Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fun on a Sunday

chocolate shortbread & oatmeal pecan cookies

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ice Cream Emergency

How my freezer went from six pints of ice cream to zero I have no idea. Perhaps there are ice cream gnomes. What's a girl to do but make an emergency ice cream run. To the Safeway I ran (well, drove) and in my sale excitement, I grabbed lots of ice cream. So much that I had difficult carrying it all, and of course, I hadn't thought to get a basket. Ice cream is cold.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


...was delightful. I finished the pint quickly. Smooth, creamy, and not unnatural tasting. I think I'm still a bigger fan of the Laloo FroYo version, but the Strauss Creamery ice cream was quite good. Their ice creams are uniformly creamy, which is not surprising considering the maker. I used to adore their dutch chocolate flavor, but wasn't able to locate it at the store on my recent visit, so picked up coffee instead. Big mistake. It was cloyingly sweet and probably one of my least favorite ice creams tasted in what has become of summer ice cream marathon.

Another not so great pint was the Choctal Pure Costa Rican Chocolate. It's like frozen chocolate ganache, which may suit some people, but it was too rich in my books, and I wasn't particularly fond of the chocolate flavor. I might have been persuaded to give another one of their chocolate flavors a try, but because the texture was not too my liking, I think I'll pass on further Choctal tastings.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Guessing Game

One brand, two flavors. One delightful, one inedible. Guess which is which.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

NY Ice Cream Tour 2007 - Round 2.3

Grom was the very last stop on my ice cream tour. In truth, I meant to return to pinkberry before I left the city, but on account of a very long dinner, it wasn't actually possible to make that return visit. I'm still waiting.

A day after n and I finished Round 2, I journeyed to the upper west side to visit Grom, the hot new gelateria where friends said the line frequently spanned a whole block. Luckily I did not encounter such a line, but it was a weekday morning. I'll spare you the lengthy story of Grom's pedigree, but suffice to say that the Manhattan shop is its first outside of Italy and that their factory is near the airport in Rome so ingredients remain fresh as they're flown across the Atlantic. Factory and fresh ingredients. It sounds like a paradox. The philosophy is that high-quality products can be replicated and produced in a standardized fashion. Small-batch "mixes" arrive in NY and the gelato is made onsite.

The menu rotates depending on what's in season. Ingredient pedigree is important and they're happy to advertise it, which makes for a bit of a snobbish read. I ordered the stracciatella ice cream which might have read something like this: Madagascar vanilla ice cream with Venezuelan chocolate chunks. To be honest, I can't remember the geographic heritage of its ingredients, but I thought the product was exquisite. I was especially impressed by the chocolate, which was dark, crunchy, and superior to most chocolate chips haphazardly thrown into chocolate chip ice cream. The espresso ice cream (also with now forgotten geographic markers) was good, but as I tend towards less sugar in my espresso flavors, I found it a bit sweet.

It's a toss up between Grom and ILDG. Where ILDG is tops in terms of price, Grom exceeds even that. And I wonder if I'm willing to pay a true premium for Grom. Grom regularly has unusual flavors not to be found elsewhere, and for that I would visit the shop.

As n said, it's a bit difficult to compare the products we sampled on our (perhaps misnamed) ice cream tour. The fact is that we didn't set out to judge a winner and so I shall refrain from declaring a favorite. We were most certainly not methodical (other than going for geographic efficiency) since we sampled whatever flavors and products struck our fancy in a given moment.

Final thoughts (in ascending order of whether or not I would revisit):

Cones - I have no desire to return.

Tasti D-Lite - a pleasant, but unmemorable soft-serve. Due to its ubiquity in the city, it wins for convenience, but with the wealth of frozen treats all over the city, I'd put this in the category of sustenance fare rather than treat.

Yolato - I would return if I were in the neighborhood and if pinkberry didn't exist, but in all honestly it's a bit of an odd hybrid. Neither pure frozen yogurt not gelato, it works, but my tendency is towards one product or another.

Australian Homemade Ice Cream - a very unusual lemon-basil sorbet makes this worth revisiting and I will endeavor to cross paths with the passionfruit flavor. I found the shop a bit lacking in character (a little too sleek and not enough playful) but it's in a great neighborhood.

