Friday, November 7, 2014

Halloween Bonanza in New York City: Payard, Laduree, and Victorian Mourning clothes at the Met

Ah, New York City. Perhaps the most pastry-dense real estate in the country. As often as I've visited and gleefully sampled goodies, there are always new places to explore. On the recommendation of my good buddy (and fellow foodie), we went to Payard, a bistro-slash-patisserie with orange and brown decor that made an excellent vegetarian croque monsieur with mushrooms and Gruyere.

And a pastry case that made the Babe slightly weak in the knees.

The caramel tart was so good that I actually dipped my finger in it and foraged like a monkey to slurp up all of it's caramelly-goodness. Or, in layman's terms, I flipped my wig.

But our weekend, was far, far from over. A quick stop at Teuscher chocolates. A Halloween cupcake or two from Magnolia bakery...

And, oh yes, a visit to the patisserie Laduree...maker of arguably some of the finest macaroons in the city (well, at the very least, a solid tie with Maison du Chocolat's macaroons, my heretofore top choice). Laduree often has a long line out the door, but we lucked out on a rainy Saturday, and it was only a few moments in this charming shop before we were laden with fluffy, slightly chewy macaroons that justified the price tag.

How, you may ask, was I still walking at this point, having ingested quite a swath of edible delight? Well, for the sake of science and research, I carried on, somehow. Perhaps it was the lure of pu-pu's and martinis at Salon Ning, the rooftop lounge atop the Peninsula hotel? No drink tastes bad when looking down on the lights of Fifth Avenue!

That said, there was at least one attempt at penance. Although the usually serene and lovely St. Patrick's Cathedral is so heavily under construction that it was not quite its normal self.

And truth be told of my visit to St. Patricks, I was still dressed for was very nice about not tackling me in the aisles for my choice of stockings.

Last on the weekend's list of indulgences was a trip to the Met to see an exhibit of Victorian mourning clothes. Absolutely beautiful clothing, all in jet black and black-tinged appropriately macabre display for Halloween.

So, NYC, let us say au revoir, until we feast again!

Salon Ning:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rosebud Diner: At last, the pie gods are sated!

The Rosebud has been rebooted! The iconic diner car restaurant of Davis Square has been reopened to much fanfare. Although presently only dishing up dinner, it will soon be serving lunch and brunch with much aplomb. But why, you may ask, would the Bakery Babe be fiddling about with an upscale gastro diner with green leather-tufted bar stools, designer lighting, and no shortage of hipster patrons?

The answer is simple. Pie.

Regular readers of the Bakery Babe will know that my summer pie quest, although diligent, did not end in a particularly satisfying way. The pie gods were not sated, and I remained unable to recommend a place in Boston for truly good pie...until now. The Rosebud's dessert menu is largely comprised of pie. And although there are some tweaks to the classics, it is more-or-less the kind of pie that you imagine would be served at Grandma's kitchen table circa 1950.

Having been invited by my foodie conspirator to have a pie tasting, I found myself hard pressed not to plant my face into billowing whipped cream and thick, honest-to-goodness chocolate pudding in the chocolate cream pie, with a crust that was soft, a little chewy, and very satisfying. I fear my face may have been speckled with chocolate in my enthusiastic devouring. But we had two more kinds to try, and I expected what you find at most restaurants and bakeries: the same crust filled with different toppings. But the Rosebud treats each of these desserts like its own little kingdom, and the crust for the apple cherry ginger pie had a sweet layer of caramelization on top that perfectly enclosed soft apples, tart cherries, and little gems of ginger. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I was verging quite close to sugar nirvana.

And for the unusual and alluring grapefruit caramel meringue pie, I found a crumbly, sweet cookie crust housing a grapefruity custard, topped with cloud-like pillows of meringue...that truth be told did not taste like tasted like a mountain of marshmallows that had been toasted to glorious perfection. How they are turning a profit by charging only $6 a slice for gourmet pie, I don't know, but I hope they keep it up!

And also of note, cocktails are a specialty at the Rosebud. I can report that their mocktail Blueberry Collins is excellent.

So, Boston, you have your answer at last. If you're in the mood for a heavenly pie jag, make the trek out to Davis Square and grab a seat at the Rosebud Diner. It's well worth the trip!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fenway, America the Beautiful...and veggie dogs?

Baseball mystifies me. My opinions on baseball are limited to critiquing the beards and bell-bottom pants that seem to be part of the modern baseball uniform. Am I the only one who misses those knickers that came to the knee, and clean-shaven guys looking snappy at bat? The Red Sox seem to have enough collective facial hair to weave a roof to cover Fenway.

