When it comes to dessert, snacks and other culinary indulgences, I confess that I often prefer salty over sweet. Candy, cookies, pie, cake and ice cream each have their place, but given the choice, I’ll almost always opt for a handful of salted almonds or—in the unfortunate instance of one recent “Cougar Town” marathon viewing session—an entire bag of Fritos. (Please don’t judge me on either the Fritos or my choice of television programming. I was drunk on Courteney Cox at the time.)
Needless to say, when the Portland Food Bloggers decided to tackle ice cream and gelato in the Portland area, I was intrigued, but not really ecstatic. Truth be told, I figured I’d visit one of the dozen or so parlors in the region, order up a dish of some frozen this-or-that, wolf it down, scribble down a few paragraphs and be done with it.
This was pretty much the plan, right up until I stepped foot inside Gorgeous Gelato on Fore Street.
Gorgeous Gelato is the creation of husband-and-wife team Donato Giovine and Marigrazia Zanardi. Donato and Marigrazia moved to Portland from Milan, Italy and opened Gorgeous Gelato last December. If their story sounds at all familiar, it may be because it closely mirrors that of Fabiana de Savino and Enrico Barbiero, another pair of Italian transplants who own and operate Paciarino (featuring authentic Italian cuisine) just a few doors down on Fore Street. (Gorgeous Gelato’s web site mentions that, in spite of living less than a mile apart from one another in Milan, the two couples did not know one another prior to setting up shop in Portland.)
The vibe inside Gorgeous Gelato is pleasant and altogether different from the various chain ice cream shops that, at any given time, seem to be populated in equal parts by screaming children and disinterested teenage employees. Tastefully decorated and featuring a handful of small tables, Gorgeous Gelato is the type of place where one might stop by to enjoy a cappuccino or an espresso (which is altogether possible, since they also sell a variety of coffee drinks). Apart from the counter and tables, a window near the back of the customer area affords a view of the kitchen, when the gelato is produced using all-natural ingredients… some of which are imported from Italy.
Spying the 16 or so different flavors of gelato behind the glass counter, I was equal parts impressed and overwhelmed. Everything, and I mean everything, looked delicious. At the same time, I wasn’t seeing the one flavor that I was most excited about: pistachio. (I was told by the young lady staffing the counter that because everything is made fresh, the flavors at Gorgeous Gelato change daily. Needless to say, a return trip is in order.)
It must have been apparent to my new friend behind that counter that I was experiencing a “Sophie’s Choice”-esque dilemma, because she helpfully offered to let me sample whatever flavors I wanted there at the store. I balked at the idea, not because I didn’t want to sample every single flavor, but because I have a weird thing about sampling foods in public. Being a “big-boned” person, I have an irrational fear about being perceived as that guy… you know, the fat ass we always see in movies and tv shows who is so unable to control his hunger that he feels compelled to make an all-you-can-eat buffet out of the free sample counter at the local supermarket. (Then again, I did just fess up to eating an entire bag of Fritos in a single sitting, so maybe this isn’t so far from the truth.)
Anyway, my impending shame spiral was averted when I spied a couple of cooler-shaped styrofoam carry-out containers sitting on one end of the counter. Pointing to one of them, I said, “would it be possible to fit a sample of three or four different flavors into one of these?”
My helper was more than happy to oblige, though her enthusiastic response (“what a great idea!”) made me wonder if I was possibly the first person to ever ask to do this. She fetched one of the quart sized containers and asked me which flavors I’d like to try.
With pistachio out of the equation, I knew that the limoncello (lemon) was a must-have. In the world of gelato, limoncello is pretty much the go-to flavor and—for me, at least—it tends to serve as the benchmark by which all other flavors are judged.
Next, I added strawberry. On the few occasions when I do have ice cream or a milkshake, I almost always opt for strawberry. My helper applauded the choice, telling me that the strawberry and lemon go great together, and that strawberry is one of the most popular flavors at Gorgeous Gelato. I would have given her a high-five, but I was too busy dry humping the gelato case in giddy anticipation of my next two flavors: vanilla (cuz who doesn’t like vanilla) and a flavor called stracciatella. The closest American equivalent to stracciatella would be chocolate chip, except that the stracciatella is about a thousand times better.
Once the counter worker had packed my container full, she sealed it with a cover and wrapped the whole thing up in tin foil, ensuring that it would stay cold during my short drive home. The cost for the quart was a little over $18, which—at first—seems obscenely expensive. But when you take note that you’re carrying around enough gelato to feed an army (and good quality stuff, to boot), you realize that its not a bad deal at all.
Back home a few hours later, I decided that it was gelato time. I started a fresh pot of coffee, popped in
a Natalie Portman romantic comedy the Michael Mann crime-thriller “Heat” into the DVD player and went to fetch my gelato from the freezer. The great thing about the little styrofoam cooler is that, just as it kept the gelato from melting in the car, it also prevented the gelato from getting too cold in the freezer. (Gorgeous Gelato’s very informative web site indicates that gelato is intended to be stored at very specific temperatures.)
I dished out a small scoop of each flavor, and returned to the living room where
Natalie Portman was getting it on with Ashton Kutcher Al Pacino was blasting his way through Los Angeles bad guys. There, I dug into my frozen treat.
The strawberry was easily my favorite. Of the four flavors, it was the most fragrant and intensely flavored gelato. When I say “intensely flavored,” I mean it in all of the best ways. In other words, distinctly strawberry but not overwhelmingly sweet or sugary. Save for the occasional, tiny seed, it was perfectly smooth with a sorbet-like consistency.
Also remarkable was the stracciatella. In terms of texture and creaminess, it was the closest to traditional ice cream. I wondered if the inclusion of the dark chocolate chips (which is more like shaved bits of chocolate than chocolate chips) might give it a generic supermarket type of flavor, but this was not the case at all. The stracciatella had a nice clean flavor, which you just won’t find in many supermarket offerings.
The limoncello was another solid offering. With a perfect amount of tartness, it was a nice complement to the strawberry. So much so that I found myself dabbling a bit of each on the same spoon and enjoying them together.
Rounding up my orgy of gelato goodness was the vanilla. In stark contrast to the other bold flavors, it was pleasant and understated. I could definitely see myself enjoying it alongside a cup of coffee or a piece of pie on a warm summer night. More ambitious dessert enthusiasts might even consider pairing a small scoop with one of the cannoli and cakes sold at Gorgeous Gelato.
So, has my overwhelmingly positive gelato experience at caused me to change my stance in the sweet vs. salty debate? Well, I probably won’t be giving up the Fritos anytime soon. But on those occasions when I find myself looking for an icy, sweet treat, Gorgeous Gelato will be my first stop.