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About ladyboadicia

I am a professional singer who loves ice cream, opera, hiking, dancing, skiing (water and snow...), pirates, laughing, and cooking for large groups of people.

Back to Italy: Gelato in Venice

So sometimes being a musician seems like a terrible life choice.  Like those times when I realize I’ve got $6 in my wallet and $30 in my bank account and it will be two weeks before I get paid for that gig I just did.  Those are the days I start to wonder if I should just accept that if I ever want to be a productive member of society, I’m just going to have to suck it up and apply for a barista position at Starbucks.

But then there are other days.  Like when I get invited to sing for the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice Italy for a week… and find out that the whole trip will be all-expenses paid.  So here I am, staying HERE:

Yeah. I know.

Yeah. I know.

Making beautiful music with other fantastic musicians.  And not spending a dime.  In VENICE.

So yeah, occasionally there are perks!  One of the best perks of this particular boondoggle is the fact that it affords me a fantastic opportunity to further my deeply important and world-changing research.  Which is, of course, finding the best ice cream on the planet.

Turns out Venice is a pretty darn good place to start looking.  Now since many of the people running the Fondazione Giorgio Cini are native Venetians, step one was to get the insider scoop, so to speak.  Most of the gelaterias I visited, I specifically sought out because they were recommended.  But getting lost is half the fun of Venice, so there are a few “stumble-upon” discoveries as well.  Here are the results of my first day of exploration, adventure and pigging out.

During our lunch break Davit Moroney (total badass harpsichordist—if you’re into early music, you’ve probably heard of him… if you’re a normal human being, you might not have) took a group of us on the vaporetto from our lovely island right across the harbor from San Marco to the Zattere stop on the main island for his personal favorite gelato:  Nico’s.  Here are my tasting notes:

Gelati Nico

(Dorsoduro, on Giudecca Canal, near Zattere stop)

Flavors tried:  Cioccolato and Fior di Latte

Fior di Latte had a lovely, delicate flavor, but was plagued by the ice crystals that are often a product of real gelato made the right way.  Cioccolato… the first REAL Italian chocolate gelato I’ve had in a long, long time, I came to it like a starving person.  Finally, that rich depth of chocolate flavor and color!  The dense, rich texture that reminds one of silk… my only regret is that it took me three days to get to it!

So Nico’s is totally legit.  I may or may not have gone back two or three times during the course of my stay.  The servers were actually kind of impatient and rude, but the gelato is solid and the MAIN appeal of the place, in my opinion, is its location.  Right on the waterfront with a fabulous view of the harbor, it’s the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by (which includes everything from mega-huge cruise ships that take up practically the entire width of the canal to tiny water taxis zipping around)… and watching the world go by is always more enjoyable with fabulous gelato in your hand.

I had the good fortune of not being called to any afternoon rehearsals that day, so I stayed behind to eat on the waterfront at my leisure and wander my way through Dorsoduro.  Keeping the water on my left, I soon found myself at another gelateria.

Gelateria al Sole

(also on the Dorsoduro waterfront, near San Basilio stop)

Flavors tried:  Liquirizia, Cioccolato, Pistacchio

Liquirizia, just because I’d never seen it before… turns out it’s licorice. I guess it’s time for me to go back to Italian 101. Glad I only got a sample since I’m not a huge licorice fan!  Still, interesting as a gelato flavor.  Cioccolato was rather disappointing right after Nico’s and the Pistachio was good, but nothing special.  They all had identical textures (which I’m not sure is actually a good sign), very creamy, but more like ice cream (or the stuff they call gelato in Germany) than the really authentic made-today gelato.  Flavors were pleasant, but lacking in intensity–not enough contrast between the chocolate and pistachio–should have been huge!

So this was something of a disappointment and as I had now eaten 4 scoops of ice cream in the space of an hour, I learned the lesson of choosing carefully if I was going to take a risk on an un-recommended gelateria.

  So then I turned inland and started wandering in an attempt to burn off some of those calories and free up more space for more gelato.  What an amazing city!  It’s astonishing how deserted and quiet it can be once you leave the main tourist thoroughfares.  I love getting lost in Venice, ending up in dead end alleys that lead to nothing but water, seeing brightly colored laundry and geraniums festooning the windows, happening upon stunning churches, piazzas or impossibly charming bridges over countless canals.

