There are few culinary delights any more compelling than a great New York cheesecake.... Our on-going Cheesecake Mega-Safari continued last week with Phase Five. Ten venues were sampled... 9 in Manhattan and 1 in Queens.
All locations had been mentioned by either a Chowhound poster or sources such as the recent New York Times "Best of New York" article, etc.
One difficulty we had with the recent NYT review was that it seemed to include a variety of cheesecake flavors, which of course can be comparing apples and oranges. Also it's not clear whether their tastings were head-to-head or not.
All tastings in this safari were side-by-side with coffee. All cakes are the "plain New York Style" without fruit or other flavorings. This was truly a Marathon tasting as these cakes were "sampled and re-sampled" over as many as 4 days... one consistent hallmark of great cheesecake is that it usually improves as it "ripens" for several days after baking. A cheap, commercial product on the other hand will dry out and be unappealing very quickly.
Tasting notes follow in order of TASTING, not ranking.
CAFE LALO: "This cake has a thin chocolate crust bottom, we tasted both with and without this crust. Has a light airy texture with very mild taste. Not much improved with coffee... unremarkable." GF's comments: "not bad, not crazy about it"
DAVID GLASS (Their "Ultimate NY Cheesecake", in small box $7.95 at Zabars). 1st Day: "Nice flavor... medium-density creamy texture... aftertaste is quite nice. Nice w/ coffee... Great Aftertaste!!.. Lingering... probably the best thing about the cake..." GF: "Like it... Rich taste... a better lingering taste".
After 3 days in fridge: "Awesome flavor... lingers forever... Medium creamy texture... Slightly my preference of all cakes this day" GF: "Rich, perfect w/ cappuchino... Milky, lingering bright taste... Profound taste... Just a little satisfies vs. Hot n'Crusty which I could just keep eating... A slight preference for Hot n'Crusty but Dave Glass equally great."
On 4th day: "Powerfrul taste. Luscious, buttery texture. Complex lingering flavor is the hallmark of this cake". GF: "Good flavor, very good texture, great with a rich coffee... Oh yeah, get's a top prize..."
ZABAR's "MAYOR KOCH": "Dense, very lemony... almost like a lemon cream tart... Two layers, one is more caky the other a cream-cheesy icing layer..." GF: "doesn't really taste like cheesecake..."
HOT n'CRUSTY BAKERY: "Lovely, creamy "sinful" texture... bright and lively taste... somewhat enhanced with coffee but not that much. Great, ethereal texture... pleasant aftertaste is "buttery" but not oily. Not as interesting flavor or aftertaste as Dave Glass, but outstanding luscious texture may be even better... GF: "Like it... very nice, best so far... good w/ coffee... #1 definitely...."
After 3 days: "Texture is fabulous, ethereal, great taste. Very serendipitous discovery" I slightly prefer David Glass GF: "Good w/ coffee... can't get enough of this... Rich, thick... mild taste... an "unstoppable Cheesecake"... slightly prefer this over David Glass"
JUNIORS: "Creamy texture... close to "greasy" but not quite. Okay." GF: "Flavor too strong, okay texture"
4 Days later: "Junior's texture IMPROVES after a few days... tasty... denser texture w/ somewhat more delicate flavor than Glass... On this day, the better texture slightly favors Juniors over Yura..." GF: "Good. A bit "waxy"... good flavor but dense, waxy texture detracts"
S&S (from Glendale Bakery): "Unusual up front taste... fades to a better "lemony" aftertaste. Tight, oily/creamy dense texture..." GF: "Funny taste... sticks like glue but improves w/ coffee..."
ARTIE's DELICATESSEN: "Not bad taste, very delicate flavor... Medium-dense creamy texture... nice w/ coffee... not bad for a local cheesecake jones..." GF: "Has a more interesting texture than Juniors or S&S but very subdued flavor... The taste & texture are enhanced with coffee..."
After 4 days: "Mildest flavor of this group... somewhat "caky" texture... not unpleasant, just nothing super-distinguished..." GF: "Very plain flavor"
FOUR LITTLE RED HENS: "Unusual taste... not particularly interesting... very "airy" texture, almost vaporizes in your mouth...." GF: Not distinctive.
YURA: (Note, this was one of New York Times very highest rated cheesecakes in Manhattan.): "Very lemony... If you like lemon, this is the cheesecake for you... nice medium cream texture melts in your mouth... Coffee amplifies this to almost "powerful" taste level... almost a "lemon chiffon cake" effect..." GF: "Lemon taste too strong... texture VERY GOOD... moist, melts in your mouth... the more you eat the more you like... might be better with tea than coffee..."
After 3 days: "Dense, rich, lemony... very nice... somewhat denser texture..." GF: "I like it, but compared to the other favorites it's too lemony... Good creamy rich texture..."
After 4 days: "VERY LEMONY... dense cream texture, as or more dense than Juniors..." GF: "Nice lemony flavor has improved over time... but texture has becaome a bit too dense and sticky..."
CASCON (Queens, from Belmont Steaks): "Medium-thick, creamy texture... very fundamental cake... a bit "powdery" texture and gummy in the mouth, needs coffee. Very pleasant lingering lemony flavor. Not bad for an "average" dessert cheesecake..."
SUMMARY: After the first Flights on Day one, Hot n Crusty, David Glass, and Yura were the 3 faves, Arties was recognized as a pleasant, somewhat subdued #4. After 3 days the favorites focused more towards David Glass and Hot n Crusty w/ Yura in 3rd. After 4 days Juniors moved up a bit as their cake seemed to benefit the most from "aging".
Final rankings of this Phase: David Glass and Hot n Crusty our two faves, followed by Yura and Jr.s. Arties is noted as a pleasant cake w/ coffee. Others not as interesting.
David Glass and Hot n Crusty will move on to the tasteoffs.