Dessert First

White Chocolate Banana Cream Pie at The White Chocolate Grill

See also: Pie Social 2012: Call for Entries

If you're in the mood for dessert, it would seem there's no better place to go than a restaurant with chocolate in the name. That logic brought us to The White Chocolate Grill, on the surface a generic upscale American restaurant with the typical big plush booths, dark wood accents, and wide open floor plan. And while the menu is just as expected with salad, sandwiches, burgers, and steak, there's one key difference: the Desserts for Two category is listed right at the top.

Of course almost every dessert there features white chocolate, not usually the best option flavor-wise. White chocolate can often be too rich, too plain, and too one note. By isolating the cocoa butter and creating something that technically isn't chocolate, the resulting confection lacks the depth and complexity of dark chocolate. However, white chocolate certainly has its place from time to time, and its delicate flavor can be used effectively with the right combination of flavors. When dark or even milk chocolate can overwhelm other ingredients, white chocolate can be just subtle enough to smoothly tie everything together.

No matter how you like to enjoy white chocolate, there is an option for you. Like to mix different types of chocolate together? Try the White Chocolate Brownie with French vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. How about the classic combination of raspberry and white chocolate? Order the cheesecake topped off with caramel and whipped cream. Love white chocolate in all its glory? The French White Chocolate Bread Pudding made of croissants with golden raisins will do the trick. If you can't help but devour anything that's filled with pastry cream, opt for the White Chocolate Banana Cream Pie, our pick.

Despite the rustic appearance of the crust, this is a far cry from a homemade pie. Overall, it's well balanced, and all ingredients appear to be of high quality. The crust is made from graham crackers, but not finely ground pieces. Instead the crackers are minimally crushed into small bits and mixed with chocolate chunks, creating a rougher texture than most crumb crusts. The dark chocolate isn't immediately apparent, but every now and then there's a nice hint of it underneath the other flavors. Unlike most graham cracker crusts, this one serves as more than a base, adding a nutty whole wheat flavor that is as important to the finished product as the bananas and pastry cream.

Although the description reads "shaved white chocolate," which brings to mind a light dusting of flakes, the top of the pie is covered in big, thick ribbons of the stuff. That certainly makes for a decadent dessert, especially when combined with the rich vanilla pastry cream, a simple and well-executed custard. The white chocolate, pastry cream, and banana are a perfect combination; the fruit balances the heaviness of the thick white chocolate, and the pastry cream strikes just the right note in the middle.

There might be a lot of white chocolate on top of this pie, but surprisingly, it isn't overwhelming. Aside from the caramel sauce, the components alone aren't overly sweet, so the sugariness doesn't reach in-your-face status until the final few bites. This isn't the best banana-based dessert in town, and it would be better with more banana slices to amp up the fruit flavor, but still, you'd be hard pressed to find someone complain too much about this dish (given, of course, that they like pie, bananas, and pastry cream). Even for dark chocolate diehards, this is a satisfying end (or beginning) to a meal.

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Dominique Chatterjee