The Nutella Cafe – Nope

A latte and a crepe with banana slices and whipped cream.

Yesterday night, my wife and walked past the Nutella Cafe on 13th Street at University Place in Manhattan on our way to New York Health and Racquet Club. My wife commented that the line had finally died down, though the place was still busy inside. My first thought was that it was the middle of the week, but thinking about it, this place has had a line out the door and around the corner of the block since it opened early last month.

We went to check it out right away too. Without realizing it, we got in the line to get inside the restaurant after it had already been closed to new customers. When the guy watching the door noticed, he let us in anyway. Maybe he didn’t want to disappoint potential new customers, or he was trying to maximize the cafe’s earnings that night. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if he just worked the door or he owned the place.

The ordering process was pretty straightforward, though the selection seemed pretty limited. Most of the things on the menu weren’t all that exciting and looked like the sort of stuff that would be pulled out of a freezer and reheated in a microwave oven. The crepes are basically carrying the menu, and that’s what we ordered.

Was it worth it? Not really. Not for the prices they’re charging. You get a crepe with some Nutella. You want fruit? Extra. You want whipped cream? Extra. I’d be ok with the “extra” if it was a reasonable price, but if I remember right, the crepe pictured above wound up being about $10 and there wasn’t even that much banana in it. Maybe just a quarter of an average sized banana, and that doesn’t really make sense. I can two bananas for what they charged to add it as a topping.

The latte was good, but I could get a better crepe at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ. Probably in Manhattan, too. And in any of the boroughs. And for less money. With Nutella, and with more fruit.

So how do you get away with selling decent coffee and so-so desserts at inflated prices? You make it fashionable by throwing a name on it and hyping it up. The higher price itself is part of the plan. You make it fashionable to go there. Showing up at the Nutella Cafe becomes less about the quality of what you’re consuming and more about the image you’re projecting. Like Starbucks, where you pay $6 for coffee that tastes like burnt asshole so you can show everyone you have a Starbucks holiday cup when you get to the office. As much as I shit on Dunkin’ Donuts, at least they don’t pretend that they’re selling a premium product.

Nothing about the Nutella Cafe really thrilled me and I wouldn’t go back. For a better cafe atmosphere, The Bean is nearby on Broadway and 12th. For better desserts, Veniero’s is over on 11th and 1st, and it’s really worth the walk.

A dessert I picked up from Veniero’s and brought home. The cheesecake (Italian/Sicilian/NY Style) is amazing too.
Veterans Day Free Meal Menu at Olive Garden

A Shout Out to Olive Garden and Starbucks for Veterans Day Offers

Every year that I’ve been in the United States on Veterans Day I’ve had the opportunity to get freebies from various companies when dining out. For example, Olive Garden offered a free entree and Starbucks offered a free tall (small) plain coffee for veterans. I took advantage of both. There are other sites that have lists of what restaurants offered this year, though. That’s not really the point of this post.

I was just thinking about how great it is that as a veteran these companies are willing to recognize my military service by giving me something for free. Granted, people who serve in the military are essentially putting themselves at risk to preserve the U.S. way of life, including its economy, in theory, and are protecting these businesses as a result, but that doesn’t obligate them to offer discounts or free meals.

I suppose I’m a pessimist. You almost have to draw blood to get wages raised to what constitutes a living wage. Companies cut corners by putting yoga mat material in their so-called meat patties to increase profits. So, to see a company just putting stuff out there for veterans for free still surprises me every year.

This post is basically just a big thank you to those companies and especially to Olive Garden and Starbucks since I’ve gone to those establishments nearly every year on Veterans Day. Thanks!

Duck noodle soup and chicken veggie dumplings at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

Busy little noodle joint – Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles in Chinatown

Doyer’s Street is kind of a weird looking spot, but it has the best noodle shop I’ve been to in New York City: Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. The location subtitle on Google Maps, “Busy little noodle joint”, sums the place up pretty well. It’s a hole in the wall establishment. You could easily walk by and not even notice it was there. It’s cramped inside. In the summer, it’s hot. And, it’s always busy. Seating is very limited and you have to shift around to let people move past you. It’s totally worth it, though.

The first time I went to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, I wandered in by accident while on a break from jury duty. Each time, I somehow wound up at the tiny table squeezed into the corner by the front door. I haven’t come close to working my way through the menu. I usually stick with the noodle soup dishes and I’m really partial to the duck noodle soup, but I find it hard to believe I would be really disappointed by something they prepared. The food just has a good, authentic, quality taste to it without being unreasonably expensive. Most of the soups are about $9 – $10 a bowl, but the portions are large.

Chinatown, New York City

The only thing that’s a little annoying about the place is that it’s a cash-only establishment. Luckily, there’s a Chase bank across the street with ATMs so it’s not too big a deal. I’ve noticed that a lot of Asian restaurants are switching to cash-only lately. I wonder why? I try to not carry cash. Lately, I’ve even cut down on the cards I carry. My Galaxy S7 has Samsung Pay and it works really well. It also has a rewards program.

If you want dessert, you can stop by Taiyaki NYC over on Baxter Street on your way to the train station on Canal Street. It’s a Japanese ice cream place that is pretty popular. The original, vanilla soft-serve in a fish pastry with warm custard, chocolate syrup, strawberries and a wafer cookie is pretty awesome.

Stage Restaurant

Cooks behind the counter at Stage Restaurant

Cooks behind the counter at Stage Restaurant

About two weeks ago we went to a place called Stage Restaurant, a Ukrainian and Polish restaurant at 128 2nd Ave in Manhattan. I can’t believe it’s been that long already. With classes going, time is flying by.

We wound up in Stage because we were looking for a place to take my mother for a late birthday lunch. She happened to see an article in the paper about Stage potentially closing due to leasing problems and she wanted to spend some money there and support local neighborhood establishments. A lot of other restaurants that had been in the neighborhood for decades have been driven out by rising rent costs, including places that we used to go to often as kids, like the 2nd Avenue Deli. Now the 2nd Avenue Deli is way up town on 75th Street. I haven’t been there since they moved, because it’s so far out of the way. I remember the food being really good. I suppose we could go there before or after visiting the Met one day.

Anyway, we found out later from one of the employees that Stage has a long lease already set up that can’t be broken by the new building owners, so hopefully things work out for them. It seems like a lot of property in the area is getting bought up by NYU for classrooms and dorms. The whole character of the neighborhood has changed since NYU put those dorms up at Union Square. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. The place looks a lot nicer. On the other hand, it runs up prices on everything and the neighborhood was predominantly lower income before. Basically, people were run out of their homes because they could no longer afford to live there. That’s gentrification, I guess.

French toast and apple blintzes.

French toast and apple blintzes.

Stage Restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall sort of place with one long bar for seating directly in front of the cooking area. The latkes (fried potato pancakes) pierogies were recommended in the news article, but I went with the French toast.  My wife and I shared a plate of apple blintzes. I can’t remember what she ordered now, but she didn’t have any complaints at the time. My mom went with a plate of pierogies, stuffed cabbage, sausage and sauerkraut. The portions were huge and she had plenty of food to take home for another meal.

Pierogies, sausage, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut.

Pierogies, sausage, stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut.

Stage Restaurant isn’t fine dining, but it’s fast, comfortable, and the food was good. It was also busy. Every time a seat opened up, someone sat in it. I don’t think the restaurant is going anywhere anytime soon, so I’m glad we found it. We can add it to our list of potential lunch venues when we’re in the neighborhood.