museo

236 54th Street

AUGUST 27, 2013

KEYWORDS: THAT'S A LOTTO GELATO

 

Many readers wrote in over the last few days to console me about my existential crisis with Sabbatik, and had suggestions for restaurants that I should try to lift my spirits. I shall in turn offer them a suggestion: leave the dining advice to the experts.

I know where and what to eat after a dark evening of the soul. I have spent decades cultivating my palate, studying the spice wheel and the raw foods calendar. My mind is a mental database of three-to-five star chefs, living and about to be born. I have taken the marciare di polpetta (march of the meatball) through the streets of Sicily. I once spent five days in a cabin in Maine learning about maple syrup. I then spent another five days in Vermont learning about the other maple syrups. Then I decided I didn’t like syrup. What was I talking about?

Oh yes: I know where and what to eat after a dark evening of the soul. After watching some very dour french films, I had a light salad and then headed out to Museo, the fanciful gelataria in Turtle Bay. Gelato is cold, like life, and tasty, like life, and fattening, like life, and also, pricey, like New York, which is a city where I experience life.

While Grom still seems to have a deathgrip on the gelato admirers, not through merit so much as sheer ubiquitousness, Museo has carved out a niche for itself by offering incredibly detailed gelato sculptures. Little frozen gelato busts of Vivaldi, Danté, and Enrico Morriconé stare you from behind refrigerated glass, wondering if any frozen women will join them. Few people eat these, many gravitate instead to the softball-sized eyeballs, served in cup or cone; the pupils are always a different flavor than the rest of the ball, and they’re hard to resist because they’re both affordable and also, hilarious.

And then there are the larger sculptures. There are raspberry and blackberry gelato hands, about the size of your hand, with vanilla fingernails. The hand has a few poses, a peace sign, a finger point, a flat "stop" gesture. And then there are the various monsters, not really sculpted but molded—a giant godzilla-like thing stomps through a cookie city, unaware of just how delicious he is. There is a giant peach-flavored face, that looks up from you on a plate, that would scream if it could.

There are roman sculptures, birds, alligators, automobiles; it all seems impossible that there could be so much variety in such a small space. You don’t necessarily order these creations to eat them, you order them just to see them, and in most cases, endlessly phone-photograph them. But what’s surprising to me is that no taste is lost in the construction. The berry-flavored sculptures are tart, the chocolates are rich, the coffee-flavored objects seem to buzz with caffeine.

“Where do all these things come from?” I asked my waiter. There's no sculptor in view at Museo Gelateria, no tools, on a counter somewhere, no molds, no blueprints on display. “There must be some sort of gelato Xanadu behind those industrial refrigerator doors” I joked, hoping that he would open said doors and show me the various other creations that lay beyond them. He smiled and replied “I don't speak english” in exceptional english, and then, he went off to the kitchen to argue with someone loudly in italian about something.

I found myself fixating on the doors. They were just there, right in front of me, and the other three or four other diners were distracted by trying to take the perfect iPhone photo of their gelato eyeballs. Why not just take a look and see? What was the worst thing that could happen?

I approached the doors, opened them, and then gasped at the strange gelato world that was before me. I was expecting a cold workspace, full of tools, and little gelato sculpture prototypes all over the place. But instead, massive sculptures of nudes towered over me, a group of men and women at least ten feet tall, frolicking, a woman with long hair, pointing towards the heavens. They were made of various flavors, and exceptionally detailed, cracked like marble. Doric columns flanked them, also made out of gelato, and I could see that there were even more sculptures beyond these sights. And in fact, the walls, floors and ceiling around me, were made of gelato. As I studied these details, I heard the doors slam behind me, and suddenly, I was in gelato darkness.

Fortunately, I always keep a small penlight with me, as all great food critics do. But the little light it afforded could not seem to find the doors that had shut behind me. I was incredibly lost.

