Chicago, Illinois – Mindy’s HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar

Restaurant: Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
Cuisine: Desserts/Drinks/Ice Cream/Cafe/American
Last visited: June 14, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Bucktown/Wicker Park)
Address: 1747 N Damen Ave
Transit: Damen-O’Hare
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 3-3.5 (based on what I tried)
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2005
  • 2012 James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef
  • “Chicago’s Best Pastry Chef”
  • Award winning
  • Dessert bar
  • Popular for desserts
  • Full brunch/lunch/dinner menu
  • Seasonal dessert menu
  • Local ingredients
  • Very casual
  • Family friendly
  • Brunch Sat. – Sun.
  • Lunch Wed. – Fri.
  • Mon Closed
  • Tue 5:30-10pm
  • Wed-Thu 11:30am-10pm
  • Fri 11:30am-12am
  • Sat 10am-12am
  • Sun 10am-10pm

**Recommendations: Banana Butterscotch Ice Cream, Peanut Butter Frosting Ice Cream, Rhubarb-Sour Cherry Sorbet. Apparently the “Hamburger” on the savoury menu is amazing, but I didn’t get to try it.

Good bye to the Eagle and hello to the Seagull… err I mean Segal! I rushed through an amazing dinner at Longman & Eagle and ordered 1-2 less desserts than I normally would just to make it in time for Mindy Segal’s HotChocolate before closing. Time was tight, but I had to make it. It was on my top 10 list of priorities for Follow Me Foodie to Chicago.

So why was Mindy’s HotChocolate such a big deal? Well she’s widely known as the best Pastry Chef in Chicago and her talent is well recognized throughout the States. She’s been nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef for 6 years in a row since 2002 and finally won it this year. It was pretty much like watching Kate Winslet get constantly nominated for an Academy Award, or watching your friend who’s always the bridesmaid and never the bride.

Anyway as one of the most highly raved about Pastry Chefs in America, let alone in Chicago, I had to try it. It’s on every dessert lovers “must try” list and if you know me or this blog, you know I have a crazy sweet tooth and obsession with dessert.

According to ChicagoEater.com, she moved towards a new look and philosophy after her James Beard Award win. The room was dark and it’s apparently moved from a rustic design to an industrial one. It was masculine and cold and it’s not what I expected for a dessert bar. It’s not stereotypical, and surprisingly the menu was more so. Instead of artistically plated desserts, thy’re now going to be more casual and somewhat back to basics. Even though this was my first time trying it, it had more appeal to me before the change, but I also like to believe a great chef is a great chef.

I can appreciate casual desserts and homestyle plating, but from such a highly raved about award winning Pastry Chef I would expect and want to see her earlier work. As a customer I want that precious dessert and experience that she seems to be originally known for, but has decided to move away from. It does come down to tastes, and my tastes are more for her earlier style and I would see a greater value in that.

My experience at HotChocolate was like anticipating the Broadway musical Chicago and then getting the Sound of Music – the play. I actually love Sound of Music, but if I wanted tickets to it, I would just buy tickets to it. I wanted the theatrics and “wow” factor that I didn’t really get at the reinvented HotChocolate.

I’m not sure what happened, and perhaps it was due to the fact that I was the last table at the end of the day, but I was left underwhelmed and it didn’t meet the high expectations I had set for it. It was still good, but it wasn’t memorable. I know two of the popular desserts were sold out by the time I arrived, but I was expecting even the B-list choices to deliver still outstanding results.

I appreciated the menu for being honest and truly supporting the idea of “local ingredients” by highlighting the names of all the farmers, purveyors and growers, but I was looking for something more than that. I wanted to be blown away like I was at Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego, but with the approach of Melissa Chou’s desserts at Aziza. Each chef has their own style, but it was that calibre I was hoping for. In my head I had HotChocolate and Mindy on a pedestal, but the delivery almost felt too comfortable especially after a James Beard Award Outstanding Pastry Chef win.

I would be inclined to try it again because I give the benefit of the doubt that I might have ordered the wrong things, not tried enough, or just come at the wrong time. On the other hand I could keep making all the excuses to justify my somewhat mediocre experience, but when all is said and done, first impressions count.

On the table:

Hot Chocolate - Dark - 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Served with house made marshmallows $6
  • Of course you have to order a hot chocolate at HotChocolate.
  • The flavours are: dreamcicle, medium, dark, black and tan, half & half, “Mexican” chocolate, and Chai chocolate, but I decided to go with a classic – dark.
  • I love flavours and added spices, but as my first time I wanted to taste the pure quality of the chocolate and dark is my favourite.
  • For a place called HotChocoalte and that is famous for HotChocolate, I think I was expecting a stronger presentation.
  • It was served hot, but there was a layer of skin on top and I wish they skimmed that off before serving.
  • That layer of skin which forms on top of heated milk that starts to cool is just the fats from the milk, so although natural I would rather have it cleaned up or served with a light foam.
  • It was a 72% chocolate, but it tasted like a 70%. The amount of milk and cream made the chocolate less intense and indulgent.
  • For dark chocolate I actually prefer 75% and if you’ve tried a 72% to a 75% back to back you can tell! (Sh*t Foodies Say)
  • I actually like the bitterness of dark chocolate and this one wasn’t bitter and the type of chocolate wasn’t tangy with citrus notes either.
  • It was likely a French chocolate as opposed to a South American chocolate.
  • It wasn’t that thick or creamy and definitely lighter than sipping chocolate and it was easy to drink.
  • It doesn’t weight you down after 3-5 sips and it was less rich than I expected for a place called HotChocolate.
  • The chocolate wasn’t greasy, but it seemed more cocoa based than melted chocolate based and it wasn’t that sweet.
  • I could tell it was good quality chocolate and dairy, but unless you’re a hot chocolate connoisseur, you might not be able to see the hype which I could totally understand.
  • It was served with a soft, fluffy and non-sticky marshmallow, but I wish that was made with vanilla bean seeds.
  • If you’ve had a Mocha or Hot Chocolate at Mink Chocolates in Vancouver, that one is way more intense.

