Toscanini’s Ice Cream (Cambridge, MA)

(Update: Toscanini’s moved “temporarily” to 159 First St, Cambridge, MA in 2018, but since they’ve been there over two years now, I wonder if this is permanent)

You can’t miss it, it’s written right on the window, “The World’s Best Ice Cream,” according to the New York Times. That should impress me, but it really doesn’t. It’s hyperbole, and the NYTimes does it a lot in their food reviews. Many Boston-area friends also have told me it’s “the best in the world”, but Boston folks have a horrible pattern of saying “the world” when they really mean “Boston”.

More importantly, however, my friend Eddy (who has impeccable taste when it comes to desserts) also claims it’s best in the world, so, while I’ve had (and enjoyed) Tosci’s ice cream before, I felt obligated to come and review it again.

There are two things I really, really like about Tosci’s. The ice cream itself is wonderfully textured, light and soft, and they don’t go overboard with the sugar. The result is creamy and silky without being cloying or sticky.

The other thing I really enjoy is the range of flavors. They do everything from the seemingly simple French Vanilla (which they execute so superbly that in many ways you are doing yourself a disservice by not trying it) to the ice cream that’s probably most-mentioned by Tosci’s fans, the Burnt Caramel. Indeed, this last time I went I got one scoop of each.

I’ll start with the Burnt Caramel. It’s exactly that, made with caramel roasted right to the limit of being truly burnt, with some bitterness and smokiness (and, unfortunately, on both occasions I’ve had it, some charcoal-ish grit). It combines very pleasantly with the creaminess and light sugar of the base ice cream that the result is like enjoying the most pleasing aspects of a creme brulee (except for that simple joy of “cracking” the shell), and does it well. However, while I fully expect a mob of angry Cambridge residents to seek me out, this is actually my second favorite caramel ice cream. First place still goes to the “salted caramel” ice cream of Izzy’s in St Paul, MN, which is just a titch above this in complexity of flavor and delicateness of texture.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I’ve never had vanilla ice cream this good, and Tosci’s is solidly the best in class. Everything combines perfectly, the vanilla, the egg, the cream, the texture. It’s hitting on all cylinders, and, like my friend Eddy, I’ve got to solidly recommend the French Vanilla if you go.

What I don’t like about Tosci’s is the staff attitude. Even when I’ve gone when the place was almost dead empty (a Tuesday at 2pm), the staff has always been a bit curmudgeonly, disinterested, or usually a bit of both.

But I’ll put up with that for the ice cream.

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