In early 2010, there seemed to be an absolute explosion of panna cotta across the entire city of San Francisco. Now in early 2011, it’s commonplace for most restaurants to boast their own unique take on this classic dessert. However, there are only a few that stand out from the panna cotta chaos and deserve special recognition.
The Veteran – Delfina
There’s no denying that Delfina’s Buttermilk Panna Cotta is a classic. Always paired with seasonal fruits, this preparation mixes tradition with a touch of California flavor. A recipe that hasn’t changed in the 10 years it’s been included on the nightly-changing menu, it’s simple, consistent, delicious, and a must-have no matter how many times you may have ordered it in the past.
The Rising Star – Cotagna
A newcomer on the block, this panna cotta isn’t copying what’s already out there. Instead, Cotogna serves up its own unique spin on the classic dish. Their Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, served with Homemade Pinoli (classic Italian cookies containing pine nuts), highlights the more savory aspects of Italian desserts (think ricotta cheese). It’s luscious and rich, yet made refreshing at the same time by the subtle tartness of the crème fraiche – a unique taste that really stands out from the panna cotta crowd.
The Wild Card – Frances
Frances takes a non-traditional, seasonally driven route by serving a Chicory Root Panna Cotta with Satsuma mandarin, espresso gelée, and chocolate sea salt cookies. While coffee flavors may be commonplace on dessert menus, the use of chicory root as a replacement for coffee is rare find. And in this instance, the certain fullness of the chicory root’s flavor blows the taste of coffee or espresso out of the water. Although this won’t be on the menu when chicory root goes out of season, my taste buds are already excited by what Chef Perello will have next.
The Artist – Coi
Daniel Patterson’s panna cotta at Coi seems to take originality one step further than the others on this list, primarily because of the subtle but distinct inclusion of herbs and aromatic ingredients, such as fennel or mint. It was last spring’s Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Cherry Blossom that has been the most noteworthy – a dish that has carved out a permanent place in my memory and secured its position as one of my top 10 dishes of 2010. The aromatic qualities of the cherry blossom twig, left on the plate purely to smell, transforms the flavor into something truly unique: the culinary incarnation of early spring. One year later, I am still hopeful and eagerly awaiting its reemergence on this year’s spring menu.
For more on the panna cotta party, head on over to KelsEats.