Despite my considerable curiosity, I held off some months before visiting Ladurée's new outpost on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Quite frankly, I didn't want to deal with the lines of macaronophiles eager to plop down $2.70 for each little cookie. And then there was that little snooty voice inside of me that kept saying, well it couldn't be as good as Paris.
To give a little background here, in Paris, Ladurée is the high temple of the macaron. Perhaps Pierre Herme's macarons are better and more inventive, but it is Ladurée that put these almond meringue cookies filled with buttercream on the map. They claim that the idea of creating the little sandwich cookies came from Pierre Desfontaines, a distant cousin of the Parisian shop’s first owner, some 60 years ago. While the claim is difficult to corroborate I'll take their word for it until something better comes along. Not that the idea of macarons is in any way new–in France it dates back to at least 1643. Even the idea of filling them was around in the 1800s, though the filling was jam in those days.
But today Ladurée is the last word on macarons and they've turned the little cookie into a world-spanning empire with outposts all over Europe, the Middle East and Japan. It's a little surprising that it took them this long to get to America. Needless to say, Ladurée is far from a small artisanal operation, it's more on the order Tiffany's or Louis Vuitton, though admittedly the French confectioner's luxuries are a lot more affordable. But can they keep up the quality while manufacturing macarons by the ton? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes, at least if the cookies at the Madison Avenue branch are any indication. A friend and I split four of them and here's my brief review (the texture on the cookies themselves was perfect, crisp yet barely resisting to the tongue):
Coconut: these were perfect, a delicate distillation of coconuttiness
Lemon: great flavor though I was a little surprised that the lemon buttercream was a little broken, this happens to me all the time, but I expect better than that from the Parisian masters
Raspberry: brilliantly intense flavor though I'm not convinced that leaving in the raspberry seeds does anything to the flavor
Violet-cassis: this was perhaps the one dud, any violet flavor was swamped with the cassis and, while the texture of the cookie itself was exemplary, the filling seemed, well, gummy
That said, they are likely the best macarons in New York. Though if you have the option, get on that plane to Paris.