How is this for an architect’s resume: The Dakota (known today as the apartment building where John Lennon was shot), the original Waldorf and Astoria hotels, (subsequently torn down to make room for the Empire State Building), the Plaza Hotel, the Willard Hotel in DC and the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the Hotel Martinique in two phases: the first part opened in 1898, and was then completed in 1910, with 600 rooms in total. The intricate mosaic flooring remains intact, as does the winding staircase that climbs eighteen stories.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
Besfren’s official motto is “Hopping into a pastry fairy tale,” and that is exactly what it feels like to wander into this hip dessert café. Truffles, macarons, caneles, and delicate slices of cake are displayed in shining glass cases, while customers sip on tea and chat at low tables along the wall. But Besfren and its partner company, Korean Red Ginseng, also have an unofficial motto – “traditional with a modern twist” – that perfectly captures the café’s Korean-American roots.On my first visit to the café, I had the pleasure of speaking with Min Ree, who co-founded Besfren in 2012 with his friend, Paul Park. Though neither of them had any culinary experience – Min had studied accounting, while Paul was a student of fine arts – they were determined to bring traditional Korean rice cake desserts to an American audience. After more than a year of experimental baking, Min and Paul felt that they had perfected their catering menu and their signature dessert, the chaps pie.The next step, Min explained, was to contact event coordinators and catering companies. “We brought our desserts to the meetings,” he said with a smile, “and it went really well.” Soon, Besfren was catering for the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vogue, the Grammys, and the United Nations. Most of the guests at these exclusive events had never tried anything like the chaps pie, an oven-baked, gluten-free rice cake, but Min said that “they could not get enough.” It quickly became apparent that Besfren had transformed the traditional Korean chapssaltteok, and now they needed to make it accessible to a larger New York audience.It did not take long for Besfren’s modern twist on Korean desserts to appeal to the managers of Café G, owned by Korean Red Ginseng. Hoping to expand their business and bring ginseng extract teas, powders and roots to a larger audience, they approached Besfren about a collaboration.Min and Paul agreed, and after a series of renovations, Besfren x Korean Red Ginseng opened in May of 2015. One side of the café is still devoted to red ginseng extracts and powders, whose health benefits include memory enhancement, increased energy, and anti-aging functions. But the main entrance opens onto the shining Besfren dessert counter, where customers can buy pastries, Toby’s Estate coffee, and fruity ginseng drinks. The floor-to-ceiling windows and simple interior design create a sense of space inside, and the café’s location on the corner of 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue makes it perfect for people-watching. The café is bustling at all hours of the day, but the smiling employees make sure to devote special care and attention to every customer who walks in.Sitting down with Min, the Manhattan Sideways team sipped on the fizzy Korean black raspberry chia cooler, the pink grapefruit yuza, a delicious balance of bitter and sweet, the ginger lemon tea, which was strong and spicy, and the refreshing ginseng latte. Before finishing our drinks, we were presented with a beautiful tray of desserts: The chewy, dense texture of the chaps pies delighted us, and while Nina was partial to the maple multigrain variety, Flannery said she would come back just for the black raspberry. Next, we dug into the triple cheesecake, which was made with cheese mousse, a layer of New York cheesecake, a graham cracker crust, and raw cream cheese on top. The hint of lemon in each delicious bite brought me back to my childhood, when I would sneak into the fridge and steal a taste of my mom’s cheesecake before her dinner parties. The honey earl grey cake was pleasantly light, especially after the rich cheesecake, and we all enjoyed the green tea jasmine roll cake, which was moist and flavorful. Even though we were stuffed, we each took a bite of a delicate canele, savoring the sweet, caramelized crust and the soft custard center.While we ate, I asked Min about the Besfren logo, which I had noticed scattered about the café, and even on his bolo tie. According to Korean legend, he explained, there is a rabbit who lives on the moon and pounds ingredients for rice cakes. Paul and Min decided to adapt that idea for Besfren, and their logo features two rabbit “best friends” who pound rice cakes together.With a constant flow of customers, particularly because of their close proximity to the nearby Empire State Building, there is always a buzz at the café. It seems that word has spread enough so that Min mentioned that they are scoping out locations for a second cafe in Manhattan. In the meantime Min, Paul, and their team of bakers are always developing new recipes to add to their fairytale menu of sweets.