Try the cart. Then try mothership.
Convinced my family to stop by here prior to our trip to the Huntington library… but when we got here at 1:15, it was closed
So we went to the neighboring Greek Cafe for lunch. The quality of the food there was a pleasant surprise: juicy, well-seasoned beef lula, and a lamb shank that tasted just like your grandmother had made it. Rice pilaf was decent, salad I would go so far as to say was even “very good”, mostly owing to the pleasantly sharp dressing.
Fortunately by the time we’d finished eating, we noticed that the gelateria had opened.
The chocolate was amazing. Incredibly rich, smooth, and thankfully not too sweet, this was far better than any chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. The guava was, hmm, decent. The flavor was expressed particularly well (which is a recurring theme here!) but the texture was a little too gritty and it was a particularly poor pairing with the chocolate when the flavors mixed (not Leo’s fault, admittedly).
Sister’s: Pear/Blood Orange
Leo had three pear flavors today, so I’m not sure which one this was, but I’d wager it was the most standard one. It was quite good, and my parents were particularly fond of it, but pear is not really my thing and I didn’t find it amazing enough to overcome that particular disinterest. The blood orange, on the other hand, I loved. I think everybody else found it a little too sweet but I only got a small bite of it, so I was mostly left with the flavor, like an amped up version of what you might find at a farmer’s market.
I think the stracciatella may actually have been the goat milk w/cocoa, due to the slight funk. Not really my thing . The pistachio, however… . Words do not do it justice. I am, in truth, not a huge fan of pistachios. Generally I go about life not really remembering that they exist, most of the time. This gelato may have changed that forever. I guess I’m going to have to come back next year (or perhaps in a week) to get some more. My father joked that while he would never drive half an hour for food (he is not one of us ), he was considering sending me out to pick up a few pints of this later.
For dinner, we stopped at Best Noodle House, but that’s another story…
Thanks for the report back. I love their Chocolate Gelato!
The Guava by itself is pretty good, but I can see that putting those 2 together might not work that well.
Re: Stracciatella - Yah, Leo has 2 Gelatos that look very similar (and I’ve seen him offer both on the same day, adding to the confusion): His wonderful original Stracciatella, and a Goat’s Milk Cocoa Gelato (which is indeed funky! ;)). You might’ve gotten that one by accident.
Pistachio Gelato: Now you understand! Yes, this is the famous Gelato that Mr. Bulgarini travels to Italy for, to source the exact type of Italian Pistachios he wants to import, to grind down into his amazing Pistachio Gelato. Isn’t it so good?
I remember @J_L waxing poetic about this years ago and reading his posts, it inspired me to make the trek to Bulgarini just to try it when it was finally offered (seasonal). So worth it! (Thanks @J_L for the introduction!)
One of my worst days last year was when I went to Bulgarini around 1:30pm and it still wasn’t open. I live an hour away and happened to be in the neighborhood. Others have mentioned Leo’s “flexible” schedule but it was a disappointing day indeeed. I went down to Carmela and pretended that I was satisfied.
With the recent heat wave that made it feel like Summer, it set about an urge to head over to Bulgarini Gelato again.
Gelato Maestro, Owner and Pasta Maker Extraordinaire, Leo Bulgarini, has now started Friday & Saturday Dinners(!). Curious and excited to see what this gifted Gelato Master could also cook up for a dinner, we stopped in.
As we sat down, and placed our order for his dinner course, he started us off with… Handmade Focaccia. Because this craftsman who is so obsessive about delivering the best ingredients will only make his famous Pistachio Gelato when he can source a particular type of Pistachio from Italy (and he flies out to Italy personally to make sure of the quality), of course he makes his own Focaccia Bread. It’s not even surprising at this point.
And he had just finished making a batch, and it is glorious!
This insanely delicious Handmade Bread, fresh-baked out of the oven (we lucked out and showed up when he just finished up a batch), it’s got this wonderful crust giving way to a pillowy center, topped with quality (deeply fragrant) Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a bit of Sea Salt.
It disappeared in less than a minute and we had to ask for seconds.
Gnocchi with Pesto Sauce:
Leo Bulgarini’s Handmade Gnocchi are little clouds of awesome - so impossibly light, delicate - and his Housemade Pesto is so vibrant and beautifully herbal. I could eat this everyday.
Agnello Scottadito (Slow Roasted Lamb Chops):
These were Slow-Roasted Lamb Chops, arriving cooked through, but since it’s slow-roasted it’s tender and bursting with flavor, redolent of Garlic and Rosemary. It has a familiar taste, but very well executed and delicious.
Slow-Roasted Garlic Potatoes:
A stunning example of great roasting, these morsels of Potato were cooked to the point of being beyond fork tender, yet slightly crisped on certain edges for a satisfying crunch, and infused with the greatness that is Slow-Roasted Garlic.
