Scouting: Levain Bakery

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

I’m taking a food photography class this weekend - more on that next week! – and the first assignment is to “shoot a well composed photograph of either a single piece of fruit or a vegetable, or shoot a cup of tea and cookie, muffin, or accompanying sweet.”

Well, a vegetable or a piece of fruit is great and all, but I immediately saw that the best course of action was a trip Levain Bakery in search of a suitable, ahem “companion” to the subject of this masterpiece of photography. Conveniently, the bakery is right in our neighborhood, so swinging by for a cookie or a loaf of their wonderful bread is easy. Excellent.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

When I went into the cozy little shop on Wednesday afternoon it was surprisingly empty – most days there’s a line of at least half a dozen people up the steep staircase and along the railing – so I took advantage of the opportunity to linger. Visiting Levain is like stepping into a warm cocoon of vanilla, baked bread, and sugar.

It’s a little ironic to me that the name of the bakery refers to the French word for bread leavening when it’s the cookies that seem to get all the attention. The four options: Chocolate Chip Walnut, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was momentarily side-tracked by the Whole Grain Loaf and Chocolate Brioche before I re-focused on my true target; Levain’s bestselling cookie: Chocolate Chip Walnut.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

These babies are substantial - New York Magazine calls them “scone-sized” - and with their rustic, irregular, domed exterior and dense chewy interior it’s a pretty apt description. Even with an appetite for cookies like mine I can never finish one in one sitting, not such a bad thing since it means enjoying it over a day or so.

The interior is just a little under-baked allowing the eater to enjoy the sweet stickiness of cookie dough stuffed full of semi-sweet chocolate chips and gently bitter acidic chopped walnuts.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie by Levain Bakery | Image: Laura Messersmith

As you can see the deliciousness of the cookie immediately upstaged the cup of coffee that was supposed to be the star, but that was probably to be expected. I present to you my four favorite shots, no filter, no retouching, no cropping. If this is learning food photography I may need more than one class….

Levain Bakery | UWS, Harlem, Hamptons | Hours Vary by Location

Scouting: Maille New York

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, I was walking along Broadway when I spotted an advertisement on a bus shelter. I probably walk past a dozen or more a day, but this one caught my attention because it was announcing the opening of a new Maille boutique – the only one in the U.S. - on the Upper West Side.

I use Maille’s Old Style Whole Grain Mustard in a lot of my cooking – great texture and that perfect amount of spicy zing – so I was definitely intrigued to find out about some of their other products. An entire boutique devoted to mustard right in my neighborhood? It was a scouting no brainer.

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

When I arrived at the Columbus Avenue location – a shiny black and gold jewel box that truly lives up to the term “boutique” – I met the shop manager, Mike. I explained that I was planning to make Granny Smith Cheddar Handpies and was looking for something that would not only compliment the ingredients, but also really shine on its own. Mike was really helpful and immediately offered to lead me through a tasting of Maille’s gourmet mustards to find just the right one.

We started wine-tasting style with some of the milder, sweeter options before moving on to some of the spicier, more aggressive mustards. I particularly liked the Mustard with White Wine, Candied Orange Peel and Ginger; the Mustard with Sauternes White Wine; and of course, the Mustard with White Wine, Apricot and Curry Spices. Honestly, I could have walked out with half a dozen jars and made my husband think I was starting a mustard collection!

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Maille New York   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

In the end, my trusty mustard advisor and I decided that the classic combination of sharp cheddar and tart granny smith apples with the sweet spiciness of the apricot-curry mustard would be perfect (spoiler alert: it was!)

If you’re in the market for some special additions to a cheese plate or to jazz up a recipe the shop is a great place to stop in for the fresh mustards on tap - pricey, but delicious - infused vinegars, and gherkins. I feel pretty confident trusting Maille - the company has been making mustard since 1747 and is seriously the Mustard of Kings - I figure if it’s good enough for Louis XV and Queen Victoria it’s probably good enough for me.