Skillet Soufflé - 3/6 (Good)

  • Gooey, chocolate skillet souffle, salted caramel ice cream, pretzels $12
  • The server recommended this, but that was also because 2 of the favourites were already sold out.
  • For a dessert bar, the dessert menu was surprisingly limited with about 5-6 options not including their cookies and ice creams as categories.
  • Before the new philosophy this dessert used to be plated elegantly and now it comes in a mini cast iron skillet.
  • It came out in about 6 minutes and an excellent soufflé baked upon order should take at least 15-20 minutes.
  • Soufflés actually take 40 minutes to bake, that’s why they’re so rarely offered, and if they are the menu usually states “Please allow ___ minutes”.
  • Many restaurants prepare them half way and finish them up upon order, but regardless, this one was pre-baked for too long and came out too fast.
  • It was very good as a chocolate brownie-lave cake, but not as a soufflé.

The first one was actually dried out and over baked, so I had to confirm with the server if it was supposed to be like this. He said not really, so he brought out another one.

  • The second one was better, but it was still on the dry side.
  • It didn’t even look like a soufflé and the fact that the ice cream was sitting nicely on top without sinking in already showed that it didn’t have the texture or characteristics of a traditional French soufflé.
  • A soufflé is a light and puffy dessert, but this one was dense.
  • I would definitely call it more of a molten chocolate lava cake or a half baked brownie than a soufflé.
  • Although it was good quality chocolate, it wasn’t what it should have been.
  • It had a crisp shell that was more reminiscent of a brownie.
  • It should have come with a puffy top that would have fallen within 5-10 minutes of being at the table, but this was stiff.
  • The fudgy cakey part of the “soufflé” was moist and ooey gooey, but the edges were quite dry and thick.
  • The salted caramel ice cream was buttery, well salted, creamy, rich, custard based and almost like gelato.
  • The ice cream was fantastic, but I would have loved some vanilla beans for extra aromatics.
  • The “salted caramel and chocolate” flavour combination is a bit exhausted too so I was hoping for something more original, or at least phenomenal if they were going to do it.
  • The pretzel crisps were very salty, but overall this could have been something from any good dessert place and it wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped.
  • For a traditional Chocolate Lava Cake I like Jean Georges – see here, but the best soufflé I’ve had to date is at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans – see here.
**Ice Cream - 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
  • 3 for $12
  • They have a good selection of about 12 ice creams with a slight gourmet aspect to traditional flavours.
  • It’s a very small bowl and each scoop was quite small, but the ice creams are excellent quality.
  • They were rich and creamy and the ice creams were all custard based with a good consistency and no greasy after taste.
  • They weren’t too sweet, but I was hoping for more texture in some of the flavours that could have benefited from it.
  • They were great ice creams, but the ones from Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and La Petite Grocery left more of an impact on me.
  • Coffee Cocoa Nib Ice Cream3/6 (Good)
    • I could taste the coffee more so than the cocoa nib flavours.
    • It had a thick and rich coffee flavour, but I wish there were actual cocoa nibs for texture and crunch throughout.
  • Rhubarb-Sour Cherry Sorbet5/6 (Excellent)
    • I usually like ice cream more than sorbet, but I liked this sorbet better than the other 2 ice creams.
    • It was refreshing and tart, but not sour and for those two flavours I was expecting sour.
    • It was refreshing and not too sweet which many sorbets tend to be.
  • Strawberry Preserve Ice Cream3/6 (Good)
    • Mindy emphasizes local growers and farmers so her fresh fruit flavours are seasonal and promising.
    • The colour just looked natural and I really hate artificial strawberry flavours, but when it’s the real deal, it’s completely different.
    • It literally tasted like fresh strawberry preserves made into ice cream and it was thick like the texture of bananas.
    • It was very good for what it was, but you have to really love strawberry preserves and I could bite into little pieces of cooked strawberries.
    • I wouldn’t be surprised if the preserve was used for their strawberry pie or cookies.
Peanut Butter Frosting Ice Cream4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
  • This one tasted great with the Strawberry Preserve Ice Cream or the Banana Butterscotch Ice Cream below.
  • It was quite salty and more salty than I expected.
  • I would have loved caramelized peanuts pieces in this, but since it was called “frosting” I didn’t expect it.
  • It wasn’t sweet for being called “frosting” and I would have guessed it was peanut butter ice cream before I would guess “peanut butter frosting ice cream”.
  • For frosting I think I expected it to be more sweet and buttery and not as savoury. I liked that it wasn’t hurt your teeth sweet though.
Banana Butterscotch Ice Cream4/6 (Very good)
  • This one was a bit salty from the butterscotch and I could taste it was bananas, but it wasn’t that obvious either.
  • It was very good, but it was also a bit forgettable and I wouldn’t crave it as much.
  • I enjoyed the combination and it wasn’t too sweet, but I think I expected stronger from both flavours and a really intense and obvious banana aspect.

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3 Comments

  • LotusRapper says:

    My goodness, you had me at “HotChocolate” and “Dessert Bar” in the title !

    Their name ought to read: “I Died and Gone to Heaven” or something like that.

    You have to explain to us how you packed away all those calories and walked away conscious :-)

  • Bow says:

    What a frame of reference you have now, all your noshing at different places has really refined your palate.

  • Mijune says:

    @bow – aw thanks bow! so much more noshing to go and so much more to learn though!!! :)

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