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Bulgarini - Bad Experience

After reading all the rave reviews I felt like I had to make a Memorial Day Weekend drive to Bulgarini. I must say, except for the Pistachio gelato, which was good, I was very disappointed. When my wife and I arrived, there was a very thin selection of flavors and the ones that they had did not look appealing in the case.

My wife ordered Strawberry and it had a bit of a 'chemical' taste. Not like fresh Strawberries. I ordered the chocolate and espresso. Here comes the "bad" part...when the lady behind the counter scooped it up, she dropped it and then proceeded to serve me the dish of gelato. When I mentioned that the dropped gelato didn't look appetizing, she proceeded to wipe the gelato off with a napkin and give it back to me. My wife and I were horrified that they didn't offer to scoop a new serving. Over the years, I've had scoops of ice cream fall off the cone and the store offers to give you a new one. Has anyone else had an experience like that?

Needless to say, we didn't eat the ice cream. We then drove over to Pazzo and I had Chevre with Strawberries (very good) and my wife had Creme Fraiche with Strawberry Champagne (also very good). Whenever we go there, the service is always friendly and they usually have an interesting combination of fresh flavors.

I was really disappointed by Bulgarini. Not just by the lackluster selection or presentation, but also by the bad customer service. We drove all the way from West Hollywood because I heard so many rave reviews. Maybe this was an off day, but I can't say we will be back.

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  1. This is a bummer. I've only been to the actual shop once. Other than that, I always eat their gelato at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, and it has always been good.

    I have to admit, although many people on this board talk about driving miles and miles for food, I generally try to stick to my neighborhood or neighborhoods that I'm driving through for a particular purpose, other than just eating (e.g., going to work, going to visit someone, etc.). Do you think driving from West Hollywood was part of the let-down?

    I also have a question: did the gelato fall on the floor? I can't believe that someone would pick that up and serve it to a paying customer.

    I have never been to or heard of Pazzo, but I'm glad that you enjoyed what you had there. I will say that I've had good gelato at other places, but Bulgarini did win me over when I finally tried it. I also think one of the reasons that I like it is because it's available in my neighborhood.

    3 Replies
    1. re: katkoupai

      It wasn't the drive from West Hollywood that was the bummer. We love Vietnamese and Chinese food and often drive to SGV. We thought it would be fun to drive out near Pasadena and trying Bulgarnini sounded like something fun to do. The bummer was that I heard so much about it and was looking forward to a nice holiday weekend treat.

      I totally want to root for Mom & Pops shops that are dedicated to using quality ingredients. My wife loves good gelato with fresh fruit flavors and you don't get that at most "ice cream" shops.

      1. re: bsquared2

        Got it. Well, I haven't tried the flavors that you mentioned. Did the server offer you samples? That helped me decide on the flavors to get and the ones not to get. Some of the ones that I've liked have been the following:

        pistachio
        hazelnut
        melon
        pineapple

        I've eaten Bulgarini gelato at least ten times. The time at the shop was the best, in my experience. When I went, all the flavors were there and full, and the owner and his wife were serving. There was also a large amount of customers. The other times, I've eaten it at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 movie theatre, and there's a nice guy that serves it there too.

        In the end, sorry that it tasted bad to you and also that the service was poor. :(

        1. re: bsquared2

          Check out Scoops on Heliotrope and Melrose, very good and unique flavors

      2. I don't think it's a chemical taste, but I think the drop business rightly put you off. So unlike the man and woman I have dealt with.

        1. Did it drop on the floor or did it drop back in the container? Please be more specific??
          B/c if it's the former then that's disgusting and I can't imagine that they would put it back on and that you would agree to pay for it. And if it did drop on the floor, then why did you pay for it?

          3 Replies
          1. re: hazelnutty

            Sorry, I will clarify this. It didn't drop on the floor (which is really disgusting), it dropped on the counter, ice cream side down. The person behind the counter then turned it over and served it to us. When we mentioned that we didn't think this was acceptable, she looked at us like we were from Mars. After we protested, she then wiped the surface of the gelato with a napkin and gave it back to us. We said that wasn't really an acceptable solution and received the same quizzical expression.

            After protesting a couple of times, I really didn't feel like arguing with her. I figured I would let my wife enjoy her gelato. She mentioned that the flavor of the Strawberry wasn't quite right so we decided to go somewhere else.

            While dropped on the floor is worse than dropped on the counter, it is still symptomatic of a problem. How much does a scoop of ice cream cost vs. the cost of a grossed out or unhappy customer.

            1. re: bsquared2

              I thought perhaps it had dropped back into the ice cream. Sometimes when I'm at an ice cream shop, there is already a made scoop in the ice cream and then they give it to me, that really bothers me. I want a new scoop, but I still take it and pay for it, although if I see that I'll avoid that flavor. Am I making any sense? Do you know what I mean?

