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Sep 3, 2006 11:18 PM

Berkeley - ICI ... ICI ... ICI ... Finally here - too cute for words

Nice ice cream.

Not as intensly flavored as Sketch, but a better texture. Served in thin house-made cones with the name Ici stamped into it. A nice touch is the bit of chocolate at the bottom of the cone. The taste and texture of the cone reminded me of Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Rolled Wafers.

My favorite was the delicate coconut sorbet ... like coconut-flavored fresh snow. The peach-apricot ice cream had peach as the background flavor with tangy apricot notes.

Samples are given on little silver spoons. The tiny taste of honey lavendar was a little too subtle. The raspberry verbena's deep, tart raspberry goodness dominated.

There are ice cream sandwiches and ice cream bon bons. Signs with about ten flavors are on the wall. There was also Blue Bottle espresso ice cream, chocolate chip, blackberry, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

From the four tastes, these seem a light-textured ice cream with muted flavors. Tbey are clean, fresh and true, but they don't assault your tastebuds with the selected flavor. It is more understated elegance. Have I tap-danced enough here?

Ice cream is $2.50 for small, $3.50 for medium and $4.50 for large ... maybe. Not sure what I paid and got two small scoops. Maybe I paid $5, but could be wrong. The peach ice cream filled the cone and the coconut was the tennis ball-sized scoop on top.

These are delicate cones, so get a cup if buying for a small child, otherwise there may be a crumbled-cone ice cream drama.

Cookies and candy also available and those pretty bombe cakes. There was hazelnut and another that I forgot.

Nice people but even though the shop wasn't terribly crowded ... there were these welcoming smiles but this sort of stunned look on too many faces, like everyone had been up really late putting things together.

For a little shop, it was a bit confusing. Samples and orders are at the counter where the cakes are located, then pay at the register a few steps away.

I asked about samples because some other people were getting samples. I wasn't quite sure if they were friends or just customers.

There just was no clear direction. The owners were dressed in spotless white chef jackets. The ice cream was packed in stylish boxes. If you have a tendency to use words like 'precious' about restaurants, maybe stick to Baskin Robbins.

One note, if a shop is going for class, selling t-shirts seems wrong ... even lovingly folded and tied with a ribbon. I mean, Chez Panisses isn't selling t-shirts, are they?

Some early mentions in the press

Contra Costa Times

Marin Independant Journal (with a nice round up of Bay Area Ice Cream ... scroll down for Ici

SF Chronicle ... an early announcement with background in the section about Chez Panisse departures.

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  1. I also went today. Amazing. My instantaneous favorite.

    Don't discount those ice cream sandwiches. The "bread" of the chocolate/vanilla sandwich is a very delicate and not particularly sweet chocolate biscuit. It complements the ice cream perfectly. The raspberry/gingersnap combo sounds wonderful.

    The blackberry ice cream was also fantastic. Very intense flavor. Well judged in terms of sweetness.

    I could go on and on, but if you're enough of a hound to be reading this, just go already.


    1. Anyone know if they're open on Labor Day tomorrow?

      6 Replies
      1. re: Agent 510

        Don't know. The number is on the website link above. They open 11-ish. Didn't see a sign saying they were closed though.

        1. re: Agent 510

          Their hours are 11 to 9 Tuesday through Sunday, and they are not open for Labor Day. They meant to have their grand opening on Saturday, but they weren't done making the ice cream. So said chef/owner Mary Canales' sister-in-law, who was working the cash register tonight. Mary's husband Paul (chef at Oliveto, for those who don't know) was visible in the back of the shop whipping up the Hobart mixer.

          I liked the wildflower honey flavor the best--it was least like any ice cream I'd had before. Tasted as if it had been made minutes ago. The strawberry was also very fresh and vibrant, with an icy quality that I know from home experience derived from an overload of fruit in the mix. Peach-apricot was just plain weak. And the chocolate chip was a disaster--white ice cream with a paltry few shavings of brown stuff that transmitted no chocolate hit whatsoever.

          I'm more than willing to give them time to work on the flavor issues. But make no mistake, this stuff is ice cream, not gelato, and aggressively so. It scoops hard into the cup, needs a few minutes for its bouquet to ripen, and will never have the suave smooth mouthfeel of gelato.

          I like ice cream, though. And I can't wait to try the hot fudge.

          1. re: heidipie

            Darn. I saw the sign about the wildflower honey, but in the case where the cakes were, they didn't have that particular flavor displayed, so I just figured it was an opening goof.

