It's time to think seriously about sweets: When Valentine's Day is around the corner, and the doldrums of winter (even one this mild) have taken hold, there's something about dessert that speaks to everyone. And these days, more than ever, pastry is getting the due that it deserves: Food & Wine is launching a search for the country's best new pastry chef; Top Chef keeps churning out seasons of its pastry-only spinoff; Johnny Iuzzini and Michael Laiskonis were rightfully heralded as stars when they recently departed their respective restaurants; and every other show on TV is about cake wars. We won't call it a sugar renaissance, because dessert never went away, but pastry is undeniably playing a larger part in the culinary conversation than it ever has before.
Television and food glossies might be pushing the surge in public interest, but there's no doubt the movement is being led by the country's ever-growing roster of skilled, brilliant pastry chefs. Dessert menus are no longer filled with standards like molten chocolate cake and simple crme brle. Chefs are using savory elements and seasonal ingredients in shockingly effective ways; classic childhood treats like milkshakes and doughnuts are being both honored with ur-versions and totally reinvented with modernist techniques; avant-garde chefs are completely ditching traditional cake, custard, and pie formats and turning out conceptual desserts that are almost unclassifiably inventive. (And one industrious brewery is even turning beer into dessert.) In fact, the ethereal, almost whimsical nature of dessert allows pastry chefs to push their craft forward harder and faster than their savory counterparts ever could.
To find all the picks on this list, Grub Street's editors scoured their respective cities, then put the call out to critics around the country and chefs such as Andrew Carmellini, Michelle Bernstein, and Seamus Mullen. What we found were some of the most impressive, eye-popping creations we'd ever seen. We started with New York it's our home base, after all and arranged the rest of the picks alphabetically by city. (Jump directly to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco.)
These aren't the 101 best desserts in the country; and they aren't the 101 newest, either (we couldn't resist throwing a few old favorites into the mix). But taken as a whole, the creations on this list represent what's happening in America's pastry world right now. In short, these are 101 desserts made by people working at the top of their collective game and every one of them is definitely worth saving room for.
1 of 101
Beer and Bread PorridgeAcme9 Great Jones St., nr. Lafayette St.; 212-203-2121
The just-reopened Acme has somewhat famously done away completely with the original's Cajun-tinged menu in favor of new Nordic cuisine from chef Mads Refslund, who made his name at Noma in Copenhagen. Perhaps the surprising thing is that the best dessert — Adam Platt says "it's sick" — on Refslund's menu isn't some high-concept, foraged bit of whimsy; it's his take on Øllebrød, a classic Danish mixture of sweetened beer and bread that's like some perfect Norse version of oatmeal.
2 of 101
Pistachio and Chocolate SemifreddoBabbo110 Waverly Place; 212-777-0303
Eric Ripert may have recently lost famed Le Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis, but he hasn't lost his sweet tooth. We asked the world-class chef about the best dessert he's had lately, and it was an easy question for the self-proclaimed desserts-lover to answer: this creation from pastry chef Gina DePalma. "The texture of the semifreddo reminded me of marshmallow a little bit, and then it's covered in this decadent melting chocolate, with chopped pistachios on the plate," Ripert says. "For some reason, it reminded me of my childhood and I just really loved it." (Let's hope Le Bernardin's new pastry chef, Laurie Jon Moran, is paying attention.)
3 of 101
Grapefruit GivréBoulud Sud20 W. 64th St., nr. Broadway; 212-595-1313
When we asked New York restaurant critic Adam Platt what his favorite new dessert was, he didn't hesitate for a second before naming this "regal creation." A frozen, hollowed grapefruit is filled with grapefruit sorbet and jam, then topped with a toasted tuille and sesame-studded halvah strands, which is like the ultimate Middle-Eastern version of cotton candy.
4 of 101
"Feel Good Shakes"Bowery Diner241 Bowery, at Prince St.; 212-388-0052
In a city full of concepts that have been co-opted into trendy restaurants, it's actually kind of surprising, despite its name, how closely Mathieu Palombino's brand-new restaurant hews to the American diner aesthetic. But, no offense to the Moonstrucks around town, none are inventive enough to spike their milkshakes with mixology-friendly ingredients like Chartreuse, Bourbon, and Pastis.
5 of 101
Birch & ChocolateCorton 239 W. Broadway, New York, NY; 212-219-2777
"It's our newest dessert and we're very proud of it," says chef-owner Paul Liebrandt of the exceptional, artful meal-ender he created with pastry chef Shawn Gawle, "It's like a cylinder with wild mint flowers that is absolutely amazing." It's stunning and scrumptious, and it definitely belies its tree-hugger name.
6 of 101
MadeleinesDominique Ansel Bakery189 Spring St., nr. Thompson St.; 212-219-2773
When asked about their favorite NYC sweet, New York's Underground Gourmet points right to this new Soho bakery. Warm madeleines are a meal-ending staple at Daniel, Daniel Boulud's "terminally grandiose, irredeemably French" restaurant where Dominique Ansel was, until recently, the pastry chef. That tradition lives on (at a tiny fraction of the cost) at Ansel's namesake bakery, where the perfect madeleines are baked-to-order on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Proust would be proud.
7 of 101
Milk Chocolate, Peanut, and Black CurrantGwynett St.312 Graham Ave., Brooklyn, NY; 347-889-7002
Lots of desserts are plays on traditional dishes, but not this one. Then again, considering the executive chef, Justin Hilbert, is a wd~50 alum, skill and imagination are all over this dessert. It's three discs of creamy milk-chocolate ganache, garnished with a peanut cream sauce and crunchy peanut topping. Add black-currant jam and a quenelle of black-currant sorbet and you've got a dessert that's like nothing you've had before.
8 of 101
Grapefruit Curd With Matcha and PistachioIsa348 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, NY; 347-689-3594
When a busy chef like Tertulia's Seamus Mullen actually leaves his kitchen, it had better be worth it, and he says a recent dessert at Isa did it for him. "I love the desserts there. I can't stop thinking about them." Mullen is still mulling over a certain key lime pie, but with the ever-revolving sweets menu, the grapefruit curd is the current star of the show.
9 of 101
Rainbow Cookie Hot-Fudge SundaeKutsher's186 Franklin St., nr. Greenwich St.; 212-431-0606
After the boom of modernist desserts that have shown up on Manhattan's dessert menus over the last decade, there's lately been a resurgence of sweets aimed squarely at satisfying diners in an almost primal way. The current favorite might just be this over-the-top, marshmallow-fluff-filled concoction, which is exactly as unpretentious and luscious as it sounds.
