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On the 9th Avenue block between 48th and 49th streets in Hell's Kitchen, the warm glow from newcomer dessert bar Kyotofu looked especially inviting on a recent rainy night. Adding to a once niche industry made popular by ChikaLicious and the much discussed Room 4 Dessert, Kyotofu adds their own style and that's a style based in soy.

Once inside, sleek white walls, an arsenal of sakes, and a briskly moving waitstaff dodge around the unconventional space shuffling pristine plates with dainty desserts back and forth between the kitchen and dining space. The front room offers a half dozen bar-style seats while a narrow walkway bisects a bar area on one side and Japanese pastry chef Ritsuko Yamaguchi's mise en place on the other . The walkway opens up into a dimly lit dining room with a dozen candlelit tables matching white layered walls against dark cherry tables and tableware obviously chosen with great care. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the dessert options irresistible.

After 6 p.m., the dessert bar opens pairing artful and gastronomically complex creations with sake, shochu, and cocktails based on the liquors. The beverage menu is more like a booklet, and the friendly waitstaff will be happy to point out recommendations. The dessert menu changes monthly (though there are staples like the original sweet tofu with black sugar sauce), so Gothamist recommends the $15 prix fixe dessert sampler ($27 with a drink pairing), a three plate extravaganza offering a taste of the menu's full gamut. A minimal selection of non-sweets also available available during lunch, including a soymilk quiche and tofu salad, but best visit Kyotofu for their real forte: dessert.

The first course, anmitsu, arrived in miniature parfait glasses with small wooden spoons--a traditional Japanese dessert of jellied squares flavored with plum sake, topped with mini mochi and a bean paste cream. The sauce is reminiscent of toasted sugar and the jellies intriguing at first, but lacks a memorable flavor that only slightly enhanced by the accompanying white sesame shochu cocktail served in a porcelain sake glass.


A main course offers a four dessert spread of textures and flavors ranging from a subtly sweet silken tofu cheesecake with a dash of sansho pepper sits atop a nutty black sesame crust on one corner of the plate, to a firm fig jelly is paired with mung bean powder in another. The presentation is stunning--crisp sugars, dashes of powder and a rainbow of colors elicited commentary from the adjacent table: "Japanese food is the best because it's the most beautiful."

On the same plate a miniature dish of ginger-infused okayu, or rice porridge, incorporates rice with dried cherries and ginger candy, a comforting idea whose execution leaves one longing for either stronger flavor or smoother texture. The warm chocolate mochi cake is a hands-down favorite (though hardly Japanese), like a dense molten brownie with hints of green tea, fig, chestnut and sesame, which, like all of the other items are also available as solo desserts on the regular dessert bar menu.

The middle course was paired with himezen, a smooth, sweet, and citrus-laden sake and the final offering, two subtly flavored petit fours, with a cloyingly sweet plum wine that received split reviews (yay from the girls, nay from the guys).

Apart from the sampler, a run-in with friends at the table beside ours steered us away from a bitter and chalky green tea parfait topped with berries and a seaweed colored gelee. The mochi cakes (theirs had hints of raspberry) received mouth-watering rave reviews from them as well making it the winner of the night.

Though showing a few flaws, Kyotofu offers a night of textures, and flavors that leave one quizzical for the best, letting flavors grow on the tongue as you go back for another bite of the complex salty-sweet-smooth-savory dessert on your plate. The dining room is a bit like resting in a glowing orb--all of a sudden it's midnight or 1 a.m. and you've been eating variations of tofu for two hours. You'll leave feeling light and intrigued, flavor palate dancing at the very least.

Kyotofu is open for baked goods and a light lunch Tuesday - Sunday, 12:30 - 5 p.m. and for the dessert bar Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 6 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. and Thursday - Saturday until 1:30 a.m. 212-974-6012.

Top photograph by Kathryn Yu.