A few years ago, while on vacation in Montauk, I wrote a blog post comparing the various offerings of New England Clam Chowder at the restaurants we went to at the eastern end of Long Island. (Click here for that review). A few months before that, I posted about the best Lobster Roll I’d eaten. (Click here for that post). Today, while having an impromptu lunch date with my wife, I decided that I’m going to keep track of the best Tres Leches (Milk Cake; a sponge cake immersed in sweetened milk) I can find. The reason: We had lunch at a Peruvian spot in Union, New Jersey for the first time (Don Alex Restaurant) and among the available postres there was Tres Leches. (I’ll do a review of our Don Alex visit soon but, for those of you who can’t wait, go and enjoy. You won’t be disappointed. We had the Red Snapper, Roasted Half Chicken (which amazingly tasted like my mother’s fried chicken from my youth), Fried Yucca, Beans, Rice and Salad.)
My search for the best Tres Leches is going to be both difficult and easy depending on my level of commitment and when I want to declare my search over. You see, in the immediate area, as far as I know, there’s only Tres Leches at Cactus Charly, the Mexican spot in Maplewood, New Jersey and at Don Alex. I haven’t seen Tres Leches on the dessert menus of other/non-Latino area restaurants. There is Colombian place, also in Union, called Gusto y Sabor, that might also have Tres Leches. So, I can either leave it at the two I’ve had or I can be adventurous and force myself to go out and about, venturing to Gusto y Sabor, visiting Newark’s Ironbound section, taking a short drive to Montclair where I know there’s a Mexican restaurant and a Colombian restaurant and, perhaps, including New York City in my quest.
Having never heard of Tres Leches (a demerit for a self-professed foodie) until I was offered it at Cactus Charly, I found my ignorance of it to be a little odd and concerning considering I’ve enjoyed Spanish food since I was a kid and I’m Filipino and much of our cuisine is influenced by Spanish cuisine. After all, The Philippines was a colony of Spain for three hundred years and we were colonized by Spain en route from Mexico. So, one would think that with so many South American and Latin American countries having been colonies of or influenced by Spain – especially Mexico – that Tres Leches might be a Spanish dessert and that it would’ve found its way to The Philippines. Not so. It has Latin and South American origins and it’s also popular in The Caribbean. The idea of soaked cake, however, likely comes from Medieval Europe and there is even a version of Tres Leches in Turkey called Trilece. So, it turns out, that it makes perfect sense for me never to have heard of or tasted Tres Leches until I moved to the United States, where I have more exposure to Mexican and other South and Latin American fare.
What I like about Tres Leches is its general lightness without lacking flavour and character. It doesn’t sit in your stomach like a lump of coal the way a cheesecake or overly dense chocolate or white cake with icing do. Additionally, as light as it is, the sponge cake in Tres Leches isn’t excessively airy and unfulfilling. For me, when you eat a slice of cake, you want to know that you ate a slice of cake. A too airy sponge cake almost has the same ghostlike qualities as a spoon of Cool Whip and Cool Whip by itself is a complete waste of a culinary experience. Some would say that of Cool Whip, period.
So, take this post as a preview of what’s to come; a teaser to your palate, if you will. I could review the two Tres Leches I’ve had but I’ll wait to post until I have, say, four or five to report on. A review of my wife’s and my experience at Don Alex will be posted soon as well. In the meantime, enjoy your culinary experiences and share any new recipes you try.
Thanks for stopping by.