Finding the Sweet Spot in Savory Desserts

Portland pastry chefs venture into savory terrain with all-dessert pop-up dinners and prix fixe feasts.

By Kristin Leigh January 24, 2014

A sampling of dishes from Flight's pop-up dessert bar

The Trend

If you’ve detected duck fat in your cookies, don’t be alarmed!

Portland pastry chefs are taking the end-of-the-meal treat and placing it center stage in a handful of dessert–only menus, from dessert-focused restaurants to chocolate–themed tasting menus and pop-up dessert bars.

These ambitious affairs embrace sweets with a savory flair, utilizing ingredients like black sesame, root vegetables, foie gras, and heaps of black pepper to craft experimental treats that are both hauntingly delicious and boldly original. 

Who’s Doing It

The newest addition to Portland's dessert community, Flight pop-up dessert bar, is the culinary brainchild of Midwest transplants Nate Hamilton and Annie Massa–MacLeod. The pair host prix fixe dessert-only pop-up dinners at NW Thurman's Bluebird Bakers. The meals push the envelope of what diners consider dessert, alternating between familiar sweet flavors and surprisingly savory concoctions—think sweet potato squash salad dusted with milk chocolate, puffed rice, and yogurt, and "Cherry Pie" with local cherries and shaved black truffles. 2390 NW Thurman

Kristin Murray’s newly opened pastry-and-dessert hub Maurice is home to sweet savory-leaning favorites like the chef's lauded black pepper cheesecake, flaky duck fat–laden pastries, frozen squash creme brûlée, and celery leaf and crème fraiche semifreddo with flecks of green chervil. Murray is now offering a "Postres Pre-Fix Menu," available Thursday through Saturday from 6 to 10 pm, for the full dessert bar experience. 921 SW Oak

Nora Antene at Le Pigeon has been playing with savory flavors since her tenure at Little Bird. At her new perch, diners can find Le Pigeon’s playfully experimental attitude extending to the dessert menu, which includes duck egg banana ice cream with candied pecans, pineapple coconut Napoleons laden with goat cheese and ginger sorbet, and Le Pigeon's rightly famous foie gras profiteroles with sea salt. 738 E Burnside

Staying on trend, Portland’s dessert stars have joined forces for the Chocolate for Congo benefit on January 25, where pastry chefs Emily Kohlhepp (Gruner), Kir Jensen (Sugar Cube), Helena Root (Irving Street Kitchen), Lauren Fortgang (Little Bird), Mindy Keith (Xico), Sarah Hart (Alma), Alissa Frice (St. Jack), Jessica Woods (Pie Spot) and Nora Antene (Le Pigeon) will share their talents to serve up an ambitious sweet-meets-savory chocolate tasting menu.

Committing to an entire dinner's worth of dessert takes a lot of trust, even for foodies with a mile–wide sweet tooth. But when done right, the results are worth raving about.

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