Category Archives: italy

LA Gelato for Real!

As promised, I did use my next visit to Los Angeles to form my own opinion of the Gelato Bar on Hillhurst, in Hollywood/Los Feliz. Less than an hour ago, in fact, so I’m posting while all of my impressions are fresh (for a change).

Dawn did not exaggerate.

This is easily the best gelato I’ve tasted outside of Italy and rivals most of the gelato I tasted INSIDE Italy. This gelateria is owned by a third generation Italian gelato maker, and it shows. Okay, it’s a little pricey, but compared to a plane ticket to Florence, it’s one heck of a bargain!

They take pride in both the freshness of their ingredients and the proportion of fresh fruit or other natural flavorings in each variety they offer. They make about 70 different flavors and rotate them, offering a couple dozen at a time–though a few favorites are always available. Next time I’m in LA (this is a fairly short visit, alas) I plan to make a point of going back and trying some different selections.

For this visit, I went with the Cioccolato Sorbetto and the Menta, while Dawn chose the Olio d’Olivia and the Blueberry-Pomegranate Sorbetto. Before ordering, we tasted both the Cioccolato and the O d’O–partly because I was skeptical about both. Chocolate Sorbet? Really? Oh, yes. Really. I was expecting ice crystals, but no. Very smooth and creamy and INTENSELY chocolate. I asked and was told it’s made with water instead of milk (hence, sorbetto–and which means someone lactose intolerant would be fine with it) and with 70% cocoa. This chocolate may just beat out Il Grand Duca in Florence for richness. The Olio d’Olivia was described as “sweet cream and olive oil,” which sounded…unlikely. But it was delicious, with just a hint of rich olive oil taste. Since we were told it paired well with the fruit flavors, that’s what we did.

Blueberry-Pomegranate sounded like such a winner we ordered it without tasting first and were not disappointed in the least–and it did indeed pair excellently with the O d’O. Mint is always a fave of mine and went divinely with the rich, dark chocolate. (Ooh, and they also put in lovely cookie sticks with fudge drizzled inside. I recommend using it as a spoon until it’s gone.)

If I ever said (as I might have) that you just can’t get authentic Italian gelato in the States, I take it back. The Gelato Bar is superb and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles. Kudos!



Gelato in Indiana!

Yes, it’s true!  We heard about it a little while ago, but scarcely dared to believe it.  Finally, this weekend, we drove up to Clay Terrace in Carmel to check out Gelato Da Vinci ourselves.  And it’s twoo, it’s twoo!  Perhaps not up to Florentine standards, but perfectly passable gelato, right here in Indiana. How exciting is that?

We had to try the chocolate, of course, as that’s our standard. Not the best we’ve had, of course, but not the worst, either (and this is compared to gelato around Italy, so “not the worst” is actually pretty high praise). We also tried the rose (not as intense as Fenoccio’s, but not bad at all), the “love affair” (Tia Maria and coconut) and the “Italian kiss” (bacio, which is basically nutella). But the standout was the creme brulee. Excellent! Definitely a flavor to go back for.

Afterward, we tried a scoop of the blueberry sorbet, mostly out of curiousity, and it was okay, but if I hadn’t seen the sign, I might have guessed it was raspberry.

Clearly we’ll need to go back for further research–though if anyone knows of any other gelaterias in Indiana, please share!

–Brenda 🙂


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An ice cream project

The Beach Party was great–so much fun that I think we’ll have to make it an annual event!  I saw someone with a camera (not me, alas–blame the mojitos) and if I can track him down and get him to send some to me, I’ll share, as long as they’re not too terribly embarrassing.

Meanwhile, it’s unfortunately still winter and if the groundhog sees his shadow tomorrow, spring could be a long time coming. Which means we need a new project until prime ice-cream-travel season rolls back around.  It may be kind of lame compared to sampling gelato across Italy, but I believe Bethany and I need to do a thorough comparison of store-bought ice cream and report back.  If nothing else, it will pass the time, and who knows? Maybe we’ll find a winner or two that can let us pretend it’s summer for a brief, blissful while.

