not sorry.  Anyways, these things are fabulous and very reasonably priced.  For $4.25, you get two soft, plump steamed pork buns.  Personally, one is enough for me, so these are great for splitting with a pal.  In fact, this kind of food is really meant to be shared.

For a perfect amount of food between two people, I suggest an order of pork buns, an

Sauteed Bok Choy and Pork Buns

Check out those buns

order of dumplings, and potentially a veggie side dish to top it off. In terms of dumpling-age, I’ve got to say that I am a big fan of the pork dumplings.  I know we’re approaching pork overload (is there such thing?), but they are damn good.  I’ve also had the crab and pork ones ($11) and they are lovely, but have a definitively seafood taste to them.  If that’s your thang, take it and run with it.  If not, you won’t be disappointed with the yummy pork dumplings–especially not for just $9.50.  And with 10 dumplings that come with every order, these are the perfect specimens for sharing.

Dumplings and pork buns can more than fill you up, but if you want an added veggie kick, I would highly recommend tossing in a plate of sautéed bok choy.  I am passionate about bok choy, since it is such a fantastic superfood and has such excellent flavor when cooked correctly.  Din Tai Fung’s bok choy is done really nicely–it’s subtle and crispy and refreshing.  It’s a little pricier at $9, but it’s a heaping portion and you are pretty much guaranteed some leftovers.  All in all, if you and your eating companion opt for some pork buns, some dumpling fun, and a veggie side, you’re looking at an approximate $11.50 split.  Super reasonable for a big, well-rounded Asian comfort food-y meal.

http://www.dintaifungusa.com/en/en_about01.html 

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

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