It's no secret that New York is one of the world's great shopping capitals. But finding the place that sells just the thing you are looking for can turn a brief errand into a wild-goose chase. Here Corky Pollan answers the most intriguing shopping questions she's received over the past year. Whether you're in pursuit of the newest digital technology or the most stylish handcrafted boot, the object you desire may be hiding in plain sight.
The Sweet Hereafter
Q: I'm a raging chocoholic, and I'm visiting New York for the first time. What chocolate shops should I hit?
A: New York staff members recently did an informal chocolate tasting (yes, it's called work). We tested the chocolates of seventeen master makers, trying their truffles, boxed assortments, and old-fashioned sweets. And we came up with some surprises.
Li-Lac (120 Christopher Street; 212-242-7374) was on everyone's A-list for its unsophisticated old-time confections. We couldn't stop gushing as we lit into the butter crunch, bark, turtles, and chocolate-covered orange and lemon peel. Li-Lac is not one of your elegant luxury chocolatiers; it's a Village institution that has been turning out small batches of handmade sweets for more than 70 years.
La Maison Du Chocolat (1018 Madison Avenue, near 78th Street, 212-744-7117; also Bergdorf Goodman) has toothsome cognac truffles. But two other truffle entries made it a three-way tie: butter-cream dreams from Neuhaus (922 Madison Avenue, near 73rd Street, 212-861-2800; also Saks Fifth Avenue, Eli's Manhattan, and ABC Carpet & Home) and plain but awesome gems from Payard Patisserie & Bistro (1032 Lexington Avenue, near 73rd Street, 212-717-5252; also Dean & DeLuca and Bergdorf Goodman).
And we couldn't decide if we loved the delicate little bonbons from Richart Design Et Chocolat (7 East 55th Street; 212-371-9369) or Maison du Chocolat's unadorned but amazing confections more, so we gave them both our vote for boxed assortments.
Q: My husband wants a digital camera for his upcoming birthday. I know nothing about digitals, and when I hear the word megapixel, I get a migraine. What stores have a good selection and salespeople who can give me sound advice?
A: It seems like every ten minutes or so, another manufacturer introduces yet another digital camera. Consumer Reports rated the Nikon Coolpix 900 and the Olympus D-340L excellent, but that was in 1998. The high-
performance Coolpix is now the 950; the Olympus is the D-340R. It's an ever-changing and highly confusing field.
Lens & Repro (33 West 17th Street; 212-675-1900) can help even if you don't know the difference between SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards or why you might want a camera with 2 million megapixels. Jeffrey Kay and his keen staff deal mostly with professional photographers, but they're patient with the novice. Their selection of digital cameras isn't huge, but each type has been staff-tested, and the store carries only those that are best in their class (determined by the pixel resolution and the price). Lens & Repro likes the Fuji MX-2700 -- it's about the size of a pack of cigarettes but delivers a great image -- and the Nikon 950, which offers manual as well as automatic focus. Surprisingly, the prices at Lens & Repro are on a par with those at the megasize discount stores. Foto Care (132 West 21st Street; 212-741-2990) is another photographer-recommended shop that's neophyte-friendly. It carries digitals for $25,000 that might be used for shooting a professional catalogue, as well as models for under $1,000. The pros here suggest the Leica for its superior resolution, and they like the Fuji MX-2900.
OR TRY: The city's most neighborly camera store is Westside Camera (2400 Broadway, at 88th Street; 212-877-8760), where the staff is friendly and savvy and prices are very competitive.The most daunting aspect of shopping for a camera at J&R Music World (31 Park Row; 212-238-9000) is finding the right entrance in the warren of connecting shops. But once you are in, the staff is very helpful. And the newest, most cutting-edge cameras are likely to be at J&R first.Avoid weekends and don't go at lunch hour are tips from savvy B&H shoppers (420 Ninth Avenue, near 33rd Street; 212-444-6670). And don't expect a lot of coddling from the sales staff at this behemoth of an electronics store.
Q: I vowed I'd treat myself to a coat this year, but I don't know what I want or where to look. Any suggestions?
A: Fashion insiders predict that the coat will be this season's most covetable possession. And what a crop! Gucci and Prada have opted for laser-sharp tailoring in their ladylike funnel-neck, knee-length belted beauties. Dolce & Gabbana's architecturally precise version comes in sunflower yellow, and Giorgio Armani does a take on the English-schoolboy look, down to the velvet collar. Radically different are Chanel, Donna Karan, Michael Kors,and Ralph Lauren, who have come up with unstructured floor-sweeping blanket coats with big shawl collars, while Moschino does seventies-redux maxi-coats, and Calvin Klein and Bottega Veneta have slouchy, bathrobey numbers. The fabrics are lush and the colors anything but black. White (or off-white), scarlet, and baby blue rule.