Whimsy, Spice, Everything Nice

Michel Richard's Pomme Palais

"My job is to create surprise," says chef Michel Richard.

Richard, who started training to be a pastry chef at age 14, is doing just that at his new pastry shop and takeout market, Pomme Palais inside the landmarked swank of Madison Avenue's New York Palace Hotel.

The Vanilla Napoleon

A return to New York has been a long time coming for Richard, who first came to the US from France 40 years ago to open a New York location of the Lenôtre pastry shop, before going on to work in New Mexico, Los Angeles, and finally Washington D.C.

Now he's back with Villard Michel Richard (in the space once home to Gilt, and Le Cirque 2000 before that) and the market–a mod creation with swaths of white marble, red accents and shopkeepers in chocolate-colored uniforms with white pinafores. Richard's creations descend from the canon of fundamental French pastry (puff pastry, pulled-sugar and petits fours), each with a serious got-waylaid-at-the-disco-twist.

Chocolate grape tart | In uniform

"I love texture–crunch, crunch and creamy," says Richard. Find those textures in the layers of a vanilla Napoleon ($6), eclairs studded with coffee beans and Cocoa Puff-like crunchies ($5), and in Eggceptional, an ersatz egg of lemon meringue and lemon curd in a white chocolate shell ($6).

A particular favorite includes the chocolate grape tart ($6). What appears to be a tartlet full of chocolate truffles is actually a cluster of chocolate-enrobed grapes that burst when you bite into them ("Surprise!" he says, and laughs when we ask him about it).

Pomme Palais | Potato Chips

Whimsical, refreshing and unexpected–it's what Richard does best.