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Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants 2013
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THE BENCHMARK: Putnam and Rudicel are fans of Bulgarini Gelato, and Shuldiner stops here on all his informal food tours. Prices are high, but owner Leo Bulgarini's seasonal Italian ices, made with local fruit, are utterly transporting.
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Bulgarini Gelato - Best of Pasadena 2012 by Pasadena Magazine, July 2012
Object of desire: Yogurt gelato at Bulgarini
When you find yourself in the upper reaches of Altadena, strolling through Millard Canyon perhaps, or returning from the splendid Wednesday afternoon Altadena farmers market, it will probably occur to you that you are within striking distance of Bulgarini Gelato, a tiny shop that is always mentioned when the subject of L.A.'s best ice cream arises.
Leo Bulgarini, the proprietor, is nearly as fanatical about his gelato as he is about his hometown AS Roma soccer team -- I once saw him nearly vault over his freezer case to confront a taunting fan of rival Lazio -- and he is especially adept at capturing the flavors of ripe, local fruit. It is hard to say what is better: his goat's milk gelato with toasted cocoa nibs or the gelato he makes with the ultra-pricey Bronte pistachios he hand-carries from Sicily.
But occasionally what you want is the simple goodness of his yogurt gelato, a scoop so rich and yet not-rich, tart and yet not-tart that it should make the czarinas of Pinkberry, Red Mango and Menchie's weep bitter tears of shame. It is savory - there's a bit of sea salt in it - and it is often served with a few drops of Tuscan olive oil, just enough to flavor the gelato without overwhelming it with greasiness. It is a gelato you could serve as a cheese course.
House policy at Bulgarini mandates a three-scoop minimum, at $2.50 per, so if you were so inclined -- and why wouldn't you be? -- you can get the yogurt with olive oil in one cup, plus another cup of pomegranate sorbetto and Florentine chocolate gelato, or zabiglione and crema di limone, or blood orange and strawberry for dessert.
Bulgarini Gelato, 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena; (626) 441-2319.
-- Jonathan Gold - June 14, 2012
Photo by Jonathan Gold for The Times
December 29, 2011
10 Best Ice Cream & Gelato Shops in L.A.
There's a reason Bulgarini Gelato is a perennial topper on Best Gelato lists. While other gelaterias do a superb job of capturing the essence of a particular flavor, Bulgarini somehow captures the flavor itself. Case Study: their pistachio gelato, which tastes like an entire grove of trees has been crushed and condensed into a single, aromatic, golf ball sized scoop. Husband and wife team Leo Bulgarini and Elizabeth Foldi make it the old fashioned way.
July 23, 2011
Larry Wilson: Get summer's scoop in Sicily or Altadena
Don't let the West Siders get your scoop. The goat's milk with a tablespoon of $75-a-bottle olive oil topping it is out of this world. But the next time I head in, I'm holding out for the famous canteloupe with Tanqueray, and you should, too.
June 27, 2011
30 Scoops in 30 Days: Bulgarini Gelato
There's a reason Bulgarini Gelato is a perennial topper on Best Gelato lists, our own and others. While other gelaterias do a superb job of capturing the essence of a particular flavor, Bulgarini somehow captures the flavor itself. Nowhere is this more true than their pistachio gelato.
In Search Of The Perfect Gelato
Authentic gelatos that can be had closer to home
Pasadena, Calif.: Bulgarini Gelato
As authentic as it gets this far from Italy, down to the non-English labels and Old World flavors like pistachio and chocolate. 749 E. Altadena Dr. Altadena
Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304803104576427833900075322.
A Movable Beast: L.A. Weekly's 99 Essential Restaurants
"Avenue to the Sky," it was once called, a broad, swift thoroughfare rising from the Pasadena business district up to the steep San Gabriel Mountains. Henry Ford himself used to test the engines of his cars against Lake Avenue's steep upper grade. And as near the top as any business in Altadena, tucked in behind an auto parts store, is Bulgarini Gelato, the most improbable ice cream store in California, almost a gelato speakeasy, where the gelati are labeled only in Italian and the best flavors include Florentine chocolate speckled with sea salt and a goat-milk gelato with roasted cacao nibs that could double as a cheese course. The proprietor, soccer-mad Roman expat Leo Bulgarini, has been known to pull his delicious sorbetti from the menus of restaurants that fail to come up to his standards. But the gelateria is a singular, perfect blossom: gelato powerfully flavored with the pistachios he hand-carries back from Bronte, vibrant peach sorbetto, yogurt gelato scented with Tuscan olive oil, and dark, smoky chocolate gelati flavored with orange peel, with fresh hazelnuts or with rum. In the summer, he screens movies on the patio outside his shop, because as everyone knows, nothing goes better with a showing of La Dolce Vita than a dish of Santa Rosa plum sorbet.
