Best Gelato - 2000
There is ice cream, and then there is gelato, the dense, intense ambrosia that is so readily available in Firenze and Roma and more or less nonexistent hereabouts (despite nominal imitations). The Ciao Bella version, however, is perfectly wonderful. The company started in New York's Little Italy in 1983 and currently manufactures its mind-altering product in two places -- New Jersey and here, smack in the middle of SOMA. At its adjacent cafe you can sample such varieties as Scharffen Berger chocolate, cinnamon caramel, fresh mint, rice (!), two kinds of green tea, three kinds of vanilla (bourbon, French, and Tahitian), all of them 12 percent butterfat, 20 percent air (most ice creams are 60 percent air), and handmade in batches from "the family recipe from Torino, Italy." There are also sorbettos (which are 70 to 80 percent fruit juice) in flavors like grapefruit Campari, lemon ginger, and apricot chardonnay. Each season produces a specialty or two as well (pumpkin in October, champagne around New Year's). You can even have the store develop a flavor you've come up with for $25 and the purchase of five gallons. Ciao Bella is on Ristorante Laghi's dessert menu, or you can purchase a pint at Whole Foods and a few other outlets.