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New York Dispatch: Is that a banana in your taxi?

new york taxi, queensboro bridgeMarathon Sunday. New York City. I had visions of giving away banana after banana to exhausted, potassium-depleted runners – and of rushing at least one of the 43,000 competitors in the New York Marathon to a Manhattan emergency room.

In the end, I only handed out two bananas (one to some spectators who were meeting a friend at the finish line, the other to Daniel, the empanada-loving cashier at my taxi garage).

And after I made a marathon mistake that stranded two passengers with a sheet cake on the wrong side of the race route, I steered clear of the running madness. There would be no life-saving hospital runs. (At this stage in my cab driving development, it’s probably better that way.)

What the shift lacked in marathon drama, it made up for in New York dream sequences. The NYPD officer I thought was going to give me a ticket for a busted brake light hit on me instead (“You’re the hottest cab driver we’ve ever seen!” I drove away laughing. I could have been in Buenos Aires).

A couple of hours later, I dropped off two Frenchmen at Tiffany’s and there was no tip. Was it my cluelessness about the street fair that was blocking Madison Ave? My illegal u-turn onto the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Heights? Whatever it was, I’d endangered our lives. Maybe I didn’t deserve a tip. Or maybe they don’t tip cab drivers in Paris. I drove on, hungry.

I was wondering where to eat for lunch when a line cook from the Modern (the posh Alsatian restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art) hopped in and started dishing about what an a**hole his boss was.

“He’s young [34],” he said, “And he doesn’t have kids. I think that has something to do with it. A lot of people have quit [the restaurant] and left the food industry altogether because of him. He fired a guy for singing.”

It was Kitchen Confidential come to life. I didn’t even ask the cook if he’d read Anthony Bourdain’s love-hate letter to the restaurant world. He was living it.

And since I’m not going to be able to try bulgur wheat-crusted diver scallops in cumin and quince nage or Gewurztraminer-steamed Scottish salmon at the Modern any time soon, I did ask him where he liked to eat when he finished his work in the mean kitchen.

paris baguette, french-korean pastry, koreatown, manhattanHe sat in the cab after we got to the MOMA and wouldn’t let himself get out until he’d named two spots:

1. Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (Even though they’ve moved from Chinatown to Little Italy, they still serve their delicious, $5-or-less sandwiches from the back of a jewelry store that deals heavily in jade. I’d tasted their spicy pork banh mi. My mouth waters every time I think about it.)

2. Paris Baguette: “A French-Korean bakery in K-town” where he raved about red bean-stuffed brioche and breads in general.

I sped over to Koreatown after I dropped him off. Paris Baguette may be South Korea’s answer to Starbuck’s – and the chain may already have well-established outposts in California and Jersey – but you have to give a shop that advertises the fact that it only sells same-day bread fair consideration (there are plenty of bakeries where this rule is implied but not enforced or committed to in public).

Paris Baguette is not a safe place for a cab driver with low blood sugar and a starch fixation to park. Limiting myself to a mango roll, a rice flour donut with red bean paste, two maple cream breads, a cream cheese and mochi twist, and a pumpkin and black sesame donut felt terrible. What about Korean cheese cake? Curry croquette? Flower green tea pumpkin bread?

paris baguette, french-korean pastry, koreatown, manhattanI’m sure I’d missed something great at Paris Baguette, but maple cream bread – imagine the finest Grade A syrup concentrated beneath a single roasted walnut – was enough to convince me to go back. I ate the whole, soft, autumn-inspired thing as I speed-walked up 6th Avenue praying that I hadn’t gotten a parking ticket.

My windshield was empty. I celebrated by biting into the rest of the pastries, which were a mixed bag: the mango roll tasted as lurid and candied as it looked (If you like Indian sweets, you might appreciate this one). And I couldn’t figure out the sour hit at the bottom of the cream cheese and red bean twist.

The donuts brought me back to pleasure, especially the pumpkin one, which had me at the black sesame seeds – and the sprinkle of cinnamon in its deep-fried dough. Bananas? What bananas?

Paris BaguetteMap it
6 W. 32nd Street – Koreatown
Tel. (212) 244-0404
Prices: $1-2 per pastry.
Would I go back? Yes – the risks of mango rolls are worth the rewards of maple cream bread.

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