I adore pumpkin. It's orange (my favorite color), healthful (fiber! Vitamin A!), and associated with two lovely, food-centric holidays (Halloween and Thanksgiving). Starting around October, I always find myself on the hunt for pumpkin-flavored foods, and this autumn is no exception. So I've been counting down 10 Pumpkin Dishes to Try in Houston. Today, I reach the end of the list.
#1: Pumpkin Dessert Tasting at Mark's American Cuisine
Choosing the final entry for this list was more difficult than I expected, as at the eleventh hour everyone and their mother had a suggestion for the #1 Pumpkin Dish in Houston. But a tip from a following a dinner at Mark's American Cuisine led me to the Pumpkin Dessert Tasting, which blew the other contenders out of the water.
Technically five dishes in one (but one literal "dish," so I'm counting it for the purposes of this list), the Pumpkin Dessert Tasting at Mark's features (from left to right) Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pumpkin Flan, a Pumpkin Spice Shooter, Pumpkin Ice Cream, and Pumpkin Bread Pudding. Sure beats a wedge of plain ol' pie.
Designed by pastry chef Katie Leggett, this feast boasts wonderfully diverse flavors, textures and even colors (no artificial fluorescent orange hues here). I expected the pumpkin cheesecake to be the traditional, overly rich, dense brick of sugared cream cheese, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a softer disc infused with pecans, ginger and butterscotch that was seated atop a graham cracker crust and crowned with a dark chocolate shaving.
Based on a traditional Mark's recipe, the pumpkin flan is lighter in composition than the version served previously at the restaurant but just as potent in taste. Its strong notes of cinnamon and nutmeg nicely complement the sweet, delicate almond tuile garnish and tart raspberry sauce.
Liquid refreshment in the form of the pumpkin spice shooter provides the palate with a relaxing change of pace from the richer solid confections. The combination of warm pumpkin juice and apple cider is soothing but still packs a punch, thanks to some strong nutmeg and a splash of bourbon.
The shooter's heat is likewise tempered when one proceeds on to the crisp pumpkin ice cream, which mixes squash with cardamom, making it nuttier and more savory. It's a most welcome departure from the traditional pie spice flavors found in other pumpkin desserts.
Most mild of all is the cozy mound of pumpkin bread pudding: soft, sticky and delightfully soggy, with ginger almond sauce. If I could make it by the panful, I could easily envision serving this pudding for brunch as a replacement for sticky buns.
Like most menu items at Mark's, this dessert is pricy ($14.95) and only available seasonally (in this case, until the end of November). But should a generous friend of yours treat to you a meal at Mark's, the Pumpkin Tasting will be worth her pretty penny.
#10: Pumpkin Cheesecake Balls at Chocolat Du Monde #9: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale #8: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin from Stone Mill Bakers #7: "Halloween" Pumpkin Curry from Khun Kay Thai Café #6: Pumpkin Praline Ice Cream at Amy's #5: Pumpkin Spice Latte at Diedrich "Dirk's" Coffee #4: Pumpkin Goat Cheese Croquettes at Pizzeria Dolce Vita Enoteca #3: Pumpkin Cupcake at Crave Cupcakes #2: Pumpkin Risotto at Prego