Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Baked by Melissa and Billy's Bakery

I went over to my friend Trent's apartment on Sunday to watch the Oscar's with him and his boyfriend, Liam. Since there were only three of us, I thought it would be fun to bring over a bunch of Baked by Melissa cupcakes for a little tasting party. I had never had their cupcakes, but I'd walked by their stores many times, and been told that I had to try them.

What makes BBM different from other cupcake places, is that their cupcakes are teeny tiny. They had eleven flavors when I went, and I got a box of 25 (2 of each flavor plus three extra red velvet — Trent's favorite). I was thinking we'd split them between the three of us, but I ended up eating a bit more than my share so I could try each flavor.

I have to say, for as much as they're raved about, we were pretty unimpressed. The tie-dye flavor was my favorite, which as far as I can tell was basically just vanilla, but it was really good — I can definitely see why it's their signature. Runner-up goes to the cinnamon, which was also really delicious. After that, the rest were pretty much average to not great. I'd heard great things about the peanut butter and jelly, and it tasted exactly like a pb&j sandwich but I'm not sure that's a huge achievement, I mean, it's not that hard to make a pb&j sandwich.


They were also tinier than I expected, and they definitely don't look like the silhouette from their logo, which I think is kind of misleading. We also figured out that if you were to combine all of the tiny cupcakes to make larger ones, they're kind of a rip off in terms of sheer volume for what you pay. I paid $20 for a box of $25, when I probably could have just bought a few cupcakes for half that from Magnolia Bakery and been just as happy. It was fun tasting the different flavors for the first time, and comparing them to one another, so I suppose the novelty of it all is worth it. I may go back and get a smaller box with just the tie-dye and cinnamon, and I wish I had gotten more of those flavors and less of some of the others (chocolate chip pancake, I'm lookin' at you).

In other disappointing cupcake news, I tried cupcakes from Billy's Bakery this week too (I'm fat) and I was very unimpressed. I got a banana, red velvet, carrot cake and yellow daisy (I'm really fat). So far I've eaten all but the carrot cake, and they've all been dry, hard and really disappointing. The banana was the best of the three, but even it wasn't as good as the banana from Butter Lane I had a few weeks ago (even if their website does play music - ick).

Before I went, I read countless reviews raving about their cupcakes, and many saying how much better Billy's was than Magnolia. I don't know if I got a bad batch or what, but I've had better cupcakes from generic grocery stores. Their store was super cute (I went to the Chelsea location) and I've always adored their logo, but I can't say that I'll be back. I know it's not cool to say you like Magnolia Bakery, but based on taste alone, I have to say that it's still my favorite. That doesn't mean I'll stop trying to find a better cupcake (it's tough work, but it's a cause I believe in — I'm so fat), but at this point I'm really doubting that I will.

I'm up for the challenge, though, where should I look next?

The Bronx Zoo

My friend Shawn has a zoo membership that ends this month, so he decided to get one last use out of it, and I tagged along. He had free access to any of the four city zoos (and aquarium), but I wanted to see the Bronx Zoo. We went Saturday, which was kind of a crappy day — rainy, chilly and all-around gross — but as with a lot of things I've done here in the winter, we basically had the place to ourselves. The zoo is huge, and took us quite a while to walk through, even with some of the exhibits closed for the winter. I didn't mind missing out on a few animals, since I was getting in for free, but just know that if you go in the off season you won't be able to see everything.

There are still plenty of indoor exhibits (bonus: they're warm!) and of course the seals and polar bears don't mind being wet and chilly. It was nice to be able to walk around without tripping over a million screaming children, and the rain wasn't nearly as prohibitive as I feared it might be. We had umbrellas and boots, so we totally survived, even if some of my photos look a little "wet."

My favorite animals to see in zoos are the penguins, but their house was closed for renovations, so I think I liked the monkeys best — especially this little dude with his leaf, he cracked me up.

