Bulgarini sits quietly at edge of humanity, on the little toe of the San Gabriel Mountains and in the shadows of a Rite Aid. It’s the type of place that isn’t open when it’s supposed to be. And it certainly wasn’t when I went. You could tell by the unplaced stacks of tables and chairs.
Instead of moping around like some sort of dope, I decided to see what Altadena has to offer, so I rolled the windows down and slowly drove through neighborhoods I know nothing about. (Not too slowly so as to avoid being added to any lists.) It seems as though everyone living there has always lived there. Why wouldn’t they? They live on the widest streets ever constructed, with parking aplenty. Did Oprah give away free parking to all Altadena residents?
If you partake in such a leisure cruise, don’t try to get a snack at the Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken / Chinese Fast Food restaurant on Lake Street unless you have cash or are willing to pay their $10 minimum for cards. And before you ask, no, they won’t take $2 cash for a single piece of heat lamp chicken. As you drive along, you’ll also learn that the Pasadena High School mascot is the Bulldogs. Such is the case with one high school in every city. I would have gone with the Pasadena High School Funk.
An hour later, I returned to the hidden shopping center parking lot to see if it was yet open. “The tables and chairs will tell the tale,” I told myself. After the glare off of the Greek Café window passed, I saw the oasis of tables and chairs. “Told you, me,” I said.
Leo Bulgarini, aka the Italian Sergio, will be on the phone when you enter. He’ll raise an eyebrow your way, as if to make sure you didn’t enter by accident. If you have a good haircut, he’ll know that you didn’t mean to go into the salon next door. Luckily, I had just gotten my haircut that very morning. And so he put the phone down next to his pile of strawberries.
Even during the day, it is dark in Bulgarini, with the only light being the humming glow coming from the arc of the gelato covenant. Go towards the light. But don’t walk into it just yet. Before being allowed into heaven, one must first pass through pasta purgatory. Wonderful, wonderful purgatory.
They’re all written out on a long chalkboard, but Leo will tell you the kinds of pasta and sauces he has available that day. You’ll nod and smile like some sort of dope. Leo smiles when he talks about his pastas, but his eyes will reveal your choice.
On this day, the eyes chose spaghetti made with a ricotta that had been flown straight from a Roman sheep (a sheep whose name was likely Fausto) a mere day or two prior. “Give me ten minutes.” I knew it would be 20, and yet I still failed to order a gelato appetizer. Don’t be dumb like me. Order pasta, but amuse that bouche with gelato. Then after the pasta, get more gelato.
The pasta is presented, and it looks like a cloud had a fight with a bee hive. It’s an effervescent pale with barbed wire noodles protruding from the fluffed pin cushion. Each bite is sanctuary. The ricotta is as light as something that is very light, and there is a subtle spice of cracked black pepper. The noodles are perfectly cooked. It’s the kind of pasta that you don’t want to end. It doesn’t, in a way, as you go to bed thinking about it.
You scrape up as much of the wonderful cream sauce as you can, thank Fausto the Sheep and then brace yourself for the pending dilemma: how to pick only three gelato flavors. (Note: the writer of this piece refuses to recognize the Small size option that only includes two flavors because, why??) The pistachio is a given. For the other two choices, I, again, let Leo guide. Merlot/Mascarpone and Lemon Cream, it is.
The gelato is the only reason most go to Bulgarini, with good reason. Its texture is dense yet creamy, and the flavors sing. Leo will tell you this is because to make the gelato, he only uses the star ingredient and milk. “It’s all about the making the flavor a hero.” (Note: Leo did not say this.) All three flavors were wonderful. The pistachio, duh. DUH, my friend. The Lemon Cream may have won the day, though. So bright and tart and silky and exactly as it should be.
There are more eloquent ways I could wrap this up, but really, what I’m trying to get at is that I’m happy to live in a city where Bulgarini also exists.
749 E Altadena Dr
Altadena, CA 91001