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Sep 27, 2013 11:32 PM

Scoop : Palo Alto nitrogen ice cream

Today was the opening of Scoop, a Palo Alto ice cream place.

Thankfully, it does not have the lines of Cream, the ice cream sandwich place, which is still about 45 minutes day or night.

Cream is in the old HagenDaz spot, between Andale/MedWraps/Steam and Sushi Tomi, right up from the Stanford theater, across from the two later-night places (Pizza My Heart and Cafe 220). This is a brilliant spot, as there are plenty of late evening college kids roaming about. They have three or four tables outside but no seating inside.

A small is 4.50 (2 flavors), medium 5.50 (3 flavors), have waffle cones but don't make them to-order. Current plan is open to 11pm on weekends (although today, opening day, they closed at 10)

It's a mom n pop / family operation, where the owners look as they could be ethnically anywhere from Turkey or Armenian all the way through Egyptian or Persian. They're older, not hipster at all, and were wearing cute nametags. They were slightly pained by the technology, such as their new touchpad POS system that needed internet connectivity.

On to the ice cream.

The sign said they use Strauss milk (not ice cream base). They have two massive nitrogen tanks right by the cash register, and they have inherited the ice cream cases of the hagen daz place. They don't make the ice cream to order, instead, they make in fairly small batches and place in the display cases. I was a little surprised by this, but the owner said they were concerned about long wait times, and found the taste is just as fresh if they make batches every hour or so. We didn't see them making anything, although as we sat outside it did kind of look like they were making a new batch.

We had a "vanilla and salted caramel" and a "something and bacon toffee". The base is heavenly smooth and creamy, like the best of bi-rite on a good day. That was my first experience with Nitrogen ice cream, and I suspect that this smooth character is a characteristic of the Nitrogen process. Very pleasant and wonderful.

The flavors were not quite the same hit. We had "something and bacon toffee" and "vanilla and salted caramel", and the flavors were not particularly vibrant. Belatedly, I saw the Chili Mango, which might have been great. The flavor selection was generally a little lame, nothing great like Bananas Foster, not even a Ginger. I don't know if the N technique means some flavors are harder.

GF loved it. Loved the texture. Loved the vanilla. Didn't seem bothered that you couldn't really taste any caramel, let alone salt.

I'm sure we'll be back now and then. If they can nail the flavor side of the equation, the place will be a huge hit - right now, it's aiming to be a solid citizen for a good long while.

[ At 9:30, we were on our way to dinner @ Rangoon Ruby, the place was packed with a line, so we went over to gravity, which was full with a line, but we found two spots at the bar. Gravity is doing very well, and we had a pleasant plate of mussels with an unfortunately bland sauce, a merguez on a bun hotdog style, and a nice pasta dish (and no wine or spirits). The Merguez could have been much more succulent - I think of Merguez almost like Thai Sour Sausage, should be savory and very funky - and it wasn't like that. Still, we enjoy Gravity. ]

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  1. Thanks for the report. Nitrogen (or more generally, instant/made-to-order) ice cream seems to be an ongoing trend that's starting to pop up more.

    If my memory serves me well, there's going to be a nitrogen ice cream shop inside the Los Altos Whole Foods, though I don't recall the name.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Jon914

      Smitten is the name of the nitrogen ice cream shop coming to Los Altos WF, they have a shop in SF & planning on expanding.

      1. re: hhc

        I stopped in today and had the avocado. It was incredibly rich and flavorful. On top of that, it's nice to see a real mom & pop place in downtown PA. I'll definitely be coming here often.

      2. re: Jon914

        Just to be clear: this isn't instant made to order. They're doing batches, because they don't want people to have to wait. It's just like a normal ice cream store, except the product is creamier, and they have huge tanks of N2. They claim their way has all the taste benefits of N2 - they still make multiple batches per day in small sizes - without the wait.

        I think they should do a "made to order" business (like how Red Rock has the normal coffee line and the single origin line); I hope the can experiment and prove me right or wrong.

        I'd like more flavor combos, too, which made-to-order would. I would have loved salted caramel with thai hot peppers.

        1. re: bbulkow

          Have you tried Smitten? Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but to me it's the most overrated ice cream in the city. High prices + interminable lines + you can't even sample any of the flavors ahead of time because they're making it all to order. And there were only three flavors to choose from anyway.

          The ice cream was just OK -- the flavors were more muted, and the texture wasn't as good as, say, Bi-Rite or Lush. Really, it wasn't memorable in any way except that it was kind of cool to watch all the smoke from the liquid nitrogen as they made it.

          If anything, this new place sounds like it might be an improvement on the model, from a customer perspective. But the muted flavors might just be characteristic of the method...

          1. re: abstractpoet

            One report said the avocado was lucious.... needs more testing.

            For some reason, I've not been to smitten.

      3. There was one that just opened up in burlingame

        1. Had it tonight, and my assessment is about the same as
          bbulkow's. It's smooth and creamy, almost to the point of soft serve. I tried the chocolate, vanilla and a bit of the avocado. The simple flavors were fine - perhaps a little sweeter than I'd like, but the star is the base ice cream and its texture. I haven't tried any other nitrogen ice creams, so I don't have anything else to compare to besides the really good soft serves you can find in Japan and Hong Kong.

          Flavors seem to rotate around. It's not a ton of selection, but it's my impression that sticking to the basics is better. My only observation on bbulkow's remark about salted caramel is that I saw the owner mixing up a batch by taking an already prepared base and mixing in what appeared to the salted caramel flavoring. It's not churned in or whatever.

          Price is on the high side at $3/$4.50/$5.50 for 1/2/3 rather small scoops, and they're still much in training mode. They could do a better on the marketing end - there's no sign, no opening promotion, no mention of the nitrogen aspect and not much of a crowd yet. Hopefully, they adjust and improve over time.