When you’re craving something sweet, please skip those ubiquitous—dare I saw boring?—cupcake bakeries and opt for a more unusual, whimsical dessert made by Pichet Ong, pastry god extraordinaire and winner of countless awards and accolades, including one of the “Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America” by Pastry Art & Design. Ong, who used to work with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and owned the now shuttered P*ONG in the West Village, has returned with Spot, a dessert bar high on every food lover’s list. He’s also the consulting pastry chef at the recently opened Village Tart, a dessert and cocktail lounge located on an unassuming block where Chinatown, Little Italy, and Nolita converge.
Self-taught and influenced by his extensive travels around Asia, this New Yorker creates desserts that will entertain your palate: a melding of traditional with new, sweet and savory, comforting and surprising. At Spot, consider some of the seasonal dessert tapas: poached persimmon with jasmine rice, a chocolate ganache cake with poached honey pear or the yuzu Eskimo, a unique take on a classic American dessert. Or the salted caramel tart or black forest coffee cake at Village Tart, where the menu changes frequently. These are desserts that will linger in your memory far longer than any ordinary sweet.
Here, Pichet Ong shares some of his thoughts with us:
Haute Living: How are you enjoying your new dessert bar, Spot?
Pichet Ong: I’m having a blast with it, creating new desserts, and growing my customer base in a different neighborhood than what I’m used to. I’ve been in New York for 15 years, and this my first project in the East Village.
HL: You studied architecture. How did you make the foray into pastry?
PO: To me, there are a lot of similarities. Both are creative fields, with boundaries set by contexts. In architecture, one considers historical factors, the style and use of buildings next door, conditions determined by engineering. In food, one also considers contextual issues, such as style of restaurant, what the owners want, and as a pastry chef, the courses that precede the desserts. Both professions involve a lot of deconstructing and reconstructing in a new language.
HL: How do you think your upbringing influenced you in becoming a pastry chef?
PO: I grew up traveling a lot with my family and have had exposure to many types of food, which affects how I come up with flavor combinations. A lot of my food takes on that sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy profile that is prevalent in Asian cooking, particularly Chinese. I also grew up in a household where I could eat whatever I wanted, which somehow plays a big part in being torn between chef and pastry chef.
HL: What are some of your favorite NYC restaurants?
PO: There are too many to mention, but I go to Dim Sum Go Go almost every week.
HL: What is your favorite dessert at Spot? At Village Tart?
PO: I love the miso semifreddo at Spot. At Village Tart, my favorite changes daily. Today it’s the butterscotch grapefruit budino.
HL: What are some of your favorite desserts at other restaurants?
PO: There are also too many to mention! But I’m craving a slice of the key lime pie at Blue Smoke.
HL: Name your five favorite ingredients.
PO: Foie gras. Chocolate. Miso. Olive oil. Lemon.
HL: Coffee or tea?
PO: Iced mocha.
HL: What is your most memorable meal?
PO: I love tempura bars in Japan.
HL: Where do you like to eat on your days off?
PO: I love Wondee Siam (in Hell’s Kitchen) and Al Di La (in Brooklyn).
Spot Dessert Bar
13 St. Mark’s Place
86 Kenmare St
To read more about Tracey’s food adventures, visit The Busy Hedonist.