10 of 101
Torta Della NonnaLocanda Vini e Olii129 Gates Ave., Brooklyn, NY; 718-622-9202
It sounds like an old family recipe, but this killer dessert just hit the winter menu at Clinton Hill's favorite pharmacy-disguised restaurant — where the best medicine on the menu is comprised of toasted pine nuts and custard cream, baked inside a light pastry dough. It's about as rustic and wonderful as you can get without going back in time.
11 of 101
Panna CottaMarea240 Central Park S., nr. Broadway; 212-582-5100
At most restaurants, panna cotta is the boring dessert — a bowl of sweetened cream, flavored with vanilla. Pastry chef Jim Eckler turns it into a barely solid cylinder that's as much dessert as it is homage to Italy's classic red-white-and-green color scheme: blood oranges rest on the plate alongside sorbets in contrasting colors. The red quenelle is blood orange; the green scoop is basil.
12 of 101
Grilled-Pumpkin Chocolate TartMas (la Grillade)28 Seventh Ave. South, nr. Bedford St.; 212-255-1795
At a restaurant dedicated to all things smokey, is it any wonder that even dessert gets a double-dose of flames? Grilled pumpkin is turned into a Thanksgiving-worthy tart, and dollops of meringue are blasted with a torch. Our advice: Keep the theme going and grab a glass of Scotch to go with it.
13 of 101
Butterscotch Pot de CrèmeNorth End Grill104 North End Ave., at Murray St.; 646-747-1600
The best part about this dessert, which Floyd Cardoz serves at his brand-new Battery Park City restaurant, actually isn't the implausibly smooth caramel custard. It's the fluffy "maltmallows" — homemade marshmallows shot through with a measure of Glenlivet twelve-year single-malt Scotch. They're what we imagine the Stay-Puft Man enjoys when he needs to take the edge off.
14 of 101
Housemade Ice-Cream CakeParm248 Mulberry Street; 212-993-7189
This dessert may as well be called "all the rage" with a big, fat cherry on top: Parm's ice-cream cakes are hardly under the radar at the moment (everyone loves them), but they simply can't be left off this list. Imagine Carvel meets Daniel (after all, that's where their pasty chef, Megan Fitzroy, was trained), with rainbow jimmies and some of that Torrisi magic dust sprinkled on top.
15 of 101
Classic ParfaitPuddin'102 St. Marks Pl., nr. First Ave.; 216-513-5074
If you're going to open an all-pudding shop, your main attraction had better be far superior to what we ate as kids. At this East Village shop, it is: Chocolate pudding — made with local milk and Icelandic chocolate — is layered with butterscotch and whipped cream. Granted, it doesn't have that pudding skin that mom's used to get, but it is just as portable as a Snack Pack.
16 of 101
Devil's Food CakeThe Dutch131 Sullivan St., New York, NY; 212-677-6200
The Dutch dessert program is all about the pie. In fact, chef and owner Andrew Carmellini even once said that "the heart of The Dutch is pie." And yet, this cake, well, takes the cake. "The devils food cake is downright awesome," says Mile End owner Noah Bernamoff. Even Carmellini would have trouble arguing against the black-pepper icing, White-Russian ice cream (the Dude abides), and rich fudge concoction.
17 of 101
Duck à la PlumWong 7 Cornelia Street, New York, NY; 212-989-3399
"Pastry chef Judy Chen, alumna of Daniel, finds the alchemy to make duck ice cream absolutely delicious without being daunting," raves Gael Greene to Grub Street. And she's not alone. This avant-garde dessert, peppered with star anise-poached plums, crispy tuile, and a five-spice cookie just might be New York's most talked-about dessert at the moment.
18 of 101
Apple Crisp Rye Walnut CrumbleCakes & Ale Restaurant155 Sycamore St., Decatur; 404-377-7994
A neighborhood cafe and bakery that's grown into one of Atlanta's most acclaimed farm-focused restaurants, Cakes & Ale wows residents of this Atlanta suburb with comfort desserts with a twist, like the tart rye undernote in this apple crisp rye walnut crumble with crème fraiche ice cream.
19 of 101
Pecan TofuRestaurant Eugene2277 Peachtree Road; 404-355-0321
Pastry chef Aaron Russell devised this faux-fu dessert in honor of his vegan assistant, making a sweet pecan "tofu" and then complementing its Asian inspiration with a soy sauce caramel and a savory curry granola (as well as non-vegan Greek yogurt sorbet), finishing with carrot "snow." Trust us, though, nothing at the health food restaurant in your college town tasted this good.
20 of 101
Semplicemente in Bianco e NeroVingenzo's105 E. Main Street.; 770-924-9133
The name translates as Simply Black and White, and it certainly is simple, but the signature dessert of Michael Bologna's artisanal pizza and pasta restaurant in an Atlanta burb is such a perfect marriage of superbly sourced ingredients — buffalo mozzarella, chocolate "mirror glaze," and strawberries drizzled in chestnut-honey balsamicó — that it was the highlight of his recent Beard House dinner.
21 of 101
Atlantic City, New Jersey
S'mores MilkshakeIzakayaBorgata Hotel Casino & Spa, One Borgata Way; 609-317-1000
It seems like something S'mores-related is on every menu in America at the moment, yet Izakaya chef-owner Michael Schulson and his culinary team still managed to dream up a completely unique interpretation of the campfire classic: Three shot glasses containing graham-cracker ice cream milkshake, chocolate marshmallows, and miniature open-face s'more.
22 of 101
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Pink Cotton-Candy CakeSammy D'sHarrah's Resort, 777 Harrah's Boulevard; 609-441-5402
The just-opened super-diner Sammy D's at Harrah's basically specializes in gonzo, over-the-top food. For example, executive pastry chef Deborah Pellegrino came up with this monstrous, four-layer cake that's topped with pink icing ... and cotton candy.
23 of 101
Duck Egg FlanLa Condesa400A West 2nd St., nr. at Guadalupe St.; 512-499-0300
Austin American-Statesman restaurant critic Matthew Odam steered us to upscale Mexican restaurant La Condesa, where all of pastry chef Laura Sawicki's postres sounded great, but the duck-egg flan particularly caught our eye. It's plated with marcona almond crunch, braised grapes, and buttermilk-thyme sorbet. And did we mention the duck eggs?
