Eating around….Part II-B: Noshing around downtown San Diego (cont.)
The last I left off in my downtown portion of my noshing, I was saying how despite the high prices, Café Zucchero’s eggplant entrée is so much better than Petrini’s. That wrapped up my savory meals in downtown. Continuing in Little Italy, it’s time for the best part of the meal: dessert!
Cafe Zucchero has been the place I’ve gone to for gelato, if I’m in Little Italy, for awhile now. And each time I go, I always looked at their dessert case, thought about trying something, but never bought anything because I figure the gelato was enough. Anyway, their gelato is so meager compared to my new found love that gives me my gelato fix: Pappalecco.
I first heard of Pappalecco in a post on Chowhound and it made it onto my ‘to visit’ list this summer. It took some time before I finally got there and the first time I went to look at the place, I didn’t even get anything! So not too long after the first visit, I went back for my first cup of their signature flavor and namesake of their gelateria – pappalecco (chocolate, hazelnut, and biscotti pieces). Intense, rich, and oh so smooth.
Pappalecco’s gelati taste exactly as the nametags describes. When you get the chocolate, it actually tastes like a fine chocolate bar. When you get the pear (or any fruit for that matter), it actually tastes like you’re eating the fruit itself! Pappalecco is the first place that gives me this experience when it comes to fruit gelati. Most gelaterias’ fruit flavors either taste artificial or they use very little fruit and load up on the sugar. Nothing’s worse than getting a sugar loaded gelato.
This was my medium cup of half pera and half mela verde (pear and apple). Since there are no artificial colors in their gelati, you can’t really tell the 2 apart by looking at it, but you can definitely TASTE the difference. It was as if I was eating a frozen pear and apple…delish! So far, the flavors I’ve tried (and loved) are: pear, apple, pappalecco, chocolate, amaretto, mixed berry, banana, caramel, strawberry, tiramisu, coconut, vanilla, and pistachio.
Speaking of which, when you go, you will notice their pistachio gelato lacks a certain something…a green color perhaps?? Do not be alarmed by its gray-ish color! That’s how REAL pistachio gelato is supposed to look like. If you see neon or any kind of green, know that it’s been artificially colored and you should back away immediately!
I find it sad and funny that most people would be turned off by the sight of non-distinguishable green pistachio gelato. During one of my trips to Pappalecco, a lady behind me commented with a tone of slight bewilderment and disgust, “Look at their pistachio! It’s a weird color…not green.” I couldn’t help myself and turned around to tell her, “That means there is no artificial coloring and it’s a good sign when it’s that color. Also, it tastes very good, you should try it.” Was that snobbish of me? I was telling the truth, so if does seem like it, whatever!…
Now that you know where to get good gelato, I will direct you to our final destination in Little Italy for sweets other than gelato.
Think “Mom and Pop.” What’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me, it’s “homecooked and homemade.” There is nothing more welcoming and warming then to see little old Italian ladies working behind the counter, making sandwiches to order and piping fresh cannolis for you. In the hustle and bustle of the touristy Little Italy, you will find this “homey” feeling at the Solunto Baking Company.
This little unassuming bakery is situated near some fancier restaurants that probably serve desserts too, but I would pass on the desserts there and head over to Solunto instead. They have a variety of Italian butter cookies and desserts (as well as savory breakfast and lunch items). I’ve tried the cookies…melt in your mouth buttery goodness:
And their cannolis both in the traditional form and their cake:
The traditional cannolis are filled when you place your order and never pre-made. This way, the shells don’t get soggy from sitting on the shelves, waiting to be bought. No, Solunto has trays of empty mini and large cannoli shells in their dessert case. Order one and a lady takes the shell, goes over to the back counter and fills it with their sweet and smooth, tangy ricotta filling. Garnished with chocolate sprinkles and finished off with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Absolutely to DIE for…and after having that cannoli cake version (which they call a ricotta cake actually), you probably would die from the overload of sugar. I would suggest sticking with the traditional crunchy little tube of ‘just-enough’ deliciousness.
