Searching for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie in NYC

After finding the best pickle in New York City, my friend was now after the best chocolate chip cookie. According to her Californian rabbi, the best chocolate chip in the world could be found on Manhattan on the Upper West Side.

One morning in June, we met at Levain Bakery on West 74th Street to try a cookie.

What we discovered: the cookies are large, easily two servings worth, which helps justify the cost of $4 per cookie. Full of chocolate, the cookies contain walnuts as well (watch out all of you with tree nut allergies). Gooey on the inside and firm on the outside, the cookies are not crisp and their flavor exudes butter.

The bakery sells more than just chocolate chip cookies. Besides other cookies, the bakery sells bread, sticky buns, and other sweet items.

Since we didn’t try any other chocolate chip cookies in New York, I can’t confirm whether Levain Bakery makes the best chocolate chip cookie in the city, the country or the world. But I agree with the rabbi, its cookie is definitely in the running.

Trip taken June 2012.

In Search of the Best Pickle

We were on a search for the best pickle on Manhattan. Before my friend embarked on a trip to the East Coast in June, she did a little research. She googled and searched, arriving in town with a name and address. Her family and I followed as she walked briskly from South Street Seaport through Chinatown and Little Italy, passing glistening gelato and mouth watering cannolis.

Turning a corner on the Lower East Side, we found the best pickle at The Pickle Guys on Essex Street.

Stepping down a few steps, we entered a room full of pickles: vats of pickled tomatoes, olives, and carrots, mushrooms,  green beans and peppers.

And there were cucumbers: sour and hot, half sour and three quarter sour. I bought the full sour pickle and took a bite. Tart and crisp with just the right bite, it lived up to its reputation.

Whether or not The Pickle Guys actually sell the best pickle in New York, I never found out, but for pickle connoisseurs everywhere, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Trip taken June 2012

Eating in NYC (Gluten Free!)

In New York City, we all ate well, and the gluten eaters were as satisfied as the gluten-free eater. We ate crepes, bread sticks and pizza, panini and Reuben sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, French fries, cupcakes and cheesecake, and all were gluten free.

Risotteria in Greenwich Village for dinner:  What celiac wouldn’t love a place where the bread sticks are gluten free? We shared so much pizza and panini that we were too full to try any of the gluten-free desserts.

Crepes in Chelsea Market for breakfast: Ask for the gluten-free crepes at Bar Suzette. Made with lentil and rice flour, the crepes are delicious with Nutella and strawberries.

Lunch at a New York Deli: The gluten-free Reuben sandwich at Bloom’s Deli was piled so high with corned beef, my daughter could eat less than half at one sitting. We brought the rest back to our hotel fridge.

Dinner on the Upper East Side: Another deli, we ate this time at Peters’ Restaurant where everything can be made gluten free except for a few items marked with an x (e.g., wraps, focaccia, bagels). While some of us ate pasta and Greek chicken, our gluten-free diner chose meatloaf and French fries.

Macaroni and cheese in the East Village: S’Mac cooks up a variety of macaroni and cheese options though we all chose the gluten-free pasta so we could share and sample the different flavors we chose (spinach, olives, garlic and goat cheese; Manchego cheese, fennel and onions; Gruyere and bacon). S’Mac offers regular elbow macaroni as well as whole wheat and rice pasta. You can eat vegan there, too.

Cupcakes: We tried two gluten-free cupcake establishments, both located on the Lower East Side. Most everything (banana bread, cupcakes, brownies) at Babycakes is not only gluten-free but vegan as well. They also offer a few baked goods made with spelt flour. Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery, a few blocks away, caters to those looking for the gluten-free not so healthy but delicious alternative. And when the gluten eaters elected to imbibe at Magnolia Bakery on Fifth Avenue (which is NOT gluten free), my daughter was happy with a Klondike bar bought at a market down the street.

Our only disappointment was trekking across town for gluten-free bagels at Vic’s Bagel Bar on 36th Street and 3rd Avenue, only to discover that they had none that day. Another day, we called and they were all out. So, if you want to check out this place, be sure to call and to show up early. They only make one batch of gluten-free bagels first thing each morning before making the regular bagels.

New York, Two Teens, Three and a Half Days

With all its lights and energy, shows, museums, restaurants, and tours, New York City will stimulate and entertain even the most disinterested of teenagers. Here’s how we spent a few action packed days during February break in New York City.

Day 1: Arrival in NYC, NBC Studios Tour, Dinner in Greenwich Village, Walk through Times Square.

After an early check in at our hotel, we walked a few blocks to Rockefeller Center for a tour of NBC Studios. The highlight – seeing the Saturday Night Live set and learning how much of what we see on TV is an illusion. Dinner in Greenwich Village followed by an after dinner stroll through Times Square and a visit to Apple’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue.

Day 2: Chelsea Market, High Line Park, Lunch at a New York Deli. Broadway Matinee, Dinner on Fifth Avenue.

After energizing ourselves with lattes from Ninth Street Espresso and crepes at Bar Suzette in Chelsea Market, we walked the High Line. The High Line is an elevated railroad bed turned into park and walking path along the lower west side of New York. Instead of walking on the streets between the buildings, we walked above or among them, seeing the city from a different perspective.  Lunch was consumed at a deli before a 2 p.m. Broadway show (“Wicked”). Dinner was followed by cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery.

Day 3: Liberty and Ellis Islands, 9/11 Memorial, Tenement Museum, Dinner on the Upper East Side.

After going through airport-like security, we boarded the 9:30 a.m. ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands (buy your tickets in advance and arrive plenty of time before departure). Although the Statue of Liberty is closed for renovations, we were able to walk around Liberty Island while listening to an audio tour and learning why the French gave the U.S. her gift. On Ellis Island, our audio tour taught us about the many trials and tribulations of immigrants arriving in New York during the first part of the 20th century.

Back to Manhattan, snacks from a street vendor and a quick walk to the 9/11 Memorial (tickets are free but must be reserved in advance) where we waited in line to remember and to reflect.

Later at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, our engaging tour guide took us into the apartments of a family who lived in the building during the 1870s and another family who lived in the building during the Great Depression.

Day 4: Museum of Modern Art, Tour of the UN, Dinner on the Lower East Side.

After a leisurely morning and late breakfast, we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), a short walk from our hotel. We took another audio tour (this one was free with admission) and browsed art by Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Rousseau, Cezanne, Matisse and many others, learning about a few of the artists’ techniques and inspirations and pondering what actually makes art. Then across town to the United Nations Headquarters where our tour guide, a young man from Peru, took us into the Security Council Chamber and the General Assembly Hall. Fascinating for all of us but especially for my kids, who both participated in Model UN during middle school. After a quick dinner, we headed home to our small town a few hours away, happy but exhausted from a few days in the Big City.

Getting there. Whether you fly, take the train, bus or drive yourself, allow plenty of time to acclimate to the hustle and bustle once you arrive before any scheduled tickets or tours. We found a great online deal and parked for $16 per day in a garage on 38th and 1st, much better than the $56 a day our hotel was offering. For parking deals before you arrive, check out Trip Advisor’s parking website guide.

Staying there:  Staying in NYC is not cheap, but there are many options and many promotions or deals. This trip we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, only a short walk to Times Square. The hotel’s price included two bedrooms, a sitting area and kitchenette plus a large buffet breakfast.

Trip taken February 2012.