Happiness is… dessert before dinner.
When Dessert Professional Magazine, who has given me one of the best experiences of experiencing the Top 10 Pastry Chefs of America before, invited me to a dessert tasting, I was ecstatic. Located in the heart of Midtown New York, Il Gattopardo was a classic traditional Italian restaurant with a legacy of fine culinary cuisine, originating from different parts of regional Italy, but predominantly Sicily. Plus it was a sister property of The Leopard at Des Artistes, which I had visited aplenty before, owing to my love for the leopards that they represented! And the culinary prowess, of course.
1) Nocciole Piemontese
The multi-course dessert tasting by Chef Pietro Macellaro started with a Nocciole Piemontese: Bigné filled with hazelnut buttercream and praline. The spherical hazelnut puffed pastry of sorts was decadent, with creamy buttercream interlaced with glass-textured shards of hazelnut and praline, relaying an unexpectedly crunchy texture in every bite, with an unmissable hazelnut taste.
Like art on a plate, next up was the Controne: cream of Controne beans and vintage rum, fresh panna montata and pistachio wrapped with white chocolate and toasted almonds. We separately tasted the bean preserve, which was artistically embedded in pulled sugar on a spherical mound of panna cotta textured dessert on a bed of pistachio and white chocolate. The tastes married well with each other, the sweetness of the chocolate with an under-taste of rum, and the nuts as a textural balance. Obviously I enjoyed devouring the candy-shaped garnish the most.
With my addiction to all things chocolate, I was thrilled to see the Perlanera: Buffalo cream ricotta and homemade candied orange covered with a dark cocoa glaze and a cacao nib nougatine. Prominently citrusy in flavor, it was almost an optical illusion of sorts. The dark coating was gooey, bitter and luscious, giving way for a pale orange hued citrus buffalo cream. The taste could be eaten in isolation with the candied orange garnish too. The best part here was the trio of nougatine, a delectable crunch of Marou chocolate and brittle While not usually a fan of fruit and chocolate combinations, this one had a distinct combination of citrus and bitter which made it alluring.
4) Tropical Symphony
Taking a dramatic turn was the Tropical Symphony: crumbled praline ale mandorle layered with cream of fresh mango and lime, topped with passion fruit mousseline. Vertically proportioned to showcase three yellow and gold layers, and glistening with edible gold on top, I tasted them in isolation and collectively to see how the flavors transitioned. The praline contributed to texture, but the sequence of sweet mango to tangy passion fruit to citrusy lime was a clever take on unifying colors to relay distinct flavors. Truly like a musical, tropical symphony.
5) Chocolate Mousse
Almost like a palette cleanser, the next course went back into the chocolate devotion landscape with a Chocolate Mousse: Marou Vietnam 65% dark chocolate mousse on a crunchy nocciola biscotto. Another one of those architecturally vertical desserts, this one had a lickable layer of chocolate in the center, bordered by a crunchy base layer and a Marou chocolate top embelished with honey and gold. It tasted divine, with pure dark chocolate in every mouthful. A piece of the source chocolate on the side showcased it’s purity and dedication to the craft.
6) Kopi Luwak
And to end the official six course dessert tasting was a Kopi Luwak: almond tartelette with coffee scented ganache, filled with panna montana of kopi luwak beans. The thing I learned here was that the ‘kopi luwak’ coffee bean is harvested from the excretion of the civic cat after it snacks on coffee berries, and is one of the most expensive and musky beans one has ever tasted! The tart had a strong coffee scent and the beans were interlaced with the vanilla to give a rendition of what felt like a cappuccino dessert. Decadent, and worth every morsel.
The culmination of the meal was not an official course, but an homage to whatChef Pietro Macellaro called his labor of love and dedicated most of his time and craftsmanship to. It was two cakes, almost like fruit cakes, but softer and luscious in texture, almost like a pillowcase. These were the Panifico & Panettone; the former was scented with vintage rum and while Cilento figs with candied orange, while the latter was filled with candied Vesuvius apricot. With ingredients sourced from Italy, the rum cake had a prominent rum scent and flavor, marrying well with the orange. The apricot cake rendered a dry sweetness, almost like wine, to the delicate sponge cake.
Happy as a sugar infused honeybee, I was ready to book my next trip to the inlands of Italy to explore its culinary roots. Fairly immediately.