I have so much to say about City Bakery I don't know where to start. Let me give you an image. One that moves. In a long shallow window that faces the street, an old tv plays one reel on loop. The camera is pointed into a 20Q mixer, moves to a table and ends up in the oven. The Croissant Movie. I watched it every day on my way to work in 1994.
Six years later Maury Rubin and hundreds of pounds of his cookie dough were in my place of work, Citizen Cake. Both nervous and bold I approached, letting him know how much I appreciated that movie, the humour and the ode. He couldn't believe I remembered it, and since then we've been friends.
Like Maury himself, City Bakery is whimsical, flirtatious, mischievous, efficient and has the business ethic and aesthetic of an old New York few of his customers might remember. A Willy Wonka gleam in his eye, he has the kind of eye contact that makes me nervous even when I have no reason to be. Other people I've met like this: Nancy Silverton, Thomas Keller, Claudia Fleming. NOTHING gets past them. Anthony Bourdain says, in Kitchen Confidential, that pastry chefs are the neurologists of the cooking world. But some are more shrewd than others.
Ilene Rosen is the talented savoury chef behind the innovative, beautiful and extremely fresh salad bar at City Bakery. On any given day every food group is represented, twice. Rosen's touch is light. She can cook from more than merely a western perspective and uses some off-the-beaten-track and heavy hitting ingredients well. I had lunch there twice in four days and would go every day when I'm in NY, if I could afford it. It ain't cheap, but in New York, what is?
My suggestion? Fill up your plate, take out the plastic, try a passion fruit Fizzy Lizzy and get a pretzel croissant for later. In the winter order a shot of hot chocolate with a homemade marshmallow and sit upstairs under the rows of big round light bulbs, to me, inspired by Coney Island.
City Bakery is located on 18th street 30 seconds west of 5th avenue.