Few things irk me more than a poorly-conceived dessert menu. Restaurants should realize the value in a strong sweets program. It is, after all, a customer’s last taste—and thus, last impression—of a dining experience. For those who get it right (Lower48 Kitchen, Spuntino, ChoLon), bravo. Another shining example is the panna cotta at Sarto’s, Taylor Swallow’s three-week-old Italian restaurant and cicchetti bar in Jefferson Park.

Executive chef Brian Laird (who hails from Barolo Grill) spent years trying to replicate the panna cotta he tasted in Italy. He even devoted a trip to conquering the dessert where he met with chefs, bakers, farmers, and anyone else whom he could learn from. “What he came to realize is that no recipe, singularly or collectively, would teach him to make panna cotta like what you find in Italy,” Swallow says. “The milk is different. The cream is different. And every dairy product in between is different.“ What it comes down to is feel.

Laird’s “cooked cream” (made from whole milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, and gelatin) is rich, light, and fresh with just the right amount of wiggle. The texture-giving gelatin is the tricky part: too much and the panna cotta becomes firm and stiff, too little and it droops and puddles on the plate.

Order the dessert and find a treat sided with candied pistachios (these also come alongside Sarto’s very good pistachio semifreddo) and drizzled with passion fruit coulis and not-too-sweet chocolate sauce. Garnish or otherwise, the heavenly, wonderfully simple panna cotta is the star.

Bonus: For more on how Sarto’s came to be (it includes a decades-old dream, a trip to Italy, and serendipity), read this.

2900 W. 25th Ave., 303-455-1400

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Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.