New York Welcomes Karla to the Lower East Side with Dinner at Chibitini and “Cakes of Cup” at Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery

March 8, 2006 | By | COMMENTS

Lisa’s friend Karla moved to New York this past Thursday from Cincinnati, Ohio for the reason many people move to New York from Cincinnati, Ohio: she testified against an Ohio crime boss and now must live in hiding, forbidding even the most adoring of her new New York friends to take her picture for fear she may be brutally killed. Here she is with Lisa at Chibitini on the Lower East Side (near her new home–pay attention, mob boss!) toasting her arrival with Chibitini’s signature drink: the Chibitini.

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The Chibitini is made of plum wine and vodka and features a strange condiment that was later identified as a pickled plum. I found it disturbingly salty though I enjoyed my Chibitini. How did we wind up at Chibitini? There’s only one way to find out…

When word arrived that Lisa and I would be supping with Karla on Saturday night and that the supping would take place on the Lower East Side, I did what I always do: I put on my “control freak” hat and proceeded to research, quite diligently, eating establishments on the Lower East Side in order to compose a list by which we could maximize our enjoyment and minimize the hassle of finding a place to eat.

Ultimately, I concluded, that our evening would have to end at the Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery since Clotilde adored it so much when she came to visit New York and since I’d never been there. That out of the way, I used user reviews on menupages to narrow my search for the pre-cupcake portion of the evening and Chibitini–which I’d never heard of–seemed vastly appealing. [I'd quote some of the gushy quotes but menupages is down at this moment.]

So here it is, the sign for Chibitini:

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I enjoy the graphic design of the sign which is amusing because Karla, when not avoiding mob bosses, is a graphic designer. I wonder what she thinks of the design of the sign? That sounds like Prince’s “Sign o’the Times.” The design of the sign is a sign o’the times. [Sorry, crack fumes just flooded my apartment.]

The interior of Chibitini is small and cozy:

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[Obviously that picture is still exterior, but you may get a sense of the scale.]

When we entered, the place was packed so we thought we’d have to turn away but the hostess (who, incidentally, was also the waitress and maybe even the cook!) (no, not really, she wasn’t the cook) said we could sit at the counter. I’m never one to turn down a counter seat though some friends I have refuse to sit at a counter. Luckily, Lisa and Karla aren’t those friends so we took the hostess/waitress up on her offer.

At the counter, we were immediately presented with Asian snack mix, which I proceeded to take a blurry picture of:

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“Mmm,” I said, snacking on one of the many Asian snack mix pieces. “Try the green one.”

“I can’t,” said Karla. “I’m allergic to sesame!”

Lisa then tried to forcefeed Karla a piece of sesame causing Karla to choke, dramatically:

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Lisa revealed that she worked for the mob boss and we all had a good laugh.

Then, as pictured in the lead photo on this post, we ordered Chibitinis. And, as also mentioned, the Chibitinis had a pickled plum in them. I thought these were lychees until I tried it. Again, it was super salty and as unlycheelike as you can get:

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As an appetizer, we shared mushroom dumplings.

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These were very tasty though they were our second choice dumplings. We wanted to try the pumpkin dumplings but they’d run out.

Then a huge amount of time passed between the dumplings and our entrees. This was ok, though, because the place was packed and the one waitress had to handle all the tables. On the wall, we observed a picture of a French bull dog and apparently there is a French bull dog in residence that runs around the restaurant. But he never emerged from the kitchen.

I should also point out that early on in the evening a man came in by himself and sat next to us at the counter. This was awkward because there were only 4 stools at the counter, we filled 3 of them, and he became the 4th. He wasn’t there to meet new people, though. He was there to flirt with the waitress. We couldn’t tell if the waitress flirted with him back.

“That’s weird,” declared Lisa, when the man left later in the night. “It’s weird to come to a restaurant by yourself on a Saturday night to flirt with a waitress who maybe doesn’t like you back.”

Karla nodded her approval.

Just then, our entrees arrived. Entrees at Chibitini are served in boxes. [The title of this post was going to be "Little Boxes" after that song they use on the opening of "Weeds." Lisa says Tom Lehrer wrote it but I don't believe her. (I could Google it but I'm too lazy.)]

My box is a tuna box:

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It has–clockwise from upper left–endive salad, green salad, seared tuna, salmon tartare and rice–wonderful rice steamed in green tea.

“Oooh, this rice is so good,” I said. “Oh and the tuna.”

Lisa enjoyed her tofu steak and Karla seemed to enjoy her steak-wrapped asparagus. Though once she tried my tuna her face flooded with emotion: “I made a terrible mistake,” she said.

“You shouldn’t have ratted out big Joey?”