24 of 101
PiesLucy's Fried Chicken2218 College Ave., nr. S. Congress Ave.; 512-297-2423
Pastry chef Taff Mayberry grew up in Georgia where "pie is big." What sets his own pies apart from the rest, he says, are the "natural, real ingredients." That means butter, not shortening, quality vanilla extract, and King Arthur flour. That's fine, but we think what really sets his pies apart are the novel flavors like Sweet Tea and classic Shoofly. "I work off nostalgia, flavors I grew up with," he says. "And then fun, kitschy stuff. It's gotta be fun and delicious."
25 of 101
Black and WhiteUchiko4200 N. Lamar Blvd., nr 42nd St.; 512-916-4808
"I work with monochromatic food a lot," says Philip Speer, pastry chef at Uchiko and sister restaurant Uchi, whose creations were recommended to us by Texas Monthly executive editor Patricia Sharpe. Speer continues: "I like contrast a lot, and I thought it'd be really cool to contrast the textures. When you look at the plate, what you think would be creamy is crunchy, and crunchy is creamy," he says of the confection, which in another mind-bending move, is flavored not with chocolate and vanilla, but instead black-sesame, jasmine, and lemon.
26 of 101
Olive-Oil Chocolate CakeArea Four500 Technology Sq., at Main St., Cambridge; 617-758-4444
We'd originally claimed that their bacon-and-sea-salt nuggets with pimento cheese dip were reason enough to visit Kendall Square, but this dreamy olive-oil chocolate cake, crème fraîche, salted caramel sauce, and cookie crumble makes us reevaluate our priorities.
27 of 101
Tangerine DreamBondir279A Broadway, nr. Elm St.; 617-661-0009Boston Phoenix scribe MC Slim JB rhapsodizes about Jason Bond's knack for doing "beautiful things with that tiredest of restaurant clichés: fresh/seasonal/local. It extends to Bond's witty desserts," he tells us, "like this gorgeous mound of gènoise topped with vermouth-infused tangerine and an astonishing thyme-buttermilk ice cream, all bedecked with a swirly brûléed meringue." It's presented in an antique shrimp cocktail dish.
28 of 101
Cajeta Crème CaramelCraigie on Main853 Main St.; 617-497-5511
Pastry chef Jess Scott yanked this unique treat from the menu last year, then (thankfully) reinstated it in January since it's such a "crowd-pleaser." No wonder: Caramelized, creamy, nutty goat's milk is topped with candied kumquats to cut the richness. A sweet-potato croustillant drizzled with a clove-and-chili spice mix adds snap.
29 of 101
Chocolate Hazelnut Puffs, Roasted Banana Ice CreamIsland Creek Oyster Bar500 Commonwealth Ave., at Kenmore St.; 617-532-5300
Yes, of course Island Creek is known for its seafood. But savvy diners save room for chocolate hazelnut puffs: a puff pastry packed with chocolate hazelnut ganache and sprinkled with chocolate shavings, toasted hazelnuts, and powdered sugar. A side of roasted banana ice cream lightens the mood.
30 of 101
Mandarin Orange CapsuleL'Espalier774 Boylston St., at Fairfield St.; 617-262-3023
Several trusted critics urged us to include a dish from beloved L'Espalier pastry chef Jiho Kim, and this wondrous creation sealed the deal. Behold a Mandarin orange capsule filled with Greek yogurt mousse, topped with a carrot-orange croquant (that's "crisp" to you non-French-speakers) and angel-food crumble, ringed with eucalyptus pomegranate oil. An intense sliver of cinnamon ice cream adds zip.
31 of 101
Buttermilk Donuts With Pickled PineappleStrip-T's Restaurant93 School St., Watertown; 617-923-4330
Boston's culinary cognoscenti have flocked to this townie hangout since Tim Maslow took the kitchen reins from his father. Maslow trained at New York's Momofuku Ssam Bar. Manhattan's loss is Boston's gain: He now thrills the locals with creative plates like buttermilk donuts with cubes of pickled pineapple poised in a foam of carrot chai. It's another MC Slim JB favorite.
32 of 101
Baked AlaskaTrade540 Atlantic Ave., at Congress St.; 617-451-1234Shucked author Erin Byers Murray calls this dessert, a collaboration between Jody Adams and pastry chef Sarah Crevedi, "outstanding." Adams says that "working on something for people who can't eat gluten and dairy was something I really wanted to do." The current rendition comes with pomegranate-lemon sorbet, but Adams tempts us with tales of a forthcoming incarnation with an intense, creamy passion fruit-coconut combo.
33 of 101
Charleston, South Carolina
Chocolate Hazelnut BudinoFIG232 Meeting Street; 843-805-5900
The seasonal dessert at chef Mike Lata's Chucktown institution might not sound particularly over-the-top, but the addition of salted caramel (never a bad idea), and olive-oil-laced croutons add exactly the right savory touch to offset the sweetness, and crunch to offset all the creaminess of the budino.
34 of 101
Charleston, South Carolina
The Purple GoatGlazed481 King St.; 843-577-5557
We've seen plenty of gourmet doughnuts over the years, but never anything quite like the ones served at Allison Smith's four-month-old shop in Charleston. She fills her "purple goat" with local goat cheese and berries, then covers it with a lavender glaze. Best to plan on making this a midday dessert, though: Glazed closes up for the day when they sell out of stock — and that's usually not much later than noon.
35 of 101
Charleston, South Carolina
Dark Chocolate MousseMcCrady's2 Unity Alley; 843-577-0025
Sean Brock is easily Charleston's most celebrated chef at the moment, and he's not the kind of person who is simply going to serve a straightforward chocolate mousse. Instead, one of the newest desserts on his McCrady's menu manages to look like a technicolor sculpture: beets, passion fruit, and hazelnuts all show up in various forms in Brock's rendition, and the whole thing is finished with smoked-cocoa-nib ice cream.
36 of 101
Pistachio SundaeBalena1633 N. Halsted; 312-867-3888
Balena doesn't open for another few weeks, but with both chef Chris Pandel and pastry chef Amanda Rockman coming over from the widely beloved Bristol, it's as known an entity as a new place can be, and this sundae is classic Rockman: an old-fashioned, comfy dessert of pistachio gelato and nougat concealing intense flavor from the orange caramel and orange confit.
