March 15 – Pears Helena Day
Another dish from another time, another era of culinary history. Like the Peach Melba Day and other fanciful desserts created long ago, Pears Helena used to stir up fond, decadent thoughts of high society and rich, elegant desserts, something reserved only for special occasions or for the very fortunate. Nowadays, in our modern society, you can’t swing a dead cat around the city without hitting a cupcake shop, bakery, patisserie, or any other store that’ll hand you over any sweet confection your heart desires. Dessert just isn’t considered a special treat anymore!
Well, today you can make it special again with this traditional, fruit-based classic that’s a refreshing change from the super-rich and super-accessible desserts of today. According to Wikipedia, Pears Helena is a dessert comprised of poached pears, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and candied violets (though those are commonly replaced nowadays with sliced almonds). It’s a dish that shows technique in poaching the pears in simple syrup (or anything else you wish, as wine-poached pears are also quite fashionable and tasty) and the marriage of the simple flavors of vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. I think it’s a classic because it’s such a simple and dainty dish, without any bells and whistles to it, one where you can really taste each pure flavor of the few ingredients that make up the whole.
But for the ever-evolving New York City culinary scene, having such an antiquated dish as “Pears Helena” on your menu looks like you’re sourcing your menus from the nineteenth century (or that you’re Delmonicos, ha). While the names may have changed, the techniques and styles that made the Pears Helena famous are still around today. In the theater district, Trattoria Trecolori has a reasonably-priced dessert on their menu that’s very reminiscent of the original Helena: a poached pear in red wine sauce, served with ice cream and cinnamon spice. The red wine gives punch to the mild flavoring of the pear, and the cinnamon brings in another layer of tastes–almost like drinking a glass of mulled wine through a poached pear. It’s a mix of summer and winter flavors that seems just perfect for a (technically) winter day that already feels like a balmy June afternoon.
254 W 47th St
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“My group shared the fritto misto appetizer and I had a split a plate of the penne arrabiata and finished with the poached pear in red wine and cinnamon – all recommendable.”–Alice L.
“My bf ordered the poached pear in red wine & cinnamon. Its an acquired taste but yummy nonetheless. The cinnamon does help the dessert. Its also served with fruit and vanilla ice cream, always a good arrangement.”–Jasmin B.
Just a block or two over from the Trattoria Trecolori, a French restaurant has–surprise surprise–a more traditional take on the Pears Helena, even choosing to stick by the original name of “Poire Hélène.” Le Rivage makes it just the way tradition, and Wikipedia, describes–pears poaches in simple syrup and covered in chocolate sauce, served with vanilla ice cream to balance the flavors. Sometimes described as a “pear sundae” nowadays, the dessert is a perfect, simple end to a full-course French meal, making sure you leave Le Rivage on a high note–but, unlike many gut-busting desserts of the more modern era, also makes sure you can get out of the door, haha. The French aren’t particularly known for filling food–take that attitude to the Trattoria where I’m sure you’ll have a decent helping of entree before your Pears Helena–but the rustic atmosphere of Le Rivage means large, hearty portions of entree and light, refreshing desserts. A true balance to a full three-course meal that hearkens back to a time when a diner looked forward to the entire meal–and didn’t just skip to the dessert.
Le Rivage Restaurant
340 W 46th St (between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“For dessert I had the Poire Helene which was a poached pear served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. I had expected a warm pear, but it was cold. Still tasty, though. I’m sure it’s possible to get “fancier” French food in NY, but I would certainly recommend this place to the tourists/theatergoers. It was nice to try something different and certainly a better alternative to the Olive Garden or TGIFriday’s right in Times Square.”–Tom D.
“Lastly, I ordered Poire Helene (pear with vanilla ice-cream and chocoloate melt over it). All are yummy ! As for place, not very upscale but pretty decent. Not too noisy. I will definitely go back again to this place. Can’t go wrong with it. A great deal!”–Kelly L.