My adoration for dessert is probably best described as unbridled. Cookies, cupcakes, vats of frozen yogurt topped with rainbow sprinkles – I’ll take them all, please. Not only is dessert my favorite food group, dessert is also my love language. Bulk baking ingredients line the walls of my pantry, just in case an emergency batch of homemade brownies might brighten someone’s day.
But when it came time to consider some of Napa’s best restaurant desserts, I realized I was at a disadvantage. For every carrot cake I baked at home, an opportunity to try something outside of my own kitchen was missed. Luckily, social media connects us to a world of experts in a matter of seconds.
“What’s your favorite restaurant dessert in Napa Valley?” I asked. The answers rolled in and a theme emerged. People shared their favorite classic treats from some of Napa’s most beloved local institutions. Dessert is a comfort food.
When we save room for dessert, we want it from a restaurant we trust and we want a dish we already know we love. These sweet treats are sure to take you back to family vacations, dear relatives, special occasions, and childhood favorites.
Bistro Don Giovanni – Top Shelf Butterscotch Pudding, $11
This pudding, though reminiscent of your grandma’s yellow cellophane wrapped butterscotch hard candy, delivers an extra punch. Macallan 12 Year scotch elevates the classic butterscotch flavor that harkens visiting your grandparents with the spice and smoke of scotch. Silky smooth texture, buttery rich flavor and just enough scotch come together in a spectacular array of texture and flavor in each bite.
Carpe Diem – “Twix” Bar, $9
Who doesn’t hope for a few stray bite-sized Twix on Halloween? At Carpe Diem, chocolate covered shortbread cookies top three small scoops of salted caramel ice cream studded with caramel-filled chocolate cups in their reimagining of the Twix candy bar. Thick caramel swirled across the plate and a sprinkling of sea salt complete the dish. The interplay of salty and sweet flavors as well as the satisfying crunch of the shortbread against the ice cream make this a dessert worth diving into.
Cole’s Chophouse – New York Cheesecake, $10
Cheesecake is one of those universally appealing desserts, which can be both a boon and a bane. Almost everyone loves a piece, but almost everyone has a preference for the exact specifications of that slice. In place of a towering hunk of cheesecake, Cole’s serves two small velvety pillows resting on a thin layer of graham cracker crust. Their classic rendition of the rich, tangy filling gets an extra burst of flavor from a divine drizzle of raspberry puree.
Il Posto Trattoria – Tiramisu, $11
Growing up, tiramisu was the final course of most of our special occasion dinners. Il Posto’s tiramisu, a slightly bitter, coffee-soaked layer of ladyfingers sandwiched between two thick clouds of sugary, whipped mascarpone, takes me back to each of those cherished memories. A heavy dusting of cocoa powder brings an extra depth of flavor, while chocolate chips sprinkled throughout the dish add a pleasant bit of texture to this standout dessert.
Market – S’Mores, $13
Market delivers on the most delicious part of camping without the inconvenience of sleeping outside or bugs. Order the S’Mores to enjoy the campfire experience tableside. Roast marshmallows over a mini-campfire and when you reach your perfect toasty caramelized sugar shell, grab a hunk of Rice Krispies treat or a graham cracker, smother it in peanut butter or chocolate (or both!) ganache and top it off with that warm gooey marshmallow.
Redd Wood – Cannoli, $9
Pastry Chef Emerson Pratt makes a cannoli so divine I have, and this is the truth, fallen in love over it. There’s a little bit of magic in the combination of crunchy cannoli shell, overstuffed with sweet, whipped ricotta, rolled in toasted almonds and house made toffee. Each beautifully balanced bite sprinkles your taste buds with just a hint of amore.
ZuZu – Peach Empanada, $7
Take the Hostess Fruit Pie from your childhood – the ones with the wrapper designed to match the color of the filling, yellow for lemon, green for apple— smash it to pieces, and run to ZuZu for the out-of-this-world real thing. Served with apple or peach filling depending upon the season, the fruit empanada is served hot from the kitchen on a bed of guajillo-lime caramel sauce. A perfect bite captures the flaky crust, the richly spiced cooked fruit, crystalized sugar, and a swirl of the caramel sauce. The slightest hint of lime cuts through the medley of flavors while a whisper of heat from the guajillo chile completes the experience.