My thanks to all the Boston-area hounds who responded to my May 16 post (www.chowhound.com/topics/402319) seeking desserts/sweets with "adventurous flavors" . Now that I'm back home (Los Angeles), here's the report of my May 22-25 "tour", organized by category.
Harvest (www.harvestcambridge.com): I ended lunch with the vanilla bean cake with rhubarb compote and rose petal jam. $10 for a shockingly small slice of undistinguished vanilla cake. The rhubarb compote was delicious, but lacked any hint of rose petal. Disappointing. Lunch was partly redeemed by a kumquat mojito that was beautifully made, the citrus and mint combination extremely refreshing on an unseasonably warm day.
OM (www.omrestaurant.com): I had very high hopes, based on the cocktail and dessert menus on their web site. My mistake was to go for lunch rather than dinner; the dessert offerings were severely limited, although the trio of pots de creme included a bayleaf version that was delightful, and spot-on with the flavors I was looking for. I was annoyed, however, that none of the specialty "aromatherapy" cocktails was available; there's no bartender on-site until 5:00pm, and our lunch server said she was incapable of "making anything complicated".
Clio (www.cliorestaurant.com): For my final dinner in Boston I took my hosts to Clio, with forewarning that I would be choosing the desserts; we ended up making our own "assiette" by ordering five of the six desserts offered (each $11). Each was magnificent -- kudos to pastry chef Rick Billings (and to manager Ryan Cole, who kindly e-mailed me the dessert menu afterward).
1) "Beurre noisette" financier with grains of paradise, coconut sorbet & passion fruit
Of the 5 desserts, we found this one the most integrated in flavor and texture, the exotic fruit and spice flavors playing beautifully against the rich, dense, nut-inflected buttery cake.
2) Croustillant of chicoree with sable levain, buttermilk coulis & whipped amaretto
The "croustillant" was a tuile-like cylinder filled with chicory cream; the "sable levain" a pair of long, thin rectangles similar to halvah. Again, the combination of textures -- crunchy, sandy, unctuous (the coulis) and airy (the amaretto) -- was very successful, as were the combined flavors.
3) Frozen milk chocolate geode with hazelnut sorbet, violet-cassis puree & milk snow
A gianduia lover's dream. The violet-cassis puree was delicious -- too bad it was just two small daubs on the plate!
4) Soft chocolate cream with sugarbeet puree, cedar ice cream, macadamia nut & tangerine
The chocolate cream was extruded with a square pastry tip, a long squiggle across the plate. The beet puree appeared both as a syrupy sauce, and as a fragile dried ribbon; the tangerine was reduced to a crunchy dust scattered around the plate. The results were delicious, but the cedar ice cream was a bit underwhelming.
5) Pineapple and jasmine cloud with green apple wasabi sorbet, black sesame & raspberry
This was the surprise hit; the combination of pineapple and jasmine was amazing! I'm still trying to unravel how Chef Billings introduced the jasmine; it had none of the off-putting chemical qualities of the commercial jasmine flavorings I've seen, nor did it have the herbal notes indicative of jasmine tea. The "cloud" effect was impressive; more substantive than a foam but still exquisitely light. We all felt that the wasabi sorbet totally clashed with the other flavors, however.
Christina's (www.christinasicecream.com): I sampled the khulfi and adzuki bean ice creams, but ended up ordering straightforward mango. All were good, but none warranted the hike from Harvard Square.
Herrell's (www.herrells.com): Again, high hopes based on their web listing of flavors, dashed when not one of them (Earl Grey; rose/lavender; jalapeno) appeared among the day's offerings. I walked out without tasting anything.
JP Lick's (jplicks.com): I stopped into the Newbury St. location to try the hibiscus-lemon sorbet. Essentially, it's nothing more than Baskin Robbins' pink lemonade ice. The rock-hard hibiscus inclusions do nothing for the flavor unless you let them soften, but by the time you can taste the floral element, they've turned into something like fruit leather.
Toscanini's (www.tosci.com): I dreaded visiting Toscanini's, given the underwhelming results I'd had thus far, but needn't have worried. To my taste, their khulfi was significantly better than Christina's; richer, less grainy, more subtly spiced. The knockout, however, was the avocado-tequila ice cream; fabulous! The avocado flavor (esp. when chilled) is extremely nuanced, akin to cucumber and equally refreshing, and paired beautifully with the tequila.
Nashoba Brook Bakery Cafe (www.slowrise.com): Nothing on offer that matched my flavor profiles.
South End Buttery: Although nothing matched my target flavors, I bought a half-dozen of their specialty cupcakes and served them to friends. They were terrific, especially the carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
Cafe Cakes: Recommended by various hounds, but I found the results disappointing. The milk tea pudding was tasty, but a green tea eclair was positively foul, and definitely not fresh.
Tabrizi Bakery (www.tabrizibakery.com): Also recommended by various hounds, Tabrizi was a hands-down winner. I bought a sampler of cookies including bami, nazok, papica, and zaban. The bami were like sticky micro-brioches, soaked in rosewater and utterly delicious. The others were all crunchy, inflected with saffron, and terrific.
Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe (www.cardullos.com): This was actually my first stop on "the tour", and yielded the most surprising find of the week - Zotter chocolate bars (www.zotter.at) in some truly bizarre flavors. At $5.95 each I couldn't try all of them (nor would I want to; close inspection showed that many of the bars on display had been compromised, corners frayed open), but selected 5: banana curry; thyme-cranberry; chilli [sic]; celery/Port/truffle; and "Paradise apple - liquid olives" (tomato/olive). My skeptical friends and I tasted the celery/Port/truffle, and found it quite successful; the dark chocolate was a good foil for the savory celery note, and the "funk" of truffle added significant depth. I'm saving the others for a later chocolate tasting.
Serene Chocolates: I sampled several of the chocolates from La Tene in Somerville; the Chu'lel (chili-infused) and Dazu (lemon-pepper) were both noteworthy. Lemon-ginger and chai chocolates from other suppliers were less impressive.
Richart (www.richart-chocolates.com): Their store in Copley Place is like the Tiffany of chocolate shops. The "Ballotin intense" (49 pieces/$62) includes 7 different examples in 7 "lines"; balsamics, citrus, floral, fruit, herbal, roasted, and spiced. These are exquisite but miniscule -- less than 5/8-inch square each, so the cost-benefit ratio is rather low, but the flavors were spot-on with what I was looking for.
Temper Chocolates (www.temperchocolates.com): From the descriptions I had read of this "boutique" in the Hotel Commonwealth, I was expecting great things. I'm sorry -- it's a closet, on a hallway! The selection, which included a few pieces by Providence RI-based chocolatier Andrew Shotts, was overall rather disappointing; I didn't purchase anything.
Savenor's: I stumbled upon the Savenor's on Charles St. on my way to Beacon Hill Chocolates, and was pleasantly surprised to find a nice selection of Dolfin chocolates, including their "Spiced" assortment, 48 .16-oz squares ($15) that include Earl Grey tea, cumin, ginger, anis, and cardamom flavors.
Beacon Hill Chocolates (www.beaconhillchocolates.com): What a gorgeous shop! Tucked above the corner of Pinckney and Charles, it's crammed with a tremendous range of bars, drinking chocolate, and other packaged bon bons, along with a vitrine full of quite beautiful truffles. Among the offerings were a few in my flavor focus: Chai, Rose, Lemon-basil, and Olive oil/sea salt truffle. All were good, but the standout was the olive oil/sea salt truffle; just enough "fruit" from the olive, heightened by the salt, in a delicious chocolate ganache.
Thanks again to all for their recommendations; I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of them, but as you can see, I did my best!