The Nutella Cafe – Nope

A latte and a crepe with banana slices and whipped cream.

Yesterday night, my wife and walked past the Nutella Cafe on 13th Street at University Place in Manhattan on our way to New York Health and Racquet Club. My wife commented that the line had finally died down, though the place was still busy inside. My first thought was that it was the middle of the week, but thinking about it, this place has had a line out the door and around the corner of the block since it opened early last month.

We went to check it out right away too. Without realizing it, we got in the line to get inside the restaurant after it had already been closed to new customers. When the guy watching the door noticed, he let us in anyway. Maybe he didn’t want to disappoint potential new customers, or he was trying to maximize the cafe’s earnings that night. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if he just worked the door or he owned the place.

The ordering process was pretty straightforward, though the selection seemed pretty limited. Most of the things on the menu weren’t all that exciting and looked like the sort of stuff that would be pulled out of a freezer and reheated in a microwave oven. The crepes are basically carrying the menu, and that’s what we ordered.

Was it worth it? Not really. Not for the prices they’re charging. You get a crepe with some Nutella. You want fruit? Extra. You want whipped cream? Extra. I’d be ok with the “extra” if it was a reasonable price, but if I remember right, the crepe pictured above wound up being about $10 and there wasn’t even that much banana in it. Maybe just a quarter of an average sized banana, and that doesn’t really make sense. I can two bananas for what they charged to add it as a topping.

The latte was good, but I could get a better crepe at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ. Probably in Manhattan, too. And in any of the boroughs. And for less money. With Nutella, and with more fruit.

So how do you get away with selling decent coffee and so-so desserts at inflated prices? You make it fashionable by throwing a name on it and hyping it up. The higher price itself is part of the plan. You make it fashionable to go there. Showing up at the Nutella Cafe becomes less about the quality of what you’re consuming and more about the image you’re projecting. Like Starbucks, where you pay $6 for coffee that tastes like burnt asshole so you can show everyone you have a Starbucks holiday cup when you get to the office. As much as I shit on Dunkin’ Donuts, at least they don’t pretend that they’re selling a premium product.

Nothing about the Nutella Cafe really thrilled me and I wouldn’t go back. For a better cafe atmosphere, The Bean is nearby on Broadway and 12th. For better desserts, Veniero’s is over on 11th and 1st, and it’s really worth the walk.

A dessert I picked up from Veniero’s and brought home. The cheesecake (Italian/Sicilian/NY Style) is amazing too.

A Shout Out to Olive Garden and Starbucks for Veterans Day Offers

Veterans Day Free Meal Menu at Olive Garden

Every year that I’ve been in the United States on Veterans Day I’ve had the opportunity to get freebies from various companies when dining out. For example, Olive Garden offered a free entree and Starbucks offered a free tall (small) plain coffee for veterans. I took advantage of both. There are other sites that have lists of what restaurants offered this year, though. That’s not really the point of this post.

I was just thinking about how great it is that as a veteran these companies are willing to recognize my military service by giving me something for free. Granted, people who serve in the military are essentially putting themselves at risk to preserve the U.S. way of life, including its economy, in theory, and are protecting these businesses as a result, but that doesn’t obligate them to offer discounts or free meals.

I suppose I’m a pessimist. You almost have to draw blood to get wages raised to what constitutes a living wage. Companies cut corners by putting yoga mat material in their so-called meat patties to increase profits. So, to see a company just putting stuff out there for veterans for free still surprises me every year.

This post is basically just a big thank you to those companies and especially to Olive Garden and Starbucks since I’ve gone to those establishments nearly every year on Veterans Day. Thanks!

Busy little noodle joint – Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles in Chinatown

Duck noodle soup and chicken veggie dumplings at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

Doyer’s Street is kind of a weird looking spot, but it has the best noodle shop I’ve been to in New York City: Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. The location subtitle on Google Maps, “Busy little noodle joint”, sums the place up pretty well. It’s a hole in the wall establishment. You could easily walk by and not even notice it was there. It’s cramped inside. In the summer, it’s hot. And, it’s always busy. Seating is very limited and you have to shift around to let people move past you. It’s totally worth it, though.

The first time I went to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, I wandered in by accident while on a break from jury duty. Each time, I somehow wound up at the tiny table squeezed into the corner by the front door. I haven’t come close to working my way through the menu. I usually stick with the noodle soup dishes and I’m really partial to the duck noodle soup, but I find it hard to believe I would be really disappointed by something they prepared. The food just has a good, authentic, quality taste to it without being unreasonably expensive. Most of the soups are about $9 – $10 a bowl, but the portions are large.

