I’ve always associated the Upper West Side of Manhattan with the art of the urban chic, especially when it comes to food. From the “Tequila Bar meets Sushi Bar” Citrus, to the hip Magnolia Bakery, the area seldom disappoints.
I lived in a small, postage-stamp sized apartment on West 72nd for about a half year before I decided I needed far more leg room (and hence moved to the other side of the pond in Weehawken, NJ). While the Upper West Side is beautiful, it’s more coach than coach class when it comes to real estate at least, unless you’re plunking down some serious dough for your square footage.
But it’s hard to argue that this is one delicious area in New York City. I was therefore quite excited to discover new places to indulge my sweet tooth, on the “Desserts and Wine Walking Tour,” a Cloud Nine Living experience (this 2.5 hour guided walking tour promised to open our eyes to some of the niche gems).
The Upper West Side: Once Rural, Now Urban Glam
Our guide, Matt, explained to us that the Upper West Side was far from the diverse and densely packed area that it is today. Dutch immigrants occupied the area towards the mid 17th century, and it was an area of rolling farms. What we now know lovingly by the name of Bloomingdales was actually a family name and a large producer of tobacco in this area.
The statue of the famed composer, Giuseppe Verdi
We started our walking tour in the beautiful Verdi Square on 72nd and Broadway, which is an area with plenty of Italian history. This famous subway stop on 72nd Street was the first subway stop in the country, opening in 1904. Now a community filled with artists, the Upper West Side is a magnet for socialites, shoppers, gourmets and outdoor enthusiasts.
Verdi Square is a stone’s throw away from the Ansonia, a beautiful building located on Broadway between 73 and 74th streets, and was originally built as a hotel. I have fond memories of the now residential building because I used to receive piano lessons here. Our tour guide says that there was an entire floor devoted to maintaining cattle there to give fresh milk to visitors!
Our first stop was the famous (or shall we say, thanks to Sex and the City, infamous) Magnolia Bakery where we had a creamy but delicious signature red velvet cupcake, quite moist and with good consistency. If you’re in the area, be prepared to wait a few minutes in the long line–it’s always worth it.
200 Columbus Avenue New York, NY 10023
This is the place for the authentic Italian donut, made fresh and offered to you in lip smacking, off the beaten path varieties from blood orange to nutella. They’re incredibly light and airy too: your stomach won’t feel as though you’ve indulged in pastries after you eat one, two or even three of these. This is the Willy Wonka Italian Donut Factory, folks.
Home of what I believe to be the Sicilian Style type of cookie (it’s that thick, and that good), the chocolate chip creations we tried made me feel we had hit the sugar jackpot. But Levain Bakery offers tons of other goodies as well, from the plain brioche to the walnut sticky bun. It’s most famous for the cookies however. Although a bit pricey (they retail for $4 a pop), they’re large, gooey and completely worth the trek.
Since this was a desserts and wine tour, one of the stops was Pour, a beautifully curated wine store filled with wines with cheeky liner notes and segregated by type (e.g. Full Bodied, Sparkling) so when you browse the store’s offerings, you immediately know what you want. And if you don’t, the store’s learned experts will point you in the right direction. Pour has a unique food and wine pairing tool and there are free wine tasting seven nights a week. One thing we did try and loved, the Italian Bubbles 2011, a beautiful rose. Contrary to popular belief, roses should not be too sweet: this one is actually quite dry and pairs beautifully with food.
This master of chocolate has an Upper West Side location, and it is buzzing! Try their everything, especially the signature hot chocolate. We loved the Bean to Bar chocolate bar and intense dark chocolate ganache with high cacao content.
Honestly, cream puffs are so not my thing, but Beard Papa’s original cream puff is the closest thing you can have to pastry heaven: light, airy and perfectly sweet. The shell is thin and not flaky and the insides have great texture and consistency.
Matt and I were guests of Cloud Nine Living, who provided the experience but the opinions are completely our own. If you’re interested in receiving a chance to receive a transformational experience of your own, enter the Cloud Nine Living here that is currently going on for the holidays, and you might win a chance to be a Fighter Pilot for a day.