Thursday, March 29, 2007

    Whole Foods Special Alert

    For the story behind the poster, click here and log in as jenniferc, password magazines.

    My mind is blown.

    Tonight while I was waiting for a sample of the Black Mission Fig gelato at the new Lower East Side Whole Foods, this girl behind me said aloud, "Yum-meeeee." She was exclaiming to herself, but she definitely spoke the minds of everyone around.

    My store, all 71,000 square feet of it, opened today, and I gleefully went an hour before closing time to check it out. I practically skipped towards the large, green glowing sign on Houston St. Inside, it was a lot to take in at once. Along with the Il Laboratorio stand, there's a section for homemade granola and hand-spiced nuts, and next to it, an extensive chocolate counter with at least three kinds of Turkish Delight and a larger selection of handmade chocolates and truffles than the other stores.

    Whole Foods has definitely latched on to NYC's recent barbecue craze with a bar devoted to it and all its fixins. There was pork and chicken, ribs and loose, plus three kinds of chili with all the right toppings. I started to get out a pad to note the different chilis, but then decided to revel in the glory of the moment. I sound like I just got saved. And maybe I have been.

    Two more unique areas in the store are the pickle station and the Fromagerie. A wide variety of Rick's Picks and a few of Gus' Pickles were bucketed up and ready to be tonged out. The Fromagerie contains whole wheels of cheese, and a serviced yogurt and butter bar. You want your fresh butter mixed with truffle salt? Just say so and a nice team member will mix it up for you on the spot.

    I'm not sure how popular this service will be, so just in case it isn't there next time (who am I kidding, I'll be back on Saturday at the latest!), I felt the need to order a parfait. I didn't catch the name of the upstate New York yogurt producer, but apparently they only strain their yogurt for Whole Foods. The parfait was topped with silky canned peaches and fresh berries, and I asked for a sprinkle of truffle salt just for kicks. Amazingly, I wasn't charged the $5.99 that the parfait ended up costing. Again, not so sure this feature will make it. The yogurt was tarter than the Fage brand I usually eat, but also thicker and creamier. At home I added more of my own truffle salt and some honey, plus a little of the granola.

    Unlike so many other things in NYC, shopping at this new store is going to be easy. The aisles are astonishingly wide and the ceilings are high. It will readily handle the masses who yearn to eat organic. And, there's seating and classrooms upstairs.

    As excited as I am about the store, I also wonder how it will affect the small neighborhood businesses. Will Whole Foods do LES better than the LES? For example, there's also a pommes frites stand, which clearly pays homage to Pommes Frites, the much-loved chip shop on 2nd Ave. Will the pommes frites stand draw dollars away from yet another local business by emulating it? Or will Whole Foods' presence bring even more traffic to the neighborhood, therefore benefiting all?

    Lastly, I wonder if there's an explanation for the graffiti over the logo that's next to the main exit. Are they trying to show they're down with the LES by tagging themselves? My check out lady couldn't answer that one. She did say it was a little less busy than she'd expected today, but I think people were probably scared to go on the first day.

    I, however, have no fear of Whole Foods. Only love, and a belly full of expensive, truffled yogurt.

    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    Changes and Chow

    A few months ago, I made a big career change: I left publishing to take a non-publishing “day job” that allows me more time and energy to write. Fittingly, two New York Magazine articles by Jennifer Senior played a large part in my decision-making process. Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness, published in July, inspired me to seriously reassess some key details in my life. Can't Get No Satisfaction was published the same day I began my new job, and it reconfirmed that decision to the nth degree.

    After burning out of living and working in Chelsea for the last six and a half years, I now commute downtown. My new office is on Wall St., which gives me a giggle, as I gave up on balancing my checkbook 10 years ago but now work in a neighborhood full of financial whizzes (I’d like to imagine that some of them are rebels who also don’t do checkbooks).

    The Financial District is one of the few Manhattan neighborhoods I hadn’t explored well, so I’ve been enjoying getting lost and finding new historical sites and restaurants in this high-security, high-priced, fast-paced, windy, cobblestone-lined area. I also am happy to be so close to the water and the West Side Highway park path.

    Here’s a handful of my favorite lunch spots from the last few months.

    Though I read the book in college, I've always remembered the scenes from Caleb Carr’s The Alienist that imagine sumptuous meals at Delmonico’s steakhouse, which is said to be the oldest restaurant in the U.S., circa 1827. Lobster á La Newberg was invented there by a man named Ben Wenberg. The story goes that he had a falling out with the restaurant’s owners, so they changed the dish’s name from Lobster á la Wenberg to Lobster á La Newberg.

    At the end of my first week of work, my boss took us to Delmonico's for a celebratory lunch, and I ordered old man Ben's creation. Imagine a fresh, generous portion of lobster meat lovingly surrounded by butter, cream, cognac, sherry and pepper, served with toast points for sopping. Lobster Newberg is like the rich great aunt of food: you enjoy seeing her--but only once a year--as the diamonds dripping from each finger, the subtle but deadly hint of expensive, foreign perfume, and her less subtle yet slyly placed references to social class are only palatable for a short while.

