Desserts that rival the main menu

There’s this fantastic song by R&B artist Tinashe and DJ MAKJ called “Save room for us” and I hear it in my head every time I sit down in a restaurant that I know has a dessert menu. This is a subject that I I will not be silent, because when done right, dessert can elevate an already wonderful meal. Without it, you go all the way to the end zone – only to score a field goal. (In non-sports parlance, it’s like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade without Snoopy – it’s still great, but it feels incomplete!)

For many restaurants, dessert is a question of resources. In difficult times, pastry chef positions are usually the first to be cut. And yet, I find that as a diner, when I encounter an exciting and varied dessert menu, I’m more likely to spend a little more money to end the evening with something sweet. It’s a real Catch-22.

As my colleague Becky Hughes pointed out last fall, the city’s short but brilliant Hot Restaurant Summer™ sparked a resurgence in sweets. Here are six restaurants (and one cafe) that understand the importance of an impressive array of desserts.

Every time I go to Sofreh in Prospect Heights, I always punctuate my meal with the baklava drizzled with citrus rose syrup and the trio of Persian ice creams with saffron, rose water and pistachio ice creams because, in my humble opinion, they are even better together — think kesar pista. (You can also enjoy a handful of their desserts and breads when a few months old Cafe Sofreh at Bushwick.)

AT Hawksmoor in the Flatiron district, the first American outpost of the popular London steakhouse, I more or less felt it was my civic duty to try pastry chef Carla Henriques’ entire dessert menu. I will long dream of the Meyer lemon meringue dessert, with its ice cream and lemon curd.

If you can get a seat at Gauge and toll In downtown Brooklyn, you’ll see half a dozen baked alaskans flying past your table, one of many dessert options, not to mention the party cakes you can order ahead. (Tip: if you’re looking for a show, ask for the flamboyant rum baba off the menu or try the brand new cup of amaretto coffee.)

Even a dessert special or two can do the trick. The tasting menu of Jua in Flatiron ends with the platonic ideal of a hotteok, a type of Korean pancake, which chef Hoyoung Kim calls “Korean soul food”. That alone is worth the $130 admission price, if you ask me.

At the Williamsburg outpost of the sushi restaurant Nami Nori, which specializes in temaki hand rolls, one of two desserts on the menu is a plate of “mochurros.” They’re so simple yet so brilliant: a batter made from glutinous rice flour – the base of mochi – baked and fried like a churro, and served with a shallow bowl of tangy lemon curd. And of course, there’s the hottest fruit platter in town at the Cantonese-influenced restaurant. Bonnie’s, also in Williamsburg, with star fruit, witches grapes, dragon fruit, lychee, orange slices and mango. It’s as thoughtful as the immigrant parents who inspired it. (Pete Wells advises going to the door as soon as it opens if you want a seat.)

I can’t say if the dessert menu is back or not, but I’m sure it still counts for those like me who consider themselves catering finalists.

Real quick, I’d like to say thank you for all the good wishes that popped up in the Where to Eat inbox last week. I have read the many questions you have about restaurants in New York and will do my best to answer them in future newsletters and, quite rarely, in direct emails. I am at [email protected] for polite questions, requests and suggestions.

  • Tune in on April 8 for the Where to Eat virtual event featuring an interview with comedian and TV host Desus Nice about where he likes to eat, New York’s most underrated food and more.

  • Pete Wells reviewed Uncle Loua new restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown with cross-generational appeal that, by focusing on classic Cantonese fare, is “kind of a love letter to its neighborhood.”

  • Openings and pop-ups: France meets Japan at the new TriBeCa restaurant The Bee (think miso-glazed pigeon grilled over binchotan charcoal); Manero’s, a red-sauce offshoot of Manero’s Pizza, opens tomorrow in Little Italy; chef Adrienne Cheatham will take over the kitchen at Harlem’s red rooster on Sunday and April 10 to celebrate his new book, “Sunday Best”.

  • Rax Will reports on the desire to use gender-neutral language and etiquette when speaking to non-binary and transgender customers, and efforts to create safer spaces for the gender-neutral community in the industry of restoration.

  • The pandemic has seen the closure of a handful of culinary schools. Priya Krishna reports on community colleges that offer a cheaper alternative to more expensive programs.

  • If you like a lively musical performance with your mimosa brunch, these six restaurants in Manhattan and the Hudson Valley are here to help.

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