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Jul 14, 2013 12:32 PM

Favorite Ice Cream 2013

Warm weather has arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area and July is National Ice Cream Month. This is a new discussion to pick up where the Best ice cream 2011 thread left off.

Let's hear about the new spots that have cropped up as well as tried and true favorites. And throw a broader net to talk about places to stop when you're in the neighborhood and not only destination worthy places.

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  1. My vote for best ice cream in SF remains Mr & Mrs Misc. I find both the textures and flavor superior.

    Note: we have become frequent enough customers that they have made Candied Violet ice cream cakes for my daughter's birthday for two years running. Last year, they did a bourbon & caramel ice cream cake for my birthday. Highly recommended!

    23 Replies
    1. re: absc

      I would tend to agree, for the reasons you stated. Last year a friend and I did an ice cream crawl and hit Mr. and Mrs., DeLise, Joe's, Marco Polo and Bi-Rite. The only one I would make a special trip for again was Mr. and Mrs. In addition, I've been to Humphrey Slocumbe a couple of times and I've sampled Smitten Kitten, and I don't like the texture of either of them (the former too icy, the latter too ephemeral). I guess I like my ice cream fairly traditional with some twists, rather than novelty and gimmicks.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Smitten Ice Cream (Smitten Kitten is the name of a blog) has pretty straight forward flavors.

        Yesterday's menu was Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chip, and the seasonal option, Honey Nectarine.

        Sometimes they have a Salted Caramel. There's usually only one "novelty" flavor out of the 4, and the mix in twists are optional. If you ignore the process it's a very traditional ice cream, especially compared to Mr. and Mrs.

        1. re: sugartoof

          I wasn't talking about the flavors, as I said, I'm not crazy about the texture. Because of the way it's made, it doesn't have a lot of underlying structure and collapses very quickly.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I think the main difference there is a truly homemade ice cream versus using a Strauss (or other) manufacture base.

            1. re: sugartoof

              We've tried Smitten a few times and it is VERY different than any other ice cream I've sampled. I'm not sure how I define traditional (maybe standard is a better word??) but it's pretty far from my usual expectations in terms of texture.

              The mint chip tasted more like real mint than any other mint ice cream I've experienced, which was cool. The chocolate and the vanilla seemed kinda bland.

              On the whole, I prefer a firmer, creamier, more substantial product, which is why Mr and Mrs wins for me among the SF Bay Area ice creams I've had the privilege to taste.

              1. re: grayelf

                It's less of a custard than some others, otherwise I haven't found it to be looser or lacking substance. It's essentially a flash freeze, so the melt is quicker, and more natural, like you would get with a hand churn, before additional freezing.

              2. re: sugartoof

                No, that's not the difference in the texture. The difference in the texture comes from the fact that they're using a different *style* of base and a different freezing process. How you freeze something makes a big difference in the texture in terms of how big the crystals are, how much air is mixed in, etc.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Agree the melt is quicker but it doesn't resemble any hand-churned ice cream I've had elsewhere ie. not in SF. It's almost more like soft serve but again not quite as it's not really creamy. Didn't hate it at all but as I said, I prefer the firmer, creamier, more substantial type, even if it's not a "natural" melt.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    I don't know why one is more "natural" than another. Some ice cream is made with a custard base, some is made with only milk. It's a different style, and which one is better is a matter of personal preference.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    "I think the main difference there is a truly homemade ice cream versus using a Strauss (or other) manufacture base."

                    "The difference in the texture comes from the fact that they're using a different *style* of base and a different freezing process"

                    We're saying the same thing.

                    I find Bi-Rite to be the most consistently textured, followed by Smitten. At Mr. and Mrs. or Humphrey (Both of which I love), I never know what I'm going to get, and it can very batch to batch, or flavor to flavor. Techniques aside, Smitten is the closest thing to a product you would produce in small batch at home.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      No, we're not saying the same thing. You're making a distinction between "truly homemade" and "manufactured" but in fact, many homemade ice cream recipes call a custard base. And yes, if you use a small homemade ice cream freezer and serve it the moment it's frozen you'll get something that melts very quickly, but that's not true if the ice cream is "cured" by putting it in the freezer. Obviously, if something is being stirred right until the moment it's served, it cannot be as firm as ice cream that has been churned then hardened in the freezer.

