Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

17
Aug
13

Blame Max Brenner for all those sugar-buzzed kids in Bethesda

Image
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar opened up earlier this month right next to Jaleo in downtown Bethesda. The only reason I knew is that my friend The Chicken sent me some photos of the s’mores pizza and crepes she’d shared with her kids. Their verdict? Pretty good but stomach-ache inducing. I decided to check it out, with bottle of Pepto at the ready.
Image
This part of Bethesda’s generally overrun with harried parents chasing small children, strolling small children, and wrangling small children. Not surprisingly, many of those families are taking their kids here. At one point during my last visit, I got worried about the safety of their fondue grills. Open flames and kids amped up on sugar/caffeine–hmmm. Here’s to hoping that the tables aren’t wobbly.
 Image
Despite the high prices, small portions, and long lines, this place will likely succeed in this location. Here’s why:
  • It’s family-friendly, although some kids may be asking their parents what a “chocolate syringe” is. See photo #2 above.
  • Although you can eat-in, you’re not paying for a waiter. You order at the counter, then they bring your goodies to you.
  • There was a gap in the market for a dessert bar in Bethesda. Sure, there’s Georgetown Cupcake, Tout de Sweet, Fancy Cakes by Leslie, and various froyo options. But none of them offer a proper sit-down experience. No wonder Washingtonians (Bethesdans?) are lining up for $15 crepes and $8 milkshakes.
Image
Although I did manage to avoid a gastrointestinal fail on both visits, I can’t see myself returning here often. There’s a big novelty factor that wears off fast. The first time I went was to check it out. The second time was to take an out-of-town guest. Everything that I ordered was good (lava cake combo the first visit; milk chocolate fondue the second). Nothing that I ordered was to-die-for. But if you’re a kid, it’s probably heaven.
20
May
13

Which donuts are worth the hardened arteries? Brunch at Golden Brown Delicious.

Golden Brown Delicious is one of the latest restaurants in DC to offer the crowd-pleasing fried-chicken-donut combo. One of the chefs  behind GBD is pastry maestro Tiffany MacIsaac of Birch & Barley.  So I was looking forward to tasting her handiwork.

Every bite of this donut includes the perfect key lime curd.

Every bite of this donut includes the perfect key lime curd.

The star of our meal was the key lime curd brioche donut, thanks to its mouth-puckering filling. I have a hard time finding lemon/lime desserts that meet my stringent tartness requirements. This one did.

Mr X-sXe was particularly interested in the tres leches donut. He’d gotten addicted to the same flavor at Doughnut Plant in NYC, where the tres leches had literally left him speechless the first time he bit into one. Although it wasn’t bad, GBD’s version didn’t live up to that gold standard: it needed more filling to balance out the dryness of this cake donut.

While too treacly for my taste, the glaze on the bourbon butterscotch brioche donut was a nice foil to the saltiness of the bacon. This one’s for die-hard fans of salty-sweet concoctions.

Assortment of donuts from Golden Brown Delicious in Washington, DC.

Clockwise from left to right: the tres leches, bourbon butterscotch with bacon, and key lime curd.

My one regret is that we didn’t try the passionfruit flavor while we were there. The lady at the register mentioned it was one of her favorites.

PS: If a restaurant’s fried chicken leaves you pining for Popeye’s, it probably shouldn’t be one of the headliners. Unfortunately, there was nothing remarkable about the bird here. Fortunately, the creamed kale and biscuit sides rescued the savory part of the meal from bland-ville.

09
May
13

Michel Richard knows his way around a dessert

Napoleon a la Michel

Now that’s a napoleon (mille-feuille)!

A while back, I had the good fortune of stuffing my face at a work lunch at Central in downtown DC, a Michel Richard joint. The chef’s known for his playful turn with foods (as well as looking a lot like Santa Claus).

A profile of Richard that ran in The Washington Post many years ago revealed one of his culinary inspirations: KFC’s fried chicken. Yup, his haute cuisine is inspired by the Colonel. That gives you some insight into why his creations, sweet or savory, are big on contrasting textures and often have a crispy element.

