Itâ€™s a challenge to anybody less worthy but for someone with a formidable sweet tooth, itâ€™s a fantasy come to life.
The guys behind Sebastianâ€™s Ice Cream Studio are making another one of their sweet dreams come true: the opening of their first ice cream shop. So tonight, there are about 20 people â€“ read: willing guinea pigs â€“ whoâ€™ve been chosen to taste-test 12 ice cream creations, the popular ones of which will land on the menu.
With admonitions to â€œâ€¦ eat lightly or not at all!â€, (I choose the latter because I want maximum stomach space), we sit at tables and are furnished with rating sheets. We start with four â€œTimeless Classics,â€ the stalwart standbys of which every ice cream shop is built around.
It begins innocuously enough with a Classic Sundae straight up and frankly, just as forgettable. Sebastianâ€™s is known for its â€œbignessâ€ of flavors and this sundae may be a bit too genteel.
The Brownie A La Mode, which resembles the sundae before it, is one better because of its additional scoop and 3×3-inch brownie. Murmurs around my table of â€œPerhaps a saltier brownie will work?â€ are heard as well as the consensus that â€œâ€¦ everythingâ€™s better with a brownie!â€
The Giant Hot Fudge Sundae comes and goes, seemingly a super-sized version of the classic sundae. But when the Double Banana Split debuts, there are giggles and guffaws and little titters from the more conservative ones. Inspired by Serendipity, New Yorkâ€™s iconic ice cream parlor, Sebastianâ€™s banana split has a whole banana sticking out of either side of the goblet, effecting an impression of overflow and mischief. â€œGod, itâ€™s phallic,â€ I mutter to myself but those at my table overhear which starts another round of side-splitting laughter. As we soon discover however, thereâ€™s a reason why banana splits are served in boats: with all that stuff, itâ€™s hard to eat a split the way it should be â€“ moving from one ice cream flavor to another and back, each spoonful capturing ice cream and its subsequent toppings blitzed with a bit of banana.
Another split, this time a Mango Split, ushers in the second portion of the tasting, Sebastianâ€™s Ice Cream Originals. â€œThe mango is a perfect fruit,â€ Ian explains in his preamble. â€œIt doesnâ€™t need much done to it.â€ A curd made from the golden fruit drapes over scoops of vanilla bean ice cream; itâ€™d be perfect except that the mangoes are sour. â€œMake this a seasonal offering,â€ I write in large letters on my rating sheet. Meantime, I overhear Katrina telling her seatmate about a famous home-baker who â€œâ€¦tastes each mango she uses in her desserts.â€
The cheekily-named Chocapocalypse â€“ â€œhow do you spell that again?â€ â€“ doesnâ€™t have to scream to be noticed. Roaringly eye-catching on its red plate, its massive scoop of chocolate ice cream is littered with chocolate shavings, their brown hue overtaken only by the deep midnight of the languid hot fudge sauce, a chocoholicâ€™s wet dream come to life.
So far, I treat the tasting the way Iâ€™ve been trained to do as a food writer: eat little, eat slow, tasting (each dessertâ€™s) components and understanding how all their details work (or not) together. In between alternately scribbling on my rating sheet and personal notebook, thereâ€™s not much time nor ice cream left for me; which is fine. I donâ€™t like sharing my food â€“ especially dessert — so if I canâ€™t have my own, a spoonful is good enough for me.
But all that flies out the window when Dessert for Breakfast (cover photo) arrives, a genius combination of waffle crowned with a scoop of butter-pecan ice cream and a splodge of whipped cream, glittering with maple syrup. One bite and Iâ€™m hooked. Unfortunately, so is everyone else at my table. Cold, nutty, and sweet provides a backdrop for the utter crispness of the hot waffle, it shatters, followed by a gush of sweet cream. Iâ€™ve always advocated soft waffles but after this, Iâ€™m doing a turnabout. Swooning as we write on our rating sheets, eyeballs rolled upward in memory of each delicious spoonful, I hear Kris, the girl sitting across from me exclaim, â€œI canâ€™t believe you just did that!â€ Attention piqued, I ask, â€œDid what?â€ Kris points at Fran, who sits beside me, a goofy grin on her face. â€œShe had sauce dripping down her arm and she just licked it off like it was the most natural thing in the world!â€ Says Kris, bug-eyed. â€œWell what was I supposed to do?â€ Fran good-naturedly shoots back. â€œIt wouldâ€™ve gone to waste!â€ Ah, the power of a well-executed dessert.
Weâ€™re also served a similar waffle creation, a Black & White, that elicits the same amount of head-bowing-eyes-up-to-heaven adoration. A mammoth scoop of white chocolate macadamia contrasts with the black cocoa waffle finished with a trail of glimmering chocolate sauce. Come hither, it seems to say.
At this point, the weak begin to fall. Muffled protests of defeat are heard and one girl at our table looks like sheâ€™s been hit by an ice cream truck. (She has been, sort of.) Glazed eyes and smeared mascara, sheâ€™s chanting, â€œI canâ€™t take anymore, I canâ€™t take anymore,â€ like a mantra. Our table, compared to the others,Â has proven its steadfastness in dealing with rushes of sugar, strengthened in part by nibbles of potato chips and swigs of lukewarm tea.
Tastings are severely limited now to mere spoonfuls, a shame really, for the Coffee & Donuts, a donut a la mode, and the Burger & Fries, a witty parody of the famous pairing made this time with a brioche bun ensconcing a scoop of chocolate ice cream (the burger) and chocolate covered pretzels (the fries). Caramel and chocolate sauces stand in for the ketchup and mustard conveniently placed in color coded squeeze bottles. Genius.
Meanwhile, Katrina, whoâ€™s as stalwart about dessert as I am and I, have all but demolished the Pizza di Sebastianâ€™s, an ice cream pizza holding a treasure of cookie dough nuggetsÂ gamboling over sweet cream ice cream on a cookie crust. The table agrees that itâ€™s a non-threatening dessert for those who are incapable of taking on Sebastianâ€™s more flamboyant creations. â€œBut no one can beat Katrina and maybe even you, Lori,â€ says Sam. â€œYou guys can really hold your sugar.â€ The others at the table nod in mute, sugar-shocked agreement, while the rest express desires for non-sugary, salty foods like chicharon or sisig.
However, even the sugar prowess of Katrina and I is sorely put to the test when Battle Royale is rolled out. Eight gargantuan scoops of ice cream join the cacophony of a big-ass brownie, four bananas, and enough whipped cream to last to kingdom-come. Eek. Too much of a good thing and worthy competition for Peninsula Hotelâ€™s Pen Pals.
Sebastianâ€™s Cold Comfort
Opening AUGUST 2009
2/F Mall of Asia, opposite IMAX exit