As warmer days approach, minds will inevitably turn to the sweet realm of cold, refreshing desserts. Kyotofu, a modern-style Japanese dessert bar and bakery on 9th Avenue between 48th and 49th streets, can easily satisfy that craving. Even among the medley of ethnically diverse restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, Kyotofu stands out because of its city-wide recognition for its chocolate souffle cupcakes, which were voted New York’s Best Cupcake by New York Magazine in 2007.
Though Kyotofu is better known for its bakery treats, which find homes among the shelves of gourmet shops like Dean & Deluca, its desserts should not be overlooked. For $10, you can enjoy the winter anmitsu, a traditional Japanese dessert that captures sweet and tangy flavors within a sleek glass serving cup. The dessert, which has been popular in Japan for decades, consists of red azuki beans topped with small cubes of agar jelly and is commonly complemented with seasonal fruits and ice cream. Kyotofu offers its anmitsu with homemade pear- and cranberry-flavored agar and then fills the cup with your choice of either kuromitsu—a sweet sugar syrup—ice cream, or pear-ginger sorbet. For finishing touches, Kyotofu decorates the sweet confection with a thin disc of burnt sugar caramel. The agar cubes seemed to overwhelm the dessert—well after I had scrubbed away the refreshing kuromitsu ice cream and azuki beans, an entire layer of pear agar remained. Besides that, the anmitsu had a satisfying blend of sweet flavors and textures. It is a cultural experience worth having.
Other selections that are traditionally Japanese include a sweet soymilk okayu, a Japanese-style rice pudding, and kuro goma sweet tofu, a black sesame-infused panna cotta.
Kyotofu’s interior layout is striking. The kitchen, vaguely similar to one you would see in a house, is enclosed with glass, so that you can see the chefs and bakers at work. The dining section of Kyotofu is small, holding only 30 people at a time. This room is modern and elegant, but can also be used as a casual hanging out space—one couple, with a computer and drink placed on their table, chatted with animated voices. Fourteen bar-like seats with street views line the front of the bakery section.
Kyotofu also has lunch and dinner menus, which boast plenty of appealing dishes. Tofu-based dishes abound, which is unsurprising for a restaurant named after this soybean product.
Food comes in small portions, but while your stomach may not be satisfied, your taste buds surely will.