Before this week, the last time I ate at Serendity3 was probably in the early 1970s, when my grandmother took me, and I think my friend Patrick, to eat some sort of overwhelming sundae. I may have gone again when my daughters were little, but whatever nostalgia I feel about the place hasn’t really been earned by experience.
In fact, the restaurant and dessert palace, which was first opened in 1954 and at one time attracted the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Joan Rivers, and Jackie Kennedy, seems to have spent a lot of its creative and culinary energy in recent years serving up stunts, like the Most Expensive Dessert (a $1000 Golden Opulence Sundae), the Largest Wedding Cake, and, just this week, the Most Expensive French Fries, clocking in at $200 a plate.
I finally returned to the sugar-sweet hotspot this week, when I was invited to the post-vaccine, post-renovation grand reopening of the Upper East Side institution. And as I entered the newly revamped space, I was instantly reminded why I’ve been hearing about Serendipity for my entire life. This place is bonkers.
It’s decked out with Tiffany lamps, a funhouse mirror, disco balls, a giant rail-station clock, movie memorabilia, random signs, and garden sculptures—and the whole thing awash in pastel pinks and blues. It’s easy to see why, for nearly six decades, locals and tourists alike have made the pilgrimage.
“It’s so great to be back,” said chef Joe Calderon, who’s been the creative director here for 35 years. “It’s so great to have NYC coming back.”
Regulars may notice a few decor tweaks that were swapped in during Serendipity’s 16-month closure. Glittering new Venitian chandeliers dangle upstairs, for example, and there’s some insane new Andy wallpaper in the bathrooms, and the Mobil-logo pegasus on the back wall now sports a neon unicorn horn. There’s more seating now, too, with tables taking some of the space up front where the general store part of the operation once reigned. But the Warhol corner is still here, as is the Marilyn nook, and the overall vibe remains over-the-top.
The Serendipity “show” is still very much happening. And that stimulating, special-occasion atmosphere is necessary when prices are this aggressive.
If you’re here for a full meal, the menu is a long list of high-priced crowd-pleasers, like the Footlong Hot Dog, Calvin’s Classic Caesar Salad, Chicken and Waffles, and Serendipity’s Chili Mac n’ Cheese. During my tour of the renovated space the kitchen made me two kinds of burgers, a standard Cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, and a new menu item called the Infamous Truffle Burger, which came loaded with Boursin cheese and flecked with actual truffles. Both were very good, as were the accompanying fries, but these burgers start at $25.
But you’re really here for dessert, it’s kind of the whole point–and what a lot of people opt for in this category, some 30 million of them at their last count, is Serendipity’s famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. There’s a lot of legends swirling around this thick, sweet concoction (apparently Jackie Kennedy asked for the recipe to serve at a White House gala, and was denied), but all you really need to know is that it drinks like a first-rate milkshake.
My second dessert was the new It’s My Birthday Cake Sundae, which features a slab of alarmingly blue, alarmingly sugary pastry, three scoops of cake batter ice cream, whipped cream, and sprinkles, all of which, in a completely unnecessary touch, arrived sitting in a puddle of white chocolate. It was possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten. Other such dishes include an Outrageous Banana Split, a slice of Southern Pecan Pie, and the Ultimate Creme Cheesecake topped with hot fudge and strawberries.
Serendipty3 is located at 225 East 60th Street, between Third and Second Avenues, and is currently open on Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m to 10:30 p.m., on Friday from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m., or Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.. Closed Monday and Tuesday (212-838-3531; serendipity3.com)