Read more: http://www.laweekly.com/2010-11-11/eat-drink/a-movable-beast-l-a-weekly-s-99-essential-restaurants/
For whatever reasonour Mediterranean climate, our willingness to experimentthe most impressive gelati flavors this side of Rome are being made locally. At Ugo Café in Culver City, the Romeo and Juliet consists of mascarpone and sour cherry; Studio City’s Gelato Bar offers a bright blood orange with chocolate nibs. But the zenith of the Italian frozen treat, which has less butterfat than ice cream, is at Bulgarini, tucked below the San Gabriel Mountains off a pretty courtyard. Here sea salt gives a kick to Florentine chocolate, and whiskey spikes the creme de torró. » 749 E. Altadena Dr., Altadena, 626-791-6174.
Leo Bulgarini goes out of his way literally to make superior gelato for his Altadena shop
By Jessica Hamlin 07/22/2010
A native of Rome, Leo Bulgarini doesn’t advertise or operate his gelato shop in a busy area, because his product and adoring customers speak for themselves.
Nestled in a tiny strip mall on Altadena Drive, Bulgarini Gelato is extremely unassuming. It defines "hidden gem,” and getting to the shop is almost like a treasure hunt.
Once inside, you won’t find dozens of flavors of brightly colored gelato in pristine piles garnished with fruit, nuts and other decorations. The gelato itself looks understated Bulgarini uses no coloring and there could be 10 flavors or two, depending on the season and how brisk business has been that day.
But one taste of the creamy creation can transport you to the streets of Italy. The light, fluffy texture and pure flavors starkly contrast with the icy impostors many local vendors try to pass off as gelato.
“Sorry to say, but if you are not getting a good texture, you are a moron in terms of the gelato, because you are really not doing your job,” says Bulgarini. “You are not curing it and taking care of it and are making it go too long.”
Bulgarini doesn’t serve gelato unless it is up to his meticulous standards for ingredients, creation, storage and service. He famously stopped selling his gelato at Staples Center a few years ago when he arrived one day to see they were topping it with M&Ms.
“It’s like putting the wheels of a Yugo onto a Ferrari,” says Bulgarini. “It’s not about being pretentious; it’s just about the pure flavor. They were blending it with something that makes no sense.”
At the age of 8, Bulgarini learned how to make fresh gelato at his uncle’s restaurant in Italy.
“It was something I always had inside me, wanting to do things that were fresh,” says Bulgarini.
After moving to California 21 years ago, he spent time learning about other cuisines at the former Pasadena Ritz-Carlton and Trattoria di Venezie, and then went to pastry school in Paris with the intention of returning to the US and opening a pastry shop.
But when Bulgarini discovered the difficult, round-the-clock schedule required for running a pastry shop, he decided on the more forgiving business of making gelato.
“I knew if I was going to do something with food, I needed to go out there and learn everything there was to learn about gelato,” says Bulgarini. “But I couldn’t find anything. I remember the way my uncle used to make it, and it had nothing to do with what I see out there.”
However, deciding to make gelato the only way he knew how proved to be challenging. During a trip to Sicily, where he was researching gelaterias and local ingredients, asking a gelateria owner a few questions turned into what Bulgarini describes as a scene out of a mafia film, as the owner took Bulgarini to his car and drove him to a gelato corporation.
“They sat me with all these corporate people, and they wanted me to work with them, but also wanted to put fear into me,” says Bulgarini. “They said I had to use their products and go to the states and sell their line. They said, ‘You’re never going to be able to have a business using fresh eggs and stuff like that.’ So that upset me and I said, ‘Now I want to do it.’”
Though Bulgarini gives the gelato industry credit for making certain advances, he also rebels against some of its ingredients, such as pistachios some claim are purely from certain regions in Italy, when they are in fact a blend of pistachios from across Europe.
Bulgarini refuses to use anything other than pure Sicilian pistachios because, he says, they are the best-tasting, and those from other regions cannot remotely compare.
“They have very specific laws in Sicily about air-drying their pistachios, the original Sicilian pistachios,” says Bulgarini. “Turkey and Iran produce a lot, but they put them in huge silos and they mold. Pistachios should be air-dried, and a lot of people don’t know that.”
Since the Sicilian farmer who originally sold Bulgarini Sicilian pistachios retired two years ago, Bulgarini has not served his popular pistachio gelato. He spent four months in Sicily over the past year searching for pure Sicilian pistachios until he found a small group of farmers. Thanks to years of diligent work and saving, Bulgarini can afford to go on these excursions.
“You don’t make a phone call to a Sicilian,” says Bulgarini. “They get offended. So you physically have to go there.”
His pistachio gelato makes a long-awaited comeback this summer. Luckily, he stocked up on 2,000 pounds of pistachios, from which he will extract pure oil. But the flavor will probably only be served for a few months, since he likes to rotate flavors to make sure everything is fresh.
He gets some of his other ingredients from Italy or local growers so he can ensure he is creating the best product. He also travels to Hawaii to get his macadamia nuts and to Santo Domingo to get his cocoa. He’s serious about his gelato, but it pays off.
