the grub street diet

Pastry Chef Nicole Rucker Goes Hard at Win Son

“We got the turnip cakes, pork buns, pea shoots, fried eggplant, clams and basil — oh my God.”

With a spread at Win Son. Photo: Scott Heins
With a spread at Win Son. Photo: Scott Heins

Nicole Rucker’s pies inspire cross-country envy. The Los Angeles fruit fanatic and pastry chef opened Gjusta and Gjelina, which promptly became loci of aspirational obsession, before going on to launch Fiona, with the chef Shawn Pham, in November. There, she serves Victoria sponge cake and a Key-lime pie that the Los Angeles Times critic Bill Addison calls “a feat of reinvention.” Now you can make it yourself: The pie is featured in Rucker’s first cookbook, Dappled, as “the Lime Pie That Saved Us.” This week, Rucker was in New York to promote the book and, most important, to eat a bunch of fruit; chase down cookies from Burrow, a New York favorite; and partake of a top-shelf burger in “almost pajamas.” Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Tuesday, July 9
I got into New York around the middle of the night and had brought a box of peaches with me. This meant I got to eat a peach on the plane around 1 a.m. This was not my first time traveling with fruit! If I go to New York or Georgia or some place like that, I’ll bring a friend of mine there something from California. It’s like the equivalent of bringing a souvenir. When I go to New York in the fall, I take apples back with me because you guys have such different varieties. On the flip side, people bring me stuff all the time. People will bring fruits, especially, to the restaurant, like, “I went to Washington and I wanted you to have these cherries.” It’s a thing at this point.

Anyway, I woke up in my hotel starving and went to Daily Provisions with my book publicist Emily. I had an egg-salad sandwich. It was okay. I didn’t really appreciate the asparagus part of it and I thought that it was a little bit runny. But, to be honest, I was so tired and hungry at that point I didn’t really care. But you know what was really good? The citrus tonic. It was very salty citrus syrup with soda water. It really tasted like, in a good way, those vitamin C supplements that you dissolve under your tongue and have a fair amount of salt in them. I was really into that.

I then had a video shoot for my book with a local food recipe blog. The person I was doing it with has a dog, and that lifted my spirits 200 percent. Dogs are life.

Walked to Abraço. I try to go as much as possible when I’m here. Alan, my photographer, is close friends with the owners, Jamie and Liz, and I love them and what they built and how they’ve worked. I had the olive shortbread and an iced piccolo. I only went to the original one once, but I think the new one is so New York and I love the way it looks in there. How you can see back to the white-tiled kitchen and how there’s orange light in the front and orange cabinets.

People were in love all around me — it was cute. I missed my husband and my dogs. I love the heat though. It was glorious.

I was saving room for Prune. I go there every single time I’m here. A friend of mine took me a long time ago, I had never heard of it before. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it was so great. There’s just something about it, an intangible: You can get a space and put a menu down and do all these things, but you can’t just make Prune over and over again.

I met my friend Mike for dinner. We had shrimp in anchovy butter, blue-cheese tomato toast, jerk chicken and some cold soup with potato and egg chunks that was very good. We asked Gabrielle about the potato soup and she said, “It’s like dirty dishwater with eggs and potatoes and it’s cold and it looks terrible and it’s really rustic and gross but, like, it’s delicious.” And we were like, “Okay, great.” It was really refreshing.

The jerk chicken made me think of my late stepmother Verna, it was the anniversary of her passing, and how I should probably spend the rest of the summer making jerk chicken. We also got to sit in the window. Gabrielle asked me why I named the book Dappled in a way that made me feel very seen and respected — she was intrigued.

I felt like I needed to have two desserts, so we walked around toward Morgenstern’s. I love how many types of vanilla they have. Got the burnt-honey vanilla and the strawberry. It had good strawberry flavor. Strawberry’s the hardest ice-cream flavor to make, other than lemon, in my opinion, so I usually try and order it. But I’m on a vanilla thing right now — I think my next book will be about vanilla and chocolate — and the guy at the register said his favorite vanilla was the one with honey in it. So I got those two.

