As we approached the end of the semester, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted my final column of the school year to focus on. However, not only did the vacation offer the much-needed respite for my academically-addled mind, but also the opportunity for various food experiences I am more than happy to recount. As the weather warms up, traveling and going out becomes more safe and my schedule clears up, I foresee many fun eating encounters in my future–which the past week was a sneak peek of. Although I didn’t necessarily get to try most of what was on my birthday wish list, a weekend in New York City, brunch at The Place 2 Be with friends and more was certainly a good way to celebrate.
One particular NYC dessert place has been dominating my Instagram algorithm: Caffé Panna. I knew it was a sign to try the Italian inspired coffee bar and ice cream shop in Gramercy Park, lest my feed forever taunt me. What caught my eye were their aesthetically pleasing affogato sundaes, which @mikejchau (father of @foodbabyny) always posted on Instagram every time the shop switched out their offerings every few days. Affogato is an Italian dessert where hot espresso is poured over vanilla gelato or ice cream, and the shop elevated the concept with their top-tier ice cream, mix-ins and toppings.
Caffé Panna’s ice cream and dessert flavors are just sophisticated and fanciful enough to impress, but not so much to intimidate. I was hoping for there to be a sundae special up my alley for my birthday, and Caffé Panna didn’t disappoint on that sunny Saturday. The nutty latte affogato sundae featured caffe bianco stracciatella ice cream (pretty much a fancy coffee ice cream with chocolate shards), mocha pecans, coffee and caramel drizzles, candied almonds, graham crunch and of course, espresso. Although a bit pricey up front at $11.50, my sister and I agreed the dessert and trip were definitely worth it.
For a birthday dinner, my family and I traversed to Little Italy for the first time to try Paesano’s of Mulberry Street, a quaint classic Italian restaurant that had the ideal balance of casual, but charming ambiance and a decently sized menu for my sometimes picky family. The price was fairly reasonable for the portion sizes and the top-notch quality of food.
My first legal drink was a pitcher of red sangria, perfectly sweetened by the fruit in our glasses. it complemented my order of one of the house specials, paglia e fiena ala Paesano – spinach and semolina linguini in a light cream sauce with Julienne carrots, zucchini and jumbo shrimp. I always fall back on a classic white sauce pasta, so I enjoyed the unique pasta dish. The sauce was deliciously creamy and tangy with tomato, and I appreciated the vegetable choices in the dish to add a nice textural variety. My family also tried other specials like the osso bucco – heavenly tender and flavorful – and seafood cartocci – abundant with fresh and large pieces of lobster, shrimp, clam, mussels and calamari. My family and I truly ate our fill.
The next day featured the downpour I expected earlier that weekend, and a comforting bowl of ramen from Kinton Ramen warmed me right up. The pricing is pretty reasonable, and I appreciated their wide selection of soups. I went with the pork spicy garlic with chili pepper, pork, grated garlic and scallions, and it was one of the spicier ramens I’ve had (then again, I don’t have the highest spice tolerance). I felt like the spice dominated the flavor of the actual broth, and I think I preferred my sister’s bowl of pork shoyu. Nonetheless, they were all solid orders.
Capping off my birthday weekend was a brunch with friends at the downtown location of The Place 2 Be in Hartford. I’ve seen its iconic decor, food and drinks all across Instagram the past few months, and I know it would probably be even more popping if the pandemic hadn’t hit last year. I was apprehensive about going to such a hyped place, as I’m always wary of gimmicky places. However, my friends and I had a wonderful time.
Visiting on a Monday afternoon during COVID times probably alleviated the infamous wait time I’ve heard of, which made a large difference in the experience, in my view. We were seated right away, bar dealing with parking troubles. And perhaps this had to do with the less busier time we visited, but I felt safe in terms of their enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines. Ordering was easy and contactless on our phones, and even if we took a while to decide what to get – the menu has a great selection – we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly our orders arrived.
“The French toast was delicious and fluffy and everything I could’ve dreamed about,” Maggie Hausman, a sixth-semester NEAG student, said about her order of chicken and French toast.
The Morning Rooster comes with the traditional chicken and waffles, although you can actually choose if you want pancakes or French toast preferred to waffles. Most of my friends ordered or considered ordering it. All who did remarked on the presentation and the abundance of fried chicken the order came with.
“I loved everything about the experience,” Ashley Kane, sixth-semester actuarial science major, said. She ordered an extravagantly decorated maple walnut latte with her entree. “The food came out almost immediately, everything was presented beautifully, and my chicken and waffles were incredible.”
One of my other friends diverged from the chicken-and-waffles crazy that descended upon the group and instead ordered a classy plate of eggs benedict and a latte with Baileys, as the only other friend at brunch who was legal.
“Everything was really well put together, from the furniture to the music and presentation of the food,” Phoebe Mrozinski, sixth-semester environmental sciences major, said. “It was a great bang for the buck, too.”
I always say I want French toast when I go to breakfast places, but I believe this was perhaps the best time for me to indulge in that desire. My stack of challah French toast was beautifully presented, and the thick slices were perfectly toasted on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I ordered two different drinks to enjoy my new legality: a bold espresso martini and the classic mimosa. (No bottomless mimosas here, since I didn’t think it would be too fun to drink if most of my friends couldn’t.)
I also got to try the new Loose Leaf Boba Company location in New Haven. Its fun twists on bubble tea have also been proliferating on social media. They have classic matcha tea and an inspired menu that elevates classic flavors like red bean, taro and thai tea with fresh mix-ins and ingredients. The bananas fosters flavor caught my eye, with notes of rum and cinnamon in the description. The golden honey boba was perfectly sweet and chewy, and the tea was flavorful with banana and spice. I had to tell myself to slow down, else I finish my $7 drink right after I got it. The two friends I went with both got the strawberry matcha, its red and green gradient definitely eye-catching and the strawberry offering a sweet burst of flavor. Although the drinks are certainly pricey, I would say they are worth it once in a while for the fresh ingredients and delicious flavor.
“I was not sure what to think because I had never tried bubble tea before,” Isabella Draghi, sixth-semester English major, said. “I decided to try the strawberry matcha because it sounded interesting. The strawberry matcha was amazing and so sweet! I would definitely go back again and try more teas!”