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How can you best judge a gelateria? In New York City, Izhar Cohen, co-founder of Mia Chef Gelateria in Kips Bay, claims it’s all about pistachios. “Pistachios are the most expensive ingredient,” he says, “and it’s easy to taste what is quality and what is not.
As Cohen is such a nut purist, it is no surprise his pistachio gelato is superb — nutty, rounded, and mellow. There is none of that evil green, marzipan-sweet stuff. The ice cream in this sedate midtown café has a natural color that comes from imported Sicilian pistachios.
There are no labels on the gelato tubs at Mia’s, which opened about two months ago, making waves because of its kosher label and those same Hungarian "kurtosh" pastries. So without flavor signs, how do you know what's available? Mia's is a taster's paradise, where the very friendly workers will give you a sample spoon if you so much as flick an inquiring glance toward the display case.
What is that flavor decorated with the dried fruit and single-serve alcohol bottle? Fig and tequila, delicate with the crunch of fig seeds and barely boozy. The gelato next to it has tipsier inclinations: there is a beer glass nestled into its dun-colored swirls. Guinness gelato is not for the faint-hearted, with a real full-mouthed whomph that would be perfect for a powerful stout float.
The display case at Mia's.
Mia means “mine” in Italian, and “wished for” or “through G-d” in Hebrew. Cohen, who is Israeli, has experimented with Middle-Eastern flavors like halvah gelato, but finds most of his inspiration in the surrounding neighborhood.
“One day this boy asked for Cap’n Crunch to be made into gelato,” he said, “I didn’t know what it was, this cereal.” While he may not have slurped up bowls of Cap’n Crunch as a child, Cohen and his team recreated the corny caramelized crunch in all its glory — think Momofuku’s Cereal Milk soft-serve multiplied by 10.
Not all flavors are so exciting. The stracciatella and chocolate from the “classic corner” don’t have enough flavor saturation to lift them beyond the ordinary, and the crème brûlée has a distinctive whiff of lemon in its burnt sugar-crystalled topping, which would be fine if you had wanted lemon custard. Yet gelato greatness cannot be achieved without several sugary pitfalls along the way. And you won’t ever be bored at Mia’s, as many of the flavors rotate weekly.
In a previous life, Cohen worked in marketing at a tobacco company. He loves taking flavor suggestions from his customers, and is always seeking new combinations. As for tobacco-flavored ice cream? Cohen has tried it, but, “It’s not for everyone.”
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