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Is it OK to ask for an off-menu dessert?

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I'm coming to Boston from London in a few weeks with my boyfriend, and taking him out for a birthday dinner. He raves about a lemon souffle we had at a michelin starred place in Sussex (south coast of England) a while back, and I would really like to get a similar dish served up for him on his birthday.

SO: is it OK for me to ask a restaurant to cook us a lemon souffle, even though it's not on the menu? If so, where I am likely to get a "yes" and what is the etiquette? I'm looking at top-end restaurants anywhere in Boston or Cambridge - somewhere like Salts or Gargoyles or Ten Tables I think - but I am almost completely unfamiliar with Boston and would appreciate pointers on whether I'm on the wrong track. Coming from the UK, I don't want anywhere that's very European - French or Italian influence, sure, but not an out-and-out French or Italian restaurant.

And also it's on a Monday.

Any local advice would be very much appreciated! Thanks

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  1. As some restaurants are closed on Monday, your best bet is to confirm they're open by calling or Emailing or checking Open Table (http://www.opentable.com).

    As for asking for a special off-menu dessert - you can certainly ask, but since the pastry chef wouldn't know exactly what about the lemon souffle you had in Sussex was so special, they might not be able to replicate it to your memory's or tastebuds' satisfaction. What about asking the restaurant to make a special dessert that is memorable for your visit here in the States? Something in season that you might not be able to get back in England?

    Actually - I just checked Salts' menu and they have a lemon souffle tart for a sample dessert item! LOL http://www.saltsrestaurant.com/site/m... So perhaps if you write them and explain why you're looking to have this specific dessert, they could ensure it's on the menu for your reservation night.

    1. I'd agree with LindaWhit. I'd suggest calling restaurants ahead of time and asking, since souffle's aren't exactly easy to make. I don't really care for desserts so I can't recommend a place, but if there are restaurants that strike your fancy or you plan to visit, maybe a good way to start is to check out their dessert menus and see if they have anything similar on their menu? I'd rather go with a pastry chef who I know can create a good souffle, then testing out someone's skills in that area.

      1. Interesting question. The closest to Michelen-starred cuisine in Boston are the high end places like Clio, L'Espalier, Radius, No. 9 Park....LindaWhit's strategy seems to make the most sense - call ahead.
        Or you could really push it and call O Ya or Oishii Boston and see what the high end sushi guys can come up with.

        1. No harm in asking, but do it well ahead of time, not that night. I've also brought desserts into restaurants with prior permission; many will charge a stiff plating fee to make up for your lost dessert revenue. And don't ask for anything special at restaurants participating in the upcoming Restaurant Week. http://www.restaurantweekboston.com/?... Good luck!

          1. Agree with LindaWhit about calling as well as the pastry chef unlikely to know the Sussex lemon souffle dessert. It seems to me, that you are setting yourself up for disappointment in trying to replicate a memory in a different country.

            Not a lemon souffle, but Rendezvous in Central Square, Cambridge, has this amazing lemon dessert. It's this lemon/buttermilk/huckleberry thing that just brings the lemon dessert to a whole other level.

            9 Replies
            1. re: beetlebug

              Perhaps so, but replicating a culinary experience is not really what I'm trying to achieve - it's really just a gesture. He never eats desserts, usually picks at mine then turns his nose up and gets on with his cheese, so I just thought it would be a nice little surprise.

              1. re: cbs7lb

                Then Salts might be the way to go - in addition to the lemon souffle tart I noted earlier, they have a cheese plate for dessert as well.

                ETA: Actually - that must have been the Gargoyles menu I looked at that has the cheese plate. Sorry.

                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                  I would never dream of depriving any man, woman or child of their cheese!!

                  Take your point about offending the chef. Perhaps I should ring L'Espalier and ask them as sweetly as I can, and if they are completely affronted then I can tuck my tail between my legs and scuttle off to No. 9 and give the passionfruit souffle a whirl instead.

                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    I'm not sure why it's "unreasonable" to make the request for a special occasion such as his birthday. If the pastry chef is unable to make it, the answer is "no" and the diner can then choose to dine there or go elsewhere if they are absolutely set on a lemon souffle of some sort. Or, as trufflehound noted below - plan on finding a place that can (or does currently) make a lemon souffle, and tailor the meal around that restaurant's menu.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      I liken it to choosing a place without a particular entree and calling ahead and asking for a special dish that is normally not carried because it's someone's birthday. I wouldn't make a reservation at a place that doesn't serve veal marsala and ask them to make it special. I find it offputting. I agree that if the lemon souffle is that important (and honestly it seems to be more important to the OP than it will ever be to the recepient) then she should find a restaurant that has it on the menu and go there.