Among my accidental discoveries were the oddly shaped Piazza San Sebastian, La Chiesa del’Angelo Raffaelo (square cross shape, incredible paintings and sculptures–all just tucked away in this deserted church!), and La Chiesa dei Carmini, an immense and beautiful brick structure filled with enormous oil paintings depicting the 12 stations of the cross and many other scenes… the light was so beautiful in there!  Just frosted (not stained) glass, but the whole church was bathed in a wonderfully warm light.

Once I got to the (I now know) Campo Santa Margherita, I asked an elderly couple that sat down next to me on a bench, “Sarebbe dove siamo?”  (Do you happen to know where we are?)  to which they responded, “Oh, sorry, we don’t speak Italian.”  “English! Even better!” I answered.  They were a really sweet pair from Birmingham on their first trip to Venice, so we chatted for a while, they kindly helped me reorient myself with their map… and pointed me towards where they had gotten their delicious-looking gelato.

Gelateria “il Doge”

(on Campo Santa Margherita)

I was really quite full of gelato by this point and had no desire to get any more when I happened upon this place, which was surrounded by a thick crowd primarily speaking Italian–usually a good sign.  So I took one for the team and checked it out.  And wow–even after O.D.ing on gelato, it was fabulous and I’m considering going back–so many interesting flavors!

I tried the Cioccolato (since it’s research, I have to have a control…) and the ‘mascarpone e fighi’ (mascarpone cheese and figs), which was delightful!  The chocolate was also excellent, though not quite as rich, dense or flavorful as Nico’s.

Floating fruit shop!

Now that I knew where the heck I was, I then waddled my way through the windy streets and canals to the Accademia bridge, at which point I was able to figure out my way back to the Zattere vaporetto stop.  What an amazing wander!

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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in ice cream

 

Victorious Homecoming

Beth here.

I know you’re all going to feel VERY sorry for me when I report that I’ve just returned home from another GRUELING research mission. After 21 days in 11 different places in Europe, I have much to report. It was tough work, but somebody’s got to do it. Just goes to show what I’m willing to endure to bring YOU, the ice cream lovers of the world, the information you so desperately need.

All right, I’ll cut right to the top of the pile: Florence. Still the ice cream capital of the WORLD, in my opinion, but the balance of power has shifted slightly since the last time I was there. I am sad to report that Il Gran Duca–formerly the owner of the coveted #1 in the world (as we had discovered thus far) spot, has backslid since my last visit. It’s still FANTASTIC gelato. It’s just no longer noticeably a cut above the rest of the wonderful gelato in the magnificent city of Florence. They’ve scaled their production way back and now no longer even offer a dark chocolate flavor (the quality of which had A LOT to do with their supremacy).

florence-gelato
While this is a very saddening turn of events, the GOOD news is that I found several other gelaterias worthy of note. We were already familiar with the Gelateria dei Neri (which may now have overtaken the #1 spot… I think it may have been #2 before and their quality has NOT gone down–if anything, it has improved since my last trip to Florence), a few blocks east from the Piazza delle Signioria on the Via dei Neri. Definitely worth the TWO visits made on this trip–and when you’re trying to hit as many different gelaterias as possible in a day and a half in Florence, that’s really saying something. Their dark chocolate flavor still makes me go weak in the knees, and they have a lot of other interesting options, such as a wide assortment of very authentic fruit flavors (usually featuring bits of the ACTUAL fruit mixed in with the gelato) such as pear, mango, and frutti di bosco, or wildberry.

granita2
They also offer 9 different flavors of granita, which would loosely translate to “slushy,” but it’s so much more than the syrupy gunk that bears the same name here. For one thing, like with the ice cream, they use ACTUAL fruit (or in the case of the mint flavor, actual mint leaves) in the production. They’re incredibly light, refreshing, delicious and remarkably thirst quenching–there’s not much that can beat them on a scorching afternoon in August. I myself partook (AFTER a small pear/pineapple gelato, of course–I have to put my research first!) in a mandarin orange granita on my second trip to the dei Neri–and was not disappointed!

