Ess-A-Bagel 831 3rd Ave.
This one is only a quick eat if you do it in a very specific way: getting an uncut, untoasted bagel with cream cheese on the side at the separate to-go counter. Rolling up to Ess-A-Bagel at about 10:30, I could tell exactly where the storefront was from the line that had formed outside. I had two reasons for going – I wanted a bagel with lox and cream cheese for brunch, and I’d also promised to pick up some black and white cookies for a friend, and I’d heard they had good ones. Fifteen minutes into the wait, the line was moving at a glacial pace and I started to realize this had been a terrible idea. But now I was committed. Twenty minutes later, I made it into the building, twenty minutes after that, I finally got to order. I purchased two full-size black and white cookies, a batch of mini-cookies, a toasted ‘Everything’ bagel with the works, and a cappuccino. Paid, took it back to my hotel to eat, was piqued to find out that my coffee was 80% foam. The bagel was amazing, but no bagel is amazing enough to justify standing in line for an hour when you’re in New York and time is money. I think a bit of my soul died in that line.
Only in New York will people wait an hour at a "Grade Pending" restaurant.
Taste test versus Trader Joes
The Oyster Bar Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St.
The Oyster Bar is an old standby for me; I always sit at the bar where you can eat lighter and get served faster - in theory. This time, I took a moment to figure out what I wanted, to the harried server’s chagrin. (They seemed under-staffed compared to past visits.) Finally got a wine list and ordered a Chenin Blanc from South Africa to go with my oysters from Chincoteague, VA, Long Island, Massachusetts, and PEI. The Raspberry Point oysters from PEI were my favorite, though I wonder how much of that is familiarity. Also ordered a cup of New England clam chowder. I won’t be doing that again – I’ve been spoiled by some of the best on earth in PEI, and the flour used to thicken this version still had doughy lumps. Still worth a visit if you enjoy slurping down some oysters with a beer, though.
Udon West 150 E 46th St.
I’m hopefully – fingers crossed! – going to Japan this summer, so I figured I’d do some prep work by trying some Japanese food I haven’t had yet – udon. Udon West has been rated one of the better places in the city to try it. I ordered the most basic thing from the menu – shrimp and veggie tempura and udon – along with a glass of sake. The sake was brought to me in a slender glass in a charming little box. The udon was served with the tempura on the side. Being clueless as how to eat it, I treated it like I would ramen or pho, and hopefully didn’t make too much of a fool of myself as I slurped it up. Freaking delicious.
Cafe Macaron 750 3rd Ave.
Monday morning, I had time for one last stop before heading to Penn Station. Macaron Cafe was perfectly situated only a block or two from my hotel. It was cramped, but cute and pastel inside, with a fun range of macaron flavors. I also got a croissant (perfectly flaky and buttery, though not quite as warm as it could have been) and a cappuccino (that made me sigh in delight as I was reminded of what one should really be). Got passionfruit, earl grey, rose, violet cassis, green tea matcha, chai latte macarons to take home. The friendly girl behind the counter asked what color ribbon I wanted my box tied up in. Too cute! At a table tucked in the back, I eavesdropped on a job interview in-progress and thanked my lucky stars my New York days of interviewing for jobs in coffee shops are behind me. As for the macarons themselves - they were a mixed bag. Points for being large and fresh, with generous filling. Points off for the floral flavors tasting overwhelmingly perfume-y. Fruit and chocolate flavors seem to be the thing to order here. The passionfruit macaron was my favorite!