The Master and The Margarita
While it is best known as a dessert-only place, there is no molten corn syrup river running through Room 4 Dessert. The restaurant also lacks the Willy Wonka clichés and kit-built, old-world Vienna museum mumbo jumbo of certain chocolate chains. Room 4 Dessert eschews the garish Candyland factor in favor of minimalist offerings like its “nrj”- a mix of red grapefruit sorbet topped with segments of the fruit, smoked tea ‘air,’ and a base of litchi fruit. Will Goldfarb’s menu is also notable for two things: a minimum of sugar- the chef uses herbs, seeds, and spices to pique flavors- and the tiny superscript numbers that appear next to menu choices, like decimal versions attached to software releases. The numbers identify each dessert’s latest incarnation, and highlight Goldfarb’s restless experimentation.
The compact menu devotes two out of three columns to wines and specialty cocktails ($12-$15 each) like the “Planteur,” a riff on Planter’s Punch with Meyer Lemon, tarragon, mango, amaretto, and Pyrat, a rum made by Patron. The other column is just desserts, broken down into three categories: Glasses (in a glass- $10 each), Tastings (plated, multipart desserts- $14 each), and Alternatives (savory items and small bites at different prices). Many selections have been revised a few times since the restaurant opened, but one has remained with Goldfarb since his first Executive Pastry Chef job 8 years ago, and is constantly updated. “This is the ninth version of the White Chocolate Margarita,” he says. It’s made currently with yogurt-tarragon foam, white chocolate ‘chantilly,’ lime sorbet, and smoked salt. White chocolate cream coats the bottom of the glass; egg-sized dollops of the barely frozen sorbet and tarragon-infused yogurt are on top of that, with flakes of smoked sel gris. At first, the Margarita appears monochromatic and space-agey. The flavors in each spoonful are anything but- the tartness of the lime meringue gives way to the cloud of yogurt and the buttery chocolate. Everything is tied up and brought down to earth by the bits of salt. It’s beautiful.
While other chefs fuss over where to draw the line with ingredient combinations, it seems that Goldfarb is content to not draw lines altogether. “I made the first version in 1999,” says Goldfarb on the White Chocolate Margarita’s origin story. “It had a Rose’s Lime Gelee and a cream-based White Chocolate Mousse.” The mousse has always been featured in the dish. “It had a Greek yogurt sorbet infused with lovage, fleur de sel, and some candied celery seeds,” Goldfarb adds. “Sometimes I would use crystallized lovage leaves, but it always had white chocolate, lime, yogurt, and salt,” he says. “Those parts never change. I’ve run it with every possible herb you can imagine, like basil, cilantro- it’s not as delicious with thyme- that’s a little bit astringent. We’ve done Meyer Lemon instead of lime. There have been many varieties.”
Cooking With Lou Lou
Mid-conversation, Pastry Chef Damion Badalamenti of the Rivington Hotel arrives at Room 4 Dessert with a saran wrapped box and some samples for Goldfarb to try. Badalamenti is working on a line of chocolates; some are already featured in Room 4 Dessert’s “real petits/2go sushi” plate. Goldfarb asks, “What did we do this time? Praline or olive oil?” Badalamenti places three shiny chocolate bon bons on the bar for Goldfarb to try, and the two talk about flavors for a minute. “We’re one year old today,” Goldfarb tells Badalamenti, and invites him to sit down for a glass of wine. Goldfarb maintains the workshop-like atmosphere that diners have found at the place since day one, and loves talking about new ideas. Those attuned Goldfarb’s culinary exploits might remember the first time he made headlines- in 2001, when, with Paul Liebrandt, the chefs created an 18 course tasting menu at Papillion (RIP) that included blindfolds, dessert cakes studded with cough lozenges, and baby bottles filled with soup. Goldfarb has since reigned in some of his more exotic approaches to food.
“We’re going to launch a chocolate line. I’m going to help; Damion is going to make them. Coming soon- Cocoa-me!” Goldfarb writes the name down on his notepad, adding the exclamation point. In the back of the restaurant, the bustling kitchen staff parcels out the raw materials for a Room 4 Dessert catering. The party is for 500 people. Vacuumed packed petit fours are lined up in milk crates on several bar stools- pale green financiers, tropical fruit marshmallows, tiny chocolates. “We do catering up to 10,000 people,” says Goldfarb. “We’ve done three already.”
Will Goldfarb currently has more side projects than Norah Jones, including Willpowder, his Edmund Scientific like, try-this-at-home mail-order business that sells the smoked salt he uses at the restaurant, and other hard-to-find compounds the home cook can use to make custom oil powders and fried aiolis. Last week, New York Magazine reported on Room 4 Dessert’s pilot program of outsourcing pastry chefs in overworked and cramped kitchens. When Gothamist first visited Goldfarb to confirm the interview date, the restaurant was filled with studio equipment for the taping of an upcoming segment on Tyler Florence’s Food Network show. Goldfarb doesn’t mind such intrusions. “I even invited a reporter from the Hebrew University student union newspaper for free dessert,” he says. “And she wrote a moderately not that good review.”
“The Food Network is often criticized for the destruction of cooking,” says Goldfarb. “However, there’s some serious talent on the Food Network. Having worked for Morimoto- he’s a serious chef, and has a great television personality. Anyone who criticizes him is out of their mind, because 99.9 of 100 chefs couldn’t come close to holding his cutting board in the kitchen.” Goldfarb talks about some other television chefs that have his respect. On Bobby Flay: “He’s a total machine.”
Would Will Goldfarb ever consider his own television show? “I was approached about one of those Next Food Network Star shows, but I felt like it had the potential to turn into some kind of joke,” he says. “I want to do a kid’s cooking show with my daughter Lou Lou.” Goldfarb points to the proliferation of Friendster-style networking sites for parents and mega-hyped launches like Kidfresh as a new food trend. “I’m also working on a baby food line,” he says. “But the cooking show with my daughter- that’s what I really want to do. That’s my goal. I think it would be through the roof.”
Room 4 Dessert
17 Cleveland Place