Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Just Desserts 8: Veniero's

LOCATION: 342 E 11th Street
DATE: May 28, 2005
DESSERTS: Sfogliatella, Cannoli, Hazelnut Gelato, Blueberry Italian Pie
BEVERAGE: Decaf Hazelnut Coffee
PRICE: $20.00

There must be a secret ingredient Italians use in their desserts that make the sweets especially addictive. Perhaps there’s something in the water of Italy and the dough in Italian pastries becomes infused with the same lighthearted spirit which has led the country to have as many governments since Mussolini as Jenna Jamison has had “male encounters”. Whatever the cause, in my experience, Italian desserts are best enjoyed in gangs of four, as just like listening to the band of the same name, once is never enough.

Veniero’s reputation extends well beyond the East Village and even New York. Lines have formed under its easily distinguishable neon sign for over a hundred years, hungry eyes taking in the wide variety of desserts in the display cases with a desire akin to that of a five year old at FAO Schwartz.

Let down by a sold-out sign at Chick-a-licious, Libby and I wandered into Veniero’s intent on sugar satisfaction. Though I should have known better, I ordered a cannoli, and I blame my post-Madonia disappointment as much on myself as on any fault of Veniero’s. Theirs is an average cannoli and having already tasted perfection once that day, I should have left well enough alone.

Luckily, my date flashed the quick thinking skills requisite of anyone crazy enough to teach in the St. Louis Public School System, and ordered an Italian version of blueberry pie. Served warm and in appearance like a French tart, the pie was splendid, the filling delightfully containing many whole blueberries and enriched in a syrupy glaze which rested on top of a crust with the flakiness of a biscuit. When we added spoonfuls of the hazelnut gelato to the pie, America a la mode suddenly went Roman. The gelato doesn’t measure up to Otto’s and melts extremely quickly, but was still very tasty. Finally, we ordered my Veniero’s stand-by, the lemon and ricotta filled Sfogliatella. Shaped like a clam shell, the taste is anything but fishy, and has become one of my favorite desserts because it satisfies the sweet tooth without being too sugary and the citrus hints at limoncello, making the pastry distinctly Italian.

What makes Veniero’s special is its bustling environment. The tables sit practically on top of each other, which when paired with the irresistible temptation to share desserts, causes Veniero’s to take on an intimacy lacking in most late night establishments. Your voices get lost in the din of all those around you, but oddly you can always hear every interesting comment from your companion. Veniero’s is a comfortable space despite its fervent activity, and this is a hard balance to maintain. Lucky for us, it finds such an equilibrium – oh yeah, and the desserts are pretty damn good as well.

RATING: 7.3/10

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