It was a sunny afternoon on the Lower East Side, and I needed a cup of coffee and was craving something sweet.
I hemmed and hawed and made my way over to Il Labortorio del Gelato, on Orchard just south of Delancy, which has been praised here by Leff and others, myself included. The idea was to get a coffee gelato, which i sort of knew they didn't have. A glance at the gelato case confirmed my fears, but the answer was staring me in the face. The menu offered affogato, $3.75, described as "vanilla gelato drowned in espresso."
Friends, it rocked my world.
The guy dished up three healthy scoops of vanilla gelato, then made an espresso using an illy pod. I can't get excited about illy pod espresso; nor can I complain too much. It ensures a good and not great cup--nice balance of acidity and a tickle of sweetness, but without the vividness of a proper fresh-roasted and fresh-ground cup. In NY, that's about all you can ask.
So the affogato itself. The first few spoons are this intense melding of strong coffee and lush, creamy essence of vanilla, with the hot and cold temperatures melding and clashing on the tongue, sort of how I imagine some of the temperature experiments associated with that mad chef over in Spain, Adria of El Bulli. Then you get an unctuous, cool, delicately bittersweet espresso shake. I know affogati have become a big thing in NY over the past year or so; I can't imagine a better one then Il Lab's, since I can't imagine a better vanilla gelato. Though, admitedly, I haven't tried the gelato place in Murray Hill.
It wouldn't be traditional, but one day I will try this with the shop's brilliant chocolate hazlenut gelato.