Thursday, January 19, 2012

Killed by Dessert, Part 1

On Monday night, I was one of the lucky few to get Killed by Dessert.


The product of a collaboration of some of the country's best (and some of my favorite) pastry chefs, Killed by Dessert was an occasion for these six pastry chefs to share with us some of their favorite things.  More precisely, one savory appetizer and two desserts per person - which, yes, is six savory courses and twelve sweet ones.  The ticket price seemed steep, but it was far less than you would pay for 18 courses from the restaurants at which these chefs provide the final sweet bites.  (Moreover, the proceeds benefited Share Our Strength.)  Given that I have been known to go to restaurants just to get to the desserts and sometimes order only dessert when there's really nothing on the menu I want to or can eat, there was no way in the world I was going to miss this event.

The event was hosted in the Brooklyn kitchen of Momofuku Milk Bar, and, in the words of Michael Laiskonis (my favorite pastry chef - he's brilliant, no, really, he is), came about as such:

Last night saw the realization of an experiment, a sort of underground, do-it-yourself dinner event, born out of a casual, bi-coastal conversation on the Twitter-sphere among a few friends and pastry chefs. Bill Corbett, Lincoln Carson, Christina Tosi, Francisco Migoya, Brooks Headley, and I all set up shop in the cavernous Momofuku Milk Bar space in Brooklyn to stage a seated, twelve-course 'dinner' of dessert (we were also compelled to each provide a small savory course to get things rolling). Fifty-nine guests turned out - intentionally intimate - all seated among the racks and shelves, mixers and ovens of the pastry kitchen. The idea was to peel back the curtain, to remove the normal barriers, and most of all, to hang out and have fun.

Left: Guinness Sour (42 Below kiwi vodka, lemon juice, egg white, Guinness)
Right: Aperitivo (42 Below honey vodka, martini rosata, lemon, dandelion and burdock bitters, soda)

The evening started off with a cocktail hour, with wine and cocktails offered as we walked in to tide us over as we made our way to the back of the kitchen for some savory bites.  I tried both cocktails and preferred the Guinness Sour, as the Aperitivo was just too tart and not quite balanced.  

The first savory bite we had was one of my favorites of the evening.

"Oasis at Three O'Clock in the Morning"
Falafel, pine nut hummus, pickled shallots, flatbread
Bill Corbett

Bill Corbett's falafel was perfect in both texture and flavor.  The pine nut hummus was creamy and rich, but not heavy, and the pickled shallots provided the perfect contrast to the hummus and cut through the (minimal) fat of the falafel.  I will admit that I ate two.  Maybe two and a half.  I won't admit to having eaten three, because I did no such thing.  As for the name and inspiration, Bill shared that he often made late-night visits to Oasis (the falafel place right near the Bedford Avenue L stop) when he lived in Brooklyn in the mid-2000's.  I've had the falafel at Oasis and it's excellent, but this version was better.

Next up for us was the only other vegetarian offering, Christina Tosi's wonderful take on brunch.

English muffin, black pepper butter, caramelized onions, deep-fried soft poached egg, pea shoots
Christina Tosi

This was like eggs benedict meets one of my favorite dishes at Dirt Candy meets French onion soup and it was so good.  Every component on that dish made sense and joined forces to make a delicious dish.  This needs to be on a brunch menu and it needs to happen soon.  My only complaint about this one was that my egg was overcooked (see that photo on the right).  I love runny egg yolks - and, ironically, el husband hates them but the egg on his was perfectly poached - so I went back for another, only to get a completely undercooked egg (and by that I mean a seriously runny white, which I just cannot eat).  So I just gave up and decided to save room for dessert.  And a tequila shot.  (What?  No, I didn't have a tequila shot.  I don't know what you're talking about.)

There were three other dishes that you're not going to see here because they were of the meaty variety and therefore I didn't photograph them because I didn't eat them, but they were certainly creative and beautifully executed - of course.  (You can check out photos of them here.)

"Wish That I Had Been Born Into It"
Latkes, smoked salmon, caviar, and rose champagne
Lincoln Carson

Dashi-braised short rib, bone marrow
Michael Laiskonis

Mole Negro de Oaxaca
Duck and corn tortilla
Francisco Migoya

In case you're wondering where Brooks Headley's savory dish is, just sit tight, it will show up later at a most opportune moment.

After being seated at two long tables, we were poured a glass of rose champagne and then the cavalcade of desserts started.
"Just Plain Vanilla"
Supported by mandarin, Buddha's hand, coriander
Lincoln Carson
Paired with Delamotte rose champagne

I loved everything about this course, including the tongue-in-cheek name.  The phrase "plain vanilla" is so silly and wrong - good vanilla has a distinctive, lush flavor and pastry chefs obviously know this.  The vanilla ice cream (that melty quenelle on the left) - which was richly flavored - was accompanied by a bevy of citrus in various forms as well as a few pods of toasted coriander, the mellow, earthy flavor of which plays so nicely with citrus (if you like wheat beers, you've had this combination).  What a way to start the meal.

