While it has finally dropped those few more degrees necessary to bring us into weather necessitating a scarf, hat, and gloves at times, my mind has been on an equally frigid dessert experience I had back in May when the temperature was going in the reverse direction. My parents were in town to move me out for the summer and on an afternoon stroll with my Mom in the Bowery we decided to stop by Il Laboratorio Del Gelato for a cold afternoon treat to tide us over before meeting my Dad for dinner. After all, I was about to be away from the city for quite some time. I had to fit in sweet treat spots while I could!
The aesthetic of Il Laboratorio Del Gelato is clean and, as the name would suggest, laboratory-like. It’s clearly not looking to curate a comfy, homey vibe. They’re a creation factory. scientifically concocting flavors of gelato and sorbet to satisfy the palate. And my how many flavors they have! While the scoop shop does not have all 300 flavors available that their websites boasts they have created to date, there were probably around 30 available for tasting. Directly behind them we could see the gelato and sorbet being made, ready to replace the small batches of flavors before us whenever they ran out.
Flavor decisions are hard enough, but the unique specificity and sheer multitude before us was paralyzing. While there were your standards like chocolate and vanilla, and other more complicated ones that are still fairly common like salted caramel, s’mores, and maple walnut, there were yet other flavors like sweet potato, olive oil, ginger, orange chocolate, toasted marshmallow, basil, avocado, and allspice that could not help but draw the eye. While very few if any of the flavors had mix-ins, their colors were so saturated they were things of simplistic beauty. But even more intoxicating was that clean and cold ice cream, or in this case gelato, smell perfuming the air. The laboratory-like interior seemed to be conducive for amplifying this scent as the smell-waves bounced off the metal surfaces into our noses. Or at least that’s what I imagined. That’s how scent works right?
As we drowned in a sea of flavors, there was one tub of plain pale white gelato titled Zabaglione that called out to us. While different, we at least knew what all the other flavors were. But we had never heard of this zabaglione before and were intrigued. When asked, the person behind the counter said that it was essentially an Italian custard that tastes similar to eggnog. As I looked up specifically later it is, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “a whipped dessert or topping consisting of a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and usually Marsala wine”. As we’re a big eggnog family during the holidays and have Italian roots on my Mother’s side, zabaglione sounded like our ideal. Each of us got a scoop of zabaglione, to which I added a scoop of chocolate bourbon and my Mom added a scoop of chocolate hazelnut. We got our cones and were able to enjoy them at a window counter inside, as there was only one other couple in the store.
From their scientific aesthetic was produced a scientifically exact flavor. I could easily imagine the effort put into creating the flavors, getting ingredient amounts just right, playing with proportions to balance the right flavor while still achieving a silky smooth texture. There was thought and care put into this gelato. There was elegance in the smooth and flavorful perfection of the product.
And while both my chocolate bourbon and my Mom’s chocolate hazelnut hit the mark, catching every note one is looking for in those flavors, the star of the show was the zabaglione. The rich, eggy creaminess that I love in eggnog on a cold December night, but a touch brighter, perhaps from the wine element. It was like an enhanced sweet cream flavor. More indulgent than a vanilla could ever be but still providing the lightness that is so enjoyable on a bourgeoning summer’s afternoon. It didn’t need any crunches or swirls. Everything I could want in flavor was in the gelato, and it would have been criminal to interrupt its perfect compact body. I want a scoop of this next to my chocolate cake from Veniero’s at my wedding. I want it on top of a brownie when I finally find a brownie worthy of it. I never want vanilla again. Only zabaglione. Give me zabaglione drinks this holiday season. And in those drinks scoop some of this gelato.
While they were clearly not the stars of the show that day, our darker flavors were no less on point. We got exactly what we ordered; the chocolate bourbon robust and chocolaty but with some alcoholic tones clearly moving alongside, and the chocolate hazelnut catching every delicate nutty ounce of flavor one could ask for.
There are plenty of experimental ice cream parlors. Lots of scoop shops with a clean, minimalistic aesthetic with flavors that venture into the savory you might never have seen before. But Il Laboratorio Del Gelato is different not only because they have more flavors than any of those places could dream of, but because they actually deliver on the flavors they promise. When they say they do small batches to produce higher quality, the proof is in the scoop. And while you have the option to experience a flavor you know and love in a whole new way, you may also find a flavor you didn’t even know was out there and fall in love. I can certainly credit them for bringing on a zabaglione craving within me now that the holiday season is approaching for the first time.