Sugar High

Mindy Segal's got her groove back

Mindy Segal feels like she's born again.

The rebirth coincided with a renovation of her seven-year-old Bucktown restaurant, Hot Chocolate, and a long-awaited James Beard Foundation Best Pastry Chef award. It also resulted in a flurry of sugar-fueled creativity.

She's overhauled her dessert menu to focus on pastry building blocks, plus one complex composition: the Study.

The five-part dessert ($20) revolves around a seasonal ingredient, showcasing it in as many forms as Segal can pack onto a plate (and into a glass). On a recent visit, rhubarb was the thesis, its versatility proved with a rhubarb-bourbon cocktail, a rhubarb caramel sundae, a macerated-rhubarb hand pie, shortcake with rhubarb-lambic jam and cold rhubarb consommé surrounding a strawberry-honey Bavarian.

The focus of the early summer Study is cherries. Segal is toying with using herbs as a future subject and guarantees blueberries will be the midsummer star.

For a simpler dessert path, there's pie ($12)–recently strawberry, with brown-butter custard and strawberry milk that inspired a flurry of fingers to run across the plate lest a drop get left behind.

And for the purist, there are more than a dozen types of cookies ($1 each) wheeled through the dining room on a jaunty new cart for tableside plucking.

Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-1747 or hotchocolatechicago.com