East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The First Annual Berkeley Ice Cream Crawl

June 17th, 2007. Transport provided by AC Transit and our feet.

With a bunch of frou-frou places opening since I turned up in Berkeley four years ago (aside: shit, four years ago?), it seems likely that we now have the best array of ice cream, gelato and sorbetto shops in Northern California, with the possible exception of foodie eden Healdsburg, Sonoma. So why not try all the most heralded places consecutively?

52L bus to CAFE FANNY
$4.50 + tax for a small serving in a plastic container stored in their freezer. Initial participants: me, "Glitter 'n Gold" MH, "Fucking Sailors in Chinatown" MB. They had three flavours, so we each picked a different one and mixed and matched. MB's strawberry had chunks of jammy fruit, and shockingly, they didn't taste that great -- poor ingredient choice at an Alice Waters joint? What's the world coming to? MH's caramel tasted nicely burnt, though it could've used a little more sweetness for balance. My intensely-flavoured vanilla was the pick of the bunch. All seemed rich and high in butterfat but somewhat icy, as if improperly stored. Good ice cream, but not up to other stops on the Crawl (certainly nowhere near as good as what I've had at the Chez Panisse Cafe) -- and it was the most expensive.

9 block walk to SKETCH
"Stewing Hen Magnet" KR joined us on the walk over. $4.50 for a two-flavour cup. Had the strawberry sorbetto and the coffee ice cream. The sorbettos (also tried the peach) were very fruity but seemed a little heavy. The ice creams, on the other hand, were wonderfully soft without losing density. They're lower in fat, which lets the flavours stand out more, but it certainly still tastes like ice cream. Mine supplied me with a simple, concentrated coffee taste without wreaking havoc on my biorhythms. KR's balsamic cherry was perhaps even more awesome. The taste of vanilla I had seemed at least as intense in flavour as what I had earlier at Cafe Fanny, with a better texture. So: sorbettos OK, ice creams amazing.

"One Million Helpful Votes" CH met us here, and is apparently a vanilla fan. $3.25 for a good-sized two-flavour cup. Certainly very generous with samples: I asked to try a sour sorbetto and ended up sampling almost all of them. Finally settled on the mandarin but wasn't really happy with it: the main taste was sweetness, with other flavours way in the background. The same was true of all their other choices (KR's SAFFRON~! was a valiant effort, though still not as good as one might have dreamed), with one exception. The black sesame will make you believe in bitter desserts. The big bitterness balances the big sweetness for a, uh, big result. It's not subtle, but it's the way only one might justify coming here over Milano.

1 block to GELATO MILANO
$3 + tax for a good-sized two-flavour cup. Curtis Chin takes his frozen desserts seriously: you can just imagine when he was younger, while other guys were fiddling with computers or cars, he was in the kitchen with his gelato maker. And it ABSOLUTELY paid off, at least for us. The sorbetti are close to being literally incredible -- absurdly creamy without a drop of dairy. Four of the five of us got the lemon; MB, who didn't, could see the appeal, but she didn't want something "face-crunchingly tart". If you feel that way, the grapefruit is a subtler choice. I balanced the lemon with a yoghurt gelato; the coconut was also notably fine. In all, amazing whether or not you like your face crunched.

51 bus to ICI
$4.25 for two scoops on a cone. Thought this was a rip-off when they opened last year, but they've since stepped up quality and quantity. I had chocolate and malted banana; the taste of the latter got lost in there. The chocolate, though, was very good -- a much better match for the high butterfat content. And the chocolate stopper in the cone was cute, if not entirely effective. One memorable flavour I tasted was the cardamom and chocolate chip: odd combination, but it almost worked. Whether you prefer this place or Sketch probably depends on whether you prefer high- or low-fat ice cream; I slightly prefer the latter, but Ici is a block from my house.

East Bay Frozen Dessert Rankings: (places visited on crawl in bold)

Milano sorbetto
Sketch ice cream
Pizzaiolo gelato
Chez Panisse Cafe ice cream
Ici ice cream
Milano gelato
Naia gelato
Sketch sorbetto
Fentons ice cream (but for heaven's sake, don't order a salad)
Homemade granita
Cafe Fanny ice cream
Ben & Jerry's ice cream
Naia sorbetto
Cold Stone ice cream
Supermarket ice cream (like Haagen-Dazs... need to try Straus)
Yet to try: Tucker's Ice Cream, Alameda.
Not sure if it's worth trying: Ciao Bella.
I thought desserts were meant to taste good: frozen yoghurt.

Coming after an appropriate recovery time: The Mission Ice Cream Crawl.

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  • At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ciao bella is amazing. they used to sell big scoops out of their south of market factory for cheap. ah, those were the days.

  • At 10:52 PM, Blogger shutthelight said…

    it's funny that you rank pizzaiolo above ici, since they serve ici's ice creams!

  • At 12:11 AM, Blogger bradluen said…

    Not any more! Pizzaiolo finally hired a pastry chef a few months back. As the rating suggests, I appreciate her work.


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