    On a more affordable scale, right now I'm in the habit of going to Niko Niko at least once a week (in between the PB&Js I bring from home). Niko Niko is high quality Japanese fast food. Along with the pre-made sushi and the sashimi salads, I like the soba noodles with shrimp tempura. I order them spicy, which gives just a little heat to the warm soup broth. I love how hearty and chewy the noodles are, and the tempura's crunch provides the perfect contrast. Last week with my soba, I tried an onigiri for the first time. I'd never seen or heard of it before, but it's the perfect little snack: seaweed is folded into a triangle that contains a thick pad of rice filled with salmon, tuna, beef or shrimp. Niko Niko is consistently above average, quick, and has ample seating.

    I was surprised and happy to find a Ruben’s Empanadas around the corner from my office. There's one in my neighborhood that I pass often but never go to, so I've adopted this one instead. I prefer arepas (especially the ones at Caracas) to empanadas, but Ruben's are firm yet crumbly and stuffed to the gill with combinations like Chopped Broccoli with Mozzarella and Ricotta or Ground Beef Stuffed with Onions, Raisins and Spices.

    Whenever I'm catching an after work flight, I grab a sandwich for the plane at Pret a Manger. It's a chain imported from England that makes preservative-free sandwiches with fresh, tasty ingredients that happen to come perfectly boxed and ready for flight. I think LGA and JFK should consider putting in Pret counters! One of my longtime favorite sandwiches has avocado, parmesan, toasted pine nuts, basil, tomato, and arugula. A recent frequent order is the turkey and avocado with bacon, tomato and baby lettuce.

    More restaurants to come as I continue to forage.

    Sunday, March 11, 2007


    I haven’t been eating very healthy lately. I rarely get enough roughage, eat broccoli no more than once a month (at Mama’s Food Shop), have yet to discover a good salad spot near my new Wall St. office, and when I forage in my cupboards I only find baked corn chips and tomatillo salsa. Who’s to blame for my lack of nutrition? I point my finger eastward, at Whole Foods’ unopened Lower East Side location.

    When I moved to the East Village from an apartment that was around the corner from the Chelsea store last summer, I was an innocent who truly believed Whole Foods would soon follow. I blogged about how my new apartment would be .03 miles closer to the new store. I wondered what new salad and dessert bars it would feature and crossed my fingers that this one would be eat-in. I walked by its block-wide Bowery and Houston location and took to heart the sign that said “Coming This Fall.” Fall passed. I asked clerks at other stores for status updates, schlepped home heavy bags from the Union Square location, and even tried shopping elsewhere. Unfortunately the upscale, locally-owned markets nearby are just as, if not more expensive, and their produce doesn’t compare.

    The chill of winter set in, and on many a freezing night I wondered if the lease had fallen through or if the location was overrun with vermin. And then, on a spring-like day this week, I received the good news. According to a Whole Foods press release, my store will open on March 29th with the company’s first-ever fromagerie, multiple eat-in areas, and a culinary center for cooking lessons. In celebration, I reorganized the kitchen and gave the fridge a good scrub today. Root vegetables, fresh spinach and Pink Lady apples, your refrigerator awaits.

    *** *** ***
    Last weekend I flew to L.A. for my annual Alesa visit. I really do love it there. I like the more relaxed (yet more plastic) vibe; the disparity between the tackiness of Venice Beach and the Chateau Marmont's swank; and how you can see the mountains, the water, and the sunset all at once as you drive home from a perfect day. I still missed NYC's grit though.

    Two meals in particular stood out: thin, crepe-like buckwheat pancakes wrapped around peppered bacon and covered in syrup at Kate Mantilini, and a thick, perfectly executed, 9 oz. ground sirloin burger topped with Carr Valley Benedictine cheese at the Roosevelt Hotel's 25 Degrees. The restaurant is a classy, sultry burger and fry joint that gets its name from the temperature difference between a medium burger (no thanks) and a medium-rare burger (bingo!). 25 Degrees offers 12 different artisanal cheese selections and sauces for the pommes frites (the Ranch was out of this world with flavor); perfectly fried and sweet onion rings; and a full bar.

    Of course, L.A. is nothing without its stars, and Alesa and I had a fun run-in with Jeff Goldblum on what seemed to be his virgin Pinkberry experience. He walked in eager and interested, and eyed my small plain with blueberries and mochi (Japanese rice cakes). I recently discovered that I could order mochi as a topping (instead of just in the shaved ice), thanks to a New York Times article on frozen yogurt. The article quotes one of Pinkberry's founders: "We don't put that out...It is kind of like going to In-N-Out Burger and ordering 'animal style.'"

    Jeff Goldblum, whose soft hazel eyes and easy smile were very attractive in person, was so interested in my mochi that I offered him a taste. He accepted and daintily reached into my cup. After he sat down with his order of green tea with blueberries and raspberries, he reciprocated my offer. I declined -- though the green tea's tinniness is more reminiscent of New York's grime, and the clean freshness of the plain flavor is more similar to L.A.'s glitter, the green tea is too tinny for me. Maybe one day I'll be bicoastal.