The future of ice cream involves liquid nitrogen and choosing your own base and mix-in’s. Just like everything else, it’s all about choices and technology. And soon enough, I’m sure we’ll all be ordering our customized ice cream cone from our Iphones.
There was a little shop called Lulu & Mooky’s in the Lower East Side that specialized in liquid nitrogen ice cream. Which meant you could pick your base (vanilla or chocolate), your flavor (hundreds of options from syrups to coffee to candy), and it was frozen for you right on the spot with lots of smoke and science. I mention it in the past tense because unfortuantely, Lulu & Mooky’s closed just recently (I imagine from really bad business sense) and I never got to taste the “future of ice cream.”
However, down the street sits the original ice cream innovator: Il Laboratorio del Gelato. The name conjures up images of mad scientists in white ice cream lab coats. And while they make ice cream the old fashioned way, it’s their flavor combinations that pushed them into the future.
I’ve loved Il Laboratorio for many years and in the past have touted them as the best ice cream in the city. Well, now I have some credentials and experience and can certainly say they are up there with the best of them. And most of the city concurs considering they are a major ice cream supplier to many of the higher end restaurants in the city.
And I imagine most of those connections occurred for owner and chef Jon Snyder with his first company Ciao Bella. He sold the business in 1989 and after furthering his education, came back to the industry stronger than ever with Il Laboratorio del Gelato. And since then, he’s expanded his unique flavor options and made a bigger name for himself in the NY metro area. Today you’re much more likely to see Il Laboratorio’s product on NY restaurant menus or Whole Foods shelves than it would be to see the name Ciao Bella.
And while most of Il Laboratorio’s business goes towards wholesale, they do offer retail customers 12 different gelato and sorbet flavors from the outdoor stand that is attached to their ice cream kitchen on Orchard Street. And this is a must stop for me every time I find myself even remotely in this area during their business hours (only until 6pm daily).
The flavors run the gamut from cheddar cheese to honey lavender to bourbon pecan to gala apple. The flavors are all unique and as thought out and carefully prepared as any savory dish at a high end restaurant. You can even see the ice cream chefs in the back of the storefront hard at work developing the latest flavor. And the flavors they offer for retail rotate daily from their repertoire. I do wish they varied a bit more because I feel like every time I come by, at least half of the flavors are repeats. I’m dying to try their Pink Peppercorn Tarragon!
I’ve had their seasonal, fresh fruit sorbets in the past and absolutely love them. But this journey is all about creamy ice cream, so I stuck with the gelato. I sampled the meringue, which was a bit sweet. I tasted it mainly because I wasn’t sure how it would taste. When I think of meringues, I think of texture more than anything else. I guess maybe a sugary flavor, so the sweetness here made sense. And I acknowledged that this is a difficult flavor to fully capture.
I also sampled the basil, which basically destroyed my whole process. See, usually I taste a few flavors and then order something else to sample as much as possible. The problem here was that the basil was so perfect that I needed more of it. It had a strong herbaceousness, but was just sweet enough to make it enjoyable and balanced. It was amazingly creamy with no ice crystals and I loved that I was eating a savory sweet dessert that actually worked.
I was allowed to get a second flavor in my small order and had a tough time choosing from great options like dulce de leche and blackberry. But I thought Earl Grey would complement the Basil perfectly. And I was right! It was light and lemony and for me, rivals chocolate and vanilla any day.
It’s all about the ice cream here. It’s a take-out kiosk only so there’s no ambience besides what you’d expect looking into the window of a factory. The servers also seemed to have no personality, but since they’re chefs first and foremost and are not used to working in the customer service industry, I give them a break. But it does feel like they all just want to make ice cream and having to deal with the public is an annoyance of the job.
But like I said, it’s all about the ice cream, so I can let all that go and just enjoy their perfectly creamy, brilliant recipes. It seems like all the ice cream shops in New York are trying something new with cutting edge flavors, but if you want to see how to do it right and not have to worry about whether a flavor will work, come to Il Laboratorio del Gelato. I’ve seen the future and it’s delicious.
Is Il Laboratorio del Gelato the best ice cream in NY? The textures and flavors are all perfectly thought out and work well regardless of what you choose and even though the service is less than friendly and the ice cream flavors are limited (compared to what they make), they win a 9 out of 10 for the ice cream alone.
|IL LABORATORIO DEL GELATO|
|95 Orchard Street (between Broome and Delancey Street)
Lower East Side