The shop recently started pairing wine with the gelato, something Bulgarini does at the Yamashiro Garden Market on Thursday nights, in order to bring out the pure ingredients even more.
Seasonal flavors like strawberry, peach, Marsala wine, goat cheese with cocoa nibs and others are now in the treasure chest.
99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die
Fugu to foie gras, pizza to panuchos
By Jonathan Gold Friday, Feb 26 2010
The theme of this issue is somewhat morbid. We’ll admit to that. We were going to call it "99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Move to San Diego," but it didn’t have the same ring of finality. You could probably drive up from San Diego if you were really, really in the mood for a maple-bacon biscuit but from beyond the grave? I’m afraid our metaphysics isn’t quite up to that one.
And as long as we’re on the subject of metaphysics, we will also confess to being a bit judgmental, because judgmental is what we do around here. If we’re suggesting that some things 99 things are on this particular list, we’re also suggesting that others are not. A Tito’s taco: Eat before you die. A Pink’s hot dog? You’re on your own.
See you’ve barely started reading and we’ve already absolved you of the responsibility of standing in line behind Leonardo DiCaprio. You’ve already recouped the entire cost of the issue, and then some.
To eat, perchance to dream, in no particular order.
Bulgarini's Goat's Milk Gelato
Eat before you die? If you get it from the wrong guy, blowfish can be what you taste rather immediately before you expire tetrodotoxin, the nerve agent concentrated in the innards, is enough to paralyze a charging bull elephant, and is rumored to be the agent used to turn men into zombies. Usually, we satisfy our fugu cravings at Dae Bok, the Koreatown specialist that cooks the blowfish into a spicy, garlicky stew, but everybody should experience, at least once, the translucent petals of fugu sashimi prepared by Hiro Urasawa in its early spring season. But be warned: If the toxins won't get you, the size of the check just may. Urasawa, 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-8939.
Los Angeles is a world capital of so many things, including, it turns out, goat's milk ice cream. Delicieuse, in Redondo Beach, is the most obvious source, sporting reams of literature about the health benefits of goat's milk and eight flavors of ice cream made with the stuff, all of them delicious but none of them particularly goaty. And then there's Leo Bulgarini, the Zen gelato master of Altadena, who amps up the strong, animal taste of his goat's milk gelato by tossing goat cheese into the mix along with a handful of toasted, unsweetened cacao nibs for maximum pungency it's petting-zoo gelato, gelato you can almost imagine nibbling on your sleeves. Leo recommends that you pair it with a glass of rose prosecco from Valdobbiadene. Bulgarini Gelato, 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena. (626) 791-6174.
San Nak Ji
If you've been to a local farmers market midwinter, you've probably seen these things lumpy, glowing, pale-green vegetables, the size of footballs bisected on their horizontal axes, plunked down near the counter at any Weiser Family Farms stand. If you're at the Pasadena farmers market, there may be a Caltech student or two nearby, admiring the peculiar geometry of the vegetable; fractal pyramids flowing in tight logarithmic spirals, cruciferous Fibonacci series, galaxies expressed in the medium of cauliflower. Nudge the postdocs out of the way and take one home. Made into a salad with pureed anchovies, roasted whole with a dribble of olive oil or sliced and sautéed with garlic and capers, the nutty, deep-flavored Romanesco is the queen of winter vegetables. weiserfamilyfarms.com.
I have read more about cephalopod nervous systems in the last couple of years than most of the people of my acquaintance, and I'm still not sure about the morality of eating this dish which is to say, the tentacles of a humanely dispatched octopus, served chopped and still wiggling on a platter. The predominant school of thought states that the tentacles move purely by reflex, like beheaded chickens or the twitching frog legs many of us encountered in high school biology. Another theory, which begins to make sense when your next bite starts to crawl up your chopsticks, claims that the octopus brain is rather decentralized, and that the suckers adhering to the roof of your mouth are still very much alive. Imagine a dish so delicious that it occasionally outweighs pretty serious ethical concerns. That's san nak ji
. Masan, 2851 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 388-3314.
There Will Be Belly: The 2nd Annual Gold Standard Food and Wine Event
By Erica Zora Wrightson, Monday, Mar. 1 2010
If you happened to be looking for Octavio Becerra, Ludo Lefebvre, Leo Bulgarini or Susan Feniger yesterday, they were all at the Petersen Automotive Museum, and no, they weren't ogling over the Hot Wheels Hall of Fame. Ludo was busy churning cornichon sorbet out of his Pacojet to adorn cups of cold chorizo velout,, and Feniger posed patiently alongside Jonathan Gold for dozens of snapping digital cameras.
The Second Annual Gold Standard Event at the Petersen was really a microcosm of L.A. pop culture at the moment--word on the street is food on the street and traffic has become an obstacle for mobile restaurants and a goal for food blogs. Angelenos are mad about cooking, tasting, photographing and talking about food, and Jonathan Gold's weekly column has become a culinary barometer for diners from the Eastside to the West.
