Dessert First

Tiramisu at Aiello's Salumeria

See also: Aiello's Salumeria and Isa's Pizza Corner the Moon Valley Market See also: Original Aiello's May Relocate Closer to Downtown

Central Avenue, although replete with restaurants of all varieties, lost an irreplaceable one early last month when Aiello's East Coast Italian Dining closed its doors (and stopped serving addictive pasta sauces).

Word is that the owners, ex-Manhattanites Joe and Myrah Aiello, might be relocating their upscale eatery to One Lexington, a condo and shopping complex located near the Osborn light rail stop. Until then, loyal diners can visit the couple's three casual options -- Aiello's Salumeria, Isa's Pizza, and Charr -- all located at 7th Street and Thunderbird Road.

Those missing the home-style Italian desserts of Aiello's, including zabaglione and tiramisu, can head there for a taste.

Tiramisu can be a tricky dessert. When it's ordered at a restaurant, the result is often too fancy, or way too heavy, and it's usually best when made at home. But the one place where tiramisu is usually just too damn good is in a family-run Italian restaurant, so as appealing as the pastry case full of cookies looks, that had to be the real test for Isabelle's Bakery, the sweet section of Aiello's Salumeria. Of course, we also snagged a small cannoli because they're always hard to resist.

While it's best to skip the cannolis, which lack flavor and use a pre-made shell, the tiramisu does not disappoint. All in all, it's very traditional. The cream is fairly light and has straightforward flavor, with the heavy cream and mascarpone cheese well balanced, leaning a little more toward the cream. The top is then dusted with plenty of cocoa powder, which soaks up the moisture from the filling to become a thin layer of smooth chocolate. At the very bottom are the ladyfinger cookies, soaked in just the right amount of liquid to become soft and cake-like without being mushy.

The composition of Aiello's tiramisu at first seems unusual: ladyfingers as the bottom one-third with the cream filling in a thick layer on top. It's much more common to see alternating layers of ladyfingers and filling. But, separating them actually works quite well, enabling the individual parts to be tasted alone as well as together. This layering style allows for a little more variety in bites, sometimes tasting more or less coffee, cream, chocolate, and so on.

All great tiramisu requires some kind of alcohol -- just ask any Italian. Some recipes call for wine or rum, but Aiello's opts for the more traditional coffee liqueur (Kahlua, specifically). But the resulting dessert doesn't have much coffee flavor.

As an avid coffee drinker, I'd say that tiramisu can't have too strong of coffee notes, but the fact that it isn't overwhelming helps make this dish accessible to non-coffeeaholics. Although I'd amp up the coffee, nothing is stopping this tiramisu from being one enjoyable treat.

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Dominique Chatterjee