Chow Bella

Maple-Rye Crème Brûlée at Market Street Kitchen

While it's true that Market Street Kitchen at DC Ranch is best classified as a neighborhood restaurant, it's a neighborhood restaurant aimed at a pretty sophisticated audience.

See also: Rich Heider Whips Up Heavenly Hot Chocolate Cocktails at Market Street Kitchen

How else to explain a legit cocktail program (with one of the city's best bartenders running it); an upscale menu that includes suckling pig, air-dried duckling and sashimi-grade ahi; and not one but two major talents in the kitchen? MSK's head honcho is James Beard award winner and Check Please! host Robert McGrath , the guy who put his indelible imprint on Modern Western Cuisine and made campfire cooking cool.

McGrath's younger colleague is Matt Taylor, whose work with famous Louisiana chef John Besh has informed his wonderful cooking ever since. Together, the two create dishes with a Southern drawl, a cowboy swagger and a hint of urban edginess.

Because the kitchen is so small, Market Street Kitchen makes only one of its desserts in-house, but it's a doozie: crème brûlée jacked up with maple syrup and rye whiskey ($7). McGrath calls it "Matt's toy," something he dreamed up and possibly tinkered with. I'm calling it the most interesting crème brûlée I've had in ages. Why? Consider.

It's ultra-creamy, ultra-crunchy and a little sweet (but not too sweet), possessing just enough spicy, peppery rye to give it an adult edge. As you can see from the picture, the crackly, sugary crust on top has been torched to just this side of burnt, and why not? Crème Brûlée, after all, is French for "burnt cream." And it's that sturdy, not-quite-bitter, caramel-like cap that makes such a lovely contrast to the silky custard (an ultra-simple mixture of egg, sugar, cream and vanilla).

Because Taylor has added maple syrup, making the proportions about 1/3 syrup to 2/3 sugar, the custard has the sort of depth and complexity you won't find in a typical, nursery-style crème brûlée (not that I mind those either). And one more thing: the texture of Taylor's custard is perfection -- thick and creamy, not thin and runny.This is great stuff. Try it the next time you want a light but comforting dessert with a touch of sex appeal.

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Nikki Buchanan