The event was generously attended, although unfortunately the doors opened 30 minutes late because the county health inspector found that the water temperature on an outside sink that was not used until several hours into the event was not up to temperature. But once the line started moving, it was clear that the space was more user friendly than last year, with plenty of food and drink to go around for the first couple of hours. Dozens of wineries and a handful of breweries helped wash down the dishes of forty restaurants and Bulleit Bourbon poured shots. Behind the museum, a Kogi barbeque truck handed out free tacos for their first annual Free Taco Day. After a week of intermittent rain, Sunday's brilliant blue sky perked appetites and people stood basking in the sun on the roof of the museum, discussing whether tapioca makes uni sing, or if pickle should be eaten with a spoon.
Leo Bulgarini is the wrong guy to mouth off to the day after his beloved AS Roma squad drops a game to Genoa or Inter Milan, and I suspect he cheered the bankruptcy of AIG as cosmic revenge for its sponsorship of the hated Manchester U. His gelati are labeled only in Italian, and he is not above correcting an 8-year-old on her faulty pronunciation of pistacchio or stracciatella. His standards are so famously strict that he's been known to pull his delicious sorbetti from the menus of restaurants and the freezer cases of retailers that in one way or another failed to come up to his standards. A big photograph on the wall of his Altadena shop shows him making an obscene Italian gesture to a giant Sicilian ice cream plant. But it cannot be denied: Bulgarini is an artist, a master of smooth textures, an ace at coaxing the maximum flavor from a rare-breed plum or a ripe peach, an artisanal dark chocolate or an especially fragrant Sicilian pistachio he himself smuggles from Italy. When the evenings are warm, he screens Italian movies on Saturdays on the patio outside his shop. And he probably pulls the best espresso shot in the San Gabriel Valley, when he's in the mood, a thick, syrupy thimbleful made with an antique Italian machine. If you don't believe me, ask him yourself.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Just another perfect day
By JONATHAN GOLD
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - 12:00 pm
It is still dark when I wake up, and I pad down the stairs to put together one last breakfast of biscuits, eggs and juice before the rest of the family gets out of bed. The biscuits are made with cultured Vermont butter and the soft, fine flour I mail-order from the Weisenberger Mill in Kentucky. I will serve them with the plum jam that my neighbor Kazi sometimes makes when she is not otherwise engaged as the principal violist of the L.A. Opera. The eggs are from the Kendor Farms stand at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. The juice is from my own grapefruit tree. The music on the radio is the Emerson Quartet playing Haydn. If it were a weekend, I might also throw a center-loin Schreiner’s smoked pork chop or a hot Italian sausage from Alexander’s Prime Meats into a skillet, and maybe brew a plunger-potful of Krakatoa-blend coffee from Monkey and Son, but I’m not eating until later.
The oven beeps. The biscuits are golden and flaky. My wife and daughter slide into their chairs at the dining room table, and my 4-year-old son fetches today’s copy of the L.A. Times from the lawn, where it has miraculously not been soaked with sprinkler runoff. (Are the headlines true? Are the troops really on their way home? Did the Celtics really agree to trade Kevin Garnett straight up for Kwame Brown?) When I walk Leon to his pre-K class a little later, he remembers to hug me goodbye.
From the school, I drive to the gym, where I meet Melody Schoenfeld from Flawless Fitness, who has the unenviable task of directing me through the workout. (Why would I go to the gym on my last day on Earth? You never know when core fitness is going to come in handy on the other side.) I am in luck it’s arms-and-shoulders day, no squats or lunges, and the mook who likes to work out to the Rocky soundtrack is nowhere to be seen. Even better, JACK-FM seems to have been struck by lightning during the night: Everybody’s reps are powered by a podcast of last week’s Chocolate City on KCRW, and the host, Garth Trinidad, has found some late-’70s Meters sides I have never heard before. The iron practically lifts itself.
Posted by Amy Scattergood on 12:04 PM, Aug 8 2007
Gelato and a movie
Driving up the San Gabriel foothills into Altadena for a fix of Bulgarini Gelato has been well worth the trek since the outpost opened in April. And now you can pull up a folding chair and stay awhile: Owners Leo Bulgarini and his wife, Elizabeth, recently instituted movie nights. Every other Friday night, after the sun (and the lines snaking out the door) goes down, at about 9:30, you can watch an Italian movie free of charge in the open courtyard outside their shop.
Eat a bowl of pistachio gelato or spoon up an affogato (a scoop of gelato topped by a shot of espresso) while you wait for the same stars watched by the nearby Mt. Wilson Observatory to come out. Last Friday, the third movie night so far this summer, it was a showing of "Mediterraneo," the Italian flick that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1992. Come early, save a seat and get dinner too: for $9 you can get a huge plate of homemade lasagne or ravioli and a salad at the table they set up outside. Or get back in line for a second bowl of plum sorbetto or chocolate-orange gelato while you brush up on your Italian. Not that it's required; the films are subtitled, even if the occasional shouts from the back of the house aren't.
