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We are going all Italian this week here at JAETAF. Did you know that was our acronym, by the way? Jay-taff. Use it on the streets. See what happens.

This past Saturday we decided to do some heavy hitting in the Italian department. First up, some coal oven pizza at a NYC institution, Lombardi’s (incidentally, the only NYC pizzeria besides Grimaldi’s in DUMBO to operate a coal oven), followed by the Fiat Gallery in Soho with a GQ sponsored event where itty-bitty cars would be complemented by tiny shots of Lavazza espresso.

But first to fuel up on Margherita pies!

The Scene:
Lombardi’s is a pretty large place. There are multiple rooms and even a basement room (where John and I sat). From the start, the sheer size of the place concerned us. We had doubts whether a place that needed to churn out that many pies in such volume could maintain a high quality, brick oven product.  And volume needed to be produced because even though it was fairly early on a Saturday evening, the place was packed and we had to wait for a table. So we staked out seats at the bar and sipped Sixpoint beer in anticipation.  Sidenote – should an Italian brick oven pizzeria offer Sangria? Moving on…

The Grub:

We order a split pie: half Margherita to maintain standards of comparison, and half decorated with Lombardi’s house made pork and beef meatballs. Our 18″ pie has a few standout characteristics that put us on guard:

1. The crust is rather flat and evenly baked. No puffy Neapolitan cornicone here. And no coal-fired char marks, save for one large bubble.

2. The pie is stiff, lacking that floppy quality that makes a well functioning brick oven pie chewy and delightfully unwieldy.

However, there are some redeeming qualities: The basil is liberally applied, and the sauce has a simple, tangy, pure tomato taste of which we both approve.  John could have used a bit more, however.  Additionally, the cheese provides a noticeable salty, milky flavor.

As often happens, the meatballs steal the show. Moist, flavorful and bite-sized, like meat popcorn, they are a perfect pizza accessory.

The Bathrooms:

The lavatory was pretty standard issue. It seemed more like a closet with plumbing. But everything was clean. Bonus accessories included Windex (?) and a motion-sensored paper towel dispenser. The mirror was mesmerizing as well…

John and I were largely underwhelmed by Lombardi’s pie. Between the two coal oven contenders, we both agree that Grimaldi’s is considerably better. You may not – Yahoo doesn’t. You can read their opinion here.

Overall Experience: Vanilla Sky – The Average Restaurant

On with the show! We ambled several blocks to the Fiat Gallery on Wooster Street. We had been promised (via Urban Daddy) the possibility of test driving Fiats, and we both had Italian Job-esque dreams of hurtling through the streets of Soho in a perfectly polished red rollerskate.

Our test driving dreams were squashed, but we did get to sit in the show room models and make convincing vrooooom-vrooooom noises. That helped a bit.

All joking aside, the exhibit was pretty fun. The evening’s events were sponsored by GQ and we got to wander around artistically-rendered Fiat hoods, sample Lavazza espresso, sip Peroni’s, and get our photos taken!

John looks quite at home, no?

More events will be running until May 1st. You can check out the full list here.

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I had a special request – a commission, if you will, for some edible artwork. The project outlines were the following:

1. Create an espresso granita like the one a friend had sampled in Tuscany.

2. Whipped cream too, please.

Keep in mind that I had not been in Tuscany with my friend at the time she sampled this delicacy. So I had to ask for lots of details because I was flying taste-bud blind.

Was the espresso flavor strong? Yes.

What was the consistency of the ice? Like little chips, all in different sizes so you could crunch them.

What about the whipped cream? Not too sweet. Just a tiny bit to give a little contrast to the espresso ice.

I began with some research. It’s pretty easy to make granita (really). You really just need to freeze stuff, and break it up with a fork during the freezing process every now and again so you don’t get one giant ice cube. One giant ice cube does not a granita make.

Following this research, I purchased some espresso from Eataly.

This stuff looked pretty good. And I really liked trying to say “Heuhuetenango” too.

Then I brewed some up using my French Press. I like the way coffee tastes brewed in a French Press. It’s STRONGER! I used 5 heaping tablespoons.

Meanwhile, I boiled some water (3 cups) with about 1/8 cup of sugar in a pot. Once it was all heated up, I poured it into my French Press, waiting the appropriate amount of time (3-5 minutes), and then PRESSED.

Then, I poured this lovely concoction into a pan and popped it into the freezer. I tried to give it a stir and break up the ice with a fork every half hour or so. Eventually, I had to use something stronger than a fork (I bent the fork), so I opted for some tongs (please picture a ridiculous scene of me smashing coffee flavored ice with metal tongs). I did this periodic smash until the stuff started to look like this:

And then I made some whipped cream. Initially, I made the whipped cream without sugar. But just a tiny bit of confectioners sugar adds a whole lotta goodness.

Gather 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar. Put them in a mixing bowl and with a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the cream and sugar until it’s whipped and soft peaks form.