                      I'm not saying that one is better or worse, only that the difference has nothing to do with "homemade" or "manufactured" and that preference in texture is just that -- a matter of personal preference -- and not a some kind of moral virtue.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Moral virtue?

                        The texture is a result of a HOMEMADE small batch process, and immediate serving versus using a pre-MANUFACTURED, PACKAGED pasteurized egg base by a dairy company, then adding a step in freezing it. Science dictates that the faster you freeze, the creamier the end product. Only Smitten makes their product entirely in house - while you watch. It's a fact. It's as homemade as you can get in a commercial retail setting no matter what you personally think of the final product, which may be underfreezed for your tastes due to the nitrogen process.

                        If you're insistent we disagree on that, then we can agree to disagree. No moral virtue....I'm not bad mouthing either establishment. Are you?

                  3. re: sugartoof

                    Smitten's marketing materials say they make ice cream from scratch in 60 seconds. Not really true. While you're correct that Smitten does not buy ice cream base from Straus, apparently Smitten uses ice cream base manufactured by Three Twins.

                    I stopped by Smitten yesterday. The three flavors available were vanilla, salted caramel, and TCHO chocolate. I noticed that the vanilla and chocolate flavors both contain eggs and wondered where the pasteurization step for such a small operation was taking place if they're not using base. A poster at the stand says the milk/cream comes from Beretta Family dairy in Sonoma County. I knew that Beretta sells milk to Wallaby yogurt and Three Twins, and googling soon connected the dots.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      So that suggests Smitten custom orders a low egg base from Three Twins, but they only use it on some flavors.

                      It verifies that some of there ice cream is without a pasteurized egg base, which would imply it's entirely made from scratch, and also verifies that they're not relying on the same base as most every other ice cream store.

                      It's also worth noting that Three Twins has their own facilities dedicated towards producing organic ice cream.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        I wouldn't infer that the non-egg bases are made entirely from scratch. The salted caramel is not as you say, made while you watch, to be able to tell. The liquid material of ingredients is poured from a carafe that is filled behind the scenes. The carafe of mix that went into my serving yesterday had a handwritten label on it to discard by 8/15. The carafes for the other flavors also had discard dates.

                        Straus also produces organic ice cream under its own label. Three Twins is newer in the base biz, so it's understandable that it has lower market share.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          "I wouldn't infer that the non-egg bases are made entirely from scratch."

                          What's the theory then? Do you think Three Twins also makes a non-egg base for them too? They claim they're making their ice cream from scratch, and they do more in front of the eye, including pouring the mixture from cream, into ice cream, then any other shop in SF.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Since Smitten uses Three Twins base for vanilla, chocolate and likely some other flavors too, I don't put much faith in their claim of "scratch". The pre-made mixture that is poured in front of your eyes out of a carafe into the mixing bowl is not just cream. It is the sum total of the ice cream base, meaning that it has milk, sugar, flavorings, etc. in it. All they're doing is freezing it with nitrogen in front of you.

                            I prefer not to speculate on the source when there's nothing to go on.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Does it really matter when Smitten is so mediocre, with its poor texture and dull flavors? Most handmade or homemade ice creams use commercial base, so it's not a big deal that Smitten does too. What counts are the results. I gave it three tries and concluded it was a poor use of calories.

                              I did finally made it to Tin Pot in Palo Alto, and that was very promising. Maybe not quite up to Penny Creamery in Santa Cruz, especially with the absence of fruit flavors, but that rich chocolate with Tcho shards was really nice.


                              1. re: mdg

                                "Most handmade or homemade ice creams use commercial base"

                                I've never seen the Straus base for sale retail. Where do you get it?

                                I've also never seen a recipe for ice cream that compensates for someone buying a premade base. It's easy to make your own. That essentially IS the process of making an ice cream. You make a base. You add sugar and if you want flavoring, add it. You churn it. The health requirements for setting up a shop where you can manufacture a base is prohibitive, otherwise it more shops would do it. Humphrey Slocombe planned to manufacture entirely in house, but couldn't.

