Reade has a point. Restaurants dishing up safe dessert selections outnumber the more innovative establishments, such as the Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle, which last month featured chocolate chestnut dacquoise, pear-ginger layer cake and pumpkin-brandy pudding. Pastry chef Huw Griffiths, who changes the inn’s selection weekly, says variety is sometimes curtailed by fear of waste and economic considerations. Unlike, say, leftover meat, most desserts can’t be repurposed, which means pastry chefs have to create confections that “go off the shelf,” he explains. Tried-and-true desserts also tend to be profitable: A creme brulee that costs the kitchen $2 or $3 can be sold for as much as $9 at dinner.
“It takes a lot of hands to make complicated desserts,” says Tiffany MacIsaac, who oversees the bread and dessert programs at the Neighborhood
Restaurant Group’s eight restaurants and two bakeries. “It’s a huge luxury to afford a pastry chef” and high-quality ingredients such as designer chocolate. Depending on the venue, sweets makers in the Washington market can earn between $40,000 and $75,000 annually — further reason some restaurant owners look to their sous or line cooks to whip up desserts rather than hire a specialist. My feeling is, dessert is a restaurant’s last chance to wow its customers. Why wouldn’t it take advantage of the opportunity?
P.S. to Reade: MacIsaac was upset to hear your complaint. She’d like to introduce you to her handiwork at Birch & Barley in Logan Circle.
An anonymous participant of a recent online discussion was put off by the $50-per-person cancellation fee flagged in a confirmation contract from CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. “We’re not the type of folks who don’t show up for reservations,” the chatter submitted, “but, hey, life happens, and 24 hours’ notice isn’t always sufficient for a party of six when ages range from the early 30s to early 60s. All of us find this off-putting. Are we being too sensitive, or is CityZen actually worth the hassle?
The short answer: CityZen, helmed by chef Eric Ziebold, an alumnus of the acclaimed French Laundry in California, is a four-star experience.
For a more thorough response, I reached out to the restaurant’s director, Jarad Slipp, who said the policy is in place to recover the establishment’s costs rather than to punish diners. (The check average at the 70-seat luxury property is $160 per guest.) “We understand things happen,” says Slipp, who enforces the cancellation fee on a case-by-case basis. If someone doesn’t call ahead and doesn’t show up, he or she is automatically charged, but “if we can re-book [the table], we won’t charge you.”