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retail review — Buttercup Bake Shop

This Magnolia Bakery offshoot takes the cake--all the way to Midtown.

The Scene Midtown's Buttercup is to the sweet-toothed what pre-Rudy 42nd Street peepshows were to pervs. From the second you enter the close-quartered shop, you're enveloped in a relentless, sensual maelstrom of heavenly scents, ooey-gooey icing and eye-popping frosting swirls. However, just as in the aforementioned establishments, all the goods are ensconced safely in cases--and it's still bad form to press your nose up against the glass.

The Goods Ex-Magnolia bakery partner Jennifer Appel's specialty is down-home desserts that caress all the senses. Red Velvet cake and the shop's trademark cupcakes pack a wallop on both the tongue and the eyes (not to mention the thighs). Pre-order custom cakes or try to re-create the magic at home--Buttercup has claimed enough devotees to warrant its own glossy cookbook.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Petrossian Cafe & Boutique

A swank little caviar boutique with world-class food and upscale attitude.

The Scene Want some bling-bling with your blini? This Columbus Circle caviarteria supreme has seafood swank to spare. The boutique purveys the same succulent smoked fish by which the ridiculously luxe restaurant claims its fame, and similarly doesn't skimp on the accompanying upscale chill. This shop isn't for the easily intimidated, but what did you expect? You're buying caviar, not chopped liver.

The Goods The shop boasts a truly decadent selection of foie gras, pate, pastries, savories and other pricey delights, but still, the real standout is Petrossian's trademark smoked salmon. The silky, sumptuous cuts and king's-ransom caviar are what has kept decades of New Yorkers in hock. But fish heads on a budget know to nip into the shop's cafe for a surprisingly reasonably priced light lunch.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Porto Rico Importing Co.

Java junkies get an exotic fix at this West Village fave.

The Scene The high-octane blast of coffee-bean-infused air upon entering Porto Rico Coffee Importers is sufficient to provide even hard-core caffeine junkies with their daily java jolt. The heady scent emanates from dozens of burlap sacks containing an astounding array of coffees, many of which are available for immediate consumption at a counter nestled in the back corner of the hard-to-navigate space.

The Goods Though the shop is best known for its prodigious coffee collection, it also does a remarkable job of transcending the bean brew boundaries. Porto Rico offers an impressive selection of brewing paraphernalia and spices, as well as a variety of loose teas impressive enough to inspire a visiting Brit to proclaim, "There may just be hope for you lot after all!"

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Bierkraft

High-end beers--with prices to match.

The Scene Suds connoisseurs will no doubt find their jaws dropping at the astonishing array of imported beers chilling in the nearly store-length fridge. Said jaws may actually detach and hit the floor once the price tags are spotted. While one could conceivably break the bank catering a soiree with provisions from this pricey Fifth Avenue gourmet grocery and beer emporium, no doubt the guests would be left with fond memories of the evening's hard-to-find Italian sausages and rare Belgian brews while you're off in debtor's prison.

The Goods There are, however, ways to recoup the cost. Perhaps by eating one's weight in samples at the well-stocked, brilliantly footnoted cheese counter, or with a sandwich made fresh with ingredients from the sophisticated deli counter--a steal at $8. Bierkraft also hosts frequent tasting events, with generous portions of featured beers and cheese, and guest speakers to boot.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Raffetto's

Artisanal cuisine comes alive in front of your very eyes at this old-world pasta purveyor.

The Scene Every New Yorker knows the joy of popping into Krispy Kreme, just as the "Hot" light is about to go on, and witnessing the birth of his or her doughnut. Well take that thrill and triple it--at Houston Street's age-old Raffetto's the pasta making process is all about you, baby. This is artisanal cuisine at its most amusing. Choose your dough (e.g., spinach, wheat), select your stuffing and watch the whirring machine whip your ravioli into existence. Now that's entertainment.

The Goods And mama mia, that's tasty pasta! It's not just novelty that's kept Raffetto's in business for more than 100 years. It's the seriously scrumptious grub. Decades-worth of clued-in foodies know that a bag of this custom cuisine will run you just a few bucks where supposedly hand-crafted ravioli will cost five times that or more at "gourmet" shops.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Myers of Keswick

British speciality food shop boasts far more than just kidney pie and spotted dick.

The Scene All kidding about British cuisine aside (and we're all well aware of the restraint that takes), Myers of Keswick is a bloody godsend for expats and Anglophiles alike. Whether you're craving a spot of clotted cream or perhaps a smattering of bangers and mash, Meyers is chock-a-block with the finest foodstuffs the Empire has to offer.

The Goods While callow Yanks no doubt find endless amusement in dishes like "Toad in the Hole" and "Bachelor's Mushy Peas," homesick Brits can make a beeline toward Aero Bars, Lucozade and freshly made Cornish pasties. The bulk of the store is devoted to shelves and bins of homeland grocery staples and snacks, but an appealing array of freshly made snacks and sausages has earned the shop a reputation as an offbeat lunch stop as well.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Russ & Daughters

Your every smoked-fish wish will come to life at this Lower East Side legend.

The Scene Since 1914, the homey Houston Street establishment has been a hit with both plain and fancy folks on a quest for the tastiest salmon, caviar and herring in town. And though the eponymous daughters have long since retired to points south, there's still ample evidence of the old-school craftsmanship that's made the store such a favorite.

