Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scoop on Dining: Gelateria Naia

The (Too) Sweet Taste of Gelato

The other weekend when I was in the Castro neighborhood checking out chocolates, it was warm enough to also get gelato. Yum. (I’m not the type to eat ice cream or gelato in cold weather, and the Castro sometimes get blanketed with fog from Twin Peaks. But not this weekend.)

The place I typically go for gelato is Naia, an Ikea-looking gelateria founded only a few years ago by some Bay Area folks who felt they couldn’t find good gelato to match the ones they ate on their travels. (I like those type of people. Bringing world food back home to the Bay Area.) Naia has been featured by several local news programs for its fresh, seasonal flavors made primarily of local ingredients.

It’s been a few years since I’ve dropped by Naia for a cup of gelato. When I entered during this recent visit, I thought Carmen Miranda had exploded behind the counter. On every bucket of gelato flavor were the actual fruit or food product that inspired the flavor. I don’t remember this display when I was here a few years ago, and I felt it just raised the cheese-factor up a notch.

Getting over my aghast over the counter display, I started to zero-in on my choices. I first tried the Black Mission Fig. I thought: Seasonal and I love figs. I don’t love it as gelato. It had an odd meaty taste. I was tempted by the watermelon, but I was pretty sure I had that flavor the last time I was here and I had just made a whole tub of watermelon granita a few days before.

I asked the guy behind the counter for help. He said Nutella was his favorite. I tried it and it tasted nutty and not too sweet, but nothing spectacular. I thought I’d go a different route and went past the fruits and looked at the Italian-inspired flavors, trying the Canoli. It didn’t have the sweet taste of dessert, but instead tasted like simple vanilla ice cream.

I’m not the type to stand there trying one flavor after another at an ice cream store. (I’m usually the guy stuck behind that person.) Luckily I was the only one at the store at the time. Still, I thought this wasn’t a good sign that I couldn’t find a flavor after all these tries. I ended up taking a leap of faith and selected the Mojito (because I’m on a mint kick right now) and the Plum (because it had such a pretty color, almost like the Flavor King!). I got two scoops in a medium cup ($4.50).

The Mojito turned out to be quite tart, almost like lime. It was definitely minty, but I could barely finish it because of the tartness. The Plum was sweet and refreshing, but it was too sweet. If you’re the type who like to mainline sugar, you’d probably enjoy it. I didn’t. Also, the overall texture of Naia’s gelato is more liquid than creamy, and not as rich as gelato I had in Italy.

I can’t decide if the quality of Naia’s gelato has gone down hill since my last visit two years ago, or if there just happens to be better options these days such as Gelato Milano in Berkeley, which serves creamy gelato with well-balanced taste profiles?

Either way, Naia might be my go-to place for a gelato if I just happen to be in the Castro. But it’s not a destination place like Bi-Rite, Ici, or the aforementioned Gelato Milano. Hmm, maybe the Naia owners need to hit the road again and taste some better gelato.

Naia, 451 Castro St., San Francisco. (Four other locations in North Beach, Walnut Creek and Berkeley.) Hours: Sun.–Thu., noon to 11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., noon to 1 a.m.


Anonymous said...

Gelato is so big right now. Grom in NY has lines around the corner still! And they've been open for months.

Single Guy Ben said...

I heard about that place in NY. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that it's hot and humid in NY right now. It's on my long list of new places to try next time I'm in Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! The mojito gelato is my ultimate favorite flavor......the trick is to balance the tartness with a sweeter flavor alongside the mojito flavor and my choice would be the basil gelato when it's offered. The combination of those two flavors is like a gelato orgasm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Trust me.