I’ve split this into separate lists. As was the case with Memorable Dishes in 2011, I didn’t set out with a specific number in mind. And, again, I couldn’t possibly choose which of the desserts and sweets are better than the others, so the lists are in no particular order.
Mandole-Crémeux, Quince Purée, Caramel Apple, Rosemary Oil, Cassis Sorbetto: Ai Fiori
Two of the worst desserts I’ve ever had were served to me during a tasting dinner at Corton in 2009. They were created by the pastry chef at that time, Robert Truitt. At a subsequent dinner at Corton, Truitt’s desserts were only a bit better. Fast forward to the opening of Ai Fiori in the fall of 2010. Truitt is now the pastry chef there. We had our first dinner at Ai Fiori at the end of January. I never expected to like any of his desserts much less to have one that could ever land on any “best of” list. So, you can imagine how shocked I am that this dessert has done just that. It had several moving parts, all of which worked deliciously together, the cassis sorbetto being especially divine. I should note that I didn’t order this. It was comped to me because of a glitch earlier in the meal.
Flan, Coffee Caramel Sauce, Fresh Berries Pico de Gallo: Toloache
Simple. Flawlessly executed. Delicious.
Baba au Rhum, Fresh Orange, Whipped Cream: La Promenade des Anglais
It’s hard for me to pass up a baba. I had four in 2011. Ai Fiori’s oddly-shaped baba was a disappointment. Not enough rum. Café Boulud’s and The Modern Dining Room’s were excellent. But the one I had at the newly-opened La Promenade was outstanding. Sitting in a little pool of rum, the baba was accompanied by a few orange segments and a lovely dollop of whipped cream. the rum soaking was of the Goldilocks variety: not too weak, not too strong, but just right. I loved it some much, I had it again during our second dinner there. Just as perfect!
Home Baked Blueberry Pie: Mo’ Greens Roast House BBQ
This must have been the year for old-fashioned pie in restaurants. I had four. There was Cherry Pie with Buttermilk Ice Cream at The Dutch and Cherry Pie with Whipped Cream at Mo’ Greens Roast House BBQ. At Casa Mono, there was Warm Pumpkin & Apple Pie with Caramel Ice Cream. All were excellent. But the one that really knocked me out was the Blueberry Pie served with a tower of whipped cream at Mo’ Greens. The crust was super flaky, and the filling had amazing blueberry flavor. On a cold day in March, it was as though the summer blueberry season had suddenly arrived.
Mascarpone Cheesecake, Fennel Shortbread, Meyer Lemon Confit, Grapefruit Sorbet: Union Square Café
I’m usually leery about ordering cheesecake because so many of them are too dense. This one was anything but. The incredibly smooth and creamy circle of cheese sat on a crisp fennel crust. The Meyer lemon “confit”and the grapefruit sorbet were the perfect tangy accompaniments. Another dessert that so enraptured me, I ordered it again the next time we had lunch at USC.
Soufflé au Caramel: La Grenouille
La Grenouille is known for their soufflés. The caramel version is truly luscious. I had it both times we had lunch there this past year.
“Pink Champagne” Cake, Grapefruit Sorbet: Oceana
In addition to being a taste sensation, this was the most interesting dessert of the year. It came accompanied by a card from Pastry Chef Janson Chen with an explanation of its construction on one side and the recipe on the other.
Dessert With Rhubarb Soup Soup: Junoon
I didn’t take notes, and it was never listed on the on-line menu , so other than the rhubarb soup, I never did get the exact name of this dessert or the other elements. Indian restaurants are not exactly famous for their desserts, so it was shocking how delicious this one was.
Coconut Rice Pudding, Red Wine Glazed Roasted Figs, Candied Almonds, and Ginger Ice Cream: Junoon
It’s incredible to me that two desserts in an Indian restaurant made this list. But what can I say? I hadn’t eaten a rice pudding in ages, and this was the most delicious one I ever remember having. It was suffused with coconut flavor, enhanced by the red wine-glazed figs (which just happen to be one of my favorite fruits), and went over the top with the ginger ice cream. Amazing!
Warm Toffee Pudding, Toffee Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream: The Peacock Inn
Toffee Pudding, sticky or otherwise, is one of my favorite desserts. In 2011, I ordered it at three different restaurants. During two overall disappointing meals at the revamped Veritas (previously one of our favorite restaurants), the only course I liked was dessert. Called “Dark and Stormy,” the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Ginger Lime Ice Cream was very good. Likewise, the Sticky Toffee Pudding at Blue Smoke. But The Peacock’s Warm Toffee Pudding was a total mind-blower. The pudding was sweet without being cloying, and when combined with the luscious toffee sauce and my favorite ice cream, vanilla, it became what my dessert dreams are made of.
