Good Taste: Birds in Drinks, Amphibians in Desserts

Food news and views on the Bay Area's most surprising flavors.

• 'Tis the season for restaurants to rip off customers with trumped-up dinners and offers, but one has thought up a clever way to mark the time of year and offer a choice to drink the holidays away at the same time.

Hotel Shattuck Plaza's FIVE Restaurant, 2086 Allston Way in Berkeley, devised a cocktail for each of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Most intriguing of these libations are the bird-centric ones, such as a Partridge in a Pear Tree (pear vodka and champagne), Four Calling Birds (Famous Grouse scotch whiskey, amaretto, champagne, orange juice, and cranberry juice), and Seven Swans a Swimming (Aperol, lemon juice, and Sprite).

The drink specials are available from now through Dec. 25. 

• Those with a sweet tooth and an eye for adventure can find much to delight in the rise of Hong Kong-style dessert cafes in the Bay Area.

Typically open well past most restaurants and into the small hours, these places are great for people-watching and trying new bits.

One of the most novel and interesting of these spots is Dessert Republic (138 Main St., San Mateo), where requests for service and orders from a dizzyingly large savory and sweet menu are handled with the touch of a button on a nifty tableside console.

Meanwhile. the most provocative offerings in this category are happening at San Francisco's Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 Seventh Ave., San Francisco), where amphibious desserts are on the menu.

That's right, fearless edible voyagers can order several desserts with snow frog (dried fatty tissue collected near the fallopian tubes) or tortoise jelly (a gelatin-like substance made with herbs and, possibly, ground turtle shell).

Both are said to aid in respiratory ailments and promote better skin. The mixed fruits tortoise jelly is the number four seller on a menu that has far safer choices like ice cream and crepes, which is significant given the jelly's markedly bitter and herbaceous flavor.

The server confirmed that the tortoise jelly is "real," but we're still secretly hoping that Kowloon's version, like most commercially available ones at the moment, doesn't actually contain the shell powder.

We may have breathed a bit better after consuming it, but not easier. 

• And still, more dessert: South Bay provocateur Psycho Donuts, 288 S. Second St. in San Jose; 2006 S. Winchester Blvd in Campell, known for bending the codes of human decency when it comes to what they'll emulate on a sinker, will celebrate Broadway San Jose's forthcoming production of CATS with limited specials including a kitty litter donut.

Owner Jordan Zweigeron offers a lovely description: "Our Kitty's Litter is a yeast-raised donut, iced in vanilla, and filled with creamy custard. It's then topped with kitty litter cake donut crumb topping, complete with simulated green Fresh Step odor-fighting crystals. What are those other morsels on top? 

It looks like the kitty has been to the box and left you some little chocolate icing flavor nuggets." Worry not, he says, "This is as about as gross as we get." A particularly funny time to sample this, should your appetite persist, is at the Psycho San Jose location on December 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the production's makeup artist will transform the already saucy Psycho Nurses (aka the salesladies) into Psycho Cat Nurses.

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