It was easy to miss dessert during the pandemic. When restaurants optimized their takeaway and delivery menus, even those who were previously proud of sweet dessert menus reduced them to a sad Budino that was easy to transport in a delicatessen container – the loneliest pudding cup, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, this writer has eaten a lot of these while sitting cross-legged on the couch and they certainly helped ease the desperation out of lockdown.
But now that San Francisco is a full month into full reopening, restaurants have been working hard to hire staff and gradually expand their menus. And respectfully, the guests may have a small request: Could we please see the full dessert menu?
State Bird Provisions has brought back a full menu of four desserts and peanut milk that tastes like memories of peanut butter ice cream distilled into a shot glass. Chef and owner Nicole Krasinski says they had to lay off three pastry chefs during the pandemic, so only Krasinski and senior pastry chef Katie Kwan were in the kitchen making hand pies and take-away cookies. Eating outdoors brought back three desserts, and now with eating all indoors, they’ve hired a pastry chef, and they’re finally back to four.
„The moment we could have dessert on plates with all the ingredients, it felt like, ‘Oh my god, this is us, this is what we do,'” says Krasinski. „We were no longer held back.” It’s an exciting time to order a dessert from State Bird, because while the Progress next door is temporarily closed, they stole the ice cream machine for the summer: there is an olive oil and ice cream sandwich, a sweet and sour cherry ricot Sorbet, a blueberry crostata with cake nostalgia and a strawberry roll cake that wraps fluffy biscuits around highly concentrated, slowly roasted strawberries.
The upcoming Abacá, which is slated to open in August, also promises a serious dessert menu. Swinging both savory and sweet, Chef Francis Ang was a rising star in the pastry shop at Gary Danko, Fifth Floor, and Campton Place before heading out with his own Pinoy Heritage pop-up. When Pinoy Heritage prepared a full seven-course tasting menu, three of them were desserts (“Nobody complained,” Ang says). During the pandemic, Ang showed up at Pacific Cocktail Haven, choosing desserts but never leaving them on, serving carioca coconut rice fritters with passion fruit curd and a peach mango tart inspired by Jollibee, the Filipino fast food icon .
But now that the chef is opening his first stationary restaurant, he is betting on dessert. Abacá is not only a restaurant, but also a panaderia. The plan is that the dining room will have three desserts on the plate, including a cold Buko-Lychee dessert with cream puffs and biscuit; a chocolate mousse bomb with hot pudding and banana cake; and a corn cremeux with blueberries, Parmesan ice cream and crispy corn hair, that’s a game with Filipino ice creams (corn and cheese), but with the finest Brentwood corn in the Bay Area. Everything your heart desires can also be ordered from the pastry shop next door. From Dutch Crunch Pandesal and Ube Ensaymada for breakfast to desserts of all kinds, everything is included. “We’re going crazy about the pastry box. To be honest, I’m very nervous, ”says Ang about the ambitious dessert lineup, but the guests will be delighted.
Mister Jius in Chinatown has hired a brand new pastry chef to refresh the dessert menu. Longtime pastry chef Melissa Chou left at the start of the pandemic after helping the restaurant earn its Michelin star with her pancakes and black sesame cake. Mister Jius launched a few take-and-bake cookies last year, but now up-and-coming pastry chef Lauren Melhus is jumping in for the reopening, hailing from Outerlands, Aster, and State Bird and the Progress. While out of work for most of last year, Chou made a quick trip to a Craftsman and Wolves bakery, but is grateful to come back for dessert. “I’ve always been interested in restaurants and plate desserts…” says Melhus. „For me personally, I think that I can be really free and creative with plate desserts.”
Mister Jius has a tight but strong dessert menu with three desserts on the plate and a „pasture item” in case you are too full of tea-smoked duck and just want a few sweet bites. These desserts have changed completely, and Melhus says she has full creative freedom. A Bavarian black sesame and milk chocolate with plums, white tea powder and cocoa nibs is super creamy and crunchy. A raspberry sorbet with Szechuan pepper marshmallow sauce and roasted coconut is fresh and lively. A lemon verbena rice pudding comes with juicy cherries, rice milk granita and crispy almond clusters. And little sesame balls burst with blueberry compote.
However, other restaurants can stick to shortened dessert menus as dedicated pastry chefs become rarer in San Francisco. „Even before the pandemic, the trend was not to have a pastry chef,” says Krasinski. „It got so expensive, and the chefs felt like they could come up with a menu … and make it really easy … and that would be enough.” Nicole Krasinski of State Bird, Sarah Rich of Rich Table and Serena Chow of Marlena are mostly cooks-owners and part of married couples so they are not going anywhere.
But some star pastry chefs have left: Nick Muncy left Michael Mina to launch his Drool, his unusual pastry shop that is currently on hiatus (but will be back). Angela Pinkerton left Che Fico and started Pie Society, her butter cake pop-up that continues with weekly pickups. Not to mention the countless pastry chefs who have lost their jobs and secretly left the city and / or industry. Still missing is Lori Baker, who before the pandemic threw down more than half a dozen delicious desserts at the Bluestem Brasserie, which is still dark. Do you remember what it was like to read? a menu with eight desserts? plus Eight dessert cocktails? From exaggerated seasonal cakes to espresso martini?
Still, there are clearly restaurants that are bringing back the full dessert menu, serving beautifully presented desserts that will drop and jaws on the table at the end of a delicious meal.