Now let us travel to a different country for the pièce de résistance of our noshing adventure in downtown. From Italy to France, there is nothing better than to end with a good cup of coffee and maybe some small, but unforgettable desserts, no?
I’ve made already two postings on Opera Patisserie here and here, but I had to make yet, another because there is just so much to rave about this place! I had the pleasure of meeting the man behind the desserts last week and I’ve noticed something. Good chefs, I mean truly talented chefs, are some of the nicest and most wonderful people to talk to. Theirry Cahez, I would say, is one of them.
That day, I tasted their flourless chocolate cake along with a cup of Cubano (Thierry ordered it for the both of us, so I’m not quite sure if this was what I had). It has been a long time since I’ve had a good cup of coffee that was silky and rich but not too strong. Coffee can taste terrible, whether it’s too watery or burnt or flat, but prepared rightly and with great beans, it can even turn a non-coffee drinker into one. Screw Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, if that is your experience with coffee, I urge you to go out and try small coffeehouses or cafes that brew fresh, organic coffee and TASTE the difference!
With my coffee, we shared the flourless dark chocolate cake that oozed out warm ganache when broken into. It was fudgy on the inside and soft on the outside. By looking at it, it would look like death by chocolate, but it’s not. Yes, it is rich in chocolate yet it didn’t feel like as if you just had eaten a 10-pound boulder. Probably because the portion is small and all of Opera Patisserie’s desserts are, yet you are never left unsatisfied.
To take home with me was a box of their assorted, large macaroons. The flavors in the box are not those that you can buy individually as minis at the café unfortunately because they were absolutely spectacular!
I couldn’t wait until I got home to try them and when I tried the passionfruit & coconut one…my palate was sent to a tropical paradise. The sweetness from the coconut paired wonderfully with the tangy passionfruit. And as always, the macaroons were light and soft with a crispy outer shell that broke easily when bitten into. It was tropical party in my mouth, at my desk.
I’m not forgetting the other five flavors that were in the box! There was chocolate & cappuccino, pistachio & raspberry, pecan caramel & cinnamon, dulce de leche & eggnog, and margarita & key lime.
There is no clear favorite among the six. They all stood out individually and I loved some of the flavor pairings that you don’t usually see. The dulce de leche & eggnog is one, which I found works rather well even though I’ve never had eggnog before. But if there was eggnog that tasted like this macaroon, I would down it in a second!
The chocolate & cappuccino was good, a very traditional and delicious pairing, but not as fun. The pistachio & raspberry combo was a first for me. I’ve had pistachio with strawberry and cherry, and I now also enjoy raspberry with my pistachio. The pecan caramel & cinnamon was so-so, probably my least favorite. The margarita & key lime was very tangy, more so than the passionfruit, and loved the citrus.
And you already know how I feel about the passionfruit & coconut. On their website, in the pastries section, there’s a cake called the ‘Sapho’ and it has the same flavor profiles as this macaroon. I wonder what if it tastes the same, but I’ve never seen it at the café to my disappointment. I would love to try it if I ever see it. And I would like to extend my thanks to the creator of these wonderful and delightful treats! Heck, everything so far has been quite delectable and I hope his cafe will succeed because these rare establishments are true gems in the sea of mediocrity.
Well that wraps up our eating adventure in downtown. I always knew that downtown had a lot to offer but I rarely got the chance to be down here to try as much as I have this last couple of months. This will be the summer that I will remember most vividly because not only has my palate been delighted by so many flavors; it has also been pleasantly surprised many times. As many people have told me (as did Thierry, in fact) when I go to Europe next summer (hopefully), nothing will ever taste the same again. And here I thought my palate was already spoiled, well…it has seen nothing yet.Ópera, Patisseries Fines 1354 5th Ave. San Diego, ca 92101 (619) 234-0425