Or maybe the lemurs because they kind of reminded me of cats (especially considering the frequency with which we we "treated" to views of their buttholes) and were straight chillin' on this branch. I was also surprised when we first walked in to see peacocks roaming the grounds. There was a concentration of them when we first walked in, but then every so often we'd see another — blocking the door to the gift shop, blocking the door to the mouse house — apparently they like causing trouble.

It's hard to compare because of the weather and the closed exhibits, but I think the Bronx Zoo is one of the best, if not largest, zoos that I've ever been to. It was a little tricky to get to because of construction on the only two train lines that go there, but I'm really glad we went. It was also my first time in the Bronx, but I'll be back next week when my uncle and I go to the Orchid show at the Botanical Gardens. As much as I've loved New York in the winter, I'm very much looking forward to spring, although I'll be spending much of it back in Ohio. But let's not talk about that right now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Roosevelt Island

Sunday was one of the best days I've had so far in the city. Aside from the obvious joy of seeing Meryl (albeit briefly) present at the Oscars, the first half of my day was pretty much perfect. I got up early and started the day with a walk through Central Park. My ultimate destination was Roosevelt Island, and I had planned to ride the tram, which is on the east side.

Since I'm on the west side, I took the subway halfway down and then walked the rest of the way through Central Park, stopping at a cute diner, Gene's Coffee Shop, for breakfast. I had a delicious mushroom and feta omelette, but I was especially smitten with their coffee. I think New York is turning me into a huge fan of diner coffee, and Gene's served a quintessential cup — for a dollar, no less (nothing here is a dollar).

From Gene's it was only a short walk to the Roosevelt Island tram, which quickly shot to the top of my "ways to commute in New York" list. It's easy to get to (just a few flights of stairs), comes frequently (I waited maybe 30 seconds), and accepts Metro Cards, so it's no different than riding the subway. Except of course, instead of speeding through a dark and smelly underground tunnel, you're suspended above the city in a cute little tram car,  that takes you smoothly over the East River into Roosevelt Island in less than five minutes.

The views are great, and the novelty of it all is totally worth it, although you can still get to and from the island by subway as well if you're into that. There's also a bus service that will take you all around the island for 25 cents, but I decided to walk. It was a beautiful day, and I was in an exploring mood. There's a beautiful walking path around the whole island, and it took me less than two hours, walking at a leisurely place and making stops along the way.

The views of Manhattan are spectacular, and I'd never really given the Queensboro bridge much thought, but it's quite lovely. The views of Queens on the other side are decidedly less majestic, but I was pleasantly surprised when I turned a corner and was greeted with a close-up view of the Pepsi sign that I'd previously only seen in miniature from atop the Empire State building.

At the southern tip of the island is a Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial that just opened in October. It's pretty sparse as far as monuments go, but it's a beautifully designed space. Right next to the memorial is the Smallpox Hospital ruins, which are the only ruins to have designated landmark status in the city.

The area is fenced off, but you can still get a good look at the crumbling structure which is super creepy even in mid-day. I'm fascinated by creepy old medical things like asylums and hospitals and Roosevelt island has its share of history in that department.

Unfortunately the Octagon (once the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum) is now the lobby of a luxury apartment building, but it's still pretty to look at. On the northern tip of the island is a charming little lighthouse and another small park, which was fenced off due to damage from Hurricane Sandy but looked like a cute place to have a summer picnic (I'll be back!).

There's not much in the way of shopping or dining on Roosevelt Island, as far as I could see it's mostly residential (and there's still quite a few medical facilities). I've read that it's a great place to live because it's convenient to the city, but quiet and peaceful. At times it felt as if I had the whole place to myself, which was kind of awesome, but I imagine it gets a bit more crowded in the summertime. I stopped at the Starbucks (of course they have a Starbucks) for my weekly coffee-and-Sunday-Times tradition, and it's worth noting that they had the best music selection of any Starbucks I have ever been to. It was a wonderful interlude to my walk, and I was sad when I realized that I had pretty much seen all of the island and it was time to go.

