10 Must-Try San Diego Desserts of 2018
Chocolate, fruit-forward, caramel-laced, and more—here are the 10 sweet treats that caught our eye this year
1. Warm Chocolate Brownie at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant
We devoted our November 2018 issue to desserts, so we’d be remiss not to kick things off with our cover star: Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant’s warm chocolate brownie topped with espresso-Bailey’s ice cream and pretzel crumbles. “This dish really takes me back to my childhood,” says Chef de Cuisine Tyler Nollenberger. “When you’re 10 years old, what’s better than a brownie and ice cream? And making the ice cream with Bailey’s? Well, that appeals to my adult side.”
2. Chino Farms Strawberries at George’s California Modern
Seasonality is a key component of chef Trey Foshee’s menu at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, and that ethos spills over to their desserts, too. Pastry Chef Aly Lang created this multi-textural ode to berries—a hibiscus-infused jelly paired with sliced strawberries, an aerated frozen strawberry yogurt, chilled strawberry-rhubarb consommé, crispy dehydrated strawberry meringue pieces, and Tajín, the staple Mexican chili-lime seasoning. “The different textures and temperatures are what make this dish most interesting to me,” she says, “but the real star is how amazing Chino Farms strawberries are as-is, unaltered.”
3. Green apple cotton candy at Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria
When Troy Johnson reviewed this Peruvian restaurant, he called Pisco’s cotton candy “ridiculous, delicious, odd” and “a must to order for anyone under 10 at your table—or just for anyone.” After plates of ceviche, causitas, and ají de gallina—not to mention multiple orders of pisco sours—make sure to order this towering nod to childhood nostalgia.
4. Chocolate verrine at Born & Raised
Yes, this Little Italy restaurant from CH Projects, which cost $6.5 million to build, is all about the dry-aged steaks and tableside preparations. But don’t miss out on their desserts, like this chocolate verrine with 70-percent dark chocolate, coffee marshmallow, cacao nib crumble, marzipan cake, and sugared cranberry. As critic Troy Johnson says, “It’s sweet, tart, crispy, silky, moussey, a bit of everything that ends in ‘yes.’”
5. The Lemon at 1500 Ocean
This playful plate was so good it appeared in both our September Sweet Spot column and our November 2018 desserts cover story. At 1500 Ocean, the upscale restaurant at Hotel del Coronado, chef Patrick Ponsaty wanted to show diners that French food can be sophisticated and fun at the same time. Inside is a juicy center of poached Meyer lemon pieces, chocolate mint, and tropical finger lime, as well a yuzu-spiked chocolate. Once that’s all frozen, it’s coated in white chocolate and natural yellow coloring with a spray of gold dust.
6. Seasonal cream buns at Wayfarer Bread & Pastry
What started as a Kickstarter campaign has turned into a wildly popular bakery in Bird Rock that’s been written up in Sunset magazine, The New York Times, and of course, San Diego Magazine. We included Pastry Chef Crystal White’s seasonal cream buns in our desserts issue, but it’s hard to pick a favorite from her stable of sweets. We also love her strawberry-pistachio croissants, gourmet toasts, and breakfast sandwiches with housemade English muffins.
7. Plantain semifreddo at El Jardín
“It’s a hilarious, minimalistic, almost punk idea in today’s world of Instagram plating with edible flowers and gold leaf.” That’s how food critic Troy Johnson describes the plantain semifreddo at the Liberty Station restaurant led by Top Chef and Bracero alum Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins. It’s encircled by chocolate fudge cake swirls, ancho chile, Oaxacan chocolate jam, and criollo cacao nibs.
8. Aileen Gateau at Dessertier
This berry sponge cake isn’t new, but this year we got to hear the story behind Michele Coulon’s sweet ode to her grandmother. As she shared in our November 2018 issue, her grandmother Aileen imparted her own sweet tooth to Coulon, so the pastry chef made this cake in her honor. “She got me to make that cake for her. It’s really special to me,” Coulon says. “We have such fond memories of those grandparents. They were the ultimate. My parents were super, super, super strict. No sugar at all. If it was your birthday, you got a little. But my grandparents let us have candy!”
9. Passionfruit butter cake at Red O
Butter is a key component in most desserts; in this case, it’s the star. The UTC restaurant serves this butter cake with strawberries, passion fruit custard, coconut crumble, and coconut ice cream. It’s soft, smooth, with the right amount of tang from the fruit.
10. Pear soufflé at Herb & Wood
Executive Pastry Chef Adrian Mendoza honed his skills at the two Michelin-starred Spago in Beverly Hills before landing in San Diego at Brian Malarkey’s Little Italy restaurant. Here, he turns out buttery croissants, crepe cakes, and more, but it’s his soufflés that are a star. Flavors rotate seasonally—you’ll find pear on the current menu—and the process requires the utmost skill. “If you underwhip, it won’t rise as high, but if you overwhip, the soufflé will rise tall then deflate within seconds,” Mendoza says. “If it’s whipped just right, the soufflé has a three-to-five-minute window before it starts descending.”