Submitting to Wine and Dessert at Piccolo
Ben CalderwoodPiccolo's tiny two-by-five gianduja cream puffs
Sometimes all you have to do is listen. Last night's dessert at the expanded Piccolo Venice consisted of bignole, ten pastry puffs barely larger than the dimples on a baby's cheeks, each filled with chocolate-hazelnut cream, and a fragile, vin santo-enriched panna cotta. We debated the accompanying wine, circling around a tawny 20-year old Graham's port, tempted by something with so much muscle. The server peered at us for a moment, determining our willingness to consent rather than govern, then redirected the conversation to a semi-sweet sparkling red, Martinelli's "I Ronchetti" Brachetto from the Piedmontese region of Acqui in Northern Italy. He was polite but firm. The barrel-aged, fortified port would demolish the pastry and panna. As it was, the two delicate constructions on the linen in front of us demanded something with a lightness. With sway.
He poured the "I Ronchetti" taster's share into a champagne flute. It was crystalline and cranberry-red, with a bouquet like roses and pomegranate and a palate like the best Farmers Market high-season fruit: cherries, tart raspberries and wedges of ripe melon, finishing crisp and off-dry. This is the sort of refreshing, unfussy wine winemakers like to drink, preferably in the waning light of a Mediterranean evening when you can smell the soil cooking from the heat of the day.
Our server was simply doing his job, and in so doing did us a great favor by curating the end of our meal. We'd have been foolish to reject his wisdom. The pastry choux were so tiny their powers were under-utilized, skipping out on the palate too quickly to gauge their flavor. The effervescent fruit of the Brachetto grape fixed them in place and helped them pop. The pistachio-dusted panna cotta, streaked with crème anglaise, sliced and arranged on the plate to resemble medallions of pork tenderloin, is a Piccolo imperative, and the best thing we ate the entire evening. It was not gelatinous or spongy; rather it felt like chilled cream whipped to stiff peaks, structured yet airy and tender. Paired with Martinelli's playful Brachetto, it was illuminated. The matrix of dairy became a platform for the wine and for an ephemeral moment we may as well have been sharing a pistachio crust tart with berries and crème fraiche, before the bubbly wine and frothy panna decayed on the tongue in unison.
Piccolo: 5 Dudley Avenue, Venice; (310) 314-3222.
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