Luckily, it's harder to be sad when you're taking a tram through the sky and back into Manhattan. I absolutely loved Roosevelt Island and I highly recommend taking a day to explore it on your own. It almost felt as if the whole thing was a bit of a secret — not too commercial or touristy but perfectly interesting, peaceful and pleasant. I'll definitely be back and it's nice to know that if I ever need a break from the city, it's only a tram ride away.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Searching for Streep

If you follow me on Twitter, or know me at all, it will come as no surprise to you that I spent the majority of last night's Oscar telecast asking the most important question that a human can ask of this world: Where is Meryl Streep?

I knew she was supposed to attend the ceremony as a presenter for the Best Actor award (she won the Best Actress prize last year — NEVER FORGET), but her absence at the Golden Globes due to the flu proved that you can never be too sure.

When I didn't see her on the red carpet, I was annoyed but not yet worried — in fact, the pre-show was notably absent of any big name stars, in my opinion, so it even kind of made sense. When we didn't get a Meryl reaction shot during the opening monologue, I started to worry. She's always in the front row (as a 17-time nominee and three-time winner should be), and pretty hard to miss. But try as I might, I couldn't catch a glimpse. Was she not there? Was she sick again? Would she even present? Why am I watching the Oscars if Meryl isn't even here? Is life even worth living???

If you stayed awake until the end, you know that she did eventually appear, basically wearing a silver version of her Oscar dress from last year, allegedly picked a wedgie and shared some wonderfully endearing (and funny!) moments with winner Daniel Day-Lewis (someone put these two in a movie together, STAT).

But the question remains: exactly where was she during 95% of the ceremony? Until I get the facts straight from the Meryl's mouth, I've come up with some highly probable theories of my own:

Under John Travolta's Wig

By now, everyone knows that John Travolta is bald, right? You know, I know, his hair plug gardener knows. I'm sure he knows too, but I think he's either so far into denial, or just too vain to admit it so he's resorted to sending this Madame Tussaud's wax figure out in his place. I mean, that's obviously not his real hair, right?

Inside of Sandra Bullock's Neck Tendons

Never forget that this woman has an Oscar. Or that she beat out Meryl Streep to win it.

Somewhere Deep Inside of Kristen Stewart's Rat's Nest

Not that I wish to kick a girl when she's down (or in her case, on crutches), but K-Stew pretty much always looks like she'd rather be anywhere else, which is fine, but does she realize that she totally can be? In this case, 'anywhere else' should probably be a place where they sell combs, or have a reflective surface or two.

Under Jennifer Lawrence's Dress

Not that I ever think Meryl would intentionally trip the wonderfully adorable Jennifer Lawrence, but there was certainly enough room under that dress to comfortably house Meryl, her husband, their four children and possibly even a friend or two. Oh and if that's where they were, I want to go to there.

Under Melissa McCarthy's Bump-It

Can Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy just talk for hours and hours so I can laugh and laugh? Can they host the Oscars next year and then the year after that and then everything else ever again? Seriously, I just love them both so much.

In One of Barbara Streisand's Wizard Sleeves

I'm pretty sure Babs jumped Adele backstage, quickly chopped up her dress, and not knowing what to do with the excess fabric (love you, Adele!), turned it into huge, billowy, drapey wizard sleeves. Each coincidentally large enough to comfortably contain approximately one 5' 4" Oscar winner.

I mean, this is pretty much the same dress right? I'm not complaining, she looks amazing, as always. Well, almost always.

The likeliest of scenarios? Let's be honest, she was probably at the bar. I mean, she's Meryl Effing Streep. She's sat through more than 30 years of Oscar ceremonies, 14 nominations that didn't result in wins, and by now I'm sure she's pretty bored with it all. I'm sad I didn't get at least a few classic reaction shots, but I'm thankful that she made it to the stage at all. After three plus hours of throwing 'em back, I wouldn't even be able to walk, but lest we forget that she's Meryl Streep.

