Ice Cream Review: Talenti Sea Salt Caramel vs. Graeter’s Caramel Truffle

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

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Eleven Madison Park, New York (February 2015)

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

Emily pouring coral over lobster shells

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Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Fudge Core and Candy Bar Pie

I like peanut butter a lot, eating several jars a week, and am always on the lookout for peanut butter-based ice creams. While neither Peanut Butter Fudge Core nor Candy Bar Pie is new, they had heretofore alluded me. Let’s start with the former.

There’s nothing subtle about this one. Lid removed, my eyes are drawn first to a mini peanut butter cup peeking through the surface and then to the much larger peanut butter fudge core, almost as if a peanut butter cup incurred a black eye.

My first bite is of the peanut butter ice cream. It boasts a pronounced peanut butter flavor, the same flavor I’ve found so delightful in Peanut Butter Cup. And the core is just as tasty, delivering a texture tantamount to a creamy peanut butter. The flavor is not faultless, however; in the lower half of the pint the core winnows to a disconcertingly thin swirl. And I would have preferred the regular sized peanut butter cups—those found in Everything But The … and Peanut Butter Cup—over the miniature version. But those are minor quibbles as I’m sure to buy this one again.

I can’t say the same for the hand-packed pint of Candy Bar Pie I bought. Based on the description—peanut butter ice cream with fudge flakes, chocolate nougat and sweet and salty pretzel swirls—there was such promise, but I was left me almost infinitely sad.

It’s rare for me to say this, but there are too many mix-ins, so much so that I find it all but impossible to taste the peanut butter base on its own. It would have taken a surgeon’s precision to recover even half a tablespoon of ice cream devoid of any mix-in. As for the hodgepodge of mix-ins, they are the ice cream equivalent of the third season of House of Cards: a major disappointment. Everything is muddled. I try to sample the pretzel swirl, or is that the nougat I’m scooping? Who knows? In the end it doesn’t matter because neither is all that flavorful.

Peanut Butter Fudge Core — Pr(Buy Again): 1

Candy Bar Pie — Pr(Buy Again): low

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Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry’s Sweet Cream & Cookies

Call me old-fashioned, but amid all of the trendy flavors that manage to find themselves in every conceivable product—pumpkin spice, red velvet, salted caramel etc.—there are just some classic pairings that will never go out of style. One such classic is cookies and cream, or as Ben & Jerry’s inelegantly titles it Sweet Cream & Cookies.

Over the years, I’ve downed dozens of pints, and my favorite remains Graeter’s Cookies and Cream, which features a vanilla base, along with Oreo cookies, resulting in a phantasmagorical degree of pleasure. When I stopped in my local scoop shop for weekend provisions, I was curious to see how Ben & Jerry’s sweet cream base would compare. In short, it compared very well. Not only was the hand-packed pint loaded with chocolate sandwich cookies, but boasted every permutation you could possibly want, from crumbles to full-sized discs. After finishing the pint (in one sitting, of course), the one question that I couldn’t figure out was why hasn’t Ben & Jerry’s made this flavor available in pre-packed pints?

Pr(Buy Again): 1

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Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry’s Cotton Candy

With yet more snow looming, I decided to pop into Ben & Jerry’s for a few hand-packed pints to sustain me through the inclement weekend. At just 230 calories for a half cup, Ben & Jerry’s Cotton Candy ice cream registers as one of their lightest offerings. One look at the hand-packed pint’s off-white base with hints of mauve, and it’s not hard to see why: it’s almost wholly bereft of mix-ins and a marked departure from the ice cream’s description on their website, which claims it’s “loaded with cotton candy pieces.” I counted just four pieces of crystallized sugar in the entire pint. And that’s a real shame because they nailed the carnival classic’s flavor.

If there was some way to ensure a future purchase would more closely match the description, I’d be willing to give this one another chance. Short of that, though, I’m just going to have to turn my attention to the litany of other options that I’ve yet to try.

Pr(Buy Again): low

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Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns

Ever since watching Louis CK’s bit about Cinnabon (see here), I’ve found it all but impossible to guiltlessly order a cinnamon roll, so I saw it as quite a windfall when I first picked up a pint of Cinnamon Buns at my local Ben & Jerry’s shop. Alongside Peanut Butter Cup, it has become my go-to Ben & Jerry’s flavor. And so on a recent grocery haul at Kroger, I didn’t think twice when I saw it sitting on the shelf.

Unfortunately, I would soon learn that I got a dud. The cinnamon streusel swirl that in the past mirrored the inner walls of a cinnamon roll was nonexistent, and most disappointingly, the cinnamon bun dough pieces had clearly ventured well past their sell-by date; instead of boasting their normally chewy, cookie dough-like texture, they were uniformly stale, crumbling as I bit into them. As Kobe Bryant once poetically explained, “These motherfuckers ain’t doing shit for me.”

Pr(Buy Again): high, so long as it’s not from Kroger

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Ice Cream Review: Ben & Jerry’s Spectacular Speculoos Cookie Core

Somehow I managed to immunize myself from the initial faddish enthusiasm surrounding cookie butters. Indeed, it was only this past December that I had my first taste of Trader Joe’s cookie butters, first the smooth instantiation, followed a few days later by the crunchy variety. The genius of Ben & Jerry’s Spectacular Speculoos Cookie Core comes from combining the two textures.

Given the abundance of mix-ins, it doesn’t take much effort to amass one perfect spoonful after another. And at just $5 there really aren’t many confections that provide such sustained delectation. The waves of flavor begin with velvety mounds of the smooth cookie core that engulf one’s mouth. Then, with hardly a moment for your brain’s pleasure centers to recover, bits of speculoos cookie detonate on your palate like little gingerbread landmines. To round out the pint, Ben & Jerry’s went with dark caramel and vanilla ice creams, both of which are characteristic of their other bases—dense, slow-melting and balanced in sweetness—serving as a suitable backdrop to showcase the outstanding mix-ins.

Pr(Buy Again): 1

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