I still remember the first time I tried gelato, the ultimate ice cream, when I visited Florence in 1980. Oh, sure I had eaten ice cream before, but this experience was transcendent. Cioccolata gelato at Vivoli was like sweet cocoa beans melting like butter on your tongue, and fragola at Perche No was like God implanting the pure essence of ideal strawberry-ness sensually but directly to your brain. For all the years since then, I have wondered why quality gelato is so hard to find. Gelato shops in the US have been extraordinarily rare - I'd only known one in Berkeley years ago, one still going in Palo Alto - otherwise you need to hop a plane and fly to Florence or Rome or Paris. (The renowned Berthillon calls their product 'glace' rather than 'gelato', but it's the same sublime stunningly-fresh-flavored substance. It is even said that France's glace can be traced to Catherine de Medici bringing gelato from Florence.)
Suddenly, gelato seems to be in vogue. In old town Pasadena, Tutti Gelati has been open for over year, making traditional flavors with ingredients and techniques imported from Milan. We've found ourselves going to movies more often at the Laemmle One Colorado just so we can have gelato afterward. Tutti Gelati is very good, but it does not quite hit the perfection of flavor found in the top European places (or in Gelato Classico in Palo Alto). It's very creamy and flavorful, but somehow a bit too much sugar and milk foils the maximal fruit and nut flavors shining through.
But now, just recently, a new gelato place has opened up practically in our backyard: Pazzo Gelato, on Sunset at Hyperion, in Silver Lake. And this, this is the real thing! My first encounter was with an almond fig gelato, and oh I could just taste those almonds melting on my tongue. Last week, a banana zabaglione gelato with a drizzle of caramel had me closing my eyes and moaning, savoring every spoonful. Each week the flavors vary, and it is hard to choose. (The owners buy their fruit at local farmer's markets, and the freshness is evident.) I tried a taste of rose gelato (yes, the flower!) which was extraordinary, and a Venezuelan chocolate sorbetto that was incredibly rich. Their sorbettos are amazing, well-stirred as they are crafted, so that there is no iciness to them, and some are even creamy (despite having no milk in them). My husband had a mango-cayenne sorbetto, a surprisingly effective combination (reminded me of the spices mixed with confection in the film Chocolat). Pazzo Gelato is fast becoming part of our Friday night routine. I only hope that this is not a fad that will blow away with the next change of season, but for now it has reinvigorated wonderful memories of my first gelato.