Soda fountain favorites go uptown

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Root beer floats poured table-side, a “milkshake program” created by a sommelier, spectacular sundaes layered with gelée, meringues and buttery sablé cookies. It’s a whole new world of soda fountain desserts.

If you’ve ever had the caramel copetta at Pizzeria Mozza -- creamy dark-caramel gelato layered with a crisp Italian pizzelle (waffle cookie), gooey caramel sauce and sticky-smooth marshmallow sauce, topped with a handful of salty, toasty Spanish peanuts -- then you know that a sundae can be so much more than just ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Lately (maybe it’s goodbye-to-summer nostalgia), soda fountain standards -- sundaes, shakes, floats, ice cream sandwiches -- have sparked the imaginations of ice cream-minded pastry chefs.

The Little Door’s new pastry chef, Danielle Keene, has been concocting ice creams to serve by the scoop at the Los Angeles restaurant’s adjacent deli-cafe Little Next Door as well as for her new desserts at the restaurant.

She makes a sundae layered in a parfait glass, starting with kumquat-size almond financiers (made with brown butter, orange zest and orange blossom water), then adding roasted Adriatic figs, huckleberry compote and a scoop of honey lavender ice cream. Then the layers are repeated, topped with two more scoops of ice cream and candied orange zest. It’s the pinnacle expression of well-loved sundae characteristics -- the cake-like texture of financiers meets the creaminess of ice cream meets soft-roasted and syrupy fruit in a commingling of textures and temperatures.

‘The perfect bite’

AT THE recently opened Brix@1601 in Hermosa Beach, executive pastry chef Renee Ward is making her version of a layered sundae -- a show-stopping dessert that she calls a coconut coupe. Ward begins with tart kalamansi lime gelée perfumed with vanilla, then a layer of house-made raspberry marmalade and fresh raspberries for a parfait-like beginning. A coconut sablé makes a crunchy platform for a tiny scoop of creamy coconut lime sorbet. For a final, flamboyant touch, a teardrop-shaped coconut meringue.

“I like to watch the guests . . . take the spoon and dive in all the way to the bottom so they get all the textures and all the different flavors and take the perfect bite,” Ward says.

Hers is an elegant dinner finale that sommelier Caitlin Stansbury serves with a Moscato Bianco from Vignalta. “The richness of the coconut and the tropical flavors she’s layered into that dessert,” Stansbury says, “pairs so well with the heady gardenia scent and jasmine” of the Muscat.

Like any traditional soda jerk who might draw from an arsenal of ice creams, syrups, sauces, nuts and sodas, Ward uses components made from several recipes. Each can stand on its own or can be combined in building-high style. No cherry necessary.

Her coupe has as much in common with current French-forward desserts as with old-timey soda fountain favorites. Ward previously worked at chef Alain Ducasse’s Mix in Las Vegas, where dessert coupes are a frequent after-dinner offering.

The coupe -- the stemmed glass bowl, such as for Champagne -- “comes across as really hip but still classic,” Ward says.

There’s a whole section of fantastic “coupes glacées” (which roughly translates as “bowls of ice cream,” a serious understatement) on the menu at chef Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud, which opened earlier this year in Manhattan. Pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira layers apricot sorbet with apricots, pistachios and lemon spéculos (cookies); fromage blanc-berry sorbet with strawberry shortcake; and chocolate-vanilla ice cream with hazelnut feuilletine (crushed wafers)and chocolate foam.

The hippification of sundaes isn’t all about chefs. If the crowd at the new desserterie Haus in Koreatown is any indication, it’s chic to meet over artfully presented, ice-cream-and-more desserts such as bananas Foster or cherries jubilee and thick shakes in flavors such as green tea or almond. Here, among the girls with big tote bags and miniature dogs and the guys who pull up to the patio-side valet station in their new cars, the bingsu (a Korean sundae) comes in a glass tea pot filled with shaved ice, fruit, sweet red beans and rice cake. At the table, the server pours sweetened condensed milk over the whole thing.

At LA Mill in Silver Lake, Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez, who creates the desserts for LA Mill, has put his own version of bingsu on the menu after a trip to Seoul -- black sesame granita with sweet red beans, his own mochi (sweet pounded rice) cake and micro herbs.

Call it a copetta, call it bingsu, call it a vacherin -- whatever you call it, you’re talking sundae construction. A vacherin glacé is chef Alain Giraud’s signature dessert at brasserie Anisette in Santa Monica -- lavender ice cream (which has followed him from his days at Lavande), fresh strawberries, raspberry purée, Chantilly cream and meringues.

Sublime add-ins

MERINGUES! They’re also chef Laurent Tourondel’s sundae add-in of choice, such as at BLT Steak on Sunset Boulevard, where he’s put an orange raspberry sundae on the menu. “It’s actually a Popsicle,” Tourondel says of the sundae. Maybe in terms of flavors -- creamy orange sorbet swirled with raspberries and orange liqueur and crunchy meringues.

“I love the crispy touch with ice cream,” he says. “We have several sundaes [at his several restaurants] -- every season is different. A chestnut sundae during the fall. It’s a take on the French classic called mont blanc.”

Besides sundaes, chefs are experimenting with sodas, shakes and ice cream sandwiches too.

A creative R&D beverage team at LA Mill is concocting its own “coffee root beer” for the restaurant’s root beer float. (There’s also a Blanco y Negro coffee float -- coffee, coffee granita and vanilla ice cream.) Other soda flavors to be offered include candied ginger, rooibos and citrus-camomile. “We’ll try to match different ice creams with the sodas,” owner Craig Min says.

Says Craft pastry chef Catherine Schimenti, who recently has been making floats of muscat soda with peach sorbet: “I love the foam the soda creates when hitting ice cream or sorbet.” She also serves a root beer float with vanilla ice cream and Abita root beer from Louisiana, poured at the table.

And ice cream sandwiches? Sona pastry chef Ramon Perez is reinterpreting the classic with his own pistachio ice cream sandwich: Sicilian pistachio ice cream (with a hint of basil) between two crumbly spéculos (thin cookies that he makes with orange zest and molasses), served with watermelon soda. The ice cream sandwiches at Osteria Mozza are more traditional, but come with a bowl of chocolate sauce to dip them into.

At Tourondel’s latest restaurant, BLT Burger in Las Vegas, it’s all about the shakes. Master sommelier and beverage director Fred Dexheimer collaborated with Tourondel for its “milkshake program,” including a toasted marshmallow “Stay Puft” shake. “Laurent has been tweaking that one,” Dexheimer says. “It’s a little difficult. The marshmallows when they’re toasted -- you need to have a powerful blender to get the marshmallow blended.”

And in a send-off to summer, chef Neal Fraser’s BLD is offering a special menu of milkshakes from 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday, in flavors such as caramel (with an optional shot of tequila), chocolate oatmeal stout (with or without a little Jack Daniels), blueberry malted and roasted banana Nutella, to be paired with dinner. Shake pairings? Cheers.