Scoop some granita into a bowl or fancy glass (I used retro snow cone holders) and top with whipped cream.

Now for the ridiculous part of the story….you knew there was one, right?

I was meeting my friend after work for her to try this granita and give me the final word. But how to transport it? It’s ice, it melts. So, I:

Brewed the coffee at home.

Poured it into one of my insulated Camelback water bottles.

Transported it to work.

Transferred it to a baking pan and put it in the office freezer.

Then from time to time I would get up from my desk to go smash ice chunks. It was actually a very therapeutic workplace activity.

Before I left work, I whipped up the cream and transferred the granita BACK into the Camelback (I was hoping this would prevent it from melting). Then I walked to a bar, commandeered us some fancy glasses and served it up.

Final determination: success. The espresso granita is crunchy, strong and slightly bitter which pairs nicely with the smooth, creamy and ever-so slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Note: The first time I made the cream, I made it without confectioners sugar, but all the tasters agreed that a lil’ bit o’ sugar greatly improves it.

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It was a bright, sunny day: partially warm, birds were chirping, clouds had parted and the smell of coffee was in the air. On this almost-Spring day, my morning caffeine travels brought me to Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel.

The Scene:
The Ace Hotel (at least the lobby and coffee shop) combines a well-designed and eclectic interior (see Exhibit A) with a dash of playful humor (see Exhibit B) and amusement park style attractions (a photo booth!! – evidence of which can be found in the above image).

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

As I queued up with the rest of the Flatiron District for my morning brew, I couldn’t help but notice some other stand-out accents like the beautiful Spring time flora:

And the turn of the century, Victorian Era inspired packaging:

The Coffee:
I ordered my usual latte and was presented with a perfectly frothed, whole milk infused beverage decorated with a teeny-tiny heart. There really is something about steamed whole milk that is exponentially better than steamed skim: FAT. Milk fat just tastes good, especially with coffee. It’s rich and velvety without being too sweet – a perfect balance to deep, bitter coffee. Which is exactly what happened here, and why I had to commemorate the image below with a little Victorian Era decoration of my own.

So impressed I was by my latte drinking experience, that I returned TWICE in one week to the scene of Stumptown at the Ace. This time I mixed it up and ordered a macchiato. Macchiato is an espresso with just a touch of steamed milk. In fact, the word “macchiato” means “stained” or “marked”. So this is an espresso drink with just a little stain of steamed milk.

As you can see, my mark arrived in the shape of a heart, which very much brightened up my morning. More than just pretty decoration, the steamed milk was just enough to balance the deep, dark espresso. No sugar required (cuz I’m sweet enough….oh, I’m just kidding, people). The thin film of foam draped over the surface of the robust espresso is also a nice textural and taste contrast.

Emboldened by my macchiato, it was then that I decided to try out the photo booth. They put it there for people to use, right? Maybe not just one person with coffee in hand, but who cares? Certainly not I. So I snapped a few pictures as evidence of my macchiato enjoyment (see the first photo).

In addition to coffee, I ordered this fancy little brioche roll. Those white crystals gracing the surface are actually sugar crystals (one might confuse them with salt). Brioche is one of my favorite breads because of the ever-so-slightly-sweet, mushy center and its glossy, amber, super-thin crust. This one did not disappoint, the sugar crystals adding a bit of extra CRUNCH.

The Experience:
All in all, I would have to say that Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel is:


But since I should really attach a movie experience, I give it: The Godfather – The Perfect Game.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters at the Ace Hotel
18 W 29th St.
New York, NY 10001
6am – 8pm daily

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So I’m trying not to post loooooong expositions on Friday. Just recaps. BUT (you knew there was a “but” right?), since we’ve been featuring coffee and I am HEAVILY caffeinated due to all the research, I have a short Friday update. And it is:

Lattes at Eataly! I will post in bullet point form:

• Eataly is on my walk from physical therapy to work in the mornings.

• I’m in PT because I have some irritating IT Band tendinitis.

• My P.Therapist, Phil made an entire CD for me of 90’s Hip Hop! Thank you, Phil! You rule. It’s not doing much for my knee, but it helps tune out my coworkers.

• Lattes are an important part of P.T.

• Eataly’s lattes are darn good. Even the ones made with skim milk.

• Espresso to Milk Ratio: well balanced.

• Good espresso flavor, not overpowered by the milk. And not too bitter either.

• Steamed milk is light and fluffy, but not too foamy. It’s still drinkable.

• I’ve seen better steamed milk art, though.

And now onto the RECAP:

On Monday we got our caffeine fix at Ninth Street Espresso. And took pictures of a Vespa. And were slightly late for work.

On Tuesday we reviewed Rubirosa Pizza. Vodka sauce on pizza. Read all about it.

On Wednesday we ate cannoli on the PATH train. And took some incredibly blurry photos of it.

On Thursday, we had a sangwich. And made some Honey Dijon Yogurt Sauce.

Next week: We have some BIG news!! Stay tuned.

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