Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer Soufflés


Soufflés Around Town

Summertime is about eating light, and what is lighter than soufflés?
The pillowy, delicate dessert, with its temperamental natural to fall, is a perfect way to end a meal in the steamy months. Though it is a sumptuous dessert, its richness is balanced by its light texture. Manhattan is home to a few of the finest, and the most interesting, soufflés. Larousse Gastronomique defines a soufflé as a hot preparation that is served straight from the oven. However, this definition has not stopped chefs from experimenting with every possible permutation. They range from the classic chocolate version to nouveau, cakier adaptations and soufflés with malt foam and coconut toffee. Here’s a look at some newer soufflés to hit the menus, and hopefully your tables, this summer.

Picholine.
Picholine: The pastry chef at Terrance Brennan’s time-honored, elegant restaurant gives the house’s signature finisher—a hefty selection of artisanal cheeses—some serious competition with his semi-seasonal soufflé selections. Currently, Picholine is offering a chocolate soufflé with peanut butter sorbet and malt foam. Clearly, the man behind the masterpiece is plying with the idea of heavy ingredients prepared in the lightest fashion—something every body-conscious New Yorker can appreciate. The delicate preparation of the soufflé counteracts a would-be heavy chocolate. The sorbet consistency refreshes a rich peanut butter. And by making malt into foam, diners enjoy the complex flavor in the airiest form. Delicious and, almost, nutritious!

CraftSteak
: There is something uniquely “Craft-esque” about the CS soufflé. Pastry chef, Erica Leahy, had truly captured the Colicchio spirit of recreating ingredients to showcase their essence. The dark chocolate soufflé that arrives in a crock is neither fluffy like a traditional soufflé nor as weighed down as a molten chocolate cake but falls somewhere in the middle. It didn’t crack the way a soufflé is meant to, but we didn’t mind once our spoons dug into a warm epicenter of chocolaty-ness.

The chocolate pot was accompanied by a perfect amount of banana chip ice cream that tasted exactly of rich mashed bananas. A small pourer of vanilla crème anglaise was also available to be poured over the chocolate or as a puddle in which we could dip each spoonful—our method of choice. Having everything presented so separately allowed for us to taste each component on its own and then to decide which items we wanted to mix together. In the end of course, the three elements of the dessert were best enjoyed on bite after the other.   

La Esquina.
La Esquina: Hidden on the dessert menu almost as well as the posh downstairs dining area of the restaurant, is La Esquina’s Pastel De Chocolate Cafe De Olla, i.e Chef Rene Ortiz’s version of a soufflé. His take comes steaming hot to the table in a wide bowl (instead of the traditional upright ramekin) and is topped with crème fraiche ice cream.

Hints of cinnamon and espresso add depth and flavor to the dish and made this soufflé one of my favorites. The bowl was a nicer way of enjoying the risen chocolate cake, making it less messy and easy to share. The savory note of crème fraiche toned down the super sweet chocolate; and I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of hot and cold (soufflé and ice cream). Something about the clandestine atmosphere made the soufflé almost more enticing, as it seemed I was indulging in a dark, secret pleasure.

Kyotofu.
Kyotofu: At this nook in Hell’s Kitchen, using soy and tofu as bases for desserts is not stopping anyone from devouring the delicious confections. My intent to only taste my way through the famed chocolate soufflé cupcake was quickly defeated when I perused the menu and found nearly everything irresistible. While I could write an essay on the housemade tofu, this article is for soufflé only.

The Kyotofu version is served as a cupcake with a dollop of white bean icing and a shallow dish of berry compote accompanying it. The dish is as cute as the restaurant and does not fail to deliver the goods. The method for making the cupcake is in a similar style to making a soufflé, and hence, the borrowed moniker.  Indeed, though the chocolate is dressed in a cupcake wrapper, it still caves a little like a soufflé. You’d never guess that the rich, spongy cake is made with a soy base because it’s not the point of the dessert. The cupcake is meant to deliver a deep chocolaty-ness and it certainly does. The only complaint I had was that it was too small. 

Bolo.
Bolo: The soufflé here is billed as a frozen espresso soufflé. The plate is an elaborately assembled sweet and savory work of art. Caramel espresso sauce—thick yet light with both intense caramel and espresso flavors, neither overpowering the other—and sliced, marinated bananas and dates covered in toasted coconut were adornments to the crown of the dish, a chocolate-sprayed, whipped cream-topped chilled soufflé.

The dessert’s main event proved extremely light and creamy with an inside of light chocolate mousse and bits of espresso. Though it wasn’t traditional in every sense (cold, not hot; solid, not airy or deflatable), it was a favorite.
picholine-
35 West 64th Street
(212) 724-8585

craftsteak-
85 10th Avenue
(212) 400-6699

la esquina-

106 Kenmare St.
(646) 613-7100

kyotofu-
705 ninth ave
(212) 974-6012

bolo-
23 E. 22nd st
(212) 228-2200

gemma-

335 Bowery at 3rd
(212) 505-9100
Gemma: I came across the “soufflé” at Gemma by complete accident; sitting at the bar, sampling the menu, I ordered the torta di ciocolatta for dessert. The bartender explained that it would be about twenty minutes because the chocolate cake is baked to order and has to rise. It sounded like serious soufflé speech to me.

And, to my delight, a lovely ramekin of perfectly risen chocolate poof came—on the nose—twenty minutes later. A dollop of vanilla gelato melted into the middle of the soufflé almost immediately, which had a sort-of domino affect on the whole dessert causing the chocolate to melt as well.

By the time the chocolate cup was halfway gone, it’d gone from puffy cake to gelato-infused pudding. It was a surprise to find it and a surprise hit! My only critique is that it shouldn’t have come with a fork—a wanted a spoon to slurp of every last bite!

-Jill Donenfeld

"When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out www.TheDishsDishes.com