Unadulterated by excesses of fat and air, gelato alights on the palate of those uninitiated to its confectionery splendor as a revelation of flavor and texture. Elizabeth Gilbert's description of this sensory experience brought the toothsome treat into vogue with American sweet tooths. “Eat, Pray, Love,” her tome of self discovery and over indulgence, gave tangible form to the frisson of delight that each morsel deposited by the tiny, paddle-shaped spoon sent flickering across her pleasure center. It wasn't long before foodies the world over were thronging the Rome gelateria the world of letters, and later film, had given international renown.
With gelato firmly embedded in the pop culture consciousness, the timing was auspicious when Larisa and Daniel Micu unveiled Dolce Gelato in the summer of 2007 in the Cornerstone Market Place. Having a fraction of the fat and half the sugar of its American cousin, gelato offers “the best of both worlds,” Daniel said.
“It's healthier and better tasting,” said Daniel, who, along with his wife, Larisa, are Romanian expats who arrived in Hot Springs by way of southwest Washington. “When we came here, we realized there was nothing similar to this in all of Arkansas, which is really surprising.”
USA Today's “Great American Bites” section recognized Dolce Gelato as the state's pre-eminent ice cream purveyor in August 2010. Though ice cream is a misnomer for the Italian import. Per Food and Drug Administration rules, frozen desserts must be made from no less than 10 percent fat for the ice cream appellation to attach.
Many premium ice creams have more than 20 percent fat compared to the 4-to-7-percent ratio of
Dolce Gelato's wares, which the Micus make from scratch with a proprietary family recipe used in gelaterias their relatives own in Italy. The lower fat content owes to gelato being made from whole milk instead of cream or egg yolks, leaving the taste buds unencumbered by a creamy film that can dull their receptors.
“Because there's no egg, butter or heavy cream, it really lets the flavor pop,” Larisa said of the 27 varieties, including six dairy-free sorbettos, featured at Dolce Gelato.
Slower churning leads to the thicker consistency, making gelato's composition 20-to-25-percent air compared to the faster churning that makes ice cream more than 50 percent air by volume.
“It's really rich, and the consistency is really creamy,” Larisa said. “That's one of the big attractions.”
The greater density requires a serving temperature about 15 degrees warmer than ice cream, giving gelato the appearance of frozen yogurt. Unlike yogurt's lowfat iteration, gelato isn't laden with the sugar content that allows fat to be excised without compromising taste.
The Micus said this supports their belief that gelato isn't a passing fancy, unlike the glut of low-fat yogurt shoppes that once cluttered strip malls and store fronts.
“The reason yogurt went away is the fatfree part,” Daniel said. “It had less fat than ice cream but so much more sugar, and the calorie count is a lot higher. People caught on to that, realizing it was lower in fat but had much higher sugar. The fat content and sugar count for gelato are much lower than American ice cream. That's the reason gelato will stick around.”
Dolce Gelato offers numerous flavors of their signature delicacy, all made from scratch.
Along with their crowd-pleasing gelato, the Micus also serve sandwiches, hot soups and salads.