Molly’s Cupcakes

I love cupcakes. There, I said it. If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you probably know that already, but I had to put it out there again.

Knowing I love cupcakes, someone once gave me a gift card for Molly’s Cupcakes that she couldn’t use. (She’s gluten-free and Molly’s offers nothing edible for her.)

molly's cupcakesLocated in the West Village down on Bleecker Street (by Carmine and Sixth Avenue), Molly’s Cupcakes brightens up the block with its bright yellow exterior and delicate sign with “Molly’s Cupcakes” emblazoned upon it. When you peer inside, you’ll notice a banquet up against the right wall with a number of tables and grade-school chairs in front of it. What will steal your attention are the swings, right smack in front of a coffee bar. I wasn’t so sure about the swings–can I really take a cupcake place seriously if it has swings indoors?–but the last time I went to Molly’s, I saw a number of people enjoying their cupcakes and coffees while merrily seated upon them. Swings work.

More important than the swings are Molly’s eponymous cupcakes. They’re incredible. Priced at a whopping $3.75 per serving, the cupcakes are dressed to impress. As My Dining Partner contended, the cupcakes involve a great deal of care and preparation, more so than those of Magnolia or Sugar Sweet Sunshine, making their high price point more palatable. Why so much care and preparation, you ask? If you get up close to the display case, you’ll notice an array of flavors, first of all. Molly’s is not about your standard vanilla/chocolate permutations. No, Molly’s is all about variety. Kahlua, Nutella, Peach, Red Velvet, and Cake Batter  are just a handful of the flavors you’ll find. And they’re beautiful. Hand-frosted and -decorated, Molly’s cupcakes are each filled with a corresponding substance (such as the frosting that’s on top of the cake) that delights the eater once he or she gets to the center of the cake. I know I was surprised the first time I bit into one, and even on my most recent visit, when I had forgotten about the prospect of filling, I found myself overwhelmed by the stuff in the middle.

kahlua and cake batter

kahlua and cake batter

So, how do they taste? In a word, delicious. Recently, we tried the Kahlua cupcake and the Cake Batter cupcake. The Kahlua cupcake is chocolate with Kahlua flavoring and a light chocolate-Kahlua-y frosting. In the center, the liquid filling tasted of Kahlua–a dream for any drinker. The Cake Batter cupcake was too big to finish (but I did anyway), and tasted of Funfetti with a rich buttercream frosting. Cake batter–that must have been injected post-oven–filled the middle and seeped out of the bottom of the cake. The real winner at Molly’s is the Peach cupcake. It’s a vanilla-peach cake topped with a white frosting and a wedge of peach perched on top. The peach was sweet and the frosting was creamy. It was fantastic.

If you’re tired of Magnolia’s hum-drum sugary offerings, you’ll want to try Molly’s. Mix up your cupcake consumption a bit with a giant, expensive, fun-filled (literally) cupcake from a cupcake shop that will steal your heart.

Molly’s Cupcakes

228 Bleecker Street (by Sixth Avenue)

West Village, New York

Take the A/C/E/F/M/B/D to West Fourth Street and walk south on Sixth Avenue.

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Background Vocals and Intricate Instrumentals on “Red”

taylor swiftI’ve exercised restraint in posting about Taylor Swift’s new album, Red. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorite albums–ever. The lyrics are intriguing, the music is upbeat and … swift. And the songs just make me want to sing along, all day long.

In my many listens, I’ve noticed that Taylor Swift creatively uses background vocals to enhance the richness of certain songs. On her previous albums, Taylor begins and ends the songs with the same elements throughout–the same vocals, the same instruments, the same chorus. On Red, she ventures into a more complex world of music, rewarding the listener for sticking with her for the entire song.

Case in point: the opening track, “State of Grace,” begins with a drum, a guitar, a bass, and Taylor’s beautiful voice lilting lyrics over the pounding beats. As if the song weren’t intense enough already, she throws in background vocals singing “oh oh oh oh whoa” in the second instance of the chorus, thus making the song pop even more.

In “All Too Well,” possibly my favorite song on the album, Taylor begins the song with an acoustic guitar playing chords and an electric guitar chiming in with a melody. After the first verse, the patter of a snare drum comes in. What’s unique about this song is that Taylor does not use a traditional chorus throughout. Rather, each verse is followed by the same chords for a “chordsus” but not a true “chorus” since the lyrics aren’t the same each time around.

