The team who brought us the New York-inspired pizza parlor, Nolita, and the midnight munchies haven, Borough, has, once again, blessed us with a new food concept; something that’s surely been absent from the Manila food map: a bagel shop.
Called L.E.S. Bagels, as in Lower East Side, the new bagelry is a cross between a mini café and a bakery. Located at Tuscany Residences, along Upper McKinley Road in The Fort, the place occupies a small two-floor area, where customers can dine in at the second level or al fresco. The ground floor is entirely for taking orders and gawking at the magnificent spread of bagels, tubs of cream cheese variants, and a spectacular array of cookies, donuts, muffins and other baked goods. It’s small; roughly 30 people can dine in comfortably, so ordering for takeaway might be best.
Perhaps, there’s no other food item that is more “New York” than the bagel. These crusty, chewy rolls first arrived in the United States when Jewish immigrants brought them over from Europe in the 1880s, which soon gave New York’s Lower East Side the highest concentration of Jews on the planet outside Warsaw. For decades, most shops were limited to ethnic neighborhoods. Nowadays, majority of New Yorkers eat a bagel, a day.
In Manila, it’s a different story. Bagels aren’t exactly as popular as cookie butter, croughnuts or froyo here, but word-of-mouth and Instagram posts confirm that the opening of a full-fledged bagel place in Manila is certainly an answered prayer. Dare we say this is the start of a new trend?
L.E.S. Bagels offers 10 variants of bagels: plain, sesame seed, pumpernickel, black Russian (pumpernickel with sesame seeds), onion, garlic, salt, 100% whole wheat, cinnamon raisin and the “everything” (which has garlic, onion, poppy, salt and sesame seeds). Without the filling, a bagel costs P40. A dozen costs P480, regardless of the variants.
If you want to revel in bagels and cream cheese for breakfast everyday or share your newfound obsession with family and friends, it would be a good idea to get a dozen bagels, “pick a container” and bring home your choice of spread in small, medium and large quantities. There is an extensive selection of cream cheese spreads to choose from, it’s impossible to try everything in a visit.
Cream Cheese Heaven: Lox (fillet of brined salmon), Scallion, Garlic and Chive, Vegetable, Herb, Jalapeno Cheddar, Bacon Cheddar, Sundried Tomato and Basil or Olive, Blueberry, Strawberry and Apple Cinnamon
My first L.E.S. bagel had to be Lox Cream Cheese in Black Russian (P280), of course. They give a hefty amount of the schmear (NY deli slang for spread), which should be the case, since it’s the most expensive amongst the cream cheese selection.
Lox Cream Cheese in Black Russian
The Black Russian bagel is chewy inside and crusty outside, caused by its dough being briefly boiled in water and then baked. The over-all texture is slightly “pillowy” than traditional bagels, though. According to chef and New York native, Cuit Kaufman, this was intentional, to suit Filipino tastes.
I expected it to have a distinct pumpernickel flavour, though, but I didn’t detect the slight acidic tang. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the flavour and crunch of the sesame seeds against the fleshy chunks of brined salmon. Half a bagel is pretty much filling already.
My lunch companion got the Bacon Cheddar Cream Cheese in Sesame Seed (P180), and had it split so we could trade halves.
Bacon Cheddar Cream Cheese in Sesame Seed
Akin to the Black Russian, the sesame seed bagel is dense and firm, but won’t lock your jaw. The bacon cheddar spread didn’t disappoint; there were generous bits of bacon and a great deal of cream cheese.
It’s hard to pick which schmear is my favourite, I guess it would depend on my mood, since I can see myself re-ordering either one during my future visits.
Also new to majority of the Filipino palate is the egg cream, which they call The N.Y. Egg Cream (P110), a fountain beverage that consists of milk, soda water and vanilla. It may remind you of Yakult, or a fizzy yogurt. It comes in a chocolate version, too. If you want something more refreshing, the Wild Berry Zinger Tea (P110) is a good choice.
The N.Y. Egg Cream
Aside from bagels, there are specialty sandwiches to satisfy big appetites. Wrapped in no-nonsense wax paper, I brought The Waldorf (P360) home with me, so I can have it for dinner. The chicken sandwich retained its freshness, even after 5 hours of fridge storage. I popped it in the oven and waited until the croissant had turned golden brown on top.
The Waldorf, to-go
The Waldorf is composed of Waldorf chicken salad, brie, lettuce and mayonnaise, and is chunky with every mouthful. I imagine this as a post-party snack and I shudder in anticipation for my next takeaway.
Baked sweets are reveled in L.E.S. Bagels, with an impressive assortment beckoning to the diner whose initial purpose was just to eat a bagel. The wonderfully made Homemade Oreo (P40) is like tasting childhood, it begs to be brought home by the dozen and shared with friends over a warm drink.
Chef Cuit wanted to share influences of his Jewish upbringing, so he made the Rugelach (P30) part of their pastry bar. The bread is crescent-shaped, which is obtained by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. Commonly used fillings are raisins, chocolate, walnuts, cinnamon and fruit preserves.
There’s so much more to try at this quaint place: Homemade Donuts (P40/pc), Muffins (P80), the very chewy Oatmeal Maple Cream Sandwich Cookie (P160) and six kinds of moist, thick slabs of Brownies (P120-P240). If you have to narrow down on one brownie, make it the Raspberry Cheesecake (P180), a dreamy cheesecake packed in a dense, fudgy square chock-full of berries. It is divine with a cup of black.
Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie
“It’s like you guys are bringing New York here!” I told Patrick Santos, one of the owners, when I found out he also brought Nolita and Borough to Manila, along with his partners, Albert Besa and Chef Cuit Kaufman. He smiles and nods, “That’s the idea, so we hope we’re doing it well!” I wasn’t sure if he was fishing for compliments, but at the rate they’re going, they don’t have to. L.E.S Bagels is the closest we can get to real New York bagels. So, until my next trip to the Big Apple, I’ll be here schmearing toasted bagels and sipping on egg cream.