What follows is a story of the greatest dessert experience of my entire life.
It begins somewhere beautiful: the swank and glamorous 701, a restaurant in the Penn Quarter neighborhood in DC (where all the cool restaurants are these days).
The plan was an evening of leisurely dinner and copious amounts of talking with me and some of my fave female relatives (though we missed you, Kathy and Malindi!).
This plan was enhanced by a three course price fixe meal. The idea was that if you ordered before 6:45, your food would arrive promptly enough that you could see the theater. Instead, we ordered before 6:45 and then talked for three hours.
The menu, so as to allow you to fantasy foodball what you would order. (I may need to trademark the phase “fantasy foodball”. You guys know what I’m talking about? When you read a food blog and they post the menu and you go, “Well I would’ve ordered that!”
The meal began with a quality bread basket: aromatic and filled with a delicious variety of warm bread.
It featured a tasty and perfectly sized mini corn muffin;
Also ate some caramelized onion and herb foccacia (drool), and some ethereally light Italian bread. On your birthday (well, er, the day after your birthday on which you continue to celebrate your birthday), you should have lots and lots of carbs to celebrate.
You should also have wine! This was a Malbec rose (which I didn’t even know existed til I tasted it at the winery the day before), and was lovely.
Always inquisitive of waiters (annoying, some might put it), I made inquiries about what the “seasonal soup” entailed.
Basically once he said squash, he sold me. But added something about a balsamic reduction, which was FABBBB.
I took pictures by holding a candle above my plates of food and shooting one handed, frantically hoping that I’d sufficiently stabilized my wrist to produce a good picture.
At one point my family members started holding the candle for me. That is love.
The highlight of the soup? That would surely be the chunks of perrrrfect apple at the bottom. Tender and flavorful and so wonderfully unexpected. I love when chefs play with texture.
Swapped bites with my mom, who got the salad with the pumpkin and bacon. How could you go wrong, really? Perfectly dressed, too. And I’m so into frisee right now.
Next: entree. Our table was evenly divided between the ravioli and the trout (what a bunch of chicks, huh? No manly meat for us), but what sold me on the trout was that it was smoked. I really really loved smoked things. Also the mention of “horseradish mashed potato”.
It came out looking quite beautiful and architectural. It’s so nice going to restaurants at the higher end of the spectrum (I’d much rather go somewhere lovely like this once a year than go to Chipotle once a month or even once a week), because the food is more than just food. You’re getting to see something really beautiful!
I also really like ordering things I can’t make at home. Sometimes that means ingredients I can’t get; sometimes equipment (though I would really like a smoker…), and sometimes just professional technique: garnishing, knife skills, innovative flavor combinations and the like.
Lovely tender, flavorful trout (something had happened to brown the edges in the most delightful way). Bitter but oh-so-tender chicory underneath. The horseradish mashed potatoes could’ve been FAR horseradish-ier for me… but I understand the need to be cautious to keep the diners happy :D And love me some garnishes- the port reduction and the crispy onions were both fab.
It was also quite colossal in portion. It made yummy leftovers, too!
Okay. Now we are entering the major VIP experience aspect of the evening. I had already been spoiled with great company and great food. Now I was about to experience dessert… nirvana.
While ordering our dinners, we were asked to order for the three courses- appetizer, entree, and dessert. When our waiter got to me, however, he said that I’d be getting “something special” for dessert.
Let me backtrack- a week prior to my birthday, I’d attended the ridiculously cool Women Chefs and Restaurateurs event and met a lot of very cool chefs. In attendance was Melanie Parker, a very very cool person with whom I had a long chat. She being a pastry chef and me being a pastry enthusiast, we mostly talked about dessert :D Whacky ingredients, what a pastry chef’s job is like, where she gets her chocolate inspiration, and so on. I totally salivated over the dessert she was sampling at the event, and she said, “Come to the restaurant. I’ll make you something.” Well gosh okay!
The rest of the table made do with the delicious dessert items that WERE on the menu, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying digging into their creme brulees.
(I captured the crackly moment when my mom broke the sugar shell on top of the custard. Always fun!)
But then for me, out came this lovely and festive plate, featuring an unbelievable dessert that, our waiter informed us, Melanie had invented that day (!)
Please bear in mind that I am going by a waiter’s description, and no written menu, but mon dieu I want to do this dessert justice.
The base was a chocolate cake- rich and dense and genoise-y. Atop that was a caramel custard. It was so perfect. It wasn’t slimy like a creme caramel or a flan- it was dense, and imbued with the perfect level of sweetness and flavor. Surrounding these two layers was ganache, the ingredient I will associate forever with my grandmother and her unbelievable chocolate cake. It’s a staple of pastry; just cream and high-quality chocolate! Made a beautiful shell.
Accessorizing this cake of glory were several additional delicious elements. A homemade marmalade provided the most perfect tangy, ever-so-slightly bitter complement to the pure creamy sweetness of the caramel. Gold leaf blinged out my already fancy-shmancy birthday dessert. And resting atop was a perfect, PERFECT, hazelnut macaron.
