Chikalicious’ dessert bar probably embodies many chefs’ wildest dreams: an intimate, 15-20 seater with daily changing menus, ideal location at 10th and 2nd, open four days a week with a devoted following, and the ability to see a customer’s face light up with joy seconds after presenting them with a plate. I tried the joint not long after it opened, and I’m pleased to say I’ve never stopped coming back. Today, I’m recounting my own experience, not my first, and definitely not my last.
Quick rundown: Chikalicious’ three courses are an amuse bouche, main dessert, and petits fours to finish, sort of an homage to the eternal wish of every pregnant lady or six year old. Dessert for every course! Woot. I highly recommend the wine pairing, or a nice bit of tea to round out the petits fours- definitely a luxury, but not too painful at $16 a prix fixe. Bringing about five people early on in the evening would get a nice table, and an excuse to try every one of their constantly changing delights. If you don’t have the time, their dessert club is right across the street, serving crowd-pleasing favorites like lava cakes and bread puddings at comfortable take-out prices.
I don’t have to inform the savvy New Yorker this tiny hole in the wall is the ultimate date spot, and I admit, I romanced my current girlfriend this way the first time I tried Chikalicious. My traveller’s keen ‘good shite radar’ went off in passing, and we dove in not long after it opened. I remember feeling a little cheated by the price and the size, a feeling flavorblasted into oblivion by the absolutely bonkers level of technique and deliciousness. I’m happy to say the quality and love has not only survived, its grown in Chikalicious. Its probably the only place to get a three-course dessert in the city and feel like an audience member at a Food Network show, where you can chat with the chefs as they prep some of the best sorbets and panna cottas this side of Napoli. Expect to see a lot of ganelles of things, good basic saucework and fun interplay of flavors. Nothing is overly sweet, and everything tastes like what the menu says it is, often a difficult task in itself. At least one seasonal fruit will be en papillote, or steamed in an envelope of parchment paper- rapturous to watch made, and delicious in the fall, when I had the figs in port. As of this writing, I believe they
are doing a red wine pear, paired with roasted almond ice cream. Did I not mention? All the ice creams are made in-house, from scratch, in a variety of wacky flavors, by a machine sitting just at your elbow. Very Emeril.
My most recent menu was kind of an odd experience, and I attribute it to being caught between winter and spring. My companions and I enjoyed the amuse, a grapefruit soup with cubes of agar agar jelly and a coconut syrup. Citrus gets tempered by the slight salt of coconut, and even people who mind the sting of grapefruit wouldn’t say no to this refreshing palate preparation. Though citrus is a winter taste, the dish left me feeling ready for a new season, new growth, new experiences.
Senses awakened, I opted for a flavor combo more often seen at the end of a heavy Italian meal: espresso parfait, with blood orange and a pistachio crisp. As an experiment, I thought it was a mild success: espresso sets off the gentle citrus wonderfully, but this dessert isn’t very assertive. Everything just sort of agrees with each other, and there isn’t much punch. Nearby, my companion was having a smashing time with her earl grey panna cotta, a lovingly put-together dish clashing sharp lemon sherbert with the subtle bergamont flavor of the smooth tea pudding. We all agreed the dish wouldn’t have been so royal without the poppy crisps, little bursts of flavor we couldn’t get enough of. Definitely our favorite. Our last dish was a classic chocolate tart, but even this familiar comfort was helped along by an exciting preparation, done right before us, and the complement of a tongue-teasing crimson sauce. Probably the dish was made with teasing in mind, as there was only a teensy bit of pink peppercorn, but the spice gave the voluptuously rich chocolate a vital exoticism.
We couldn’t stop guessing which dish was ours, and even for an experienced culinary arts holder, I was glad I hadn’t placed bets on it. Of course, our dessert was finished off with the excellent petits fours: light, tan, and dark, in order, a perfectly sinful nightcap.
Is Chikalicious a place everyone would enjoy? I certainly don’t think so, and can name quite a few people who would scoff at the price, at the intimacy of it, at the endearing drum stools. Is Chikalicious special? Well there, I would definitely shout a resounding ‘hell yes!’ What the little dessert bar has is something most chefs, in my experience, aspire to: they want to keep the customer engaged with the food, engaged with the process of making it, where it comes from, how the different pieces work together to, without sounding dirty, make sweet sweet love in your mouth. I suppose there’s no avoiding it, though. Food should always be like this. Food should always be love.