Having taught American Politics for two years, I’ve been known to make liberal use of Colbert Report clips. No late-night host better understood our political institutions and could deliver more thoughtful critiques of them (e.g. his multi-year effort to lampoon campaign finance laws).
So when Monsieur Colbert partnered with Ben & Jerry’s, I was expecting something out of the ordinary—certainly not a plain vanilla base. Indeed, the description is to creative what Secretary Clinton is to transparency. Fudge-covered waffle pieces represented the only original element. And yet, in concert they work much better than I expected. The aforementioned waffle pieces permeate the entire pint and boast a deep-fried crispness. And the caramel swirl was not the subdued variety you’ll find in a Talenti pint, but rather a swirl so thick as to almost resemble a core. This one—not unlike Colbert’s shtick—easily won me over.
Pr(Buy Again): 1
With its undulating chocolate cookie swirl plastered on the surface, the first impression goes to Ben & Jerry’s. Once you dig past the initial layer, though, Graeter’s begins to separate itself given its creamier vanilla base and Oreo cookies.
For some reason, in lieu of chocolate sandwich cookies commonly found in Cookies and Cream, Ben & Jerry’s opted for a deconstructed approach, pairing a respectable chocolate cookie swirl—one far more palatable than the acrid disaster found in Boom Chocolatta!—with chocolate chip cookie pieces. I appreciate their attempt to innovate, but the aforementioned cookie pieces were not good at all. They were mealy and tasted as if someone forgot to add sugar to the batter.
So this is one of those rare cases where the lower calorie option is actually tastier. At 260 calories per serving, Graeter’s Cookies and Cream remains one of their lighter offerings while Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies clocks in at a slightly heftier 280 calories per serving. If Graeter’s isn’t available in your area, another option is to visit a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop for their Sweet Cream & Cookies.
Graeter’s Cookies & Cream — Pr(Buy Again): 1
Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies — Pr(Buy Again): low
It’s been several weeks since Talenti announced seven new flavors for 2015, so I rode over to the nearest Kroger in the hopes of finding either Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. For whatever reason, though, it seems Ann Arbor lags behind other cities in receiving new ice creams as none of the new flavors were available. Instead, I picked up a pint of Caramel Apple Pie gelato.
As far as I’m concerned, caramel apples are a waste of a perfectly good Granny Smith. Not only are they just about impossible to eat due to gummy caramel, but last year they also began detonating people’s insides thanks to Listeria. Apple Pie, on the other hand, is delicious and deserves its place among the pantheon of classic American desserts. So I was curious to see whether Talenti would highlight the features of the former or of the latter. Spoiler: fortunately, it was the latter.
Let’s start with the cinnamon gelato base: it’s tantamount to the puddle of melted ice cream that pools up at the bottom of a bowl when one tops a warm slice of pie with vanilla ice cream. As good as the base is, it takes a backseat to the outstanding mix-ins. While the caramel swirl was too sparsely distributed to leave much of an impression, the cubes of tender cinnamon-laced apples coupled with the textural playground of pie crust—both crumbly and caramelized pieces to mimic the top and bottom layers of a pie—combined to make for one of the best pints of Talenti I’ve tried.
Pr(Buy Again): 1
It didn’t take long for me to realize I was destined for disappointment. Indeed, I knew I made a mistake the moment my spoon made contact with the chocolate frozen yogurt base. In contradistinction to the chocolate ice cream base of Phish Food, which gathers on the spoon like a tidal wave, the frozen yogurt version broke off into chunks and had a freezer-burned texture to it.
Combining two forms of chocolate—the ice cream base as well as chunks of fish-shaped fudge—both of which veer toward the bitter end of the spectrum, with sugary swirls of marshmallow and caramel, the original Phish Food has all of the balance of a Cirque du Soleil performer. The same, however, cannot be said of its FroYo instantiation.
Save for the abundantly dispersed fudge fish, nothing about this low fat offering is appealing; in addition to the awful base, the marshmallow swirl is dessicated, and the caramel swirl doesn’t stand out at all. So unless you’re looking to extinguish your enthusiasm for frozen desserts, avoid Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo and stick with the real thing.
Phish Food — Pr(Buy Again): high
Phish Food FroYo — Pr(Buy Again): 0
Well, this head-to-head wasn’t even close. It was about as lopsided as a Ronda Rousey fight. While Ben & Jerry’s vanilla base is nothing to scoff at, Graeter’s vanilla base is sheer creamy bliss. Where the two pints noticeably diverge is in the mix-ins. In their laudable commitment to Fair Trade products, Ben & Jerry’s eschewed Heath bars, opting instead for a knock-off toffee that is wholly nondescript. Graeter’s uses actual Heath bars, which have their characteristic milk chocolate with buttery notes to the toffee and a brittle-like texture. To further gild the lily, Graeter’s incorporates their chewy, oar-sized chocolate chips.
So if you can find Graeter’s Toffee Chocolate Chip, there’s frankly no reason to bother with Ben & Jerry’s on this one.
Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Toffee Bar Crunch — Pr(Buy Again): 0
Graeter’s Toffee Chocolate Chip — Pr(Buy Again): 1
Choosing between Graeter’s and Talenti is like choosing among three-star Michelin restaurants: you just know you won’t be disappointed.
There’s something disarming about these two gelatos, and I think a lot has to do with their drab beige surfaces. To be clear, though, any reservations one may harbor are quickly belied by paroxysms caramel sweetness. Both Talenti and Graeter’s nailed their bases. And if you’re worried about these pints being too sweet, don’t be. To keep the sweetness in check are cubes of bittersweet chocolate.
If forced to choose between the two, I’d give the slight edge to Graeter’s due to its marginally more flavorful base and its greater supply of caramel truffle pieces. But you really can’t go wrong with either.
Talenti Sea Salt Caramel Gelato — Pr(Buy Again): 1
Graeter’s Caramel Truffle Gelato — Pr(Buy Again): 1
Friends often ask why I visit Eleven Madison Park so frequently. The answer is simple. I’d liken it to a sort of anti-Murphy’s Law. Since 2012, every time I’ve walked through their revolving doors, it’s as if the laws of nature have been suspended, for nothing ever seems to go wrong. You get the sense that the staff have considered every aspect of the dining experience to maximize the guest’s pleasure.
And this most recent visit (with The Wizard of Roz and her husband) was no exception. While I cannot possibly do justice to our 5+ hour lunch, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite dishes.
From my past meals, I’ve found higher variance in lobster preparations relative to either vegetables or meats; they can be utterly spellbinding one meal (see here) and almost forgettable at another (see here). The winter menu’s butter poached lobster was accompanied by braised lettuce and mushrooms. Still glistening from its lipid bath, the claw and tail meat were finished tableside with a potent shellfish sauce—made from crushed pieces of lobster shell, coral, cream and cognac—which draped itself around anything it touched.
And the final savory course was delightful. It had been nearly three years since I enjoyed pork as my main course (a belly and loin duo). The wintery duo featured cheek and collar. Perched atop a head cheese-like oval of pork that resembled a stain glass window, the cheek was braised into submission. Bringing balance to the plate was a diaphanous slice of pickled onion and just barely perceptible apple. It’s a combination of flavors I could eat again and again (indeed, I did, enjoying the pork at the bar the previous evening).
Here’s the link to all of the photos: EMP winter menu
Emily pouring coral over lobster shells