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Restaurants & Bars Texas Gelato

[DFW] Gelato!

Scott | | Aug 21, 2003 04:37 PM

A week or two ago, the DMN published a feature on gelato, providing brief descriptions of various gelaterias in and around Dallas. Unfortunately, the descriptions didn't amount to "reviews," since there was no effort to evaluate the pros and cons of various establishments, rank them comparatively, etc.

So here are some mini-reviews to supplement the DMN's listing. I will be proceeding, in order, from my least favorite to favorite. (Flavors of Florence is omitted because it's in Grapevine. Until I can catch a commuter flight out of Love Field, I won't be going there.)

Nicola's Gelateria. Attached to an Italian restaurant on the third floor of the Galleria, this gelateria has relatively few flavors--about eleven gelatos and three sorbets. Prices were high for the portion sizes. The flavors tended to be muted and the texture was very icy. Flavor mix was conservative, compared to the competition. Nothing really interesting or wild to be found there. If you have to have something frozen at the Galleria, go to Marble Slab. If you have to have something frozen and low-fat, go to the skating rink.

Torrefazione. Attached to Sur la Table off of Knox, this gelateria...well, it isn't a gelateria. It's a cafe that happens to serve gelato. And, with only six flavors available in a tiny cart, they don't serve much of it. It's self serve, which allows you to pack it in, if you want. Quality is okay; but, for the money, you're better off buying a pint of Ciao Bella at your local Whole Foods. Or, better yet, you can cross the street and go to Talenti.

Gelato Paradiso. Tucked into a small space near the theater in Mockingbird Station is this interesting concept--gelato with liquor. You can order your gelato "dry" or you can spike it. (Fun for the whole family!) Flavors are few, at fourteen. And sorbets are not clearly distinguished from gelatos; so make sure you get a taste first, or you might end up with an unwanted surprise. On my visits, the flavors weren't too innovative. But a menu on the tables lists other gelatos that they make, some of which *are* interesting (e.g., guanabana). Quality is uneven. Some of the gelatos were slightly airy and icy. But flavor intensity was above average.

Fresco Ice Cream. On Coit, north of Campbell, this place is, despite its misleading name, a gelateria. Twenty three gelatos and half a dozen sorbets. Service was more polite and enthusiastic here than at any of the others. I have mixed feelings about the place. On the up-side, they have more interesting flavors than almost all of the competition (e.g., Snickers, sticky cinnamon bun, rosewater/pistachio, etc.). And, commendably, they address a common complaint about gelato’s monotony by incorporating textural and flavor contrasts into the gelato itself (rather than drizzling some token chocolate or sprinkling a handful of nuts over the top of the bin, which looks nice but rarely finds its way into your scoop). Chocolate Brownie Fudge, for instance, has ribbons of fudge sauce running through it, as well as small chunks of brownie. Sticky Cinnamon Bun has plump, cooked raisins scattered throughout. Dulce de Leche has small dark chocolate chunks mixed in. I give them all the credit in the world for that. The down-side, however, is that the gelato quality isn’t that great. Flavor intensity is uneven. Some flavors (e.g., dulce de leche) seem to miss the intended mark. And texture is on the icy side. So it’s a mixed bag. I like it, but I wish I could like it more.

Paciugo. A local chain of about ten locations, Paciugo is easily the most visible gelateria in the metroplex. And, to their credit, they’re also one of the best. Their daily array consists of about 20 gelatos, almost a dozen sorbets, and usually at least one non-dairy flavor for the lactose intolerant. They boast of rotating through 200 different recipes; but, in practice, the turnover isn’t all that aggressive. Most of the gelato flavors are rather conventional (with some exceptions, such as violet, rose, meringue, etc.); but the sorbet options are the best of show (e.g., mango, green apple, cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, et al.). Quality on both gelatos and sorbets is very good. They’re low on iciness (especially nice in the sorbets, which in lesser hands often inadvertently end up with a granita-like mouthfeel). And flavors are sufficiently intense and precise. The gelatos do tend to be a bit airy, almost as if they’re incorporating some overrun. But, since some people prefer lighter over denser textures, that’s not necessarily a negative. Overall, an excellent little chain.

Talenti. About fifteen feet from the Katy Trail on Knox stands the pinnacle of metroplex gelato. I’ve been visiting the gelato places on this list repeatedly over the past couple of months in an effort to experience the range of flavors, filter out any off days, and give my opinions some germination time. Of the entire list, Talenti is the one that kept calling me back for more “research.” It quickly became my baseline. I’d hit Talenti first, then go to Gelato Paradiso, Paciugo, or whatever to do a head-to-head with comparable flavors. Talenti was undefeated in this round robin tasting (both by myself and with fellow tasters). So what’s so special about it? Well, for starters, at twenty six, they have more daily varieties of gelato than any of the competitors. (Paciugo has thirty two flavors, but almost a third of them are sorbets. Talenti usually only has five or six sorbets.) They also have the most creative flavors in town. Sambayon, for instance, is a mixture of Marsala wine, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Russian Milk has a walnut base with hints of watermelon. Crocantino is flavored with rum and cashews. Chocolates and vanillas are available for those who prefer familiar tastes. But, if you’re up for something new and interesting, you’re at the right shop. The flavors are consistently intense, well-balanced (which is critical with some of the combinations they attempt), and precise. Their phenomenal dulce de leche (along with a few other flavors) was reportedly developed in collaboration with the evil dessert geniuses at La Duni. (Now if we could just persuade them to do a Mexican chocolate gelato to go with the dulce de leche….) The textures are dense, smooth, and creamy—-so much so that I almost suspect that they’re sneaking in cream and/or eggs to deliver that silkiness. While there isn’t much in the way of décor to speak of at the other gelaterias in this list, Talenti is great looking, with low banquettes, soft upholstered chairs, coffee tables with complimentary T1 connections, well appointed restrooms, a small patio area, and excellent views of the Katy Trail (with its attendant scenery). If you want gelato, this is the place.

Special Category—-
Milwaukee Joe’s. Next to the Landmark Inwood art-house theater on Lovers, this place serves ice cream, frozen custard, sorbet, and “gelato,” making it a one-stop frozen dessert destination. Why is it in a special category? Why is “gelato” in scare-quotes? Because the product can hardly be called gelato. The eight flavors they serve are all “dairy-free.” Which is to say, they use soy oil instead of the traditional milk fat. This results in an unnatural, waxy, almost plastic texture, an off flavor, and a lingering aftertaste that will have you brushing your tongue to nublessness. Isn’t Milwaukee in Wisconsin? Isn’t Wisconsin known for *cheese*? Isn’t cheese made from milk? I don’t get it. I mean, one or two non-dairy options...fine, I can understand that. But *eight*?

Have I missed anyplace critical? Are there any hidden gems out there that I need to try? If so, let me know.