“No, I should’ve had the tuna.”

After we finished we navigated our way to Sugar Sweet Sunshine to enjoy “cakes of cup” (as Karla called them).

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This place was teeming as a popular cake-of-cup place should on a Saturday night. We approached the counter and studied our options:

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At first, this appeared to be a Billy’s Bakery or Magnolia type cupcake situation: with choices limited to chocolate or vanilla. But when I declared my intent to eat vanilla Lisa said: “But Adam, look at all the amazing options you’re missing on the lower shelves.”

It was there I saw a huge variety of flavors that left me a bit overwhelmed. “I’m a bit overwhelmed,” I declared and Lisa said: “Here’s what we’ll do: why don’t you get pistachio and I’ll get pumpkin and we can share.”

“What about me?” asked Karla, sadly.

“You’re allergic to nuts,” Lisa reminded her.

So Karla ordered a vanilla. And here are our cupcakes lined up in a row:

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That’s Karla’s vanilla (with green frosting), my pistachio and Lisa’s pumpkin.

Now a word on tasting these. I didn’t taste Karla’s but she enjoyed hers. Biting into my pistachio I must say that the first words out of my mouth were: “Ugh, I don’t like this.”

The reason I said this was that the frosting, while neatly applied, tasted just like butter. Not buttercream, but butter. Whipped butter. The cake, however, was fluffy and lovingly perfumed. Then I tried Lisa’s and fell in love: the pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting was expertly done. Lisa tried the pistachio and agreed it tasted like butter.

At 11 PM they kicked us out–”we’re closing,” they informed us–and we walked Karla back to her apartment. It was there that Karla taught me something that will REVOLUTIONIZE the way this site works: I can record video on my regular camera, upload it in iPhoto, post it on YouTube and embed it on the site for all to see. This is revolutionary!

Here’s a quick video I made soon after learning this in which Karla is going to show us how to load videos on to Snapfish (this was before the YouTube discovery) and Lisa peels paint off her desk:

Ok, so the video isn’t remarkable but the technology is! Wait ’til you see the next post…

So thanks for the tip, Karla, and welcome to New York. When you get the dead fish in your mailbox tomorrow let me know: I have a great recipe.

Categories: Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • p

    that looks like a bento set, a very delicious one…

  • Nina

    lol @ the pickled plum. At least you didn’t mistake the wasabi for ice cream. The boxes you saw are bentou boxes, which are commonly used in Japan to pack lunches (very cute lunches, I may add).

  • http://fingerineverypie.typepad.com Julie

    I like the look of dinner at Chibitini, although I might take a pass on the pickled plum-tini. And I have to confess that I really don’t like Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I find their stuff way too sweet and the icings too gritty with undissolved powdered sugar.

    FYI — Little Boxes is a song written by a remarkable folk singer, the late Malvina Reynolds, sometime in the sixties or seventies, I think, as a spoof on the pre-packaged, seemingly-identitical lives that people lived in their pre-fab, look-alike communities.

  • Joey B

    Interesting about your vanilla fixation. Vaninlla scent has been shown to produce strong sexual response in males.

    Come to think of it, maybe I should dab on some extract the next time I go out. :-)

  • http://www.roboppy.net/food Robyn

    I tried the pistachio cupcake once last year and thought it was good, but a few days ago a friend told me of it’s blech butter frosting. Weird…it definitely didn’t taste like that before. The only uber-buttery frosting cupcake I’ve had was from Cupcake Cafe. I like most things from SSS; only the red velvet turned me off (I swear it tasted like…nothing).

  • Shelly

    The pickled plum in your drink looks like an umeboshi…my (Japanese) grandmother used to make rice balls with them in the center. They are SO sour!!!

  • Vicki

    Love your posts and photos about food, especially food in NYC, but more importantly, would you ask Lisa if she is Lisa Gilbert from Cincinnati, whose father is Jay and mother is Carolyn??? If so, please tell her hello from Vicki in Florida, mother of Calvin, Madeleine and Patrick…. if she is not, oops.

  • http://www.gastronomie-sf.com Fatemeh

    TOOOOO funny!! We walked in to Chibitini after our dinner at wd-50 for a drink.

    It wasn’t until we got to the door that we realized that Chibi is, in fact, a French Bulldog.

    At that point, we got kinda stalkerish, and kept asking when Chibi would show up. She never did (she was holdin’ down the fort at Chibi’s bar).

    As we walked out, though, there was a Frenchie in the door way and we yelled, “CHIBI!!!”, and the guy walking him said, “No, NOT Chibi. This is Rocco”.

    I think we scared him, so we told him that we just missed our own Frenchies back home in San Francisco. He still thought we were a little creepy, so we bid him good night.