Must sees on a dessert menu?
What are some items that make/break a dessert menu?
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.
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.
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
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.