Happy Endings

Five desserts worth saving room for

The cool, creamy flan at Centro Cocina Mexicana is a perfect complement to the hot and spicy main dishes.

The cool, creamy flan at Centro Cocina Mexicana is a perfect complement to the hot and spicy main dishes.

Photo By Jill Wagner

I have a confession to make: I’m not a dessert person. I typically prefer sugar in small doses—a Hershey’s kiss, a Girl Scout Cookie, a finger full of frosting from someone’s birthday cake. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sweets, but anything more than one or two bites seems like overkill. Besides, when eating out, I tend to overindulge on appetizers and main entrees. Thus, my usual reaction when the dessert cart rolls by is a stifled belch.

So, it was with some trepidation that I undertook this mission to find five desserts served in Sacramento restaurants worth saving room for. Could I forgo that fab French onion soup in exchange for a piece of cheesecake? Snub the second serving of chips and salsa for a pile of creamy chocolate custard? Lucky for you, SN&R reader, these were sacrifices I was willing to make.

Zabaione alla Gritti at Il Fornaio. I wasn’t sure what zabaione was, but this dish appealed to my non-dessert eating sensibilities. It didn’t look chocolaty or fattening or filling. It was white and fluffy with a dab of pink, like a cumulonimbus cloud at sunset; it was quite pretty. But that didn’t prevent me from decimating it in three minutes flat, relinquishing just one bite to my envious dining companion between grunts of delight. In addition to the zabaione—which, it turns out, is a whipped, sugary custard—the lower depths of the bowl contained fresh berries, peach-champagne sorbet and whipped cream. I left the restaurant satiated but rueful: If all restaurant desserts are this good, I have been missing out. 400 Capitol Mall, (916) 446-4100.

Flan de Chocolate at Centro Cocina Mexicana. When I was a kid, I loved those individual servings of Swiss Miss Pudding: The type where you peel back the plastic to reveal a cup of pristine chocolate. The flan at Centro is the adult version of Swiss Miss, with no lid to lick. A traditional Mexican custard, flan is denser and more flavorful than pudding, and this one has two bonus ingredients: caramel and Kahlúa. In texture and taste, it was a perfect counterpoint to the bold and spicy flavors that still lingered on my tongue after dinner. Apparently, the desserts at Centro are made to soothe the palate—the trio of pineapple-passion fruit, mango and coconut sorbets also provided a nice cool-down. 2730 J Street, (916) 442-2552.

Fruit Empanadas at Tapa the World. Tapa the World is the place to go if you know someone really well or want to get to know him or her a lot better. If you go the tapas route, you’ll be sharing a lot, potentially touching fingers as you swap plates and jockey for the last olive. The fruit empanadas continue with this theme. Four little pastry pillows filled with warm fruit and accompanied by miniature scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with warm caramel: An ideal finale for two. The temptation to shove a warm empanada whole into one’s mouth is strong, but if you’re trying to make a good first impression, I recommend using a utensil. 2115 J Street, (916) 442-4353.

Caramel Cheesecake at 33rd Street Bistro. I’ve never felt entirely comfortable eating cheese for dessert. I believe my aversion to this practice dates back to my childhood, when my mother would make cheesecake with no ingredients other than a bone-dry, ready-made graham-cracker crust and a block of store-brand cream cheese. But since I’d been testing my comfort zone to order desserts in the first place, why not face my demons head on? Miraculously, as if the pastry chef knew about the traumatic gustatory events of my childhood, the cheesecake came with no crust at all! Instead, it sat in a small soufflé dish, topped with a glorious, golden layer of caramel. On the side were six nut-filled sugar cookies for dipping. The cookies, or the contents of the soufflé dish, were tasty enough on their own, but together they were the perfect remedy for my 30-year-old case of cheesecake phobia. 3301 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 455-2233.

Chocolate Orange Mousse Cake at Tower Cafe. I was perusing the dessert menu at the Tower Cafe and the orange and chocolate mousse cake caught my eye. Layers of orange and chocolate mousse separated by devil’s food cake, it offered the promise of chocolate without the threat of bloat. So, I ordered and promptly devoured the smallest dinner portions I could find—an appetizer and a side dish of corn—eyes darting impatiently around the room awaiting the waitress’ return. My chocolate orange mousse cake was just what I had expected: the taste of chocolate in every bite and the airiness of the mousse and the citrusy orange counteracting the richness of the devil’s food. I was sad to see the last of it disappear from my plate and into my belly, but there was reason to celebrate. With dozens more desserts at the Tower Cafe, and hundreds more across the city still untasted, I had a lot to look forward to. 1518 Broadway, (916) 441-0222.

So, SN&R reader, I hope you have learned a valuable lesson from my experience. No, I’m not suggesting that you become more open-minded, try new things or get past longstanding prejudices. The moral of my story is much simpler than that: Save room for dessert.