Red Velvet Cake: Untitled
Hard to believe, but I’d never had Red Velvet Cake before. Michael had never even heard of it. We ended up having two different ones two days in a row. The one at Hill Country BBQ was the second one we tried. We actually ordered it to make a comparison. It was quite good. But Untitled’s version with its moist cake and luscious icing was superb. (Note: It didn’t come with ice cream, but Michael ordered vanilla ice cream for his dessert, so I ate some along with the cake.)
When Truitt left Corton, Shawn Gawle became the pastry chef. That thrilled me because I adored Gawle’s desserts when he was at Veritas during the time Grégory Pugin was helming the kitchen. I could return to Corton safe in the knowledge that dessert would not be a disappointment. Now, here’s the thing. I detest raisins. But there I was at the end of our tasting dinner at Corton ecstatic over a dessert in which those little suckers were an integral part — within the pastry and in the accompanimnent. That is Gawle’s genius.
Cheesecake, Cranberry and Lime Crumble: Eleven Madison Park
Technically, a pre-dessert. Introduced to the menu in December. We had it at our last meal of the year there at the end of the month. In a word: WOW!
Sweet Treats below the fold.
Bomboloni con Crema – Donuts with Cream and Brioche Caramellato – Toffee-Glazed Brioche: Maialino
We rarely eat breakfast out. But we had breakfast out twice in 2011, both times at Maialino. I had heard raves about the Bomboloni, and those accolades were truly well-deserved. But I’d heard no previous reports about the Brioche. Yeah, it’s that toffee thing again. Fantastic!
Red Velvet Cupcake: Big Booty Bread
After having enjoyed our initial forays into the world of the red velvet cake, I was excited to learn on Chowhound that there was a bakery not far from our apartment – a bakery I’d somehow never heard of before – that made delicious red velvet cupcakes. So, now that we were on the trail of red velvet sweets, we hurried on over. The cupcake did not disappoint.
Cones Ice Cream
I’d heard about Cones but had never been. Michael and I shared a cup with three flavors: Zabayon, Tiramisu, Dulce de Leche with Chips. Smooth and creamy with superb flavors, these were seriously delicious ice creams.
Though I’m not a big coffee drinker and would never even consider having espresso on its own, I adore affogatos. ‘inoteca makes a sterling one. I’ve had them there several times before, but it had been a long time since we’d been there. It was the perfect end to a late supper in December.
Can we say that 2011 was the year of the macaron? There has certainly been an onslaught of macarons in New York City. I had not heard of Macaron Parlor Patisserie until we came across the booth at the Madison Square Park Eats in the fall. We bought a box, and they were very fine macarons. The most unusual flavor was the Candied Bacon with Maple Cream.
The arrival of Ladurée to the UES set off an absolute frenzy – people lining up around the block and waiting an hour or more to get these fabled macarons. I refuse to wait on line for more than 10 or 15 minutes for any food no matter how fabulous it may be. So, I got my first taste of these macarons when J and the P.G. brought them to our Purim dinner. And, yes, they are fantastic. I did eventually condescend to wait on line with Michael and J. for half an hour to get some. But that was only because we had to kill time between brunch and meeting up with the P.G. at the Frick Museum, which is just around the corner from Ladurée. If I was forced to pick my favorite flavor, it would probably be the cassis.
Egg Cream: Eleven Madison Park
One of the many, many things I love about EMP is their ability to be a bit playful with their menu. That playfulness is on full display with the egg cream, which they introduced in April. Having it prepared tableside adds to the enjoyment. I’m an egg cream fanatic. I grew up drinking them and regularly make them at home. EMP’s egg cream is not the classic version; nevertheless, it is wonderful.
Regular readers know that one of the most exciting things that happened in 2011 was the opening in July of Bien Cuit, the bakery owned by cousins Kate Wheatcroft and her baker husband, Zach Golper. (You can search this site for the posts I’ve writtn about it.) In addition to his phenomenal breads, Zach makes truly delicious pastries. While I’ve loved all the ones we’ve tried, two are my favorites: the Chocolate & Raspberry Financier and the Chocolate Tart. It’s interesting to note that of all the desserts and sweets I’ve talked about in this post, these are the only ones that involve chocolate. It isn’t that I don’t like chocolate. I do. But finding chocolate desserts that really send me is never easy. Happily, Zach has managed to do so.