Nov. 14 2014 05:07 PM

Desserts eclipse entrées at South Park bistro

Mmm. Chocolate.
Photo by Mina Riazi

Few sentences fill me with more anxiety than "Pass the chocolate." Though an early adopter of the mom-administered "sharing is caring" mantra, I struggle to part ways with the sweet stuff. Chocolate, I'm convinced, is the eighth wonder of the world. 

But not all chocolate is created equal. We've got the milky, gummy, grocery-store variety, which is a few rungs above choco-imposters like cocoa-starved white "chocolate." Then there's the artisanal kind, impeccably dressed in recycled-paper jackets. Some might raise a brow, unswayed by the clever flavor pairings presented by these oft-organic confections. At Eclipse Chocolate, flavors like strawberry peppercorn and chile hazelnut make your beloved Hershey's look a little plain in comparison. 

Made from "ethically sourced couverture chocolate," Eclipse sweets run the gamut from caramels to truffles to handcrafted chocolate bars. In 2012, Travel + Leisure dubbed Eclipse's hot chocolate "America's Best." This—considering owner Will Gustwiller's fine-art background—is quite impressive. 

Impressive, too, is the sheer variety of confections doled out by the South Park chocolate bar and bistro: "Exotic" sea salts, jars of sludgy caramel sauce, chocolate buttons, plate-sized cookies and cupcakes fill shelves and display cases. 

Gustwiller unwrapped Eclipse 10 years ago, not long after finishing his master's degree in sculpture at SDSU. The chocolate shop outgrew its original North Park post last year, and—aided by the support of 184 Kickstarter backers—moved into its much-roomier South Park digs (2145 Fern St.).

The restaurant's daily brunch menu tries hard to satisfy every palate. Quinoa fritters and stuffed red peppers will satiate the vegan and gluten-free crowd, while richer items—think quiche, French toast and biscuits 'n' gravy—suit more liberal eaters. On Sundays, the menu slims down considerably after 2 p.m., shedding the eggy entrées; soups, salads and sandwiches remain.

I can imagine that during buzzy brunch hours, Eclipse is sun-filled and pleasant, its white chairs and blue walls crystallizing the eatery's laidback-yet-elegant vibe. The aura shifts, though, during early Sunday dinners.  

Nearly empty, the space felt rather cavernous on a recent evening. A playlist of indie-folk tunes heightened the aloof, blue-toned mood. Thankfully, a rosemary and key-lime spritzer—expressive and effervescent and gently sweet—made for a charming opening act. 

The panini at Eclipse are prepared with the restaurant's house-made focaccia. Pillowy and fragrant, the sage-accented bread is strong enough to stand on its own—still, I'm not one to turn away a few luscious, well-intentioned ingredients. Bacon, avocado and roasted tomato create a simple yet comforting sandwich, one that would pair nicely with hot tomato soup. Then there's the Portobello, pesto and veggie offering, which—despite being bacon-free—is more alluring and charismatic than the B.A.T. 

Unsurprisingly, Eclipse's desserts are most memorable. It's nearly impossible not to finish the fudgy, flourless pumpkin and ginger brownie in a few messy, too-big bites. Oozing chocolate, the banana cream cupcake inches toward the too-sweet line but doesn't reach it. Simply put, it's perfect, capped with cloudy buttercream frosting. A pumpkin truffle—so small yet so impactful—concluded my meal. I could have shared it, yes, but I tossed it into my mouth before anyone could ask for a bite.

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