Bulgarini Gelato, 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena; (626) 441-2319.
-- Amy Scattergood
Photo by Stefano Paltera for The Times
99 Essential Restaurants: The Metropolitan Palate
By JONATHAN GOLD
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - 12:00 pm
In search of excellence
IT wasn't easy finding worthy teachers. "In Rome right now there are about eight gelaterias that make it from scratch," Bulgarini says. "Maybe 99% of gelato in Italy is industrial," adds Foldi, a Pasadena native who gave up her career as a litigator to make gelato. "It was killing her soul," says her husband.
At last they found the gelato genius they were looking for in 82- year-old Guido Luca Cavieziel, a third-generation gelato maker, in retirement in the Sicilian town of Catania. In the two months he spent with Bulgarini and Foldi, he taught them the formulas he used to make superlative gelati. The distinctive creaminess of gelato comes from ingredients combined in specific proportion to each other. "If you do the math, you don't have to add a bunch of junk," Bulgarini says. Just the freshest fruit, the best nuts, the purest milk (Bulgarini's comes from Broguiere's Dairy in Montebello).
They opened their shop, Bulgarini Gelato, in a pretty courtyard under the looming San Gabriel mountains, just 11 days ago. (Before he opened in Altadena, Bulgarini wandered with his gelato cart from venue to venue for a year, peddling from the Pacific Asia Museum to Caltech to Pasadena's Laemmle Playhouse 7 movie theater.)
The gelateria has the charm of an airy farmhouse kitchen, with rustic painted furniture and shelves filled with jars of brightly colored amaretti and Italian chocolates. A beautiful copper Elektra espresso machine and a vintage 1960s granita maker the couple had shipped from Rome are more like architectural still lifes than machinery.
Bulgarini changes flavors daily, depending on what he and Foldi bring back from trips to local farms -- or what they pack in their suitcase during frequent trips to Italy. Raspberries from Santa Barbara go into an intensely flavored raspberry sorbetto. Marsala from Sicily sets the zabaglione gelato apart; Ojai cherimoyas from Santa Barbara Farmers Market make spectacular tropical gelato.
Gail Silverton, who opened Gelato Bar with partner and fiance Joel Gutman in September, is just as obsessed as Bulgarini, but she leaves the gelato making to Allessandro Fontana, a gelato specialist who came to Los Angeles from Venice in August.
Silverton creates the gelato flavors in consultation with Fontana. Some are her takes on old favorites, like the beautifully perfumed strawberry sorbetto made with strawberries she gets from local farmers markets. "Some we just invent," Silverton says. Like cinnamon basil or black sesame gelato, or a vanilla gelato with ribbons of dark chocolate and candied orange peel. Or the creamy chocolate sorbetto that Silverton loves to pair with a blood orange sorbetto Fontana makes with the oranges from his backyard tree. "That's my favorite combination," Silverton says.
Silverton's original plan was to make her own gelato. She'd just completed a gelato-making class given by Carpagiani, an Italian gelato machine manufacturer. When she learned her new storefront wasn't equipped with enough power to run her gelato machines, the Carpagiani people put her in touch with Fontana. He makes Silverton's gelato at a facility in Burbank, though the two have been talking about opening a shop of their own. "Of course we want to make it in-house," Silverton says. "We've wanted that since the beginning."
Silverton's Studio City shop reflects not her childhood in Los Angeles as much as her adulthood, much of it spent in Umbria. The ambience is all Italy: tiled floors, an indoor stone fountain, marble-topped counters, cafe tables and, on Thursday afternoons, free Italian lessons given by the same expat Italian woman who gives Silverton her lessons. Though Silverton's background is in education, not food, (she runs the Neighborhood School, a private preschool in the San Fernando Valley) gelatomania seems to run in the family: At her sister Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza, all but one of the desserts involves gelato, made on site by Nancy and pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez.
Sweet heat relief at Bulgarini gelateria
By Jonathan Gold
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 12:00 pm
When it is 109 degrees in Pasadena, when the live oaks droop and the front range of the San Gabriels burns with a terrible heat, there is no better place to be in the city than the shaded courtyard of the Pacific Asia Museum, among the Japanese statues and the swimming koi, the muscular Myron Hunt architecture, and the frail cart that houses Bulgarini Gelato, whose pistachio is fragrant as a lyric poem, whose lemon tames the sun, whose peach-moscato sorbetto is even more delicious than a chilled Bellini, even more delicious than a chilled Bellini made from a peach you have plucked from your own tree.
Los Angeles is thick with skilled gelato makers at the moment, with the product of Tai Kim at Scoops, whose cucumber-mint ice is among the most refreshing things you will ever taste, and the artisans at Pazzo Gelato in Silver Lake, whose crowded shop has created a scene reminiscent of high noon on the Via Veneto. But Bulgarini, the love child of Rome native Leo Bulgarini and his Altadena-raised wife, Elizabeth Foldi, is a singular, perfect blossom in a world of international sweets conglomerates and by-the-book mixes.
