Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Best Bites #2-Sticky Toffee Salvation

I had been wounded. I was a bit stunned. Betrayed. Disappointed.

There is a scene in Michael Clayton when George Clooney stops his shiny black villain’s car on a small country road at dawn. The steely anti-morning presents to him a collection of horses on a hill. In silence, he gets out, and makes his way up the steep hill to commune with the magnificent beasts, every one nearly motionless. The animal innocence of the horses stands in contrast to the human heavy-heartedness that ClooneyClayton brings with him up that hill, as they all share a moment of inter-species wordless communication, breathing frosty breath into the scene. And behind him, his car explodes.

This scene is a perfectly-timed moment of cinema.
It is also an accurate representation of what it was like the night I went to The Parish for the first time.

Having had an extraordinarily anti-climactic meal earlier in the night around the corner, when I abandoned that experience to its own implosion behind me, I was guarded, but lustful for consequence and gravity. For something to eat that mattered.

The Parish was my dawn-lit field. And the dessert menu was my horse.

Whole evenings can be saved with an amazing dessert, shared with friends, and paired with a cocktail slightly less shared with friends. We needed redemption, and to be taken care of. Redemption came, as I wish it did more often, in a bite of Sticky Toffee Pudding.

And a spoonful of Blueberry Lemon Trifle. And small fingerbowl of Gulab Jamun. Not quite sure what that is? You won’t think to ask until you’ve devoured it. Presented as a a triumvirate of fried milk-dough balls, about the size of extra-large olives, the gulabs sit in a shallow shimmering pool of cardamom rose-water syrup, and carry a small buttery storm of chopped pistachios. It is an Indian dish, and it’s combination of warm and comforting flavors make you want to figure out and de-code it, to find out what makes it so foreign and familiar at once, but you’re too busy polishing it off. It’s the kind of dessert that, were it to be served in ladylike dishes at a wedding after cake and coffee, you would turn down countless invitations to dance, in order to remain behind and eat everyone else’s before they realize it’s been served.

The trouble with trifle is that it is both the photograph, and the frame. Layers of soft cake meant as a vessel for the sweet seasonal juices, and often a cream layer meant as “filler,” more there for height and texture than anything else. When these layers are treated as defaults, relying on the eater’s base attraction to all things creamy and cakey, the dessert fails. But one can tell instantly that that is decidedly NOT where you are going with this trifle. Those common traps are buoyantly and completely avoided at The Parish, and this was perhaps the first trifle I have ever adored so much, as a compilation of graceful notes-the cake is a gooey buttermilk cake with added cream, the whippy creamy layer made singularly refreshing and refined with tart lemon curd and crème fraiche. With each component treated with delicious attention and thoughtful respect, this trifle rises way above its sad heritage and becomes a classic worth re-visiting.

The Brit at our table said it was perhaps the best Sticky Toffee Pudding she had ever had. The rest of us could only nod in agreement, our mouths full of the caramelly confection, made devilishly dense and hearty with dates, it’s edges sharpened by fresh ginger. When organized perfectly on one’s fork with the vanilla marinated plums that come lounging in the caramel moat protecting their densely delicious castle-cake, this is a bite that can fix a lot about life.

Life is full of really frustrating things. The big things involving life, death, and taxes, are rarely addressed with dessert. But life can often amount to a daily collection of medium-sized things instead. Miniature crises, temporarily fractured relationships, the unfathomable injustice of lost luggage. These I feel, must be managed exclusively with dessert. So when you have an emotional bone that must be re-set, go to The Parish, order every dessert on the menu, wash it all down with a Black Bee (you’ll see, just order it), and enjoy your salvation, one sweet sticky bite at a time.
The Parish
840 S. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014

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