She was probably just acting coherent.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Momofuku Milk Bar

Monday night I tried to go to the Ace Hotel to finish reading my Sunday Times, but there wasn't one single seat available in the lobby. I sometimes forget that I'm in New York City, where at any given time there are approximately 8 million other people trying to do the exact same thing that I am. So I turned around, got back on an uptown train and ended up at the Upper West Side outpost of the Momofuku Milk Bar.

As with most things I do, it had been on my to-do list, and I had been craving ice cream all my life day so it was as sensible a destination as any. I ordered their signature cereal milk soft serve, with cornflake crunch topping. I had read rave reviews and they were all absolutely justified. It's unlike any ice cream I've ever tasted — sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and even maybe a bit salty. I definitely recommend the cornflake topping — I don't think it would have been as good without it. In addition to covering the outside, they also filled the bottom, which was a nice surprise when I finally made my way to the end.

The only negative is actually something others might love — it was far too large. I would gladly pay less than $4.50 for a smaller portion, preferably one that didn't make me feel extremely sick after downing the whole thing (I mean, I didn't want to be wasteful).

While I was there, I also bought a slice of their equally famous crack pie, and took it home for later. Later ended up being Wednesday afternoon, when I couldn't wait any longer and devoured the entire slice before noon. I don't recommend waiting quite this long, however, because by the time I unwrapped it some of the wax paper had somehow melted and molded to the pie slice. I ate it anyway, obviously, but if I can help even one person avoid playing the unseemly game of "Paper or Pie?" than I've done my duty to dessert lovers everywhere.

Unlike the ice cream, I actually wish the pie slice was a bit larger (I'm so fat), especially for the price ($5.25 — do I spend too much money on desserts? — don't answer that). It was delicious, of course, and incredibly sweet, creamy and kind of non-descript (it tasted like custard? sugar? a really good thing?). Whatever it's made of, it certainly deserves its name, because for the past few days I've been thinking about when I could get my next fix, although the first taste was anything but free.

Side note: Can you believe they get $44 for an entire pie?? I mean, it was good, but geez. I'm no expert, but I feel like I could buy a pie made from real crack for less money. Oh New York, sometimes you're pretty absurd. But, luckily, always delicious.

The Cloisters

I have wanted to go to the Cloisters, a branch of the MET Museum dedicated to Medieval art, since I read about it in one of my favorite books in high school. I finally went on Sunday, and I have to say that I think I finally found one thing in New York that isn't better in the winter. It was horribly windy and really cold, and there were times I thought I might be blown over the cliffs straight into the Hudson.

The museum is located in Fort Tyron park, which is at the northern tip of Manhattan. I'd never been up that far, but I walked around the neighborhood as much as I could stand it (have I mentioned how cold it was?) and it's a really cute and quiet place. It's quite hilly — in fact, it's the highest point in New York City, and you're only a few dozen feet lower than the Statue of Liberty's torch.

The views of the Hudson are pretty great, and the park is lovely, but I couldn't help but imagine how wonderful it is in the summer. There are gardens, and tons of winding paths and green spaces that I would love to explore when it's a bit more hospitable outside. The Cloisters itself is pretty awesome, albeit a bit smaller than I imagined — I walked through in about an hour. Like the MET Museum it's suggested donation, and whatever you pay also gets you same-day admission into the main museum, which is pretty cool.

The most impressive part of the Cloisters is the building itself, assembled from various "architectural elements that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century," including pieces from five actual cloisters. I believe in the summer that the cloisters open up into outdoor gardens, but they were enclosed when I went.

They're also famous for their collection of Unicorn Tapestries, which are kind of mysterious and ridiculous and all-around beautiful. I don't even usually care much for tapestry work, but it's hard not to like a series about unicorns, especially one that continues to puzzle researchers, even today, about its origins.

I would love to go back on a summer day, when the gardens are in bloom and explore Fort Tyron park a bit more. I think I let my excitement of finally checking the Cloisters off of my to-do-list get the best of me, and got a little impatient. If you're at all religious I definitely recommend a trip to the museum — their collection is a bit Jesus-heavy — but even if you're not (I'm very not) go and be wowed by the architecture and magnificence of it all. Just maybe wait until it warms up just a bit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red Hook: Part One

Saturday I had made plans to go to the Bronx Zoo, but when they got rescheduled, I found myself with an entire day free to myself. I consulted my New York to-do-list (growing longer, yet also receiving checkmarks daily) and decided to spend the day exploring some neighborhoods in Brooklyn that I had never been to before.

