A Ride-Around with Sparkling and a Spot of Sugar

The Bay area abounds with great chefs, who turn out great desserts. And you can go to their restaurants and enjoy a great meal, finishing up with a sweet treat. But here’s a fun idea – instead of sitting at a table, relax in the back of a limousine, and eat your way all over town.

It’s a fabulous roving party with a group of friends, as you stop at as many restaurants as you like, and get your desserts to go, nibbling on the way. Cap it off with sparkling wine, and it’s one of the most indulgent evenings imagineable.

Of course chocolate is the bomb, but you can fit in more desserts if you don’t go over-the-top sweet. Here are some sinful, but not too sinful, suggestions.

Decadence doesn’t necessarily mean expensive or elaborate; in the hands of the right chefs, the most basic ingredients become magic in the mouth. Chef-owners Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde prove this with their rustic Italian restaurant in downtown Napa, where the menu changes daily, driven by local ingredients and the uncommon specialties of Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia. One touch of arborio rice pudding to the tongue, and it’s clear that this is a remarkable dessert, silky and sensuous and paired whimsically with warm, pillowy donuts made with Cerasuola olive oil and trimmed in Page mandarins. For a classic experience, partner the treat with an individually brewed cup of “ritual” Chapadao de Ferro Brazilian coffee.
1425 First St., Napa, 707-252-1022, oenotri.com.

Flour + Water
Surprisingly, truly great desserts don’t even have to be all that sweet. Sophisticated diners don’t always want sugar bombs, but intriguing flavors touched with just a hint of dolce. Under the direction of chef-partner Thomas McNaughton, an earthy, warm polenta cake might be an appetizer or side dish, except for when it’s touched with an ethereally light candied kiss, and capped in sweet-tart blood orange and honey-thyme ice cream.
2401 Harrison St., San Francisco, 415-826-7000, flourandwater.com.

Scala’s Bistro
The main menu may focus on the culinary delights of Northern Italy and Southern France, but executive pastry chef Tim Nugent looks to his playful side for his longstanding favorite Bostini Cream Pie. The toque, who was a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts, borrows the recipe from his predecessors at the popular Union Square café, but it’s just as delicious as the first spoonful was when it was served in 1995. It sounds uncomplicated, as air-light orange chiffon cake resting over vanilla custard under a spoonful of semi-sweet chocolate sauce. But the layering of flavors and textures and lick-the-spoon fun reminds why a classic favorite can be so thrilling. For an extra bit of amusement, diners can get the substantial dish as a little bite; just ask, and the chef will make the pie in a pop-in-your-mouth size.
432 Powell St., San Francisco, 415-395-8555, scalasbistro.com.

Minimalism is a signature of the Asian restaurant’s décor, and of the meticulously crafted Asian-French cuisine from chef-owner Corey Lee (no surprise, he was formerly chef de cuisine at the French Laundry). Dishes change often throughout the ala carte tasting menu, and dinner is expensive ($160 for the basic 12-courses), yet there’s real value in paying close attention to what tricks the chef plays. Chocolate pudding may sound as barebones as a dessert can be, yet Lee zaps it with sour cherry, tucks in the enticing crunch of walnut, and wows with the unexpected zing of candied barley.
22 Hawthorne Ln., San Francisco, 415-777-9779, benusf.com.

Shimo Modern Steak
What makes dessert so fascinating at this latest destination from chef-owner and Cyrus legend Douglas Keane is what it isn’t: over-the-top. Or hardly there, actually. At this shrine to superb steaks and interestingly enough, ramen noodle soups, Keane and chef de cuisine Kolin Vazzoler take an Asian approach, with smaller portions emphasized, and little focus on sugar. That means that instead of a hulking confection, something small and sweet is included free with every meal. That may be a mini serving of Meyer lemon cheesecake sorbet, a bitty scoop of caramel sea salt gelato, some custard or cookies, in just a delightful accent to a sumptuous meal.
241 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-6000, shimomodernsteak.com.

Tip: Pure Luxury Transportation can provide the ride, the sparkling, and the restaurant recommendations. Sit back and relax; your chauffeur will even pop into the restaurants and get your goodies to go!

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