Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Sign in to follow this  
Bux

Do you eat dessert in a restaurant?

Recommended Posts

Quote: from Steve Klc on 6:14 pm on Sep. 9, 2001

... how often do you eat out at restaurants and not save room for dessert?  I realize this might warrant a thread of its own, but I'm curious:  how much of this do you think is cultural, caloric or economic?  Is it that dessert is not seen as an essential part of a meal here as in Europe, that many diners have dietary concerns or the fact that you've had so many bad desserts--desserts not integrated with the meal preceeding them--that it seems a waste of money to pay for them?  something else?

Steve Klc posted the message quoted above in response to a specific post in the New York restaurant board. Three people agreed with him that it's worth a thread of its own. So this is that thread.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It depends on how fine a restaurant it is. If there are obviously serious pastries or cake or similar offerings avaliable then yes, by all means.

I always leave room for dessert -- and even if the dining party is stuffed, I usually insist on ordering something so at least everyone can have a taste.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dessert is probably the first thing to go for either dietary or economic concerns. At the lower points on the gastronomic and price scales, it's probably the course least missed. At the higher points, I think it adds immeasureably to the enjoyment of a meal. At the very highest points, dessert becomes essential and it's silly to think of either diet or economy, that's for another night. I'm fond of restaurants where I'm not stuffed by the main course and I'm fond of restaurants that have at least one light but rewarding dessert on the menu.

I think a little treat is far more culturally built into the European, or at least the French, ordinary meal, although often a piece of cheese will do. In Italy, it seems an inexpensive meal usually ended with cheese or fresh fruit. I think it's the kind of thing that makes eating into a meal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote: from Jason Perlow on 11:43 pm on Sep. 9, 2001

I always leave room for dessert -- and even if the dining party is stuffed, I usually insist on ordering something so at least everyone can have a taste.

Gotta call you out slightly on this one, Jay.  Last time you, Rachel and I went to Seabra's Rodizio restaurant you most definitely did NOT leave room for dessert!  I know you had one at home much later, but that's not the same thing! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, but clearly, dessert is not Seabra's forte. Sure they had a few cheesecakes and some flan, but come on man, you don't go to rodizio with dessert even on the most recessed back corners of your psyche. Youre there for MEAT.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I go into most restaurants, even the better ones, assuming that the desserts will be either duplicative of a hundred other desserts I've had (variations on the standard Culinary Institute of America recipes and therefore, as Steve Klc describes, unrelated to the preceding meal), or bad because they've tried too hard to be original (for example by establishing very shallow links with the restaurant's cuisine -- this happens too often and often too thoughtlessly in fusion restaurants). Unless I'm working on a review and therefore have to try a dessert, I'll typically treat dessert the way I treat pastas and salads: Unless the restaurant is specifically known for them (such as the pastas at Mario Batali's restaurants or the salads at Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe) I figure they're just obligatory afterthoughts or pure profit centers. If I find myself in one of the tiny group of restaurants (I'd estimate there are fewer than 20 in New York) where dessert simply can't be missed, chances are there's a prix fixe menu structure in place so dessert is not a choice anyway.

Sometimes I get surprised, though. I certainly don't think it's necessary to have a pastry department headed by someone like Steve Klc in order to serve good desserts. What is necessary is that a restaurant make an effort to provide something delicious at the appropriate level of its cuisine. And to distinguish itself somehow, not only in conception and execution but also in the way it presents its desserts on the menu, or in the server's oral presentation (though I prefer a menu), or on a presentation cart or tray (if done well, this is the most tempting to me).

The decision to have dessert or not is often made collectively (and self consciously) by the entire table. I've found myself on more than one occasion skipping dessert because I otherwise would have been the only person in a group of four to eat it (then again, sometimes I do this anyway out of sheer perversity). It is therefore imperative that there be offerings that will satisfy people at several levels of taste and appetite. Most restaurants could learn a lot from the standard steakhouse formula of a choice between cheesecake and fresh berries.

Frequent diners are often like me: They're never actually hungry and they have enough body fat reserves to last a month or so on a life raft. Pastry chefs are up against a huge challenge when trying to tempt such customers, especially since they don't get their turn until after the savory part of the kitchen has already overfed the customer. A pastry chef can work to provide a dessert that fits naturally into the meal. But how many savory chefs try to create a meal that leads naturally to dessert-as-conclusion? It can be done -- a meal can (and should) be engineered such that a sweet item becomes inevitable at the end (Hint: Don't make the savory courses sweet!). But this is rarely understood or even acknowledged by chefs, who mostly think of their pastry chefs as subcontractors brought in to do an unpleasant job. I've found this to be the case less in France, where the executive chef types tend to be more involved in the desserts.

