Cafe Habana

The boyfriend and I had walked by Café Habana a few months ago when we were walking to LES. Café Habana is located on the corner of Prince Street between Elizabeth and Mott Street. This little restaurant is really quite small, with only 8 table-for-two’s + 3 booths + 7 or so bar seats. Most of those table-for-twos are a bit smushed so it can definitely be a right squeeze during prime dining hours.

Since we had a free afternoon, we decided to stop by for lunch. We actually arrived around 10:50am, which was still during breakfast service. Café Habana starts lunch service at 11am so we got a seat and ordered a small size of chorizo to munch on until lunch started. Our waitress was perfectly okay with us just chilling out for a little bit and didn’t rush us.

Once 11am rolled around, we gave us the lunch menus – but we both already knew what we wanted. Fellow Yelpers have hyped up the Mexican Style Grilled Corn ($4.25) so we knew we had to try it. Each order comes with two large corns that are smothered in mayo and then topped with cotija cheese and chili powder. Our corn came piping hot. I can honestly say that the corn definitely lived up to the hype. The moment I bit into the corn it was like my taste buds exploded. The mayo made sure that the cheese stuck to the corn without falling all over the place. The mayo was warmed up by the hot corn and made each bite smooth and delicious. Even as we continued our meal, I still kept thinking about the corn! It is a bit spicy if you’re biting right onto the chili powder, but it was still so good!

The boyfriend and I decided to split their Cuban sandwich since we heard it was quite big. The Cuban sandwich ($9.75) features roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles inside pressed Parisi’s bread along with a side of fries. This sandwich was huge! Just by eating one half of the sandwich, I was already full. The bread was very crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside. The cheese melted as a result of the hot meats and held most of sandwich together. The only problem I had was my roast pork, or really pulled pork, started to fall out of my sandwich while I ate it. But in general, my sandwich was very flavorful. 

We also decided to get a side of tostones, or fried bananas. The tostones ($3.25) were very crunchy and crispy. In fact, if I didn’t previously know what they were, I wouldn’t have guesses they were fried bananas. I couldn’t help munching on these along with the fries while we ate our sandwich halves.

I was really wowed by the grilled corn. The grilled corn really was the highlight of the meal. The Cuban sandwich was good, but I feel like I’ve had better. The pig’s head sandwich that I had at the Cannibal from Madison Square Eats was a lot better. I liked their use of a crunchy flatbread kind of bread better. Our service was pretty good. We did wait a while before getting waters. Therefore, I’m going to give Café Habana 4/5 stars. I will definitely be back for the grilled corn but I will probably try another entrée next time.

Quick Tip: The bathroom is a bit of a tight squeeze. If you’re planning on visiting Soho, just use the restrooms at the stores there.

Maison Ladurée

After creeping the Yelp page for Maison Ladurée for a while, I finally got the boyfriend to go with me. We usually don’t wander to the Upper East Side much so this was a bit of a trek for us. Maison Ladurée’s marcarons are supposed to be one of the best so I knew I had to try them. And considering how I can’t fly myself to France to try them out (maybe one day), I figured their branch in the UES was just as good.

We arrived around 4:45pm on a Friday afternoon. There was a line inside the store that went around it 3x in a ‘S’ shape. The wait wasn’t long since their system consisted of two workers packaging macarons and one worker manning the cashier. There were laminated menus for us to peruse while we were on line so we would be able to make a selection once we reach the counter.

Their pricing is 6 macarons in a gift box for $20 and 8 macarons in a gift box for $25. 8 macarons in a regular pastry box is only $21 so I opted for that option since it would give me two more macarons for only $1 more. I wanted to try as many as I could! The pastry box is just as nice and held my macarons safely until I got home that night. The packaging is super cute!

The macaron selection was so hard! They had so many flavors and I only had 8 spots. I would’ve opted for a larger box but I knew I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy each and every one since I would have been way too full to finish them all after dinner that night.

