I'm trying to put a list of places together on where to go to get great desserts, not just at the top restaurants in the city. The kinds of places you don't necessarily have to eat a meal at either...
You may want to check out Room 4 Dessert, Will Goldfarb's fairly trendy new place. Everything is prepared by he and his staff at a bar, so it's a cool visual. The desserts are unusual though (frozen things, foams, odd but neat flavors), so perhaps not for everyone's taste.
And I agree with the posts above - The Tavern Room @ Grammercy is always a hit - more traditional desserts, nice dessert wine / liquor list.
Café Mozart (W70th & Broadway). They have an awesome dessert menu that will satisfy any and all cravings. I was there recently with several girlfriends for dessert fest. We ordered the chocolate fondue for the table and then we each made selections from the extensive desert menu. Every three bites we passed the plates to the left.
The Little Pie Company is a real NY story; it was started by a struggling actor who baked pies in his apartment to subsidize his income. He has since given up show biz and operates 3 shops in the city. The original shop is located at 43rd street (btw 9th & 10th Aves); there is one on W14th St. (btw 9th & 10th Aves.) and there is an outlet in Grand
Central Terminal. My favoriate item is the Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie
Finally, I have to give a shout out for The Chocolate Room located in my backyard; Brooklyn (86 Fifth Avenue, between St. Mark's and Warren) This place is a charming intimate desert café that will have you floating on cocoa bean high.
This may be like interrupting a discussion of the relative merits of Ferran Adria and Thomas Keller with a story about a nearby hot dog stand, or telling a guy waxing eloquent about Babe Ruth what a great little leaguer your son is, but... Egg Custard King Cafe in Chinatown is worth a try. They are wonderful. Someone posted about this place several months ago and whenever I'm in Chinatown, which is often, I cruise by. The problem is, they are usually out of custard tarts (I go late evening) Twice I've snagged them. There's usually a crowd of elderly Chinese ladies around the counter when the tarts came out. I imagine them telling their sons, I slaved all day to bake this for you because nothing is too good for my boy! And if you like that kind of place there are Uruguayan bakeries in Queens and Portuguese bakeries in Newark where you can find the nata, the original version of what Custard King calls "Portuguese" tarts.
I absolutely love the kitschy Chat-n-Chew in Union Sq. and they have fantastic coconut cake and some sort of chocolate that will kill you cake. Again, not upscale, not highbrow, but good slice of cake that feels like someone baked it with love.
For the chocoholic, I would recommend Jacques Torres' Chocolate Haven in SoHo. It's a chocolate shop and part bakery. They have excellent hot chocolate, a sublime chocolate mudslide cookie, and great chocolate croissants.
For a French pastry spot, you must go to Financier on Stone St. They have the most sublime cakes and great French macaroons.
City Bakery has good tarts and cookies. Milk & Cookies, on Commerce St. near 7th Ave. S, is a cute little place to get great place to great brownies and cookies.
For a good Italian dessert shop, I would go to Veniero's in the E. Village. They have the best cannoli in NYC.
Cafe Sabarsky is a high brow place but it's so good! I love their apple strudel and sachertorte. The topfen-birnen-torte has quark cheese, which is a bit unusual for a dessert but it's a good combo.
One other casual idea: excellent gelato at Bruno Patisseria on Bleecker St. A "small" is only $1.50 and is a generous scoop and is great to take out and eat while walking around the village.
Oh, and the milk & cookies at, you guessed it, 'Milk and Cookies' on Commerce St. is another good casual, walk up spot.
There are some great desserts at Falai near corner of Clinton/Rivington. The owner also has a little bakery with some Italian inspired modern treats.
I love taking people to Di Roberti's on 1st ave betw 9-10th. I think it is, usually, much more fresh than Veniero's.
I second City Bakery. Fun atmosphere too.
I have been to Chikalicious about 5 times now and I love love love it. I reccomend the "cheesecake" which is light eating a cloud made in the texture of powder snow. Or the chocolate tart. And I had a white peach dessert there the other night which was transcendant.
I will be going to Room 4 Dessert on Monday and will report back.
Also Peppermint Park on the UES has great ice cream. (I have been going there since grade school!)
I have heard that Blue Hill has great desserts.
Also the hot fudge sundae at Pearl tastes just as it should. They could make a business just on tat hot fudge!
Sundaes & Cones on 95 E. 10th St. also has great ice cream too! They have the traditional flavors vanilla, chocolate, etc. but they also make unusual flavors like corn, tiramisu, green tea, litchi, and many others. Nice atmosphere.
The bar at Adour. Sit and have Sandro's desserts, one of the two best pastry chefs in the city.