37 of 101
Blood Orange Marmalade and Curd, Coconut-Water SorbetDavid Burke's Primehouse616 North Rush Street; 312-660-6000
With citrus peaking, pastry chef Jove Hubbard recently set out to create a dish taking advantage of the seasonal bounty. The result is a beautiful composition highlighting different preparations of coconut and blood orange. The components include blood-orange marmalade, curd, and tuile, as well as coconut-water sorbet, crispy coconut dacquoise, and delicate pieces of coconut sponge cake.
38 of 101
Advocaat and Almond Pudding with KletskopjesHome Bistro3404 North Halsted Street; 773-661-0299
Chef Joncarl Lachman drew on his Dutch background for this rich, boozy dessert, which in the low countries goes by the name tokkelroom. It features housemade advocaat (a brandy, egg, and sugar liqueur akin to egg nog), whipped cream spiked with vanilla and almond extract, kletskopjes (a Dutch cookie) and a merry dusting of powdered sugar.
39 of 101
PBJ Wonder Bread PuddingHearty3819 North Broadway; 773-868-9866
Don't let the minimal presentation fool you, this dessert is big on sweet and savory flavors. At left, a "sandwich" of Wonder Bread bread pudding, ringed with Wonder Bread crusts and stuffed with a peanut butter and jelly filling. At right, a scoop of delicious salted peanut gelato from Black Dog Gelato.
40 of 101
El Bulli's Chocolate DoughnutsNext953 W. Fulton Market; 312-226-0858
Ferran Adria's famous El Bulli only closed last July, but Grant Achatz's idea to offer an homage menu at Next whipped people into an appropriate frenzy. The just-installed menu offers a few desserts, but our favorite — yes, we were fortunate enough to try them all on opening night — has to be Adria's tiny chocolate doughnuts. You pop them in your mouth whole, and dark chocolate melts away to fill your mouth with tangly coconut cream. Eating them we wondered, Do they even have Little Debbie in Spain?
41 of 101
Squash Bread PuddingPark Grill11 N. Michigan Ave.;312-521-7275
One is tempted to say any dessert would be good with the Park Grill's view of Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue, but you could eat Claire Hewson's bread pudding in a dark igloo and still feel warmed by its robust winter flavors — savory squash with butter-rum caramel, cinnamon ice cream, and bits of bacon brittle.
42 of 101
Sweet Potato Doughnut HolesRoof on the Wit201 North State Street; 312-239-9501
Her grandmother's recipe for mashed-potato doughnut holes helped inspire Roof's accomplished pastry chef, Toni Roberts, to create this popular dessert. Sprinkled among the crispy-chewy doughnut holes are sweet-potato chips and berries; and drizzled on top is Roberts's cajeta caramel, which is made in house from goat's milk reduced down to a rich, concentrated, and delectable sauce.
43 of 101
Bananas with Brown-Butter Sable, Tonka-Bean Ice CreamSixteen401 North Wabash Avenue; 312-588-8030
Ice cream is pervasive on pastry chef Sarah Kosikowski's ever-evolving dessert menu at Sixteen. Which is a philosophy we can get behind. Delicate and pitch-perfectly sweet tonka-bean ice cream graces this plate alongside caramelized banana, brown-butter flexible sable, a savory plantain chip, vanilla tuile, coffee caramel, roasted white-chocolate and pine-nut turron, and brown-sugar streusel.
44 of 101
Vanilla Bean and Green Cardamom Cheesecake With Grapefruit Curd and Coffee CrumbleVincent1475 West Balmoral Avenue; 773-334-7168
Chrissy Camba, executive chef at Vincent, initially created this dish for a cocktail-pairing dinner featuring Hum, the locally made botanical liqueur, and it made the regular menu as a result of its popularity. Camba flawlessly integrated cardamom, one of Hum's four major components, into her delicate cheesecake, which comes surrounded by grapefruit curd, jewel-like grapefruit pieces, and crunchy coffee crumble.
45 of 101
Lemon Polenta CakeChinato2079 E. 4th St.; 216-298-9080
Joe Crea, the food and restaurants editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the "fragrant, subtly sweet" cake, laced with limoncello, is the Forest City's don't-miss dessert. In fact, Crea adds, chef Zack Bruell is well-known in Cleveland, but might right now be one of the country's least-heralded culinary stars.
46 of 101
"Ants on a Log"The Greenhouse Tavern2038 E 4th St.; 216-443-0511
Greenhouse pastry chef Matt Danko is quickly gaining a reputation for turning the mundane into high-concept desserts: Buttered popcorn is turned into pot de crème, Fruity Pebbles garnish a dessert called the "stoner doughnut." With his ants on a log, he imagines the after-school snack as a brown-butter financier, topped with peanut-butter cream and glowing-green celery gelée.
47 of 101
Chocolate Peanut-Butter Banana Steam BunNoodlecat234 Euclid Ave.; 216-589-0007
David Chang may have been the one to add steam buns, the Chinatown staple, into the world's fine-dining canon, but Jonathon Sawyer's new noodle shop is the only place we've seen bao turned into dessert: The Elvislike filling might not be traditional, but it feels like a strangely intuitive thing to eat after a bowl of miso ramen.
48 of 101
Poudine ChomeurCentral 2145680 North Central Expressway, nr. Mockingbird Ln.; 214-443-9339
"This is a traditional French-Canadian dessert that I was introduced to when I lived in Vermont," chef Graham Dodds explains. "It translates to poor man's pudding. It's a basic sweet dough, baked with maple syrup and cream. I serve it piping hot — in fact, it's still boiling when it goes to the table."
49 of 101
Romeo + Juliet Waffle SandwichSweet Mix Desserts1811 N. Greenville Ave. Ste. 300, nr. E Campbell Rd., Richardson, TX; 949-829-1290
Sweet Mix, located in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, specializes in crêpes but also offers dessert-worthy waffle sandwiches. Look, crêpes are fine but there might be no two finer words in the English language than "waffle sandwiches." The Romeo + Juliet is stuffed with strawberries, bananas, maple syrup, Nutella, and fresh whipped cream; it's available in a whole- or half-sandwich, but if you're going for something like this, we suggest going all in.
50 of 101
Twenty-Layer Cake With Peanut-Butter MousseCrave Dessert Bar891 14th Street; 303-586-4199
This is the newest dessert destination in downtown Denver, having just opened in November, which Westword's Lori Midson calls "a sultry sugar house" that "displays decadence at every turn." Their richest offering is this twenty-layered take on a peanut-butter cup, with ten thin layers of flourless chocolate cake interspersed with ten layers of peanut-butter mousse.
