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Indulging on the food trail -- West Village/Chelsea Market (long!)

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Indulging on the food trail -- West Village/Chelsea Market (long!)

Tim H. | Apr 17, 2003 12:29 AM

85 degrees out, and the prospect of a 40-degree drop overnight -- we couldn't possibly spend the day indoors, so my wife and I decided to take off and do a little over-the-dining-table bonding while exploring a little more of the city than what we'd seen so far.

We began our trip by taking the F down to West 4th Street and walking down Cornelia street in search of a lateish lunch. Po and the Cornelia Street Cafe were tough to leave behind, but we eventually lit on Home on account of what looked like a fairly extensive salad menu (more for my wife's benefit than for mine; I'm a comfort food sort of guy). I was lame and forgot to take a copy of the menu with me, but we shared the shrimp cakes (which came over a bed of what I think was cilantro, lime and orange), a rocket salad served with lightly-vinegared leeks and apple pieces, the chicken sausages with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. Excellent meal, and I especially enjoyed the way they did the leeks -- sliced vertically, so you got longish, flat layers of vegetable, rather than the more traditional cross-wise cut, which somehow doesn't provide the same texture. The grilled vegetables that came with the sausage dish were really good too; done just enough to give you that slightly browned taste without losing any of the flavor or the moistness. My wife even preferred the shrimp cakes to regular crab cakes, because she thought they tasted less of the sea than crab would, but I thought that lump crab meat would have done better for texture. Couldn't quarrel with the flavor, though; the cilantro came through beautifully, and the lime and orange combination were a wonderful counterpoint to the light breadiness of the cakes themselves.

Couldn't quite manage dessert after that, so we set off for a walk around the area. Stopped by Porto Rico on Bleeker, because we were running low on coffee, and picked up some of their French Sumatra (organic, by the way, is the same price as the regular stuff, in case you care about that sort of thing) as well as a half pound of macadamia. That probably suggests that they're charging a little more than they should for the regular, but given the number of cups you get out of half a pound of beans, I'm not about to complain. I was tempted by their french roast, but was too much a creature of habit to venture out into the unknown. If anyone who reads this has tried it and would like to comment, I'd be open to suggestions.

Buying coffee whets the appetite, so we eventually headed over to Ciao Bella. I admit it's not the same as Il Laboratorio, but we were too lazy at that point to make it all the way over to the east village, and this seemed like a decent substitute. We'd picked up a friend of ours along the way, and between us managed to sample six different flavors: valrhona chocolate, passion fruit sorbet, mango sorbet, heath bar crunch, peaches and cream and coconut sorbet. I thought the heath bar crunch was a little sweet, and the mango sorbet was a little richer than I would have gone for, but I can see how some people could really like that. The passion fruit was everything I thought a sorbet should be -- beautifully tart and not too sweet, with enough liquid in there to be refreshing. I made the mistake of ordering it with the chocolate, which tended to overpower the lighter sorbet taste, but hey. you learn as you go. The coconut sorbet was a pleasant surprise -- very flavorful, with bits of coconut to add a little more chewiness to the mix. I'd definitely try it again.

So much for the tried and true. We'd never actually spent any time looking around Chelsea market, so we headed there next, and spent the next two hours nosing around looking at (surprise surprise) food. It was nice to see that Amy's Bread had chocolate cherry bread out, as well as hot cross buns. At $1.75 for the former and $1 for the latter, they aren't exactly a bargain, but it's Amy's Bread, and Easter comes only once a year. Thankfully (or otherwise, depending on your willpower) chocolate cherry bread day comes around at least once a week. Incidentally, the going price for chocolate croissants at most of the outlets there appears to be $1.65. Go figure.

From there it was over to the Bodum store on 14th street, where we spent some time nosing around the bargain section and found the tea press we'd been hankering after for months for under $10. We were still full from gelato, but I've made a mental note to go back over there for coffee one of these days. They sell pastries too, but those looked a little sad; probably makes more sense to head over to the Little Pie Company or the patisserie across the street if you're in the mood for sweet stuff. I've never seen the Bodum coffee area crowded before, though; it seems like a nice place to go if you need a bit of quiet in the course of roaming the streets.

By then it was about 6ish, and we needed to get in an early dinner before an evening appointment, so we made our way back to the market and got seated at the Cleaver Company, which I understand only just opened up a dining room in the market about a month ago. They have four small tables in their dining room, and a bar counter that seats 3-4 more people. There's also a larger green table outside that will seat up to 6, although you're smack in the middle of the market walkway, so you lose something of the ambiance. Dinner was a ham and cheese panini with an apricot mustard for my wife, and maple-cured wild salmon with mint creme fraiche and apple ginger compote with pink peppercorns for me. Both were really good -- the panini was crisp and moist, not too greasy, with a good balance between the ham and the cheese. Not too salty either, which is a problem that I often have with ham and cheese anything. The salmon was beautifully done -- slices just thick enough to give them some bite, but still delicate, with the mint flavor from the creme fraiche adding a whole dimension to the taste. The maple flavor didn't come through quite as much, possibly because it was overpowered by the mint, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of it. The compote was good, but not as good as the rest of the dish -- I liked the sweetness and the hint of ginger in it, but I also like apples to be crisp, and I guess one of the downsides to making a compote is that you lose something with the texture. All in all, though, definitely worth ordering, and very reasonably priced.

We also tried out their mezze plate, which was 4 bite-sized appetizers: a lobster spring roll served with a mango chili sauce, an asian cabbage roll in a lemongrass sauce, a butternut squash samosa over cardamom yogurt, and caviar over a small brioche toast. The caviar was probably the least interesting of the offerings -- credible, but not awe-inspiring. The cabbage roll was a winner, although the sauce was more soya-y than I would have liked. The mango chili sauce for the lobster roll rocked, though -- just enough spiciness to give it some kick, with all the sweetness of the mango. They should bottle that stuff and sell it.

So there's the report. Nothing like an indulgent food day to kick off the spring. Hope this gets someone's digestive juices flowing!

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