Part I: THE GOOD
There are only a couple of desserts in the world that I could devote a series of posts to- molten chocolate cake (aka Lava, Warm, Flourless) is one of the chosen few.
When it comes to dinner, I could easily spend a half an hour deliberating my entree choices; everything always sounds so delectable! As I read through the menu questions immediately start running through my head: "What was it that Frank Bruni liked here again?" "Would they substitute the mashed potatoes in that for the salad?" "Mmm. Macaroni and cheese." The thoughts flow until I have to make polite conversation or the server stares at me expectantly, whichever comes first.
When it comes to choosing dessert, one might imagine that it would be a similar situation; in fact, I turn into a bizarrely predictable diner.
Is there a warm molten chocolate cake? Let's do it.
Does it come with ice cream? Bring. It. On.
Apparently, I'm not alone in my love of the warm chocolate confection: a number of chefs have it on their menu. Whether it's because they love it themselves, or because they're hoping to oblige the masses and sell some dessert, I'll never be quite sure. The idealist in me would like to think it's because they appreciate the comforting simplicity of the dish. The cynic tells me it appears so frequently because there are suckers like me that can't resist its chocolatey pull. (Domino's sells it now for crying out loud!)
Many have crossed my plate and almost all the versions I've tried have been delicious (the exceptions being those versions that were literally just a piece of chocolate cake that had been warmed up -- talk about your false advertising!) But much like Dorothy didn't realize Kansas was gray until she stepped into the technicolor world of Oz, I only thought I knew what warm chocolate cake was until I had the version created by Jean-George Vongerichten.
How could I consider myself a true molten chocolate cake enthusiast without having tried the one by the chef who popularized the dessert!? I know. It's embarrassing; I get a little more ashamed even as I type this.
So I arrived for dinner at Nougatine in NYC one night with a clear mission: try the damn cake. I opened my menu and the words, "Warm chocolate cake," shone back at me like a beacon of light. I quickly made my decisions (when there's you're on a mission it's much easier to decide on an entree), closed the menu and looked just in time to watch Jean-George (the man! the myth! the legend!) walk by and pause to greet an artsy looking woman at a nearby table.
I was in the house of Vongerichten and JG was presiding. I tried not to stare. Is there such thing as a food omen? Surely this meant something magical was to come. I silently mouthed, "OMG! Jean-George!" to my boyfriend. He took a stealthy glance toward the direction of my head-nod and gave me an excited grin. We ordered and continued to geek out as we watched JG walk back and forth between the kitchen and the Jean George side of the dining room to check on patrons.
As each dish arrived we enjoyed interesting combinations of fresh ingredients and truly mesmerizing flavors.
Then the cake came.
It smelled marvelous.
It looked divine.
I quickly divvied it up in equal halves lest one of us (i.e. me) hog more than my fair share.
I dove in, took a bite, and am pretty sure I gave an audible sigh.
The exterior crackled as it broke open.
The interior cake was light and flavorful.
The warm chocolate that oozed from the center was rich but not cloying or heavy.
The vanilla bean ice cream was creamy and dense.
It was by far, the best damn warm chocolate cake I've ever tasted.
Reveal in its deliciousness.
And if the trip is too far: try your hand at making it!
Here's the recipe I'm going to try next time I have people over.
Stay tuned for The Bad and The Ugly!
*Veronica lives and works in New York City where she enjoys thinking about food, reading about food, eating food and bike riding.