For example, the first instance of the chordsus goes:

Cause there we are again on that little town street

You almost ran the red cause you were lookin’ over at me

Wind in my hair, I was there, I remember it all too well

In the second chordsus, suddenly an influx of music overwhelms the listener–a male background vocalist sings harmony to Taylor’s melody, with the following lyrics:

Cause here we are again in the middle of the night

We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light

Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well

From there, the electric guitar really moves and the whole song seems to explode at the bridge. Her vocals elevate in the next verse and, what the listener gets as he or she continues to listen to the song is an exhilarating experience.

On “Holy Ground,” she does something similar as she did on “State of Grace”–building into the song with interesting background vocals. “Holy Ground” has a fast clip and once the listener gets to the second verse, we hear female singers in the background, enhancing the spirit of the song.

A fan favorite, “Everything Has Changed” that features vocals by Ed Sheeran, also rewards the listener. Undeniably catchy and rhythmically beautiful, “Everything Has Changed” features Sheeran’s harmony to Taylor’s melody on the first chorus. Already filled with background vocals from Sheeran’s charming harmony, the song takes on a new dimension in the second chorus with a guitar playing underneath the chorus refrain, doing its own little pretty thing.

Taylor Swift never did this before–this strategic use of background vocals and intricate instrumentals. After a close listen to her previous albums, I realized that the only other time she may have nearly used background vocals in this way was on the song “Enchanted” from Speak Now. “Enchanted” undoubtedly builds and reaches a climax at each chorus, but it’s the same build over and over throughout the song. It isn’t strategic the way Red plays.

This is just an observation I had about this album that clearly demonstrates a new sense of maturity about Taylor Swift.

High Heat

burger at high heat

burger

Celebrity chef Waldy Malouf has undertaken a few restaurant ventures in the past decade or so. He’s even written food books. Among the restaurants he’s opened is Waldy’s wood-fired pizzeria, located in the Flatiron district on 6th Avenue. Waldy’s is a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best thin-crust pizza I’ve ever had. I’m lucky enough to work right by there…or is that a curse? I can’t tell. Nonetheless, the wonder of Waldy’s generated certain expectations for High Heat, Malouf’s latest.

Going with the wood-fired oven feature, just as Waldy’s has, High Heat is found down in Greenwich Village, on Bleecker Street, among many bars and Qdobas. It has the same “order at the bar, find a seat” set-up as Waldy’s, which I can’t stand. I feel very insecure in places like this–like, I’m going to order and get all excited about the food, but then I won’t have anywhere to sit. But the food, if you can find a seat to eat it in, makes up for the poor arrangement.

I think our experience of High Heat was tinged by the presence of a bunch of drunken Santas roaming the streets and finding their way into High Heat, just to interrupt our dinner. But the food persevered!

margherita pizza at high heat

margherita pizza

We had a Groupon, which afforded us a hamburger, a pizza, two orders of fries and a carafe of white wine. High Heat serves all of its alcoholic beverages on tap (and the sodas have fountain spigots to pour from), which is a nice feature of the place–no bottles to recycle.

I ordered a cheddar burger and MDP ordered the margherita pizza. We got an order of garlic fries and an order of parmesan fries. And, of course, the carafe of wine was a nice addition to the meal.

All in all, the food was delicious. The pizza was crisp (though not as crisp as Waldy’s pies) with fresh ingredients such as sliced cherry tomatoes and basil sprinkled on top. The burger had a wonderful char on it which infused every bite. I put mayo and the tomato, lettuce and pickles that came with the burger on top. It was a delightful experience. The fries were amazing! So firm and crunchy and crispy were they! Featuring shaved parmesan on top, the parmesan fries were my favorite, while the garlic-inflected fries won over MDP.

fries at high heat

fries

Minus the drunken Santas, our (boozy) experience at High Heat was fantastic. I recommend trying it out, especially if you tend to favor pizza and burgers. High Heat will make it hard for you to choose which to order–but I recommend getting both!

High Heat

154 Bleecker Street (by Thompson Street)

Greenwich Village, New York

Take the 6 to Bleecker Street and walk west.

Clinton Street Baking Company

You don’t want to come here for brunch. What I mean is: you absolutely do want to come here for brunch because it’s to-die-for. But you don’t want to stand in line for an hour (before the place even opens!) to get a table.

fried chicken dinner at clinton street baking company

fried chicken dinner

The Clinton St. omelette is outstanding. The blueberry-drenched pancakes are perfect. Really, you can’t go wrong for brunch. But, little known fact: They serve omelettes and pancakes at dinner time, too.

