3 Tarts - “ Satisfying Dessert Cravings are a Piece of Cake
Three Tarts is a charming boutique in Chelsea that brings together two sweet things in life under one roof: gifts and desserts. A concept that makes gift-giving and satisfying dessert cravings a piece of cake, it's a bakery headed by the very name of the shop: three tarts. Three Tarts is a charming boutique in Chelsea that brings together two sweet things in life under one roof: gifts and desserts. A concept that makes gift-giving and satisfying dessert cravings a piece of cake, it's a bakery headed by the very name of the shop: three tarts. The primary tart is Marla D'Urso, the owner who brainstorms the great ideas, and the other two are Kiyomi Toda-Burke and Sandra Palmer, talented pastry chefs who execute and elaborate on Marla's creative suggestions. The store gathers influences from not only the food business but from fashion, publishing and even interior design.
The three tarts met at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Marla, who has ten years of interior design experience behind her, was inspired to bring pastries and housewares together into one business. She recruited Sandra, who brings her obsession with detail from her journalism background to the bakery, and Kiyomi, Three Tart's "secret weapon" for her sensibility in making delicious desserts look fabulous - ”credited to her former profession as a fashion designer. "Do you still pursue fashion at all on the side?" I asked Kiyomi. Her pastry partner, Sandra, replied, "Let's put it this way, she always dresses well and that's the extent of her fashion focus."
When you walk by the Three Tarts storefront, you're very likely to stop dead in your tracks if one of your weaknesses is unique giftware - ”things you aren't likely to find at a Hallmark. There are funky placemats, jeweled pick sets, retro serving plates, fancy dessert tiers, elegant bottles of Savannah Bee Honey (Yum... a lovely artisanal honey company!), trendy teaware, specialty cards and even beautiful wrapping paper. The trinkets galore in the shop are reminiscent of being in a toy store, but where it's acceptable for adults to "ooh and aah."
Walk into the store and you'll be greeted by a squeaky-clean glass window encasing carefully refrigerated, hand-crafted, petite-sized desserts from seasonal parfaits and nut-based tarts to chocolate truffles and savory biscotti. Prepared daily, these exquisite treats are meant for personal enjoyment as well as to be boxed as edible gifts, be it for a hostess offering, a holiday present, or simply a token of appreciation. The combinations are endless. The sheer pleasure in seeing all these options is incalculable.
You'll be guaranteed with good service and with such a wide-range of selections, you'll be relieved there's a friendly face to help you through your decision-making. While many customers drop into the adorable store, I was told that there's a large Asian clientele. I was surprised as many of the sweets were not typical Asian creations. Granted there were some Asian-influenced options, like yuzu marshmallows, mango tarts, green tea truffles and even rice pudding parfaits, lots were European or American confections. Kiyomi explained that "a lot of the Asian customers love the fact that these desserts are small in size and some resemble those they've seen at Asian bakeries in America or Japan. Plus, things aren't overly sweet and they make great favors to take to parties or events."
Creators Behind the Kitchen
In New York, Kiyomi has worked under Pichet Ong (creator of the dessert bar P*ong in the West Village) at Jean-George's Spice Market, as well as Francois Payard at his popular French patisserie on the Upper East Side. At Payard, she learned the ins and outs of how a bakery production functions and at Spice Market she gained knowledge on how Americans perceive or expect Asian desserts to taste. At both, she honed her skills for dessert decorations.
Kiyomi explained that "a lot of the Asian customers love the fact that these desserts are small in size and some resemble those they've seen at Asian bakeries in America or Japan."
Kiyomi says that she's always had a fondness for baking. As a child in Tokyo, Japan, you could most likely find her at the elementary school library, sneaking to the adult section perusing the baking books to satisfy her thirst for food knowledge. Because it was a luxury to have an oven in Japan when she was a child, she explained that she spent some time convincing her mother how necessary it was for the family to buy an oven so she could experiment with baking. Eventually, her mother gave in.
When asked her favorite dessert places in New York, Kiyomi really couldn't say but she does admit that she loves anything with almonds in it. "I like almonds so much that sometimes I can't really tell whether or not something is really good just because it has almonds in it or because it really is made well. Everything just tastes good or better with almonds in it! It's hard for me to keep from putting them in all the desserts that we make!"
