March 22, 2010

Whirlwind Saturday Morning Macaron Tour of NYC

If you were following us on Twitter this past Saturday, you know that we were traveling around NYC in search of free macarons.

What are these beautiful creations?  Little meringue-based sandwiches with various flavoured fillings.  Though simple in aesthetic, these macarons are temperamental creatures and can be fairly difficult to make.

Saturday was the first Macaron Day NYC.  Originated five years ago in Paris by renowned Pastry Chef Pierre Herme, Macaron Day would encourage pastry shops to give away free macarons.  In exchange, customers would be encouraged to make a charitable donation.


Here in NYC, Chef Francois Payard (responsible for our delectable Buche de Noel) got 13 bakeries to participate in providing free macarons.  A portion of proceeds from additional macaron sales went towards City Harvest.

So after finding out about this event late on Friday, we researched bakery hours and strategized our best travel route (given weekend service advisories).  With only 4 hours before our noon lunch date with Montreal smoked meat (more on that later), we had an ambitious plan to visit 12 bakeries.  We only got to 7 of them before time (and our palettes) ran out - but it was a great way to spend a warm, Saturday morning in NYC.
 By 8AM, we were on the Upper West Side making our way to our first stop.  Amongst the early morning joggers and dog walkers, NYC had never seemed so serene and quiet to us.
8:15 AM:  Silver Moon Bakery (2740 Broadway at 105th St) was our first stop.  Upon mentioning we were here for "Macaron Day NYC", the counter-girl told us 1) Only the 1st 10 people get one free macaron only if they buy one, 2) Everyone else must buy 12 macarons to get one free one, and 3) No photos.  She then pulled out a small tray carrying a handful of macarons.
 Suffice it to say, we did not think that they were honoring the true spirit of the event .  We each bought a macaron ($1.75/each) to get the free one.  From left to right were Pistachio, Oreo, Chestnut, and Chocolate.  These was our first macaron experience and we thought that they were okay and not very flavourful.  Our favorite was the Oreo, mainly because it surprised us (the counter-girl mentioned this was Vanilla, so the taste was unexpected).
8:45 AM - We walked down to Georgia's Cafe (2418 Broadway at 89th St.) for Macaron stop #2.  The cafe itself had a large seating area and was beautifully decorated.  This time when we mentioned the "password", the manager greeted us with a warm welcome, offered us one complimentary macaron a piece, and eagerly showed us his array of macarons. 
These macarons tasted more like their natural flavor.  At left was the chestnut macaron full of nuttiness goodness.  At right was the mango macaron with actual mango-tasting (not artificial candy tasting) jam-like filling.  We also loved the bright orange color with pink tinge.

We would definitely return to Georgia's Cafe to check out their food selection and buy a few macarons (at $1.65/each, these were the cheapest in-store price point we saw all day).

After chatting with Georgia's Cafe's manager for a while, we had to get back on our journey and took the subway down to Columbus Circle.

Bouchon Bakery was our #3 Macaron stop.  Despite the friendly service, we again met with a little misunderstanding.

9:30 AM - We love Thomas Keller (after all, we've had wonderful meals at Per Se, The French Laundry, and enjoyed meeting him).  So to say we were excited about this macaron stop would be an understatement.
The response to our "Macaron Day NYC" request was, "Oh, we are not serving them here.  You'll have to wait until the cafe (nearby seating area) is open at 11AM)".  Not wanting to wait 1.5 hours, we debated between buying a box of 6 macarons for $12 or just one large macaron for $3.  (At least the money went to City Harvest!)

We bought the bright lemon meringue macaron ($3) - The filling was buttery, with a subtle flavor.  The meringue part was plump and soft.  It was a decent macaron - but nothing mind-blowing like the desserts we had at his restaurants.
Fast forward to 4pm when we decided pop into Bouchon Bakery again.  At the cafe, the hostess pointed us back to the take-out counter for our "macaroons".  We returned, were told by the manager that they were all out (but try the cafe), and that they started giving them away at 10AM (not 11AM as previously told).  Sigh.  After hearing our story, the friendly and patient manager found a leftover pistachio macaron for us.  It was tiny (the size of a nickel) and very light.  The lemon macaron was much better, but we appreciated the manager's effort.
Back to our morning tour.  After buying a large bottle of water (our palettes were starting to wear out), we took the bus along Central Park South and headed towards the east side.
10:20AM - Despite getting there 20 minutes after opening, we met a closed door at high-end china store Bernaudaud (499 Park Ave at 59th St), the day's location for gluten-free macarons from Mad Mac.  We can't tell you how they tasted (maybe we'll buy a 12 macaron box online for $18), but they did look pretty from the outside.

