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Jan 13, 2012 06:25 PM

Exceptional Gelato in San Diego

I am visting San Diego. Today I took the ferry to Coronado and walked and walked this lovely little spot. After a mediocre fish taco at the Coronado Brewing company, I happened upon Bottega Italiana (BI) and had their chocolate orange gelato. I have had lots of chocolate gelato - all over Italy - and this one rivals the best of Bologna and Florence. I had a taste of the Pannacotta at BI and the Caramel - and it was just average. But, the chocolate orange is superb!

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  1. Interesting tip. Too bad I was recently in Coronado.

    I have yet to have "Exceptional Gelato in San Diego". Not even sure I have had "average gelato in san diego".

    Gelato Vero is abysmal (and surprisingly gets high marks, or maybe not surprisingly).

    Papalecco is passable, but I can't really think of that many places I have been that are worse. Gelato Vero comes immediately to mind.

    15 Replies
    1. re: stevewag23

      I wouldn't call Pappalecco passable. It is even compared to gelato in Italy good to very good. Chocolat is another option for very good gelato in SD especially if you focus on the non-fruit flavors (the fruit flavors are quite good but pale compared yo the other ones). Bottega gelato is also available at WholeFoods

      1. re: honkman

        I am not trying to be too hard on Pappalecco. In fact, if you would have asked me before summer when I was in Europe, I would have said it was good.

        I kind of forgot what real good gelato was like. I went to at least 4 places in Europe that were leaps and bounds better.

        So my opinion of them dropped considerably.

        1. re: stevewag23

          There you go again, telling people they have to go to Europe if they want gelato. Hater.

          1. re: Josh


            Damn. I forgot that we aren't allowed to compare outside experiences to san diego.

            Unless of course they are worse than san diego and put san diego in positive light.

            Appy polly loggy to everyone.

            Looking forward to trying Bottega Italiana though.

            1. re: stevewag23

              Modulate your expectations (though I imagine by now that's habitual).

        2. re: honkman

          at Chocolat, tasted the spicy dark chocolate and the Grand Marnier dark chocolate--both are very good and densely chocolatey. Grand Marnier one is studded w/ candied orange peel. Spicy dark chocolate reminds me of a slightly spicer version of Chuao's spicy hot chocolate.

          tried the cantelope too, which had a refreshingly clean fruity flavor. Hazelnut had a nice, roasted nuttiness to it.

        3. re: stevewag23

          It's not surprising that our gelato in America is generally poor given the state of our commodified dairy industry. Even in Italy it is not hard to find bad gelato. That's the reason the Italian government established criteria for gelaterias to earn the "artigianale" designation. The two times on our trip there we got not-artigianale gelato the difference was immediately obvious.

          So, I do agree with you that exceptional gelato doesn't really exist here. I've certainly had acceptable gelato, though it really depends from whom you get it and what flavor you get.

          While I generally agree that Gelato Vera isn't so hot, I've had flavors from them that I've enjoyed. They made a special Speedway Stout gelato for the 1st San Diego Beer Week that was excellent. It was a small batch made specifically for the event, so it wouldn't surprise me if it had some greater attention to detail than their normal flavors do.

          Pappalecco has some flavors that I think are pretty good. I'm addicted to the eponymous flavor they offer, which is a chocolate-amaretto combination, with small cookies and torn up pieces of croissant. Sounds strange, but I enjoy the mix of textures and flavors. Their chocolate flavors are generally good.

          Chocolat also has some flavors that are good. My wife likes the pistachio, and I enjoy the coconut and chocolate flavors. They have some that are dreadful, though, too. It's really necessary to sample relentlessly.

          Bottega Italiana makes some pretty good gelato, IMO. As Honkman mentioned, they sell it at the Hillcrest Whole Foods. You can sample a lot of the flavors there. I agree with the OP about the chocolate orange, it's quite good. They make some interesting flavors like Chai Tea that are worth trying.

          1. re: Josh

            Listen to your wife, the pistachio at Chocolat *is* very good, particularly when paired with one of their chocolate flavors :-) My favorite combination.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              I agree it's good, I'm just not a huge fan of pistachio. Though we had one in Rome at this very fancy place made w/ Bronte pistachio paste. That was amazing.

            2. re: Josh

              BI's pear sorbet is wonderful. And I agree about GV- a certain chewy texture that I've not experienced anywhere else, but I like their deal: they were doing espresso and gelato way back when we were all just fine with Swensen's after finishing with the elementary school musical. Same goes for Saffron and doing Thai before the Thai government had their program teaching how to do that menu that we all know from our first experiences with their cuisine, from the tom yum soup to the fortune cookie. Love them or hate them, I have places like these to thank for my liking of the better stuff thanks to their striking out in their own direction.

              Sorry for the sermonizing.

              Try the Gelato Vero strawberry when they have it. Gives Haagen-Dazs some competition in that category. And yes, nowhere near as good as the place in Palermo with the wild micro strawberry "frutti di bosco" artiginale stuff. But still pretty good.


