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CRAVING NOVELTY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I’m a dessert lover. Yes, it’s true. Sugar is my thing. Which doesn’t mean I don’t adore nibbling from that basket of bread at the start of dinner and anticipating the pleasures of each course thereafter. It’s just that for me, dessert is the jewel in the crown of any meal.

But more and more often, those few moments after the entree plates are cleared and the dessert menu is handed over - a time I used to anticipate with pleasure - has become fraught with tension.

Why? Frequently, when I peer down at the roundup, instead of finding creative sweets, or even humble but satisfying classics, I’m confronted with the Holy Trinity of desserts: tiramisu, molten chocolate cake and cheesecake.

For the 10 or so years that tiramisu and molten chocolate cake have made appearances on menus (cheesecake has been offered for an eternity; I think I spotted a slice on a mural in Pompeii this summer) I’ve enjoyed them. Tiramisu can be an airy delight. And I was charmed the first time I cut into that chocolate cake and watched its hot center spill on the plate. Cheesecake? I’ve only tried a few that let me down.

What do I want instead? I’m open to novelty.

If a chef constructs a miniature Ferris wheel out of spun sugar and fills each of its seats with a different mousse, I’ll eat it. But I’m just as happy when a classic dessert is given a twist with an interesting herb or a luscious sauce is added to the presentation.

Below are fall desserts from six chefs who care as much about the end of the meal, as they do its beginning and middle.

Mark Lahm, chef and owner of the esteemed Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights, told GO Brooklyn: "We took molten chocolate cake off the menu two years ago, but people still ask for it. It’s become a comfort food."

So Lahm gave them an equally satisfying cocoa creation, his dark chocolate bread pudding topped with a puff of cinnamon-flavored whipped cream. If you think bread pudding is no big deal, I assure you that it is when it’s served warm from the oven, with a crusty top and a center as soft as a souffle. This one arrives in a large square; it’s a serious serving, meant to sate a primal urge for chocolate.

You’ll wish it were larger.

Creme brulee is another dessert that isn’t a news flash to the palate, but I haven’t reached my saturation point with it yet. Chef Laura Taylor of Superfine, in DUMBO, makes a rendition infused with a note of sweet, spicy ginger. It’s subtle - more of a suggestion of the root than a smack of flavor - and the creme is a thick pudding. Taylor serves it in a small ramekin with a rich chocolate cookie and a tiny, crumbly, powdered sugar-covered ball studded with walnuts that nearly steals the show.

Like Taylor, chef Joe Eloriagga, who owns Tost, a panini and wine bar in Park Slope, knows when to go easy with a good thing. Among creative desserts like grilled panini filled with Nutella (the chocolate and hazelnut spread) or mascarpone cheese with fresh raspberries and chestnut honey, there’s a lovely panna cotta infused with lavender. The custard is intensely rich, made even more so with a topping of fig compote and balanced with crisp, house-made biscotti. Eloriagga uses the herb judiciously so it leaves just a whiff of its perfume.

"Too much lavender overwhelms everything," he said.

Jerome Sevier, of Saint Germain bistro and bakery in Bay Ridge, keeps the presentation of his pistachio caramel simple. The two layers of mousse are served unadorned on a small plate, and that is how it should be. Garnishes would distract from the harmony of the nutty, pale-green mousse and the sweet, honeyed flavor of the caramel.

When it comes to pears, pastry chef Irena Kichenko, of Park Slope’s Stone Park Cafe, can’t get enough. She fills the center of a buttery little almond cake with the top half of a red wine-poached pear. A cinnamon-laced tuile, filled with luscious hazelnut ice cream, completes the plate. The dish - with its golden cake and swirls of red wine - is an edible ode to autumn.

"Carrot-rosewater toast" sounds humble, but once the rosy-colored slices of the sweet bread are plated, the dessert is just as visually exciting as Kichenko’s pear production. Chef Julie Farias, of Ici in Fort Greene, keeps the dessert simple: just two slices of the toasted bread with a center of slightly sweetened mascarpone cheese and a dab of plum compote on top to add a bit of tartness.

"I don’t want too many flavors to compete with the sweetness of the carrots and the delicate rosewater," Farias says.

So chefs, if you want to score brownie points with diners, give them new desserts to love. It will make fall that much sweeter.

 

Henry’s End (44 Henry St. at Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights) accepts American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $15.95-$24.95; desserts: $7.50. The restaurant is open daily for dinner. For reservations, call (718) 834-1776.

iCi (246 DeKalb Ave. at Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$19; desserts: $6. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on weekends from 8 am to 4 pm. Closed Mondays. For reservations call (718) 789-2778.

Saint Germain (8303 Third Ave. at 83rd Street in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $7-$19.95; desserts: $3.75. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on weekends from 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Mondays. For reservations, call (718) 745-8899.

Stone Park Cafe (324 Fifth Ave. at Third Street in Park Slope) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$23; desserts: $7-$8. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch is available all day Sunday. Closed Mondays. For reservations call (718) 369-0082.

Superfine (126 Front St. at Pearl Street in DUMBO) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$21; desserts: $7. The restaurant offers lunch from noon to 3 pm; dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday. Brunch is available Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. For information, call (718) 243-9005.

Tost (427 Seventh Ave. at 14th Street in Park Slope) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Panini and platters: $7-$15; desserts: $5. The eatery is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. For information, call (718) 965-1075.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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