12.18.09 Cloud Nine
I started with a lovely salad of watercress with bosc pear and walnuts, nothing I don't make at home all the time but still delicious. For my entrée, I had the half-portion of ricotta gnocchi, lightly sauced with an intense tomato purée. Speaking of clouds, the gnocchi were plump, perfectly shaped nuggets that melted in my mouth. Afterwards, not feeling overly full and wanting to order a dessert, I opted for the hot chocolate. It came in a glass mug set on a rectangular plate with two cloud-like marshmallows alongside. It was so rich! (Definitely on par with the legendary hot chocolate at City Bakery, a couple of blocks away.) The marshmallows were like goose-down pillows, although, quite frankly, I almost prefer the squishy and pedestrian supermarket variety. I had the opportunity to live in Spain several times in my youth, and so measure all hot chocolate by the super-dark, thick brew that accompanies churros (to donuts what truffles are to button mushrooms). In fact, one of my best food memories of all time is of consuming that delicious combination at about 4 in the morning, in a crowded Madrid café after a night of dancing. But I digress...
Anyway, Union Square is definitely using half-&-half and good quality chocolate, so how wrong can they go? I actually cheat when I make this and mix equal parts half-&-half and rice or almond milk plus cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. It really does not compromise the taste or texture. But I offer you another alternative here, for when you're in a more experimental mode. This is albino hot chocolate made with coconut milk and white chocolate and spiced with cardamom (my eternal obsession). Topped off with a fluffy marshmallow it makes for a truly celestial experience—especially when you curl up in front of the fire with a mug of this and anything by Philip Roth (preferably post-1995)...
White Hot Chocolate
- — 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- — 1/2 cup half & half
- — 1/3 cup agave nectar
- — 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped white chocolate
- — 1/2 vanilla bean
- — 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (freshly ground is best)
- — generous pinch sea salt
Stir together coconut milk, half and half, agave, cardamom pods and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla and then toss in the pod. As milk begins to warm, add chocolate and simmer gently, whisking to blend. Do not boil. When chocolate is completely integrated and flavors have been allowed to meld, remove from heat and strain into two mugs.