La Dolce Vita: How I Learned to Love Italian Desserts

Maybe tiramisu is more than an alcohol-soaked anachronism

“Italian desserts aren’t meant to be eaten at the end of a meal,” said Evan Kleiman. The host of KCRW’s Good Food and I had just turned down a sweet ending to our lunch at Vincenti Ristorante. “They’re meant to be eaten at 3 o’clock at a pasticceria with your girlfriends.” Vincenti’s eternal host, Maureen Vincenti, agreed.

Italian desserts had long befuddled me. I found the cookies dry and sugarless, the cannoli overhyped tubes of cream, the tiramisu a fluffy holdover from the days of Duran Duran and sauce squiggles. But perhaps I’d been seeing it all wrong.

Talk about pressure. You try being the finale of a carb-rich flavor parade in which pasta is merely a stepping-stone to bigger things. What crumbly biscuit—rainbow striped or not—can follow such an act? Taken out of that context, paired instead with, say, a 4 p.m. coffee, such semisweet nibbles become just-right delights.

Spurred by this revelation, I sought to reassess the treats I’d dismissed. On second taste, the petite cannoli at The Factory Kitchen (1300 Factory Pl., downtown) seem like clouds in a golden shell. A dunk in espresso completes the delicate powder-coated cookies at Eagle Rock Italian Bakery (1726 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock).

The towering tiramisu square at Jon & Vinny’s (412 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.) soars as a midday solo act. As my daughter aims a tiny plastic spoon at a scoop of chocolate-hazelnut one afternoon outside Pazzo Gelato (3827 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake), it’s clear that la dolce vita is not just for nighttime.