by Philip Greenspun. Slightly updated October 2008.

Home : Travel : New York : One Vignette


Back in college, there was a guy named Joe Shipman on my dormitory hall. Joe was really tall, a little young for his class, and an expert chess player, but what we all remembered him for was eating. Not eating a lot, because there were plenty of MIT undergrads who were good at that. It was the speed. We'd go to Walker Memorial, load up our trays, and sit down in a vast room decorated with an inspiring mural containing idols for each of the sciences. By the time we'd finished hanging our coats on the back of our chairs and sitting down, Joe would have fiinished salad, soup, entree, dessert, and three drinks.

I also knew a girl named Lisa from Monte Carlo. Her parents felt sorry for her having to live in a place where few social occasions called for a full-length fur coat (Lisa used hers for a bedspread), so they spoiled her in the winter time by sending her a box of champagne truffles every week from the Teuscher boutique in Zurich. The cost was about the same as tuition, but the taste was heavenly. Lisa brought some over to my room one night and Joe was there within seconds. He had RADAR for anything edible. I cringed as Lisa offered him a few pieces. Joe popped them in his mouth and they didn't slow down on the way to his stomach; it was like watching a hungry German Shepherd scarf down food. How did they know it wasn't rocks or plastic? "Delicious, thanks." Joe smiled and walked out of the room, about 15 seconds after coming in.

Times have changed since then. Joe's got his PhD and a job on Wall Street. Lisa's a doctor. There are two Teuscher shops in New York (one on E. 61st and one in Rockefeller Center). The champagne truffles are just as good, but my friend David Chesky scoffed when I said wanted to get some.

"Those are weeks old, Philip. If you want good chocolates, you've got to go to Martine's, on the 6th floor of Bloomingdale's," David admonished. "They make them right in front of you. You can't believe the difference when you taste something fresh."

Bloomingdale's is for me the quintessential pampered woman's gathering place. The only thing I ever really imagined doing there was bringing a beautiful young girl, like 12-year-old Lesli from the IMTA convention, to attract 30 year-old divorcees and yuppettes. As I tactfully wandered over a few racks to let Lesli and the prospect alone, Lesli would explain that "Dad hasn't been the same since Mom died."

Martine's has given me a new reason to go to Bloomingdale's though. I still like Teuscher, but Martine's is a whole different experience. Teuscher sells candy, Martine's sells fresh dessert. The owner, Al Pechenik, explained his philosophy. "I'm doing this to atone for my sins in selling mass-produced chocolate to people. I used to run Godiva before it was sold to Campbell's Soup."

What's the main difference between Godiva and Martine's chocolate?

"Sugar is the first difference. Godiva is 60 or 70% sugar. We use so little sugar here, we can't buy it wholesale. When we need sugar, one of us runs out to Food Emporium and picks up a 5 lb. bag. It lasts us six weeks. If you have really fresh ingredients, you don't need sugar. Notice that our chocolate isn't sweet."

What about shelf life?

"Our product goes rancid in a week. Read the label on a Godiva package. It is so full of stabilizers and preservatives that you think you're in a Dow Chemical factory. We bring in butter from the Charent region of France, raspberries from a little town in Switzerland, and chocolate from Boston."

With that, Pechenik popped a raspberry/dark chocolate concoction in my mouth. The chocolate taste dominated for a second, then yielded to raspberry, then asserted itself again and the cycle repeated. The flavors were conducting separate dances on my tongue.

Martine's Chocolates at Bloomingdale's The Main Course on 6; 1000 Third Avenue; New York, NY 10022; (212) 705-2347
(yes, they will ship; open 10-8:30 weekdays, 10-7 Saturday and Sunday)


New York is a great place to buy an exotic camera, but only if you know exactly where you are going. The wrong shop means you'll pay twice as much for something that might not be what it seems. B&H Photo and Adorama are safest places for a random tourist, but they are well out of Times Square. If you want an ordinary digital SLR, ordering from Amazon works just fine.

Food, food, food

There are a lot of good restaurants in New York, but if it is raw materials you seek, head over to the Upper West Side, on Broadway between 75th and 85th. That's where all of the best food stores are. Fairway (for produce), H&H (for bagels; photo at left; open 24 hours), Zabar's (for smoked fish, cookware, oils, etc.; photo at right), and Citarella (for fresh fish). If you are downtown, you probably want to visit Balducci's, 6th Avenue at 9th.

Street Markets

At various times during the summer, avenues are closed off and turned into street markets. Here are some pictures from the Upper West Side market (around 67th).

Text and pictures copyright 1995 Philip Greenspun