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Memorable California desserts


tupac17616
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I was talking about this with a few friends at dinner the other night, also, so I know I'm not the only one. And a recent topic of conversation in the Providence thread got me thinking about this once again. My question is a simple one:

Where, oh where are the truly great desserts in California?

I hate to sound like Mr. Cynical or the Grumpy Young Man, but the simple fact is that I notice a huge disparity between the desserts I've found in my new home (Calfornia) and those I've found where I lived before (NYC). The restaurants where I've had truly memorable desserts here in the past year or so can be counted on one hand:

Providence in LA (chef Adrian Vasquez)

Ubuntu in Napa (chef Deanie Fox)

Coi in San Francisco (I'm honestly not sure who's in charge here, though I know chef Daniel Patterson definitely has some input)

Why is this?

Does the "California cuisine" banner, where ingredients are king, somehow suffocate innovation? And if so, where do you go for wonderfully executed classics? I can't say I've found those either.

Have I just been going to the wrong restaurants?

Am I overlooking super-talented chefs in my own backyard?

Does California have an answer to Iuzzini/Mason/Stupak/Goldfarb/Ong/DeMasco/DePalma/etc?

As a side note, I'm happy to see that Jordan Kahn has found a new home in LA after Varietal flopped in NYC. Looks like he's doing pastry at the recently (as in, less than a week ago) opened XIV (by Michael Mina of all people). Paying $8 for this guy's desserts is a steal, in my opinion. I'll definitely stop there the next time I'm in LA.

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What about Sherry Yard?

Certainly she has a great reputation, I've just not spent enough time in LA yet to taste her work! You?

Actually, no. She probably is as well known a pastry chef as there is currently in California. I have met her - she is quite lovely - but haven't had the pleasure of tasting her desserts - largely because I have not been to LA since I have taken a serious interest in food.

Another California pastry name of renown, who does some very fine work is Elizabeth Faulkner.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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tupac17616,

When you say great desserts, do you mean plated desserts? Are you excluding bakeries and patisseries?

Except for Coi, are you saying you haven't found any places that serve great desserts in San Francisco? The only place I heard of is Tartine, which is more pastries, croissants & other baked goods.

There are some good ethnic bakeries in the LA area, like a Cuban bakery in Glendale called Porto's.

I've tried some of Sherry Yard's desserts. It's delicious, more on the sweet side for me. Sometimes, she likes to add bits of meringue for texture. I would say Adrian is definitely more innovative.

One other pastry chef in LA you need to know is Karen Hatfield over at Hatfield's on Beverly Blvd. Karen & husband/chef Quinn just received a one-star Michelin rating this year. Very well deserved.

I haven't tried Jordan Kahn's desserts over at XIV yet, but that is on my list, as well as Jose Andre's Bazaar at the SLS Hotel.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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When you say great desserts, do you mean plated desserts? Are you excluding bakeries and patisseries?

Yep! :smile: But I'd love any recommendation on bakeries/patisseries, too. I'm a big fan of both Tartine in San Francisco and Boule in LA, but other than that...

Except for Coi, are you saying you haven't found any places that serve great desserts in San Francisco?

Yep. Basically that was my selfish motivation to post this in the first place. I want to know where eG'ers here go for the good stuff! And if that yields recommendations in other parts of the state, even better! :cool:

One other pastry chef in LA you need to know is Karen Hatfield over at Hatfield's on Beverly Blvd. Karen & husband/chef Quinn just received a one-star Michelin rating this year. Very well deserved.

I've wanted to try Hatfield's for quite some time. Next time I'm in LA, I will make it happen.

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When you say great desserts, do you mean plated desserts? Are you excluding bakeries and patisseries?

Yep! :smile: But I'd love any recommendation on bakeries/patisseries, too. I'm a big fan of both Tartine in San Francisco and Boule in LA, but other than that...

Except for Coi, are you saying you haven't found any places that serve great desserts in San Francisco?

Yep. Basically that was my selfish motivation to post this in the first place. I want to know where eG'ers here go for the good stuff! And if that yields recommendations in other parts of the state, even better! :cool:

In San Diego,

Extraordinary Desserts

http://www.elizabethandesserts.com/

Not exactly fancy, restaurant-style plated desserts, but incredibly good desserts. It's located in a nursery and absolutely worth seeking out.

Truly, as I've said before here, one of the best pastry chefs in SD is (was?) Jack Fisher. He's since gone into chocolates but let's just say if I knew he was in the kitchen I never..ever.. skipped desert :raz:

Recent news article

New and definitely worth a visit, serving plated desserts and a wide range of other specialties is Azucar a Cuban bakery (the mojito cookies - I know, not a plated dessert - are outstanding, not to mention addictive)

When Heaven Scent Desserts is on they're very good, they can, however, be a bit uneven at times. The last time I was there they were dead-on perfect. After a rocky opening they've changed pastry chefs several times and appears to have hit their stride with Tina Liu.

If you ever get to SD give these folks a try. Extraordinary Desserts is probably the closest to what you're seeking and it is decadent and worth every penny and clorie.

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I had to look back at my notes from my trip in March and Russell took me on the grand dessert tour. We focused on pastries and ethnic, but certainly had our share of plated desserts. Hatfields came out on top for me. Portos has the strongest memories however, possibly because we hadn't started drinking yet - but they are pastries and not plated.

On a previous trip I really enjoyed my plated dessert at NV in Napa. Don't know if it is still around, but it was very good. (A little bit of googling shows its closed)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Bill Corbett, formerly of wd~50, Dona, and Anthos in NYC, and currently at Michael Mina, came onto my radar thanks to gfron's link above. I stopped in for desserts last night. Really enjoyed it. I'll definitely be back.

But one in particular was the best dessert I've had in a long, long time, and I just had to mention it here. I'm an incompetent photographer, but I figured I'd share at least one shot:

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

Sourdough Ice Cream, Peanut Ganache, Brandied Bananas

gallery_18974_1420_61620.jpg

The translucent honey-colored blob in the foreground is honey gelee. To the left and right of that is the peanut ganache. It had a paper-thin crispy layer on the top, was lightly salted, and just tasted incredibly good. Banana bread on the right was moist and fragrant. Candied peanuts were scattered about. The banana turned a beautiful deep orange color after cooking in the brandy. The sourdough ice cream was great. And the crispy dehydrated banana slice on top added one last different texture to the mix.

Each component was very flavorful on its own, but the combination was just ridiculous. You know that moment in Ratatouille when they see fireworks after tasting two complementary foods at once? This was kind of like that.

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I'm an incompetent photographer,

All evidence to the contrary!

I had some great desserts at Boulevard in SF.  This was about 10 year ago though so things could have changed.

They have. A lot. It is quite mediocre now but I remember being quite enamored with it at one time as well...

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