Friday, October 16, 2009

Rant: What happened to dessert?

Dessert used to be better.

I'm talking about purchased dessert. On a plate at a restaurant or in a box at the bakery. Dessert at home is whatever the cook at home makes, and it's usually still pretty good.

Purchased dessert used to have flavors. Butter, and chocolate, and cream, and nuts, and caramel, and burnt sugar, and like that. Now it just tastes like sugar.

Now, I'm not one of those people who says, "Oh, it's got sugar in it." Or "I never eat white sugar." I eat lots of white sugar. Yum.

But sugar can't stand alone. It needs something else, and it needs something else that's at least a little bit challenging. Strawberries should have some sour. Chocolate should have some bitter, or some of that dutch powderiness, or something. Butter should taste like butter, like you are indeed (gasp!) eating fat - and by the way, the chocolate should have fat, too. And so should cream.

I've lamented more than once the once-fabulous dessert at a restaurant that shall go un-named. It was a small flat slice of deadly-rich seriously-bitter chocolate cake, in a pool of wincingly sour raspberry sauce, topped with a soft plop of unsweetened whipped cream. Taken alone, the cake was too rich and too bitter. Taken alone, the sauce was too sour and screamed too loud of raspberries. Taken alone, the cream was too fatty-rich and too bland. Taken together, a carefully assembled bite, the combination was miraculous.

Then the restaurant added a bale of sugar to everything, and that was the end of that. That was about the time they stopped flattening and seasoning their chicken breasts, and made you pay extra for the fabulous fried bread and the miracle-of-simplicity butter lettuce salad. Then we stopped going. Then they closed.

It's all a lesson in attention to detail in food, but the dish that I grieve most is the dessert. And dessert in general, because most other restaurants made the same "add a bale of sugar" change even before that one. With rare (and much-appreciated) exceptions, dessert has become a waste of menu space.

That's why I tend to order rare tuna at the end of a meal. Yum.

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