Dramatic desserts - from baked Alaska to puff pastries - are being poured, drizzled, and set on fire at a restaurant near you.
The stars of tonight's show arrive on a white serving tray, puffed to perfection. A waiter sets a pair of them - profiteroles, puff pastries filled with ice cream - in front of me. Holding a pitcher of chocolate sauce, he smiles and tells me to "say when." This is dessert as theater, and it's making a comeback.
Brasserie Jo, a French bistro at Boston's Colonnade Hotel, coaches its waiters to deliver the profiteroles with a touch of whimsy. Mine tips the pitcher so the sauce slithers over the pastries' tops, dribbles down their sides, and almost spills over the plate's edge. "When," I say.
"I want people to be entertained," says Olivier Rigaud, chef of cuisine at the restaurant, which serves several desserts tableside, a practice common in France. In the new world, it turns out that a little extra attention can draw a few more customers, chefs say.
Locke-Ober serves a flaming baked Alaska. It's an already complicated concoction: vanilla and raspberry ice cream layered on spongecake and coated with meringue that is browned in the oven. Just before serving the dessert, a waiter in a black vest and bow tie pours brandy over the top and lights it. Flames dart out, still going as the dessert is set on our table. The waiter then steps away, and a friend and I dig in with sterling-silver spoons.
At Olives in Charlestown, founder Todd English introduced the Very Vanilla Bean Souffle to compete with the restaurant's popular molten chocolate cake. The waiter carries out the souffle, puffed nearly 3 inches above the rim of its dish, along with vanilla-bean ice cream and vanilla anglaise. Using a spoon, he cracks a hole and deflates the souffle. Steam and the smell of sweet vanilla escape as the waiter spoons in ice cream and smothers anglaise on top.
No fire, no fountain of fudge sauce, just a bit of drama that has helped a vanilla dessert compete with a chocolate one. "I love that personal touch, finishing something at the tableside," English says. "It's definitely on its way back."
BRASSERIE JO Colonnade Hotel, Boston, 617-425-3240; www.brasseriejoboston.com
LOCKE-OBER 3 Winter Place, Boston, 617-542-1340; www.lockeober.com
OLIVES 10 City Square, Charlestown, 617-242-1999; www.toddenglish.com