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Haute Cafe

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Name: Culture Cafe
Location: 72 West 38th Street (between 5th and 6th), New York, NY
Rating: 3+

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the grand opening of the Stumptown Cafe in the Ace New York for months. I’m excited about this new cafe not so much because it will serve as the flagship heading up the ever growing Stumptown New York empire, and not so much because the coffee will likely be very good. Mostly I’m excited because it means good, any good, coffee will soon be within close proximity of my New York office. For anyone who has struggled with finding good food, or good coffee, in Midtown, then you know exactly what I mean.

But gosh golly if Intelligentsia didn’t exert their influence first, sneaking in under the auspices of wholesale client Culture Cafe, creating an equidistant counterpart from my office that will likely have me flipping coins prior to coffee breaks in the future. But since Stumptown isn’t yet open, Culture Cafe, open only since the end of June, won my business, and my recommendation first.

Now Culture isn’t along a stretch that you would necessarily find yourself walking down without a very specific reason. It’s a struggling section of 38th Street with many lingering leftovers of the garment district’s more glorious days. Then again, there still is a decent amount of shine behind the run down exterior of this alleyway like street. It turns out that the space above Culture is used as the residences for Project Runway, which inadvertently end up seeing episodes of due to my wife’s obsession. Sadly, my visit, which did overlap with the filming schedule did not include any sightings of Heidi Klum or Timm Gunn.

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What I did spot inside this still shingle-less cafe is Culture’s royal blue, La Marzocco FB/70 (technically a custom machine that’s a 70/80 hybrid) formerly housed in the Broadway location of Intelligentsia in Chicago. I’m not sure if it was the machine, the barista’s skill, or new espresso formula, but the shot of Black Cat I was served was very good. It was buttery, bright and bursting with orange acidity. This bundle was packed inside a short shot, characterized with a light, tea-like body. I enjoyed my espresso, sitting at the window bar, marveling how so many people could pass by even this out-of-the-way location (it is still Manhattan after all). Just as important was how so many poked their head inside to see what this aesthetically pleasing spot, with wood-topped bars, chandelier and intensly patterned wall-paper was all about.

Behind the counter sits an enormous commercial brewing contraption more reminiscent of a large-scale church potluck percolator than anything meant to brew coffee of the caliber you might expect to find here. It may work fine, but thankfully, Culture was brewing their coffee via French Press and not concocting it in this contraption, which may have induced in me an episode of post traumatic stress syndrome from potluck days of yore. The French Pressed coffee on both days I visited was Intelligentsia’s House Blend, which wasn’t bad despite being the least inspired choice they could have picked when there are so many good Intelligentsia coffees from which to chose. This rich and full-bodied cup stayed this side of being roasted too darkly roasted and was pleasingly creamy with lots of chocolate notes.

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Culture serves a nice looking selection of pastries which I didn’t try along with a lunch menu I passed over as well. Instead, I opted for the Midtown Lunch recommendation of Baraca/Olympic Pita Falafel with french fries – quite tasty. The iced Americano I had on my second visit didn’t quite satisfy – not bad, but too heavy for a hot day. I did nab some of Culture’s cold-brewed iced coffee, however, and that was just the ticket. In conjunction with a trip to the Treats Truck that was parked at 5th and 38th, I found my inner explorer and coffee aficionado quite sated and happy to head back to the office.

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