              1. re: SaltyRaisins

                Funny you mention Swensens. When I first moved here I tried their Swiss orange chip, a chocolate orange flavored ice cream with chipped chocolate bits. Could have done without the bits, but loved that flavor. Only one I ever tried there so can't judge that place on a whole, but I do miss that Swiss oragne chip. So when the OP mentioned the chocolate orange gelato at BI, I thought of it again and I must try that!

                1. re: SaltyRaisins

                  I am pretty sure that the BI flavor that Whole Foods sometimes has is pear gelato not pear sorbet. I usually do not go to Whole Food that often but will go there for the pear gelato which is my husband's favorite. I wish they had it there consistently. I like it, he loves it....

                2. re: Josh

                  Some of the dairy like Strauss is comparable to good dairy in Europe. In addition many gelaterias (including artisinal ones) in the US and also Europe use commercially available ice cream bases (e.g. Strauss ice cream base is quite popular with numerous artisinal, well known ice cream/gelato shops in California). (Interesting discussion also on the LA board about this topic). So often the difference between the gelati isn't based on different quality of the dairy. There are exceptional gelaterias in different parts of Europe but so are in the US but people tend to rank especially Italian higher just because they are Italian.

                  1. re: honkman

                    Sure, if various gelati are made from the same base and taste different then there'll be explanations for that apart from the dairy quality. But that doesn't obviate the point that dairy will definitely make a difference in the final product.

                    There are different approaches to thickening, for example. Some gelaterias use egg yolks for thickening, others use cornstarch. Cornstarch tends to give a much cleaner mouthfeel, IMO.

                    There's also the question of fat content in the milk, and whether or not you add cream. My understanding is that Italian gelato is made with milk only, but I have seen recipes from Americans that use cream.

                    I know that there was gelato I had in Italy that far surpassed anything I've had here, but there was also gelato that was comparable, and even inferior, to gelato I've had here. I'm sure there are some people who would rank Italian gelato higher due to being in Italy, but I'm not one of them. :-)

                3. re: stevewag23

                  Pappalecco is very good gelato, probably the best I've had in/around downtown-Little Italy area.

                  Just a tad better than Chocolat, and certainly better than Caffe Italia.

                4. that's a great flavor combo, think it was it orange liquior by chance?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cstr

                    Yes, it had that Gran Marnier essence to it.

                  2. Tried a very interesting flavor from these guys tonight at Whole Foods: cardamom. Very good, like a gelato version of kheer.

                    1. Bottega Italiana is the real deal.

                      Great gelato; best I've had in SD. Too bad the weather wasn't warmer today. Vanilla was good, pumpkin spice, Mayan chocolate, honey mint spice, Zabajone, and Stracciatella were also tasty Too bad no pistachio.

                      Much much better than Pappalecco.

                      New store is open I am told in UTC La Jolla if Coronado is too out of the way.

                      16 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Both have their strength - BI has better fruit based gelato whereas the chocolate based ones are much stronger at Pappalecco.

                        1. re: honkman

                          Does either ever have zabaglione gelato, or zuppa inglese?

                          1. re: notjustastomach

                            I go to Pappalecco's quite offen and have never seen it there (at least not the Little Italy location).

                            It was not there yesterday at Bottega, but their offerings rotate daily.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          Pistachio should be mandatory for every gelato shop on the planet...imho

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Chocolat...5th & Uni....really good pistacho. Pair it with one of their deep, rich chocolate flavors, best flavor combo eveah

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                The flavors at Chocolat never seem very clean or crisp to me. And the texture is not as smooth as I'd expect.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  IMO, gelato is all about taste and a real smooth mouth feel, I do like pistachio best with tart lemon as a great palate cleanser in 2nd.

                                  1. re: cstr

                                    Bottega had lemon-ginger yesterday. We sampled some and it was pretty good. Not so much tart, but still had a good lemon-y taste to it with just a subtle hint of ginger heat if you let it sit on your tongue long enough.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Sounds interesting, was it at UTC? It'll save me taking the water taxi over to Coronado!

                                      1. re: cstr

                                        I got your water taxi right here..

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I think you were told wrong, ipsedixit. Bottega is not yet listed on UTC's dining directory, and the web site for Bottega says it will open in December.


                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Cool, thank you - guess they opened just in time for Black Friday (queue Steely Dan).

                                1. re: RB Hound

                                  ... and it's supposed to hit the 80s this Tday weekend!

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Went to BI in the UTC mall and overall good but not outstanding gelato. The taste is good and comparable to Pappalecco and Chocolat but the mouthfeel was disappointing. Not surpringly we then read that they use low fat milk which is quite disappointing. Overall good addition to UTC but not on of the top gelati in SD. Some of the gelato at Choao next door is actually better

                            2. My vote would be for Escogelato, downtown Escondido. They make several flavors daily in small batches. SOme interesting ones like strawberry goat cheese and sour cream brown sugar.