Friday, July 20, 2012

National Ice Cream Day revisited

Sorry this has taken me a hot minute to get to! On Monday I came down with a cold, and I’ve been slow to catch up. But I am on the mend!

I would like to tell you about National Ice Cream Day, which was a lot of fun, though in unexpected ways. What is it that John Lennon sings? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s an understatement. And perhaps National Ice Cream Day was a microcosm for this very idea. Allow me to elaborate.

The day before I’d invited a friend -- let’s call him D -- out to, as I put it, “quietly nurse a beer in the corner of a dark bar.” I shouldn’t really be drinking on my medication, but one doesn’t hurt, hence the nursing. He said, “I can’t come out tonight, but what are your plans for tomorrow?” With a mild blush I explained my ice cream mission. “That sounds fun! Why couldn’t I go with you?” Well, I hadn’t thought anyone would want to. “What time do we start? Good, I’ll see you then.” Microcosm number one: just like you, everyone is waiting for an invitation, so go ahead and ask.

We got started an hour late -- that’s all right. I hopped on the back of his motorcycle and we were off to our first destination: DeLise Dessert Cafe on Bay St. across from Fisherman’s Wharf. The cafe offers an assortment of desserts, as well as sandwiches and coffee, in addition to their ice cream, of which they change their flavors daily, but try to always feature at least one Asian, one tea, and one coffee flavor. I tried the rose lychee and the Meyer lemon with extra virgin olive oil, but ultimately settled on a scoop of the Thai iced tea and the coconut Pandan. The flavors were sweet and delicate, and, as it’s been noted, smaller in comparison to other ice cream parlours, but not that small. I also got a coffee, which was French pressed on the spot, and was rich, dark, and delicious. Though the cafe has been mentioned in a couple of Best Of lists, the shop is free of the hype-hipness that plagues other famous ice cream destinations.

Delicate flavors in delicate portions.
On our way out, another couple came in, who were just finishing up their ice cream excursion for National Ice Cream Day. We chatted briefly with them and they expressed amazement at the lack of lines at Humphry Slocombe and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous. “Ah, that’s where we are headed!” I said. Microcosm lesson two: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

We followed up DeLise with a stop at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous over in the Dogpatch -- which I’d never been to before (“Ah! So this is where the Dogpatch is!”). There was a line, but it wasn’t discouragingly long, yet it became instantly clear that I wasn’t the only one with National Ice Cream Day on the brain. I was excited to see what the menu would contain and said out loud, “Oh look, they’ve got a 21st Amendment flavor!”

”Yeah, of their most awful beer,” said D.

I looked more closely, and in smaller letters underneath it specified Hell or High Watermelon, which I have to agree is probably the worst beer I’ve ever tasted. I’m not really a beer snob, so don’t take my word for it. After all, my favorite kind of beer is so bitter it feels like it’s punching you in the mouth, so I’ve really no authority. But curiosity won me over, and I sampled it (“An improvement on the beer,” D declared), but ultimately went with a scoop of the Fiore Di Sicilia with rum raisins in a waffle cone. I enjoyed the finer citrus flavor and the raisins added a pop of sweetness. I might have preferred a smaller serving, but I’ve also been accused of eating like a bird. Microcosm lesson three: just cause you didn’t like the Hell or High Watermelon in beer form doesn’t mean you won’t like it as ice cream.

That's a lot of ice cream!
Our next destination was the infamous Humphry Slocombe, but by then all the hip people in San Francisco (and their parents!) had crawled out of bed and were standing in line to try whatever sensationally outrageous flavors old Humphry was offering.

See? Everyone and their moms.

”I don’t do lines,” was the famous utterance of one of my tall, slender, impeccably stylish, and exotically accented friends from Los Angeles. It’s not as bad as it sounds. She once took me shopping and revealed the secret to looking cool (answer: it’s finding funky dresses at thrift stores and shortening their hems, or simply wearing a shirt backwards), and on the night she spoke those words, she marched right up to the door of this ultra cool club with me in tow and talked our way in ahead of everyone else. I’ve managed to do it a few times on my own.

But I’ve been to Humphry Slocombe’s before, so I didn’t feel a particular need to eat ice cream there, and immediately began hatching an alternative plan. After a quick Google Maps search, I found Dagwood & Scoops just a few blocks away, which serves Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Not originally on my list, Mitchell’s flagship store came up in my Best Of search, so I felt I was still being faithful to my intentions, though it turns out I’ve had their avocado ice cream before. It was worth repeating because it’s now one of my favorite flavors.

This is not a photo of ice cream. This is me taking notes.

It was clear that the line at Bi-Rite -- which was next on my list -- was probably wrapped around the corner, and, as you know, I’ve had plenty of ice cream from there, so I checked out Yelp and went with the first thing that caught my eye: The Ice Cream Bar. It would turn out to be one of my best spontaneous decisions to date. Nestled in Cole Valley, it was on the way home, and therefore ideal. I only quickly glanced at the Yelp reviews, and besides noting the high rating, didn’t read much else, which probably made the experience that much more delightful. We arrived to a pretty faithfully replicated vintage ice cream shop and soda fountain like something right out of a movie. Besides a dazzling array of ice cream flavors and desserts -- I had a scoop of the basil flavor -- they offer a full service soda fountain bar where they mix specialty malts, shakes, phosphates, and sodas from an assortment of hand-labeled glass bottles. It’s only indulgently quaint until you watch the soda jerk mix exacting ingredients like a wizard a magic spell, and then you realize this is an art -- and a time -- long forgotten. The Ice Cream Bar is a crowded little time capsule. Looking at the menu, I had to get the Touch of Grey -- candy cap mushroom syrup, acid phosphate, cream, soda. It was divine, creamy, sweet, and fresh.

Look at all those fresh ingredients! Oh my goodness, it's so endearing!
A touch of grey -- no, not fifty shades of it!
D and I agreed that it was probably our favorite stop of the day, and engaging discovery that would not have happened had everything gone according to plan. It was a delicious lesson to learn … I guess you could say that surprises and flexibility are the sweet treats of life. And I’ve got a sweet tooth that would make a honey bee run.

So that checks a couple of new spots off my Ultimate San Francisco Ice Cream list ... where else should I go? Let me know! It's still National Ice Cream Month after all!

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