Michel's crunch bar from Central

Those of us who didn’t order Michel’s crunch bar were jealous of those who did.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of the 3 Central desserts we tried.

The restaurant’s best-known treat is Michel’s chocolate bar, the chef’s Kit Kat-inspired happy ending. This was chocolate-y without being cloying, and had a nice crispy texture. If you’re unsure which dessert to try, go with this one. It was the all-around favorite.

The gimungous size and presentation of my napoleon made for some envious looks around the table. But the layered pastry and cream, while delicious, needed a little kick. A drizzle of chocolate or fruit puree, or even the traditional napoleon icing, would’ve made for less monotonous eating. It’s unusual that I don’t finish a dessert, but I left some of this on the plate.

The disappointing lemon bar from Central.

The lemon tart didn’t find many fans at our table.

My comrades in gustatory indulgence who ordered this lemon tart weren’t super happy with it. It’s a layer of shortbread topped with bland lemon mousse topped with meringue. Next to the more showstopping dessert options, this one’s a dud.

A peek at Central DC's kitchen.

Central’s kitchen, where the pastry magic happens.

27
Apr
13

Suspend your disbelief: this prune cake’s actually really good

IMG_1100

A steaming bowl of mashed prunes isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a cake. In fact, it can do the opposite of whetting the appetite.

Yet this prune cake with buttermilk icing from the Pioneer Woman’s really, really good. Like a mild spice cake without the annoying cloyingness you can get from too much molasses and/or brown sugar. The buttermilk icing gives the entire thing a caramelly finish.

IMG_1081

I suppose if she called it dried plum cake, it wouldn’t sound that much better. Seriously, though, no matter your feelings for prunes, this is a cake worth trying if you’ve got some extra buttermilk in the fridge.

You can cut back on the sugar without hurting the taste (I cut back to 3/4 cup for the cake and 3/4 cup for the icing. I didn’t end up using all of the icing.). Provided you don’t over-mix the batter, you get a super fluffy, moist cake that will having you re-evaluating your preconceived notions of prunes.

22
Mar
13

Some gelatin desserts are more socially acceptable than others

Buttermilk panna cottas

Buttermilk panna cottas, accessorized with lemon cookies from Trader Joe’s.

Making this buttermilk panna cotta (inspiration: a recent Cupcakes and Cashmere post) brought me back to my childhood, where rainbow jello was on heavy rotation.

Ok, so maybe the only thing they have in common is the jiggle. But that’s what I was reminded of by the texture of this gelatin-based panna cotta, something you’d serve at a dinner party for grown-ups. Whereas rainbow jello is something you’d serve at a dinner party with guests whose ages are in the single-digits, or with a tongue-in-cheek 70s theme (break out the avocado-green Tupperware!).

rainbow jello

Half the fun is peeling apart the Technicolor layers as you eat it. Photo from alphamom.com.

Bemoaning the lack of jello dessert options at your local restaurant? One of the places you can still find jello options in abundant supply, apart from your local senior center, is K&W Cafeterias. I head there whenever I’m visiting my hometown in NC and need a cheap comfort-food fix.

K&W cafeteria congeal menu

The full range of congeal options at K&W Cafeterias. Would you like yours with cottage cheese?

At K-Dub, they call jello congeal, not a word you’d normally associate with anything you put in your mouth. If that doesn’t make you think twice about that green, gelatinous cube with mandarin oranges suspended within like a Damien Hirst shark tank, I’m not sure what will.

But back to the panna cotta. It’s not as solid and chewy as your typical block of jello, but it’s definitely got a jiggle about it. If you like the flavor of vanilla yogurt, I recommend trying the recipe mentioned above. It’s dead easy, just requires a few ingredients, and foolproof. I didn’t even bother straining the mixture, and it turned out just fine. Like yogurt, it’s best served up with a compote or fresh fruit. I liked it with strawberries and mangoes (if available, buy the champagne mangoes, with the yellow-orange skin. They’re sweeter than the larger ones with red-green skins and have a buttery texture).

buttermilk panna cotta avec fruit

Buttermilk panna cotta tastes like yogurt, so buddy it up with fruit.

