Back in 2002, when artisan ice creams started to hit its stride in New York City Jon Snyder proprietor of Il Laboratorio del Gelato was located at a tiny storefront at Orchard Street. If you recall a post from The New York Times last year, he moved to a much larger space, at 3,300 square feet, to make the retail portion of his business a bit more comfortable for his customers and opening later hours. There’s also more flavors available from 30 to 50 flavors. (If you ever visited the former location, its about one-tenth the size; there were no seats that one have to eat it to-go and it used to close around 6 PM, which is ridiculously early for the average Lower East Side dweller.)
The storefront has poured concrete floors to mimic the sidewalk and there’s some bench seating along the windows that are made of stainless steel. If you look toward the back through the glass wall, everything is pristine white and gleaming of stainless steel, as Mr. Snyder has no hesitation to tell me, he likes the color white and cleanliness is important to him. The combination of the two forces his employees to keep a clean kitchen since white is a high maintenance color to keep it spotless.
I have taken a brief tour around his spacious kitchen, which does look like a laboratory but with a lot more freezers, sinks and natural light. His four employees, who were present that morning, were busy zesting lemons for a lemon gelato, freezing small batches of gelato, preparing a batch of Belcolade Belgian chocolate gelato, and cleaning some equipment. Cases stacked of fresh Persian limes and California pistachios were ready to be worked on. All done with very little talking or noise.
Most of the space on the production side was taken up by storage. Freezers lined every room to store their freshly frozen gelato and organic dairy. One room temperature storage area contained large buckets of in-house made vanilla extracts, liqueurs and spirits, and natural sweeteners to flavor their gelato and sorbets.
Moving on to why you’re reading this post, how does the gelato taste? It is still the same great texture and flavors I remember eating for years. The turkish fig tasted like it was made with dried figs that the sweetness and flavor was intensified compared to its fresh counterpart. The pomegranate was bright and a touch tart as one would expect from this flavor.
The black sesame, basil and sweet potato gelati are considered unique or exotic flavors. The black sesame was nutty and barely sweet. It reminds me of black sesame soup (芝麻糊) except in ice cream form. The basil gelato was mint-like and herbaceous. The most unusual to me was the sweet potato. It tastes like a caramelized boiled sweet potato (if you ever ate that tuber). It was delicious and creamy.
What was pretty surprising to me was that they used canned organic sweet potatoes into their gelato base. Snyder believed that the company who produces the said sweet potatoes probably roasted it prior to canning to get that sweet caramelized flavor. Not all gelato flavors are produced from fresh produce from what I learned from him. For example, despite the fact it is now strawberry season, fresh strawberries are watery. What his production team does is to take a 50-50 ratio of fresh and frozen strawberries to create the best flavor for his mix and then freeze.
Despite the fact my stomach’s full of gelato, I am very intrigued with the espresso thickshake and determined to have it before I leave this gelateria. Their coffee bean source is exclusively Cafe Grumpy (one of my personal coffeeshops in NYC). They make espresso shots with it as well as infusing and blending it into their espresso gelato.
I was indecisive as to how I want my espresso thickshake to be. Do I want something interesting (e.g. have chocolate hazelnut gelato or chocolate Kahlua blended in) or go full blown espresso? Snyder admits to be old fashioned with milkshakes that he prefers vanilla and is kind of worried that if I choose to blend it with a flavored gelato it would take away the very fine espresso notes. I thought about it for a couple of seconds and go full blown espresso: espresso gelato and the espresso shot blended with whole organic milk. As a coffee lover, this milkshake kicks butt. The shake has the full expression of Cafe Grumpy’s espresso bean notes. It’s thick with gelato and it could pretty much counts as lunch. The serving around 16 ounces that it has enough ice cream and caffeine to get you through the sweltering summer day.
To note, since Snyder still has another year with his lease at the former Orchard Street location, he’s currently renovating the space and reopen it as a satellite location with seats and photos of the Ludlow kitchen/production space. So, if you miss the charm of that particular part of the neighborhood, don’t fret. It’ll open soon.
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il laboratorio del gelato
188 Ludlow Street (at East Houston Street)
New York, NY 10002 (Map)
Prices (pre-tax): From $4.25 (small cup or cone) to $6.75 (large cup or cone); Thickshake $6.75 to $8 Espresso thickshake
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