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August 22, 2007

I Scream

Dominic Armato
UPDATE : Though I Scream continues to supply gelato to local restaurants, its shops have closed

I promise, at some point I'll actually write about the actual Chinese food I actually ate on this actual trip to China. But before I do, another quick detour, because I feel compelled to rave about this place.

In Pacific Place, a particularly swanky mall in Hong Kong, there's a branch of the Japanese department store, Seibu. Like many Japanese department stores, the entire basement is taken up by a phenomenal food market. For years I've lamented the fact that we don't have markets like these in the States (not of this quality and scale, anyway), and though it's smaller than its bretheren back in Japan, I think the one in the Hong Kong Seibu, named GREAT Food Hall, is my favorite. While there are international delicacies to be found in the Japanese department stores, the focus is definitely on Japanese food. At the Hong Kong Seibu, however, it's a crazy international mix that I don't want to get into too much because it totally deserves its own post. But among its many, many exceptional features, my favorite may be the little gelato stand, I Scream.

The culinary genius at the helm of I Scream is one Paolo Predonzan, a gelataio who trained in Italy, worked for a time in Vienna and then moved to Hong Kong in 2003 to bring authentic gelato to the East. Along with his business partner, Maddalena Gonzo, he opted to eschew the retail market, instead focusing on providing gelato for the city's high-end restaurants. Until recently, that is, when I Scream's first retail outlet was opened in the GREAT Food Hall. It's a small booth, featuring maybe two dozen rotating flavors, a little espresso and a small menu of sundae-like concoctions. It's mostly a take-away establishment, though there is a tiny counter with four stools, where the lovely Italian lady running the show will not only take care of you, but happily chatter away with you if you display a little knowledge of her native language. In my case, "buona sera" did the trick.

Dominic Armato
As for the gelato, as my father muttered repeatedly while he nursed his cup, "Wow... this guy's got a lot of talent." We're talking grade A kick-ass heaven in a cup gelato, here. It's creamy, it's dense, there isn't a hint of an ice crystal to be found, and some of his flavors have an intensity that I've never experienced in gelato before. Frankly, it's better than most of the gelato I've had in Italy. Maybe all of it. The case is perhaps half composed of traditional gelato flavors you'd expect to see in Italy, and half composed of flavors Paolo has adopted from his new environment. The chocolate is rich and intense, the pistachio is unusually complex and very bold, and the banana is light, fruity and nuanced. My favorite of the traditional flavors I sampled over the week was probably his cantucci and vin santo, with little cookie crumbles adding a nice textural element to a very bold, almost liquory sweet wine flavor. I would have tried more if I didn't get hung up on some of his Asian flavors. The cup you see here was my first, and it contained the only scoop that didn't quite do it for me. His green tea gelato is green. Really, REALLY green. We're talking full-on grassy. I've tasted shrubs that were less vegetal. I appreciate the idea (it IS much more interesting than the legion of green tea ice creams I've tasted), and I'm sure some will love it, but it wasn't quite doing it for me. The other two, however, were dynamite. The ginger was fresh and light, and it embraced the ginger's inherent spice while keeping it light enough to be refreshing. And the swirly one you see is his black and white sesame, my favorite of the Asian flavors, which turns up the nuttiness and turns down the sweetness to beautiful effect. I didn't try any of his "coppas" (the sundaes and parfaits), mostly because I don't like to mess with something this good, but partly because the only one that really caught my eye, a Parmigiano Reggiano gelato served with bresaola and a couple of other savory items, was no longer being offered. Here's hoping this isn't an indication that his funkier ideas are being met with resistance.

What makes Paolo's gelato so exceptional, beyond the technical mastery involved, is that he knows when to lay on the sugar and when to let it take a back seat. Paolo knows how to intensify the flavor such that it kicks you around a little, he knows how to dial it back and keep things light and refreshing and, most importantly, he knows when to do which. This isn't a matter of slapping 30 different fruits into the same base. It's clear that each flavor is meticulously crafted and balanced and tweaked until it's just perfect. To encounter this level of creativity, innate ability and technical mastery in the same gelataio is a rare thing, and should be celebrated. His business partner, Maddalena, has commented that with gelato so new to Hong Kong, it's been a challenge to educate the palates of their customers. I have to believe they'll figure out very quickly what a gem they have. And if they don't, they should feel free to send Paolo in my direction.

I Scream
GREAT Food Hall
Pacific Place
88 Queensway Road, Admiralty
Hong Kong
+852 6272 6098
Mon - Sun10:00 AM - 10:00 PM


Is this the same Paolo of Paolo's Gelato Italiano in Atlanta, GA?

No, me and the Paolo of Atlanta are not the same person.
Paolo Predonzan

I love your blog. I would really like to hear about the trip you took. Are you still around? I followed you from the LTH site, and I miss your updates. I hope all is well. :)

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