Friday, April 11, 2008

Entrants in the Gelato Derby, Part I

and the hawk is thinking, Wicked Witch-style: mmmm, I'll have the little girl and her gelato, too.*

As I mentioned: 2 weeks. 15 gelaterie. 8 of them more than once. My testers and I (which at times encompassed 4 children and several adults, including myself) selflessly dedicated ourselves to trying to find the best gelato in the historic center, undeterred by the ominous creaks coming from the increasingly strained seams of my pants, long walks or cold, rainy weather. We're brave that way. I'm going to divide the entrants into 3 different posts over the next several days, and then in a 4th post will reveal final rankings, which will probably not come as a surprise.
As to our methods? Well, we almost always each chose different flavors, and then shared around. I have a fondness for coffee gelato that is not shared even slightly by my midget entourage, so it was usually only just me tasting that. However, there wasn’t usually much overlap in the flavors we ordered, so if there was a weak spot in any given gelateria’s flavor repertoire, we almost always found it (since we generally ended up tasting 6-12 flavors at any given place). A couple of times we attempted to go out for a pre-lunch gelato, and mostly spent that time cooling our heels. A great many gelaterie (particularly small ones) do not open much before noon. Apparently, like having your first negroni as breakfast (soooo uptight, those Italians) it is considered a teensy bit unseemly to consume gelato before noon. Or lunch. Whatevs. Gelato makes a great lunch. Especially with a negroni. And a cappuccino (which, of course, is really a drink for the morning, you gauche, gauche person). While wearing sweats. With no make-up. Actually, I don’t need to discuss the many, many ways that I can commit brutta figura; it appears to come naturally to me, even when I’m trying not to commit it. So.

In today’s entrant list, we have:

Gelarmony, L’Arte del Gelato Siciliano
Blue Ice.
L’Antica Caffe dell’Isola (the Tiber Island gelato place)

Gelarmony. Via Marcantonio Colonna, 34.
We actually didn’t intend to go here. We were trying to go to Pelacchia, which apparently… non c’e piu (it ain’t no more). Bummer. The lady who informed us of this looked at the dismayed faces of my children, and said consolingly there was a nice place around the corner (I am so, so, so glad that I speak Italian sometimes). So we started walking. And we saw a steady stream of people, eating cones, coming our way. The stream grew thicker, and thicker… and we followed it until we arrived. The gelato was scrumptious. Really, really lovely. Their chocolate was deep, dark and creamy without tasting pudding-y. The coffee had a satisfyingly full bitterness (in a good way). The lemon was mouth-poppingly sour, the strawberry bursting. They had a flavor they called Vitamins of Etna, which was an orange and lemon gelato, with some dairy, rather than strictly a sorbet (which is generally, but not always, what citrus flavors seem to be served as) that was terrific. Curly ordered it as part of her lemon-strawberry combo and it may well have been her favorite flavor of the trip. Their flavors were strong across the board. For tourists, it’s really not near much (except maybe shops on via Cola di Rienzo? Keep in mind I say this as a woman who had a kindergartner and 2nd grader in tow for all gelato outings; 4 or 5 blocks can seem like a cruel eternity when you’re tired and 6, and then you will, of course, in turn, visit that sensation of cruel eternity upon the baaad woman who is making you take a forced gelato march), but Gelarmony is worth a detour. Definitely worth a detour.

Blue Ice. All over the place.
Blue Ice’s gelato is, I am sorry to report, decidedly mediocre. Should you avoid it like the plague? Well… no. Why do I say that? Well, okay, by the standards of the sensational gelato available all over the historic center, Blue Ice isn’t so hot. At the same time, that is a very, very different thing than saying they are no good. I admit, after a few bites of mine, I chucked it, but… that day was a 3-gelato day. It was going to have to be sensational for me to finish it, and it was nice enough, but not sensational. Again, although you can definitely (definitely) do better, often within a block or so, Blue Ice’s gelato is still better than no gelato. Still, come on. Make an effort. If I can drag two kids over the historic center, you can walk an extra block or two, unless your shoes are really just hopelessly, woefully impractical. In which case, I’ve been there, too. Totally understand.

Ciampini. Two locations (technically 3, but I count the via Fontanella Borghese location as part of the piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina location, and clearly, so do they, as you can often see employees going between the two storefronts), one near the top of the Spanish Steps (viale Trinita dei Monti 1), and the other on piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina.
I really like piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina. The drool marks on the windows of Bottega Veneta might be mine. The pharmacy there sells great travertine soap dishes (I know. Soap dishes? Seems kind of a strange thing to focus on, except when, say, you are thinking about what to give someone who loves interesting household schtuff and it needs to fit in your luggage but still be quite nice). Anyway. Years ago we went to the Ciampini near the top of the Spanish Steps and enjoyed the vistas and the gelato, but there was no way that we were hauling Stumpy up all of those stairs. So, we went to the one in piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina (which has tables in the piazza that make for a nice way to while away an extremely expensive drink or sandwich, which are, of course, reasonably priced if you get them at the bar). The bar there is a deep, shining wood. The gelato flavors are listed on little brass plaques. The gelato is not actually visible, hidden both behind the bar and under metal lids. It's all very classy, but really, classy is nothing without good gelato. And the flavors are lovely. Their frutti di bosco is excellent, tangy, rich and brightly flavored. Their strawberry is quite nice, as is the lemon, cream, stratciatella, etc.,etc. You do not need to know your way around their gelato menu to be happy with your order. They are uniformly strong, and the piazza outside is a nice place to munch.

