San Francisco Treats

It took Russell a while to grow accustomed to the way I shop for clothes. I go, I look, try on, talk about how much I love the clothes, and then I leave empty handed. “If you like it, why don’t you just get it and be done with it?” he would comment.

With good reason, I assure you. Using my system, I leave empty handed, and if I am still thinking about the article of clothing a week later, then I go back and get it. It’s too easy to get caught up in the shopping, the newness of shiny new clothes, too easy to make purchases in the heat of the moment that fall flat once in your closet. So if a week goes by, and the article still calls to me, then I know it’s meant to be.

This system also works well for evaluating my dining experiences. I find it easy to like what is on my plate in front of me at any given time. I’m hungry, we are out enjoying ourselves with friends, in a nice setting enjoying the ambiance, and I am being satisfied on various levels. But after a week or so goes by, if I am still thinking about my meal, then I know it was excellent.

Three weeks after my trip to San Francisco, there are 3 stand out experiences still lingering in my memory.

The first is a trip to Farallon for dessert. My first real stop in the city, I went to pay a visit to Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef I hosted last summer at Eva. She was releasing her 4th book, A Passion For Ice Cream, and to celebrate we hosted an ice cream social. I created a 5 course menu using recipes in her book, she came, ate, mingled, and signed books for her Seattle fans.

Russell and I, joined by an old friend of mine Mike, took our seats in what appeared to be the belly of a whale that was the bar. Mike was thrilled to see his favorite beverage, the Dark ‘n Stormy on the menu, while I made dessert choices for the three of us.

First came the warm chocolate pudding cake, made with El Rey chocolate. It’s hard to argue with warm, melty chocolate desserts, especially when they are paired with an icy cold orb of ice cream. Another great contrast was delivered by the ice cream in it’s salty peanut flavor. Cracked peanut brittle was scattered across the top along with a few grains of sea salt, making this dessert the first to be cleaned out of it’s dish.

A meyer lemon cream tart was served in an ultra crispy puff pastry shell, the edges scalloped to resemble a flower. The tart was set in a bed of sweet candied coconut shavings, and crowned by a nest of oven roasted strawberries. Early season strawberries can be made exceptional by slicing them thin, tossing them with sugar, and roasting them in a hot oven for about half an hour.

Not letting the servers “favorite” suggestion go unnoticed, we ordered the Ricotta fritters. Three unassuming little fried dumplings arrived next to a dish of anglaise with a compote of fresh citrus. But not to be fooled by their humble appearance, one bite assured me that these fritters were nothing short of heaven. Served warm, the fritters were sturdy enough to be eaten with a fork, but a thin crispy shell on the outside that gave way to a delicate filling that melted in your mouth. The flavor was light and dairy sweet, made with Bellwether Farms Ricotta (and paneer for structure the working pastry chef Terri told me). This was hands down the most memorable bite I had the entire trip, one that has haunted me with both the desire to eat it again and to someday create something like it.

Being the pastry chef that I am, I often see components of dishes I very much want to try, even if I am not going to order the entire plate. This was the case with a Rhubarb-Gewurtztraminer jam. I requested a small taste of this curious condiment, and was spoiled with the entire dessert. The jam came as requested, accompanied by two warm, flaky pastry wrapped apple and rhubarb turnovers. They were paired with a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream studded with bits of candied ginger. A delicious combination playing with many light and lean flavors just right for spring.

The next morning Russell and I took our breakfast at Citizen Cake, dubbed “the pastry chef’s restaurant.” With a slogan like that, how could I resist? Because of our morning arrival, the regular menu wasn’t available, but two pastry cases filled with a variety of offerings kept us satisfied. They held a collection representing the various outlets of this establishment, miniature versions of their signature cakes, small tarts representing their plated desserts, cookies, candies, and breakfast pastries.

Russell’s first choice was an individual sized portion of their Mocha Mi Su cake. Layered with cocoa cake, mocha mousse and creme fraiche, and dark chocolate, we failed to see the connection to the original tirimisu, but found it tasty none the less.

Next we tried a small sandwich cookie made of lemon shortbread and lemon filling, packed with plenty of tart lemon flavor. A lychee and sesame pate de fruit caught my attention because of the addition of a textural layer of black and white sesame layered in the jelly candy. This was the only disappointment of the visit, the lychee falling short, the sesame being only mildly chewy, offering no detectable flavor.

My favorite dessert of the day was the small tart I ordered, partially due to it’s fantastic title, “Misconception of a Banana Cream Pie.” The entire tart was fantastic offering all the lovable qualities of the original, a delicious chocolate crumb crust square, banana custard, vanilla cream, and candied coconut strips.

After milling about the ferry building one last time, feeding my new found addiction to Michael Rechutti’s remarkable chocolates, Russell and I headed over the Bay Bridge for one last stop in Berkeley. Working with a tip from one of my favorite blogs, Eggbeater, we went in search of Ice Cream.

Berkley was a welcome change from the bustle of urban San Francisco, and we parked our car (easily!) and began wandering around the cute little downtown strip. Taking our time, we finally came to our destination, the little shop ICI.

The shop, tiled with white ceramic felt cool and sterile, like a laboratory built for perfecting the frozen desserts. A scattering of blossoming branches and ribbon bound placards announcing the daily offerings, and a few well placed vintage ice cream molds gave ICI irresistible charm. I tasted a variety of ice creams, remembering distinctly the fantastic lightly spiced pink peppercorn, the fragrant soothing lavender, and finally settling on a sorbet offering the best presentation of the classic combination of Rhubarb Rose I have ever tasted. Russell, full from our breakfast ordered one little chocolate covered ice cream bon-bon from their selection.

Before resuming our leisurely walk I gazed at the cold case a little more, admiring the beautiful molded ice cream and sorbet bombes, a Victorian era creation that was the predecessor to our ice cream cakes.

Russell and I strolled the lush Berkley, eating our treats and agreeing that if we moved to the Bay area Berkeley would be our choice, preparing for the final drive to San Jose to catch our flight home.

2 Responses to “San Francisco Treats”

  1. Doug says:

    i find banana creme to be one of those oft neglected desserts. if done well it is spectacular.

  2. Kat says:

    We decided to investigate whether your findings were accurately portrayed at ICI and I am happy to say – YOU WERE RIGHT!!! Orange Cardamom and Burnt Caramel were both amazing flavors. The candied orange peels were delightful too. Per Lauren’s suggestion, we also checked out a great breakfast spot in Berkley called La Note – be sure to try the ginger pancakes.

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