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Archive for February, 2010

Gift-card heaven: Picholine

Posted by JK on February 26th, 2010

Recently, I received a gift-card that I could use either at Artisanal or Picholine.  That’s a tough choice.   Artisanal is really fun and a night of stinky cheeses on the house sounded really good.  On the other hand, I had heard Picholine is a stuffy, old-school, Michelin 2-star restaurant and I aspire to be stuffy and old school.  Plus, how often do I get the chance to visit these types of establishments?  In the end, the deciding factor was that as good as Artisanal is, unless you love cheesecake, their desserts are decidedly “just ok”.  I wanted to taste a Michelin rated dessert.

Before we talk desserts I just have to mention how superb the service and our savory dishes were.   Definitely worthy of both the hype and the 2-stars.

Our pre-dessert was apple cider with crumble.  We were told to pour the contents of the cone (the crumble) into our mouths and then wash it down with the apple cider.  We did as directed.  The crumble was like  the powder from a fancy pixie stick, flavored with real apples instead of the artificial kind like in Apple Jacks.  The Cider had all kinds of spices and did its job of telling the brain to shift gears into “sweet” mode.

Next up was the main feature, the liquid chocolate tart.  The dessert consisted of a small open bowl made with a cookie-like hardness.  Inside was a somewhat runny, liquid dark chocolate ganache.  A super-thin disc of dark chocolate covered the bowl and sealed in the ganache.  On top of the disc was a scoop of chocolate mousse, a drop of confiture de lait sorbet (like dulche de leche) and a pearl of meringue.

Every component of this dessert was perfect individually, especially the mousse and meringue.  However, the one thing I didn’t like was that when you cracked the side of the tart all the ganache ran out all over the place making it hard to eat the rest of the components together.  That said, the ganche wasn’t some cheap, bland syrup.  It was rich,  dark and  flavorful.  If  I ordered this again I would only crack the top of the disc and not the side of the tart.

Everyone knows the best thing about these high-end places is how many “extra” desserts you get.  At Picholine you get a plate of petit fours and a dish of chocolates. The macarons were decent but the chocolates were excellent.  Much better than I expected with rich flavors  like the ganache we had earlier.   Our neighbors didn’t touch their chocolates or their macarons and let me tell you I was this close to swiping them off their plates.  Seriously, who comes to a place like Picholine and leaves petit fours on the table?  If you’re too full, just stick them in your pocket!  Some people.  Special shout-out to team Oswald for make this happen- Thanks!

Picholine is located at 35 West 64th Street.  Their dessert menu is here.

French Toast for Dessert: Dovetail’s Pain Perdu

Posted by Niko on February 24th, 2010

[This post was originally published in June 2009]

After success in a certain bike race, the DessertBuzz editorial team decided to head to one of their absolute favorite restaurants for dessert: Dovetail, on the upper west side.  One of the best things about Dovetail is that they constantly change their dessert menu.  Dovetail’s pastry chef, Vera Tong, seems to like to mix classic options with a few experimental desserts.  I still regret not trying the grape soup that I saw last winter, but I did eat the peanut butter pretzel with sea salt and beer ice cream.  Edgy, but not as hectic as Wd-50. . .

On Sunday’s Mother’s Day menu there were a couple intriguing choices but I had it narrowed down to either the pain perdu or the chocolate hazelnut fondant.  Normally, I always go with the chocolate option – that’s DessertBuzz Law #1: when in doubt, go with the dessert that contains dark chocolate. However, in this case,  I knew I still had 5 artisanal dark chocolate bars waiting at home that were going to be eaten this week so I went with the pain perdu.  Truth be told, I had to ask what pain perdu was.  But now, after reading all about it on the internets, I am of course an expert.  Pain perdu means “lost bread” and it was a way for people to reclaim stale bread by soaking it in eggs and milk and then frying it.  Which takes us to DessertBuzz law #2: when you can’t apply rule #1 go with the fried dessert option.  Of course DessertBuzz law #3 is:  If you ever see a dessert that is both fried and contains dark chocolate you must order 2 servings and take one home to photograph it for a feature on Dessertbuzz.

Anywho- the pain perdu was like a light, evenly fried, French toast saturated with a flavorful egg and milk mixture.  It looks like it was finished off with a blow torch too (but that is just speculation on my part).  The pool of caramel below the bread was even tastier than if it was made with real maple syrup.  The berries were 5-star as was the vanilla bean ice cream.  The picture really says it all. The also gave us 2 mini-red velvet cupcakes and 2 small tea cakes to take home. Damn I love this place.  I plan to talk some teammates into going back this week for more.

