Meet the super-sweet couple behind Pike/Pine’s newest sweet spot for a date, birthday, or just treating yourself.
You can see the nose prints on the glass where people have stopped to stare at R&M Dessert Bar. The case inside the shop — also glass, acquiring its own fingerprints from eager pointing — exerts a magnetic pull with its illuminated tarts and tiramisu and personal-sized chocolate truffle cakes. On a recent Friday night around 1 a.m. — R&M’s open until 2 in the morning on weekends for all your late-night dessert-and-wine needs — one especially enthusiastic passerby started licking the window.
“I guess it’s a compliment!” Marc Adams says. He’s the “M” in R&M, the “R” being his co-owner, co-chef and love Rod Gambassi. They opened R&M on Capitol Hill just after last Thanksgiving, but they’ve lived within half a mile of the Pike and Belmont location since they moved in together back in 2001. When they met, Rod — they’re definitely first-name-basis kind of people, right off the bat — was living in Los Angeles. “I had him come here to visit me,” Marc says, “he was ready to leave L.A. anyway.” Rod interjects: “Yes, it was about time.” Marc continues, “So it didn’t take too much convincing.” Rod laughs. They waited to get married until it became federally legal in 2013.
Both family- and self-taught bakers and pastry-makers, Rod and Marc started making custom cakes about 10 years ago. When they got the idea for a dessert bar, they got out their grandmothers’ recipe boxes, along with their own wide range of sweets-interests. Marc grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, with the South and Eastern Europe in his background, too; Rod came here from Brazil, from a half-Italian, half-Polish family.
R&M Dessert Bar
601 E. Pike St. (Capitol Hill), Seattle; 206-351-9993; rmdessertbar.com
Sunday-Thursday 5 to midnight, Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Reservations strongly recommended
R&M’s desserts, as you might expect, are all over the place in terms of origin. Rod’s current favorite is their version of a French entremets — a gorgeous, glossy little golden dome with a ring of crunched pistachio nuts. “It’s a pistachio-meringue base,” he says in his lulling Brazilian accent, “the dome is a caramel mousse, and then inside is a passion-fruit curd.” Because it’s extra time-consuming, they only make it on weekends. Coincidentally, it’s extra-perfect for sharing on a date — richly caramelly yet fluffily light, with both a nutty and a tropical touch, a real sweet-tooth pleaser.
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Rod and Marc have seen dates galore so far at R&M Dessert Bar, as well as birthdays, post-work toasts and people just celebrating themselves. (A separate mezzanine serves private parties and, shockingly, still awaits its first bachelorette.) Lodged in the lobby of the brand-new Cove building, they’ve got just three tables, but they’ve made it very much its own place. “There’s a lot of reclaimed wood in Seattle,” Marc says, “and we thought, ‘Let’s do something shiny.’” The walls are an almost luminous dove gray — “It’s actually called Frosted Silver,” Marc notes — and there’s a bank of sparkly pillows, and even the light bulbs have a silvery cast. “We wanted everything just to kind of shine,” Marc says. (A few funny stuffed birds hide here and there, the only cute elements in a pointedly urbane scene. They both love birds.)
Square plates and swirls of pink house-made cranberry reduction make everything Instagram-ready, and almost everyone takes photos. (If they get greedy and forget, Marc notes, “There’s regret.”) R&M’s current most popular dessert comes with YouTube fame: Japanese cotton cheesecake. “Because it’s baked in a steam bath, it makes it more like a souffle than a traditional American cheesecake,” Marc explains. “So it’s not as dense — it’s light and fluffy.” The strange but wonderful consistency is slightly chewy yet still airy; fans of unusual textures like, say, mochi, will love it. Not too sweet, it’s got a fresh, eggy taste, and it comes with a cute little red ramekin of house-made raspberry compote.
Also a big hit: R&M’s chocolate truffle cake. It’s “between a souffle and a molten,” Marc says, served hot with warm chocolate ganache and their signature whipped cream, “so people can play with their food.” (Pro tip for home whippers: Marc says to spring for the highest horsepower mixer you can, for the more powerfully aerated your cream, the longer it will maintain its loft. Theirs never seems to collapse — at least not before it gets all eaten up. As for the whipped-cream ingredients, he allows that they use a bit of powdered sugar, then says there are “a couple of secret things,” which no amount of entreaty will get him to reveal.)
Yes, R&M has a few gluten-free options (including the Japanese cotton cheesecake and the entremets) and a couple dairy-free, too. Not to be mean, but they don’t set out to do it — only to make the best desserts that they can.
My R&M favorite is their superlative Key lime tartlet: With exceptionally creamy-textured filling, it’s exactly tart enough to say hel-LO! but not even remotely sharp-tasting. The crust makes a marvel of a base: buttery-rich, firm but light, not too sweet. The amount of salt is important, Marc says, and they make their tarts individual- or sharing-sized (as are all the desserts here) for an ideal crust-to-filling ratio.
When Marc’s in the kitchen for a moment, Rod confides that Marc worked on the crust recipe for more than a year. “And he got to the right point,” he says with pride. Likewise, when Rod steps away, Marc affectionately says that Rod’s initial attempts at macarons ended up “as flat as communion wafers” — then he pulls out his phone to show you how very beautiful Rod’s macarons are now (which is very) on R&M’s Instagram.
“Clearly, it’s a lot of work,” Rod says later. “We’re the ones running everything, from front of the house, back of the house. But this is the fun part — to make the food and see people’s reaction. I think our best reviews are right in person, when someone is like, ‘Oh, this is really good,’ or ‘This is the best dessert I’ve ever had.’”
They’re self-described control freaks, so they love running their own show; for now, R&M has zero employees. After hours, Rod and Marc do prep work for the next day. They don’t do mornings. “People ask if it’s hard … we work together, we live together, so we really have to like each other in order to be around pretty much 24/7!” Rod laughs. “And like desserts!”
Rod and Marc also like philanthropy. “That’s always been a part of our work,” Rod says. In the past, they’ve supported children’s theaters, a program that trains service animals for veterans and more. They’ll be getting back to that as soon as they can.
Meanwhile, “So far, so good,” Rod says. “We haven’t even collided bringing food in and out of the kitchen! … The first broken wineglass was traumatic, but then you get used to it.”
Sometimes people walk by, see R&M’s desserts, come in to pick theirs out, then come back to eat them after they go have dinner. Sometimes inside, people ask if they can pull up a chair in front of the case while they make up their minds. Or two people ask to order a half-dozen desserts, hastening to add that they don’t know when they’ll be back again.
“There’s no judgment in this space!” Marc says. They both laugh. “No judgment at all.
“The spirit is very happy … plus bubbles!”