The object? Eat. Everything. Why? To avoid the wrath of Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine, who ordered us to do just that. So when Robyn and I checked into NYC Food & Wine Festival’s SWEET event on Saturday night, appetites ready for an onslaught of enough sweets to satisfy the most intense of cravings, we were on a mission. Our goal wasn’t simply to sample our way through the fest…oh no, we had an agenda. No dessert was to be left untouched, uneaten, or undrunk. We ran into Ed (who insisted he was not spying on us) taking teeny, tiny bites with legendary pastry chef Nancy Silverton, but social interactions could not distract us.
From macarons, to ginger custards, sticky toffee pudding, pumpkin cheesecake, maple walnut tortes, caramel chantilly, and seasonal pears and concord grapes found in plenty of sweets, the 28th street venue was packed from its 9 p.m. start 'til midnight. Our sweet tooths found a bit of relief in two savories—cheese presented by Murray’s Cheese and Academia Barilla, and fig braised pork sliders from Whole Foods. A fair share of Food Network personalities, including Duff Goldman, drew crowds, and we spotted Billy Joel and his wife milling about, but truth be told, we were more interested in the pastry chefs and all they had to offer.
First up, our three favorites from the night:
The Chocolate Peanut Butter & Grape Pop from Jean Georges' Johnny Iuzzini. The three-biter layered chocolate-peanut butter mousse and flourless chocolate sponge cake on a base of intense peanut sponge and hazelnut crunchies. In the center, a sweet round of chilled concord grape gelee dipped in a chocolate-peanut glaze. Silky from the first to last bite, and finished with a crunch of cacao nibs, smoked sea salt, and a single gold leaf—there was little more to ask for.
At Oceana, pastry chef Jansen Chan’s Apple Brioche focused on the elements of sweet and tart. The sweet was in wedges of tender plush brioche with apples, and tart in a round of refreshing apple granita. But our favorite part of the dessert was a wedge of subtly nutty frozen chestnut mousse—clean with a luxurious melt in your mouth tenderness, and best of all, not too sweet.
And last but not least, Francois Payard of Payard Patisserie arrived with not one, but two fantastic desserts. Deconstructed Tiramisu and a shot of Hot & Cold Pina Colada, which he commanded us, “drink now! Drink fast!” And so we did, taking in both the contrasting chilled and warm elements of the sweet liquid pineapple base, mango-passionfruit purees, and coconut speckled foam.
Those were our three favorite, though there was plenty more to enjoy over glasses of champagne and an abundance of wine and cocktails. Below is all we ate. And we ate it all.
From Sebastien Rouxel and Richard Capizzi of Per Se & Bouchon Bakery: “Saveur aux Pommes”, layers of ginger-scented custard, apple gelee, olive oil biscuits, and candied apples with apple cider emulsion. The bakery also presented an equally impressive round of their signature petits fours, chocolates, macarons and cookies, including a mini version of the ever popular TKOs.
Vicki Wells from Bar Americain and Mesa Grill offered buttery crisp shortcakes sandwiched with concord grapes and plum, with rounds of cabernet ice cream
From Le Bernardin, Michael Laiskonis’ aptly named “Caramel-Raspberry” captured our attention with its tiny sweet pops of raspberry "caviar."
And at Daniel, the highlight was the Dominique Ansel dark chocolate dacquoise with Tainori chocolate cremeux, chocolate rice crisps, and a bright splash of lemon curd.
MAD MAC fulfilled macaron desires for the night with a range of flavors in pistachio, coffee, matcha, and peanut.
Alex Stupak of wd-50 tiptoed right up to the savory line with his bread pudding-like dish of warm brioche, maple syrup, and smoked creme anglaise.
The classic chocolate and peanut butter combination reappeared often throughout the event, as can be evidenced by Devin McDavid's peanut butter chocolate tart from Fleur de Sel…
…and Jamie Sudberg's chocolate peanut butter chip cupcake with peanut butter frosting from Stanton Social…
…in addition to Spigolo’s Heather Fratangelo’s peanut budino with chocolate ganache and peanut brittle.
