Arcade Bakery, a Hidden Gem in an Office Lobby

Office lobbies suck. You’re usually there because you’re waiting to check in for something unpleasant like a dental appointment or a job interview or an eyelash procedure. But the office lobby of 220 Church St will renew your faith in office lobbies. That’s because you will be greeted by the wonderful smells of butter and pastries wafting through from the ovens of Arcade Bakery, as opposed to a bored security guard asking for some form of identification.

arcade bakery - sign

Arcade Bakery is run by Roger Gural, who used to be head baker at Bouchon Bakery and French Laundry. But you wouldn’t know about any of that pedigree, as the bakery seems perfectly fine with keeping a low-profile. Unless you really follow the food blogs or live nearby, you probably haven’t heard of it. The hours of operation are extremely limited, open only during the work week from 8-4 pm, so clearly Arcade Bakery isn’t interested in taking advantage of capturing a broader weekend audience and is intent on flying under-the-radar for now.

arcade bakery - croissant

This essentially means that I can never make it out to Arcade Bakery unless I get called for jury duty again, which is a bit frustrating, because the pastries here are absurdly good. I almost wish I were back at Citi just so I could buy the almond croissant everyday, which completely blew my mind. I’ve never had anything so buttery and flaky and crispy in my life. I’m not sure what the secret is, maybe it’s that they use a lot of butter, or the best butter there is, but it’s like King Midas gave this pastry the golden touch and every other croissant simply feels gold plated.

arcade bakery - babka

The chocolate walnut babka was also excellent, although I still think the one at Breads Bakery is my favorite. The one at Arcade Bakery felt more airy and brioche-like, whereas the one at Breads felt more like a dense pastry, and I probably like my babka all concentrated with chocolate in every layer. There were so many things behind the counter that looked amazing, but it just wasn’t possible to consume them all on one visit. And given the bakery’s hours and the out-of-the-way locale, I probably can’t return any time soon. Good for the waistline, bad for gabbing and gobbling!

Arcade Bakery
220 Church St (between Worth and Thomas St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 227-7895

Upscale Euro at Bâtard

When I walked into Bâtard on Saturday night, I was struck by how austere the dining room looked. For a fancy restaurant, I was expecting some more flash, but I felt like I was inside of an old school schnitzel place. Aside from two small chandeliers and some gold wallpaper, the place was pretty much bare bones and no fuss. It was all very Berlin and not very Tribeca. Then I learned soon after that Chef Markus Glocker is of Austrian decent, and the stark Germanic design sensibilities made a lot more sense.

sourdough and green olive bread
sourdough and green olive bread
branzino with butternut squash, grilled lettuce and pumpkin seed vinagrette
branzino with butternut squash, grilled lettuce and pumpkin seed vinagrette
ora king salmon with roasted sunchoke, orange, watercress and maple
ora king salmon with roasted sunchoke, orange, watercress and maple

Luckily, the food at Bâtard is anything but bare and simple. It’s beautiful and creative, and the only German thing about it seems to be a dedication to technical excellence. The fish in particular is one of the restaurant’s strong suits. We ordered the ora king salmon and were floored by how a filet could be so rich and buttery, literally dissolving into a pool of creamy, smokey liquefied seafood. There was no way the branzino could top this, but then this handsome filet with the most perfectly seared skin and a posse of sweet orange and squash arrived, winning us over with such sublime flawlessness. Deciding which one was our favorite was like asking a parent to pick a favorite child–impossible to do, you love them equally the same.

octopus pastrami with braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes
octopus pastrami with braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes

While the fish dishes were more rooted in tradition, the octopus pastrami highlighted a much more out-of-the-box approach. The octopus legs were deconstructed into a rectangular terrine-like fashion, perhaps to resemble a slice of pastrami deli meat, while small rye croutons were scattered about to complete the “sandwich.” I wasn’t entirely won over by this dish, as it lacked the robust juiciness and the sharp tanginess that truly define a superb pastrami sandwich. A substitute for Katz’s, this is not.

beef cheek "pot-au-feu" for two
beef cheek “pot-au-feu” for two
beef cheeks up close
beef cheeks up close

