Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Gelati: Arlecchino and Gelato Spot

A friend of mine, the ever lovely Bellana, had a rather stressful week. It's one of those cases where you need really damn good ice cream, and a really fun movie. I decided for ice cream that we would go try Arlecchino, the new gelato place attached to the ever growing La Grande Orange complex on 40th and Campbell, right in the middle of the Arcadia district. I swear, 30 years from now LGO & Co. is going to take up the entire neighborhood with all kinds of chowish goodness. Anyway, I tried one of the special gelato available (I have no idea what it was called, but it was vanilla gelato with raspberries mixed in), and Bellana tried out the blood orange sorbetto. Both were... decent. I felt like my gelato was a little too airy and almost on the gummy side, certainly indicative of too much air allowed to mix into the finished product, and you really couldn't taste any of the small bits of raspberry sprinkled throughout. Bellana's sorbetto was quite firm (exact opposite problem, not enough air), but pleasantly flavored. There were a number of things that left me with a less than sweet taste in my mouth, all of them revolving around customer unfriendly policies. First is the ten dollar minimum on credit card purchases. I absolutely despise places that do this; to me it gives an air of two things, either my money isn't good enough for them unless I'm spending more than I want to, or they're desperate to stay in the black. Maybe both. There was also the oddity of two flavors costing more than the rest. If you go for a double scoop of the special Amaretto flavor, you'll drop seven dollars instead of the four that you thought you were going to spend. SEVEN DOLLARS for two scoops of ice cream? For money like that, it had better have me rolling on the ground in fits of ecstasy. Just bump the prices up by a dime across the board and get it over with. Next up in the line of issues is that half of the items are listed only in Italian. [We interrupt this review to bring you an important news flash... It is raining in Phoenix! Hallelujah! We now return you to your regular review.] I like to have the ['nother news flash... thunder too! I'm a native Arizonan. Close to five months without this makes one a little goofy for it] items shown in English next to the Italian word. While asking what the hell everything is is a nice way of getting to know the proprietor, I'd much rather be able to glance and automatically know "Ah, straciatella is chocolate chip!" Then there's their last policy... a two sample maximum. I'm indecisive as hell. I like to get as much information as possible before making my decision. Angel Sweet lets me taste a bunch of things. Gelato Spot lets me taste a bunch of things (and with as many flavors as they have, thank goodness!), why doesn't Arlecchino let me taste a bunch of things?

I decided halfway through my scoop that we should have an informal tasting, and try out the Gelato Spot on 32nd and Camelback for a side-by-side comparison. Upon arriving at the Spot, I was very relieved to find that we came in at a slower point during the night. If you arrive at a busy time, I hope you bring earplugs. Something about the painfully trendy girls who frequent the gelato spot has them all yipping at each other in high-pitched tones like the irritating thousand-dollar dustmops with legs... er, I mean... cute little toy dogs that they inevitably own. Add a high ceiling and hard surfaces all over the place, and even a few people in the place can make quite a racket. We were both craving lots more frozen deliciousness, so we each got the large, a three-scoop monster: Mine was key lime pie gelato, mango sorbetto, and blood orange sorbetto for comparison's sake; hers was passion fruit sorbetto, raspberry sorbetto (good for comparing to Angel Sweet), and strawberry cream gelato. Now *this* was ice cream heaven. The blood orange sorbetto here was everything it should be: Intensely flavored, just the right balance of sweet to acidity, and a texture of frozen silk. All of the flavors were fantastic, and great fun was had trying out different combinations of the six flavors between us (blood orange and raspberry... mmmmmm). There were some minor quibbles with the Spot, though. One is that I ran into the occasional chunk of ice, likely a remnant of someone not letting the rinse water drain off of the scoop before diving in. The other is that the noise level in the place makes it hard to communicate your order to the girl behind the counter.

I can now say that I have tried out all three of the major gelato choices in the Valley. My favorite... is still Angel Sweet. They may not have the mind-boggling array of flavors of the Gelato Spot, but their product is faultlessly smooth every single time, and the clientele know how to speak without squawking. I also greatly enjoy their somewhat unorthodox scooping method of smooshing down your selections side by side in the cup; it makes snagging a little bit of one flavor and a little bit of another that much easier. Yeah, I know it's a weird thing to notice. But still, I like it. Gelato Spot is a really close second. I love their creativity with the flavors, but those pesky yapping customers and icy bits in the gelato are just enough to keep me getting my main gelato fix at Angel Sweet. Arlecchino... I wanted to like it, really I did. Alas, weird texture, weak flavor, and a bevy of customer unfriendly policies leave it as the also-ran in the world of gelato in Phoenix.