Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sweet Freak Smackdown: East vs. West

The Willage has always been my go-to neighborhood for sweets. But, like a dark horse, the East Village has come from nowhere with chocolate, cookies and cupcakes of heroic portions and flavors.

So, which side of town is the best sweets destination? A Sweet Freak Smackdown:

The dessert bar & spin-off:
p*ong and Batch v. ChikaLicious and ChikaLicious Dessert Club

I've always been a sucker for Pichet Ong's sweet-savory combinations. It started at p•ong with a three-course dessert-as-dinner feast: a walnut-crusted Stilton cheese soufflé with basil-arugula ice cream, a chevre cheesecake croquette and a malted chocolate Bavarian tart served with crunchy caramelized bananas. And my love for his cupcakes—carrot salted caramel, chocolate dragon devil's food cake and others—is no secret. I have an affliction.

But at the original dessert bar, ChikaLicious, Chika and Don Tillman are hardly slouches. Their three-course prix fixe menu starts with an amuse, ends with petit fours, and includes your choice of a gorgeous dessert like brown sugar panna cotta served with grape sorbet, warm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream and red wine sauce, or fromage blanc island cheese cake served atop a mound of shaved ice. And, knowing that Sweet Freaks sometimes like a treat on the run, their Dessert Club offers heavenly cupcakes, bread puddings and chocolate chip cookies.

Verdict: West Village
At the end of the day, my heart belongs to Pichet.

Cupcake central:
Magnolia v. Butter Lane

We can thank Magnolia (sincerely or facetiously) for taking us on this national cupcake binge. When I first moved to Manhattan, there were no annoying lines at the West Village bakery (just cranky employees) and I quickly became a fan of the ultra sweet pastel cupcakes. Then I got a little sugared out.

Thank goodness new cupcake stations, like the East Village's Butter Lane, have toned down the sweetness and introduced super fine ingredients like French buttercream, farm fresh eggs and pure vanilla. This three-month-old cupcake-only bakery does the neighborhood proud.

Verdict: East Village
Butter Lane kicks butt.

Cookie monsters:
Milk & Cookie v. Momofuku

I really think cookies are my all-time favorite sweet. Classic chocolate chip is hard to beat, but I'm always hungry for experimentation.

I love that Milk & Cookies lets you create your own flavors with killer ingredients like hazelnuts from Bazzini and E.Guittard chocolate, not to mention cappuccino chips, M&Ms and cranberries. Their variety is impressive; quality, top-notch; and the place is just cute.

But, um, Momofuku? Best. Cookies. Ever.

Verdict: East Village
Momofuku's blueberry cream and cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookies seal the deal.

For the chocoholic:
Pure Dark & Li-Lac v. Bespoke & Bond Street

Both Villages have seen a lot of chocolate action lately. Alison Nelson's Chocolate Bar spent seven years on Eighth Avenue before high rents last year sent her across town to East Seventh Street. But the East wasn't as kind and just six months later, she closed. Sad, but… she's going to reopen right across the street from her original shop in the West Village.

In the meantime, Pure Dark opened on Bleecker (house specialty: create your own bark with mix-ins like cacao nibs, mango and macadamia nuts), joining Willage staple Li-Lac.

On the eastern side of town, Bond Street Chocolate, home of the gold-dusted deities and tequila truffles, opened on Fourth Street, followed by Bespoke, where you can get the most divine melt-in-your-mouth truffles.

Verdict: East Village
Between Bespoke's strawberry balsamic truffle and Bond Street's chocolate-covered corn nuts, I have my sweet, salty and sour chocolate needs met.

Overall verdict:
East beats West!


Violette Crumble said...

Eastside baby!

I grew up in the east village, but for Easter my mother and I would walk all the way west to Lilac and stand on line on Christopher St. for some of their chocolate butter creams. They got a new owner a while back, but I still love their chocolates over any other local place I've tried in Manhattan. I can't wait to try some of the places you declare winners, when I come visit.

Anonymous said...

Willage? Please don't do that.

Sweet Freak said...

VC, at your recommendation, I am going to have to pick up some chocolate butter creams from Li-Lac. For some reason, their chocolates have never really done it for me. (My mom loves the chocolate-covered cherries though.) Pure Dark, Bespoke and Bond Street are all definitely worth the trip!

Anonymous, lighten up! I picked it up from a funny friend.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who comes into Butter Lane and mentions they saw us on your blog gets two for one cupcakes Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays through the month of February. (Limit two per day.) At the end of the month, the blogger with the most mentions wins a dozen cupcakes!

Maria Baugh
Butter Lane