You may remember the disappointment turned to anger that Nick and I felt when we ventured to the over-hyped Russ and Daughters endorsed by Somebody Feed Phil. For many months now I have been trepidatious about venturing to another location from the series, nervous that it will only be another disappointing experience. But my curious brain kept coming back to all the wondrous places I had seen. And as time passed, my coldness thawed and I grew open up to the idea of venturing once more into the world of Phil recommendations.
Ironically, this thawing ice drew me to Ice & Vice. Ice cream is similar to pizza, in that even bad ice cream is gonna be a good time of some sort. So even if it turned out to be mediocre it would honestly still be ice cream. But I had an inkling of confidence in this place, as it had the endorsement not only of Phil, but of the great Elaine May, whose performance in The Waverly Gallery earlier this year stunned me. Therefore, it was only fitting that I pay my own visit to Ice & Vice with an actress and friend who I am similarly consistently in awe of, my good friend Linnéa. After a spring break away from the city, my first act back was to make the long-awaited journey to sample some artisanal ice cream.
Though it was cold outside I chose to walk through Chinatown, reacquainting myself with the city and its pace after a week of slow, New Hampshire living. As I allowed my mind to replace trees with buildings and the smell of fresh air for that of trash, urine, and fish, I replaced little New Hampshire ice cream stands with fancy ice cream stores.
I arrived at the shop and peeked inside as I waited for Linnéa to arrive. It gave the feel of a laboratory of sorts. Black and white, it screamed modernity and innovation. I knew from my research that the flavors that lay inside were unique and intricate but any passerby would be able to tell the very same thing just by looking at the place.
Linnéa arrived and our work began. I struggle any time there is a choice to be made, and when it comes to choosing ice cream flavors that struggle multiplies tenfold. In a store like Ice & Vice, I am completely hopeless. With flavors like KPOP (kinako, red bean, condensed milk), Opium Den (white sesame, toasted poppy seeds, lemon bread croutons), Tea Dance (Nilgiri black tea, lemon charcoal caramel) and more of the like, how was I to decide between all of these ingredients? Not only were there all the flavors to decide between, but there were the options of going with a classic cone, or an ice cream pie, or a sandwich. After a couple of samples, I decided on a scoop of Shade (smoked dark chocolate, caramelized white chocolate ganache) and Yellow (buckwheat honey, turmeric, sunflower seed butterscotch chip) in a dark chocolate chai cone. By pure coincidence, Linnéa ordered the same thing. Though, it would be remiss of me not to mention how patient the employee behind the counter was, giving us ample samples of a variety of flavors and plenty of advice. They even have a little holder to put your cone in while you pay, which added another appreciated touch of customer service. Though it’s not really a shop meant to hang out in, it is a very amiable one to grab a cone to accompany a walk.
This is exactly what we did. With cones in hand the two of us strolled across lower Manhattan. While Linnéa started with the Shade, I began with Yellow. Honey and I have a complicated relationship. For years I have not had much interest in the sticky ingredient or anything that boasted to be flavored with it. I maintained that honey wasn’t even a flavor, and anything that thought it was going to be fancy by being honey-flavored was actually just going to be weak. For, what is honey but sweetener? You’re gonna flavor ice cream with the equivalent of more sugar? Recently, however, I have come to see the folly in my gross generalization. Though I still don’t put honey in my tea or prefer it over jam to spread on my toast, honey-flavored things have gradually won my affection. I will now admit that the flavor, while a delicate one, is more than just sugar (when executed in a high quality fashion), and when expertly combined with other high quality ingredients, honey can be a choice flavor to satisfy a sweet treat craving, especially in a mid-afternoon tea time context.
This ice cream was a prime example of a skilled honey execution. Full and creamy not only in body but in flavor, the complexity of the buckwheat honey shone through in a star fashion I had not experienced before. Yes, there was the list of ingredients next to the name which could have signaled a flavor stretched in too many directions, but what was actually there was a flavor that used a myriad of ingredients to enhance its main event. As I tasted, I envisioned a team of flavor experts attired in lab coats spending hours tirelessly mixing ingredients to create this success of a frozen delight, for I could taste the time, knowledge, care, and exactness it took to execute such a flavor that filled the mouth with complete elegance.
And that was just the honey. At the end of the day, I am famously a chocolate first, last, and always person. Of course I had to round out a newly appreciated flavor with my classic go-to. But their take on chocolate, “Shade”, was anything but classic. I was smart to leave it for my latter flavor, for it filled my mouth with such full, rich, round chocolate flavor I cannot imagine that I would have been able to fully appreciate the honey after it (though Linnéa seemed to have no trouble with her reversed order, similarly blown away by these expert scoops). How does one smoke dark chocolate? I have no idea. But what this ice cream taught me is that it should happen more often. While this was essentially Ice & Vice’s take on a basic chocolate, there was nothing basic about it. There were layers and surprises that hit suddenly all in the dark complexity of that chocolate base. I am one who chooses dark chocolate over milk when given the choice, enjoying the fulfilling duality of the sweet combined with bitter. Add a little smoking to the equation and you have yourself a chocolate flavor that makes a sigh of joy inescapable. If you are a milk over dark fan and are put off by what the dark chocolate of the flavor may suggest, I urge you to try it anyway, as this does not hit you in the same way as an 80% cacao chocolate bar. There is such balance in it, undoubtedly helped by the caramelized white chocolate ganache. Now, white chocolate and I also have a difficult relationship that continues to this day. In short, I hate it. It’s not chocolate. It’s boring, overly rich yet unfulfilling, unnecessary., and I would never choose to eat white chocolate in a million years. When I saw it was a part of this flavor it certainly gave me pause. But as the ingredients listed in the latter portion of Yellow were used as enhancers rather than primary or even secondary characters, the white chocolate seemed to be there as a balancer, discreetly rounding out the bold dark chocolate. As the name suggested, Shade brought a feeling of satisfying relief akin to shade on a hot summer day.
Yet my flavor journey was still not over. I still had a cone to consume. Dark chocolate and chai was a combination of two things I love, but also a strong flavor that could easily overtake the lighter tea flavor. Because of this fear, I waited a while to crunch into the cone and dug a deeper and deeper well of ice cream. But there came a point where the ice cream was no longer accessible, and the cone had to be tasted. I crunched in and found another perfect balance of flavor. It was a decadent cap to the ice cream cone experience, with a final note of chocolate rounding everything out with a surprisingly stable hit of chai. Linnéa went for a birthday cake flavored cone, but found this flavor to be a little weaker in its execution. These cones were not the most noteworthy part of the experience, but a little added bonus in varying levels of success that supported the overall expert flavor experience of Ice & Vice.
While there are some ice cream shops that celebrate the childlike joy of ice cream, whose flavors are stuffed with mix-ins that celebrate goodies near and dear to the hearts of many, Ice & Vice is where the adult palate can come to play. Their product is almost worthy of plating in a dimly lit restaurant after a special meal. It’s not a place I will go to satisfy an everyday ice cream craving, for it is not an everyday ice cream shop. It is one for a special occasion. Meant for an emotional state ripe to appreciate complexity. A celebration of artisanal ice cream. A perfect mix of a classic dish polished off with big city refinement. When such a mood hits me again, Ice & Vice will surely find me back again.