Savory desserts are sweet successes all over Seattle
Desserts featuring all kinds of savories — from beets and bacon to blue cheese, saffron and sea salt are all over the high-end restaurant scene in and around Seattle. Among the treats are a Roasted Beet Baked Alaska at ART in the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle and Blue Cheese Panna Cotta with Coca-Cola-glazed lardons at the Palace Kitchen.
HAVE YOU, too, noticed all the savory elements — stuff like bacon, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs — sneaking into desserts around town lately?
I first noticed the trend when I tasted Green Tea Tiramisu at a popular Belltown sushi bar. I found the combination pretty foul — a clear case of fusion-cuisine confusion.
But since then, I've discovered plenty of other offerings that were actually quite good. Even delicious. After a bit of research, I learned that Japanese pastry chefs routinely use matcha — that brilliantly colored green-tea powder with new-mown-grass flavors — in pastries, cookies, ice cream and mochi. And green-tea frozen yogurt has been all the rage around here at Red Mango's five Seattle-area stores.
At Salish Lodge & Spa, pastry chef Laurie Pfalzer offers a refreshing take on the traditional cheese plate for dessert: Trailhead Tomme Cheese Soufflé with Roasted Mission Figs and Quince-and-Persimmon Confit. It's an echo of the Spanish staple featuring manchego cheese with sweet elements such as fruit and quince paste.
"The soufflé is truly savory, twice-baked and served warm, but the accompaniments are definitely sweet," Pfalzer says. She roasts the figs and quince in brown-sugar simple syrup, poaches the persimmons and macerates them for more than a week in heavy sugar syrup, then finishes the dish with a dehydrated persimmon chip.
At BOKA Kitchen + Bar, pastry chef Elisabeth Slye serves Three Billy Goats Gruff — a classic cheesecake enriched by tangy chèvre — accompanied by warm-apple compote flavored with fresh rosemary and cassia cinnamon. She's one of the first in town to work with the new SweeTango apple, a hybrid of the Zestar and popular Honeycrisp varieties.
In January, another savory cheesecake caused quite a stir at the sixth-annual Platinum Wine Dinner. Columbia Tower Club chef James Hassell's Almost Dessert cheesecake was made with Rogue River Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese. Cooked in a mushroom-studded, butter-cracker crust, the cheesecake was drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and accompanied by cheese-crusted, truffle-scented steak tartare!
At Tom Douglas' restaurants, executive pastry chef Garrett Melkonian reports mixed results using bacon as a savory element.
At the Palace Kitchen, his Blue Cheese Panna Cotta was a big hit. The pudding is served with apple confit prepared with butter, bacon fat, vanilla and cinnamon; all that is garnished with Coca-Cola-glazed lardons (thick bacon pieces), then drizzled with whey cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce), sherry vinegar and black pepper.
But at Dahlia Lounge, the Chanterelle Melon Granita with Frozen-Melon Salad didn't fare so well. The dessert was served tableside with heirloom-melon soda and topped with a slice of candied prosciutto.
"It was our take on the classic Italian pairing — prosciutto and melon — and the staff really loved it," Melkonian says. "But customers saw it more as something 'interesting,' then ordered the coconut-cream pie."
"Savory ingredients can add depth if done right," says Ryan Witcher, pastry chef at ART Restaurant and Lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle. "Like for apple-pie filling, I use fennel, as it is more interesting than the cinnamon/nutmeg that everyone else uses. Beets are another great savory item to use in sweets, as they are naturally sweet if cooked long enough."
Beets are in the chef's Roasted Beet Baked Alaska with Basil Meringue, one of 11 temptations served on a special chocolate buffet at ART on Thursday evenings through Dec. 17.
Although this riff on the classic Baked Alaska sounds strange, the earthy sweetness of the beets in the cool, creamy ice-cream base makes a perfect foil for the toothsome chocolate-cookie crumbs in the crust. A lightly browned puff of basil-flecked meringue makes a terrific topper. My tasting notes read: cool, sweet, savory, brilliant.
Fresh thyme and tannic walnuts take center stage in a streusel made with slow-cooked peaches at Snoqualmie Casino's Terra Vista restaurant.
And at Tulalip Resort Casino's white-tablecloth Tulalip Bay restaurant, a sumptuous, savory Saffron Arborio Rice Pudding comes with Fresh Figs, Pistachios and Saffron Reduction.
Pastry chef Heather Earnhardt of Volunteer Park Café embraces savory desserts with four impressive options: Savory Rosemary Cornmeal Shortcake with Fresh Peaches, Bittersweet Chocolate Caramel Tart with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt, Candied Fennel Upside-Down Cake and Bacon Chocolate-Chip Cookies.
Dana Tough and Brian McCracken, chef/owners at Spur Gastropub in Belltown and the new Tavern Law on Capitol Hill, push the envelope of salty/sweet/savory flavors when they pair pretzel-flavored sponge cake with a veil of chocolate ganache, pretzel ice cream, chocolate pretzel praline and a clear, bittersweet chocolate consommé gel, then lightly sprinkle it with French sea salt.
My most validating moment since I began tracking the savory-desserts movement came during an episode of "Throwdown" on the Food Network hosted by Bobby Flay. The Iron Chef competed against the owners of The Dessert Truck, a roving dessert coach based in New York City, as each team struggled to create the ultimate bread pudding.
Flay whisked his way through Chocolate-Coconut Bread Pudding with Passion Fruit Sauce. The owners of the Dessert Truck "threw down" their signature dessert: Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bacon Crème Anglaise.
And guess what? Bacon won.
Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of "Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining." Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.