Special Feature -
Dessert World Tour - Trips to the dentist were a terror. Every appointment meant another meeting with the drill. By the end of my childhood, I had more metal in my mouth than a Southern rapper. My lapses in brushing were partly to blame, but it had even more to do with my love of sweets. No sugar was totally safe in my house. The freezer was the Bermuda Triangle when it came to pints of ice cream. Boxes of Ferrer Rocher vanished once the seal was snapped. I practically gargled with Yoo-Hoo.
It's no surprise though, as dessert is all about satisfying the pleasure principle. It's about invoking joy and ending a meal on a note of sweetness. Determined to give our blasé day at work a delicious conclusion, Dario and I set out on the Dessert World Tour, cavities and root canals be damned.
Cones - 272 Bleecker St., West Village
A cup of raspberry sorbet and mate gelato
Our first stop was Cones, a gelato shop I had to revisit. It's excellent enough to include in my New York gelato trifecta, beside the wonders of Otto (see Apr. 24) and Il Laboratorio del Gelato (see Jan. 16). But unlike these Italian adversaries, Cones is manned by Argentinians and has a uniquely un-European aesthetic. Sweeter and closer in texture to ice cream than super-creamy gelato, I've yet to have a bad scoop. My two samples this time around were certainly no exception. The raspberry sorbet was intense and splendid, suggesting the fruit has as many facets as it has seeds. The strange but very complementary companion I'd chosen was mate, their take on the South American tea. It too was deep and strong, with just the right proportion of sugar and tea. On a sweltering summer night, it was an especially sweet start. 8/10
Rocco's Pastry Shop and Espresso Cafe - 243 Bleecker St., West Village
A cannoli, a cappuccino
For our next stop, we didn't have to travel too far, with Rocco's located just a stroll down from Cones. Its window has always enticed me, with its tempting displays of pastries and cakes, so I welcomed the chance to taste its wares. The focus here was on the cannoli, which is by far the most praised item they serve. It also happened to be Dario's first sample of the Italian dessert. Luckily, we couldn't have picked a better place to introduce him to it. I'll go on record as saying this is the best cannoli I've ever had, even better than current king, Madonia Bakery on Arthur Avenue. The cheese filling was luxurious and sweet but not cloying. The pastry shell was crumbly and crunchy in all the right ways, adding a great contrasting dryness to the smooth, creamy cheese. The ends were also gemmed with bits of lime green nuts. Dario looked up at my empty plate as he took his introductory bite. "You inhaled that thing," he said. When the cannoli is this good, it's hard to eat it any other way. 9/10
Beard Papa's - 740 Broadway, East Village
A cream puff
For eleventh grade gym, I had Mr. Sharkey for Polar Bear Running. It spanned from fall to winter and regardless of the temperature, we'd go running along the Hudson River. As we stretched at the start of the period, Sharkey encouraged us to do our best, to prove that we were "rough, tough cream puffs." I haven't really thought about the dessert much since then, but with last year's opening of Beard Papa's, the choux pastry shells and vanilla cream are prominently back on my mind.
A rapidly expanding franchise, with a fourth location in the city coming to Carmine Street, Beard Papa's may be the biggest dessert phenomenon to hit Manhattan since Krispy Kreme. I much prefer cream puffs to doughnuts though, and the ones here proved worthy of setting the standard. A big draw is the freshness of the product. The shells were being baked on a constant basis and the cream was injected inside when I ordered it. Then it was topped off with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and it was ready to go. From the first bite, when the sweet but not overpowering vanilla gushed forward, I wondered if this was the best dollar and change I've ever spent. I'd even keep running around the Hudson in the winter just to work off the calories. 8/10
La Petite Auberge - 116 Lexington Ave., Murray Hill
Half of a chocolate soufflé
It was up to Dario what we’d sample on our last stop. Without a pause, he said, “Chocolate soufflé.” It’s a dish I’ve always enjoyed, but his level of fanaticism for it was inspiring. So we set off for La Petite Auberge, a sharply traditional French restaurant in the midst of Curry Hill that specializes in the buoyant dessert. They offer both chocolate and Grand Marnier versions, and they ask that you allow thirty minutes for the kitchen to prepare it. I called in our order in advance.
When we arrived, I wasn’t quite prepared for La Petite Auberge. It was a total throwback to the French restaurants of yore, and looked practically prehistoric against the younger standards of a Balthazar or an Artisanal. The crowd matched the vibe though, with nearly everyone in the room triple my age. And yet, the soufflé is so classic and established a dessert that it makes sense a place like this would feature it. It also makes sense a place like this, over its decades of operation, would master it.
The soufflé was indeed excellent, as evidenced by Dario’s repeated gasps of pleasure. Once he made sure a change of pants wasn’t in order, we continued to enjoy the baked chocolate dish. It was just firm enough around the perimeter, and wonderfully pliant at the center. It put most chocolate cakes to shame with its deep, rich flavor. Even a week later, Dario was reminiscing about it like most people recall their first love or a favorite summer. For me, it was even as good as that one visit I made to the dentist cavity-free. With all of these amazing and diverse desserts on my plate, that's probably the only time that'll happen. 8/10
* The Sandwich World Tour from July
* The Pizza World Tour from May
* The Dumpling World Tour from April
From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out
- Name: Lonesome Hero
Monday, July 25, 2005