I love science.
I especially love science when it helps diminish my guilt about eating calorie-packed, super-rich, sinful desserts. Take, for instance, the latest scientific research on the “Restaurant Syndrome.” This syndrome is what happens to you when you stuff yourself at a restaurant until another bite would be torture. But, magically, your appetite is back in business when the dessert menu arrives.
What some very intelligent PhDs ascertained, using cutting edge, MRI brain scanning equipment, is the phenomenon of “selective satiation.” Simply explained, there’s a part of your brain that could care less that your tummy is ready to explode, it still wants dessert.
So, why should I feel guilty when I lust after that luscious rhubarb tart smothered with creme fraiche?
It’s not a sin, it’s a syndrome.
To celebrate the major scientific breakthrough on selective satiation, I spent the past month being particularly nice to the dessert region of my own brain. Here are a few of the ways I blissed out those hedonistic neurons.
O Chame’s Caramel Balsamic Gelato
For years, my trips to O Chame were prompted by cravings for their green onion pancakes and I ignored their desserts. However, one evening, a friend’s son toiling as an O Chame waiter graciously presented a complementary dish of caramel balsamic gelato to my partner. She politely offered me a spoonful and if a vinegary sweet treat is an acquired taste, I acquired it on the first mouthful.
You’re wondering precisely what caramel balsamic gelato does taste like? Well, there’s a sublime hint of sour pickle, reminiscent of the homemade variety at Ozzie’s Soda Fountain in Berkeley’s Elmwood District.
OK, I don’t claim the perspicacious palate of an Iron Chef judge. Look, trust me, when it comes to caramel balsamic gelato it’s the fusion thing; the whole is incomparably greater than the sum of its parts.
Lo Coco’s Cannolis
Concluding my feast at Lo Coco, I noticed the couple seated nearby evidencing substantial interest in the cannolis brought to my table. Striking up a conversation, the ex-New Yorkers lamented their quest for a decent cannoli in the Bay Area had been futile. And they recounted the tragic tale of the inferior cannolis the caterer had served at their wedding reception. “You’ve found your Holy Cannoli,” I excitedly exclaimed, “maybe equal to Veneiro’s.” As cannoli connoisseurs, they of course knew New York’s venerable Italian bakery and their eyes lit up in shock and awe.
Creating a first class cannoli is an art and the LoCoco clan doesn’t cut corners. In fact, when the family cannoli shell specialist is visiting relatives in Sicily you’ll have to make do with tiramisu. I generally frequent the Lo Coco’s Piedmont Avenue
restaurant where the vivacious Maria keeps the customers entertained. The family also has a Berkeley branch where brother Gilbert presides. To get in shape for a Lo Coco cannoli, try a plate of their scrumptious calamari sauté.
Kirala’s Sweet Potato Pie
Kirala has garnered countless accolades for its superb sushi, Robata grill delicacies and top-notch tempura. The praise is deserved. But, if others have raw fish on their mind while waiting on Kirala’s legendary long lines, what I fantasize about is their sweet potato pie.
Although I’ve been assured by Kirala’s charismatic director of operations, Akira, as well as their affable hostess, Kimi, that the sweet potatoes in the pie are Japanese, what comes across to my culturally deconstructed taste buds is a primo rendition of the traditional soul food staple. Garnished with a dollop of sour cream and sliced strawberries, the smooth texture and yummy, yammy flavor are just right. But, for the full effect, be certain to request the pie be warmed before serving.
Among Kirala’s other wares is an extensive assortment of premium sakes. If you’re in the mood to splurge ask Dawa, shogun of the sake bar, for a sample of the Gold Medal Koshi no Kambi Muku. A high roller once poured me a shot and that night I dreamed I was a samurai.
Mangia Mangia’s Zabaglione
Too often what’s called zabaglione at a restaurant is some cold, unappealing, over-priced glop pulled from the fridge. Fortunately for zabaglione zealots, Mangia Mangia dishes out the genuine article. Authentic zabaglione is made to order, with the basic ingredients, egg yolks, sugar, marsala and white wine, heated and whipped in a distinctive round-bottom copper pan. The frothy result should then be served warm, accompanied by the requisite ladyfinger flag. And that’s exactly the way it’s done at Mangia Mangia! It’s also gratifying the restaurant doesn’t skimp on portion size, serving their zabaglione in an extra large martini glass with a fresh berry surprise when you hit bottom.
As you might guess, I’ve never gotten beyond the zabaglione on the Mangia Mangia dessert menu, but I must say I’ve observed numerous ecstatic reactions to their chocolate soufflé. Hmmm. I wonder how my brain would respond to consuming both desserts at a single sitting. The Pavlov in me can’t wait to perform that Nobel-winning experiment.
Finally, I should add that not only do I have a scientifically based excuse for feeding my dessert habit, it’s also politically correct. Burdened by depressing thoughts at an anti-war demonstration protesting Bush’s Iraq invasion, I discovered myself marching alongside a member of the family owning Mangia Mangia. Reinvigorated by visions of zabaglione, I again got caught up in the camaraderie of the crowed and was inspired to chant my favorite revolutionary slogan: “Eat the Rich!”