When you want unpretentious yet high-end modern American fare, supposedly the place to go in town is Beckett's Table. Not only does the restaurant boast that great reputation, but it's also well-known for one particular dessert: chocolate-dipped bacon s'mores. Countless people have told me to try this porkified sweet dish over the past year, and Arizona Restaurant Week (mark your calendars for the spring edition next May) offered the perfect opportunity -- especially since it meant tasting two desserts instead of one.
The first course, an arugula salad with bacon vinaigrette, was delicious and brought tons of bacon flavor, amping up the anticipation for a very bacony dessert. The entrée, beef bourguignon shepherd's pie, was so-so. While it had lots of luscious notes of red wine, the flavors were muddled together. But who cares when there's dessert on the way?
In the past, I've been lucky to try some seriously amazing bacon desserts (Tracey Dempsey's "Pig in the Orchard" bread pudding at Citizen Public House; bacon ice cream with apple caviar at Quinn's Pub in Seattle) that incorporated a rich, smoky bacon flavor. That wasn't my experience with the chocolate-covered bacon s'mores. The bacon was mostly salty, a tiny bit smoky, but not really meaty. In fact, the bacon vinaigrette in the first course was at least twice as bacony. First, this problem could be solved by using thick-cut bacon instead of a thin piece that reminds me of cheap breakfast. Second, the bacon flavor would be more pronounced if it was half-dipped in thick chocolate, not totally smothered. If you're going to have bacon in a dessert, don't shy away from it. Bring on the bacon!
The other components in the chocolate-dipped bacon s'mores are good, but not good enough to make up for the bacon let-down. The housemade marshmallow is the best part, soft and fresh with a hint of vanilla. The graham crackers taste and look store-bought, which they are. And the inclusion of peanut butter, which is overpowering and gets in the way of the s'mores flavor profile, confused me. S'mores should be simple with three main flavors, none of which is peanut butter. Yeah, it's fun when chefs try to riff on childhood favorites by introducing new (also classic) flavors, but the approach here is all wrong. Maybe it would be better with a tiny bit of whipped peanut butter or icing spread on the graham cracker so the flavor was more muted -- and masked the store-bought quality of the cracker.
The toasted coconut cake fared much better. Although a little dry (as most coconut desserts are), it's just moist enough and very tasty. The coconut flavor isn't extremely strong, but it's not bland either -- and that's saying something since dry shredded coconut tends to be fairly flavorless. The inclusion of smoked cashews and chocolate sauce drizzled on the plate work well. However, as much as I adore cashews, a better choice of nut might be macadamia. Or is that too predictable? The only odd part about this plate is the coconut pudding. It tastes great, almost like a coconut crème anglaise, but it's certainly not thick enough to call a pudding. Overall, though, this is a better choice than the chocolate-dipped bacon s'mores, which is all flash in the pan.
To be fair, I've been much kinder in the past to desserts that were on par with the chocolate-dipped bacon s'mores (e.g., Miss McGee's Mud Pie at Bobby-Q). However, those dishes weren't trying to be something extra special, uber-trendy, or shockingly delicious. Everything about chocolate-dipped bacon s'mores screams "trying too hard," and yet the simpler option, coconut cake (which was certainly worth finishing but not incredible enough to match the best desserts in town), takes the cake as far as these two desserts are concerned.
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