Ăn New World Cuisine, Cary
Modern décor, a renowned executive chef and an ambitious menu have made upscale Asian fusion restaurant An a wildly popular dining destination since it opened in 2006. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to have the altruistic support of Ann Goodnight.
As you might expect, desserts are presented with head-turning flair. What you might not realize, however, is that An boasts a dedicated pastry chef named Francisco Almaguer. Originally from Mexico, Almaguer honed his skills in fine restaurants of California and New York.
The sweet creations he concocts these days include coconut pineapple semifreddo (passion fruit consommé, dehydrated pineapple and brown sugar shortbread); toasted almond raspberry cake (vanilla swirl ice cream, almond tuile and raspberry puree); and an otherworldly flourless molten chocolate cake served with peanut butter ice cream and candied peanuts.
“The molten cake simply contains eggs, sugar, butter and chocolate,” Almaguer revealed. “The chocolate is molten in the middle, so it oozes out. It’s a semisweet variety imported from Singapore.”
All desserts at An are $9 each.
Closed Sunday, the restaurant is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner (dinner only on Saturday). Reservations are accepted. An outdoor patio is a nice alternative when weather permits.
2800 Renaissance Park Place, Cary
The Arboretum at Weston
Chef’s Palette, Cary
At Cary newcomer Chef’s Palette, where New South cuisine is creating quite the buzz, the posh furnishings and spiffy backlit menus make a remarkable first impression. Owner Kathie Clark, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, formerly managed nearby Jimmy V’s Steakhouse. Now that she’s on her own, Clark has fashioned a warm, welcoming environment for people to enjoy a great meal — along with some exceptional desserts.
Executive chef Rick Wolf, who hails from New Orleans, has traveled the country from California to New York. “Over the years, I’ve learned how to prepare comfort food with a twist that truly nourishes people,” he said. That includes the after-dinner “remarques,” a term that pays homage to Clark’s affinity for quality artwork. “We are trying to create a synergy of food and art,” Clark explained. “We showcase local artwork on the walls, and it’s all available for purchase.”
One standout dessert is the flavorsome Lemon in a Cloud, which is made with lemon curd in phyllo tart shells and a lightly toasted brown sugar meringue. “It’s essentially deconstructed lemon icebox pie,” Wolf said. “It’s super light. You could eat this after a ribeye dinner and not feel like you’ve overindulged.”
Other worthwhile options include Southern Fried Steel Magnolia (cast-iron skillet seasoned almond pound cake with warm amaretto glaze) and Chocolate Waterfall, a molten delight featuring triple chocolate espresso bread pudding with a Frangelico crème an glaise sprinkled with candied pecans. Too good!
Desserts range from $6–$8.
Chef’s Palette is open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Reservations are recommended. Outdoor seating is available.
3460 Ten Ten Road, Apex
Stonebridge Village Shopping Center
Bellini Fine Italian Cuisine, Fuquay-Varina
Open since March of this year, Bellini is known as the best new go-to place for house specialty lasagna and other hearty Italian dishes. But the restaurant also serves an impressive assortment of made-in-house desserts.
Chief among the sweet temptations is the first-rate chocolate soufflé. “This dessert is by far our most popular,” said Ecuadorian-born chef/owner Abel Atauchi, who cooked in fine Italian restaurants in New York for more than 20 years. He now works alongside his brother, Adan, in Bellini’s kitchen.
Atauchi explained that the chocolate soufflé is made to order, cooked in a convection oven for three minutes and then served warm. “People really love it, and they order it time and again,” he said. “It’s rich and delicious.”
Other notable choices include the sharable-sized carrot cake with cream-cheese icing and Italian rum cake, which is equally substantial. “We like to give people a good portion to enjoy,” Atauchi said.
Most desserts are $5.25 apiece and are accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. One exception: The classic crème brulee, an understated house favorite, which is a great value at just $4.
Bellini is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Reservations are accepted.
1436 North Main Street, Fuquay-Varina
Sexton Commons Shopping Center
Hayes Barton Café & Dessertery, Raleigh
Raleigh’s award-winning Hayes Barton Café is iconic for its 1940s memorabilia, red- and chrome-imbued dining area and, of course, the mouthwatering desserts. All the standards are found here—red velvet cake, lemon meringue pie, carrot cake — as well as nontraditional options like white chocolate pattycake and other intriguing varietal selections.
“Our coconut cake is our most sought-after dessert,” said co-owner Marget Ballard, who runs the café with her husband, Frank. “We go through about 40 of those a week.”
The café also offers a house-specialty devil’s food chocolate cake with distinct, ingredient-rich fillings. “Our best-selling item (in this category) is the Heath bar Kahlúa cake, which has scratch-made pudding in between the layers, Heath bar pieces, and it’s covered with chocolate ganache.” You may already be grabbing the car keys.
Desserts by the “huge slice” at Hayes Barton are $8 (tax included). Add ice cream to any item for $3 extra. Selections change often, and Ballard shared that she buys seasonal ingredients like figs and pumpkins at the Raleigh Farmers Market.
Whole cakes and pies also are available, but a week’s notice is preferred. “We have a small place, and the only storage available is the glass case out front,” Ballard said. Desserts fly off the shelves nearly as fast as they appear.
Hayes Barton accepts reservations for parties of four to eight people. The café is closed on Sunday and Monday. Be advised: Credit cards are not accepted at lunchtime. Call or check the website for lunch and dinner hours.
2000 Fairview Road, Raleigh