Of all the appalling trends in the restaurant world – mason jars as tableware, diners taking phone calls at table, servers congratulating you for ordering – the saddest comes last: skipping dessert. It has come to my attention that in many quarters, dessert is considered entirely optional, even after an otherwise celebratory meal.
The first strike against dessert is timing. It’s the course most vulnerable to cost-benefit analysis. When you sat down, you could’ve eaten a wolf. Now, your plate cleaned, the urgency evaporated, you study the dessert menu and try to guess: Is it going to be worth it?
Some places make desserts with as much care and art as the menu’s headline dishes. Here's a few of the outstanding choices – both classic forms and original compositions – from Western New York restaurants that are their own special occasion.
Ile flottante ($9) from Rue Franklin
341 Franklin St., 852-4416
If an egg wanted to dress up for the grand ball, this is how it would go. In this classic French dessert, Corey Kley whips whites with vanilla and sugar into meringue, transformed through water bath and oven into a cloud.
It floats on crème anglaise, a custardy sauce made of the egg yolks and a little more vanilla and sugar. Laced with sparkling caramel and sliced almonds, it wins hearts.
Blueberry-buttermilk sherbet ($11) from Oliver’s
2095 Delaware Ave., 877-9662
Executive chef Ross Warhol composes desserts sprinkled with surprise, achieved when preposterous, picturesque elements combine with startling success. Here’s a quenelle of blueberry-buttermilk sherbet surrounded by carrot-white chocolate ganache, cubes of lemon-olive oil cornmeal cake, white ginger meringue sticks, and a relish of apricots simmered in Riesling.
Passion fruit flan ($8) from Aro Bar de Tapas
5415 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, 631-1000
Sometimes a glimpse of another table’s dessert is all it takes. Executive chef Robert Mahoney firms up flan with gelatin and surrounds it with a passion fruit caramel. It’s topped with passion fruit pulp and seeds, and surrounded with dehydrated orange zest meringue, fresh orange supremes, and flower petals such as carnations and pansies. Dry ice creates a veil of mist as it heads to table.
Chocolate and hibiscus ($10) from Las Puertas
385 Rhode Island St., 807-1141
In her efforts to introduce lesser-known Mexican flavors, pastry chef Jennifer Batt offered chocolate accents to hibiscus, a flower petal tea with a fruity-sour flavor. A deep purple quenelle of hibiscus-spearmint sorbet is joined by a cocoa nib meringue sandwich cookie with a chocolate hazelnut mousse filling, accented with cake crumble and curls of fresh champagne mango.
Chocolate mousse ($9, pictured as lead image) from Carte Blanche
61 Buffalo St., Hamburg, 649-2101
Desserts by Colleen Stillwell of Butter Block include this survey of French Valrhona chocolate. Cocoa powder goes into the cocoa cake base. That’s topped with ganache made from chocolate that’s 64 percent cacao. The mousse core is made with 72 percent dark, then covered in bittersweet shiny glaze. There’s more in tempered sheets and in sable crumbs. Presented on vanilla sour cream.
Opera cake ($7) from Elm Street Bakery
72 Elm St., East Aurora, 652-4720
Luci Levere exploits the restaurant’s house-roasted coffee in two French treats. Layers of joconde almond cake, moistened with coffee syrup, are interspersed with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. Then a white chocolate macaron, a sandwich cookie made with egg white and almond flour, and coffee buttercream, and a scattering of crisp chocolate and caramel pearls.
Marquise de chocolat ($8) from Lait Cru Brasserie
346 Connecticut St., 462-4100
Pastry chef Amanda Robertson-Baroni’s version of the classic French dessert starts with a rectangle of triple-berry gelee made from raspberries, blueberries and blackberries strained of seeds. Candied walnuts come next, bearing the main event: a bar of dark chocolate mousse studded with more candied walnuts and covered with ganache.