I couldn’t tell you where and when I first heard that Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream was selling some vegan options. It was definitely within the last few months, and it might have been by that most ubiquitous of agencies, the Google Search (I am so conventional I could just spit!). Then, on our recent East Village culinary tour, we walked past Van Leeuwen’s store, and even across the street I could see the poster advertising their vegan fare, and I said, “oh yeah, we have to make a special trip there.”
So when we were finishing dinner in the East Village two nights ago, I said, “let’s get some ice cream!” and two minutes later, we were standing in front of Van Leeuwen, and I was staring at that poster again.
Therese ordered a cone with two dairy-ish flavors (the bulk of the establishment’s output), and I had a cup with a scoop of each of the two vegan flavors: Bourbon-Tahitian vanilla and Michel Cluizel chocolate (they also sell a few flavors of sorbet which are vegan – mango and raspberry flavors were mentioned on a handwritten chalkboard).
I am not kidding when I say that this was the best vegan ice cream I have ever tasted. The texture was perfect: buttery soft, melt-in-your-mouth smooth, not icy at all. The flavor of the vanilla was subtle but wonderful. As for the chocolate, it was a dream.
For the latter, it didn’t hurt a bit that they have chosen to use Michel Cluizel chocolate. That has been one of my favorite chocolates for about 20 years. When I first encountered Michel Cluizel, it was hard to find in New York City. The most reliable carrier at that time was Dean and Deluca, so I used to make regular visits to the famous gourmet delicatessen at Broadway and Prince Street to get my Cluizel fix.
The way I would describe the flavor is rather mocha-ish, as if there were just a tiny bit of coffee thrown in there, with a kind of buttery warmth to the flavor as well. It has been a number of years since I have eaten a bar of Michel Cluizel, but that flavor came through loud and clear from my first spoonful of Van Leeuwen’s vegan chocolate.
Therese more than once encouraged me to get them to box me up a pint or a quart of Van Leeuwen’s vegan chocolate, but I declined. I want to treasure what I tasted there two nights ago. And of course, I want to go to all the other places I can find that sell vegan ice cream, to compare them to Van Leeuwen. For example, Therese and I will be visiting family in the Baltimore area this weekend, and will probably head to Fells Point and visit Pitango Gelato – I remember their chocolate sorbet as being quite special. But I doubt that I will find anyone who is making a vegan ice cream better than theirs.