Long-time readers of this dessert blog will know that we have moaned on quite a few previous occasions that many a restaurant in New York, overwhelmingly fail…and fail tremendously… at executing memorable dessert epilogues to an otherwise wonderful meal. An uninspired plate of cookies, a stale slice of cake or a careless plop of ice cream does not constitute a proper dessert in a restaurant. It’s a tragedy that leaves these Dessert Correspondents especially, in a bamboozled state. Why the anti-climax?! 😦 Now that NYC’s restaurant scene has fully re-opened, we are resuming our mission to seek out the NYC restaurants who do afford more considered attention to the dessert menu. In this volume, we feature six NYC restaurant desserts that have stood the test of time — one has been served since the late 1800s, the rest demands repeat visits. What better excuse to remember life before the pandemic, eh?
Nougatine’s Chocolate Cake
- Dessert destination: Nougatine, Upper West Side, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$$.
- Short and sweet story: When we first arrived in NYC some five years ago, we dreamt of one day visiting five of NYC’s Michelin starred restaurants. On our list were the likes of Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Masa, L’atelier de Robuchon, Daniel, and Jean Georges. Five years on, we have so far only visited Jean Georges’ more casual, yet still refined, baby sister restaurant, Nougatine. And that restaurant remains one of our favourite spots for all occasions – a fancy luncheon, a romantic dinner, a place to have fun in and a place to impress. Overlooking Central Park, we return over and over again for Nougatine’s “Chocolate Cake” ($16). Shaped like a flower, it’s the gold standard for a molten chocolate cake.
Cosme’s Corn Husk Meringue
- Dessert destination: Cosme, Flatiron, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$$-$$$$.
- Short and sweet story: Cosme was one of the first Michelin starred restaurants we visited when we first arrived in NYC, and it remains one of the most expensive and polarizing meals we have had to date. For example, we will never forget the simultaneous joy and pain of the $100 duck carnitas tacos. And its signature dessert, the “Corn Husk Meringue” ($19), remains one of the oddest dessert we have ever had. As strange in taste as it looks in appearance, it’s sweet and salty, chalky and wet all at the same time. It’s a dessert made for philosophizing.
Carbone’s Carrot Cake
- Dessert destination: Carbone, Soho, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$$.
- Short and sweet story: We first met Carbone in HK, and boy, did we have some amazing dinners there. The NYC location is harder to score a reservation at, and a tighter squeeze of a restaurant, but it comes with the same generous dose of charming hospitality. You must of course, order the spicy vodka rigatoni, and as for dessert, we never thought we would recommend something as ubiquitous as a carrot cake, but truly, Carbone’s version is absolutely worth your time (and stomach space).
Oiji’s Honey Butter Chips
- Dessert destination: Oiji, East Village, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$-$$$.
- Short and sweet story: Dinner at Oiji is akin to a game of shuffleboard, a nibble from this tiny plate, a snip from that tiny crucible, a morsel from that tiny dish. This all culminates in a dessert offering ($16) that arrives in a larger bowl than all of the preceding savoury dishes. There is a time for deconstructed desserts that look like a contemporary museum exhibition, and then there is a time for desserts that just scream, “eat me.” And at Oiji, you score the latter, two giant orbs of vanilla ice cream encircled by a forest of honey butter chips. It is seriously addictive.
Thai Diner’s Uncle Boons Coconut Sundae
- Dessert destination: Thai Diner, Nolita/Soho, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$.
- Short and sweet story: The pandemic catalyzed the shutting-down of many restaurants in NYC, and one of the more notable closings was Uncle Boons. Its offspring, Thai Diner, still lives on, but without the parent, this offspring is trekking down the wrong path. There are some glimpses of former greatness in some of the spiciest Thai dishes to be found in the city. But, these glimpses are overshadowed by many more overly-salted offerings and possibly, some of the worse service we have ever encountered in NYC, running the spectrum of pretentious, condescending, confused, lackadaisical and unavailable. The cherry-on-the-top has to be when the shocking waitstaff select their own tip amount at payment time… So, while we love the “Coconut Sundae” — a tribute dessert to Thai Diner’s now-deceased parent — we hope that Thai Diner finds its way back to its roots soon, or it will soon become irrelevant in the amorphous mass of NYC restaurants.
Delmonico’s Baked Alaska
- Dessert destination: Delmonico’s, Financial District, Manhattan.
- Budget: $$$.
- Short and sweet story: In Australia, business is done over drinks, endless cups of coffee and endless pints of beer. In East Asia, handshakes occur over multi-course, multi-hour banquets. And in NYC, the business meal is all about steak. In the first year of working in NYC’s Wall Street precinct, we lost count of all the steakhouses we were dragged along to for work purposes. Since then, we have avoided this entire category of restaurants. The one steakhouse that we would not have a problem revisiting though is Delmonico’s, and that would be because of its star dessert, specifically, its “Bombe Alaska” ($14). A veritable showstopper of a creation, flambeed meringue entirely cloaks a mound of walnut cake, apricot compote and banana gelato. Apparently served since the late 1880s, this is one incredible dessert for the history books.