April 8, 2010

The Sweet Side of San Francisco

Sugar junkie that I am, most of my trip was spent finding as many sweets as I could in San Francisco. Some people visit the city to indulge their inner tech geek, some for the non-smog-filled air and scenic views, and others simply want to reap the benefits of fresh, organic vegetables with some locally caught fish. Good for them, but my trip - sans one Mission-style burrito - was solely sugar-focused. Left to wander on my own, I was a sugar fiend on a mission.

Now without further ado, here's a breakdown of my findings, including an unexpected favorite at the end.

Ideal Heat Stroke Prevention


Now this is what I'm talking about. San Francisco is a nature-lover's city, blooming with flowers and greens everywhere you look - that is, if you can see past the peak of the hills. Quality ice cream on a sunny day in the park was exactly what the Sugar Doctor recommended.

After walking two miles in 90 degree weather in a show of stubborness against public transportation, the thought of ice cream with Stephanie of Lick my Spoon was an oasis beckoning to me. From the no-frills, down to earth grocery store Bi-Rite Creamery, to the more refined Humphry Slocombe, you can't go too wrong with any of the flavors offered there.

Sugary Tracks:  Bi-Rite Creamery (Dizzying rainbow of flavors,with a line around the corner to match), Humphrey Slocombe (I'd like to wake up everyday to a bowl of "Secret Breakfast" (pictured) of Cornflakes and Bourbon. Word to the wise, skip the DuckFat Pecan Pie. It sounds better than it tasted.), Ciao Bella Gelato (Ferry Building)

Mission Impossible: Cupcakes


In a city with about a third of the population of Manhattan, I shouldn't have been surprised to find that the saturation of cupcakeries reflected this. Fine, point taken. But I was also approaching it with New York expectations of eccentricity and food experimentation. I hunted near and far in San Francisco for signature cupcakes, but every cupcake I had was just "okay". Maybe I'd seen one Sea Salted Chocolate Cupcake too many in my life, but I soon gave up my passionate pursuit of this particular quest, partly because I was so distracted by other stronger desserts.

Sugary Tracks:  Miette (didn't try their famous Gingerbread, but the Old-Fashioned (pictured), was an impressive sink-and-melt-in-your-mouth chocolately morsel), Love at First Bite (Berkeley), Kara's Cupcakes, Arlequin (Ferry Building Farmer's Market; more adventurous flavors)

The Cutest Type of Cookie


French macarons are some of my favorite pocket-sized treats. Small enough for a satisfying sugar kick in the middle of the day, but deliciate enough to be too frustrating for this home baker. Imagine my delight when I realized that where San Francisco fell short in the cupcake division, French macarons were scattered throughout the city like colorful buttons of sugary pick-me-ups. The price and quality of these tiny "cookies", and I use the term loosely, more than made up for any other shortcomings.

Sugary Tracks: Paulette Macarons (Sweet Wedding Almond (pictured) is as adorable as its name), Miette (Pistachio macarons are NOT green, but naturally colored and filled with cloudlike Swiss buttercream), Schoggi (Swiss chocolates, but pretty decent macarons too)

Culture Crash Course in Chinatown


As soon as I heard about it, I knew I couldn't leave without visiting Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. And apparently neither could two tour groups before me, nor the three coming up the hidden alleyway after me. I don't blame them, there's a certain allure to the secrecy of this place, and the smiling Chinese senior waiting to welcome you with a plate of fresh-off-the-press samples.

Surprisingly, the flat disc versions that haven't been pressed into the familiar folded nests for fortunes bring more focus onto the food item itself. There's an addictive power to these snacks that stems from their satisfying crunch and a strong vanilla flavor. My mind was boggled by a bag of chocolate-vanilla-strawberry fortune cookies.


Who knew you could do so much with these simple snacks? Most of us only eat these things at the end of every Chinese restaurant meal because we're eager to see words of wisdom or confusion are inside. Not here though; be prepared to fess up some change to include your own fortune, and even to take a photo inside the factory.


