Ran into the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck parked next to the High Line in the Meatpacking District on Sunday, which was a.) brilliant strategy on their part and b.) my favorite way to encounter the growing number of artisanal food trucks that are roving the streets of New York City — that is, by chance.
If this whole food truck trend is inspired, at least tangentially, by the ice cream truck that cruised through neighborhoods and past municipal sports fields of our childhood, using its sing-song anthem to alert nearby children to its approach, the colorful, pictorial menu of frozen delights coming into focus — and I think it is — then part of the enjoyment of the roving food truck is the delight and surprise you feel when you happen upon a good one. (Stalking a truck’s location via Twitter and tracking down the Cravings Truck or Koji Tacos in the flesh has its own rewards — but that’s another post.)
I am an ice cream fiend, and I’d never had Van Leeuwen’s. So I was understandably excited: Based on the ingredient-sourcing quotient, the artisanal-process quotient and the cuteness-of-design quotient, I was sure I was going to fall in love.
Except that, I didn’t. We ordered a single scoop of the vanilla ice cream — “oak barrel aged for three months organic bourbon and Tahitian vanilla” ($3.95, sourced: Papa New Guinea) — and added hot fudge sauce — “Homemade Michael Cluizel hot fudge” ($1.25) and a cone with a single scoop of Gianduia ice cream (“Michael Cluizel chocolate blended with Tonda La Giffoni hazelnuts” ($3.95, sourced: Italy and France).
The consensus was that the actual flavors of the ice cream were incredibly subtle — there’s nothing wrong with flavors being soft and nuanced, but they should still be specific and discernible — and the texture of the ice cream was off to the point that it felt somewhat watery, borderline icy, and definitely lacked the all-over sensation of creaminess as ice cream melts in your mouth.
It was just kind of “there.” The fudge was good — but the fudge just dominated, killing all flavor of vanilla whenever it made it onto a bite. I think the worst comment was that Van Leeuwen ice cream tasted like light or low-fat ice cream — except that, it’s not. All the calories of full-fat ice cream, while light on taste. I have to imagine that’s a creamery’s nightmare.
I’m going to give Van Leeuwen a second chance — they have ginger ice cream?! — but they’re on probation. One more mediocre showing, and I’m moving on.