SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE: Trace dessert, cocktails, and Paul Qui

Hi, Reader!

I (Megan) often joke about wanting to put my entire face into a dessert, but last Thursday, I had good reason to lose my mind over something sweet: two renowned pastry chefs melded their sugary minds together to create a special dessert dinner at Trace (W Hotel).

Chef Pichet Ong (P’Ong & Batch, NYC), visiting for last weekend’s Austin Food & Wine Fest, and Janina O’Leary, (W Hotel and Trace) hosted “Late Night Sweet Treats”, an inventive menu consisting of :

Barely Buzzed: Creme panna cotta, lavender & Round Rock honey biscuit

Cream Soda: Market Berry Vanilla Swirl ice cream, black pepper genoise & Dr. Pepper reduction

Smoked Chocolate Cream Beignets: Dulce de Leche & carmelized white chocolate ice cream

I corralled friend and photographer Sarah Leslie to accompany me and snap the goods. We had a terrible time! First, we had a waiter who was super mean:

He took the time to describe everything to us in detail, including patiently listing all of the ingredients in each cocktail while I jotted them down in my tiny notebook.

Second, we had to try said creations and their liquid companions (click to enlarge):

These pairings were not only insanely delicious, they were dreamt up and constructed by one of the best pastry chefs in the nation and his protégé.

 Chefs Pichet Ong and Janina O’Leary

I mused aloud that my favorite dessert was the Cream Soda, so when Sarah dared to voice her own opinion that hers was Barely Buzzed “because of the lavender”, I declared us arch rivals. She reminded me that lavender and strawberries are harmonious, so we needn’t be enemies. Then, I insisted she take a series of photos of me crossing my eyes with a spoon in my mouth. (Results=not publishable.)

Chef Ong came to our table and chatted with us, all the while swiping furiously on his iPhone. “I don’t know how these chefs do it,” he confided. “The cooking and tweeting from the kitchen every five minutes.”

Sarah switched gears, her curiosity getting the best of her. “You studied architecture,” she announced. He stared at her. “So…the transition. To this. How did that happen?”

He brightened. “Well it’s not that different from cooking. In architecture, you take a concept and deconstruct it and put it back together. Cooking’s the same,” he offered. “Everyone’s doing it now: pizza, salad, shrimp cocktail.”

I grew wings and flew away from the conversation a little bit, imagining what those pizzas and salads and shrimp cocktails would taste like if Ong prepared them, picturing all those ingredients levitating separately in the air. I descended back to Earth to hear him finish his analogy: “Architecture is about determining what fits in the environment. Same with desserts…desserts that match the dinner.”

And with that, we went on to pepper him with questions about what else he’s doing during his stay in Austin, and I handed him a scrap of paper with “Alamo Drafthouse” and “Barton Springs” scribbled on it. Satisfied with our recommendations, Sarah and I went back to sampling our petit fours: salted caramel marshmallows (WOW), lemon verbana caramel brittle (which looked like stained glass) a lemon raspberry shooter (colorful and frothy) and dark/milk chocolate ‘pops’ that had the consistency of truffles. At this point, we were already in the grips of a brutal sugar hangover.

As a nice little bonus at the end, we saw Paul Qui walk in. He couldn’t have been more gracious, allowing us to interrupt a moment with friends to take a photo that I proclaimed was for “Austin Eavesdropper”, but really, was for me and Sarah because, come on, Top Chef. You won the hearts of everyone who watched the show, Paul.

His delightful lady, Deana, volunteered to snap the photo, which was just the froth on top of an already sweet evening.

  Paul and Sarah (I cropped myself out because when someone doesn’t learn to brush her hair before leaving the house, someone doesn’t get to stay in the photo.)

Thanks, W!