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Restaurants reinvent the ice pop

Chefs infuse frozen favorites with unusual flavors

With much of the country sweltering through a summer heat wave, some restaurants are cooling down their customers and also feeding them a dose of nostalgia with frozen ice pops.

Some of them evoke childhood memories, others are using them as elements in plated desserts, and quite a few are adding alcohol to them for a grown-up treat.

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, a New York restaurant with one brick-and-mortar location and two food trucks, is working the nostalgia front with its line of “nice-icles.” Sold for $2 in a plastic tube that’s reminiscent of the Otter Pop brand, they come in calamansi, mango lassi and Thai coffee flavors, further extending the company’s image as an expert on Asian flavors.

A number of Mexican concepts have started selling frozen treats called paletas, a Spanish word for a small shovel or paddle.

Luis Arce Mote, chef-owner of Ofrenda Cocina Mexicana in New York City, combines fruit purées with simple syrup and chiles for his frozen desserts, which come in such flavors as tamarind-chile and mango-pineapple spiked with chile de arbol.

He also makes an avocado paleta for which he combines avocado and milk. He plates it with coconut and a slice of fresh avocado for $3.

Rosa Mexicano, a nine-unit upscale Mexican chain, is offering a “trio de paletas de helado,” or ice cream pop trio, as part of its ice cream festival, which it is celebrating through Aug. 1.

The flavors are sweet corn and caramel popcorn, blueberry crema, and cinnamon chocolate cookies and ice cream. They’re coated with strawberry crisps, topped with banana and caramel sauce and sold for $9 in New York and $8 elsewhere.

At the pool cafe at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, guests are treated to free ice pops in flavors such as lemon-thyme, raspberry tea-passion fruit, and watermelon-lemon grass. The cafe also offers an Arnold Palmer pop, combining iced tea and lemonade, and an orange-red wine sangria pop that contains pieces of fruit.

Orzo in Boston also has a sangria ice pop, for $8, and at Urban Crust in Plano, Texas, chef Salvatore Gisellu invokes the Bellini with his peach and Prosecco ice pop. He combines three cups of unsweetened white grape juice with one cup of Prosecco and adds some lemon juice and mixes that with six peaches, which he blends together and then freezes for 12 hours.

Although wine freezes fairly easily, ice pops that pack more of a punch can be a challenge, said Ralph Rosenberg, vice president of operations for Stir Food Group, which owns Potenza, a 175-seat restaurant in Washington, D.C., that recently introduced ice pop versions of its signature cocktails for $5 each.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” said Rosenberg. After his culinary team decided to make cocktails on a stick, they realized that hard liquor is very difficult to freeze, and that frozen ingredients taste different from chilled ones.

So although the Bellini wasn’t hard to freeze, they had to rework the recipe anyway. The Orvietto — vodka with strawberries, balsamic vinegar and basil — was more of a challenge, Rosenberg said. For that they had to make a strawberry sorbet base blended with basil and a balsamic reduction. Then they added just enough vodka so you could taste it.

But the real hurdle was the Potenza. The cocktail is made with house-made lemoncello — basically vodka slowly infused with lemon and sugar — grappa and lemon bitters. For the popsicle version, they made a lemon sorbet base and gradually add lemoncello as it froze.

“We had to play with that a lot, because some were too sweet and some were too sloshy,” Rosenberg said.

In Chicago, at Prairie Gras Café and Prairie Fire, beverage director Daniel Sviland is offering up seasonal “booze-sicles” in flavors such as lemon cream vodka, blueberry cream with vanilla liqueur, and bourbon fudge-sicle.

He said he thinks adding a little bit of alcohol actually makes for smaller ice crystals and a finer texture. He also adds cream to his inventions.

“Between the cream and the booze, it’s got a very fine texture,” Sviland said.

At least one new concept has emerged from our love of ice pops. Popbar, which sells frozen gelato and yogurt on sticks for $4.50 each and frozen sorbet for $3.75, opened in New York City in May.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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