Food treasures in New York City

Chocolate From Near And Far

Chocolate is a very personal thing. There are those who prefer milk over dark and others who want it as bitter as possible. Some want nuts, others seek the bite of something savory added in.  Fortunately, there are many places to find the chocolate to suit your taste. There are two that caught my fancy recently.

Chocolate bars from Mast Brothers

Chocolate bars from Mast Brothers

The first is Mast Brothers Chocolate located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They are one of the few producers in the country, and the only one in the city, according to the New York Times, to make chocolate by hand from cacao beans they’ve roasted in their ovens.

Chocolate making at Mast Brothers

Chocolate making at Mast Brothers

What’s great about visiting their shop is to be able to watch the chocolate being made and sample some of their varied and interesting flavors

Spicy chocolate if you like a  real "bite"

Spicy chocolate if you like a real “bite”

You can also order the chocolate bars online but you’ll really miss out on the total experience.  Mast Brothers has been around for about 2 years. But a new chocolate kid on the block is the Japanese chocolate-maker, Royce’, which recently opened a store on Madison and 53rd.

The Royce store on Madison Avenue

The Royce’ store on Madison Avenue

At the small but sleek shop you can buy moderately priced boxes of chocolate, truffles and chocolate bars.

Bittersweet chocolate squares from Royce make a nice gift

Bittersweet chocolate squares from Royce’ make a nice gift

You can also find Royce’s signature chocolate covered popcorn and potato chips.

Royce' chocolate covered chips

Royce’ chocolate covered chips

February 25, 2013 Posted by | Food, stores, sweets | , , | 2 Comments

“Rugelach By A Brother”

Mr. Alvin Lee Smalls

Mr. Alvin Lee Smalls

Rugelach, those crescent filled sweet pastry, are the best known and most popular of all Ashkenazic baked goods in America, according to Gil Marks, author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food  But some of the best in the city can be found at Lee Lee’s Baked Goods in Harlem. Its owner, Alvin Lee Smalls, who is also the baker, is known affectionately as “Lee Lee,” or “Mr. Lee.” He’s been baking for 50 years; first by running the bakery at New York Hospital and then 19 years ago opening his own bakery.

Scaffolding hides the front of Lee Lee's Baked Goods at 238 West 118th Street

Scaffolding hides the front of Lee Lee’s Baked Goods at 283 West 118th Street

While Lee Lee sells a variety of baked goods, people come from near and far for his buttery “rugelach by a brother,” as he calls them. Why rugelach? He told me that he saw a recipe in the newspaper many years ago and decided to give them a try. He baked them over and over again until he found just the right flavor and texture. He wouldn’t share his special ingredients but said when he retires he hopes to publish a cookbook and all will be revealed then.

Trays of apricot rugelach

Trays of apricot rugelach

Lee Lee bakes 3 flavors of rugelach — apricot, chocolate and raspberry — but call ahead to see what’s available on any given day. You can also order them online.

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Food, stores, sweets | , | 3 Comments

“Bespoke” Spices at La Boîte

lior spice making1

Lior Lev Sercaz making spices

Inspired by his passion for spices, and the stories they tell, Lior Lev Sercaz began La Boîte á Epice in 2006. The store located in Hell’s Kitchen, offers 40 unique spice blends like “Luberon,” a blend of lavender, basil and fennel; “Marrakesh,” a mix of cumin, cinnamon and thyme; or “Galil,” a blend of verbena, white cardamom and sage; inspired by Sercaz’s native Israel.

"Coquelicot" - a blend of poppy seeds, lemon and mustard

“Coquelicot” – a blend of poppy seeds, lemon and mustard

You can purchase the spices online but visiting the store is worth the trip. The spices are more costly than your typical supermarket brand but they offer a totally different and unique taste experience.With Sercaz’s guidance you can pick a spice that suits your tastes, or he might create a blend uniquely for you. Not only is it an aromatic experience but your other senses are stimulated as well. La Boîte also sells seasonal selection of biscuits “inspired by cultural events, personal reflections and a very special ingredient – art.” Each season the biscuits come in a special box designed by a featured artist. The artist’s work is then displayed gallery-style in the shop. The Fall 2012-Winter 2013 collection is called “Pure, Real Taste,” and features the work of photographer, Thomas Schauer.

Located at 724 11th Avenue, the store is opened Wednesday-Friday, 3:00-7:00pm.

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Food, spices | , | 1 Comment