Sticky Toffee Pudding just sounds like an awesome dessert, doesn't it? While it's actually steamed date cake moistened with a hot butter-sugar sauce (hence the stickiness) that's served with vanilla ice cream; calling it something more evocative is a smart sales move. Not that it needs it. It's already on most sweet-lovers list as a contender for the best dessert in the history of ever. No matter what it's called though, a truly authentic -- read: good -- serving will test of the limits of sugar an adult can endure without requiring a trip to the dentist.
A standard of British Sunday dinners for the last hundred years or so, sticky toffee pudding is a winter menu staple. Thankfully, there are several restaurants in L.A. that offer it for when the chill sets in or the mood strikes. The two that piqued our interest were Animal in mid-city and downtown's The Gorbals. We assumed their versions wouldn't be basic or boring. They boast the same $7 price tag and offer the dessert year-round, making it a fair fight from the start. Indulging in both in one night --because we're gluttons -- we compared and contrasted to bring you our STP food fight.First stop: The Gorbals. After dinner, the pudding was presented in a small rectangular dish, topped with (now seemingly requisite) Maldon salt and a scoop of avocado-cinnamon ice cream on the side. Texturally, the STP was closer to a baked cake (we asked three times and they said they don't steam it) and was tragically lacking the all important toffee sauce. We were told that it did have sauce, just not much, because that's how they choose to serve it. At our request, a fresh slice was drenched and returned to us.
The revised, piping-hot cake was simple, tawny, not too dense with a reasonably airy crumb. The amber toffee sauce was flawless. Butter. Sugar. Bliss. About eight bites of spectacularly cloying goodness, and the choice of flake salt added a bit of crunch. All together, the dessert was nice, but not as full of flavor as we'd like. Yes, it should be sweet -- but that was all this seemed to have. As for the ice cream, the cold avocado really couldn't compete with the assertive amount of cinnamon, so we didn't indulge in much.
At Animal, the artful dish that was presented was far from classic. It featured two mini slabs of date jam doing a fine job masquerading as cake. Also not steamed, the result is thickly textured with full-tilt palm fruit flavor and an ovation of orange zest. The texture was a bit like eating raw cookie dough -- which wasn't bad, just unexpected. Served on a plate with swabs of thick caramel sauce, Mascarpone cheese and fleur de sel (the salt flourish is imperative) the overall combination worked slightly better than The Gorbals because it was so far from the original -- and thus became original in itself. A perfectly agreeable portion -- eight bites if you're dainty -- of full bore sucrose assault with a bright hit of citrus and the chilly dairy of the Mascarpone. We loved it.
The Gorbals and Animal both offer up their uniquely personal take on a childhood classic -- if your childhood took place in a British home. But while there is a lot to admire in both dishes, we declare Animal's version the winner of the Sticky Toffee Pudding food fight.