Even though I shipped my cooking gear here to New York before arriving in September, things have been so busy and crazy it’s been difficult to find time behind the stove. When I get back from the west coast leg of my book tour (I leave tomorrow!) I have a lot of cooking I want to do; in the meantime, I’ve been checking many places off my New York “must eat” list. Here’s one of the best.

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Room 4 “Room 4 Dessert”


Way before Bill Buford wrote about “Room 4 Dessert” in last week’s New Yorker, Diana and I had been planning a visit there. “Let’s go to Room 4 Dessert,” we’d say to each other on a cold winter’s night. We’d both read about it in various publications and knew that the two of us, two self-proclaimed dessert lovers, would really enjoy a zany dessert tasting menu. We had every reason to go and yet we never went: Room 4 Dessert was a phrase tossed around, the constant late-night activity option that never quite materialized. That is until we finished our dim sum dinner, profiled below, and realized two things: (1) we’d only spent $6 each (Chinatown is cheap!), (2) we were still hungry.

“Hey!” I said with great enthusiasm and an exclamation mark. “Tonight’s the night! Let’s go to Room 4 Dessert!”

“I gotta go,” said Kirk, who rushed home to play video games.

But James’s interest was piqued. “My interest is piqued,” he said. “I’ll come along.”

And I’m glad he did, not only for his company but for a really cool picture he took of Will Goldfarb, the chef/owner of “Room 4 Dessert,” and the man profiled in Bill Buford’s article.

First, though, there was the getting there. Getting there was tough because we didn’t have directions and 4-1-1 didn’t know what we were talking about. “What are you talking about?” 411 asked. They’d never heard of Room 4 Dessert. (Will Goldfarb take note: you need to get yourself listed on 411.) So James called one of his friends to look it up online and finally directions were had and we navigated our way there in the windy, drizzly night.

Once inside, a host sat us at the long–the very long–bar. That’s one thing Bill Buford didn’t quite capture in his article: the length of the restaurant. I imagined a few stools in a tiny room. But, no, it’s truly a long space with lots of room for late night dessert seekers. And when we arrived the bar was pretty jamming. We sat about half-way in, on tall metal stools that were slightly uncomfortable. (Will Goldfarb take note: your stools are slightly uncomfortable.)

A waitress presented us with menus and James, Diana and I had fun reading the choices. There were four tasting menus to choose from, each on a different theme. There was the red theme (which James chose), the pistachio theme (which Diana chose), a chocolate theme (which no one chose, thank God, because I think chocolate people are boring), and the “Pique Nique Springtemps” which I chose. I also ordered coffee which was promptly delivered, though the water we asked for took some time.

Now, for James’s picture. James, as you may remember, is a talented photographer with a very cool website. He carries around an SLR camera and as Will Goldfarb himself delivered our desserts, James snapped this picture:


“I’m going to have to see the proofs of those pictures,” said Will Goldfarb. We laughed because we thought he was kidding. He wasn’t kidding.

“No, seriously,” he said. “We have people coming in taking pictures and the next thing you know they wind up on the internet.”

There was an awkward pause and suddenly I found myself doing what I rarely do, pulling back my Batman mask and revealing my secret identity.

“Well I should tell you,” I said, “I actually have a food website. I was going to profile this place on there but if you don’t want me to—”

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s called The Amateur Gourmet.”

“Oh ya,” he said. “I think I’ve seen it. What would I have seen on your site?”

“Ummm,” I said. “I did the Janet Jackson breast cupcake?”

Awkward pause.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think it was that.”

“Well, anyway,” I said. “If you don’t want me to write about it–”

“No, it’s ok,” he said. “I was just joking around. Are you a cook?”

“No,” I explained. “I’m an amateur.”

“Well you should come cook here,” he offered. “We have a Jewish mysticist who works here and he’s an amateur too.”

(The offer was quite tempting. I wonder if I should take him up on it?)

We shot the breeze for a while and I had fun talking to him, even as he scampered around to see to other customers, to deliver food, and–apparently–to see to the bathroom which he takes great pride in, according to the article.

But while Will is scampering around, let’s see to the food. Here’s my Pique Nique Springtemps:


From left to write you will see (as written down by me on the inside of an Orbitz gum package): “Sandwich Tomato, Grapefruit and White Beard Cloud, Earl Grey Blue Eyes Panna Cotta, Rhubarb Salad.”

From left to right it tasted: just ok, amazing, awe-inspiring, and wonderfully refreshing. Seriously, the cloud and the panna cotta were wonders to behold: gloriously light and flavorful, complex, funny, amusing, tongue-ticklers. I was in heaven, until I started trying Diana’s and James’s food too:


See the pistachio cake (a financier?) on Diana’s plate? I demolished as much as I could of that while Diana was looking away: it transported me to wondrous places, private places, places you don’t go writing your parents about. And James had a raspberry meringue that melted on the tongue with mystery and magic. We were in Wonkaland and there was Willy showing more customers in.

When he returned to us, we talked about the internet backlash (if you could call it that) regarding Bill Buford’s article, in particular this rant about the accuracy of Buford’s facts, namely that dessert didn’t exist until recently.

