The Kickoff: Otto
We're starting you at Otto with a word of warning: you will want to eat every bite of Meredith Kurtzmann's gelati bowls. And then you will want to order another. And then your plans for an ice cream crawl are pretty much over.
Still, if you can deal with the temptation, kick off your mission at Otto, where any gelato flavor is memorable, but the spectacular olive oil is a true can't-miss. Head to one of the standing-up bar tables, place your order, and prepare to be amazed. Plus, it's a happy place to spend half an hour while you psyche yourself up for the rest of the journey.
Also-Great Gelato: Amorino
This Paris-based gelato chain does sorbets especially well, with vivid, bright fruit flavors (we like the passionfruit and mango) that look especially pretty in that flower-petal shape that's their trademark. Or, as an alternative, try out a few flavors in a gelato-stuffed brioche focaccina or opt for a refreshing granita.
L'Arte Del Gelato
We've probably written more about L'Arte Del Gelato than any other sweets shop in the city, for an obvious reason: their ultra-rich gelato is incredible. Pistachio or panna cotta gelato; ginger, rice pudding, or olive oil; from what we've seen, they can do no wrong.
Treat Petite sells frozen soft-serve kefir—technically different from most frozen yogurt, but ending up pretty similar in taste and texture. Tons of toppings to choose from, and while I don't generally love flavored tart frozen yogurts, they do pomegranate and peanut butter quite well.
Treat Petite: 61 Grove Street, New York NY 10014 (map)
While not quite at the level of L'Arte or Grom (still to come!), Cones is an Argentinian gelato shop that turns out some unique and memorable flavors; we'd recommend the obviously Argentine ones (a not-too-sweet mate, a deeply rich dulce de leche) and the corn gelato, a vibrant yellow with the sweetness of summer corn. Try it with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Cones: 272 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014 (map); 212-414-1795
The Duck à la Plum ice cream at Southeast Asian restaurant Wong is sweet and savory with an intense roast duck aroma—they actually steep the duck carcasses in the cream that ends up in this dessert. Trust us on this one: it's an experience worth having. Pop into the bar (or even grab a table, at slower hours); it's worth it for this dessert.
From this Turin-based chain comes some of the best gelato in New York, with bright, vivid flavors and a classically silky texture. The downside? Even a small (and that's a small small) will set you back $6. But we'll go on record telling you it's worth it. Maybe not as an everyday dessert, but hey, you're ice cream crawling today.
Optional Novelty (Pun Intended): Popbar
They're neither our favorite popsicles nor our favorite gelato in the city, but Popbar is still quite fun: Grab a densely creamy gelato "popsicle" from the case and have it dipped, or topped, however you like. Chocolate and chopped pistachios? Coconut shavings and a chocolate dip? The choice is yours.
Amazing Soft-Serve: Victory Garden
We can't say enough about this goat's milk soft-serve (!) shop, where flavors rotate such that you might encounter a rich salted caramel (with just a faint goaty tang), or you might see a vanilla tinged with orange blossom, or perhaps date and yogurt. Toppings lean toward the Mediterranean, too; we love just about anything crowned with crumbles of sweet, nutty halvah.
This awesome grill-your-own-beef Japanese restaurant in the West Village has very limited tables and a two-hour wait some nights for dinner, so you can't just stroll in off the street and sit down for dessert. But you can order takeout, and it's worth doing, as this is easily some of our favorite soft-serve in the city, strongly flavored with Madagascar vanilla, creamy and supple. The real fun, though, is in the different toppings—rice flour dumplings (shiratama), black sesame soy bean flour (kurogoma kinako), and sweet red azuki beans. Pictured here is the salted caramel, with a burnt, salty edge that paired particularly well with the more savory toppings. (A sundae with all the toppings is $10. Piling them on this high probably isn't for everyone, but you've gotta see the appeal.)
The green tea sauce is another option, pictured here with gold leaf on top.
Okay, maybe I'm the only one who'd want to stop for a glass of wine in the middle of an ice cream crawl. (They do espresso, too, if that's more your speed.) But I want to stop in the terribly charming Buvette anytime. Their gelato comes from Capogiro in Philadelphia (one of our very favorite gelato spots in the country), and we'd recommend it in two forms at Buvette: either the almond-Nutella sundae at right, pictured with a crown of rich whipped cream; or the lemon sorbet with prosecco poured over the top. A refreshing little pick-me-up if ever there were one.
Nope, this isn't an ice cream parlor; it's a specialty salt and chocolate shop. But we love the sense of humor of a place that'll take a classic Good Humor ice cream sandwich ($3) and let you sprinkle it with high-quality salt. (And we're suckers for just about anything both salty and sweet.)
Take your pick of four different kinds—lemon flake, rosemary flake, fleur de sel, or Halen Mon Gold (Welsh oak tree-smoked salt—which we found a bit aggressive for this sort of thing).
Sprinkle it on, ready to eat.