The first thing to do in these circumstances is not to panic, and I could immediately console myself with the fact that no matter what happened next, I was not going to starve. I did, however, feel like I was losing my mind. How was it possible that this was all real? Perhaps it wasn't. Perhaps, I thought to myself, moving past the cavorting nudes and towards a clock on the wall that was made of nocciola, espresso, and chocolate, this was all a dream. I nibbled one of the dark chocolate numerals, then moved onto the hands, and then, in short order, I had eaten all twenty four hours.

It soon became clear to me that there wasn't just one freezer, I was in a maze of freezers. If only I had more light! I stumbled over something, the large body of an old man. He was kneeling—either praying or on the brink of madness, his eyes wide with terror. As they should be, because he was made out of almond and vanilla, tasting a little freezer-burned. But that’s never really stopped me from finishing a dessert.

Suddenly, the freezer was bathed in light, and I could hear a voice calling to me. Sir? Your check!

I was terrified. I had gone beyond the doors, discovered a world of collossal gelato sculptures, and now feared that I knew too much. What if these artworks had somehow been stolen? What if that is why they were hidden?

By some miracle I noticed a door in the ceiling, and after throwing the latch I narrowly escaped being crushed by a large ramp that slid out. I could hear my pursuer getting closer. Sir! I scurried up the ramp, and found myself in a vast hallway, easily as cold as the freezer below, stacks of large wheeled platforms all around. I reasoned that I must be near a loading dock, and so I followed the streaks on the floor that had been left by the rubber on the wheels of the moveable platforms, moving towards a large metal door, and, to my great concern, an electronic keypad.

This would have been my undoing if it hadn’t so happened that just as I had discovered the secret of the Museo di Gelato, a sculpture happened to be delivered. A series of beeps from the other side, and then the door opened and there was a large dulce de leche series of putti in various states of flight.

I would like to tell you that I succeeded in jumping over them, like a nimble action hero, or perhaps, a putti in flight, but the idea of jumping came to me a little too late, and I hadn’t quite built up enough momentum. And also, I am not very good at jumping. Those poor little angels didn't have a chance.

But I made it past the door, and past a very stunned old man in coveralls. I now found myself in a windowless corridor, my only exit was a large padded freight elevator, its doors just about to close. There were three floors, I hit the highest button and began a very slow, juddering ascent as the ancient pulleys groaned. I could hear the shouts of my pursuer below, banging on the elevator doors, calling me a moron and worse.

The elevator stopped, and it seemed like a year passed before the doors opened. A small room with a marble floor, lit by an iron chandelier, its branches spotted with what might be gelato stains. The room was empty, except for an armchair and a railing, behind which was a long, smooth ramp that seemed to go on forever. With my new leather-soled shoes, I slid down it, almost like a snow boarder or a skateboarder, which was very exciting!

And then, after finising my slide, I found myself in Grand Central Station, on the upper levels overlooking the crowd of people awaiting their trains. And down below, I swear to you, I saw the waiter, pacing about, looking for me, angry eyes glinting.

I have known for some time that Grand Central had a secret platform that president Roosevelt used for his daily commute to Bergdorff’s, but it seems that there might be others, and most likely a special “freezer train” that is importing these gelato sculptures from wherever they’re coming from, secretly, quietly, anonymously.

I do not begin to understand the great conspiracy that must have started before Grand Central had begun construction, and now I wonder how old the gelato sculptures are in the freezer. Naturally, I am now a bit concerned about how many of them I ate and destroyed, and destroyed by eating.

Museo shuttered two days after I became lost in its freezer tunnels, and they have probably melted all evidence away at this point. It would take about ten or twenty men, working with high-powered hair-dryers, or maybe thirty men with empty stomachs, but it could be done, make no mistake.

Many food critics have adopted disguises and other personae to accomplish their work, and until I better understand the mystery of Museo, I will be doing the same. I am going “underground” as they say, mostly in movies and novels with fairly grim overtones. I shall tell you more next week. Until then, I must bid you addio.

 

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