My first trip featured a dark chocolate/fior di latte (literally “flower of milk”–a delicate and superbly flavored member of the cream flavor family) that knocked my socks off. The contrast of the incredibly dark chocolate and the lighter-than-air fior di latte was particularly effective. Others in the party sampled such flavors as chocolate orange, peach, lemon, tiramisu and biscotti (Italian cookies).

The charming service (particularly from the older gentleman who I suspect may have been the owner/author of the edible art we saw before us), the somewhat tucked-away location, the variety of flavors and the consistency of the excellence of the gelato all come together to make the Gelateria dei Neri one of the best (if not the best) gelaterias in Florence, and therefore, quite possibly, the world.

Looks like it’s going to take more than one entry to cover my adventures in Florence. Stay tuned!

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2009 in ice cream

 

Gelato in L.A.

So my sister Dawn recently moved to L.A. to make her fortune (which she undoubtably will–she’s a brilliant actress and absolutely gorgeous–she fits the movie star look much better than I do–probably because she’s not nearly as obsessed with ice cream as I am…) and has gotten the classic job-for-aspiring-actor-needing-to-pay-rent: bartending at a swanky restaurant. I went to visit her over spring break and spent some time at said restaurant since she couldn’t get time off: Il Moro. It’s in West L.A. (near Santa Monica) and it’s owned by a couple of sweet Italian guys who seemed to think that the fact that I can say a few things in Italian and that they like my sister’s work was reason enough to shower me with free food while I was there.

Awesome.

I managed to casually let it slip that I was crazy for gelato (when one is a graduate student, one has no shame when it comes the the procurement of free foodstuffs) and Elio (one of the owners) quickly brought out this beautiful tray with three scoops of different flavored gelato, each cradled in a finely crafted chocolate cup. I nearly wept at the beauty of it.

The flavors were: coconut, vanilla, and chocolate rum. Can you guess which was my favorite? They were all delicious, but I’m afraid that coconut and vanilla simply can’t compete with chocolate, particularly with chocolate also flavored with RUM. Yum. On our scale of 5, I would give it a 4.5 for flavor and a 3 for texture–it had the ever-so-slightly crystaline texture to it that is quite common, even in Italy. It’s the real stuff, though. Absolutely delicious and definitely worth a trip, even though the Godawful L.A. traffic.

Besides, the bartender is a total hottie.

-Bethany

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2009 in ice cream

 

Research update

Beth here.

I’ve been working hard to meet my ice cream quota despite the cold weather and have a few things to relate. First off, store-bought ice-cream is usually a last resort, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Secondly, if you’re going to go store-bought, the little containers are usually your best bet. These ratings are based on a scale of store-bought ice cream–if we were comparing this stuff to gelato (say, Il Grand Duca in Florence being a five), none of these would rate over a two…

Test #1: Dove ice cream.
Rating: Three stars.
The best part is that there’s a layer of solid chocolate over the top of the ice cream that you have to hack through with a spoon. Now this could be seen as a detriment if you’re really desperate to get to the ice cream… but the chocolate (particularly the dark chocolate, in my opinion… but we all know I’m biased) is quite good. The ice cream is not bad either, for store bought. I tried the raspberry chocolate flavor and was pretty happy while it lasted.

Test #2: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
Rating: Four stars.
The best store-bought ice cream I’ve found so far. Not quite as good as the ice cream you’ll get made fresh at a Ben & Jerry’s store, but close. Very creamy, awesome flavors. In the past two weeks I’ve had a pint of Phish Food (always a favorite… VERY chocolatey, and excellent for putting you in a better mood) and the Dublin Mudslide (Irish Cream flavored with swirls of fudge–also quite nice). More to follow…

Test #3: Homemade Ice Cream
Rating: Three stars
Despite the oxymoronic name, pretty good ice cream. The mint chocolate chip is among the best (for that flavor) of any store-bought brands, and I just finished a carton of the Turtle Sundae… I don’t know if it was a mixing error in my carton, or what, but ALL of the caramel was at the very top, so you kind of had to dig through it to get to the ice cream… which was actually kind of awesome–made it more like a sundae.

