The almond cake was served warm from the oven and was like a souffle: light, airy and creamy. It had a delicate browned upper crust. The frozen grapefruit and orange carpaccio’s (Italian for thinly sliced cold food) kaleidoscopic colors were elegant, but I didn’t care for the taste or texture. It was very icy, like a watered down popsicle. I think grapefruit sorbet, bursting with bright flavors, would have been more appropriate. Or, if you’re keen on contrasting textures from the pudding-like cake, a granita would work too.
The most elaborate dessert was the grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille. While it did not have a thousand layers as the French name suggests, it did have several components neatly stacked on top of each other. The base was pate sable (tart dough),then citrus sponge cake, sweetened grapefruit sections, white chocolate, tarragon pastry cream, another layer of white chocolate and candied grapefruit peel on top. What a mouthful to say and eat.
With so many layers, I focused on getting an equal amount of everything in one bite. I literally had to stab the beautiful creation in my feeble attempt. The chocolate shattered into shards; the pastry cream drooped out; an entire grapefruit section slid out leaving subsequent bites naked; the fork hit resistance with the coarse cake; and the crust crumbled. The eating experience could easily be remedied by cutting the citrus sections into smaller pieces.
The dessert was heavy on craftsmanship, but my favorite parts were just the top three layers: cool pastry cream, crisp white chocolate, and some citrus for a little tang. The flavor combo was like an elegant creamsicle. For home application, you could make white chocolate cups, fill with your favorite pudding or pastry cream, then top with citrus sections.
Rounding out the dessert tasting was a relatively simple chocolate crepe filled with grapefruit curd. My favorite dessert of the bunch, the smooth curd (a milkless pudding augmented with eggs and butter) oozed out of the crepe. Really great. At home, you can spread any citrus curd on a crepe, pancake or even tortilla. The buttery suzette sauce isn’t necessary, but the sugared lemon on top is a nice touch.
The experience made me more aware of the different styles of dessert. Iuzzini reminds me of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller: both bring several components together for the final dish. Iuzzini is no doubt a talented craftsman. He has only worked at four star restaurants: Payard, Cafe Boulud, Daniel and Laduree (they claim to have invented the macaroon sandwich cookie in Paris). He has appeared on several best pastry chef lists from New York magazine, the James Beard Awards and Pastry Art & Design. However, his desserts aren’t for me. It’s haute cuisine: art that’s admired more for its concept than its usefulness (in this case, my stomach). I prefer not to be blatantly aware of every dessert component. It’s as if each part cries out, “Pay attention to me, I’m honey!” “I’m Meyer lemon!” “I’m tarragon!”
It’s not that I’m mindless when I eat. My philosophy is just to use a few quality ingredients and handle them minimally.
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