More to follow, after appropriate research…

–Brenda 🙂

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Posted by on February 1, 2008 in ice cream, italy, travel


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Singing on street corners

Actually, it was our second night in Florence that you sang on the street corner, Beth–after our lovely dinner (is there any other kind in Florence?) at Buca Poldo and dessert at Gelateria Dei Neri (which I believe you rated as your #1 pick). So you were probably more drunk on dark chocolate and fior de latte gelato than on wine by the time we talked you into singing.


For the record, everyone, she raked in 40 euros in half an hour of singing! I’d say that cap we bought earlier in the day (for about 5 euro) was a good investment.  The best part was the look on your face when you counted up your earnings after we got back to our room that night. First stunned, then speculative, as you realized you could actually live on this kind of money!  Always good to have a backup plan.

–Brenda/Mom 🙂


Ah, Florence…

Beth here.

Thanks, Mom. Now I’m all nostalgic and sad because I’m stuck in Indiana and I want to be wining and dining on the Arno… Was that the same night that I ended up drunkenly bursting into operatic song at the market on the Porta Rossa? I know that there was a lot of fabulous wine (and grappa… and limoncello…) consumed at dinner, so it might have been…

If I could hear myself now, I’m sure that I’d be embarrassed, but at the time, I thought I was sounding GREAT (isn’t alcohol wonderful?)! But at least a few (possibly drunken) tourists seemed to agree with me. I think it was you who had the idea to put out a hat when a crowd started to gather and we ended up making enough to cover gelato expenses for at least a few days.

Which is funny, since I’ve tried singing on the street in downtown Chicago only to be met with confusion, glares, people staunchly trying to pretend I’m not there, and the occasional furtive “pity change” thrown my way without making eye contact, which is SO not the point. In Florence, I think most of the people who gathered were American tourists, people who might have been annoyed if I were singing in *their* hometown. But because it was Florence…it was charming; they gathered, they actually listened, they enjoyed.

::shrugs:: If I have to go to Italy to find Americans responsive to opera, that’s fine by me. I still have fantasies where I just run away and live as a high-class bum singing opera on the streets of Florence… Any takers? I could use a guitar player…


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Filling in some blanks

Reading back over some of my earlier entries here, I see that I more than once promised to post extra details later—then never did.  So now I’m going back over some of the notes I took during our ice cream tour of Europe this summer—well, as much of a tour as we could fit into two weeks—so I can fill in some of those details and keep my promises.

Given how much we’ve raved about the ice cream in Florence, I’ll start there. When we arrived on the train from Rome, we walked to our hotel only to find that they were overbooked. The manager apologized profusely and compensated by giving us a room around the corner—a beautiful one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen (which went to waste, as the food there is so good) and living room. For the same price we’d have paid for a hotel room! Lovely. We dropped off our backpacks and went out to explore, stopping along the way at Deanna, a café by the train station, for sandwiches and gelato (of course). Both were inexpensive and better than we expected, given the location.  We split a small cup of coffee and tiramisu gelato. The coffee flavor was excellent. The tiramisu (never my favorite anyway, but I was overruled) was a bit chewy but not bad.

Caffe Deanna

We were too late for the Duomo, which was already closed, but we wandered along the Piazza della Republica with its interesting mix of Roman columns and a merry-go-round, and the Piazza della Signoria with its replica of Michaelangelo’s David and more than a dozen original famous sculptures. Beware, though—at the Caffe Fiorenza nearby we found the only substandard (and overpriced) gelato in Florence.

We wandered over to the Uffizi Gallery to check the line, but without much hope, as Rick Steves describes as containing the “greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in captivity” and also highly recommends reservations. Here we discovered a phenomenal stroke of luck: not only was there no line because the museum was closing in an hour, but admission was FREE because we had fortuitously arrived in Italy for Culture Week! We made wonderful use of our hour, absorbing more breathtaking art in one place than should be allowed: paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Michaelangelo, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli—famous paintings we’d seen in photos our whole lives, up close and personal. I won’t even try to describe this experience.

