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Nov 12, 2013 09:39 PM

Ice Cream run-down in Palo Alto

I love ice cream and Palo Alto's had a miniburst of new ice cream joints in the last six months. I've tried all the new and, I think, all of the old.

In the downtown--Cream and Scoop are the new kids on University.

Cream puts together decent ice cream and decent warm cookies for fresh ice cream sandwiches--all for $2.25. Result: longggg line out the door. I can't remember what I got the one time I tried it as they got my order wrong and I just wanted to get out of the crowd. Anyway, it's good, not great---the sandwich was messy and kind of a gut bomb. Haven't been back, but I'd have loved it as a teenager.

Scoop is the mom-and-pop nitrogen cannister store. Trendy quirky flavors. I had a generous bowl of maple bacon and vanilla with salted butterscotch. Ironically, given the nitrogen, my ice cream was both semi melted and strewn with little icy bits. Could have been an off day and I don't consider it a deal killer. The fact that the ice cream was insanely sweet--as in blood-glucose test sweet--is. Maybe I'd try something like the coffee, but only if I could convince everyone to go around the corner to Gelato Classico or a block over to Fraiche frozen yogurt.

Other new kid is the Tin Pot Creamery over at Town and Country (corner of El Camino and Embarcadero). Another line here, but I've made several visits here. Texture's good as have been most of the flavors, though some of the milder ones--like lavendar with blueberry swirl are too sweet for me. Basically, I come for the salted butterscotch--there's a smoky quality to the flavor that balances beautifully with the creamy base. Portions are small, but we're talking guaranteed happiness in a cup.

The long-time favorite in Palo Alto is Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream down by Cubberly. Yes, it's got an interesting array of flavors--but, again, the milder flavors tend to be too sweet and even a little bland. As an adult, I prefer the stronger, more assertive ones. Industrial chocolate is the most intensely chocolate ice cream I've had from a store and I like the salty caramel. I think, though, a lot of the flavors are crafted with a younger audience in mind--lots of young sports teams end practice with a visit to Rick's. Though, on the more senior side of things, Rick's has toasted almond, which used to ubiquitous, but has mostly disappeared from supermarkets (Dreyers quit making it), so it's a nice find for those who can remember way back when.

So, I'm always glad to see more ice cream and Cream has actually inspired me to make ice cream sandwiches at home (Using Three Twins ice cream), but other than the salted butterscotch at Tin Pot, I'm sticking with Fraiche and Gelato Classico.

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  1. Thanks for wrapping up the new ice cream scene in such a tidy package!

    Since you mention making ice cream sandwiches at home, here's a pointer to a tip on the Home Cooking board.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks. I have to admit I've been pretty lazy about this--i.e. grab two cookies from Fresh Market's bakery, slap scoop of ice cream in-between. Not what you'd call presentable for company . . .

    2. I second this overview. Some minor points:

      The service/website 'fluc' can be used to order Cream (and restaurants like Tamerine) with a flat delivery fee of $6. I haven't used it yet, but it's there.

      I didn't find the Scoop offering to be quite as sweet, but I might be less sensitive. I found it to be less flavorful, to the point of not going back.

      For surrounding towns, Vesta in RWC still serves Berkeley's Lush for desert, and I like the rootbeer floats at Eva's in MV.

      [ One update: Sam's Chowder House opened right near Scoop yesterday. We were in the mood for Steam so didn't stop in. Places seemed more happening than the Campo days, so might stick. ]

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbulkow

        Yes, I am sensitive to sweet and bitter and . . . in other words, I know for a fact I'm a "taster" and probably a "supertaster" as well. That said, I also had a hard time making out the distinctive flavors. I'm sort of surprised. It's not really that hard to make a flavorful ice cream.

        I was quite sorry when Scream went out of business--I used to buy their sorbet's at the Sunday Farmer's Market.

        I think Sam's had a truck at the late Edgewood truck circle. Nice chowder base. We could use a good fish restaurant in the downtown, hope this is one.

      2. I've lived here for 5 years and have yet to try Gelato Classico. What are your favorites there?

        10 Replies
        1. re: emily

          Well. There are two Gelato Classicos (that I know of), the one in PA and the one in MV.

          For many years, GC was above the other ice cream store - swenson's - dimly listed as "best" in a poor crowd.

