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  Pictures from a Recent Editorial Trip through San Francisco:
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Letter From the Editor Vol.14

Sweet on San Francisco: The Pastry Scene

March 2007

StarChefs is back from three weeks of tastings in San Francisco with a lot to share. While chefs have taken to streamlining their dish descriptions on menus, the focus in the city remains on high quality, seasonal ingredients. We arrived right in the middle of that winter-spring lull, when a tiny black hole in the Bay Area’s universe of produce occurs and early asparagus makes its uncontested debut. Fruit and vegetable options may have been limited but chefs stunned us with their versatility, especially the pastry chefs. From green and black olives, chilies, fennel, sesame and Epoisse to the more classic flavors of lavender, pine nuts and caramel, San Francisco’s desserts are evolving on many levels – from ingredient to technique.

At Quince, Julie Cookenboo refines her classic repertoire with dishes like warm almond Pithiviers but creates a flavor-profile reminiscent of a refreshing classic cocktail with a fruit salad of Prosecco gelee and citrus fruit segments and gelees. Another well-established pastry team, Chad Robertson and Liz Pruitt, take the concept of Tartine even farther with Bar Tartine, whose dessert menu is a series of beautifully composed, unpretentious dishes with palate-pleasing flavor combinations like rose-geranium and rhubarb, chocolate and pistachio, or meyer lemon with lavender-caramel.

We’ve said it before: San Francisco is not the place for adventurous diners seeking edible thrills…or is it? At The Fifth Floor Leena Hung uses finely chopped olives to create a briny counterpart to a sweet lemon chiffon cake and mellow olive ice cream. The dish is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with tiny meringues for a sweet and savory crunch. In Leena’s chocolate dessert, she boldly infuses Thai chilies into a free-standing rectangle of crème brulée and layers it with chocolate filo and chocolate brownie for a variety of crisp textures. The heat from the chilies is intense, but a cold dulce de leche ice cream tempers it out. At Brick, Matt Tinder enthusiastically brings the technique and ingredients from his years in the savory kitchen to pastry, where he experiments with crisp candied pancetta and sage in a bowl of spiced Kabocha squash puree reminiscent of egg nog. Matt’s passion fruit-chevre cake plays on all the notes of a savory dish: sour, herbaceous, floral, and nutty.

Nicole Krasinski at Rubicon creates a series of unexpected desserts that use salt to expertly bring out subtle flavors. Her savory flavor combinations are daring, like walnut and Pecorino cheese, but always work. We visited with Rising Star Pastry Chef Boris Portnoy who’s settled nicely at Campton Place. Boris also creates sweet and savory composed cheese courses that match Epoisse with vanilla ice cream and argon oil. Boris’ desserts are as playful and interesting as ever. His ramp licorice salad with ramp sorbet and tiny pearls of raspberry jelly is cloaked in a see-through tarragon-flavored veil that has a slight bite to it. The tasty effect is simultaneously mouth-puckering and tongue-numbing, not to mention visually stunning. At Citizen Cake, Elizabeth Falkner’s pastry landmark, her high-concept desserts can only be compared to her equally fun savory dishes like Bloody Mary gel with fizzing wasabi Zoztz. The Black Island, pictured in the gallery, shocks and delights with its alien orb appearance and gentle, savory flavors.

At only 21, Alison Roman of Frisson has the vision, technique and precision of a pastry chef who’s been in the industry far longer. Her desserts combine fresh and cooked seasonal ingredients, and play with textures in whimsical, spontaneous presentations. Michelle Polzin’s classic profiteroles and chocolate soufflé at Range put a little twist on classics by adding a surprising flavor or texture, and are consistently pretty and well-executed. Ryan West at XYZ fills black pepper crepes with Meyer lemon curd, preserved lemon, and artichoke ice-cream that tastes mildly green but transplants the vegetal flavors into a successful dessert context. His Cara Cara orange push-up pop was one of the most exciting sweet-savory desserts in the city, garnished with black olive caramel, a shaved fennel and orange salad, and a glass of orange soda with tiny cubes of black olive gelee. The savory flavor combination and range in textures from gelee to push pop makes for an incredibly bold but completely successful dish.

At Gary Danko Belinda Leong transforms familiar flavor profiles like Ants on a Log to a whimsical, but clean and elegant composed dessert. Her layered chocolate mousse bar with concentrated raisin puree and pale green celery gelee recreates the childhood snack while adding depth and elegance. Jessica Sullivan feeds the inner child in a heartier way at Boulevard with desserts like her Toffee Caramel, Date Sticky Toffee Cake, Warm Toffee Sauce, Caramel Ice Cream, Lace Tuile Cookie, Caramel Mousse with Flourless Chocolate Cake – a nostalgic and decadent story of toffee that can only be described as…yummy!

Be sure to stay tuned for our San Francisco Rising Stars announcement coming soon and more on notable savory chefs shaping the scene.

Cheers!
Antoinette Bruno
Editor-in-Chief

 

 


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