For our main, we shared the beef cheek “pot-au-feu” for two, a hearty beef stew of French origin that celebrates “the tables of the rich and poor alike.” I suppose this phrase came about because, although the dish features beef cheek, a cheaper cut of meat, its flavors are good enough to transcend class and please not only the king but his whole court. As good as it was, I was just overwhelmed by how much meat was in here. These cows must have had the fattest cheeks, the yield was so much, and then there were generous slabs of bacon piled on. The braised vegetables were a welcome respite from the dense meatiness, and the sourness of the blood sausage bread, which tastes a lot better than it sounds, also helped. It was a great stew, but you can only have so much beef cheek at one time.

caramelized milk bread with blueberries and butter ice cream
caramelized milk bread with blueberries and butter ice cream
citrus jellies and truffles with olive oil liquid
citrus jellies and truffles with olive oil liquid

We capped the night with the caramelized milk bread, another one of Bâtard’s heralded signatures. It resembled a fluffy brioche covered in a caramelized glaze, a creme brulee “toast” if you will, and it did live up to expectations. As we waited for our check, which almost killed the mood because it took so long to get, I looked around and noticed that almost everyone looked like they were in their 50s or 60s. I could have been in the lobby of Lincoln Center, for all I knew. Ruoxi basically summarized it as, “if I were a middle-aged divorce(e) looking for a good time, I would be hanging out here right now.” This doesn’t surprise me, because fancy dining in Tribeca of all places tends to attract this sort of crowd. But why fret about age, it’s nothing but a number–what matters more is how much you like the plate in front of you.

239 W. Broadway (between Walker and White St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-2777

Bara Restaurant

Taste of Tribeca 2014

Hellooo spring! The weather could not have been any more fabulous for the 2014 Taste of Tribeca food festival. Not surprisingly, the crowds came out in full force for the best neighborhood block party in town. Families with children and local foodies intermingled within the culinary triangle that is Duane, Greenwich and Hudson St. Despite the crowds, the lines moved quickly, and there was plenty of food to go around. The Taste of Tribeca is a well-oiled machine–when you’ve been in the biz for 20 years (what a milestone!!), you’ve got the whole operations thing nailed down.

taste of tribeca - bouley worker
manning the bouley station

And it helps that this is all for a good cause. All the proceeds are going towards the arts and enrichment programs at local Tribeca public schools PS 150 and PS 234. How could you not support all the cute kids in pursuing their creative dreams? Who knows, maybe that tiny girl serving you your VIP tray or punching your tasting card might grow up to be the next Lady Gaga! The heavy-hitters on the Tribeca food scene were all here to serve tasty bites to the hungry crowd. Old stalwarts like Tribeca Grill, Bubby’s, Bouley and The Odeon were there, as well as some fresh new faces like China Blue and The Butterfly. The food offerings were impressively broad and deep–Italian, Chinese, Laotian, Mexican, hot, cold, savory, sweet–you name it, you got it. Here’s a recap of what we gobbled and gabbed our way through on Saturday.

taste of tribeca - china blue 3 cups chicken
china blue’s 3 cup chicken and pan fried pork buns

China Blue’s 3 Cup Chicken and Pan Fried Pork Buns – This was my absolute favorite. Who doesn’t love a little dim sum in the middle of the day? The 3 cup chicken was fantastic–the tender, juicy chicken was marinaded in a sauce where the critical elements of sweet and savory flavors were in perfect harmony. Just like the kung pao chicken of your youth, only much more elegant!

taste of tribeca - brushstroke washu beef
brushstroke’s oregon washu – beef over rice

Brushstroke’s Oregon Washu Beef Over Rice – The washu beef was divine–it was tender and sweet, and at the slightest touch it would blissfully dissolve into your mouth. Happy cows produce happy meat–this is what you get when you feed them sake and massage their muscles! I felt like I was eating quite possibly the best bowl of bulgogi over rice, and I’ve had many beef bowls in my lifetime.

taste of tribeca - telepan ramps
telepan local’s ramps w/asparagus, wild garlic, lemon ricotta & sorrel

Telepan Local’s Ramps w/Asparagus, Wild Garlic, Lemon Ricotta & Sorrel – Nothing says spring like a plate full of fresh, green ramps. These light, seasonal vegetables were a refreshing change of pace from the heavier options that hit the food festival circuit. You could tell from the vibrant flavors that these vegetables were definitely sourced locally, and the amazing lemon ricotta cheese gave just the right touch of richness to round out the dish.

