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Best restaurant desserts?

I was looking at the menus for a couple of top-tier restaurants and was disappointed at how pedestrian their desserts sounded. So if I want to have a nice dinner with a great dessert, where should I go? I want something complex and sophisticated, but also not trying too hard with weird combinations. Decadent and delicious is what I'm looking for! As an example, the dessert menu at Prospect is ringing my chimes big time.

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  1. Four of us recently enjoyed three desserts, as well as the rest of our meal at Baker & Banker. They have a small menu and we thought what we had was great. Here is the current list of desserts from their website:
    Desserts - all $8
    Hot butterscotch, homemade marshmallows, olive oil-fleur de sel biscotti
    Milk chocolate-peanut butter bar, roasted banana ice cream
    XXX- triple dark chocolate layer cake
    Pineapple upside-down carrot cake, candied pecan cream cheese ice cream
    Fuji apple crisp, brown sugar-pecan streusel, candy apple ice cream

    Baker & Banker
    1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

    1 Reply
    1. re: wineguy7

      Thanks! For some reason this place always falls off my radar.

    2. I'm not quite sure I'd go as far to describe them as complex and sophisticated, but the desserts at NOPA are always refreshingly seasonal and usually have at least one interesting twist.

      I still think about the incredible basil napoleon at Chapeau!, but meals there can get expensive if you don't make it in time for the earlybird special.

      I have to overall agree though that desserts at top-tier restaurnats have mostly been a letdown lately.

      1 Reply
      1. re: vulber

        I'm still thinking about the citrus parfait I had at Cafe Majestic in its last days. Anyone know who the pastry chef there was and where s/he went?

      2. The best cake I've ever tasted was the Dixie dessert at the Summit on Valencia, where Gabriel Mitchell (Maison Mitchell) is the pastry chef. From the Summit's website, Dixie is described as:

        Chocolate Dacquoise, Chocolate Mousseline, Pecan Caramel, Fleur de Sel, Chocolate Sorbet, Bourbon

        It is a layered cake, sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy, with all familiar components yet perfectly balanced. The bourbon is a sauce on the plate, and the sorbet is on the side (and unnecessary).

        Most desserts at the Summit are available only starting at 10:30 pm (!) but Dixie is usually offered starting at 5:30 pm. The Summit website says it plans to rotate pastry chefs, so hurry.

        The Summit
        777 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

        1 Reply
        1. re: david kaplan

          That sounds oh so yummy! That's exactly what I mean by complex and sophisticated but not trying to hard with weird combinations.

        2. Probably not what you're looking for, but some of the best desserts I've had in recent years were at, of all places, Pauline's Pizza.

          Pauline's Pizza
          260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          4 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            what are some of the desserts you recommend at Pauline's Pizza?

            Pauline's Pizza
            260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

            1. re: hhc

              Butterscotch pudding, chocolate mousse, olive oil gelato.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I second Pauline's - their butterscotch pudding & olive oil gelato are remarkably pure-tasting and delicious - I always save room for dessert, even though their pizzas are also scrumptious if you try the daily specials!

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I had the olive oil gelato again last night and to me it's the best of the numerous olive oil ice cream / gelato / soft serve desserts out there. Really brings out the fruitiness of the olive.

                  Also tasted the butterscotch pudding, it's not as much my kind of thing, but theirs is the best.

            2. I rarely order dessert because so much of it is the same old same old. But I really enjoyed Matt Tinder's work at Meadowood. He has apparently moved to Saison, so interested to see what he would do there.

              2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

              12 Replies
              1. re: jsaimd

                When did he move? I had dinner at Saison last month and the desserts were good but not mind blowing. In November I ate at Benu and 1 dessert was very good and the other was meh - I didn't finish it. I agree, most desserts at high end restaurants seem same old same old. I am actually really looking forward to what Atelier Crenn has to offer from all the favorable reviews lately.

                1. re: JonDough

                  He moved to Haven in Oakland when it opened. Haven't seen what he has done there. It is a completely different restaurant concept, so it seems like it might now allow for as much playing with flavors as meadowood did.

                    1. re: jsaimd

                      I had the Baked California at Haven (and another dessert that had the components of bananas foster, can't remember the name) and it was amazing. I would go back just for that (and the brussels sprouts).

                          1. re: nickis

                            Maybe "what is Baked California"? I was inspired to look it up myself. Unfortunately, the online menu description of "BAKED CALIFORNIA citrus, almond, fluff" is not terribly enlightening (except it sounds really good).

                        1. re: nickis

                          Oops, sorry. It's basically a baked alaska (but without cake, which I think a baked alaska has) with some interesting flavors.

                          The version I had was vanilla ice cream and mandarin sorbet on a nutty almond crust, surrounded by shiso meringue with mandarin gel and avocado fluff alongside.

