Dessert First

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Lemon Marmalade at Pane Bianco

In this town, the Bianco name is synonymous with amazing pizza. In fact, Food & Wine recently named Pizzeria Bianco as one of the 25 best spots for pizza in the United States. With Pane Bianco, Chris and his brother Marco brought us incredible sandwiches with focaccia bread baked on the premises (now with flour milled on-site as well). And the newest addition, Italian Restaurant, rounds out the offerings with fresh pasta dishes and other Italian-American favorites. It would seem that the Bianco Empire serves something to match every possible craving for Italian cuisine. But where does dessert fit into this picture?

Since adding a sit-down dining room at the end of last year, Pane Bianco has become more than a place to grab a sandwich on the run. The menu expanded along with the location, adding delicious appetizers, wood-fired pizzas, and -- most importantly -- dessert. Flourless Chocolate Cake and Organic Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding are regular menu items, and if you're lucky, you might score some Italian ice on a sweltering hot day.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake might appear inelegant and easy to make, but in reality, the flavors are rich and sophisticated. The cake is extremely fudgy without being too dense, and it's soft and moist, almost mousse-like but heavier. Although quite decadent, it is very simple, using minimal ingredients. Therefore, one thing that makes this cake so good is the quality of the ingredients. The 80 percent cocoa dark Valrhona chocolate is truly the star, and it deserves the spotlight.

The cake is great, it's true, but it wouldn't be out-of-this-world without its companion, Meyer Lemon Marmalade. The citrus flavors really zing in this marmalade without being too sour or too sweet. The fruitiness is quite concentrated, tasting a lot like a lemon jelly candy (think Sunkist), only much better, of course. The combination of citrus and chocolate has been a favorite of mine since childhood, so I can't be completely objective here; this dessert is satisfying in a manner that goes beyond taste alone.

This dessert is definitely good enough to make me want to order the rice pudding next time I stop by for a soppresatta sandwich. Sometime after things settle a bit, we'll have to give Italian Restaurant's desserts a try too. Word is that Chris Bianco's mother is occasionally in the kitchen at his newest venture helping to make the sweet stuff, so the result really should be "just like Mom used to make."

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Dominique Chatterjee