Chinatown, New York City//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The only thing that’s a little annoying about the place is that it’s a cash-only establishment. Luckily, there’s a Chase bank across the street with ATMs so it’s not too big a deal. I’ve noticed that a lot of Asian restaurants are switching to cash-only lately. I wonder why? I try to not carry cash. Lately, I’ve even cut down on the cards I carry. My Galaxy S7 has Samsung Pay and it works really well. It also has a rewards program.

If you want dessert, you can stop by Taiyaki NYC over on Baxter Street on your way to the train station on Canal Street. It’s a Japanese ice cream place that is pretty popular. The original, vanilla soft-serve in a fish pastry with warm custard, chocolate syrup, strawberries and a wafer cookie is pretty awesome.

Stage Restaurant

Cooks behind the counter at Stage Restaurant
Cooks behind the counter at Stage Restaurant

About two weeks ago we went to a place called Stage Restaurant, a Ukrainian and Polish restaurant at 128 2nd Ave in Manhattan. I can’t believe it’s been that long already. With classes going, time is flying by.

We wound up in Stage because we were looking for a place to take my mother for a late birthday lunch. She happened to see an article in the paper about Stage potentially closing due to leasing problems and she wanted to spend some money there and support local neighborhood establishments. A lot of other restaurants that had been in the neighborhood for decades have been driven out by rising rent costs, including places that we used to go to often as kids, like the 2nd Avenue Deli. Now the 2nd Avenue Deli is way up town on 75th Street. I haven’t been there since they moved, because it’s so far out of the way. I remember the food being really good. I suppose we could go there before or after visiting the Met one day.

Anyway, we found out later from one of the employees that Stage has a long lease already set up that can’t be broken by the new building owners, so hopefully things work out for them. It seems like a lot of property in the area is getting bought up by NYU for classrooms and dorms. The whole character of the neighborhood has changed since NYU put those dorms up at Union Square. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The place looks a lot nicer. On the other hand, it runs up prices on everything and the neighborhood was predominantly lower income before. Basically, people were run out of their homes because they could no longer afford to live there. That’s gentrification, I guess.

French toast and apple blintzes.
French toast and apple blintzes.

Stage Restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall sort of place with one long bar for seating directly in front of the cooking area. The latkes (fried potato pancakes) pierogies were recommended in the news article, but I went with the French toast.  My wife and I shared a plate of apple blintzes. I can’t remember what she ordered now, but she didn’t have any complaints at the time. My mom went with a plate of pierogies, stuffed cabbage, sausage and sauerkraut. The portions were huge and she had plenty of food to take home for another meal.

Pierogies, sausage, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut.
Pierogies, sausage, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut.

Stage Restaurant isn’t fine dining, but it’s fast, comfortable, and the food was good. It was also busy. Every time a seat opened up, someone sat in it. I don’t think the restaurant is going anywhere anytime soon, so I’m glad we found it. We can add it to our list of potential lunch venues when we’re in the neighborhood.

Clarke’s Standard (replaced goodburger at Union Square)

It was with great regret that my wife and I saw that goodburger at Union Square had closed. We used to eat there frequently because the food was good, fairly quick, and it was convenient. It was somewhere between McDonald’s and Wendy’s, which was too junky, and a sit-down, pricey restaurant. Not that it wasn’t a little on the pricey side, but it filled a need we had.  I guess not enough people needed a good burger at that price, though, so one day we went there for dinner and found the place boarded up.

Interior of Clarke's Standard at Union Square
Interior of Clarke’s Standard at Union Square

About two weeks ago, we were shopping at Petco and I decided to go around the corner and see if anything had replaced goodburger yet, and we saw that Clarke’s Standard was open. A new burger joint. We decided to try the place out, hoping it would be our new goodburger. Unfortunately, this place is not going to fit the bill.

Clarke's Standard Menu
Clarke’s Standard Menu

Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries
Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries

The biggest problem we had was that the sauces used on the burgers are either made with mayo or ketchup (or something with a very similar taste to ketchup) that we didn’t care for. If you want a burger without mayo or ketchup here, you lose most of the flavor of the specialty burger. Besides that, the sauces are very runny and soak into the bun, making them mushy and sloppy. Some people may like their buns saucy and squishy, but I like my buns firm.

