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June 12, 2011 11:09 am

Just Desserts

avatar by Zechariah Mehler

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The Cake Is a Lie

The Cake is a Lie

The first time I ever tried a molten chocolate cake I was at a restaurant called Shallots in my home town of Chicago. At Shallots they topped the cake with a solid disk of chocolate which allowed them to label the desert the “Top Hat.” I remember vividly as they brought the gleaming white plate to my table,  its centerpiece was a round chocolate cake the size of a silver dollar and about the thickness of a hockey puck. The plate was further dressed with plump berries, chocolate drizzle, snowy powdered sugar and a dollop of parve ice cream all in a very artful fashion. I speared the cake with my tiny desert spoon and as I did, it released a wave of hot chocolate ooze that creeping its way over my plate, commingled with the berries. I remember thinking at the time that desert didn’t get better than this and that surely no confection in the world could stand up to the awesome goodness of what I had just eaten.

Imagine my surprise upon moving to New York and learning that here too there was a version of this desert. Except here it was called “The Opera” or “Lava Cake”. In fact the more restaurants I went to the more I realized that there is some manifestation of this cake at almost every kosher restaurant in New York. “Strange”, I thought, but I wrote it off as ‘imitation being the sincerest form of flattery’ and perhaps I was growing tired of pastry chefs and my palate began to sophisticate causing me to desire a less rich ending to the meals that I was eating but still all around me I saw tables ordering the Molten Chocolate Cake undisputed King of the kosher desert scene.

Eventually, as all Jews do, I found myself covering Kosherfest and while I was wandering the aisles I came upon a man whose exhibit featured huge plates of nothing but molten factory made chocolate cakes, packaged, frozen and shipped. These confections were microwave ready and only needed to be plated and garnished in order to create the home made illusion. He had been doing this for a number of years and sold to some of the most prestigious kosher restaurants in the business. Learning that nine times out of ten the single most regularly ordered kosher desert was something you could pull out of a freezer safe box and nuke, solidified the momentum I had already begun building in trying other deserts when I ate out. I began asking the all important question “is that made in-house?’ every time a waiter would list the deserts for me. I learned that despite the molten chocolate cake regularly being brought in, many of the other deserts served throughout kosherdom are in fact home made and over the years as I have sampled my way through them, eating some truly wonderful things. But knowledge is useless if not shared so here is a short list of deserts and their descriptions that I can thoroughly recommend and that I urge my loyal readers to try the next time you dine out.

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Lemon meringue tart from Pardes. This tart is sweet, creamy and refreshing. It serves as a perfect end to a meal. I also have it on very good authority that Chef Wendel at Pardes makes an amazing Chestnut Soup with chocolate flan that I have not yet had the opportunity to try but am eager to sample.

Roasted Pear at Prime KO. Roasting the pear caramelizes the fruits natural sugar making the depth of sweetness much greater while not being cloying. It’s served with a ginger ice cream that works beautifully with the dish

Va’Bene’s Fragole con Zabaglione. Zabaglione is an exceptionally light custard made with a sweet white wine. The body of this desert is ethereal making for a very light finishing course. Despite it’s lightness it is very flavorful and is prob the best kosher Zabaglione served outside of Italy. Va’Bene also makes a really stellar tiramisu if you feel the need to augment your desert with something a little more substantial.

Apple Cinnamon Bread Pudding from Wolf and Lamb. Served with a warm apple chutney this desert could easily be breakfast. Even though it it almost exclusively carbohydrates I found the bread pudding to be very light and tasty.

Le Marais Marquise au Chocolat. This is the dish for any serious chocolate lover. It is a mousse cake with a crust of pine nuts and candies citrus accents. The mousse is rich and velvety with just enough crunch from the pine nuts while the citrus cuts through the richness keeping this dish from being overpowering.

To any and all reading this feel free to send me your desert recommendations to either my email TheKosherCritic@gmail.comor @TheKosherCritic on Twitter

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  • Le Marais has 2 types of desserts on their menu: A fondant de chocolat cake which is the warm chocolate cake and the opera cake. According to wikipedia the opera cake which is made with layers of almond sponge cake (known as Joconde in French) soaked in coffee syrup, layered with ganache and coffee buttercream, and covered in a chocolate glaze. According to Larousse Gastronomique “Opéra gateau is an elaborate almond sponge cake with a coffee and chocolate filling and icing.”

    Posters need to realize there is no need for vitriol – a gentle correction will be more helpful than insults. I suppose it is easier to post nasty comments when there is no chance for a one on one confrontation.