But no matter! Suffice it to say that I did not expect my visit to Fenway to be life-changing. But I felt it was my duty as a Bostonian to at least investigate. So, with my $8 ticket, off I went to Kenmore on the Green line, into the carnival that is Yawkey Way. For those new to Fenway, Yawkey Way is a little street outside the main entrance to Fenway, wherein you will find concession stands, guys on stilts, brass bands, and stores with Red Sox goodies.

But I was saving my stomach for the concession stands inside Fenway. You see, I'd been told that the crucial things to have at Fenway are peanuts, a beer, and a dog. And since normal dogs aren't an option, I'd done a little research and found that one concession stand in the entirety of Fenway sells veggie dogs. It is hidden far off in the corner of the concession strip, almost as if it is hiding in embarrassment. And truth be told, I was expecting something that deserved shameful exile. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a fair sized dog, with a nice bun, and except for a slightly mushy interior, it was perfectly edible once it was loaded up with condiments.

Had I been behaving, I would have followed expert advice and eaten this with a beer and a packet of peanuts. But I was sucked in elsewhere, and ended up with onion rings (tasty), a slice of pizza (nothing special), and an 8 oz cup of soda that cost $5. The prices at Fenway are ear bleeding. I paid $26 for lunch. And another $6 for watery-tasting ice cream in a little plastic Red Sox hat.

If were I basing my experience in Fenway on gastronomics, I would have come home a slightly sulky Babe. But the minute I walked into the arena, to thousands of excited Red Sox fans, I realized why this place has such a special place in Boston's heart.

There is something about Fenway that feels old, in a good way. Sit in one of the wood seats, and it isn't too hard to imagine that it is 1912, the year Fenway opened. Add to that the sheer enthusiasm of Red Sox fans, and you have a really special experience. Even up in the worst bleacher seats, people were cheering and decked out in Red Sox hats.

On the day I went, a veteran with prosthetic limbs threw the first pitch. And when the microphone died on the policeman singing the National Anthem, the entire stadium pitched in and helped him finish the song. For those cynical about patriotism, an afternoon in Fenway will remind you of the better part of America. Sounds too corny, you say? Go to Fenway. See if you don't cry during the National Anthem. See if you don't come away feeling like you understand Boston a little better. Trust me, you will have a blast, even if you're a Yankees fan!

For those who don't want to go during a game, you can take a tour of Fenway on non-game days and learn about the history of the place.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Boston Swan Boats and Sofa Cafe

Occasionally, and for no defensible reason, I will reject a touristy activity out of hand, look askance at it, and keep walking with a grinchy pucker on my face. This usually occurs when a long line and a phalanx of crying kids in strollers are staring me down. And I'm embarrassed to admit that is the reason I haven't been on the swan boats before this. But today being a sunny, beautiful day, one of the last of summer, I decided now was the time to investigate. Walking through the commons, I stopped at my favorite fountain.

And sure enough, waiting for me at the swan hut was the expected sea of tourists and baby strollers. But I decided to ignore the impulse to flee, on the off chance that I'd been missing something wonderful for all these years.

Mr. Bird

I waited in line for about twenty minutes, paid three dollars for my place on the swan boat, and found that as I sat on the old-fashioned wood bench, Mr. Swan peeking over my shoulder, a sense of peace and relaxation was imminent. Perhaps it is the fact that the swan boats do not have motors; they are powered by one person pedaling at the rear of the boat. The effect is quiet floating around a shallow pond that affords lovely views of water, trees, and the Boston skyline beyond that.

You will float by a myriad of ducks, including a little island where they roost. As I began to actually relax with the sparkly water and the blue sky and the sensation of having nothing much to do except watch the gardens go by, I wished that 1. I had an icy beverage in my hand. and 2. that I'd done this years ago. The swan boats really do have a unique feel of being longtime residents of the gardens, and having been there for 130 years, they count as tradition. As long as you are spry enough on your feet to walk from the pier onto the boat, and have three dollars to spare, I highly recommend the swan boats.

Having had my happy Boston sight-seeing moment, I headed down Newbury Street, stopping in oh-so-briefly for a mind-blowing banana split cupcake at Georgetown Cupcakes.

But I saved enough room for coffee. Because Sofa Cafe has opened on Newbury, and I'd heard that their coffee is a religious experience.