ILDG - casual shop, cute neighborhood, lovely ice cream. This would be my everyday gelateria.

Grom - fancy shop, cute neighborhood, lovely ice cream. This would be my special occasion gelateria.

pinkberry - I loved it. Despite my high expectations, it didn't disappoint. I have been sampling pinkberry wannabes since we have no local outlet, but they are missing that elusive brain-rotting, navigation-impairing, makes you giddy quality.

n and I have already started planning our next ice cream tour. Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NY Ice Cream Tour 2007 - Round 2

e: Using her books as collateral, I managed to lure n back to Manhattan for Round 2 of our ice cream extravaganza the very next day. I'd already spent far too much time reading People magazine, so I knew that pinkberry was a favorite among the glitterati. Therefore I had to go. In order to find the nearest location, we hopped online and soon found ourselves on the official pinkberry website. As I type, I've once again loaded up the site so that I can be indoctrinated (intoxicated?) by the official song. P-I-N-K-B-E-R-R-Y....pinkbeeeeeerry! Curiously, they seem to have updated the soundtrack. I find myself missing the catchy apology to ice cream. But I digress.

n: I too looked up the site and it sort of sounds like they've replaced the song with a karaoke version of the original. Which while still infectiously viral, is nowhere near as entertaining as the above mentioned apology to ice cream. Fortunately, I had the forethought to download a copy of the original song for my very own personal enjoyment. It may be playing in the background as I write at this very minute.

e: n and I set out for the pinkberry on 8th Ave. with high expectations. We were feeling high. We attributed it to the official song, which we attempted to sing, but somehow only the chorus stuck in our brains. We arrived to find the storefront shiny and cutesy. The interior was all white with bright splashes of orange and green everywhere. We got in line behind soccer moms and paid attention as people ordered. I'm often dazzled by operational prowess, and this place was a delight to watch. As you order, everything is punched into a machine that spits out a label that is pasted onto your cup. And so your order (should be) perfect every time. Mine was. I opted for the plain yogurt with one topping - blueberries. I took my first bite and it was bliss. Super cold frozen yogurt, that was tangy and tasted like yogurt, but better yet, there was something indescribably delicious about it. n and I were at a lost for words. And then it came to us...cracktacular! As I finished my cup, I already wanted more. It was downhill from there. We sat in the happy shop eating our happy treat, feeling rather happy. The happiness turned to giddiness. And then to silliness. And when we left the store, we were hardly able to navigate ourselves to stops # 2 and # 3 on our tour that day.

n: The store was filled wall to wall with hip young moms and expensive baby strollers gathering for a girl's afternoon out, it was a little creepy. e and I were also initially startled by the massive portions available, pinkberry is pricey, but you also get small mountains of frozen dessert in exchange. It's ok though, because it's so light and airy, it doesn't really fill you up or weigh you down, perfect for trekking around on those sticky summer days in the city where the air is thick and wet and the subways like ovens.

The giddiness was almost alarming in its insidiousness. Viral like the song, we toddled about Chelsea trying to find our way to the lower east side, only to pay to go into the uptown side of the subway, walk up and down the entire platform before realizing that there was no crossover to the other side, then having to pay again to enter the downtown side. I have no explanation for this beyond what we deemed the "pinkberry effect" which apparently consists of extreme giddiness to the point of madness and an inability to navigate familiar spaces. All afternoon we would exclaim, "Pinkberry ate my brain!"

e: Lazy and a bit alarmed at our state of happy, but unable to navigate, we took the subway to the lower east side for our next tasting. I'd forgotten about our platform woes. I'd been reading a lot about Grom, a new gelateria on the upper west side, and in every article ILDG was mentioned as its rival. Would Grom dethrone ILDG as top gelateria? I decided a comparative tasting was in order. The shop was obscure and we nearly passed it. The ice cream case was also small. We tasted several samples, and shared a really lovely cup consisting of peanut butter and vanilla chocolate chip. It was a treat to have something so rich and dense and smooth, with the perfect balance of sweet and cream. I was a happy customer. I wondered how Grom could top ILDG.

