Islands in the Cream

Sugar Rush: Oeufs à la Neige at Bernadine's

Pastry chef Julia Doran's international desserts stand out.

By Alice Levitt January 25, 2017

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Oeufs à la Neige, $11.

Image: Alice Levitt

It feels a bit strange going to a Treadsack restaurant given the current brewing controversy. But when I friend recently suggested we go to happy hour at Bernadine's, I didn't resist, but did resolve to tip extra well. The $30 platter of all six happy hour bar snacks is a great deal—my friend and I filled up with plenty of food left over, munching on Natchitoches meat pies, homemade ham and pickles and a fried, Buffalo-sauced snapper collar. But unexpectedly, the main event turned out to be the desserts.

OK, it wasn't too big a shock. In fact, I've been a fan of pastry chef Julia Doran's sweets since Bernadine's inception. But I hadn't been back in more than a year, and in that time, had only eaten one other version of Oeufs à la Neige (eggs in the snow), also known as Île Flottante (floating island). The whipped mound of meringue in a pool of crème anglaise is exactly the kind of lush French dessert that makes you understand why Marie Antoinette thought it made sense when she said, "Let them eat cake." Cake seems like peasant food next to the airy blobs in sweet sauce. Other European languages offer even more evocative descriptions. In Hungarian and Slovakian, its name means "bird's milk." It's "nothing soup" in Polish.

But Doran's version is definitely something. First, the island is no mere puff. It's light, but sturdy enough to hold a shape and withstand crème brûlée-style torching. It doesn't buckle even when Doran places a pair of blackberries on top. Then there's the sea of crème, scented with orange — and light as, you know, bird's milk. I ended up mostly avoiding the very respectable almond brittle—it's the only component heavy enough to ground the cloud-like treat.

Of course, I also had to save room for the purple sweet potato hand pie. Apparently, ube is Houston's hottest new dessert ingredient. Trust Doran to be right at the forefront.

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