Tucked away in a lone cement courtyard near the foothills of Altadena, string lights lazily hang in front of Bulgarini Gelato. A few tables, with tiles and carved sunflowers on their surfaces sit in the shade just outside the windows, but upon opening the door, it was an entirely different vibe. Something straight out of an Italian travel book.
Besides the pungent pool-like smell from first walking in, the place begins to grow on you. The pool smell fades away, but the wall to the right was the shade of a summer ocean with about five photos of Italian delicacies hanging, each one tilted a different direction. One was of a bowl of gelato, of course, and another was a picture of stacked chunks of what seemed to be pineapple. Below them was a long counter-top table with four chairs.
The Italian vibe is stronger towards the right and near the back of the shop. An authentic, bronze espresso machine was placed on top of the arched little seating area across the way, and a chalkboard menu listed their simplistic but genuine fare of cheese, wine, meats and of course gelato. Just adjacent to the case where wine bottles were lined up on top, lay the iced beauty.
With each metal container of every flavor (not a lot of flavors, but just enough) the gelato was layered and curving just a bit like the creamiest of waves, but yet still fluffy like a cloud. After some sampling, three flavors were settled on and squeezed into a small, plain plastic cup.
While the presentation could have been more eye catching, the realization came that Bulgarini is not a place of gimmicks or tricks, just something pure and to the point. The three scoops of strawberry, chocolate and pistachio looked like little frozen blobs, yet somehow like a modern art piece in a museum.
But it’s the taste that catches you, and rocks any subpar impression of the place.
Each of the three flavors somehow taste more like the flavor than the actual thing itself. The strawberry, unlike American soft serve with a pink shade, is a rich red and tasted as if was just picked from a strawberry field, even staining fingers just like the actual fruit. The chocolate was dark and tasted almost better than any chocolate bar, and not overly sweet. And the pistachio had the distinct flavor of the green insides of the nut and even had tiny, ground up pistachios in the mix.
The cup was empty, with nothing but melted, leftover gelato at the bottom, but the impression from Bulgarini was not.
Yes, the price is a little up there and there was only one man working behind the counter but this little gelato shop is never trying to appeal to the American liking. It challenges you to confront what you thought you knew about gelato and get a taste of Italy in a most delicious way possible.
So sure, one could always go around the corner and get a Thrifty cone at Rite Aid, but for money well spent on both iced, creamy wonder and an Italian away from Italy experience, go to Bulgarini.