For whatever reason, I wanted to start the day in Red Hook, a neighborhood that is notoriously hard to reach by public transportation, unless of course, you take the IKEA express shuttle. The IKEA shuttle is a ferry, actually, and is technically for those intending to spend the day shopping at, you know, IKEA, but it takes you from lower Manhattan to Red Hook in about 20 min. and is free on the weekends. I misread the schedule (they come less frequently in the winter) so I had to wait about 40 min. for one, but once you're on it the views of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn are pretty nice, and it was pretty comfortable (and warm!).

Once inside IKEA I realized that I really didn't need anything — I'm subletting the apartment here, and only for a few more weeks — but that didn't stop me from grabbing a $1 cinnamon roll on my way out. As many times as I've been to IKEA (the Pittsburgh store, mainly) and had my mouth water at the delicious smell of cinnamon rolls on my way out, I'd never actually eaten one. Cinnabon it was not, but it was definitely worth a dollar — especially because the line at the cafe was about a billion times shorter than the cafeteria upstairs, and I was pretty hungry.

Would it be fat of me to admit that as soon as I finished my cinnamon roll, I headed out of IKEA and straight to a... bakery in Red Hook? I came across the website for Baked while I was researching cupcake sites for work (I swear) and I'd wanted to try their famous brownies ever since. The walk from IKEA to Baked was a bit sketchy, but once I was on Van Brunt Street I began to see the appeal of Red Hook — I don't know if I could live there with its limited access, but it does have a certain old-world charm.


Baked was really cute inside and I bought two brownies (sweet + salty and a brown sugar blondie) and a latte. They serve Stumptown coffee which everyone raves about, but I've found it to be a bit over-hyped and over-priced. I guess I would say the same thing for the brownies. For something that is touted as "Oprah's Favorite Brownie" I guess I expected more. They pretty much just tasted like... brownies. Not bad, of course, but definitely not something I would trek all the way to Red Hook for again.

I'm sure I'll be back to IKEA if (when?) I move here for real, and it's nice to know there's one so close. I'd also like to come back and visit the Fairway Market, which is closed because of damage from Hurricane Sandy, but scheduled to reopen in March. Have you ever been to Red Hook? What are some other places I should try if I'm ever in the neighborhood again? I hear Steve makes a mean Key Lime Pie...

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Manhattan Bridge

I guess I'm starting to have a thing for bridges. A few weeks ago I walked the Brooklyn Bridge for the second time, but the Manhattan Bridge has been on my list for a while, especially since I saw a photograph of the arch and colonnade in this Landmarks of New York exhibit.

Friday I got off work early (thanks 427!) so I decided to take advantage of the remaining few hours of sunlight and finally take on the Manhattan. The entrance to the bridge is in Chinatown, and while the arch and colonnade aren't hard to miss, the pedestrian walkway can be a little tricky to find. Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, bikers and pedestrians use separate paths, on opposite sides of the bridge (if you're entering on the Manhattan side, pedestrians are on the right). You also walk below and to the side of traffic, and right next to active subway tracks so the experience is wholly different.

To someone who was familiar with the Brooklyn Bridge, I would describe the Manhattan as it's grittier, dirtier and slightly scarier, distant cousin. There is graffiti covering a large portion of the visible surfaces, and the original side barriers have since been amended with a high, curving chain link fence (presumably to discourage people from jumping onto the rooftops of the buildings below).

For a while you walk over neighborhoods in Chinatown and downtown Manhattan, and the views are amazing, particularly at, or near, sunset. You also get great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River and, of course, Brooklyn. I'm not generally scared of heights — tunnels are more nightmarish to me — but I will say that the walk across the Manhattan is not for the faint of heart. Maybe it's the fact that you're closer to the water than when walking the Brooklyn, or that the whole bridge shakes violently when a train passes (and they pass frequently), but there were times when I felt a little uneasy.

