3896 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
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Chocolat

Neighborhoods: Hillcrest
Cuisine: French, Lunch, Breakfast

Chocolat is a French, Lunch, and Breakfast restaurant where most Menuism users came for fun with friends and tipped between 15% to 18%.

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Kardamom photo

Kardamom

 San Diego, CA
 

A Sweet Surprise

Sometimes you set out to dine at a particular restaurant, but then you end up eating somewhere else. This happened to my friend, the Starving Artist, and me a few months back. We had planned to eat at an Indian restaurant in Hillcrest called Banana Leaf several times, but due to conflicting schedules, his, the Banana Leaf’s and mine, we ended up going to Chocolat instead; it turned out to be a delightful surprise.

I had not been to Hillcrest in quite a long while. As we were walking around, after discovering that the Banana Leaf is closed for lunch on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (which doesn’t bode well for its future, but that is for another review) we spotted Chocolat on the corner of 5thand University Avenue. I assumed it was a dessert place, but the Starving Artist said he had heard that it was also a bistro. It looked promising, so across and down the street we went.

The last time I was in Hillcrest, there was a completely different business in that location, but I cannot recall what it was. Chocolat has a delightfully inviting façade with a whimsical looking sign that reminded me of Paris. Not that I’ve ever been to Paris, but it looked like what I think a Paris bistro should look like, with floor to ceiling glass windows on the front and sides, plus the restaurant is situated on a corner, perfect for dining and people watching. The whole place is very inviting.

The Starving Artist and I had not seen each other in a very long time, so we commenced chatting and gossiping, yet not twittering, even though we were both starving. The server was very nice and brought us our menus, and even though she checked back a few times, and we still hadn’t even looked at the menu, she seemed unperturbed and was very understanding. God bless her. After her third or fourth attempt to take our order, we finally obliged her, apologized to her and placed our order.

I wavered back and forth between the pumpkin ravioli; the crepes filled with Portobello mushrooms and Gruyere cheese; and a handmade brick oven pizza with Mission figs, caramelized onions, Gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans and aged balsamic vinegar. After I stopped daydreaming, I asked the server if I could forgo the prosciutto, to make my pizza pie vegetarian. She said yes, so I opted for the pizza, but even after I ordered, I asked the server if I could keep the menu at the table so that I could peruse it a little more. She didn’t mind a bit. The pie was delicious and savory; more like a tart than a pizza.

The pizzas alone could keep Chocolat in business, although Chocolat would be kind of a silly name for a pizza joint. Nevertheless, Chocolat serves all sorts of delicious bistro items, including, but not limited to, sumptuous desserts filled with chocolate. If you are in the mood for a really good pizza, you will probably appreciate some of the ingredients they layer onto theirs. One pizza struck me as unique, with fingerling potatoes, Fontina cheese, pancetta and leeks. Another one had Sicilian tuna, onions and mozzarella. Yet another had asparagus, smoked bacon, leeks, black truffle and organic egg. The Puttanesca pizza featured onions, shrimp olives, capers and Fresno chili.

Other menu items that tempted me were the bruschettas on toasted artisan bread made with various toppings such as ricotta cheese and olive tapenade; Portobello mushroom and Taleggio cheese; prosciutto with house made marmalade; ricotta with pears, and one featuring three different kinds of mozzarella (burrata, buffalo and cow’s milk).

The Panini, stuffed with all sorts of delicious combinations of cheeses and meats such as roasted pork loin and prosciutto; rosemary ham; Sicilian tuna; eggs and fava beans; Portobello mushrooms and arugula would be a nice change of pace for San Diegans that regularly dine on McSandwiches day after day after day.

Other folks might enjoy the delicious range of pasta dishes on the menu. What pasta lover wouldn’t enjoy manicotti with spinach, topped with tomato sauce and Béchamel, or pasta tossed with a pesto cream sauce with roasted eggplant and goat cheese? If you like seafood, you might want to sample the capellini pasta with shrimp, calamari, clams and garlic with a Chardonnay wine sauce and diced tomatoes. They also serve veal ravioli with roasted wild mushrooms, rosemary and tomato.

