Donnelly Chocolates: the Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend on Caramel

It was a dark and stormy night the first time I entered Donnelly Chocolates.  Well, all right, it was a pretty average night.  Probably actually a rather nice night.  But it was night anyway.  I was on my way home from Santa Cruz and definitely not looking for a chocolate shop.  Still, Donnelly caught my eye, and, well, I don’t often say no to chocolate, so I stopped.

Oh how glad I am that I did, for inside this little shop was a whole new world of chocolates.

Immediately upon entering, Richard Donnelly himself offered us some samples.  That was all it took.  My husband summed up the experience rather nicely:  “If you do not want to spend (at least) $5 on a chocolate-covered caramel, WHEN HE OFFERS YOU A TASTE, YOU SHOULD SAY NO!”  Once you’ve tried it, walking away isn’t an option.

I cannot even begin to put into words what makes these chocolates so special.  Obviously, they are made with the finest ingredients by someone very skilled in using them.  But it’s more than that.  The instant the caramel reaches your tongue, you can tell this is something special.  Donnelly has clearly poured his heart and soul into his craft, but even that does not account for the extraordinary perfection of these caramels.  There is a touch of magic in them, too.  Nothing else could explain what makes them so much better than even high quality caramels elsewhere.

As I have said before, I am a connoisseur of fine chocolates and have literally looked for them across the world.  A number of magazines have named Donnelly’s chocolates one of the ten best, including National Geographic which named it one of the ten best chocolate shops in the world.  I believe it, for I have almost certainly never had a better caramel.

Milk Chocolate Caramel

Milk Chocolate Caramel

Categories: Dessert, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Baking Beauties at Bijan

Hustle and bustle is the very definition of a trip to Bijan Bakery.  Come when the morning coffee is still brewing, and you will definitely want to take a number.  This business is booming for a reason:  whether you’re looking for a morning pastry or a wedding cake, you’re bound to be impressed by this European bakery.

My first encounter with Bijan was a decadent chocolate birthday cake that made me do a double-take.  The rich ganache and decorative slices of chocolate made for the ultimate chocolate cake experience.

Clearly, I had to go back and try the rest of the shop.

While in France—and frankly the rest of Europe—I spent my time seeking out the greatest pastry shops I could find, and looking for such desserts in the U.S. is one of my hobbies.  Bijan is among the few that make the list.  All of their pastries are delicious though I am particularly partial to the guava and mango mousse cakes.

Likewise, their more basic pastries have that something special that makes them worth the calories.  The croissants in particular impressed me with their light and fluffy yet crispy consistency.  So much buttery goodness!

Bijan is definitely worth braving the crowd (and if you come later in the day, you shouldn’t even have to do that).  If you’re looking for a morning snack or something more decadent, your taste buds will be pleased.

Categories: Dessert, Food, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tara’s: The Best Weird Ice Cream in Town

I have seen a lot of interesting ice cream flavors over the years but never as many in one place as at Tara’s Organic Ice Cream.  Sesame, avocado, pepper, chai, garam masala…one has to wonder where they come up with these.  But I must say that while Ici is my favorite ice cream shop in Berkeley, no one does interesting flavors better than Tara’s.

Let’s take garam masala.  Never would I have guessed that this Indian spice would work as an ice cream flavor, but it does.  And it’s good.  The creamy texture compliments the spice to bring out both the flavor and the creaminess in the ice cream.  However, lemon blueberry absolutely stole the show for us.  Light yet creamy, the flavors complimented each other perfectly.

I cannot seem to think about ice cream in Berkeley without comparing it to Ici, especially since Tara’s is just down the street.  Ici offers deliciously light ice cream, but Tara’s provides a richness  that leaves you heartily satisfied.  While both shops offer unusual flavors, Ici’s are pretty hit or miss.  When successful, they are fantastic, but I feel the need to try everything before ordering it.  Not doing so has lead to disastrous results (don’t try the tiramisu.  Just don’t).  In contrast, even though Tara’s has even weirder flavors than Ici, they are much more successful in bringing out the best each flavor has to offer and pairing it well with ice cream.

