On Ice Cream and Nervous Nellies


I had an interesting experience when I was standing in line at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream this weekend, waiting to cool off from the heat. It took the entire 30-minute trip up to the refrigerator case for the party behind me to decide which of the 16 or so flavors on the board they wanted to order. That part I identified with. What fascinated me was that one member’s Blackberry was in use the entire time: First, the guy read off all the Molly Moon's reports on Yelp to his friends. Then he consulted, and read, the full text of Seattlest’s recent review. Finally, he called a friend who’d been to MM’s and reported back to the party what the friend said. There were five flavors mentioned in all these consultations -- salted caramel, Thai iced tea, cardamom, balsamic strawberry, and scout mint -- and the debate, amid this party, surrounded which of the five flavors, and in what proportions, they were going to try.

It’s one thing to hear back from people who are pleased/pissed off about my recommendations -- I always appreciate hearing feedback, even if I have to go into the bathroom and sob it out afterward -- but this experience was a good reminder to me how literally many people take restaurant reviews.

I understand the impulse to rely on other people’s experiences when faced with an unfamiliar menu. When I was in LA last month, I dined at a restaurant that had gotten big marks for its rare and exquisite southern Thai dishes, and half of the dishes I ordered were ones I’d read about in Jonathan Gold’s review of the place.

What baffled me was that this group was unwilling to try any flavors that were previously unevaluated. I understand that salted caramel and balsamic strawberry are more novel, more anecdote-worthy, than Molly Moon’s excellent vanilla or maple walnut, and that after waiting 30 minutes and paying $3 (one scoop) or $5 (two scoops), they wanted to make sure they were buying a flavor they’d enjoy. But this is ICE CREAM. There are no losers here. If you get the cardamom and fall in love with it, great! It’s pretty loveable! If you get the salted caramel ice cream and you decide, as I did, that the salt sat on top of the caramel like a cheap toupee on a handsome head, than you were still, at worst, eating one scoop of slightly-too-salty ICE CREAM.

P.S. I loved the fact that MM’s sells bubble gum ice cream and that two-thirds of the children who passed me on their way out were using their tongues to dig brightly colored chunks of gum out of their cones. (My favorites as a kid: lemon chiffon and “blue moon,” aka nutmeg. My sister’s: bubblegum and “Superman,” aka vanilla psychedelically dyed blue, red, and yellow.) I did not love that the staff were too overwhelmed by the line and the heat to graciously offer tastes, which is the best part of going to a new ice cream shop. But it was week 2 of being in business, and we were all sweaty and piqued. Next time, I’m coming on a chilly Wednesday afternoon and tasting my way through the entire case. In return, I promise to tip well.

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