Saturday, October 28, 2006

Scoop on Dining: Gelato Milano -- CLOSED

Hot weekend calls for cold creaminess

2170 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Sun-Thu, noon to 11 p.m., Fri and Sat, noon to midnight

PH: 1-510-649-1888

One of the benefits of living in a temperate location like the East Bay of San Francisco is that you get the joy of ice cream and gelato all year round. San Francisco gets the fog. We get the ice cream. Good deal.

There’s a late Indian Summer in the Bay Area this weekend, so I ventured out for some cool creaminess because if I’m going to get all hot and sweaty, I might as well be sweet.

There seems to be an explosion of hand-made ice cream in Berkeley, what with Sketch on trendy Fourth Street and the recently opened, high-end Ici Ice Cream on College Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood. But right in the heart of Berkeley is Gelato Milano, a sleek, minimalist storefront in the frenetic, Bohemian beat of downtown Shattuck Avenue.

I don’t eat a lot of ice cream, so I can’t say I’m an expert on the best gelato in town. But the velvety-smoothness of the gelato at Gelato Milano will surely bring a lot of fans. This outpost of Italian frozen cream was created by Curtis Chin, who co-founded Mondo Gelato but had a falling out and split to open his own place. The black-and-white exterior and stark interior reminded me of a shop in SoHo in New York.

Gelato Milano offers a variety of flavors piled into fluffy pillow-like mounds behind the counter. Attempting to signal an authentic flair, all the flavors are in Italian. If you have a sweet tooth, then definitely go for flavors such as tiramisu and bacio (hazelnut-chocolate). But I like the subtle taste of the fruit sorbetti and ended up with a delightful pomelo (grapefruit) and melon (honeydew) combo.

The gelato was amazingly creamy like butter. I was sure I was eating premium ice cream. Although enjoyable, the gelato did not transport me to the sidewalks of Rome where you can discover gelato stores on every block. I remember the gorgeous gelato of unusual flavors with its sheen (probably from the raw egg) and smooth texture that I tasted again and again on a visit to Italy. That’s how I’ll always think of gelato, and it just never seems to be something that can be replicated in the United States.

Despite this, Gelato Milano is a refreshing wonder, coming pretty close. It’s a great stop after shopping at the Berkeley farmers’ market or after lunch at La Note a few blocks south.

A minor note: While the service was pleasant, the guy who was helping me (and in fact may have been owner Curtis Chin or a relative) was a bit cold (hee hee, sorry). I came in saying I had a craving for watermelon and he was quick to point out he didn't have any and that anyone selling watermelon would be lying to me because it’s not in season. Well, yeah, I know it’s not in season, but that’s the thing about cravings, they’re not something that come with the season. Also, on a warm day when people are craving for gelato, it might be a good idea to make sure the air-conditioning is working so your customers will feel welcomed and will be making a decision with a clear mind instead of thinking how quickly they want to get out of the stuffiness. Still, I just took my gelato to go and enjoyed sitting in the warm breeze watching the boarders skating by the sidewalks of Shattuck.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies)

Explanation of the single guy’s rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy’s dream dinner


Anonymous said...

Today my son Lucas and I tried the hazelnut gelato- it was delicious.

Our experience however was tainted by a couple of things. As soon as we entered, I could smell some sort of cleaning solution- such as Lysol or Pinesol.
You had mentioned the guy behind the counter was cold...I had requested another small cup because Lucas wanted to have his OWN cup- that's what 4-year-olds want. Our server was hesitant to give us another- he said,"we don't normally do that..." even though I offered to pay for it. Combined with the spare decor (it felt like something was missing...not chic) his attitude left me "cold."
If he could improve on these things, we may come back.

Chef Ben said...

Yep, it's too bad the service hasn't changed much since I first visited in October. I still think the gelato is amazing, but it's such a cold environment. And with so little support in terms of other interesting stores around Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, I don't know if they'll really last. Luckily the weather is getting warmer so that always helps any good ice cream/gelato store.