Sarasota's 10 Best Desserts

By staff January 1, 2005

The Ritz-Carlton's semi-cooked mango cake does chef Stephane Cheramy proud. (Not surprising, since he was the sole pastry chef honored at the Ritz-Carlton chefs' dinner in Washington, D.C. recently.) His mango-filled sponge creation, topped with edible gold leaf "Ritz-Carltons" stamped into chocolate, rests beside a dollop of braised mangoes-a tart yet sweet complement to icy coconut sorbet garnished with mango and pineapple crisps. Graphic lines of fruit and chocolate sauces make for dessert as art. For more sweet surprises, check out the Ritz-Carlton's dessert buffet. The chocolate fountain says it all.

Dessert lovers tend to fall into two basic camps, those who cherish chocolate and those who fancy fruit. For the ultimate in orchard offerings, dig into Zoria chef Arthur Lopes' perfect apple tart. From the light-as-a-whisper almond crust to the decadence of Myers dark rum, this tasty tart boasts a harvest of sliced apples, meaty as fresh nuts. It's served a la mode, and every detail delights-even the ice cream is beribboned with homemade caramel. As labor-intensive as it is delicious, this is a perfect pastry to eat out.

Honey and cumin. Meat with chocolate. Javier's opulent and earthy Spanish cuisine offers a rich and wonderful finish: his signature key lime trifle. A bit of liqueur-laced sponge, a tangy citrus custard and a blanket of whipped cream prove to be postprandial perfection. ¡Buen Provecho!

Choosing a favorite amid the mecca of Euphemia Haye's memorable Haye Loft desserts is sweet agony, but the exciting Southern-style pecan pie is surely a top contender. Served warm, the pie is fragrant and chewy, a perfect counterpoint to its ice-cream accompaniment. Follow with a filter of coffee.

Michael On East's homage to strawberry shortcake gives you a delicious Tuscan tour. Simple, elegant and unpretentious, this twist on a classic starts with a spiky black pepper shortbread mellowed by creamy goat cheese. Deep red strawberries play against a rhubarb pungency. Orchard-fresh figs bathe somnolently in balsamic vinegar. And the candied almonds. well, time to travel!

Closer to home, the Oasis perfects an American tradition: carrot cake. This made-on-the-premises carrot concoction is replete with pineapples, black walnuts and carrots, without a suspicion of raisins. Sandwiched between tiers of airy butter cream frosting, the gorgeous gateau wears a cream cheese wrapping. The cake feels a mile high-so will you.

There's nothing like Fleming's chocolate lava cake. It's a study in contrasts, an amazing amalgam of crunch and chew, heat and cold, cake and cream, chocolate, fruit and nuts. This rich chocolate cake with its molten cocoa center is reminiscent of chocolate soufflé but without the wait. Its artful accompaniment of a crispy cone shell stuffed with ice cream beneath red berries, crushed pistachios and a mint leaf is like getting two desserts in one.

Chocolate purists will find their Eden in The Table's aptly named chocolate extravaganza. Start with Gondoua chocolate layers thickly spread with a velvet chocolate mousse and then top with shiny chocolate fondant and fresh chocolate curls. Then return to your senses with a straw of fried linguine tossed in cinnamon and a sobering strawberry on the side.

Sometimes comfort food is called for. When it is, yield to Ruth's Chris' bread pudding's embrace. A straightforward interpretation of the classic homey version, this pudding is spare but elegant, rich yet surprisingly light. It's a compelling and luxurious must-try. Add it to the list!

When your idea of a great ending starts with ice cream, head toward St. Armands and Café L'Europe for a '70s revival in strawberries Romanoff or bananas Foster. Indulge in the delicacy: a nut of butter and a burst of brown-sugared berries (or bananas) in a bath of Gosling's dark rum, blackberry brandy and Godiva chocolate liqueur set flamboyantly aflame, tableside. A hard-to-find fantasia for the senses. Indulge. 

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