Here's my advice: Always save room for dessert. In the spirit of full disclosure, first a little history. In Rome, I shed tears of happiness at a gelateria. I spooned icing straight out of the Betty Crocker tub at the house where I baby-sat in high school. I frequented the New York Hall of Science in pursuit of astronaut ice cream. Even my past four years in Cambridge have served up some very sweet memories.
My sweet tooth has been with me since before I lost my first bicuspid, but my first cavity was only detected in the summer after my first year in college. That was the year that I maxed out on Cokes at breakfast. It was also during that first year that my father discovered Costco, in a big way. He sent me two-pound cartons of Swedish fish monthly, and though I was initially possessive with the gummies, soon my entire suite was chewing on the darling little minnows--breakfast, lunch and dinner. I should have seen the cavity coming, as the enamel on my back molars had clearly worn thin: I could no longer deal with food at extreme temperatures and everything had to be served at room temp. I was bad to the bone.
My first year friendships were cemented by a more indigenous delicacy. An entryway-mate brought over Darwin's buttercreams one afternoon. We broke off tiny pieces together, licked around the edges of the edges to scoop up the filling with the points of our tongues. The doughy chocolate cookies (almost very thin brownies) sandwich four major types of buttercream: raspberry, mocha, peanut butter and mint. Thick as icing, this cookie filling makes Oreo cream taste like Olestra. Since then, I've learned that the cookies come chilled but are better a little warm. They last longer that way; you can break off smaller bits.
Thankfully, my blocking group was assigned to Kirkland House, close enough to Herrell's and Scoops and Beans for my taste. That year was the low point of my time at Harvard, but I learned to treat myself to ice cream on the way home. Herrell's serves marshmallow fluff--a rare topping--and when I paired it with the low-fat cookies-and-cream ice-cream and chocolate sprinkles, nirvana was within reach. At the end of the year, I had lost all my shame and even ordered my special on a date.
But things were looking up. Toscannini's opened in the Square. Enter the Iced Vietnamese. I spent the summer after sophomore year working at Let's Go and walked to work most days from Somerville. Emerging from Dexter gate, I felt like a man who has been wandering in a desert and has just spotted an oasis. The sun was usually high in the sky already, and I squinted as I crossed the street. The Iced Vietnamese is composed of iced coffee with sweet condensed milk. The sweet syrupy milk tends to settle at the bottom, but when swished around well, the effect is better than cream and sugar. It tastes like liquid Werther's. I've never heard anyone else order an Iced Vietnamese.
Sabra's baklava kept me going at lunch. The two brothers there may have drooled over my exotic friends, but we had an understanding about the flaky, honey-soaked pastry. We'd bounce back the words. "One piece of baklava," I'd say, hiding my "w" behind a "v." I knew this was how it was pronounced, but I didn't want to sound presumptuous. "One baklawa, coming right up," the younger brother would repeat. I followed again, with a new intonation, "BAKlawa."
I came back from a semester abroad to discover Toscannini's mini sundae. Perfectly priced ($2) and sized for my post-Paris plumpness, the mini sundae was the perfect excuse to extend a lazy evening. The chocolate pudding ice cream has a depth of flavor I dare to call orgasmic and a gooey texture that makes the dixie cup seem bottomless. The smudge of fresh whipped cream doesn't last as long as it should, but the slightly sour flavor complements the sweetness of the ice cream and hot fudge--you wouldn't want one without the other.
This past summer I was in Cambridge again, and I discovered more treats I like to eat on my own. The pane romano with Nutella at Campo dei Fiori is a small strip of crusty, chewy Roman bread smoothed with creamy chocolate hazelnut European nectar, Nutella. It was best that I ate it alone--I always ended up with brown smudges around my lips and flakes of bread collected at the bottom of my shirt. I have to be in the right mood for donuts, but the ciambella (sugared donut) at Campo is one exception. In the same family as the carnival zeppole, the ciambella lacks its fried, cratered crust. Instead, the dough is chewy inside and out. But the granulated sugar makes it another one to eat in private--you don't want anyone to see that you simply brush the crumbs to the floor.
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