I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff since living in New York, but one of the weirdest things yet encountered is the astonishing popularity growth of Rice to Riches, on Spring St. After first having patronized RTR on empty nights, cracking jokes aplenty about its alleged connections to a gambling ring, all the while secretly enjoying that I seemed to have the place (and its delicious puddings) to myself, the last few times I’ve been back have been a mob scene. All seats and places at the standup table taken? What the hell’s going on?
Barring some kind of mention in a NYU newsletter, I can’t figure it out, particularly since many of the patrons appear to be on the young side of their college years. Maybe it’s gotten harder to drink in NYC underage lately – Saturday night at the rice pudding parlor wasn’t how I spent my four years (admittedly, Williamstown had no pudding amenities, unless you count the occasional tray of chewy bread pudding at Greylock dining hall).
At any rate, I should commend the whippersnappers on their taste – the rice pudding at RTR is extremely good. Expanding on the staple dessert of many ethnic restaurants, the oval-obsessed parlor offers 20 or so intensely flavor-infused puddings that, while not the most effervescent variety you’ll ever have (read: gloppy and heavy), at least rate well against the average ice cream parlor in terms of my enjoyment level.
The best flavors, in my opinion, are among the most intense. My personal favorite is the mascarpone with cherries, which is just this side of too sweet. The maple and blueberry pudding is also tasty, though it’s hard to figure whether they’re flavoring it with real or fake maple flavor. Chocoholics are not forgotten, either – they’ll enjoy the rocky road, which is loaded with cocoa, and made one friend of mine practically tear up with bliss. (Note as of 12/9: According to their website, Rice to Riches seems to have Christmas flavors in stock right now. Get in there before the kids eat them all!)
I’m less wild about the banana coconut and the caramel, which can’t seem to stand up to the more intense flavors. Toasted coconut, bland? Something’s amiss. I’ve not tried the toppings of any kind – hard as it is to imagine a rice pudding parlor, it’s even harder to imagine a rice pudding topped with whipped cream or crumbled, toasted pound cake. Besides, ya gotta get off the calorie train somewhere.
Sadly, RTR recently raised prices and shuffled around the sizes of their containers a bit, which makes it a lot less of a good deal – everything got a buck or two more expensive, but the sizes only increased a bit. No longer is the smallest dish available to split flavors, either (a big cost-saver). As a front, weren’t they supposed to lose money?
Speaking of potential evidence: if I was a business professor, I’d love to take a class there and have students identify the many things that are ridiculously extravagant. Custom manufactured dishes and spoons? Check. Four or five flat-screen televisions showing relatively little? Mmm-hmm. Failure to maximize floor space for patrons? Definitely – see the weird stand-up table in front and weird booths in back; the rest of the floor is basically either counter or wasted space. Private label bottled water? Yes, and they carry enough of it to sponsor a marathon. A taciturn, lantern-jawed man with a badge declaring him to be “operations manager?” Uh, don’t hurt me, please, sir…
Don’t get me wrong – I love Rice to Riches. It’s a truly oddball place with a crazy back story and a fine product. True, I wish they hadn’t raised prices, but that doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the crowds at all. Keep it up, guys and girls, and you’ll have that freshman 15 put on in no time. At least it’s better than Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the dining hall.