Most people don’t dream of dessert. But here at Great Food Houston, I do. Even still, the thought of a five-course dessert tasting from Houston’s top pastry chef was at least as much intimidating as it was exciting. Could I handle five courses of sweet... on top of five courses of savory? As it turns out, I can. [Sigh]
Before we begin, let’s get this on the table: It is a devastating understatement to call pastry chef Plinio Sandalio talented. He is a soft-spoken, always-innovating, intensely creative beast in the kitchen. Houston is lucky to have him... though we won’t have him for much longer. Ardent to nurture his skill, Sandalio plans to move to Chicago next year. So. The clock is on. Get thee to Textile. Or to Gravitas. Both bear his sugar stamp.
OK. Our first dessert was a bittersweet chocolate orb filled with quince juice and topped with honey. I popped that sucker like a pill and was amazed at the insanely smooth combination of flavors. The slight bitterness of the chocolate played well with the slight sweetness of the quince juice, which all benefited from the lingering bit ‘o honey. Interesting and yum.
Course two was a vanilla pound cake with apple confiture and blue cheese ice cream. The creative flavor combination was certainly pinnacled by the ice cream. While blue cheese might not sound like a gotta-have-it 31-flavor, the taste was beautifully mild. Plinio has said before that he considers ice cream to be more of a sauce. In this sense, the unique tang is perfect.
Course three? Coffee and milk. Aka: pain perdu with ice milk, bacon streusel, and coffee foam. The smoky bacon streusel added a fantastically unique flavor to the traditional French toast. The coffee foam was a little bitter for me, but the supple French toast more than made up for it. Delicious.
Next was a grapefruit pisco sour, topped with foam and rimmed with pop rocks. To make this, Sandalio mixes the drink in a siphon, then charges it with nitrous oxide cartridges and chills it for an hour. The drink had just a hint of sweetness and served as an ideal palate cleanser before the big hizzah.
Finally came the sweet potato beignets with pecan streusel, honey, and -- wait for it -- bacon ice cream. The diminutive beignets were warm/crispy on the outside, steamy/soft on the inside, rich, dense, delicious. And, Lord, the bacon ice cream. Again, Plinio takes an intensely savory taste and tones it down to let the best part of the flavor just creep through. Dy-no-mite.
Last but never least came the mignardises. Mignardises are bite-sized desserts, much like bonbons. Ours included a lemon truffle, a white ganache truffle, a shortbread, and a cocoa nib brittle. The perfect ending to a perfect meal.
[The Elite King of Sweet. Don’t leave us, Plinio!]