No meal is complete without dessert, so it’s a good thing that New York City is filled with world-class confections worthy of a reservation on their own. Forego the usual chocolate lava cake in favor of the opulent sweet endings on this list. They’re not just found at four-star dining spots; some grace the tables of cafés and food courts. Browse through to discover NYC’s most extravagant desserts, and then head out to taste them for yourself. We won’t blame you if you can’t wait until the end of your meal to try them out.
Opera Cake, Union Fare
While poké, pizza and avocado toast are the headlining productions at Union Fare, the café attached to this food court is home to an eye-catching, architectural feat: opera cake. The dish is inspired by chef Yvan Lemoine’s time spent apprenticing at Le Cirque with Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres, who created an opera cake that came in a chocolate stove. Lemoine puts his own twist on the forgotten classic. Housed inside a hand-made sugar caramel cage is a layered chocolate mousseline and hazelnut joconde (a sponge cake); each layer is said to represent an act of an opera. Diners are meant to smash the cage to add a crystal caramel crunch to every bite of cake, which comes topped with cardamom ice cream and a lit candle.
Strawberry Tea, Per Se
This confection blends classic French pastry with Japanese flavors and textures. Per Se’s Pastry chef Anna Bolz constructed an elegantly simple dessert built on the flavors of strawberry, matcha and various iced teas to bring a dish that looks and tastes like summer. There’s green tea roll, yuzu-matcha buttercream, sticky rice, yuzu laces and swirled strawberry and matcha tea sherbet. It will bring back memories of cooling off on a hot day.
Arctic Bird’s Nest, Aquavit
Michelin-starred Aquavit has a version of the bird’s nest dessert that is nothing like the one you might eat around Easter. The Scandinavian restaurant pulls inspiration from Sweden’s abundance of thick forests, with chef Emma Bengtsson incorporating items reminiscent of what she would find while walking in the woods on the country’s west coast. The dish comprises a honey tuile nest adorned with chocolate twigs, goat cheese parfait eggs, freeze-dried raspberries, brownie “dirt,” yogurt “snow,” sea buckthorn, gold leaf, blueberry sorbet, and fresh flowers and blueberries sprinkled on top. Bengtsson put the dessert on the menu six years ago and has been refining it ever since.
Miso : Cashew : Pink Grapefruit, Patisserie Chanson
This is the first solo venture for chef Rory Macdonald, who made stops around the world before becoming Hakkasan Group’s executive pastry chef in 2012. The rotating menu at Chanson’s dessert bar (opening mid-July) focuses on incorporating nontraditional, savory items into desserts. Miso : Cashew : Pink Grapefruit is an ode to Macdonald’s fascination for all things Japanese, and is composed of a cashew cookie with miso pudding on top (chosen for its umami characteristics), to play alongside the bitterness of pink grapefruit sorbet and charred pink grapefruit. The frozen block of Himalayan pink salt it’s served on allows each bite to get a bit of salt to balance the sweet flavors. The unusual naming taxonomy has a very specific purpose—Macdonald always tries to keep dishes to about three elements to give each flavor its due.
Black Forest, Le Bernardin
Black Forest cake was one of executive pastry chef Thomas Raquel’s favorite desserts from childhood—Raquel and his sister used to share it as a special treat—and at Le Bernardin he gives it an updated take that honors the original. The cake is reincarnated into four individual cubes, a look that recalls some of the modern art styles on view at MoMA, which is just a few blocks away. There’s vanilla mousse filled with brandied cherry, a vanilla crémeux with dark chocolate, a chocolate cake layered with cherry crémeux and a chocolate bon bon filled with smoked chocolate ganache. Squares in the closely grouped “forest” are topped with garnishes like candied cocoa nibs, freeze-dried cherries and chocolate curls and are flanked by chocolate sorbet.
Milk & Honey, The NoMad
Chef Daniel Humm’s mother used to give him warm milk with honey as an after-school treat in his native Switzerland. That childhood snack is reimagined as Milk & Honey by executive pastry chef Mark Welker, which like many dishes at The NoMad plays upon food nostalgia but with a refined update. It’s given a sophisticated twist through fractured honey brittle, dehydrated milk foam, a honey-oatmeal crumble and artful scoops of vanilla ice cream with drizzled buckwheat honey. Welker executed a variation of Milk & Honey at Humm’s Eleven Madison Park, but this version reflects The NoMad’s more playful vibe; indeed, the flavor evokes that of eating a luxurious bowl of Cheerios.
Cherry Tart Pistachio Crème Brûlée, Restaurant Daniel
In France, crème brûlée is not considered fancy (it’s usually one of the first sweets that French children try), so serving it in a fine-dining setting is a bit unusual. Amused by the classic’s simplicity, pastry sous chef Jeremy Archereau has developed a variation for Restaurant Daniel that plays with form and flavor, featuring cherry, pistachio, sour cherries and sherry vinegar. Pistachio brings an earthiness and richness; the vinegar reduction adds acidity and brightness to cut the creaminess from the pistachio; the caramel tuile is cooked in the oven to achieve the crispy, burnt-sugar texture of classic crème brulee; and the cream itself—flavored with pistachio praliné—sits inside a brown sugar tart crust, layered with sour-cherry confit and pistachio dacquoise. Complicated, sure—but delicious.
“Cherry,” Gramercy Tavern
Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern is characterized by its seasonal à la carte menu, highlighting the restaurant's relationships with local farms and purveyors. Pastry chef Miro Uskokovic’s cherry-centric dessert is no different. It actually stems from Uskokovic’s daily morning habit: a breakfast bowl of cinnamon-flavored oatmeal with fresh, in-season cherries and maple syrup. He turns it into a cold dessert, using ingredients from nearby Union Square Greenmarket. In addition to stacking maple butter, horchata ice cream and sour cherry granite, this elegantly deconstructed dessert is decked with oatmeal crisp (from cooked oatmeal, an ode to his hot porridge), cherry tuile, caramel pecans and fresh cherries.
Husk Meringue, Cosme
One of New York City’s signature desserts is the husk meringue at Cosme. Likened by Eater to a “Mexican pavlova,” this beautifully spun meringue cloud is filled with pureed sweet corn and mascarpone, a mix of smoke, cream and sweetness—and one that packs a delightful crunch. The dish is inspired by Pastelería La Gran Vía, a 75-year-old pastry chain in Mexico City (home to Cosme chef Enrique Olvera) that serves giant, vanilla-cream-flavored meringues.
Coconut Lime Guava Cake, Dominique Ansel Bakery
This is how you make an indulgent yet refreshing dessert that is suitable for warm weather, courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery. The base is a homemade coconut dacquoise (a soft coconut almond cake), which balances a layer of pink guava gelée in its center. It’s surrounded by a creamy coconut lime mousse to augment the dish’s tropical flavors. Dusted with coconut, it’s then topped with hand-painted, hand-cut chocolate “leaves.” Ansel, the chef behind the cronut, remains unwilling to rest on his laurels (or palm leaves) after one sweet sensation.