Thanks to a weekend visit from my best male friend, I didn’t have the chance to write a full brunch review. Photographing your omelet is sort of a “no-go” when it’s just dudes at the table. Instead, I’ll be reviewing a Lower East Side dessert bar. Which is objectively more masculine. Anyways, here's this week's Food Review.
Being 20 in New York is like being a midget at an amusement park: sure, you’re in the front door, but all the fun rides are just out of reach. And because I’m 20 in all 50 states, my Saturday nights are spent necessarily removed from any bonafide establishments while other midgets sneak onto roller coasters with platform shoes. If you catch my drift.
With #bars out of the question, my Saturday nights in the city have acquiesced to a slew of activities one might even consider wholesome. Case in point, this weekend: my friend Joe and I hung out with my 21+ roommates until they went out, watched cartoons until we got hungry, then went out to find snacks.
If you believe my birthday, I’m no longer a teenager. Jury’s out on which side of “teen” I’m on.
Anyways, back to the snack quest: “Rick and Morty” paused, my friend and I headed for St. Marks Place to see where in the world our hunger would take us. Chinese take-out? Too hearty. Ukranian bistro? Too sober. Asian dessert bar? This had potential. Besides, it was also technically a bar. I technically wasn’t being a boring, overgrown child if I went here to eat cake at 11pm on a Saturday. Vindicated in my adult decision-making, I grabbed a table at Spot (13 St Marks Pl).
Spot is an Asian-American fusion dessert parlor tucked into the bottom level of a triplex on St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Ave. Inside, communal tables and a busy wait staff make the tight space more lively than cramped. In fact, it’s surprising just how organized Spot is given its elbow-to-elbow floorplan. Service is quick. Plates come fast. A staff of five moves with choreographed precision, dodging both stumbling customers (they went on all the cool roller coasters) and even each other. Above it all, rap music blares.
Seated by the window, I was the eye of the hurricane – and it was serious fun just to watch the frantic scene of dessert rush unfold. In a 20x30’ space packed with dozens of late-night diners, a bass-boosted “Blood on the Leaves” was the only thing remotely described as “scattered.” I was impressed before I even saw a menu. Then, well, I saw a menu.
Spot is famous for its “dessert tapas,” a selection of 9 intricate desserts meant to share but sized to covet. First, some bad news: each plate costs close to $10, and with coffee included, a two-person check will easily exceed $30. With Van Leuwen’s a few blocks away, this can seem pretty steep for the Lower East Side. Especially if your idea of “winding down after dinner out” doesn’t include Kanye West.
Then, some good: eating at Spot redefines your idea of what sugar can be. Dessert tapas at Spot is post-dinner snacking made art, a combination of craftsmanship and pride that just happens to be filled with Oreo crumbs. Spot does to dessert what Nolan did to Batman – but this time, your $10 ticket sends you to saccharine paradise. The hardest part of “dessert tapas” is choosing just one.
So instead of risking the self-loathing that would come with a poor decision I made myself, I just asked my waiter about his favorite. “You have to try the Banana Chouff,” he said. A simple declarative statement with no room for interpretation? Choice made. He weaved back through the tables, dodging chairs and partygoers alike. Big Sean shouted approval in stereo. Then, in a split, my bananas were there.
Or rather, they were everywhere. The Banana Chouff is a choux-puff pastry hybrid filled with bruleed bananas, Oreo crumbs, and caramel sauce, then topped with banana milk ice cream. In other words: the Banana Chouff has a lot of bananas.
Aesthetically, the dish was too good to eat. It was borderline sculpture; no, architecture. There was function here. I mean, just look at that delicate ice cream… that off-white pastry… the tasteful thickness of it… I was going Psycho just staring at it.
Realistically, I had a utensil in each hand and a laser lock on those bruleed bananas. Beauty may be fleeting, but I was bringing a blowtorch to the Louvre. My first bite came by way of a guillotine vertical that made sure my fork was equals parts ice cream and whatever lay inside that delicious choux-puff center. My initial thrust sent the banana milk sliding – turns out that architectural beauty was more Pisa than Westminster. As the choux-puff depuffed, I dug in.
In descending order: I don’t know how one milks a banana, but it’s hard to beat the results. I can’t fight the feeling this is an earthier vanilla, perhaps less viscous – regardless, it was a sensational lead in to the pastry. Speaking of, there’s the pastry! The shell flakes like your 8th grade movie date, and the bruleed bananas are as amazing as they sound. Burnt sugar on banana slices may just be my new favorite unnecessary complication. The caramel sauce isn’t particularly inspired, but unlike that middle school date, it effortlessly compliments everything. Plus, it looks great on the plate. I paired the Chouff with a double espresso for a truly minimized dessert course.
That being said, the Oreo crumbs didn’t do much for me – in fact, I think the dish would be stronger without any chocolate component barring a sauce drizzle to play up the “ice cream” angle. Ultimately, Oreos are chocolate, fat, and sugar, so I was biologically wired to at least enjoy their taste in part. I just think I would’ve enjoyed the dish’s taste more were they substituted, if not subtracted, from this spectacular dessert.
As a whole, the Banana Chouff is a chocolate drizzle away from “postmodern banana split.” I loved it the delicacy of it all, but the production would be smoke and mirrors without the phenomenal taste. According to my friend, the seasonal pumpkin dessert went just as well – it came with a fin of pastry and covered in crumbs, looking every bit as New Museum as my own. There's just something about precise smallness that screams "a job well done."
In fact, my whole dining experience at Spot seemed to march to that similar beat: from start to finish, Spot was a small wonder packed with outsized excellence. Tiny but delicious coffee? Check. Tiny but spectacular dessert? Check. Tiny but incredible dessert bar? Check. Screw that “midget in an amusement park” – since when did small ever mean any less great?