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Nov 20, 2013 01:17 PM

Two spectacular desserts: Cookie at The Cafe at Spruce (SF) and Vivace's Cannoli (Belmont)

Yesterday I was in Belmont for dinner, and tried the cannoli at Vivace on Ralston. Dinner was good with some mis-steps (I liked the wild boar ragu on chestnut pasta, not wild about any of the apps), but the cannoli was superb. Freshly fried shell that tasted both toasted and lightly caramelized (it was neither) filled with dense sheep's milk ricotta dashed through with a few hefty chocolate chips and sparky orange zest. The crackle of the shell married perfectly with the filling.

I told the chef that it was among the best, if not the best, cannoli (cannolo?) I've ever had. "Quite possibly that is true," he said with typical Sicilian modesty and understatement. Great experience, warm service.

A doctor in my building mentioned that one of her patients gave her a fantastic cookie from the cafe at Spruce, which I didn't know existed, and because of the heavy rains it was the only interesting option within walking distance today. The cafe opened within the last year in the old charcuterie section in front of the restaurant Spruce, and serves coffee, some desserts, and take-away savory options (a few sandwiches, one multi-part entree, and side salads) starting in the late morning on weekdays only.

For desserts, they had a gluten-free lemon pudding cake, three giant face-sized cookies and a pecan pie. Savory options were a pastrami sandwich at $14, chicken curry or crispy chicken sandwiches at $10, and a salmon entree with attachments (side and salad?) for $19. The cookie was fantastic, my neighbor was right. I got the curry; it was bland, like what you'd expect served in lettuce cups at a Daughters of the American Revolution fundraiser. Cookie-wise, I got the chocolate chip, which seemed not so much like a drop cookie as two rolled out dough disks with a layer of dark chocolate between. Hit the spot between chewy and cakey. A+.

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  1. Cafe at Spruce? Did you happen to notice what kind of coffee they serve?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Windy

      The restaurant group that owns Spruce operates its own coffee roaster as well as bread bakery to supply each venue. So I imagine that's the source of the coffee.

        1. re: Windy

          I didn't notice or ask about the coffee; Melanie's probably right. Yes, weird that they've been hiding a cafe in there for so long? It's not clear to me from their website or Yelp page that there's this take-away option off the main entrance.

          1. re: Windy

            Here's my old post about the coffee the time I had it at Mayfield in Palo Alto.

      1. I stopped by the cafe at Spruce to check out the sweets last week based on your rave. When I looked at the chocolate chip cookie, I pegged it as more of a chocolate chunk and wondered if you had indulged in some hyperbole. But when you break off a piece and look at the profile, the rich motherlode of chocolate is apparent and what we see on the surface is just a minor outcropping of the dark vein to be mined below. I'll mention that it kind of cracked me up watching the staffer try to get the cookie out of the wide-mouth cookie jar. It's quite a snug fit and needs some jiggering to extract the cookie.

        As excellent as the cookie is, the pecan tart blows it out of the water. Guess we have to award it A++. Buttery rich tart crust, and the filling is solid pecans underneath the surface layer of nuts. The pecans are bound together with a wondrously silky caramel sauce that baked off to a crunchy praline-like glaze on the top. My mother loved this tart, served warm at home. A slice is ~ $4.50.

        I asked whether these desserts are baked by the company's Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto. They are baked at Spruce, and Mayfield only supplies bread to the restaurant.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I don't even like pecan pie, and I'm tempted by this.

          1. re: Windy

            Guess it depends on what you don't like about pecan pie. If it's the overly sweet and slimy custard one usually finds, this one does away with that. The tart is chockful of intact halves of pecan and just a little bit of dreamy, butter-laden caramel sauce holding it together. The pâte brisée feels like the baker managed to force an even higher than usual proportion of butter into it. If you like the taste of good butter, this one's for you.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              The only part I like is pecans. I don't like pie crust or the gooey stuff, and not a fan of butter, especially on top of oily nuts. Spiced pecans might be fine.

              1. re: Windy

                Pâte brisée is tart crust, and its flavor and texture is derived from butter. Maybe you consider that pie crust or not, since it's more like shortbread cookie dough. Caramel sauce is usually made from cream, sugar and butter. None of the butter comes through as oily since it is well-incorporated into the tart's components, but it's flavor and contribution to texture of the crust and caramel sauce is front and center.

                So let's save this for others who might enjoy it more.

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            Hyperbole! Why, I never! <fans face>

            Glad you got the action shot of the cookie profile, and the pecan pie tart does look divine. I wonder how much they charge for a whole one?

            1. re: pane

              That was a great cookie, not hyperbole! But you can understand my confusion on seeing what looked like chocolate chunks when I was expecting something more like a chocolate sandwich. Funny thing is my mother did not like this cookie. She said it wasn't chocolate. Would be interesting to find out whose chocolate is used as it had a decided smoky, almost coffee note. The other two cookies available were a snickerdoodle and oatmeal-raisin. Having experienced the chewy-cakey balance of texture, I'd be very interested in the snickerdoodle, as too many err on the crunchy side of the spectrum when I'm looking for something softer.

              Six slices make a whole, so I guess the upper end of a price estimate would be $27.00. So worth it. This would have been our Thanksgiving pie except that I didn't think it would fare well holding from yesterday (my last day in the City) to Thursday. I didn't think reheating could revive it adequately.

              I've been sampling pies madly to try to avoid a repeat of last year's fiasco.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                “It’s like the world doesn’t want us to make pralines,”

                This morning's article pulled me up short.

                "Hold the Pecans on the Thanksgiving Pie"

          3. Thanks for the tips about Spruce's cafe! It sounds like a nice little detour on the way to/from the Golden Gate Bridge.

            I just called them about hours. The cafe is open from 11:30am-2:30pm on weekdays, and then from 5pm to closing. On weekends, the cafe is open from 5pm to closing.

            1. Those cookies are excellent! The top of the chocolate chunk cookie I bought was more molten looking and not as dry looking as in Melanie's photograph. Cross section looked similar. The oatmeal cookie had more of a raw oatmeal taste than a typical oatmeal cookie, but it worked--- great amount of crispness too for a cookie of this size.

              They're $5 each and giant.