There is a growing chorus of displeasure among dessert lovers in New York and a feeling that the pastries offered by even ambitious restaurants are too often just plops or smears — custards and puddings that are formal enough to satisfy a craving but can still feel like an afterthought. I might have worried this would be the case with the “seasonal parfait” served at Momoya in Soho, except this particular dessert costs $28 and lists more ingredients than most restaurants’ entire pastry programs.
I know this for sure because the dessert arrives with a small pamphlet that contains a labeled diagram of the entire layered construction so diners don’t get lost amid all the mousse, cookies, ice cream, and stratified fruit contained within. It’s a real possibility, and servers can be forgiven for not remembering every single detail of what is possibly the most ornate dessert in Manhattan.
The word parfait usually evokes images of yogurt and granola bowls. Momoya pastry chef Norie Uematsu says that even in Japan, where she was born, a parfait was an everyday treat, “like a sundae.” But the idea has recently become a favorite of pastry chefs in that country, and last spring, Uematsu decided she wanted to add her own version to the restaurant’s menu. To match the lightness of Momoya’s sushi, she decided to focus on seasonal fruit.
The most recent iteration, and the version currently available, is called the Spring in Full Bloom. Each serving takes the pastry team ten minutes to assemble — an eternity in a professional kitchen — and includes 18 different components, all nestled into (and on top of) a wineglass.
A layer of lychee-lemon gelée and a second layer of preserved-cherry-blossom agar jelly form the base of the dessert, followed by a rosy ring of strawberry compote that’s filled with a mound of cherry-blossom-leaf espuma. Next, nuggets of vanilla crumble are set as the base for an orb of strawberry sorbet and condensed-milk ice cream. It’s finished with a swirl of white-chocolate mousse that has been infused with the salty, malty flavor of sake lees.
Covering the glass is a butter cookie stacked with its own collection of petits fours: a mugwort macaron, two varieties of mochi, guava mousse glazed with ruby chocolate, a guava-and-coconut tuile, flowers sculpted from white-bean paste, half a strawberry, and gold leaf. It is then speared with hanami dango, the tricolor mochi stick you may recognize from the emoji keyboard. (How does anyone even eat all of this? Servers will suggest you move the entire cookie cover and place it onto a side plate before diving in, which, yes, does help.)
Momoya’s desserts weren’t always this complex, though they began to grow in scope until last winter when the pastry team offered a version of the parfait with clementine sorbet, white-wine gelée, lemon-verbena foam, and 13 more elements. Uematsu knows it’s over-the-top, which is the point, and she says she’s able to pull it off because of her talented team. She also knows she will become only more enterprising with future seasons. “Every time I create the menu,” she says, “I have to think, Can everybody else do this?”