The Little Next Door

8142 West 3rd Street

As a creature of comfort, I rarely delineate from my trusted stand-bys–one of which is having breakfast at Joan's On Third. In my humble opinion, Joan's consistently makes the best eggs in town. There, they've mastered three basic egg-cooking techniques to perfection: Their soft-boiled eggs always have a warm, yolky center; their scrambled eggs are always scrambled into creamy-soft, fluffy folds; and their omelettes would make Chef André Soltner proud. Despite the number of breakfasts I've cooked over the years, I still feel iffy about how my eggs turn out. I don't know how their kitchen manages to churn out perfection day after day.

This past Sunday, when my boyfriend and I arrived at Joan's for breakfast, we saw that it was closed for the Easter holiday. Quel dommage! Our attention then turned to a small, ivy-covered patio with café tables and rattan bistro chairs next door, which is literally called The Little Next Door. (I've passed this French restaurant numerous times on the way to Joan's and paid no attention to it previously. In fact, I believe it was my friend Bill who once told me this place was nothing to write home about. When it comes to restaurants, I always ask Bill for his two cents.)

We started off with a warm pain au chocolat as we decided what to order. (If you don't already know this, it must be said that you should always judge a café/restaurant/bakery by its pain au chocolat or croissant–especially if it's "French".) Thankfully, theirs was a promising sign. 

My boyfriend ordered his usual omelette; I went with "Two Eggs Your Style, served with bacon and potatoes". Whence dining at an unfamiliar establishment, I tend to order my eggs over-easy because, in my opinion, it's a foolproof method of cooking eggs. (Sunny-side up can be tricky if the whites aren't cooked through on top.) Given the interesting variety of eggs Benedict on offer, it might sound like I ordered the most boring thing on the menu, but the aforementioned "potatoes" weren't your run-of-the-mill hash browns... Imagine my delight when I was surprised with a serving of pommes dauphinoise, the Queen of Side Dishes: thinly sliced potatoes cooked in milk, butter and cream underneath a bubbling blanket of grated Gruyère!

My eggs were good–because, like I said, it's pretty hard to screw up eggs cooked over-easy–but the pommes dauphinoise is truly what took this breakfast to the brink of divine. 

Some Thoughts on Baking

This here, above, was my first attempt at making a French baguette.

What does a fashionista eat for breakfast? Two Fabergé eggs and a Fendi baguette.

Pardon the corniness. That was an old joke I made up while I was a student at Parsons School of Design. I thought about it the other day when I tried my hand at making a French baguette from scratch. We finally installed an oven so we've been experimenting with baking. My hope is that I'll soon advance to making croissants/pain au chocolats because there's nothing I miss more in the morning than having a croissant/pain au chocolat with my coffee, like the ones from Le Bergamot or Ceci-Cela or Patisserie Claude–not the fake ones that they sell at Costco. That might be a lofty ambition because I haven't baked a single thing from scratch for over a decade! I once tried to make a loaf of Irish soda bread that literally turned out to be a brick and hung up my apron in defeat shortly thereafter. Besides, eating baked goods was quickly going out of fashion amongst the New York set, where keeping a svelte figure reigns supreme. And the thing about baking is that you usually end up eating whatever it is that you bake. I love tearing into a yummy carb as much as the next person, but–oof–makes feel like have a tire around my waist! I guess I've sort of abandoned the idea of dieting since moving to the mountains. You know how you're either predominantly left-brained or right-brained? Well, I always thought of myself as predominantly a cook in the kitchen rather than a baker. I like to cook intuitively and never gave too much credence to the measurements in recipes. With baking, it's more of a science. You have to be accurate with measurements and rising times and baking times, and temperatures. It was beyond my left-brained self. I figured, there were so many fabulous bakeries in the city–why go through all the trouble when you can just point-and-pay? Now that I'm out here at the ranch, though, I've discovered the joys of baking. It's not as hard as I thought it was! Nothing ever is when you take the time to figure it out, I suppose. There's something so lovely about getting flour on your hands, kneading dough, and just going through that whole process. Makes you appreciate these sorts of simple pleasures a whole lot more. 

Pain au Chocolat

87 West 4th Street near Barrow Street

My boyfriend had been trying to convince me that Patisserie Claude's pain au chocolat was the best in New York while I, on the other hand, was hard-set on the one from Ceci-Cela. He insisted on a taste-off. "What's the point?" I said, "I already know which one I'll like." On my birthday, though, I somehow gave into the idea of taking a morning stroll to Patisserie Claude to have coffee and share a pain au chocolat. "It better have thousands of crisp, buttery layers that shatter when you bite into it," I demanded, as we walked over, "And it better have that 'pull' in the middle."  Within the first bite, I knew. And so did he. The layers were so delicate and airy that they floated around and landed on my scarf. I swooned over the generous chunks of chocolate. Perfection. "Okay," I conceded, with a grin, "You're right. It's really, really good."