It's a happy time when sweet potato dishes usurp menus in Chicago. Being one of my all-time favorite foods, whenever I have an evening off in the fall, I've been known to eat nothing but baked sweet potatoes for "dinner." My embarrassing ritual is to go to Whole Foods or who am I kidding Trader Joe's and find the largest, freakshow-sized sweet potato I can, then bake it at home, fill it with butter and cinnamon and brown sugar and eat away my stresses. Sweet potato consumption is a lot less embarrassing when it's in the form of a crème brûlée at The Gage. Pastry chef Ji Yoon does things far greater with sweet potatoes than I ever could, outfitting her new fall dessert menu with an aromatic, sugar-crowned custard adorned with walnut crumble and whipped crème fraîche.
(Sweet potato crème brûlée at The Gage)
Crème brûlée is generally pretty far down the list of desserts I'd ever want to order, a notch above bread pudding and strawberry cheesecake. But throw sweet potatoes into the equation and it's a different story. Rather than a generic wedding reception-type dessert, The Gage's interpretation lends pie-like texture and flavor, with deep, almost caramel-y body to the sweet potato custard. Notes of brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice (you know the ones, don't make me list them) radiate from the crème brûlée, sheathed in a perfectly brûléed sugar cap. A dollop of satiny crème fraîche provides some contrasting tang, while walnut crumble accentuate the earthy sweetness, and sweet potato chips provide some salt. This is what fall dessert is all about.