It’s hard to improve upon God’s recipes. He’s very good in the kitchen. People have long labored to recreate the whispered sweetness of a nectarine, the piquant tang of chocolate or the bright summer kiss of a peach–and have failed miserably. Velveeta, krab, and imitation bacon bits are all testaments to the inferiority of the mortal to the Immortal. And we won’t even talk about a McRib. But, then, every once in a while, a genius comes along like Leo Bulgarini.
Mr. Bulgarini, the owner of the eponymous gelato shop, may be a native of Rome, but his creations of custard and ice are otherworldly. His shop is hidden in what must be the most nondescript strip mall in Altadena. You’d better use Waze or Google Maps to find it, and even then you’ll need a little luck. But it’ll be worth the effort.
Bulgarini’s preoccupation with authenticity borders on the fanatical. His wife, Elizabeth Foldi, reportedly imports pistachios from Sicily to create the pistachio flavor.
But it’s the Cioccolato di Firenze al sale (chocolate and sea salt) that begins to reveal how very far these creations are from the ordinary. Real chocolate, you see, has very little in common with the kind you find in most frozen confections. It has no cloying sugar, but is instead possessed of an earthy acidity. Bulgarini’s chocolate and sea salt gelato is made of the real stuff. So when you first taste it, your tongue will search for the familiar candy-store sweetness to which you’re accustomed, but will not find it. Miraculously, though, the natural acidity of the chocolate will be cleverly obscured by the cool smoothness of the cream and the briny snap of the sea salt. It’s an unforgettable combination of rich textures and sensations.
Or try the nectarine gelato. The taste is so pure that it’s as if Bulgarini plucked out the tender soul of the stone fruit and, instead of sending it to hell, imprisoned it in frozen cream. And the blood orange sorbetto? I’m afraid that, like Godfather II, it’s an improvement on the original. The taste is simply more bright, more clear, than an actual blood orange. I’m pretty sure I will soon be struck by lightning.
Ice cream takes us back to our simple childhood. But this gelato is for adults. It costs $7.50 for two small scoops. At first, that may seem like a lot. But it’s a pittance to pay for a transformative experience that will remind you that man is, indeed, made in the image of the divine.
What’s your favorite ice cream or gelato? Let me know in the comments!