I have a separate stomach for dessert.
I believe you can never be too full for ice cream because it fills in all the cracks in your tummy even when you’re stuffed.
Mignardise is one of my favorite French words, a surprise array of bite-sized sweets at the end of a fine dining meal. Some of my favorite restaurants even send me home with coffeecake or a cookie, ostensibly for the morning after, but let’s be real, it’s more of a midnight snack.
Truly, dessert is the best part of any meal. Here are some of the best in Chicago and the North Shore.
The dessert tasting menu ($35) is the way to go here—a progression of three desserts moving from lightest to richest, plus pre-dessert and mignardise, is a satisfying substitute for dinner courtesy of Pastry Chef Thomas Raquel. 1639 S. Wabash Ave., 312-360-9500
There’s a reason the chocolate dessert has been on the menu for more than a year. Thick dark chocolate with Tuscan olive oil and flaky sea salt on crispy La Farine toast is the sophisticated, adult version of eating frosting straight out of the jar. 1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069
Pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky’s strawberry mousse with oatmeal brioche pound cake, almond nougat and aloe sorbet is like fairy food, so light and summery that I didn’t even feel guilty devouring the entire plate. 20 E. Chestnut St., 312-324-4063 (pictured top right; photo by Amber Gibson)
On a beautiful summer day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the rooftop at the Ritz-Carlton licking one of Pastry Chef Eric Estrella’s seasonal fruit pops or indulging in a trio of too-messy-to-share ice-cream sandwiches. And the chocolate-covered ice-cream bonbons (think upscale Dibs) with dry ice poured tableside are simply mignardises, my friends. Ritz-Carlton Chicago, 160 E. Pearson St., 312-266-1000
It’s the gelato you want here. Pastry Chef Amy Arnold churns her own, debuting fanciful new flavors each month. Look for bourbon-peach cobbler in July, with salty chunks of cobbler crust, fresh peaches and a healthy dose of booze. You can even buy a pint for $10 to take away. I did, and it was all gone within 24 hours. 51 W. Kinzie St., 312-595-1322
A couple thick slices of 70 percent dark chocolate mousse are carved tableside, and then drizzled with fresh raspberry coulis. I justify ordering this even after a rich, buttery meal by reminding myself that dark chocolate and berries have lots of antioxidants. 618 Church St., 847-424-1483
You’d never guess the decadent peanut-butter chocolate cake with rich peanut-butter filling, thick chocolate-fudge ganache and fluffy chocolate frosting is vegan. That makes it healthy, right? 525 Dempster St., 847-328-6875
Chocolate and banana is always a winning combination. Here, chocolate-banana gelato melts into a soft yet dense banana pound cake studded with walnuts and splashed with rum sauce. 1631 Chicago Ave., 847-868-8945
This original pancake house has been spreading pancake deliciousness across the North Shore for more than 50 years. The apple cinnamon pancake is a thing of glory, as is the Dutch Baby. 1615 Waukegan Road, 847-724-0220 (other locations in Highland Park, Lincolnshire and Wilmette)
Honey cake with burnt-caramel sauce is the most luxurious dessert here, although the matcha tea milkshake made with vanilla bean frozen custard and topped with raw cacao nibs gives it a run for its money. 28 E. Center Ave., 847-295-1000
Buttery French brioche draws you in and the seasonally changing pastries and cakes keep you coming back. You never know if you’ll find cherry meringue, raspberry mousse or chocolate marjolaine when you step through the door. 720 N. Western Ave., 847-234-0023
Bananas are flambéed tableside in brown sugar and butter along with a healthy splash of banana liquor and rum. The showy Bananas Foster is served over vanilla ice cream, with the pan sauce as a garnish. 185 N. Milwaukee Ave., 847-276-2000
The profiteroles here are the way to go—housemade choux pastry hugs Homer’s Oreo ice cream. This French twist on the ice cream sandwich is topped off with warm semisweet-chocolate sauce. 1515 Sheridan Road, 847-251-3654
You won’t go wrong with the warm molten-chocolate cake, served à la mode with a drizzle of bourbon sauce. Decadent and delicious. 507 Chestnut St., 847-441-0134