Last fall, our friends Drew and Ralph spent a weekend in Chicago. Drew and Ralph are both big-time foodies, and they asked us for any food recommendations in the Windy City. We had a few (Ann Sather, Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill).
And we knew the perfect person to ask for more ideas: one of our readers, Rina. She'd sent us numerous great recipe ideas before, and we knew she was really plugged in to the Chicago food scene. Rina was happy (we hope!) to oblige, and she sent a terrific list of good restaurants for Drew and Ralph to try.
At the top of Rina's picks? The Bristol, a new gastropub in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. Rina raved about its creativity and constantly changing menu. And when Drew and Ralph went there for brunch, they fell in love with the place.
All that brings us to this: When Zach was in Chicago for work a couple weeks ago, he knew he had to make time for dinner at the Bristol.
Dinner was outstanding: An appetizer of charred spring onions tossed with crispy goat belly, topped with a light mustard cream sauce. The entree was a crisp-skinned sea trout on a bed of fava beans and flageolets. Perfection!
But then it was time for dessert.
The server came over to tell Zach the three dessert options that evening. "First," she said, "we have a chocolate sabayon, sprinkled with a little sea salt and drizzled with olive oil, and that's served with a couple house-made Nutter Butter cookies. Second, we have--"
"I'm sorry," Zach interrupted. "I'm going to stop you there. There is absolutely no need for you to continue. I have to order that."
After eating the dessert and blacking out for a while over how good it was, Zach came to. And he had a singular mission: recreating this dessert at home.
As impressive -- and, perhaps, daunting -- as this dish appears, it's actually not all that complicated. There are really just four steps: make the cookies, make the cookie filling, assemble the cookies and make the sabayon.
If you're not familiar with a sabayon, it's a light, eggy custard (in Italy, it's called "zabaglione"). Making it is child's play. Throw everything (except, in this case, the chocolate pieces) into a bowl, set the bowl over some simmering water, and whisk until it's thick. Then stir in the chocolate until it melts. That's it!
The cookies are a little more time consuming, but they're still just a basic cookie recipe (a standing mixer works wonders here). Just make the cookies, bake them, cool them on a rack. Make the filling and, once the cookies are cool, slather the filling between the cookies. Voila!
(If you want to get a little fancy, you can cut the cookies into rectangles after you've assembled them with the filling. It makes them easier to dip into the sabayon, which is unquestionably required for this dish.)
The Bristol's twist on a classic sabayon is brilliant: Topping it with a little sea salt and olive oil gives the sabayon a savory element that plays off so nicely against the chocolatey custard. The sweet and salty flavors come together in a way that's completely magical.
One note on the salt: It's a nice idea in this case to actually get some flaky sea salt or fleur de sel. Because those salts are flakier and thinner, they dissolve into the sabayon. Table salt or Kosher salt wouldn't blend as well.
And the Nutter Butters. Oh, the Nutter Butters. We found a recipe from the New York Times that's an adaptation of the Nutter Butters served at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery.
They are heaven. The oats and peanuts make for an amazing cookie, and the sweet peanut-buttery filling is simple and delicious. If you have fond memories of eating Nutter Butters as a kid, these will bring your childhood flooding back (although we think they're even better than the originals).
And again, let's face it: You're going to end up dunking the Nutter Butters in the sabayon. And when you do, get ready. You may pass out. All the oaty, peanuty, chocolatey, sweet and salty flavors come together in this burst of delicious that may short-circuit your brain.
So, fair warning: Enjoy this dessert, but make sure you're sitting down.
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 5 tablespoons dry Sherry
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- Sea salt or fleur de sel
- 1 tablespoon olive oil