Saving the best for last: a guide to Euro-dessertsIt’s hard being a proponent of fine European desserts in a country where desserts are viewed as a fancy way of gaining weight ―not that fresh watermelon and pear at the end of the meal don’t make for a great dessert. But what is lacking here is the concept of a real dessert. Desserts are, if compared to fashion, a pair of shoes that punctuate an outfit at its very foundation; in grammar, a period at the end of a sentence to complete its meaning. Desserts, likewise, complete a meal.
Traditionally, Koreans have had very simple desserts (if any at all), such as fresh fruits, chilled nectar, or scorched rice soup; other traditional sweets often served as dessert in Korean restaurants are usually items categorized as snacks. Which means things like rice cakes and dried persimmons are meant to fill hungry stomachs, not to help cancel out calories or digest a full-course dinner.
Strong Western-style desserts, made from condensed sugar, mature cheese and dark chocolate, are designed to digest heavy meals, and they are by Asian standards too sweet, dense and heavy. For a long time, Japanese patisserie chefs have pioneered recipes that worked for Japanese tastes, a palette Koreans couldn’t agree with more. The results were still off-balance, though.
Western-style cakes of all kinds available in Korean restaurants, bakeries and cafes are heavily and invariably influenced by the Japanese interpretation of what a wholesome American apple pie or French chocolate souffle should be. These Western-style morsels modified for Asian tastes are sold, quite literally, like hot-cakes here, but they’re too light and bland for desserts. They can, however, be a nice snack between meals and thus are the nemesis of health experts.
These fancy bites are more than just a piece of cake; each slice or medallion of creme de lux captures the sweet Korean fantasy of a gilded Europe. One of perfect examples in Seoul is Patisserie Duchamp, named after the French painter, Marcel Duchamp. The spiffy two-story building in the posh district of Cheongdam-dong offers a look at the Asian-fantasy version of Paris. Its gorgeously sculpted desserts, each costing about 4,500 won (about $4), are all in French ―“Le Tier,” “St. Michel,” “Opera,” (the Parisian neighborhood, not the type of theater).
On top of the list is “Comme New Yorkers,” a slim slice of creamy cheesecake and lemon meringue topped with crispy cookie balls. This is far from the super-dense cheesecake from the famous Cheesecake Factory, but a little tangy yellow cream becomes a charmer, with a cup of great coffee or espresso (7,000 won). A little heavier, “Theatre,” is a miniature party of milk chocolate, bitter chocolate, marshmallow and chocolate tuiles in the shape of a butterfly.
One of the best cakes in the capital is offered at Cafe Mou (“Rain at Nightfall”) owned by the celebrity hair stylist Lee Sang-il. Mr. Lee just finished decorating the spacious cafe located on the second floor of his Parkview building. Besides red candles, white lilies and Turkish lanterns are snow-white shrubs, which are, amazingly, made entirely out of thin Korean noodles. The cakes (priced between 8,000 to 13,000 won) at Mou come from Mr. Lee’s cake boutique, Garu, on the first floor. Over a cup of coffee or espresso (7,000 won), a piece of Special Gateau offers a delightful concoction of fresh mango, raspberries, cream cheese and black currants “cased” with thin bars of white chocolate, with snow-white powder edsugar and a chocolate coin perched on top.
The darkest, the richest and the fanciest of all cakes in the capital, excellent as a real dessert, was inspired by Mr. Lee’s travel to the cradle of civilization. A mini square block of “Africa Marble” is layered with caramel cream, chocolate biscuit, black cherry and pear; glistening on top of the lusciously dark chocolate skin is none other than a flake of real 18-carat gold.
English: On the menu.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m daily.
Location: In Parkview Bldg. near Dosan Park in Sinsa-dong.
English: On the menu.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight.
Location: Behind the Louis Quartorze building in Cheongdam-dong
by Ines Cho
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