CAPSULE REPORT: Gelato, Italian-style ice cream, is growing in leaps and bounds in popularity. We featured a recent article about gelato, highlighting some of the country’s top gelato artisans. Here, we return to explore two of the best gelato makers in depth: Philadelphia’s Capogiro Gelato and New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato. This is Page 1 of a three-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.
Sometimes people go racing out to places we have recommended—restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops—and come back saying they just didn’t get what we were raving about. It was O.K., but not the bomb. This opens up an age-old question of what any reviewer’s taste viewpoint is versus your own—whether in food, wine, music, literature or fill-in-the-blank. While reviewers should educate you, no one can tell you what to like. Over time, you learn which writers’ tastes match yours and stick with them, as you learn to trust the opinions of various friends and acquaintances.
However, certain foods can be very subject to what we call the bell curve syndrome. Unlike the generally accepted attributes of a great steak or Burgundy, recipes and foods themselves vary in their appeal—do you like flavor-forward dishes or subtle flavorings? Do you like star anise or complex layerings of spices? Simple dishes or complex constructions? Straightforward and classic presentations or architectural or coy ones? Mix up all these options at a good restaurant, and the dishes follow a bell curve, based on your interests and expectations. Two are might be out-of-this-world, four might be good, and might impress you as nothing special.
That’s how it is in the world of great artisanal gelato. When dedicated artisans make over 100 flavors by hand,* what you end up selecting is going to fall somewhere on the bell curve. If you only try one or two flavors, the likelihood is more that it’s going to be “good” than “out-of-this-world.” A food writer, on the other hand, will have tried many more flavors, so has more of a perspective on the situation. And, to loop back, that’s why some readers go to a place we recommend, try one or two flavors and aren’t overwhelmed—when we’ve tried 20 flavors and have “heard the music.”
*Don’t expect all 100 at once: Flavors are seasonal, and there may be 30 freshly-made on the day you’re in the shop.
The truth is, that if you lived within walking distance of a wonderful gelateria artigianale, you would do as the Italians do: the main event of the evening is not finishing dinner and flicking on the TV (or the PC), but going for a passeggiata (stroll) and a gelato. Then, you’d be able to work your way through all the flavors—even Stephanie Reitano’s 300-plus—rather quickly, especially since few American food-lovers ever stop at one scoop, one flavor.
Feel free to call first and ask what they think are their most memorable flavors of the moment—and match them to your preferences. You may increase your chances of hitting the top of the curve. But no matter what you get, it will be a wonderful gelato adventure, as authentic as if you walked into Giolitti in Rome—and at your doorstep tomorrow morning.
Neither brand has the uniform “greater density” you read that gelato is supposed to have over ice cream. Some flavors do: Capogiro’s Cioccolato Scuro, bitter chocolate, is a dense wonder, reflecting the amount of cocoa and chocolate in the recipe; while their Nocciola (hazelnut) has a more regular ice cream consistency. The sorbetti are light and ethereal in consistency—far less dense than Sharon’s Sorbet, Häagen-Dazs or other brands. Il Laboratorio del Gelato’s gelatos were as if spun by fairies, rather than packed dense by Clark Kent.
When we asked Jon Snyder of Il Laboratorio why his gelato was not “textbook dense,” he posited that typically, the machines in Italy tend to churn the product at a slower speed, thereby lessening the air intake. Also, Italians traditionally use recipes with more milk and less cream that take on less air and thus produce a more dense product (milk doesn’t whip up like cream does).
But whatever the textures, the flavors we tried offered some wondrous tasting experiences, making Il Laboratorio Del Gelato and Capogiro seem, as one of our editors is fond of saying, like a different species entirely.
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