Ok, so you have been invited to a dinner party and the classy thing to do would be to bring something.  A bottle of wine would usually be your “go to” gift in this situation. But let’s face it, as nice as wine is, it’s not usually very memorable.  And if it’s not as good the host’s wine it might just get put away and forgotten (you probably know where I am going with this).

Now if you bring a dessert, especially something cool looking or unusual, not only will it (and you) be remembered, but if you do it right, you are sure to be invited back again and again.  The only downside is that you will face ever-increasing dessert expectations that you will have to keep topping,  which could get expensive real fast.

Which brings me to today’s recommendation: The humble, Fairway 8” Chocolate Tart.  For $6.99.  Although nobody will ever confuse this tart with one from Bouchon it is a very solid dessert.  If you factor in the price, it’s one of the best dessert values in town.  It has a nice chocolate flavor and an excellent,  fresh crust.  A bit on the sweet side for me personally but most of the guests at a big party I brought one to  really had nice things to say about it.

Recommended: Fairway 8” chocolate tart $6.99

Dovetail brunch: 5 desserts. And some other stuff

Posted by JK on February 21st, 2010

Dovetail desserts

One of the best ways to experience a 3-star New York Times restaurant at a fraction of the cost, is to go for lunch or in this case for brunch. The Dovetail brunch is very dessert heavy. It includes a basket of fresh baked bread items; canapes, which include a yogurt parfait and a duck meatball amuse; a main course and a mini-dessert sampler. I should note some of the unique and heavy-duty savory brunch items such as short rib lasagna (!) and sirloin eggs.

It’s interesting that Dovetail has such a dessert-heavy brunch.   I have long been aware how how great their desserts are but I didn’t know their customer base felt the same as me until I saw the 4-dessert sampler and additional bread pudding pre-dessert. By the way, who ever heard of a pre-dessert for 3 course brunch?

My guest and I both thought the bread pudding, which came as the “pre-dessert”  was the best offering.   It was more like like a perfect, syrup-soaked piece of french toast.   I also really liked the devil’s food cake which packed a strong chocolate flavor but was not too heavy.  The apple crisp, which has been part of this brunch for a while is also very good.  The apple crisp is excellent, it’s very fresh and not too sweet.  The cheesecake, like the devil’s food, is a one-bite dessert that has a lot of house-made  components, such as the flaky cookie base and a blob of jelly.   The final dessert-bite was a brownie with whipped cream.

Recommended: Bread Pudding, also sometimes available as a “pain purdu”.

Dovetail is located at 103 West 77th Street.

City bakery is holding their hot chocolate festival right now and you can go here to see what flavors they’ll be featuring in the coming days. But surprisingly, that’s not why I think you should head down there. It’s not a bad reason but the best thing to get at City bakery right now is their Maple bacon biscuit. Though it has some big pieces of bacon in it, it’s not overburdened with it. The real reason why it rocks is the texture. It is very crispy on the outside and bottom and flaky like a scone on the inside. I went at 9:00 a.m. and it was perfect. Really. Definitely one of the better biscuit or scone experiences I have had in a while.

Recommended: City Bakery Maple Bacon Biscuit $3.00

Tips: Buy it before noon for best results

DessertBuzz speaks with Francois Payard Part II:

Posted by Niko on February 18th, 2010

Dessert Buzz sat down with Francois Payard last Friday for an expansive interview. Here is Part II. Read part I here.

DessertBuzz: One thing that I come across frequently when speaking to people about desserts vs. savory dishes is that they don’t seem to appreciate how much time it takes a pastry chef to put together one of these high end pastries.
Francois Payard: It’s a problem in America, sometimes people cannot appreciate the difference between something incredible and something simple. Like the cupcake. Why is the cupcake so big? It’s ok. It’s just even good. And you know what? To make a cupcake you can even make it with a mix and frosting. My daughter can make that! I’m sorry I don’t have a daughter! But I would like to say that what we do, you need a talent. You need people with training. It’s like comparing the restaurant Daniel and going to a brasserie? It’s still food, but what kind of food? You go to a restaurant for an experience and you go to a brasserie every day for lunch but people sometimes think it’s the same thing sometimes. The (the fuss over) cupcakes and everything is a little bit too much now.