No self-respecting French style bistro would be without crepes on their menu and Chocolat has them, both savory and sweet. The savory crepes, which I usually prefer to the sweet dessert crepes, come filled with most of the same kinds of things found in the pasta dishes and panini. The rosemary chicken crepe sounded especially good with Béchamel, roasted zucchini, smoked mozzarella and garlic aioli. I’m not really a big dessert person, but Chocolat’s sweet crepes started whispering in my ear, in a French accent by the way, “Hey, we’ve got crepes with a praline spread and fresh whipped cream; strawberries and chocolate; Nutella and bananas and one that you won’t be able to resist mon ami— house made jam with mascarpone cheese.” Sweet nothings, my foot, those crepes are sweet somethings! Chocolat also serves an enticing array of Italian style gelatos. I only wish that my friend and I had had a little room left in our stuffed bellies to put some gelato, but alas we did not, and so we looked at the gelato, sighed, and vowed to come back again someday. Actually that’s’ not entirely true, we had tiny spoonful samples of the chocolate chili gelato. If you have never tasted gelato with chocolate and chili paired together, you are missing out on something very unusual, exciting and somewhat confusing. It’s hot and cold and sweet and spicy all at the same time, and I’ll warn you that it’s pretty intense. The chili will creep up on you and take a bite out of you!

One thing that the Starving Artist and I truly agreed upon was the “great triumph,” as I affectionately refered to it, achieved by Chocolat during our visit. That triumph was their homemade ricotta gnocchi with sage, brown butter, Parmigiano and truffle cream, which is why I saved this description for last. When the dish was placed in front of my friend, I kind of squinched up my face, thinking that they had brought out the wrong dish. The large pristine white bowl was stacked beautifully, with what looked, to me, like light fluffy grilled scallops. I was a wee bit disappointed, because I had wanted to steal a taste from my friend’s dish. Scallops are not on this vegetarian’s go-to list, but when my friend bit into one of the fluffy roundies, after having eyed them skeptically, he blissfully announced that they were indeed gnocchi. They just weren’t shaped like the usual little “beehives” that we’ve been accustomed to seeing. He offered me one of the golden disks and when I bit into it my face un-squinched and a feeling of culinary joy spread throughout my every cell. I have never tasted gnocchi so delicious. It was light and fluffy, yet chewy and slightly crispy on the outside and creamy and buttery on the inside. This gnocchi seemed to have been sent, by special delivery, directly from heaven. If you dine at Chocolat, you too might think that you are in heaven, or Paris, but you will leave with a devilish smile upon your face.

Pizze Mission Figs

This was a large hand made brick oven pizza topped with Mission figs, caramelized onions, Gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans and aged balsamic vinegar. The menu lists prosciutto, but I asked to have the meat left off, to make my pizza a vegetarian version. This pizze (as they spell it) was big enough to share between 3 people if you also ordered a salad. Very tasty with a nice combination of items. It was more like a savory tart, as it didn’t have tomato sauce. It tasted great cold the next day too.

Heaven on a plate - Ricotta Gnocchi at Chocolat

Ricotta Gnocchi

This gnocchi is simply one of the best dishes that I’ve ever tasted, anywhere! The gnocchi are shaped like “scallops” rather than the traditional “beehive” shape and they are large. The disks are a little bit bigger than a silver dollar and they’re about an inch thick. They are buttery and light on the inside and slightly chewy with just a little bit of a crispy bite on the outside, served with sage and brown butter with a Parmigiano and truffle cream. They are simply perfect.

Chili Chocolate Gelato

I only had a small taste of this gelato, but what a taste it was. Chili and chocolate are not usually flavors that you would expect to find together, especially not in a cold dessert, although I realize that mole is made with chocolate and chili, but this gelato doesn’t taste like mole. It’s definitely a dessert. When you first take a bite, you taste deep dark, sweet chocolate, but then a few seconds later, the chili takes a bite of your tongue! It’s weird, but in a good way. It’s very unexpected and very spicy. It might be a good idea to order a scoop of vanilla gelato to go with it, to temper the spiciness.

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Chocolat is located near the cities of San Diego County, Hillcrest, Coronado, and Old Town San Diego.
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