Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bulgarini Gelato Artigianale

We are still faithful to our Friday night tradition of Pazzo Gelato in Silver Lake, so I feel a tinge of betrayal, but I must admit I have found an even more superior gelateria. I had been hearing tell for a while of a superlative gelateria tucked away in a rather random location behind an auto parts store in a nondescript strip mall in Altadena. It's not near anything, it's not open every day nor late nights, so you really have to make a special effort to get there. I finally had a good occasion to check it out when, with a burst of new year's resolve, I started riding my bike again, and found that its location made the perfect midpoint and high elevation point of a 36-mile loop from my house, perfect for a Sunday afternoon. My first sampling (and by the way, I love their petit scoops, which means you can try three flavors in the small cup) comprised banana, almond, and lemon custard. Each was an absolutely divine burst of fresh flavor. The banana was so flavorful that I wondered I wasn't eating Earth bananas that had just been pureed moments ago, and the almond had both the flavor and the texture that there was no question that select almonds had been freshly ground. And the lemon custard was a perfect balance of creamy and tart. Bulgarini is legendary for his passion about fresh, specially chosen ingredients, and his flavors change weekly as he obtains the best fruit and nuts from farmers per the season. His milk comes fresh from Broguiere's dairy in Montebello, and the gelato is crafted based on artisinal techniques he studied in Italy. (And he had to hunt around to find an old craftsman to study from, and most gelato isn't made the old-fashioned way anymore even in the old country.) I've had the delight of sampling his famous pistacchio only once. He insists on using only pistacchios that he personally selects from small farmers in Sicily, claiming that the California pistacchios just don't have the same flavor profile. The proof is in the product, with these marvelous pistacchios ground to a coarse meal, such that the gelato gives your tongue a double-delight of flavor and texture, approaching the experience of God revealing the essence of pistacchio through your senses to your soul. Alas, pistacchio gelato is finished until he makes another trip to Sicily.

Bulgarini also has a genius for flavor pairings. One Sunday, his tangerine gin granita and blackberry red wine gelato had me savoring each bite with my eyes closed in ecstasy. The next week, my mouth and mind were blown by an extraordinary marriage of rich dark chocolate and cayenne pepper. The flavors vary day to day and week to week, and I've enjoyed going in without preconceived desires, and just asking the thoughtful young man behind the counter what's fresh and new this week. The hand-written signs on the display case are in Italian, and they don't always match up to the actual flavors on offer anyway. I've learned to just ask him to tell me what I ought to try, and trust his recommendations. He's observed that unlike most regular customers who have favorite flavors they return to, I like to try new things, and when he sees me pull up on my bike, he's eager to tell me about the new flavors I might like. This afternoon, he steered me to a strawberry pepper granita, coffee gelato perfumed with anise, and a yogurt "al olio" which was a wonderfully tart yogurt gelato with fresh extra-virgin olive oil poured on it, an unexpected pairing that was just amazing. (He said the oil won't mix in to the gelato properly, so you just have to pour it on at the moment it's served.)

This extraordinary gelateria has definitely done wonders for my bike-riding motivation.

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