Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Ice cream is exquisite...

... what a pity it isn't illegal" An intriguing sentiment from Voltaire, and one of a handful that are painted on the floor of my latest find.
Despite only opening last March, The General Greene's ice cream hut gained a solid reputation this summer and I was told more than once that I had to try their salted caramel. As Holly and I biked up today, after catching the last few reds and oranges of fall in Prospect Park, we found the outside cart shut up. But fear not, inside the bustling Fort Greene restaurant the back corner has recently been transformed into a quaint little parlour- Fort Grace. 
PARLOUR PEEK

With Pippi Longstocking wallpaper, wooden school chairs, blackboards and touches of pink and blue, there's something of a grown-up childishness about this lovely little place. In fact, this is exactly how I want an ice cream parlour to look - stylish and classy design choices, but innocent and sweet at the same time.



























THE LICK

Of course we were going to go for the Salted Caramel, but before digging in we sampled a couple of the other flavours. 6-8 varying options are made daily and never last more than a day or two. The ice creams are custard based and are as close to a gelato as an ice cream can get (but with fat content and eggs undepleted!) The Verona Chocolate and Milk Stout was fantastic - a little earthy, slightly tart and crunchy chocolate, and ultimately extremely decadent. The Vanilla Bean was also delicious, a really authentic, grown-up vanilla - you know, where it tastes like it's come from a plant rather than a bottle of essence. The combo we both chose for our little cups was Milk Chocolate Black Pepper with Salted Caramel. The latter was incredible - creamy and seriously buttery, but delicate too. 'I don't want it to end' said Holly, before she'd even finished the first mouthful. The Chocolate was also dreamy, with the lightest tingle from the pepper, and a chocolate which embraced it's milkiness (rather than trying to be the more popular rich, ganache type). Every second bite you're treated to a chunk of their home-made Oreo cookie - everything here is home-made, and as far as we tasted truly delicious.

Oh and we added a little pretzel on the side for no greater reason than we like pretzels (they put them in a sundae).


Full marks all round... so Fort Grace makes it up there in the top 5 (if not higher) on my travels so far... I'm not sure what the Pippi Longstocking link is, but who cares - she'd be proud to be on the walls of this very loveable place.  
All that's left is to leave you with some more words of wisdom from the floor... 
 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Got (more) Milk?

I haven't really gone down the route of follow-up posts... to be honest, I've only returned to a handful places, preferring to try something new every time I get the icy urge. 


But since I'm a lady of leisure this week, I popped into the Milk bar this afternoon with co-ice-cream-fan Mike and some friends, thinking I really should try their trade-marked Cereal Milk soft serve. 



Before tucking into the undisputed favourite, we sampled their current seasonal speciality - Sour Gummy. I was told it would taste like an old-school candy - I think it was Sour Gummy Bears (but they're from an American childhood I didn't experience, I'm afraid) This perfectly smooth, pink-ish soft-serve really did taste like a sour gummy sweetie... which, although quite a clever feat, didn't really make it a choice flavour for me. I actually thought it had that distinctive essence of strawberry Angel Delight, but since no-one there had heard of that quality British dessert we moved onto the main event... 

The Cereal Milk soft serve is made by literally letting the milk sit in cornflakes, with some brown sugar and salt, and then straining off the bits. They fill the bottom of the cup with cornflake pieces and add a crispy coating round the edge. Wowza, this was yummy - exactly like the last few mouthfuls of your cereal milk - slightly salty, but also very sweet and somehow wholesome tasting - though I think I can safely say it isn't! This really would be the ultimate breakfast choice of the icecreamophile, but even I'm not sure I could handle it at 8am! 



Monday, November 14, 2011

BOSTON'S BEST



I've just returned from a weekend in Boston and wow did I pick a good'n to visit. I knew that fall in New England is not to be missed, but I had no idea the leaves would still be falling now or that the city would be quite so damn beautiful. Against more shades of orange, red and yellow foliage than I even knew existed, the red-brick architecture is a stunning mix of romantic European styles.  


Anyway, I digress. A mammoth walking tour on Saturday took us via clam chowder, cupcakes, an impenetrably long queue for cannoli and of course, ice cream.  I'd heard that Emack and Bolio's was the perennial favourite amongst Bostonites so when we passed one of their branches we thought we'd stop in.




