Every once in a while, I come across a dish that is almost too beautiful to eat. Such is the case of Bittersweet's Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, pictured. Presented in a smoke-filled jar, the dessert looks like a forest floor in miniature but it's all a delicious take on black forest cake. Pastry chef Kris Padalino, who recently came over from Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group, explains the inspiration behind the dish. "Cherries were in season and I was trying to think of a play on chocolate-cherry desserts. Lots of people do black forest cake so I looked at those components," she says.
But that hardly does Padalino's talent—or this dish—justice. With each "Midnight" (Padalino builds about 15 a night) she creates an experience that transcends any dessert. The glass vessel arrives at the table curling with smoke—as if a fog or mist has settled on the forest floor. Lift the lid and the haze clears to reveal a verdant, terrarium-like scene. Chocolate cream holds a layer of chocolate "soil" (made from cocoa powder, coca nibs, and almond flour) affixed with a cocoa-dusted meringue mushroom, edible flowers (some of which are from chef Olav Peterson's on-premise garden), meticulously placed microgreens, and a dusting of brilliant matcha tea. A quenelle of sour cherry sorbet adds a burst of color. “We try to make it as lifelike as possible," Padalino says.
The dessert works multiple angles. It functions as an ode to Bittersweet’s garden, as a nod to the best-selling book by John Berendt, and—if you ask me—it's a gentle reference (smoke and all) to this summer’s devastating Black Forest Fire. Best of all, once you dip your spoon into the tableau, the flavors are as exquisite as the scene itself.
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