SUMMER MAY seem to have lost its innocence, but there are still simple pleasures to be found, and good -- really good -- ice desserts are surely one. Depending on your dietary inclinations and dairy tolerances, it might be frozen yogurt or sherbet or gelati or granita rather than the classic ice cream, and in fact their less-creamy texture strikes many people as morecooling than the heavier creams; but regardless, these ancient delights are as great today as they must have been thousands of years ago.
Yes, "ancient," because although any number of civilizations have taken credit for the idea for flavoring snow or ice (primarily the Persians and the Chinese, who claim to have taught one another) it had reached the Romans by about the 4th century BC. It came from Italy to France, like most great culinary ideas, with Catherine de Medici in the 16th century. And although Jefferson didn't introduce the entire concept to Americans, he does seem to have brought back some sort of ice cream maker, so that dessert became something less like a snow cone and more like "real" ice cream. The good news for patriots is that an American woman named Nancy Johnson is credited with inventing the hand-cranked freezer in 1846.
Among the new temptations is the gelati at the Yasaman Bakery in Rockville's Ritchie Shopping Center (Route 355 and Ritchie Parkway; 301/762-5416). It's currently in a cafe just catty-cornered from the original bakery -- which was dangerous enough, what with its amazing assortment of not-sickly-sweet baklavas and pistachio cookies and cardamon wafers and Lord knows what else -- but soon the two sweet shops will become one, a real culinary miracle. There are plenty of great gelati flavors, perhaps not the 84 advertised on the window sign, but quite a few. And as is always true at Yasaman, samples are part of the pleasure.
Play to their strengths: Try the celadon-colored pistachio, and you'll bless the Persians all over again.
If you're one of those people who saves up for the real thing, try the Maggie Moo's "treateries" in Gaithersburg (in the Gaithersburg Square Shopping Center, Route 355 and Perry Parkway; 301/926-4239), Springfield (6575-N Frontier Dr.; 703/921-0380), Alexandria (3610 King St.; 703/671-4799) and for Orioles fans, there's a Maggie Moo's in Fells Point (821 S. Broadway; 410/276-4556). The humor is pleasant but mild, partaking mainly of the spotty motif familiar to fans of yard cows and Gateway computer boxes (though the little story boards might make you wonder just what the opposite of a "she-cow" is). The ice creams and sherbets are made up at each store every day, which means they keep their smooth, super-creamy texture and avoid the ice-crystal stage. The assortment of flavors is indulgent without being drop-Deadhead cutesy (except perhaps for "cinna-moo," a killer dark chocolate and chocolate banana, which might lure Elvis back into the building); and the waffle cones come house-dipped in chocolate, white chocolate, nutty-crunchy and so on.
Best of all, the various toppings -- crushed Oreos, Heath bars, semisweet chocolate and white chocolate chips, sprinkles, even berries -- are here called "mix-ins," because that's exactly what they are. The servers put your scoop on a marble top, scatter the tidbits on top and then cut them into the ice cream so that (a) they're not all consumed immediately, leaving you with a boring three-quarters of a cone; and (b) aren't so likely to end up in your lap.
If you're the designated dieter, don't despair: Maggie Moo's also makes real fruit smoothies and has sorbets and even fat-free soft-serve, so go to it.
Although it's a slightly different type of sweet, this is probably a good time to mention that pastry chef Bruno Feldeisen, who worked for Alain Ducasse in both Paris and Monaco before joining the Four Seasons Hotel in New York (and picking up all sorts of food-mag press) and then cooked privately for Prince Al-Whalid bin Salalin Saudi Arabia, has taken over the former Patisserie Cafe Didier in Georgetown. Now renamed Senses (3206 Grace St. NW; 202/342-9083; not wheelchair accessible), after a Toronto bakery-cafe he started last year, the cafe's other partner is Xavier Deshayes, another French-trained classicist whose American experience includes stints in California's wine country, Michel Richard's Citrus and the Four Seasons in Los Angeles and the Four Seasons in Toronto.
Senses' lunchtime menu includes not only desserts but sandwiches, soups and salads, and at dinner goes with a short but satisfying list of classic entrees such as crab cakes, both seafood and vegetarian risottos, roast rack of lamb and oven-roasted veal, pan-seared salmon with truffled mashed potatoes or a crabmeat-crusted chicken breast. And in a town full of crusts, that just might be a first.
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