Friday, May 29, 2009

Lush Gelato: Homemade Helado in My Hood

As some of you might recall, I visited Buenos Aires last fall and one of the highlights of my trip was trying all the different heladerias, or gelato stores selling the popular Argentine treat known as helado.

The helado was rich like ice cream, but also sometimes airy or sometimes slick like Italian gelato. And the flavors. There were always too many to choose from.

So I’m trying to contain my gushing as I write about the newly opened Lush Gelato in Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue neighborhood—just a 10-minute walk from my home. Lush sells authentic helado, even though they call it gelato so everyone else will get it. And the organic seasonal flavors, while a limited selection compared to what I found in Buenos Aires, offer a few surprises and amazement.

Lush is the latest incarnation in the tiny storefront across the street from the Piedmont Theater. (The address says Piedmont Avenue but it really faces Linda Avenue.) For a brief while, Tango Gelato filled the spot and apparently couldn’t build enough business and it was briefly a Lulu Rae Confections before Lush took over.

Lush’s owner, Federico Murtagh, is originally from Argentina and you’ll find him often manning the store alone. He’s been making helado for years, primarily for restaurants and some farmers’ markets, and this is his first venture with consumers. Right now, he makes the helado/gelato off-site and brings them into the store, but Murtagh says he hopes to eventually make it on the premises.

The simply decorated store sells only gelato and sorbetto, including packed containers that you can buy to take home. Murtagh changes the flavors almost daily depending on what ingredients are available, and he often encourages you to try as many flavors as you like before making your decision.

When I visited the first time, I got two scoops ($3.75) of the Bourbon Pecan and the Café con Dulce de Leche. (One scoop sells for $2.50 and three scoops is $5.) The Café flavor was a nice coffee flavor with the sweetness of milk caramel. It might be too sweet for some people, but I’m on this coffee ice cream kick so I liked it.

I also enjoyed the Bourbon Pecan, although I didn’t feel it tasted like alcohol as much as some of the alcohol-spiked helado I had in Argentina. (Oooh, I still dream of that rum-spiked sabayon.) I kind of like boozy ice cream, so could probably take more in Lush’s Bourbon Pecan. But if you don’t, then I don’t think the flavor would throw you off. The fresh pecan bits added a fun crunch and I appreciated how they still tasted freshly toasted.

I returned a second time the other day and this time saw that the basil flavor was available. This could become Lush’s signature flavor because of the early buzz about it, and it’s all worth it. When I took my first scoop of the basil gelato, it was like such a revelation in flavor, a subtle herbal taste with the slight sweetness of basil. But it wasn’t necessarily intense like slap-your-face-with-a-bunch-of-basil flavor that I sometimes get in commercial basil products I’ve tried. It was subtle but distinctly different than anything I’ve tried in awhile.

I got the basil gelato with a scoop of strawberry sorbetto just because it’s in season, and the strawberry was bold in flavor. The taste wasn’t anything amazing, but it definitely represented the fruit well. I justified eating all this because the sorbetto was fat-free.

The texture of Lush’s helado is thick like ice cream. At times, I felt it would have been nice to have more air in it but that’s really a minor quibble. The quality here is definitely high. There’s no way that it can compare to what I tasted in Buenos Aires probably because the local ingredients are different in both places, and there’s no way you can get beyond that. But I’m happy to say that it comes pretty close, and whenever I want to reminisce about walking the streets of Argentina, I’ll just take a stroll down my neighborhood to Lush.

Lush Gelato, 4184 Piedmont Ave. (at Linda), Oakland. PH: 510.547.1299. Open daily from noon to 10 p.m.


Kim said...

Basil?! Interesting.

Carolyn Jung said...

Basil gelato? Oh man, does that sound amazing. Ici in Berkeley makes a cilantro sorbet. It's actually pretty good, though, you can probably only eat a tiny scoop of it because it's pretty intense.

Single Guy Ben said...

I love cilantro! But sorbetto is more intense in flavor, I think. That's why the basil is so amazing here because he does it as ice cream, so milky smooth and fragrant. Sigh, I have to get some this weekend!

Chubbypanda said...

Dang it, Ben! Now I'm searching the web for helado in Orange County. Thanks, buddy. :b

lushgelato said...

Thanks for the review! We wanted to let you know that we now have our own blog:

and we post what flavors are in our store each day on twitter:

(we are also on facebook but we are currently not quite internet savvy enough to post a link to that, but you can look us up!)