Top Bay Area Restaurants to Get Your Chocolate Fix
For the month of love, here's a roundup of the best places to indulge.
It’s almost February, when thoughts turn to chocolate in honor of the Feast of St. Valentine. The mythical aphrodisiac, now known to stimulate production of endorphins and serotonin (a double-whammy natural antidepressant and happiness creator), has been on nutritionists’ yes lists for years as a mood-boosting, high-antioxidant food. This month chocolate has prominence on some restaurant menus in wine country, San Francisco and Marin, proof that local chefs understand not only the sensual pleasure of chocolate melting on your tongue but the thrill of a well-crafted dessert.
Fiery Salted Chocolate Caramel Tarte
There is something retro-cool about desserts lighted tableside. At Morimoto in downtown Napa, a chocolate sphere filled with crème Chantilly and dark chocolate sorbet appears demure, its smooth exterior a ruse for the pending show. In a tiny saucepan, chocolate ganache is set alight, its blue glow courtesy of high-proof rum drizzled atop the chocolate orb. Crumbly sable cookies are filled with even more chocolate caramel ganache, making this confection a wonder of gooey warm deliciousness.
610 Main St, Napa.
The most famous pie in Marin earned its reputation with plenty of old-fashioned yum. Buckeye Roadhouse chef Robert Price layers a honey-infused graham cracker crust with semisweet chocolate and toasted almonds, then tops it with meringue and more chocolate. The chocolate oozes from its meringue nest, a dark eye in a storm of fluffy white. The top layer of meringue is teased and toasted to look like waves cresting or a porcupine’s needles.
15 Shoreline Hwy, Mill Valley.
Tower of Triple Chocolate Love
Do you remember the torre di cioccolate that won hearts of diners at now-closed Frantoio? Chef Duilio Valenti, who ran the kitchen there, brought the cake with him when he opened San Anselmo’s Valenti & Co. a few years ago with his wife, updating its look yet maintaining the tower’s ephemeral qualities. The chocolate cake is olive oil based, which gives the dessert a silky feel that’s enhanced by the chocolate mousse filling. Topped with chocolate sauce and chocolate shavings, it’s actually a tower of quadruple chocolate love, “but quadruple doesn’t roll of the tongue very easy [sic] so I stick with triple,” Valenti jokes.
337 San Anselmo Ave, San Anselmo.
Chocolate Gingerbread Cake
Erica Land, executive pastry chef at San Francisco’s Waterbar, designed her chocolate gingerbread cake to highlight her love of cardamom. “It’s my favorite spice. It brings a unique warmth to any dish,” she says. In this seasonal dessert, big flavors — molasses, ginger and cardamom — fuse with Valrhona cocoa, the cocoa note a subtle undertone tempering the boldness. Fresh tangerines steeped in vanilla-scented syrup add acidity, and a scoop of creamsicle ice cream, flecked with bits of freeze-dried mandarin orange, harmonizes the seemingly disparate elements. It is a chocolate creamsicle dream come true.
399 The Embarcadero, San Francisco.
Chocolate Hazelnut Bomb
When the chocolate hazelnut bomb that wraps up a nine-course tasting menu at San Francisco’s Lord Stanley arrives, the caramel lollipop perched atop the white chocolate orb is radiant, a golden Venus on a pearlescent shell. The almond genoise cake, a classic pâtisserie from the French culinary canon, is delicate, its character matched by a bed of praline mousse and a stuffing of black cocoa sorbet. The white chocolate shell serves as a reminder that chocolate need not overwhelm to be grand.
2065 Polk St, San Francisco.
The chocolate pyramid at Michael Mina in San Francisco is shaped like the famous crypts of Mina’s ancestral homeland. Tap the soft chocolate structure with a spoon and warm sunflower praline gracefully emerges, a gift of an eternal pharaoh. Executive pastry chef Nick Muncy bedecks his polyhedron with sunflower praline tuile, a ladder to the stars, and garnishes with luminous blackberry sorbet; the gold-crusted blackberries could be the jewels of any of the kings of Giza. Could it be a coincidence that Muncy is also both a food photographer and creator of the indie food magazine Toothache?
252 California St, San Francisco.
Chocolate Mousse Bomb
Of course there is wine on the Napa Valley Wine Train, but a meal aboard this rolling restaurant is not complete without dessert. Pastry chef Chloe Rials created a chocolate mousse bomb with Valentine’s Day in mind. To reach the red “heart” of pomegranate gelée ensnared in swirls of white and dark chocolate mousse, crack open the dark chocolate shell that tops a dense chocolate torte. Equal parts fun and whimsical, this dessert comes with a warning: hearts, like chocolate, are easily broken.
1275 Mckinstry St, Napa.
For more delectable desserts and other recommendations for where to eat, check out our Food & Drink pages.
Christina, now reformed, once believed that mixing alcohol and coffee was a crime. A long-time BayArea food writer, she hails from the Other 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. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to craft excellent edibles and spend time with her extended family.