The hardest thing for me after my freshman year was finding the occasional and needed reminder of having lived abroad. While I can’t say that I fell in love with French culture during that year, I sometimes found myself wanting to taste some of the delectable moments. Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish such is through food, as it poses as a clear culture identifier. For instance, the strong flavors from a perfectly created macaron can coax out the lost, yet pleasant, memory of a warm and sunny afternoon at Parc Monceau with a friend.
I often find that people who have never tasted a macaron from Pierre Hermé or LaDurée (or any other baking artisan) are seemingly so ready to settle. I’ve been to some of the cafés in Toronto and in New York, where people have claimed to have tasted the best (let’s be careful with the superlatives, shall we?) macarons of their lives, only to be disappointed with the incorrect consistency of the filling and harshness of the biscuit. I have managed to find two bakeries, so far, that offer redemption in my search for the best macarons outside of France, as well as a small restaurant near Central Park that takes you away from New York’s bustle and transports you into that cozy bistro atmosphere.
Toronto Favorite: Nadège Patisserie
Located on the hip west end of Toronto (call it Queen West West if you may), this patisserie perhaps drives the nail with precision into my cravings from the French treat. It should be duly noted, of course, that the owners are indeed French, from what I’ve overhead in some of the conversations had between frequent customers and staff. Of the several times that I’ve been here, the macarons have always been spot on in terms of flavor and consistency. And while none of the delicately crafted and daring flavors are to be had (think olive oil with vanilla by Pierre Hermé), the classics still draw a smile on my face as I sit in Trinity Bellwoods park sipping my iced latté on a summer afternoon.
edit (01/08/2011): I was in the area this afternoon, and decided to treat myself to some macarons; it seems that I had forgotten about their own unique flavors – mojito, hazelnut cranberry, and chestnut. So to correct my mistake, Nadège certainly does carry their own unique set of flavours.
780 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1G2
New York Favorite: La Maison du Macaron
Admittedly, I had my reservations about this place since the week before I had tried a macaron place that I was highly anticipating, only to be greatly let down. But in any case, I felt that I should do my quest right and give this patisserie a chance; that and the fact that I was with someone supporting my snack hunt. Truth be told, these are perhaps some of the best macarons that I’ve tasted in New York in terms of consistency and flavor. Again, the classic flavors fill the trays behind the sneeze guard, and while I would have preferred to taste something as a “out there” as the ones I’ve tasted in France, I’m delighted enough to have simplicity done well.
On a side note about balance, I have indeed had strong and creative flavor of a macaron filling from those at Kee’s Chocolates (their chocolates, as is their name, are a must taste, though) but the needed balance between resilient flavor and delicate biscuit was missing; instead, it was more like a WAM BAM of taste to best put it.
But forget the coffee at La Maison du Macaron; I’ve had cups brewed much better at any food truck than the one poured for me there.
132 W 23rd St
New York, NY 10011
New York “Om Nom:” La Bonne Soupe
If you’ve ever met me in person and talked to me when I’m hungry, you’ve might heard me break out and say “om nom nom nom.” In any case, I usually hate choosing restaurants with which I’m not familiar; so I cannot stress enough my gratefulness for the invention of Yelp, which has helped decrease my margin of error in terms of restaurant selection.
Last winter, I was given the responsibility of choosing a place to eat at when my friend came from Toronto for a conference in New York, and thus also took upon the chance to visit me. I opted for La Bonne Soupe, wary of it being so close to the touristy streets of New York, but with confidence bolstered by the reviews on Yelp.
Quaint with tables close to one another, and consisting of two floors, conversations were constantly flooding the dining room. We chatted over our glasses of red wine and munched on bread, while we waited for our meals to be placed in front of hungry eyes. With generously sized and well-seasoned portions, in addition to affordable pricing, it was no surprise that all the tables, except for one (when we had arrived), were filled that early January evening.
And since that time, I’ve taken at least two more friends there, both of whom thoroughly enjoyed their dining experiences. One even wrote about it on her blog!
48 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019
So there you have it: three French options for those that may have a craving and may not know where to start. Of course, there are also the more popular places for your French fix, but I thoroughly enjoy the places better known by locals than guidebooks – don’t you?
Images credited in caption; otherwise they have been taken by me