Sunday, February 22, 2009

Extraordinary Desserts, San Diego CA

Driving to San Diego after a few days in Los Angeles and four days in San Francisco I must admit I was getting a little worn out – so many great meals, so many great memories, and the realization that soon it would be “back to reality.” Having never been to San Diego before I did my foodie duty to see what was worth checking out and one name continually popped up on the radar – Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts. A San Diego native with Cordon Bleu training and multiple awards running a patisserie that had withstood 20 years – sold. Planning already to see the Gas Lamp district and Little Italy while in town, the newer restaurant – located on Union Street – was decided to be our first destination in exploring San Diego.
Arriving in the later afternoon after a hearty breakfast at Cici’s and dinner plans already booked for the evening, we made our way across the impressive San Diego bridge and browsed the relatively empty Sunday-Streets of downtown San Diego before finding the small shop and securing an easy parking space at a meter. Walking into the café I was struck by how many people were present – mostly because I was unaware of the fact that Extraordinary Desserts also served brunch savories. While savories looked good and all the eclectic toys and gadgets were also interesting, the namesake desserts were certainly the most impressive aspect of the store.

Tortes, cookies, cakes, pies, scones, croissants, puddings – and each item incredibly ornate and beautiful – I can honestly say that of the 25+ options there was not a single one that looked less than impressive. To be fair, Extraordinary Desserts made even Jean Philippe, Payard, and Bouchon Bakery look pale in comparison. While pricey, the prices were certainly more logical than the far less impressive Citizen Cake in San Francisco or Philippe or Payard’s shops in Vegas, as well. Browsing for literally 20 minutes before finally settling on three items, my group went to pay when – gasp – from the kitchen emerged something even more sinister looking than my previous choice – a large steaming bowl of bread that could only be one thing – Bread Pudding. Once this assumption was confirmed I quickly switched my order, the three of us paid, and given the beautiful weather we decided to take our dishes outside for consumption on the patio.
The first selection, my mother’s, was “Au Chocolat” – a chocolate Mousse Torte with creamy Valrhona Dark Chocolate Mousse atop a thick layer of chocolate cake soaked in cocoa and covered in dark chocolate ganache. Thick, dense, and quite perfectly described I was very surprised and impressed by how the subtle differences in each layer peaked on the palate at different times giving sensations of sweet, bitter, creamy, textural, and aromatic. While I feel it unjust to make such a comparison, the overall effect was something like a Ho-ho, yet infinitely more complex and textural.

The second choice, my Aunt’s, was the White Chocolate Cheesecake consisting of White Chocolate layered on a bed of fresh raspberries and thin dark chocolate genoise and finished with Whipped Cream, shaved chocolate edges, fresh fruits, flower petals. Non-traditional in almost every way, this cheesecake was much more airy than the standard New York Style and actually fared much better for it in terms of highlighting the complexities. Hints of vanilla, raspberry, and sugar were the notable top-notes while the essence of the white chocolate and chocolate genoise formed more of a “foundation” that lingered on the palate.
The final selection, mine, was indeed the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. As I’ve said before, bread pudding is my favorite type of dessert and previously I’d found nothing to rival Nancy Olson’s at Gramercy Tavern. Well, step aside New York, for the mighty have fallen. Featuring cubes of house made buttery croissant atop what can best be described as chocolate chips and a chocolate pudding cake similar to Thomas Keller’s Bouchons, then topped with ribbons of dark chocolate and a dollop of ganache and served with a blend of crème anglaise and hot cocoa. Large in portion and rich in texture, this bread pudding was everything one should be – complex in taste yet simple in formula, textural yet complimentary, as much a “bread” as a “pudding, and most of all – delicious. Seemingly divided into 3 “layers,” each bite was savored and the addition of the cream cocoa only served to enhance the experience. Really – I’d drive from Los Angeles to San Diego just for this dessert.

When it was all said and done, my group had finished dessert only 2 hours before our dinner reservation – a reservation I almost considered cancelling in order to indulge in another round of desserts from Chef Krasne. A beautiful restaurant with beautiful foods in a nice neighborhood and a chef that sees food as a mind, body, spiritual connection – no one is ever going to pretend dessert is “health food,” but at the same time, if you’re going to eat something gluttonous, why not expect it to be extraordinary?

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