Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt [The Barlow, Sebastopol]
Northern California's first franchise location of Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt opens at noon today (Nov. 10). The ice cream dairy or non-dairy base is frozen with liquid nitrogen to order with custom mix-ins.
Stopped by two days ago (sunday) around noon.
It's a bit hard to find in the new development there (which is a lovely purpose-built light-industrial and food 'office park' of sorts)...the signage is confusing and contradictory. For future reference, it's toward the East end of the sector.
So, the actual dairy goodness: we were the only customers just then. You have a choice of 5 or 6 possible bases, and about 20 flavorings, and then a dozen or so sprinkle-ish toppings. It's Smitten crossed with a fro-yo bar.
I chose the organic yogurt option, which I was told had a tart taste that the non-organic base did not. Flavor-wise, there was an 'organic pumpkin' (in addition to just 'pumpkin'), so I couldn't find a more logical seasonal cholce than that. Since I'm over 12 years old, no sprinkles.
And then it was mixed. Base and flavoring into a 3 liter bowl, spatula in hand, and pull the trigger on the LN2 squirter. Nitrogen, stir, repeat. Decant into a paper cup, with a small melon baller, done.
The end result was mixed. The flavor was fantastic; it tasted like pumpkin pie yogurt. The yogurt tasted like tart crisp Greek-ish yogurt and the pumpkin bit was as hoped. Not overly sweet. But the texture was not quite right.
I make liquid nitrogen ice cream at home. (I bought a 30 L dewar on craigslist a few years ago and fill up in June or so...'ice cream season' lasts till about September with 2-3 batches per week.) It's all very straightforward, but as with everything in life, there's some finesse to be learned. Depending on the texture and water-vs-fat content of your ingredients, the result can be silky smooth, or a bit 'lumpy'. (What it will never be, without a real disaster, is gritty -- that's the whole point here.) By 'lumpy', I mean that you get pine-nut-sized pockets of stuff that froze faster than the other stuff. In the mouth, they feel like lumps in otherwise smooth tapioca. That's the only way to really describe it, subtle (or not so) pockets of denser material. (I think these pockets have a higher water content, but I can't verify that empirically.)
So the product here was 'lumpy.' It was not overwhelming, and perhaps someone who has not eaten a LOT of LN2 ice cream wouldn't notice. But, to a degree, it defeats the purpose, and I've learned to see it coming and take corrective action when i make ice cream/yogurt at home.
But the flavors were quite good. So, in the realm of $6+ single cups of ice cream, Smitten wins hands-down on texture (their semi-automated method virtually eliminates the 'lumpy' problem -- she has a well-deserved patent on their mixer), but SubZero wins hands-down on flavor (based on my one sample anyway; the criticisms here on chowhound of Smitten's monotone flavor palette are something I agree with).
Phew! A couple of other notes: I think they could stand to simplify the offerings a bit...not sure what the value is in offering organic and non-organic bases in a few different categories, other than to slow up the explaining to the customer. And while the place is well-ventilated and safe enough, I'd like to see an extra vent somewhere near the actual LN2 nozzle.