taste of tribeca - the odeon coconut ice cream
the odeon’s coconut ice cream cone

The Odeon’s Coconut Ice Cream – Eating ice cream from a cone during an outdoor festival is a must. Not surprisingly, people were constantly lining up for the delectable frozen treats at The Odeon stand. The coconut ice cream really hit the spot–it was just a tad sweet, creamy and not too dense, a perfect treat for a sunny day.

taste of tribeca - ninja roast beef california and spicy tuna sushi
ninja’s roast beef sushi, colorful california roll and spicy tuna roll

Ninja New York’s Sushi – Ninja certainly knew how to work the crowd. The energetic servers were handing out free ninja headbands to those who walked by, getting them into a raucous state of mind for their colorful sushi rolls, which were surprisingly tasty and filling. I’m glad that there was some substance to their ninja schtick!

taste of tribeca - marc forgione
marc forgione’s fluke fish taco, smoked avocado, grilled ramp salsa verde

Marc Forgione’s Fluke Fish Taco – This fish taco was small, but what it lacked in size it made up for in flavor. The fluke was impeccably seasoned–the fullness of the avocado and cream was a very pleasant sensation, while the salsa verde added some nice, sharp complexities into the mix. Tacos are a hot trend right now, and Marc Forgione’s definitely places high in the rankings.

taste of tribeca - jungsik miyeok paella
miyeok “birthday meal” seaweed soup paella

Jungsik’s Seawood Soup Paella – Jungsik did a repeat showing of its miyeok seaweed soup paella. It was just as good as last year–the rice was coated in a salty, briney veil that paired very well with the excellent kimchee on top. Certainly blows all the other birthday soups out of the water.

taste of tribeca - bouley kuzu cracker and strawberry dessert
bouley’s “chef surprise”

Bouley’s “Chef Surprise” – The culinary powerhouse classed up the cheese and cracker plate with a very innovative rendition. The cracker itself was made from kuzu, the root of a Japanese plant that grows wild in mountainous regions. It was extra firm and crisp, and the truffle topped aligote cheese was delightfully decadent. The sweet portion of the Chef Surprise reminded me of a strawberry icee with cream and bananas, which was an absolutely refreshing treat.

Amazing Retro Kitsch Dining at The Butterfly

the butterfly - interior

The minute I stepped into The Butterfly in Tribeca this weekend, I knew I was going to like this place. I felt like I was on holiday in Palm Springs, the CA city in a perpetual state of 1950s kitsch. I could definitely see Mad Men filming some flashback scenes of Don Draper, Betty and the kids eating in the stylishly retro surroundings during happier times.

I want to stick to the theme of holiday and nostalgia, because each bite of the delicious, mouth-watering comfort food at The Butterfly brought back fond food memories of my childhood. The patty melt, for instance, took me back to my high school days at Denny’s, many of which were spent eagerly awaiting the hamburger sandwich with a side of fries in the signature Denny’s green basket. Of course, the patty melt at Denny’s pales in comparison to the incredible one at The Butterfly. Michael White’s meat patty has so much more flavor than anything you’d find at a mainstream diner or even a reputable restaurant. It’s surprisingly lean as far as meat patties go, with just a hint of richness that doesn’t leave you keeling over in a food coma. The caramelized onions provided some nice tangy notes and the mild and creamy cheese was appropriately just a touch rich. This is as good as it gets with patty melts, nothing could possibly be improved upon White’s version.

the butterfly - patty melt
this patty makes my heart melt

It’s usually difficult for a restaurant to have two show-stopping dishes, but I think my taste buds were even more blown away by the fried chicken. This was bar-none the best American style fried chicken I have ever had. Forget all the hoopla over Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken or Popeye’s, the fried chicken at The Butterfly blows everyone out of the water. (On a side-note, the fried chicken at The Redhead in the East Village is not bad either). The skin on the buttermilk fried chicken was perfectly crispy, and the meat inside was impressively moist and tender. It’s such a simple dish, and I wish I could explain how White’s simple but perfect rendition is so much better than anything else I’ve tried, but I can’t. All I know is that the chicken made me very very happy, and very few foods can have that sort of effect.