So next time you don’t want to wait in line at Ici, crave something a bit heartier, or really want to try avocado ice cream, head down College Ave. to Tara’s.  You won’t be disappointed.

Categories: Bay Area, Berkeley, Dessert, Food, Northern California | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Molly’s Cupcakes = The Best of All Cupcakes!

As you know, I spend a lot of time eating cupcakes.  Upon visiting a new city, I first seek out the best cupcakeries around so that I can find the city’s best cupcake.

I am going to Chicago this weekend for a family event, so I thought I would share with you some of the city’s finest attributes.

We start with the best cupcake I have ever had.

My first taste of Molly’s Cupcakes was a tiny bit of buttercream frosting that had rubbed off on the side of the box, just a small smidgen if you will, hardly even a taste for normal frosting.  But the second that baby taste hit my tongue, my mouth exploded with flavor.  I could actually taste the butter and the cream, separate entities yet inextricably entwined to create the greatest flavor of frosting I have ever had.

Next to that explosive taste experience, the otherwise delectable cake seemed like a little bit of a letdown…until I realized it was filled with berry jelly.  The mixture of incredible buttercream, moist but strong cake worthy of holding sweet filling, and fresh berries on top, adding a tang to the sweetness, made for the best cupcake I have ever eaten.

Until I had some of their other cupcakes.

The Mixed Berry cupcake is still quite possibly my favorite, but now it is in competition with their Butterscotch Caramel, and the Peach Cobbler is up there too.

There are several cupcakes that are high on my list of all-time favorites.  The Berry Berry at Spot Dessert Bar in New York was exceptionally moist and perhaps the best chocolate cupcake I have ever had.  I still can’t get enough of the Lemon Pistachio cupcake at Love at First Bite.  And once there was another shop in Chicago called Cupcakes that had a fabulous Salted Caramel that still moves me even though they have gone out of business.

However, none of them measures up to any of the cupcakes I have had at Molly’s.

So next time you’re in Chicago, go visit Molly’s Cupcakes, or I will hound you until you do.

The Best of Molly’s Cupcakes: The Filled Kind


Categories: Dessert, Field Trip, Food | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Mrs. Delish’s Cupcakes: the Best Cupcakery You’ll Never Visit

As anyone who has been reading this blog for a while can attest, I have a special relationship with cupcakes.  Upon entering a new city, searching out the best cupcakeries is one of my goals.  Whilst driving in a new place, I will often spy a cupcake shop out of the corner of my eye and proceed to slam on the brakes, throw around a u-turn, and sprint from the car, wallet in hand.

Which is why I was so excited to find Mrs. Delish’s Cupcake Boutique.  On one of my first trips to Monterey after moving to San Jose, I spied it squished into a crevice among storefronts and immediately abandoned all other plans to buy a cupcake.


And I was so glad I did.  As I walked toward Cannery Row, I took a bite of my cupcake and stopped short.  I knew in an instant that this cupcake was special.  This cupcake belonged in the category “made by gods.”

I made my husband wait with me as I sat down on a curb to finish it.  This cupcake was too good for walking and munching.  It needed to be savored.

I vowed to return to Mrs. Delish’s the next time I visited Monterey, and I have been by on every single visit.

And it has never again been open.

I try to get down to Monterey as often as I can.  I have gone about once every two months on average since that first cupcake tasting about two years ago.

The store is clearly still in business.  They’ll have notes on the door explaining why they were closed today or that they had to close early.  Sometimes they’re not open on Sundays or holidays.  Sometimes they’re closed for no reason at all.  Maybe they just dislike for me for reasons I cannot begin to fathom.  Still, they have never once been open for me since that first bite of heaven.

So I am calling you out, Mrs. Delish!  I am going down to Carmel for our anniversary, and you had best be open when I get there!  Or I will…I will…I will be sad.  Really, really sad.

