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Panna Cotta

April 01, 1999

Panna cotta in its purest form is a rich, snow-white, barely thickened cream custard--the blank page of the dessert world. Some chefs serve the classic with a bit of fruit; others go for novel variations.

* Perroche: The panna cotta at this English-French-Italian restaurant has an addictive texture that's delicate, almost fluffy, yet wonderfully rich. It's flavored with lemon zest and vanilla bean and topped with fresh strawberry puree. (Panna cotta, $6.) Perroche, 11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 766-1179.

* Tanino: The test of a perfect panna cotta is whether it's so delicate it "breaks" (splits) between the kitchen and the table. Tanino Drago's version--a generous serving, made with scalded cream and Hawaiian vanilla bean and served on a bed of fresh berries--may set the standard for perfection. (Panna cotta, $6.) Tanino, 1043 Westwood Blvd., (310) 208-0444.

* Girasole: For years--long before panna cotta hit the Top 10 of desserts--this tiny, homey mom-and-pop cafe in Larchmont Village has been serving an excellent pure white panna cotta topped with a raspberry coulis. (Panna cotta, $5.) Girasole, 225 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd., (323) 464-6978.

* Jozu: Several variations of panna cotta rotate on the dessert menu here. Try the bright-tasting passion fruit panna cotta with creme anglaise and fresh berries. And then there's a classic white panna cotta, served sitting in plum wine sauce. (Panna cotta, $7.) Jozu, 8360 Melrose Ave., (323) 655-5600.

* Mi Piace: Here, panna cotta is called creme alla Mina (named after the owner's mother) and it's described as an egg-less custard--but it's perfectly rich, white and delicious. (Creme alla Mina, $4.95.) Mi Piace, 25 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-3131; 801 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, (818) 843-1111.

* Campanile: Nancy Silverton and her staff produce imaginative variations on the classic. The most recent dessert menu offers bitter almond panna cotta set on a disk of caramelized puff pastry, on a plate covered with espresso jelly; it's accompanied by bittersweet chocolate bark with almonds. (Panna cotta, $8.) Campanile, 624 S. La Brea Ave., (323) 938-1447.

* Vincenti: Gino Angelini is presently serving a cream-white panna cotta with vanilla sauce and hazelnut ice cream. He also makes panna cotta in three other flavors: hazelnut, chocolate and espresso. (Panna cotta, $8) Vincenti Ristorante, 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127.

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