The hot chocolate comes in a generic white bowl. It is sweet and thick and comforting. It doesn’t give you a rush, quite the opposite. The hasty gourmand is likely to suffer a nauseating choc shock. No, this hot chocolate wants to be enjoyed in small sips—slowly, just as slowly as it reaches perfection, simmering in small cauldrons, almost turning into fudge at its edges. With its mildly frothy texture and its subtle nuances of flavor, this hot chocolate is like a warm hug.
The rest of City Bakery, of course, is a genuine New York experience: busy, with long waiting lines and deafening levels of noise. The lofty space offers 120 seats—long banquette benches in beige and olive, bar stools with heavy iron legs or steel tubing, and Mid-century modern fiberglass chairs in turquoise. Most of those seats are hotly contested for most of the day. Expect a motley jumble of Prada bags, Bugaboo strollers, Mac notebooks, and the latest suggestion of the New York Times book review.
The architecture is the typical New York neo-classical where Greek columns happily coexist with exposed iron girders. The interior, designed by the owner Maury Rubin, is stylish, quasi-industrial, with double-height plate-glass windows and a balcony that offers slightly more quiet seating and an excellent view on the hustle and bustle downstairs. There are two counters, both of them accessible from all four sides. One of them serves hot drinks and sweet treats that will stick in your mind forever, if not on your hips. Next to it, a tiny alcove, the so-called Chocolate Room, displays a whole world of chocolate wonders: truffles, chocolate liqueur, and hand-made chocolate bars from Brooklyn. The other counter, tucked underneath the balcony, offers Macaroni & Cheese and stands next to what is said to be one of New York’s best salad bars: think tofu-skin-and-edamame salad, pickled Jerusalem artichokes, or salt-and-pepper chicken wings. Yet, this is a buffet. So think of what heating plates do to fresh food, too.
The City Bakery is a perfect mirror of its city: it offers almost everything, some of it of an amazing quality. Yet, it does not always keep its promises. It’s cool, but not homey. It’s full of people, yet some of them seem lonely. However, you will always find one friend waiting for you at the City Bakery: the hot chocolate. 4 points.
The City Bakery, 3 W 18th Street (btw 5th and 6th Ave)