Categories: Dessert, Food, Monterey, Northern California | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Dolce Bella = Chocolate Heaven

I am a long-time connoisseur of fine chocolates and confectioneries.  Being a sugar addict (acknowledgement is the first step toward recovery!), chocolate and I are good friends.  Besties, in fact.  Apart from cookies and ice cream, chocolate is probably my favorite food…although the combination of all three is actually the best thing ever.  But I digress.

As you may have noticed from my many cupcake adventures and highly-informed opinions of various sugar-based products, I spend a lot of time looking for sweets.  Not just any sweets, the best sweets.  The kind of sweets that cause an orgasmic experience paralleled by none.  Sweets that you know could only be made by the gods.

Few chocolates have lived up to this description.  See’s was my gateway drug.  The port-filled chocolates I had at Pessagno Winery were perfectly balanced.  I had a couple of truffles at Harrod’s in London that are probably the best chocolates I’ve ever had.  And then there’s Dolce Bella.


Dolce Bella is less than ten minutes away from my house (I really need to stop telling you these things, don’t I?).  How I managed to find such a fabulous chocolate shop so close to me, I will never know.  I will just have to thank the chocolate gods.

Every chocolate I have had at Dolce Bella has been a dream.  I really cannot recommend anything in particular because it is all so good.  Take your pick.  Or pick with your eyes closed.  You won’t be disappointed.

The staff adds to the treat of your visit as well.  They are very knowledgeable, eager to help, and may even let you try a free sample.

Being a cafe, Dolce Bella offers much more than just chocolates from espresso to panini.  While I can attest that the hot chocolate is a thick bowl of awesome, I really couldn’t care less about the rest of their offerings.  If they put the same amount of work into their food and drinks as they do into their chocolates, I’m sure they’re excellent.  A good reviewer would have tried everything and have, like, opinions and stuff.  Sorry, I’m going for the chocolate.

And you should, too.

Categories: Dessert, Food, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Ici: Ice Cream for the Gods

As you may possibly have figured out from my love of cupcakes, I have a little bit of a sweet tooth.  You know, nothing major, definitely not an addiction I’ve devoted most of my life to.

Yeah, so ice cream is one of my favorite foods.  Actually, it’s a tie for my absolute favorite food between cookies and ice cream, so my absolute #1 top favorite food is homemade ice cream sandwiches.  But we’ll get to that later.

My love of ice cream runs deep, so I am always excited by really good ice cream shops.  Ici is really, really good ice cream.

The Day’s Flavors

It’s hard to describe what separates Ici from other ice creams.  I could talk about the wide variety of interesting flavors.  I could expound on the light yet creamy texture or the amazing homemade sugar cones (I don’t eat cones, but theirs are worth the extra dollar).  I could tell you about how their vanilla is the best vanilla I’ve ever had without contest.

I could try to put into words how delicious this ice cream is, but in the end, it’s pointless.  What Ici does with ice cream is beyond description.  This is one of the rare foods that is best described as “made by God.”

That said, Ici is an extraordinary place for even the tasteless ice cream eater.  They have new, exciting, and crazy flavors every day along with the standard chocolate and vanilla and a few other favorites.  Some of their creations work out better than others.  The rum is divine while the tiramisu is nearly gag-worthy.  Garam masala was surprisingly good while the idea of black pepper made me squirm.  But even the not-so-great flavors make you admire their creativity and perseverance.

Rose Was Excellent

For me, Ici has become a must-visit on my trips up to Berkeley.  One would expect no less from a veteran of Chez Panisse.

Categories: Berkeley, Dessert, Food, Northern California | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Love at First Bite: Berkeley’s Best Cupcake

As you may remember, I love cupcakes.  I love them so much.  So naturally I have searched high and low for the best cupcakes in the Bay Area.

All right, not really, I don’t have that many calories to spare, and for some reason no one wants to go cupcake hunting in San Francisco with me.  Nonetheless, I have spent ample time seeking the orgasmic cupcake experience in Berkeley and San Jose which brings me to the Bay Area’s #1 cupcakery according to my half-assed research.

