Surviving 2021 calls for a little celebration. Chefs have answered the call this holiday season with desserts ready to strut their stuff.
Celebrating 25 years in the restaurant business is no small thing, and chef Heidi Krahling and her team have added a new dessert (and other new items) to celebrate the milestone. Chocolate olive oil mousse rests under a cloche of shredded phyllo that shatters when struck with a fork. A whirlwind swirl of chocolate similarly captures sesame, tahini cream and za’atar sesame crumble for a look that’s so retro-fabulous it’s avant garde.
120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, San Anselmo; 415.457.7700
Executive sous chef Celtin Hendrickson-Jones designed the restaurant’s carrot cake with Sicilian Paesano olive oil to give it a luxurious texture and flavor. Warmly spiced with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, the cake leans savory and is studded with sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Cream cheese and Greek yogurt frosting is sprinkled with fresh thyme and marigold petals that gives the dish a sunny outlook, even on the drippiest winter day.
320 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur; 415.924.0300
The Salted Butterscotch Budino may be inspired in equal measure by Italian pudding and Yorkshire treacle, revealing the multi-culti origins of the dish. From the French comes a crispy topper of feuilletine in shades of vanilla and chocolate, while toffee and crème fraîche add layers of buttery flavor to a dish designed to be eaten by the spoonful.
2233 Larkspur Landing, larkspur; 415.755.6700
The dessert menu is tight at Crave, but each item hits just the right notes. No need to pine for chocolate with the Triple Chocolate Cake. The moist cake is 70% Valrhona chocolate and is slightly bittersweet. Chocolate buttercream adds sweetness while chocolate ganache sauce graces the top and adds chocolatey oomph to the layers. Did I mention “chocolate” enough?
340 Ignacio Blvd, Novato; 415. 883.0901
The vivid red-orange color and the stacked square shape of the Sucre Cube seems designed for countless Instagram moments. But the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, a “yogurt”: white chocolate and Chantilly cream mousse, infused with Chandon’s Garden Spritz. The effect is a similar citrus freshness akin to the bubbly pairing, but the mirror-glazed cube will hog all the attention.
Swirls of Valrhona caramelia mousse and chewy caramel dipped in chocolate and coated in candied cocoa nibs makes the 106 Grand Bar appear to be a dandy cousin of a classic candy bar. But pastry chef SkylerSpitz is just getting started, including caramel in three additional ways – passionfruit caramel (in the accompanying sauce), caramelized nibs, and a caramel glass on top. Garnished with gold leaf, this bar may not be solid gold, but it exudes a decadence and grandeur that is distinctly of this culinary moment.
Chef Alex Hong is not afraid to engage all of your senses with his dishes, crafting desserts that fiddle with your visual playing field. One of his latest creations is a dish that hams it up with the coy appeal of an egg. In fact, it is a center of elderflower and white chocolate surrounded with a coconut frozen yogurt wrapper atop a bed of cocoa-infused granola. Sprinkled with fresh yuzu, it is zesty and refreshing while somehow also embracing you in the warmth of elderflower’s intoxicating scent.
Fog Harbor Fish House
Known for their sustainable approach to fresh seafood and platters heaped with the ocean’s bounty, the long-running restaurant on Pier 39 is staking a dessert claim. Bread pudding features fresh sourdough from nearby Boudin’s. A heady mix of caramelized bananas, chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla cream are gently folded with the bread before it hits the oven. It arrives warm at your tableside before being showered with warm vanilla bean creme anglaise. It’s a familiar sort of decadence that hearkens back to an earlier era.
Alley & Vine
The former executive chef at Farallon, Jason Ryczek knows a thing or two about food as entertainment. Studded with dried apricots and cherries, Ryczek’s baba au rhum is fragrant with orange and dark rum. The syrup, soaked with a holiday season’s worth of spices (cardamom, ginger, star anise, cinnamon), means a sensory delight of the olfactory sort when a dessert that is intended to be lit on fire glows with blue flame.
UCan’tStopTalkingAboutIt may be a better name for the Asian-inspired desserts at Tammy Boonlieng’s Berkeley dessert café. A riff on an English dessert, Hojicha Banoffee is cheesecake infused with organic hojicha custom grown at a farm in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. A supporting layer of dulce de leche caramel embraces thick slices of banana atop an Oreo cookie and toasted almond crust. Wait, there’s more! A puff of homemade hojicha cream is itself then and topped with fresh whipped cream and garnished with a sprig of rosemary and heath bar crumble, a coup de grace that readily pushes this dessert into the realm of unreality.
More From Better:
- What’s New In Town This November: A New Wine Bar in Hayes Valley, A Creperie Opens at the Mill Valley Lumber Yard, Plus More
- 5 Fine Dining Options in Marin and Beyond, Perfect for Holiday Season Family Gatherings
- New Rules: Etiquette for Pandemic Entertaining
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.