I had the Brooklyn Au Poivre. Besides my sauce and bun problem, I found the meat to not have any real taste to it. It seemed to be too wet and slightly undercooked on top of that. It didn’t have a grilled or “real” flavor to it. My wife said the honey mustard BBQ grilled chicken sandwich was good, but the flavor was drowned by the ketchup, which was leaking out of the bottom of the sandwich in gobs.

The only redeeming things about our meal were the French fries and sweet potato waffle fries. They were both outstanding, but they aren’t enough to bring us back for more.

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard
Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard
Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard

Finding this giant roach on the floor under our table (waiting for leftovers?) after we finished eating finished killing our meal experience. Honestly, the price isn’t that much different than goodburger and the quality and variety of the sandwiches isn’t that impressive. We won’t be going back. There are plenty of other restaurants in the area. We’ll just have to walk a bit further to get to them.

Veteran’s Day Dinner 2013

PVT Elma and Me July 30 1999 Fort Lee VA, AIT
“PVT Elma + Me. July 30, 99 Fort Lee, VA (AIT)”

Ever since I enlisted in the Army and businesses started offering Veterans Day promotions, I’ve tried to make it to a participating business each year. I’m not one to pass up free food, especially when it’s from a place like Olive Garden. I’m just being practical. Besides, I’m a veteran, and in a way, I already paid for it. That’s what the day is about, and I’m glad businesses have decided to give back to the veteran community one day a year in a show of appreciation for the efforts and loss that some people went through, or are still going through, for those on active duty.

The first time I remember going to a restaurant for a free meal on Veterans Day was when I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I think I went to a Golden Corral or a similar all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant with a group of guys from my unit.  This year, like last year, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. In addition to the free entree for veterans, the restaurant was offering 10% off for family members. I’m not sure if that was 10% off the rest of the bill, or just the other entree(s). I forgot to check and tossed the receipt already, but it doesn’t really matter to me. A discount is a discount.

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The entree options for veterans were limited, but they offered a nice variety of choices. I went with the cheese ravioli. We also got the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and my wife ordered the capellini pomodoro, which she said tasted delicious.  It looked delicious. I also ordered a new drink they have, a blood orange blackberry iced tea. That tasted outstanding.

Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea

Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce

Capellini Pomodoro
Capellini Pomodoro

These guys were outside the Olive Garden. I thought it was pretty cool, so I want to share the photo:

Mounted NYPD
Mounted NYPD

We finished the evening off at Starbucks, which was offering a free tall brewed coffee to veterans and family members.

The evening wasn’t completely free, but the discounts at Olive Garden made our evening out more affordable and gave my wife and I an opportunity to be thankful for my coming home in one piece, to remember those who didn’t, and gave us another reason to just spend time together out of the house. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

5 Napkin Burger at 14th and 3rd Ave

Holiday decorations inside the 5 Napkin Restaurant at 14th Street
Holiday decorations inside the 5 Napkin Restaurant at 14th Street

I don’t remember exactly when the place opened, but for the past few months the 5 Napkin Burger restaurant has been full of people almost every time I’ve gone by. The smells of cooking hamburgers wafting out of the restaurant onto 14th Street made it hard to walk by without getting hungry. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when my mom asked me and my wife to take her there for her birthday dinner.

Christmas ornaments hanging from the pipes on the ceiling
Christmas ornaments hanging from the pipes on the ceiling

Chalk board covered with drawings, including a flask and Bunsen burner.
Chalk board covered with drawings, including a flask and Bunsen burner.

The holiday decorations inside the restaurant are nice. It felt festive. My wife pointed this out to me later, but it looks like the restaurant has a biology lab decor underneath the Christmas decorations. I don’t really get it. Is the implication supposed to be that they’ve used science to perfect their burger recipes? It feels like a bit of a mental stretch and personally I don’t want to think about biology labs or what might be festering in Petri dishes while eating.

5 Napkin's signature 5 Napkin Burger
5 Napkin’s signature 5 Napkin Burger

5 Napkin Steak and Eggs (Eggs hidden behind fries)
5 Napkin Steak and Eggs (Eggs hidden behind fries)

My mom and I opted for the signature 5 Napkin Burger. I figured I might as well get what should be their best dish. My wife opted for the steak and eggs. I was tempted to join her. We’ve been watching King of the Hill on Netflix and the night before we’d seen an episode about Hank, his propane and propane accessories and grilling steaks.