51 of 101
Saffron-Cardamom Panna CottaOlivea719 East 17th Avenue; 303-861-5050
James Beard-nominated pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom co-owns this restaurant with her husband, and her seasonally changing desserts are regularly named the best in town. Denver Post critic William Porter writes, "Her desserts are superb and invariably creative, and she pulls off all this legerdemain at a mile-high altitude, which can be a real baking challenge." He's especially a fan of this delicate, wintry panna cotta, which is served with caramelized pears and a rich cardamom syrup.
52 of 101
Gourmet PopsiclesSpuntino2639 West 32nd Avenue; 303-433-0949
Ever since Olivea pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom partnered with this café to make gelatos and desserts, the biggest hit has been their variously flavored gourmet popsicles in flavors like pink peppercorn-grapefruit, pomegranate-rose water, celery-lime, and, in a nod to one of her desserts at Olivea, saffron panna cotta. Westword named these the Best Dessert That's Not Chocolate in 2011, adding, "if the incredible celery and lime ice pop is available, buy a case and hoard it like gold."
53 of 101
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Jennings Brothers' Red Cornmeal FinancierGrove919 Cherry St.; 616-454-1000
Farm-to-table food is practically de rigeur for new restaurants, but one of the most impressively locavore-leaning pastry programs we found was in Michigan's second most-populous city, of all places. The cornmeal in this cake is milled in the tiny town of Nashville, Michigan; and the honey used to roast the almonds originates less than 30 miles away from the restaurant.
54 of 101
Chai PiePondicheri2800 Kirby, Ste.B132, nr. Westheimer Rd.; 713-522-2022
"It's absolutely delicious and you will never have anything like it in your life," chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani says, adding, "I'm a little biased." Jaisinghani tells us the crust is made from crushed Parle-G cookies (an Indian variety), there's a layer of caramel, a "cold and creamy" chai filling, and whipped cream on top.
55 of 101
Beignet au ChocolatComme CaThe Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S Las Vegas; 702-698-7910
David Myers's French bistro serves this twin pair of chocolate beignets dusted in crunchy coffee soil and served with white-chocolate ice cream and a side of caramelized bananas. A crisp shell yields to an explosion of chocolate when pierced. It's exactly the kind of thing that will lure people away from all those Vegas buffets.
56 of 101
Mascarpone CheesecakeRM Seafood3930 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas; 702-632-9300
Asked about his favorite Sin City sweets, Eating Las Vegas critic John Curtas picks Theresa Gwizdaloski's mascarpone cheesecake with white chocolate, malted-milk foam, caramel sauce, graham crackers, and bubblegum ice cream. "[It] performs the seemingly impossible feat of being both adult and childlike," he says. For his part, chef Rick Moonen agrees: "A successful dessert reminds you of a happy childhood experience delivered through your taste buds."
57 of 101
Amaretto Eskimo PieSpago Las VegasCaesar's Palace Forum, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S Las Vegas; 702-369-6300
Critic John Curtas says "it's worth going out of your way for" Crystal Whitford's sterling carapace of dark chocolate sandwiching housemade amaretto-almond-vanilla ice cream on top of a pool of toasted almonds, dark-chocolate crunchies, and cherries glazed in port. Whitford herself refers to it informally as her "cherry Klondike bar." Which naturally leads us to wonder: What would you do for this one?
58 of 101
Deep-Fried TwinkieBeer Belly532 S. Western Ave. Los Angeles; 213-387-2337
Taking the snack beyond State Fair sideshow status, Wesley Lieberher's sweet yellow submarine sports a golden tan fit for sunny SoCal. Inspired by the boardwalk cuisine of his East Coast upbringing, Lieberher coats a standard-issue Hostess Twinkie in waffle batter; every hot, eggy inch becomes saturated with the supporting sides of strawberry purée and chocolate-chip ice cream.
59 of 101
The Kitchen SinkCulina300 S. Doheny Dr. Beverly Hills; 310-860-4000
Delicate, this dessert is not. Federico Fernandez's ultimate sugar rush packs a demonic legion of stuff into a sundae bigger than your head. This mess contains seven flavors of homemade gelato, cannoli, macarons, marshmallows, caramelized hazelnuts, candied cherries, blueberries, sprinkles, a douse of chocolate and caramel sauces, and meringue columns poised like punji at the lip.
60 of 101
Foie-Gras CheesecakeHaven Gastropub42 South De Lacey Avenue, Pasadena; 626-768-9555
Smacking of a straight stick of butter, Haven's cheesecake may be even more decadent: a core of sous-vide foie gras is emulsified with cream cheese, baked, then paired with hibiscus gelée and vanilla crumble. Greg Daniels long toyed with the concept, but chose to ballast his commitment to the dessert in the face of California's looming foie gras ban. He credits pastry chef Santanna Salas for making it "look much more beautiful than I could make it."
61 of 101
Grapefruit Curdink.8360 Melrose Ave. Ste. 107. West Hollywood; 323-651-5866
An orb of cilantro sorbet is the centerpiece of ink.'s modernist take on key lime pie, with a snake of grapefruit curd set off by charred maple-lime meringue, blots of avocado, and individually plucked grapefruit petals. Last Cake Standing winner Richard Ruskell calls it "very seasonal, crisp, and refreshing, with the necessary components of creamy and tart that you need in a citrus dish."
62 of 101
Kaffir Lime CustardMezze401 N. La Cienega Blvd. West Hollywood; 310-657-4103
Pastry chef Morgan Bordenave celebrates winter citrus in this light dessert, playing on both the sweet and tart strengths of limes by combining dried, fragrant, black lime curd and sour Indian lime curd, all spilling out of a black sesame macaron topped with black lime streusel, micro cilantro, and flower petals, served aside a scoop of yogurt sorbet.
63 of 101
Sable BretonProvidence5955 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles; 323-460-4170
After a year at Red Medicine, David Rodriguez returned to Michael Cimarusti's hallowed grounds as its new pastry chef, transforming traditional sable breton and financier into a jagged landscape evoking Krypton, padding the pastries in vanilla mousse and chestnut jam, with creme fraiche ice cream. If that's not indulgent enough, Providence will shave black truffles on top for $20.
64 of 101
BirchRed Medicine8400 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills; 323-651-5500
A sous chef's gift from a Russian deli inspired Jordan Kahn to lay out this luscious woodland landscape worthy of Turgenev. A frozen birch-sap granite is served with a base of soft mugwort mousse, sweetened with red-currant syrup, accompanied by shards of dried pine meringue and a side of frozen milk skin, and blanketed in dried hyssop leaves, wild fennel, and red coriander.