Since Chef Payard was the organizer of the event, we knew we wanted to try a macaron from him.

Nearby FC Chocolate Bar did not open until 11AM, so we hopped on the 6 train towards the Upper East Side.

10:30 AM - Butterfield Market (1114 Lexington at 78th St), a gourmet grocery store, is the other Payard vendor.  With a sign outside advertising "Macaron Day NYC", we knew we would not have a problem at Macaron stop #5.
The employees at the Payard window were very friendly and eager to please.  We each chose the Yuzu (Japanese lemon) macaron (complimentary, but normally $2/each).  These macarons were a little thicker and chewier, but we did enjoy the light tangy yuzu flavor.   
Macaron Stop #6, La Maison du Chocolat (1018 Madison at 78th St) was only a short walk away. This elegant store is a chocolate lover's dream.  Little squares of chocolate creations were displayed like jewelry around the store, with a small counter devoted to various macarons.
Met with a friendly smile, we were offered these complimentary Hazelnut macarons.  Normally $2.50 each, these macarons were the most expensive ones we had seen all day.  But they were divine - filled with a hazelnut chocolate spread - and amongst our favorites of the day.    
By now, my savory-loving husband was sugared-out by all of the macarons.  He was itching for his Montreal smoked meat and was worried the restaurant would run out of it (which happens around 3-4pm).  I promised him only one more macaron stop before our Brooklyn-bound lunch.
11:10 AM - For our final macaron stop (#7), we headed towards midtown west (Fashion District).  Tourists and shoppers were out in full force as the summery weather (74 F/23 C) brought everyone out of winter hibernation.
MacarOn Cafe (161 W 36th St at 7th Ave) was the perfect stop to end our macaron tour (though we were oh so close to Madeleine Patisserie and LA Burdick...perhaps another time).  We walked into the whimsical space and found the one and only place on our journey where macarons were the sole star.
Pastry chef Cecile Cannone immediately gave us two free macarons each (already nicely packaged).  She has been making macarons (and only macarons!) for 6 years.  We loved the bright vibrant colors of her macarons as well as her extensive unique flavors.  Cassis, Violet flowers, Chocolate, Caramel, and Rose petals were only some of the macarons on site.  Cecile's macarons were the most creative we had seen during our tour.
We purchased two more macarons ($1.95 each) - Cognac (a St. Patrick's Day idea) and Black Sesame (Cecile was inspired by a black sesame ice cream she enjoyed at a Japanese restaurant and chatted with that chef for ways to incorporate the same flavor in her macaron).
Cecile obviously has a passion for macarons.  Biting into our complimentary ones, we are hit by their rich flavors:  almond, passion fruit, and pistachio.  The thin exterior meringuey shell gives ways to a soft, moist center. 

Our purchased macarons were slightly larger and even more intricately decorated.  The nutty black sesame macaron evoked memories of black sesame cakes from Chinese bakeries.  My half-Irish husband enjoyed his cognac macaron though it was more subtle in flavor.
Hope you enjoyed our Macaron Tour of NYC!

p.s. And yes, my husband happily enjoyed his Montreal smoked meat lunch (We'll post the review tomorrow!)

19 comments:

  1. Beautiful beautiful post! This is one of my all time favorites yet! Fantastic job putting all those collages together. I can't believe you went around NYC and ate SO MANY macarons! Your poor husband - what a guy! I recently tried the lemon one at Bouchon (from Las Vegas)and I agree it's alright, but nothing amazing. See you soon!

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  2. Fabulous post Andrea - what a wonderful morning you had. Maybe I need to make sure I am in NYC next Jour du Macaron...

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  3. You are killing me here. What a tremendously gorgeous post. I am rushed now - but will be bake in a few moments to read and savour each and every word and drool and remember NYC last March when we were there.
    BRAVO... thank you. Merci beaucoup. I cannot wait to read this, instead of skim it - I will be back!
    XO

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  4. what a wonderful day... And a perfect post to get excited about next year's...

    A shame about the misunderstanding, but this could be a wonderful fund raiser once it catches on. I know I always give a shade more at these "free " events.

    Great post

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  5. @TinyUrbanKitchen - Thanks! Can't wait to see you on Friday!

    @Mardi - I'd love to hit up one of these shops with you when you're in town!

    @A Canadian Foodie - Thanks for checking in and hope you enjoy the read when you get back!