PARLOUR PEEK
A very bored looking staffer and messy garish menu boards didn't bode well for the visual experience here. Having heard the city was nominated the worst dressed in the US, I figured interior aesthetics might not high on the agenda - but who cares when the buildings looks so nice.  The company was launched in 1980 and I don't think they've revisited the brand since then - but with certificates and awards adorning every inch of the walls, I was hopeful that in this city of high achievers, full marks would be found in the flavour here...




THE LICK
Seeing a certificate nominating the Vanilla Bean Speck as the best vanilla in New England, I figured I should try it. Smooth and natural in flavour, I can see why the blind tasters were won over. But my eye was drawn elsewhere... in fact as I eyed up the imaginative list of options, I was reminded of their New England neighbour Ben and Jerry's. 


Neither Carole nor I were able to resist the Caramel Moose Prints - a butterscotch ice cream, with a caramel swirl and tiny chocolate peanut butter cups mixed in. This was quite simply gorgeous, the little 'moose prints' offering a mini surprise every second mouthful. I paired it with Maple and Walnut, which was soothing and (last time i use it - promise!) as autumnal as it gets. Carole paired hers with Chocolate Cookie Monster, a cookie dough ice cream with chunks of Oreo mixed in.
She said her taste buds were all over the place - that's a good thing. 


When I asked how she felt, the phrase Carole chose could probably sums up my attitude to this whole blogging experience: Fat and Happy! Not that Carole is anything close to fat, I wholeheartedly support the notion that when eating something naughty - recognising it's naughtiness only enhances the pleasure. 









Sunday, November 13, 2011

PRETTY IN PINK

The time was always going to come that I write about the ever-popular Fro-Yo super-chain Pinkberry, which could mean taking on its cult-like following. The other night, after a sweaty Zumba class (my new fave work-out (yes, you read correctly)) I decided to undo all my hard work at a branch on Park Avenue. Now, it's not like I've never been to Pinkberry - in fact I remember stumbling across it on a visit to LA years ago (indeed I've just realised that happened to be the very first, and at the time, only store - on a back street in West Hollywood). But I have always been a bit of a snob, enjoying the crisp, clean yoghurt, but for some reason thinking of it something like the McDonalds of ice cream. What? No! I hear you cry, So unfair! More like Starbucks, perhaps?! I'm still way off? Oh, I don't know, can something sold in well over 100 locations worldwide really match up to the artisanal, hand-crafted, organic offerings of a passionate individual? I mean, even the yoghurt police disputed for a while whether there were enough live cultures for it to be yoghurt. But I think that's all been cleared up, and to be honest, I don't care if something is yoghurt, ice cream, gelato or frozen dishwater as long as it tastes good.


PARLOUR PEEK
The Pinkberry franchises now seem to set the standard for smaller Fro-Yo chains. Clean, pastel colours on the wall, plastic Phillip Starck furniture that could be from the 1960's or the 2060's. They say they're going for an upscale look. In fact, apparently part of the franchise standard is to wash the floors with a chlorine detergent to create the smell of a summer swimming pool - not sure that screams upscale to me. To be honest, it's certainly not a comfortable environment you want to while away much time. 





THE LICK
Like most fro-yo vendors, the number one flavour here is the Original Tart, but first I wanted to try some of the seasonal specialities. If I hadn't already decided that the American obsession with Peanut Butter is quite incredible, the dedication to the pumpkin at this time of year is something to truly marvel. From entire multiple-pumpkin displays in stores and on stoops, to pumpkin beer, coffee, candy, pumpkin butter (amazing in porridge), muffins, pies, stuffings, shakes... If you can consume it - they'll pumpkinify it. No wonder there was a national shortage this year! Anyway, back on topic. The Pumpkin pinkberry was lightly spiced and, here's that word again, autumnal, but for me not a perfect yoghurt flavour- maybe because I couldn't match it with another and couldn't imagine it with any toppings. The PB was light and perfectly smooth, pretty perfect actually. In fact, I might be realising that perhaps I prefer PB flavoured things, rather than the actual sticky stuff itself.




