Call your business the Best Chocolate Cake in the World and you might as well slap a target sign on the window, particularly in New York, where there’s a) already a lot of superlative chocolate cake and b) a lot of opinionated people. But that doesn’t seem to have bothered the Best Chocolate Cake in the World’s Portuguese proprietors, who already have shops of the same name in Portugal and Brazil and opened one on Spring Street last week. It also sells coffee and gelato, and earlier this afternoon was crowded with women who looked like they’d be just as happy standing in line for cupcakes at Magnolia with the rest of the Sex and the City tour.
Always more than happy to eat chocolate cake, no matter how ridiculous the claims attached to it may be, we bought one slice each of the shop’s bittersweet and regular varieties. The bittersweet has a 70 percent cacao content, the regular 55 percent, and both cost an astounding $6.50.
And most importantly, both are not cake. They are tortes.
True, tortes are technically cakes. Both are baked, layered desserts that contain sugar, fat, eggs, and some kind of leavening like baking powder and/or baking soda. Where cakes contain flour, tortes usually contain ground-up nuts and tend to be flatter than cakes. Particularly here in the States, where “cake” usually conjures blissful visions of towering desserts layered with frosting, buttercream, and the like.
The Best Cake in the World’s concoctions fall strictly into the torte camp. They’re squat, cross-looking little affairs, layered with meringue and chocolate mousse and cloaked with a thin layer of chocolate ganache.
But semantic nitpicking aside, the real problem with the cake, torte, or whatever you want to call it is that it’s just … not that good. Or, as one taster exclaimed, “As a matter of fact, it sucks.”
If the bittersweet and regular slices hadn’t been labeled as such, we would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference. One was tooth-curlingly sweet, the other marginally less so. Sugar was the predominate taste, more or less negating whatever chocolatey pleasures may have been hidden between the layers of meringue. Altogether, both slices were reminiscent of something you’d be served at Passover, when flour is verboten and cooks scramble to fill the void with an excess of sugar and eggs.
Another taster was more succinct in his criticism: “A) It’s not cake, b) it’s not good, and c) it’s too expensive.”
Judging by the crowd that has already discovered the tiny shop, it is, however, an excellent way to lure tourists and chocolate hysterics to Spring Street. The cake itself may be mediocre at best, but the marketing savvy surrounding it is flawless.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 21, 2010