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10 Best

The Gulfshore's 10 greatest grand finales (in no particular order of perfection).

1. To many, dessert means chocolate. There are a lot of mousse cakes and flourless cakes out there, but nothing tops the chocolate ganache cheesecake at Blue Pepper Gourmet Market. You haven't tasted chocolate cheesecake until you've tasted this dense, nearly black beauty. Rich? Oh, yes. But the dessert, made by Bruno Cantieni at Swiss Pastry & Gourmet Coffee Shop in Cape Coral, uses only bittersweet chocolate to prevent sugar shock. Plan on sharing a slice-it's too decadent to keep to yourself. 7091 College Parkway, Fort Myers; (239) 939-4700.

2. On the lighter end of the scale is Norman Love Confections' chocolate mousse. No one knows chocolate like Love, who's dazzled such choosy consumers as Ritz-Carlton guests and Godiva customers with his creations. At his new chocolate salon-a true dessert destination-he and his staff dreamed up this glistening dome of rich mousse, adding a raspberry brûlée center and garnishing with wafer-thin chocolate. 11380 Lindbergh Blvd., Fort Myers; (239) 561-7215.

3. Captiva Island's Bubble Room takes the cake when it comes to decadent desserts, dazzling patrons with serving size as well as sweetness. Its cakes and tortes have inspired many a guest to start a meal where it usually ends. Best loved may be its buttermilk-based red velvet cake-plushly textured and layered with cream-cheese icing so rich it makes your teeth ache. Insider's tip: There are no cherries, no strawberries, no raspberries-the cake's dazzling scarlet hue comes from a bottle. 15001 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island; (239) 472-5558.

4. Every chef has a variation of Florida's famous key lime pie; one of the best is the key lime berry tart at the Brass Pelican at the Registry Resort and Club. In this three-ring circus of color from pastry chef Paul Hayward's kitchen, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries complement the zesty lime custard in the traditional graham-cracker crust. A colorful skewer of fresh melon balls and a frozen passion fruit sorbet lollipop round out the fetching plate. 475 Seagate Drive, Naples; (239) 597-3232.

5. Some desserts serve as standards by which to compare restaurant kitchens. An exemplary rendition of such a classic is The Grill Room's raspberry crème brûlée. The cream of the crop of desserts that come out of executive pastry chef Frederic Monti's kitchen, this multi-textured concoction is topped with a tiny almond cake, a mélange of fresh berries and a small scoop of blueberry ice cream. Raspberry jam lines the bottom of the custard, and whole raspberries are scattered throughout. The Ritz-Carlton, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples; (239) 598-3300.

6. For a different riff on the dark classic, try Cru's white chocolate soufflé. The delicate flavor of white chocolate is expertly showcased in this ethereal marriage of eggy fluff with cake-like structure centered around white-chocolate ganache. Cru finishes the dish with a flourish: a scoop of double-chocolate ice cream. 13499 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers; (239) 466-3663.

7. "Life is uncertain-eat dessert first" is the motto at Flora and Ella's Restaurant in LaBelle. This country café, where waitresses still call their customers "sugar," is known far beyond Hendry County; and the peanut butter pie has helped earn its place in regional restaurant lore. Piled high with fluffy meringue, this creamy, peanutty concoction is a delicious reason to start with dessert. Depending on the day's offerings, there might be as many as eight other reasons-uh, flavors. Nothing fancy, mind you-just down-home desserts even better than the ones Grandma used to make. S.R. 80, LaBelle; (863) 675-2891.

8. The pièce de résistance of dinner at Chardonnay's Res-taurant is the ethereal soufflé infused with the sweet-tart essence of raspberry. This elegant Naples institution does the chocolate and Grand Marnier versions, but the raspberry soufflé is extraordinary to see and to taste. It's like eating a raspberry cloud. 2331 Tamiami Trail N., Naples; (239) 261-1744.

9. Tony Ridgway offers fancier creations at his Ridgway Bar & Grill, but his old-fashioned chocolate cake wins points among purists. A pound of chocolate and a pound of butter go into each cake. The result: three layers of dense yet flaky, moist but not mousse-drenched cake, interspersed with shiny butter-and-confectioner's sugar frosting. Consider ordering a glass of cold milk on the side. 1300 Third St. S., Naples; (239) 262-5500.

10. Fruit infusions don't get much better than Zen Sushi Bar and Asian Grill's painterly sorbet trio. Visual flourish and intense flavor come in a lovely lacquered bento box containing a lush bed of diced fresh fruits. Flavors, which play all over the sweet-to-tart scale, change regularly, but might include such singular scoops as blackberry-cabernet or grapefruit-Campari. 898 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 403-4936. 

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