Photo: Lotus Head/Wikipedia
When the weather warms up, the ultimate comfort food is ice cream. A little lick, an instant melt, and a smooth slide down your throat provide a simple pleasure.
When I was in elementary school, eating ice cream was a celebrated weekly occurence. Fridays were my favorite day of the week, becuase my mom was able to get out of work early and pick me up from school. On the way home, we’d always stop for ice cream at Thrifty Drugstores (RiteAid bought them out in 1996). For 35 cents, I got my scoop of ice cream and quality time with Mom.
Then I had an epiphany two years ago. While visiting Italy, I tasted gelato for the first time. Technically, gelato is Italian for ice cream, but if you have real gelato, you will never confuse it with mere ice cream. Gelato tastes as strong as the flavor itself, and it has a silky smooth texture like soft-serve. Ironically, these qualities make gelato lower in fat than ice cream.
Gelato is made with whole milk instead of cream, as fat coats the tongue and mutes flavors. Super-premium ice cream, like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Daz, have 15-20% butter fat. By FDA standards, the cheapest plain ice cream can have 10% butter fat. Gelato, on the other hand, contains 3-10% fat.
The cheapest ice cream is half air, or 100% overrun. That’s why generic supermarket ice cream comes in large yet light containers. The overrun in gelato is much lower, around 20%. Because gelato is denser, it’s served at a higher temperature, which also intensifies the flavors.
In my quest to replicate the Italian experience, I’ve trekked all across Manhattan to find the best gelato and sorbet, another mainstay of gelaterias.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
The gelato is shockingly flavorful, soft and smooth, just like it is in Italy. My favorite is the chocolate gelato, but creator Jon Snyder rotates exotic flavors, like black sesame and lavender. The sorbets are also super flavorful, but some, like the coconut, are icy and crumbly.
Verdict: Best gelato
photo: il Laboratorio del Gelato
Mario Batali’s restaurant serves mildly flavored gelato, up to three flavors in a cup. Their signature olive oil gelato is very subtle. It gets better as you finish it, because the flavors take time to accumulate. My favorite is the ricotta, which tastes like fresh cheesecake.
Verdict: Runner-up for best gelato
Ciao Bella Gelato
Despite its name, sorbet is Ciao Bella’s strongest point. The chocolate sorbet is so rich and creamy that you won’t believe it’s dairy-free and has one gram of fat per serving. The fruit sorbet is also very good. Blood orange and raspberry pair wonderfully with chocolate, but the mango and apple are delicious too. The gelato is high-quality ice cream, but not on par as gelato.
Verdict: Best chocolate sorbet, runner-up for best fruit sorbet
This bakery serves divine fruit sorbet only in the summer, so take full advantage of their mango, raspberry and cassis flavors. The mango sorbet tastes like the ripest fruit imaginable, just like in Italy.
Verdict: Best fruit sorbet
il Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard St. (between Broome & Delancey Sts)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 343 9922
1 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10003
An outdoor cart is also in Washington Square Park (Waverly Pl. at MacDougal St.) from April to Nov.
Ciao Bella Gelato
various locations nationwide, including Grand Central Station, Mott St., 92 St. and the World Financial Center (opening soon)
166 Chambers St.
New York, NY 10007
55 Spring St
New York, NY 10012