              So the ice cream/gelato touched the metal, that's still unacceptable. I understand, sometimes one is just fed up with having to argue about everything these days, it just doesn't seem worth it all the time.

              I haven't tried their gelato, but if I'm in the area I'll try it to form my own opinion (I don't know though, I don't like the service you received, we'll see). I live close to Weho, so I'm not sure that I'll be driving there anytime soon. I have yet to really try the gelato store in silver lake. I sampled it and really liked it, but it was too early for ice cream, well I had just had cheese at the cheese store so...

              1. re: bsquared2

                Look at the negative press they are getting here and people are investing time to reply, it leaves an impression

            2. Sorry to hear about your experience, but I think Bulgarini is now the latest to fall prey to the Curse of the Chowhounders.

              When a place gets so pumped up on these boards, it almost never lives up to the hype.

              Lets' face it, as great as Bulgarini is (or might be), it is ONLY gelato after all.

              Gelato, no matter how great, will never be life altering.

              And lets face it, almost any restaurant or shop will have inevitable service issues.

              Still, it's too bad what happend to you.

              9 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                I agree with you. This reminds me of when I went to Gerlach's Grill, after reading all the great reviews about it on Chowhound, and being bummed out. The fact that everyone I was eating with was unsatisfied and complaining also added to the bad experience at the time.

                My experience at Bulgarini was very different. I truly loved every bite.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Now wait here just a minute missy (or mister). I usually respect people's opinions...but..."just gelato"? "Gelato....can never be life altering"? FOR SHAME! Italians and dessert-o-philes everywhere have it in for you!

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Only gelato? Well if we were in Italy maybe it'd be only (very good) gelato. But here it's pretty much the closest thing to good Italian gelato I've ever had, and that's pretty life altering for me. Besides, they've also got granita and sorbetto. So I have to say Bulgarini has been life altering.

                    I do feel bad for the OP, though, and would suggest giving it another try when it's not Memorial Day weekend. I myself was thinking about heading up there, but realized that the selection would probably be reduced to almost nothing.

                    1. re: mcmal

                      I stand corrected. There are some amazing ice creams, sorbets, raspados, granitas, frozen custards, and water ices out there. Thanks for the reminder!

                      1. re: running pig

                        I agree. Didn't want to single out Gelato. I would hop on a plane for some Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. I even went there in the middle of winter because I had to go to St. Louis for business. I would love to find a Frozen Custard shop as good as that one.

                        1. re: bsquared2

                          Silky Smooth at the Beverly Center is BETTER than Ted Drewes--they use the cleaner tasting custard mix from Wisconsin with pure cane sugar rather than honey, which gives Ted's EXCELLENT custard a little off taste IMHO.
                          Ted's is great, but ever been to Kopps or Leons in Milwaukee? Now THATS frozen custard heaven. Luckily, Silky Smooth is close by and is the real deal, with a lot more flavors than the midwest stands.
                          And, one more thing--Silky has adjusted to the California desire for health by using a 90% fat free yet still decadent tasting dairy mix imported from Wisconsin... http://www.yelp.com/biz/silky-smooth-...

                          1. re: culinarycandy

                            Carver's! Less than one month I will be eating some!! Yaa-hew!

                      2. re: mcmal

                        mcmal...after having done a pretty decent, well researched survey up and down the boot last year of gelaterias in italia, our opinion is BULGARINI is better than very good. probably not surprising as they studied with some of the best masters through italy and especially napoli. how fortunate we are to have them in the l.a. basin. it has been life altering for us (and our waist lines!).

                        1. re: revets2

                          I concur, it is better than very good. I won't say "very good" again. It could hold its own with the likes of Giolitti in Rome or any number of famous and excellent Italian gelaterias. It's excellent.

                    2. I've only been twice but my experience was nothing like what you report experiencing at Bulgarini. The flavor and consistency of all that I sampled and purchased was of a very high quality and the service by Mr. B. the first time and Mrs. B. the second time was even better! I rate it 'Best in Southern California' by a mile! Have not tried the Pazzo that you mention though. I wonder who served you? If it were me, I would communcate with the owners.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: sel

                        Maybe they had a very busy Memorial weekend and where not prepared and over worked, no excuse for what happened. The person should have said, im sorry let me take care of that and just scooped a new one.

                        1. re: Burger Boy

                          I will admit that it was very strange when many of the containers that hold the gelato were empty or had the final remnants (probably less than a scoop) of a few flavors. Maybe it was the combination of being popular and Memorial Day weekend. Thinking about that and the fact that people are saying how much they enjoyed the experience, makes me want to give them another shot.

