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Must sees on a dessert menu?

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What are some items that make/break a dessert menu?

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  1. Must see something chocolaty. I'm really fond of brownies or lava cakes.

    I also must see something cool like sorbet, ice cream or gelato.

    Bonus points if there is a banana dessert.

    1 Reply
    1. re: alliebear

      I had dinner last night at a fairly new Asian restaurant. For dessert I tried their banana/caramel spring rolls. WOW, it was Bananas Foster, in a soft wrap, drizzled with caramel. Delicious!

    2. Anything with Jello or lemon is a deal breaker for me. If I'm going to order dessert, it has to be decadent. My all-time favourites almost always contain dulce de leche in some shape or form. Some of my favourites are mille feuille cake with dulce de leche, alfajores, chocolate and dulce de leche marquise cake and white chocolate and dulce de leche cheesecake.

      1. Deal breakers - nothing made in house, unless made by someplace small and local. Dry cakes (e.g. frosted cakes, non-mousse cakes). Coffee flavoured desserts, blech.

        I always look for desserts with caramel, mousse, other gooey-ness and interesting cheesecake (not just plain with some fruit sauce glopped on).

        Also a sucker for a good fudge sundae.

        1. Make: Homemade ice cream/gelato, some sort of tart with lemon (or citrusy) curd, ricotta cheesecake, housemade macarons and pate de fruits, homemade donuts with an interesting dipping sauce, dulce de leche cake, peanut butter

          Break: Tartufo, Neopolitan ice cream, anything with mint, cheesecake with a glop of fruit pie filling on top


          1. I like to have one super-chocolate item and one little-bit-of chocolate item, two or three things really focused on seasonal fruit, and something custardy like creme brulee or panna cotta. It is amazing how popular gooey things and banana desserts can be. And anything warm - warm chocolate and warm apple desserts are usually sure things. Fruit soups are hard to sell, as is rice pudding. No matter what is on the menu, if it is delicious and the servers are on your side, they will sell it.

            When I go out to eat, I want something unusual. If it's vanilla creme brulee, lemon tart, and molten chocolate cake I may pass. If there is an interesting herb or spice/flavor like rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, kaffir lime, curry, chai, bacon I'll try it. Also exotic combos like rose and litchi, and if I ever see a mangosteen dessert I would order two. OTOH, I am not like everyone else. You don't want everything to have a weird spice or go OTT, but a swirl of curry caramel sauce around that molten cake instantly makes it more interesting - best to leave the unusual flavors in a sauce or garnish, or an ice cream that can always be subbed w/ vanilla if the guest desires.

            1. Something a la mode.
              Something sweet and sticky.
              Something with fresh fruit.

              1. I'm an absolute sucker for pecan pie, creme brulee, tres leches, fresh fruit, or ice cream mochi. I'll almost always take a pass on everything else, but I cannot let these slide.

                1 Reply
                1. re: gordeaux

                  Two more I can never pass up -
                  Mango w/ sticky rice
                  Mango kulfi

                2. It depends on the restaurant. What sort of food is served? Is it lunch, dinner? What is the price range? What is the region? What is the vibe of the restaurant?

                  Those things matter.

                  1. Deal maker: seasonal desserts. In the summer, I love seeing fresh fruit sorbets, custards, anything incorporating fresh fruit (peaches, blueberries, watermelon, especially!). Mascarpone mousse = two thumbs up. Cheese service = three thumbs up (or two thumbs and a big toe).

                    Deal breaker: dessert menus with only options that include wheat (I'm wheat intolerant), menus with only chocolate. I do like chocolate, but only infrequently.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cimui

                      Ditto on the cheese service, esp if it includes some unique fruit compotes or chutneys to accompany them. Some of my best experiences with this was during some wine and champagne tasting excursions on the east coast of Australia, where tasty cheeses were provided alongside fig or apricot chutneys, and fennel crackers or caraway seed wheat thins

                      1. re: waytob

                        Oh yes, please. Any cheese pairing for me, actually. I had a lovely one a little while back with sunflower seed brittle and Tomme de Savoie... I thought about it for days, after!

                    2. Fruit-centered desserts make it. Sysco-style desserts break it.

                      I actually admire restaurants that manage to avoid excessive representation of chocolate in their dessert menus - and I love chocolate - because it can be a crutch that hides a general lack of skill in the dessert department (people are often very happy with mediocre chocolate desserts - chocolate obscures many sins).

