Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Amo Gelato!

One of the foundational myths in my family is that my maternal grandfather opened up the first (and for the longest time, only) soda shop in Cerralvo, Nuevo Leon. My grandmother would go in every day, and her love for ice cream became a +50 year marriage. At least that was the story we got when we would ask grandpa why he would go into the kitchen exclusively to make milkshakes and smoothies, and why grandma persistently ditched her own touring kin to make gelato-stops all over Rome. Is it any wonder why it is one of my favorite comfort foods?

Last week I was invited to to Pitango Gelato's new shop across the street from Whole Foods on P. S. and I sampled a flight of Gelato - from custard to nuts to sorbets - that was a welcome respite from an overwhelmingly humid Memorial Day. The Pitango space is decked out in green, it's signature color, dark wood, stainless steel and custom-made blown glass light fixtures. There is some seating in a bar with 8 stools that runs the lenght of the back wall (there are plans to add outdoor seating soon).

While many gelato shops in the area favor the mound presentation (one does eat with the eyes, after all), Pitango keeps its offerings under stainless steel drums. While you won't have your eyes to make up your mind, the staff behind the counter will be happy to offer you a sample, and the drums, which used to be an Industry standard before air became a primary mean of cooling, not only look sharp and clean, but also keep smells and flavors from mixing, while keeping ice chips from forming. I've never been so aware of the smell of gelato and sorbet, and how that aroma can bring the flavor to you while your palette concentrates on its temperature and texture.

S. and I were very lucky to have Founder and CEO Noah Dan guide us through our flight. His philosophy is simple: with a single ingredient, you can't cheat. Pitango sources its milk and eggs from an organic, family-owned Mennonite farm in Lancaster County. When possible, the fruit is local and in peak season, so the offering change several times a month. The coffee (an espresso for me and a capuccino for S.) is a custom-blend of Latin American coffees, roasted in Baltimore, a bright floral with just a touch of smoke.

We started out with Crema, an Italian custard. Eggs, milk, a hint of vanilla. A very delicate taste in a very rich texture. We moved on to Nocciola (hazelnut), one of the few imported ingredients from Italy. This is where the smell really hit me - I normally associate hazelnuts with Nutella, which is processed to no end. These hazelnuts are smokey, and made me think of the top note of Jabugo ham, made from hazelnut-fed pigs. Pistachio is one of my favorite gelato flavors, and the Pitango version did not dissapoint - instead of tasting the milk first, you can both see, taste and feel the roasted Pistachios di Bronte, flown in from Sicily. My favorite - and it was hard to pick - was the Creme Fraiche gelato because it combines the tang of yogurt with the texture of gelato - the best of both worlds and a perfect summer treat. In the interest of quasi-journalistic integrity, we moved on to Sorbets, where we found S.'s favorite - White Grapefruit, which we sampled along with tangerine. The sugar is organic, but the fruit is not sweetened to oblivion.

By the time we left, the after-dinner crowd was making a line well outside Pitango's shop. Having had gelato for dinner ourselves, we took our leave, but not before I noticed the take-away containers. I toyed with the idea of buying one to take home but opted against it in hommage to my family history - what would become of love stories put away in the freezer?

Pitango Gelato - Washington, DC
1451 P Street, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 332-8877

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review!

I discovered this place while wandering around Reston for the first time in months, a few weeks back.

I was afraid it was going to be another brand x fro yo/gelato place (as those seem to be popping up everywhere) and was relieved/excited to go in and learn about their mission, quality of their ingredients, and even the farm their dairy products come from.

I'm a dark chocolate and pistachio fan, and will def. be checking out their location in Baltimore on my next visit.