by Alia Tawil


“Off the Eaten Path”

Passersby are sure to second-glance the bizarre store on the corner of Spring St. and Mulberry in Nolita (North of Little Italy). The silver frame around the entrance encases an enormous glass window shaped like a sideways grain of rice. Bright lights shine from behind the facade, illuminating the inside and beckoning to unsuspecting bystanders who aren’t even hungry…yet. One bold individual’s curiosity overpowers her agenda, and she tentatively enters below the large sign that reads Rice to Riches.

Stepping through the glass double doors is like seeing Disney World for the first time: every attraction leaves you in awe, there’s too much to see at once, and you’re a kid all over again. From the innovative and entirely rice-shaped décor to the multiple Fujitsu flat screen menus that constantly change their animated display, the store’s design aims to impress. The unique take-home bowls look like mini flying saucers available in red, brown, green, and orange. The “spoons” coordinate with the bowls and look like smaller versions of the big slide in your grammar school playground.

While the name and design allude to the menu’s content, the nature of the cuisine is very simple: rice pudding, nothing but rice pudding. Based on the gelato cafes of Florence and Milan, this café’s mission is clear; give a fresh, updated look to a comfort food overdue for a makeover. Gourmet quality ingredients blended with a bit of finesse beget dynamic flavors like Sex Drugs and Rocky Road, Rest in Peach, and Caramel Yogurt Crackdown. Feeling a little more exotic? Surrender to Mango’s fruity sensation propels you to the islands; while Property of Lemon Poppy’s sharp citrus flavor sparkles in your mouth and leaves a smile on your lips. For those who appreciate the original rice pudding, the classics remain like the sublime Old Fashioned Romance (plain), Understanding Vanilla, and Coast to Coast Cheesecake. With the extensive array of flavors, customers have the option of adding a topping like roasted apples, cherries, or peaches.

In the event that a customer cannot select just one flavor, different sizes, beginning with “solo” and up to “moby”, allow for two flavors in one dish. If selecting only two remains too difficult, a sign above the counter eliminates any pressure by proclaiming: “limit 500 rice puddings per customer!” As all that rice pudding may leave your palate overwhelmed by its richness, the café also serves coffee, espresso, and tea. They even equipped an entire wall with their own label of bottled water to round off your indulgence.

With such an extravaganza in the store, one can only imagine what happens behind the scenes. In fact, there is a sophisticated process occurring in the one-of-a-kind kitchen located below the restaurant. Designed specifically for rice pudding and nothing else, the team of creative chefs works diligently, maintaining the demand for the current day’s selections while constantly creating new flavors for the ever-changing menu. For an inside peek at the process, the company’s modern and fun website includes a page devoted to the kitchen. Click on “cooks” and a picture fades in of three drunken men in sombreros asleep across a counter laden with empty glasses and a suspicious-looking bottle. Fade out, and fade in the caption “oops, wrong picture….” The sense of humor thrown into every facet of the corporation reveals the company’s dedication to enjoying themselves as they grow.

“It’s a really fun place to work,” said Jessica, a manager, whose favorite flavors include the former headliner Pineapple and Basil. Jessica began her professional affair with rice pudding when the store opened in April 2003 and hopes to grow with the company as it expands and opens new locations. She marvels at the “die-hard” regulars who come in every day and the tourists who return to New York only for their rice pudding. “It’s such a novel idea; everybody loves rice pudding but has never seen flavors,” she explained, “It’s a favorite with a twist.”

Sitting at one of the small tables that suspend from the ceiling (with a flavor to savor, of course) confirms the restaurant’s impact on customers. First-time patrons react openly, with exclamations including:
“Wow, this is cool!”
“This is the best thing ever; there’s so much variety!”
“This place reminds me of being in Miami!”
The enthusiasm doesn’t end at the door. Small groups loiter outside with tell-tale plastic spoons in their hands or mouths, unwilling to throw away the last shred of evidence indicating their decadent encounter.

For more information, visit the website at


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© Melt Magazine 2005