Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Grapefruit Brulée

ChikaLicious, $12 for 3 courses

Just like eating breakfast for dinner or walking a cat on a leash, a dessert-only restaurant is a delightful perversion of the natural order. At the ChikaLicious Dessert Bar, there's no need to save room for dessert, because dessert is all you're getting.

A $12 prix fixe "meal" includes an amuse-bouche, main course, and a plate of assorted petit-fours. Another $7 buys either a wine pairing or an additional main; tea and coffee are also available. The menu changes daily and seasonal ingredients feature heavily. Tables are an option but bellying up to the bar gets you a stage show in the bargain, as the pastry chefs behind the counter dodge and twirl around each other in a kind of plating ballet (above). Come on the right day and chef-owner Chika Tillman will be there to chat about her creations.

ChikaLicious doesn't accept reservations and the website lists substantial "typical waits"
for particular days and times. They also won't seat groups larger that four, a pragmatic move for a place that can only accomodate 20 patrons at once, and one that helps to encourage an atmosphere that's convivial rather than deafening.

According to its website, the ChikaLicious concept boils down to "American desserts, French Presentation and Japanese tasting portions". For most of us Big Gulp-suckled Americans it will be the portion sizes that illicit the strongest initial reaction. On my visit, the amuse du jour was a scoop of vanilla ice cream about the size of a quail egg, buoyed on a few spoonfuls of dark, aromatic, espresso gelee (above left); absolutely delcious, quickly dispatched. My friend Gary and I amused ourselves further by considering what items might best be used to add a sense of scale to my photos: a quarter? his pinkie finger? a family of seamonkies?

For mains, Gary had macerated kiwis with yogurt gelato, lavender syrup, and a jaunty "coconut sombrero" (below left), while the woman on my other side chose the iced Fromage Blanc "cheese cake" (above right); both issued favorable reviews.

I had the grapefruit brulee, two wedges of caramelized fruit gussied up with candied pistachios, a light sabayon, and another quail egg of slightly bitter, boozy sorbet. It was a lovely play of flavors and textures--smooth cream and spiky citrus, crakly dry nuts and juice-swollen fruit. My only criticism is predictible but, I think, springs from a generous impluse: if it had only been one bite bigger, Gary might have been able to have his taste without me growling at him.

The minute petit-fours were, sadly, anti-climactic: a dark chocolate truffle as appealling as a dusty raisin, a tiny Ritz-ish cracker topped with cream and candied citron, and, best of all, a lovely fresh marshmallow sided with toasted coconut.

Just across the street the ChikaLicious Dessert Club offers stylish reinterpretations of classic baked goods and treats in a more casual setting.

ChikaLicious Dessert Bar

203 E. 10th St.
New York, NY

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