Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gratuitous Cookies

It's often common practice that at the end of a big meal at an upscale dining establishment, diners are usually offered some sort of last bite, the "wafer thin mint" moment, or what my mother refers to as "gratuitous cookies." I have had the outstanding privilege in the past year to sample some of the best selections in the city, and decided to rate them. So here ya go. Whether you're a total cheapskate out for a free dessert course or just can't say no to one more bite even after you've just gorged on chocolate financier with peanut butter creme and currant gelee, the best spots (I've been to) in New York City for a complimentary after dinner cookie. I'm sorry I don't have more photos. In these cases, our stomachs were bigger than our eyes:

Telepan, 72 W. 69th St.: It was my mother's birthday, a late weekday night, and we were the last diners in the joint, after completing three out of four nicely portioned, seasonal courses. Our rather patient waitress served this big plate, with our dessert course (these things usually come after), with "Happy Birthday" written in chocolate on the rim, upon which sat six, cute little freshly baked, old school, round cookies of different flavors. Nothing fancy, but a nice touch. They were perfect little goodies balanced between chewy and crunchy. However, I wonder if we would have gotten it at all had they not known it was a special occasion? In addition, we were each sent home with individually wrapped packages containing a single wee coconut macaroon. An odd choice given that most of the population hates coconut, and it's pretty tiny, even by macaroon standards. Makes me wonder why they didn't just serve it on a plate and let people choose instead of going through the environment killing trouble of plastic pouches? But I happen to love coconut and had it next day. Didn't suck. Rating: 3 stars (depending on whether you can score those cookies on an average night), 1 star (if all you really ever get is the macaroon).

Aureole (new location!) One Bryant Park, 135 W. 42nd St.: After a spectacular meal enjoyed during the restaurant's "soft opening" in August (do NOT get me started on that new hideous, overlit industrial bar area, but the back dining room is quiet and discreet), we were presented with a choice of homemade truffles with great flavors like caramel sea salt, dark chocolate pistachio and chocolate delicately spiked with hot chili. The meal had been amazing and my stomach was just on the threshold of its toe curling moment when, once our tea and coffee arrived, we ALSO had several choices of homemade melt-in-your-mouth meringue sandwiches with a fun variety of tastes. Black sesame, popcorn, peanut butter plus various fruits and chocolate, sized in perfect little bites. Rating: 4 stars.

Redhead, 349 E. 13th St.: It was a busy, rainy, Friday night and somehow John and I managed to snag two seats at the bar in the nick of time. Normally this is not the sort of place one expects gratuitous cookies, given the rustic atmosphere and already value-driven menu and rich desserts on offer. Not to mention the ever popular bacon brittle they sell in jars (my friend Jason once said Wilbur from Charlotte's Web is probably the only person he knows who doesn't like bacon). But Southern hospitality being what it is, we were pleasantly surprised to receive individually wrapped dark chocolate and sea salt cookies at the end of our comfort food meal to take home. And since we ate early and had a long night of dive bar drinking, that salty, sweet chewy-crunchy goodness came in real handy by the end of the night. Shareable size too. If you swing that way. This perfect and unexpected package gets 4 stars.

Portherhouse, 10 Columbus Circle: Just what you need after a massive steak, creamed spinach with thick cut bacon bits, onion rings and potatoes, not to mention whatever rich thing you had to start with and all the bread and then after THAT, a slice of cheesecake larger than Glen Beck's head. Right now, what you need is a massive assortment of baked goods. Not just cookies here. Oh no. You get brownies, blondies, marble cheesecake brownies, chocolate chip, plain sugar, peanut butter, basically, if your mother hid it from you as a child, it's all served on a giant plate here like you're starring in some sweet tooth comfort food fantasy sequence. What's really cool is they give you boxes to wrap it all up in to take home. I actually had enough to serve to unknowing guests next day for tea time! Rating: 5 stars.

Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Ave.: As if this meal can't get any better after the dessert course that comes with the already gorgeously prepared and presented prefixe, the one that started with not one but three amuse bouche and hors d'oervres samplings plus two kinds of butter for the bread, you get the Rolls Royce of gratuitous cookie offerings. Instead of a tray or two of goodies to select from, each diner is presented with their own rectangular plate of artfully presented truffles, petit fours and bite-sized cookies so no one has to fight over any particular kind. In addition, they give you an individually wrapped madeleine to take home. AND, here is what pushed me delightfully over the edge, they set down a bottle of good Calvados to help yourself from and glasses! They give you a gratuitous all you can drink nightcap! I'm working on a 5 star rating system here, but Eleven Mad goes to 11. You guys rock.

The Mermaid Inn, 96 Second Ave.: Last but not least, I have to include these guys. In a way, this listing doesn't count as all the others serve dessert from their menus and then bring these items in addition to what is expected. But the Mermaid Inn does not have a real dessert offering. So instead, at the end of the meal, they present each guest with a cup of dark chocolate pudding (I assume it's homemade) and a little wrapped plastic novelty fortune teller. This thin little fish sits in your palm and depending on which way it curls or doesn't, supposedly this tells you what kind of lover you are. (I'm not sharing). (Actually, I don't remember what it said). Pretty cute and something to look forward to each visit. Rating: 4 stars.

If anyone else has other gratuitous cookie memories, please feel free to share them! I'm compiling a master list. Would love some entries from the boroughs too, but so far haven't come across anything, despite some meals in Brooklyn and Queens otherwise down for the record books.