                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                        Interesting feedback. I actually know my own boyfriend pretty well, and am fairly comfortable with my own take on what he will appreciate and how much.

                        1. re: cbs7lb

                          I understand that...my opinion was based on this post along with the fact that lemon souffle is something of a troublesome dessert in and of itself.:
                          Perhaps so, but replicating a culinary experience is not really what I'm trying to achieve - it's really just a gesture. He never eats desserts, usually picks at mine then turns his nose up and gets on with his cheese, so I just thought it would be a nice little surprise.

                        2. re: Janet from Richmond

                          While I've never heard of anyone asking for a main that is off-menu, asking for a "special dessert" for an occasion such as a birthday or anniversary isn't unheard of.

                          But should the OP really want the lemon souffle, she's received three suggestions in the area - Salts and Hamersley's Bistro, and the lemon pudding cake at Rendezvous.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            I agree w/ Beetlebug on the lemon pudding cake at Rendezvous. A delicious New England style dessert. Plus Morton's Steak house has a few different souffles on the menu (or at least they did) and they would probably be able to whip a lemon one up for you. If you were eating in the Back Bay or South End area, you could go to Morton's for dessert if they agreed.

                  2. I feel by doing this you are asking them to make something out of their element and the possibility of a let down are high. If it's lemon souffle you seek, then seek lemon souffle and tailor your meal around it. I have had a wonderful lemon custard souffle at Hammersley's.Bistro. It's not the most innovative but solidly executed. Call ahead and see if it's on the menu.

                    1. Thank you all very much. I shall take it all under consideration.

                      And I am very much looking forward to visiting your beautiful city again.

                      1. Petit Robert Bistro @ www.petitrobertbistro.com on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston serves french-styled cuisine. They do lunch, dinner and have a desert bar open from 11 am to 11 pm. I've had lemon souffle there in the past (I believe at Easter time) which seems to be when all things lemon show up on menus. I notice a gran marnier souffle on their present menu. You may have the best luck there, and if you wanted to dine elsewhere, you could still just go to the desert bar or have a light lunch and desert. Just in case you wanted to indulge in dinner a few other places that maybe do not serve souffle. Good luck and enjoy Boston.... I live here... and I love it.

                        1. The lemon souffle tart at Salts is excellent and wonderfully light, and I love it (as well as the food at Salts), but it's worthwhile to know that it's not exactly like a souffle in texture.

                          Souffles, especially fruit flavoured ones, are very labour intensive and typically require mixing to order or they wouldn't rise properly. One needs it served as quickly as possible out of the oven, for maximal height and lightness of texture, so it's not a dessert you can take out from a different place. I'd recommend going to places that already serves souffle, so that the kitchen and staff are more aware of the demands of this dessert.

                          Some older threads that describe places with souffle (I just did a quick search):
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/512381
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5085...
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4702...
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/383248
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/155472
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/477630

                          Lastly, if you can't find a place that fits all your parameters, it's worthwhile eat at several places in an evening - ask to sit at the bar, have a couple of dishes and then move on to the next. It allows for optimisation since different places have different strengths and is a great way of having all the signature dishes of several restaurants all in one multi-course meal.

                          1. You may want to try the Souflled Lemon Custard at Hamersly's. Always on the menu and always out of this world.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: RandyL

                              It is off the menu right now but is very close to the dessert mentioned above at Rendezvous. Petit Robert Bistro has a great pastry chef and the have Grand Marnier Soufflé on the menu every day except Saturdays. I think she could make a killer lemon soufflé.

                            2. Wow, I think asking is totally okay. Ahead of time, I mean. I would call during lunch or prep that day and inquire. They'll say no if they can't--no harm, no foul, right?

                              I agree you'd get the best response somewhere that they already make souffles, or at least have a pastry chef who is making other things to order. Especially on a Monday, when it won't be too busy. (I doubt you'd get anyone to do it on a weekend night.)

                              You might also try Oleana in Cambridge.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dulce de leche

                                I am in this camp too. In fact, if you had the time, it would be cool to line up three or four different places and ask them for their best efforts / interpretations of your request. A lemon souffle crawl!