Sweet or Savory?

Photography by Rachel Valley
Localis' "Unexpected and Delicious" dessert

With these desserts, you don’t have to choose.

If you love dessert but prefer just a hint of sweetness instead of something cloying after dinner, you’re in luck. Several local restaurants are turning out daringly inventive desserts that spotlight savory ingredients without giving up any of the satisfaction that a post-meal treat should deliver.

The Rind, for example, serves a blue cheese cheesecake that owner Sara Arbabian describes as fun and unexpected. “I love the idea of exploring different cheeses and desserts and demonstrating that cheese is more than an appetizer. It can also be sweetened up,” says Arbabian. In this dish, Point Reyes Original Blue is paired with mascarpone and cream cheese along with spiced nuts, port-soaked figs and a graham cracker crumble. “All of those elements come together so nicely: the saltiness, the creaminess, the sweetness, the texture. Even people who say they don’t normally eat blue cheese love it.”

At brewpub Alaro, head chef Jason Azevedo concocted a simple dessert that pleases beer lovers and sweet tooths alike. His oatmeal stout float—rich, creamy stout poured over vanilla soft-serve ice cream from Straus Family Creamery—is “like an adult root beer float.” Some customers even order a flight of floats with a lineup of root beer, cola and stout, says Azevedo. “It’s what you order when you want something really refreshing and yummy but you want a little adult treat with it.”

Chef-owner Chris Barnum-Dann of Localis happily embraces desserts with a savory side, including one he included on a fall menu called “Unexpected and Delicious”: a lemon chiffon cake served with salted corn-on-the-cob gelato, Okinawa sugar caramel sauce and puffed sesame brittle. “The savory element mostly happens in the ice cream and the Okinawa caramel,” explains Barnum-Dann, adding that corncobs are steeped in the cream used to make the gelato and the caramel sauce includes shoyu, a type of soy sauce, for a subtle savory note.

“I love sweets and have always been a dessert guy,” says Barnum-Dann, whose restaurant was named one of 38 essential California restaurants by Eater last summer. “But I’ve always preferred savory-sweet desserts. At the end of a meal, I think you’re looking for something that leaves your sweet tooth satisfied but doesn’t destroy your palate with sweetness.”