The colors of the macarons are delightfully pretty. They were so pretty that I almost didn’t want to eat it! From left to right:

  1. Rose Petal
  2. Orange Blossom
  3. Pistachio
  4. Cherry Blossom
  5. Coconut
  6. Violet Blackcurrant
  7. Caramel with Salted Butter
  8. Chocolate

Since I heard such great things about it, I tried the Pistachio first. The crust was so soft! When I bit into it, there was a slight crunch but it felt very pillowy. I was in love with the filling in this macaron. And I don’t even like pistachios! It was just the right amount of sweetness without being too overbearing. Definitely one of my favorites! Out of 3 stars, I would give it 3/3!

Next is the Violet Blackcurrant. It was very good but not my favorite. There is a blackcurrant jam in the middle, which my sister loved. I prefer my macarons with a crème filling so this was midrange for me. Out of 3, I’d give it a 2.

Next up was the Rose Petal. This macaron definitely fit my requirements for my favorite macaron. It had a very light crème filling that squeezed out when you bite into it. There was a very distinct flower taste, which I’ve never had before. I really liked this macaron and along with the pistachio, it was one of my favorites. This one gets a 3/3 for sure.

I decided to go along with the flower theme and try the Cherry Blossom next. Instead of a jam or crème, this macaron had a ganache filling. This is their macaron of the season and I was expecting a lot from it. I thought it was pretty good. The ganache was really sweet – a lot sweeter than the other macarons. The macaron had the great crust and pillowy softness but the filling didn’t really win me over. This one is probably one of my satisfactory macarons at 2/3 stars.

I’m going to move onto one of my other favorites before discussing the bads. One of my favorites out of my selection was the Coconut. Despite my favoritism of crème fillings, this coconut ganache was amazing. There was a grainy texture to it and I can almost feel the super ground up coconut shreds. This one was definitely one of the tops of the bunch – 3/3 for sure.

At first I didn’t really like the chocolate because I thought the filling was a little too bitter for my liking. But upon further tasting, I realized that I did in fact like the filling. The fact that it was a little bitter offset the sweetness of the cookie. The filling was not too creamy or gooey. 2/3 stars.

One of the “just okay” macarons in the bunch was the Salted Caramel. The caramel filling was quite delicious since it was gooey without sticking to my teeth. But the salty part of it didn’t really work that well with the sweet caramel – or at least in my opinion. 1/3 stars.

And now unto my least favorite of the bunch – the Orange Blossom. I really couldn’t taste any flowery component to it and there wasn’t much orange flavor either. I didn’t really know what flavors were supposed to be present and to be honest I didn’t really taste much flavor at all. It was also the least attractive macaron out of the bunch. No stars for this macaron.

Overall Maison Ladurée impressed me. I had three really amazing macarons and two pretty good ones. These five good macarons that I had was able to overshadow the three that I didn’t really like. There is a lot of hype involved with this bakery but there are also a lot of great pastries here. If I’m ever in the area I know I will be back to pick up some pistachio, rose petal or coconut macarons. I’m interested in trying out some of their other flavors as well so hopefully I can find my way back to this place.

I really do suggest going early to avoid the lines. When we arrived we were able to fit in the shop. By the time we left, there was already a line outside the shop and down the block. Never underestimate the power of these tiny cookies!

Cha Chan Tang

Cha Chan Tang, located on Mott Street in Chinatown, is one of my go-to spots for breakfast and lunch when I’m looking for a quick meal. They opened up around a year ago and have gathered a lot of local attention since then. They specialize in Hong Kong style foods and drinks, which is quite different from the typical restaurants up and down Mott Street. They’re open early and serve breakfast until 11am daily so the boyfriend and I popped in for a quick meal before our day.

