Profiteroles are back, which makes sense, as they’re a little Italian, a bit French, and here we are, awash in Italian restaurants — and yet we’re swinging to French again.
Some say profiteroles originated in Italy, having been brought to France in the Catherine de’ Medici era, and they’re apparently name-dropped by Rabelais in the 16th-century. While today, they’re not necessarily ubiquitous, chances are you’ve had one at a restaurant a dozen times before: an oversized scoop or two of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between choux pastry — the same stuff of cream puffs or gougères — seductively drizzled with chocolate sauce.
A profiterole is likely not on a kid’s menu, yet they’re not that different from a hot fudge sundae, minus the add-ins, or at the very least, the nuts and sprinkles and a cherry on top. With a labor shortage and some sundae momentum, it’s an easy-to-assemble dessert that doesn’t cost the restaurant much.
Profiteroles come with a little flair at Corner Bar, where the dessert is delicious and the chocolate sauce is poured tableside. The restaurant, a bright and airy spot in the Nine Orchard Hotel on the Lower East Side, is the first of several from Ignacio Mattos in that location. It’s the kind of place that seems to be many things to many people — good for breakfast, nice for a cocktail — but also, respectably ordinary. Its name and its menu (apps like oysters Rockefeller and a shrimp cocktail; fish, chicken, burger, and a pasta for mains) mark the pandemic-influenced, conservative dining that we’re seeing in Manhattan. It’s a return to continental cuisine, white people food, safe bets. We get it: Food is more expensive than ever. So is rent. And fewer people want to toil in kitchens for their life’s work.
Profiteroles — and throwback dining — aren’t just happening in New York, of course; nostalgia is on the menu in Los Angeles, and likely everywhere. Yet in both cities, there’s also the rise of old-restaurant simulacra as well as an increase in waits for tables at genuinely old restaurants. They’re the kind of places that remind us we used to have very hot summer days that didn’t point to impending doom; Republican friends; and leadership that was less craven, crazy, or two steps from the grave. But profiteroles, the workhorse dessert that it is, continues to do its job, centuries later, even in 2022: It can delight even the most jaded diner, right down to its melty empty plate.