I don’t just love Bakelab’s cookies, I consider them to be the best cookies I’ve ever had and secretly wish that Pastry Chef Kristin Feuer were my best friend so I could have a constant and never-ending supply.
And I don’t just love Huckleberry’s salted caramel, I’m obsessed with it. I tell anyone who will listen that it’s my favorite dessert in the city, and that I can’t drive by the perpetually busy Santa Monica cafe without going inside to get one.
Even when the parking lot is full, I have to hoof it from a failed meter five blocks away, and I’m feeling “fat” and shouldn’t be eating dessert any way.
I like having favorites like the salted caramel. It gives me a bizarre sense of accomplishment when I’m able to assign labels to things like, “best ever” or “best in LA.” These definitive statements put my mind at ease (no easy feat), and also help me to define myself as an eater and person.
“I’m Diana Takes a Bite. I like chocolate, wine, the Mozzas and long runs on the beach.”
That’s who I am.
Or at least that’s who I think I am at this current moment in my life.
The problem with making absolute statements about food when I haven’t eaten everything there is to eat in the world (or even Los Angeles), is that it is likely that “the best” will at some point be bested. While I haven’t encountered a crust or restaurant atmosphere I like better than Pizzeria Mozza’s, the sausage and caramelized fennel pizza I ate at Pizzeria Ortica earlier this summer came dangerously close to dethroning the queen bee.
It was a little unsettling for me – like I was cheating on my boyfriend of four years. With a bloke from the OC.
I felt similarly unsettled this past Friday when I finally dropped into the new Bite Bar and Bakery on Pico in Santa Monica. I’d just finished eating a big quinoa salad at my desk and was, as usual, craving something sweet and not at all hearty-healthy to “cleanse my palate.”
After surveying Bite’s fairly extensive bakery counter scene of dense brownies, delicate lavender shortbread cookies and lofty three-layer cakes, my eyes zeroed in on the salted caramel espresso chocolate squares hibernating in the refrigerated case.
“It can’t be as good as Huckleberry’s salted caramel,” I thought as I paid my $2.75 for the 2 inch by 2 inch bar, and secured a pot of jasmine green tea for an additional $2.50.
It was certainly bigger than Huckleberry’s (25 cents more expensive too), but I was still confident that my favorite would reign supreme. In my experience, bigger isn’t always better.
Bigger is sometimes just... bigger.
I wasn’t prepared for what followed. I wasn’t prepared for how well balanced the flavors of Bite’s bar would be – how the sweetness of the caramel would be enriched by the slightly bitter undertones of the espresso and dark chocolate. I wasn’t prepared for the buttery graham cracker crust to play such a pivotal role in the life of the bar – chiming in with an additional toffee note that further rounded out the complexity of the treat.
I grimaced with pleasure, pain and remorse after finishing half of the decadent square, and immediately cut the other half into two pieces to take home with me. As I schlepped my way back to my car parked a couple blocks away, I was already beginning to wonder if Bite’s salted espresso caramel might be better than Huckleberry’s. And I continued to wonder this as I enjoyed the last two pieces on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Do I dare back track on my previous proclamation?” I wondered.
“Was this just a fluke?”
“A freak baking accident?”
“A never-to-be-repeated performance of confectionary wizardry?”
Today, my mind is not at ease. My glossary of Los Angeles desserts is no longer clearly etched out in shades of black and white. But I’m happy to know that there are other pastry chefs like Elizabeth Goel at Bite who are, quite literally, raising the bar in the smoggy city.
Especially since Bite Bar is located approximately 3.5 miles closer to my office than Huckleberry.
Bite Bar and Bakery
3221 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405