Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.

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Monday: Whoopie Pie in the Sky

My first whoopie pie. An Isamax Snacks “original”-style Wicked Whoopie Pie, which means two chocolate cake discs stuffed with enough cream filling to set off a classroom of children like firecrackers, let alone one bleary-eyed girl, 28,000 feet high in the sky, at 7 o’clock in the morning. (Is that what makes it “wicked”?)

photo-11Mine is slightly smooshed from the transport, which means I’ve lost some of the cream filling to the crevices of its crinkled plastic wrapper forever. I’m not worried, just patient. I cat-nap until the beverage service comes around, because nothing cuts through that cloying-ly sweet frosting — you know, the kind that sends sharp, little tingles up into your bones — like stoic, acidic, citrus juice. Think about it: Why else does lemonade go down so well at birthday parties?

The verdict: It was so messy. It was processed cake-y, registering only slightly more homemade than a Hostess Ding-Dong or a Hoho. And on frosting steriods — an instant sugar high, tingly bone sensations and all.

… Although I’m fairly certain I caught the man reviewing his Powerpoint presentation next to me sneaking a glance. This is not normal Monday morning flight behavior. Was his look one of jealousy, or disgust? I was too absorbed in my own Wicked Whoopie world to tell.

The Portland, ME Edition: Rosemont Market & Bakery, Can I Please Take You Home Now?

It’s probably fair, Rosemont Market & Bakery, to say that you had me at hello.

photo-3photo-1First (chance) encounter: You were pointed out to me by my friend and host, who is also an infinitely knowledgeable all-things-Portland guide, as we walked past on our way to brunch up the street at The Front Room. We stopped; I had to go inside. I made a quick circle, noting the cheese case, the crates of local blueberries and the New England beer selection. I knew I would be back.

photo-4Second (intentional) encounter: Sure enough, I found my way back, all by myself, later that day. I came with the intention (guise?) of picking up a few some things to make a light crab salad with my prized Harbor Fish Market purchase — that sweet, sweet crabmeat from Wood’s Seafood (Bucksport, ME) — while my friend/host/infinitely knowledgeable guide went training for her triathlon. Instead, I fell head-over-heels for the price point and the boutique-ness of the wine nook, fawned some more over the fresh, locally-grown (and so cheap!) produce, and end up accidentally buying dinner:

photo-5$6, qt. of homemade gazpacho
$2 French baguette, baked in house
$1.49 head of locally-grown bibb lettuce
$0.99 bunch of fresh chives

+
$12.99 giant bottle of La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc (nothing fancy, a blend of Rhône varietals, but I’ve seen a 750 ml costs this much in New York, so on principle I had to buy the magnum)

It’s not really cooking, but my friend/guide /host’s exuberant roommate asked me what I did, so here’s the recipe: Doctor up the gazpacho with chopped green onion, fresh crab, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and pepper. Ditto for the salad, except that I substituted a little Goddess Dressing (Kraft) for the olive oil. Serve with sliced, buttered and oven-toasted baguette points that make the kitchen smell oh-so-good. Pour wine heavily.

photo-7Third (spontaneous) encounter: Sure, I was thinking about you. But little did I know that I’d be back so soon. And then the roommate said, “Let’s walk up and get pastries from Rosemont!”It was said exuberantly.

Um, twist my arm. And this is how I discovered the Sandwich of Sunshine. Yes, literally, that’s what it’s called. The description on the (hand-written) index card goes on to read: “Local sun dried tomato goat cheese, Black Kettle Farm romaine, orange melon and a fruit salad of white peaches, watermelon, mango, basil and lemon yogurt” ($5.50). What? (Befuddlement.) No way. (Denial.) Wait a second … (Illumination breaking). Yes, yes, yes! (Discovery.)

photo-2Fourth (missed) encounter: I intended to stop by one last time on Sunday afternoon to pick up a souvenir, one of the large, plastic Rosemont-labeled spices (which are actually from some spice place in New Hampshire — the pickled fiddleheads would have meant having to check a bag).

I had been vacillating between the mulling spices, the pickling spices and the multi-colored rainbow sprinkles, because how long would it take me to get through 6 oz. of dried dill? (Which begs the question, why would it take me any less time to get through that giant container of sprinkles?)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it back before Rosemont shuttered for the night. Sigh. This is not the first or the last time that I’ve wished I could pack something large and immoveable into my carry-on.

Sunday: Manhattan Circumference Scouting Trip (aka the Epic Bike Ride)

On Sunday, I biked the circumference of Manhattan. Clocking in at almost 35 miles, (including a few errant detours), I wouldn’t exactly call this an eating-centric ride, although we did make some great pit stops.

photo-9What it was, was: Part adventure, part fitness challenge, part remedy to summer island fever — if we didn’t get off the island literally, at least we were in parts we’d never seen before — and a really amazing day.