So, those were the tasters - for the real thing, I went for the Original Tart and Pomegranate, topped with blueberries and raspberries. I think I might actually be over the pommy, having had a sudden realisation that although I love the tang, I'm not keen on that slightly powdery aftertaste which comes with all pommy flavoured items. But oh lordy, how could I have ever doubted the Tart - this sharp, almost goats cheesy taste might just be my new favourite. I may have gone for fruity toppings, but I think you could pick pretty much any of their toppings and come up with an incredibly satisfying treat with (in the big scheme of things) minimal guilt factor. 


So it seems I'm beginning to understand why it's commonly referred to as Crackberry... Oh dear.



Monday, November 7, 2011

ONCE YOU POP...



Waiting to go into a film as part of DocNYC (I'm Carolyn Parker, a Katrina doc by Jonathan Demme, in case you were wondering) I decided to soothe my sore throat with some ice cream.

The closest spot to the IFC is somewhere I've been wondering about since I fell in love with People's Pops this summer. Figuring I should check out some competition in the popsicle market, I chose Pop Bar on Carmine St for my pre-movie treat. 

This pretty much says it all... in a not entirely succinct (but kind of tantalising) manner! 



PARLOUR PEEK
In a shade of yellow straight from the 70's, this place is definitely working the autumnal look, (incidentally, I've recently realised that 'autumnal' is tragically absent from American English). Anyway, if you're not staring at the giant plastic lollies on the wall... you're most likely to be feasting your eyes on the colourful and tantalising line-up of gelato and sorbet popsicles (whoops, don't call us a popsicle they say... i'm saarrry).   


THE LICK 

The first choice here is between PopGelatos, PopSorbettos and YoghurtPops - which I think is pretty self-explanatory. Most popular here are the Pistachio, Hazelnut and Coconut Gelato flavours- indicating these West Villagers are a decidedly nutty bunch. There were some beautiful looking PopSorbetto's on offer - Blood Orange, Grapefruit and Melon, but I went for a Giandula, which i learned is basically Italian for 'Nutella.' Though I knew that the gelato itself was likely to be rich enough, I felt I had to go through the motions, so got it dipped in hazelnut and then in white chocolate sauce.They then dry it off under a cool hairdryer type thing. 

Wellll, when I was a kid, I thought the Magnum was the king of the luxy-lolly, the one my parents would have, costing 'over a pound, don't you know'. It seems I lead a sheltered life in the ice-lolly world, since this blew the Magnum out the window - a super dense and dangerously rich chocolate, covered in crunchy hazelnut pieces and a layer of sweet white chocolate. 

If I'm honest, I think the white chocolate was a mistake - as white chocolate tends to be, it was intensely sugary, tipping the rich-factor over the edge. Ultimately this was a really serious treat, though a treat which at over $5, makes my parents' Magnums look like penny sweets. 

So I might've got my sweet-fix, but sadly my throat wasn't soothed enough to stop me coughing all the way through the film - apologies to anyone sitting near me. Next time I'll try strepsils! 








Saturday, October 29, 2011

HOLY HOLEY

OK, so if you think this blog is guilt-ridden and indulgent as it is, wait till you hear about yesterday's treat. Even Paula Deen might choke at this one (well, maybe not). 


After a cold morning shooting around Times Square, my friend/DP Mike suggested we get a sugar hit and took me to a place called Holey Cream on 52nd St. 



PARLOUR PEEK
I had been warned of what was on the menu at this joint, but even so the assault on the senses hits you as you enter, with a marshmallow pinky purple entrance, trippy murals and wonderful painted description of how to order your donut... 





THE LICK
If you hadn't already guessed, this place combines donuts and ice cream. Now, I'm not actually a massive fan of the dense, sticky American donut, the smaller, lighter,  sugar coated, jam-filled ones of my home country fairing slightly better in my mind. But since Mike was intent on sharing this unique experience with me, we had no choice but to build our own donut/ice cream sandwich malarky. 


The assistant was enthusiastic and generous, insisting that we try all her favourites.  The most popular flavour there (if I'm not mistaken) is Red Velvet Cupcake, which was actually was rather light and lovely - and for me better than an actual cupcake. Her favourite, Cheesecake, really managed the NY Cheesecake texture perfectly. The Hotel Black Bottom, with dark chocolate, coconut, graham crackers, fudge and rum, was rich and unusual. We did try more, but if I tell you how many you really might start to worry. 


