Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Desserts @ Bluestem Brasserie

I've been reading about the epic desserts at Bluestem Brasserie for a while now.  They've been getting great reviews.  I'm a dessert lover.  So it was only a matter of time before I headed that way!  I've heard lackluster things about the main restaurant, so decided to just check out the desserts in the lounge area.

I wound up there twice in the past two days.  Sunday afternoon I went just to get dessert with a friend, and Monday night we went to try to get some good dessert to make up for our horrible pizza at Cupola.

Bluestem is a beautiful, open, airy, swanky place.  Very SOMA.  The bar area has really fascinating little lights cut out in it.  The lounge doesn't seem busy, as I was able to walk in both times easily, and has comfortable seating in cute little booths.

Service is ... ok.  Sunday afternoon it was not busy at all, but I had to constantly keep going out of my way to flag down the waiter to get things like water and coffee refills.  It also took an amazingly long time to receive our dessert.  They were also very strange about share plates - on Monday night we ordered a charcuterie platter and a dessert for 3 of us, and they brought out just one share plate, a little puzzling.

Anyway.  The desserts did not live up to the hype and were way too sweet, particularly the caramelized butterscotch tapioca pudding.  My fellow dining companion, who knows how much I love desserts, commented on how he never thought he'd hear me say such a thing, but really, these were just sweet overload and totally, completely blew out my palette.

Charcuterie: Rustic country pate with pistachios, lamb ham, caper berries, stone ground mustard, pickles, apple chutney, pickled red onion.  $11.25.
This was served with some little crostini.  The assorted pickled stuff was all fairly tasty, but not particularly noteworthy.  The apple chutney didn't really go well with anything.  The country pate wasn't particularly flavorful and was a rather odd texture.  Meh.
Caramelized butterscotch tapioca pudding, bacon butter brickle cookies.  $9.
This is why we were here.  I'd read about this and couldn't wait to try it.  I really like tapioca pudding.  And butterscotch pudding (or, even more, butterscotch pie!!!).  And creme brûlée.  This sounded potentially perfect, combining 3 desserts I love into one!

Unfortunately, it went the way of the last few desserts I've tried in this category: the butterscotch banana cream pie at Mission Beach Cafe (another case where I was so excited, butterscotch pie + banana cream pie + chocolate shell?  Sounded awesome!) and the mango tapioca pudding at The House (again, mango pudding + tapioca pudding?  Awesome!).  Both of those desserts not only failed to live up to my excitement, but were really not good at all (and it wasn't just me having too high of expectations, no one else would finish those desserts either).

This was served with two bacon butter brickle cookies.  They were rather adorable, shaped like pigs, although sorta just haphazardly thrown onto the plate.  If you were in the mood for a savory bacon cookie, I could imagine liking these.  They were crispy and had a very intense bacon flavor.  They reminded me a little of a ham and cheese croissant.  I wasn't in the mood for them, and don't really understand why they were paired with this dessert in the first place, as they were savory and this dessert was so ridiculously sweet, it didn't really make sense to eat together, as they didn't compliment each other and the savory didn't help cut the sweetness, it just felt like eating a bite of dinner in between bites of dessert.

Speaking of sweet.  The pudding was pretty horrible, just a sweet overload.  Butterscotch is obviously always a sweet flavor, but this lacked any complexity at all to balance it out or add depth to the sweetness.  The pudding was very thin, not watery exactly, but certainly not a custard and not really creamy either.  Had it just been a pudding (aka, no tapioca and no brûlée) it would have been far too runny.

The tapioca was actually really well cooked, small tapioca balls that didn't clump together at all, and were a perfect consistent firmness, not too hard, not too soft, just the right give when you bit into them.  I was fairly impressed with that aspect of the pudding, although there needed to be more tapioca, they were fairly sparsely dispersed in the pudding.

