Restaurants & Bars 16

Gelato in Florence--a new champion!

Burke and Wells | Jan 7, 200308:57 AM

[Hi Hounds! There are a couple of threads about gelato on this board. This older one: [BROKEN LINK REMOVED] and a newer one, just a bit below: [BROKEN LINK REMOVED] Since I don't know where to put this, I thought it couldn't hurt to start a new thread. Enjoy!]

They say the best Gelato in Florence is a place called Vivoli, famous for almost a century as the freshest, most delicious, and most star-studded gelateria in Tuscany. Movie legends regularly drop in for cones.

After a month in Florence, Burke and I had come to the conclusion that, great as Vivoli is, it can't match Berthillon, the stupendous ice cream of Paris. Vivoli was good, darn good, but they had some weak flavors, and others seemed workmanlike. The bored attitude of the tourist spot had pervaded the service, which was another hit against them.

Further research and chatting with locals revealed a nasty current: Vivoli has gone downhill. "Oh, it's not like it was in the 1950s, when I ate there with my father," one local told us. Another, "Ten years ago, they were the best, but now all the tourists know it, the quality has suffered." We were surprised--if the delicious gelato we'd had at Vivoli was "low quality," what was the place like in its prime? And it was a tad expensive, too. Not terrible, but high. Justifyable for that quality, we assumed, and rightly.

Finally, dinner at a wonderful restaurant here, Oliviero's, lasted well into a rainy evening, and we made friends with the staff. We mentioned gelato, and they all said "Oh yes, everyone goes to Vivoli." Everyone goes? I heard something unspoken hidden beneath those words. "So, if everyone goes there, is there somewhere better they don't know about?" Exchanged glances, secretive smiles, and the truth came out. "Oh yes, there is better. There's the place the Florentines go. The REAL best gelato in the city."

We had to know. They told us. It was far, far from the tourist district. "You can't walk there, too far to walk," they said. Beyond the railroad tracks. The #7 and #1 bus lines go to it, but that's all, unless you have a car and are willing to risk these horrific streets, or you are a champion urban walker.

We had been sampling gelato places all over the city, but Vivoli was still the clear winner. Today is our last day in Florence, so we said, "We can't leave Florence without following up that tip. Let's be true Chowhounds and just GO, in the morning, for a gelato breakfast, cab up to the place, try the yummies, cab back and write it up." A seven euro cab fare later we were in the Piazza delle Cure.

Since we had empty stomachs, we were relieved to see sandwiches. We had a couple of pannini--unexpectedly, these were the best pannini we'd had in Italy to date! Mine was mushroom and lettuce, Burke's was hard-boiled egg, ham and a kind of nut paste. Fresh, tasty, flavorful, a total surprise.

But we were there for the gelato. There were 40 flavors, and we tried 35 of them. Yes, in one hour we ploughed through 35 flavors, served up in seven extremely small cups each with five tiny samples. Between flavors we refreshed our palates with neutral biscuits and spring water. It was an adventure, especially for a place with no chairs or tables.

This is the first ice cream [note, we're not really making a distinction between gelato and ice cream, it's merely a question of flavor and texture and experience] we've had that gives Berthillon in Paris a run for its money. Berthillon still holds the title for fruit- and herb-based sorbets and ices. Great as these were, Berthillon had a better grasp of mint, citrus, berry and banana, as well as the fruit we call cocoanut. Even so, this morning's cream and orange gelato was like a perfect, soft little creamsicle (you remember those), and the strawberry had a fabulous Italian tinge to it, impossible to describe accurately.

But the nut-flavored ice creams blew the doors of Berthillon. I honestly never thought I'd find a scoop of anything frozen that would have me typing such a sentence, but there it is, and Burke agreed. We tried a hazelnut gelato that sang of toasted filberts. The TWO kinds of pistachio (Italian and Sicilian) were an education in comparative flavors. The chocolate with cracked nuts was as warming as ice cream can be. The walnut truly had that walnut quality, a kind of graininess, very very pleasant.

The off flavors were even better. Do NOT miss the riso. I never realized rice could have a flavor that intense in a dessert. Rice pudding aspires to have the depth of this riso gelato. The yogurt was a surprise too. It tasted like yogurt-flavored gelato, truly. Fine yogurt, living, real. There were four different kinds of cream-flavored gelati, all highlighting the sweetness and natural flavor of milk and cream. It was dairy heaven, such subtle differences!

After 35 flavors, we feel we can say we've truly tasted the breadth of this gelateria's art, and after weeks sampling all Florence could offer, we hereby delcare it mind-expanding, fabulous, and yes, the best. And the total cost of seven servings of ice cream, two spring waters, biscuits, two pannini and an (adequate) espresso: 12.85 Euro! Perhaps this is what Vivoli was like in the 1950s?

So by all means go to Vivoli, it's truly wonderful gelato! But if it falls down, or if you find yourself saying, "Delicious, but is there more?" take the time to find our discovery. And it is a discovery: there are 881 hits on a search of Chowhound.com for "gelato." There are no results for:

Piazza delle Cure, 19-23 r
tel. 587489

a Burke and Wells review

Link: http://www.burkeandwells.com

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