In The Midnight Hour: Cafe Lalo
Open Until: 2:00 am, Sun-Thu; 4:00 am, Fri-Sat
Drinking Until: close, 7 days
Food Until: close, 7 days
Cafe Lalo is the adorable cafe where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks exchange sexual tension-filled un-pleasantries in the hit VHS email comedy You've Got Mail, a film that chose boldly (at the time) to portray online dating as not filled with perverts. And in case you weren't aware of this, the bottom half of the cafe's floor-to-ceiling windows are plastered with laminated still images from the famed scene to make sure that you are.
Luckily, its brushes with stardom haven't deterred it from being one of the best uptown spots for late-night treats. Lalo could easily find itself in the pages of fellow SE:NY columns Date Night and Sugar Rush—it guns hard for European quaintness with its Christmas-lit trees and numerous Leonetto Cappiello posters and over 100 different cakes, 29 cheesecakes, and numerous fresh fruit tarts.
Brunch and lunch are the best time to sample savory items (the menu is mostly vegetarian save for a few fish dishes), but Lalo holds a special place on the Upper West Side as being one of the better midnight options in this upscale neighborhood. Near closing time, the kitchen staff was still hurrying about, grabbing cakes and pastries destined for lucky diners from the display case. On the night we visited, couples sipping from mugs of coffee dominated the room, while a table of the coolest elderly folks we've ever seen (as well as two separate groups of mid-30's gal pals) filled out the rest of the space.
Like the man who frequents the alley behind my building always says, everything tastes better with a little booze. Alcoholic milkshakes may be old hat, but Lalo's Super Shake ($9), a blend of house-made White Russian ice cream, Bailey's Irish Cream, cognac and espresso is decadently sweet, an indulgent way to keep your buzz going after a night out. The espresso's bitterness takes the edge off the drink's sweeter elements and the cognac adds a balanced kick that's not overpowering.
Faced with so many possible options in cheesecake alone, a slice of banana cheesecake ($8) was ordered based on the fact that half of it was already gone—a sign (we hoped) of its excellence. We were rewarded with a thick wedge of cheesecake so dense that it clung easily to an upside-down fork. The banana dominates this cake, with only a hint of tang from the cream cheese base. The only letdown was a thin spongy layer of dull chocolate cake crust that would have benefited from crunch for a textural contrast. A seasonal plum tart ($7.50) sported buttery crust and a bottom layer of almond paste—the nutty confection amplified by its covering of caramelized fruit. Unlike the generous serving of cheesecake, the tart arrived looking rather dwarfed by its plate. Flavor can only make up for so much.
Despite what the laminated photos would have you believe, you don't have to know that Dave Chapelle had a bit part as Kevin, the manager of Tom Hanks' bookstore, to appreciate Lalo's charms. A lot's changed since Ephron directed her classic romcom—the cafe is now even equipped with WiFi, allowing you to find and go on a date without getting out of your seat.
About the author: Zachary Feldman is a former debutante and current freelance writer. He makes hand-crafted, small batch bitters under the moniker Bitters, Old Men.