                          I do think that a dish or type of cuisine can be "life altering". We will hop in the car and drive to SGV to eat Bun Bo Hue (my wife's favorite) tomorrow and I would have no problem driving an hour or so for good BBQ. I've travelled the world and one of the reasons I choose a country is its' cuisine. "Life altering" might be a little dramatic, but for a couple of bucks, good Gelato brings a smile to my wife's face and when she's happy, I'm happy.

                          1. re: running pig

                            RP, have you seen the old threads about Russkar's diligent hunt for the fantastic Thai coconut ice cream they used to serve at Renu Nakorn, which Russ finally found at the LAX-C market north of downtown ?

                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/53340

                            1. re: PayOrPlay

                              THANK YOU so much- I will have to try it for sure, and I will report back!

                              1. re: running pig

                                Have you tried the Coconut Ice Cream that is served at Sri Siam? It is not what you describe as the big scoop is served on top of sweet sticky rice and has salty peanuts and some jellied coconut but it is very good after some of their scorching savory dishes!

                      2. Ideally, miscues should never happen. Realistically, they do. Consummately, it is the response to the miscues that counts. As others have mentioned, show your concern in writing and their response will speak miles for where they stand on making good with you.

                        Burger Boy's post sums it up well. This place generally fosters love and loyalty. If the posters show this much concern for your bad experience, I would think this would be indicative of Bulgarini's response.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          My favorite flavors:

                          Blood orange granita;
                          Chocolate orange;
                          Pistachio;
                          Cococnut;
                          Zabaglione;
                          Hazelnut;

                            1. re: katkoupai

                              Custard (egg yolks) and marsala (wine).

                                1. re: Alta Bob

                                  Zabalione is goooooood! I didn't try it at Bulgarini but its one of my all-time favorites in general!

                                  1. re: running pig

                                    re: the Zabaglione at Bulgarini:

                                    It's better than anything that I can write. Their zabaglione sealed the deal for my wife and I; that and their granita (along with Leo taking the time to explain in detail the difference between sorbetto and granita).

                                    They certainly get a little exhausted towards the end of the week, and the Asian lady sometimes seems to be at the end of her rope, but I've never received bad service there. Dropping a scoop and selling it anyways is not something I would expect (or tolerate, for that matter) -- I'd have said "keep it".

                                    Anyways, we seem to have graduated to the half-kilogram club, as we mostly buy the stuff for dinner parties (or else share a single serving of whatever Leo has come up with most recently).

                                    If you are not in the mood for a flavor that makes Bananas Foster taste austere, try the grapefruit granita. It is wonderfully astringent and balanced.

                                    1. re: ttriche

                                      That Asian lady is Elizabeth's mother. I was getting their product from the courtyard of the Asian Pacific Museum. Leo was nice enough to give me some tips on eating in Roma, where he is from. Pizza at Monte Carlo and fried zucchini flowers at Da Gigetto were memorable.

                              1. re: Alta Bob

                                And of course you have to mention blood orange right at the top, now that they just went out of season - and one of my favorite fruits! I envy you...

                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                  Worry not -- the grapefruit granita is better anyways.

                                  Blood orange juice is for deglazing the pan when you get fresh scallops :-)

                            2. That's too bad. I've noticed the lack of selection at the end of a busy weekend too. I think they've probably just been overwhelmed by the hoards of ice cream seekers. Many of them shown up not only getting scoops to eat there, but also buy the containers to go.

                              Rescooping the fallen ice cream is not sanitary. Yuck. They need to train their helpers better.

                              I remembered another negative post about strawberry flavor. I haven't tried it but generally the lemon cream, chocolate, chocolate chip, and cinnamon vanilla are the better flavors.

                              Their gelato is really good, so worth another try when you are in the area, but maybe at the start of the day to ensure better flavor selection? I've also eaten gelato (at least once, sometimes 2x a day) while in Italy from Asiago down to Sicily, and Bulgarini truly rivals some of the best there.

                              1. I think we should all chip in 25 cents and send you back to Bulgarini. I really don't think you will have the same experience. Do us a favor....report back on any following trips to Bulgarini, just to assure us that this dessert newbie hasn't started a very premature "downhill" slide :-) But I would put money on your having a great time.

