Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dessert time. Dilettante.

I have lived in Seattle for over twenty years now, and there are still some places foreign to me, places I have yet to explore. But there are other places and things that are long familiar, that stretch across the distance from my childhood to my present time. Like Dilettante. I remember those silver boxes of chocolates, the lids engraved with Dilettante in a curving, elegant script, a silver rose arching over that last e. Never mind Godiva chocolates in their gold paper or See's Candies in their white boxes. My childhood belonged to Dilettante truffles brought to parties or given as holiday gifts, something rare and elusive. (Perhaps there might also be those dark-chocolate dipped macadamia nuts from Hawaii, those gold-foil-wrapped chocolates crunchy with hazelnut from Ferrero Rocher). Later, much later, there would be truffles and an intense chocolate torte from Fran's (my mother nearly always had one on hand in the freezer), and caramels dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with grey sea salt. There would be honey pecans covered in chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar from Chukar Cherries, another local company. Even later I would discover La Maison du Chocolat, and my life would never be the same after that first taste of their champagne truffles. But Dilettante is my childhood, and always will be.

Not far from where I live now lies the stretch of Broadway, those several blocks of shops and restaurants and cafés and theaters, the area that people mean when they say you know that place, over on Broadway. The sidewalks are decorated with bronze shoe-prints demonstrating complicated dance steps. When I was small I would twirl around, trying to follow the quick one-two-three with an imaginary partner. Later in high school A. and I would go shopping along the avenue, darting into one shop after another in search of the perfect outfit. I remember coming home with a slithery bias-cut skirt of wine-colored satin. I don't think I ever wore it. It was during one of those shopping trips that we slipped into the Dilettante café for a late afternoon snack; I remember eating my bread and pâté and understanding for the first time that you needed the grainy bite of mustard and the sharp, sour crispness of cornichons against the rich unctuousness of the pâté, that taste was about contrast. Perhaps we had cake, too, but I don't remember, and more than a decade would pass before I would return to stand before those glass-fronted counters and gaze at the elaborately frosted cakes cloaked in dark velvety sheets of chocolate.

Several weeks ago we had gone out to dinner. I had just returned from two weeks of Taiwanese cooking interrupted by excursions into Japanese cuisine and was in desperate need of a croque monsieur and onion soup. But all they had by way of dessert was clafoutis and bread pudding and homemade ice cream. We needed cake. In some dim corner of my jet-lag-fogged memory I remembered that the Dilettante café would have cake, and before I could fall asleep on my plate I was sitting before a slice of chocolate cake, all soft layers of cake and rum-flavored frosting. I have to come back again, I thought, and tonight I have. It is impossible to choose between chocolate cakes with raspberry and chocolate cakes with rum and chocolate cakes with walnuts and finally I choose chocolate cake with cherries, a Black Forest cake, and like all their other cakes it is not those dense, rich, fudge-like things served in dainty slices over a puddle of sauces that have dominated our dessert scene for the past decade but rather Cake. And it is exactly what I want.

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