Smart diners leave room for dessert. Brilliant ones just eat it first.
And really, why shouldn’t we? Dessert is all to often an afterthought. Or worse, an unpleasant struggle of will after gorging ourselves through four courses (and a bread basket). So it’s no wonder that some restaurants simply farm out their confections rather than putting serious energy behind their sweets. Not to mention that most chefs get nervous when you start forcing them to use things like measuring cups and recipes — critical to good pastry.
But dessert decadence is again on the rise (could economic recovery be far behind?). Kitchens are getting more creative with their last courses, retiring tired molten lava chocolate bombs and dry-as-dust cheesecake for a rainbow of cupcakes and childhood confections, fire and ice show stoppers, seasonal sensations and sweet-savory dishes that defy the category altogether.
Tummy rumbling? Here are some local favorites…
Of The Moment: With ripe apples threatening to bash our noggins at every turn, Starlight Cafe and Wine Bar take revenge on the crispy critters by serving up Gravenstein apple fritters with cinnamon ice cream and caramel. Take that. 6761 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 823-1943.
- Triple Threat: Warm milk and cookies at Jackson’s Bar & Oven are exactly that, because who can improve perfection? Jackson’s Cupcake does Hostess one better with a dark chocolate mini cake filled with white chocolate cream and a signature swirl on top. And beignets are just a fancy word for doughnuts, right? “I have to say one of the best desserts I had recently was at Jackson’s Bar and Oven. Their beignets are to die for. Instead of the tradional fried balls of dough, they make them into long sticks of deliciousness that are fried perfectly and soft and warm on the inside. They are served with a raspberry coulis, creme anglaise, and hot fudge to dip them in. It’s worth the trip just to have this for dessert,” said Clara Black.135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, (707) 545-6900.
- S’mores: Campfire-inspired, these melted chocolate, gooey marshmallow and homemade graham crackers for two have been on the menu since Restaurant P/30′s opening. And getting better every time. 9890 Bodega Hwy, Sebastopol, (707) 861-9030.
- Butterscotch pudding: “It’s just an old-fashioned recipe that proves classics are classics,” said Bryan Bousquet of Bistro M. Made with brown sugar, cream, eggs and other diet-smashing goodness, this nursery favorite has permanently taken up residence at the Bousquet’s casual Windsor eatery, Bistro M (610 McClelland Ave., Windsor, 838-3118).
- You’ll want to get your peanut butter in this chocolate: Homemade “Nutter Butters” (you remember the peanut butter cookies, right?) with dark chocolate fondue for dipping at Zazu Restaurant & Farm. (3535 Guerneville Rd., Santa Rosa, 523-4814)
Ice: Liquid nitrogen and vanilla custard make for a spectacular ice cream dessert made tableside. Part science experiment, part haute molecular gastronomy, it’s all good when warm chocolate and French cherries complete this avant sundae at Madrona Manor (1001 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, 433-4231. Baked Blackberry Alaska is “beyond delectable, the whole dessert is homemade from scratch…including the blackberry ice cream!” according to Stacy Chamberlain, a fan of Viola Pastry Boutique and Cafe, 709 Village Ct. Santa Rosa, 544-8830. Mixing up hot and cold is Stark’s Steakhouse’s Frozen Hot Chocolate with Whopper Foam and Chocolate Crackle Cookies (521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 546-5100).
Fire: Cherries jubilee, the oldest of the old school desserts, flambeed tableside with a flair at La Gare (208 Wilson Street, Santa Rosa, 528-4355).
Out of the Ordinary
Leave it to a pastry chef to mix sweet and savory flavors in a single dessert. Roy Schvartzapel is the pastry chef at Cyrus (29 North St., Healdsburg, 433-3311). On his current menu: Passion fruit gelato with miso custard, white peach miso soup, olive oil and sesame sable. Love red velvet? Schvartzapel’s updated version is topped with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting, candied baby yellow beets, pickled chiyoga beets, a yogurt sphere, carbonated raspberry and red beet consomme and verjus sorbet. Whew.
Ice Cream & Cake
Cheesecake: Autumn Barber of Aioli Delicatessen (6536 Front St # 7, Forestville, 887-2476) is a big fan of Autumn Merkel’s small batch Sinful Delights cheesecakes available at Aoili and at Graziano’s in Petaluma . “They make amazing cheesecakes!! Caramel macchiato is my personal favorite,” she said.
Willi’s Wine Bar’s (4404 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa, 526-3096) warm Scharffen Berger Flourless Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Caramel, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Sea Salt Peanuts is my favorite dessert in the county,” said Megan Feldman. But it’s panna cotta and pot de creme that get big thumbs up at Cucina Paradiso (114 Petaluma Blvd N. Petaluma, 782-1130), Rustic’s Chocolate Mousse al “Francis Francis” served with a dollop of cream in a teacup (300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 857-1400) and Creme brulee at Mosaic restaurant in Forestville (6675 Front St, Forestville, 887-7503)