Thursday, September 15, 2016
Worst gelato in Rome
In preparation for a month long trip to Rome I began a search for the best gelato in Rome (and perhaps the world). Though I was quickly overwhelmed I persisted, creating vast maps, lists, and rating systems. I searched far down into the deep web where people rarely go. And I came up with a just barely good enough list of 48 gelaterias in Rome that weren't just well reviewed, but also included at least a portion of people gushing over it being the best gelato they had in Rome, or often even the best gelato they have eaten anywhere. Forty-eight glowing, ecstatic collections of reviews.
Forty-eight. Just let that sink in for awhile.
Are there truly that many fanatic artisan gelato crafters plunking out a living in the city of Rome?
I don't know. But I do think of this:
There were a few years where my wife and I would get together with a small group of friends and do blind taste tests. At one of these parties we tested ice cream. I don't remember how many different ice creams we cobbled together, but they included ice cream from our best local shops, high end packaged ice cream, and low end packaged ice cream. The low end ice cream was Blue Bunny and it was generally disdained except for one person among us. He had given every ice cream a high score. "It's ice cream" He said. "Sweet, cold, creamy. How bad can any ice cream be?"
I was not without sympathy to his view, though ultimately I rejected it. As long as you pay attention, ice cream can be pretty bad. You just have to pay close attention. There's nothing wrong with paying close attention. Seeing that Thomas Kinkade is a bad painter is a way of respecting someone great like John Constable and what it was he accomplished and was able to do.
But when I read those glowing freak outs of joy over 48 different gelaterias, I couldn't help but reflect upon my friend's take on ice cream. And it is hard to not wonder about people wandering around a gorgeous city, on vacation, in a delicious and happy mood, being in any position to judge sweet, cool, creamy gelato, an inexpensive treat, easy to acquire, whose bar of casual tastiness starts very low indeed.
So I have struggled with this.
And then today I realized I have been going about it all wrong. I needed to find the worst gelato in Rome. Just as we included Blue Bunny in our taste test, just as Thomas Kinkade can help set a measure of Constable, I need to find what people think is the worst gelato in Rome. I need to understand the floor I am dealing with.
Typing in a search for "worst gelato in Rome" gave me reviews of all the same places constantly included on lists of the best gelato in Rome. I sort of expected this. I had another idea. I went to Tripadvisor where 725 desert places in Rome are ranked from best (Gelateria Il Pinguino, is this even on my list?) to worst (it's complicated). I spent a long time down at the bottom of that list. There are places with few reviews. There are a lot of places where most of the negativity has to do with rudeness and being ripped off, or with the low quality of the food rather than gelato. Also there is the problem of the frankly bizarre algorithms Tripadvisor is using to rank. Down at 645 out of 725 dessert places you would expect some grim stuff. But what you get is Big Ice Gelateria. It has a 4.5 star average (!?). Its two written reviews are entirely positive. Here is a representative sample "Rome has no shortage of great gelato places. It's easy to overlook Big Ice because it's really just a little doorway along Via Merulana, but it's worth looking for. Every flavor that we tried was fantastic, and the owner is really nice."
I continued searching up the list looking for a dedicated gelateria getting a notable number of reviews with at least a few negative reviews about their gelato.
I utterly failed.
There aren't any!
Are the reviewers all like my friend with the Blue Bunny ice cream? Do people have no discerning taste? Or is it like trying to parse the difference in quality between a Michelangelo sculpture and one by Bernini?
I don't know. But I have a strong suspicion, in all my preparations and lists and plans, well, I might not have used my time productively.