It felt really early to be going to bed, and I had eaten dinner at like 5:30 p.m. So I went to some place called P.J. Clarke’s for a beer and burger, American cheese, alone. It just happened to be underneath my hotel. I usually would order a burger for room service, but they didn’t have room service at this hotel. It was great, and they put it on top of a huge pile of raw white onions. It was like an onion platform. And me, a woman sitting alone at a bar eating slices of white onions, at 11 at night, wearing almost pajamas.

Wednesday, July 10
Slept in! I didn’t eat breakfast. I was still full from the burger.

My husband usually brings me coffee while I am in bed, but he was not here and so I slept through my alarm and didn’t get anything. No coffee, no dog cuddles — nothing.

Went to the Union Square Greenmarket for fruit. Black raspberries found! One container, and I got it. Cherries of all kinds! Sour ones, too, OMG. Crazy raspberries that made me jealous. I was sweating like a beast.

Chugged an apple cider. Is this a juice cleanse now?!? I ate nothing all day. I existed on apple juice and cherries. Sat in the World Trade Center park and got approached by many people who thought I was selling fruit.

I did a peach-cobbler demo at Bon Appétit and ate half a biscuit, a bite of chocolate pie Chris Morocco was testing (I think I love him?), and a bite of cobbler. Emily Schultz let me make my own cortado on the espresso machine, which was an honor.

We were walking by Cha Cha Matcha and and I was feeling kind of dead inside, so I was like, Oh, maybe I’ll just get a matcha before I do this book signing so I’m not like a total zombie. I had a coconut iced latte because I am basic and the design of the store really got me. It wasn’t particularly delicious, but it also wasn’t bad.

Book signing at Rizzoli! Someone brought me gooseberries and white currants. More fruit! All I’d eaten so far this day was fruit.

Afterward I was hangry and alone. All my friends had plans. New York is the best place to eat alone, though. I went to Via Carota solo and had fried sardines with fennel, raw artichokes with Pecorino and orange, and a pasta with pesto that made me miss my husband. Pesto is his fave. I’m on a sardine-and-anchovy thing, so the sardines with the fried fennel were the reason I went there. Also, one of my sardines had a fried-onion necklace which was very, very cute. Had a glass of white wine, too.

I wanted to offer the woman next to me a sardine ’cause she was solo, too, but I wondered if that was too Californian of me?

Ate a Stick With Me Sweets chocolate for dessert — I had stopped by the other day to get chocolates for my husband Blaine — sorry, there are only four out of six left!

Thursday, July 11
Tour of the Google cafeterias with Mike. He was like, “This is the vegetarian floor, this is the place where the sushi chef comes, these are the baristas I like in this section,” but then we got a coffee from another barista in a different section. A free cortado! Free scrambled eggs and turkey bacon — why?!? I don’t like turkey bacon and I didn’t understand why it was there, but I ate it because I was so hungry. My friend likes it, so he ate a whole pile.

I found myself at Prune again, meeting Courtney Storer from Jon and Vinny’s. We never get to hang in L.A., so this was a real treat. But Prune was not open and we went to Altro Paradiso, where we sat outside and had a moody, rainy-day meal. It was perfect.

We ate the arancini, those were very good; prosciutto di Parma, also very good; swordfish, pretty good; the tomato salad, that was okay; and the fennel salad. I did not like the fennel salad. I know the chef, Ignacio, likes to do these monochromatic salads, and this one just felt like a little bit of a miss to me. But we had a really good spritz there. I like all kinds of spritzes.

After, I walked straight over to Big Gay Ice Cream with my friend Bryan, who is one of the owners. He was getting pints for our party that night, a pie-party contest with Aperol spritzes! I ordered chicken for 40 people as my contribution, and Pies ’n’ Thighs came THROUGH. Biscuits, too! I loved taking a car with huge containers of fried chicken! (I’ve probably been every time I’m here. One of my best friends, Scarlett, took me a couple times — she doesn’t live here anymore, but now I have other friends to go with.)

We judged the pies and crowned the winner and ate chicken and pie and ice cream. My fave was the fluffernutter. I love Bryan. We had tooooo much fun together and laughed a lot.