the butterfly - fried chicken brunch basket
the best fried chicken, cluck yeah

Even the blueberry pancakes were superb. The batter was so light and fluffy, and the generous dollop of ricotta cream provided some amazing velvety decadence to the cakes. Patty melt, fried chicken, pancakes. All were delicious and checked the box on having the perfect fat kid food day–the calories and the elastic waistband pants are totally worth it.

the butterfly - blueberry pancakes
blueberry pancakes to round out the best fat day ever

The Butterfly
225 W. Broadway (between White and Franklin St.)
(646) 692-4943

Smørrebrød Sandwiches at Aamanns-Copenhagen

aamans copenhagen - smørrebrød with potatoes and white fish
meet the smørrebrød

In preparation for my trip to Copenhagen in August, I decided to stop by Aamanns-Copenhagen, a restaurant in Tribeca that specializes in smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich common in Denmark. Prior to this visit, my knowledge of Danish food was extremely limited. I didn’t know such sandwiches existed, and I can honestly say that the only Danish food I’m familiar with is the Danish pastry. And according to Carl Frederiksen, the head chef at Aamanns-Copenhagen, Danishes aren’t even Danish, they’re Viennese in origin. Interesting fact: the Danish was introduced to the country by foreign Austrian bakers who brought over pastries from their homeland during a strike (source: Wikipedia).

So what exactly is a smørrebrød? It traditionally consists of butter, cold cuts and spreads on top of a slice of thick rye bread. In Denmark it originated as a blue collar food, eaten for lunch by farmers and workers. Because the sandwiches were feeding people with labor-intensive jobs, they were very heavy in nature, piled high with fatty meats and mayonnaise.  

Aamans-Copenhagen has refashioned the smørrebrød as a slimmer, sexier version of its former self. Something that beautiful, slender Danes wouldn’t mind eating. Or slim yoga moms in Tribeca for that matter. The slice of rye bread, which is made fresh daily in-house, is pretty small, about the size of a Wasa cracker but obviously denser and slightly thicker.

The toppings are arranged in rows of symmetrical patterns on top of the bread, which make for a very visually stunning presentation. Everything tasted extremely fresh–all the fruits and vegetables seemed as if they had been plucked straight from the garden, a tribute to the foraging tradition that is very trendy today. Per the chef’s recommendation, we ordered two smørrebrøds, the gravad white fish and the boiled potato. They were both light and very appropriate for the summer months.

aamans copenhagen - smørrebrød with fresh, boiled potato and smoked mayonnaise, radish and chives
smørrebrød with fresh, boiled potato and smoked mayonnaise, radish and chives
aamans copenhagen - smørrebrød with gravad white fish served with a summer salad of goat milk yogurt, cucumber, apples, celery and watercress
smørrebrød with gravad white fish served with a summer salad of goat milk yogurt, cucumber, apples, celery and watercress

The sandwiches were a little dainty for me, and I could have done with another. I guess I’m used to humongous American portions and would feel right at home with the heartier ones back in the motherland. Chef Carl was kind enough to give me some insider tips on where to find the best smørrebrøds, and generally which restaurants to go to.

For smørrebrøds: Schønneman* (in Københaven K)
For classic Danish food and beer: Cafe Sorgenfri* (in Københaven K)
For classic Danish food in a formal atmosphere: Ida Davidsen (in Københaven K)
For drinks in a traditional Danish “living room” type setting: Cafe Viking* (in Nørrebro)
For new Nordic cuisine in a relaxed setting: Relæ* (in Nørrebro), Manfreds (in Nørrebro), Kadeau* (in Christianshavn), Pony (in Christianshavn), Geranium (in Østerbro), BROR* (started by Noma alum, in København K)
For affordable new Nordic cuisine:  Höst (very stylish, in København K), Madklubben* (slightly loud, near Tivoli)
For Danish pastries: LagkagehusetReinh van Hauen (favorite of chef at Noma), La Glace
For good hotel restaurants: Marchal* at Hotel d’Angleterre (in København K), Alberto K at Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (run by silver medalist of Bocuse d’Or 2013 competition, in Vesterbro) 

*Indicates Chef Carl’s top picks

13 Laight St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-1313