The caramelized top was decently done, not as thick as I'd want on a creme brûlée normally, but given the consistency of the pudding, I think it would have been weird to have a thicker layer.  It didn't seem freshly torched, as it wasn't warm, but again, while I care about that for creme brûlée, that might have been strange here, to have a warm top on this pudding.  It had a fairly decent bitter flavor to it, but it was hard to appreciate, given all the ridiculous sweetness in the pudding.  I don't think even a shot of espresso would have helped here.

Overall, the tapioca + butterscotch pudding concept definitely worked.  I'd gladly eat tapioca butterscotch pudding again.  But this pudding was just really, really too sweet, not developed enough flavor-wise, and too runny.  And the brûlée top didn't really work either, as much as I wanted it to.  Shell on top of custard?  Yes.  But on top of pudding?  Sadly, no.
Honolulu Hangover: Devil's food chocolate rum layer cake, coconut vanilla creme filling, sweetened marshmallow meringue, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramelized coconut flakes.  $9.
Um yeah.  This was as decadent as it looks.  This is another one I'd read a ton about.  I don't particularly like chocolate cake (not that I dislike it either), but I sure do love meringue, and given how many mentions I read about this being the most amazing dessert ever, I had to give it a shot.

First, this thing was massive.  I'm all for lots of dessert, but this was just insanity, particularly given how rich every single component to it was.  Even at half this size, it would have been too much for even two people to really enjoy.  And I was eating this by myself.  And I'm incapable of not finishing desserts, even when I really dislike them, or get really sick of them.  So while I did enjoy the first few bites of this, and found some good component combinations, I was kinda hating it by the end.  I guess that is my own fault for feeling compelled to finish it.

Anyway.  This was 3 thick layers of chocolate cake.  The cake was incredibly moist, fairly chocolately, and really quite good.  Like I said, I'm no chocolate cake lover, but this was probably one of the better chocolate cakes I've had.  I didn't detect much, if any, rum flavor to it however.

In between the layers of cake was a coconut vanilla cream filling.  It was very sweet, but went pretty well with the chocolate cake, almost reminding me of a german chocolate cake.

Then, the entire thing was surrounded in a sweet marshmallow meringue.  It was a soft, light, fluffy meringue, my favorite kind.  It was however, too sweetened.  Even without the other sweet components on the plate, a spoonful of this was too sweet.  It also didn't really go with the cake very well.  I guess there is a reason you don't really see meringue on cakes.  I give them credit for being creative, but I think it the cake probably would have been better without it, even though it was my favorite part of the dish.

And then, since cake, icing layers, and sweet meringue aren't enough, the entire thing had even sweeter whipped cream covering the top and flowing down the sides, forming large pools on either side.  The cream was almost more like a pastry cream than a whipped cream, not all that fluffy or light.  It was pretty tasty with the cake, but at this point, the dessert was becoming overloaded with too many sweet layers.

Underneath the pools of cream was a chocolate sauce or pudding.  It was pretty delicious, particularly combined with the cream.

And then on top of everything, was these huge flakes of caramelized coconut.  I actually thought they were pie crust flakes, but I read later that they were caramelized coconut.  Clearly, I just tasted sweet crunchiness, not coconut flavor.  I thought they were delicious however, adding an awesome crunch, and went really, really well with the cream and pudding.

So, this thing was fairly incredible, in a mind blowing absurd sort of way.  Most of the components were actually pretty good, albeit too sweet.  And some of them could be combined into pretty tasty spoonfuls, particularly chocolate pudding + cream + crunchies or cake + frosting. There were however, just too many of them.  A spoonful of cake, plus frosting, plus meringue, plus cream, plus chocolate sauce, plus crunchies was just too much.  It was like someone thought of everything they could imagine going with chocolate cake, and threw them into the same dish.  The layer cake with frosting layers and maybe even the chocolate pudding and crunchies would have been pretty perfect.  Or perhaps the cake, some vanilla ice cream, and the cream and chocolate pudding.

Again, this was a good chocolate cake, but too much sweetness in the other components, and being way too large of a serving kinda ruined it.  I drank an insane amount of black coffee while consuming this, as I desperately needed something to combat the massive sweet attack.
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