With Valentine's Day around the corner, we thought we'd get you in the mood with a little friendly competition of gooey, rich and chocolatey desserts. We have two serious competitors: a deep, dark chocolate cake and a brownie-like dessert served with a side of warm chocolate sauce.
So light some candles. Slip into something sensual. And read on...
In One Corner: Cafe Zuzu at The Valley Ho
6850 E. Main St. in Scottsdale
Cafe Zuzu exudes swank elegance without being overly pretentious. The decor has a mid-century modern flavor, boosted by the sleek, low chairs and groovy hanging lamps that look like giant versions the string Easter eggs we made in Sunday school (we bet these were made using balloons that were popped after the glue on the string dried, too!).
During our visit, the staff was prepping one large table as if expecting a group of foreign dignitaries. Or Brangelina and their brood.
We ordered the most sinful, diet-busting dessert on the menu: Warm Chocolate Decadence. The description given on the menu was vague, but we figured with that name it had to be good. Our dessert arrived piping hot in a cast iron baker, topped with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and accompanied by a tiny pitcher of chocolate sauce.
We dug in and found a brownie-like chocolate cake with a moist center. The cake was a little dry around the edges, but the ice cream helped to moisten the rapidly crumbling cake. The vanilla ice cream was simple, but delicious -- exactly what ice cream should be.
"I can taste real vanilla bean in here," remarked my dining companion. "It's a nice light, refreshing ice cream. Not too heavy."
The ice cream was excellent, especially when paired with the thick cake. The chocolate sauce, on the other hand, was a total disappointment.
"Are you kidding me?" our friend griped. "This can't really be..."
We know the Valley Ho is big on retro, but we didn't expect Hershey's syrup from a can. Tell us all you want about Chilean-grown cacao beans or hand-poured chocolate, everyone at our table would swear hand to Bible that this was Hershey's. That, or the Valley Ho's chefs have replicated the Pennsylvania-based company's syrup so perfectly they could put the original out of business.
The rest of our meal was delicious, and the Chocolate Decadence wasn't bad. If it had been a little moister and the syrup had been warm hot fudge, this dessert could've scored an "A." For now, the best part is the ideas the chocolate sauce gives you -- especially given that there are rooms ready and waiting right next door.
In the Other Corner: Romeo's Euro Cafe
207 North Gilbert Rd. in Gilbert
We didn't really believe that any part of Arizona could feel like Paris until we stepped into Romeo's Euro Cafe. The place is adorable. Up front, there's a tiny gift shop and a giant bakery counter teasing guests with sensually named desserts: Satin Bondage, Intoxicated Love, Dangerous Dilemma, The Morning After. We were practically sweating just looking at them (of course, maybe we were just nervous about the calorie counts involved).
Of course, it might've just been the cramped surroundings. Romeo's is truly European style, which means a LOT of tiny tables crowded into one thin sliver of a dining room. The decor is naturally rustic, with brick walls, displays of wine bottles and a partially open kitchen. We got lucky with our table, which was waaaay in the back with only one neighbor in reach. Sweet!
Speaking of sweet, on to the dessert. We opted for Dark Desire, described as roasted hazelnut-chocolate cake soaked in Frangelico and layered with dark chocolate mousse. Oh. My. God. It sounded amazing.
We were served a heaping slice of cake covered in thick chocolate ganache with an outer layer of toasted hazelnuts.
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The cake was rich and sweet, with a slightly citrusy flavor. It was a bit dry. Sweet, light chocolate mousse filling added moisture, and was even tastier than the cake.
"I could eat a whole bowl of this filling," my companion remarked. "It's so fluffy. Creamy, too."
The outer shell boasted a thick layer of the dark chocolate ganache studded with rich, toasted hazelnuts. Ah....here was the nutty flavor we'd been missing. The cake itself has a slight nutty aftertaste, but didn't quite deliver the salty-sweet-earthy taste of natural nuts. What we ended up darkly desiring was a bowl of the mousse topped with nut-studded ganache. Yum. Add a little more Frangelico to the cake for moisture, and we'll take the whole cake.
The Winner: Romeo's Euro Cafe