65 of 101
Peanut-Butter Pretzel ShakeShort Order6333 W 3rd St. Los Angeles; 323-761-7970
Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton's ode to the innocent era of sock-hopping gets delightfully decadent in this thick, rich custard shake using organic milk from Straus Creamery, pairing those ideal post-meal bedfellows, peanut butter and chocolate from Tcho, in a mason jar with a topping of crushed pretzels and peanuts.
66 of 101
Grapefruit and Olive OilThe Bazaar by Jose Andres
465 S. La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills; 310-246-5555
Pastry chef Frania Mendivil spares no luxury in this dessert that relies on natural sugars to get its point across. Tapping into a limited reserve of Arbequina extra-virgin olive oil for a silky scoop of ice cream, she drizzles it in acacia honey, foiling segments of ruby red grapefruit and tart sous-vide skins, splashed with California Olive Ranch oil.
67 of 101
Tangerine and ChocolateWolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air701 Stone Canyon Rd. Los Angeles; 310-472-1211Animal and Son of a Gun chef and owner Jon Shook tells us the best dessert to meet his mouth recently "had to come from Sherry Yard," claiming the famous Puck pastry chef "crushed us" when he celebrated Vinny Dotolo's last birthday. Among Yard's latest creations is this globe of chocolate mousse paired with twin tangerine givres and a scattering of Grand Marnier crystal candy.
68 of 101
The PearWP24900 W. Olympic Blvd. Downtown Los Angeles; 213-743-8824
Sally Camacho transforms savory 'shrooms into a sweet by shaping king oyster mushrooms into a spread of doughnut holes, spiced with star anise and dusted with sugar. This surreal scene includes vanilla-orange foam, chocolate, hojicha ice cream, and roasted Wappen pears for an extraterrestrial plate that fulfills her mission of introducing umami to dessert.
69 of 101
Gripper's Chocolate Grail for TwoThe Dutch Miami 2201 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 305-938-3111
Pastry chef Josh Gripper created a mega souped-up chocolate sundae (to be shared!) that Andrew Carmellini is calling his favorite dessert on the menu at his new Dutch outpost. Probably because it's made with just about everything Gripper has in the kitchen: Two flavors of homemade ice cream (chocolate and caramel), passion-fruit sorbet, a brownie, housemade marshmallow fluff, hazelnut cream, some caramelized banana, chocolate mousse, crunchy meringue, crunchy fuielletine, passion-fruit syrup, and shards of tempered dark chocolate. Oh, and then chocolate sauce is drizzled tableside over the whole gut-busting thing.
70 of 101
Deep-Fried Apple Pie À La ModeMichy's6927 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-759-2001
Michelle Bernstein's take on the classic Southern fried pie packs people in night after night with its gooey lack of pretense. Or is it the apple-cider caramel and vanilla-toffee ice cream that makes people love it? Either way, locals had better try it now, before all the foodies descend on Miami for this month's South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
71 of 101
Chawan Mushi with Exotic FruitZuma270 Biscayne Blvd Way, Miami; 305-577-0277
Michelle Bernstein of Michy's knows her Miami cuisine, so when she says can't stop eating this dessert ("I need it twice a week"), we had to find out why. The platter of fresh fruit and Japanese custard is refreshing and satisfying without weighing you down the way something like, say, a hunk of cheesecake would. Exactly what you need in South Beach.
72 of 101
King-Cake DoughnutsEmeril's Delmonico1300 Saint Charles Ave.; 504-525-4937
For a chef with thirteen restaurants to his name — e2 emeril's eatery opened just last month in Charlotte — Emeril Lagasse has assembled a pastry team at his Nola steakhouse that can turn out some surprising desserts. For Mardi Gras, chef de cuisine Spencer Minch and pastry chef Amy Lemon turned King cake — the classic, tri-color Mardi Gras cake — into high-end, sugar-frosted doughnuts.
73 of 101
Nutella CustardLilette3637 Magazine Street.; 504-895-1636
"I was playing with Nutella and I wanted to balance the richness, so I added some crunch," Lilette pastry chef Beth Biundo says of the simple inspiration that made her Nutella custard with mascarpone cream, salty caramel topping, and hazelnut brittle a runaway success. "It's a perfect New Orleans dessert because it's rich, but it's not heavy. It doesn't get cold enough here for a heavy chocolate dessert."
74 of 101
Passyunk BombeBelle Cakery1437 E Passyunk Ave.; 215-271-2299
Jessie Prawlucki, pastry chef and co-owner of popular East Passyunk Avenue BYOB Fond, has taken her knack for creating crowd-pleasing desserts and spun it into a second business, Belle Cakery, just a few blocks up from Fond. There, one of her signature creations is this single-serving interpretation of tiramisu, made with mascarpone mousse, rum, and espresso-soaked ladyfinger-like cake, mocha cremeux, and dark chocolate.
75 of 101
PB&JFish1234 Locust St.; 215-545-9600
Fish struck gold when it reeled in pastry chef Monica Glass for its bigger and better new location. Her imaginative creations at the Ritz-Carlton earned her a reputation as one of the city's top dessert-makers. For her PB&J, she riffs on the familiar flavors of the all-American sandwich with yogurt mousse, tahini sorbet, spiced bread tuile, and grape consommé poured tableside.
76 of 101
MidnightLacroix210 West Rittenhouse Square; 215-790-2533
Chef Fred Ortega and the pastry department at Lacroix know as well as anyone that people love chocolate. So for this dessert they decided to give the people what they want: It's composed of smoked chocolate mousse, dark ganache, supremely moist chocolate cake, and frozen chocolate milk.
77 of 101
Banana CannoneOsteria640 North Broad St.; 215-763-0920
Chef Jeff Michaud breaks into a hearty chuckle when explaining the dual meaning of the word cannone. Its literal translation means canon, but in Italy, it's also slang for a big spliff. You can decide for yourself which one he was going for with this cylindrical pastry, which is stuffed with bananas and pastry cream and plated atop a smear of Nutella.
78 of 101
Red Velvet CakeVedge1221 Locust St; 215-320-7500
Just in time for Valentine's Day, Vedge owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby came up with this all-vegan take on the classic red velvet cake. (Hey, vegans need love, too.) Beets give the cake its distinctive color, and the vegetable's natural sweetness even plays a part in the final garnish — beetroot fudge.