We were nearly the last to leave the Uffizi. From there, we went across the Ponte Vecchio to the Golden View Open Bar restaurant, which Bethany and I had loved on our first visit two years earlier. We were early enough to score a table with a view of the Arno, and the waiter was so taken with my girls that we received superb service. When he discovered both girls were mine, he thanked me! The food was equally superb—focaccia and cheeses, chicken with truffle sauce, salad with tuna and avocado, and Chianti, of course. This was Tuscany! Here’s the view from our table.

River Arno and Ponte Vecchio

Grappa and limoncello afterward. We spent nearly three hours there, then waddled back across the Ponte Vecchio to the Caffe Delle Carrozze at the foot of the bridge for our final gelato of the day. The chocolate mousse, in particular, was divine.

Back to our lovely room, walking arm in arm in lockstep, just to confuse people, talking and laughing all the way. A perfect afternoon and evening, with the prospect of another full day in Florence tomorrow.

–Brenda 🙂

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Posted by on November 2, 2007 in art, europe, florence, food, ice cream, italy, travel


Ice Cream Lover strategies

We received this comment today, so I thought I’d answer here.

“Good to hear all of your European ice cream adventures. What I would like to know is how the cultural differences impact the taste of the ice cream. Do you find that there is a difference, or vanilla just vanilla everywhere? Is there one flavor that you followed across countries? Is that even possible? Do you find you are gaining weight with all this ice cream tasting? What is your process between tastes (do you gargle with water or bite into crackers)? Have you had all three of you taste one flavor to compare, or do you all each get a different flavor for variety of opinions? Can you give advice for choosing ice cream for those stuck with American flavors? Of course I have never had anything better than Blue Bell, but it is only the best ice cream in the country (maybe not the world).


To begin, there are differences in the same flavors, not only country to country, but even shop to shop. The one flavor we followed everywhere (and plan to continue following) was chocolate. Where available, it was dark chocolate. You really can’t go wrong with chocolate, after all! As you can see from my Top 3 post (and Bethany’s comment) Florence was the winner here, as it was in general. For one thing, dark chocolate was more widely available there than elsewhere, but it was also richer there than anywhere else.

Our usual method was for each of us to get a cup of two flavors, then for all of us to sample every flavor. Bottled water was our preferred palate cleanser, as we had it with us at all times. Occasionally there would be disagreement as to which flavor was best, or which shop’s chocolate was best, but overall we were in remarkable agreement. I’m not a huge tiramisu fan, while Bethany and Dawn are, so they’d rate that flavor higher (I believe they gave high honors to Gelateria Millenium in Rome for that one) while I was a particular fan of chocolate-cherry (amarena). That’s why we needed one flavor as a standard–good old chocolate!

One lovely thing about Europe, when it comes to massive ice cream tasting, is all the walking!  We discovered that the walking we did more than compensated for the additional calories, once we got home to the dreaded bathroom scale. Who would have predicted that gallivanting around Europe eating ice cream could be so healthy? We highly recommend it!

As for ice cream in the US, we haven’t done nearly as extensive research (yet). I have to agree that Blue Bell (available only in Texas, alas–unless someone knows otherwise?) is the best store-bought ice cream I’ve had here. Hand-dipped is generally better than store-bought, of course, though quality can vary enormously. Bethany is a fan of Cold Stone Creamery, where you can have your ice cream customized with add-ins. Maggie Moo’s is another, similar chain.  Until we can get back to Europe for more research on the book, we’ll content ourselves with researching (and posting about) local favorites.  Watch this space!

–Brenda 🙂


Posted by on October 31, 2007 in chocolate, europe, food, ice cream, italy, travel, writing