East Village Strange Soft-Serve Smackdown
Milk Bar's red velvet cake soft serve
As soft-serve ice cream flavors go, pandanus leaf and red velvet cake aren't exactly your basic chocolate-vanilla swirl.
Momofuku Milk Bar (207 2nd Avenue) has become known for its freaky soft-serve, offering flavors like salty pistachio and cereal milk. Today, the options included carrot cake, cream cheese frosting, and red velvet cake, all of which could be had for $4.15 per serving.
Pandanus leaf, otherwise known as screwpine, is sometimes used in Southeast Asian desserts, but the only place we know of where it's used to flavor soft-serve is at Baoguette Cafe (37 St Marks Place). The restaurant has had the ice cream machine since it opened, but it never seemed to be operational. Now, just in time for hot weather, the place is finally offering cups of the bright green pandanus treat for $3.27 a cup.
Baoguette Cafe's pandanus ice cream
But which one is the Platonic ideal of strange soft-serve?
In terms of value, Baoguette has the edge, as the portions are just about equal and Milk Bar's costs nearly a dollar more.
The panadus ice cream is refreshing--mildly sweet and nutty, with the faintest floral/vegetal aftertaste. If you didn't know it was pandanus, you might guess that it was pistachio. It has one of those pleasant tastes that's hard to put your finger on, like Dr. Pepper or zucchini bread. The texture is very smooth and light, with none of the iciness that characterizes bad soft-serve.
Over at Milk Bar, the red velvet cake ice cream is intense. No refreshment here, it's more like mugged by cocoa and butterfat, in a delicious sort of way. The huge smack of cocoa is chocolaty and rich, but with a very bitter finish and a bit of buttermilky tartness. Like many of Milk Bar's desserts, there's a good kick of salt in there, too. And somehow, it tastes like cake. But it has the texture of frosting--extraordinarily dense and creamy.
Since both ice creams have considerable charms, we have to ask which one is really letting its freak flag fly. Pandanus might be a less-familiar flavor to some people, but the resulting dessert is very approachable and likable. The red velvet version is actually pretty out there, but it succeeds in its strange way.
So Milk Bar's red velvet cake soft serve wins the day for sheer ballsiness, but keep Baoguette's pandanus in mind if you want something simple and sweet to cool you down.
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