The weather this past winter was unpredictable at best, with unseasonably warm days vying with bursts of frigid temperatures and snow. And spring was painfully slow to arrive. But, temperatures be darned, our affection for ice cream is a constant in any climate. While the frozen confection may be best known as a summertime sweet, abandon the stereotype and dive into a bowl any time of year, either alone or resting atop a decadent dessert. With exceptional options, these restaurants for ice cream lovers serve the stuff dreams are made of.
WP24 by Wolfgang Puck, Los Angeles, California
So named for its dramatic views from the Ritz-Carlton’s twenty-fourth floor in downtown Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck’s Chinese-inspired menu and predictably polished service equally impress. Entrees like Crispy Wolfe Ranch Quail “General Tso’s” and a whole roasted Peking duck are updated takes on classic Chinese dishes, and executive pastry chef Megan Potthoff’s desserts offer a deliciously apropos finish to the meal. Made-in-house sorbets and ice creams reflect the restaurant’s Asian flare, either alone — in flavors like black sesame and matcha — or incorporated into a seasonally rotating roster of desserts inspired by chef Potthoff’s farmer’s market finds. Try the pineapple sherbert-filled coconut macarons, cherry sorbet floats, kaffir lime ice cream atop a blackberry souffle, or the coconut ice cream pops enrobed in chocolate glaze and candied almonds. Make a reservation at WP24.
Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steaks-Mirage Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Dinner at Tom Colicchio’s sleek steakhouse is a theatrical experience, thanks to the open kitchen, where Wagyu Ribeyes and Prime filets sizzle over open charcoal grills and wood-burning ovens. Dessert, too, is an integral part of the show. The Ice Cream Social brings naked vanilla ice cream bars and a host of tempting toppings tableside, so diners can choose among milk and dark chocolate dipping sauces, sprinkles, cookie crumbles, peanuts, and funnel cake to construct their perfect treat. Make a reservation at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steaks at Mirage Hotel & Casino.
Mélisse, Santa Monica, California
This iconic Santa Monica staple is known for its seasonal tasting menus, and chef de cuisine Ken Takayama’s housemade ice creams are thoughtfully created to complement each. Ice cream flavors range from traditional to more inventive, and sorbets are often crafted from fresh fruits found at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. A summertime favorite includes rose geranium and peach sorbet, made by steeping rose geranium and blending the liquid with peaches, which is then finished off with ginger and cream. Chef Takayama is also credited with creating an edible cocktail with liquid nitrogen-frozen sherbert as the star ingredient, so, in whatever form you prefer your ice cream, Mélisse has you covered. Make a reservation at Melisse.
Maple & Ash, Chicago, Illinois
While faintly reminiscent of the childhood favorite, the signature Sundae Service at this elegant steakhouse in the city’s River North neighborhood comes with a side of style. Executive pastry chef Aya Fukai’s housemade vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice creams are presented with toppings like hot fudge, salted caramel, chocolate pearls, and seasonal fruit — each in a crystal vessel and arranged on a tiered silver tray. Designed to bring out your inner tot, the inspiration for the whimsical dessert came from executive chef Danny Grant’s childhood memories of his mom’s build-your-own-sundae bars. Guests can top off a seriously sophisticated meal with an utterly playful, shareable dessert. Make a reservation at Maple & Ash.
RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada
Put your taste buds to the test with this playful finish to the meal at Chef Rick Moonen’s sustainable seafood restaurant in Sin City. Rick’s Tasting Game blindly serves diners 16 scoops of ice cream and sorbet in a variety of intriguing flavors like mango Thai chili, banana caramel, German chocolate cake, and strawberry guava. If each one is guessed correctly, dessert is on the house. Make a reservation at RM Seafood.
E.P. + L.P., Los Angeles, California
At this West Hollywood hotspot, modern Southeast Asian cuisine — inspired by executive chef Louis Tikaram’s Fijian-Chinese-Indian heritage and extensive travels — takes center stage. Plates like Northern Thai yellow chicken curry with cilantro and chili showcase the distinctive flavors of the region, as do the chef’s lineup of homemade ice creams and sorbets, including Thai tea, papaya, roasted coconut, passion fruit, and pineapple. Finish off the night with cocktails on the L.P. rooftop, taking in expansive views of the Hollywood Hills around a glowing firepit. Make a reservation at E.P. + L.P.
Nico, San Francisco, California
This cozy, Michelin-starred French brasserie in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights neighborhood highlights the best of California’s local and seasonal ingredients with a five-course tasting menu that changes daily. For dessert, owner and chef Nicolas Delaroque whips up savory sorbets like sweet potato, red wine served atop chocolate mousse and porcini cream, and spring pea, which comes with white chocolate crème and candied fennel, as well as ice cream like brown butter topped with fried parsnip chips and wood sorrel. These delightful desserts challenge the traditional perception of how ice cream should taste. Make a reservation at Nico.
The Original Dinerant, Portland, Oregon
The soda fountain cum bar in downtown Portland’s modern American diner serves up nostalgic classics like hand-dipped milkshakes and floats made with housemade sodas (pineapple shrub soda with a scoop of vanilla, anyone?) The boozy shakes, however, will add a little extra fun to your deluxe burger and chili cheese fries. Try the Knight Rider with Kahlua, crème de cacao, Oreo crumbs, and chocolate ice cream, or the Salty Jim with bourbon, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream. Make a reservation at The Original.
Presidio Social Club, San Francisco, California
Tucked inside picturesque Presidio National Park, this laid-back eatery known for its deft blend of Northern California cuisine and classic comfort foods is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Among the many reasons locals love PSC is pastry chef Rene Cruz’s consistently delightful desserts, including brioche beignets, rich butterscotch pudding, and made-in-house ice cream. Chef Cruz churns out gold standards like Madagascar vanilla and Guittard dark chocolate, along with more festive flavors like root beer caramel swirl, toasted walnut & Drambuie, and candied ginger. Look out for dessert specials, like the Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich, that incorporate his frozen confections. Make a reservation at Presidio Social Club.
Rye, Leawood, Kansas
Showcasing Midwestern cooking at its finest, Rye specializes in casual comfort foods like fried chicken and smoked pork spare ribs, but it also takes its dessert seriously. The menu notes, “At Rye, no meal is complete without this parting reminder, that when it comes to sweets, all of us are just oversized kids.” Pastry chef and co-owner Megan Garrelts’s housemade ice cream is featured in desserts like Chili Cake with cinnamon ice cream and the Pecan Praline Blondie with caramel stout ice cream, and it is the main event in quirky-delicious sweets like the Carrot Cake Sundae with honeyed walnuts, rum raisins, and vanilla pineapple. Don’t miss the homemade pies, too, which can and should be served a la mode. Make a reservation at Rye.
Regan Stephens lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and when she’s not writing about food or beer, you might find her taking in all the great things about the city (restaurants, museums, plays!), reading on her Kindle, or eating ice cream. Probably the last thing. Say hi on twitter @reganstephens.
Photo credits: Roni Fields-Moonen (Heritage Steak).