                          1. re: nickis

                            And let us not forget other variations such as the "reverse Baked Alaska", AKA the "Frozen Florida"--


                            The Baked California has not yet made it into Wikipedia but the California Milk Advisory Board has posted a recipe that is totally different from the one at Haven and doesn't sound nearly as good to me--

                            More promising, Plumed Horse in Saratoga has gotten into the Baked California act--

                            Their menu describes it as "huckleberry sorbet, confit lemon shortbread, vanilla ice cream"--

                            1. re: nickis

                              I have to say, I thought Haven's Baked California was a nice idea, but the overly salty almond cookie base just killed it for me. I happen to like a little hint of salt in desserts, especially chocolate desserts, but it seems to me there's an unfortunate trend of pastry chefs going WAY over the top with the salt levels. The salted caramel gelato at Perbacco is another (much raved about) example where I felt like the salty-sweet balance was totally out of whack.

                              1. re: abstractpoet

                                See, I thought the saltiness was perfect in the Baked Alaska at Haven and I love that gelato at Perbacco. So much so that I bought tahitian vanilla sea salt to use at home.

                                1. re: nickis

                                  Yeah, clearly some people are digging these desserts, but...not for me.

                    2. laura chenel goat cheese cheesecake @bellanico restaurant. 4238 park blvd, oakland, ca. part of the 3 item lunch pairing ($18). the cheesecake seem the most interesting of the desert choices and it was.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: shanghaikid

                        My sister and I ate at Piperade a while ago and I still remember the Turron Mousse Cake with roasted almonds and the almond/pear tart with creme chantilly.

                        1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          OK, so I'm a sucker for a talented young pastry chef who also happens to work at Orson.
                          Maya is all of 19 and she can bring it:

                          This is what I had a few weeks ago: herbs & thistle
                          guinness gingerbread, fernet ice cream (which I substituted for a smoked vanilla ice cream which was awesome) brown butter toffee sauce, spicy pecans: Yummy!

                          It was nice to be able to walk in a bit after 9:00 pm on a Friday night, grab a table for two and receive really nice service. Much less hectic than the other times I've been.

                        2. re: shanghaikid

                          I adore that dessert and was able to recreate except for the pistachio brittle- will give it another try

                        3. I've always had lovely desserts at range. Nothing too crazy, but definitely not boring, and beautifully executed.

                          1. I have had two meals recently at Bluestem Brasserie and tasted five different desserts on those visits. I thought all the desserts were wonderful and may, in fact, be the strength of the restaurant.

                            Here is a URL for the current dessert menu:

                            Bluestem Brasserie
                            1 Yerba Buena Ln, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: wineguy7

                              Those look delicious -- exactly what I meant when I said complex and sophisticated without trying too hard. Bluestem is now on my radar. Did you post about your meals there?

                            2. This probably isn't much help for you but... my favorite 2 desserts in SF are:
                              Perbacco - burnt caramel gelato with Tahitian sea salt
                              La Folie (and you can order ths from the bar next door, too) - cheese souffle

                              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                              La Folie
                              2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: whiner

                                FWIW, the one time I tried that burnt caramel gelato at Perbacco, it was simultaneously icy and melty (i.e. poorly made and improperly served gelato), not to mention inedibly salty. I rarely hate a dessert as much as I hated that. Off night? Perhaps, but I wouldn't order it again - not with world-class gelato available right here in the East Bay.

                                The desserts I've had at Plum have been pretty great - not fussy or weird, but maybe too many components for what the OP is looking for?

                                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                1. re: whiner

                                  so the cheese souffle is sweet, not savory?

                                2. I'm going to bump this thread up. Any new recs?

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I like the desserts at State Farm. They are only 4 dollars and about 1/2 to 2/3rd the size of many restaurant desserts but to me seemed a much more reasonable size, the frozen sabayon ice "sandwiches" are just perfect bites and the flavours seem to change weekly and the milk chocolate sesame crunch, clementine-cocoa jam was wonderful when you get all the layers.

                                    the dessert at Atelier Crenn also blew us away especially the winter pear which was both fantastical to look at and amazing to eat.

                                    I also like the dessert plate (20 dollars) at Bisou, 4 desserts which are great for 4 people and a treat for 2. Not the most complex or modern but really well made and tasty.

                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                      I'm guessing you meant State Bird (Provisions), not State Farm

                                      1. re: srr

                                        Yes! My English spelling is horrid to begin with and then I get all the names mixed up!

                                      2. re: tjinsf

                                        I second Atelier Crenn - the pastry chef there is a genius. For me, his contributions were the highlight of the meal.

