The first few weeks of September could easily wear the crown of my favorite of the year. The air is cooler in the mornings; it’s not quite crisp yet, but it’s getting there. I wear a long-sleeved shirt on my early morning runs, but it’s warm enough that I strip down to a tank top as soon as I enter the park and jog onto the main path. Once out of the shade of the tree-lined edges of the park, sunshine floods the road ahead and I feel a light sheen of sweat on my skin.
In the evenings, the dusky hour hasn’t gotten cold enough to demand you put on a jacket, but suddenly a new sensation hangs in the air: something unseen, more of the promise of something ahead. There are little signposts: a few fallen leaves that crunch underfoot, a whiff of woodsmoke, pumpkin cheesecake on the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream shop’s menu. It all hints at what’s to come: yellow school busses, kids running with their backpacks akimbo, mini Halloween candy on display, pumpkin muffins, thick sweaters.
For now though, I’m savoring these golden days that teeter precariously between summer and fall. I wear my jean shorts every day—but I pair them with a cable-knit sweater—and I eat berries for breakfast, but I also make homemade applesauce for the evenings.
New York City is at peak beauty right now, showing off once the sticky heat and stench of summer has faded. I particularly love walking around the West Village in late September, drinking coffee on a bench outside Jack’s Stir Brew on West 10th Street or watching the crowds line up outside Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street for a pint of their famous banana budding, laced with pillowy drifts of whipped cream and studded with chunks of Nilla Wafers.
On Wednesday night, I make a reservation at one of my all-time favorite New York restaurants: Frankie’s 570. It’s part of the mini restaurant empire built by two guys named Frank; they own a few spots in Brooklyn—all with a casual, “feels like your own home if your own home was full of laid-back, laughing, good-looking Italian people who make killer homemade pasta and assemble perfect salads and pour a top-notch Negroni” sort of vibe. You know the type.
This is the restaurant I’ve come back to again and again over the past decade, both when I lived just a few blocks from it and when I moved a subway ride away. I remember my life in New York through snapshots at Frankie’s: celebrating two different engagements of two sets of close friends, eating dinner with my mom and sister and realizing Julianne Moore was seated next to us, and toasting too many life events—from small to big—to recount. I remember ordinary nights there too: sitting at a corner table by the big leaded glass windows after my first day at my first-ever food writing job, exuberant and thrilled to be young and in New York (and eating a cavatelli pasta with sage and brown butter that was so good I wanted everyone to stop talking for just a minute).
As it turns out, all eras come to an end. Frankie’s 570 is closing on Sunday. The owners are keeping the space, and turning it into a new spot called Anton’s, which will apparently be a modern version of an old-fashioned New York cafe. Rather than feel sad, I felt sort of thrilled to consider all the little, and huge, moments that might become part of the fabric of my life in that new spot.
Silver lining or not, I had to go one last time.
It was a perfect evening, the temperature high enough to sit outside at the cafe tables, watching as people walked home from work, the bars filling up, neon signs growing bright. It’s as though the city is exhaling after the frenetic energy of the day.
Outside, we ordered the kale salad and a plate of creamy burrata and their famous mushroom crostini. Actually, everything on the menu feels famous, because they execute even the simplest dishes in such flawless fashion that you end up comparing all other versions you try to theirs.
Take the kale salad. Raw kale is cut into impossibly thin ribbons, to avoid that sensation of eating mouthfuls of tough roughage. Then the kale is tossed with a lot of Parmesan and a lot of toasted breadcrumbs, rather than topping the salad with big croutons or shavings of cheese. This way, you get cheese and bread in every bite, in equal measure. Instead than a heavy dressing, or a predictable lashing of oil and vinegar, it’s very lightly coated with lemon and garlic and oil.
This was followed by pasta: flat strands of linguine tangled with the sweetest possible cherry tomatoes, cooked until blistered and bursting, and plump shrimp. In place of a sauce, there was a corn puree, which frankly was so delicious I could have licked the plate. To balance the sweetness of it all, there was just the right hint of sea salt and herbs.
Listening to the happy chatter at nearby tables, I nearly missed a friend calling my name—he happened to be walking by on his way home and stopped to lean against the railing of our table and chat. Things like this do happen in a city, on nights like this, when the whole place feels like one big dinner party.
Wandering home, full and content, down the prettiest West Village streets, I felt glad to be right there. On the corner of West 11th Street and West Fourth Street, there’s a bustling little French restaurant where the windows are flung open and tables spill out onto the street. People line up to eat warm onion tart and steak au poivre. I pause to take in the sight of it all, and hear music behind me. I turn and see a older man—dressed in black slacks and a thin white button-down—handsome with long silvery hair pulled back into a low ponytail. He’s playing the cello and it’s stop-in-your-tracks beautiful, and melodic, and other passers-by stop to listen too.
After a song, I continue on to the subway. Down the stairs, waiting on the tracks as the trains woosh past, clanking and clattering to a stop. Onto the train, uptown, and then up the stairs to street level. One block past bustling cafes and brightly-lit bodegas, buckets of roses outside waiting to be bought for someone’s wife or lover or daughter.
Trudging up four flights to put on pajamas, wash my face, and have a piece of cake. Because even the most perfect of evenings are made better by dessert.
And this one is tops. I’ve searched high and low for a reliably good marble cake. Most require some fussy process of melting chocolate, or they demand that you swirl the two batters together in some flick-of-the-wrist fashion which always seems to result in a muddied, neither-vanilla-nor-chocolate result.
So this version is the one I’ve finally landed on and love best. A word of advice: don’t overbake it. It can dry out, as it doesn’t have anything like sour cream or heavy cream to give it extra moisture. But if you take it out at the right time, the texture is absolutely perfect.
Oh, and if you have any left over, toast a slice in a pan over medium heat. Put it on a bowl, douse it in heavy cream, and be thankful for things like that.
Marble Bundt Cake
Makes one 10-cup Bundt cake
2 2/3 cups (340g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28g) cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (500g) granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup (41g) cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, optional for more chocolate flavor
6 tablespoons warm water
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups, 340g) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup (113g) whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan very well. I prefer to use a baking spray, but butter works, just make sure you get into every single nook and cranny. Then, sprinkle sugar over the entire inside of the pan and turn it upside down and tap it to get rid of any excess sugar. I find that using sugar is much more reliable for avoiding stuck Bundt cakes compared to dusting with flour.
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar with the cocoa powder, espresso powder (if using), and water until smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the remaining 2 cups sugar with the softened butter. Beat on high speed for at least 2 minutes, until very pale and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each egg.
Add the flour mixture and the milk in three additions, alternating between each. Beat until the batter just comes together but don’t overmix.
Scoop out about 3 cups of the batter (no need to be too exact here) and add it to the cocoa mixture. Fold the batter in until smooth and well-incorporated.
Spoon one-third of the plain batter into your prepared cake pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Spoon one-third of the chocolate batter on top, smoothing as best you can. Repeat with another third of the plain, then another third of the chocolate, then plain, then chocolate.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. I find it’s best to err on the side of baking it less, as you don’t want the cake to dry out.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, then gently run a knife under the edges where you can (depending on your pan, this is easy or not). Let the cake continue to cool for another 15 minutes. You want it to be not steaming hot when you flip it out, or it’ll come apart, but you also don’t want to let it fully cool or the sugar crust will make it stick.
When you’re ready, take a deep breath and invert the cake onto a wire rack and say a tiny prayer! Then dance around wildly in victory when it releases perfectly from your pan!
Then, of course, eat some cake.