A chocoholic's dream

October 22, 2010

I've never been a huge fan of chocolate desserts. I did enjoy Jean Georges' molten lava cake when it first arrived in the 90s, but for some reason, I've always felt too many pastry chefs leaned too heavily on the chocolate portions of their menus, phoning it in with a pudding, cake or ice cream. I tend to be the guy at the table who goes for the tropical fruit, the salted caramel, the yuzu; even a napolean or macaron that's embedded with almonds or‚ butterscotch‚ will get me super-excited, as long as there isn't a mouthful of bittersweet cocoa hanging on for good measure. Then I had lunch at the Ritz-Carlton.

Inside their newly-remodeled cafe, called Deca, they've begun focussing Chef Mark Payne's seasonal food onto a comfortably familiar‚ menu, with the occasional pork belly flat bread speckled with herbs and microgreens. On their dessert menu, Pastry Chef Eric Estrella - who, incidentally, also helps out his wife at their tiny Bucktown bakery, BAKE - has assembled a 10-layer chocolate cake in honor of the cafe's new moniker. Surprisingly, it's not an overwhelming chocolate bomb, but rather, a nuanced assembly of cake and frosting that doesn't make your lips curdle from too much sugar. "I didn't want the filling to be too rich, because it would be just too much to eat," said Estrella. "So I kind of made a filling that was a little bit less strong as far as chocolate goes, and made it a little bit more moist than usual, almost like a pudding cake."

Estrella uses‚ more of a bittersweet chocolate, hovering around 72 percent, and adds buttermilk to his cake batter to give it some complexity. His top frosting also has a little bit of sour cream to give it a shade of tartness that also cuts through some of the sugar. I can just imagine chocoholics descending upon Deca, with a single purpose in mind. Like Meg Ryan's famous scene at Katz's Deli in "When Harry Met Sally," they'll likely take a few bites, followed by an emphatic "Yes! Oh God, yes!" If you want to see how Estrella makes it, you can check out the video here today.