    @A Year on the Grill - I agree! So glad that the proceeds went to charity!

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  6. This was an amazing read.I do have the best husband in the world - but he would never accompany me on such a labour of love as this tour was... well, he might, just to have a fun time together. But, he would definitely not be into the macaron. (As a matter of fact, as I think about it - he did just this in Brussels when we did our chocolate tour.) But, you are lucky to have your man do this with you. I am certain you were the only pair hitting all of the places you could - and what a fun way to spend a beautiful Saturday in NYC. I hope you send the link to this post to the organizers and all of the participants.
    :)
    Valerie

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  7. I would consider that the best day ever! Please bring me next time you go.

    bittersweetsugarandsarcasm.blogspot.com

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  8. BEAUTIFUL photographs and my mouth is watering! What kind of camera do you have??!?

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  9. wow what a fun day, you must have a felt a bit sick though!

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  10. I didn't realize that there were so many macaron shops in New York. My favorite is the chocolate one at La Maison du Chocolat, but I'll have to try the others you mentioned.

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  11. Oh I had macarons just not too long ago for the first time! They were so delicious and light. These look amazing!

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  12. @Rick - Mark your calendar for next year's Macaron Day NYC 2011! We'll be doing this again (unless we go to Paris for the original!)

    @Callie - Thanks! I mainly use a Nikon D70 with 50mm f/1.8D lens.

    @Chow and Chatter - My hubby definitely had enough macarons to last a lifetime! Towards the end, we just brought the macs home to enjoy after dinner. Definitely need to check in with our dentist!

    @Fresh Local and Best - La Maison du Chocolat is often considered the best macaron place in NYC. I'd love to try them in Paris though.

    @Sook - These were our first macarons and now I'm hooked!

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  13. Awesome post!! I learned about NYC macaron day late on Friday as well and almost persuaded my husband to abandon our Sat plans to do it. But despite his sweet tooth, he admitted he probably couldn't eat that many macarons in one day (wimp) but I'm determined to do it next year. In the meantime, I can't wait to try the black sesame macaron from Macaron Cafe. Thanks for the great reviews!

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  14. I fell in love with macarons at Laduree a few years ago. Since I moved to NYC my favorite place is Madeleine's Patisserie! The have many unique flavors and all of the macarons are made fresh in the store. I've tried other macarons around the city but haven't yet found a comparison for how fresh and tender the ones at Madeleine's are. They also have the best almond croissants as well. When I'm there I feel as though I'm still in France.

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  15. Great post-I wish I had seen this before going to the city. I agree the macarons at Bouchon were a huge disappointment-especially for $3.00-It is possibly the worst tasting macaron I have ever had. I liked the ones at Macaron cafe-I returned there about 3 times. Madelines were my favorite-especially the caramel fleur de sel, cassis, mango.

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  16. I am so grateful that I saw this post mere weeks before going to NYC in the throes of my planning. Living in Cincinnati, and unable to buy macarons anywhere, I was excited at the prospect of finding some on vacation. After reading your post and deliberating with my best friend we decided to try and find Macaron Cafe at your recommendation.

    We came back Sunday, and today as I revisit your post, my heart swells in happiness. It was a wonderful little bakery, and I am so excited to go back. An eighteen year-old who has her sights set on professional baking in NYC thanks you so much for the recommendation!

    Nina
    Cincinnati

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  17. @Nina - Thank you so much for your kind words. The chef at Macaron Cafe is so friendly and passionate about her craft. So glad you and your best friend enjoyed the macarons there! Good luck on your career aspirations and please let us know how your culinary journey goes (highlowfooddrink(at)gmail(dot)com). We'd love to check out your future shop/cafe/restaurant/etc!!

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  18. If you love macarons, Madeleine Pâtisserie is the place to go in NYC. I've tried the macarons at Michel Cluizel, Bouchon and Maison du chocolat and they are not as good as Madeleine's. At Maison du chocolat, the selection is very poor and whatever macaron you have the filling is always chocolate. They just flavor the chocolate ganache filling to make different macarons. At Madeleine's, they have dozens of fresh macarons, every day of different fillings. If you cannot fly to Paris to enjoy Ladurée's or Pierre Hermé's macarons, pay a visit to Madeleine in Chelsea and you won't regret it. Madeleine has the best macarons in NYC.

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  19. Thanks Adriana! I've been meaning to go to Madeleine Patisserie, as someone else has also recommended it as the place to go for macarons. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go during Macaron Day, but I am very eager to check it out.

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