                      As for frosted cakes: the cake itself better be good, and the frosting of high quality (buttercream, for example. which is increasingly rare). Viennese patisserie is also a lovely thing.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        >>I actually admire restaurants that manage to avoid excessive representation of chocolate in their dessert menus - and I love chocolate - because it can be a crutch that hides a general lack of skill in the dessert department (people are often very happy with mediocre chocolate desserts - chocolate obscures many sins).

                        So true, so true.

                        What's a Sysco-style dessert, though?

                        1. re: cimui

                          For example:


                          You'd be shocked how pervasive this is. It's not bad. It's dependable. It can be good in a generic kind of goodness. But it's never great.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            In complete agreement with Karl S. Sysco desserts "look pretty" but consist of tasteless air.

                            Fresh fruit is always a plus on a dessert menu BUT only if the fruit is naturally sweet and the right texture. I've ordered one too many fruit plates that were tasteless wastes of time & money.

                            Def. like to see "unusual" ice creams offered. Recently enjoyed a carob and mint ice cream that was so delicious.

                            Bonus points: Grilled fruit

                            1. re: Karl S

                              Ah, got it -- thanks. They must be pervasive if they're really "the global leader in the food service industry". I'm a little embarrassed I didn't recognize the name!

                        2. must sees for me include desserts that are at least in line with the cuisine / region. I am also disappointed if I go to a high end restaurant and they are shipping in lower end desserts / stand-by cheesecakes etc. Anything unusual and inventive, even if i'm stuffed to the gills, I must try even a taste.

                          And if there is creme brulee on any menu, I haz a happy :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: im_nomad

                            oh wait, I forgot about bread pudding.

                          2. I can NEVER pass up cobbler! Any choco and PB combo, and homemade dough-nuts also turns my head.
                            Sick of cheesecake and fruit, creme brulee, and brownie with ice cream - not worth the calories and very boring!! I

                            1. Lemon tart (or lemon posset)

                              Although I usually order cheese rather than a sweet.

                              1. I love any kind of fresh sobert (especially when they offer trios) or creme brulee. However, a bad creme brulee is a deal breaker too.

                                1. Bread pudding is a deal-maker for me, unless they tart it up with chocolate chips or kooky sauces (why do people spoil a perfectly good dessert with "whiskey sauce?" Perhaps I've never had a *good* whiskey sauce).

                                  I'll order lemon bars or a good lemon cake/pie to take out if I'm too full to have it after the meal. I'm also a conoisseur of the Italian sfogliatelle pastry.

                                  Creme brulee is a must-have, merely 'cause I'm too lazy to make it at home. In fact, creme brulee saved my life. We were dining at a restaurant in New Jersey, and my wife was in a hurry to leave. I begged her to wait for coffee and dessert, which she agreed to but only after complaining. After we left the restaurant we were on the New Jersey Turnpike and there was an enormous accident involving a few cars and a tanker truck. Now, we'd taken about 20 minutes for our dessert and coffee - the radio news was already covering the accident and it was a bad one with multiple fatalities. The newscaster mentioned that the catastrophe had happened just 20 minutes before...

                                  1. I try to avoid dessert, but the word "cream" has on me roughly the same effect the word "oreos" had on the Cookie Monster before the PC Police robbed him of his soul. While that might seem bad, I will get the DTs ("dessert tremens") if I try to turn down white chocolate or oriental flavors like sesame, rice and purple yam.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: JungMann

                                      Of course: black sesame ice cream! How could I forget?

                                      I know it's passe, but I'm also a big sucker for anything involving green tea flavors.

                                      1. re: cimui

                                        me too, especially green tea ice cream. red bean, not so much.

                                        1. re: im_nomad

                                          fo' sho'. and green tea creme brulee, truffles, mousse, pudding, cakes... if only i liked plain ol' green tea so well, i'd be a much healthier woman!

                                    2. I really can't stand the "Brownie sundae!" which always consists of a bad, boring brownie topped with minimal vanilla ice cream (why always vanilla, too?) and minimal toppings. It's double bad if the brownie is cold. Who eats a cold brownie topped with ice cream? Also, maybe this makes me Unamerican but it bothers me when restaurants serve cold pie and think it's weird you want it warm.

                                      Deal makers for me are desserts that are served warm with cream or ice cream melting down into them. Cobblers, bread puddings, WARM good gooey pies.

                                      in response to Shaogo - I had a professor who brought in a bread pudding doused in this awesome, thick, warm whiskey sauce and it might have been one of the best things I've ever had. The sauce tasted like liquified cinnamon buns.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: emmaleeb

                                        Whiskey sauce... That reminds me. Anything that's lit on fire = deal maker! ;) Not necessarily to eat, but I have enough juvenile delinquent left in me that I always enjoy the pyrotechnics.

