BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES | Those hoping for the second coming of Cronuts won’t find the wildly popular, chewy, flaky croissant-doughnut hybrid at the pastry chef’s second New York City location. Mille-feuilles, baba au rhum, strawberry tarts with freshly macerated fruit, and other à la minute, or made-to-order, desserts are what the Cronut king has in store at his new West Village bakery.
Opening this spring at 137 Seventh Ave. South (between W. 10th and Charles Sts.), the 2,500-square-foot Dominique Ansel Kitchen (DAK) will serve up freshly made desserts, mostly fully prepared — but also finished to order — everything from freshly folded chocolate mousse or a tiramisu soaked a day or two before sale to other delectable sweets.
In November 2011, Ansel opened his eponymously named Soho bakery at 189 Spring St. On May 10, 2013, he launched the Cronut and the rest is history. Since then, early mornings have seen patrons wrapped around the corner onto Thompson St. to fill their craving for the quirky confection.
Prior to launching his own business, Ansel spent a six-year stint as executive pastry chef at Daniel (the longest tenure of any pastry chef at Daniel Boulud’s Upper East Side flagship restaurant). Remembering how much diners loved getting that rare glimpse inside the kitchen, he decided he wanted to recreate this at DAK.
DAK is located in a three-story space that previously was home to the Landbrot Bakery & Bar, a German-style eatery. Patrons will be able to get a peek into the kitchen from any seat in the house.
“That’s what I wanted to bring to Dominique Ansel Kitchen — a real back-of-the-house, behind-the-scenes peek from the minute you enter the door,” Ansel said. “We’ve designed a nice, open kitchen and a view of it from every seat, so people can sit back and enjoy the theater of it all. And everywhere around you, you can see fresh items being made and smell those cookies baking in the oven.”
More than 70 percent of Dominique Ansel Kitchen’s menu will be items that are made, finished or assembled to order, but not everything will be made right when the customer orders.
“All items in the kitchen are fresh,” Ansel said. “But certain items don’t require being finished to order. A fruit tart that is assembled to order will always be a fresher tart than one that has been sitting in a case. But certain items, like tiramisu, will actually taste better when it has time to marinate and really steep.”
Ansel equates DAK desserts to made-to-order sandwiches: “The bread dough isn’t being mixed up from scratch, and the meat isn’t being roasted when you place your order, but you can get your sandwich toasted and the meat fresh sliced,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for.”
Still in the “test kitchen” phase, the menu has not yet been finalized. But Ansel’s team favors more of the Viennoisserie items (croissants, brioche, beignet), and want to take something as classic as a chocolate croissant to a whole new level.
For instance, the DAK pain au chocolat is assembled with shards of Maldon salted chocolate and is made to order fresh. There’s also a built-to-order mille-feuille (a.k.a. Napoleon) that’s flaky, not soggy, when ordered since it’s layered on the spot and fresh-stuffed with custard. Ansel and his team are also working on an ice cream in which fresh-cut vanilla bean is scraped directly onto chocolate.
Over all, most items will take only one-and-a-half to three minutes to prepare. Dessert preparation was timed to the amount of time that people usually wait for a latte — which is something patrons can also imbibe, since Ansel is working with La Colombe for a coffee program to accompany the in-house desserts.
The chef wants a well-balanced menu at the Kitchen but professes his love for chocolate, which will be sprinkled in wherever possible. The DAK menu will also switch up every six to eight weeks — something Ansel has continued to do at his Spring St. bakery.
After hours, or when the Kitchen closes at 7 p.m., another menu will appear in the second-floor dining area at DAK. This dessert-only tasting menu will be part of an evening program called U.P., or “Unlimited Possibilities.” The evening tasting experience will give eight to 10 diners a full, eight-course dessert menu prepared by Ansel and his team of Michelin-trained cooks. Served at the chef’s special table, the menu is currently in the works, and the intention is to pair it with wine.
“It’s our chance to really, intimately connect with diners and show people what we’ve been working on,” said Ansel.
The Kitchen will seat 26 inside, and there will be just as many seats outside, at an unenclosed sidewalk cafe. The Kitchen will open at the same time as Ansel’s Soho bakery, 8 a.m., to catch the famished, breakfast crowd.
“Most bakeries open early in the morning for breakfast,” he noted, “which is when we are at our best.”
Despite some residents’ concern over the bakery opening during the morning rush (instead of at a later 10 a.m. slot, as some had suggested) and its outdoor seating, which could generate unwanted noise for nearby residents — in addition to the very real possibility of lines outside — most in the neighborhood appear to welcome the second coming of Ansel in the West Village.
Community Board 2 recently overwhelmingly recommended approval of the Kitchen’s application for a sidewalk cafe permit. Although, before their vote, the C.B. 2 members did discuss the issue of some W. 10th St. neighbors’ concerns about potential noise, they ultimately agreed that Ansel is a “good operator” who deserves to be supported. Only two board members voted “no.”
(Afterward, one C.B. 2 member told The Villager that she usually supports the resolutions of the board’s committees, and did so in this case, backing the Sidewalks and Street Activities Committee’s favorable resolution. Yet, at the same time, she admitted, sidewalk cafes aren’t noiseless.)
Ultimately, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs officially approves sidewalk cafes.
In its resolution, C.B. 2 also urged that a sidewalk bike rack currently in front of the new eatery be relocated, so as to alleviate potential congestion.
“We passed with a unanimous vote in our favor with the initial community board committee meeting and then once more at the full board meeting,” said Amy Ma, a co-owner of DAK, and Ansel’s business partner. “The vote is from the community, and the community passed with an overwhelming, positive vote… . We of course will work daily to be the best operators we can be for everyone.”
C.B. 2 previously approved a liqour license for DAK.