By Emma Fingleton
Soft Swerve, one of the darlings of the Instagram dessert scene since its opening in November, is easily recognizable for its purple-hued soft serve ice cream. Made from a yam native to Southeast Asia, ube is a popular dessert flavor in the Philippines and is becoming popular stateside as a flavor for donuts, pastries and ice cream, as seen at Soft Swerve. The bright purple-indigo yam is cooked, scooped out and pureed, then added to the ice cream where it is churned out into beautiful swirls. The store was sleek and narrow, with room for only a couple of small tables by the window and the bright L-shaped counter containing all the toppings and ice cream machines.
I wanted to try ube, but Soft Swerve also offers matcha, black sesame and vanilla. We had a choice of either black chocolate or red cinnamon cones as well as the standard cup, both choosing the black chocolate cones. The cones seemed wider than normal waffle cones and the ice cream was swirled very generously. They’re conscious of the Instagram hordes they attract; there’s a cone holder at the register, perfect not only for holding your ice cream while you pay but also for snapping a picture after. My friend ordered the ube with Fruity Pebbles, making for a beautiful shot with its bright colors, and I went with the ube and vanilla swirl coated in Fruity Pebbles and Oreos. The ube proved to be delicious and went well with the vanilla. To me, the ube was mild, almost like white chocolate, but it also reminded me of another root vegetable dessert I’ve had–taro frozen yogurt. My friend and I both thought it had fruity undertones, and definitely did not taste like a vegetable. The toppings–which I normally skip at ice cream shops because I veer towards ice creams already full of mix-ins–were a surprising highlight, adding some needed texture. Ranging from Japanese mochi and red beans to American cereals such as Fruity Pebbles and Reese’s Puffs, as well as toasted coconut, marshmallows and crushed Oreos, there were many things I wouldn’t necessarily think to top ice cream with, such as the cereal, that really worked. I would get it again, not just for the novelty but because it was really good ice cream with an interesting flavor. The ice cream itself was very creamy, and although the portion was huge, it didn’t leave me feeling overly full–which was perfect because we walked straight to Taiyaki for ice cream round two.
Taiyaki takes its name from the Japanese treat it sells: fish shaped cones with fillings, a popular street food snack in its home country. Located on Baxter Street, the shop serves soft serve ice cream and various toppings in its trademark golden fish. The cones taste like crispy yet soft waffles–very similar to the Hong Kong style egg waffles offered by nearby Eggloo and Smorgasburg mainstay Wowfulls–and are made fresh to order in specially molded machines. Ice cream flavors include the classic chocolate and vanilla, as well as green tea and black sesame.
When deliberating between the many flavors, toppings and pre-made combos, the friendly employee offered us samples of the green tea and black sesame swirl. He recommended the “Straight Outta Japan” combo, which had a layer of red bean paste filling on the bottom of the cone and swirls of green tea and black sesame ice cream with mochi and a cigar biscuit topping. The black sesame flavor was my favorite; I didn’t know what to expect, but I loved the nutty flavor and balanced sweetness. The green tea ice cream was also a good level of sweetness. I’m not a big fan of the flavor of green tea, but I did think the flavor could have been more pronounced, as the black sesame dominated the cone. Both flavors were rich and creamy yet also light, and didn’t melt too quickly, despite the warm cone. My friend and I both found the kochi to be tasteless and too chewy, but the cookie was crispy and a good addition to the ice cream. When we reached the bottom of the ice cream, we hit the red bean sludge and were disappointed at how bean-y it tasted. I thought it was texturally similar to hummus, and neither of us liked the blandly sweet, earthy flavor.
Overall, though, Taiyaki was a hit for me; I tried two new-to-me flavors, loved the black sesame and thought the cone tasted just as good as it looked. The welcoming employees and cool vibe of the store, with its bench seating and huge slogan of “There’s a New Fish in Town” splashed on the wall, completed the experience.
We visited both shops right after opening and on weekdays. Employees at both stores told me the lines get very long at peak hours, like weekends and afternoons, so plan accordingly, especially as the weather gets warmer. Both stores do have a considerable amount of hype surrounding them, although that attention is merited, in my opinion, based on the quality and innovation in the ice cream, the generous sizes and the fact that you cannot get ice cream like this anywhere else in NYC, or even in the entire country.