NYTimes.com Article: This Store Sells Rice Pudding. Nothing Else.
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This Store Sells Rice Pudding. Nothing Else.
April 2, 2003
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
RICE pudding is comfort food.
But not for Peter Moceo.
"Ask my wife," said Mr. Moceo, 43. "I don't sleep; I'm up
all night thinking about rice pudding."
What should be the perfect palliative for a city on edge
has become, for Mr. Moceo, an obsession.
Yesterday, after more than two years of tossing and
turning, he opened what is probably the world's only rice
pudding parlor. Mr. Moceo, who grew up in Bensonhurst, in
Brooklyn, and now lives in the Trump Tower, named the place
Rice to Riches.
In the shop's basement kitchen at 37 Spring Street between
Mulberry and Mott Streets, Jemal Edwards, once the pastry
chef at Montrachet and Nobu, is busy turning out 18
flavors, from pineapple-basil to pistachio-sage. Upstairs,
at a counter shaped like a giant grain of rice, customers
pay $4.50 for eight-ounce portions. Exotic toppings
(including one made with Vietnamese pandan rice flakes,
fried with cardamom, lemon grass and ginger) add 25 cents.
For the opening-day crowd, there was a Portuguese special
with cinnamon, lemon and port-soaked currants.
No detail was too minor to keep Mr. Moceo awake. He
designed plastic dishes to match the flavors. "Your limes
and your pistachios go here," he said, pointing to a stack
of green containers. He came up with ominous flavor names
like Coffee Collapse, Sesame Survivor and Chocolate Cherry
Crime Scene. "I spent a lot of time," he said, "looking for
words that would go together."
The store's design, with its impressive glass portal (also
shaped like a grain of rice) and space-agey interior of
orange and white Lucite, consumed Mr. Moceo. (For months, a
sign outside apologized for delays, promising "fast food,
The shop's flat-screen televisions play videos of Mr.
Moceo's seven-pound white Maltese, Fidget. Scenes that Mr.
Moceo had hoped to include, with Fidget battling larger
dogs for rice pudding treats, were cut when it became clear
that Fidget couldn't act.
Mr. Moceo, who said he once owned a restaurant called
Bally-hoo's in Smithtown, N.Y., originally wanted to open a
sit-down restaurant featuring only rice dishes. After
struggling with the concept for months, he said, he flew to
Italy to relax. As he ate intensely flavored desserts in
Florence's stylish gelaterias, inspiration struck.
But when he got back to New York and began researching rice
pudding recipes, he said, "my friends didn't understand
where I was going with this."
Worse, "landlords refused to rent to me, because they
didn't see how I could pay the rent selling rice pudding."
Mr. Moceo, who declined to say how much he has spent on the
project, said it was "less than you'd think - I did most of
the work myself." He had "no partners, no investors."
He said he hopes to sell 400 to 500 portions of rice
pudding a day.
"Everyone," he said inaccurately, "loves rice pudding."
He then amended his statement to say that anyone who
dislikes rice pudding has probably had only the diner
version, which he said lacks both taste and texture. His
pudding is made with firm-grained sushi rice and expensive
flavorings like Boyajian lemon oil, which is made with 66
lemons per ounce.
"The main thing for Pete is getting the flavors
super-intense," Mr. Edwards said.
In an early tasting, Chocolate Cherry Crime Scene had the
texture of molten lava and the taste of a chocolate cherry
cordial. Bottomless Pear packed a jolt of anise, and the
mix of textures - tiny grains of pear with larger grains of
rice - gave the tongue a workout.
Mr. Moceo spent more than a year building the shop's
elaborate kitchen, designed to produce nothing but rice
pudding. "All of this equipment, and you can't even toast
an English muffin," sighed Mr. Edwards.
Working at a long row of single-burner stoves, Mr. Edwards
brought gallons of sweetened and salted milk to a boil in
an oversize saucepan called a rondo.
"We're ready for rice," he told an assistant, who began
pouring about four pounds of parboiled sushi rice into the
pan. Mr. Edwards estimated that it would take 38 minutes
for the rice to cook, but, he said, "you can't predict
exactly; you have to wait until it has just the right
When the jiggle was right, Mr. Edwards folded cream and
eggs into the mixture, creating what he calls rice pudding
base. Later, he would add the ingredients for Sesame
Survivor, which include light brown sugar, dark brown sugar
and Joyva tahini paste. Other flavors require fruit
reductions. For these, Mr. Edwards depends on a large
kitchen scale and a calculator; he knows, for example, that
a raspberry mixture is done when it is down to precisely
But the rice has to cooperate. "Sometimes it will puff up,
and sometimes it won't, and you can't quite figure out
why," Mr. Edwards said. When oils coat grains of rice, they
will not expand properly, he said. So oily ingredients are
added only after the rice is cooked. The final step is
folding in whipped cream.
"I had a suspicion that rice wasn't easy to work with," Mr.
Edwards said, "because when I was at Nobu, I would see
apprentice chefs spend months doing nothing but rice."
The finished pudding is moved to a Traulsen blast chiller,
which cools it to 40 degrees in 40 minutes, Mr. Moceo said.
Then it is stashed in a walk-in refrigerator as big as some
studio apartments. The shop serves the puddings cold, but
they can be warmed in a microwave on request.
Mr. Edwards, now 36, entered the world of rice pudding in
2001, when Mr. Moceo was trying out recipes with a
succession of chefs in a commercial kitchen he had rented
on 11th Avenue. Nothing was off limits, including vinegars
and mustards. Some of those flavors will reappear as
specials, Mr. Moceo said. He is planning pumpkin rice
pudding for Halloween and Champagne rice pudding for New
Already, Mr. Moceo has plans to open four more stores in
Manhattan, and to supply restaurants through a larger
kitchen than the one on Spring Street.
And he plans to expand his menu, slightly. "I have some
really good ideas for pairing teas with rice puddings," Mr.
Yesterday, several customers noted that they were on their
way to Mass for Lent.
"Nobody gives up rice pudding for Lent," Mr. Moceo said.
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