To find New York City’s hottest new cheesecake, you’ll have to venture into the heart of Chinatown.
Pan-Asian bakery Keki Modern Cakes just opened at 79 Mott St., the first spot in the U.S. to serve the light-as-air Japanese cheesecake that’s already a full-blown sensation overseas, says owner Lawrence Wai.
“I travel extensively through Asia, and I have seen this everywhere,” says Wai, who first tried the cheesecake in Taiwan about a year ago after waiting his turn at a mobbed bakery. “I’m not much of a sweets person myself, but everyone’s curiosity gets the better of them, so we stood in line — and it was worth it.”
Having also stood in line ourselves, we can attest to that. The shop has been open barely a month and the Japanese cheesecake, which they call Bouncy Cheesecake, is already so popular that anyone who doesn’t order ahead is looking at a 15-minute wait for the next batch to come out of the oven.
To bring the cake to New York, Wai recruited executive chef Kevin Kim. Fusing his backgrounds as an alum of both Per Se and Nobu, Kim’s secret is French meringue to give the dessert its bounciness.
While the cake’s color and appearance are both classic cheesecake, the confection gives a jiggle that would make Jell-O envious. Made simply enough with cream cheese from Amish farms, organic milk and free-range eggs, its top is a fluffy cake, progressing into a dense mousse as you go down, a play on textures that’s essential in Asian desserts. The taste, however, is the same unmistakable richness and sweetness of cheesecake, though with a more subtle sweetness.
The Japanese cheesecake might steal the show, but the shop’s other specialty — a Taiwanese cake called Castella — deserves a shout out, too. A delicately sweet pound cake that’s been puffed full of so much air it practically floats, it comes with the option to add a layer of a thick whipped cream (we highly recommend this).
And like any other NYC food sensation, people can’t wait to show it off. Customers crowd the sidewalk around the shop, phones at the ready, to Instagram all the front-row cake action going on in Keki’s picture window where bakers bring their fresh, steaming trays.
“We want everything to appeal to the five senses,” Wai explains, “so watching the cake steam as it’s freshly cut, the process that we do, to packing it, is part of the experience.”
Wai has plans to open two more locations. The shop’s selection will also slowly grow, adding popular flavors like matcha as well as seasonal cakes. And perhaps an item or two celebrating his new hometown.
“Eventually, we’re going to try to pay homage to New York, too,” he says. “One of our breads is kind of eggy, so we’re going to do a ham and cheese sandwich or a pizza.”
Gravity-defying pizza? We’ll be in line to try that, too.