All the best gelato makers have the texture down, the almost supernatural creaminess without cream, the weightlessness, the way that a spoonful feels as if it is suspended in your mouth a pistachio-flavored caesura in the time-space continuum until that moment when it slides down your throat in a clean, cold, ectoplasmic rush. The gelato at San Crispino in Rome is like that, a creature of perfect smoothness, as well as the gelati that sometimes make it onto the menu at Campanile, any number of places in Florence, and a shop near the northern wall of Viterbo that I was never able to find again. If you get a good batch, you can approximate the sensation with a quart of Ciao Bella from the freezer case, although freshness in gelato may be as important as it is in black raspberries or Left Bank baguettes.
Anybody can learn to make decent gelato, and the principals of Bulgarini certainly apprenticed with some of the best gelato makers in Rome. But not everybody has the gift. It is a kind of alchemy to capture flavors in their truest, most flattering form, like pinning a butterfly under glass in a way that displays the majestic iridescence while making you forget that you are looking at a bug.
|Leo Bulgarini and Elizabeth Foldi with their frosty love child
Bulgarini’s chocolate gelato, for example, may use the same Valrhona product that most pastry chefs keep around in massive bars, but instead of emphasizing the winy acidity of good chocolate, this gelato brings out the elusive smokiness, a gentle autumnal tang that usually stays hidden in the mix. In the zabaglione gelato, based on the popular Roman egg-yolk custard, the flavor is so vivid, so pure, that you could swear you’re experiencing not just the particular essence of the egg, but also what the hen in question had for supper the night before last. The chocolate-hazelnut gelato, which 99 chefs out of 100 will make with Nutella spooned straight out of the jar, has the smack of freshly roasted nuts. And the putty-colored pistachio, made with nuts Foldi specially imports from Sicily, traps and magnifies the high, slightly fermented flavor of first-rate pistachios with such purity that you may realize that you have never really tasted a pistachio at all.
Great gelato makers specialize in capturing the ephemeral, the flit of resinous complexity across the midrange of a white peach, the bare hint of sweaty afternoon sex in the scent of a juicy midsummer melon, the phenolic fugue inscribed in the taste of a ripe banana. When you look at a Chardin painting of fruit, the cherries are sweeter, riper, more impossibly aromatic than an actual cherry could ever be. When you taste the cassis sorbet at Paris’ Berthillon, it is more than cassis: rounder, subtler, more exquisitely perfumed than cassis, which in its natural form is a fairly boring kind of black currant. And then there is Bulgarini’s pistachio.
Does Mr. Bulgarini enjoy talking about his gelato? No. He would much rather discuss the last game of the World Cup, kick by kick by kick.
Bulgarini Gelato, in the courtyard of the Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; (626) 441-2319, www.bulgarinigelato.com. Open Fri.Sun. 11 a.m.
Early each morning, Leonidas Bulgarini and Elizabeth Foldi buy fresh fruit at the produce markets in downtown Los Angeles. They bring back cases of seasonal bounty, like blueberries, cantaloupe and white peaches, to their gelato shop in Pasadena.
On a recent weekday, Bulgarini decided to make blueberry sorbetto (mirtillo). He washed the fruit, inspected each berry by hand and threw the rotten ones out. He pulled off the tiny stems, one by one. He blended the berries, then added the puree to a sugarwater solution and froze the mixture in a gelato machine for about 20 minutes. In the last few moments, he added a splash of moscato d'asti, an Italian dessert wine, to add dimension to the flavor.
I scooped up the fat-free delight with a little shovel, and the bright, creamy flavor of blueberries burst in my mouth.
The fruit in my dessert was only four hours old. Handmade Italian ice cream is a rare treat, whether it is gelato (made with milk) or sorbetto (without milk).
Before the couple opened their shop, Bulgarini was a manager and sommelier at Trattoria Tre Venezie, an upscale Italian restaurant in Pasadena. The Italian native grew up in Rome, and wears his hair in a long ponytail. He met Foldi when she walked in for dinner one night. His wife-to-be had worked as lawyer for several years, but was looking toward food as a new career.
While Foldi is Chinese and Hungarian, she is also fluent in Italian.
"I was pumping him for information about Rome, because I wanted to move there," Foldi said. "He said, next time I'll let you know. And I thought, What next time?'
Bulgarini eventually won her over, and the pair traveled to his hometown together and stayed for a year. They wanted to learn how to make authentic gelato the old, artisan way, but couldn't find anyone in the city who knew how.
They finally found an octogenarian in Sicily who was a famed gelato maker. They arranged to meet the gelato master, who passed down his techniques to the couple.
After they came back home, they opened their gelateria in April, just inside the Pacific Asia Museum in Old Pasadena. The pair makes traditional Italian favorites, as well as zen-inspired flavors like chocolate ginger, mandarin orange and lychee strawberry.
Actually, most of the time, Bulgarini makes the gelato; Foldi is the taste tester.
