Warning: This review is extremely biased.
There, okay, got that out of the way. I love Almondine. I adore the atmosphere, the plastic plates, the paper bags, the croissant, the cappuccino, the iced coffee, all of it. Basically, this is my base line for a good cafe. Every where I go is judged off of what you can get here. I realize that the coffee may not be the best, the croissant may have a funny taste for some people and the environmentally conscious may not appreciate the paper cups, but I love it.
So, you are probably wondering, why on earth does she love this cafe so much? What about it makes her go back again and again? I go for the croissant, the coffee and the atmosphere. To me, they are simply the best.
Whereas many cafes in New York have a pretentious, ahem "hipster", aura to them, Almondine does not. Come Saturday morning, you can find a diverse group in either of their locations, parents, kids, young couples, singles, people meeting up for a coffee, people picking up a croissant to go, heck, you can even find people coming in to get some lemonade after a morning jog. It never feels exclusive. I've never once felt out of place in this cafe, and I doubt other people would feel alienated.
This croissant gets my vote for the best in New York City. It has a slightly crunchy shell that, when bitten, yields to delightfully soft and buttery layers of pastry. Perfection. While there is a distinct butter flavor to the pastry, it doesn't feel overwhelmingly greasy or soft, like some can. This is also a far cry from the bready croissants that plague countries like England. I can tell that it didn't come from a bakery in France, but I can also tell that for an American pastry, it's pretty darn good!
Their other pastries and confections are no less delicious. They are known for their Almond Croissants (good, but I find them overwhelmingly sugary wherever they come from!) and also make a mean pain au chocolat, with chocolate that doesn't get lost in the croissant. I've also enjoyed their muffins, which are pleasingly springy and moist. If you are more in the mood for some dessert, they have a nice selection of macarons, tarts and parisian sweets which all blend high quality flavors into a beautiful and almost effortless product. I love their desserts so much, that last year my family got a Bouche De Noel here for Christmas. Which was perfectly rich and chocolatey.
Not to be left out of a discussion on Almondine is the french baguette. It is near impossible to get a good baguette outside of Paris, but this baguette simply comes the closest I have found to perfection. The outside is quite crunchy and the inside soft, chewy, but not dense. If the outer shell had a bit more crunch, you would not be able to convince me that the baguette wasn't imported.
The coffee here may not sway coffee buffs, but people who find high quality coffee shops a bit overwhelming, but have graduated from Starbucks will be pleased. I usually get either a cappuccino or an iced coffee (in the summer), both of which never fail to please me. The cappuccino strikes a good balance between foam, espresso and steamed milk. There isn't so much foam (schiuma) that you feel as if you got a latte, but not so much that you feel you didn't get any espresso. I'm quite picky about the balance between bitter espresso and sweet milk, it needs to be bitter enough that you can distinctly taste the coffee, yet not so bitter that it's undrinkable. I've found that Almondine usually gets the ratio right. If they don't, the cappuccino will stray closer to too much milk, which I find preferrable out of the two extremes.
Iced coffee is iced coffee. They never sweeten it and I never have to tell them not to, that wins major points in my book (yes Starbucks, I am calling you out!).
Now what I don't like about this place?
I'm not a fan of the lack of locations or the fact that there is only ever a single person working at the cash register. Neither of which are problems, just facts that others may find irritating.
So I'm not even going to rate Almondine individually. I love it. Figure I give it five out of five coffee cups. You should go.
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