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Bulgarini Gelato: Fabulous Flavors, Subpar Service

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After dinner at Casa Bianca, the wife and I headed up, up, up into Altadena to sample Mr. Bulgarini's famous gelato. Man, is that place in the middle of nowhere!

First, the positives. The flavors were outstanding. Each gelato is the essence of banana, hazelnut, pistachio, etc. As well, the gelato was smooth, lacking any noticable ice crystals.

Now, the negatives. The staff seem overwhelmed by the crowd and unable to maintain quality control. Forty people in line and one person scooping is totally unacceptable. Perhaps due to the crowd, most of the gelato was overly soft and started melting as soon as it was handed over. This forced us to rush our eating or risk having the distinct flavors melt into a soupy mess. The blood orange was so soft as to be unservable. The gelato's temperature also meant that much of it remained stuck to the ice cream scoop and never made it into our cups. A $4.35 medium contains four scoops, but each scoop averaged two tablespoons at most. After the effort to drive there and brave the line, we felt cheated by our half-empty cup of half-frozen gelato.

As revets2 noted below, last night was part of their summer film series, meaning most of their help was busy making and serving lasagna or preparing the projector. Perhaps things are not always this way for them. We look forward to trying Bulgarini again, when we next have time to drive 45 miles round trip. Until then, we'll dream of Grom in NYC. Now, that was some damn good stuff.

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  1. Wow, Jeffrey, that is really too bad. I have encouraged other posters who have experienced subpar service to write to the owners. Mostly this is a selfish request on my end...I love the product so much but know that this place will not last should service (including serving size) stink. If I was the owner, I would want to know exactly what you have written...that the product is great but that you will not go out of your way to patronize the facility.

    More than anything, it sound that Bulgarini had no idea how popular his joint would be (free gelato on opening day probably was a brilliant idea). The family needs to get a clue and expand their workforce!!!

    2 Replies
    1. re: running pig

      I go to this place a few times a week as I live up the street, and I have to disagree both with the expectations of the posters here and with the representation of Bulgarini.

      First, some of their flavors are softer because of the presence of different fresh and unprocessed ingredients: higher sugar content, extreme concentration of natural citrus acids, or the presence of alcohol can all make gelato very soft. The very idea that all gelato should be the same consistency goes against what this artisinal shop is trying to accomplish.

      Second, I have never seen more than one person scooping, usually because everyone is in the back making product, which is always absolutely fresh. Most gelato places make everything way ahead of time and store it in a giant freezer so they can have the whole staff scooping. This is just a different kind of shop and customers need to expect a different experience. Don't think of a big (corporate) gelateria in central Rome, which is the model for most gelaterias in the U.S.; think instead of a little gelato stand next to a church in a sleepy Roman neighborhood . . .

      1. re: altadenafoodguy

        When I went there it looked like the freezer wasn't working properly. Water had separated in the Sorbetto and the the Gelato was melting (it was a hot day). It sure didn't look appetizing. There is a difference of "soft" and "melted". I thought the Pistachio was good but wasn't sold on some of the other flavors. The day I was there they had a very small selection of flavors as well. They could also jazz up the place a bit inside to make it a little warmer and friendlier.

        I've had Gelato in Itlay and it didn't look like that. Maybe I missed the stand next to the church, but I wasn't like I was going to McGelato.