Friday, July 12
Balthazar breakfast with my friend Amber. Buckwheat crêpe with ham and cheese. It was the first time I’d been there. I thought it was okay. Wasn’t the best thing. Wasn’t the worst thing. Coffee was kind of bad.

Lunch with Alison Roman at Frenchette! What a complete treat! We had the bread and butter, oysters with tiny sausages, morel omelette and fries, chicken with more ’shrooms, and watercress-and-little-gem salad. Another spritz! The Spritzette. Not made with Aperol, extremely delicious. I liked the bitterness of it. I don’t drink very much, and if I’m going to drink cocktails, it’ll probably be salty or bitter.

Also, chocolate mousse! Espresso with the saltiest sparkling water — really a perfect pairing altogether.

Arrived in Brooklyn early so as not to be late for the big meal I’d been waiting for, Win Son! I am so endeared to places like this, a place that if it was at home I would visit weekly. I was with my friend Eric and his girlfriend, who love the place a lot.

We had almost everything. We got the turnip cakes, pork buns, pea shoots, fried eggplant, clams and basil — oh my God, the clams and basil. Wow, that was a totally crazy, delicious bowl of food. It was really spectacular. The lu rou fan, Nutritious sandwich, the beef roll, and the zha jiang mian, and that’s what we ate, which was a lot!

I got a drink that was also kind of bitter, the Taiwan Beer Amer. They said it was an underrated, underordered drink, and I said, “Great,” because I love an underdog. It was sour and bitter like a Taiwanese shandy. It was so fucking good.

Saturday, July 13
Trekked to Abraço for one last coffee. I also got a berry-filled buckle, which was so great.

I’d really like to open a place like it in my neighborhood. It’s both very welcoming and has really good energy. They have a good product, but it’s not like they’re thinking about it too much. It’s very effortless, but at the same time they just don’t tolerate any kind of bullshit. They’re not doing you any favors and I fucking love places like that, where it’s just kind of like, “Everybody’s equal in this space.” Liz treats everyone with kindness, and they work so hard and one of them is always there. It’s hard to find a place like that. Everyone wants to expand and make these like big concepts and have multiple stores, and, for better or worse, Liz and Jamie are there all the time.

I was still full from dinner, but I decided on breakfast at Kopitiam. I ate there with a customer of mine, Vishnu, who was in New York to film a movie. We had the kaya butter toast, the nasi lemak, water spinach, and the pan mee, these flat, hand-pulled noodles with anchovy-brothy soup that was good.

Then we went to the Happy Family Night Market, which was during the day, just for Burrow. I hadn’t been able to go to Burrow because I forgot they’re closed on weekends, and I really wanted to get cookies from them because I’m working on a cookie concept. And then I happened to see they were at the festival, and I was like, Oh God, totally saved. I gotta go get some cookies. I love the way they package them. Also, we got to see this film about mangoes — it was kind of really on-brand fruit-wise for me — and we had mango soda water while watching.

I was headed back to L.A., so I ate airport pizza in JFK’s American terminal. A slice of grandma and a slice of pepperoni. It was not good — the grandma slice was okay, but it was very soggy and heavy. I ate half of each slice and regretted it. I don’t know if this is a miscommunication, but I also got a Corona from them and they said it was fine for me to walk to my terminal with the beer? I then purchased and chugged a Zico because I felt borderline dehydrated.

The plane options being what they were, I ate a handful of grapes and some crackers. I had a banana muffin from Burro, too. It was amazing. Pretty sure it had very dark chocolate chips. These are special muffins. The way they make them is different. It was not as butter-heavy. The crumb of it is more brioche-y.

Returned home to pesto made by Blaine. He made it with a bunch of different basils from our garden, which is something he’s never done before: opal basil and lemon basil and African basil. It was kind of interesting and spicy-tasting. The lemon basil really made an impact flavor-wise. Also, some extra-toasted pine nuts on top.

More Grub Street Diets

See All
Pastry Chef Nicole Rucker’s Grub Street Diet