Twenty years ago I celebrated my seventh birthday under the kitchen table. The premise was an “upside down” theme. While details are murky now and the logic behind them tenuous at best, the afternoon possessed that certain magical nature that comes only from young minds. We ate Jell-O with our hands, which to my small self somehow seemed consistent with the idea of “upside-down” – things wiggling and out of control, flouting social etiquette from beneath the table like animals.
By now, I’ve grown older and more literal. My imagination has shrunken but my palate expanded and evolved. Though Jell-O may have its childhood charms, for upside-down desserts, Barolo and their crème brulee (RMB 98+15 percent) have stolen away my heart.
More befitting to an era when you sip champagne on your birthday is this tasteful spectacle of a sweet, deep and rich in flavor. You may be familiar with the classic crème brulee: a white ramekin, a rich custard, a brittle top of caramelized sugar. Here, a fishbowl of a dish arrives with the narrow elegance of a wineglass, but holding intoxicants of another kind: custard baked on caramel.
Exhibit some decorum – a modicum of patience for whimsy is required as the server pours a hot stream of chocolate and honey to rupture a hard shell of dark chocolate covering the mouth of the bowl. If custard on caramel sounds too cloying, the kitchen is on that same tip and an orb of salted hazelnut ice cream lends nuttiness and a touch of saltiness to set off the sweet. Altogether it will remind you of a Snickers bar, Chef Eugenio Iraci warned a table of Americans. He was right, and we were delighted.
Finally, at the end of it all, the reserve process brulee challenges you with this: do you maintain your dignity or abandon shame and scrape the floor of the glass for flakes of caramelized sugar?
Daily 11.30am-2pm, 6-10pm. 2/F, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, China Central Place, 83A Jianguo Lu, Chaoyang District (5908 8151)
A version of this article appears in the March 2014 issue of the Beijinger.
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