Tribeca Grill had the largest assortment of desserts, numerous petit fours piled atop their table…
…while the New York Times and AM New York made a novel contribution with cookies and cupcakes.
Katie Rosenhouse of Olana Restaurant brought sticky toffee pudding…
…and Pichet Ong from P*ONG and Batch Bakery created date pudding with domaine de canton and a particularly addicting caramel Chantilly.
At Kyotofu we tasted our way though mini miso chokos with shiro-an vanilla cream with both kinako and matcha mochi. The vanilla and beet sweet tofu was a love or hate thing (love for me) with a topping of black sesame streusel and a sprinkle of kuromitsu.
The same could be said of the BBQ potato chips that perched above the silky butterscotch pudding and bananas from John Frasier and Vera Tong of Dovetail. I guess the butterscotch pudding was the dip.
Single bite chocolate-caramel-cardamom niblets from davidburke & donatella’s Gustavo Tzoc were dainty only in size—a full flavor punch followed by lingering, smoky notes was unexpected but much enjoyed.
At The Modern, Marc Aumont and Patrick Clark Milk presented chocolate cremeux topped with coconut tapioca and a hazelnut tuile.
From Gene Kato at Japonais the timeless chocolate opera cake.
The only sweet more savory than wd-50’s brioche was the ice cream bruschetta from ‘wichcraft featuring ricotta-black olive ice cream with tomato confiture and basil. This was the most radical dessert at the event. Pushing the envelope is one thing. Pushing it overboard is another.
Cake master, Ron Ben-Israel presented slices of two cakes. First, a lemon creation with Grand Marnier, cranberry, butter cream & lime zest. And second, an even more delicious chocolate stout cake with malt butter cream & chocolate covered pretzels. Pretzels, malt, and chocolate make beautiful dessert music together.
Chocolate caramel parfait with espresso cocoa streusel and a ridiculously powerful Guiness stout gelee from Michael Gabriel at The Sea Grill.
Over at Steve Evetts' station of the NY Marriott Marquis, we tasted white chocolate tembleque with hibiscus jelly, yuzu curd, and black sesame oil. Did we love it? We're still considering it.
And at Abboccato, Revital Melech’s panna cotta evoked sweet memories of the classic Chinese almond float, only miles more sophisticated with touches of brown sugar and pomegranates.
Gramercy Tavern’s Nancy Olson reminded us that Halloween is just around the corner with a luxurious and creamy pumpkin cheesecake complemented with lime whipped cream & spiced cranberries.
The Fall season came rushing into the event with a tender moist maple walnut torte paired with warm roasted apples from Deborah Racicot of Gotham Bar & Grill.
From Alfredo Guaman at ONO at Hotel Gansevoort chocolate sushi with tapioca caviar.
Over at Eighty One, John Miele presented candied honeycrisp apples and olive oil gelato.
Brooks Headley of Del Posto kept it simple and perfect with pane e cioccolato (chocolate sorbet on foccacia) and olive oil drizzled on the spot.
A favorite among cookie connoisseurs of this city, Levain Bakery showed up with samples of each of their classics: the dark chocolate peanut butter chip appeared most popular, but the chocolate chip walnut still remains my first choice. Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine was overheard grumbling about Levain's cookies being underbaked.
From Mia Bauer’s Crumbs, more less-than-splended cupcakes than you’ll ever need in a lifetime.
Richard Leach of Park Avenue Autumn brought along toasted rice pudding with red wine and figs…
…while Chanterelle’s Kate Zuckerman roasted bartlett pears with brioche pain perdu and drizzles of white truffle honey.
The crowds only grew as the night wore on, so we were glad to be at the event right from the start, lest we miss out on the Jean Georges pops, which were gone by 11pm. Even those of us with a Hummer-sized sweet tooth found ourselves sated after sampling more than fifty desserts, and yes, Ed Levine, we tried every single dessert there (we have the stains to prove it). We also loved seeing our heroes, the pastry chefs themselves, presenting the tastes. Next year they should consider giving out packs of pastry chef trading cards.
Between a seemingly endless array of desserts from the finest restaurants in the city, and flowing glasses of champagne, we’d say this was a rather SWEET night indeed.
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