Two S&M joints are locked in a court battle over which one owns the patent to a whipped cream stiletto dessert. Only in New York, sighs MINNA LACEY
La Chaussure Fetiche de Sade, or the high-heeled shoe made from one pound of dark Belgian chocolate, is the piece de resistance on the menu at La Maison de Sade, an S&M theme restaurant in New York's buzzing Chelsea district. At $39 (about pounds 23.50), the shoe is the most expensive item on the menu.

It also happens to be the focus of a fierce dispute between this restaurant and rival kinky-themed eaterie Lucky Cheng's, situated on the other side of town in the bohemian East Village. Lucky Cheng's has also started serving the saucy shoe (imagine chocolate, filled with mousse and cream, presented on a bed of strawberries and kiwi fruit) at the marginally higher price of $39.95.

While there's nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, this being New York, what originally started as a scrap over a chocolate pudding has ballooned into a high-stake intellectual property dispute. "Lucky Cheng's thinks it owns the right to these shoes, but it doesn't!" exclaims Mistress Margaret, the petite and unassuming manager of La Maison de Sade, standing in front of an ominous-looking rectangular wooden frame. (This turns out to be a rack, where customers pay $20 to be chained and spanked in public - probably for not finishing their chocolate stiletto, judging by the size of it.)

Lucky Cheng's - which is known for its drag queen personalities, like Miss Understood, an extraordinary-looking buxom beauty with a towering beehive - has a different take on the matter. Its owner, Ms Hayne Jason, claims she came up with the idea for the mousse-filled chocolate shoe and chose a designer to produce a commercially viable plastic mould. Unfortunately for her, the owner of La Maison de Sade, Ching Mi Cheng, persuaded one of the kitchen workers at Lucky Cheng's to steal the mould and give it to Cheng. Jason took Cheng to a people's court over the hoo-ha, and a civil lawsuit in New York City is pending. Jason also applied for a patent for the shoe with the US trademark office, but this has yet to come through. In the people's court, the judge ruled that since there was no patent for the shoe as yet, Lucky Cheng's could continue to serve it.

In the absence of legal rulings either way, Cheng and Jason are continuing their own not-so-private catfight. Magnificent though the dessert is, it's hard to understand how a chocolate stiletto could become the centre of such a bitter conflict.

At issue is the stealing of ideas, but more than that, it is a sign of how far New York restaurateurs are prepared to go in their fight for business. Both restaurants have regular floor shows every evening and offer equally gimmicky additions to the menu.

While Lucky Cheng's gives customers copies of its Dragazine, "a drag version of the National Enquirer", and serves cocktails such as the Pink Pussy and the Flaming Queen, La Maison de Sade offers a selection of services, including public humiliation, good or bad doggy obedience training and foot worship.

Cocktails include the Masochist and the Formicophiliac (meaning, apparently, someone who like insects). In addition, both restaurants compete for the hugely commercial office-hen- and-stag party crowd.

So where will it all end? Mistress Margaret seems sanguine about the prospect of Lucky Cheng's successful patent application. "It's OK," she shrugs. "If we have to stop serving the chocolate shoes, we won't be crying about it."

Then she grips her waist tightly, and smiles. "I have a much better idea anyway. We'll make a chocolate corset instead."