“Just because they ate fruit or something at the end of a meal doesn’t mean it was dessert,” said Will. “He was talking about the restaurant dessert, which is a very different thing.”

We all agreed and then asked for our check which, considering the wonderful dessert we had (the quality of which certainly compares to desserts at Daniel, Jean-Georges and Per Se), was incredibly reasonable—$12 per tasting menu. $12! That’s a steal.

So should you find yourself in Chinatown on a Friday night, or anywhere near by, wander down to 17 Cleveland Place and allow yourself to be enchanted by the wizardry of Will Goldfarb. Just ask first before you take pictures.

The City of Brotherly Eating: Cornelia Street Cafe, Little Charlie’s Clam Bar, Ferrara, The New Sarabeth’s

After surprising my mom on Mother’s Day (see video!), I have returned to New York along with my co-conspirator and fraternal non-twin, brother Michael. He is staying at my apartment on the pull-out couch–complaining, already, of a torn sheet. Here is an account of our eating adventures thus far.

Yesterday, our plane landed around 2. Michael’s was one of the first suitcases off (mine was a carry-on) so we hopped in a cab and made our way to my apartment. We were starving. All I’d eaten was Rice Krispies. I was intent on taking Michael to Pearl Oyster Bar so he could have a $22 lobster roll. We dropped our bags off at my apartment, said hi to the kitty, and hopped on the subway down to West 4th. We ran as fast as we could to Cornelia Street. “Here it is!” I declared, excitedly. And then I saw the upside down chairs on the bar. I stepped inside and asked a distant barman if they were open: “We close at 2:30 and reopen at 6,” he said cooly.

Crushed, I assured Michael there were many other fine dining options on Cornelia Street. (He doubted me after I sprung Home on him last time.) “Why look,” I said, “There’s the Cornelia Street Cafe.”

Now’s a good time to mention just how beautiful the weather’s been today and yesterday. Honestly, these were two of the nicest days I’ve ever experienced. So the Cornelia Street Cafe was perfect: you could eat outside. I chose a table that straddled the inside and the outside. A waitress brought us menus. I told her we were starved, could we have some bread? “After you order, yes,” she replied. I suppose that’s their policy in case homeless people pretend they’re ordering food and just eat bread. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worn my garbage bag hat.

I ordered a delicious chicken baguette sandwich and Michael had the black sesame-crusted salmon. Here he is modeling the food:


See the outside next to him? Indeed, it’s a lovely place to eat on a nice day. But also notice the iced tea. I had one, so did he. We asked for refills and they brought us two new glasses. That means they’re going to charge you. $2.50 each. I hate it when they do that: when I order iced tea, I expect that refills are free. That’s my only main bone to pick.

Moving on, then, we returned to my apartment where I did laundry and cleaned and made the place welcoming to my brotherly guest, and Michael watched TV and acquainted himself with the cat. Soon it came time for dinner.

“Well,” I began, “We could go to the Spotted Pig…they have this amazing dish, gnuddi…or we can go to Hearth…or try something new like Prune…”

“I’m sick of you picking everything,” Michael said, “Why can’t we go somewhere I want to go?”

A stunned silence.

“Fine then,” I responded, “Where do you want to go?”

“Little Italy!” he declared with conviction.

“Oh Michael,” I began in full snob-mode, “Nobody goes to Little Italy: it’s for tourists. The real Little Italy’s on Arthur Avenue. The Little Italy you’re thinking of is like Olive Garden Village.”

“That’s where I want to go,” he insisted.

So I went on Chowhound and typed in Little Italy. Sure enough my sentiments were echoed on their pages: the words “Olive Garden” and “tourists” showed up frequently.

“See,” I beamed, “I told you…”

“I don’t care, let’s just go there and walk around.”

Go somewhere and just walk around? Try to eat without a pre-determined dining destination? Never! So I investigated further and finally found a Little Italy post on Chowhound that suggested an actual good eating spot: Little Charlie’s Clam Bar.

Here’s the post. It says: “Consider Little Charlie’s Clam Bar at 19 Kenmare Street. This is NOT a tourist place and serves excellent Italian Seafood such as Calamari, Linguine with Clam Sauce (white, of course), Scungilli and many other excellent dishes.”

“Ok, Michael,” I said with delight, “To Little Italy we go.”

Finding Little Charlie’s wasn’t that hard. We just took the N/R down to Prince, walked down to Spring, walked over to the Bowery and walked down one block. It was on the right. Here’s Michael buzzing with Little Italy excitement: (we were actually North of Little Italy proper)


Once inside, I immediately warmed up to the idea of this place. Red and white checked table cloths, two bustling waiters/hosts, and a clientele that looked discerning and definitely non-touristy. We were presented with bread and spicy tomato sauce. After dipping the bread in, my mouth caught on fire and I chugged some water. “Spicy!” I said. “It’s nothing,” bragged Michael.

“Ok,” I said, “Let’s have a contest. Let’s both eat a small spoonful and the first to take a drink afterwards loses.”

“You’re on,” he said, posing for a spoony picture.