We went for a plain donut with Heath Bar icing, which is first chopped in half like a bagel. Mike is a huge peanut butter fan and wanted to build our donut around a pure peanut frenzy - requesting all 3 of the required scoops to be Peanut Butter Chocolate Deluxe. The girl managed to talk sense into him, so we replaced one scoop with a Vanilla Peanut Butter - which had a fudgey texture and balanced out the heavier chocolate.  They then pour chocolate sauce all over it, add more Heath topping, and place the top back on. Holy macaroni that thing was the size of the Empire State. As you can see from the photo, it sent me cross-eyed with awe and/or concern! 



Actually, it was really pretty tasty. The donut was lighter than I expected and the ice cream better quality. The chocolate ice cream had a nice moussey feel and it wasn't overwhelmingly peanutty (but it would take a lot of peanut to overwhelm me, if I'm honest!) 


As Mike pointed out, although this is the other end of the spectrum from the artisanal ice cream offered all over the city, this end of the spectrum can be just as good - if you're in the mood.  And although we actually were in the mood, this beast defeated us entirely and the two of us didn't even get through half! 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Beautiful and the Damned

I'm not sure how apt that title really is, but I'm on a bit of an F Scott Fitzgerald trip at the moment, so it sprung to mind. Anyway, you might've guessed there will be not one, but two parlours in this post... and one just a wee bit better than the other!


The other night, after wading through one of New York's famed downpours I met my friend Nat for a(nother) Korean meal on 32nd St. Tasty it was, but surprisingly unfilling, so we decided to look out for an ice cream spot whilst also seeking a bar in sopping wet (and rather uninspiring) mid-town. We stumbled across the hole in the wall that is Ralph's Italian Ices which I'd passed in summer, thinking it looked kind of cute, not to mention popular. On this wet October evening there were no queues and the place was shutting up, so we decided to get in quick...


PARLOUR PEEK
Just a simple counter with a huge white kitchen behind, this is one of those cheap-n-cheerful family spots, where there's more flavours listed than you can possibly read. It reminded me of the delightfully tacky Rita's that I went to in summer, which boded well for entertainment - less so for taste.


THE LICK
The most popular flavour we were assured was the Peanut Butter Cookie Dough. I stuck to PB, but veered off and opted for Peanut Butter Fudge and Pretzel (predictable perhaps!) with Cremalata (which I was told was an almond cream). Interestingly their ice creams are called Creme Ices, which was a little baffling. Other than tasty pretzel balls that were more like chocolate maltesers than salty snacks, I'm afraid I don't have much positive to say about this desert. The texture of all the flavours was grainy and coarse, something like a frozen bread. The Cremalata was kind of Battenberg-cake-esque and Nat's Toasted Marshmallow went from tasting of air to suddenly being overwhelmingly sweet and sickly- magic, but not wholly pleasant I don't think!


I think the long summer queue must mean Ralph's has a loyal following, but I have to say this ice cream snob in the making probably won't be stopping by again. Mi dispiace Ralph!




Next up, somewhere I have been meaning to try for yonks. So as guilt ridden as it made me feel, I nipped into Il Laboratorio del Gelato between drinks and dinner last night - for a sweet appetiser no less!




PARLOUR PEEK
Standing large and proud on a busy junction of the Lower East Side, this clean white space has something of the factory feel about it - or a laboratory, somewhere you might take part in some clinical trial. Well, it actually kind of is, as the owner Jon Snyder conceived it as " a custom "lab", where "chefs and caterers are encouraged and welcomed to work with us to develop unique flavors for their individual menus". A novel idea indeed. Perhaps one day I'll come and learn to make a perfect gelato, but in the meantime, being a consumer will have to do. 


THE LICK
Asking after the most popular flavours, I somehow found it comforting to hear Vanilla and Dark Chocolate - relieved it was a place where peanut butter and cake batter weren't involved in the favourite flavours. So I sampled them both, the vanilla a perfect dreamy delicate number, and the chocolate, a dense and decadent texture, perhaps the closest to a posh chocolate ganache I've ever tried.  


