Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vacation part III: Finale, the holy grail

After a just-okay dinner at Sel de la Terre, I was hungry and ready for dessert. We left the restaurant and walked a few hundred yards down the mall to our destination: Finale. Finale is one of my favorite places on earth-- it's a dessert restaurant with a couple locations in Boston (including one in Harvard Square, my old haunt). I had been waiting for this moment ever since the last time I ate at Finale, which was the last time I visited home, several months ago.

The exterior of the Natick Mall location

The restaurant was fairly empty, so we were seated immediately. On the way in, I grabbed a dessert sample from a tray on the counter. It was a small cup of chocolate cake layered with three kinds of chocolate mousse, and it was a delicious pick-me-up to tide me over until my real dessert arrived. We all knew exactly what we wanted, so with only a cursory glance at the menu (force of habit), we were ready to order.

Chocolate mousse freebie

Our bubbly, friendly waitress took our orders and brought my dad's coffee ASAP. We sat and chatted while the desserts were prepared.

Illy coffee, only the best

One of the coolest parts about Finale is that they mount a large mirror over the dessert-assembly counter, so you can see all the ingredients and the plating as it takes place. As you might imagine, this is enthralling theater for me. I chose a seat that had a great view of the mirror, so I watched as the chef plated our desserts and the other orders coming in. Note: if you are prone to orderer's remorse-- that is, realizing you actually wanted something different after you place your order-- don't watch the mirror. Everything at Finale looks great, so while your dessert will be incredible, all the others will be too...

The mirror displaying the assembly counter

It wasn't long before our desserts arrived. Mom ordered one of Finale's signature desserts, the molten chocolate cake. It comes as a personal-sized chocolate cake, accompanied by candied almonds and a pool of dark chocolate sauce. Usually, there is a scoop of espresso gelato as well, but my mom requested it sans ice cream.

Cake topped with a flurry of powdered sugar

Once the cake was punctured, the liquid center began oozing out. I stole a small taste, and let me tell you, if you like chocolate cake, it doesn't get any better than this. The creamy, silky interior combined with the slight sugary crunch of the cakey exterior-- pure heaven.

Molten center in action

I ordered one of my favorite desserts on their menu, the fresh fruit sampler. Part of the reason why I like it is it doesn't make me feel sick after eating it (this is a fault of my stomach, not a fault of Finale, let's be clear about that), but it's also just plain delicious. The sampler comes as a display of fresh fruit around a pecan tuile cup holding two scoops vanilla gelato. You can request any other flavor of gelato or sorbet, but I love their vanilla-- it's Ciao Bella and incredibly yummy. I also asked for extra berries, which they gave me-- and charged for (Finale does have some weird pricing policies sometimes...).

Fruit, ice cream, and cookie: all three major food groups

The fruit was sweet and fresh and tangy, everything fruit should be-- I even ate the grapefruit segments, and I don't like grapefruit. But the ice cream is the centerpiece of the dish, and it was cold, creamy and satisfying. The pecan tuile is like a huge, nutty florentine cookie, and it's anchored to the plate with a dollop of pastry cream, which acts as a surprise bonus rewardfor getting to the bottom of the cup.

You can see the vanilla bean flecks in the gelato-- and the creative chocolate garnish

Both of us polished off our desserts in record time. I couldn't get enough, and my mom, a chocoholic, couldn't either. If I could eat nothing but Finale desserts all day, I would be happy. Sick and fat, but happy.



Once finished, we paid our bill and left, passing the pastry case full of other tempting delights on the way out. The cupcakes, in particular, are noteworthy here. If I hadn't just eaten an enormous dessert, I might have gotten one.

A jewel box of edible goodies

The chocolate cake with white frosting is incredibly good

If I haven't made it clear by now, I love Finale. It's a great concept, which began as Harvard Business School project, believe it or not. And although their desserts aren't cheap (a plated dessert like the ones we had will run you about $10), it's a great place to come when you just want dessert. That may seem like an obvious and stupid statement, but as a dessert lover, I often want to go out and just get dessert, and while that pisses most restaurants off, Finale is made for that sort of thing (although it's worth noting that they also serve light savory food). It's also a great place to take a date-- classy and upscale, but in the overall scheme of things, much more affordable than a comparably fancy meal (a final tab for a couple on a date with two full desserts and coffee will still run under $40).

Sure, I could comment on the restaurant's decor-- a crisp color scheme of black and red-- and the fact that their water tastes extra good (well, it DOES). Sure, I could note the friendly and prompt service and the ample room between tables. Sure, I could also mention the somewhat bizarre and incomprehensible pricing schemes they often concoct... and the fact that it's tough to get a table in some of the locations at prime times of night. But none of that really matters. Finale makes incredible, earth-shatteringly delicious desserts. It's one of the few places I actually miss since moving to Manhattan, and it's the type of restaurant I want to own myself some day. I would go there every day if I could. For these reasons, I deem Finale my first and highly distinguished five Offset Spatula restaurant.

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