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Four new dessert menus | Restaurant reviews

We check out the new sweets at Custom House Tavern, Blackbird, Perennial Virant and GT Fish & Oyster.

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
1/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

Ch�vre fritters at Perennial Virant

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
2/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

Lemon semifreddo at GT Fish

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
3/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

Pumpkin-butter cr�pes at Custom House Tavern

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
4/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

White chocolate sponge: caraway custard, raspberries and buttermilk ice cream at Blackbird

Perennial Virant
I didn’t want the fritters. I know I’m jaded, but I can’t remember the last fritter I had at a restaurant that differentiated itself in any meaningful way from other pieces of fried dough. But the server said the fritters were her favorite. And then, as we were deliberating, a different server said this dessert was also her favorite. So to my Concord-grape sorbet and bourbon-butterscotch cremeux, I added an order of chèvre fritters. The three plates, the work of Elissa Narrow, who has been off the radar for the last couple of years since she left Custom House, arrived at the table. I tasted the grape sorbet, served with twists of meringue and fresh Concord grapes. Like chef Paul Virant’s food, it was seasonal to the moment. It was also unbelievably boring. The cremeux was gummy and too thick: How could bourbon and butterscotch fail? All that was left were the fritters. As I bit into the delicate exterior, silky, rich goat-cheese cream oozed out. Did time stop? Did the Earth cease rotating? I have no idea: In that moment, there were only fritters. 1800 N Lincoln Ave (312-981-7070).—Julia Kramer

GT Fish & Oyster
The one bright side of the drama of the Black Sheep, the West Town restaurant that James Toland opened and closed this summer, was discovering the talents of Sarah Jordan: The previously unheard-of pastry chef’s desserts were the highlight of my two meals at the restaurant. Now at GT Fish, it’s interesting to see how much Jordan has adapted to the style of the seafood house. Her desserts are breezy and light, reflecting the qualities of chef Giuseppe Tentori’s dishes. (The clean, fresh flavor of her lemon semifreddo is the best example of this.) But with two other desserts—a salted-caramel tart that earns attention with caramelized bananas and a key lime pie–in-a-mason-jar that’s a holdover from the former pastry chef—Jordan’s going down a more simple, homey route. What’s missing from these desserts isn’t flavor but personality, which hopefully will come in time. 531 N Wells St (312-929-3501).—Julia Kramer

Custom House Tavern
The opportunity afforded to Custom House Tavern upon losing pastry chef Bryce Caron to Blackbird was huge: Though Caron is extremely talented, his desserts clashed with the style of chef Perry Hendrix’s savory stuff. The Tavern’s new pastry chef, Erin Mooney, fits in perfectly—her desserts are simple but sophisticated enough not to be called rustic, and the flavors are nuanced without being challenging. Some technicalities get in the way, though. The ice creams (I had two flavors, one that brimmed with baking spices and another that beautifully combined cream with peach jam) appear to be pre-scooped and frozen on the plates they are served on, which makes for a scoop that is icy and brittle on the bottom. A quenelle of quince sorbet that topped a panna cotta (topping panna cotta with sorbet is a brilliant, underutilized idea, by the way) fared better, as did the maple cream-cheese ice cream on the pumpkin butter crêpes. Those crêpes, the pinnacle of an autumnal dessert, probably didn’t need the extra element—or, frankly, the extra sugar. But better an excited (and sometimes overzealous) pastry chef than a tired, boring one. 500 S Dearborn St (312-523-0200).—David Tamarkin

Blackbird
Savory ingredients are Bryce Caron’s signature tool, yet even people who know this may be given pause by the description of his almond financier dessert: “plums, curried cous cous and Thai basil,” the menu reads. I ordered it anyway, and as a fan of almond cakes, I blissfully forked the chubby cubes of nutty, tender financier. But the curry and very intense basil oil on the plate pulled me out of a place of pleasure and into confusion. So I focused on other desserts instead. I don’t mean to be reductive, but the caramelized brioche with sweet-tart gooseberries was basically the most delicious French toast I’ve ever had. And the frozen cucumber mousse achieved what I thought was impossible. Here was a dessert of tiny cubes of musk melon, a sparkling pile of lime ice and two logs of what essentially is the cucumber version of an orangesicle. With three desserts at my table, how is it possible that I left feeling lighter and more refreshed than when I sat down? That is the genius of the incomparable cucumber mousse—and, of course, its creator. 619 W Randolph St (312-715-0708).—David Tamarkin

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