As it turns out, my favorite gelateria (Gelato Allegro) is becoming my favorite place for a real Italian-style espresso. I was so excited by this find that I forgot to make a picture of my espresso before consuming it! So what you see is the empty cup.
Allegro uses LaVazza espresso and Ivan (the owner) pulls a very short shot (i.e., a ristretto shot), which is just how I like it. Even though coffee snobbery is achieving new heights with places like Cartel Coffee and Sparkroot here in Tucson, it’s still nearly impossible to get a genuine European-style ristretto at these places or anywhere else.
Here is a very good exposition of what makes an espresso so unique (courtesy of the Josuma Coffee Company):
Espresso is approximately one ounce of a dark, smooth, heavy-bodied, aromatic, bittersweet coffee drink topped by a thick reddish-brown foam of tiny bubbles. It is not six times stronger than a cup of coffee, as many people imply from the smaller volume; it is actually a completely different coffee beverage. The foam, or crema, that captures the intense coffee flavors is as important as the liquid coffee underneath.
crema markedly alters an espresso in terms of its mouth feel, density, viscosity, wetting power, and foam-forming ability, making it the single most important indicator of espresso quality. If there is no crema, it means the oils have not been emulsified, and hence it is not an espresso.
The remarkable thing about a properly made espresso is that maximum flavor is extracted from the ground coffee while much of the caffeine and excess acids are left behind. The high pressure of the extraction and the small volume of water that passes through the ground coffee are mostly responsible for this feat.