"So you are all doing the doughnut tasting menu?" Our server asked us, her right eyebrow arched with the slightest hint of bewilderment.
A hush descended down the length of the table. Each of us silently nodded our heads, suddenly ashamed of our audacity to take over so many of the restaurant's seats on a busy Saturday night.
"We can leave if it's a problem. We understand..." Tony C. of Sino Soul said, his voice so sincere that not even the burliest bouncer in Hollywood would have had the heart to turn him away.
I stared at him in shock -- unsure whether to find his offer admirable or insane. I mean, yes, our party was large and seriously in charge, but hello? There were doughnuts at stake here! Homemade ones! With ice cream!
"Of course not." Our server assured us, her voice as sweet as the honey that was served with our generous carafes of loose leaf chamomile lavender, and mint tea.
The breath that I was holding released in a long stream of hot air, and I suddenly wished that I hadn't already emptied my glass of 2007 Alvarinho Alvelada ($8). That had been too close for comfort. I didn't know that anything could have nulled the pain of being denied the three (yes, three) courses of doughnuts that had been the talk of LA foodie town the entire week on Twitter.
Our gracious server turned back toward the kitchen to put in our unorthodox order, and we settled back into our chairs, comfortable now that we knew we would soon be ingesting Grace's most famed dessert.
But as the minutes passed by, the neurotic voice that never lets my mind rest began singing its apprehensive song.
"Diana, the party that arrived after you already has their first course of doughnuts and there is still no sign of yours." It pointed out. "The kitchen might run out. They might not have enough for you. You might have to be satisfied by an order of the sticky toffee pudding instead."
"But I don't want the sticky toffee pudding." I protested, even though I'd quite enjoyed it on another occasion at the upscale eatery on Beverly Blvd. "I want doughnuts!"
And then, as if someone in the kitchen (Neal Fraser, perhaps?) was eavesdropping on my inner dialogue at that precise moment, my wish was granted.
A parade of servers descended upon our table with a sea of white plates. Our first course had arrived - two perfectly circular salted caramel doughnuts with Bourbon pecan ice cream and strawberries.
As I tore my fork through the glazed seal of the fried dough, I couldn't help but think back to the episode of "Seinfeld" where Peterman and George ate finger foods like doughnuts, Snickers bars, etc. with a knife and fork. I felt odd about it, but was soon overwhelmed by a different sensation -- bliss.
The juxtaposition of flavors and textures exploded upon my palate. The warm dough against the cool ice cream, the sticky texture of the caramel against the creaminess of the ice cream, and the salty sweet flavor combination, all came together to create a near perfect plate. A plate that H.C. of LA and OC Foodventures, Malena D. of Yelp, and I wanted to lick clean. (And would have had we been at our respective homes.)
After a brief intermission (that unfortunately, did not involve any plate-licking), we were presented with our second course of the evening, the pistachio-filled doughnut with chocolate buttermilk marble ice cream and dried cherries. When I got over my initial Homer Simpson-esque delight at the reality of what I was doing (ie. eating lots and lots of doughnuts in semi-rapid succession), I started to see what my dining companions meant when they described this course as only "okay."
The chocolate in the ice cream seemed to overwhelm the other flavors on the plate -- muddying everything together in a way that didn't allow the pistachio to stand out. I like chocolate (because, duh, I'm a girl), and did enjoy the tender texture of the sugar-dusted doughnut, but ultimately, it didn't pass the "lick the plate" test.
Our final course of the evening went in an entirely different direction than the second offering and brought us back to the basics. The buttermilk brown butter glazed doughnuts served with warm rum spiced milk were simple in both construction and execution, but were all the better because of it. When dipped into the warm Chai-like beverage, the dough took on a wonderful bread pudding-type consistency that further enhanced the flavor of the rum and delicate kiss of brown butter.
"This is my favorite." Tony C. said. Even though I personally enjoyed the salted caramel doughnuts best, I could easily see why he found this course so appealing -- it highlighted the doughnut in its most pure form.
The humble raised glaze-style rounds of dough were the perfect way to end a near-perfect tasting menu. And the perfect way to begin the food coma that would follow me all the way back to my West Hollywood apartment.
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Thanks, Tony C., for arranging a great evening! And thank you for winning over our actually quite gracious waitress so we could stay to experience it.