The 5N burger costs about 15 bucks. That’s steep, but they do give you a very, very large portion of food. I cleared the plate but my mom took half of her burger home for dinner. I should have done the same because later I wound up with a stomach ache that left me incapacitated on the couch for about two hours. The burger sat in my stomach like a lead weight for most of the day and then just sort of knocked me down for a while late in the evening. Luckily, everything cleared up the next day. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, the food quality is decent.  According to the missus, the steak and eggs were good, but she’s had better.  She said the portion was a good size, but it wasn’t extraordinary and the quality wasn’t comparable to the price. The 5N burger itself was tasty, but the portion was so big it was hard to hold it all together, especially when the juices from the meat started to run out onto my hand. Not that I’m advocating dry burgers, but I think the whole thing would come together better if the portion was just a more… normal size. The heavy garlic butter stuff (I forget the fancy name) along with the extra juiciness (grease?) and the lack of vegetables in the burger caused it to have a very unbalanced taste, and it might also be what led to my discomfort later in the day.

Some bizarre "cocktail" that tasted like flat champagne and cost 10 dollars.
Some bizarre “cocktail” that tasted like flat champagne and cost 10 dollars.

The worst part of the meal was this holiday cocktail that was supposed to be a mix of champagne, some essence of elder flower, mulled ginger and some other essence of something that came in a tiny glass (that I got charged 10 bucks for…) and tasted like flat champagne. The only bubbles in the glass were coming from the interaction between the ‘champagne’ and the translucent slice of ginger in the bottom of the glass, which didn’t seem to help the taste of the drink at all. I can’t figure out why it cost so much, either. Do essences of stuff that add no flavor to a drink cost a lot? It certainly wasn’t costly because of the size of the drink. We mentioned the lack of taste to what I assume was a manager, since I think I remember him wearing a suit, and he said he appreciated the suggestion.

The best part of the meal was the onion rings. I’d go back for the onion rings. The chunks of onion are big and they’re not buried in batter. When I bit into them I could taste the onion and the batter instead of heavy oil. The other good thing about the meal was the service, up until the end when we were getting ready to leave. Some server had added an extra table to the booth across from where we were sitting that took up more than half of the walking space, so when we were trying to get out and leave, waiters and waitresses kept asking us to move out of their way. It was slightly annoying.

Thinking about the meal as a whole, we didn’t dislike it at the time. We didn’t have a ‘bad’ experience. I mean, no one left the restaurant upset, angry or disappointed. But, I don’t know that I’d want to go back and get what might be another mediocre steak and eggs or heavy (flavor-wise) burger, or flat champagne cocktail, all of which are highly (over) priced, just to get good onion rings. With three entrees, three sodas, one cocktail and two extra sides of onion rings, plus a tip, our bill wound up being 98 dollars. We could probably have been just as happy for half of the cost at any number of other burger places. So, while I think 5 Napkin is a decent meal, it’s not a decent meal that’s worth the price and I don’t think we’ll going back.

Boka Bon Chon & Wafels and dinges

Boka Bon Chon Fried Chicken
Boka Bon Chon Fried Chicken

I just can’t get enough of those damn fried chicken wings and drumsticks!  I don’t know how they make them, but they come out so crispy and delicious that I don’t mind that the spicy ones are burning my face off.  I just keep eating them!  They also come in soy & garlic flavor, which is great.

Kim Chi Bi Bim Bob and Beef Bul Go Gi
Kim Chi Bi Bim Bob and Beef Bul Go Gi

I’ve been gradually getting my wife around to all of the places I want to show her here in NYC that I already know about and Boka Bon Chon finally came up on the list.  We were in the mood for something Asian and we were in the neighborhood, so we went on in.

Besides the wings, which are an absolute must if you ever go to this place, we got the kimchi bi bim bob and an order of beef bul go gi.  The servings are generous.  Maybe we were hungry, or it was just particularly good yesterday but we cleaned our plates and stripped the bones.

Waffles and Dinges Truck at Astor Place
Waffles and Dinges Truck at Astor Place

Then we saw a food truck.  A bright yellow food truck with a delicious scent coming from it.  It turned out to be “Wafels and dinges,” which sells different types of waffles with a variety of toppings, including one called a “WMD” and, gross as it sounds to me, waffles with bacon or pulled pork.

Brussels waffle with chocolate and powdered sugar from Waffles & Dinges truck.
Brussels waffle with chocolate and powdered sugar from Waffles & Dinges truck.

We were feeling the food we’d just eaten, so we got one and shared it.  It was incredibly good!  I’m looking forward to the next excuse we can find to eat at this food truck again.  =)

For a Sunday afternoon, this was a great meal.  I love NYC.