People say you always have a second stomach for dessert, but when it comes to Dominique Ansel’s U.P. tasting menu, you’ll need about four extra stomachs.
This 8-course dessert tasting first debuted this past summer at Dominique Ansel Kitchen, Dominique Ansel’s new made-to-order bakery in the West Village. U.P. stands for Unlimited Possibilities, and is described by Dominique Ansel’s team as their passion project. Tickets are released at 12pm on the dot every Monday for six seatings, eight people each, seven weeks out. Apparently when U.P. first debuted there were about 1,200-1,300 people trying to get tickets every Monday! Now that number is somewhere closer to 700-800. I somehow got incredibly lucky and, after refreshing the page for 15 minutes straight (…it was a slow day at work), managed to get a pair of tickets for a Sunday night slot.
David and I were the first people to arrive for our 7:30pm seating, so we waited on the stadium seats inside Dominque Ansel Kitchen. Finally, once everyone had arrived, we were led through a separate entrance to the production kitchen upstairs. As we were ushered into the kitchen and handed glasses of yuzu eucalyptus sparklers, I thought to myself, “Cool, they’re going to show us the kitchen and then take us to eat in another room…” but nope, we ate right in the middle of the kitchen! A table came down from the ceiling with a push of the button, and remained suspended on cables while the crew attached the legs. Apparently this setup was designed by Dominique himself!
Dominique unfortunately did not make an appearance, so the meal was led by executive pastry chef Karys Logue (who is only 26 years old!!)
On the table were arrangements of mini vegetables, because you should always eat your veggies before dessert. At least we got some butter to go with them.
Speaking of butter, Dominique Ansel Kitchen uses 150 pounds of butter every day! And Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo uses another 60 pounds. That is a whole lot of butter… just think about how much goes into those Cronuts.
The theme of the current menu is First Memories Last Forever, and our first course was first word. Prior to the meal, we were asked to email them our first word… so when our bowls came out, each of them was customized to what our responses were! (Mine was “ba,” which is Chinese for “dad.”) The dish was designed to look like alphabet soup using ingredients like sweet pea, rice milk and carrot cake. Everything about the dish felt light and fluffy, including the letters, which were constructed out of yogurt meringue – very reminiscent of the foods a baby would eat.
Second course: first kiss. This was by far my favorite course, in terms of execution of the intended concept. It came served in custom-designed bowls where you had to first eat the raspberry and white chocolate that were at the opening, and then get to the cream soda pearls and mint ganache on the inside. The mint ganache was even shaped and textured all slippery like a tongue, because as Dominique says, “Every kiss should be a French one,” hahaha. No one really knew how to properly tackle this dish either, which I guess makes sense because that’s basically what a first kiss is like… so basically all of us looked like idiots trying to figure out how to eat this thing without utensils.
I also love how they even customized the bowls by gender – mine was stubbly to resemble a guy’s face, and David’s was smooth to resemble a girl’s.
Third course: first time living on your own. This was basically a dessert version of spaghetti carbonara. The “pasta” was made of ribboned crepe, the sauce was smoked toffee, and there was even an “egg” made of custard. This was another one of my favorites because it was *almost* savory. It had that lovely caramelized taste of a homemade rice krispie.
Fourth course: first heartbreak. We were first given giant matchboxes with phrases written on them like “it’s not you, it’s me” and “let’s be friends.”
Chef Karys described the creation of this dish in how people view breakups: for some people they’re cold and involve lots of ice cream; for others they’re fiery with lots of alcohol. The end result of this “hot and cold” was their version of a baked Alaska. The execution of this dish was really unique – the baked Alaska was in the center of the plate with the ice cream coated in a chocolate shell, surrounded by daisy petals. There was a piece of rice paper that we were instructed to light with the match, and the fire slowly burned around the rest of the petals, torching the meringue as it went (except my flame went out a few times and burned so low that mine kinda failed. David joked that I must be resistant to heartbreak, hah.)
After everyone finished their baked Alaskas, we were given salted lime & shiso sorbet to remedy the pain of our first heartbreak. The sorbet was served in a fresh orchid!
Fifth course: first job. The dish came wrapped in a paper clip and “urgent!” post-it note, and ended up being a bar graph of things representative of your first job: sleep, taxes, beer money, and caffeine. Each bar was made of different ingredients: cardamom meltaway (sleep), honey nougat (taxes), malt semifreddo (beer money), and coffee-flavored chocolate (caffeine), all on top of a deliciously crunchy praline feuilletine cookie. While it was fun sampling all the different flavors, it was all extremely rich – I only made it halfway through the caffeine bar before calling it quits. The praline feuilletine on the bottom did wonders for offsetting the richness though; David even said it was one of his favorites of the meal – just the cookie, not even the rest of the dish.
Sixth course: first fine dining experience. This dish, like the third course, was a dessert version of a savory dish – in this case, a beef wellington. The “beef” was chocolate mousse, and the wrapping was puff pastry, and the sauce contained red wine. Overall, another very rich dish.
Seventh course: first dance. It came in lollipop form and tasted like strawberry shortcake. The chef laid them out on our table and piped a mascarpone tutu around each one before handing them out.
Eighth course: the next first. According to Chef Karys, the Asian flavors in this dish were an ode to the opening of Dominique Ansel Bakery in Tokyo. It consisted of sake lees panna cotta, lychee granita, and a sugar plum on top.
To end our meal, we each got a bite of Dominique Ansel’s signature DKA (short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann), which is described as “similar to a caramelized croissant.” Not too heavy and not too light, it was the perfect way to end the meal.
The team throughout the night was incredibly hospitable and the entire experience was so personal – as they served each dish to us, they would ask things like “What was your first fine dining experience?” or “What was the first meal you ever made on your own?” We were even given goodie bags on our way out: a box of potato chips (not sweet, thank god) and a silver balloon containing a fortune inside. My fortune ended up being a Lewis Carroll quote: “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”
Thank you, Chef Karys and team, for an amazing meal!
Dominique Ansel Kitchen
137 Seventh Avenue South
New York, NY 10014