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A tale of two creameries (Ici, Bi-Rite)

In a head-to-head comparison of these two, Bi-Rite wins. Both take pains to create a certain atmosphere, with descriptions of philosophy and provenance of ingredients. Ici is perhaps a bit more Martha Stewart Provencal, but there are two other significant differences. One is in the attitude of the staff. At Ici, they seemed miffed at having to come out from behind the high counter to deal with the lineup (besides us, mostly mommies and nannies with very small children) and were focussing on "processing" us. At Bi-Rite, they let us take our time, even when the shop was crowded, and kept offering unsolicited tastes and chatting about whatever took their fancy.

But the acid test is the ice cream itself, and in this respect Bi-Rite comes out ahead again. Their salted caramel and roasted banana flavours are great, but so were most of the other ones we tried -- the exception being soy chocolate, which my older daughter ordered for some inexplicable reason. (I know, it's not ice cream, but I've had Tofutti, and this is much worse.) Bi-Rite's flavours have a suitable intensity and balance, not feeling overly rich. Ici's flavours are more muted, and even the most successful of them -- on the day we visited, lemon-pistachio and honey-basil -- seem like they're riding on top of the same substrate, relying on luxurious mouthfeel to do the work.

This is probably good, because Bi-Rite is harder to get to for us, but a better alternative to the caloric mace-to-the-head of Tartine, once we're there. I just hope that success doesn't make them cocky. --PR

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  1. they're both good.
    I go to the one I'm closest to at the time.
    Bi-rite does have a Ritual Coffee flavor though.

    1. I thought the first line was going to be .... It was the best of creameries, it was the worst of creameries ... and imagine ... ICI has improved 1000 percent. over opening

      1. Interesting. I had a great customer service experience at Ici recently. The staff was quiet but smiley and helpful to everyone. There was an elderly couple in front of me and a staff person read them the name of each flavor, explained it, offered samples, helped them in every way professionally and kindly. I left impressed with the service (and my burnt caramel and cacao nib ice cream were delicious).

        2 Replies
        1. re: milklady

          We may have suffered from being part of the daycare rush. I should mention that the textures at Ici were all spot-on, whereas there was the occasional icy bit in some of the Bi-Rite ice cream (even leaving out the soy chocolate, which had the texture of a fruit ice, almost). --PR

          1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

            Ici had a LOT of service problems when they opened, and while they've improved, I agree that it still can be a little shaky.

            I wish Bi-Rite was more convenient for me, because oh man, that salted caramel was incredible.

        2. Interesting observations...

          I've always had excellent service at Ici, and equally good service at Bi-Rite. However, I love the texture of Ici's ice cream much better than Bi-Rite. I've had delicious flavors at both, but its really the texture that wins me over at Ici every time. Maybe because I'm a big fan of gelato, and while I know these are ice cream, the texture of Ici's reminds me of the silky smooth texture of gelato. Bi-Rite's texture is more traditional in terms of American ice cream with plenty of air whipped into it. It is luxurious nonetheless, as all super premium ice cream should be.

          1. just adding some links..

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            Ici Ice Cream
            2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

            Bi-Rite Creamery
            3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            1 Reply
            1. re: susancinsf

              Thanks, Susan. I keep forgetting this is possible. --PR