We took our spoons, our scoops, and slurps. Moments passed. My eyes began to tear; Michael cracked his knuckles. I tore at the table cloth, Michael whistled. After 13 seconds, I could bare it no longer and sucked down some water, bread and wine. (That’s Chianti we’re drinking, by the way.)

Now for the menu. I kept in mind the Chowhound post and stuck with seafood. Michael longed for Chicken Parmesan so he ordered that. The prices, I should say, were surprisingly high. So this isn’t a good place if you’re wearing your homeless hat.

We ordered a clam appetizer to start (after all, it’s a clam bar). Here’s our baked clams oreganato:


The primary substance on that plate is cheese—paremesan cheese.* There’s also oil, garlic, and bread crumbs. The clams were small but incredibly fresh. We had three clams each then mopped up the rest with bread. A nice overture to our meal.

(*I now wonder if that is indeed Parmesan cheese because it occurred to me that Italians don’t mix fish and cheese. It felt like Paremsan cheese but maybe it was just really fine bread crumbs? Please forgive my ignorance.)

Then for the entrees. Have you ever seen one of my all-time-favorite movies, “Defending Your Life”? Remember that scene in the Judgment City Italian restaurant where the portions are huge and they force upon Albert Brooks nine pies? Take a look at this picture:


In your wildest imagination, I don’t think you could conjure up more food heaped upon a plate. My linguine with white clam sauce photographed really well, didn’t it? Look how it’s studded with fresh clams and garlic and parsley and sauce. Michael’s, on the other hand, looks like a heap of tomato sauce, chicken, and cheese. Actually, it just looks like a plate of cheese.

“Good luck!” said the waiter, winking. Who could eat all this?!

I actually got pretty far with mine. It really was one of the best linguine with white clam sauces I ever had. The clams were SO fresh—I knew they were because they were all of different sizes and consistences. And not a grain of sand to be had which I was SO grateful for: that’s the worst thing ever, when you bite into a clam and there’s sand…it’s awful. But that didn’t happen.

Michael devoured his as best he could—he actually got pretty far too. When I went to wake him up this morning, I pulled the covers back only to find a huge pile of melted mozzarella. “Noooo!” I screamed as Italian opera music played.

Now, after imbibing a meal such as this, what’s the logical next step? Rush to the hospital for a stomach pump? Not us! No, we went for a dessert chaser at Ferrara’s.

Let me tell you about Ferrara’s. When I lived in New York four summers ago, my friend Dana and I went to the original Ferrara’s which was small and cute and had great coffee. Now it’s changed location and become like a flourescent light drawing in mothloads of tourists who goggle at the prepackaged Ferrara chocolates and biscottis. But we thought we’d give it a shot and, I have to say, despite the feel in there (it’s like EPCOT Italy) the desserts were pretty good. I had a ricotta cheesecake and Michael had a chocolate truffle cake: (you can click this picture and make it larger, if you want)


I first learned of ricotta cheesecake from the Chez Panisse cookbook. I made a miniature version once in a coffee mug (remember that?), but I’ve never had the real deal. I’m actually not sure this WAS the real deal: it felt like it had a good deal of regular cream cheese in it too. (It was so smooth.) But I enjoyed it, and Michael enjoyed his cake. Maybe Ferrara’s hasn’t fallen too deep into the caverns of commercialism.

Finally, what better way to wake up after a night of heavy eating, than to a decadent breakfast at Sarabeth’s Kitchen? I realize I’ve reviewed Sarabeth’s before, but this time I’m reviewing a new location. They just opened up (and I mean just–they opened last week!) on Central Park South, right near where my parents stay. Here’s the new location and a lady looking at the menu:


More importantly, here’s what I ate: a pumpkin waffle! (I may have had this last time, but I didn’t have my fancy camera then, so now you get to enjoy this zesty picture):


Fun Waffle Fact 1: That’s not whipped cream, that’s sour cream!

Fun Waffle Fact 2: That’s not syrup, that’s honey!

Also: it’s studded with raisins and pumpkin seeds. Not your every day waffle!

I loved it. It’s sophisticated yet savory, smart yet silly, country yet western. Michael, dumbly, ordered LUNCH food, even though they’re known for their breakfast.

But actually, he liked his Caesar salad and club sandwich. A woman next to us had tomato soup and said it was the best tomato soup she ever had.

The ultimate glory moment brings our story full circle. Remember how they charged us for four iced teas at Cornelia Street Cafe? Well here Michael ordered a coffee to start ($2.50), changed his mind (after drinking the cup) and asked for an iced tea ($3), and then asked for a refill after which they brought him a new glass (presumably, 3 more $). He potentially drank $8.50 in beverages, yet when the check came they only charged him for the coffee! That’s my kind of restaurant.

Mom and dad are here now and we’ll be fine dining, as per usual, all over the city—though this time mom’s taken the upper hand–ignoring my highly informed where-to-eat input. Two places are new for us, one’s a repeat, plus lunches and food adventures to come. If anyone wants to lend me their stomach for the weekend, I’d be much obliged…mine’s about to hit red alert…