Sevy's vs Cuba Libre: Creme Brulee Crunchtime

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Years and years ago, Aurora chef Avner Samuel blurted in the middle of a phone conversation that he had introduced creme brulee to Dallas--and vice versa, I suppose.

Let's assume that's the case. Why then, didn't he go that one step further and show local chefs how to caramelize the sugar topping table side, with a branding iron? Makes quite a show, easy enough to do and it is a purely Texan twist.

No restaurant (that I know of) goes to this extreme with their version of creme brulee. Instead, they flavor the custard with bananas, chocolate, coffee...and probably pomegranate green tea. Fine--but do any of them get it right?

This week's toque to toque face off pits two old favorites (one older than the other) in a dessert donnybrook.

Essentially, creme brulee is a custard dish of French origin. The burnt sugar topping lends a bittersweet contrast of varying intensity to the smooth portion underneath--we all know that part. But there's a tricky balance that comes into play between bitter and sweet, between topping and flavors, even between the temperature of each element.

Cuba Libre's Cuban coffee creme brulee comes across and an overly sweet blend, the sugary custard muting any other characters involved. It begs for and intense, sharp backlash to counter this kiddy flavor. Instead, you're presented with a thin and brittle crust--hardly artistic and a nonentity when it comes to overall balance, as if the chef couldn't make up his or her mind--flan, brulee, flan, brulee--before finishing the dish.

Sevy's takes care of that by offering what they bill as a "best of both worlds" deal: two ramekins, one of traditional vanilla and one of chocolate--although personally I think a best of both worlds would involve whiskey and rum.

The chocolate reminds one so much of something Bill Cosby would advertise, it almost sank the restaurant's efforts, straight off. Though you really can't stop eating the damn thing, there's very little to note, but that the kitchen uses a good, bitter brand. The other is surprisingly true to form, traditional vanilla custard. Perhaps a bit runnier than some people would like, it oozes cream and spice and elegance, like creme anglaise under a scorched shell.

Sevy's vanilla version swept the contest, easily pummeling Cuba Libre's offering. As for the chocolate...well, I finished it, but not the Cuban coffee concoction.

Victory, saith Sevy's.

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