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Sketch ice cream: help me get it right

So, I finally walked to West Berkeley, and got ice cream at Sketch. And I was totally disappointed. I got the burnt caramel flavour, and while the flavour was pleasant (not too sweet), the ice cream wasn't nearly rich enough to be considered ice cream. And I don't mean it was light and refreshing (gelato, for example, has less fat but is still very creamy): it was watery/milky, and there was no lingering taste after swallowing. Totally...blah, and underwhelming.

Did I just catch Sketch on a bad day? Did I get the wrong flavour? After so much praise on this board, I can't reconcile my experience with my expectations. Any suggestions of flavours I should have chosen instead? I'm willing to give it another try...

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  1. I have had the same experience- frequently enough that I have given up. I just don't get it.
    I don't wish to offend anyone, but I like my ice cream to taste of - guess what- cream!
    I like to make it at home, with or without a custard base. This version is something I don't understand the fuss about.
    I love a good sorbet. Don't get me wrong.

    1. You are not alone, Gooseberry. I too was underwhelmed after my first visit to Sketch last November. I sampled the persimmon and pistachio and settled on a small cup of the latter. Like you, I found it too watery and not intense enough in flavor. I've been told that Sketch doesn't use cream (just milk) or eggs. I don't like super rich or eggy ice cream either, but need something in between.

      I know that when I'm back in the Fourth St. area, my ice cream lovin' self will not resist another sample though...just to make sure that it's not for me. :-)

      EDIT: If you stumble upon a personally compelling find at Sketch, please let us know. Should you find that Sketch just doesn't do it for you, Gelato Milano is the next place on my East Bay ice cream hit list. Naia is there too, but I'm less enthused about it based on many mixed opinions here.

      1. Sketch's flavors vary a lot, but generally their ice creams aren't thick and buttery. You might try the fruit or granita instead. I particularly like the Strauss yogurt and generally get one of the seasonal fruit flavors.

        While you're there, try some of the salted toffee.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Windy

          As someone who's in the pastry biz..I went in to Sketch with the highest of expectations but came away like so many others. I felt cheated what with all the praise they get.
          I make my ice creams with cream!! Cream,milk,yolks,sugar,flavorings..I just made a killer pistachio ice cream the other day..it was far better than Sketch's(just my opinion) :)

          Yes they have tons of different flavors but if it's not made with cream than I do not want it.

        2. I'll just support the feeling of being underwhelmed by Sketch. I have been 5 times now - tried the burnt caramel, various chocolates, etc. - nothing seems compelling. Now on a hot (for Berkeley) day it would still be a nice if I am already on 4th Street, but I would certainly not go out of my way for it. Others on the board have raved as much about the non-ice cream goods as the ice cream.

          1. The baked goods definitely save this place (especially the chocolate pudding cake), but the ice cream really didn't do it for me either. It wasn't so much "bad" as it was a different type of ice cream that may be more to someone else's liking than mine.

            1. I like Sketch but don't go in there with ice cream expectations. The flavors have been hit and miss, when the are good they are excellent, otherwise just ok. I haven't had anything bad there. I like the fresh, pure ingrediants though.

              While I would be hard-pressed to remember a flavor I liked there without looking at my notes (the yogurt tho sticks in my memory as a don't get again)...

              ... THE FUDGESICLE is one of the best things I have ever eaten. If they have that, order it.

              Made with Scharffen Berger, it had a deep and satisfying bittersweet chocolate flavor. There was alot going on taste-wise in that bar. I thought at first it was a different chocolate because I was picking up fruit notes from the chocolate sort of berry-like. It is something to slowly savor.

              I like the way it is presented too, neatly wrapped in white freezer paper that is fastened with one of their stickers.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rworange

                "fruit notes from the chocolate sort of berry-like"

                When I taste this in a dark chocolate, it's a dead giveaway that it's Scharffen Berger. The high-toned, fruity, almost red wine notes are a unique signature for me.

              2. I appreciate what Sketch is doing, but prefer the texture and richness of gelato.

                1. I too was underwhelmed by the burnt carmel which was the first flavor I ever tried. However, I recently went to Sketch a second time and had some roasted almond flavor and it was good. I would order it again.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Scott M

                    The roasted almond ice cream was the only flavor that *really* impressed me. It was clearly created w/ very finely ground almonds which gave it a lovely texture, too. The chocolate flavor is very disappointing. It's too icy and there's no there there. I've only been a couple of times, though, so I'm not a good judge.

                  2. As one of Sketch's biggest fans, I guess it's time for me to chime in on this one.

                    Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Sketch uses Strauss milk (not cream) which has a butterfat content of 7-8%. Gelato has a butterfat content of 4-6% and ice cream has a butterfat content of 11-16%. So Sketch is neither ice cream nor gelato, but something in between. I think the texture is in perfect harmony with the flavor, meaning that it is smooth and unobtrusive. With many ice creams the richness and heaviness can get in the way of the flavor, whereas Sketch has a good mouthfeel that is full bodied and pleasant. It is dense without being heavy, yet light without being fluffy. I have never had watery ice cream there-except for some sorbets and granitas that have melted a bit.

                    This is not to say that the OP was "wrong" or "unsophisticated" for not enjoying the texture. Chowhound is all about personal preference and if you are craving something rich and creamy Sketch will probably not satisfy.
                    To the OP: if you do return I recommend that you try the sorbet or granita which is more traditional and expertly made. Also, you should know that they give two samples per patron.