The Goods Customers' eyes go wide at the sight of succulent oceans of smoked fish and cream cheese. In addition to the fish itself, Russ & Daughters' stock-in-trade is providing party platters for events of all sizes. The generous, sumptuous spreads could impress even cranky old Aunt Sylvia, who's always complaining that she hasn't had decent creamed herring since she left the Old Country.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Vinegar Factory

Eli Zabar extends his empire--to the immense delight of Upper East Siders.

The Scene It's 7pm. The friends you invited over for hors d'oeuvres are arriving at 8pm. You've got a flawless hosting rep to uphold, but while you're hearing the siren call of Fairway's cheese cave and Citarella's smoked fish counter, you've neither the time nor the wherewithal to schlep over and battle the hordes. What's an East Side Martha Stewart to do?

The Goods God bless Eli Zabar, the grocery mogul whose lifelong mission is making all corners of Manhattan safe for upscale food nuts. His Upper East Side outpost is stocked with a vast and tummy-rumbling array of intelligently curated cheeses, breads, spreads, coffees, sausages, prepared foods and other edible treasures, many seldom seen outside of specialty stores. You can even try before you buy, as the store supplies weekend brunch for the upstairs cafe and the restaurant across the street.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Ottomanelli's Meat Market

This West Village stalwart is mecca for meat fiends.

The Scene Got a hankering for hare? A craving for capon? An overwhelming obsession with ostrich? No sweat. Not only can the mightily able butchers at this decades-old West Village classic butterfly an ordinary lamb shank so beautifully it could bring a quiver to the lip of the most jaded carnivore, they also can satisfy your craving for pretty much any exotic game short of bald eagle. Just ask.

The Goods The long refrigerated counter is straight out of a fervent meat eater's fever dream. There are gleaming acres of succulent raw slabs, chops, links, crowns, roasts and grinds, just awaiting your preparation requests. No novices here--the gents behind the counter have been filleting, deboning and trussing for decades and are more than happy to share friendly tips on how best to treat each succulent cut once it gets to your kitchen.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Best Cellars

This Upper East Side shop is paradise for the oenologically unenlightened.

The Scene While for many of us, wine buying tends to be an activity fraught with anxiety, the savvy folks at Best Cellars have developed a wine categorizing system foolproof even for novices who can't tell Cahors from Chardonnay. The space is cunningly designed and extremely user-friendly--most bottles reside in columns of circular wall cutouts, thus saving floor space for requisite debating and pacing.

The Goods While the selection might seem small, that's just because the staff has eliminated all possibility of taking home a dud. Wines are meticulously selected and categorized as "fruity," "big," "juicy," etc. (and combinations thereof) and accompanied by cleverly written shelf notes describing flavor and suggesting ideal food accompaniments. With most wines priced under $13, there's room for avid experimentation.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Vesuvio Bakery

An Italian classic that's New York born and bread.

The Scene The modest-looking bakery is one of New York's great landmarks. With appearances in innumerable films, photographs and paintings during its eight-decade existence, the green, stenciled facade of this Prince Street fixture has come to symbolize an Old World/New York craftsmanship only scarcely evidenced in Soho's current rash of chain store hegemony.

The Goods The bakery lovingly churns out the kind of handcrafted, heart-wrought bread that's kept Vesuvio in business since your granddad was a kid. You won't find any fancy multi-grain, nut-studded loaves here-it's all about the classics. The pepper rings, biscuits and crusty Italian loaves here are as good as you're ever going to get, and Vesuvio's old-school ambience and artisanal values are something to be treasured.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Zittles

A no-frills store that offers parents a sane toy shopping experience.

The Scene While signs guiding young'uns through Zitomer's Pharmacy to third-floor Zittles promise the starry-eyed urchins a "magical" toy shop experience, the reality is tad more pedestrian than that. Sure, it's got aisles stocked chock-full of all the baubles, bubbles and bleeping gizmos the wee folks clamor for, but semi-stark decor makes for an atmosphere more reminiscent of Canal Street than glittering kiddy heaven.

The Goods The out-of-the-way location, however, is a godsend for weary parents on the verge of nervous breakdowns should they hear one more cheerily screeched verse of the FAO Schwartz theme song. While the stripped-down ambience might prove a shade drab, it's more than made up for by the stellar selection of toys, games, dolls and other hot want-list items, as well as the sanity saved by not having to elbow through hordes of picture-snapping tourists.

(originally published at CitySearch)

retail review — Forbidden Planet

Get your nerd on at the sci-fi and alt comic collector's nirvana.

The Scene Shields up and full dork ahead. No matter if you're a cool jock or a downtown hipster, everyone turns into a gibbering fanboy within minutes of entering these premises, so just strap on your light saber holster and enjoy. Forbidden Planet is ridiculously well stocked and staffed by geekier-than-thou, but eminently knowledgeable, genre aficionados. Got a burning question about an obscure title? Let the staff be your Gandalf. Not only will they have the answer, they probably have every back issue.

The Goods Grown men are reduced to tears at the sight of sci-fi movie paraphernalia and comic titles of their youth. The catalog runs the gamut from mainstream Marvel classics to indie obscurities, and the action figure selection is vast enough to decorate the cubicles of every I.T. guy in town. Warning: Dropping by at lunchtime can become dangerously habit forming.

(originally published at CitySearch)

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