L’Antica Caffe dell’Isola. Tiber Island.
I adore the Tiber Island. I don’t really know why. The view of the Ponte Rotto? That it’s such a comically teeny island? And I love that the Tiber Island gelateria is also, in keeping with the proportions of the island, almost comically small. I like that they have Red Hot, which is chili-chocolate gelato. The gelato? It’s nice. Good. Solid. Pleasant. Not as good as Ciampini or Gelarmony, but far better than Blue Ice. The location, though, is deeply atmospheric, and if you manage, in a stroke of good luck (thank you, karma) to snag a table there, it is a lovely place to have gelato and watch the world go by. Their opening hours appear to sometimes be… whimsical. If it’s raining, or they deem it too cold for gelato that day, or they have errands to run, they might not open. I grasp the concept of Monday morning closures and Thursday afternoon closures, and I remembered that when there is a special word for something (hello, Pasquetta! I'd almost completely forgotten that Easter Monday gets its own word) it usually means that everything is closed then. That’s a system for closure. This gelateria's system is, I suspect, based a little more on mooood.

Giolitti. via Uffici del Vicario, 40.
It's an institution, and for whatever reason, many, many years ago (better raspberry, I think), I decided I preferred it over Della Palma, flaws and all. When you order well at Giolitti, you will be very, very happy. When you do not… meh. You may wish you’d had a cookie. Giolitti is generally quite strong with fruit flavors (frutti di bosco is a notable exception here. Theirs is lousy), and have an exceptionally good raspberry, and their chocolate, coffee, nut and booze flavors are good. However, their crema tastes like tapioca. Their fior di latte? More like crema is everywhere else, and quite nice. Their stratciatella, though? Kind of bla. Order carefully, and you'll be happy.

And that's all for today.
*The hawk photo was circuitously semi-inspired by food blogga, who suggested posting photos of eagles (or hawks), and so I give her, a little weirdly (I've been trying to figure out a reason to post the photo; her exhortation for eagle/raptor pictures is a streeeetch as a reason, but good enough for me): a be-boobed hawk from a palazzo (appropriately, Falconieri, I think, on via Giulia) in Rome. I'm sure she'll be very grateful (who wouldn't be? Uh, okay, you don't actually need to give me that long-ish list). I did see a real eagle, today, cruising around (and making the ducks and coots draw into incredibly tight formation on the water- I love how often we spot bald eagles in Seattle), but since I was driving, and was already in a car accident Wednesday, I passed on taking a photo of it. The iconography of a hawk with boobs eludes me just now. If you know what it signifies (I don't remember alot of hawk-women in mythology, but maybe my brain is still on the fritz from stress), by all means, pipe up.


cook eat FRET said...

i am so glad you addressed the hawk in need of lingerie. because until i reached the end of your post... well i was really wondering. ok, i'm kinda still wondering.

Meg said...

It's a stretch, posting that one. But... it's so weird (which is part of the reason I took the picture). And I am totally perplexed by the iconography, and hoping someone arty will understand and explain. It's not a sphinx... it's a lingerie-less hawk-woman. In a city full of pretty good lingerie shops.

Magua said...

Ciampini also had the mysterious visciola flavor, an awesome dark, sour cherry sorbet that rocked the house alongside their tart, tangy limone.

Meg said...

Oh, good point, Mogs. I'd forgotten all about visciola, which is indeed sour cherry (often used in crostate).

homebody at heart said...

Somehow, the word siren forms in my brain when I look at the be-breasted bird.

Hmm, all this talk of gelato and this weekend the temperature was in the 80's. Perfect gelato weather, but sadly, no gelateria! I seemed to have had the best flavor luck with the citrus and fruit flavored gelatos. Strangely, I can't even remember the chocolate, the nut, or creme flavors. I don't think I ever got past the lemon/guava/melon flavors.

But, down to the guessing game. Your daughter is standing in front of the Theatre of Pompey at Largo Argentina, the dome is St. Peters and the other skyline, the Baths of Diocletion (Santa Maria degli Angeli)? Okay, I'm guessing on the last one.

And, just how did you get this gruppetto around Rome? Drive? Bus? Taxi?

Oh, and BTW, I evilly made my 24 yr old niece walk a cruel eternity for 19 days in Italy until she said on one of our last days, "Do you know that we have been walking for 11 hours now?" (in Rome). Me? Really, 11 hours? Hahahahahahah. Evil laughter. Oh, the price of culture!

Meg said...

Homebody- sirens is a good thought; harpies came to mind for me for similar reasons, but harpies, sirens and sphinxes all have the heads of women with various other animal parts for their bodies. Isis hovered over Osiris's body in the form of a sparrow-hawk, so it could have something to do with her or possibly another Egyptian goddess, but... I'm not sure.

Curly is, indeed, standing in front of Largo Argentina. The dome is St. Peter's, and the other skyline is of Sant'Angelo in Pescheria, right by the Portico d'Ottavia.

For really long walks, we would take a cab to the far end of our walk (a cab for 4-5 people often worked out to be close in price to bus fare for 4-5), and we took a tram a couple of times, but mostly, we hoofed it. For their poor, small feet, I'd let them take a seat in a piazza and hang out when they were tired, but they were pretty good little marchers. I wasn't really kidding when I said that it's amazing how far you can get a kid (or at least, my kids) to walk for a gelato and a good yarn about a crazy emperor. So mostly, I picked what I wanted to see that I thought they would like, too, and then looked up to see what gelaterie were semi-nearby.

Way to drag your niece around. I bet, though, that she talks pretty glowingly about the trip.

chris said...

Going to make some ice cream now . . . .

Meg said...

We've been making and buying gelato like it's going out of style- and that's WITH the weather acting like February. It makes me think we'll have a gelato-only menu once the warm weather comes.

sherif ashraf said...
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