Sandra worked in publishing for 12 years before she felt like she hit a glass ceiling because she could only go so far in that field. She left home and embraced the artistry of cooking and baking, gathering valuable techniques while working under Chef Lincoln Carson of B.R.Guest and fine New York restaurants such as Blue Water Grill, Isabella's, The Biltmore Room and The Cleaver Company. She learned how to prepare dishes more efficiently, make large quantities of desserts like ice cream and picked up the art of plating.
What she has to say about one of her favorite places in the city for dessert: "I love Gotham Bar and Grill." Deborah Racicot [Gotham's pastry chef] is so talented. I love all her desserts. Her menu is constantly changing too with the exception of her signature options. She really knows how to strike a balance between textures and flavors. Most of the time I never order desserts after a meal for fear of disappointment, which usually happens. But at Gotham, it's always so good. I love the plum soufflÃ©."
When asked if she's ever experienced difficulties working in a kitchen as a female, she nonchalantly explained that there is obviously some prejudice against women but you just can't be sensitive about it.
Not just a team of two
Currently the biggest challenge for Sandra and Kiyomi? Popping out delicious delicacies everyday in a tiny kitchen space and sometimes the long hours and weeks when the holidays round the corner. But miraculously, somehow they are able to do it. In fact, they're even pros at handling catering for large parties, like when they were invited as guest pastry chefs for the James Beard Valentine's Tea event this past February. Or you can count the time they put together 1,000 gift bags full of baked goodies for the Tony Awards about two years ago. So it's no surprise that while there are challenges, both agree that the best part about being pastry chefs is being able to invent exciting desserts, where the sky is the limit when it comes to getting creative.
Let's not forget Marla D'Urso. She oversees many details as well from arranging displays in the store and assisting customers to managing the overall success of the company.
It's a threesome team that thrives on the challenges of flavor-pairing, invention of fresh ideas and deliverance of optimal service for dessert-lovers or gift-givers.
What you'll find
Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're able to stop by the shop. I was told that the best sellers are the truffles and cookies, probably because those are most convenient to buy in large quantities for events or as gifts. But there are many other goodies that can be beautifully packaged for any occasion. In fact, their online shop recently opened up, allowing customers to send a number of items, including delicate parfaits, anywhere in the U.S. With overnight shipping, you don't have to sweat it if you need a last minute gift for a friend across the coast.
There are also plenty of goods in seasonal flavors and holidays shapes, from decorated petit fours and marshmallow cut-outs to flavored panna cottas and fruit tarts. Flavors often vary depending on the month and the availability of ingredients.
If you're hoping to get a few treats for yourself, there's a lot to choose from. Almost too many to decide on that you'll likely leave with more than you intended on buying in the first place. But you won't be disappointed by the Valrhona Chocolate Brownie if you're looking for a no-frills chocolate treat with the texture crossed between fudge and cake. The Molasses Cookie will hit the spot if you enjoy gingerbread or ginger snap cookies that are chewy. However, there are far more creative desserts worth splurging on. These are my favorites:
Ice Cream Sandwiches:
There is always their standard option of banana ice cream with chocolate cake and one seasonal flavor. I had the pleasure of trying the cream cheese ice cream sandwiched between two slices of carrot cake - ”the cake was extremely thin and chewy yet the carrot cake flavor was still distinctive when eaten with the ever-so-elegant cream cheese ice cream. A great frozen version of the classic carrot cake. I can't wait to try their other seasonal ice cream sandwiches! They are so much more unique from the store-bought kinds with the tasteless "chocolate" cakes.
Not too tart or cloyingly sweet, each piece is topped with a meringue cookie that balances out the fresh, bold lemon flavor. I could eat a whole plate of these because the tart shells have a firm crunchy texture like a sugar-cookie and the lemon filling is well...addicting without being overwhelming.
A lovely way to experience multiple textures and flavors, there are usually several options from vegan rice pudding and poached pears to spiced caramel-rum banana. I tasted the Pumpkin Parfait (it's seasonal so get some before the go!) and was pleasantly surprised. You start off with a firm crunchiness from the pumpkin seed toffee-brittle, going on to the dissolve-in-your-mouth molasses whipped cream, coming to the soft, chunky pumpkin squares with bits of dried apricot, followed by the creamy sweet pumpkin pastry cream, and then ending with crushed chocolate cookie. It's like a tunnel of treasures for your palate. Yum!
164 Ninth Ave. (at 20th Street)