I aslo had a spoonful of the White Peppercorn gelato, which came with a warning that it might make me cough. Whilst it was a little feathery on the throat, I found it a much more interesting flavour than the Pink Peppercorn, which I chose for my scoop. Light, slightly floral and lovely, but I think I preferred the smokiness of the white. My other scoop was a Green Apple sorbet, apple being one of my all-time favourite flavours (juice, pie, sweets - anytime!) On the one hand, how close it was to a crisp Granny Smith was an incredible feat, on the other, that meant it came with the slightly pithy apple texture, which I have to say reminded me ever so slightly of Ralph's breadcrumb 'creme ice'. 


Now I really don't want to leave this review on a bad note, as I genuinely mean it when I say the little tasters I had were some of the most perfect gelato's i've had in the city. I think I just didn't choose well  - all the more reason to go back for more. What? I am an ice cream lab rat aren't I?! 


Friday, October 14, 2011

JUST ONE GELUPO...

I'm back in London for a week and I thought it was about time I delved into this Time Out guide to the city's best ice cream, shared with me by various friends earlier this year.

After a ridiculously tasty bowl of Bibimbap, at the aptly named Korean cafe Bi Bim Bap, with my friends Nicola and Pip, I dragged them off in search of Soho's best ice cream. Pip insisted she'd 'just watch' as she really doesn't like ice cream. Watch this space...

As we approached Gelupo, glowing in the darkness of Archer Street, I could tell there was something quite magical about this place.

PARLOUR PEEK

Nicola almost had a fit when we entered, so excited by the amazing looking flavours and the fact they were playing her favourite song 'Lady and the Tramp'. I think the owners might've actually stolen my designs for my dream bathroom a few years back. With floor to ceiling in metro tiles in off-white and that delicious minty turquoise that I always seem to be banging on about, Gelupo is a Gelateria and delicatessen all rolled into one beautiful creamy store. More on the frozen stuff below, but the rows of Italian produce were tantalising - from olive oils, to tinned tomatoes, pasta to coffee. The reality is, one item alone on a sideboard would probably look rather average, but there's something timeless and photogenic about seeing it all laid out so neatly, lit up like a film-set.




THE LICK 
Of course my favourite type of parlour is where the servers happily let you taste to your heart's content - and this one didn't disappoint, positively forcing samples on us without a hint of annoyance. With 6 or 7 gelatos, the same number of sorbets and granitas to choose from every day - and flavours varying from Fragola Grape sorbet, Blood Orange granita, to Bonet gelato, we were really spoilt for choice. After much deliberation, I went for the Almond gelato and the Ricotta, Chocolate and Black pepper gelato. The almond was one of the best nutty flavours I've tried, like a perfect Amaretto, intensely almondy without being intensely rich. The ricotta was light and dreamy, with the pepper adding an unusual but welcome spiky edge, and all in all similar - but better - than a quality tiramisu.


Nicola went for Coffee and Cardamom with a scoop of Salted Caramel. To her, the first tasted like Christmas and the 'Sel Caramel' was in close competition with Ile Saint Louis in Paris. I've never tried the glace de Paris, but she seemed very earnest in this comparison, so it sounds good to me.

Pip, our ice-cream-hater, having sampled (and LOVED) pretty much every flavour, opted for the blood orange sorbet. This was a triumph - creamier than your average sorbet, sweet and tangy, it sealed the deal: we had a convert, and I could go home very happy.



Nicola asked (probably in all seriousness) 'would it be illegal to have lunch here every day?' I doubt it my dear, but if so, lock me up! (preferably in Gelupo)

Monday, October 3, 2011

THE ONLY BIG GAY IN THE VILLAGE (well, sorta)



All summer I heard lots of talk of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck but the rainbow wheels never seemed to be in my area. I have to admit, from the images I'd seen, I couldn't quite tell how they were going to be different from the whippy-dippy cones that the bog-standard trucks sell... But I do trust my fellow ice cream fans, and since the hype increased around the opening of a new bricks n mortar Big Gay Ice Cream shop, I figured it was about time to check it out. 