            Thanks for the feedback on the strawberry. Some people judge a place on vanilla, I judge it on strawberry, so I'm glad I didn't get that. Also, the thin shavings in the chocolate chip looked appealing to me and almost got that. The food gods must have been looking out for me.

            Funny you mention the business about needing a few minutes for the bouguet to ripen ... a thing I had never considered before since I'm too busy usually shoveling it down.

            However, with that peach-apricot it took a few minutes for the peach flavor to come through. At first nothing but the tart apricot, but half-way through the peach flavor picked up. But saying the same thing in another way, the flavors were not that assertive ... except the raspberry verbena ... but the verbena was missing from that flavor so I decided on the other two flavors.

            The sister-in-law, I suspect I know she was, had it the most together. I liked her alot.

            Yeah, at this point, I came, I saw, I sampled.

            Curiosity satisfied and will just watch the board as others suss out the good stuff ... of course if I happen to be in the neighborhood like I was today, I'll stop in and see what's happening. Actually didn't think I'd be there today. The plan was paletas in Valejo and Crane melons in Santa Rosa ... but a friend called and it was ICI in Berkeley and Crane melon from Berkeley Bowl.

            1. re: rworange

              When I was a kid and Haagen-Dazs first came to my supermarket, I remember the carton used to say, "Please temper to a soft consistency to achieve its full flavor bouquet." The first line of (softcore) food porn I committed to memory.

              Back to Ici, their peach-apricot did nothing for me. The strawberry iciness didn't bother me, though. I don't live too far away, so I plan a thorough sampling over the next few days.

              1. re: heidipie

                Yeah, time and tasting will tell. It took Sketch a few months to settle in. I thought it was pleasant enough and will look forward to reports on how people like them.

                Ok, now that I've been there, done that ... next ... how's that Bi-Rite Ice Cream place going? Any word on when it will open?

                I need another food drama ... when will they open? When will they open? ... sort of like that old Mervyns ad ... open

                1. re: heidipie

                  A month ago Bi-Rite said it would open end of August/early September...


          2. I loved it. I tried the chocolate chip, the strawberry and the white coffee and I loved them all. The ice cream is thick and high in butterfat, something you can really bite into and chew on. The raspberry gingersnap sandwich was perfectly integrated. I can't wait to come back to try more. I have my eye on those meringues. More to come once I've given it a more thorough sampling. God, I love Berkeley.

            The only thing I didn't love was the complete lack of seating which is no doubt a product of some silly zoning law but is still a shame.

            ps their waffle cone iron is broken. No cones right now.

            pps - the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I just can't organize an ice cream crawl due to the diminishing return aspect of dessert. I just can't eat that many sweets without feeling sick and not enjoying them. I think the only fair way for me to do an ice cream comparison is slow, regular samplings over a period of months.

            1. I brought my daughter for a cone today and, well, as mentioned no cones (Kids like cones. The lovely woman there didn't know when they'd have cones again). We opted for the ice cream sandwiches which were lovely. My daughter had the raspberry sandwich with the ginger cookie. My gal loved the color of the ice cream and ate about half the sandwich despite the fact that it's only a little larger than a deck of cards. I was "forced" to finish it for her and I thought the flavor was very bright and very raspberry intense and the cookie was a miracle in cookie sandwich engineering. It was crispy but gave in to being bitten w/out squishing the ice cream out of it. Brilliant! Perfect! If it was a ginger cookie, the raspberry flavor overwhelmed it or it was very subtly ginger. I had the chocolate and vanilla ice cream sandwich with the brilliantly done chocolate cookie. It was good, but not as good as the raspberry. I'll go back when in the neighborhood, but it's a little spendy and precious (like 10 little flavors in a careful display; 4 bucks for each wee sandwich, though it is apparently 2.50 for a scoop in the alleged cones) to bring the kids often.

              And no seating with no cones...That's a shame.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Yep. Have you tried anything else Morton? I had the raspberry/gingersnap ice cream sandwich. It was fine, but overpriced. I get more of a rush out of Citizen Cake's cookie sandwiches.

                  The best thing and sort of at a relatively good price was the candied orange peel which had lovely flavor. The shortbread cookies would be a nice addition to a dish of ice cream. Skip the truffle which had an unpleasant dense texture.

                  The bombe kinda was

                  1. re: rworange

                    I'm still forming an opinion. So far, I've been particularly impressed with the chocolate cookie and vanilla ice cream sandwich and the meringues.