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Crème de la Crème

Crème de la Crème

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A highly subjective connoisseur's guide to ice cream, gelato, & sorbet. And frozen custard, too. We couldn't help ourselves.
DEFINING PREMIUM

Premium ice cream is a coveted designation. It commands loyalty for its natural ingredients, few if any additives, and its density, which owes to its high fat content—an impressive 14 percent butterfat or more—and low overrun (a minimal amount of air pumped in). Häagen Dazs, for example, boasts a whopping 16 percent butterfat but only 16 percent overrun; non-premium brands may contain 100 percent overrun or more.

THE ORIGINAL

Häagen-Dazs, considered super-premium due to its butterfat content and low overrun, began the modern luxury ice cream trend in the sixties. It has few competitors: there's Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's and though Frusen Glädjé made a splash with its Häagen-Dazs—like name and design in the eighties.

A COUNTER SEAT

At the Chelsea Market location of Ronnybrook Milk Bar, Manhattanites and visitors in the know take a seat at the counter for thick, decadent milk shakes, courtesy of hormone-free Ronnybrook Dairy in upstate New York. We'd be remiss if we didn't also honor Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory; folks line up at this must-see waterfront location in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge (1 Water Street, Brooklyn; 718-246-3963).

PASTRY PRODIGY

At Seattle's year-old Art Restaurant, Ryan Witcher's icy desserts have become instant classics. "We spin our own ice cream every day," he says. "A really expensive Pacojet, the best invention ever," allows the 28-year-old pastry chef to carefully control the air content. He also introduces salt in various flavors "to make the taste linger," and uses cocoa powder with 100 percent bitterness to give his chocolate a faint granular texture.

MANHATTAN TRANSFER

"I don't have a big sweet tooth," Witcher says with a boyish shrug. "I just like ice cream." The Michigan native is especially proud of his fromage blanc sorbet and his "almost gelato-like mint chocolate chip." Witcher landed at Art after honing his skills at a trio of top hotels: the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado, and The Pierre hotel and the Mandarin Oriental's Asiate, both in New York.

KEY OF LIFE

Key West's Flamingo Crossing Ice Cream (1105 Duval Street; 305-296-6124) gets plenty of flip-flop traffic. Located inside a white Conch house with blue trim, the shop is positioned smack in the middle of Duval Street. Pull up a patio chair and order a few scoops of mango or passion fruit, or the more decadent velvety Cuban coffee. Owner Sean McConnell says the tangy key lime ice cream and sorbet are "both local favorites."

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS

Las Vegas is in the habit of opening outposts of New York's haute cuisine temples—and its ice cream parlors. Serendipity 3, located in an Upper East Side brownstone, entices celebrities like Cameron Diaz with its banana splits—and iconic Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. The Las Vegas version has all that, including the $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae, made with edible gold leaf.

ILLUMINATING

Every night at Le Sirenuse, 400 candles are lit to properly set the mood at La Sponda, the Positano hotel's fine dining restaurant. For our stay co-owner Antonio Sersale implored us to try a delicate little cup of La Sponda's chocolate sorbet, one of the purest expressions of chocolate found anywhere. But before your dessert, savor the Neapolitan specialties of Alfonso Iaccarino, the first triple Michelin-starred chef in Italy.

FOOD OF THE GODS

Located across the piazza from the Duomo, Milan's Odeon Gelateria inspires a religious following for its 100 flavors. Thanks to the helpful Eduardo, a Brazilian student working as a scooper, we selected a double scoop of real pistachio and frutti di bosco (wild berry). The latter is essential for the vendor's pronunciation of the name alone. Other great options: the tiramusu, and the nocciola, a smooth blend of cacao and rum.

CALIFORNIA ITALIA

Characterized by its low overrun and dense, somewhat sticky texture, gelato is made with milk instead of cream (so it has less fat than ice cream). Laguna Beach, California has more gelato dipping sites than ice cream shops. Top three: Tutto Amore, which takes customer's flavor requests; Gelato Paradiso, with its signature bacio (dark chocolate hazelnut); and Goko's, which serves the brilliant, San Francisco-based Gelato Classico.

CULT FOLLOWINGS

Available online and at Whole Foods, the Dallas-based Talenti offers 13 different gelato and sorbetto flavors, including Sicilian Pistachio and Belgium Milk Chocolate. For seven years, New York's tiny Il Laboratorio del Gelato has wowed aficionados with their vanilla pecan, and will ship packs of four 18-ounce containers across the U.S. New York locavores also savor Adirondack, a slightly lighter premium brand with no artificial ingredients.

THE MAINE THING

A mainstay on coastal Maine's restaurant menus, Round Top ice cream is made (and served) in a three-story building that "looks like a big old dairy barn," says co-owner Gary Woodcock (526 Main St., Damariscotta, 207-563-5307). Round Top is known for its black raspberry, while Mount Dessert Island Ice Cream, a much newer outfit in the well-heeled summer town of Bar Harbor, specializes in gourmet flavors like Nutella and Bananas Foster.

BERRY GOOD TO US

A visit to San Francisco should include a visit to Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Try the Haight AshBerry Sundae, which boasts strawberry cheesecake ice cream and chocolate-covered blueberries. You'll find Ghirardelli fountain shops in Chicago, Miami, Orlando, and eight other California locations. For easy access to the flagship, stay at the new Fairmont Heritage Place in Ghirardelli Square.

HEARTLAND HEAVEN

Wisconsin frozen custard puts regular soft serve to shame, especially at Leon's in Milwaukee, a classic drive-in. Opened in 1942, Leon's uses a soda fountain from 1964. Chicago's 83-year-old Original Rainbow Cone (9233 S. Western Ave., 773-238-7075) is a classic, thanks to its founder's idea of stacking scoops of ice cream to form a tower. "Actually, they're slices," owner Lynn Sapp corrects. "Otherwise, it wouldn't stand up."

COLD CUP O'JOE

The venerable Starbucks brand is giving its devotees a new way to enjoy coffee. Two thumbs up for this ice cream line, which offers four rich flavors: Caramel Macchiato (coffee and vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls), Mocha Frappuccino (coffee ice cream with swirls of chocolate ice cream), Java Chip Frappuccino (coffee ice cream with dark chocolate chunks), and Coffee (the ice cream version of Starbucks' ultra-popular cup of joe).

Reprinted Courtesy of Lexus Magazine

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