After a sunny afternoon on the bike, the temperature was swiftly dropping and by the time I met my friend Dunja in the East Village, the heavens were about to open. But that was not enough to deter us, or the constant flow of punters, half who seemed to be coming in as a daily ritual. The other half were very entertaining. It must be a common sight on East 7th, to witness people walk past, stop, turn around, point, snort with laughter, repeat out loud 'big gay ice cream' like a toddler learning new words, and then step over the threshold. 

PARLOUR PEEK 

The rainbow flag is the loud and proud colour scheme of all the BGIC graphics, but the parlour doesn't over-do this and actually the decor that draws your eye is a my-little-pony esque shiny silver unicorn, jumping joyfully over the counter. It's a cute touch, but really your visual energies are needed to read through the long list of options. 

THE LICK

Deciding I should go with the crowds again here, I went for the number one choice - the SALTY PIMP. A cone filled with a little dulce de leche, soft serve vanilla, dipped in sea salt and then in chocolate. Seeing as this small cone contained so many of my favourite things in the world, it was going to struggle not to satisfy me. The salt (from Maldon of course, the tiny town I grew up in dontchaknow) added a really interesting tang and texture to the sweet silky vanila/dulce de leche combo. 

Dunja went for the Monday Sundae - a Nutella laced waffle cone, filled with chocolate/vanilla twist soft serve, dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream. Obviously there's some serious cross-over here in ingredients, but probably worth the extra dollar.  This might even be contender against the Brooklyn Farmacy's Sundae of Broken Dreams.... just add crushed pretzels. 

Other ingredients on offer in various other options include bacon marmalade (one for next time), key lime curd, curried coconut, pumpkin and apple butter and pie crumble. Seems we were a little unadventurous. And if soft serve isn't your thing, products are also on offer from La NewYorkina, Melt Bakery and more.   

There's a lot to love about this place, seriously fun and flavoursome. Though the $5-6 pricetag for a cone might be the one thing that holds it back from becoming my true-new-gay-best-friend... 



Monday, September 26, 2011

A BILLY GOAT'S VICTORY

I have been shockingly inactive of late... Apologies (to myself really, since I'm sure I'm the only one who cares!) 


But I'm back... and with a BANG. After a rather carb heavy brunch in the West Village on Sunday, my friend Ben suggested ice cream. As a digestant perhaps?


So we wondered down through ice cream city towards Victory Garden, on the promise of something a little different - goat's milk ice cream. Worrying about my laden tummy, I was immediately won over by the promised advantages of goat over cow: easier to digest (tick), lower in fat (tick) filled with nutritional value (really?) and 'the most like human milk, so easier to process' (erm, I guess that's a benefit?) With locally sourced milk and seasonal flavours and toppings, there seemed little reason not to indulge. 


PARLOUR PEEK

Victory Garden is a bright, peaceful store with cute graphics and hand-written notes. With the feel of a cottagey soap and gift shop more than an ice cream parlour, you can tell it's been lovingly conceived and you the feeling that whatever you eat, it's going to be good for your wellbeing. 


THE LICK
The frozen goat's milk is served soft and the friendly lady behind the counter swiftly produced little samples of the four flavours on offer; Salted Caramel (the most favoured), Ethiopian coffee, Chocolate Mastic and Queen of Persia. 


Proving to be the everyman, the salted caramel was also my favourite, perfectly smooth and sweet, without being intensely so.
Queen of Persia, infused with rose, saffron and cardamom was delicate, fresh and floral - but for me a touch too perfumey to go for a whole scoop. 
The coffee flavour was also a triumph, with a subtle but genuine, roasted beaniness and none of the artificiality some coffee ice creams can't shake off. 
Chocolate Mastic is the most controversial, mastic being a flavour I'd never heard of. The unique resin, which comes from a tree on a Greek island, is heat activated, creating a piney flavour which works well to bring out that almost rough and raw taste of quality chocolate. For Esi and I, it was a little too pungent and earthy, but Ben, after starting slow, gradually couldn't get enough of it. Seems to have worked it's promised magic on him anyway! 


Whether you're lactose intolerant, bored of the fro-yo, intrigued by the exotic, or just hanging out in the West Village, I'd highly recommend stopping by the lovely Victory Garden. Look how happy we are.