This little subterranean cafe is the flagship American version of a cafe that has done really well in Brazil. There is a sofa, pretty purple walls, and a retro spaceship of coffee making at the counter.

They have drinks like the Cult, comprised of espresso, milk, Nutella, and baileys creamer, or the Ventura, which is an iced coffee with a twist of lime. But I settled on the affogato, a scoop of ice cream (vanilla or chocolate) covered with a shot of espresso, topped with whipped cream.

It was made with care by the barista, accompanied by a little heart cookie and a small shot glass of bubbly water to wash it all down with. It was one of those embarrassing moments when I find myself making little lip-smacking noises in public. The ice cream melts into the strong espresso, creating a foamy cup of delish...and with the whipped cream and cookie, it felt like I'd ordered a gourmet dessert rather than a drink. I'll grant you, this could easily have gone wrong if it wasn't done with care and good ingredients. But trust me, you want one of these for your afternoon coffee break. The display case of edibles was modest, and is stocked by the Danish Pastry House. As far as I'm concerned, it's the beverages that should take center stage here.

Note: The swan boats are generally very stable, but I noticed that as we disembarked, it got a little wobbly from everyone standing up at once. If you're bringing small kids, make sure you hold hands for that part.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Huzzah! Abigail Adams Tea Room: Adventures at the Boston Tea Party Museum

It should be stated straight away that I am not adverse to tourist kitsch. But I will admit that as I took the T to South Station and made the short walk to the Boston Tea Party Museum, I knew I had 80 percent odds that the baked goods from the Abigail Adams Tea Room were going to be a disaster. It rarely occurs that touristy places offer up good eats. But believe it or not, when searching for tea rooms in Boston, this is the only one I could find. So in I went to the museum, which is located on the Congress Street bridge.

The first thing I noticed is that everyone who works here, even the people at the cash register, are obliged to go about their business in costumes, and say "HUZZAH!" after nearly every sentence. You can even buy glasses with "HUZZAH!" written on them. This is the moment where, as a former historian, I knew I could either start twitching or roll with it. I chose the latter. And guess what? I had a great time!

The tea room itself is quite large and pretty, with hardwood floors, chandeliers, and big windows that look out directly onto the ships that comprise the museum. The small selection of baked goods are presented cafeteria style. In looking over the prices ($3.50 for a cookie, $4 for a scone) I bumped up my odds to 95% that I was about to be disappointed in the taste department.

But fortune favors the bold, and I selected a cinnamon scone that came with little tinfoil packets of butter and strawberry jelly. There was to be no clotted cream, no china pots of homemade jam. Sigh. Well, I took my $4 scone, which they warmed up, and bought the $2 tea tasting. Essentially, for $2 you can have as much of the five selections of tea as you like. If you chip in $4 more, they give you a little souvenir tea mug in which to taste. Each of the tea blends are deliberately selected by the tea room as being relevant or reminiscent of tea at the time of the Boston Tea Party (they have their own Abigail blend). And yes, there were only little plastic pods of milk and packets of flowered bowls of sugar or silver cream servers. Ah, me. What has become of tea time, I ask you? But as I bit into a surprisingly tasty scone with little pockets of cinnamon, and had some very nice cups of tea, I watched the boats go by along the harbor walk and saw the actors on the tea ships entertaining the visitors (a reliable stream of Huzzah! was heard), and I realized that for $6 (the price of a venti this-and-that at Starbucks), I was sitting in a unique, interesting spot, having a nice treat, and enjoying a great view of the water. At 2 p.m. on a Saturday, I had the tea room to myself, and I have to suspect it's a bit of a hidden gem. There is even a little veranda where you can sit outside and inhale the scent of the sea, and peek down into the tea party ships (Huzzah!)

From what I could see of the antics down on the tea ship (actors give a speech and then visitors can toss "tea" over the side of the ship), this is the kind of "museum" where kids will have a blast. And the gift shop is actually the nicest souvenir shop I've seen in Boston. They have tea cozies, tea towels, little ships in bottles, reproductions of tea party newspapers, quill pens, colonial hats, and some very wry shirts.

If you want to shake up your coffee break, or bring visitors to a place that they can't see anywhere else, I definitely recommend Abigail Adams Tea Room. It's the right kind of kitsch.

Logistics: You don't need to pay museum admission if you're just going to have tea. The entrance to the museum is the gift shop. You walk through the shop, onto a walkway that goes up to the tea room. You may see old reviews online that show a set service of tea goodies, but these days, you buy things by the item at the tea room.