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.