Several years ago, my friend Andi took me out for honeytoast in the South Bay. That same year, I discovered another place that served it in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. And ever since, I’ve been craving this dessert in San Francisco. Every time I looked up establishments where I could get it, they were always far from where I was, closed for the night, or didn’t reliably have that recipe on the menu all the time. It’s possible that throughout the years, I’ve been passing dozens of establishments that serve the delicious Japanese dessert and not realizing it, but I haven’t noticed any advertisements or word-of-mouth recommendations on where I could get my hands on some of it in this 7x7 city.
For those of you who have never heard of honeytoast (or Shibuya toast, as it’s known by many,) it’s a Japanese dessert consisting of a half loaf of soft square bread that’s been cubed and toasted, and is served drizzled in honey and topped with ice cream, fresh fruit and any other toppings your heart desires. Now after several honeytoast-less years, I finally decided to get proactive, research where I could reliably find it and make a special trip there. And that’s when I discovered popular dessert joint, U :Dessert Story in the Castro. At 6PM the day we visited it, we were suggested by Yelp to make a reservation. The earliest reservation I could get was 9:45PM. I was confused at the prospect of having to make late reservations for a dessert joint, but figured if there was anywhere that would happen, it would totally be San Francisco.
After getting burgers at Super Duper, Steven and I walked over to this 16th Street establishment, realizing it was right next to similarly named Kitchen Story, owned by the same people who brought you ultra popular eateries Sweet Maple and Blackwood. It was then that we made the connection.
And similarly to Blackwood, U :Dessert Story had a long line of people waiting outside of it. At 9:45PM, 15 minutes before closing! We were confused as to how long they planned on staying open to accomodate all these people. But were relieved that we had reservations.
We showed up right on time and checked in with the hostess. She told us to wait behind the rope seen in the photo of the restaurant’s exterior. On the other side of the sidewalk was some seating with walk-ins standing by.
As we joined the others in line, one guy turned to me and said “Good luck. Our reservation was for 9:15.”
My jaw dropped open. “Have you reminded her that you’re still here?” I asked.
He nodded, “She knows we’re here. She’s still waiting for space to open up.” I told Steven that there was a possibility that they might not get to our reservation before they close up shop.
Finally, the friendly but flustered hostess came to the roped off section to tell our 9:15 friends their table was ready. So we stood there with the other 9:30 and 9:45 reservation holders in the doorway of someone’s home. God bless the people who live here and put up with a crowd of dessert savvy millennials being told they have permission to stand right in front of their entrance.
As Steven and I waited, an approximately seven-year old boy, his mother and his mother’s friends all exited the restaurant as a group. Frustrated, he put his jacket back on and called out “Well that was a waste of an hour and 20 minutes!”
Steven and I laughed, along with everyone else in line. “What have I gotten us into?” I asked Steven. “An hour and 20 minutes? We can’t possibly wait here and eat for another hour and 20 minutes. They close in five.”
“I’m not sure,” Steven replied.
A little bit after 10:00PM, the hostess approached us.
“Sydney?” she said. “Your table is ready.” The four greatest words to here in San Francisco. We followed her to the front door, where she stopped us and asked us to tell her exactly what we wanted to order, because it was last call for food.
“Are you kidding me?” I said out loud. This place was really going to schedule us for a 9:45PM reservation when they know damn well they close at 10:00 PM, keep us waiting an extra 20 minutes for our reservation (although I can’t complain standing next to Mr. and Mrs. 9:15,) and then tell us to rush and order because the kitchen would close soon? Steven and I placed our orders and were shown to our seats.
I have to say, while the reservation scheduling was a total disaster, I have to commend the hostess for juggling the large number of people around that tiny restaurant, and being polite through all the bad news she had to give everyone.
As Steven and I entered the restaurant, we realized another line of people standing against the wall. Apparently the people outside on the seats across the sidewalk were the spill over from the line inside! Oy vey… We took our seats and finally realized how noisy and chaotic the place was. It was filled to the brim with couples and large groups of friends all oohing and ah-ing over very elaborate and beautiful desserts being placed in front of them and having a gay old time. Below are the line inside the restaurant (which I confirmed is not a line to the bathroom in the photo,) and some of the other patrons huddled together.