                    There are some flavors I don't enjoy just because they are not my preference. The burnt caramel happens to be my least favorite flavor, but I see plenty of people walk into their shop and go gaga over it. Personally, my favorite flavors are the vanilla, the coffee, the nut flavors (particularly almond) and the summer fruit flavors. I also enjoy pairing the Strauss yogurt with flavors in small amounts though I don't like the yogurt on its own.

                    I appreciate that their ice cream reflect the purity of the
                    ingredient-not a hyped up, sweeter version of it. The apricot (for example) tastes like a delicious apricot accented with a bit of cream and a touch of sugar. I have never had anything bland there, but the flavors and the aftertaste are not as strong as artificial or extract flavored ice cream. When most people think of mint ice cream the flavor they think of is an artificially derived mint extract, which tastes nothing like mint. The mint ice cream at Sketch tastes like pure mint leaves, which turns some people off because it's not what they expect and have grown to associate mint with (I've overheard people complain that it's "grassy" or "tastes like herbs".)

                    As mentioned the cakes, cookies, and candies at Sketch are
                    delicious. I've never had a more perfect chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate pudding cake is universally adored and the chocolate caramels are dangerously addictive. So if the low butterfat ice cream doesn't satisfy your craving the other goodies are certainly worth trying.

                    In short: Sketch has caused me to redefine what good ice cream. Even though my preferences were different before I went there (when I made ice cream at home, my motto was the higher butterfat content the better), they are now forever changed and Sketch is my basis of comparison for everything else. It's actually kind of sad because when they sell out early i pout and return home dessertless because absolutely nothing else will do.

                    I look forward to my upcoming birthday ice cream crawl when I can compare Sketch to Fairfax Scoop, Three Twins and Ici.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                      If you've had the mint ice cream at Sea Salt (which, regrettably, was not on the menu my last visit), how does Sketch's compare to that? I was absolutely blown away by the fresh "green" mint taste of Sea Salt's, and I'd be thrilled to know something similar is available elsewhere.

                      As for Sketch's other flavors, I like the burnt caramel, and I tried the roasted almond the other day and liked it a lot (I think anyone who likes nut flavors would enjoy it); but I realize that I've become almost obsessed with the yogurt; it's like eating a frozen lassi.

                      I need to branch out and try a granita (the coffee looks especially good) or a fruit flavor, but it's always hard to pass up what you like!

                      1. re: Debbie M

                        You'll never see that mint ice cream at Sea Salt again. It left with me & the pastry chef. I can give you a similar recipe for that mint ice cream if you like.

                        1. re: sugarbuzz

                          I would love a good mint ice cream recipe. TIA . . .

                          1. re: TerriL

                            Yes, please post the mint ice cream recipe on Home Cooking for all of us to benefit...I would LOVE to make it this time of year.

                            1. re: TerriL

                              I'll post it to Home Cooking this week. I have the recipe at work.

                            2. re: sugarbuzz

                              That really is great ice cream. My compliments to the creator!

                        2. I've eaten Sketch ice cream a a few times and think it's excellent. I take out-of-town visitors to wow them. The texture and level of butterfat richness are, as someone pointed out using real numbers, between gelato and ice cream. The flavors taste very pure and fresh and gentle compared with many other frozen delights. I had a scoop of rose geranium last time I was there and just purred. It was so ... wholesome and long Edwardian twilight.

                          1. I really believe you chose the wrong flavor. (When's the last time you told a restaurant you prefered your food burnt?) Just stay away from the burnt flavors and it'll be some of the finest ice cream imaginable. I've tasted the burnt flavor before. During a long overdue oil change on my car, I accidently tasted the sweat from off my forearm. Mmmm, burnt.

                            1. Besides burnt caramel being a redundancy, I agree that it is not their best flavour. I agree that some flavours require the butterfat to carry the infusion. But I had cocoa nib ice cream about a month ago that rocked my world. I love the Strauss yogurt sorbet too but have been happy to branch out to raspberry and last year had an amazing melon.

                              For thick, honest, creamy ice creams with fresh seasonal ingredients try Fairfax Scoop. It has radically changed the way I think about strawberry ice cream. I wrote a comparative piece about these two establishments last year:


                              Morton the Mousse: need anyone else to join you on your birthday ice cream tour? It will be so interesting to see how Ici differs from Sketch!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: sailorbuoys

                                I assumed from the redundant "burnt caramel" that it would be a very intense, dark caramel flavor, which is how I like it (and make it), but in fact it was quite mild.

                                1. re: sailorbuoys

                                  (in the words of "Koolaid") OH YEAH!! Ice cream crawl sounds like an epic Chowdown for this weather :) Might be hard to figure out the geography but mmmmmm the possibilities are tantalizing!

                                  1. re: sailorbuoys

                                    It'a a nice thought, but I'm actually planning on stretching the crawl out over three days so that I don't OD on sugar. There's a diminishing return with dessert that would interfere with a truly objective comparison.

                                  2. Thanks for the responses, everyone. I think I will give Sketch another try, going for another flavour. Based on what everyone confirmed - very fresh ingredients, but very delicate flavours and texture - I feel as though Sketch should be marketed as milk ices, rather than ice cream. I personally do not interpret ice cream as necessarily having cream in it; gelato-style sorbets, which are completely dairy free, are very creamy when made properly (in the East Bay, the melon and peach flavours at Gelateria Milano come to mind). But for me, Sketch just doesn't meet my particular criteria for an ice cream experience. With an adjusted attitude, perhaps I will enjoy Sketch for what it is, albeit not what I was expecting.

                                    1. Here is an entry on Sketch that describes it a Sicilian style gelato.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Guzgo

                                        Based on the misapprehension that Sicilians use only milk while other Italians use cream and eggs.