Enjoy that plain chocolate cake this Valentine's Day while you can because dessert in New York is about to get interesting. Former pastry chefs Pichet Ong, Sam Mason, and Jehangir Mehta are all soon opening full-service restaurants downtown, and the menus go far beyond sugar. Each chef has a different style, but together they are creating a new kind of cuisine that blurs the line between savory and sweet.
Mr. Ong's last post was pastry chef at both Spice Market and 66. The restaurants' chef and owner, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, had first employed him as a poissonier (fish cook) at Jean-Georges years earlier. Mr. Ong has worked on both sides of the kitchen — savory and sweet — and says he considers himself simply a chef.
Now his own restaurant, P*ong, is to open later this month. "It's my vision of what I'd like to own as my first flagship," Mr. Ong said recently in the unfinished space on West 10th Street. He raised the financing himself and has managed the restaurant's details, such as buying fabric for napkins, sourcing soap dispensers, and even helping design the space, putting his architecture degree from the University of California, Berkeley to use.
It will be a small restaurant, with 800 square feet and just 34 seats. Mr. Ong will cook behind the counter, serving a menu of Asianaccented cuisine with light dishes of raw fish, selections of cheeses and, of course, desserts. "I want people to feel like they can spend 20 minutes for a drink at the bar or three hours for 10 courses of food," he said. He plans to serve lunch, tea, and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and is also considering offering delivery.
Mr. Ong also has his eye on turning the space next door into a retail outlet. "I already have the name," he said. "General Pudding Store."
Mr. Mehta already does retail. He founded his company, Partistry, when he worked as the pastry chef at the Upper West Side French restaurant Aix. He first offered boxed chocolates, then added cooking classes and catering. "You can't just serve desserts at a party, so I started making food," Mr. Mehta said recently. He said he had long wanted to open a place of his own, where he "can translate my personality into the space." That means meticulous attention to detail and service, and culinary touches of India and Britain, combined with art and humor.
Mr. Mehta named the restaurant, a 500-square-foot location in the East Village, Graffiti. The space is still under construction, with a liquor license on the way. Mr. Jehangir hopes to open it by the end of March.
He said flavors will be simple, though he plans to offer some "weird combinations," such as green tomato salad and salty caramel tapioca. The "weirdness" of those dishes, however, depends on experience. "In south India, tapioca is savory and served like a starch like potatoes," he said. "But here it is sweet, so most people will think that's weird." If something tastes good, he contends, people will like it.
Mr. Mason has his own ideas about what tastes good. "I don't like sugar or desserts," he said recently. As pastry chef at Wylie Dufresne's WD-50, he perfected a style of cooking that combines savory and sweet. At Tailor, his restaurant set to open in March in SoHo, he plans to use all the specialized equipment and secret powders of the modernist pantry. "If it was only dessert, I would die," he said of the restaurant.
Tailor will be nearly triply the size of P*ong and Graffiti combined. The 3,700-square-foot space is divided over two floors and includes a 45-seat dining room and bar at ground level and a 40-seat "salon" downstairs for drinks. The salon will be open until 3 a.m. — late enough to be an after-work spot for chefs.
Mr. Mason will offer an a la carte menu of dishes sized for sharing, along with a tasting menu that has flavor points shifting from savory to sweet. The menu will include dishes such as "eel and duck with chocolate consommé and jellied cubes of pickled cherry." Helping him to turn these ideas into dishes is his co-chef, Francis Derby. The pair has worked together for several years. "Without Fran," Mr. Mason said, "I wouldn't be able to get the fish onto the plate."
What will New Yorkers make of these offerings? Mr. Mehta said he thinks it's a matter of diners' perspectives. He recalled a jackfruit sorbet he put on the menu at Aix. When he offered samples to the lunch serving staff, he made the mistake of describing the sorbet as "soapy." It did not sell. But he described it differently to the dinner staff, and it became a winner. As for Mr. Mason, he is undaunted. "We're going to cook food that makes us happy and hope we can find enough people to pay for it," he said. He and his fellow innovators will soon find out.
P*ong (150 W. 10th St., 212-929-0898); Graffiti (224 E. 10th St., 212-677-0695); Tailor (525 Broome St., no phone at press time).