Back in the late 1980s, before the arrival of its boutique hotels and other conspicuous excesses, I worked in Manhattan's SoHo district. On hot afternoons, I'd often stroll to a tiny place on Broome Street for a gelato or sorbet. The flavors were hit-and-miss, but when there was a hit, what a hit it was! The little shop was called Ciao Bella. Jon Snyder founded his ice cream business in 1984 and sold it roughly five years later. In August, 2002, after furthering his education and changing careers, Mr. Snyder returned to making gelato and sorbet at his new venture, il Laboratorio del Gelato, on the Lower East Side. Not surprisingly, this iteration shares many similarities with his previous one.
At the time of Ciao Bella's inception, SoHo was evolving into a chic, trendy neighborhood. The opening of the gelateria on Orchard Street came amid the Lower East Side's emergence as a fashionable part of town. (The new boutique Blue Moon Hotel across the street affords a glimpse into the area's recent transformation.) Nevertheless, il Laboratorio's laboratory-like setting is reminiscent of the spare surroundings of the early Ciao Bella. As with its SoHo predecessor, one is left with the unmistakable impression that retail sales are incidental to the business. Indeed, Mr. Snyder develops his frozen wares primarily for restaurants and caterers.
Another similarity between the two generations of Mr. Snyder's shops has to do with flavors. Of il Laboratorio's 20 daily offerings, some succeed, some don't. But again, when there's a success, what a success it is! It's hard to imagine a tastier sorbet than the Black Plum I tried recently. The essence of the fruit seemed to burst as it reached my tongue. Delicious!
The prices are a relative bargain when compared with those found in the West Village. Cones and cups: small ($3.25); medium ($4.50); large ($5.75); 18-ounce container ($8.25).
il Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard Street (bet. Broome & Delancey Sts), Lower East Side, Manhattan
By train: F (IND) to Delancey St; J,M,Z (BMT) to Essex St
By bus: M15