Pastrami and bay shrimp tartines. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Cheese plate. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Ice cream sundae. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Carrot cake. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The communal table and high-top tables. Photo: Tom Seawell Photography
The first time I mentioned to a friend I had lunch at ~CHOCOLATE LAB~, he chuckled. It’s a clever name, and Michael and Jacky Recchiuti have no shortage of humor, smarts, and playfulness in what they do. They are the latest tenants to take over the former Piccino Cafe corner space in Dogpatch, offering an all-day-and-evening, savory-and-sweet menu, whether you have hunger pangs for a quick bite, brunch, lunch, a nagging sweet tooth, an afternoon snack, or have absolutely nothing but tumbleweeds in your fridge for dinner.
The 23-seat spot is built for lunch, with its array of open-faced tartines (collect all six!). The pastrami tartine ($12) is a fave, featuring Peter Temkin’s locally made pastrami draped with housemade Thousand Island aioli, melted cheese, caramelized onions, napa cabbage, and a touch (once a wee bit too much) of grain mustard. It’s a creamy, gooey island of delicious, and a total fork-and-knifer (the Firebrand bread is thinly sliced, so you can’t pick it up, but it’s not a bready monster either—just right), but eating your sandwich with a fork and knife is not your first clue that the whole experience is a little bougie.
There’s also a bay shrimp tartine ($11) that is positively overflowing with those plump little buggers. My only comment was that the Himalayan salt wasn’t evenly distributed over the top, it just went down the middle. #champagneproblems
You like cheese? Don’t pass up the savory goat cheese soufflé ($12), a custardy and fluffy wedge with the most delicious crust (it’s called a tourteau fromage)—it was like cheese pie. Speaking of cheese, the cheese plate ($15) here is a thing of beauty: three swell cheeses (one day we had Beehive Cheese’s Barely Buzzed coffee-dusted cheddar, Holland’s Family Cheese’s stunning Foenegreek Gouda, and a tarragon-thyme-infused goat cheese in a ramekin of grassy green olive oil). The plate is gorg, covered in condiments like radishes, fresh almonds, pickled vegetables, and candied sunflower seeds. A spoonful of neighborhood honey. It looks like something out of a Saveur photo shoot. Yeah, you know you love it.
Brunch one weekend had some specials like an exquisite bacon quiche (seriously perfect), and a seasonally inspired polenta, egg, and asparagus number with a side of Marin Sun Farms bacon—damn that bacon is good. The mimosas we ordered as our first round were too cute (read: small) so we just anted up for a bottle of the fruity Terres Dorees sparkling Beaujolais ($44).
I know this all sounds like a chapter in Stuff White People Like. The little Pyrex beakers for your water, the artsy-industrial chic interior, the staff outfitted in stylish lab coats, the soft light, the Louis Dressner wines and Steven Smith teas, the sherries and Marsalas, the “just right” portions (but not enough to make you pop out of your Dries Van Noten pants)…actually, my pants were from Macy’s, but whatever. So much care has gone into every detail. It’s Paris by way of Dogpatch. I love it when people geek out on style and presentation; thank you for caring.
Things definitely show a bit more abandon in the sweets section, which is the turf that people really associate the Recchiuti name with. The Chocolate Lab cake ($10) is always going to be changing, so for me to go into too much detail of the devil’s food cake I would have sold my soul for is fruitless. Coffee crème anglaise, need I say more? The dark milk chocolate tartlette ($9) has a boo-tiful pastry crust (they have crusts DOWN here). The ice cream sundae ($9)—complete with burnt caramel hazelnuts, almonds, peanut butter pearls, housemade marshmallows, and a side of extra bitter chocolate sauce—will make you wonder if you need a permit to wield your spoon. (Is anyone watching? Is this even legal? Can they see me take a hit?) The carrot cake ($10), with its tangy layer of milk chocolate mousse made with crème fraîche? Meow. There are eight desserts in all (including a brownie, ice cream float, tarte tatin…), sure to cover whichever way your dessert persuasions lean.
The space has a chic laboratory look, complete with Heath Ceramics tile and some cool handblown glass details by local artist Nate Watson; I also liked the natural elements, such as the elm tabletops, and plants from Flora Grubb. Coming soon: some outdoor seating, complete with heat lamps. (Oh, and if you’re looking for a cool spot for a private event, you can book the space on Sunday and Monday evenings, and Monday lunch.) I’ll see you there, with my most expensive sunglasses on, as I commune with my affogato with housemade caramel ice cream. Oh, bonjooouuurrrr, darling.