Clarence in Paris: Ice Cream

I’m sure that in my next life I’ll have air conditioning, but in the meantime I spend most of my summer days in a state of sticky, cranky delirium. There’s nothing better at the end of all that sweaty annoyance than taking an stroll in the cool evening air to get ice cream. B and I began our nightly ice cream ritual by creating semi-elaborate rationales for the extravagance:

“I feel like this is the first really hot day of summer, and we did all that walking, so we should get ice cream as a reward.”

“Well, we did eat pasta and watch a Fellini movie, so we really should get gelato to make our Italian date night complete.”

“That salad we had for dinner didn’t have nearly enough saturated fat to account of all of the boozing in the park we did this afternoon.”

Gradually we both realized that we basically just like getting ice cream more or less every night. So now we skip to the chase, throw on our espadrilles (purchased at the awesome Cordonnerie & Clefs across the street from my apartment), and head out right after dinner for a leisurely stroll and a frozen treat.

Now like any healthy tourism-based economy, Paris is full of scams. “Oh my gosh! Is this your 24-karat gold ring that I just happened to find on the ground right next to your white American sneakers?” One of the biggest rackets in town (and I do realize these are fighting words) is Berthillon, the l’île Saint-Louis-produced ice cream company whose vendors claim a monopoly on the island tourist market and many of the ice cream selections available at bistros all over the city. I’ll admit that they produce some pretty cool flavors, like blood orange, apricot, fig, grapefruit rose, rhubarb, spice bread, Earl Grey tea, ginger caramel, and cassis. But Berthillon is overpriced, stingy with their scoops, and totally underwhelming in texture. I’ve had a few Berthillon scoops that actually had ice crystals accumulating in the ice cream, a surefire sign of stale ice cream that has been too many times partially melted and refrozen.  Furthermore, at a whopping 4 euros for the tiniest cup imaginable (one which they don’t even usually fill to capacity!), I can’t see why I would ever bother to cross the bridge and waste my time and money. Now I know that a lot of people will wholeheartedly disagree with me on this one, my lovely friend M included. But as far as I’m concerned Berthillion is a scam the likes of which should be reserved for only those dumb enough to fall for gold ring shenanigans. I’ve also got a bridge I’d like to sell them in Brooklyn.

Not a scam, and nearly as ubiquitous as Berthillon, is the French company Amorino, whose beautifully shaped and decorated tubs of gelato are as much a treat to look at as they are to eat. As big chains go, this one keeps the quality standards high, even at locations like my local one in the Marais on rue du Vielle Temple that are positively mobbed by crowds on the weekends. I especially love their amarena flavor, a vanilla custard swirled with ribbons of sour cherries. They also make good Bacio (chocolate hazelnut like the yummy Italian candies with the romantic quotes inside the wrappers), spéculos (chock-full of those amazing gingery cookies that often come with your coffee in Europe), and passionfruit flavors.

However—and I say this with all the emphasis I can possibly muster in this heat— the best place to go for ice cream in Paris is Pozzetto, the exquisite, artisanal gelato shop at 39 rue du roi de Sicile in the Marais. This is the real deal, people. Ever since B and I started going there thoughts of all other ice cream destinations faded away into a sugary oblivion. This is one of those places where serious foodies with a real hunger for pedigreed ingredients can get their fix. The best thing to ever happen to me is their Pistacchio de Roi de Sicile flavor made with the most perfectly green Bronte pistachios from Sicily. It’s so good that it’s hard to justify trying anything else. One of us always gets it, and the other is usually kinda jealous. Also amazing—and perfectly evocative of my time in  Sorrento—is their Limone sorbet, the most piquant cure to a hot afternoon I can think of.  We have also enjoyed their seasonal pear sorbet, their Fior de Latte that conjures up the sweet ice milk that filled cheap ice cream sandwiches in my youth, and their airy Stracciatella filled with delicate chocolate shavings. They keep their selection limited to about 10 flavors at a time, but this means that the fruit flavors are seasonal and all the gelato is super-fresh. I wait with baited breath for the arrival of Gianduia Torinese (Turin-style chocolate hazelnut), Zabaione (Sabayon cream, sweet liquer, chocolate shavings, and biscuit pieces), and Fior di Menta (Moroccan mint tea). Best yet, for a mere 3.50 euro you can get a cup of gelato stuffed and piled to the max, a price point that is agreeable with our (a-hem) growing addiction. The people that work there are incredibly friendly and eager to talk about their amazing products. They also serve 22-second Italian espresso and sell a gorgeous selection of imported chocolates, sweet spreads for toast, and those chalky pastille candies that come in those beautifully retro-looking boxes. As with any good Italian-style gelato place, the prices double if you deign to sit down. So do like B and I do and take your gelato down to the Seine instead. It’s a great way to end a summery day in Paris.

Image borrowed from the awesome Plonk and Replonk, my new favorite purveyor of postcards and other whimsical things.

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One comment

  1. B

    E also told me about another place called Grome (sp?) that we need to try out. She said Pozzetto’s pistachio takes the heavyweight title, but Grome’s other flavors are better… maybe we can eat one at Pozzetto and then one at Grome and compare? I’m sure the walk/metro ride between them justifies getting a second bowl.

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