Sunday, April 5, 2015

mad for matcha: chalait (restaurant review)

I must shamefully (but unsurprisingly) admit that I deign to be an insufferable iPhone-wielding brute who, upon gleefully eyeing various dubious assortments (are you seeing these green lattes?) placed before me by unsuspecting waiters, earnestly snaps photo after photo. An uncouth barbarian, I snatch picturesque plates away from protesting friends, vigilant to ensure that not a bite is consumed until I can capture their dishes in their immaculate states. Often, I outlandishly stand up to take photos of my food in the midst of bustling cafes, like the weirdo that I am.
That's right - no shame. 

Fortunately, I take solace in knowing that I am not alone in my affliction; nor is my fondness for inane latte art unique to me. Indeed, many others enthusiastically photograph macarons with their macchiatos, nonchalantly positioning their plates - you see, I know, because in these tiny, overcrowded cafes, all the overzealous Instagram "photographers" have the luxury of observing one another...and because Chalait is tagged in a fresh, new photo every ten to twelve seconds. 

Fastidious as I am, these elaborate arrangements are fitted neatly into square boxes in accordance with Instagram's now-cemented standards and doctored hastily to my liking. Of course, all of this tedious pinch-to-crop labor is only undertaken long after the overpriced cuisine has settled in my ever undaunted stomach. Thankfully, my tendency of going out for brunch (read: inability to cook at home) has made me awfully discerning, and thus, I am going to share my wealth of New York City brunch knowledge with you. First on the list was my review of Ladurée - the post can be found here

Today, I will be sharing one of the most Instagram-worthy cafes I know of in New York - Chalait. The spot is usually fairly crowded and not exceptionally large, but the traffic is fast-paced - surprising if you consider that most patrons spend approximately seven to eight minutes hunched over their tables, eyes twitching, maniacally snapping away with their phones...

Chalait, pronounced like the word "chalet," (as heard in the clip below)  is a combination of "cha" ("tea" in Japanese) and "lait" ("milk" in French). The cafe was originally devoted to serving matcha beverages, though their menu has since expanded to include various pastries and sandwiches. 

Pictured below are the cafe's signature matcha lattes, consisting of a matcha shot and steamed milk. At $4.75, these cozy, warm, milky-tasting green teas are somewhat pricey, but very comforting and pleasant when accompanied by a delightful little snack. The cafe's menu can be found here, though they consistently have weekly specials. I shall be continuously updating this post with photos and brief reviews of whatever dishes my friends and I sample at Chalait. :)

I. The Avocado Toast ($10) consists of smashed avocado, sliced radish, hard-boiled egg, and house vinaigrette. Sprinkled with chives and loaded with avocado, this generously topped toast makes for a pleasant snack. The flavors are fresh, light, yet filling; these are also perfect to share with a friend, as they are easily split right down the middle. :)

II. Pictured above is the Muesli Toast ($9), a medley of Greek yogurt, honey poached berries (blueberries, raspberries, and dried mango), and walnuts, alongside a signature Chalait matcha latte. This photo is actually from the very first time I visited Chalait! My friend François ordered this refreshing snack, but unfortunately I'm not usually a big fan of Greek yogurt. It was still pretty good, though - the flavors were lightly sweet, reminiscent of spring, and the liberally-applied Greek yogurt was like the notorious great big dollops of cream cheese on New York City bagels. 
It was a delight to meet François, a fellow Instagrammer all the way from Belgium! There's nothing better than brunching with someone else who understands the importance of capturing a shot of your latte before bubbles pollute its surface, the crippling fear of latte art photography enthusiasts everywhere.

III. This was probably my favorite of all the sandwiches I've tried at Chalait so far. The Smoked Salmon Benedict ($11) has smoked salmon (bet you guessed that), ricotta, pea shoots, capers, a poppy seed vinaigrette, and poached egg. I shared this with my boyfriend, who loved it, too, but I asked him to give me a review of Chalait and he said, "Psh, nothing I couldn't make at home, I just don't have the fine latte machinery," so clearly, he's very helpful. The salmon was lightly smoked, contributing to the overall flavor of the dish, rather than overpowering the idiosyncrasies of the capers and pea shoots.  

IV. I mean, this is basically Nutella on bread. There's no way this wouldn't be good. I have no faith in a restaurant that fucks up Nutella on bread. I (unsurprisingly) highly recommend this one! This is called the Nutella Baguette ($8) and it has....wait for it....Nutella. But it doesn't stop there! Atop the scrumptious baguette, the hazelnut spread is sprinkled with sea salt, creating a yummy juxtaposition of saltiness and sweetness. The Nutella baguette is further adorned with crunchy pistachios, whose nutty flavors flirt with the earthy undertones of the hazelnut in the Nutella spread. 

My boyfriend's a rebel; he didn't even get a matcha beverage. He got a fruity iced tea, but then dumped a ton of simple syrup into it. He says those pants are green, I say they're blue. It's a dress-color situation. 

Verdict: Chalait is very tasty and worth trying, but beware the crowds - try to schedule your trek to the West Village on a weekday during the early daytime. Polish your iPhone camera lens and have your Instagram app ready. Proceed to photograph other people taking pictures of their food. This is probably not a great spot for sitting and working with your laptop for an extended period of time, but the staff is very kind and friendly, and despite its small size, Chalait is charmingly cozy. Located at 224 West 4th Street, it is also conveniently near numerous boutiques, including Rag & Bone, Reiss, Burberry, Diptyque, Jimmy Choo, Sandro, Maje, Brooks Brothers, and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

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