Forget chocolate and vanilla swirls and rainbow sprinkles; this summer, nostalgia-inspiring soft serve is going from Mister Softee to Michelin stars, as decorated chefs around the U.S. concoct grown-up sweets using global flavors and high-end ingredients.
At The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, two-Michelin-starred chef Tetsuya Wakuda offers a sweet and salty miso soft serve with an appropriately blingy topping—edible gold leaf—at his restaurant, Wakuda. Across the country, at the buzzy New York City Middle Eastern place Shukette, Ayesha Nurdjaja uses a Levantine staple, tahini, in her oat milk–tahini soft serve. The only dessert on the menu, the vegan treat is dressed up with toasted hazelnuts and a flurry of cotton candy–esque halva floss.
“Who doesn’t love soft serve?” Nurdjaja asks. “It’s a playful way to end the meal, and it’s not as labor-intensive for us. The approachability is something that chefs are finding fun without feeling constrained by fine dining.” Another Mediterranean version of the dish appears on the menu at Chicago’s Andros Taverna, where pastry chef Hsing Chen concocts a baklava soft-serve frozen yogurt smothered with crunchy walnut-pistachio toasted baklava crumbles, pistachio sauce, and local honey. “It’s fun to present something that reminds so many people of childhood, but in a totally new way,” she says.
At Downtown Los Angeles Yangban Society, meanwhile, Korean American chefs Katianna and John Hong make a pure fior di latte soft serve, using buffalo milk from Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma, California. “The simplicity of the buffalo milk really shines through,” Katianna Hong says. “It’s intensely creamy and delicate, and a great canvas to add any toppings that you want.” To finish the dish, diners can choose among doenjang (fermented soybean paste) caramel, dark chocolate shavings, toasted soybean powder, cinnamon-sugar puffed rice, and fresh fruit jam.
Prefer a Mexican twist? Puesto in San Diego offers a vegan melon soft serve topped with tangy chamoy, a sprinkle of Tajín, and a drizzle of Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal. Inspired by Mexican fruit cups, a popular street snack, it’s the perfect palate cleanser after spicy tacos—or anything, really.