Love at First Bite is the proud purveyor of one of the best cupcakes I have ever had.  All of their cupcakes are good, but the lemon pistachio is without rival.  For some reason, these flavors just go together perfectly, and this is the only cupcake in my Top Favorite Cupcakes that has no filling.  The balance between frosting and cake is so perfect that filling is unnecessary.  It is light yet rich, fluffy yet solid.  It is as close to the perfect cupcake as you are likely to get.  And that is coming from someone who deals primarily in chocolatey cupcakes.

There are many things about this bakery that place it atop the pyramid of the Bay Area’s best cupcakeries.  It is truly a cupcake shop (meaning cupcakes are their primary product), and you’ve got to respect the commitment and skill you need to make that work.  That they have been successful while surrounded by the unparalleled wares of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto speaks more of their talents than I ever could.  The competition for customers is fierce.  But the thing that impresses me most about Love at First Bite is how reasonably priced their cupcakes are.  Really good cupcakes like this often go for $4 or even higher, but theirs are still below $3 which, again, considering their location is impressive.

So next time you find yourself in the Gourmet Ghetto for lunch, take a leaf out of my book and get a slice at Cheeseboard, then finish off with any of the wonderful choices at Love at First Bite.  These perfectly balances cupcakes are too good to miss.

Categories: Bay Area, Berkeley, Dessert, Food, Local Travel, Northern California | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Finding Cupcake Love at Fairycakes

Those who know me can tell you that I have an overactive sweet tooth.  Actually, they would probably tell you that they can’t believe I weigh less than 300 pounds after all of the sugar I eat.  Regardless, I like me some sweet eats.

So naturally when the cupcake craze hit the U.S., I immediately jumped on that food truck.  I never cared much for cupcakes growing up but quickly realized that this is because I had never had a good cupcake.  Now, I can’t get enough of them.

I have lived in various places where good cupcakes are easy to come by, and you would think that San Jose’s enormous size, proximity to San Francisco, and desire for gastronomic equality with the rest of the Bay Area would make for numerous delicious cupcake shops.

Not so.

For some reason, the vast majority of cupcakes found in the South Bay come from specialists who only make cupcakes on demand.  Since I generally only want one (or at least, should only be eating one), this does not feed my addiction in a satisfactory manner.

I was in fact starting to think that I would have to venture outside of Silicon Valley to find a good cupcake readily available for purchase.

Then I found Fairycakes.

chocolate gallery


In keeping with the San Jose tradition of making cupcakes difficult to find, Fairycakes does not have a store front.  They do however have a food truck.  Which is probably for the best because it means I have to put out effort to buy a cupcake, saving me from the tasty yet artery-clogging fate of eating far, far too many.

Fairycakes makes most of their cupcakes with a particular formula:  bake cupcake, insert filling, top with frosting.  Since I am firmly of the opinion that filled cupcakes are the best, this works out pretty well for me.

They generally have a vast assortment of options though what those options will be on any given day is a bit unpredictable.  They’re all good, so it doesn’t really matter what they have.

ding ding gallery


Nonetheless, there have been several that stood out to me as extra delicious.  There was one glorious day when they had a Butterfinger cupcake with chocolate cake and frosting mixed with actual Butterfinger bits that was pretty amazing.  The Salted Caramel is a known favorite for a reason with just the right mix of salt and caramelly goodness.  If you’re not a chocolate freak, any of the fruit-filled ones are tasty, especially if they have cream cheese frosting, though it is worth noting that most of the fruity cupcakes are merely filled with fruit instead of having flavored cake or frosting.

Whatever you choose, the cake is moist while still holding its shape, the ratio of frosting to cake is just about perfect, and the filling gives it that extra kick toward perfection.

The biggest downside to Fairycakes is trying to find the truck, but with a little effort, you shouldn’t have a problem.  You can track it on Facebook or Twitter, or you can find a Moveable Feast near you, and Fairycakes should be among the attending trucks.  Beware that the lines can be long, so plan to make sure you have time to stand in them.  Believe me, it’s worth the effort.



Categories: Bay Area, Dessert, Food, San Jose | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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