The Sweet Life
Whenever I visit The Gelato Spot, that new purveyor of Italian "ice cream" across from Zen 32 at 32nd Street and Camelback Road, I'm often reminded of that classic short story by Irwin Shaw, "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses." It's the one where this Gotham couple gets into a tiff about the husband's inability to ignore the parade of feminine pulchritude up and down New York's Fifth Avenue. At The Gelato Spot, you'd have to be Oedipus after the eye-gouging not to notice the ebb and flow of attractive young women. Het fellas accompanying their significant others should consider themselves warned: It's like a casting call for The OC in there.
I'm fond of this frozen treat in small doses, but I'm probably more fond of watching twentysomethings with gazelle-like legs consume it. And so, I can safely say that -- seated on one of the pale banquettes in this six-month-old establishment, devouring spoon after spoon of this heavenly substance in a vain attempt to eat all of The Gelato Spot's 36 flavors -- my job doesn't suck. Why women seem to enjoy such sweets better than the male of the species is beyond me to surmise. You'll have to ask someone better versed in evolutionary biology.
The Gelato Spot is brought to us by the Plato family -- husband and wife team Don and Mei Lee, as well as their sons by different marriages, Rocky Huang and Thomas Plato. They're not the first to bring gelato to the Valley of the Sun, nor will they be the last, but the pitch is essentially the same: more flavor than American-style ice cream with less fat and a smoother, denser texture. The FDA mandates that plain ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk fat, and ice cream generally has a lot of air pumped into it when it's being whipped by machine. The outcome is stored at a lower temperature and has a rougher consistency. Italian gelato uses less fat -- almost none for the fruit flavors or sorbetti -- and less air. The result is easier on the tongue, and, in theory, on the waistline.
This is why the Europeans live longer and are not as obese as Americans: They eat better than we do. In Italy, there are gelato shops on nearly every corner, and you'll often see fashionable people eating these outrageous gelato sundaes. Likewise, the fromage-noshing, wine-swilling French also have things figured out. I'm guessing it'll take us a few hundred more years of mastication to catch on.
Meantime, you'll have fun, as I have, gobbling your way through The Gelato Spot's various chilled delights, especially now that the ovenlike heat of a Phoenix summer is upon us. The Platos' refrigerated retreat presented me with a mixed bag, as I can hardly say I enjoyed all flavors equally, though who can? The hazelnut, a traditional Italian treat, was exquisite, with whole hazelnuts added to the mix. The pineapple was easily its match, with the strong taste of pineapple, and bits of the actual fruit therein, and the cantaloupe was divine, very close to the actual experience of downing the flesh of that melon. The mango, too, was lovely, if not quite as sticky-sweet as the real McCoy.
On the other hand, I found the banana grotesque, like eating a handful of cotton with some sort of banana flavoring added. I'm not claiming The Gelato Spot didn't use real bananas, but the end result was not appetizing. I took a dislike to the coconut as well. There were flakes of coconut in the gelato, and I'm normally so partial to coconut that I'd ingest raw possum burgers with a smile if they were rolled in the stuff. But GS' coconut had an odd aftertaste that put me right off it. As for the mandarin orange, it did have tiny bits of frozen orange in it, but it was still rather bland.
Sometimes GS' gelato tasted a little too much like ice cream, as with the rocky road and the strawberry cream, but it does an excellent job with Italian gelati such as torroncino, a pale beige combination of hazelnut, honey and almond, or bacio, a dark, rich chocolate-hazelnut. Bravissimo for GS' tiramisu, which is so similar to the actual dessert that, if I were the proprietor of an Eye-tie eatery, I'd consider replacing the Italian trifle with its gelato cousin.
Angel Sweet, the renowned gelateria down in Chandler, is not as big or as fancy as The Gelato Spot. Neither does Angel Sweet produce as many gelato flavors, offering about 10 fewer than GS. But the quality of AS' product is very high, and purely on taste and nothing else, I'd give AS a slight edge. Though AS' hazelnut did not include whole nuts, I found the product smoother, and less cloying than GS' version. Angel Sweet's pistachio nearly knocked me out of my tasseled loafers, its pistachio-ness was so profound. According to Angel Sweet's manager Hiro Yamanouchi, the pistachio and the peanut butter flavors have the highest fat contents of anything the store sells, and no doubt that's why they're so bloody good flowing down the esophagus.
Yamanouchi's gelato shop has been in business for nearly four years, and is the prototype for a chain that certain Asian investors are planning on opening up around the country. Yamanouchi says that these investors have purchased the entire U.S. license for Mondogelato, an Italian gelato maker whose product they most admired during a fact-finding trip to Italy.
Definitely, Angel Sweet's doing something right. Of the 10 or so types of gelato I had there, none of them disagreed with me. AS' coconut lacked the aftertaste GS' had, and was packed with even more coconut shavings. And AS' strawberry and pineapple had a wow factor that GS' did not. As for Italian faves like the custardy zuppa inglese and the berry explosion of frutti di bosco (fruits of the forest), tangy from the seeds of a half-dozen berries, they'll have you on your knees declaring that Yahweh must drive a Ferrari, wear mousse in his hair, and go by the handle "Marcello."
If you're wondering, yes, Angel Sweet also has those girls in their summer dresses. Whether in Chandler or Phoenix, it seems, ladies always know a good thing when they taste one.
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