If you think you know egg custard tarts, you haven't tried the ones at Golden Gate Bakery. With that kind of unimaginative name, you don't go in expecting much, or even know what to get. There's no question about it: get the egg custard tarts. Ignore the grouchy ladies and the nonexistent decorations, and try to spot the fresh baked goods. When I went, I spied a tray of them balanced precariously on top of a tower of Chinese newspapers.


These tarts are definitely for those who prefer more custard filling. There's a visibly skewed balance of mostly soft, warm, eggy custard barely cupped by flaky puff pastry crust instead of the more common butter crust. A word of advice is to eat them on the spot, instead of saving a few for later like I did. Since they're more fragile, they don't keep well; the taste turns sickly sweet and the crust soggy and misshapen after a few hours.Which means, you might have the oh-so-horrific task of going back to get more the next morning.

The Expensive, the Famous, the Over-hyped


I had pretty high hopes for this James Beard Foundation recognized bakery. But Tartine's "famous" bread pudding, warmed up or chilled through, and carefully analyzed, was unremarkable at best and a letdown in reality.

Maybe I should've tried a buttery croissant or their abundant array of Valrhona chocolate desserts, but the staff's unenthusiastic responses didn't exactly convince me to shell out more money when there are so many other tempting places nearby. Bi-Rite is literally around the corner. Perhaps I just came on an off day, but I left unimpressed.

Hot Enough to Play for the Other Team


Hot cookie, if you were a man, you'd have the hearts of every man and woman walking down the Castro. You've even won over this cookie skeptic. And I'm not even talking about your NSFW shaped cookies either, though those are definitely amusing. I'm talking about the lethally delicious Snickerdoodle.


Snickerdoodles are not my cookie of choice, but I heard great things about the ones here. So I bought one. And I took a bite. And then another. And suddenly, even after a filling lunch and extensive cupcake tasting with cupcake blogger Chockylit, somehow only crumbs remained at the the bottom of my paper bag. I was as shocked by how quickly I'd devoured it as I was by how delicious and worth the extra calories. The toffee and mini chocolate chip ones did not disappoint either, but my heart had already been stolen by the Snickerdoodle.

Without resorting to the regular tactics of overusing butter or underbaking, the cookies here are large discs of pure edible euphoria.  Hot Cookie was my unexpected, overarching favorite out of my trip to San Francisco, enough so that this was the only place I returned to grab a momento from before I left for my return flight to NYC.

Of course, there is so much more that I haven't covered. I do have to leave some territories left unconquered for my next trip, after all. But for a casual day trip of sweets, you can't go wrong with the Ferry building or the Mission, and also the Castro. If anyone wants a specific dessert walking path, I can guide you along what I did for maximum tasting without going overboard. So, with this list and Blue Bottle coffee in hand, go tackle these sweets!

Each link either goes to a photo I took of the dessert, or the company website.Please click on them to see what dessert I'm referring to. Full set of photos can be found by clicking here. Please leave feedback, questions, and concerns about my health in the comments below!


  1. Egg tarts in freezer = crazy delicious. That is all.

  2. @ Nicolas: You are exploding my mind!!!

  3. You can do that? So then, you could have everlasting egg tarts, or something to that effect.

    Consider my mind blown as well.

  4. Thank you for taking us on your food tour, Miss! I feel like I was there :) In fact, next time I'm in San Francisco, I will probably retrace your exact steps.

  5. sigh, i already can't wait to go back to sf

  6. Thank YOU, Amy, and everyone else, for checking out my silly sugar tour. I encourage you all follow my steps and scare the bejeebus out of your doctors like I did.

    Justin, when you go, can you either squeeze me into a carry-on, or bring back a cookie? Either works!

  7. Mmm, egg custard tarts. Can't find a good one in NY. I really miss the ones from San Fran. I went to a bakery around Golden Gate. It was less expensive, and the crust was flakier. I think it was A A Bakery. Can't wait to go back and also try Bi-rite!