If your New Year's resolutions have you off the sugar, this post isn't for you. If, however, you've instead vowed to be more mindful of the quality of your indulgences and are keeping your palate readied for only the most mind-blowing of desserts, then by all means: read on.
Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, pastry chef at Olivéa (719 East 17th Avenue), knows her way around the kitchen. She studied in Paris and New York before we were lucky enough to welcome her, but she credits much of her culinary inspiration to her experiences growing up with a food-loving family in Arequipa, Peru.
We tried two of her acclaimed desserts on a recent visit, the chocolate and fleur de sel caramel tart and the honey almond semifreddo.
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"I've always loved the chocolate caramel combination," Lozada-Hissom says of the tart. "When I was growing up, my dad would take us to this ice cream parlor/bakery in Arequipa. They had the most amazing -- at least to my memory -- chocolate ice cream 'copetta.' In the bottom of the cup you would find the best surprise in the world: a little pond of caramel sauce. They served this ice cream with the most delicate and delicious cookies."
The memory of this childhood treat is honored well by the tart, which is truly something to behold. In a happy marriage of flavors and textures, a layer of caramel is hidden beneath a rich, dark chocolate blanket. Both are held within a delicate butter crust and topped with a scoop of milk chocolate gelato, a shard of nougatine and a light dusting of fleur de sel. The balance is quite remarkable: The salt keeps the sweet in check, the crust soaks the gelato slightly, the nougatine and salt add a crunch to an otherwise creamy filling.
Also well-balanced is the honey almond semifreddo. The dessert is cool and creamy, offset with a sprinkling of glass-like almond praline to give it crunch and a small heap of apricots roasted with honey and thyme. When available, Lozada-Hissom uses apricots from Andalucia, Spain. "They are just amazing," she says. "They have the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness." The way the fruit is prepared gives it a delightful sour punch that contrasts well with the semifreddo.
Though the Olivea dessert menu changes to take advantage of seasonal inspirations, the tart and semifreddo will be sticking around for a while, due to popular demand. But there are adventurous possibilities. Rumor has it that if you see a maple-mascarpone budino pop up on the menu soon, you'd do well to snatch it up. It's apparently to die for. Chocolate and fleur de sel caramel tart with milk chocolate gelato and nougatine crunch: $7.50 Honey almond semifreddo with apricots and almond praline: $7.50