04
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 3: More Donut Gluttony, and a Gourmet Take on Hostess

These may be some of the best donuts ever to cross your lips. Starting at 9 o’clock: the coconut cream, pistachio, creme brulee, and tres leches.

Doughnut Plant, Chelsea store

Smitten with the Doughnut Plant cake donuts we tried at the Stumptown Coffee pastry case, we decided to head to the mothership herself to see what other flavors we could stuff down our gullets. We ended up at the Chelsea location (there’s another one in the Lower East Side). The funny thing is that there’s a Dunkin’ not far from the store where you can get a donut for less than $1. But why would you do that when you can pay $3 for the best donut you’ve had in your life?

Glowing Sign at Doughnut Plant

The décor makes you feel like you’re entering a Willy Wonka donut factory. Donut pillows on the walls, donut tiles on the booths, and a giant, glowing donut menu. The only part that falls a bit short is the donut display itself, where a sample of each of the flavors of the day were crammed into a small glass case. You kind of want to see them in their full glory on platters, or at least in a bigger display case, lined up like soldiers.

On this visit we had the pistachio, coconut cream, crème brulee “doughseed” (mini-donut), and a reprise of the Tres Leches (at Mr. X-sXe’s insistence). Unlike the other cake donuts we’d tried, the pistachio didn’t have any filling, which meant it was somewhat dry and uninspiring. The crème brulee, the flavor that piqued my interest in the Doughnut Plant in the first place, was good but not as sublime as I’d built it up to be in my head. The coconut cream was generously filled and fluffy on the outside. Delicious as it was, it still couldn’t touch the blackout cake donut, which remains my favorite.

There are many, many options to maintain your sugar rush at Empire Cake.

Empire Cake, Chelsea

That night we met up with a friend, JDang, who suggested checking out Empire Cake, which she’d passed on her walk to meet us. It’s a charming shop (but what shop filled with cakes and pastries isn’t?) on 8th Avenue. Their specialty, apart from custom cakes, are their gourmet versions of greatest hits from the possibly-soon-extinct Hostess, like the Ho-Ho (Swiss roll), Snowball, and Twinkie.

Imitation is flattery: a homemade version of the Hostess Snowball surpasses the original.

We tried a pink Snowball. It tasted like a homemade, less artificial version of Hostess’ own, one that doesn’t make you wonder about the chemicals involved in making it shelf-stable. But to be honest, we went to Empire Cake post-dinner, post-donuts with food fatigue, so our taste buds were maxed out for the day. You just might have to go there to judge for yourself.

Related posts:

Sweet Streets of NY, Day 1 Spoils

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

25
Aug
12

A trip to the Asian grocery store reveals a deficit of delicious desserts

Here’s why you usually don’t see anything beyond mango sticky rice,* green tea ice cream, and fried bananas on the dessert menu of your favorite Asian restaurant. Desserts are not our forte.

What follows are exhibits A, B, and C of the freezer case at Great Wall, an Asian grocery store in Falls Church, VA. A few observations below on what’s wrong with Asian desserts.

Taro root popsicles at the Asian grocery store.

(1) Fruit is not a dessert. Most Asians eat fruit for dessert. Which is a lot healthier, of course, but a few oranges wedges aren’t going to satisfy any craving for a cookie.

(2) Some Asian desserts are so bad, they border on the offensive. Mochi doesn’t taste like anything and it’s a digestion/choking hazard. No, I don’t want fibrous taro root in my cake. Please keep your durian out of my ice cream. There’s a reason some Asian countries ban that fruit from being taken on public transportation (it’s that pungent).

Durian frozen desserts at the Asian grocery store.

(3) Care for a side of the toots with your sweets? Because many Asian desserts (mochi, red bean buns, moon cakes, shaved ice) come with beans as a topping or filling. Confusing and not delicious, right?

Beans do not belong in desserts.

*One of the lone beacons of light among Asian desserts is mango sticky rice (thank you, Thailand), which done properly can be divine. As can anything made with coconut milk. As long as it doesn’t also have taro root, beans, and/or durian in it.