    • Well said Alyssa

      • it should also be noted that I take notes on the dishes I am presented cross referenced with the menu so if I am presented a warm chocolate cake and told by serving staff that it is the Opera (which on the menu reads Chocolate Cake with Mocha) it is reasonable for me to assume that the dish is what they tell me it is. Again none of which is the point.
        The point is that every kosher restaurant seems serves this dish and it is unquestionably delicious. But there are many other things that should be tried because they are far more creative culinary wise.
        Despite my love of being able to go all Hunter Thompson on someone who made a rude comment I sincerely hope that the drama surrounding one errant line of my article hasn’t caused people to miss the point I was trying to make.

  • M.D.

    Well Said Mr. Mehler. Very well said.

  • Dear Mike,

    Clearly the details regarding chocolate souffle composition is a subject that is near and dear to your heart. Perhaps you are a scorned pastry chef or maybe just a true connoisseur of anything that bleeds molten chocolate. I concede to you that the last time I tried L’Opera (which consequently means “The Opera” in French for those of you who are Les bâtards Prétentieux) was several weeks ago when I attended Le Marais for the review I wrote on them (Some might dare refer to my visit to the restaurant and subsequent interview of their chef as research) and I found it’s consistency to be less cake like then it had been in the past. However that was truly not the point of the article
    I would take the time to explain my point, but to do that would be futile, since your above comment is clearly the angst ridden product of a demented pseudo intellectual with nothing but a head full of angry ramblings and no actual publication willing to print them. I know your type. Your the kind of person that reads a blog and then yells to your wife “Come quick Honey, i think someone on the internet is wrong”. You are the new scum of the digital age. Getting your perverse jollies by doling out scathing criticism from the comfort and anonymity the internet affords you.
    I am afraid Mike, that I have little patience for the rectal prolapse you call an opinion, not G-d forbid because you disagree with me, but because you felt the need to make a vicious personal affront about my intelligence and writing ability based on article I wrote on the subject of cake. And so I say good riddance to you because I feel the same way about people like you, as I do about cancer. Allow it to get under your skin and the chance of malignancy will become all to real.
    I wish you much luck in your future internet trolling.

    Best,

    The Kosher Critic

    P.S. If you ever figure out the whole writing while you sleep thing please let me know as learning that method would make my job a whole lot easier.

    • Fran

      I just love how any uneducated guy with a computer thinks he is the King of the Internets. Mike, what exactly is your problem? Failed as a journalist? Unable to get a a job writing anywhere? Just because you know that L’Opera is French for “The Opera” makes you an internet genius, huh? (By the way, if you’re really trying to show off your amazing knowledge on the culinary world, you really could have picked a less embarrassing way to show it.) You sir have made a fool of yourself.

  • mike

    I just love how the uneducated kosher consumer can easily confuse anything in the culinary world. Being that you are a journalist you are responsible for doing your research before printing an article. I guess you did not for this one. I know you are curious as to where I am going with this one so I will expound on the matter. A molten chocolate souffle (as it is truly called in the real world) has nothing to do with “The Opera”. The Opera or otherwise known as L’ Opera has a totaly different composition and does not even resemble the Molten Chocolate Souffle. Maybe you should stick to things you know like globs of ketchup all over your Shabbos meal. I could write all your articles in my sleep. Maybe go back to university and learn the foundations of journalism.

    • L’ Justin

      Kosher Critic, your article was very well written, and provided an educated, researched take on your experience with the molten chocolate cake. There was a time when critics of food, or anything for that matter, set out with the goal of providing their readers with an unbiased, researched piece off of which, readers could weigh the pros and cons listed in any given article. It seems to be a “critic” in the digital age, entails nothing more than ruthlessly tearing apart the focus of the piece. Allow me to expound my meaning; The majority of “critics” could just as easily be referred to as cynics. But you Kosher Critic, provide a balanced view of your experience, rather than writing some malicious article in hopes of gaining attention/notoriety (Trolling). I’ll tell you something, it is very easy to speak ill of people, movies, food, etc. But to strike the balance between positive and negative aspects is an extremely difficult task. As you have seen with “Mike” and his comment, all you have to do is throw in a couple 4 syllable words, make a witty yet cowardly statement, and you have the average modern day critic. Also, take into consideration the amount of time that “Mike” spent not only reading your article, but the time he spent writing his comment. People like “Mike” are best when ignored, as while they do provide new vocabulary, it is most often misused, and their intent is not to help improve, but to break down. Take pride in the fact that this man felt so compelled by your article on chocolate cake to even comment at all. But he obviously has personal issues, and I don’t think you are the one that needs to worry about the foundations of journalism, “Mike” should probably worry about leading a meaningless life, bouncing around different kosher food critic websites spewing his typographical anal leakage. Keep up the good work, your work is being published in a large scale, fast growing website. That is something to be very proud of. There will be many more “Mike” types as you go along, but you need to take it in stride, and always remember, you don’t need to stoop to his level, because I can assure you, “Mike’s” level, tastes worse than mass produced, defrosted chocolate cake 😉
      Keep it up and always remember, NO ONE PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER!
      – L’Kosher Critic, Je T’Aime

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