Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, is it still good?, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the sixteenth installment along with the previous edition.
Some food chains — like Carl’s Jr — fly into town with far too much fanfare, while others arise with scarcely a whisper. The Dolly Llama is one of the latter, having stealthily appeared sometime in the spring in the East Village. I passed it with a friend the other night after a belt-busting meal in the vicinity and decided to check it out anyway.
A little research indicated the original opened in LA back in 2017, and there are now nearly 15 stores, mainly in California, Texas, and Florida. The logo is a near-sighted llama, and the chain claims to specialize in waffles.
Every order can be waffle themed: Top the waffles with unusual ice creams, breakfast cereals, fruit toppings, filled chocolates, flavored syrups, hard candy, and powdered sugar. Or order a scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. You can really get creative, if you’d like, with speculoos-laced milkshakes. (Yes, crunchy speculoos are a type of waffle.)
We took the easy route on a perplexing menu and ordered what seemed to be the leader of the llama herd — Dolly’s Dream ($10). In a nightmare of branding, it featured Cookie Monster ice cream (a neon-blue vanilla shot with Oreos), squiggles of Nutella, chunks of brownie, and fresh strawberries and blueberries.
The waffle was totally eclipsed in a dessert that seemed more directed at IG than the human mouth, but we happily gobbled the whole thing down, and eventually realized that the freshly made waffle was the best part, which remained warm under the toppings onslaught. Next time we’ll order one with far less gunk on it. 137 First Avenue, near St. Marks, East Village
It was a tragedy of the first order when a building near-collapse next door temporarily closed Donut Pub. Founded in 1964, it was Manhattan’s finest producer of old-style donuts, and with its snaking Formica counter and minimalist sandwiches, a reminder that lunch counters used to be a primary dining institution in the city. Out of respect for the original, I had long ignored the much newer and more modern branch just off the NYU campus, which remains open — until now.
I stepped in recently and discovered a wonderland of doughnut iconography: There were neon doughnuts on the walls in a rainbow of shades, and a panel of what looked like real doughnuts stuck on the walls in a grid pattern. Most impressive of all was the array of real doughnuts on racks behind the counter, gleaming in the harsh light like some pastry Godhead.
Once again bewildered by choices: Should I get the Barbie pink-frosted one with sprinkles, or the more austere and eggy French cruller, with its understated frillery? I finally ordered a whole bag of a doughnut I knew to be the best, a plain cake ($2.75) with a thick and creamy chocolate frosting. I wolfed one down in the store, and realized as I left that I had a chocolate-frosting mustache. 740 Broadway, near Astor Place, Greenwich Village
Japanese grocery stores have proved to be a good place for a quick meal. There are two of them side-by-side on 6th Avenue up near 13th Street: Mi-Ne and Dainobu. Both sell snacks and prepared lunches, and Mi-Ne even has a counter in the back where meals are prepared to order. I like Dainobu for its grab-and-go case right in the front, which has a variety of boxed entrees, sashimi, rice balls, and the like. A microwave and hot water dispenser allow you to heat up some of the prepared meals, and there is seating outside in a structure by the curb that actually belongs to the bagel store next door, though signs encourage Japanese food consumers to use it.
The nori-wrapped spicy chicken rice ball is a favorite, but the other day I got the wagyu cutlet ($8): two relatively substantial burger patties covered with crumbs and deep-fried. It came with plastic packs of ponzu underneath that I didn’t notice and remove, so when I microwaved the dish, the packs of ponzu exploded, saturating the wagyu. Now I’ve always been skeptical of wagyu: especially when what must be the less desirable parts are made into burgers, but the idea of breading a burger is a solid one. I thoroughly enjoy this meal. 496 and 498 Sixth Avenue near 13th Street, Greenwich Village