Chow Bella

Sweet Republic Introduces Sichuan Orange Chocolate Ice Cream

See also: Sweet Republic Makes U.S. News and World Report's List of America's Best Ice Cream

When do you know you've made the Big Time? For most people, appearing in a national publication would be a pretty good litmus test.

But by now, Partners Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp -- the empresses of ice cream at Sweet Republic -- are probably getting used to the media attention. This go-round, the innovative ice cream shop is mentioned in the business section of the August 6th issue of Time Magazine.

The focus of the article -- which also gives a nod to artisanal ice cream makers Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon and gelato shop Il Laboratorio del Gelato in Manhattan -- is that ice cream has been moving into ever more adventurous territory, thanks to the trendiness of artisanal foods.

Although vanilla remains the nation's #1 ice cream flavor, according to Time Magazine, "weird flavors -- or at least the idea of them -- have become so mainstream that customers expect a good ice cream shop to offer something unusual even if no one orders it."

Sweet Republic has never been afraid to churn outside the box. Honey Blue Cheese is a staple, while Sweet Corn (containing whole kernels of locally grown corn) has become a seasonal favorite.

But it isn't oddity for oddity's sake that garnered Sweet Republic a slot on The Hot 10 Best Ice Cream Shops in Bon Appetit's June, 2009 issue. Yung and Wichayanuparp are committed to using local, seasonal and organic products as much as possible. The food mag called them "ingredient-focused" and that's an accurate depiction.

This week, Yung launches Sichuan Orange Chocolate, a combination that borders on classic until you factor in the unusual Sichuan pepper.

Sichuan pepper -- known in China as hua jiao (literally "flower pepper") and sometimes mistakenly lumped with Japanese sansho -- has a unique (and slightly floral) aroma and a flavor that is neither hot nor pungent.

If anything, its overtones are slightly lemony, but what makes this pepper so memorable is its ability to create a tingly numbness in the mouth. Three or four bites in and you'll feel the effect, which is kind of like your mouth getting high while your brain stays perfectly lucid.

Trust me, It's a 180-degree thrilla from vanilla.

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