n: To get to ILDG you must walk down Orchard St. (where I convinced e to buy a reconstructed vintage dress, score one for the (e)nabler!) with its gauntlet of cheap clothing vendors calling at you to buy their 99 cent t-shirts. But if you persist, you are in for something exquisite. We both split a small (almost tiny) cup of gelati, half vanilla chocolate chip, half peanut butter. The texture was rich and creamy. I found the sweetness a little much, and the flavorings a little faint. The peanut butter was beautifully delicate but I like something a little more robust myself. The chocolate chips in the other were miles above the specks offered by Cones, real, dark chocolate chunks, just the right size to be small enough to not overpower, but large enough to have a good tooth to them. Unfortunately, the vanilla while excellent, was something of a blank canvas. A vehicle for the chips as opposed to a strong flavor context in its own right. I attribute it to the fact that the flavoring was again truly subtle and delicate. ILDG would probably appeal most to purists who like tasting the cream base of the gelato itself as opposed to the flavors layered on top of it.

e: And then it was time to visit Australia. We hopped a plane from JFK and hours later we had our next treat. Not. Instead, we skipped over to St. Mark's Place and hit up Australian Homemade Ice Cream. We didn't actually have ice cream though. It was time for a palate cleanser, and a lemon basil sorbet danced happily upon on tongues. It was a good way to finish our second day of triple tasting. I don't think we'd yet recovered from the pinkberry delirium. Then I rushed off to dinner.

n: Australia was my one contribution to the list of ice cream hotspots. I'd been there once before with a friend who ordered the passionfruit sorbet and was bowled over by the sweet tartness and its incredible fidelity to the flavor of the actual fruit. This is probably because as the proprieter informed us, the passionfruit sorbet is something like 95% fruit and all flavors are compounded fresh daily. Knowing e's love affair with the most passionate of fruits, I insisted that she go. Sadly, passionfruit was not on the menu that day so we opted for a lovely lemon basil sorbet instead. It was the perfect palate cleanser after the decadence of ILDG. Light and tart with the fragrant counterpoint of the basil to keep things interesting. All in all, a fine end to the most ice cream I have ever consumed in such a short period of time.


n: I have always known that I'm not a true ice cream girl at heart (blasphemy!) and that I prefer tart to sweet and sorbet to creamy. So my preferences lean towards the two frozen yogurt places, pinkberry and Yolato. I like the yogurt tang and that's the main reason pinkberry wins out for me as the tang is more distinct (also, cracktacular), though I think of them as the sorbet and gelato counterparts of each other. One is watery when melted, the other creamy. I also like the fresh fruit toppings of pinkberry while the Yolato stands on its own. For stuff closer to actual ice cream I'd pick ILDG which was delicious and rich and has unusual flavors to tempt the inner gourmand. Looking back on it, our ice cream tour included very little actual ice cream and was actually so varied that to compare the various establishments is like comparing apples and oranges. Most places had their own unique niche or hook and I could see myself re-visiting most of them depending on my mood. Though since the tour I have only re-visited pinkberry (twice). My only regret of the whole experience was in not convincing e to buy the black t-shirt we found at joyce leslie bearing the word "delicious!" over a ground of holographic ice cream cones. I felt it summed up our time together nicely.

e: I'm already looking forward to my next ice cream tour with n. It was truly a "treat" to make a mad dash for six shops in two days with her. Believe it or not, between tastings we even got to catch up with some non-ice cream fun. I learned that red shoes actually do go well with aqua and that we share a fondness for cheesy dance movies. As for my final thoughts on NY Ice Cream Tour 2007 - I'm going to delay them for a day because I indulged in Round 2.3 without n the very next day. I'll admit it was a bit disorienting, but it had to be done, and n was certainly there in spirit. Also, to (e)nabler's credit, I seriously considered the holographic t-shirt as a souvenir of our journey, but apparently would have had to give up ice cream in order to wear it. I like irony, but not at the expense of a food group. And yes, ice cream (and its frozen dairy and non-dairy associates) is definitely a food group in my books.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NY Ice Cream Tour 2007 - Round 1

You'll see that today's missive has two authors. e and n. e is still for eating, but n is for (e)nabler. Here's why...

