One of the greatest pleasures in dining out is indulging in a thoughtful tasting menu, forgoing your individual choices as a diner and submitting yourself to the whims and fancies of the kitchen staff. Ideally, a multi-course meal will not only surprise and delight, presenting the customer with flavors and textures she might not have chosen for herself, but will also hit upon the familiar, comforting notes we all look forward to when we go out to eat.
In the hands of an accomplished savory chef, this shouldn't be too difficult: after all, a fancy restaurant kitchen has access to all kinds of ingredients, and a host of techniques and tools to manipulate them. But in a sweets-only kitchen, producing course after course of desserts that keep the diner eating and don't dull her palate with sugar is far more challenging. A few dessert kitchens in the city have taken on that formidable challenge, including the Upper West Side's Picholine and SE favorite ChikaLicious Dessert Bar in the East Village. But for a taste of the Brooklyn dessert prix fixe scene, we recently headed to Patisserie Tomoko, a new-ish bakery and dessert bar that opened in November in a somewhat bizarre, slightly suburban strip mall located beneath a luxury apartment building on otherwise-still-industrial Union Avenue.
The eponymous restaurant is run by pastry chef and owner Tomoko Kato, who has worked at Bouley, Le Bernadin, and the Russian Tea Room, and opened Cha-An, a traditional Japanese tea house on the Lower East Side. She left in 2012 to open Patisserie Tomoko, whose desserts are best described as Japanese flavors executed with classic French technique. The restaurant's oasis-like interior pays definite homage to the former influence: inside, a large round counter dominates the dining room, all clean and minimalist and white, but the entryway's exuberant green potted plants—arranged by Tomoko—call to mind a meticulously-attended Japanese garden.
Patisserie Tomoko's desserts display a similar balance of restraint and ebullience. For the most part cleanly and classically presented, they're often full of intense flavors belied by their demure appearance. And the tasting menu, priced at $16 for three courses, with an optional wine pairing for $9 more, is an incredible bargain.
On a recent visit, a friend and I were presented with an amuse-bouche that definitely did its job of opening up the palate: a tiny coupe with one scoop of black sesame ice cream and one scoop of sake ice cream topped with a sesame tuile. Both flavors were smooth and silky, light in texture and light on sugar, with nary an ice crystal to be found. The sake ice cream, Tomoko told us, was flavored with junmai-shu sake, known as pure sake, which is made only with water, a naturally-occurring fungus called koji, and rice: no additives and no flavorings, resulting in a heavier, denser style of sake whose flavor held its own against the vanilla and cream in the ice cream base.
The main course was a beautifully-presented plate of tiny cups of Earl Gray tea flan; a dish of pear-red wine sorbet; and a wedge of matcha cheesecake. The flan was superb: feather-light in texture with a pronounced tea flavor, it sat atop a super dense, sticky, almost savory-tasting dark caramel. The dish was topped with unsweetened whipped cream and a crunchy disk of sweet angel hair noodles similar to the ones you find layered in Greek desserts such as kataifi. The sorbet was similarly flawless: packed with both pear and red wine flavor, it was completely free of the graininess that sometimes afflicts pear sorbets. The cheesecake was the one thing on the plate that didn't work for me—that matcha flavor was just way too intense, lending the cake a deep herbal funkiness that I couldn't find any pleasure in. But if you love matcha, you might enjoy it.
A plate of superb petits fours ended the meal on a high note. An airy, just-chewy almond dacquoise stuffed with silky coffee buttercream managed to be both light and indulgent at the same time; a delicate lavender macaron with a cool mint filling would meet the standards of any macaron purist; and a thin, crisp, salty-sweet almond cookie was an excellent buttery note. Unfortunately, a square of matcha-flavored white chocolate was again way too savory and earthy for me to get behind.
In addition to its tasting menu, Patisserie Tomoko offers an array of baked goods which rotates daily. Tomoko's brioches ($3.50)—eggy, buttery cubes that hide surprise fillings such as red bean paste—are superb, as are her tiny, classic mousse cakes ($5.50) in flavors such as chestnut and banana. Whether you're in the mood for a fancy, multi-course affair or a more casual pastry with a cup of green tea, Patisserie Tomoko is a worthy destination for any dessert lover.