Curious about the seemingly perpetual line that has suddenly appeared on E. 21st Street? No, it’s not for a pop-up streetwear sale. Nor is it for the latest version of the iPhone. The queue is devoted to chef Eunji Lee’s exquisite pastries at the newly opened Lysée. Dedicated sweet-seekers know that if they don’t line up in time, they may miss out on delightful treats such as the trompe l’oeil “corn” or the signature Lysée mousse cake, both of which often sell out within an hour of opening.
Since debuting in June, Lysée has been drawing hordes willing to wait over an hour to nab one of 15 coveted seats in the ground floor café, after ooh-ing and aah-ing over the offerings on the upper level, which serves as an exhibition hall of Lee’s desserts with its mother-of-pearl walls and reclaimed wood from Korea. The name Lysée, as a matter of fact, is a mash-up of Lee and musée; it might just be the most delicious museum you’ll ever set foot in.
Now, however, you can skip those lines: Lysée now takes reservations, which are released one month out in advance on the first of the month.
Unsurprisingly, art figures prominently for Lee, whose parents, both artists, brought her to museums and galleries since birth. “So naturally, I love art, and I love to create,” she says. When creating her pastries, Lee draws inspiration from Korea, France, and New York. In Korea, she discovered her love of the craft, studied and found her path. In Paris, while working at world-class restaurants such as Alain Ducasse’s Le Meurice, she garnered her exacting French technique. In New York, her inimitable style earned accolades as the executive pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Jungsik. Now, as chef-owner of Lysée, she infuses those three influences into each creation, whether she’s incorporating Korean ingredients such as maemil buckwheat into classics like shortbread cookies; or reinterpreting a French choux while paying homage to New York City by naming it “The Flatiron.” And as soon as her liquor license arrives, she plans to pair her confections with Korean-inspired cocktails, too.
Here, in Lee’s own words, is a handy crib sheet on what to order once you finally cross the threshold at Lysée.
“This is our signature dish, a cake made with Korean brown rice mousse with caramel, Elliot pecan sable, and praline. When I was the pastry chef at Jungsik, I included some of those ingredients — brown rice cream, pecan, praline and caramel — in my signature dish there, which was called ‘New York Seoul.’ The Lysée composition is similar to that dish, and I feel it really shows my identity. The cake is shaped like our logo, which is a giwa, a traditional Korean roof tile. It’s a creamy and crunchy, smooth and sweet combination.”
“This is our best seller. It’s a corn mousse cake with sablé and grilled corn cream. I personally love corn and I love to use it in dessert because I love the natural sweetness of corn and how it is savory, too. I think this dessert is a great blend of those sweet and savory parts. I was thinking of how to make this nice visually, so I made it into the shape of an ear of corn. This dessert takes a long time to make — three days. To make the corn kernels, I pipe them one by one by hand. At first, it took three minutes to pipe one corn dessert. But now I’ve improved so now it takes about one minute 40 seconds. My goal is to get to 30 seconds! It has corn powder on top, which we make ourselves. We make it, let it dry for one day, then we sift it. We paint each husk leaf by hand, one by one. So, it does take a long time. On the weekends we make about 70 per day.”
3. Yuja Cake
“Yuja is the Korean word for yuzu, which flavors this pound cake and the glaze on top. Meyer lemon confit also flavors the cake. Pound cake is something I like to enjoy by myself. Actually, I do enjoy all of my pastries by myself first before I have the confidence to present them to customers. But pound cake is something I’ve always enjoyed eating alone. For this poundcake, I wanted to make something that was soft and had a lot of moisture. This cake has that moistness but also the acidity of the yuja. I also like that because of the glaze, this cake is a bit crunchy on the outside but then is very soft on the inside.”
“V.I.C. stands for ‘Very Important Chocolate Cake.’ This is a chocolate sponge layer cake with chocolate cremeux, timut pepper caramel and dark chocolate mousse. This cake is very important to me because I love New York City steakhouses. They all serve some kind of chocolate cake, and every time I eat at a steakhouse, even though I am full from the meat, I always order a chocolate layer cake to finish. I somehow always find room. This has timut pepper caramel inside, which adds a very interesting flavor because the pepper, which is from Nepal, is very aromatic and tastes very citrusy, like a grapefruit. Then there is a crunchy salty cookie at the bottom for texture. I thought about the piping of the frosting of the cake a lot, and kept trying different piping tips until I found the right one. I wanted it to be beautiful and I think the presentation is a little different.”
5. Teddy Bear Duo
“I love kids, and most of my friends have kids so when I created the menu I wanted to include something for them. I thought of making dinosaurs but then I found these teddy bear molds from Japan. So, I decided to make teddy bear madeleines that come in pairs. The brown one is a milk chocolate madeleine with a hazelnut chocolate spread, our homemade Nutella. The blond one is dulcey chocolate with maple syrup. Kids love them because they are so cute! Who doesn’t love teddy bears?”
Lysée is open Thursday to Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. When making a reservation, guests can choose to order a la carte, or they can opt for the Lysée signature menu, which includes one of the corn and Lysée pastries plus one viennoiserie of their choice, as well as a bottled drink.