Up next was something a little more playful.

Butterscotch Semifreddo, Tony Style
Butterscotch semifreddo, apricot sorbet, crumbled sbrisolona
Brooks Headley
Paired with Delamotte rose champagne

I don't know who Tony is, but I like his style because I don't care for butterscotch but I liked this course.  Probably because the semifreddo wasn't as rich or sweet as the butterscotch flavor would imply, and also because on top of it was a generous scoop of tart apricot sorbet that cut through the richness of the butterscotch.  It reminded me of a much, much, much better version of the oddly-named (and odd-tasting) gelati at Rita's.

Up next was one of the standouts of the evening.  Michael Laiskonis introduced his first sweet course by reading a passage from a book that inspired him and the name of which I should have written down but was too busy being captivated by this passage to write down the name of the book.

Tarte Tropezienne a la Façon Thorne
Paired with Delamotte rose champagne 

Tarte Tropezienne, which is comprised of brioche and pastry cream, was deconstructed into its components, much as a book can be deconstructed into words (which was the gist of the passage that was read to us prior to being served this course).  Shards of brioche and a pitch perfect mousseline buttercream were accented with small sections of oranges, a smattering of pistachios, and...I wish I could remember what those little droplets were, I want to say they were a tea-flavored pastry cream, mingled together for a very memorable few bites.  It was a simple dish, but the impeccable execution and thoughtfulness of it bowled me over.

Next, we were presented with another deconstruction.

Napoleon Trimmings
Caramelized puff pastry shards, just-made mousseline cream
Francisco Migoya
Paired with Rosa Regale, Brachetto

Again, another perfect execution of a classic and simple dessert, but this one didn't reach the high bar set by the previous one.  Aside from a few pieces of gold leaf and a sprinkling of (I can't remember what) on the edge of the dish, all this amounted to was a big blob of buttercream - which was excellent, but there was too much of it - and a whole lot of perfect puff pastry.  Judging from the half-eaten plates of this, I think we all would have been satisfied with just a few shards and a small dollop of the mousseline.  There is only so much buttercream one can eat, especially when there are eight more courses coming up!

Christina Tosi's first offering of the night was next and, unfortunately, it met my expectations when I was hoping that it would exceed them.

"Cornflake Cookie Dough Should Make Up 91% of Everyone's Daily Intake, Not Just Mine"
Fresh cookie dough, cookie puree, warm cookie, cereal milk 
Christina Tosi
Paired with Domaine Weinbach, Gewürztraminer, Cuvee Theo 2009

Everyone these days seems to love Christina Tosi's wacky desserts, so I've visited the Milk Bar on multiple occasions to see if the products lived up to the hype. Unfortunately, every single thing I've gotten from there has been painfully sweet, unbelievably buttery, and a whole lot in your face, and this observation has held true over multiple visits over the course of a year, so it can't be chalked up to an off day.  I was hoping that this event would provide Ms. Tosi with a forum to showcase something different from what's for sale at the Milk Bar, but this course was nothing more than a blob of cookie dough, a cookie, and a puree made of the cookie - three versions of the same thing that is for sale at the Milk Bar.  It was cookie on cookie on cookie (the cereal milk listed on the menu - also another Milk Bar item - was missing from the dish) and it was overkill.  I had one bite of the cookie, a fork tine's worth of cookie dough, and a drop of the puree.  I think those tiny portions contained more sugar than the previous course.  Sigh.

It's ok, though, because although next course sounded like it was more of the same, it ended up being one of the best of the night and I wanted more of it.

"My Family's Lack of a Culinary Legacy" aka 
"The Only Thing My Mom Ever Taught Me How to Make"
Peanut butter and banana sandwich
Bill Corbett
Paired with Kracher Beerenauslese, 2008

Simply put, this course was killer.  Bill Corbett reinvented the classic and beloved PB&J sandwich  as chunks of toasted sourdough bread, peanut butter praline, orange blossom honey jelly, candied peanuts, and, the best component of this and one of the best of the evening, sourdough ice cream.  Oh, I need more of that sourdough ice cream.  This plate was PB&J on drugs and my goodness it was good.  I need to attempt to recreate this one, although that might actually be a dangerous move given that I would subsist solely on that sourdough ice cream.

At this point I was starting to feel, well, disgusting.  The free flowing booze, the numerous savory bites, and, oh yeah, the copious desserts documented here were all more than enough for one evening, but we were only halfway through our meal.

Stay tuned for part 2, in which we get a surprise savory course and some boozy desserts, and, quite possibly, go into a sugar coma.

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