By Rachel Jones
What do you get when you take five scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream decked with exotic candies and truffles, dribble bittersweet chocolate with a 70 percent cacao content over it, top it with fruit-infused caviar and edible gold leaf, then serve it in a crystal goblet with an 18-carat gold spoon?
The world’s most expensive taste bud massage.Thanks to Stephen Bruce, one of the founders and owners of Serendipity 3, a dessert cafe and popular tourist destination on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, satisfying a guilty pleasure has reached a new level of indulgence. The Golden Opulence Sundae, created to celebrate 50 years of luxury cuisine, isn’t on the menu, nor is it advertised. It’s like an exclusive club, marketed only through word-of-mouth, where you slip the bouncer a few Franklins to get to the front of the line. It’s secret. It’s special. And it’s $1,000 a serving.
“It’s bold and over the top,” Bruce said. “Like most things in New York.”
Bruce came up with the idea back in September 2004, when he was looking for a way to commemorate the golden anniversary of the cafe he’d opened with close friends Patch Carradine and Calvin Holt. Of the three—then all ballet dancers known for throwing fabulous parties—Bruce, now in his early 70s, is the only one left to taste the product of a lifetime’s achievement.
“On the day we unveiled it,” Bruce said, “I had the whole thing.” Since then, Serendipity 3 has sold more than a dozen of the Wonka-worthy delights.
Customers who invest in the Golden Opulence Sundae are often wealthy buyers looking for a creative way to commemorate an occasion of their own. Past consumers have included a couple from Canada celebrating their wedding anniversary; a successful lighting designer; a woman treating her daughter on her sweet 16th birthday and trying to top her 15th, which included a walk-on appearance on the television show Friends.
Naresh Malhotra, a professor of marketing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggested that the sundae provided a unique experience for those who wanted to stand out from the crowd.
“They can fulfill that need,” Malhotra said. “It can boost a person’s ego.”
Still, the Golden Opulence Sundae—about which celebrities and royalty have inquired—is not likely to reach the average sweet tooth. “I don’t think anyone who can’t make ends meet, would go out and spend $1,000 on an ice cream sundae,” Malhotra said.
Many find the concept hard to comprehend. Lynn and Spencer Sweet, a couple of theater buffs visiting from Vermont, braved the cold one recent Tuesday as they waited for two hours to try another popular invention at the crowded restaurant.
Lynn was eagerly anticipating the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate—a $7.50 ice cream shake that Rachael Ray had promoted on the Food Network. But they’d never heard of the Golden Opulence Sundae. And even if Spencer had an extra $1,000, would he indulge? “Not on a sundae,” he said, somewhat incredulously.
But soon there may be a cheaper version—a way to bring the quintessentially New York experience to the masses. “We’re planning a poor man’s option,” Bruce said. “For 1,000 cents.”