Recently, a dear friend of mine who lives in New York visited Chicago for the first time. Laura was in town for a whole weekend, but she had only one request: to visit Vanille Patisserie. I was embarrassed to admit that I had never been, but since that inaugural visit, I've been a devoted fan. Anyone who bemoans the lack of serious pastry shops or bakeries in this town will quickly find herself comforted by the pristine, elegant tartes, entremets, and macarons at this tiny shop on Clybourn. The newest addition to the menu, The Eleanor ($6.65), is exactly the type of dessert you'd want on a warm spring day: bright, citrusy, and satisfying without being heavy.
Vanille's executive pastry chef, Leslie Shaw, calls the Eleanor an entremet, or mousse cake, which are staples of French bakeries. This Eleanor, which just debuted in the shop in early March, should be considered as notable as other bearers of the name (Roosevelt, Rigby, etc.). It's named for the shop's friend, Holly, who owns the restaurant Aquitaine. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and respected women during the Middle Ages, and that royal sensibility is reflected in the dessert's richness and velvet-smooth texture.
Enough of the history lesson, because once your fork penetrates the crunchy outer lemon-white chocolate glaze and glides through the soft layers of cream cheese mousse, lemon curd, and raspberry jam, your mind wants only to know: How perfect is this dessert? The flavors are all distinct, despite the intricate touches like edible gold leaf and a Vanille logo chocolate. Every bite is punchy with fresh citrus, and the silky mousse makes this an airy dessert you can still enjoy when the temperature pushes 80 degrees. As Laura said contentedly at the end of our meal, some desserts are worth traveling across the country for.
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