This post originally appeared on April 14, 2018, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.
Last week, a number of friends and colleagues sent me New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’s rant about the proliferation of ice cream sundaes (dramatically headlined: “The Ice Cream Sundae Must Be Stopped”) because I am known in certain circles as a brazen and diehard ice cream sundae aficionado and defender.
TL;DR of Pete’s column is: He thinks there are fewer dessert choices than there were a few years ago at New York restaurants; he sees ice cream sundaes “everywhere,” often as the only option on a menu; many of them are disappointing (although he also praises… a number of them… and doesn’t namecheck any of the bad ones); and he thinks the rise of sundaes is related to a decline in the state of pastry arts as a profession.
1. Sundaes are rarely ever bad. I am biased as a New Englander who worked at Friendly’s throughout my teenage years, but also… ice cream and a topping is never worse than the molten chocolate cakes and creme brulees that restaurants without pastry chefs used to serve. And oftentimes, they are complex and satisfying and do everything you want a dessert to do.
2. I think the more specific and interesting but related take is the rise of soft serve, which we chronicled last fall. With the fast casualization of the restaurant world (hi Martina, Made Nice, Souvla) and rising labor costs, adding a soft serve machine is an affordable alternative to a pastry chef. Please see: Robin, Cote, Alta, Tartine Manufactory, Olmsted, Lilia, Tusk, etc.
An early adopter, of course, is Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi, who added a soft serve to Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2007. “I had to figure out how to make magic — how to create a thoughtful, inventive dessert; how to prep it all myself in the middle of the night; how to sell a cuss ton of it; how to feed a lot of customers day and night with no pastry kitchen/station or cook; [and] how to get folks to eat dessert quick,” she told us in the fall.
Of course, the best is when you have a restaurant with a soft serve machine and a pastry chef.
3. If this was a roundabout way of Pete discussing the state of pastry chef positions in the restaurant world, great! I think it’s important to talk about. From what I can tell, in New York specifically, we’re at a better place than we were — in terms of respect and opportunities for pastry chefs — than we were at the start of the recession or even five years ago. And as the cost of dessert has risen for higher-end restaurants, desserts act as a high-profit-margin item on the menu. Hospitality included could help protect even more pastry positions.
But it’s always going to be one of the first positions that gets cut in hard times. And I believe Shuna Lydon when she says pastry pros used to make more money. That’s why it’s SUPER SUPER important to whenever you dine at a place with a pastry chef, as our own Daniela Galarza often advocates. (Fast forward to 14:57 to hear her discuss this on the Eater Upsell.)
4. Agree about the desserts at Prune being phenomenal.
5. “Dessert was put on this planet in order to surprise us.” Hard disagree.
Openings of the week
Adding these to my travel agenda:
Spoken English in D.C.
Dyafa in San Francisco
- Intel: Keith McNally’s original Pastis investors pulled out after his stroke, thus the need to bring in rival restaurateur Stephen Starr; the namesake of vegan fast-casual restaurant By Chloe claimed in a new lawsuit that the CEO pushed her out after she rejected him; the team behind LA’s Here’s Looking at You is planning an all-day restaurant in Silverlake; Alon Shaya and noted harasser John Besh ended the legal fight over the Shaya name; White Castle now sells the Impossible meatless burger; Major Food Group will call its new NY tiki bar The Polynesian; Montreal’s biggest drag queen is opening a restaurant; a NY egg “museum”(marketing stunt) is doing well, and an avocado “museum” (marketing stunt) will open in San Diego; Portland heavyweight Cathy Whims opened an epic-looking wine bar; Austin’s Philip Speer is planning a new downtown restaurant; Detroit has a new all-day cafe called Folk; SF chefs Nick Balla and Courtney Burns are testing a new Hungarian flatbread concept; New York’s Balaboosta will close soon; an outpost of Locol will open in Richmond, CA; and an Austin barbecue prodigy wants to open his own smokehouse.
- The 12 best fast-food desserts in America, ranked.
- The last Woolworth luncheonette in America hides in a Bakersfield antique mall.
- Frenchette in NYC looks pretty damn good.
- 10 new books about food to add to your home library.
Last week on the Upsell
Dan and I spoke to two restaurateurs about how to raise money to start their businesses. Portland chef and Eater Young Gun Maya Lovelace is using a combination of Kickstarter and sweetheart loans to fund her new counter service meat ‘n’ three, Yonder. New York chef (and Eater video host) Esther Choi raised money for her restaurants Mokbar and Ms. Yoo in a few different ways to varying success. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.
- Speaking of Pete Wells, he hasn’t published a starred review of a kitchen run by a woman in five months [The Family Meal]
- Found this inordinately funny: The Only Kitchen Knife in Your Airbnb [The New Yorker]
- Cam Wolf on the Healthcore aesthetic that’s taken over salad chains [GQ]
- Brooks Headley being Brooks Headley and “trying to master an extremely inefficient and time-consuming thing that may or may not become a thing we can sell for money.” [Taste]
- Look at how sleek fast-food restaurants are getting [Curbed]
- The rise and fall of Domino’s mascot, the Noid [Studio 360]
- Wow at Jonathan Gold’s disclosure about his relationship with and feelings toward David Chang, and his great burn on NYC diners, in this review of Majordomo [LAT]