Classic silver cloches conceal clean, classic flavors at Dolce Neve.EXPAND
Classic silver cloches conceal clean, classic flavors at Dolce Neve.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall

Considering Houston's Frozen Golden Age at Dolce Neve

As we sampled flavors at Dolce Neve Gelato one recent evening, the man behind the counter did a little sampling of his own, taking an impromptu survey of ice cream practices and preferences. As we rattled off a list of wildly disparate frozen treat emporia, it occurred to me that Houston just might be in the middle of an ice cream golden age. I could think of a different scoop shop for every mood and taste, from simple and comforting childhood callbacks to cutting-edge flavor combinations and techniques, with plenty of room to 'split' the difference.

Austin export Dolce Neve is one of the newest entrants to Houston's frozen custard field, scooping intensely-flavored gelato since spring of this year. It's already earning accolades, such as the recently awarded Best Of title right here at the Houston Press. The interior is austere with classical leanings, bell-shaped steel cloches capping each tub, the space defined by glass, concrete, white tile and soft amber light. The flavors lean classical as well, sticking mostly to one or two ingredients, assertively expressed. Things don't get very wild, but they get wildly flavorful.

Intensely flavored "Srsly Chocolate" is a kaleidoscopic spin through Chocolate Land.EXPAND
Intensely flavored "Srsly Chocolate" is a kaleidoscopic spin through Chocolate Land.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall

Take the "Srsly Chocolate," a single source (100 percent Dominican Republic) chocolate intense enough to please even finicky chocolate folks such as myself. I don't tend to prefer chocolate, but when I want it, I want it to be dark and expressive. This scoop hit the mark and then some. Srsly Chocolate is srsly intense; dark but balanced, weaving through an array of compelling flavors in a nuanced display of chocolate's many faces. Dark fruits, espresso, roasted grains. Halfway through, I may have shouted "blueberries," surprised at the sudden revelation. I shouldn't have been surprised, as the flavor offered something new with every bite.

I paired my Srsly Chocolate with a scoop of Ricotta, Honey and Pistachio, served side-by-side instead of stacked. I hadn't noticed that format until my daughter pointed it out. It seems like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference in experience. Rather than having to scoop down through the flavors, commingling them and risking melt-over, this format gives the option of discrete sampling, tasting each flavor on its own or mixing them as you see fit. That worked out well here, as the gentle, subtly sophisticated flavors of Ricotta, Honey and Pistachio may well have gotten lost underneath that dark chocolate. Side by side, I could appreciate their differences.

Of course, I couldn't just stick to my own choices, scooting up next to my wife and kids one by one and sampling their choices. I found a few favorites among them.

My wife's choice of Organic Pistachio was a pistachio lover's dream (aka, mine). It's seriously roast-y, like a million pistachios, and avoids the cheap trick of green food coloring. We discussed how rich in flavor each choice was, to the point that a little went a very, very long way.

"It's like a Never-Ending GelatoStopper!"

She was not wrong; I ordered the smallest size and would have been pleased with less. This is not a complaint.

My wife paired her pistachio with Salted Caramel, which comprised the entirety of my younger daughter's portion. It was good. Balanced, creamy, with a nice dark edge. Salted Caramel really isn't my thing, but I'd gladly eat this again.

Cecilia opted for Mascarpone and Matcha, noting the smart side-by-side scoopage.EXPAND
Cecilia opted for Mascarpone and Matcha, noting the smart side-by-side scoopage.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall

Cecilia, who noted the clever side-by-side service, opted for a Mint Chocolate Chip scoop nestled up against Mascarpone and Matcha. She's obsessed with most everything about Japanese food and culture at the moment, and the matcha screamed at her. It was a good choice, tasting an awful lot like the Matcha Sua Da available at Morningstar, a few doors down. Subtly earthy, with just a hint of astringency, it was arrestingly delicious. The mint chocolate chip was no slouch either. My daughter's eyes widened at her first taste.

"It actually tastes like mint," she said.

"It better," I retorted.

"No, I mean, like, the herb!"

She was right. It tasted like freshly plucked mint, bright and refreshing. It was an eye-opener.

Assorted frozen treats at Dolce Neve.EXPAND
Assorted frozen treats at Dolce Neve.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall

On our way out the door, we were all discussing what would bring us back. Our three-year-old smooshed his face up against the glass fronting assorted treats, coveting the popsicles within. I had my eye on the espresso machine on the back bar, thinking which flavors would work best as an affogato. My youngest daughter just wanted more caramel. Next time, we may have to answer that impromptu survey a bit differently.

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