L.A. ice cream tests tastes

City leads the way with its willingness to go where other palates fear to tread

When local entrepreneur Michel Algazi launched a line of Mexican-style ice creams, he decided there would be Mexican chocolate, cajeta (milk caramel), flan and, of course, sweet corn.

Corn? As in cob?

Other cities have all-natural, locally made ice creams, but Los Angeles leads the way with its willingness to go where other tastebuds fear to tread.

“People are opening their perspective in terms of flavors,” says Algazi, a former Disney marketing exec who now sells his Palapa Azul ice creams, sorbets and paletas (popsicles) at Whole Foods and other outlets.Hollywood’s Mashti Malone was the trailblazer more than 25 years ago with Persian-inspired flavors like orange blossom-pistachio, ginger-rosewater and pomegranate sorbet.

Mashti Malone’s has been so successful that it recently opened a second branch in Glendale. However, the biggest indicator of success may be found in its competitors, who are crafting some palate-surprising flavors of their own.

La Cienega’s Boule bakery sells the most expensive ice cream in Los Angeles with flavors like cherry-Earl Grey, Cavaillon melon and tangerine sorbet sweetened with agave syrup, the refined sap of the plant from which tequila is made.

However, with organic cream, Chino Ranch fruit and Vahlrona chocolate, even Boule’s more common flavors are a revelation. Cookies and cream contains crumbled bits of Boule’s dark chocolate cookies, while every bite of mint chocolate chip tastes of cream infused with fresh spearmint.

The addictive cold tamale

Dr. Bob’s, made by Cal Poly professor Dr. Robert Small and sold at Gelson’s, also inspires fanatic devotion with its ultra-rich Scharffen Berger “The Works” flavor that contains bittersweet and semisweet chocolate bits and ground cocoa beans in a dark chocolate base. “Some people die for it, but it’s too much for those who prefer milk chocolate,” says Small.

At an impromptu Variety tasting, Palapa Azul’s cajeta quickly disappeared. Some said the Mexican chocolate was their new favorite while others found the ground-up bits of cinnamon and cocoa annoying. One reporter said the sweet corn was addictive; another said it was exactly like biting into a cold tamale.

Algazi thinks foodies are up to the challenge.

“There’s been a great evolution in the taste of Americans,” he says. “Mexican ice cream is a crossover item, but mainsteam buyers appreciate it a lot.”

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