Today, let’s take a moment to ponder a serious question: what’s the best sundae topping? The old stand-by of a dash of sprinkles? A handful of chopped nuts for a little crunch and texture? Or do you find the idea of all that empty-calorie decadence troubling enough that it threatens to ruin the fun, so your vote goes to a few pieces of fruit?
We say the correct answer is none of the above. For our money, the best way to crown your parfait is with a whole ice cream cone. Of course, some of our more sarcastic readers may ask, “Yeah, smart guy? Well then what do you put on top of the ice cream cone?”
Another ice cream cone, obviously. Did you even have to ask?
Japan has plenty of traditional, understated desserts that speak to the culture’s reverence for austerity. That said, only the stuffiest, most joyless individuals would turn up their noses at a triple helping of ice cream, which is why smack dab in the center of downtown Tokyo you can find Café Est! Est!
Situated in the sprawling shopping and dining complex attached to Shinjuku Station, Est! Est! is part of the Benihana group, best known internationally for their chain of teppanyaki flat-grilling Japanese restaurants.
The entrée menu at Est! Est! primarily consists of Western dishes adapted to Japanese tastes. There’s a large selection of pastas, or if you’re looking for something heartier, you can get an “American hamburger steak,” which is the same as their regular hamburger steak, but with a fried egg and giant strip of bacon.
▼ “And the rockets’ red glare…”
While we’ll accept that nothing says “America!” like a hunk of tasty pork, we’re somewhat baffled by why the café’s largest combo meal is called the “donkey plate.”
The six floors below Est! Est! are crammed full of women’s boutiques, and the vast majority of the clientele consists of women taking a break in the middle of their search for the perfect outfit, which explains all the pink, sparkly interior accents.
There are two fail-proof ways for locating certain types of restaurants in Japan. The closer you are to a red light district, and with it the hordes of men they attract, the closer you are to delicious ramen. On the other end of the spectrum, once a certain critical mass of women’s clothing stores is reached, dessert emporiums almost magically appear, and this is definitely the case with Est! Est!, which aims to provide a borderline religious experience for diners with a sweet tooth.
▼ Seriously. The cover of the menu is just a photo of a candlelit church.
While the café offers a full complement of crepes, the real draw is the over-the-top collection of parfaits which dominates the display case.
▼ Yes, that parfait does have a slice of cake on top.
This exalted status for the ice cream-based desserts continues inside the restaurant, with a ring of photos of the menu’s star attractions proudly displayed on the walls like the staff of a host club.
Each one has a name just as ostentatious as its appearance, and we fell into a momentary quandary trying to decide between the Shacho (President), Bancho (Gang Leader), Yokozuna (Grand Sumo Champion), and Chomolungma (the indigenous name for Mt. Everest). In the end, though, we settled on the restaurant’s signature dessert, the EST 48, so named for its towering 48-centimeter (18.9-inch) height).
I say “we” because even if gluttony is your middle name, you’re going to have a tough time polishing off a foot and a half of ice cream (you’ll also have a tough time writing your full name on legal documents, but that’s an entirely separate problem). The EST 48 is literally too tall an order for a single person, so we assembled a binational coalition of Japanese and American diners for the project.
Based on the appearance of the model in the display case, originally we’d thought the EST 48 was a glass filled with ice cream, covered in whipped cream, with a single ice cream cone lodged on top. Somehow, the reality of the dessert managed to be even more gargantuan that that, though.
At the base, there’s a dish of vanilla ice cream ringed with strawberries, bananas, and Pocky sticks (plus imitation Corn Flakes, as is seemingly required by Japanese sundae regulations).
On top of that there’s an ice cream cone with chocolate sauce and sprinkles.
Inserted into that is another ice cream cone, this time with strawberry sauce and more sprinkles.
And finally, just to make sure the whole thing doesn’t visually disappoint by being too short, there’s an umbrella.
Really, the EST 48 is such a marvel of edible architecture that it’s impossible not to gawk and pose for pictures with it, kind of like if you suddenly found out the Lincoln Memorial was carved out of white chocolate.
Time is a factor when all of your weight-bearing sections are crafted of melting cream, though, so before long we started deconstructing like a bunch of unshaven college students in Psychology 201.
▼ “Dude, like what if you really ate just ice cream every day? Would you actually be happy, or would you lose your entire ability to sense joy without the flavor of Brussels sprouts to compare it to? Could you even understand the concept of milk anymore?”
Yanking the cones out is trickier than it seems, as the ice cream is packed in pretty tight to keep them from toppling over when the waiter carries the EST 48 to the table. The best method is to give a gentle twist to free the shaft, then lift the cone out like it’s Excalibur.
▼ This man is now either ready to enjoy dessert, or the true king of England.
Unfortunately, since the outside of the cone is covered in ice cream, it’s pretty messy to hold. If you’re looking to keep your hands clean, we recommend dumping the cone onto a plate and eating it with a spoon.
▼ Of course the plates are heart-shaped. Also pictured: the parfait’s one and only cherry.
The EST 48 will set diners back 1,350 yen (US $13.10), which is fairly reasonable, considering that it’s big enough to satisfy a model U.N. dessert team of five members. Est! Est! only serves 48 of the colossal desserts each day though, so we recommend showing up early, preferably after a very light breakfast.
Café Est! Est!
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi Shinjuku 1-1-3, My Lord Building 7th Floor
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.