They have a set breakfast menu with 9 -10 options. Each option comes with your choice of a hot drink – hot milk tea, hot tea with lemon, hot coffee, etc. Some options come with buttered toast and some don’t. I favor sweetened toast so I ordered a separate order of it – it’s a must every time I go to Cha Chan Tang. Sweetened toast is simply just sweet condensed milk spread over toasted bread. It sounds so simple but it tastes so good! The sweet condensed milk melts over the toasted bread, making the sweet taste soak into the bread.

Set breakfast A comes with your choice of two of the three options: Soy sauce fried noodles, pork and egg congee, and Hong Kong style rice noodles. I chose to go with the soy sauce fried noodles and the pork and egg congee. Both of these dishes are a smaller size of their original orders. The soy sauce fried noodles is a very vegetarian dish – with only bean sprouts and scallions. These noodles weren’t too fried or oily and just enough to finish the entire plate.

The pork and egg congee was decent. I wasn’t too surprised that it wasn’t that good. The porridge was too runny. Cha Chan Tang’s congee also didn’t have enough preserved egg. I didn’t wind up finishing my congee because it was too runny and did not have enough preserved egg. For the best congee in Chinatown, walk up a bit to Big Wong – you won’t be disappointed.

The boyfriend also got the soy sauce fried noodles, but he chose to go with the Hong Kong style rice noodles instead. This is your basic steamed rice noodle but cut into bite-sized pieces with peanut sauce and hoisin sauce drizzled over it. This was really good and I know I will probably come back for it in the future.

Another frequent order of mine from the breakfast menu is the ramen noodles with a fried egg on top. Their ramen is always cooked just right – not too much so that it’s mushy and soft. The best way to eat this is to dunk the egg into the soup so it can cook up the yoke a little and then pop the rest onto the noodle. This dish is more than enough to fill you up! 

Our bill for two Set A breakfasts and a sweetened toast came up to just $9 without tip. For a filling breakfast, I think this is definitely a good deal! So head on over if you’re ever in Chinatown looking for a good and cheap breakfast.

Tea Time!

It’s time for tea! Since it’s Spring Break, a couple of friends and I decided to have girl’s day at Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter II. This chapter has two floors with the top being airier and lighter. Before we walked in, we all looked at the chalkboard with their daily scone options. They bake different scones everyday so you never know what you’re going to get!

We arrived around 12pm on a weekday so we only had to wait around 5 minutes for a table for 5 on the second floor. Once seated, our waitress quickly supplied us with their extensive tea list and their food menu. It took so long to figure out what tea we wanted to get! The cutest thing though was the mismatched teacups on the table. Everyone at our table had a different teacup!

My sister and I decided to share The Mad Hatter afternoon tea set for two ($45). It comes with two pots of tea, your choice of three scones, your choice of two sandwiches, assorted cookies and your choice of dessert. The tea sets come in a three-tier stand, which was so cute!

The first tier was the scones. We decided to go with the pumpkin, blueberry-coconut, and double chocolate chip. The scones came with a side of preserves and clotted cream, which is my favorite accompaniment with scones. I really must rave about Alice’s Tea Cup’s scones. They are big, filling, and very soft.

First up is their most famous scone – the pumpkin. This scone was differently shaped from the rest because it was more round than triangular. The scone had a pumpkin glaze, which was very sweet. The scone had such a nice pumpkin flavor! The sweet glaze made the scone so sweet that I didn’t even need any preserves or cream to go with it. Mmmmm!

Next up is the blueberry coconut, which was my favorite of the scones that we ordered. I broke off a chunk to nibble on before my sister could snap a picture but the usual shape is triangular. There were coconut shreds and blueberries all over the scone. There was also a light sugar dusting on top, which I really liked. Paired with preserves and clotted cream, this scone was divine!

And finally, we have the double chocolate chip scone. All scones were served warm so this one was delicious. The chocolate chips were dispersed very liberally and were semi-melted. I didn’t wind up finishing any of the scones because we wanted to get to the sandwiches. They were very nice and gave us boxes to wrap up our scones to go.

