Maybe I'm the only person in Dallas who cringes at the thought of mandatory valet. Why? For starters, no one needs to witness the level of abuse and neglect my car has suffered. If it were a child, it would be in CPS custody. Not only that, but asking someone else to perform a task that is usually my job makes a do-it-yourselfer like me a little uncomfortable. I guess I'm being ridiculous--most people never give this a second thought. At any rate, the valet issue has been a wedge between Fearing's and me, which could only be dislodged by the promise of dessert at one of the top restaurants in the country. I took a deep breath, put on a Ritz-Carlton-worthy dress, and hoped that it would draw attention away from the clunker I rolled up in.
The Ritz. The name immediately draws associations with refinement and class. Its swanky reputation inspired its own slang and Irving Berlin's tune "Puttin' on the Ritz." (Let's just forget the 80's version of the song by Taco ever happened.) Hell, just to take the association one step further--even a simple cracker can't bear the name without becoming pretty much the most supreme of all Nabisco creations. Being more the Ritz cracker sort than the Ritz-Carlton crowd, I had to wonder if I would feel a little awkward strolling into their fine establishment. Fortunately, the siren song of Pastry Chef Jill Bates' dessert menu was too powerful to resist.
So there I find myself on a Saturday afternoon, with visions of Fred Astaire in top hat and tails dancing in my brain. I enter the hotel lobby and am greeted by a lavish display of flowers. Passing by the sumptuous, dimly-lit sitting area, the sound of ice shaking beckons me toward the Rattlesnake Bar, which is a gateway to the restaurant proper. It was strangely deserted, so I asked to sit outside, hoping the al fresco atmosphere would be a little livelier.
Imagine my surprise--Bob Dylan, then the Rolling Stones, and Queen are playing. Way more rock n' roll than I expected the Ritz to be. My valet angst and shoulder tension begin to soften as I take a seat on the sun-drenched patio. Yeah, I can get into this. I order some Pellegrino and peruse the dessert menu. At first, I'm disappointed to learn that the fizzy lifting floats (the magical Willy Wonka nostalgia of which lured me here) have recently been taken off the menu. My gracious hostess Helena recommends the double chocolate popsicles--she swears I won't be disappointed. Oh, sure, that's what my boyfriend said when he took me to see Dungeons and Dragons.
Ok, Helena, I think. I'll try these consolation popsicles, but I don't have to like them. Still, I'm holding out hope. I know approximately 5 things about Jill Bates from my research: 1) She lives in my neighborhood. 2) She has a knack for creative use of seasonal ingredients. 3) She has a prized cherry-pitter. 4) She thinks the s'mores trend on dessert menus is tired. 5) She's like the Samuel L. Jackson of desserts.
Wait, let's back up a minute. S'mores--tired? Ha. Marshmallows. Graham cracker. Chocolate. Really, hot shot? You think you can do better than that? I'll be the judge. I relax on the patio, wondering whether Dean Fearing's band is any good and listening to the lumbering whir of DART buses motoring past. Then, Helena appears with my double chocolate popsicles perched in her hands and I want to crash my ship like so much sailor mesmerized by their hypnotic charm.
It's hard to know where to begin, both in describing the dish and in savoring it. The two chocolate ice cream popsicles are magnificent, like Fudgsicles, if Fudgsicles had been invented by Samuel L. Jackson. They're coated in a crackly chocolate shell sprinkled with slivered almonds, resulting in a glorious contrast of smoothness and crunch. The lushest, plumpest boozy cherries (presumably popped by that cherished pitter) and double decker fleur de sel chocolate cookies flank the chocolate pops. All of this is kept afloat by a toasty sea of marshmallow cream. And you know what it reminded me of? S'mores. S'mores! Maybe this is Chef Bates' way saying "I told you so." Somehow, she's managed to create something better than the fireside treat while still evoking echoes of it.
I mention to Helena how amazing the marshmallow cream is. She agrees, and says when they whip the stuff up, it's hard to resist asking to lick the spoon. In a flash, I see the exact reason I would be fired from Fearing's if ever I were in their employ.
I polish off every bite and leave an embarrassingly messy, strategically folded napkin behind. The powdered sugar I brush off my dress, the chocolate under my nails--the evidence of my indulgence is everywhere. This is what a destination dessert should be, complete with a tiny sense of guilt in the pleasure. When I retrieve my car, the valet guy smiles at me; he knows exactly what I've been up to. That's okay--I'd confront my valet aversion any day for those chocolate popsicles.
Chef Bates, you win. I'm a believer--S'mores can stay on the camping menu and off Fearing's menu. I get it now. And...since we're neighbors, can I stop by to borrow a cup of sugar? And maybe lick a spoon if you just so happen to have some of that marshmallow cream on hand?