                                      3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I'm enjoying the Asian-inspired salty sweets lately. Several places have an interesting sundae:
                                        - Nojo: black sesame ice cream, hachiya persimmon & peanut thunder crackers (I also see buckwheat & beer creepes, ginger muscovado syrup, white miso ice cream and fuji apple compote on their menu, curious)
                                        - Ippuku: ice cream topped with soy sauce (can't find their menu online so this is just a basic description; weird but it works!)
                                        - Hawker Fare: soft serve w salted palm sugar caramel w candied red beans and puffed rice, lime whip
                                        Continuing on the frozen theme:
                                        - Piccino affogato: the seven spice or jivara milk choc ice cream elevates this to the mother of all affogatos, one of the best things I ate in 2011
                                        - And the classic, forever favorite, Zuni's espresso granita w whipped cream. Amazing interplay of textures.

                                        1. re: rubadubgdub

                                          more on the casual side, but i have a hard time passing four barrel now without stopping in for their beer ice cream (from humphry slocombe) affogato

                                      4. I had a great citrus-mascarpone trifle at Cafe Rouge the other night.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I loved the beautifully conceived/executed tapioca w/ huckleberry compote @ Cafe Rouge.

                                        2. This is somewhat sacrilegious here but Domino's Pizza chocolate lava crunch cakes are my guilty pleasure. I call them crack cakes.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Bunson

                                            I know someone who would very much agree with you

                                          2. I had a lovely pistachio and burnt honey semifreddo at A Coté - creamy, rich, but light-textured soft-frozen mousse studded with nuts and really infused with pistachio flavor, with a subtle edge from the honey. It was set off well by the earthy flavor of the thin round of pistachio oil cake it sat on, and delicious browned butter crème anglaise and sweet-tart rhubarb. The most memorable restaurant dessert I've had in quite a while.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                              just now reading this, but your description makes me want to drive the two hours to have dessert there...tonight! :-)

                                            2. The Sgroppino dessert at Bellanico blew my mind a few months ago. It's blackberry sorbet, vanilla gelato, huckleberries and prosecco. Although I love prosecco, it sounded completely uninteresting to me, so I ordered the goat cheese cheesecake but my friend ordered the sgroppino. I ended up taking over the sgroppino because I could not believe how delicious it was.

                                              Also, the Panna Cotta w/ Balsamic @ 54 Mint and the Green Apple Sorbet w/elderflower pavlova @ Michael Mina.

                                              1. I can't believe no one has posted yet about Melissa Chou, one of the finest pastry chefs in the entire Bay Area. She is once again nominated for a James Beard award this year and was already recognized by the SFChron as one of their "Rising Stars". Her work at Aziza is simply magnificent. We eat all over the Bay Area (retired foodies) at every price point, and Ms. Chou's desserts perfectly complement Owner/chef Lahlou's incredible cooking at Aziza.

                                                I used to adore Boulevard and we had a great first dinner at Prospect when it opened. But when Ravi Kapur left, both went downhill on us immediately. A Jan2012 dinner brought overpriced, overwrought food and worse, an awful dessert that was more style and sugar than substance or creativity.

                                                1. i had a really great one at Radio Africa tonight; strawberries, poached pears, melted chocolate, whipped cream, and ethiopian spices. simple, but the combination of top-notch ingredients and the twist from the spices made it special

                                                  1. buckwheat crepes @ nopa
                                                    chocolate tart @ one market
                                                    pineapple cake @ one market
                                                    apple galette @ tadich
                                                    berry cup @ tadich

                                                    1. I had a great dessert at À Côté last night. The menu description is "strawberry panzanella: strawberries, candied brioche, olive oil custard, saba & basil," but that's kind of misleading since panzanella is soft and the "candied brioche" was crunchy croutons. Overall it seemed like a riff on American breakfast cereal with fruit. Light, refreshing, delicious.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        That sounds fantastic. Any idea how the candied brioche was prepared? Did it have any softness, or was it really like eating hard, crumbly croutons?

                                                        1. re: Frosty Melon

                                                          I wouldn't say hard, just crunchy. No idea. I think must be denser than the usual brioche to be diced so small.

                                                      2. AQ has lovely desserts; especially the WILD FLOWER HONEY, violets, cured olives, lemon & brown butter - like an ice cream sandwich with violet foam - just fantastic - on the Spring menu.
                                                        Summer Menu begins on Tuesday.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Cynsa

                                                          Sounds delicious. I really enjoyed the dessert (lemongrass panna cotta with citrus in various forms) I had there, too. (Photo courtesy of Paul Homchick)

                                                        2. I went to Acquerello for the first time recently, and really loved creme fraiche panna cotta w/ strawberry granita, basil, and marcona almonds. It tasted delicious but it also had this amazing effervescence that delighted my mouth. It was all very refreshing and flavorful and I really enjoy a hint of green in my desserts. It was so good that I ended up regretting the very large portion, since I couldn't resist eating it all.

                                                          The server said the fizz was from the creme fraiche. That surprised me, but I don't really know anything about creme fraiche other than the fact that I enjoy eating it.