I don't have a firm grasp of the economics of pastry. I know that ingredients costs tend to be low, especially for those desserts that consist primarily of flour and sugar. I think a lot of customers have an intuitive sense of this, even if it doesn't rise to a conscious level. They just feel ripped off paying บ+ for flour and sugar. Including the cost of dessert in a prix fixe scheme seems to me the best way to generate high levels of dessert business -- and even then you'll have a lot of customers skipping it.

Those are some of the things that restaurants are doing wrong. But restaurants are not entirely to blame for the dessert problem in America. It begins at the culinary education phase, where sameness is cultivated. And there is a cultural problem as well, which stems from weight/calorie obsession, neo-puritanism, and the lack of a particularly deep or widespread culinary tradition. We are now also faced with the epidemic of low-carb diets, which I have no doubt will someday be proven more harmful to human health than being fat. I think few people understand just how prevalent these Atkins-like diets have become among the middle class. Based on various unscientific indicators, like how often it gets mentioned in the e-mails I receive, I'd guess that about a third of the customer base for fine-dining restaurants is on a low-carb diet some of the time, or is at least influenced by low-carb thinking.

The above are just a few general thoughts that only scratch the surface of a topic that deserves far more coherent analysis.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If dessert is part of the tasting menu then I have it because it it there. We usually share a dessert only if the dessert has been made in house. It is amazing how many restaurants tell you that everything is made in house and when they bring you the dessert it is from Bindi or one of the other large dessert companies. I enjoy the fancy food show in NYC because I get to see the variety of the desserts being sold to restaurants. If there is a cheese course however I usually will order that as dessert.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love to order dessert, and don't mind paying proportionally to the cost of a meal, but so many restaurants give you huge portions that fill you up so you can't. I'll get a doggie bag in advance to take half my meal home, but only if it's something that will still be worth eating for lunch the next day.

About fad diets: the mind-over-body bit only works for so long. After being on one of these diet for a certain amount of time, the needs of your body give you irresistible cravings and you fall off the wagon. Next time you try the diet, you fall quicker, and eventually give up.

But I do feel that many Americans eat far too many carbs (by a factor of 2 or 3), not a more balanced diet. Americans eat less fat, less protein, more carbs, Americans get fatter. Coincidence? I think not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am mostly lacking a sweet tooth and especially uninterested in chocolate desserts.  Occasionally I will be attracted by something from the custard family or a fruit-based dessert -- but not often.  

I recall having dinner one night at Jean-Georges and opting to pass on dessert, even though it is a prix fixe menu.  In spite of this, our server brought me a dessert anyway (something particularly odious) "compliments of the chef."  I told him to thank the chef, but that I did not want dessert, and to please remove it.  He refused.  So much for concern about customer sensibilities.

Cheese is another story altogether.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i'm with rosie.  if it's part of a prix fixe, i'll go for it, and often times enjoy it.  but otherwise, i don't have a real big sweet tooth.  that being said, i'm sitting here eating a chocolate frosted donut for breakfast.  pretty pathetic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend to be more of an appetizer guy than a dessert guy.  The main reason is that I really don't have a sweet tooth.  One of the more memorable "desserts" I've had was a selection of cheeses and glasses of port served in the outdoor garden at the Inn at Little Washington.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fat Guy: I go into most restaurants, even the better ones, assuming that the desserts will be either duplicative of a hundred other desserts I've had (variations on the standard Culinary Institute of America recipes
Interesting thought. As I've looked at the menus posted in front of new restaurants that have often opened without fanfare, I might say the same thing about appetizers and main courses. That's yet another thread. Perhaps more interesting and maybe, but only maybe, more on topic is that when I read and write to forums such as this one, I'm inclined to speak about better restaurants and not ordinary ones. It's not a matter of elitism or the pretense that I don't grab a bite locally because we don't feel like cooking tonight, or with friends for social rather than gastronomic reasons, but because it's the best meals that are the most interesting to talk about.
I don't have a firm grasp of the economics of pastry. I know that ingredients costs tend to be low, especially for those desserts that consist primarily of flour and sugar. I think a lot of customers have an intuitive sense of this, even if it doesn't rise to a conscious level. They just feel ripped off paying บ+ for flour and sugar.
I thought it was almost universally agreed in other threads that the cost of provisions is a minor part of a restaurant's costs and in a really fine restaurant I find the desserts to often be far more labor intensive than the savory dishes. This may be because I general don't get involved with pastry. Obviously this hardly applies to many of those restaurants that outsource desserts to commercial suppliers, unless of course they also serve boil in bag food. Ooops, come to think of it, some really fine chefs use precisely that technique for catering with excellent results, I  hear, but they do their own bagging.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
outsource desserts
In St. Jean-de-Luz along the Basque coast, you can eat a pleasant enough meal with regional specialties up and down down "restaurant row" for about ten bucks. The menus all look similar and the desserts, for the most part, are delivered prepared, probably from a limited number of suppliers. Thus Olatua a few blocks away has a hard time attracting clients with it's ฟ, or so, menus. The native French chef, apprenticed in NYC, under François Payard while he was at Daniel and found his NYC experience eyeopening. Although his food is far more interesting that that on "the strip," his desserts could easily justify his prices. What I found most telling, was that he said his customers, generally ask where they can get the pastry or dessert they just ate. They assume he has a local source and that the desserts are not made on the premises.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ordering dessert is directly related to the value of the calories.  Is a ho-hum flan worth an extra 20 minutes on the stairmaster?  no.  Is Craig Sheltons bread pudding worth another few minutes on the treadmill...yes indeed!  I have a sweet tooth, so I need to be careful and moderate my choices...I will always order dessert in a restauranut where th meal has been wonderful so far, and I will ALWAYS order a dessert if it combines banana, chocolate and coffee flavors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