"I love doing it," Bulgarini said. "The one thing about gelato is, when people eat it, it's (like) ice cream, and people are happy."
The basic method of making gelato starts with combining the base ingredients: milk, sugar, nonfat milk powder, and vanilla beans. After heating the mixture through, you add chocolate, espresso, fruit or nut paste. A popular flavor in Italy is zabaglione, which is flavored with marsala wine..
Bulgarini has his own little secrets to making his phenomenal Italian ice cream. He only uses all-natural ingredients and revealed that he lets the gelato mature a little longer in the freezer.
All of the sorbettos are made with fresh seasonal produce. Sometimes Bulgarini will go to San Luis Obispo to find quality produce.
He only uses organic milk in the gelatos, as well as quality ingredients like Madagascar vanilla beans, imported Sicilian pistachios from the volcanic region of Bronte, and hazelnuts from Piedmont.
Making Italian ice cream from scratch is time-consuming, expensive, and takes a certain amount of skill. The fruits, proteins and sugars need to be balanced, Bulgarini said. A lot of things can go wrong, too: The finished product can develop ice crystals, or the flavor can be too rich or not sweet enough.
Most gelato shops in the United States and even Italy have switched to pre-made bases and artificial flavors. People have forgotten traditional methods as they turn to packaged products, and the art of gelato making is dying, Bulgarini said.
"Gelato is not like reinventing the wheel. It's making it from scratch and the artisanal quality of gelato that's being lost," he said. "In mass-produced lemon sorbet, the lemon is so tangy, you feel something artificial. You might taste acid, which is a preservative they put in so it lasts longer. When I'm making gelato, I make it so it doesn't last more than a few days."
Bulgarini is also a sculptor and a welder, and he likes to create beautiful things from raw material. He has the same sentiments about gelato: making it by hand is more difficult, but worth it, he said.
"Young people these days are working in banks, with air conditioning and on their cell phones," Bulgarini said. "They don't know about hard work. And you see these old gelato masters in Italy riding around on their bikes, but they make the most unbelievable gelato you've ever eaten."
In the future, Bulgarini and Foldi want to make chocolate-dipped gelato, as well as sugar-free and lactose-free versions.
"I want to make things other people don't make," Bulgarini said. "I want to do what the old artisanal masters used to do 40 to 50 years ago. Through making gelato, I'm just trying to preserve a little of my heritage."
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2507
Global Village: Wie zwei Einwanderer Amerika retten wollen
mit Vanille, Pistazie und Sinnlichkeit
Leo nimmt jetzt eine Mango vom Stapel,
er hält sie mit beiden Händen,
wie man ein Baby hält, er beugt sich
vor, versunken, starrt die Frucht an, als
wollte er durch die Schale blicken, dreht
sie, schnuppert, wiegt die Mango in den
Händen, betastet sie, nickt. Atmet hörbar
aus. Legt sie beiseite.
Va bene, ist okay. Leise Stimme.
Leo, langhaarig, lässig, geboren in Rom,
gelernter Schmied, dann Metallbildhauer,
dann Landwirt, großbürgerliche Herkunft,
dann nach Amerika, einfach so, weil es
romantisch war und er sich beweisen wollte,
in Los Angeles Tellerwäscher, Kellner,
Pizzabäcker, Manager, Türsteher, bärig, bedächtig
und ausgestattet mit einer Adriano-
Celentano-Stimme sowie Bizepsen, die
sich, wenn er die schweren Kisten stemmt,
wölben wie Zuckermelonen Leo hat
schon die nächste Mango. Schnuppern,
tasten, starren, und so vergeht
der Vormittag, nach den
Mangos die Erdbeeren, dann die
Pistazien, drei Säckchen, die Eier.
Dann die Haselnüsse. Die Schokolade.
Leo Bulgarini, 37 Jahre alt, seit
16 Jahren in den USA, hat neue
Visitenkarten drucken lassen. Unter
seinen Namen ließ er mit
kecken Schnörkeln setzen: Gelato
Artigianale, was man frei übersetzen
kann mit „Eis-Kunstwerke“.
men beschatteten Innenhof. Ein Espresso
wäre jetzt nicht schlecht. Aber es gibt kein
Café. Dafür eine Küche. Und da fuhrwerkt
Leo. Und winkt einen heran.
Hier ist sein Trainingscamp, sein Labor,
und falls Kunden kommen, sind sie Testpersonen.
Man gibt für drei Portionen eine 20Dollar-
Note hin und bekommt ein unbeträchtliches
Wechselgeld zurück, und während
man noch rechnet und überlegt, ob
man irgendwie meckern sollte, hat man
bereits probiert, und Leo beobachtet aus
Es schmeckt umwerfend.