Cioccolato All’ Arancia (Chocolate Orange) Gelato:
One of the favorites from my early visits, this is a beautiful play of Valrhona Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa - so deep and bitter and fragrant - against the zestiness of bright Orange citrus.
And of course Leo’s Tiramisu uses his own fresh-brewed Espresso, Mascarpone and Coca Powder to create what tastes like the ultimate distillation of Tiramisu into Gelato form (but without the excessive sugar in some versions of this dessert).
It is what you’d want a chilled, mature Tiramisu to be (this was completely sold out on our follow-up visit).
Nocciola (Hazelnut) Gelato:
To understand the greatness of Bulgarini is to try one of their Nut-based Gelato. Leo Bulgarini distills what tastes like a metric ton of Hazelnuts, ground down and turned into a chilled dessert that tastes more like Roasted Hazelnuts than Hazelnuts themselves.
It is truly that good and probably my favorite Gelato here.
The heat wave continued in Southern California, so what else could we do but come back the next night.
Once again wonderful, although slightly cooled. As an FYI, Leo says he’ll try and make his Focaccia on Friday and Saturday evenings around 6 - 7 p.m. Call ahead and plan your visit for when it comes out of the oven!
Tagliatelle al Sugo di Carne:
While Bulgarini’s Pesto elicits happiness and joy, his 6-hour, slow-stewed Sugo di Carne (Meat Sauce) might be even better. There’s something deeply satisfying with every bite that we took; you could taste the love and care with every bite of the Handmade Tagliatelle Pasta and the meaty Sauce.
Mascarpone Merlot Gelato:
In another example of lucid understanding of outstanding flavor combinations, Leo Bulgarini is currently featuring a Mascarpone Gelato infused with an Italian Merlot Wine(!). And it works so well. The Merlot is there, but never overpowering the creamy, chilled Mascarpone.
Fragola Sorbetto (Strawberry Sorbet):
Leo’s ultimate distillation of local Farmers Market Strawberries, it tastes like bright Spring… that lilting aroma of in-season, ripe Strawberries that brings a smile to your face. Sweetness with a touch of tart, it is another masterpiece.
Crema di Limone Gelato:
This tastes like all the brightness of Lemon without the excessive sourness. It is balanced, creamy and a citrus-lover’s dream.
Pistacchio (Pistachio) Gelato:
The most famous and hardest to find Gelato from Bulgarini, there is a reason why it’s so beloved. From the first bite, you suddenly gain that clarity and understanding of why Leo Bulgarini would only offer this when he found the right kind of Pistachios from Italy.
Stunningly beautiful, nutty, and simply outstanding: Roasted Pistachios ground into creamy, chilled Gelato form. There’s probably more Pistachios than there is Milk.
Bulgarini Gelato is a wonderful hole-in-the-wall that continues to surprise and bring delight with each scoop of the best Gelato we’ve ever had, with each bite of their amazing Handmade Pastas, and now their new Dinner Service. Leo Bulgarini talks about serving a wonderful Italian Slow-Roasted Short Rib, and rotating in a Guanciale recipe, along with Hawaiian Ahi Tuna and other dishes.
We will certainly be back to try his other offerings.
Note: Be sure to call ahead to confirm they are open (their hours can sometimes vary).
Note 2: Reservations are recommended for the Friday & Saturday evening Dinners (featured meat dishes).
749 E. Altadena Drive
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 791-6174
Seriously, is there any food the man cannot prepare well?
Hell, you could give him springbok and sea cucumbers - he’d take them into the kitchen, and come back out with some crazy delicious bush game/echinoderm pasta flavored with cumin.
Yah it’s shocking how much good stuff Leo Bulgarini can make!
Thank you again for all your reports and inspiring me to finally make the trek to visit. So worth it!
I wonder what his pizza would be like.
Pie in the sky…
Pizza by Bulgarini sounds amazing.
Forgot to mention (updated the post):
Leo recommends calling ahead to reserve if you’re interested in the Friday / Saturday evening dinners (e.g., Slow Roasted Lamb, Beef Short Ribs, Ahi Tuna, etc.). The featured dish will rotate each week.
Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.
The other thing I was just thinking of: Bulgarini offers Catering for private events… I can’t imagine how awesome that would be to have some great Handmade Pasta (or some of his new Lamb / Short Rib / Guanciale dishes) + the amazing Gelato at a birthday party.
Has anyone tried Bulgarini Catering?
Chowmeet idea !!!
I’ve had Leo cater an event with gelato. I dunno if he caters events with his non-gelato specialties.
Add in getting Chef Wes Avila (Guerilla Tacos) and Ricky’s Fish Tacos and that would be even crazier!