It was quite a noisy and busy place to be; but then again it was Saturday night. What better time to get extremely loud with friends? The chaos seemed to continue back int the kitchen, where the wait and kitchen staff were buzzing like bees, taking the term honey toast quite literally. It looked like Wall Street, but with everyone carrying cake and strawberries.
The thing that stands out most about this place is the presentation of the food. The desserts are large and intricate, with a lot of Instagrammable features to them. The girls next to us ordered the impressive Igloos Kakigori flambé dessert, which everyone in the restaurant stopped their conversations to ooh and ah at. There’s constantly an entertaining flow of people’s desserts arriving from the kitchen that everyone stops to admire. In that sense, I think it makes for a memorable experience. You’ll notice at this place that a lot of people order food they have no intentions of finishing/eating in the first place. They’re doing it for the ‘gram, which this restaurant has smartly made its desserts perfect for.
I ordered the Honey Brick Toast with vanilla bean ice cream, almond (which I forgot to request they leave out because I had two seconds to look at the menu from the door of the restaurant,) mixed berries and banana. Steven ordered the Chocolate Organic Matcha Lava Cake with Matcha Ice Cream and a cup of tea.
In no time, my beautiful board of honeytoast arrived. Toasted to perfection and extremely sweet and flavorful. It was so delicious, that I forgot to pour on the icing served on the side. It definitely satisfied my cravings and I would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of the dish, or wants to try it for the first time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to wait for Steven’ dessert to start eating mine, as the ice cream was starting to melt. But it wasn’t until a good 15 minutes after I had finished my entire board of toast that Steven finally received his cake at 10:23PM.
It’s possible that that’s because they make the honeytoast constantly throughout the day, and that the cake is requested less frequently. But if it was going to take so long to bring out the cake, I feel they should have at least warned us and asked me if I wanted my toast to come out at the same time. I would have rather waited longer for mine so that we could have eaten together. But instead, Steven and I took turns watching each other eat. Normally, I’d chalk it up to us showing up so late in the restaurant’s hours, but we made reservations!
Steven enjoyed the cake, and we both enjoyed watching the gooey matcha-colored lava flow from it after his first cut.
Suddenly, just as he was finishing his dessert and we were ready to pick up the check and start calling Uber, his tea - which I had totally forgotten about - finally arrived in a chipped cup.
Considering it was a tea bag in hot water, I was shocked it took way over half an hour to bring it out to us. But I’m guessing that after an evening of burgers and cake, Steven enjoyed relaxing with a warm beverage.
Despite all the hiccups and uncertainty throughout the night, Steven and I had a good time at Dessert U: Story. The atmosphere is definitely too crowded and chaotic for it to become a go-to for us, but we will most definitely visit again in the future.
The desserts are beautiful, the honeytoast was perfect and the service was very polite despite the craziness surrounding the staff. My biggest problems with this place were the logistics. I think this restaurant would have to have later hours for them to schedule 9:45PM reservations. I don’t know if the night we went was a particularly busy one, but if this crowd is not an isolated incident, I think they could definitely afford to stay open until midnight! And I think that the staff needs to be more consciences of timing meals to come out at the same time for groups. After all, the vibe of the place is that it’s a great spot for couples and large groups of friends or coworkers. And part of spending time with people is that you get to eat with them. I also have a feeling that this place is understaffed, as the hostess, wait staff and kitchen staff were all working their tails off, and yet the food was coming out quite slowly.
I do think that the people who own these different restaurants from Blackwood to Kitchen Story to Dessert U:Story know a lot about how to make a place popular. They are masters at going viral with photogenic food, gaining customers through word of mouth, and by appealing to the FOMO in all of us by having a line or crowd waiting to be called outside of their establishments. They definitely know how to successfully run a business in modern San Francisco.
As for whether or not I’d recommend this restaurant, I leave it up to you and your priorities. If you are looking for a relaxing place to get an impromptu bite of ice cream or a little bit of cake, this place will not do it for you. But if you’re trying to find something for you and your friends/date to do after dinner, or really are in the mood for a novelty dessert spot where the dishes are as entertaining as they are delicious, I say go for it! Just be sure to get an early reservation.
On a side note, as we exited the restaurant, I jumped a little when I thought I saw two people in masks sitting in a parked car staring at us. Upon closer inspection, they were just two cat pillows strapped to the front head rests. I had a good laugh about it. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed our dessert story. Until next time!