A decade ago on the Lower East Side, Jon Synder opened Il Laboratorio del Gelato with the aim of combining classic Italian ice-cream-making with a novelty assortment of flavors. Snyder wanted to create a “custom kitchen” where chefs and New Yorkers alike could enjoy his gelato. The Lab, as it is aptly nicknamed, originally had only 12 choices. Today, that number has blossomed to nearly 200, and is still growing. And the Lab’s eccentric selection—they serve everything from classic vanilla to wasabi gelato and celery sorbet—along with its high quality, makes it an accessible and worthwhile splurge.
The Lab stands inconspicuously at 188 Ludlow Street, with no apparent sign adorning the building. Instead, “il laboratorio del gelato” is written in cool blue lights from behind its glass doors. This is not your traditional gelato shop; this is a 21st-century chemistry lab. Clear glass windows behind the register allow you to peek into the lab as it quietly purrs, churning out gelato. The rest of the shop keeps up the pristine air of science in its aesthetic simplicity: white walls, metallic benches, white and metallic countertops.
The shop rotates flavors daily, offering about 20 each day. Customer favorites include honey lavender, salted caramel, and olive oil. From the wide array, customers are allowed to sample two flavors before ordering. The workers are nice kind and patient, sometimes breaking the two-sample cap.
Those opting for beverages are not lost at The Lab, which also serves a small selection of coffee, tea, lattes, mochas, and “thickshakes” (aka milkshakes) ranging from $1.75 to $6.50. The gelato prices are expensive for the amount given (two scoops cost $4.25, three cost $5.50, and four cost $6.75, with toppings like warm caramel, fudge, and a chocolate shell for an additional dollar) but are all worth the money.
It’s difficult to pick a best flavor because of the wide range of flavors, but there are definite highlights. With an exotic, woody flavor, the tarragon pink pepper opens with chilly mint that quickly explodes into spicy pepper. Alternatively, the pluot sorbet (that’s plum and apricot) has a great mixture of sweet and sour, with a taste somewhere between straberry and tart raspberry.
Other recommended flavors include basil (which contains actual bits of basil, and is tangy with a touch of minty, peppery taste) and earl gray tea, which has a bitter tea flavor, but is balanced out with the hint of sweetness. The popular chocolate amaretto crunch (with brownie chunks) has a rich flavor and a fudgy consistency. However, because of its overwhelming sugary taste, bites should be limited to a few at a time.
Though most of the ice cream in the Lab is delicious, not all flavors are up to par. Unlike its vivid purple color, the taste of blackberry with bay is forgettable. It lacks the characteristic fresh quality that the other choices have, which makes it dull. (Regarding fruit, the sorbets have a crisper taste than the gelatos.) The green tea is invigorating and authentic, but without a dessert-like taste, it isn’t recommended.
While the Lab constantly introduces new flavors, it maintains its high standards. Each gelato actually tastes like what it’s named for. Once the green tea melts it can hardly be distinguished from the drink itself. The textures are extremely creamy, even when interspersed with fruit chunks, as with some selections. And to have the best quality, the gelato is made in small batches throughout the day with the ingredients imported from Italy, ensuring a fresh taste when served. A decade after its founding, the Lab proves that combining the traditional with the new yields great results. If you doubt it, just try any flavor for yourself. You can even taste two for free.