Way before Bill Buford wrote about “Room 4 Dessert” in last week’s New Yorker, Diana and I had been planning a visit there. “Let’s go to Room 4 Dessert,” we’d say to each other on a cold winter’s night. We’d both read about it in various publications and knew that the two of us, two self-proclaimed dessert lovers, would really enjoy a zany dessert tasting menu. We had every reason to go and yet we never went: Room 4 Dessert was a phrase tossed around, the constant late-night activity option that never quite materialized. That is until we finished our dim sum dinner, profiled below, and realized two things: (1) we’d only spent $6 each (Chinatown is cheap!), (2) we were still hungry.
“Hey!” I said with great enthusiasm and an exclamation mark. “Tonight’s the night! Let’s go to Room 4 Dessert!”
“I gotta go,” said Kirk, who rushed home to play video games.
But James’s interest was piqued. “My interest is piqued,” he said. “I’ll come along.”
And I’m glad he did, not only for his company but for a really cool picture he took of Will Goldfarb, the chef/owner of “Room 4 Dessert,” and the man profiled in Bill Buford’s article.
First, though, there was the getting there. Getting there was tough because we didn’t have directions and 4-1-1 didn’t know what we were talking about. “What are you talking about?” 411 asked. They’d never heard of Room 4 Dessert. (Will Goldfarb take note: you need to get yourself listed on 411.) So James called one of his friends to look it up online and finally directions were had and we navigated our way there in the windy, drizzly night.
Once inside, a host sat us at the long–the very long–bar. That’s one thing Bill Buford didn’t quite capture in his article: the length of the restaurant. I imagined a few stools in a tiny room. But, no, it’s truly a long space with lots of room for late night dessert seekers. And when we arrived the bar was pretty jamming. We sat about half-way in, on tall metal stools that were slightly uncomfortable. (Will Goldfarb take note: your stools are slightly uncomfortable.)
A waitress presented us with menus and James, Diana and I had fun reading the choices. There were four tasting menus to choose from, each on a different theme. There was the red theme (which James chose), the pistachio theme (which Diana chose), a chocolate theme (which no one chose, thank God, because I think chocolate people are boring), and the “Pique Nique Springtemps” which I chose. I also ordered coffee which was promptly delivered, though the water we asked for took some time.
Now, for James’s picture. James, as you may remember, is a talented photographer with a very cool website. He carries around an SLR camera and as Will Goldfarb himself delivered our desserts, James snapped this picture:
“I’m going to have to see the proofs of those pictures,” said Will Goldfarb. We laughed because we thought he was kidding. He wasn’t kidding.
“No, seriously,” he said. “We have people coming in taking pictures and the next thing you know they wind up on the internet.”
There was an awkward pause and suddenly I found myself doing what I rarely do, pulling back my Batman mask and revealing my secret identity.
“Well I should tell you,” I said, “I actually have a food website. I was going to profile this place on there but if you don’t want me to—”
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s called The Amateur Gourmet.”
“Oh ya,” he said. “I think I’ve seen it. What would I have seen on your site?”
“Ummm,” I said. “I did the Janet Jackson breast cupcake?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t think it was that.”
“Well, anyway,” I said. “If you don’t want me to write about it–”
“No, it’s ok,” he said. “I was just joking around. Are you a cook?”
“No,” I explained. “I’m an amateur.”
“Well you should come cook here,” he offered. “We have a Jewish mysticist who works here and he’s an amateur too.”
(The offer was quite tempting. I wonder if I should take him up on it?)
We shot the breeze for a while and I had fun talking to him, even as he scampered around to see to other customers, to deliver food, and–apparently–to see to the bathroom which he takes great pride in, according to the article.
But while Will is scampering around, let’s see to the food. Here’s my Pique Nique Springtemps:
From left to write you will see (as written down by me on the inside of an Orbitz gum package): “Sandwich Tomato, Grapefruit and White Beard Cloud, Earl Grey Blue Eyes Panna Cotta, Rhubarb Salad.”
From left to right it tasted: just ok, amazing, awe-inspiring, and wonderfully refreshing. Seriously, the cloud and the panna cotta were wonders to behold: gloriously light and flavorful, complex, funny, amusing, tongue-ticklers. I was in heaven, until I started trying Diana’s and James’s food too:
See the pistachio cake (a financier?) on Diana’s plate? I demolished as much as I could of that while Diana was looking away: it transported me to wondrous places, private places, places you don’t go writing your parents about. And James had a raspberry meringue that melted on the tongue with mystery and magic. We were in Wonkaland and there was Willy showing more customers in.
When he returned to us, we talked about the internet backlash (if you could call it that) regarding Bill Buford’s article, in particular this rant about the accuracy of Buford’s facts, namely that dessert didn’t exist until recently.
“Just because they ate fruit or something at the end of a meal doesn’t mean it was dessert,” said Will. “He was talking about the restaurant dessert, which is a very different thing.”
We all agreed and then asked for our check which, considering the wonderful dessert we had (the quality of which certainly compares to desserts at Daniel, Jean-Georges and Per Se), was incredibly reasonable—$12 per tasting menu. $12! That’s a steal.
So should you find yourself in Chinatown on a Friday night, or anywhere near by, wander down to 17 Cleveland Place and allow yourself to be enchanted by the wizardry of Will Goldfarb. Just ask first before you take pictures.