By David Nelson / Photos by Brandon Matzek
August 10 is National S'mores Day, as designated by the Girl Scouts of America, a group that legitimately claims dibs on the topic.
The 1927 Girl Scout Handbook introduced the country to the idea of sandwiching toasted marshmallows and Hershey bar squares between Graham crackers. Sticky, gooey, good, s'mores earn their name naturally, because one calls for a chaser, and another and another, until it's time to hose down the chocolate-and-crumb-crusted kids carousing around the campfire.
Proving they're just kids at heart, several San Diego chefs have created s'mores desserts that out-swank the original and can be enjoyed with creative cocktails, a definite upgrade on the swig-from-the-canteen that traditionally washes these sweets down the hatch.
GAIJIN NOODLE + SAKE HOUSE
627 4th Ave., Gaslamp
Hey, somebody had to add bacon to the original s'mores recipe. At the Gaslamp's new Gaijin Noodle + Sake House, a hip haven for traditional yakitori skewers and s'mores made the campfire way, optional barbecued bacon crumbles add a funky kick. General manager Mike Aguilar, a master at cooking over the yakitori counter's smoldering logs, skewers a pair of from-the-bag marshmallows, rotates them until toasty-gold, sandwiches the gooey orbs and a Hershey's bar square between from-the-box graham crackers, adds sizzling bacon and then pops the $2 treat in front of you. Goes nice with Kishima Silk Deluxe sake, says Aguilar.
4650 Mission Blvd., Pacific Beach
858.273.DUCK (3825), theduckdive.com
The Tableside S'mores at P.B.'s new Duck Dive are the real deal, served on a Lazy Susan tray with compartments for marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate squares. A mini-hibachi in the center roasts those melting miracles into sweet, irresistible goo. It's good stuff, and fun making them on your own. Priced at $7 for two servings (and $13 for four), the s'mores go down nicely with coffee, and even better with co-owner Billy Ramirez' favorite house cocktail, The Jeffery Lebowski: Absolut Vanilla vodka, Kahlua Hazelnut and Tres Leches (triple cream) liqueur.
Atop the Escondido Lexus Centre
1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido
At this newest, most stunning outpost of the Cohn Restaurant Group, chef Deborah Scott handcrafts Kelly's s'more, a deluxe, delish edition made with supplies no campers ever enjoyed. On first acquaintance, Vintana's sky-high view of rolling valleys surrounded by rugged mountains seems likely to trump the kitchen's best efforts. It doesn't. After satisfying first and main courses, Kelly's s'more lands on the table like a chocolatey challenge. In a coffee cup partly filled with rich (rich!) chocolate pot de creme, the dessert rises with chopped Spanish peanuts, a swirl of tender marshmallow, chopped chocolate sprinkles and, perched at a cheerful angle, a sugar-glazed Graham cookie.
At the La Jolla branch of Beverly Hills-based Sprinkles Cupcakes, seasonal offerings huddle in a small display case like so many jewels, frosted in shades from ivory to dark chocolate, and relatively slender (if not slenderizing) at $3.50 each. Commencing August 3, the shop's prized s'mores cupcakes will return to the case. Elegant but delightfully oozy and gooey, these are built of graham cracker-lined Belgian dark chocolate cake, filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache and topped with toasted marshmallow frosting. Sweet!
4141 Adams Ave., City Heights
Cute, cool, comfy Kensington Cafe brings s'mores indoors with a refreshingly retro tabletop presentation that gets the whole room's attention. Called Haven's Cave S'mores (we're in somebody's memory bank here), the dessert is presented on a heavy, round wooden platter, the carved compartments of which accommodate marshmallows, graham crackers, neat portions of Hershey bar, wooden skewers and, in the middle, a miniature brazier in which solid fuel crackles hot enough to set a marshmallow ablaze. A charred marshmallow, by the way, has quite a wonderful flavor, but do watch out for the flames. Once the orb is toasted, the s'more is assembled and eaten in the usual way - creating sticky fingers and a big smile.
The US Grant Hotel
326 Broadway, Downtown
Book an elegant round table, bring the crew and pretend you're circling a campfire while enjoying chef Chris Kurth's revision of home-spun s'mores. Everything is made on-premises, a chic change from the out-of-the-bag, box-and-wrapper recipe perfected in backyards. On a vast white plate streaked with fudge, a toasted, disc-shaped marshmallow keeps company with sliced bananas in salted caramel sauce and a brittle chocolate tuile cookie centered with graham cracker ice cream. Whimsical rather than woodsy, it's more down than down-home, and impacts the palate slickly. Says all-around Grant guy Jeff Josenhans, who oversees libations and more, "I think a Manhattan would pair well with it." Of course it would!
1047 5th Ave., Downtown
Milwaukee-raised chef Simon Dolinky knows more about mosquito-infested backyards than most of us. He named his dessert "Campfire s'mores" because he smokes bittersweet chocolate to create a ganache (a plush dessert paste) that recreates the flavor of heated-over-wood s'mores. Everything's made at Saltbox, including marshmallows so fluffy they tack a question mark onto Kraft's "jet-puffed" claim of producing "America's Favorite Marshmallow." Thickly layered with chocolate and bruleed marshmallow (torched a fetching shade of brown), the graham cracker sandwiches are meant to be popped into the mouth by hand.
Indoor s'mores for when there's no you in barbecue
If campfire s'mores don't sound too hot, accessorize the basic ingredients into flavorful desserts fancy enough to finalize a dinner party with style. This is a dessert with options - use the best base materials, or basic supermarket stuff. Either way, the flavors will stand up and shout
3.5 oz. (or thereabouts) chocolate bar, dark for preference, the best quality you want to pay for
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup rum (dark Jamaican rum would be best, but whatever)
Marshmallows from the bag, two or three per person
Rum raisin ice cream, or butter pecan, or plain old vanilla - your call
Chopped Spanish peanuts for sprinkling
Butter (to spread on aluminum foil-covered baking tray)
This is basically a sundae on the swell side.
Break the chocolate bar into pieces in a small saucepan, add cream and submerge in a larger saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, smooth and combined with the cream. Be careful not to scorch the chocolate. Remove from pan of water, stir in rum and set aside.
Position oven rack eight inches below the broiler, and heat broiler. Arrange marshmallows on the buttered, foil-lined baking sheet. When broiler is hot, slide sheet into oven and check after 15 seconds. When marshmallows look brown on one side, remove sheet from oven, turn marshmallows with a spatula (careful, they can cause burns) and return to oven to finish toasting. Remove from oven.
Place ice cream in bowls, top with a couple of marshmallows, pour on a little chocolate sauce, sprinkle with peanuts, garnish with graham crackers and put a cherry on top.