Last Thursday, I was treated to a very special dessert tasting at Asana in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. My first exposure to Asana’s desserts came last fall at the Boston Magazine Taste event at which Pastry Chef Nelson Paz presented his 5-layer chocolate cheesecake push pops. They were my favorite item of the evening by far, for both their taste and creativity.
I ran into Chef Nelson again a few weeks later at the Valrhona tasting and I had the chance to learn more about his work in pastry. He invited me to come sample the desserts he creates at Asana, an opportunity I was not going to pass up.
The tasting took place at Asana’s chef’s table, a private and luxurious room off of the main dining room that overlooks the kitchen. Throughout the afternoon, we watched several of Asana’s chefs hard at work.
The first dessert Chef Nelson presented to us was a chocolate and pistachio mousse with pistachio cake, accompanied by oranges in rosewater syrup, topped with Ivore and raspberry ice cream and a crystallized rose petal.
The first thing that struck me about this dessert after my first bite was its lightness. The mousse looked dark and decadent, but had an almost cloud-like texture and consistency. The chocolate was dark though, and the sweetness from the oranges and the ice cream served to temper its intensity. The rose petal, a beautiful finishing touch, added a little bit of crunch to an otherwise smooth and silky dessert.
Chef Nelson’s background is in architecture and those skills are evident in all of his plates. His desserts are constructed with the utmost attention to levels and angles. They are nothing if not visually appealing.
The next dessert was a chocolate and passionfruit bar with coconut dacquoise and chocolate and ginger ice cream. Each dessert incorporates a mix of textures that are interesting both for the eyes and the tongue. A cold, soft ice cream was punctuated by chewy bits of candied ginger, creating a tantalizing mix of sweet and spicy. The delicious and seamlessly paired chocolate and passionfruit was set atop a chewy and tender coconut dacquoise.
The tangy raspberry sauce mirrored the fruitiness of the passionfruit and simultaneously contrasted the richness of the chocolate.
The final plated dessert was a banana mousse surrounding caramel crème brulee and sprayed with milk chocolate, accompanied by a banana tuille, banana powder and banana ice cream, with a caramelized banana on the side and gold leaf. Chef Nelson’s desserts display a high level of thought and intention. He chooses an ingredient and then presents it in three or four different ways on one plate.
Here, he took banana and transformed it into a mousse, an ice cream, a tuile, and a powder. One elegantly placed caramelized banana slice in front of the main attraction lets the diner know what they can expect from this dish, as do the streaks of caramel and chocolate.
Once again experimenting with textures, Chef Nelson chose to spray milk chocolate around the mousse to create a fuzzy texture. Another fun element of his desserts are the hidden components. In the first dessert, a bright green pistachio mousse was discovered beneath the dark chocolate mousse after a few bites in. Here, the creme brulee hides within the banana mousse, allowing you to first taste the banana, followed by the banana and caramel combined.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Chef Nelson finished the tasting with a plate of heart-shaped chocolates and candies as well as one of the chocolate cheesecake pops, the dessert that brought my attention to Asana. The first two desserts we tried are available today on Asana’s Valentine’s Day menu. Chef Nelson’s desserts can also be enjoyed at M Bar and Lounge, located right next door.
Dessert at Asana is an adventure for the senses and quite a treat. You can check out both Asana’s and M Bar’s menus here. My sincere thanks to Chef Nelson, Edwina of the Mandarin Oriental Group, and the wonderful staff of Asana.
776 Boylston Street