                                I think Smitten is one of the best in SF. Great flavors, both classic and with a twist, and really creamy textures.

                                Glad you've found other options you like better since you disagree.

                              2. re: Melanie Wong

                                Aren't you already speculating?

                                I'm talking about what's done in house, combined with the process done in front of the customer. It also happens to create a superior product.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  No, I'm quoting the ingredient list posted on the wall (see photo), and sharing what happens in front of the customer that I was able to see.

                                  This is speculating >> "Only Smitten makes their product entirely in house - while you watch."

                                  Ok, please feel free to have the last word now. I don't care about Smitten, just wanted to be sure that this thread was updated with information published elsewhere.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    If you're challenging their claims, and making your own when saying "all they're doing is freezing it with nitrogen in front of you", suggesting they're not making the rest in house - then you're speculating...which is fine....but if your post is to introduce the idea that we know Smitten's source for their base, why say "I prefer not to speculate on the source when there's nothing to go on."?

                                    And the end product tastes like really good ice cream. Mr. and Mrs. and Slocombe also turn out great flavors. SF has great destination ice creams, worthy of the lines and excitement.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Since this thread has been bumped, I thought I'd add that Smitten uses a different flavored base for each ice cream before adding nitrogen. They're in slightly oversized milk jars, without markings. The chocolate one for example is already chocolate, and looks like a chocolate milk.

            2. Some of my favorites

              Smitten - the seasonal flavors so June it was olive oil with lavender shortbread, and July current seasonal flavor is honey tangerine. Really enjoyed both.

              Bi Rite - While the salted caramel is the standard signature and by far the best version I've had (surpassing the one by Three Twins), the honey lavender turned out to be a lot tastier when I paired it with the salted caramel. There's definitely more on the menu worth trying for me next time (especially the ginger and banana flavors).

              Polly Ann - for some strange reason I never made it out to here...basically the ice cream version of Marco Polo but way more interesting flavors. Black sesame ice cream is extremely good. Was told Jasmine tea is a good one too.

              Marco Polo - Not a fan of durian, but their Chinese Dragonwell green tea, and black sesame gelati are great. Not ice cream technically but I'll mention this.

              Frozen Kuhsterd truck - Also not ice cream, but very very enjoyable. They're doing some great things. Ube, Thai ice tea with milk, Four Barrel Coffee (add condensed milk topping for that pseudo Café Sua Da feeling), and the ever so rare Black Sesame flavor, are all very very good. Sometimes they go crazy with stuff like soju soaked boba (from Boba Guys) that elevates the kuhsterd in evil ways, or there's a flavor made with Jameson and cereal topping (which I haven't tried but friends swear by it).

              Hope to try Mitchell's, Mr Ms Miscellaneous, and perhaps a few others in SF soon...

              Still need to try that newish place in Santa Clara, Tinpot Creamery in Palo Alto. And speaking of Palo Alto, Palo Alto Creamery (not the Stanford location), the coffee milkshake makes for an evil breakfast drink.

              4 Replies
              1. re: K K

                I like the guava gelato at Marco Polo more than I like any other flavor. The texture is the perfect smoothness for me.

                1. re: Dave MP

                  Lychee and the black sesame are my go-to flavors at Marco Polo.

                2. re: K K

                  The green tea gelato from Marco Polo is like crack - I get my fix from Clear Optometry in San Mateo all the time.

                3. Just tried Three Twins' Mexican Chocolate several weeks ago - not usu. a chocolate fan, and remain that way.

                  I think their sea salt caramel is still the best of the bunch.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Three Twins Cardamom is subtle but excellent. I prefer that to the sea salt caramel.

                    1. re: pamf

                      Thanks for that suggestion, never had that. Will have to try.

                      Can't wait for their store to reopen ...

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      I don't like chocolate ice cream either - if you are ever at Tin Pot in Palo Alto, you might try their TCHO flavor. It's the only chocolate ice cream I've liked.

                      1. re: mr_darcy

                        Good to know. I have a trip up to The Farm later in the year ...

