desserts, Maine Restaurant Week, Signature Event

The Cherry on Top

As the Missus and I walked into the Prime Mercedes-Benz show room this past Sunday, it felt like we were walking into an adult wonderland of booze and sugary treats. We were hardly alone, too, as roughly 500 other people joined us to ring the final bell of Restaurant Week with their ‘Signature Event,’ a competition of local pastry chefs and bartenders.
While top honors for drinks went to Zapoteca and Sonny’s–for the “Peoples Choice” and “Judge’s Choice,” respectfully–the venue was so crowded that we never made it through the throngs of people to get to their tables.  However, we did manage a few sips of cocktails from:
Bar Lola, as co-owner Stella Hernandez worked as a one woman army mixing and pouring her Bulleit Rye anchored “Coolidge Ave. Cocktail,” as quickly as guests could scoop them up. Like many drinks on their menu, this was crafted by Stella and pulled off sophisticated drinking with little effort. We may have gone back more than once.
Academe, housed at The Kennebunk Inn, brought out the whimsy big time with their “Not So Old Fashioned,” which boasted both a pipette of chai maple syrup, cara cara sorbet and a maraschino cherry gelee. It was captivating to watch them assemble, but actually following the steps (I think we were given a four part instruction on how to drink it) proved to be a bit more complicated than the event allowed for. A pipette of maple syrup just makes for a hot, sticky mess when you’re getting knocked into every second and trying really hard to remember what you were supposed to do after that. But, that’s not to say that it wouldn’t be better appreciated sitting at their bar without risk of dousing yourself with syrup.
Azure Cafe, in Freeport, also played around with a dash of Molecular Gastronomy with their “Sweet and Tangy Screw with Basil-Mint Caviar.”  I honestly expected to come home and find that they had won People’s Choice with this as it seemed to be the one I heard the most buzz about. Not only did it have a dose of refreshing basil-mint orbs at the bottom of the glass, but it also listed ‘Tang Simple Syrup” as an ingredient in the program. Let me say that again: TANG Simple Syrup. I’m not one to drink with brunch, but I’d be extremely hard pressed to turn this down any given Sunday.
One of the Missus’ favorites of the evening was the “Driving Miss Dizzy,” crafted by The Great Lost Bear. Perhaps because they’re thought of as more of a ‘burger and beer’ joint, but it seems that the GLB has a tendency to surprise. You wouldn’t really expect them to have lavender buds kicking around, or making such a delicate drink with a base of sparkling lemonade, but they did. And they pulled it off well. 
Obviously, we only partook in a fraction of the cocktails (I could go on a rant about the lack of water available for those that didn’t want to drink as much as others), but my reason for being there was definitely the desserts. 
We started the tour with the Whole Foods entry of a goat cheese cheesecake, dubbed the “Tipsy Tennessee Goat,” that was topped with a Murphy’s Stout salted caramel and brown butter and gingersnap crust. 
The base was perfectly tart and tangy and the caramel, which generously coated every sample, had just a hint of bitter from the stout beer. We know that I’m a sucker for anything covered in caramel, so this was a great way to start our sugar fueled adventure. 
After that we sampled the eventual winner of the evening, from David’s Opus Ten, flaky beignets with peppered strawberries, creme chantilly and balsamic reduction.
David and his crew garnered automatic points for serving the only warm dessert of the evening, but the crunch of the beignet, paired with the lush chantilly creme and spicy strawberries, made for an all around pleasurable dessert.  With the ‘restaurant within a restaurant’ already gathering a bit of buzz, I’m more than certain this dessert won him a few new fans. 
Now, while we weren’t sold on the drink from Academe, you couldn’t help but fall for their interpretation of the classic childhood pairing of “Milk and Cookies.”
As you walked up you were handed a small whisk of raw cookie dough and then a vial of sweetened milk, which was really an uncooked creme anglaise, and told to squeeze the pipette as you bit down on the cookie. Because it was so simple, and so ingenious, this could have easily failed if the cookie wasn’t good. Luckily, it was a damn fine chocolate chip cookie, bringing the best of both chewy and crunchy to your mouth. They easily had my vote for my favorite of the evening.
Another uber-cute dessert came from Walter’s in Portland.
Their entry, dubbed “Panna Buttah and Jelly” called to the kid in me that loves peanut butter cookies, but also to the adult that could eat panna cotta every evening if given the option.  Sadly, this dessert suffered the same as Academe’s drink, nice in theory but fell apart in execution. As soon as the peanut butter spoon tried to pierce the concord grape jelly top, it broke and shattered into three different pieces–and some of it ended up on the floor. I was only able to taste the smallest bite, with a salvaged nub of the spoon, before we threw it away in disappointment.

I would like to apologize outright to Standard Baking Company for taking a horrible photo. It truly does not do their Lingot d’Or bars any justice. The bars, which held a smooth chocolate and whiskey souffle on top of an almond shortbread, were nondescript. Sure, there was obviously a little gold dusting on top, but it didn’t look as interesting, or as decadent, as the first bite turned out to be. Of all of the pastries I’ve had from Standard this is, above and beyond, their finest. It was also the last bite of our evening and it was a lovely one to go out on.