Erdbeere: fruchtig, aromatisch, wie noch
nie im Leben ein Erdbeereis geschmeckt
hat, Wald und Schatten, Untertöne von
Pflaume, Likör, Birne, Minze; das Pistazieneis:
komplex, nussig, rauchig, pfefferig;
italien, die Schweiz, Sizilien, sie aßen in
Hunderten Eisdielen, interviewten Dutzende
Eismacher, nahmen in Catania
monatelang Unterricht, schrieben Notizbücher
voll, kamen zurück. Nahmen einen
Kredit auf, 50 000 Dollar. Mieteten
sich im Museumshof ein, fanden außerdem
einen Laden an der Lake Avenue,
ihre eigene Eisdiele, die bald eröffnet wird,
„Du kannst dir im Supermarkt“, sagt
Leo, „grauenvolles So-als-ob-Eis kaufen,
für zweieinhalb Dollar das Kilo oder du
legst ein bisschen drauf, leistest dir eine
kleinere Portion und erlebst etwas damit.
Und erinnerst dich, mit Glück, den Rest
deines Lebens an den Geschmack.“
Drei Jahre haben sie ihren Coup vorbereitet.
Ihre Haselnüsse kommen aus dem
Piemont, die Pistazien aus Sizilien, die Vanille
von einem ökologischen Anbau
auf Madagaskar, schwierig
war die Wahl der Schokolade: Sie
experimentierten mit 40 Sorten
und entschieden sich für Valhrona,
mit etwas van Houten. Und
mindestens so wichtig ist das, was
sie nicht benutzen, all das, was auf
Eispackungen normalerweise hintendrauf
steht: Emulgatoren, Stabilisatoren,
stattdessen das beste Obst,
das man in Kalifornien kriegen
kann für die Pfirsiche, Erdbee-
ren, Mangos fährt Leo zu einer
Plantage nördlich von Santa Bar-
Dies ist seine Mission. Denn
Leo will Amerika retten.
Er will Amerika retten, indem
er, gemeinsam mit seiner Frau Lisa, Ehepaar Bulgarini: Geschmack als Statement
das beste Speiseeis des Landes
kreiert; eine Erfolgsgeschichte wollen sie
schreiben, an deren Ende die Amerikaner
etwas unendlich Wichtiges gelernt haben
werden über Geschmack und Sinnlichkeit;
während sie, Leo und Lisa, reich geworden
sind und nach Rom zurückgehen und
abends auf einem Balkon sitzen werden,
auf den Campo de’ Fiori blicken und die
Rotweingläser heben: Auf dich, mio Amore,
und weißt du noch, damals, als alles begann
in jenem kleinen Museum in Pasadena?
Die Erfolgsgeschichte, so sie eine wird,
beginnt hier, eine Autostunde nordöstlich
von Downtown Los Angeles, Kalifornien.
Das Pacific Asia Museum liegt an der
Los Robles Avenue, vier kleine Säle, in die
sich kaum je ein Besucher verirrt, mit steinernen
Buddhas aus Angkor, 11. Jahrhundert,
und japanischen Masken der Edo-
Periode und wenn man das alles gesehen
hat, tritt man in einen von Ginkgo-Bäu
die Schokolade: butterig, prachtvoll, in verblüffender
Meine Güte, Leo, wie kriegen Sie das
Viel Arbeit, sagt er, die besten Zutaten,
und vollkommene Hingabe kann auch
Als Leo und Lisa sich kennenlernten,
vor drei Jahren, beschlossen sie, aus ihrem
Leben etwas Besonderes zu machen. Lisa
ist die Tochter eines ungarischen Revolutionärs,
der nach dem Aufstand 1956 in
die USA emigrierte und neu anfing, und einer
Chinesin. Lisa studierte Musik, Jura,
Biologie und suchte dabei nach dem Mann
ihres Lebens und der besonderen Aufgabe.
Und dann traf sie Leo. Der liebte sie und
erzählte von dieser Gelato-Idee, die er
schon immer hatte.
Sie kratzten ihre Ersparnisse zusammen
und reisten zwei Jahre lang durch Nord
bara, sieben Stunden Freeway,
dreimal die Woche. „Aber du
merkst es“, sagt er.
„Geschmack“, sagt Lisa, „ist ein Statement,
fast eine Revolution, fast schon
„Unsere Einstellung zum Essen spiegelt
alles wider“, sagt Leo, „das Verhältnis zu
Gemeinschaft, Tradition, Natur, zu uns
Ihr Eis wird teuer sein, aber nicht unbezahlbar;
eine Revolution für alle, im Becherchen.
Sie sind optimistisch und übrigens
glauben auch andere an den Erfolg
der zwei Eisheiligen. Leo erzählt von einem
halben Dutzend Franchise-Angeboten.
„Wenn Amerikaner Geld wittern, werden
sie übereifrig“, sagt er. „Ich warte, bis
wir für die Partys der Stars und Milliardäre
die Desserts liefern dann kann ich
mir meine Partner aussuchen. Und wenn
es nicht klappt, haben wir’s zumindest versucht.“
„Noch etwas Pistazie?“ Ralf Hoppe
132 der spiegel 34/2006