The macaron’s crisp exterior shattered in your teeth, revealing an airy but oh-so flavorful cookie filled with the most unbelievably rich hazelnut cream.
Everyone else got to experience this macaron bliss because our waiter arrived with a plate with more than enough for the entire table. YUM!
But then. O. M. G.
Out of the kitchen comes Melanie, in her chefs gear, to very sweetly wish me a happy birthday in person.
But in tow is another set of waiters, carrying additional trays FULL OF DESSERT!
GUYS, IT WAS A BIRTHDAY DESSERT EXTRAVAGANZA! It was like WINNING THE LOTTERY! I spent the next few minutes incoherently thanking Melanie, running laps around the table to take pictures, thanking Melanie, sticking my fork out to taste anything that couldn’t hold still, exchanging “I can’t believe this is happening” looks with my family members, and telling our waiter to please, please thank Melanie again.
Here are the desserts I consumed in addition to the aforementioned feast. I only hope I can do them justice.
First, beignets! (<< Super awesome New-Orleans style fritters).
These were made of an apple and ROSEMARY batter (the first and not the last brilliant use of savory herbs) that was then fried to perfection with a crispy outside and tender center. I suppose they were meant to be reminiscent of apple cider donuts (and were, in fact, served in a warm and soothing apple cider broth) but they elevated the form to a whole new level. Also had a delish lemony panna cotta and candied walnuts. Bliss! BLISS!
Next arrived a PBJ! I KID YOU NOT!
This was the most clever dessert ever. Yet though it left you tickled pink with its nostalgia and wit, holy deliciousness it also delivered on perfect, sophisticated flavor.
In the forefront is the “bread”, two sweet and rich and crispy pieces of brioche dusted in powdered sugar. Nestled beneath them are luscious caramelized banana slices and rich banana ice cream that had wonderful chewy bites in it- toffee?
Then the ultimate in deliciousness and wit, the peanut butter and jelly! Melanie and I had discussed this dessert earlier- it was a peanut butter mousse layered with a Concord grape jam that she made herself. It was so rich and such a perfect combination and played on nostalgia in an amazing way. I don’t know how she got that amazing texture- it had the thickness and richness of ice cream but wasn’t frozen. Cream? Cream cheese?
The fig and almond tart.
(wasn’t sure whether I’d gotten a good shot at the beginning so got another one after we’d demolished it a bit. I sort of enjoy this one, too!)
This was the dessert through which I met Melanie! I ate the mini version at the Women Chefs event. However, the full sized version was even more brilliant.
It had the components I’d loved in the mini version: crisp but not dry, perfectly buttery crust; rich and sweet but not too sweet fig and almond filling.
However, this was greater enhanced with creme fraiche ice cream (mon dieu!) and the most complex, luscious caramel with fresh herb in it (I’m extremely frustrated with my ability to spot it. But perhaps it is an indication of a great dessert that it still contains a little mystery. Anyone a good herb spotter? Tarragon, perhaps?
But then CURSES, somehow I MISSED ONE!
I need you guys to picture this amazing dessert in your head:
The final dessert was a pear cobbler with a pedigree. It had a rich fruity base with fresh pear cooked to moist and luscious tenderness on top of a sweet and complex fig compote. The topping, however, was the piece de resistance: it was crumbly and subtly sweet and had an unbelievable depth and richness because it contained MAYTAG BLUE CHEESE! And it was BRILLIANT! (Our waiter said it was his favorite dessert). It was such a grown up dessert, not too sweet but with an incredible balance of delicious flavors and textures.
Many at the table enjoyed an espresso- I went for their lemon-lavender-mint tea, which was a nice tummy soother (more than a food baby, I had an entire food family in my belly)
I left the evening feeling mind boggled at how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life.
My aunt arrived with a card that absolutely touched me, remembering what it was like to visit me as a little four-year-old back in Spokane, and getting to spend time with me now.
This was one of those nights where I just felt unbelievably blessed. My mom, who treated our whole family to this unbelievable dinner (and treated me to the special event, where I’d met Melanie, the week before), is there for me always. She gives me a home to come home to every day, somewhere where I can unload the things are in my head and have someone to listen. She indulges my expensive food passions :D And it felt so special to have my whole family with me, to spend a leisurely three hours over dinner chit chatting about all the people we love and all the weirdos we know (:D).
And a special thank you to Melanie, who met me ONCE and then proceeded to treat me to a truly unforgettable birthday experience. I am just blown away by that kind of generosity.
Anyone who lives near DC or plans to visit DC or loves dessert enough to plan to visit DC after reading this (which, frankly, you should)- get to 701. Just… get there. Just point at the dessert menu and say, “I’ll have that.” This culinary genius (and really, culinary HUMANITARIAN :D) should have lines going out the door!