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  1. Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz
    Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    M. Wells Steakhouse

    Pastry chef Bethany Costello’s sweets trolley is as gloriously kooky as you’d expect from this outré beef haven, parked amidst a live-trout tank and a projector that screens Canadian lumberjack flicks (naturally). Keeping with the steakhouse-gone-gonzo M.O., Costello stocks the glass-and-wood buggy—a custom-built replica of an antique—with a whimsical cast of clashing treats. We’re talking gold-leaf-crowned pavlova bursting with tangy blood-orange curd ($11); chocolate-cream cake bookended by chocolate-chip-cookie crust ($11); and Texas-sized wedges of beet-fortified red-velvet cake, frosted with smooth crème fraîche ($11). In what little space is left in the gluttonous cart, Costello crams in hazelnut-studded Paris-Brest ($19), a cinnamon-roll/chess-pie cake hybrid ($11) and chilled canisters of house-churned ice cream (chocolate, honey), to take those cakes to à la mode territory. 43-15 Crescent St between 43rd Ave and 44th Dr, Long Island City, Queens (718-786-9060)

  2. Photograph: Virginia Rollison
    Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Quality Italian

    The Quality crew has no qualms about hamming it up—igniting plates of lobster Fra Diavolo with splashes of vodka, and breaking out the mortar and pestle to make its tomato-raisin steak sauce. The tableside flair extends to dessert—pastry chef Cory Colton fills chocolate-coated Ferrara shells á la minute at a head-turning cannoli cart, piping each with rich ricotta-mascarpone cream right before diners dig in, so they’re not sitting around getting soggy. The dark-wood dolly is rigged with three cannoli varieties ($10 each)—peanut-butter-chocolate, pistachio-strawberry and cookies-and-cream—and syrup jars of complementary sauces (cherry, caramel and mint-chocolate). A built-in ice bucket—the cart flips into a boozy Bellini operation during weekend brunch—comes packed with tempting bottles of house-made digestifs, such as chinato (herb-infused red wine) and a cheeky “corrected grappa,” jazzed up with espresso beans. 57 W 57th St at Sixth Aves (212-390-1111)

  3. Photograph: Virginia Rollison
    Photograph: Virginia Rollison


    Red sauce runs through the veins of this clubby Italian throwback and nothing screams old-fashioned nonna dining like an over-the-top dessert cart. Forearms flexing beneath their burgundy Zac Posen blazers, waiters shuffle the MacGyvered gantry—an antique silver tray affixed to a wooden frame—around the Sinatra-tuned dining room, hauling four hefty cakes ($15 a slice) from pastry chef Kathy Walker (Pies ’n’ Thighs). Offerings skew classic: übermoist carrot cake dotted with walnuts and plump raisins; a heady blackout capped with chewy dried cherries; a sky-high round of New York–style cheesecake cut with tart lemon curd; and the showstopping Nutella tiramisu, flanked with house-baked ladyfingers. 181 Thompson St between Bleecker and W Houston Sts (212-254-3000)

New dessert carts at New York City restaurants

Dessert carts—those fading beacons of old-line decadence—are getting wheeled out in distinguished NYC dining rooms

When it comes to tableside service, the city’s restaurants have come a long way from pouring sauces and filleting fish. The prevalence of interactive chef’s counters and showy fine-dining restaurants, like Eleven Madison Park and Carbone, have ushered in glass cloches filled with smoke, tartares ground in front of diners and a return of the salad tossed tableside. And there’ll be no waving off this latest dining-room theatrics: A brigade of dessert-topped carts—once confined to dusty haute stalwarts and storied luxury liners—are making a comeback.

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