Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gelato at Paciugo

My gelato credentials

Last month, I made my way through Italy with bribery. To persuade our 9-year-old to hike though miles and miles of streets, art museums, and coastal walks, I had to use the gelato bribe:

"If you will just finish walking through this museum, we will get you gelato."

As a condition, I got to taste a small bite of every scoop she ordered. I must have tasted at least 25 different scoops from gelaterias in Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre.

I know gelato.


Gelato is Italian ice cream. It has less butterfat than American ice cream. It often has more intense flavors. In Italy, it often uses unhomogenized ingredients. It melts faster.

For years, the best place to get gelato in Houston was Dolce & Freddo. But it closed its last Houston location a few years ago. In recent years, Nundini Food Store, on Shepherd between Washington and Memorial, has been Houston's best gelateria. Yet for many people, Nundini is a little out of the way.


Paciugo, a big international chain of gelato shops, now has opened locations in West U and at Willowbrook Mall. It advertises itself as "Handcrafted Artisan Gelato."

My daughter and I ordered a cup with three small scoops for $3.19. Even with the bad exchange rate, that is about an average price in Italy.

I also ordered an espresso. It tasted more like real Italian espresso than Starbucks.

The big test was ice cream. Although the tiramisu and vanilla flavors were fine, they were not as intensely flavored as the best -- or even the average -- gelato of the same flavors in Italy. In contrast, Paciugo's dark chocolate was very intense -- more intense than any chocolate I tried in Italy. It was absolutely delicious.

Of course, the real authority on gelato is my daughter. In one overseas trip, she ate more gelato than I have in a lifetime. So I asked her how Paciugo compared. "Well," she said, "the tiramisu and vanilla are as good as in Italy, but not the chocolate."

So who do you trust? The guy who recently sampled a taste of 25 scoops in Italy -- or the little girl who ate the rest of those 25 scoops?

Either way, Paciugo is at least a decent facsimile of the real thing.


Anonymous said...

Oh, how I mourn the loss of Dolce and Fredo. I still have days where I think about going over there, only to remember that it's long gone. :(

But, AIEEE! Nundini's is spectacular. Totally different vibe from Dolce's, obviously, but their pistachio gelato is divine. Plus, they're the only place in town that sells the canned tomatoes I like to use for my marinara. I'll have to check out Paciugo some time and see if their pistachio measures up... :)

Oh, and your little girl is darling!!!

rr said...

come on guys? gelato is only a ratio! you can make it with the correct formula. we will never be able to reproduce the gelato of italy because we have different cows! we can make it better! stop, look at the ratio, look at the formula, look at the products your using and adjust. this is simple...dont make it harder than it is. it only a frozen custard!...kinda

Anonymous said...

Try gelato blu on memorial, they ship ingredients in season from italy to make their gelatos and their list is pretty rotating-- the place I hit up when I'm feeling t he craving.

And as much as I would like to agree with randy, I don't think that many people have ice cream machines, even the dinky plastic ones. And rolling ice cream base in ice with rock salt is only fun when you're in middle school.

Misha said...

I thought Paciugo was pretty nasty, personally. Too much butter fat and sugar, not enough flavor intensity.

Go to Raindrop Chocolate. Order the Blood Orange Chocolate if they have it. Its excellent stuff.

Cristiana - Paciugo said...

My name is Cristiana, I create the recipes at Paciugo and I appreciate your trying our gelato and giving us your feed-back.
I'm sorry for Misha that didn't like it, our gelato is actually very low in butter fat, because it's made with whole milk only, not cream (it's totally true, to make gelato as I like it, I had to remove all the cream from the recipe because the American milk & cream are richer than Italian milk) and we use pure cane sugar (not high fructose corn syrup).
It's pretty funny to read of us as a multinational. My husband and I opened our gelateria in 2000 and we started to franchise at the end of 2004. Our franchisees are all individual families, customers and ex employees, and everybody makes gelato at the store every day in small batches. One of the reasons you may find the tiramisu' and vanilla not as intense as in Italy it may be because we don't use any artificial flavorings, we like our gelato to be creamy and flavorful, without any coating, extra sweet, too long aftertaste. Vanilla is not even common in Italy, we usually have Fiordilatte (that we call Pannacotta because it's easier to pronounce). I think you had Fondente, our extra dark chocolate. We also have "lighter" recipes, traditional Italian ones would be Chocolate Choc.Chip and Gianduja (chocolate hazelnut).
I'm happy that there are many good gelato places in Houston, too many people still don't know what gelato is and it's great to have good quality gelato around.
I wish you a beautiful day!

rr said...

yeah, i forgot about that. the machine itself is pretty important...

Anonymous said...

I do agree that the flavors aren't that intense at Paciugo- I prefer their sorbets over their actual gelato.

Trentino's is my favorite of Houston. Its made by an Argentinian guy- he caters to many of the big name restaurants, goes to the local Farmer's Markets- his flavors are very pure and as good as Nundini's.
I usually get a few pints to go from D'amico's in Rice Village.

I wouldn't say its the best gelato but Wholefoods on Holcombe/Wesleyan opened a gelato section when they renovated. Interesting rotation of flavors- burnt caramel, cardamom, jalapeno- its a lot of fun to try.

Misha said...

Christina: hope you don't take it personally. I am just bitter and nasty. If you ran your place just to cater to people like me, you'd probably go out of business:)

Keep doing what you're doing. The shop was packed the night I was there.

anonymouseater said...

I didn't expect so many comments on this one. It was mainly an excuse to post photos of anonymous child.

Chef Randy: "different cows"? I would be skeptical, except that I found the beef in Italy tastes so different. You're probably right. How else to explain the unique flavor of Blue Bell? Blue Bell's marketing campaign tells us it is the cows. Maybe they're right.

Paciugo's gelato does not taste exactly like Italy. As I said, it's "at least a decent facsimile." (My comments about "gelato credentials" were poking fun at the thought I might become an expert by trying my daughter's ice cream).

But ice cream does not have to be exactly like Italy to be good. Paciugo is a nice alternative to American ice cream chains. Plus, my daughter likes it.

Cristiana-thanks for the info. Your enterprise will soon have 50 stores in 2 countries. Remember that ZZ Top song, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"? Well you're even bigger than that now. I applaud your success. I hope you continuing making your gelato in each store. Keep it real.

Jdvn1 said...

I'm curious to hear how Piccomolo compares. It sounds like it's similar in business structure to Paciugo, at least.

Anonymous said...

I have had gelato in Italy many, many times; I love it dearly! Paciugo's is very, very good. I liked some of their flavors better than others, but their textures are right on. My favorite of their's is the amaretto chocolate's divine.

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