You know that feeling you get when you're lost at sea for days, and you can feel your innards shriveling up as the life drains out of your malnourished body, and you've held out on killing your shipmate and eating him because he's one of your most loyal and trustworthy friends, but, hm, on second thought, he's looking pretty beefy and surely doesn't need all that thigh muscle? And just as you're about to go in for the kill with your bare, adrenaline-powered hands, you see a light in the distance. A beacon of hope that says, "Cannibalism, you'll just have to wait." You've found civilization. You're saved.
That's sort of how I felt when I first came across Indessert. Without the starvation and hopelessness and deranged lust for flesh, but with the rapturous excitement that great things I hadn't expected were coming my way, accompanied by internally screeching, "OMG OMG YAY!!!@#!@" repeatedly. I was just really happy Chinatown finally had a dessert shop. So happy that I've been to Indessert nine times since it opened in March (and two of those visits happened last week).
What's so great about Indessert? Let me count the ways:
- It's not another bakery, ice cream shop, or froyo shop (although I wouldn't mind another ice cream shop). They specialize in tong sui—Cantonese desserts like black sesame paste soup, red bean paste soup, sweet potato soup, mixed bean and taro soup, and other sweet soups made with coconut milk or ripe mango purée. They also do shaved ice, waffles, tofu pudding, and other Asian favorites. There are tong sui shops in Brooklyn, but none of them are as convenient for me to go to as Indessert because...
- It's a ten-minute walk from my office.
- They have ample seating in a comfortable, non-garish environment. You don't get much of that in Chinatown.
- They're open late—until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. That may not be notable in other food-heavy neighborhoods, but Chinatown is pretty dead after 10 p.m. and doesn't offer much in the ways of fun late night hang-out spots.
Originally I had planned on rating every dessert I've eaten so far at Indessert, but after chatting with one of the co-owners, I didn't think that'd make for a fair review. Some of the desserts I ate months ago have since been tweaked. I'd assume they're hitting their groove now after being open for five months, but the tweaks continue; a few weeks ago they made a huge update to their menu.
Here are my favorite dishes so far. I'm not a tong sui expert by any means, so if you have others you'd recommend, let me know!
Indessert's signature mango pomelo sago soup ($5.75) is my favorite thing on the menu. It's intensely fruity—like "someone punched my face with a mango" fruity—sweet, creamy, chilled mango purée sweetened with rock sugar and fortified with heavy cream, topped with ripe mango cubes, plump sweet-tart pomelo segments (or grapefruit in the current pomelo off-season), and loads of tiny soft and chewy sago pearls. "Fruit soup" may not bring to mind a belly-filling dish, but it's substantial without feeling heavy. I recently tried the version from Mango Mango and didn't like it as much. It wasn't bad, but it didn't taste as fruity.
If you're a mango/pomelo/sago hater [cue rolling of tear down cheek], you can customize your own dessert soup ($5.75) starting with a base of mango soup or sweet coconut milk (actually coconut milk mixed with coconut ice cream and heavy cream, which means it's tasty, fatty stuff) and adding in whatever combination of ice cream, fruit, and chewables (sago, tapioca, grass jelly, aloe, tofu pudding) you want. Ice cream seems like it should be a good idea, but most of their ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which is great if you like your ice cream airy and icy, and bad if you have any respect for the art of churned frozen desserts (whoops, got a bit sassy there).
My next favorite dessert is muo muo cha cha ($4.25), a sort of hot, sweet, coconut milk-based stew heartily packed with taro chunks, sago, mung beans, red beans, and kidney beans. It's starch upon starch. I don't know how appealing this would be to someone who didn't grow up eating Chinese, bean-heavy dessert soups, but as someone who did, I find the combination comforting.
if you love black sesame and want the test the limits of your love, try the classic tong sui dish black sesame paste soup ($3.95). It's just black sesame, rice, and sugar. Indessert grinds black sesame seeds daily and mixes it with rice flour, also ground in-house, and rock sugar. One of the co-owners told me there's no added liquid, which blows my mind since that means there is roughly a metric shitton of black sesame in every serving. It pretty much tastes like what it's called: a thick, rich soup that coats your innards in sweet, nutty black sesame goodness, goodness that is a bit too intense for me to want to eat more than a few spoonfuls of. My ideal time to eat this would be in the dead of winter, as long as I could share it with two or three other people.
I've tried black sesame paste soup a few times between here and Hong Kong, and even though I like it—I like anything that's black sesame-flavored—it quickly leads me to palate fatigue. I took this dessert to go and I could only finish half of it after two days. Next time I'm in the mood for a nutty soup I'll try the Yin-Yang paste soup ($4.25), which is half black sesame tempered by half almond paste, or the black sesame and red bean ($4.25). If you're a black sesame paste soup aficionado, let me know what you think of Indessert's version.
Unfortunately, Indessert doesn't make other black sesame-flavored desserts that aren't semi-liquid, aside from almond tofu pudding accompanied by black sesame paste. They used to make black sesame waffles, but demand wasn't high enough to keep them on the menu, unlike green tea waffles and coconut waffles, which are still available. It's too bad; I would've ordered them again. Aside from the black sesame flavor, it didn't hurt that they were drizzled in condensed milk and topped with whipped cream.
Taro coconut milk and sago soup ($3.95) is pretty self-explanatory. It's a coconut milk-based soup with lots of sago and big chunks of taro—three ingredients I quite like, all in one package. My only complaint is that I wish it were a bit sweeter.
Purple Rain ($4.25) features black sticky rice blended with coconut milk, with sago at the bottom—again, three of my favorite ingredients combined. Although it's listed under the "Drinks" category, it's more rice pudding than beverage, with a texture akin to an extra-thick milkshake but chunkier. A cup of this stuff is a hell of a lot for one person; I'd suggest sharing it.
Indessert's grass jelly bowls ($6.50) are sort of like shaved ice bowls without the shaved ice. (Indessert also makes shaved ice, which I have yet to try.) So...they're like bowls of toppings, toppings including red bean, taro, sweet potato, black sticky rice, almond tofu pudding, and more. I'm down with that. The bowl above contains grass jelly cubes, tapioca pearls, mochi, caramel flan custard, green tea ice cream, and milk tea, a nice mix of chewy, creamy, and Jell-O-like. I'm not sure I'd get this particular bowl again, but I'd definitely try another one of the six choices.
Indessert does good business on weekends, but I've been told that weekdays are slow in a not so sustainable way. Please visit Indessert during the week so I may selfishly retain it as my go-to dessert spot.