For years my "go to" recommendation for a lemon tart in New York has been Karen Demasco's simple, but beautiful version from Locanda Verde. Her dish features a perfectly distilled lemon flavor and a unique yellow color with a luminous glow. Demasco left Locanda Verde in June (Nancy Tran has taken over), but the tart remains on the menu.
The Lemon Tart ($14) by The NoMad pastry chef Mark Welker is every bit as good as Demasco's, both in terms of the flavor and in design. It's properly tart, not overly sweet, and has a similar concentrated lemon flavor. However, Welker's plate adds a striking presentation that's achieved through the use of modern plating techniques.
On first glance, the tart appears to be surrounded by a thin, shiny layer of caramel or mousse. In fact, the covering is made of shortbread. Welker explains that they start with a classic French-style tarte citron that's baked in a half sheet pan before the lemony discs are punched out and frozen. Then a traditional almond flour-based shortbread is pureed in a blender until the heat melts the butter, creating a molten mixture. The discs are then dropped in liquid nitrogen and then dipped into the shortbread batter. The shortbread coating solidifies as soon as it comes into contact with the cold lemon discs.
The result is a beautiful, even layer of glossy shortbread that tastes as good as it looks. Both the shortbread and the lemon filling are soft in texture and easy to pass a fork through. Those who might miss the crust from the absent tart shell will be pleased to see some almond shortbread crunch on the plate that easily replaces the lost texture. Similarly, Welker says the (subtlety flavored and light) ricotta ice cream serves to replace the traditional role that meringue plays in balancing the tart citrus. Some iridescent confit lemons are artfully arranged on the plate.
Although the design of the tart is Welker's, he is quick to credit Alex Stupak for the molten shortbread technique. He also emphasized how important his team is, especially at a busy hotel based restaurant kitchen. Welker says they are always discussing ideas for new desserts.
If you want to visit NoMad just for dessert, you have some seating options: the library, bar, or one of the dining rooms (space permitting).
About the author: Native New Yorker Niko Triantafillou is the founder of DessertBuzz.com his photographs of desserts and pastry chefs have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Dessert Professional Magazine. He is an unabashed foodie nerdling. You can follow him on Twitter at @DessertBuzz.