79 of 101
Banana-Bread French ToastAvenue B5501 Centre Avenue; 412-683-3663
Chef-owner Chris Bonfili has earned a reputation at Avenue B for creating striking dishes, and when it comes to the sweet side of the menu, his pastry chef Lisa Gibbs follows suit. Her playful twist on banana bread marries sweet, savory, and salty with banana tempura, walnut ice cream, and candied bacon.
80 of 101
Spoon BarSpoon134 South Highland Avenue; 412-362-6001
Spoon chef and co-owner Brian Pekarcik loves to geek out on new and novel interpretations of familiar flavors and dishes. The Spoon Bar is his take on classic American chocolate candy bars. But his translation incorporates a Bailey's Irish Cream coco bar, layered with cheesecake, and chocolate cake, milk chocolate "nougat" semifreddo, and placed on a bed of semisweet chocolate pudding.
81 of 101
BeignetsDuckfat43 Middle St.; 207-774-8080
A visit to this comfy sandwich shop is a rite of passage for every glutton who passes through Portland. The main draw isbready, steamy house-made duckfat fried doughnut holes with citrus essence. Get them dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, or tossed with chocolate sauce (our preferred method).
82 of 101
Gelato!Gorgeous Gelato434 Fore St.; 207-699-4309
Critic Meredith Goad of the Portland Press Herald tipped us off to this gelato shop, run by a Milanese couple who studied at Italy's Gelato University. It's hard to resist the charms of thick-accented Donato Giovine, whose enthusiasm for authentic gelato is contagious. Their signature is sweet cream with chocolate and caramel. As for their Oreo flavor: "It's amazing! It tastes just like the Oreos!" Donato declares.
83 of 101
Pot de Crème au ChocolatPetite Jacqueline190 State St.; 207-553-7044
Frequent Today show contributor and writer-about-town Annie Copps raves about the pot de crème au chocolat, at what she dubs a "tres Frenchy-French" bistro, where the vibe is homey and the owners are friendly. It's "heaven," she declares.
84 of 101
Saucisson Au ChocolatOlympic Provisions1632 NW Thurman St., nr. NW 17th Ave.; 503-894-8136; 107 SE Washington St. , nr. SE 2nd Ave.; 503 954 3663
The charcuterie specialist is known for its salumi, and it now peddles a chocolate version. Never fear, there's no actual meat in this treat: The sliceable dessert is made with French ganache, warm baking spices, nuts, candied ginger, and red wine. Slice this "salami" into rounds, and the nuts and ginger comprise the flecks traditional to meaty versions.
85 of 101
Bacon-Maple AleRogue Distillery & Public House1339 NW Flanders St., nr. NW 14th Ave.; 503-222-5910
Two of Oregon's most famous names, Rogue Ales and Voodoo Doughnut, collaborated on the maple- and bacon-infused beer, which we're definitely classifying as a drinkable dessert. Voodoo co-owner Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson recommends pairing the brew with his shop's bacon-maple bar ($2.50). "It even makes the beer taste better," he tells us. Although he cautions, "That should probably be your bacon quotient for the month."
86 of 101
Deconstructed Lemon Chiffon CakeA.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines11480 North Torrey Pines Rd. La Jolla; 858-453-4420
"San Diego runs on sugar and sunlight," says San Diego Union-Tribune critic Kelli Dailey, who recommends Jennifer Costa's deconstructed Meyer-lemon-zested chiffon with farm-tendered blood oranges, grapefruit, satsuma, and cara cara. It looks like "someone ransacked your kitchen, tore your citrus into segments, ripped your cake into fluffy squares, squirted tangerine curd, tossed tuile around, and left the ice box open so your tangerine sorbet's melting."
87 of 101
Candy-Bar CakeGingham8384 La Mesa Blvd. La Mesa; 619-797-1922
Kelli Dailey points Grub Street to this "appallingly good upscale Snickers" from Rachel King, pastry chef at Brian Malarkey's self-described "urban cowboy diner," telling us the alternating stacks of devil's food cake and peanut-butter mousse topped with butter-cream frosting "gives the finger to all those New Age pastry chefs afraid of sugar."
88 of 101
Opera CakeAbsinthe398 Hayes Street; 415-551-1590
Pastry chef Bill Corbett's modern take on a traditional Parisian Opera Cake is layers of almond joconde cake with ganache, caramel, caramel-espresso custard, and a crispy, Kit Katlike wafer in the center. The cake is then garnished with candied almond and dark bourbon caramel, and topped with chocolate croquant — it's like an ultra-thin brittle made by melting a powdered combination of chocolate and fondant on a Silpat, which is then pulled into a sculptural shape before it hardens into a featherweight bite of cocoa that disintegrates immediately on the tongue. Needless to say it's a crowd-pleaser.
89 of 101
Chocolate, Raspberry, AlmondAtelier Crenn3127 Fillmore Street; 415-440-0460
Young pastry chef Juan Contreras has already won accolades from Alan Richman, Michael Bauer, and Jonathan Kauffman for his artful, landscape-inspired platings and innovative techniques. The current final course on the menu — before his bonsai-garden mignardise display — evolved out of a "Black Forest" theme, with the cherries supplanted by raspberries with the season. It's a hollow log of chocolate filled with shreds of chocolate sponge-cake, ganache, and raspberry purée, and garnished with edible leaves and flowers, chocolate-almond "soil," delicate chocolate twigs, as well as small, gemlike raspberry segments. Like many of chef Dominique Crenn's dishes, it's meant to evoke a journey, a specific landscape in a season, and done like a painter would do it, with as much color and composition as flavor.
90 of 101
Grande Macaronb. patisserieBy special order only; email@example.com
Former Manresa pastry chef Belinda Leong is off on her own and popping up at the Ferry Building (and occasionally at Flour + Water) while preparing to open her own bakeshop. Her buttery, crispy, kouign amanns were last year's big hit, but her latest creation for Valentine's Day is this oversize pistachio macaron, filled with fresh raspberries and pastry cream, meant to be cut like a cake.
91 of 101
CitronCoi373 Broadway; 415-393-9000
The first sweet course in the eleven-course tasting menu at Daniel Patterson's two-Michelin-star flagship is this jolt of tartness from pastry chef Matt Tinder. "It's kind of meant to punch you in the face after all those savory courses," he says of the dish, which is a complex but not subtle palate cleanser with a Sour Patch Kid pucker. It comprises several thin slices of confit and barely candied etrog (a type of citron that's all pith, commonly found in panettone) over a scoop of frozen yuzu marshmallow, and dressed with a light syrup and tart vinaigrette. It's garnished with several housemade gin candies, which are crisp, sugar shells filled with St. George Dry Rye gin.
