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Really great East Bay desserts?

I like to go to restaurants just to have dessert. I usually go to San Francisco to do this but would like to find good ideas in the Oakland/Berkeley area. The desserts don't have to be fancy - rustic is fine. . as long as they are good. Also, a plus is a restaurant that would welcome that kind of business as I have encountered a couple of places that were less than enthusiastic when learning I simply wanted to order dessert and wine or coffee.

Please share your favorites.

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  1. Chez Panisse cafe has always been friendly and gracious when I have gone for dessert. Of course is is usually after 9:00pm so things are not hectic. Cafe Esin in San Ramon is another place that is incredibly hospitable to my "just dessert" times.

    1. This is a great round-up by Maria Lorraine:


      Note that Zax has closed.

      I'd add the incredible Zeppole at Dopo and any fruit from the wood fire oven at Pizzaiolo.

      1. probably not what the OP is looking for but i may just have a new favorite
        item at crixa: the lemon creme cake ... or something like that.

        if you are looking for an afternoon place, check it out.
        not an evening option, and they do sell out of some things late in the day.

        1. Olvieto has great desserts.

          The desserts at Cafe Tibet can be great--the chef worked under Emily Luchetti at Stars and Farallon. Once or twice the usually great ginger crème brûlée was curdled--it's a somewhat shoestring operation so I think sometimes they serve things that a fancy restaurant would toss.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            "Serve things that a fancy restaurant would toss." Does that mean they do not obey the health codes? As in "curdled=gone bad past its serve-by?"

            No amount of shoe-stringness justifies that, if that's what you're saying.

            1. re: lintygmom

              Curdled doesn't mean spoiled, it means that it was cooked improperly and the proteins coagulated in lumps instead of uniformly. It doesn't look good or have the "right" texture so most places wouldn't serve it, but it's not unhealthy.

              I'm surprised that Oliveto has great desserts, since Italian cuisine isn't known for its great desserts (although I did have some fabulous tiramisu in Venice, which has a strong Austrian influence). I thought Oliveto strove for authenticity?

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Ms.Lafler, from what I could tell from multiple visits to Oliveto over the last decade and one trip to Liguria, Tuscany, and Milan, they're authentic Cal-Ital serving a clientele that likes up-market desserts, and staff a 'dessert chef' accordingly. We go to Pizzaiolo now instead, where we've always enjoyed excellent desserts. To my very subjective sensibility the calif-cuisine thing has a French influence, probably due to the training regimen many of the present day 'culinary artisans' go through.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I guess that depends on what you consider "great desserts". I have an Italian step-father with a huge sweet tooth and we are constantly whipping up great Italian desserts!

                  Granted they are more rustic in nature than their French neighbors, but they are no less great.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Oliveto's fixation on sticking to Italian tradition probably started declining when they hired Julie Cookenboo, the pastry chef, a decade ago. Before that, when Paul Bertolli was in charge, the desserts were a joke.

                    Under Paul Canales, they've moved even farther from the Italian tradition. Main courses are often more complciated and mostly now come with sides.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Curdled means the custard didn't set right, not that it's old. Tastes fine, the texture's just not as good. It's like "broken" mayonnaise or grainy fudge, happens occasionally even to the most experienced cooks.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Well, I'd probably like it better, then. I don't like creamy much.

                3. Boy my favorite desserts are the Chocolate Bundino at Garibaldi's on College and the brownie sundae with burnt caramel sauce with a pinch of salt at Sea Salt. I checked Sea Salt's menu and I didn't see it on the current offereings but some others looked good and they do offer a nice selection of cheeses.

                  1. When you get around to asking about desserts on the Peninsula I'll recommend the tapioca with corn at Sureyveh.

                    1. I really like the desserts at A Cote in Rockridge, esp the seasonal fruit ones. They have a lot of bar seating, so it's pretty easy to drop in just for dessert.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: daveena

                        It's easy to drop in to À Côté for dessert later in the evening, but at dinnertime the wait is often half an hour or more even if you're willing to sit at the bar or communal table.

                      2. thanks to everyone for all your replies. I now have a lovely list to start eating my way through.

                        A note on Oliveto's desserts - from having experienced them a few times throughout the years. . .I find that the pastry chef stays more true to seasonality than to exacting Italian technique or tradition. Her desserts are always balanced and her technique is flawless. My only quibble is that I find them somewhat expensive for what they are but then again I know I am paying for fine ingredients and produce.

                        For a peek at some great, modern Italian desserts take a look at Gina de Palma's cookbook, Dolce Italiano. ..it shows how wonderful great Italian desserts can be (she is also a ricotta fiend like myself).

                        Crixa is a favorite. . the almond cake is one of my all time favorites.

                        I know that Pizzaiolo was searching for a pastry chef for quite a while. .. has anyone been recently now that they have hired a pastry chef and is so, what are some of the standouts?

                        I will report back as I experience more East Bay desserts. Thank you.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: pastryqueen

                          Not sure when the new pastry chef started, but I was there for my birthday at the end of March and had some great desserts...

                          I had the profiteroles with seville orange ice cream, candied hazelnuts, and dark chocolate sauce. I have to say that I am partial to this combination, so I found it to be really wonderful. My husband had the chocolate bread pudding with something like a cherry compote and a flavored whipped cream (I can't recall the flavor right now). He loved it, and the taste I had was very good, though I'm not as big a fan of rich, heavy desserts like this, but the flavors were very good.

                          1. re: pastryqueen

                            I loved Pizzaiolo's old pastry chef's creations, and ever since she left (I think sometime around the beginning of the year, though it could have been longer ago than that) I haven't liked any of their desserts -- they've all had a few too many ingredients for me.

                          2. I've only been there once, but I had an excellent dessert (blackberry plum cobbler) at Post Meridian, which took over Kensington Bistro...Looking over the posts on Yelp, they seem to get strong reviews for desserts, so it may be worth a try.


                            1. My favorite dessert is the ginger custard @ Soizic.

                              1. try flora at 19th and telegraph. sit at the bar and enjoy. delicious.

                                1. I just had a really excellent rhubarb crostata with fantastic rose geranium ice cream - maybe my new favorite floral ice cream (previous contenders were the lavender honey from Bi-Rite and the rose gelato from Tango, when eaten in conjunction with their caramel gelato.) It has a perfectly smooth (non-icy) texture without being overly fatty in mouthfeel, and the rose geranium flavor is clear and not at all cloying. The crostata was excellent too - great crust. Oliveto has bar seating both upstairs and down, so I imagine it would fairly easy to walk in on the late side and just have dessert.

                                  1. The glass of mango slices in rum at Fonda is fantastic, despite the utter simplicity.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                      Warm chocolate cake at fonda.

                                      More importantly, they're open late, and they're always happy with someone showing up late. 10pm, 11pm, sit at the bar, it's all good.

                                    2. Tonight I confronted this where to go for just dessert question, and we went to Garibaldi's on College. It ended up being a really great option: plenty of room in the bar area to sit and have coffee and dessert (at prime time on a Sunday night), the desserts were tasty and there was some good variety, and they have a full bar for drinks and a cheese plate on the dessert menu. We shared the chocolate budino with caramel ice cream and hazelnuts and the rhubarb crisp, and they were both pretty good (and pretty large). The only bad note was the coffee, but despite that, I'm glad that I have a new dessert option.