I’m gonna go out and get some Hagen Daas (though from previous experience I know it’s decent but nowhere near as good as when you get it fresh from an ice cream stand in Germany…) and do some more research. Anybody have suggestions for other brands I should try?

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2008 in chocolate, food, gelato, ice cream, travel, Uncategorized

 

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Beach Party

Beth here.

It’s really cold in Indiana right now, which makes me very sad. I am still soldiering on and eating copious amounts of ice cream, but I feel slightly (only slightly) silly standing outside of Bruster’s in 5 degree (F) weather ordering a frozen, creamy, dreamy concoction while jumping up and down repeatedly to make sure that I don’t freeze to death.

But never mind the cold! We decided to thumb our noses at the frosty heavens, crank the heat up, and have a beach party this weekend. With piña coladas, mojitos, and painkillers galore, we took decadence to a new, Caribbean high. Just the sight of my dad in bermuda shorts, a crazy tropical print shirt and goofy sun hat was enough to get me laughing hard enough that frozen rum drink came out my nose–which made me forget all about the winter blues. With the help of Annette Funicello (who, it turns out, canNOT sing), Frankie Avalon, and the rest of the gang, we were able to escape the bleak Indiana winter for the brief respite of one evening of magic. Magic that will (hopefully) buoy our spirits until it stops being so freaking cold.

P.S. Where can I get a fringe dress?

 

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Cold Stone Creamery

Beth here.

Continuing my explorations for quality ice cream within the narrow confines of Indiana (you gotta work with what you got…), I went with a trusty friend to the Cold Stone Creamery last week. Generally, I think their ice cream is overpriced, but it *is* pretty darn tasty–and they’re open late, which is why I ended up there in the first place (sometimes you need ice cream at 10pm–in those instances, it’s good to know you have someplace you can go). I had the Dark Chocolate Mint flavor with Oreos mixed in. No complaints here! Their ice cream does tend to be a little too… elastic, is perhaps the right word, but is very rich, creamy, and the mix-in format allows for creativity, which is fun. They’ve also got a bunch of “Signature Creations” in case your muse is taking a nap–and every single one of those that I’ve tried has been pretty fantastic. I think “Chocolate Devotion” and “Cheesecake Fantasy” may be among my favorites, but there are so many still to try…

Speaking of cheesecake, I just made my first attempt last week–a chocolate cheesecake with a layer of caramel and pecans on the bottom and drizzled with caramel and dark chocolate on top. I think there’s kind of too much going on for it to really taste like cheesecake–it sort of tastes more like the best candy bar EVER. Melting caramel aside (pain in the butt!), it’s a pretty easy recipe if you’re looking for something decadent… More on my further adventures in cheesecake when I have them.

 
 

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Bruster’s

Beth here.

Whatever.  It’s never too cold for ice cream.  You just have to crank the heat up and eat it indoors–preferably while sitting around in your underwear.  And maybe with a mug of hot chocolate.

However, I did manage to take advantage of one of the last warm-ish days of autumn last weekend and took a trip with a trusty, like-minded (read:  ice cream-obsessed) friend to Bruster’s.  It’s a small ice cream store chain that’s scattered randomly around the States–you may or my not have one in your area, but you can find all their store locations at http://www.brusters.com.  Highly recommended.  They make all their ice cream fresh in the store and it’s about the best I’ve been able to find in the States–certainly the best in a chain-type store.  Add to that the fact that they have lots of nifty seasonal flavors (I had pumpkin pie ripple and caramel apple crunch since it was such a lovely crisp fall day…) and fun promotional ideas (like show-up-in-your-pajamas-and-get-a-free-cone-day, or a standard policy that if it’s raining or snowing at the time of purchase you get a second scoop free), and you’ve got a really world-class operation.  The #1 flavor so far:  Chocolate raspberry truffle.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Anyone else experienced the glory that is Bruster’s?  Or do you challenge my assertion that it’s the best ice cream chain in the States?  Because if so, I’m going to have to go into the trenches and research the competition, which would be really awful.

Hoping for some dissent,

-Beth

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2007 in chocolate, food, ice cream, travel, Uncategorized, writing

 

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