Ice cream is not dessert. It's legend. Wallace Stevens wrote, "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." Sarah McLachlan compared it to love. Children nationwide break into a sprint when they hear the Good Humor truck. People just don't wax that rhapsodic about Twinkies.
As with everything good and pure, homemade ice cream is the best, but if you've ever mixed the custard, dumped in the rock salt and cranked till your arm fell off, you know the risks can outweigh the rewards. Thank God Portland's finer restaurant kitchens have enjoined their pastry chefs to don their imperial robes and serve up special renditions of the cold stuff this summer. Here's a sampling of some of this city's best.
Bluehour's excellent desserts include two frosty selections, an ice-cream trio ($7) and a house sorbet ($6), both of which cycle according to season and pastry chef Mandy Groom's inclinations. The dark chocolate, praline and hazelnut triumvirate, though small on the plate, forms a sugar shack of dense nut and cocoa flavors. The three scooplets are served amid a drizzle of caramel sauce and a handful of thin, crisp hazelnut wafers--not a dainty after-dinner nibble by any means. Achtung: The rapid melt rate encourages speed-gorging. However, the lemon-rose sherbet offers a gorgeous and genteel alternative to gluttony. Cupped in a fluted, pistachio-studded tuile (French for "tile") and strewn with rose petals, this dessert gives you the slightly wicked and discomfiting pleasure of eating something you're not sure is food. The floral and citrus tastes are delicately fragrant, and the texture is creamy-rich, almost lathery. If you don't care to brave the scene and din of the dining room, sip a glass of pinot gris and have a scoop or two on the patio one of these long summer nights--ah, the pause that refreshes.
Oritalia's Trio of Ices ($6) come nestled in a light cookie tuile (there's that word again) with a chocolate-inscribed "Oritalia" baked into the pastry (neat trick, huh?). The tuile serves as an edible dish that can be broken apart to sop up melting goodness. Pastry chef John McKee pairs light fruit purées with tart complements, so that each ice delivers a round one-two punch of flavor. The raspberry-white wine and banana-orange are smooth and sweet without feeling cloying. The apple-rosemary is on the potent side; although it finishes cleanly, the effect is bracing, even a little punitive--like gnawing a garnish. On the whole, the ices are a restoring fresh-fruit antidote to the strong flavors and ethnic contrasts of an Oritalia supper.
Castagna cranks out a grand array of frozen delights every summer. Dessert chef Anja Spence's grapefruit-Campari sorbet ($5) is an inspired pairing of two semi-sweets--the aperitif builds on the natural bitterness of grapefruit pith to harmonize perfectly. Similarly, the pixie mandarin sorbetto ($7) is flavored with prosecco, an Italian champagne. Among the ice creams, apricot noyau ($7) deserves the most hosannas. The delicate scent of noyau, an apricot pit essence, evokes butter cookies and European groceries and Christmas morning all at once--the stuff tastes like nothing you'd find in the freezer case. It comes daubed with a fresh strawberry sauce (local strawberries from Patrick's Berries) and an array of exquisite little cookies--dark chocolate biscuits, jam-filled wafers, palmier twists. Even vanilla ice cream gets special treatment here. The house variety of this much-maligned standard is a golden, bean-flecked gelato, thick and gooey on the spoon. For the sentimental, the vanilla gelato dresses up a classic root beer float ($5) in Castagna's informal cafe, next door to the restaurant.
The Heathman hosts a businesslike clientele accustomed to the cream of everything, so the crème glacée's no slouch. In keeping with the restaurant's dinner menu, which excels at refined classics in the French-Northwest vein, pastry chef Mark Omefrey concocts outstanding interpretations of ice cream's heavy hitters--chocolate, vanilla and caramel ($4.25). The chocolate is restrained--very dark, very thick and barely sugared. The vanilla serves as mellow accompaniment, simple and subtle (this would be a good time to nibble the mint leaves that share the plate). The movie star of the group is the caramel--amber-colored and swaggeringly sweet, it perfectly evokes the so-good-yet-so-very-bad sauce we shamelessly shoveled into our mouths in innocent childhood. The ice cream arrives capped with a thin ruffle of cookie, a nice switch from the quickly soggy tuile basket. On the sorbet side, the Heathman offers a handful of sweet nothings ($4.75), ranging from raspberry to passion fruit to coconut--all of which settle nicely with a cocktail. For a hot date on a hot night, speed to the hotel's Tea Court Lobby Lounge. Elegantly carpeted and paneled, the library-esque bar hosts improvisational jazz (including the incredible Rob Blakeslee on Tuesday nights). Plop down for a fresh fruit mango-rita and a plate of ice cream, watch Rob meander the mezzanine playing his trumpet, and rest up. Next time you hear the truck coming, you'll want to be ready.
250 NW 13th Ave., 226-3394
750 SW Alder St., 295-0680
1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-7373
The Heathman Restaurant
1001 SW Broadway,