Compiling a list of New York restaurants’ best chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day might seem like a piece of cake. But as we discovered on our ganache-noshing Valrhona voyage, it’s tougher than it looks. We finagled our way into prix-fixe palaces for à la carte fixes and stunned fellow diners with our confectionery stamina. Every pastry chef worth his high-percentage cocoa solids has a chocolate dessert on his menu, after all—be it the ever-popular molten, sunken, fallen, flourless number, the waxing individual tart, or the waning soufflé. Several trends emerged: Even the most sophisticated pâtissier plays up to our infantile candy-bar cravings (Snickers rule!), and despite our personal preference for simple, unadorned sweets, the haute-pastry pack can’t help but festoon their plates with edible but distracting gewgaws, gimcracks, and that infernal, unavoidable tuile. Regardless, thanks to the increasingly artisanal approach to everyone’s favorite flavor, there’s sure to be a 72 percent cacao-content single-estate concoction out there with your name on it.
1. The Spotted Pig’s Flourless Chocolate Cake (née Nemesis)314 W. 11th St., at Greenwich St.; 212-620-0393This chocoholic’s dream is such a spot-on homage to a signature dessert at London’s River Cafe, where chef April Bloomfield used to work, she was politely requested to call it something else. By any name, it’s irresistible, and the blob of crème fraîche adds an unexpected and necessary tang to cut the dizzying, ultrarich chocolate flavor. 2. Per Se’s Chocolate “S’mores”10 Columbus Circle, at 59th St.; 212-823-9335Introduced to the Hershey’s and Honey Maid paradigm by his American wife, Sébastien Rouxel countered nicely with homemade Fluff, homemade marshmallows, homemade graham crackers ground into fine crumbs—and a thick, rich round of chocolate “crémeux.” 3. Craft’s Chocolate Soufflé 43 E. 19th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 212-780-0880Thanks to the super-heat-conducting qualities of the little copper pots Karen DeMasco cooks her classic soufflés in, you don’t even have to order them in advance. They’re served with a vanilla malted crème anglaise and a proper old-world flourish. 4. Jean Georges’s Warm, Soft Chocolate Cake1 Central Park W., at 60th St.; 212-299-3900A happy accident, this molten masterpiece has been copied all over town. It can be had at nearly all his restaurants but feels most decadent at his flagship. 5. The Bar Room at the Modern’s Hazelnut Dacquoise9 W. 53rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-333-1220A crispy base, a moussey middle, and a few well-placed milk-chocolate leaves form the elegant architecture of this multitextured, mille-feuille-like dessert. 6. Le Bernardin’s “Egg” 155 W. 51st St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-489-1515Although it’s only a bit player on the Chef’s Tasting Menu, it deserves top billing: a milk chocolate pot de crème topped with caramel foam, touched with maple syrup and a pinch of Maldon sea salt, served in a decapitated eggshell. 7. Thor’s “Snicker Bar” 107 Rivington St., nr. Essex St.; 212-796-8040A chewy, sticky hockey puck of a thing, chock-full of nuts and garnished with chocolate sorbet. Unquestionably a Frenchman’s idea of junk food. 8. The Chocolate Room’s Chocolate Layer Cake 86 Fifth Ave., nr. Warren St., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-783-2900Utterly homespun and displayed, as tradition dictates, on a pedestal stand under a plastic dome, this old-fashioned favorite has a few things going for it scads of contenders don’t: a moist, tender texture and authentic chocolate flavor. 9. Gilt’s Chocolate/Chili 455 Madison Ave., at 50th St.; 212-891-8100Chocolate snobs consider it blasphemy to muck up the flavor with fruit or spices. But Oscar Palacios’s lush composition—a clementine-chocolate tart paired with an ancho-chile parfait—could convert a few nonbelievers. 10. Rickshaw Dumpling Bar’s Chocolate Shanghai Soup Dumplings61 W. 23rd St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-924-9220Approach these chewy black-sesame-coated deep-fried mochi balls carefully, as if you were defusing a miniature time bomb. Otherwise you’re likely to get a splat of molten bittersweet Callebaut chocolate and Plugrá-butter filling all over your shirt.
Honorable Mentions: Gramercy Tavern’s dark-chocolate pot de crème, Daniel’s warm griotte Black Forest, Payard’s upside-down soufflé, Craftbar’s chocolate gateau, Blue Ribbon Bakery’s chocolate bread pudding, Gotham Bar & Grill’s warm chocolate cake, and Strip House’s chocolate layer cake.