                    3. Yesterday I got the jump on National Ice Cream Day (July 15) with a Straus chocolate soft serve. The milk chocolate is a shade richer than the taste of childhood softee cones, and of course, the base doesn't have the chemical emulsifier off-notes either. This one was from the Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op, but Straus is served at several Bay Area outlets as well.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Are there places in SF proper to get chocolate soft-serve like this?

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          The soft serve window at the original BiRite? But they might flavor the Straus base themselves.

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            Super Duper has Straus chocolate soft serve on offer. I've only tried the vanilla and didn't find it rich and creamy enough, tasting more like ice milk to me than ice cream, so it may not qualify.

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              I got a soft serve vanilla cone at a cart at the Exploratorium over the weekend (strauss). Otherwise I only have East Bay recommendations (Oakland).

                            2. re: Melanie Wong

                              On the topic of soft serve, my favorite is still Sketch in Berkeley.

                              1. re: elainew

                                I somehow completely missed that Sketch had reopened in 2012 so thanks for posting and making me google! Will have to fit that in on our next trip...

                                1. re: elainew

                                  YES -- Sketch (Berkeley) is the best!!

                                  Hawker Fare (Oakland) also has yummy soft serve too.

                                  1. re: emraguso

                                    Hawker Fare is closed indefinitely: a trash-can fire set by vandals has nearly melted the restaurant's electrical meters.

                                    1. re: hhc

                                      yeah i just read about that like minutes after i recommended them!

                              2. I would have to pick Ici, which I used to get in San Mateo at Clear Optometry (yes indeed) but honestly I'm not sure if they still offer it. May have switched to some sort of fro-yo.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: shark37

                                  As of a month or two ago they still had it (and also had froyo). I hope they don't stop!

                                  1. re: mr_darcy

                                    Completely in awe that there is a glasses store where you can get top notch ice cream -- only in the Bay Area!

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      The other remarkable thing about Clear Optometry is that the froyo is the same commercial product as sold in many other outlets, yet it tastes better there. I'm not the only one who has commented on this. Here's my old post with some photo links so you can see what it looks like.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Next to TPumps in downtown San Mateo is a branch of San Francisco's Creation Desserts (Creations Dessert Express). It has a subset of the Hong Kong style desserts menu, but for this branch they add dessert crepes, cater it towards a broader/mixed audience, and they have about 12 to 14 flavors of Three Twins ice cream which can be purchased as scoops and/or added to fruit crepes. Last I checked, the ice cream flavors were more of variations on chocolate, one or two fruit flavors, salted caramel.

                                        Bitter & Sweet (a coffee shop in Cupertino) offers maybe 3 flavors of Humphrey Slocombe ice cream. Likely will have vanilla and Vietnamese iced coffee flavor.

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Great info, good to know where to find some of our favorite ice cream outside of San Francisco.

                                          1. re: K K

                                            I was at Bitter+Sweet just recently and they had six or seven flavors on the menu. I'm a fan of the Eaton Mess when they have it.

                                            Note: they're now closed on Sundays.

                                            1. re: stravaigint

                                              Here's a pic of the Humphrey Slocombe selection at Bitter+Sweet from last night. White miso peach was very, very subtle but creamy. Viet coffee has been good on previous visits.

                                              1. re: stravaigint

                                                They have dulce de leche and maple walnut on the menu right now. Of the two, I liked the former very much. Also, I'm convinced their portion size has increased, they seem to be serving much bigger scoops these days compared to when they opened a few years ago, but then maybe I also missed a price increase...

                                            2. re: K K

                                              Snapped a shot of the Three Twins flavors at Creations in San Mateo last night. Unfortunately most of them are the ones you can find at grocery stores. Still cool to have a shop that serves scoops.

                                              1. re: mr_darcy

                                                That is likely due to the significantly younger target market that frequents Tpumps and Old Town Sushi next door, thus the decision to offer a more generic lineup. The exotic flavors us adults enjoy might not pair well with their crepes or fruit sago desserts.

                                              2. re: K K

                                                Off topic, but thanks for mentioning Creation Desserts in San Mateo. I crave those mango mochi...

                                                Sunday -Thursday 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
                                                Friday & Saturday: 11:00 am - Midnight