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Crème Burlee in the 21st Century

Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge
by Mark Glass   

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

Thanks to all the readers who have e-mailed me with their questions and comments about my articles on this website. It’s nice to get your feedback, especially when it leads to more feeding. Of all the articles, none has sparked the response of the first crème brulee article. Even better, I’ve enjoyed following whatever recommendations I’ve had the chance to pursue. Perhaps we should start a club! The numbers, and depth of appreciation, are certainly there.

Fans of this apparently hallowed dessert fall into two main camps. I’m among those who prefer the deep-dish varieties, allowing the custard to chill beneath the glaze for a stunning contrast. Others prefer the shallow dishes, which maximize the crunch factor - more hardened caramelized glaze per serving.

Americans can stand tall, with our chests puffed out, beyond the reach of our expanding waistlines. My trip to France failed to unearth a Top Ten contender, while our domestic offerings reign supreme. Only the Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, Australia, has risen to the upper echelon. None has yet to surpass San Francisco’s Hayes Street Grill - first in my heart and on my palate.

Ithaca, New York’s, Rose Inn still ranks high; but a recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, yielded the densest concentration of delights, with one fine example of each variety, only about block apart, in the charming Historic District. Both had been endorsed by multiple readers (one of whom owned an inn), so I salivated for months, before finally making my first pilgrimage to that tourism Mecca. I found even more goodies to recommend in rather surprising places - Nashville, Tennessee; and the Hawaiian paradise of Maui!

For my camp, the Charleston Grill restaurant in the elegant Charleston Place Hotel exemplifies the deep dish advantage. After a fabulous meal, their crème brulee proved a fitting climax. Three raspberries were perched proudly atop an impenetrably thick glaze, protecting the pure vanilla flavor of the custard from unintended fruity intrusion. None of my faithful readers has ever expressed a preference for flavored crème brulees. If fruit there be, let it remain an accessory.

Glaze-aholics will prefer the shallow-dish offering of the Peninsula Grill, located at the Planters Inn hotel. Both lived up to the billing. A local informant with high culinary credibility, despite her complete dearth of girth, advised that yet another local restaurant rivals these two at the dessert competition! Alas, time did not permit me to complete the trifecta, so my duty to you faithful readers compels me to return at the earliest opportunity.

Those who think of Nashville as nothing but a haven for country singers, fans and wannabes, should update their data base. The city offers a splendid assortment of art museums, galleries and other recreational options. The remodeled Union Station contains an elegant hotel and restaurant. The new Frist Center for the Visual Arts ranks among the finest exhibit spaces in the country. Most importantly, the Sunset Grill offers a first-rate vanilla bean creme brulee, served in its purity, with only a dollop of whipped cream, respectfully placed on the side.

My first visit to Hawaii was all that I’d dreamed of in terms of balmy climate, luxurious hotels and resorts, and lush scenery. But I never expected to have my crème brulee horizons expanded in this cornucopia of fresh fruit and seafood. A Japanese restaurant in Kapalua, Sansei, surprised me with a fine shallow-dish version of this treat. The Sea Watch Restaurant at the Wailea Golf Club delighted us with a cappuccino Kona coffee bean crème brulee, that completely overcame my antipathy for flavorings in this confection. In the land that grows Kona Coffee, one is wise to make exceptions.

This proved true in another tasting. New Englanders are known for laconic speech, and understated, well, everything. In Freeport, Maine - home of L.L. Bean’s offices, outlet stores, and outdoors schools (where you can learn to actually use everything they sell, instead of just looking the part) - the Harraseeket Inn is uncommonly elegant in decor and amenities; but its fine deep-dish crème brulee fits the profile. Though they add kahlua to the custard, it’s a mere whisper. This preserves the dessert’s ecosystem, as lovingly as the region does for its surrounding woods and fishing grounds. Lobster from the local waters certainly makes a savory lead-in for our favored means of capping off a dinner.

My latest discovery for those of us in the deep-dish purist camp was the unsullied crème brulee, garnished only with a fresh strawberry, at St. Augustine, Florida’s, Raintree Restaurant. How appropriate for a fine restaurant in the heart of America’s oldest city to honor tradition with classic simplicity. Fortunately, it’s in the middle of an extremely walkable city and bayfront, giving you the chance to break even on the carbs or calories, for those keeping score at home.

Keep on sending your recommendations. Having spearheaded the movement with my first article, I take this mantle of responsibility quite seriously, and promise to keep you apprized of worthy discoveries. If you see me at any restaurant, I’ll be the one skipping dinner to make sure there’s room for our beloved dessert, despite the carbs.  Research, research, research...

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Mark Glass is a Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis. For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis area. (More about this writer.)


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