Wednesday, April 23, 2008
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.