Whilst missing those languorous summers in Europe, with their hot, lazy afternoons, decadent 3 hour lunches, and aimless wanderings through old, sun-bleached stone streets, I found myself one evening pining for a real Italian gelato. It is this impulse that led me on a quest through beachy Kitsilano in Vancouver, meandering through its backstreets to discover Uno Gelato, an authentic experience I am excited to share.
Uno Gelato, a small parlour with its gelato making HQ in Kitsilano, is a place where Old World artistry meets New World energy. Elegant, clean, and airy inside, with an eye into the ‘kitchen’ backstage, the venue is small and quaint with a dining area and outdoor seating. The gelato is tucked away from view, covered by metallic lids to keep the temperature cool (the first sign of quality right there), whilst the Maestro, Andres, works his magic in the background. It has a playful energy to it, redolent of childhood memories of visiting the ice cream parlour, yet retains an elegance and sophistication by way of its reticence towards its produce. There are no glaring neon blue ‘Smurf’ flavoured mountains of E-numbered ‘ice cream’ here, no. Rather, this is somewhere you might bring a date.
Uno Gelato is an experience. It is built on the premise that there must be great people making the Gelato, but also great ingredients. In meeting Andres the Maestro on our arrival, his kindness and warmth, coupled with his expertise and knowledge, this philosophy of greatness became clear. The ingredients, meanwhile, in the back – glistening strawberries, fresh caramel marked with today’s date, a jug of pithy squeezed lime juice – testified this fact. Indeed, all of the Uno Gelato ingredients are from local farms seasonal, grown nearby and organic. There is Avalon Dairy, a Vancouver staple, Kraus Berry Farms, and Vancouver Island Sea Salt (just a short hop away across the water). Everything has been thought of – there are no short cuts here – and the fine quality of Uno Gelato is clear from the moment you step in.
We embarked on a Gelato 101 experience to learn more about how the Gelato is made. Our generous and knowledgeable host, Maestro Andres, took us to the back where we saw the various machines, ingredients, equipment, and recipes it takes to curate the perfect Gelato. We learnt first, that all of the machines are Italian, the finest models from Bologna, the alleged birthplace of Gelato. (No Canadian contraptions here). Then there are the various ingredients, though just a handful. There’s fresh lime juice to add tartness and acidity. Fresh, chopped strawberries for the flavour. 5 different types of sugar with different qualities – maple syrup style nutty sugar, powdery sugar, granular – each one has different freezing properties and reacts differently, tastes differently, in the Gelato. The machine used to blend it all is like a giant handheld whisk, industrially churning the ingredients together to create a gloopy sauce like mixture, that you then pour into the freezing machine with a slicer to cut the mixture. This cutting and freezing takes place simultaneously to create the texture of a sorbet – the Gelato that we made. After just 15 minutes of this process, at a temperature of -21C (which increased with the movements as the machine heated up), the Gelato is ready.
Tasting absolutely delicious, it’s amazing how quickly this brilliant product is made. And with such few ingredients. The minimalism with which Uno Gelato creates its expressions makes plain the quality of its ingredients, the knowledge of its people. We learnt, conversely, how ice cream, when it is fluffy and mountainous in its presentation, is in fact, mainly air. One wants density and richness in the product, not lightness. Air is even pumped into some ice creams to increase their volume. Needless to say, our Gelato, and the rest at Uno Gelato, reflect a density that exemplifies quality.
After trying our Strawberry Gelato that we had just made, we went on to sample the other flavours. The flavours change seasonally, based on what is available at the time, and Maestro Andres can go through this process of making the Gelato at least 10 – 20 times per day. Telling us all about his creations, from the homemade wild berry combination redolent of Vancouver Fall forests, to the Pumpkin spice and even beer flavoured Gelatos of the Winter months, we tasted flavours that included:
- Salted Caramel (my favourite)
- Mint Chocolate Chip (with real mint)
- Very Cherry (with sour cherries)
- New Fashioned Chocolate
- Akbar Mashti (a fantastic Persian creation of rosewater and pistachio)
- White Coffee
- Matcha Made In Heaven (real Matcha, and actually ‘healthy’)
- Roasted Black Sesame
- Lemon (vegan)
- Midnight Chocolate (vegan) (with 99% cacao chocolate)
We decided to have the Salted Caramel and Very Cherry Gelato for me (two scoops, of course), whilst my guest had the Akbar Mashti. This brilliantly interesting Persian blend tasted like nothing we’d had before, whilst mine was a firm favourite with rich, sweet and salty, freshly made caramel, and luscious, creamy, rich sour cherry. The cones were delicious too. I had the cocoa charcoal one, a dark and crispy thick indulgence, whilst my guest had the biscuit wafer – similarly delicious.
Full of new knowledge and tasty Gelato, my guest and I left at 9pm as the venue closed, wandering out satisfied into the sweltering summer heat as the sun set on another day in Vancouver. My homesickness for Europe assuaged, and our bellies full, we came home happy to have discovered this delicious haunt. And with two other destinations to choose from – False Creek and YVR – we’re certain we will be back for more, very, very soon.
For more details on Uno Gelato and their stores see online.