Sampling local chocolate powerhouse Chuao's new line of gelato
Imagine a world without gelato. It's easy if you try. Remembering back as recently as a decade ago transports us to a time and place where ice cream barons like Baskin-Robbins and Ben and Jerry enjoyed their status as the unchallenged champions of the U.S. frozen dessert market. We Americans had our ice cream and we liked it. We loved it. Heck, we all screamed for it.
Then one day, like a shiny red Ferrari, a sleek new Italian import roared into town with a luxurious texture, silken mouth-feel and flavors much more intense than traditional ice cream due to its indulgently higher butter fat ratio. Fast forward to present day and, all across the country, not only do we see gelato joints springing up all over the place, but scores of restaurants and confectioners are also adding gelato to their menus and product lines.
Our very own Chuao Chocolatier, a local producer of artisan chocolate delights that has won acclaim for its delectable and innovatively flavored bonbons, truffles, candy bars and cacao-laced libations, is hoping to garner similar accolades with their new line of specialty gelato. But does fine Venezuelan chocolate craftsmanship and know-how carry over to produce equally exceptional slow-churned Italian goodness?
Unfortunately, not to the extent one would hope or expect and, with so much quality gelato currently available in San Diego, there is little reason other than geographical convenience to choose Chuao's over the dozens of other vendors producing a superior product.
Like high-end ice cream, authentic gelato contains less air than lower quality varieties and, as a result, is extremely dense. Chuao's gelato comes in low on the thickness scale and hits the tongue more like soft serve, exhibiting little deep freeze backbone and starting its melt on impact. Also disappointing is the almost artificial-tasting sweetness inherent to the entire line. It comes across like diluted honey and, while not unpalatable, does not match the sweetness of great gelatos, which derive a great deal of their sugars from the ingredients that make up their base flavor profile like fruits, raisins and, of course, chocolate.
And speaking of chocolate, since Chuao uses only the best varieties of this delicious, highly-addictive ingredient and has made itself famous via the medium, one would expect that their chocolate-flavored gelatos would be their best. Especially since Chuao's mission is "to arouse the senses with unusual, unexpected and delicious chocolates inspired by [their] most popular bonbons and truffles." Well, they certainly have the unusual part down, but instead of tasting distinct and delicious, they fall extremely short of delivering the vibrance of the confections they are based on. Perhaps it's those very bonbons and truffles that heighten one's expectations. Regardless, the fact remains that Chuao's chocolate gelatos just aren't that great.
The best flavors to be had here are the White Grignotine, a subtly sweet panna cotta gelato studded with caramelized almonds, pistachios and orange peel, and a simple sweet almond variety called Amaretto di Sarano. In both, the best about Chuao's gelato, the delicious mix-ins, shine through. Natural flavors come to life just as they are meant to the moment you bite into a sliver of orange peel or crunch down on a nut.
But fear not die-hard chocolate lovers. There are methods for boosting the appeal of certain chocolate varieties. During a recent visit, one of the helpful folks behind the register suggested simultaneously sampling one of Chuao's Picante bonbons with a bite of the Picante gelato whose flavors were built to mirror its candy namesake. The spicy chilies incorporated into both played off each other and rocketed each component to new heights. There is simply no better way to experience either product.
So, despite the fact that this gelato drives more like a Fiat than a Ferrari, the differentiator that separates Chuao from other San Diego gelaterias is their ability to combine their so-so gelato with the superior artisanal chocolate inspiration.
Chuao Chocolatier Cafe
UNIVERSITY TOWNE CENTRE
4465 La Jolla Village Drive, Suite H-9
DEL MAR HIGHLANDS SHOPPING CENTER
3485 Del Mar Heights Road, Suite A-1
PRICE RANGE: $
NOT TO BE MISSED: The Picante gelato enjoyed in tandem with the Picante truffle that inspired it
FEEL FREE TO AVOID: The low octane, even lower coffee-flavored Cafe Mocha gelato
SERVICE: Outstandingly patient, hospitable and accommodating
Restaurants receive a score of one to four forks in accordance with the following rating system: 1 fork = poor; 2 forks = adequate; 3 forks = good; 4 forks = outstanding.