Smitten Ice Cream- Best Ice Cream in San Francisco
When I first heard of this liquid nitrogen ice cream craze, like so many other food fads, I was unimpressed and just not all that excited. Ice cream is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I’m sure it is for many adults. It’s a cold, sweet treat that turns the most sophisticated business leaders into smiling, silly children, albeit for just a few minutes. This simple dessert holds many of our favorite childhood memories- something untouchable. With all the flavors out in the big bad world of ice cream, I am a lover of both the classics and the creative.
It doesn’t both me so much that people want to play around with flavors and names; in fact, I think it’s a wonderful creative medium. What does bother me, are ice creams made from ingredients I cannot pronounce or fathom. I have vivid memories of my mother making ice cream at home– Vanilla and Rum were her only two specialties. Besides their decadent, rich taste that had the power to lift me from even the worst of moods, I also remember that there were only a handful of ingredients, all of which I could pronounce, all of which we could buy at any local grocery store- milk, vanilla beans, sugar, salt, eggs and Rum.
Into adulthood, I admit I fell out of love with ice cream in America specifically because I would read the ingredients labels on boxes of ice cream at the supermarket and with exception of one or two companies, they were filled with chemicals. As much as I hate to sound like an adult, I came to prefer a piece of fruit over ice cream, at least in America, (in Asia and Europe there are plenty of ice cream choices still made with simple ingredients the old fashioned way).
When friends dragged me to Smitten Ice Cream in San Francisco, I went half heartedly, expecting another gimmicky fad and yet another disappointing, ordinary experience with excessively sweet crap. Smitten pours the ingredients of your to-order ice cream right in front of you, into continuously churning metallic containers made to below freezing temperatures by piped in liquid nitrogen. You stand there watching the magic happen- raw, organic ingredients turning into the smoothest, creamiest concoction in America.
Upon first taste of my classic Vanilla with Caramel drizzle, I felt my eyes widen in that annoying, overly dramatic way so many tv food hosts do. On second and third taste, I swirled the ultra smooth cold velvet around my tongue and felt like I had suddenly shrunk to my five year old self- eating my mother’s ice cream at home. While smooth, you could still feel a sense of gritty texture on the back of the palate- a texture your body screams for, the kind that comes only from real, fresh food.
Subsequent visits later, I’ve tried their Tcho Chocolate (Tcho is another great San Francisco company specializing in, you guessed it- gourmet chocolate), Blood Orange and Mint Chip. For chocolate lovers, the Tcho Chocolate is a can’t miss- those swirls of dark smoothness with just the right pinch of sweetness, while Blood Orange is refreshing for warm summer days. The Mint Chip was standout- tasting of just picked vibrantly green mint leaves and a dash of cream with roughly chopped dark chocolate. The last time I tasted real mint leaves in ice cream was in some remote village in Italy.
My absolute number one favorite at Smitten- the Strawberry Balsamic. Naturally sweet ripe strawberries swirled with that deliciously familiar tang of reduced Balsamic vinegar to contrast the creamy smoothness…to quote Sophia from the Golden Girls, “if this were a person, I’d get naked and make love to it.”
Will you taste the difference between Smitten’s organic, liquid nitrogen ice cream versus regular ice cream? If you eat ice cream because you’re looking for the kind of excessive sweetness and barely recognizable flavors that attack your tongue, then sophisticated, pure Smitten ice cream is not for you. If you have a keen palate, if you actually care about what you’re eating and you’re the kind of person who takes immense pleasure in tasting what’s in your mouth, the answer is a resounding yes. My conclusion- Smitten has made me fall in love all over again, with ice cream, with that treasured part of my childhood. Suffice it to say next time my parents are in San Francisco, I will definitely be taking them over there. Only the very best for my parents.