It's probably because of these things that it also felt less touristy, which I'm sure could also translate into a bit "murdery," especially in the dark — I would advise sticking to daytime walks. I don't mind the graffitti, but they've also blocked off some older parts of the bridge — little charming alcoves where you could presumably pause to take in the views are now fenced off, which is a shame.

Also unlike the Brooklyn, you can't get much of a view of the bridge itself while you're walking it, but a short walk to DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge park is all you need for that. I think the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass — incase you wondered) neighborhood is super charming, and it seems as if every time I go there more cute shops and restaurants have sprung up.

I need to go back if for nothing else than to try One Girl Cookies — I was terribly impatient the last time I was there, and the line was long, but I've read good things. After my first foray into macarons was so successful, I'm eager to try out more goodies that I've been missing out on, and whoopie pies seem like a good choice (I've never had one!).

I had to stand in the middle of the street for this shot, but how cute is the Empire State Building peeking out?

I'm glad I can check walking the Manhattan off of my to-do-list, but I probably won't walk it again, if at all. The Brooklyn Bridge, construction and all, is still pure magic to me and I don't think any other bridge will be taking its place anytime soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Heart NY

I finally found a real-life "Happy to Serve You" cup of coffee - down the block and only a dollar!

Whether or not I've had a significant other in my life, I've always loved Valentine's Day. Back when I was in elementary school, my mom and I used to spend hours crafting the perfect valentine holder out of a shoebox, and we always went overboard. I think there's something so wonderful about a day when it's perfectly acceptable if not a little bit mandatory to express your love for something or someone special — we should all be so lucky to have more such days in our lives.

This year I'm spending the day of love in, and with, the city I love: New York. I've loved this city ever since I first visited with my parents as a naive (and totally awkward) 14-year-old kid. My dad likes to tell the story of a bartender he met on that trip, who upon finding out that my dad had brought me here for the first time said, "She'll never be the same," and he was right. I've been finding ways to get back here ever since, and with every trip I fall in love a little more.

Since today is the day that you let your loved ones know how you feel, I thought I'd tell New York what I love most about it. Are you reading this, New York? This ones for you.

  • The Subway - taking the subway home at 1am in a blizzard > driving home at 1am in a blizzard
  • Tap Water - New Yorkers like to brag that they have the best-tasting tap water in the country, and I have to agree. It might not seem like a big deal, but to someone who orders water at every restaurant religiously, the quality difference does not go unnoticed.
  • The People - New Yorkers are notoriously grumpy, but I've generally found them to be kind and complimentary and not at all axe-murdery.
  • The Nature - I've never met a park I didn't like, but New York has the best manufactured nature expanses that I've ever been too. I could walk in Central Park every day for the rest of my life and still not get bored.
  • The Museums - I am currently 20 blocks from some of the most famous paintings in the entire world, and I can see them 7 days a week for a nickel.
  • The Newspaper - I've always preferred the New York Times to any other paper, local or national, but having the Metropolitan and Real Estate sections every Sunday is a real treat.
  • The Food - for a picky eater like myself, having a million options is a great thing. It means that I'm never far from something that I can or like to eat, and my limited palette is constantly being expanded and introduced to interesting things that I may have never experienced living elsewhere.
  • The Seasons - I know that having four, distinct seasons is not a trait exclusive to New York, but it is something that gives it an edge over places like California. I wouldn't trade my 11.4" of snow for 342 days of sunshine, and you can't convince me otherwise. Every season here has its own special treats and it's hard for me to pick a favorite, I love them all.
  • The Service - People here don't waste time. They get in, they get out, they know what they want and how to get it. There is no room for indecision or incompetence. And if there is, ain't nobody got time for that.
  • Apartment Living - Houses have their merits, for sure, but living in an apartment frees you from a lot of the constraints and hassle of home ownership. I can't think of the last time my friends in apartments had to rake leaves or mow the lawn, and while those things are necessary and can be rewarding, I can see how one can get used to devoting that time and energy to more enriching pursuits.

