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.
Went to Sebastopol with my daughter today and we went to SubZero. Very nice place! They were super careful about allergens and already used good practices to avoid cross contamination (except for the toppings area but most were okay).
They had a choice of coconut or hemp for the vegan base (both were organic but we were charged the regular prices, not the organic premium ones). You get one flavor and one topping included in the price. Extra flavors are 35 cents and extra toppings are 50 cents.
The left one is my daughters: coconut base with caramel (has some dairy, which she can tolerate in small amounts, but I couldn't taste it) and fresh strawberries. Mine on the right is coconut base with peanut butter and fresh strawberries.
We each got a size small, about $4.50 each. Yummy but expensive enough that I'm glad we aren't very local.
We stopped in on Friday. Just down the block a bit from Whole Foods (parking lot entrance off Morris). I chose Premium Organic Cream as my base and fresh raspberry as my flavor (fresh raspberry puree that they made). This is mixed in a bowl, and with blasts of nitrogen into the bowl, becomes ice cream made to order. Mine was "churned" till soft and smooth. Magnificent -- the best raspberry ice cream I've ever had, with far more complexity and freshness (more flavor notes) than any other.
My friend had the mint chocolate chip, again with premium organic cream, but churned till firm -- and again, it was the single best rendition of mint chip ice cream I'd ever tasted. The complexity and freshness of the ice cream are truly remarkable.
No lumps or off-notes in either ice cream. You can choose yogurt or lowfat options also.
My experience at the Sebastopol, California location (in The Barlow) was as follows.
I went for the first time yesterday and then again tonight. Yesterday my daughter got ice cream (chocolate and dulce de leche) and I got frozen yogurt (raspberry and lemon), and we used a buy-one-get-1/2-off-second-one coupon. Tonight we got a "medium" frozen yogurt (strawberry and lemon) to share.
- coupons for buy-one-get-1/2-off-second-one don't make much sense, since it's less expensive to pay full price and agree on sharing a larger container. for example, "kids size" (4oz), so splitting a "medium size" (8oz) is the better buy, even when using a coupon on two "kids size."
- the smallest size container of ice cream ("kids size") melted before my 18-year old daughter could finish it. weird that the www.subzeroicecream.com/menu/ says you can pick a chill factor, or that the workers don't realize that they need to do something different on a 90-degree day.
-the 2nd time, the place was empty so I paid attention and was disappointed to see that the flavorings don't appear to be measured. i couldn't really taste the lemon in my strawberry/lemon mixture for frozen yogurt.
- also disappointed i was charged 35cents for a second flavor (on both visits). weird that the web page "www.subzeroicecream.com/menu/" says "Flavors: Pick as Many as You Like at No Extra Charge".
- also disappointed the toppings don't really seem measured.
- also disappointed that this method of preparation prevents being able to sample anything.
I think Sebastopol's "Mimi's Ice Cream" is the better place to get ice cream or fruity sorbet (instead of frozen yogurt), and they have beverages as well. At Mimi's, you can sample anything and make your choice, which I really like! Also Mimi's has indoor and outdoor tables/seating. And I don't get charged for putting more than one flavor in a single container...
Yeah, sounds like some training issues and also perhaps either changes in policy that aren't reflected on the website or individual stores are making different policies.
As for the usefulness of your coupon...not everyone wants to eat out of the same bowl and not everyone wants the same flavors/toppings.
I'm sure Mimi's is good but I can't eat there because they don't have anything vegan. Oh they'll tell you they do but they use the same set of scoops (resting in the same murky water) for all the ice creams, so anyone (like me and my daughter) with allergies to traces of dairy or eggs can't eat the product that was vegan before a scoop touched it.