Located in Chinatown, Taiyaki is a nice change of a pace from the more traditional soft serve joints opening up around the city. I can’t say that I prefer it necessarily, but it’s different and it executes its concept well. Taiyaki, the food, has long been around in Japan, but only recently made its way to NYC. It’s a Japanese fish-shaped cake, served with a filling, most commonly red bean paste. Here at Taiyaki, they use taiyaki in lieu of a cone for your ice cream.
It’s a good idea for several reasons. One, because it’s better quality than most generic ice cream cones. It’s not meant to be a cone, of course. It’s meant to just be a stand-alone dessert. But it’s similar to a cone in texture and in taste, except better. And the filling inside gives it extra substance and an extra taste layer. Two, it’s a fish-shape, so it’s inevitably picture worthy and therefore draws large crowds. Good gimmick.
But it wouldn’t work for long if the overall product weren’t good. It is good, so it keeps working. There are often lines, but keep in mind that the shop is extremely tiny. So even if there are just a handful of people in front of you, the line will still be out the door. It’s nice to see a creative take on soft-serve ice cream to complement some of the great creative hard-serve ice cream shops like Morgenstern’s.
Taiyaki’s menu has a few suggested ice cream/topping/filling combinations, but most people make their own. First, you choose either plain custard or red bean as the filling that goes inside the taiyaki itself (in the fish cake part). They don’t fill it too much, though – the main filling is of course the ice cream. Next, you choose your soft-serve ice cream flavor: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, matcha, black sesame, or a swirl of certain of these. Then, you add a drizzle on top: chocolate, caramel, condensed milk, or strawberry. Lastly, you can add up to two toppings: chocolate sprinkles, mini m&m’s, wafer, mochi, rainbow sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, crushed Oreos, strawberries, and chocolate powder.
The result is a good, substantial snack. We ordered a strawberry/vanilla swirl with plain custard inside, and with strawberry drizzle, strawberries and graham cracker crumbs on top. It tasted great. The taiyaki itself fills you up more and tastes better than a traditional cone. This, combined with the ice cream, extra filling inside and the toppings and drizzle make it a decent sized snack.
Luckily, Taiyaki didn’t just rely on the gimmick of a fish cake. They actually made a good quality dessert as well. The fish cake is good, the ice cream is good, and the toppings are pretty fresh. And, of course, it makes for a fun image. One large drawback, though, is that it’s not very practical to eat. The ice cream doesn’t hold its form in the fish cake very well and melts quickly. It was a puddle within a few minutes, dripping all down the sides and onto our hands. This may have more to do with the temperature of the ice cream than the fish cake itself – I’m not sure. But it wasn’t a comfortable eating experience!
If you don’t want anything fancy, you can opt for just soft-serve ice cream by itself in a cup. And this really isn’t a bad idea because their soft-serve is pretty good quality. While I don’t think taiyaki could ever replace the traditional ice cream cone and is something that you’d only want once in a while as opposed to frequently, it’s still definitely worth a try.