Sunday, August 1, 2010

Guiltless indulgence at Red Mango

Red Mango (30-58 Steinway, Astoria)
Open daily from 11:00am - 10:30 pm (11:30pm Fri. & Sat.)

I love... absolutely love... good, old-fashioned ice cream.  Hand-churned butter pecan by my grandpa is unparalleled.  I love frozen custards, gelato, any frosty treat loaded with real milk and fresh cream.  Iron-pressed buttery waffle cones dipped in chocolate and rolled in toffee bits, vanilla bean ice cream with swirls of raspberry puree and dark chocolate morsels.  Peppermint ice cream with gooey, crunchy bits of actual peppermint.  Warm golden butterscotch on a scoop of triple chocolate.  Fresh-from-the oven chocolate chunk cookies loaded with heaping dollops of french vanilla, decadent streams of fudge flowing down the sides, under a fluffy cumulonimbus cloud of whipped cream with a ruby cherry crowning the top.

I have not, traditionally, been an advocate of frozen yogurt.  When a Pinkberry opened by my old apartment in Manhattan, my friends wept in jealousy, certain that I would become a raving fanatic, treating myself to a daily cup.  I went once, and loathed it.  Despite the fact that I felt like I was inside a room that more resembled the inside of an enormous Hello Kitty pool toy than a dessert parlor, the yogurt itself left a sour, artificial aftertaste in my mouth, and paralyzed my taste buds for the remainder of the day.  I understand Pinkberry just about as much as I understand those who use nonfat milk for their cereal.  You might as well pour a bottle of Poland Spring over your Special K; it adds about just as much flavor, and doesn't glow a freakish hazy blue color under your corn flakes.

Needless to say, I was beyond a little skeptical to try out the newest Red Mango that just opened on Steinway Street in Astoria.  But out of loyalty to my readers, and a multitude of friends who swore that Red Mango could swim circles around Pinkberry, I set out yesterday afternoon to give it a whirl, fully expecting to sprint immediately down the block to my standard safe place that offers 31 flavors.

I was instantly relieved to discover an interior that is pristine, comfortable, and simple.  No fluorescent green and pink origami amoeba bouncing from the ceiling.  Just simple photographs of fresh fruit (and of course nutrition facts), a few contemporary tables and chairs, and calm customers enjoying their desserts either in the company of friends or their laptops (Red Mango does offer free wi-fi for its customers).

One of the girls behind the counter looked up from the toppings, and smiled at me.  "Welcome to Red Mango..." she greeted, with a surprising tone of sincerity.  One of her co-workers asked if I was ready, or if he could explain anything for me.  Would I like to sample something?

I decided to go with the Madagascar Vanilla.  If you can't do a decent vanilla, then nothing else will be that great either.  I've always believed that mastering the basics are necessary before you can delve into creative variations.  Resisting the urge to pile on every topping to mask what would surely be a letdown, I opted to go with one fresh fruit topping and one fun & crunchy topping, red raspberries and cocoa pebbles (they offer everything from blueberries and mangos, to Cap'n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, and Ghirardelli chocolate bits).

I was profoundly surprised.  Though the texture of soft serve frozen yogurt is inarguably different than hand-scooped ice cream, the flavor was absolutely delicious.  Creamy Madagascar vanilla, with crunchy chocolate cereal flakes, and the most juicy and beautifully fresh, tart, and sweet red raspberries.  And I didn't feel grotesquely full when it was finished either.  I have to give Red Mango credit in succeeding at making a healthier frozen dessert actually taste delicious.  In addition to the vanilla, they also offer white peach, pomegranate, as well as their original flavor, along with seasonal favorites, key lime pie or lemon green tea.

As opposed to their competitors who use high fructose corn syrup or other sugars, Red Mango sweetens their 100% natural nonfat yogurt smoothies with all-natural, zero-calorie PureVia.  Red Mango also uses all fresh fruit (nothing frozen), and their yogurt contains Ganeden BC30 probiotics, promoting a healthy immune system.

Smoothies are blended from fresh fruit and nonfat yogurt, available with "boosts" such as protein, bone health, or energy.  Most of Red Mango's products are also kosher and gluten-free.  I tried the strawberry banana smoothie, which was refreshing and delicious... definitely one of the best smoothies I have had in awhile, and under 300 calories.

One of the customers at a nearby table noticed I was photographing my frozen yogurt, and recognized me from Why Leave Astoria?  An obvious Red Mango enthusiast, she also allowed me to snap a shot of her Red Mango Loyalty Card.  Every dollar you spend earns you ten points, and 500 points earns you $5 off your purchase.  You also get $5 for your birthday.  Thanks for saying hello, Melody, letting me paparazzi your card, and for the great information!

Now in soft opening, Red Mango Astoria will have its official grand opening on August 21st, where customers will be allowed a free small cup of frozen yogurt with a topping.  The first 100 customers that day will also receive a free gift.  Though I'm sure I cannot completely give up the ice cream I love so dearly, I definitely will be returning to Red Mango on a more regular basis.  It's liberating to have a satisfying dessert that doesn't make me feel so guilty.

Present your Why Leave Astoria card for $1 off any smoothie!

Red Mango on Urbanspoon

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