Making Good Life Decisions (about dessert)Posted: January 21, 2011
Next in my series of “My Life is So Hard! (what should I eat?!)”, some thoughts on dessert selection.
James Beard (one of the greatest food revolutionaries of the 20th century) once said:
A gourmand who counts calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.
If you really love food, either work out or be happy being plump. If you are eating at a good restaurant, nutrition should not be a factor in menu selection (unless you have allergies, I guess.). Don’t eat junk food and especially don’t eat trans fats. Do eat foie gras, duck confit, pork belly, and other naturally delicious things.
If you read my earlier post on brunch, you should know that I’m a very careful decision maker. Every meal is an opportunity to make good life decisions and I always want to select the optimal bundle (this is how I rationalize this loveable quirk in my head). If you thought brunch sounded like a halting dilemma, you ought to watch me try and order dessert.
An outline of my decision making process:
First off, dessert is not always a given. The first difficult decision (which sometimes comes up before I have even had time to begin my pre-thinking) is whether I would like dessert or just the check. Sometimes they ask if I would like coffee, dessert, or just the check which is even worse.
A few things can happen at this point: I can want dessert and ask to see the menu. I can say I am uncertain and ask to see the menu. I can ask for the check and suffer from plate envy as I watch desserts walked past my table as I settle the bill. I can ask for the check and seek dessert elsewhere (a bakery, a gelateria). Or I can ask for the check and contentedly call an end to my meal.
I usually ask to see the dessert menu out of sheer curiosity. A restaurant’s dessert offerings are very revealing. I think dessert is the hardest component of a good meal to execute perfectly. This is because different people have different preferences for sweets, more so than for main courses. Most people can appreciate a well cooked steak or a perfectly mid-rare duck breast. Dessert is more divisive.
There is almost always the option of hot versus cold. Followed by fruit versus chocolate versus other flavors versus some dangerous combination. Which is the proper way to end the meal? Something sinfully rich, like a dark chocolate ganache? Or something light and cleansing, like a sorbet? Or some cool compromise between the two extremes, like a creme brulee? Is it wrong to order ice cream?
My usual line of reasoning is as follows: if it’s lunch, skip dessert. There are either places to be or better places to find dessert if there is nothing to be done. If it’s dinner, it depends on the kind of restaurant. If I am eating in a very nice restaurant, I like to order dessert. In serious kitchens, pastry is elevated to an art form. Desserts are much more malleable and moldable than other courses, so its worth it to see what the kitchen comes up with. This is especially true if someone else is paying. If I am at a mid range restaurant and see more than three of the following on the menu (cheesecake, molten chocolate cake, creme brulee, any sort of non-seasonal pie, tiramisu, assorted ice creams and sorbets) which indicate to me the dessert menu is the same as it was 10 years ago, I skip dessert. There is better food to be had elsewhere, if necessary.
When it comes to actually picking dessert, I tend to go with my gut. I usually go with the selection I find interesting and unexpected and I am generally pleased with the outcome.
Of course, if you don’t like your dining companion(s), it is advisable to simply skip dessert and ask for the check.