Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gelato Wars

(And when I ask if I can take a picture, I really mean two...sorry!)

Ever since I "moved" to Boston for school, I've found myself shifting away from cakey, pastry desserts towards ice cream (never sorbet, unless it's ninety degrees and there's nothing else - buying sorbet, in my opinion, is like rationalizing your Icee, but for a dollar more). This might be due to the inch-thick layer of icing on Harvard desserts (I dislike excessive icing, unless it's cream cheese on carrot cake), but more likely due to the opening of Berryline, coupled with the handfuls of dollar-off coupons I received from Herrell's at the beginning of the year.

In any case, I've channeled this love for solid dairy into the search for the best gelato here. So far, I've been to four places, two of them repeats. The main takeaway? Don't buy gelato in places that sell other food. Good gelato deserves fidelity. (This fact remains true in Boston's North End - go to the place left of Mike's Pastries and not in Mike's Pastries for gelato...)

1) The gelato/glace cart adjacent to the Jet d'Eau
I've mentioned this cart before; any cart along the Geneva side of the lake will do, given that they serve the same company's ice cream. The rose gelato was amazingly refreshing and well scented; the flavor somewhat makes up for the thinner texture. Although this place had the smallest portion, it's also slightly cheaper than the other gelato I've tried at CHF 2.50. Highly recommended, though I can't say much about the other flavors.

2) The gelateria at Bourg de Four
Partially because so many restaurants are in Bourg de Four, I've gone here twice. (I don't have its name down, but it's the only gelateria in the area, between the cheap green-awning pub on the left and the wonderfully pink chocolate shop on the right.) Both times were subpar experiences, even on a hot day (which immediately lowers one's expectations); the first time, I chose the blood orange since I bypassed that particular flavor at the Jet d'Eau. The texture was thick, but felt rather grainy. It wasn't as if there were chunks of orange pulp in the gelato (which I wouldn't have minded, anyway), but it seemed as if there was well-mixed powder inside. Questionable. I attributed this particular distaste to my own anti-preferences for anything that resembles sorbet, and chose the almond a few days later. Different, but not better - still a grainy texture, and again, it wasn't a nutty texture (though it was clear that they had used genuine almonds). At CHF 3.50 a scoop, it's clear that there will be no third visit.

3) Gelateria, Vevey (Old Town)
You begin to wonder if gelaterias have specific names. (Usually, they don't - unless it's a cafe, and then you avoid their gelato.) This particular place had some unusual flavors for Europe, including guava and lychee. (Interestingly enough, cassis - aka blackcurrant - is a pretty common flavor in Swiss gelaterias. As is chocolate orange - which is also available at JP Licks.) I actually ditched the guava for the caramel de sel gelato, inspired by Stanfood's wonderful review of fleur de sel cupcakes coupled with my love of the $4.50 box of Trader Joe's salt-coated brownies. It was a good call for CHF 3.50, though I probably should have asked for the guava sample. The caramel de sel gelato was wonderfully rich - almost too much (I was starting to gag without any water nearby). The salty overtone was there, though it would have been nice to have some crystallized sea salt in the gelato's contents; the caramel was buttery, but clearly brown-sugar based. Twenty minutes later, the aftertaste continued to linger.
The gelato counter at Vevey, complete with fake styrofoam balls spraypainted with the corresponding color of each flavor.

4) The winner: GelatoMania (Geneva and Carouge)
Yes, this is a chain store. But yes, they only sell gelato. And yes, this is our winner on all four major dimensions: taste, texture, quantity, and presence of weird flavors (as my friend Erin duly noted, "Only a few would go out of their way to find the weird gelato flavor, and then order a full cone of it."...but apparently we also share the tourist consensus). The gelato is creamy and refreshing without any freezer burn. And the scoops are significantly larger than the first two places I've mentioned; one scoop for CHF 3.50, two scoops for CHF 6, and if you get two scoops you can get a double cone. If you're easily amused like me, the choice should be obvious.
The choice is obvious. Here: basil pineapple on the left, cucumber mint on the right.

Like the Vevey gelateria, this chain has at least twenty something flavors - but besides the standard stracciatella or noixette (hazelnut) - all of which they have - GelatoMania makes fairly unusual combinations, per its claim of making "perfumees glaces" (perfumed ice cream): basil pineapple, cucumber mint, spiced apple, goat milk, and popcorn; in my two visits, I've tried all five. Erin swears by another unusual flavor: cinnamon. The basil pineapple might be my favorite; I know I criticize basil for being "trendy," because I'm obviously a hipster, but pineapple is one of my favorite ice cream flavors - the basil makes sure it's not too saccharine, while adding a mild herb flavor.
Double cone: basil pineapple on top, popcorn on the bottom.

(When Bridgeman's used to be open in Minnesota, pineapple ice cream was my default order - the only other place I know of with good pineapple ice cream is Adventureland in DisneyWorld. There, the Dole pineapple stand sells soft serve pineapple. Protip: if you want pineapple ice cream in the dining hall, mix french vanilla with canned crushed pineapple - the pineapple has to be crushed, not in big pieces, and the sugar water has to be strained out, otherwise it looks somewhat disgusting.)

Goat milk was also much more mild than I thought - GelatoMania makes sure this isn't a savory gelato and so a good deal of sugar was added in, making it more like a "sweet milk" than a goat milk or vanilla. It would have been a good combination with the basil pineapple, though I didn't try it in that context. Spiced apple was my next favorite; it had hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, but upon tasting it it was clear that the flavor was apple. Tasting the spiced apple was like licking a frozen, very creamy apple cider. Popcorn was surprisingly delicious and made a good pair with the basil pineapple; its strong, rich butter taste made the gelato seem more like a dessert, while the basil pineapple tempered the flavor and made my stomach less queasy. Far, far better than a buttered popcorn Jelly Belly - however, the popcorn pieces in the gelato could have been better popped, since I nearly choked a few times from unpopped kernels. The cucumber mint was my least favorite of the bunch. I assume this is partially because I've never really been accustomed to natural mint flavor, but it's also weird - I was able to transfer the flavor of popcorn, but not cucumber mint, to gelato. Perhaps it's because the popcorn tasted like hot cereal, but that doesn't make sense either, since the cucumber mint tasted like tzatziki sauce. In any case, the blended shards of cucumber weren't as appealing as I expected, but it wasn't terrible, either.

5) Honorable mention: Cathedrale gelateria, Lausanne
On our way to the Cathedrale Lausanne, forty five minutes away from Geneva, we passed a gelateria that sold twelve flavors. One of them was curry - I promised myself that I would head back and get a scoop. Unfortunately, in our rush to Vevey, we couldn't stop by and by the time we walked up hills and hills to the gelateria, they had closed ten minutes ago.

I will assume that the curry gelato, unlike my curry potato chips (for which I spent $5 on), was delicious.
Lemon-black pepper dark chocolate bar: CHF 2.50 (and good 'n' tangy...though there could have been less lemon crystals and more lemon essence). Oriental curry chips: CHF 5.

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