My girlfriend and I were headed down to Portland this weekend to visit some friends, so we decided to hit some gelato shops while we were there. My research beforehand turned up three places: Staccato Gelato, Mio Gelato, and Crema Espresso. Crema Espresso turned out to be in Beaverton, so that was a little too far out of our way to go, and we just hit the other two.
Here are my notes:
Staccato Gelato--I had ananas, crema, marionberry. My girlfriend had stracciatella, and my friend had mango. I think ananas was my favorite, very nice flavor, although marionberry was also good. Everything was tasty but the consistency was too hard, texture was really not much different from American ice cream. Flavors were nicely intense. I liked it but wasn't blown away, and my companions felt about the same. My friend (who lives in Portland) remarked that the pistachio she'd had before was substantially better than any of the stuff we'd ordered on this visit, so it may be an issue of needing to know what to order.
Mio Gelato--I had nectarine (nocepesce?), limone, vaniglia. My girlfriend had pistachio and caffe. Nectarine was extremely good; even though it had a hard, crumbly texture and was sort of visually unappealing, it was soft on the tongue and had a wonderful, delicate, refreshing flavor. Limone was way too icy and too tart for me to comfortably eat. Vaniglia was tasty and a good consistency, but it really didn't taste like vanilla--it tasted just like butterscotch, which was sort of weird. Pistachio was out-of-this world good. It was more grey than green, which makes me think they're not using artificial colors. Texture was good, although slightly hard, and the flavor was nicely toasty and just the right level of intensity for my preferences. Caffe had a good (again slightly hard) texture and a very true coffee flavor, like drinking a cup of strong, very slightly sweetened coffee. It actually probably tasted more intensely of coffee than your average coffee with cream would. One disappointing note: we found some substantial (size of a dime) slivers of ice in a few of the gelati, which I'm hoping was just a fluke, but it really detracted from the texture.
I thought both of these places were good. Mio Gelato in particular was quite tasty, although the shards of ice that we found left me somewhat concerned. Both places are very attractively designed; Staccato has more of a fun, funky neighborhood vibe, with bright colors, limited seating and (when I was there) a line out the door. Mio has a more of a sophisticated, downtown look to it, with a nice amount of seating, colors more on the elegant side and airy high ceilings. Staccato apparently buys their gelato base from a local dairy, while Mio apparently makes and pasteurizes their own. Both are totally reasonable ways to do it as far as I know, but Mio's method appeals more to the gelato geek in me and may have an effect on their better results. I would characterize Staccato as having a fairly consistent level of quality across flavors; however, that level is good but not one that blows me away. Mio, on the other hand, was sort of erratic in terms of the quality, but their good flavors were home runs.
So far I would rank the gelato I've had in Portland and Seattle as follows. This is all just my own opinion, of course, and your mileage may vary:
1. Gelatiamo (SEA) -- I have zero complaints. Yum.
2. Mio Gelato (PDX) -- Some real winners, texture not quite right, need to get the ice under control.
3. Bottega Italiana (SEA) -- Good selection of flavors, but consistency too hard.
4. Staccato Gelato (PDX) -- Good but not terribly distinguishable from decent American ice cream.
5. La Dolce Vita (SEA) -- Similar to Staccato. Innovative flavors.
6. Procopio (SEA) -- Intense flavors, but consistency too hard.
I should clarify that even the places on the bottom of the list make a tasty product and are great if you want to "have some ice cream". I haven't had a genuinely bad experience at any of them, and it makes me really happy that there are this many options for gelato in the Pacific Northwest. However, the top two are really quite good examples of what a gelateria can be, and Gelatiamo in particular is a stellar example that's as good as anything I can recall having in Italy.
I'm very interested in going up to Vancouver and doing some sampling there, but that will probably be some months off.
Thanks everyone for your kind comments on my last post, and I'm very interested in hearing what you think of these places. If anyone's been to Crema Espresso, I'd love to hear a review.