Out Of The Ordinary Restaurant Desserts....
Okay so this is my little rant for today. I'm a pastry chef in a local Rhode Island restaurant and I am so tired of all the customers who snub out of the ordinary desserts. It seems to me that all people want to be fed is boring vanilla creme brulee, lava cakes and chocolate mousse. I mean...come on! Where is your sense of adventure. I try to challenge your taste buds by introducing items you would never think of for dessert. During spring I made a lavender panna cotta and was really excited about what people would think about it. All I ended up selling the most of was peanut butter cheesecake and chocolate cake. It was such a shame to waste so much panna cotta every week. And nothing says ordinary to me than cheesecake, but yet all of you who walk into a restaurant want something you will forget about. It just makes me a little sad. I mean what do people really want after a good meal?
Interesting question... and I'm struggling, even though I am a sugar fiend, who thinks dinner is really only a conduit to dessert. I'm gonna write a short book here (and actually expect we might see this thread moved to a different board, although I will reference local restos).
My favourite dessert of the week (we've been out three times and sampled six desserts since last Friday), was a pumpkin creme brulée pie at the Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, NH. It offered a slight twist on creme brulée (which I also find boring, despite its obvious charms), but it wasn't just "interesting" — it was also well executed, with a perfectly crunchy top, gorgeous texture, and fantastic aromatic spice. It also happened to leverage pumpkin, one of my favourite seasonal flavours.
A fatal flaw experienced this week was a dessert that proved "interesting" instead of good — a goat cheese ice cream (with poached pears) that was not entirely bad, but really, a vain attempt to fuse two flavours/textures that really just weren't supposed to fuse. It was adventurous, and the three of us sharing said dessert all remarked, “oh, that’s quite interesting,” but nobody wanted more. We’d been effectively “challenged,” but the dessert wasn’t that good, and although I’ve had six resto desserts this week, I’m actually kind of health and calorie conscious, and I’m not going to eat dessert as a “challenge” — rather, because it’s luscious.
That said, I don't want lava cakes or chocolate mousse, but I also have to say that I probably wouldn't order the lavender panna cotta. Somehow, I feel like my pumpkin tart was such a hit because it brought together the familiar and the unexpected, but didn't foray into the esoteric. Dessert is such a primitive experience - how many of us weren't bribed with sweeties — or don't associate sweeties and dessert with very early memories? I have lots of memories of chocolate and pumpkin, but my moms never cooked with lavender, and it just doesn’t hit that primal epicenter that I think we want our pastry chefs to touch. I have had gorgeous, challenging “creations” from dessert kitchens that left me cold — various soups, jellies and puddings that were creative at the expense of wonderful. Of course, I also detest those “fancy” bombes and cakes that every chain resto is now serving — cakes are not interesting just because they have three layers.
Picasso in Vegas did crème brulée purses wrapped in crèpes with strawberry preserves and chocolate. That was good innovation, not just pomo pastiche from the kitchen. Pomodoro in Brookline did a tiramisu that rocked because it was just really perfectly executed — and that’s why cheesecake and molten chocolate cake and crème brulée will never go wrong — if you’re exceptional (if they can't get enough of your chocolate cake, appropriate it as a compliment... most chocolate cake isn't that good). My stepmother made crème caramel for Sunday dinners for a year while she micro-perfected her recipe. Somehow, we never tired.
I guess I want something that has a certain familiarity or sense of dessert-y indulgence and luxury. But which doesn’t sound boring or same-old. Of course, I’m a person who gets to try six desserts a week. If I were some mom who’d just been busted loose for date-night for the first time in six month, lava cake might sound like the foie gras of the dessert world — and that’s no disrespect to the people who do only get out a few times a year, rather an acknowledgement that it’s not “boring” to want a perfect piece of chocolate cake, which is actually not that easy to execute. I can take a chance on chestnut semifreddo because I know my next peanut butter cheesecake (which I’ve gotta admit sounds wonderful... I'd order this!) is just around the corner. We have the luxury of being in a financial place where we order three desserts and take one bit of each just because we feel like it.
Finally, the tragic truth in your profession, I expect, is that most people aren’t that particular. And most people don’t want to be challenged by dessert. Dessert is a lure, not a challenge, a temptation, not a dare. Not that I think eating lavender panna cotta is by any means a dare — it’s not like eating bugs — bring it on! But perhaps you get some sense of where I’m drifting…
Interesting! Thanks for your comment. I understand what your getting at. You want dessert to be creative but still comforting. It's funny, because when I made the peanut butter cheesecake I paired it with a concord grape sorbet and people really loved it. So there it is.....old favorites with a twist.
What about offering a dessert sampler? Instead of diners having to decide between more than one tempting dessert option, offer a dessert sampler place and then you can get that lavendar panna cotta out there for your guests to experience, but they will also have other options as well.
I know that when I decide to order dessert, there is usually more than one item that sounds good to me, so I narrow it down to what I think I will enjoy the most or am in the mood for most. But people are always big fans of having options.
Just to let you know that there are interesting things out there for desert. There is a restaurant in Hartford Ct. called Carbone's on Franklin Ave. Which serves a desert call a Flaming Bocce Ball. Its an ice cream dish with a liqueur poured over the top and then lit on fire. Makes for a very nice visual presentation . and is very good also. Hope this is what you were looking for. Earle
My take on this is that people who are big eaters of sweets tend to have.. um... underdeveloped, childlike palates. No offense! I like sweets, too. I'm just saying that when it comes to dessert, even people with sophisticated palates tend to regress. And those with childlike palates really go to town. Dessert is meant to be a fun, playful thing. Desserts that take themselves seriously are going to be a tough sell.