For some, cheesecake is an acquired taste. So, what are the best locations to find this unique treat?
I am not really a fan of cake, but in an odd twist of dietary fate, Dongguan will forever be the place where I realized that cheesecake is—in fact—pretty decent.
Cheesecake is generally composed of a main layer of soft fresh cheese, eggs, sugar and a thin bottom crust. The first mention found in history is that of a 5th century B.C. Greek physician named Aegimus, who wrote a whole book extolling the virtues of cheese-based pastries. If this tells us anything, it is that people have been baking cheesecakes for a long time, and what makes a recipe traditional is best left entirely to one’s interpretation.
Far be it from someone as unversed as I to judge which cake deserves to be called the best. I am only too happy to leave that responsibility to you all. For the sake of this article, I sampled only the most basic recipes at three local addresses.
Simplicity is Best
The first place I visited is called Dear Chiffon, located near One Mall.
My first impression upon entering was that the owners had to have a side business as wedding planners. From the white marbled floors to the crystal chandeliers, cherub statues to large flower vases, every piece of decor is meticulously picked to convey an idea of luxury and bliss.
I was welcomed by owners Chris Chen and Carrie Mai, a husband and wife team who take care of the business’ marketing side. In the kitchen, Mai’s sister, Karen Mai, and longtime friend, Tracy You, handle the culinary aspect. You studied desserts with famous chefs in a career that saw her work in France, Thailand and Japan. Her experience in fine dining was evident. Pre-orders for large parties are available, and the menu is in constant evolution.
The slice that I was presented with had a fluffy, yet rich consistency. The cheesecake here is returned to its simplest, purest form, and any extra ingredient that would temper with the original flavor is disregarded. A thin coat of caramel tops an otherwise pristine white cake with the slimmest hint of a crust as the bottom layer.
Traditional Meets Original
My next stop took me to La Vie en Patisserie in Xiping where once again, white is the dominant color. But where Chiffon opted for a flourish of baroque design, this place embraces a resolutely modern look. At the back, a window opens on the kitchen, allowing those who wish to glance at the preparation of some of the house offerings.
The owners are partners in life as in business. Paul Deng works the storefront while Vivianne Wei works her magic in the kitchen. She studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute in Paris and speaks French with the humility of the wise.
Macarons, mille feuilles and chocolate mousse were other indications of the chef’s European influences. This is not to suggest that Wei shies away from experimentation. Indeed, the choices of pastries reflect an easy blend of the traditional and original.
The cheesecake was smooth, and the creaminess of the cheese made it a very rich experience. A small biscuit layer at the bottom added subtle suggestions of butter and caramel.
Distinct Flavor Offered
My third and last stop was a place I was already familiar with. Fifth Avenue is situated in Dongcheng and is known to many as one of the city’s most consistent purveyor of high-end dining.
New York City is the dominant theme dictating the design choices here. Stylized paintings are reminiscent of the Big Apple’s subway system.
I was greeted by manager Sophia Lee, who has been working in Dongguan restaurants for over a decade. Milan born chef Giulio Zorzoli first owned a restaurant in his hometown before working in Beijing and Guangzhou. They are always happy to hash it out with their customers and have provided quality Italian and fusion food for the past three years.
The cheesecake swayed from the traditional requirements and added flavors reflecting the chef’s Italian and American background. Cocoa powder and Oreo crumbs gave its crust a distinctive flavor, while the addition of Mascarpone to the cream cheese reminded me of a bit of Tiramisu, an Italian dessert staple.