e: Summer '07 shall forever be the summer of ice cream. It all began in New York, when n and I did our ice cream tour last May. We'd been in the city for exactly an hour when talk turned to food, as it inevitably does.

n: Indeed, talk had in fact turned to food three states over and on the train I had compiled a list of places e wanted to hit up so that we could best maximize our short time together. I divided them by borough so that we could see where we needed to go:

Joyce Leslie (I needed to introduce e to the joys of cheap clothing)
ice Ceam (just, you know, in general)
il laboratorio del gelato

*pinkberry (k-town) (this is starred, e REALLY wanted to go here)
Donut Plant



Jaques Torres

Kosher ice cream
Korean fried chicken

Clearly, Manhattan won.

e: Somehow from "where shall we have lunch" the conversation turned into how best we could manage our ice cream tour.

n: Incidentally, the place I had suggested dragging e to for lunch turned out to be closed for the summer. I wanted to take her to Roll and Dough on W. 3rd and 6th Ave. for delicious dumplings and fried bing to fortify us on our ice cream tour, but we were thwarted! I stopped by a couple of weeks ago hoping that it had re-opened for the fall only to find it gone, closed forever! I think I shed a little tear in memory of some of the most delicious dumplings in the vicinity of my school. They were always good for a quick bite before a show (I work in theater production). I have fond memories of sitting on the steps of the theater balancing a styrofoam container filled with delicious dumplings and shoveling them into my mouth with chopsticks while actors looked on enviously from over their tiny yogurt cups. There are reasons I'm not in a profession that requires me to maintain a certain weight.

e: I named seven stops. n's response was "do you want to hit them all today?" In my heat-induced delirium, I misheard her question, so I answered "yes" and n didn't even flinch. Using her knowledge of Manhattan geography she quickly calculated the most efficient way to stop at seven ice cream shops in mere hours. And then I realized my mistake. We laughed, but I knew I'd found a true ice cream warrior, the perfect ice cream tour buddy.

n: I come from a family of serious eaters. As a child, my mother once ate 7 ice cream sundaes in one sitting--after a full meal. I am my mother's daughter.

e: Within minutes of hitting the streets, we stopped at Tasti-D-Lite. I had a chocolate and vanilla swirl. I realized my mistake when I exited the air-conditioned store with dessert in hand. Not only was I melting, but so was the soft serve. My snack from there was light (or perhaps that should be lite). While nice, it didn't make a major impression on me. At least it provided respite from the burning sun.

n: In my notebook I have written "Tasti-D = Tasti-chunks!" I wasn't ready for ice cream yet (ok, so I don't quite live up to my mother's example), but I think I may have had a bite. Our verdict was fine, rather insubstantial, and full of ice chunks of some sort that were bizarre, but not untasty. It was my first experience with the ubiquitous NY franchise despite having lived here a year now, and I must say, I don't understand the fuss when there's so much better to be had in the city.

e: Just as I had finished the Tasti-D-Lite, we turned onto MacDougal Street where we spotted Yolato. The dilemma - stop for another treat, or have lunch first and then double back to Yolato. Efficiency won. We entered yet another air-conditioned haven. We tried the yogurt flavored yolato (yes, it seems a bit excessive) and also blackberry yolato. Apparently not all of the selections are yogurt-gelato hybrids. n busted out her notebook so no detail would go unrecorded. The verdict: both flavors had a refreshing tangy note, but we agreed it was probably only worth re-visiting if we were already in the neighborhood. n enjoyed the grapefruit sorbet. I found it refreshing, but was really so focused on the hybrid concept that I found it difficult to concentrate on anything else. We savored the air conditioning and then continued the search for lunch. And actually had a lunch.

n: In fact, unable to decide between the specialty yogurt gelato (it seemed wrong not to partake of the chain's main claim to fame) and the incredibly refreshing looking pink grapefruit sorbet, e and I divided and conquered one ordering the yoggi noir (blackberry yolato) and one ordering the pink grapefruit. It was a surprisingly good combination, the first being dense and creamy with a pleasingly smooth texture and faint yogurt tang. The other being sweetly tart and refreshing in a clear sort of way. The exact notes read:

"pink grapefruit - tangy, rind fresh
yoggi noir - dense, creamy, tang, smooth
shallow dishes, lotta goods, value!"