                                1. One of the things I like about Bulgarini is that it is owned by a couple of people and that the people who own it are the people I talk to over the counter when I go there. I think of customer-is-always-right service as going hand in hand with larger companies and low wage employees. I can only imagine that on Memorial Day weekend they might have been exhausted. I've always enjoyed the gelato when I've gone there, and I like feeling a neighborhood connection with the owners. I would rather have artisan neighbors who sometimes get exhausted and might even be in a bad mood sometimes selling me great gelato than employees of absent owners who who give me flawless service. I guess I don't want service as much as interaction with the skilled creative neighbors who are making what I'm eating.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: eyelevelpasadena

                                    I totally agree about that and after reading all the posts, I'm willing to give them another shot. That said, when we've been to Pazzo, the "owner" (I think she is the owner) always remembers us and always asks how we are doing. They also had a wide selection of flavors that day but had a bigger staff. I take my hat off to artisan foodmakers and want to support them. The person at Bulgarini should have realized that we weren't totally happy and should have done what it would take to have a satisfied customer (we aren't that fussy).

                                    I think some restaurants forget about customer service. To me, having great food isn't enough when you like in a place like LA and there are a lot of different choices. We eat Dim Sum a lot and often go to The Kitchen. One of the reasons we go there is that the Maitre d' always comes by to say HI and "Welcome Back" and the staff is very attentive. There are many really good Dim Sum places in SGV. I really applaud The Kitchen for trying to raise the standards a bit.

                                    I don't really go for the "no soup for you" type of restaurants. I would rather go some place that has a certain level of service to go along with the great food. There are too many choices. I can find the best Pho restaurant, Dim Sum, Gelato etc. that also has friendly service.

                                    1. re: bsquared2

                                      Hi bsquared. I am sorry for your experience. However, I agree with the other posters that you should give it a try again if you are in the neighborhood. Also, I was at a chocolate tasting at The Chocolatebox Cafe in La Canada a couple of months ago and the owner mentioned their Gelato. They do not make it in-store, but get it shipped in from Italy, IIRC. He said that some die-hard Italians came in and swooned when they tasted his gelato and proclaimed it the best they had ever had outside of Italy. You may want to give it a try. I have attached the link to Abby's post about the tasting experience (with pics).
                                      Chocolate Box Cafe
                                      714 Foothill Blvd
                                      La Canada, CA 91011
                                      (818) 790-7918
                                      www.chocolateboxcafe.com

                                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39860...

                                  2. Unbelievable. I definitely wouldn't accept a scoop that they dropped anywhere but in my cup! Service always varies, and as bad as your experience was, that's not what surprises me about your post. I've had nothing but great gelato, in all their flavors- maybe if your looking for a different style, where flavors are paired, like at Pazzo, then that's one thing, but bulgarini makes the purest gelato in the city by far.

                                    1. When you're making gelato from scratch using fresh and (mostly) local ingredients, you run out of flavors depending on how many people come in and buy tubs to bring home. We are used to ice cream and gelato shops having everything on hand, but that is because they make everything ahead of time and just store it in the freezer for ever and a day. The flavor is inferior. Bulgarini is trying to be artisinal, and just as you wouldn't expect the vegetable stand at the farmer's market to have the same vegetables in the same quantities every day of the year, you kinda have to expect Bulgarini will not have everything available, and at certain times, will have very little.

                                      They only use fresh ingredients - no chemicals. Flavor perception is, as we all know on chowhound, highly subjective. It sounds like you didn't ask for tasters - bummer. I usually get 4 or 5 and that way I KNOW that what I'm getting is delicious and what I want.

                                      The scoop falling on the counter thing - I don't get it. Why did you pay??! Never accept inferior service, whether you are in a tiny gelato shop or a four star French restaurant. You are the paying customer and it is your job to demand excellent service. Otherwise withhold your money. If every restaurant got blamed for every lazy/tired/undertrained/stoned/stupid server that they made the mistake of hiring, there would be no good food in the world because EVERY restaurant would close. It is incumbent upon us, the consumers, to demand high standards.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: altadenafoodguy

                                        Their portions are just too miniscule for me. I prefer Scoops.

                                        1. re: risottoman

                                          I think that both Bulgarini AND Scoops are wonderful. Products and owners!

                                          1. re: sel

                                            I haven't met the owner of Bulgarini and I'd like to, to see his approach to making gelato. Don't get me wrong, I think Bulgarini has wonderful taste, I just wish they wouldn't be so stingy.

                                            1. re: risottoman

                                              The reason the portions are ``stingy'' is that Leo hand-carries the world's best pistachios back from Sicily instead of buying artificial extract, buys blood oranges and grapefruit and melons from farmers markets, uses artisanal Italian beans for the espresso he uses for the granita, and makes the gelato from scratch instead of from a base as practically every other gelateria in California - indeed Italy! - tends to. You want quantity, you go to Rite Aid; you want quality, you go to Bulgarini.

                                      2. EW. Your gelatto hit a counter (where god only knows what kind of bacteria and cleaning agents could have lingered on it) and then to fix it she "wiped it off with a napkin"! I dont want bits of napkin fuzz on my gelatto.... no thanks I would have left right then and there.