FoCo Joe At Home: Ghirardelli Square

By Joseph Kind, The Dartmouth Staff | 6/1/15 12:04pm

I had so much fun last week at San Francisco’s weekly food truck festival, Off the Grid at Fort Mason, that when my friends suggested we go again this week, I couldn’t say no. Only this time, I wouldn’t be writing about other Off the Grid sweets, although there are so many more than the chocolate chip bacon cookie and the dark chocolate crème brûlée I sampled in last week’s column. I had my eyes set on a classic San Francisco treat, a sundae from Ghirardelli Square. It was only right to visit one of the most notorious tourist havens in the city for my final column of 15S. Call it a full circle kind of destination – beginning and ending with two essential treats, one of the west coast and the other of San Francisco.
I planned this all along, I swear.

Conveniently, Ghirardelli Square is a quick and brisk walk from Fort Mason, made no easier by the frigid Friday night fog. I was happily surprised that my friends were willing to bear the breeze, let alone resist the food truck temptations, and the three of us trekked up and over the hill to Ghirardelli Square for a pleasant and unbelievably touristy treat.

A bit of background on the tourist trap: Ghirardelli Square is a designated landmark, at one point featuring over 40 restaurants and shops. The square sits on a hill that overlooks Aquatic Park, an area of pier-protected bay utilized today by open water swimmers, with Alcatraz Island just behind it. The brick buildings, reminiscent of San Francisco’s industrial waterfront past, wear giant but tasteful “Ghirardelli Square” letters. The space is the former headquarters of the locally renowned Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. A wealthy mother-son duo from the area purchased and preserved the square in the 1960s. Though the old chocolate factory no longer exists, chocolate abounds in the flagship Ghirardelli restaurant. Tourists love the place (more on that later).

We got to the square around 9:00 p.m. Friday night — a dangerous time to visit a tourist trap. We were lucky enough to find a table way in the back of the restaurant. The air was thick with the smell of chocolate fudge, a soup of conversations in different languages and the energy of eager taste buds. Little kids wove through the tightly-squeezed round tables for parties of three and four, lost in the congestion almost as surreal as San Francisco’s daily traffic reports. Just behind our table were fancy but meaningless machines churning, spinning and stirring chocolate. Tourists repeatedly bumped into our table gazing into these soul-less devices. They foolishly thought they would learn something. I simply waited for our “World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae.” It was a bit of a struggle to pick one of the dozen delicious iterations of sundaes and splits, and we timidly chose the most basic — as in, most rudimentary, not ~basic~ basic – although some might argue the choice was indeed ~basic~ basic.

Our waiter found us and arrived with our hot fudge sundae. To our delight, he brought three long spoons. After a series of obnoxious pictures on my part, we finally dug in. And boy, did we indulge. There is really only one way to put it, and my friend Claire said it best upon taking her first spoonful. “Wow, dat fudge doe.”

The fudge is the headliner of this treat, for sure. The fudge has a rich, nutty taste — due to the surprising abundance of chopped peanuts — that only becomes overwhelming after the fourth or fifth bite. Perfect. The texture is not thick or difficult to work with, as can be the case when fudge tightens under very cold ice cream. The vanilla ice cream was a very classic, lovely, vanilla flavor – but not too remarkable otherwise. All three of us agreed that this sundae should indeed be the standard for a fudge sundae, but next time want agreed to order a more unique menu item, just to change it up a little. Nothing is wrong with our sundae, per se, but that extra special kick was missing.

Then again, my mother always said it was distasteful to complain about a good thing.

Best of luck with finals, everyone! Happy almost summer.

Joseph Kind, The Dartmouth Staff