Thanks to all who gave suggestions for dinner a few days ago. Our plans and size of group changed, but it was a fun day nonetheless. Took the bus in from NJ at 10, then jumped on the subway to High St., found Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop - the most scrumptious hot chocolate outside of Paris. Bought 2 tins of it to bring home (SF), along with little boxes of cookies. We then crossed the street to Almondine for the cheese pretzel, which was warm, slightly salty and rich. Others in our party nibbled on croissants and a baguette with chicken, goat cheese and sundried tomato & pesto, all delicious.
Next stop was W. 4th St, where we walked around the West Village to Magnolia Bakery and picked up 4 freshly frosted cupcakes (it was extremely crowded at noon). The texture of the cupcake was not as fine as when we've made it ourselves and there was little vanilla flavor to it. The chocolate frosting was the best of the lot.
Lunch was at Sazerac House on Hudson, where they graciously fit 7 of us in without reservations. The crabcakes were excellent, with very little filler and the remoulade was lightly spiced. The big surprise was the crabcakes benedict which were two slightly smaller crabcakes on english muffin halves each topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce, for only $12.95. The andouille sausage and jack cheese omelet was a hit also. My daughter enjoyed the grilled chicken over a mixed salad with honey mustard dressing. After lunch, some of us went to a play, while others went shopping.
For dinner, we met up with the rest of our relatives at the relatively new Congee Village branch at 207 Bowery. We ordered the $258 banquet menu for 11 people, and added a couple of items for one of our party who is allergic to seafood. We added 2 steamers of xiaolongbao, 2 orders of scallion pancakes and the waiter recommended the stir fried beef with garlic cloves. The xlb were pretty good, full of soup, skins were a little thick but tasted fresh with few broken ones. The scallion pancakes were decent too. The banquet menu was generously portioned: mayonaise shrimp with broccoli and honey walnuts, sizzling rice and corn chowder, fried flounder, general tso's chicken, peking pork chops, pan fried vegetarian rolls, tender mustard greens with mushrooms, stir fried beef and chicken slices with sugar snap peas, yang chow fried rice and soft e fu noodles. Needless to say, we had lots of leftovers. The weakest dishes were the vegi rolls and the sizzling rice didn't sizzle when the soup was poured in and there was too much rice, which sopped up the soup. The fried rice was not the best rendition either, but we were all so full that no one could eat more than a few bites. Service was fairly efficient, but they didn't change our plates until the noodles came, which was way too late. Also, they must use msg in some of the dishes as I felt a bit of dry mouth afterwards. So when ordering, request no msg.
All in all, we enjoyed a full day of excellent eating and look forward to spending more time in Manhattan on future visits.