Elegant Desserts at a Pair of Chicago Restaurants

We’re continuing our series of “Sweet Saturdays” this month, with a look at a pair of classy desserts. Last week we talked about creamy soft serve, but if you’re looking for something a little sweet to eat after taking in a show downtown, consider a pair of elegantly plated desserts from two of Chicago’s more serene dining rooms.

Danielle Marelli was always a fan of Dreamsicle bars and push-up pops as a kid. And now that she’s running the pastry program at the elegant Langham Hotel in River North, she has the freedom to bring those flavors to the plate. Citrus is the star.

“I love the freshness and the brightness that it brings to a dish. I really wanted to highlight it during citrus season so I found a way to incorporate blood orange and tangerine and grapefruit throughout this dessert,” she said. “With that Dreamsicle ice cream bar in mind, I kind of came up with this citrus dream bar dessert.”

She starts with a swoosh of blood orange aperol gel across the plate. Then a three-layer cake: olive oil basque cake on the bottom, buttermilk white chocolate custard in the middle and blood orange across the top. A crumbly olive oil streusel is scattered around the sides, then pieces of fresh tangerine, blood orange and grapefruit. A blood orange sherbet is spooned into a perfect, elegant quenelle then plated alongside.

“We have an ice cream maker here at the hotel that allows us to get that really creamy texture and it’s not really an ice cream and it’s not a sorbet; it’s kind of a marriage of both,” she said.

Downtown is one thing, but if you’re going to Second City in Old Town or you’re seeing a show at the Royal George or The Steppenwolf in Lincoln Park, Boka is your best bet for dessert post-show.

The Lincoln Park restaurant is known more for fine-dining and tasting menus, but Pastry Chef Meg Galus always has a few craveable desserts. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season but this mini-masterpiece features strawberries five different ways, including fresh — tossed in strawberry vinegar, semi-dehydrated for chewiness, compressed in rose syrup and as a sorbet. Small pieces of almond cake are embedded within, as is a black sesame cremeaux, or pudding.

“Sesame and strawberries kind of a trendy flavor profile now, I’m seeing it around a lot but for me it sort of evokes that kind of nostalgic peanut butter and jelly idea,” Galus said.

It’s not easy to make. Roasted black sesame paste is combined with cream; it’s whisked while heated. Separately, sugar and egg yolks are combined. She slowly adds just a bit of the black sesame mixture to temper the yolks. You can’t add it too quickly or you’ll get scrambled eggs. Everything is then heated together and blended well.

Passed through a fine mesh strainer, it’s chilled and then piped into the bottom of the bowl, where it hides until a spoon is dispatched, plunged beneath the strawberry and streusel above.

A less seasonally-dependent creation is her hazelnut-coffee option.

“It’s one of the first desserts that I came up with when I started at Boka,” Galus said. “Really classic flavors – hazelnut, a little bit of coffee and milk. It’s a milk ice cream. It’s actually a fairly light dessert; doesn’t feel super heavy, but still feels decadent so it’s a nice end.”

The base is hazelnut coffee caramel, then a hazelnut crumble, a creamy mousseline, plus candied hazelnuts and some thin, crunchy sheets of coffee and milk chocolate. A perfect quenelle of ice cream, a sprinkle of sea salt and then at the table, a rich, dark toasted milk sauce to finish it off. Hard to find a more perfect ending to a night on the town.

“We welcome people just coming in for dessert,” she said.

And if you did want to stop into Boka for dessert after a movie or a show, you can stop by in the bar up until 11 p.m. on the weekends.

Langham Hotel
330 N. Wabash Ave.

1729 N. Halsted St.


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