For Mimi Lau, her work is an exercise in sharing a bit of herself with her customer. “When you buy food, you’re not just paying for the food; you’re paying to learn where that food came from. It’s a culture. Even this mochi, it’s so clear that it’s from a different generation. It’s not your really traditional mochi because there’s something inside. It reflects my generation, and that’s my culture. I put Oreos and Froot Loops in there, goddammit!”
Brooklyn-native Mimi Lau opened Mochii, an adorable artisanal dessert shop on East 7th Street, in April 2018 at the ripe old age of twenty-five. Like the desserts served there, the shop is sweet, small, and soft: bean bag chairs line the walls and each mint green cup is decorated withMochii’s bunny logo. The highlight, though, are the treats themselves. Mimi’s mochi are works of art, entirely hand-crafted from the delicate rice wrapper to the varied fillings. A batch of ice cream mochi alone can take up to nine hours to make, but for Mimi the effort is entirely worth it. “Working with this type of dough for so long and making this type of sweet, it’s just something that should be made by hand. It’s so delicate.” Every aspect of the mochi is thought through, down to the way they are consumed. Mimi recommends eating by hand, so the heat from one’s fingers warms and softens the outside of the mochi - and the mess is, of course, part of the fun.
The mochi come in a wide assortment of flavors, and each one holds a special treat inside - anything from a slice of fruit to the aforementioned Oreo. “Like me, they each have a little bit of happiness inside,” Mimi sweetly stated. A smile lights up her face as she describes her customers’ reactions to seeing the mochi sliced open and the treat inside revealed. “It’s really joyful. It makes me feel like a kid again.”
Sweets have always been a passion of Mimi’s, but she noticed that the market, especially in New York, was trending towards ever more sugary, over-the-top desserts. In a world of jumbo shakes and cronuts, mochi stand out for their small size, subdued sweetness, and relative simplicity - a sustainable dessert, if you will. As for the shop itself, Mimi knew from a young age that she wanted to have her own store. She worked for several years managing two restaurants to gain experience before taking the plunge herself. “I pretty much gave up everything to do what I wanted,” she admitted. “It was really hard to leave, but if not now, then when?”
There’s a new banana pudding in town! We stopped into the newest location of Baonanas on E7th Street and can report back that the inventive, flavorful desserts at the new East Village shop very much hold their own. Co-founders Lloyd Ortuoste and Trisha Villanueva describe themselves as “two Jersey City kids, who share a love for food and cavity-filled sweet teeth. ” The two spent many a date night baking a version of Leche flan, a Filipino staple and family recipe for Trisha. They substituted in elements of traditional banana pudding and soon discovered they had a hit on their hands. The couple’s new pudding remained a homemade treat until 2014, when the two began selling the concoction to help fund a repair for Lloyd’s car after a fender bender. Word of mouth spread and soon enough, the two had opened their own brick and mortar storefront in Jersey City. Since expanding to the East Village, the dessert has taken off even more, said staff member Nish Purino. “We get a lot of regulars, ” she added. Asked if they often met customers who wander in looking for ice cream, only to find pudding, Nisha and coworker Celyn said they’d converted a lot of die-hard ‘scream fans. “We also get a lot of people comparing us to that other pudding, ” Nisha said. After trying out the speciality ube halaya (jam) flavor stemming from Trisha’s family recipe, we’re converted!
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.