Our route: We began on the West Side bike path at about Christopher Street, 10:45 a.m. We headed in a counter-clockwise direction for one reason: Oh how sweet it is for the last fifth of the ride to just cruise down that long, curving bike path that runs along the West Side of the island, from nearly 200th Street all the way home. Nearly a straight  shot (no more lumpy island bell curves adding mileage), the sun on your face, virtually flat track. It’s the only way to finish.

On the topic of lumpy island bell curves … the bottom bit is full of them. I thought it outrageous when it was proposed that our first stop would be above 40th Street on the East Side but, in fact, it makes so much sense. Power through, and do it. Slog through that bottom part and take a snack/juice/coffee break once you’re clear of it. There’s still a whole lot of island left.

photophoto-1 Pit Stop no. 1: Orchard House Cafe, E. 58th Street at Fifth First Avenue. What a little gem! I’ve walked within two blocks of here, but had never seen it before. As we rode by, I literally slammed on the breaks — we have to stop here.

It’s a total neighborhood spot: Light meals, coffee stop by day, in the evening it kicks up a notch with wine and miscellaneous entertainment. The food isn’t exactly gourmet, but they bring in from decent sources. My angel food cake “muffin” with a drizzle of lemon frosting on top was so light and fluffy, almost efferescent — the perfect alternative for anyone who is not into hard, dense muffins.

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Pit Stop no. 2: Indian Road Market & Cafe, 218th Street at Indian Road. Indian Road is, essentially, the northern-most road on the island. (There’s a park on top of that that is technically closer to the proverbial tip, but this is the last establishment.)

I love this place! Inside, it’s a coffee shop/specialty market on one side — really great refridgerated case of craft beers — and a proper sit-down restaurant and bar on the other. On weekends, a live pianist gives the place a real sense of class. The staff are delightful.

In the park across the road, we shared a lovely but simple salad spruced up with a side of breakfast sausage (perk of brunch menu). and a couple of bottles of GUS Extra Dry Ginger Ale — so fizzy and refreshing.

photo-8photo-6 Pit Stop no. 3: Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue, W. 131st Street at Riverside Drive. With only about 130 blocks left to go, it was time to celebrate. A giant plate of some of the most giant chicken wings in the city and a bucket of El Presidente beers (6) did the trick — a small meal by Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue standards, but oh so satisfying nonetheless. Powered by beer and wings, we were on cruise mode the rest of the way home.

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Breakfast: Tim Horton’s, Back for More (aka the “Apple Cheese Danish” Post)

I generally have a sense of obligation to try the thing a place is known for on my first visit, something to do with establishing a baseline.

So on my first visit to Tim Horton’s, I ordered a half-order of Tim Horton’s doughnut holes, called Timbits (cute, right?), and an iced latte. (For the record, Timbits are the way to to go to taste all of Tim Horton’s doughnut options for about the same number of calories as one whole doughnut.)

photophoto(2)But even then, my first time ever staring into the case of Canada’s no. 1 doughnut purveyor, the apple cheese danish caught my eye. I went back for it today, and I’m so glad I did. Light, fluffy pastry dough, pretty lattice-work crossing over the a lightly-sweet cinnamon-apple filling and a tangy cream cheese baked inside. Beautifully complimentary flavors; but then again, it was gone so fast I never had a chance to second-guess.

Lunch: Making Something Out of Nothing (aka the Classy Croissant Sandwich Post)

I truly foraged along Eighth Avenue at lunch today:

photoStart. It began with the scavenged remains of last night’s antipasto feast, frisee and a bit of arugula tossed in a sweet balsamic vinegar; a couple of roasted pepper slices; a couple of slices of salami. Out of this bedraggled mess I saw the potential for a sandwich.

Stop no. 1. A local deli salad bar, Amici 36, which, by 2 p.m. the offerings here are looking pretty sorry themselves. I scavenged some red onion slices in a pesto sauce, some roasted asparagus spears, more roasted peppers, two fresh mozzarella slices, fresh greens and a few other stray vegetables that looked appealing. ($2.25) The deli was out of croissants.

Stop no. 2. Hot & Crusty for a croissant, the last in the case. I asked the clerk if she could slice is lengthwise, “like a sandwich.” No plastic ware is going to slice through a delicate, flaky thing like that and not rip it to shreds. ($2.20)

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Finish line. Back at the office, some assembly required, but look at the beautiful sandwich I turned out. A foraged masterpiece.