          Although GC has a solid number of flavors, those flavors were always pedestrian. Their double chocolate is a solid crowd pleaser, and I often would get it with Lemon Sorbet (as you know, with italian gelato, you get many flavors per "scoop").

          GC is certainly the reference PA ice cream,a nd worth mention by emily. It's also pretty dull, heavy but only moderately creamy, very much nothing to write home about.

          1. re: emily

            Rather than pedestrian, I like to think of Gelato Classico's flavors as, well, classic. In other words, the best flavors tend to be the ones that are traditional gelato flavors in Italy--so some of the fruit sorbets are good--lemon and raspberry make a nice combo. I like their espresso and their nut gelatos, such as pistachio, can be nice. I can't comment on the chocolate as I'm not really a fan of chocolate ice creams in general. (I even tried making it myself and didn't care a lot for it.)

            Is the pistachio as delectable as the sorbet from the late lamented Scream? No, but it's a reasonably done gelato. Gelatos are meant to be heavy (made with relatively little air) and served in small portions. It's the nature of the beast--and it's clearly more to the liking of some than others. :)

            1. re: urbavore

              Compared to my favorite Gelatos in Florence, I find the nut flavors lacking in depth and true gelato character. The best gelatos have a mix of the cold cream of ice cream, and the original taste featured, the best of both worlds. GC has always struck me more like souped-up ice cream than actual gelato.

              That having been said, I'll agree hold heartedly regarding GC's sorbets. I think I always get a sorbet and something else, and --- annoyingly --- GC only allows two flavors per most orders, instead of an italian gelato place which will give 3 or 4 (what's it to them, as long as the volume is the same).

              Too bad GC's menu isn't on the internet. We could then debate their flavor choice in an informed way.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  Well, now, if we're going to compare Gelato Classico to your favorite places in Firenze, I agree it's not going to cut the muster.

                  Of the ones on the list Melanie attached, I'd skip all of the really American ones--i.e. cookies and cream, cookie dough. I think their vanilla bean is fine as a background--I've gotten it to balance the double espresso bean.

                  But, basically, either the fruit sorbets or the strong flavors--chocolate for chocolate types and double espresso. And I agree that the nut flavors are on the mild side, but I think they succeed in their way, even if the flavor doesn't "pop".

                  But now I'm feeling inspired to try making a nut gelato--just got a bunch of chestnuts from Skyline . . . if I can just deal with the literal pain of shelling the darn things.

                  1. re: urbavore

                    Not big on Gelato Classico. But my favorite flavor is Coppa Mista: chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and almond.

                    1. re: urbavore

                      Well, let's just compare them to Lush in Oakland, which you can buy at Vesta in RWC (limited flavors). Bold flavors, both more traditional and more californian.


                      I also think compared to Naia in Berkeley - which is roundly disliked on the board - Naia is far better. Love that black sesame, rose, melon at Naia.

                      For me, GC is barely gelato. It reminded me of the period when gelato was just becoming known in america (what was that early Gelato place in Trumpetvine Ct in Berkeley, around '84?), so places would up the fat count, decrease the serving size, and call their product gelato.

                      For that reason - and the fact they have limited seating in PA - I can't remember the last time I stopped by. Several years, at least. "not a fan" sums it up, but the stuff is edible.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I agree that GC is of an older time in a sense, but I don't always think that's a bad thing. Is it destination gelato? No. Is it the place I would grab ice cream while walking around University doing something else? Yes. (Certainly after that experience with Scoop the other day.) I'm unlikely to make a detour to Redwood City on a Saturday night--though I would probably walk toward Fraiche frozen yogurt much of the time.

                        I think the real, new comparison for ice cream in Palo Alto vs. other "name" places in the Bay Area is the Tin Pot Creamery. As I say, I'm partial to the salted butterscotch, but there are flavors I still need to try--I've heard good things about the one with the balsamic vinegar swirl.

                        So, if we're going to do a taste-off--I'm going to use Tin Pot and Fraiche. Name your Lush flavor of choice.

                        (I do remember the ice cream place in Berkeley--lunch was a slice of Blondie's pizza and then dessert was the ice cream. Can't remember the name though.)

                        1. re: urbavore

                          The place in Trumpetvine was Vivoli's.

                          1. re: urbavore

                            I agree fully. Tin Pot is interesting ice cream that competes with other bay area innovative places --- GC doesn't, and is "fine for what it is" --- a little neighborhood ice cream store.