MDP and I stumbled into Clinton Street Baking Company last night, after being pushed aside at Schiller’s. I had been to Clinton Street many times before–for brunch, of course, but I had heard they also served a mean burger. (Because I was planning to have a burger tonight–I have a one-burger per week rule–I ended up ordering something else, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

The place was packed but for one tiny table squeezed between two other tables for two. I sidled into the booth and felt instantly comfortable among Clinton Street’s warm ambiance.

On the chalkboard on the wall, they listed the specials for the evening and the day’s fish and the farms where their food came from. MDP and I both ended up ordering two different permutations of fried chicken, and boy, were we pleased.

I opted for the fried chicken dinner, which comes with four pieces of delectable chicken, a honey-Tabasco sauce for dipping, homemade slaw and two sides (I chose the jalapeno-inflected corn bread and the sauteed spinach–both were incredible). The fried chicken is in a category all unto its own. I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken, in fact. It was moist and flavorful, and the flavor seemed to seep deep into the chicken itself rather than just superficially penetrated in the fry batter. In a word, fantastic.

carrot cake at clinton street baking company

cute carrot cake

MDP got the fried chicken sandwich with lemon-pepper mayo, a pickled green tomato and shredded romaine on a pain d’avignon roll, which came with less-than-impressive fries. They were limp and flaccid, and unappetizing to me (but MDP finished them off–so they must have been okay). He enjoyed his sandwich.

Though I was beyond full, I knew we had to order something off the dessert menu. After all, it’s called Clinton Street Baking Company for a reason. We chose the walnut-studded carrot cake, which manifested as an adorable slice of lightly frosted cake situated on a wide white plate. I couldn’t put my finger on the flavor of it, but it was surely different. Quite enjoyable.

Do try Clinton Street Baking Company, even if you go for dinner and order brunch. I highly recommend it.

Clinton Street Baking Company

4 Clinton St. (between East Houston and Stanton)

Lower East Side, NY

Take the F/M to Delancey Street/Essex Street and walk a few blocks over Rivington to Clinton Street, head north two blocks.

Your NYC Alternatives to Hostess

cupcake cafe

cupcake cafe

In the wake of Hostess’ plight, it’s important that we come together and rally around confections–in particular, the kind that can’t be bought at 7-11. Now, I know, it’s convenient to just pick up a package of Twinkies and scarf ’em down, but better sweets await you.

Located in the deep west side, there are a number of bakeries (three, to my count) that can satisfy your sweet tooth. Though they aren’t nearly as convenient as 7-11–and my walking shoes can attest to that–they are each worth the walk it takes to find them.

Cupcake Cafe is one of those places that you’ve heard of and probably have never seen. A hole in the wall found on Ninth Avenue in the low 40s, Cupcake Cafe serves up ornately frosted buttercream cupcakes. The cupcakes are on the small side, but are beautiful. If you’re looking to impress a date or your coworkers, you should definitely buy cupcakes from Cupcake Cafe. Now, as for the taste, well, not so impressive. I ordered a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting cupcake. The cake itself is on the dry side and borderlines flavorless. And the frosting tastes a lot like butter–I suppose it puts the butter in buttercream, as it were. One of the places I interned for while I was in college used to order cupcakes from Cupcake Cafe, and I think everyone wondered why the cognitive dissonance–something that looks so beautiful yet tastes so … average. How could this be? Well, it was and it is, and I would only recommend Cupcake Cafe if you’re going to the hellhole that is Port Authority anyway. (Although, I’ve heard that Buddy Valastro is setting up a cafe in Port Authority soon–so maybe Cupcake Cafe will fall into further obscurity.)

