Text: Omid Tavallai
“These are going to be in the gelati soon,” she told me, pointing out the baskets of fresh strawberries, boxes of almost-ripe mangos and a platter of croccante di mandorle (pralined almond crunch) sitting next to the glass case showing off a dozen flavors of gelato. “Normally there’d be more flavors. I’m sorry, but one of the freezers is not working,” she apologized.
“I know,” I replied. “This is my third time here this week!”
“Allora, you like the gelato?” she asked.
“So much that I want the world to know about it. Or at least Paris…”
I waited for a few more customers to be served before getting some one-on-one time between Mary and VINGT Paris. Or rather, two on one. Mary is Italian. She understands French and speaks a little. I speak French, but can understand Italian and speak a little. This could make for an awkward interview. Fortunately for the sake of anglophones or francophones, business partner Flavio is friendly and can field your questions in Italian, English and French. This matters little, because there is a much more common denominator here: The gelato.
“You really like our gelati?” she asked again.
If Mary Quarta seems unsure of herself, she shouldn’t be. While her adorable space in the upper Marais has barely been open ten days, she spent years learning the trade under a maestro gelato maker in Milan. “I was not paid,” she tells me. “I did it for the passion. And to learn.”
And learn she did. She opened up shop in Milan two years ago and last year won the Cono d’Oro award, beating out 25 other master gelatieri with her coffee flavored gelato. (“And we did it without corporate sponsors!” they pointed out proudly.) Now, I told her, she’s winning over the toughest customers: A couple of the pickiest gelato addicts in Paris. “So you like the gelato?” she asked again.
My wife and I had recently returned from a holiday in Italy, where we ate gelato twice a day, cutting a drippy, icy swath across the north of the country. Since we returned, we’ve been trying to find which Parisian outlets would even compare to what we’d been eating. I told her our ill-opinions of her competitors in the lower Marais. Of the industrial nature of the local chain. THE big-name in Parisian ice cream. And of the couple Paris shops that we do really like, even after returning from the holy land of gelato. I generally don’t talk about competitors when speaking to a business, but I wanted Mary and Flavio to know that I know my stuff, and that I’m not kissing up for a free scoop. I just wanted to talk shop.
“We’ve been to every single gelato shop in Paris. Yours is – to answer your question – without any doubt in our minds, the best,” I insisted. “Il migliore!”
Despite the out-of-character effusiveness on my part, Mary was certain to explain her mission. “I only use natural ingredients. Fresh fruit. Milk. A small amount of cream for the crema flavors. Water. Some sugar. Of course, the non-fruit flavors have other things, like chocolate and nuts. I want my ice cream to be light. And healthy. But to taste good!”
Mission accomplished, I say. But there’s more. “The flavors are gluten-free, so we are getting certified for that,” Flavio says. “And in Milan, we’ve been certified kosher based on the quality of our products. It’s more complicated here in Paris, but we’re working on that.”
Kosher. Celiac’s-friendly. All natural. Lightweight. All these health-conscious buzzwords for something that tastes so decadent. Perhaps it’s because Mary knows more than just gelato. Peek in the back and you’ll see that she’s got various panettone going. She’s making tiramisu not with store-bought ladyfingers but with her own confectionary. Behind the scenes, she’s experimenting with a broad palate of flavors.
“Cioccolato e basilico,” she utters. “Do you think that would be good? Very fresh basil, just a touch, so you know it’s there.”
This could go beyond gelato. ”In a pasta,” she says. “What do you think?”
Flavio explains to me that they’ll soon be opening up a small, 20-seat dining room upstairs. “We don’t want a gelateria where people just get their ice cream and go. We want to have a nice place to enjoy your ice cream. And some other foods, using typical Italian ingredients.”
“Very fresh,” Mary adds. “With classical music.”
In the meantime, I can barely keep myself out of the shop as it is. The inviting pink tones. The walls whimsically painted by an artist who also decorated La Scala theatre in Milan. The thirty (when both freezers are working) flavors of artisan gelato. And Mary herself, who is as charming a hostess as one could ask for.
In the meantime, the neighborhood is perfect for a stroll while you enjoy your cone or cup of gelato. Bordered by Republique on the north and the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Marais to the south, the small, tree-lined streets surrounding the old Carreau du Temple are teaming with small businesses and sidewalk cafés.
Speaking of cafés, I asked Mary a question so important to Italians, I kept it in the original language: “Dove è il migliore caffè a Parigi?” (Where’s the best coffee in Paris?)
She looked at Flavio, and they both hesitantly replied, “We haven’t really found it.”
“But come back soon, and maybe you’ll find it here,” he said, while Mary pointed at an empty, espresso machine-sized space on the counter.
“I’ll make the same espresso I use in my gelato,” she promises.
That’d be the gelato that beat out Italy’s 25 other master ice cream makers. Needless to say, I’ll be back.
Mary 1 rue Charles-François Dupuis (at rue Dupetit-Thouars) 75003 Paris
Nearest metro: Temple, République, Filles du Calvaire
Typically open through the evening daily.