Summer is no time to be pretentious. Ice cream, of all things, should not be esoteric, brainy, or elitist. But alas, the world of sweets in general has become a playground for gourmet one-upmanship. With exotic ingredients, preachy labels, and jaw-dropping prices everywhere we turn, it’s hard not to wonder what we’re missing. Maybe a pint of ice cream should cost $10 and come with a pamphlet.
With the city starting to steam again, we decided to check out 10 attempts at ice cream chic. Because chocolate is particularly susceptible to snobbery, we taste-tested its many variations, from the intriguing and delicious to the downright obnoxious.
$3.99 at corner deli
It all started here. Haagen Dazs’s new flavor has been heavily advertised, and we thought it sounded like a downright fantastic idea: Chocolate and cinnamon or, as the container puts it: “The original chocolate.” Sadly, the cinnamon is overpowering, and the ice cream is too sweet overall. Perhaps the brown sugar-laced “Mayan chocolate swirl” was overkill. The texture is dense and creamy though, as always with Haagen Dazs.
$6.99 at Westside Market
This “ultra super premium” ice cream is made with imported Dutch cocoa and comes in a metal canister for some reason. “Awaken your senses and indulge in some of the most exotic flavors of ice cream ever made,” the label commands. We thought it was OK, but not sheer bliss. It’s very airy, which is unusual for high-end ice cream, and the most prominent flavor is milk, not chocolate. One taster was reminded of Nesquik. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
$3.99 at Whole Foods
This organic ice cream was the crowd favorite in terms of taste, texture, price, and marketing. The package features a simple motto—”It’s not just delicious, it’s organic!”—and no sappy tale of pesticides or oppressed cows. The taste was richly chocolatey but not too sweet, and the texture was just dense enough and very creamy.
$3.99 at Balducci’s
A classic combination, but chocolate hazelnut is often overly sweet and too heavy on the hazelnut flavor. But Ciao Bella’s gelato gets it right. The real triumph would be the texture—nearly airless, luxuriously thick and creamy—except that the tiny flecks of hazelnut got in the way.
Pandan Belgian Dark Chocolate
$5.99 at Balducci’s
This local chocolatier’s catchphrase is “Haute Chocolate,” which is good indication of the concept. It took great self-discipline to pass up the Aboriginal Wattleseed flavor, which apparently tastes like chocolate, coffee, hazelnut, and vanilla all mixed together, but it’s not really chocolate. Plus, the large green panyan leaf was said to be one of the Buddha’s favorite foods. Despite the unbridled pretentiousness involved here (“enlighten yourself with the pandan”) this stuff is oddly delicious. The chocolate is intense but the panyan extract lends undertones of coconut and almond. The texture is rich with milk fat (at 22 grams per serving, Vosges was the most fattening ice cream we tasted).
$5.99 at Balducci’s
The blurb on the container promised that the “Ancho and Chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon, and Belgian dark chocolate combine to form an amorous and elevating experience.” Not to mention the Ayurvedic benefits. The flavor starts with chocolate and very subtle cinnamon and ends with a kick in the back of the throat, which is all well and good. But somewhere in between, the smokiness of the chipotle is slightly distracting.
Chocolate Fudge Mousse
$2.99 at Associated Supermarket
It seems so predictable, but Edy’s, which is light and full of air, and which some people love (I am not one of those people), was downright chalky, painfully sweet, and disconcertingly soft and melty. The gooey fudge swirls went over better than the chocolate mouse ice cream itself.
Deep Chocolate—Goat Milk
$6.99 at Whole Foods
As one taster put it, “Slowly, the chocolate fades away and you’re just left with goat.” Unfortunately, this intriguing experiment—which we wanted to believe in—seems destined to appeal to some fringe group of goat enthusiasts alone. The tagline reads, “The goat makes it good,” but actually, the goat makes it weird. It also makes it the least fattening ice cream we tasted. At six grams per serving, it has an almost sorbet-like feel, with some icy crystallization.
$4.39 at Westside Market
The world is divided between dark-chocolate people and milk-chocolate people. If you turn your nose up at anything under 70 percent cocoa, this won’t work for you. But it’s doing it’s job, providing women everywhere with a luxurious indulgence. High in fat and intensely creamy, it will make you feel better and guilty all at once!
Bitter Chocolate (Cioccolato Scuro)
$9.99 at Balducci’s
Outrageous price tag aside, the idea of bitter dark chocolate is a good one. Before we dug in, though, we untied the ribbon that fastened a tiny little booklet to the container. Inside, we read meaningless phrases like “Taste the Art of Living Beautifully.” Hey, gelato? Don’t boss me. It contains no eggs, which give gelato a custard-like richness, and very little milk fat (eight grams per serving). Gelato generally has less fat than ice cream, but this is going a little too far. The texture was beyong dense—it was hard, slightly grainy, and not creamy enough. The flavor was instense and somewhat bitter, but without the cream, it tasted sugary. I want my money back.