Monday, October 30, 2006

Hot Chocolate

My last night in Chicago, I went out for dinner with 10 people from eGullet to Hot Chocolate. Hot Chocolate is the restaurant of well known Chicago pastry chef Mindy Segal (pictured at left, whipping us up some milkshakes). I first had her desserts at an otherwise disappointing meal at MK, and not wanting to go back to MK, I was thrilled to hear she'd opened her own restaurant.

Thanks to Ronnie's previous visits to the restaurant for dessert, he was able to talk directly to Mindy and let her know we'd be coming in. They set us up at the kitchen table - just outside of the kitchen, actually, but with a good view of the pass and the activity going on.

The menu is pretty relaxed - five or six starters, four salads, a few sandwiches, and a handful of entrees. With such a large group, we managed to try nearly everything on the starters and entrees lists. The starters were mostly pretty good - with my brandade ("a classic French dish of salt cod, potato and garlic puree") being a highlight. The entrees, on the other hand, were nearly all disappointing - some oversalted, some underseasoned, some cold, some overcooked. Which was too bad. I'm not sure if the kitchen just wasn't used to serving that number of people at once, or if this is a more general problem (I have heard the accusations of oversalting in other forums).

But then there were the desserts. When it came time for dessert, Ronnie asked Mindy to just take care of us. And that's how I managed to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams - tasting every dessert on the menu. I'll admit to being a dessert junky, and I find it so hard to pick just one! This was one night that I didn't have to. Mindy sent out 11 desserts - one per person - and we passed them around in a hilarious frenzy of chocolate and sugar. We were all laughing from the sheer extravagence of so much dessert excess. It was truly awesome.

The desserts (descriptions are from the menu):

Apples - warm heirloom apple turnovers, roasted apple ice cream and brown butter-cider "buerre blanc"

Raspberry Preserve - house-made brioche pudding with raspberry preserve, fresh whipped cream, and vanilla bean clementine orange sorbet

Pear - roasted bartlett pear "cobbler," ginger snap ice cream, port wine and tapioca broth

Pumpkin/Pecan - "Cinderella pumpkin" pie in a graham cracker crust with maple-pecan ice cream and toffee sauce

Banana (Volume VII) - "banana split": chocolate brownie, caramelized bananas, banana sherbet, cocoa nib chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate sorbet, chocolate sauce and butterscotch

Mocha Milk Chocolate 38% - Mocha mousse "dome" with a dulce de leche caramel espresso shortbread and tiramisu creme

Chocolate (64%) - A warm souffle tart, salted caramel ice cream and pretzels

Chocolate (72%) Cake and Shake - "all American chocolate cake." Layers of chocolate buttermilk cake, bittersweet chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache butter cream and served with a vanilla bean milk shake

Creme Brulee - A classic custard infused with vanilla bean and a caramelized crust served with fresh figs

Warm Brioche Donuts - Warm and delicious, served with hot fudge (thanks to Ronnie for the picture - I managed to miss this one)

Cookies and Vanilla Bean Milkshakes - An assortment of cookies, and a little shotglass sized milkshake for each of us.

Living in a town with a sad lack of restaurants doing interesting *plated* desserts, this was like heaven for me. Everything was great, and in the flurry of eating it was hard to take notes or remember details. Some of my favorites were the seasonal desserts - the pumpkin/pecan, apples, and pear. Of the "signatures" the mocha milk dome and the chocolate (64%) were slightly more awesome than the rest. All of the ice creams and sorbets were great, and if I go back, I'll certainly be tempted to just go for a flight of those.

If I lived in Chicago, I'd probably go for dessert here once a week. (Although maybe on a weekday - we were there on a Friday night, and the music was louder and the atmosphere more "clubby" than we would have liked.) Given our dissappointing entrees, however, I'd probably get dinner elsewhere. Or better yet - just grab a salad or starter (all of which were good) and maybe a cheese course (the cheese list looks great) before heading into dessert, which is where the star of Hot Chocolate shines most brightly.

Hot Chocolate
1747 Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

1 comment:

Ronnie said...

Nice write-up, Tammy. I agree with it whole-heartedly.