Carlo Still Cooks

The star of the dessert menu is the Earthquake Cake ($6.75), a dense, fudgy pseudo-brownie elevated to the ethereal by the neighboring presence of a dreamy chocolate sorbet. A close second would be the trio of sorbets ($6.50) -- in our case strawberry, mango, and lemon -- each one a sweet-tart distillation of summertime bounty. The Crostata di Frangipane ($6.50) -- an almond tart with almond-infused ice cream -- and the tiramisu ($6.75) -- the time-honored, much debated classic -- are little more than lackluster here, but the decidedly American fresh fruit cobbler ($6.50) is a triumph: steamy, crumbly, packed with the pickings of the day (apple in our case), a dense, rich scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into the whole. The desserts, like the rest of the dinner, are served up by an impeccable and attentive waitstaff adept at replacing china and cutlery at every imaginable opportunity.

The restaurant's ambience is as carefully crafted as the food, setting it apart ever further from the red-checked establishments of my youth. Pompeiian murals, soaring ceilings, sculpted figures, cut glass, nail-studded leather, antiques, and collotypes combine in a variety of settings (bar, lounge, and three dining areas, including one alfresco) to create a playful, if studied, atmosphere. (The china is lovely and perfectly matches the contents of your plate; one deep chocolate confection was served on a platter limned in rich browns and blacks.) It's like supping in a particularly fashionable hilltop villa, albeit one looking out on Golden Gate Avenue.

Vivande Ristorante
670 Golden Gate (at Van Ness), 673-9245. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Brunch served Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Parking: garage available. Muni: 42, 47, 49, 76. Noise level: moderate.

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