New York isn't the city for everyone, but I find new things to love about it every single day I'm here. I only have a few more weeks here until I return to Ohio, but I definitely don't think that our journey together will be coming to an end just because I have to leave for a while. True love lasts a lifetime, and me and New York, well we're just getting started.

UPDATE: Upon reading this post, my sister sent me this photo of a postcard I sent her from my first trip to the city (how awesome is it that she kept it?). You can see that not much has changed in the past 13 years — except of course now I know how to correctly use the words "were" and "where." For shame, 14-year-old me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shake Shack + Macarons

It's no big surprise to anyone who knows me, or follows me on Instagram, that I've basically been eating my way from bakery to bagel shop to pizza place in the month I've been in New York. I know I should eat healthier but there's a lot in my life that's unsettled and overwhelming right now, and trying to overhaul my eating habits while living in someone else's apartment just seems like a losing battle.

Also, there are so many delicious treats I want to try and there isn't much for me to do after work, in the cold and the dark, so I've been spending my time seeking out tasty bites (I'm well aware this is a one-way-ticket to Diabetiss-ville). Generally, I'll decide on a destination — last night it was the Key Bank on 22nd street, which, is the only Key Bank in all of Manhattan (I had checks to deposit) — and then search nearby restaurants and bakeries to make a night of it.

I decided on Shake Shack after noticing that there was barely a line (which is rare), and ordered a single Shack Burger. I had been there once before and waited in an enormous line only to find that I still preferred Swenson's, but I wanted to give it another chance. I'm glad I did, because this time my burger was absolutely delicious. It was melty and gooey and just really, really good. I'm not ready to declare it better than Swenson's, but I'd be willing to say they're currently neck and neck. Incidentally, both are still light years ahead of the stale, almost inedible abomination that was my first In-N-Out experience back in June.

After inhaling my burger (partly because it was that good, partly because I was eating outside and getting cold), I walked down 23rd street to La Maison du Macaron (warning: their site plays music, ugh). I'd never had a macaron before, but after seeing them mentioned and raved about on nearly every single blog I've ever read, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

I got a box of eight ($20!) — (l-r) pistachio, dulce de leche, lemon, chocolate, dark chocolate w/coffee beans, Tahitian vanilla, salted caramel and strawberry— and waited until I was back home to try one. The pistachio was the first one I tried and oh my. Macarons were always a mystery to me and I had no idea what to expect or what they tasted like. After the first bite, I understood the hype completely. It was crispy and fluffy and creamy and unlike anything I'd ever had before. I also ate the chocolate and it was equally as heavenly.

I'm trying to save the last six for the next few days, but there's no guarantees I won't break down and eat them all real soon. The shop was really cute and they had a ton of other, more exotic, flavors that I was too scared to try but I definitely have to go back and be more adventurous in my ordering. I also found out that you need to keep them refrigerated and let them sit for 15 minutes at room temperature before eating them, which was helpful.


Now, of course, I have to try LadurĂ©e on the Upper East Side to see how they compare. I hear they're more expensive and more crowded than La Maison, but they're as authentic and Parisian as you can get in the US, so it's definitely on my list. I can't believe it's taken me 27 years to try a real macaron, but even now that I have, one mystery remains. How exactly do you pronounce the word macaron? Luckily I didn't have to say it in the shop, I just said "I'd like a box of eight" but I'm not even sure how to say it in my head when I read it — mack-a-ron, mack-a-roon, mack-a-rone or something totally different? Even if I knew, I'd probably still always feel like an idiotic American when ordering, especially with all of the fancy, French-sounding flavors to mispronounce.

Taking bets on how long you think I can go before devouring the last six — well, five. I ate the lemon while I was writing this post.

More New York culinary delights: Restaurant Week | Doughnut Plant + Magnolia Bakery | City Bakery + Junior's Cheesecake