by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Café Fiore
66 S. California St., Ventura

Café Fiore likes for its diners to have options. An expansive wine list, a wide array of specialty cocktails and a large and diverse menu nearly guarantee that anyone and everyone can find something to order and enjoy. That magnanimous spirit applies to the dessert menu as well: On any given day, there are at least six desserts available, and usually more, along with specials like the sweet, crepe or cobbler of the day.
If you’re having trouble navigating this vast collection of sweets, give the ever-popular house tiramisu a shot. A layer of Nutella between the mascarpone and ladyfingers tames the espresso somewhat and adds a scrumptious touch of chocolate. True, the coffee flavor takes a backseat here, and serving it in a jam jar (like a pudding) is a non-traditional approach. But when it comes to the table garnished with a lit sparkler in lieu of a candle, it makes an impressive and tasty way to celebrate a special occasion.
Chocolate lovers will be interested to know that the torta di cioccolato delivers on its promise of being “sinfully rich.” The chocolate definitely veers more toward the semi than the sweet, packing a hefty cocoa punch. The center is as oozy as you’d expect from a molten cake. A generous dollop of cream and candied orange peel temper the richness a little, but fair warning: This is a sticky, gooey, death-by-chocolate experience. We found it a bit much, but if you’re in the mood for chocolate, go for it.
Our favorite dessert among the trio was a wonderful fried banana concoction called fritelle di banana. The tempura coating was perfectly crisp and light golden brown, and not even a little bit greasy. Dipped in the accompanying butterscotch and chocolate hazelnut sauces, these hunks of banana made for a delicious and satisfying end to a memorable meal.
Café Fiore’s sweets are all artfully presented and perfectly sized for sharing — and rich enough that it’s wise to go with reinforcements. More people mean you can try more of the many options available, too, so bring some friends and indulge! Strawberries, peaches and berries are all in season right now, and I predict that the fruit desserts (including granita, which is perfect on a hot day) are going to be spectacular this summer. The best reason to come to Café Fiore for dessert, however, might be the sheer novelty: There’s always something new to look forward to, and many reasons to save a little room.