In defense of dessert

Chocolate creme brulee

Restaurant dessert menus have been on the decline for some time. Perhaps we can blame the trend on people cutting back on carbs or the demonizing of sugar. Or perhaps it is a by-product of the growing practice of restaurateurs eliminating pastry chefs and relying on a limited menu of pre-made desserts as a cost-saving measure. Chef Marco Canora is bucking this trend, and in an Esquire article he makes the case for having a pastry chef.

Canora, chef and co-owner of the James Beard Award-nominated Hearth in New York and Terroir wine bars throughout the city, is the author of Salt to Taste and the upcoming A Good Food Day. While noting that fewer than 40 percent of diners opt for dessert and that pastry departments are not revenue-generators for restaurants, he nonetheless thinks having a good dessert menu is important. "It's the beginning and the end that people remember most," he says. "That's why dessert matters. It's the final moment, that last bit of sweet."

Judging by the number of baking and dessert books in the past few Cookbook roundups, some people must still care about the final course, at least at home. How important is the dessert menu to you? Would you order dessert more frequently if the menus were more inticing?

Photo of Chocolate crème caramel from Martha Stewart Living Magazine by Dorie Greenspan

 

6 Comments

  • hillsboroks  on  10/4/2014 at 12:58 PM

    When the dessert menu is really interesting it influences what I order for dinner. I may skip the appetizer or have a salad to leave room for dessert. But too many restaurants seem to have given up on dessert or offer something so boring it just isn't worth the calories. Dessert doesn't have to be big, but should be fun and flavorful beyond whipped cream. When we entertain at home I put just as much thought and effort into dessert as the rest of the menu and our friends and family always seem to appreciate it. Years ago we used to have a wonderful lunch spot called Room for Dessert that featured wonderful soups, salads and small sandwiches plus amazing small desserts. They always had a line waiting to get in.

  • Jane  on  10/4/2014 at 4:22 PM

    The dessert menu really effects how I view a restaurant. I don't always have dessert (occasionally I can exert some willpower) but I always want to read it to see what they have. I want to see things I haven't come across before and good variety of flavor options - chocolate, lemon, fruit, interesting ice creams and sorbets. When I'm entertaining my menu starts with dessert and dessert is always what I bring when I go to someone's house for dinner - my favorite type of cooking and my largest cookbook section.

  • darcie_b  on  10/4/2014 at 5:07 PM

    I will think less of an otherwise good restaurant if the dessert menu appears to be an afterthought. I ate at a well-reviewed restaurant where every dessert was dairy-intense, and it was all ordinary: vanilla creme brulee, vanilla cheesecake, and a tart with vanilla pastry cream. Nothing chocolate, nothing featuring fruit, nothing playful. There are other flavors besides vanilla! I was so disappointed I haven't been back since.

  • Cubangirl  on  10/5/2014 at 12:37 AM

    I always ask for the dessert menu before ordering dinner. One of the best I've had was at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Market in Boston the night before it closed. It was a sampler type and I could not eat it all. They packed it beautifully for me to take home. Menton had wonderful dessert as well. A variety of small bites, loved it. I don't want cheesecake, or crème brûlée (exception is real Cuban flan). A restaurant with a good appetizer and a good dessert menu gets my vote every time (I might skip the entree).

  • ellabee  on  10/5/2014 at 12:22 PM

    A lot depends on the level of the restaurant. At a top-flight place I'd have higher expectations. I'm not much for desserts at home, and they're not a particular attraction when eating out -- but exactly because they're something I don't make for us at home, I look forward to having something I wouldn't or couldn't prepare myself. I'd never skip the entree, though; I'm just much more drawn to savory foods.

  • boardingace  on  10/7/2014 at 6:13 PM

    I love dessert - making it and eating it - and have made a huge number of desserts over the 6 years or so that I've been cooking. So when I eat a dessert at a restaurant that is not very good, I definitely remember it and am unlikely to return. I am pleased if a dessert is as good as what I can make at home, and impressed if it is something better or unique. I think that I'm just better able to judge good sweet foods versus savory ones because of my interest in dessert and how many I've made - thousands by now, I think! So I am more likely to judge the restaurant or chef as lacking than I am with a savory dish, where I might not be sure if it's just my taste or the quality. Worst of all is when it's a "famous" dessert that is just sub-par... but that's probably just one of the (very few) downsides of getting spoiled by home cooking.

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