How can you best judge a gelateria? Izhar Cohen, co-founder of Mia Chef Gelateria in Kips Bay, NYC, 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, with a slate green color that comes from imported Sicilian pistachios. There is none of that evil green, Marzipan-sweet stuff in this sedate midtown café, which also serves expresso drinks and Hungarian-style coiled wedding cakes.
There are no labels on the gelato tubs at Mia’s, just very friendly workers who are eager to give you a taste 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 powerful stout float.
Mia means “mine” in Italian, and “wished for” or “through G-d” in Hebrew. Cohen, who is Israeli, has experimented with mid-east flavors such as passion fruit sorbet and 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 says, “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 fro-yo multiplied by ten.
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 brulée has a distinctive whiff of lemon in its burnt sugar-crystalled topping, which is fine if you had wanted lemon custard. Yet gelato greatness cannot be achieved without several sugary pitfalls along the way. 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.”