The portions were surprisingly generous and we found ourselves pleasingly full of frozen delights. The interior is sleek and colorful in a playful sort of way and they are oddly cult-like in their language describing their "Career Opportunities." There are entire flyers promoting opening your very own Yolato franchise. Also, the storefront boasts a trashcan in the shape of a giant ice cream cone. It's hard not to love that.

Lunch was disappointing by my book. We finally stopped at a random pan Asian noodle bar in Soho whose name I have only written down as "Noodle Bar." It is entirely possible that this is the only name it bears. I think we both decided on the Soto Ayam described as "Indonesian Chicken Soup." It came with an insipid side salad that was one step from being the kind of iceberg salad you find at tackier teppan-yaki (hibachi to some) restaurants only not as good, and two cold greasy fried appetizer things. The soup itself was alright, but a tad depressing. All in all, the only reason I recorded it was so that I could remember not to return.

(note: just looked this up on the internet. It does indeed appear to be named Noodle Bar and apparently is much beloved. It's possible we went on a bad day/ordered the wrong thing. It's also possible that all the people leaving reviews have never had real Asian noodles in their life)

e: While our lunch selections ranged from unmemorable to downright disappointing, I do recall with some fondness the jaunty red chopsticks they so graciously provided. Eating on the sidewalk (at a table) was also nice. As was the water. Ice cream makes me thirsty.

n: At this point I was starting to wane. e and I had just come from our 5th year college reunion which while full of fun, was not full of sleep and it was hot to boot.

e: (note: incidentally, I arrived at our college reunion bleary-eyed via the red-eye, wholly unprepared for east coast humidity. My friends took one look at me and said, "let's get ice cream." How well they know me.)

n: But we did manage to squeeze in one more stop at Cones on Bleecker. I wasn't up for a portion of my own having succumbed to a sudden wave of fatigue, but e manfully ordered up a cup of some sort of mocha flavor. I had a bite and we were both unimpressed with Cones' offering. It has a light, fluffy texture that was reminiscent of Tasti D-Lite and an overly sweet milky texture that was not unpleasant but uninspiring. Furthermore, the chocolate chips promised were more like chocolate specks than anything you could really bite into and were more distracting than anything else. I'm told by other ice cream authorities that we made an unfortunate choice in flavor, but even so, I have not been inspired to return.

e: I second n on her Cones assessment. The mocha chip was awful. Granted, it was ice cream and it was still hot, so there were minor merits. I felt duped since the storefront was covered in all sorts of seemingly reputable press about the shop. And in case you haven't yet noticed, n and I, being very serious about our tour, dispensed with niceties like cones and went straight for the cups all day. No sense in distracting from the main attraction. I can't remember if it was before or after our ill-fated Cones stop that we made a detour to Murray's Cheese where I not only spent some time happily perusing the cheese, but also stopped at length before the freezer which featured not only pints from Vosages (at the time I'd never tasted their ice cream), but also cute little rectangle containers from the hallowed ILDG (il Laboratorio del Gelato) and even selections from 5 Boroughs Ice Cream. The debate became, should we buy a pint here and if so, which one? But good sense in the form of n kicked in (no, she didn't actually kick me) and we exited the shop sans ice cream. I really don't know how we would have managed. Good call, n.

n: Heh, my memory actually has me living up to my name and trying to convince e to bring home a sampling of pints to ostensibly share with her host (but really to further the ice cream tour). Though I think I also made a case for Round 2 of the tour. I see both sides of situations.

e: Apparently all the day's frozen treats have interfered with my ability to remember. I shall defer to n's memory of this fine struggle between good and foolish.

n: Cones was about all we could handle that afternoon, especially as e had dinner plans in a couple of hours. We did however make it up to The Strand where I bought more books than I could carry home on the subway (factoring in my luggage--did I stress that we had just arrived on a train from another state prior to the ice cream madness?) thus necessitating leaving them at the apt. where e was staying and providing a handy excuse for me to pick them up the next day and going on Round 2 of NY Ice Cream Tour 2007.

Saturday, September 01, 2007