" I will ALWAYS order a dessert if it combines banana, chocolate and coffee flavors."

My weakness is raspberries and chocolate together.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

suggests another possible topic:

"Food weaknesses" - what food can't you resist ordering if you see it on a menu?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Kim: I will always order dessert in a restauranut where th meal has been wonderful so far,
Good point. The corollary is that I will also lose interest in eating if the main course is unrewarding and not order dessert even if I'm still hungry. I recall three of us cutting short a forgetable dinner and walking east quite unsatisfied. Fate would have us pass GramercyTavern. My wife, who was working on the only diet of her life, turned and said "I need dessert." We all did and Claudia Fleming saved the night for us. As fate would also have it and presumably as punishment for choosing a questionable restaurant in the first place, Tom Colecchio was at the front desk asking me if we wanted drinks or dinner and I had to say, "dessert only."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote: from Fat Guy on 4:51 am on Sep. 10, 2001

I don't have a firm grasp of the economics of pastry. I know that ingredients costs tend to be low, especially for those desserts that consist primarily of flour and sugar. I think a lot of customers have an intuitive sense of this, even if it doesn't rise to a conscious level. They just feel ripped off paying บ+ for flour and sugar.

OK, you asked for it on THAT one, so here goes...

I would say that true, flour and sugar cost far less than a pound of steak, but think how much more work and time it takes to make flour and sugar edible.  Plus, so often eggs, butter, fruit, cream, chocolate, etc come into play.  At บ dessert is a bargain.   Oh, and skill, wouldn't want to mention that the 16 year old guy working after school to score a few bucks at the "Ponderosa" can grill that hunk a meat up for ya just as well as the chef at Chez Ennui all in 10 minutes - only the cow suffers.  Let's see, 7 minutes of warming flour and sugar just aren't quite as palatable ARE they???????  In fact, one of the ferw dessert items I can think of that require as much cooking effort as a steak are fresh fruit and popcorn in caramel.  Voila!  No cake for you today.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I very nearly always have dessert when dining out. Many London restaurants now have portion size sorted so that you want dessert at the end of the meal. I eat it when it's part of a set price, I eat it when it isn't, I eat it at fine dining establishments, I eat McDonalds donuts, crappy ice cream at Pizza Hut, great slabs of cake when we go to cafes, steamed puddings with custard. I realise writing this that dessert is totally central to my enjoyment of eating out. The only time I never order dessert is in a bog standard Chinese, Indian or Thai restaurant, then we stop off at Hagan Daz on the way home.          

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the heart of NY's Chinatown you have the choice of Hagen Daz of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Not sure if the latter has such great ice cream, but they've got great flavors. Tea, tropical fruits and such

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Responding also to Andy's Indian reference, on the 700 block of Valencia Street in San Francisco is Bombay Bazaar which sells Indian foods, herbs/spices, cultural objects, and has an adjacent ice cream factory which churns out extraordinary flavors: all of the expected tropical fruits, teas, and spices, of which cardamom is my favorite.  I would happily order this or a trilogy of these after an Indian meal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote: from Bux on 5:50 pm on Oct. 6, 2001

In the heart of NY's Chinatown you have the choice of Hagen Daz of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Not sure if the latter has such great ice cream, but they've got great flavors. Tea, tropical fruits and such

They have wonderful ice cream--rich and creamy.  My favorite flavors are the almond cookie and the cherry pistachio.  Well over and above boring ol' HD!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been hoping someone would start an Asian and Indian dessert thread. I still lack comprehension of the whole Eastern dessert culture -- that is to say I don't like the desserts. Do others agree or disagree, and if so how about starting a new thread?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It goes without saying I should think, that hitting an ice cream parlor after an Asian meal is not the same as having an Asian dessert, not matter what the flavors. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't like MOST indian desserts but those restaurants that have their own home made kulfi avalaible (read as indian gelato flavored with rose water and pistachio) always get a big plus in my book...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×