                                        1. re: emmaleeb

                                          emma I had one by accident last week that was the best "cake and ice cream" dessert I've ever had... kind of one of those mother of invention things when it's all you have in the house... it was a thick slab of my mother-in-law's homemade banana bread nuked just enough to warm it with a big scoop of butter pecan ice cream. OMG!!

                                          1. re: cycloneillini

                                            Sounds like a dessert I ordered at Bar Symon last week. Banana Bread sandwich / vanilla bean ice cream with a warm peanut butter sauce on top. DELISH!!!

                                            1. re: cycloneillini

                                              cyclone: Ahhh that does sound really good. I'm into the hot/cold thing.

                                              six: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! STOKED. Planning on going there very soon!

                                            2. re: emmaleeb

                                              Brownie sundaes are my favorite dessert, but it has to be good. A good, warm brownie. An interesting ice cream, real hot fudge, etc.

                                            3. There has to be interesting cheese. I never read the sweet offerings.

                                              1. I rarely have room for dessert any more, but when I do bread pudding always hits the spot.

                                                Of course, when I'm in New Orleans, I make room for bread pudding.

                                                Beyond that, anything with fresh berries always grabs my attention. When it's colder, cobblers with vanilla ice cream.

                                                Break: Disgustingly sweet things with caramel, peanut butter, etc. There are so many ways to ruin a good brownie or scoop of ice cream.

                                                1. It's a real deal breaker to me if nearly every.dang.dessert is served with ice cream. Or if every dessert is either chocolate or cheesecake.

                                                  Deal maker? I have an unholy love for tiramisu. And bread pudding. A restaurant I went to often as a kid used their day-old cinnamon rolls in the bread pudding and it was fantastic. I also like it if a fruit-based or caremelly desert is offered.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: spellweaver16

                                                    Whereas for me, tiramisu one one of four items (along with a death-by-chocolate item, cheesecake and creme brulee) has become what apple pie used to be: ubiquitous and too often mediocre.

                                                  2. if i'm at a steakhouse, i usually order cheese cakes. my best was at peter lugers in brooklyn.

                                                    if i'm at a french restaurant, mille feuille is my top choice if they have it. if not, i go for the souffle. i'm also obsessed with macarons as petite fours.

                                                    in a italian restaurant - tiramisu! (love the version at il mulino chicago)

                                                    1. If i check out an online menu and see bread pudding available, that can be enough to make me check the restaurant out. I don't know what it is about a good bread pudding, but i love that stuff! I don't often order desserts, though. Oh, and bananas foster...yummm.

                                                      1. Creme brulee, chocolate, ice cream, and bread pudding? Some of these answers are almost depressing. Glad to read that some of you enjoy the less common stuff.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: Blueicus

                                                          Less common? Such as what. What is your must see on a dessert menu?

                                                          1. re: Blueicus

                                                            I can't help it, i love bread pudding, i don't care how common it is. If it tastes good, it tastes good.

                                                            1. re: iluvtennis

                                                              i'm with iluvtennis ..... besides which, bread pudding is not common on menus around these parts.

                                                              however, I get the feeling that "common" is not being used by blueicus in the manner of frequency, but class, for lack of better word.

                                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                                I understand it all depends on what kind of restaurant one goes to... if it's a homey diner or somewhere pretty casual I'd be happy with a nice slice of pie a la mode or bread pudding, cheesecake or chocolate cake.

                                                                However, when I go somewhere that serves food for more bucks I'd like to see people stretch themselves a bit further in terms of flavours and combinations of elements and techniques.

                                                                As a person who has made and plated untold numbers of desserts you tend to notice that despite whatever merits a dessert has, the three things that sell are cheesecake, creme brulee and chocolate (and at one place... freakin' banana splits) to the detriment of everything else.

                                                          2. Homemade berry pie, bread pudding, tiramisu, key lime pie.

                                                            1. I'm a sucker for desserts with passion fruit, strawberries, raspberries, and/or almonds.
                                                              I also have a hard time passing up good ol'-fashioned apple pie or peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream; creme brulee; or panna cotta. And love all sorts of rich, moist cakes and mousses.

                                                              I'll pass (in a restaurant): chocolate-heavy menus, coffee- or peanut butter-flavored desserts, cheesecake, pecan pie, lemony or lime-y anything, flan (usually), rice pudding, meringues, souffles or anything else that is really eggy.