DB: I agree.

FP: I think because Americans, and you have to make sure what I say is sometimes tough are very kiddish and that’s the reason why a cupcake (is so popular) it’s funny and everything, but for me I don’t see the $4.50 on the cupcake and I see $6.50 on the cake and people tell you $6.50 (is too expensive for the cake) just try to make a triple decoration on the side of a cake, try to make a decoration.

DB: Do you ever take some time in the kitchen and just experiment like a child?
FP: Every Payard cake, I created all of them. Even if I have my business (to attend to ) I can eat cake in my mind. Let me explain to you. See the cake for Valentine’s Day? I just wrote the recipe on paper and I gave to my chef to make it and I already eat the cake! How? I know what the sable breton tastes like, I know what the mascarpone cream for the Napolean tastes like, I know what the vanilla pound cake that I make tastes like and I know the mousse that I used to make for the Notre Dame. Now, I just put them all together and I was eating the cake already, but I need to make a final taste to really taste it, pretty much that is the way I create things.

This year was an incredible year (for the number of new cakes presented), few people understand because when you talk about sophisticated taste in pastry-everybody loves sophistication in the kitchen-but not like in a pastry cake where they like to be more basic. Our cake (we made this year) was a chestnut mousse, vanilla pound cake yuzu and green tea filling and a mint chocolate sugar for the crunch in the middle. When I make that, it was an incredible taste but I knew the chestnut is a beautiful and delicate flavor, I knew the yuzu make it a little bit acidic to bring all the flavor of the green tea together and open the chestnut without being too much acid for not killing the chestnut because it’s delicate and the vanilla pound cake to bring the vanilla from the chestnut in the chestnut base. Right away, I may need something and I put this layer of chocolate for the crunch for the texture.

DB: You sound like a painter where you see the art on the canvas before you paint it.
FP: It’s the same thing. That’s the way we build cake, but many times, I would like to say, sometime it works sometimes it doesn’t. It works pretty much all the time when you make it simple and if you want to try to be very complex with many different things sometimes it works sometime it doesn’t but that ’s the way you create things.

DB: Last week I was speaking with a pastry chef who worked at Le Cirque and is pretty accomplished and he was saying he’s been disappointed in the recent pastry chef graduates, he said he felt like a lot of them did not seem willing to pay their dues.
FP: I would like to say in NY or maybe in America, everybody wants to be a chef very quickly. But that’s (the) American way, everybody wants to make money. You live with mom and dad you really want to accomplish what I accomplished in 40 years. It’s not just American way it’s the way we’re living in the new century. Nobody, even in Europe, nobody wants to pay their dues like they used to before. I used to work in a 3-star restaurant in France where the chef worked 14 hours a day!

DB: Ok, I’ll try again, can you to recommend any specific desserts that you’ve encountered in the last couple weeks or months in NY?
FP: No I can’t tell you which people I like that make a very good dessert. I can tell you Michael (Laiskonis at Le Bernadin) makes a very, very good dish that I really like, Johnny (Iuzzini, from Jean Georges) makes a very good dessert, I like Locanda Verde’s (Karen DeMasco) dessert, very much, more bistro-style because it’s a more casual place, but full of flavor, very good flavor. A few other people make good dessert. I went to this bakery in Brooklyn, Almondine its very very good, it’s more like a French pastry shop but more Americanized, they have a very good croissant and I think that’s what people want every day now. I always tell people they can have anything they want for show but at the end of the day, you come back for the food and for something you like and I’m not about nitrogen technique, I learn the technique but they do nothing for me. the end of the day I’m looking to have food on my plate. I prefer to go to a A Voce, a great Italian restaurant, or Babbo to a fancy nitrogen pasta or anything. I like restaurants for an experience, like El Bulli, that’s an experience but you have to fit it in the right place. More and more, people will come back for real things or revisited dishes that they know well. You may take a traditional recipe and reinterpret it. Your grandmother maybe used to make the best chicken you ever had. If you successfully revisit that chicken recipe, that to me that is more impressive (than the show dishes).

DB: Do you have a minute to take me through the different components of one of the more involved pastries in your case?

Go here for a video of Francois discussing the inside of a George V pastry. For Part I of the interview go here.

Francois Chocolate Bar is located at 63 and Madison inside the Mauboussin jewerly store.