Maille New York  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | Image: Laura Messersmith

Maille New York | 185 Columbus Avenue; New York, NY 10023 | Monday - Saturday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm; Sunday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Scouting: Salumeria Rosi

Salumeria Rosi  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

We’ve lived in our neighborhood for more than a year and I’m still surprised by the hidden gems I’m just discovering. My excuse for missing Salumeria Rosi all this time is one that might only make sense to other city dwellers: I’ve literally passed its burgundy awnings and fragrant rosemary bushes hundreds of times, but on the subway headed to some other destination. It’s a ridiculous reason, I know, but I never knew it was there!

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

I finally got my act together earlier this week and stopped by the restaurant/market hybrid, which specializes in imported Italian products. The shop is named for the Rosi family and the preserved meats the family’s Parma-based company, Parmacotto, produces. I learned that salumi is a broad term for – essentially the Italian counterpart to French charcuterie - and can refer to everything from prosciutto and pancetta, to cappicola, salami, and mortadella.

As a start in my education I took home a small sampling of aged Prosciutto di Parma, soppressata dolce, and salame calabrese. I paired the slices of salty, sweet, and spicy salumi with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and of course some great semolina Italian bread I picked up from the bakery. Maybe next time with a slice or two of melon, if I can find a good one in the produce section?

Salumeria Rosi   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi | Image: Laura Messersmith

Salumeria Rosi reminds me why New York is such a great city for food lovers. In addition to the variety of salumi options, the market also carries small plate accompaniments and garnishes like caponata, marinated artichoke hearts, and delicate breadsticks – one stop shopping for a gorgeous spread. An authentic slice of Parma right in my backyard anytime an Italian feast is called for.

Salumeria Rosi | 283 Amsterdam Avenue; New York, NY | Deli: Mon - Sun 11:00 am - close; Restaurant: Mon - Fri 12:00 pm - close, Sat & Sun 11:00 am - close

Scouting: Barney Greengrass

Barney Greengrass  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Barney Greengrass | Image: Laura Messersmith

One of my favorite things about New York is the sense of energy, of change. It’s exciting to live in a city that’s constantly evolving – shedding old layers and taking on new ones. The flipside of all that change is a sneaking anxiety that the history and charm of the city’s sometimes gritty past will be wiped away. Even as a new arrival to the city I worry that the “authentic” places will disappear and be replaced by some slick storefront devoid of personality.

Some of the old spots – places recognizable to even the most old-school New Yorker like Barney Greengrass – survive in our neighborhood and I admit that I get a thrill of satisfaction from visiting them. I like knowing that I stand where decades of other people have stood and taking my small place in the parade of humanity that has crossed the threshold since the business (established in 1908) opened it’s doors on Amsterdam Ave.

Barney Greengrass   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Barney Greengrass | Image: Laura Messersmith

I know almost nothing about traditional Jewish deli & appetizing food. I definitely wanted salmon, but beyond that ...well, just imagine crickets chirping. I was a little nervous when I first arrived and braced myself, expecting exasperation, but thankfully I needn’t have worried.

The gentlemen behind the counter listened patiently as I described my intended recipe (stay tuned for the results…) and since the shortest distance between two points is a taste-test they offered samples to help me make a selection.

Barney 1.jpg

Friends, I think I picked the right place to try smoked/cured fish for the first time. The texture of Barney’s hand-cut slices is beautifully delicate and thanks to my guides I left with new insight into why there are such strong opinions on which preparation is best - smoked eastern nova tastes really different from say, house-cured gravlox.

There’s a reason that places survive for more than 100 years and it’s not just nostalgia keeping them viable. Those years come from the Greengrass family; owners that value tradition, treat their customers warmly and provide a high-quality product. I’m excited to continue my education on the wide world of smoked fish and with any luck Barney Greengrass will be around to serve as my classroom.

Barney 2.jpg