Monday, February 21, 2011

Bicerin, a sweet treat from Turin, has pulled into the station

"Quite a number of storefronts have changed lately on MacDougal St.", I noted, as I started walking northbound along the block from the Bleecker St. intersection, "and not really for the better". It seemed that most of the new food establishments were just re-treads of the same tired concepts found elsewhere.

The sign from a new cafe promising the best espresso caught my eye - and given the swirling winds and frigid temps, my growling stomach, and just a general appetite for discovery - before you know it I had climbed up the few steps and stepped inside Pubblico Espresso cafe.
 The young, beaming counter person (alas, his name I forgot) greeted me warmly, and suggested their specialty - bicerin, a concoction made of espresso and melted chocolate, topped by a layer of cream and roasted coffee beans, which he claims is "only available here in our cafe - in the entire city!" in heavily-accented Italian. I assented, of course - did I really have a choice? Bicerin was totally unfamiliar to myself, and his salesmanship and bold claim were intriguing, to say the least.

While waiting for my order to arrive, I pondered - given that New York City has been having a love fest with all things Italian - witness the success of many recently-opened trattorias, pizzerias, tavernas, and most notably, Eataly - it seemed inconceivable that some novelty Italian food item that hadn't yet conquered our shores.

Finally, he brought over the glass of bicerin to my tiny, round table - only one of four in the cozy, narrow sliver of a space. With the only other patron deeply engrossed in his newspaper, the server found time to give me more background information on bicerin. "It's from Turin - they make the best there - the best!" (imagine the same accent as the restaurateur Poppy on Seinfeld).

Meaning "small glass" in Piedmontese, bicerin is meant to be drank without mixing the hot and cold parts together - "No, no, no...", warned Poppy, wagging his finger for effect. Feeling the heat as I touched the glass, I waited a few minutes before diving in. The top layer of cream was sweet, but not overly so, countered by the dark, roasted espresso and chocolate - the intersection of these elements as the first taste hit my tongue and lingered there was just perfection.

Further reading:
As recently as 2006, during the height of the Winter Olympics in Turin, the New York Times profiled this wonderful warming drink, and noted that it couldn't find a place serving bicerin in the city.

Pubblico Espresso Cafe on Urbanspoon


Eftychia said...

Thanks for the into...!

Anonymous said...

LOVE this place!