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Where to Eat 2007


And Finally, For Dessert…

The Russian Tea Room  

Of all the retro dining pleasures available in the baroquely appointed upstairs dining room at Geoffrey Zakarian’s newest restaurant, Country, the one I like best is the classic French puff pastry called the “pithivier.” This great, hubcap-size confection is more of a pie than a pastry, and it’s baked fresh in Zakarian’s kitchens daily, stuffed with a dense mixture of sugar and almonds, and piled with rich spoonfuls of whiskey sauce. No. 2 on the list of golden-oldie desserts are the old-fashioned blintzes, available now, amid the shining gold samovars and swooping imperial eagles, at the newly reopened, surprisingly enjoyable Russian Tea Room, on 57th Street. These timeless calorie bombs are arranged two to a plate (one blintz is filled with sour cream, the other with sugared cherries) and brought to the table just like in the days of the czar, by waiters dressed in black frock coats, with rows of golden buttons.

In the murky, ever-evolving world of cutting-edge downtown dessert bars, the newest rival to that excellent, perpetually mobbed East Village institution Chikalicious is Will Goldfarb’s Room 4 Dessert. When I set up at the long, moodily lit bar, the loquacious Mr. Goldfarb was having his picture snapped by a group of adoring Japanese food groupies. But he found time, in between disquisitions on Paco blenders and the origins of saffron, to whip up strange, esoterically conceived tastings of chai-flavored parfaits, cups of whipped-cherry gelee, and a bracing creation called “Little Jack Horner,” made with vaporous clouds of litchi and crystallized plumb confit, all chased down with a shot of Jell-O spiked with Red Bull.

I did not detect Red Bull in any of the slightly bizarre but perfectly tasty Asian-accented flavors available at Sundaes & Cones, my discerning 7-year-old daughter’s new favorite ice-cream parlor, which is conveniently located just two blocks from her school. Jane would like everyone to know that she also enjoyed her swirl of plain-vanilla yogurt with blueberries, Fruity Pebbles, and Captain Crunch at the Manhattan outlet of the L.A.-based girlie frozen-yogurt chain Pinkberry and a bite of warm chocolate mini miso cake from the bakery at another new Asian dessert bar called Kyotofu. But in this, the year of the glitzy Vegas restaurant, it’s no surprise that her idea of absolute dessert nirvana is a slice of chocolate pizza and a bowl of warm chocolate soup, at the ludicrously large, aggressively marketed dessert chain Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man. “I love it,” she cried as her bald daddy surveyed the chaotic, barn-size room, jammed with harried-looking parents and hordes of their sugar-crazed, chocolate-smeared kids. I took one hesitant bite of her chocolate pizza, then another. I’m compelled to report that it wasn’t half-bad.


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