Summer: One Last Hurrah

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's the last day of August, which means the summer is close to over. Honestly, I don't really know where the summer went. I can't remember one big event of note that happened between June 21st and now, especially since all my NKOTB/BSB excitement occurred between May 31st and June 14th.

Seeing as summer will soon be drawing to a close, I have been taking full advantage of the heat and consuming as much ice cream as my stomach allows.

A few weeks back, I saw a poster at Coldstone Creamery for its new "Strawberry Basil" flavor. I really do have a penchant for the weird, so I knew I had to try it. After giving up on seeing the Jordan Knight-Donnie Wahlberg duo at their Times Square "Stingy" premiere, my victim (friend) and I crossed the street to Coldstone and I got myself a nice helping of strawberry basil ice cream. This was basically strawberry ice cream with basil leaves mixed into it. I would probably have preferred if they had somehow infused the basil flavor into the ice cream for a less ... chewy experience, but this was good too. The two flavors mixed pretty well together.


The next weird flavor I conquered I spotted on a recent trip to Trader Joe's. I actually went in search of their mint ice cream sandwiches or something. Unable to find this, I opted to go home with the Lemon Gingersnap ice cream. I think to many people, this would taste weird. Even my mother, who is nearly as adventurous as I, did not particularly like it. But I did. The lemon was kind of ... pungent. Mixed in with the cream, the lemon ice cream almost had a chemical taste to it, but this did not offend me. Also mixed into the custardy ice cream were gingersnap cookies and little pieces of sweet, crystallized ginger. It was like having your cookies and your ice cream all at once.

Moving on. After my trip to The Meatball Shop, I crossed paths with Il labortorio del gelato (95 Orchard Street). I'd seen this place around before, but had never ventured into it. The interiors were extremely sterile and industrial. I kind of felt like I was in the walk-in freezer at my elementary school (had I ever walked into my elementary's freezer).

There were so many interesting flavors here, I had a very difficult time deciding. Blood orange sorbet, fig, ginger, dinosaur plum sorbet, olive oil ... I finally settled with the honey lavender gelato and coconut sorbet.

The coconut sorbet was phenomenal. Very light, with a sprinkling of coconut shavings. It was a perfect palate cleanser after the meatballs. The honey lavender was a little more herbal, naturally. It took a little getting used to, but as my tongue became acclimated, it became pretty delicious. In the middle of the walk-in freezer, I kind of felt like I was in Provence for a little bit.

But that's not all. After those two scoops of ice cream and a half-pitcher of peach sangria, we decided to go to Van Leeuwen (48 1/2 East 7th Street). We had heard great things about the ice cream for several years now (another hype machine?). And that evening, we'd seen (and maybe even stalked) the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck around the Lower East Side for a quick minute before realizing that the driver was on break or returning to the homestead. So after our after dinner dessert and drinks, we strolled to the Van Leeuwen store.


This place is very interesting. I don't really know the story behind Van Leeuwen, but it seems very earthy and old fashioned in a strangely hipsteresque way. For example, from the outside, the place looks like your typical pretty dollhouse bakery, so common in West Village and now becoming more common in East Village. Inside, however, the aroma is kind of medicinal. The flavors are grassy, for lack of a better word. Lush potted plants dot the space.

It was close to 9 p.m. when we entered the store, and the oldies were playing over the speakers, straight from a record player, as it happens. After much deliberation, I decided I was going to get one of the specials of the day, peach and cilantro sorbet. My friend wanted the rosewater cardamom flavor. We were both feeling pretty adventurous by this point. (We'd been eating/drinking for close to 4 hours. Together, we're kind of ridiculous like that.)

When I put in my order, the girl at the counter said in the most deadpanny voice ever (perhaps because she wasn't joking), "You wanna try that?" Her voice told me this was a warning, not a suggestion.

Holy smokes. It wasn't just cilantro in the sorbet, no way could it just have been cilantro. I think they added some sort of chili pepper to the mix. The sorbet had a dirty orange kind of color, with specks of peach, bits of green cilantro, and perhaps red flecks of the mystery mouth-burner. It wasn't so spicy that I needed water, but it wasn't sweet in the least and it wasn't pleasurable to eat. Thank you, Van Leeuwen Girl, for saving me $3. I went with the safer cinnamon flavor instead which likely was made by creating vanilla ice cream and dumping in tons and tons of cinnamon powder. It had a bit of a grainy texture but was oh-so-true to the cinnamon flavor. In a phrase, it tasted like Christmas in August.

A totally nondescript photo ... but now you know Van Leeuwen uses recyclable bowls and decorates with fresh flowers

My friend's rosewater cardamom (I had to explain to her what cardamom is. Having spent some time in Stockholm where cardamom is in practically every baked good, I am familiar and on friendly terms with it) was not so big of a hit. The ice cream was heavy on the cardamom and light on the rosewater. And by light, I mean I didn't taste it at all. After one spoonful, my friend exclaimed, "what is this!?" Why, it's cardamom, silly!

But I was impressed with the cinnamon ice cream, and the anachronism of Van Leeuwen (especially with the serious punk rockers in line ahead of me, leather vests, bleach blond mohawks, tattoos, piercings, lace-up boots and all). I will be back, if just to experience Christmas in the summer months.

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