Visited your magnificent city this weekend for 3 days. It's always an incredible pleasure to come over and stay a while.
I've been to SF a dozen times or so before, but as my wife was at a convention for three days, this was the first time I've really had SF all to myself, so I was able to fully and selfishly indulge my curiosity and wander/foodlust. I decided this time to take a good few hours to explore North Beach for the first time.
First, an apology. No photos, and no notes. I'm winging it from my memory of yesterday. Also, the cannoli traveled for a couple of hours until I could meet up and share them with my wife, as I can't eat three cannoli by myself (anymore).
So, as far as the cannoli... my high water mark is Boston's north end. My god, we had heavenly cannoli there.... was it at Mike's? Or Modern... hm, now I can't remember. Filled to order, crispy shell and perfectly velvety smooth ricotta filling (not even the slightest hint of curds), exactly as sweet as it needed to be, with the tiny chocolate chips on the ends for much needed bitterness and textural difference, and dusted with powdered sugar (see photo for the perfect cannoli).
Based on several Chowhound reviews, I hit up Stella's, A Cavalli & Co, and Cafe Roma.
Great first impression: Cannoli shells filled to order. This was the only one of the three cannoli purveyors I visited that took the proper time to do this, as most pastry shops let the cannoli sog out as they live in the refrigerated case. Bad sign: the chocolate chips were too big, so much so that only about 5 or 6 were able to stick to each end (again, refer to photo for proper sized chips). Also, some candied fruit dropped onto the ends. Fruit = less room for chocolate. Great crispy shell (of course, not refrigerated and filled to order). However, I found the ricotta filling rich but quite bland, and not velvety smooth as it should have been. Too much gritty ricotta texture.
This one seems to be the most popular bakery for Cannoli. These were pre-filled and refrigerated. Not good. The texture of the filling was much smoother than A Cavalli, and more flavorful, but not great.
By far the best of the three. Unfortunately, these also were pre-filled and refrigerated. However, the inside of the cannoli shell was coated with a layer of chocolate like a drumstick cone, and this helped minimize the sog factor. It also added a pleasant contrast of texture and flavor that was lacking from the absence of mini chocolate chips. I don't know why they just don't simply pipe to order and add the chips.... but this was an acceptable substitute. The filling... FANTASTIC. Really, really good. Perfectly velvety smooth, with a pronounced vanilla ricotta flavor. My only complaint, a minor one, was that the air exposed ends of the cheese congealed as the thing sat in the refrigerated case. This was easily taken care of with 2 bites.
Cafe Roma's really got a winner if they would just take the time to properly care for their cannoli. I'll certainly suggest it to them next time.
Oh, and the cost. Stella's cannoli was $4 whereas the other two were $5. I believe A Cavalli was significantly longer than the other two.