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Best of Northside Food & Wine 2008
Savories kick up desserts
By GraceAnn Walden

The first bite I tasted of dark chocolate topped with a few grains of salt was a revelation. I think it was A16’s chocolate budino tart with sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. There was the play of salt and sweet, savory and sweet. Who knew?

Three years ago chef Vernon Morales, of the now-closed Winterland restaurant, presented two flavored ice creams that knocked my socks off. There was one wonderful savory dish that featured bacon-flavored ice and a dessert with olive oil-flavored ice cream. Zowie! While some ridiculed his combinations, I thought they were orgasmic.

Fast-forward to 2007 and the emergence of a truly awesome dessert consultant, chef Marisa Churchill. You’ll remember Churchill as the bright and leggy contestant on the popular reality show, Top Chef. She didn’t win, but in a way she did. Churchill founded a company that creates desserts that reflect a client restaurant’s style. She also trains staff, some of whom she supplies, to execute her ideas. She’s done just that in San Francisco for Yoshi’s (1330 Fillmore Street, 415-655-5600, and Zaré at Fly Trap (606 Folsom Street, 415-243-0580,, and in Palo Alto for Pampas (529 Alma Street, 650-327-1323,

Marisa on trends
“Recently, I appeared on the Food Network to judge a pastry competition. One chef used green olives in a chocolate dessert, and I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I did,” says Churchill.

She goes on to say that she thinks the savory trend will be olives and bacon flavors in desserts.

For Pampas, a meat-centered Brazilian restaurant, she created a chocolate torte with a crème fraiche topping flavored with bacon. For the new Zaré, she put together a dessert that features yogurt panna cotta, white truffle honey and candied kalamata olive biscotti (see recipe below).

East Bay wonder
In Oakland, I tipped into the newly renovated Oliveto Cafe (5655 College Avenue, 510-547- 5356, for lunch. The highlight of my meal was dessert, (although I enjoyed the focaccia sandwich stuffed with a wild boar ragu).

The dessert created by Oliveto’s long-time (11 years) pastry chef, Jenny Raven, was a Sicilian bun with a pine needle-flavored ice cream. The Sicilian bun is very much like a small panettone. Using pine needle essence, I thought, could be very tricky – too much and you have Pine-Sol ice cream. Yuck-city.

Raven agreed. “In making 10 quarts of ice cream, we use just four drops of essence, which we get from Mandy Aftel.” (Aftel collaborated about food and fragrance with Coi’s Daniel Patterson in a book called Aroma).

“I began making ice cream with rosemary essence, so pine needles was, in a way, the next logical step,” Raven explains (see recipe below).

She paired the rosemary ice cream with a pine nut tart.

In the stores
For those who’d rather buy than make interesting desserts, we recommend San Francisco Cheesequake (415-255-2059,

Peter Rizos has been playing around with cheesecakes for the last five years. On his list of wares, there are the usual suspects: sour cream cheesecake, Amaretto, lemon with vanilla bean, and orange Grand Marnier.

But hold onto your forks, there’s also a candycap mushroom cheesecake with a toasted pecan shortbread crust, a dark chocolate raspberry liqueur cake, a masala-spiced cake with Indian flavors, and a chanterelle mushroom-apricot brandy cheesecake with an almond shortbread crust.

If those ideas don’t pique your interest, he also makes a pear-Gorgonzola cake that is just a little bit sweet.

Rizo told me he is also working on a green tea cheesecake.
“All my cakes don’t have the same crust, because I think the crust needs to complement the filling,” he says with passion.

So, does Rizo imagine a totally savory cheesecake down the line?
“Oh, sure,” he says.

I’m betting he creates it.

Zaré at Fly Trap’s Candied Kalamata Olive Biscotti

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
¼ cup corn syrup
3 cups halved kalamata olives

Combine the first three ingredients and cook until all of the sugar has dissolved. Add the olives and cook for 30-40 minutes over medium heat. Store the olives in the syrup and strain the liquid before adding them to the biscotti.


5 eggs
10 ounces sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 pound all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ cups candied kalamata olives

Combine dry ingredients and citrus zest in the mixer. Add the eggs and continue to paddle until a dough forms. Add the olives and mix until combined. Roll into three logs. Partially bake in a 350 oven for 15-20 minutes.

When ready to use, slice into ¼” or ⅓” slices and finish baking in a 325 oven, approximately 15 minutes until dry. Store for a week in a container.

Oliveto’s Pine Needle or Rosemary Ice Cream
Makes 2½ quarts

2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup granulated sugar
1-2 drops Aftelier pine needle
essence (available at


½ cup finely chopped rosemary
Small pinch of salt

2 cups whole milk
¾ cups granulated sugar
1 cup egg yolks

If using pine needle essence, skip to the custard portion in the next paragraph. If using rosemary, chop it very finely with a sharp knife, so as to cut, rather than bruise the herb. Heat the cream with the sugar to just below a boil. Add the rosemary and let steep for up to an hour, tasting for intensity or bitterness every 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.

For the custard, heat the milk to just under a boil. When it has just scalded, whisk the sugar into the egg yolks. Pour a third of the hot milk into the yolks and whisk until incorporated. Add another third of the milk, whisk until incorporated, and add all of the mixture back to the pot. Heat over a medium flame until the mixture steams, but does not boil, about 30 seconds.

Mix the milk custard with the rosemary-infused cream. If using pine needle essence, pour the milk custard into the two cups of cold heavy cream, add ¾ cup sugar and 1-2 droplets of pine needle essence to taste.

Add a small pinch of salt, chill thoroughly, and churn in an ice cream freezer.

Note: San Francisco Cheesequake is available at the following locations: Cheese Plus, 2001 Polk Street, 415-921-2001; Delano’s, 6333 Geary Boulevard, 415-752-0205 and 4201 18th Street, 415-431-3822; and Far West Funghi, Ferry Building Marketplace, 415-989-9090.


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