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Larry Wilson: Get summer’s scoop in Sicily or Altadena

Pasadena Star News – View Online

EARLY this month the Wall Street Journal splashed across the features section front of its weekend edition its version of a hoary newspaper summertime staple – a hot-months focus on the joys of eating ice cream.

Being a fancier-than-thou rag owned by that noted gourmand Rupert Murdoch, though, this story went way beyond the usual corner shop. “In Search of the Perfect Gelato” travels to Italy, where, hands-down, the best ice cream in the world is made. (My childhood friend Catherine Schuster, who studied in Moscow, has had both and maintains that the Russian cold stuff is even better, so there you go.) And it’s not just Italy – the subhead on author Joe Ray’s piece is: “In pursuit of the ultimate in cold, creamy, silky, slushy goodness across the island of Sicily. La vita doesn’t get more dolce than this.” Ice cream may even have been invented in Sicily, a descendant of sarbat, an Arab fruit drink, mixed with the snows of Mount Etna.

You can get excellent Italian-style desserts stateside as well, whether icy granitas or creamy gelatos. The Journal story has a sidebar by Travel Editor Sara Clemence listing precisely four American gelaterias that are good enough to compare to the Italian. One’s in New York, one in Philadelphia, one in Chicago – and one in Altadena.

That would be, of course, the genius that is Bulgarini, absolutely hidden away in that little strip mall at the northwest corner of Lake Avenue and Altadena Drive and, as the Michelin Guide would put it, “worth a special journey.” The Journal describes the shop like this: “As authentic as it gets this far from Italy, down to the non-English labels and Old World flavors like pistachio and chocolate.” She must be referring to my favorite chocolate up there, the Florentine, which is topped with chunks of sea salt. I’m glad she had the pistachio, because Leo Bulgarini goes all the way to Sicily to get his pistachios, which by law have to be air-dried. He told the LA Weekly that he pulled his ices from Staples Center a couple of years ago when he paid a visit and found they were topping genius with M&Ms. “It’s like putting the wheels of a Yugo onto a Ferrari,” he says. The day after the Journal story appeared, I’m reliably informed business was up 80 percent over the previous scooping day, as if all of West L.A. motored Lake’s steepness on a Sunday.

Don’t let the West Siders get your scoop. The goat’s milk with a tablespoon of $75-a-bottle olive oil topping it is out of this world. But the next time I head in, I’m holding out for the famous canteloupe with Tanqueray, and you should, too.

Sunday’s random note: Totally in support of PUSD schools, I also agree with Pasadena Councilwoman Margaret McAustin when she writes to constituents that the new General Plan, a land-use guide, isn’t the place to add an eighth Guiding Principle in support of education. McAustin suggests instead, and I agree, adding to the city’s vision statement a new tag line: “Pasadena will combine world-class events, science and technology, arts and culture, history and architecture with great neighborhoods and first rate schools.”