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The Amateur Gourmet
A.G. Newsletter #28: Amy's Bread, Grand Sichuan, Little Branch, Levain Bakery, Prune (Again!) & A Breakfast of Champions

Hello Good People of the Amateur Gourmet Newsletter,

Confession: even though you are reading this on a Monday morning, I am writing it on Sunday night. This is all part of my mission to get ahead of the week since things are about to get very intense with the book: over the next month and a half I'm heading to Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Atlanta, L.A. and San Francisco and I have a lot of ticket-buying, car-renting and chef-scheduling to do. 

But abandon this newsletter, I shall not! At least not this week.

Let's look at some food I ate recently...

Ya know, Amy's Bread on Bleecker Street is a charming place to grab a quick lunch, only be warned: the cold sandwiches from the refrigerated section? Not so good. The room temperature sandwiches sitting out that they'll heat up for you in a panini press? Very good! My favorite is the New York State Goat Cheese sandwich:

This sandwich has roasted eggplant, roasted tomato, and then some oozy N.Y. state goat cheese. It's a generous amount of goat cheese and the whole thing feels both indulgent and reasonable, just what I look for in an average everyday lunch. (Make sure to have them heat it up for you, though, that's important.)

This week, Craig's sister Kristin was in town and we had long conversations about where she should and shouldn't go eat (whether or not my opinions were solicited is a question of some debate.) Suffice it to say, Kristin did very well: sampling several N.Y. pizzas (I plan to blog more about that this week), popping into Murray's Cheese and City Bakery and even experiencing the most legendary chocolate chip cookie in N.Y.C. (more on that later in the newsletter.)

As for our part, Craig and I made sure to take Kristin to our favorite New York City Chinese restaurant, Grand Sichuan. (See this post about why we love Grand Sichuan.) 

Normally, Craig and I frequent the Grand Sichuan in the East Village (whatever you do, don't go to the one in the West Village: it's terrible!) We also, however, like the Chelsea Grand Sichuan---in fact, the environment is ever so much more charming---and so we took Kristin there on a very cold, blustery night.

Naturally, we started with soup dumplings, which Kristin had never experienced before and which, with a little guidance, she consumed properly: dressing it with the gingered soy sauce, biting off the nipple, blowing inside, carefully sucking out the soup and then gobbling up the rest.

As for our entrees, we tried to order the spicy chicken dish with all the peppers that we always order at the East Village Grand Sichuan:

I believe this is called Chong Qing dry and spicy chicken; though, for some strange reason, this version didn't measure up to the one in the East Village. Whereas that one has a wonderful balance of heat from the chiles and some kind of sweetness, this was all heat and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Kristin didn't like how they made her mouth feel and so she was excited that we also ordered the tea smoked duck:

Tea smoked duck is always a winner at Grand Sichuan and so is Craig's favorite side, the dry sauteed string beans with pork. All in all, a perfect meal on a cold winter's night.

Upon returning to the Village, I'd recalled that I recently had downloaded the New York Times app called "The Scoop" and one of its many cool features is the ability to see where you are and to tell you the best bars and coffee shops and restaurants right near you. I'd used it recently from our apartment and a bar called The Little Branch popped up; when I read about it, I read that they apparently made some of the best mixed drinks in New York.

So upon walking home, I pitched that we go to The Little Branch for a post-dinner pre-bedtime cocktail. Craig and Kristin happily agreed.

The Little Branch is in a relatively unmarked white building on 7th Ave. and Leroy Street (in the SW area of the intersection.) You go down a flight of stairs and there's this groovy bar with booths, a host stand and very professional looking bartenders making some fancy looking drinks.

We were seated right away in a booth (something tells me that getting seated right away doesn't happen often) and we perused our menus. One thing that caught my attention immediately was the drink called "Bartender's Choice." It's not a drink at all, you just cast your fate to the bartender.

Kristin ordered a Hot Buttered Rum, Craig ordered his own hot drink (was it a Hot Toddy?) and I ordered the Bartender's Choice.

"Which spirit would you like the bartender to use in your drink, sir?" asked the waiter.

I'd been eyeing a drink featuring Applejack Brandy so I suggested that.

"Well, we can do a drink with that and Pomegranate juice...."

"Hmm...." that sounded just ok to me.

"Or one with ginger syrup...."


"Very good, sir."

The drink they delivered was called a Ginger... Bunk? Butt? Something with a B? A Buck? It was a little hard to hear in there. But here it is; notice the GIGANTIC ice cube:

The drink was wonderfully balanced: the heat from the ginger, the sweetness of the apple Brandy and the punch of the alcohol. I loved it.

Craig and his sister loved their drinks too. See:

If I were ever to become a Norm like figure in my own personal Cheers, Little Branch is where I'll make that happen.

When we got back, Kristin and Craig surprised me with a cookie from The Levain Bakery, where they'd gone earlier in the day after visiting the Museum of Natural History. (Note to future tourists: if you ever go to the Museum of Natural History, you must go to the Levain Bakery afterwards. It's really close by on 74th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus.)

What is the Levain Bakery? See this old post (where Craig appeared on the blog for the first time.) They make, as I said above, the most legendary chocolate chip cookie in New York City. (Notice I didn't say best: I think City Bakery makes the best.) But legendary because this cookie is an event. Here it is on a plate:

What makes it so remarkable is how textured and multi-layered it is; it's crackly in some parts, gooey in other parts, hard here, soft there. Again, it's an event. You must have it.

On Friday, Kristin returned to Seattle (but we'll be seeing her again soon, I'm heading there on Thursday!) and I went to meet another Seattilite for lunch, Ms. Molly Wizenberg of Orangette

You won't be surprised when I tell you where I suggested we go: Orangette, meet Prune.

I know, I was just there last week, but Molly had only been to Prune once before and I can't think of a New York City restaurant more suited to her taste or style. Plus, it just so happened that when we were there Chef Gabrielle Hamilton was there too and I was excited to introduce her to Molly, which I did.

As for the food, I think I'll save my sandwich to write about on the blog this week (it'll be a nice companion piece to this post I did about the avocado sandwich I ate there this summer.)

Molly had a very comforting bowl of pumpkin soup with cauliflower:

And a plate of poached shrimp with potatoes, tomatoes, egg and some kind of tartar sauce. Isn't that a lovely presentation?

Molly's a gal after my own heart, so even though I knew we didn't NEED dessert, Molly went ahead and ordered it. Here's our chocolate pot-de creme:

It was lovely to see Molly again, though our farewell wasn't too sad either: I'm planning to stay with her and Brandon for a few nights next week when I'm there cooking with chefs before heading up to Bellingham.

Finally, on Saturday, I made this Breakfast of Champions for myself and Craig:

I just made the pancake recipe from The Joy of Cooking, fried up some bacon in a cast iron skillet (on low heat) and when the bacon was done I fried the eggs in the bacon fat. A breakfast of champions! Went down good with hot coffee too.

And that's it for this week's newsletter. Next week I'll be in Seattle and we'll see if I'm able to write my usual weekly dispatch.... 

Until then, have a great week!

Your friend,
Adam (The Amateur Gourmet)

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