92 of 101
San Francisco Bay (Oakland)
Baked CaliforniaHaven44 Webster Street; 510-663-4440
A clever twist on the Baked Alaska, this dish by Daniel Patterson Group pastry chef Matt Tinder has already won a bunch of fans at the newest restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square. It's torched fennel-pollen meringue, over a disc of mandarin sorbet layered on top of vanilla ice cream, garnished with mandarin and avocado purées. Tinder plans to vary the dish with the seasons, swapping out the flavors of the sorbet and purées with other California fruit.
93 of 101
Fernet-With-a-Ginger-Back FloatPark Tavern1652 Stockton Street; 415-989-7300
This North Beach brasserie from the team behind Marlowe opened last fall to universal acclaim and talk of it feeling like an instant classic. The dessert menu is as straightforward and boldly flavored as the savory menu — with the monthly changing 'Birthday Cake' being the biggest hit, especially with Jonathan Kauffman at SF Weekly. But we're fans of the boozy ice-cream floats, like this newest addition to the menu: It's Fever Tree ginger beer with a shot of Fernet Branca, a scoop of Fernet ice cream from Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous and a bit of lime zest. What you get is a restorative beverage that hits a complex sweet spot somewhere between root beer, Moxie, and milk.
94 of 101
Pineapple Cream PieProspect300 Spear Street; 415-247-7770
The theme of the desserts at one-and-a-half-year-old Prospect, which is co-owned by the team behind behind perennially popular Boulevard, has been "All-American." On the new dessert menu by pastry chef Sarah Wade is this yummy individually sized pie made with a light pastry crust, pineapple jam, and topped with rum pastry cream, macadamias, and whipped cream. It's served with a scoop of cream-cheese ice cream, and some deeply caramelized roasted pineapple. It's the kind of pie your grandmother might have made if you had a grandmother who won prizes at state fairs.
95 of 101
Mandarin CreamsicleQuince470 Pacific Avenue; 415-775-8500
Pastry chef Devin McDavid just took over the sweet side at Quince this past fall, and he's already creating a luxe menu of desserts that rival the best in a town that clearly loves its sweets. McDavid's mandarin "creamsicle" is a log of vanilla bean semifreddo on top of hazelnut streusel, served beside a citrus-butter tuille, a scoop of kishu sorbet, brioche coulis, and suprèmes of Cara Cara orange and Ruby Red grapefruit. It's a just-sweet-enough dessert that showcases some of California's most stellar winter citrus, and it comes with a satisfying crunch.
96 of 101
'World Peace' Peanut-Muscovado Milk and Milk-Chocolate-Sesame CrunchState Bird Provisions1519 Fillmore Street; 415-795-1272
Pastry chef Nicole Krasinski, who just last month opened State Bird Provisions with husband and chef Stuart Brioza, spent years creating carefully plated, fine-dining desserts at the now-defunct Rubicon in San Francisco's financial district. A component of one of those long-ago dishes was a small glass of this peanut milk, infused using roasted peanuts, water, and a touch of cow's milk, blended and strained, and mixed with a Muscovado sugar syrup — it's a take on a Japanese children's treat that's usually made with soy. Here it's served separately, and it has 'World Peace' in the name because of the blissful, comforted reactions Krasinski's been getting from diners after drinking it. Also delicious is the crispy milk-chocolate-sesame crunch, which is kind of a dip-stick vehicle for a thick "jam" of ganache and candied clementines.
97 of 101
Osmanthus CakeSons & Daughters708 Bush Street; 415-391-8311
This delicate and barely sweet dessert from pastry chef Kevin Gravito epitomizes the style of the rest of the food at two-year-old Sons & Daughters on S.F.'s Nob Hill: intricate, restrained, inventive, and subtle. What may appear to be a fairly simple vanilla cake is in fact layered with fruity, floral osmanthus gelée — which tastes like apricot-y elderflower — and a crème fraîche mousse. The cake is served with beet ice cream, toasted almonds, and garnished with a cube of beet gelée and crunchy hunks of rose meringue.
98 of 101
Blue Hawaiian PieA La Mode Pies5821 Phinney Avenue North; 206-383-3796
This online-only pie delivery service went brick-and-mortar last fall, and owner Chris Porter has become something of a pie evangelist in a town where the pie trend has taken hold. A La Mode has the honor of getting the Readers' Choice prize from Seattle Weekly for Best Desserts in 2011, and their Blue Hawaiian — a combination of blueberry, pineapple, and coconut — is their undisputed signature. "Lest that sound like a very silly pie," writes Weekly critic Hanna Raskin, "be assured it gains gravitas from a crumb crust with a staunch crunch."
99 of 101
Quadruple Chocolate CheesecakeThe Confectional618 Broadway Avenue East; 206-282-4422
This Seattle cheesecakery, which has both its own shop and a stall at Pike Place Market, has done chocolate fans an extra-dense favor with this one. As Colin Gorenstein writes in Seattle Weekly, which named this monster the single best dessert of last year, "[it] comes in a small package, but [it's] dense with every bit of chocolaty goodness imaginable; dark and white blended chocolate make up the body while white and extra-dark await your bite in the center layer. Just when you think you're finished, a chocolate-crumble crust becomes visible as the bottom layer. Really, the chocolate party doesn't stop."
100 of 101
Hazelnut Spumone and Coffee WorkElisir427 11th St. NW, nr. E St. NW; 202-546-0088
D.C. dining eminence Don Rockwell, whose website is bookmarked by every food nerd in Washington, recommends this dish at the new Elisir in Federal Triangle. Candied hazelnut spumoni comes over amacchiato cream sauce with candied hazelnut tuile and amaretto-coffee-pistachio dust. A playful coffee-tequila shot with cinnamon-orange foam completes the plate.
101 of 101
Zuppa IngleseFiola678 Indiana Ave. NW, btwn. 6th and 7th Sts. NW; 202-628-2888
Fiola's Maria Trabocchi, wife of star chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi, schools us on this signature dessert: "Supposedly a chef in Napoli created this recipe for Lady Emma Hamilton, known to history as Lord Nelson's mistress." Fiola's version is a temptingly vibrant trifle of raspberries in mascarpone cream, sponge cake, and granita of lemon and basil served with a citrus tuille, concocted by pastry chef Jason Gehring.