With all due respect to Italo Marchiony, the 19th-century Italian-American creator of the waffle ice-cream cone, a perfectly scooped round of gelato or sorbet deserves to be enjoyed in a more vibrant vessel. Although a dessert bowl from your porcelain dinner service or a simple silver cup or compote are elegant traditional choices, ice cream demands a more imaginative solution. It's one of the few dishes that let you experiment at table. The eminent Victorian cook Agnes B. Marshall, author of the 1885 Book of Ices (and an avid fan of the bombe), couldn't have agreed more. For her sorbet à l'américaine, she advocated molding bowls from clear ice to show off the natural beauty of the frozen dessert.
We've gone Mrs. Marshall one better with the crystal, porcelain, and silver vessels. In doing so, we've expanded on the notion of the traditional crystal compote, though we're very taken with Ralph Lauren's Newstead design. In the serendipitous spirit of ice cream, we've assembled some rather unorthodox vessels: a commodious silver sugar bowl and a George III sterling-silver basket from James Robinson, a ruby-red Martini glass from Cristal Saint-Louis, a fanciful dolphin-bedecked Venetian Champagne glass from Gardner & Barr, and a floral-design 19th-century porcelain bowl from Malmaison.
Of course, there are distinct advantages to be had with each of the materials. The delicacy of a crystal Champagne glass should perhaps be reserved for diners with a light touch, but Ralph Lauren's solid and impeccably balanced Masterson flute, stacked with three tiers of mango sorbet, tempts us to throw caution to the wind. A silver dish or bowl adds substance to the table, can complement a silver centerpiece and accoutrements, and gives your ice cream a bigger chill than crystal. And then there is the issue of color: Silver and clear crystal might encourage you to scoop up Day-Glo pistachio and nectarine, but the palette controls the palate when you use a multihued bowl, such as the exquisite example at center from Gardner & Barr, which seems naturally partial to chocolate.
When it comes to ice cream and the dishes in which it can be served, there is really only one truism: Gone are the days of plain vanilla.