Tier two of the stand held the sandwiches. We decided to go with their black forest ham and smoked salmon sandwiches. There were three pieces of each sandwich, so we were able to try them both and then some. The smoked salmon sandwich was open-faced and was served with lemon-dill butter over pumpernickel bread. The salmon serving was very generous. I never felt like there was more bread than salmon. Very good!

The black forest ham was served with gruyere, mayo, and whole grain mustard on a golden raisin semolina bread. There was an abundance of cheese in this sandwich, which I loved! The crust of the bread was a bit hard to bite into but overall the sandwich was very delicious. I would’ve liked a softer bread but the raisins really brought a sweetness to the otherwise salty sandwich.

The third tier of the stand was the assorted cookies and chocolate mousse. We had to pack the cookies to go because we were so full after the first two tiers! But we had some room left for the chocolate mousse.

The chocolate mousse was very soft! We jokingly called it “the chocolate mousse of death” because it was so heavenly! There was rich chocolate flavor mixed with fluffy mousse. I’m very glad that they gave us a tiny ramekin of it because any more and we wouldn’t have been able to finish!

Now, unto the teas! Each of us got a pot of tea so I decided to go with a green tea, since I wanted something healthy. I went with their Gyokuro Green Tea, which is a tea that is picked only once a year in Japan. This tea was a more bitter than most of the green teas I’m used to but I thought it brought a nice contrast to the sweet and savory tea set. There was so much tea in the teapot that I wasn’t even able to finish by the time we finished our meal!

The sister got their Peach and Flower Tea, which was nice and refreshing. My favorite of the day had to be our friends’ Hawaiian Paradise tea, which is without caffeine. Made with apples, oranges, berries, rosehips, hibiscus and apricot fruit, it had a great tropical taste. I would definitely get this tea the next time I’m here!

Our waitress was amazing. She was friendly and answered any questions that we had. Three of my friends were sharing a Mad Hatter for two and she was completely okay with it. At the end of our meal, she even helped us to take a group picture!

We sat in the main room but behind our area was a tinier room filled with tables-for-two. The décor there was so pretty! I will definitely be back to sit in that area!

* Photo creds to my sister!

Pho Grand

It was dinner outing time again with the Asians and we decided on Pho Grand in Chinatown. Pho Grand specializes in Vietnamese food, which is something that I haven’t blogged about yet. Viet in Chinatown tends to be pretty abundant and very cheap. We like Pho Grand because they’re big enough to accommodate our large party (around 20 people) and they’re fast and clean.

I always start off Viet dinners with a Summer Roll, which is shrimp, vermicelli and vegetables wrapped inside rice paper ($3.75). These big rolls come with a peanut dipping sauce. The dipping sauce at Pho Grand is unrivaled, in my opinion. I have been to several other Viet restaurants in Chinatown and have not been able to find a peanut sauce that is better than this place. For that reason alone, I will continue to come here.

The boyfriend and a friend decided to share a large order of their spring rolls, which comes with 8 pieces ($7.45). Each order comes with a fish roe dipping sauce and lettuce to wrap the spring rolls in. These spring rolls are very different than the standard Chinese takeout spring rolls. These are a lot smaller but a lot crunchier because they’re deep-fried.

My entrée was their Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong or spring rolls & grilled pork with lettuce on rice vermicelli ($7.25). This dish features the shredded lettuce under a bed of vermicelli noodles. Grilled pork and cut up spring rolls are then scattered over the noodles. You’re meant to pour the fish roe dipping sauce over the noodles and toppings and eat it all together. This has always been my go to at Viet restaurants because it’s so good! You get some spring rolls and you also get grilled pork, which is another Vietnamese staple.

For under $10, you can eat like a king at Pho Grand, which is the reason why our club comes here at least once a year. The service is always quick and majority of the waiters speak enough English to understand you if you don’t speak Chinese.