Versus: This Is Not Your Mother's Cheesecake (Or Is It?)

The Dish

How do you define a good cheesecake? Is it the flavor? The texture? Can you have one without the other? For answers, we set our sights on two cheesecakes -- and one family. Let us explain.

Bakery Nouveau owner William Leaman is the former pastry chef of Salty's on Alki. When he left to become the head baker of Essential, Jane Gibson inherited his spot. When William lured her to Bakery Nouveau last year, Gibson's son, James, took over the head pastry chef position vacated by his own mother.

Lots of people have come and gone in the Salty's pastry department, but one thing stays the same: the cheesecake. Not only does Salty's have a tried-and-true recipe, but William and Jane serve a similar cheesecake at Bakery Nouveau. Huh: Wonder where they got inspiration for their recipe? More importantly, which cheesecake is best? Does good cheesecake run in the family?

Salty's pastry chef James Gibson proves his salt with this dessert.
The Rivals

Salty's on Alki

1936 Harbor Ave. S.W., 937-1600

This is where you go for cheesecake when you want something super decadent, as in, "I won't eat for two days after I eat this cheesecake." This is serious dessert. It's not just the cream cheese and sour cream that make this Grand Marnier Cheesecake ($10) so sinful, it's the extra egg yolks and white chocolate that are mixed in to really give it that extra padding. The cheesecake is assembled on an Oreo crust, covered in dark chocolate and served with raspberry sauce and vanilla anglaise. This is one of Salty's most popular desserts; they make about 150 of them a week and sell about 10 to 15 a day (not counting weekend brunch). The cheesecake is certainly a good dessert, but the taste of the Grand Marnier and white chocolate gets lost in the richness of it all. At $10 per cheesecake, this thing can easily serve two people. Don't try and eat it all by yourself.

Traditional dessert at Nouveau
Bakery Nouveau

4737 California Ave. S.W., 923-0534

Like Salty's cheesecake, Bakery Nouveau's Chocolate Mocha Cheesecake ($4.50) also has a chocolate cookie crust and is dipped in chocolate. The difference is this cheesecake retains the tang of the cream cheese without being overpowered by the other ingredients. The mocha flavor is abundant, but not obnoxious; the texture is light and velvety without being too dense. Also, the portion of cheesecake Bakery Nouveau offers is the perfect size. You'll be able to polish off an entire slice without feeling like you just ate a whole cheesecake.

The Champ

As we found out, a good cheesecake is not only about flavor. Perhaps the most important quality is the texture. A cheesecake too dense can be overtly filling and heavy, leaving its consumer weighed down by ingredients. What's worse is when the flavor is also bogged down by the heaviness. That's the only problem we found with Salty's, which ultimately led us to crown Bakery Nouveau the victor. Of course, not everyone will find a too-rich dessert a bad thing. Sometimes, it's the desserts we grew up on that dictate our preference.

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