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Il Laboratio del Gelato

Great Ice Cream in the Lower East Side

robert k. chin
The Lower East Side is famous for many things, primarily cheap eats, bargain hunting, and history. Visitors may now have another reason to visit, excellent gelato. Located across the street from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and next door to one of two rival pickle stands, sit Il Laboratorio del Gelato which opened a few months ago (in August 2002).

The gelato shop resembles a spotless, ultra-chic lab with staff dressed up in white lab coats and busy perfecting a batch of gelato. A small freezer in the front advertises the twelve flavors of the day. The flavors are rotated daily so each day brings something new. In all, there are at least 75 flavors available, and 75 good reasons to try them all. One day when I visited, there was one lady who absolutely wanted to try everything. A scoop of this, a scoop of that, "I must try this, this looks good..." all the flavors piled high in a little cup for her. The woman seemed happy, so did Jon Snyder, the owner.

Jon Snyder made ice cream before, in fact, he was the creator of Ciao Bella back in the 1980s. It, like Il Laboratorio del Gelato, was just a tiny operation whose mission was to create superb gelato like the kind he first tasted in Italy. It almost worked out for him. Instead, he sold off the Ciao Bella for a fraction of what it is worth today, and embarked on a different career path, first going back to school, and then onto an anonymous job selling stocks. Today, Jon returns to ice cream with a commitment to invest in New York, unlike Ciao Bella who had since moved out of the city.

Il Laboratorio del Gelato's quality definitely is in its ingredients, and methods. Fresh cream, sugar, and the finest ingredients available in New York City go into every batch of sorbet, and gelato. Small batches are made to ensure quality, not uniformity. The sample of Nectarine sorbetto I once tried was so dense in flavor, so light in texture, and vivid in color, that I reasoned the store would soon go out of business if they kept using so much fruit. I also tried the Ginger gelato, and it nearly knocked me over so immediate, and pungent its flavor. The ginger was not candied, and it tasted like raw sliced ginger lightly stir-fried in a wok. It probably works well as a palate cleanser in between dishes. With so many interesting choices to choose from that day, I went with the basics--hazelnut, with a scoop of caramel. The hazelnut was amazing with an intense, rich, and nutty flavor. The caramel, on the other hand, was merely ok. It was very delicate, with not too much caramel to it. I soon forgot the caramel, and looked forward to trying the other flavors.

Another day I went, and discovered the ginger was back once again. A sample of Kiwi sorbetto flecked with little black seeds tasted exactly like kiwi fruit, a bit tangy and sweet with a slightly icy texture to match. The Chestnut gelato was fantastic with a rich nut-brown color flecked with tiny bits of roasted chestnut skin. The flavor was a kicker, resembling an exceedingly good roasted coffee, but without the lingering coffee aftertaste. With so many flavors to choose from again, the counter girl recommended Pear Williams gelato, and sure enough, it was a good choice. It had an exquisite pear flavor lightly sharpened with a splash of pear brandy. The texture was like the inside of a pear, slightly rough. I made sure I got a scoop of Mango to go along with it. The mango was sublime--not too tart, not too sweet--resembling the flavor of champagne mangos all with a creamy texture that brought back memories of the Good Humor orange and vanilla we all used to enjoy as kids growing up (and still enjoy).

With gelato this good, you want to stop and savor the flavors. -rkchin, october 9, 2002.

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