The Mochi Store
216 Crown St., New Haven, themochistore.com
New Haven restaurants seem to love doing one thing very well. The city's historic food titans, like Louis' Lunch and dueling Wooster Street apizza houses Pepe's and Sally's, are built on this model. It works for newjacks, too, as The Mochi Store demonstrates.
Mochi consists of small balls of ice cream wrapped in sticky rice dough and served cold. The term mochi refers specifically to the preparation of glutinous sweet rice used in many Japanese dishes. In Japan, mochi is as much a mundane staple as a sugary delicacy. The rice dough is often eaten on holidays like New Year's Eve. It's recently become popular as a Japanese breakfast food. But after the creation of mochi ice cream in the early '90s, Americans began saying "mochi" to describe the ice cream dessert. The firm outer layer insulates the ice cream inside, makes for great finger food, and, in good mochi, takes on the consistency of a denser, chewier marshmallow.
The Mochi Store hides out in a tiny crevice on Crown Street. Inside, there's enough room for a counter, a small bar for eat-ins, and two large freezers. The menu is similarly no-frills. Alongside mochi, the store sells coffee and a few afterthoughts in the form of chocolate pretzels and candy. But you came for the 20 flavors of mochi on the chalkboard menu. Traditional flavors, like green tea and adzuki bean, sit next to recent additions in the form of tiramisu, blueberry, and raspberry white chocolate.
The force behind this small-time spot is a national mochi distributor known as Bubbies. In operation since 1985, Bubbies is now the second largest mochi source in the country, and ships to clients including the Nobu and Tao restaurant franchises, Whole Foods, and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The base of operations is Hawaii. The Bubbies factory, which produces bite size, pillowy mochi round-the-clock, sits on the big island, and takes advantage of Hawaii's abundant tropical fruits. Three ice cream stores carry Bubbies' fare: two near Honolulu, and one, thanks to a family connection, The Mochi Store in downtown New Haven.
Each mochi weighs in at an ounce and a quarter, so it's easy to sample a few flavors without going overboard. The flavors are subtle, but spot-on and fresh-tasting. Mango stood out as the best of the fruit flavors, with guava getting an honorable mention. Chocolate varieties are wrapped in cocoa-infused dough and filled with ice cream (coconut, mint, espresso) to lend them a secondary flavor. The dough in the sakura mochi has a delicious cherry blossom taste, but the vanilla ice cream filling is a little disappointing. Overall, the quality is impressive: the pre-made mochi holds its own, and even beats out certain handmade varieties I've had.
Large batches of flavors are overnighted from Hawaii, and The Mochi Store's freezers typically hold a few thousand of the desserts at a time. One mochi goes for $1.50, with price breaks at a dozen, 50, 100, and 250. Gourmet agoraphobics can stock up for months, which isn't a bad idea: in warmer weather, the line at this small shop can stretch out the door.