There’s a new dessert-tasting series in town — think signup supper club but sweeter— and Jack Benchakul, owner of Chinatown's Endorffeine Coffee Bar, is the man behind it. The weekly pop-up event, called “9” (that’s how many seats there are in his minimalist coffee shop in Far East Plaza), pairs three courses of dessert with coffee-inspired cocktails.
There is a starkness to Endorffeine’s bare-walled space, and that's intentional. Once you’re seated at the bare countertop, there’s really nothing to do aside from watch Benchakul assemble each course, which he does, as much as possible, in front of the diner.
To start, Benchakul places cold, house-made tofu in hot ginger soup, served with a side of pulverized Chinese donuts. An R&B-inspired playlist grooves in the background. “I was kind of hoping it would be cold today, so there would be a hot ginger soup waiting for you,” he says. It’s paired with a blush of Prosecco blended with coconut water and cascara, a tea-like infusion made from coffee cherries. There’s no detectable coffee taste; instead, there's just a hum of islandlike coconut and a buzz to begin the evening.
The hot ginger soup is warmed in a siphon coffee brewer and illuminated to a deep red by the halogen bulb that sits underneath it. “I was initially going to just use the steam wand on the coffee bar — it’s very quick,” Benchakul says. “But people see me use that every day to steam their milk. I thought, [a siphon] would be quite pretty. I think it’s a good way to start the conversation.”
The soup is sweet but not cloyingly so; the cold sphere of tofu is a nice surprise.
The second course arrives in a three-inch half-dome of chocolate cake, at once mysterious and simple, adorned with espresso-infused ganache. The interior is moist, not unlike a bread pudding. It’s studded with ground espresso beans for texture, and the flavor of Milo — a malty, Ovaltine-like drink that Benchakul says reminds him of his Thai-influenced childhood — runs throughout.
There’s a drying rack of candied hibiscus on the counter, which Benchakul had been experimenting with as adornments when I walked in. In the end, however, none of them were quite right, and he served the cake on its own.
The cake was paired with what is possibly the most compelling milkshake in Los Angeles, if you can call it that. Somewhere between a dessert and a cocktail, it's a smooth, shaken concoction of cream, coconut powder, whiskey and palm sugar whiskey syrup.
Benchakul envisions his multicourse dessert following a dinnerlike progression: The first course is a starter, lighter in flavors and weight — fittingly, on tonight's menu, a soup. The middle course of cake is intended to be more of a main dish; it's the heaviest and most traditionally dessertlike of the night. The plates are not as sweet as one might think — good news for those of us curious to taste Benchakul’s expertise but wary of eating three brownies in a row.
The final course of the current menu — served until Benchakul “gets bored” with it — is a chunky granita made with a Thai basil and tamarind tea that’s on Endorffeine’s regular menu. Its pale pink crystals belie the concentration of flavor they hold; the refreshing course is a fitting contrast to the preceding indulgences. It’s topped with a dollop of house-made fresh cheese — texturally similar to a cream cheese — that's flavored with Makrut lime, which was barely detectable amid the richness of the dairy. “I wanted this to be a play off milk and tea,” Benhchakul explains. It’s paired with an equally compelling cocktail of fresh tomato juice and coffee blossom–infused gin, which was almost floral in its delicacy. It tasted like bottled summertime.
Benchakul envisions the dessert series as being inherently social affairs; he hopes patrons can savor the conversation as much as they do the desserts.
The first of the weekly events will be held Saturday, May 28, and will be donation-based. Diners can sign up at the shop's website.
Endorffeine Coffee Bar, 727 N. Broadway; Chinatown, (415) 322-0918, endorffeine.coffee.
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