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City sophisticates

Sundaes, floats and shakes get fancy and go uptown.

September 17, 2008|Betty Hallock | Times Staff Writer

ROOT BEER floats poured table-side, a "milkshake program" created by a sommelier, spectacular sundaes layered with gelee, meringues and buttery sable cookies. It's a whole new world of soda fountain desserts.

If you've ever had the caramel copetta at Pizzeria Mozza -- creamy dark-caramel gelato layered with a crisp Italian pizzelle (waffle cookie), gooey caramel sauce and sticky-smooth marshmallow sauce, topped with a handful of salty, toasty Spanish peanuts -- then you know that a sundae can be so much more than just ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Lately (maybe it's goodbye-to-summer nostalgia), soda fountain standards -- sundaes, shakes, floats, ice cream sandwiches -- have sparked the imaginations of ice cream-minded pastry chefs.

The Little Door's new pastry chef, Danielle Keene, has been concocting ice creams to serve by the scoop at the Los Angeles restaurant's adjacent deli-cafe Little Next Door as well as for her new desserts at the restaurant.

She makes a sundae layered in a parfait glass, starting with kumquat-size almond financiers (made with brown butter, orange zest and orange blossom water), then adding roasted Adriatic figs, huckleberry compote and a scoop of honey lavender ice cream. Then the layers are repeated, topped with two more scoops of ice cream and candied orange zest. It's the pinnacle expression of well-loved sundae characteristics -- the cake-like texture of financiers meets the creaminess of ice cream meets soft-roasted and syrupy fruit in a commingling of textures and temperatures.

'The perfect bite'

AT THE recently opened Brix@1601 in Hermosa Beach, executive pastry chef Renee Ward is making her version of a layered sundae -- a show-stopping dessert that she calls a coconut coupe. Ward begins with tart kalamansi lime gelee perfumed with vanilla, then a layer of house-made raspberry marmalade and fresh raspberries for a parfait-like beginning. A coconut sable makes a crunchy platform for a tiny scoop of creamy coconut lime sorbet. For a final, flamboyant touch, a teardrop-shaped coconut meringue.

"I like to watch the guests . . . take the spoon and dive in all the way to the bottom so they get all the textures and all the different flavors and take the perfect bite," Ward says.

Hers is an elegant dinner finale that sommelier Caitlin Stansbury serves with a Moscato Bianco from Vignalta. "The richness of the coconut and the tropical flavors she's layered into that dessert," Stansbury says, "pairs so well with the heady gardenia scent and jasmine" of the Muscat.

Like any traditional soda jerk who might draw from an arsenal of ice creams, syrups, sauces, nuts and sodas, Ward uses components made from several recipes. Each can stand on its own or can be combined in building-high style. No cherry necessary.

Her coupe has as much in common with current French-forward desserts as with old-timey soda fountain favorites. Ward previously worked at chef Alain Ducasse's Mix in Las Vegas, where dessert coupes are a frequent after-dinner offering.

The coupe -- the stemmed glass bowl, such as for Champagne -- "comes across as really hip but still classic," Ward says.

There's a whole section of fantastic "coupes glacees" (which roughly translates as "bowls of ice cream," a serious understatement) on the menu at chef Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud, which opened earlier this year in Manhattan. Pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira layers apricot sorbet with apricots, pistachios and lemon speculos (cookies); fromage blanc-berry sorbet with strawberry shortcake; and chocolate-vanilla ice cream with hazelnut feuilletine (crushed wafers) and chocolate foam.

The hippification of sundaes isn't all about chefs. If the crowd at the new desserterie Haus in Koreatown is any indication, it's chic to meet over artfully presented, ice-cream-and-more desserts such as bananas Foster or cherries jubilee and thick shakes in flavors such as green tea or almond. Here, among the girls with big tote bags and miniature dogs and the guys who pull up to the patio-side valet station in their new cars, the bingsu (a Korean sundae) comes in a glass tea pot filled with shaved ice, fruit, sweet red beans and rice cake. At the table, the server pours sweetened condensed milk over the whole thing.

At LA Mill in Silver Lake, Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez, who creates the desserts for LA Mill, has put his own version of bingsu on the menu after a trip to Seoul -- black sesame granita with sweet red beans, his own mochi (sweet pounded rice) cake and micro herbs.

Call it a copetta, call it bingsu, call it a vacherin -- whatever you call it, you're talking sundae construction. A vacherin glace is chef Alain Giraud's signature dessert at brasserie Anisette in Santa Monica -- lavender ice cream (which has followed him from his days at Lavande), fresh strawberries, raspberry puree, Chantilly cream and meringues.

Sublime add-ins

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