empire cake snack cake and lemon bar

empire cake

Now, on the other hand, Empire Cake is worth going to. Found on Eighth Avenue down by Google’s sprawling office compound (you can tell it’s Google’s office building because the name “Google” is emblazoned across the fifth floor windows–because we were all wondering where the great and mighty search engine’s office was …. but I digress), Empire Cake is a very beautiful bakery. With just enough seating to satisfy their hungry customers, Empire Cake sells an array of cupcakes, snack cakes, bars, black-and-white cookies and a number of other comestibles. MDP and I ordered the Brooklyn Blackout snack cake which is a chocolate cake with chocolate pudding filling, dipped in chocolate. For the chocolate lover, this is heaven. Previously, we had tried the Chocolate-Covered snack cake and Lemon snack cake, both of which were outstanding. We also opted for the much-celebrated lemon bar, which I found to be just okay and nothing to write home about (yet here I am, penning a post about it). I didn’t try the cupcakes at Empire Cake because they looked like cupcakes I might not like–too much frosting and not enough cake. That cake/frosting balance is a tricky one, but well worth striving for.

billy's bakery

billy’s bakery

Last, but certainly not least, we went to Billy’s Bakery found on Ninth Avenue in the low 20s. I had been to Billy’s before to purchase some cupcakes for coworkers. When I was thinking about writing this post, I decided to go to Billy’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Bad idea. The line was out the door! But, I persisted and returned to Billy’s a few days later to pick up some cupcakes. Not only does Billy’s sell cupcakes, they also have cake, cookies, pies and other confections. I opted for the vanilla-vanilla cupcake and the banana cupcake, which has a cream cheese frosting. The cupcakes were fantastic, and when MDP asked me which I liked better, I struggled to choose, but ultimately decided upon the banana cupcake as the winner in this taste test. It looks like there’s a lot of frosting on these cupcakes–something I just lamented in the previous cupcake entry–but the frosting is high quality and not too sweet. The cake was moist and delicious. These cupcakes are irresistible! As an aside, but as something you might value, I found the service at Billy’s to be way below par. When I walked into Billy’s, I was the only patron around, yet waited five minutes to be served. Four workers ambled behind the counter, talking amongst themselves before waiting on me. Strange and annoying, and has made me think twice about returning to Billy’s.

So, who won this taste test? Well, I think Billy’s earned the highest marks, but, as I said, their service is nogu.

If you have any tips on good bakeries, let me know about them in the comments section!

Five Points

Five Points is located on Great Jones Street/Way and Lafayette, just a block or so south of Astor Liquor. The location is neither bustling nor dead, and has an air of magic about it. Lights shine down on you as you enter Five Points, which is symbolized by a bright red star–the restaurant’s namesake.

five points potato pizza

potato pizza

I had been to Five Points before, and, believe me, it is well worth trying more than once. Last time, I had the Wagyu burger, which is outstanding and is among my favorites in the city. Last Monday night, I had made a reservation at Five Points for this past Friday, and all week, I’d been scouting out the menu to see if they would put the burger up for Friday. I even called to check. No dice. So I had to order something else.

The seasonal menu features a number of tasty-sounding offerings, but I selected the scallops with pureed winter squash and brussels sprouts. The scallops were extremely tender and not overcooked, the way scallops are often served. They weren’t tough or chewy, but splitting in half at the mere touch of the fork. The winter squash puree was delicious and the brussels were leafed and strewn around the plate–very good.

MDP ordered, yet again, the potato pizza, which comes drizzled with truffle oil–on both sides of the crust. The potato pizza features fontina cheese, instead of your run-of-the-mill mozzarella blend, and I like what Five Points is doing with this pizza. The cheese soaks up the truffle oil and infuses every bite with it. Yum! It is, in a word, fantastic. And it won’t break the bank–I think the pizza was only $16 or so, and came sliced into eight delectable pieces.

five points apple crisp

apple crisp

We also ordered the giant fried onion rings. Served on a kind of cutting board, the onion rings were slightly greasy and crisp, and quite good.

Though we were both full, we had to order dessert–and drinks for a change. I got the Maker’s 46 bourbon, which tasted caramel-inflected and delicious. MDP ordered the hot mulled apple cider with rum (which rum? I don’t remember). And we opted for the apple crisp with buttermilk ice cream on top. The apple crisp was filled with tender diced apples and topped with a sweet crumble. A nice addition, the large scoop of buttermilk (not-too-sweet) ice cream nicely complemented the crisp.

All in all, Five Points is a wonderful choice. It’s cozy and comforting, and the food is outstanding.

You’ll want a reservation. You’ll also want to try Cookshop and Hundred Acres, which are both outstanding restaurants in their own right and happen to be sisters to Five Points.

Five Points

Great Jones Way and Lafayette

Noho, New York

Take the 6/F/D/M/B to Broadway-Lafayette and walk north a block or so.