Brand Names, Nombres Nuevos
There are a few big brand names out there that in my opinion don't really deliver big quality. In fact, in the brave new world of boutique booze, many consumers automatically consider large-production labels far less interesting than some of the more hands-on micro-distilleries just because of their sheer size and volume. That being said, there are still plenty of fancy brand names out there that set the gold standard for their particular genre and Ladurée is one of them. The maison of macarons is still a must-visit destination for any tourist in Paris, and lucky for us Americans, they have an outlet in New York. I remember visiting the Madison Avenue location years ago, waiting in line with a bunch of eager eaters, and watching a lady on the street pester all the patrons for a single bite of those coveted cookies. While shopping in SoHo this time around, we were shocked to see a new, full-scale Ladurée restaurant on West Broadway just south of Spring Street. "Let's go!" I screamed, as the clock had just hit lunchtime. A cold cocktail with a pink macaron in it? Sign me up!
There's a beautiful patio located behind the main patisserie up front, and it opens into a gorgeous space with plenty of natural light. The weather was absolutely perfect today, in the mid-70s, so we were thrilled to sit outside.
I can safely say that I had the salad of my life at the original Ladurée location in Paris. For that reason, I was excited to see what the New York location could come up with. Thinly-sliced carpaccio of filet mignon, arugula, parmesan cheese, with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Pretty damn good. Not life-changing, but my last experience left a lot to live up to.
But—let's be honest here—no one goes to Ladurée to eat salad. We all know why we're here: dessert. One of each please! I've had plenty of shitty macarons over the years (usually right after people have told me "Try this! It's better than Ladurée!"), but I've never had a disappointing experience at Ladurée. It's a big brand name that always delivers quality and beauty. High fashion, high flavor.
After shopping for a few hours along Prince Street we got thirsty. We were further south at this point, on Grand, when we noticed the Copa America final starting on the television of Mexican-themed bar near Thompson. We pulled up a chair and began watching an epic battle between Chile and Argentina. I ordered a Paloma with mezcal instead of tequila and I was shocked by how good it was. There were no measured pours with jiggers and teaspoons in this place. Just good old counting—one, two—and dumping. As the years go forward, I'm noticing a serious increase in quality with even the most basic bar programs around major American metropolitan areas. Less goop, more gusto.
There was a lively Cuban guy standing behind us the entire time, ordering everyone shots of tequila, and flirting with all the beer models who were there to promote their brand. He ordered a plate of tacos as well, sat them down in front of us, and said, "Come! Come!" as in "Eat! Eat!" He was so excited to be there, speaking Spanish, sharing food and drink with all the other latinos in the bar (I was a defacto latino for that part of afternoon).
All that latino action got us in the mood for Mexican food, and we had noticed a cool-looking place a few blocks East on Elizabeth Street near Houston. Tacombi at Fonda Nolita is a super-hip, open warehouse space that functions as a high-end taco bar with alcohol. The decor is vintage Mexico, so much so that you feel instantly transported south of the border upon entering.
Right smack in the middle of the place is an old VW bus (driven up from Playa del Carmen, where the original taco stand was), that has been transformed into a centrally-located grill. The tacos are picked up there by the wait staff and brought to your table. They are delicioso!
One question that I have been asking my wife for years is: "Why don't Mexican restaurants make cocktails out of aguas frescas?" The Mexican fruit drinks, available at most taquerias, are so light, refreshing, and tasty that they seem like they'd be the perfect partner for a little rum or tequila.
FINALLY! SOMEONE IS DOING THIS! Watermelon juice with tequila, jamaica with mezcal, and horchata with rum! Take your pick! It's about damned time!