Elizabeth Dahl’s pastry perfection

The Nostrano dessert queen expertly pairs sweet with savory
Elizabeth Dahl’s pastry perfection
Pastry chef Elizabeth Dahl; Gianduja panna cotta with cherries, hazelnut toffee and coconut gelato.

The Nostrano dessert queen expertly pairs sweet with savory. Perhaps one of Elizabeth Dahl’s best charms is that she can make an entire city crave a dessert it never imagined possible.

When she and her husband, Timothy, moved back to his hometown four years ago and opened up their Italian fine-dining restaurant, Nostrano, they had no idea what would stick with customers. And while they had a feeling doughnuts with ice cream covered in espresso would be popular, they weren’t so sure about olive oil gelato.

“I think it took a couple of years to build trust, and now they’re willing to try stuff because I’ve shown them that rosemary can be good,” says Dahl, who serves as the downtown eatery’s pastry chef.

This mother of three is a sweet delight for Madisonians. Her vast experience includes producing pastries at some of Chicago’s Michelin-starred establishments like Boka, Naha and the legendary Charlie Trotter’s. The James Beard Foundation even named her a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2013.

Order the affogato, which is the aforementioned doughnut dessert, now a Nostrano staple. For contrast, try the goat’s milk cheesecake or the Gianduja panna cotta, where savory and sweet connect.

“I don’t have a big sweet tooth,” says Dahl. “So, I don’t like the desserts to be sweet-on-sweet-on-sweet.”

Dahl’s food is aesthetically appealing. One of her favorite tasks is making desserts look pretty. “I should’ve been a florist,” she jokes. 

Nonetheless, she’s a success—showing Madison how Midwestern ingredients turn Italian, how sweet and savory pair and how the strikingly different suddenly looks similar.

111 S. Hamilton St., 395-3295