Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Crème Brûlée Cart Review

I adore crème brûlée (ok, ok, I adore a lot of desserts, but crème brûlée is one that I particularly love). Unfortunately is also a dessert that fails sooo much more often than it succeeds.

I've been on a quest to have a good crème brûlée for a while now, ordering it pretty much everywhere I go that has it.  In the past few months alone, I've had a traditional version at Gamine, mango versions at Amber India and Amber Dhara, a seasonal citrus version at Prospect and eggnog version from Straw, a version dressed up with foam at Boulevard, and even a savory version with uni at Quince.  I've sadly not been all that satisfied with any of them.  (Surprisingly, the best crème brûlée I've had in the past few months was served at work, a taro root version, with taro chunks inside the custard, that was well set and flavorful, topped with a perfect caramelized sugar layer and crispy fried taro root shreds.  Drool.)

What makes a good crème brûlée in my mind?  A few things.  The first thing that I particularly love is the contrasts that can come into play, with temperatures and textures.  For temperature, I want the very top layer of custard to be warm from the torching, contrasting against the rest of the cold custard.  For texture, I want a crisp shell to break through on top and then a rich thick custard.  The custard should be thicker than a pudding, and if I take a spoonful of it, it should not run off my spoon.  The caramelized top should be thick enough to really impart caramel flavor into the dish, but not so thick that it is hard to break through and eat.  And if it is a classic vanilla crème brûlée, it should have vanilla bean in it, and really, really taste like vanilla.

Today I was feeling unsatisfied by my afternoon sweets consumption, saw that it was sunny and beautiful out, and decided to take a walk to finally check out the Crème Brûlée Cart, parked a few blocks away from my office.  I've walked by many times, but somehow never when hungry.  I've heard lot of good things about the cart, and was excited to try it out!
Our  crème brûlées being torched!
They top the crème brûlée with sugar and torch it to order.  I thought this would lead to satisfying my temperature contrast criteria quite well!  They also offer a slew of flavors (changing all the time), ranging from classic vanilla to nutella and strawberry to goat cheese and caramel or even to a s'mores version that is topped with marshmallows and graham crackers.  This all sounded great.

Unfortunately, they failed to deliver on pretty much all of my criteria.  Even though freshly torched, the entire thing was cold - I didn't get any warmth at all on top.  The sugar layer was super thin, and thus didn't add any caramel flavor, and didn't add much fun to break through.  And it was fairly runny, more pudding like than custard.

I tried two flavors, the classic vanilla bean and a fantastic sounding combo: nutella and strawberry!
  • Vanilla bean: Tasting notes: Sugar layer on top thin, too little of it to impart any caramel flavor.  No real vanilla flavor.  Consistency more like pudding, should be thicker.  Even though freshly torched, the top didn’t get warm.  Basically just a flavorless pudding with a little sugar on top.  Meh. [ Again, no real vanilla flavor.  Just generic pudding with a thin sugar layer.  Sadness ]
  • Yes Please: Nutella and strawberry. Tasting notes: Nutella flavored custard, topped with sliced strawberries.  This sounded a lot better in concept than in execution.  Nutella and strawberries are a great combination, but there just isn't really a reason to make them into crème brûlée.  Sugar layer was super thin and didn’t do anything for this.  I'm not sure that making it thicker would have helped much, as the caramel flavor would still be lost in the very strong flavors of nutella and strawberry. Again, consistency more like pudding, not thick enough, and no warm top layer.   Basically just a nice nutella pudding with some soggy strawberries on top.  If I wanted a nutella pudding, perhaps I would like this, but I'd want fresh berries.
I'm not likely to go back, unless I'm just craving pudding sometime.

(I did take some home, add more sugar, re-torch it, and enjoy it much more with the thicker top).
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