(415) 550-1405, www.noevalleybakery.com
After I've won you over with the fruitcake, you must believe me when I sing the praises of Masse's Pastries for the best bouche in the Bay. The bouche de noel (or yule log), a dessert traditionally served in France during the holidays, consists of a rolled cake in the shape of a log filled with buttercream and topped with ganache. Not only does Masse's make the loveliest bouche around, it does three of them. The most popular is the traditional mocha with almond roulade and coffee buttercream. Next up is the black forest with Bavarian cream and kirsch (cherry liqueur). The third option is a simple lemon topped with Italian meringue and seasonal fruits. The owners decorate the festive cakes with New Zealand red currants, imported brandied cherries, and the highest quality shaved chocolate. Prices range from $38$55 depending on flavor and size. Now comes the difficult part: how to decide between the three options. The good news? It offers mini bouches ($4.50), so you can taste before you invest.
1469 Shattuck Ave., Berk. (510) 649-1004, www.massespastries.com
There's no time like the holiday season to splurge a little on cocktails. Push the PBRs to the back of the fridge and treat yourself to a warm, wintry drink or festive liquor concoction. The following spots will ease you into the yuletide spirit in the most delicious way. Who wouldn't drink to that?
After lugging around shopping bags, groceries, bikes you name it kick back a few hot-spiced buttered rums ($5.50) at Trad'r Sams. The historic tiki bar opened in 1941, and while the drinks aren't top shelf, they're strong and consistent, like most things from that era. For this classic cold-weather drink, Sam's bartenders use a special batter with top-secret ingredients and mix it with a healthy serving of rum and hot water. The bar itself is a little odd, a little kitschy, and more dive than date spot, but proven mastery of this delightfully warming beverage outweighs all that.
6150 Geary, SF. (415) 221-0773
Another warm holiday beverage that'll help chase away worries and strife: the house cappuccino ($6) at Tosca. In reality, this drink is nothing like a cappuccino. It's a brandy and hot chocolate concoction layered into sweet little glasses, which seems to pair perfectly with the dimly-lighted bar, its cozy red vinyl booths, and the jukebox playing Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. The stiff drinks and unpretentious bartenders add to the charm. And lucky you! Tosca serves this signature cocktail year-round.
242 Columbus, SF. (415) 986-9651
ABSINTHE RESTAURANT AND BAR
Bartender Ismael Robles doesn't just make great drinks he invents them. Recently he's been making the Velvet Hive ($10), a variation on the hot toddy that's served cold. Robles' version is made with honey vodka, clove and citrus liqueurs, fresh lemon juice, and allspice dram. Even though this drink isn't heated, there's nothing like notes of honey, clove, and allspice to warm you right up.
398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590, www.absinthe.com
During the winter months, you can't walk past Luna Park without noticing the enticing aroma of the warm mulled wine ($7) that's always simmering in a crockpot this time of year. Made with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and orange peel, this aromatic delight is available Thanksgiving through New Year's.
694 Valencia, SF.