We Don't Just Grieve for Those Who Passed, but for the Exiled Too
122 W Commonwealth Ave
Fullerton, CA 92832 (formerly)
Fullerton is an enigma. Sort of up and coming with a handful of fun shops, and decent coffee and food on one hand, and beat city with little to do on the other. It is a sort of microcosm of Southern California. Its air, of course, is fantastically polluted. Much of it is ruinously expensive, or rundown and yet still expensive. There are too many people, so traffic is a constant obstacle, and … let’s just say these people and I just have different views of the world. It is pretty diverse, and I view that to be positive, but it is still surprisingly racist. There are too many chain restaurants, and chain everything honestly, so there is just this oppressive sameness. It is a landscape of false promise, but some real promise too, though these are mere oases.
Things managed to get slightly worse in the final weeks of the winter 2012 when Frati Gelato closed down. Unlike some of the other entries with this tag, Frati didn’t go out of business. It just became largely inaccessible as the owner Anthony LuPriore relocated the business to Napa. While there are other places where Orange County residents can get gelato such as the solid but unspectacular Paradiso, or more adventurous, but heavier Dolce in Laguna Beach, there aren’t yet any gelati that manage a comparable balance. Frati managed to innovate without becoming unrecognizable. One of the most interesting flavors they had was made with tiny pieces of torrone, which became enjoyably crispy when frozen. Another swirled in balsamic reduction with shaved chocolate in sweet cream. This was just enough of a tweak to classic chocolate chip ice cream that one suddenly becomes aware of innumerable possibilities.
Frati’s big pitch was that gelato, and especially how LuPriore and his (family) partners made it, was much healthier that standard ice cream and many other deserts. Put simply, premium hard pack ice cream requires a high butter fat to mixed air ratio. The benefit of this is that it provides a satisfying mouth feel, balanced flavor, and slow melting stability. The temperature at which it can be worked with and eaten, happens to be cold enough to alleviate heat but minimize cold discomfort. The problem with this it also packs in the calories and has to be consumed in extremely small doses, or you end up feeling like a Baron Harkonnen sized pile of shame and flop sweat. When you reduce the butter fat content, you get ice milk, which is softer, and there for ideal for ice cream novelties like Drumsticks and the classic ice cream sandwiches. The problem here is that becomes much less satisfying and impactful, so the star is not the ice cream, but the chocolate wafer, or the cone, or chocolate shell, etc. Soft serve occupies the intermediary level of butter fat that would seem ideal, but requires specialized machinery to maintain the necessary state of not frozen/not liquid. This also mean that it has to be eaten quickly since it is not temperature stable. Gelato solves this by vigorously whipping air into the mixture rather than toying with the fat content. This creates a result that is soft, yet creamy, and will melt slowly. This also reduces overall calories, so you can eat more of it, but you don’t because this also allows for flavors to cut through the dulling effects of fat, and allow the intensity of the flavorings to provide satiation rather than by just being filling.
Frati used this, along with its flavor combinations, to great effect. It achieved a remarkable texture that clung to the spoon, and pull off the scoop in short ribbons. It coated the inside of your mouth just long enough; a couple seconds past its melt point like an appropriately stiff mousse. Aftertaste is usually used negatively, but in this case it was a enjoyable part of the experience. It was something you only noticed if you trying too. Otherwise it only present enough to be pleasant memory.
I must say I am conflicted. When the move happened, I always knew they would do well, and they deserve success. Northern California is environment in which Frati can thrive, but the California wine country doesn’t need it. In Southern California, in Orange County the land of dense urban traffic and suburban sameness, it served as a tease. I’m not saying that there aren’t other good food experiences in this part of the country. There are, and there are new ones popping up on a regular basis. Unfortunately, they have a distressing tendency of regressing to the mean. At least with Frati I got the sense that they weren’t going to do that anytime soon.