I have a friend who eats dessert first, because why fill up on salad and protein when you can have chocolate and whipped cream instead? In a perfect example of why life is unfair, she’s wafer-thin and never exercises. But enough about her. I’ve been known to enjoy my share of sweets, and in this regard, the Napa Valley doesn’t disappoint – it’s filled with bakeries, chocolatiers, and ice cream and gelato shops. Here are a few of my favorite spots to indulge in sugar therapy, with my top picks for their best desserts. Several of these places are located in the Oxbow Public Market, so you can hit them all in one go.
The bigné at Ca’ Momi (cover photo) are an Italian version of the French beignet and are light, tissue-y pastries with a choice of fillings, including pistachio, zabaglione, almond, and orange.
Cate & Co. is probably the only healthy alternative on this list. It serves 100 percent gluten-free bakery goods made with alternative natural sweeteners, clarified butter, and locally farmed eggs. Its gluten-free carrot cake is so good, you won’t even feel like you’re being virtuous.
Don’t be deterred by the long lines winding out the door. Thomas Keller’s renowned Bouchon Bakery is worth the wait, and once you’re inside, you’ll have trouble choosing from all the temptations in the glass cases. But be sure to try the Bouchons au Chocolate – small, brownie-like cakes that resemble corks (or bouchons in French) – sinfully rich and chocolaty, baked with chocolate chips in the batter and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. The other signature item is the selection of macarons, which come in a wide range of flavors and colors like mocha, raspberry, caramel, and pistachio. A small box of these makes a great hostess gift, if you can get them there without opening the box.
If you’re a cupcake fan, as I am, check out Sift Dessert Bar, which features such flavors as Samoa, Limonata, Pink Champagne, and Cheesecake, each with a generous puff of buttercream on top. They also have a “Surprise Me” selection – a white cupcake with a mystery filling.
Kara’s Cupcakes is another good choice. Try the Vine Trail cupcake (chocolate cake with vanilla frosting) that supports our local nonprofit hiking/biking path. My other favorites are Passion Fruit, Meyer Lemon, and Fleur de Sel.
La Forêt Chocolate and Confections sells outrageous artisanal confectionery items like Almond Turtles, Dark Chocolate Honeycomb, and Bourbon Pecan Marshmallows.
Any chocolate fan will also go insane at Woodhouse Chocolate, which makes its own handmade chocolates, truffles, and caramels. If you can only have one, try the hazelnut truffle. Better yet, custom-select your own box to take home or give to someone you love (a lot).
Anette’s Chocolates is another favorite for handmade bon-bons, brittle, bark, and truffles. You can’t go wrong with the Brandy Truffle. They also make their own ice cream.
At first glance, Kollar Chocolates don’t look edible – they look like little works of art, in all colors and shapes. But bite into one and you’re on a rocket ship to Delicious-ville. The magic is in the surprise of flavors. My favorite? The Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Ganache. Or maybe the Passion Fruit.
For an unforgettable souvenir of the Napa Valley, you can purchase chocolate-covered wine bottles featuring such labels as Mumm, Duckhorn, Ca’ Momi, and Prager Port at the Vintage Sweet Shop.
Ice cream, yogurt and gelato
Three Twins has a deserved reputation for its delicious organic ice cream. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of its flavors. If I had to choose: Sea Salted Caramel and Chocolate Orange Confetti in a freshly made waffle cone.
Frati Gelato Café is like a typical Italian gelateria, with row upon row of stainless steel bins filled with the most tempting flavors. There are 22 varieties of chocolate alone! My favorites are Zabaglione and Rum Raisin.
If you’re a fan of frozen yogurt, you can make your own at Yo’Belle. There’s also a great assortment of toppings. Coconut and Birthday Cake flavors are my top picks.
Three Twins Ice Cream
Cate & Co