I’ll happily eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, or any other grocery store ice cream. Sometimes I venture out for gelato, but artisan ice cream isn’t my thing. However, I do make an exception for Ici Ice Cream in Berkeley, an ice cream shop opened by former pastry chef at Chez Panisse.
My first visit to Ici was during my second year at Cal, when I had decided to walk from campus to Rockridge Bart because it was better than waiting for the bus. The perennial line snaking out of the small ice-cream parlor and the chalkboard pinned to a tree with the day’s flavors had always sparked my interest, so I finally decided to join the gaggle of college students and families outside the shop to see what the hype was. Ever since my first scoop of fragrant rose ice-cream, I’ve went back to Ici for my ice cream fix whenever I felt like indulging.
The shop isn’t particularly outstanding; a single light blue panel with a swirly ice-cream cone and the shop’s name hangs outside. Inside on the right, a glass case framed by smooth grained wood showcases ice cream bombes (Ici’s version of ice cream cakes) and the flavors of the day. On the left of the cashier sits jars of rose pistachio meringues, small bags of spiced pumpkin seed brittle tied with pale yellow ribbons, and stacks of crumbly peanut butter cookies trapped inside glass domes.
Like any curious girl who wants to test all the exotic flavors written on the board, I ask for a sample each of Rose Vanilla, Maple Candied Bacon, and Orange Rosemary Toffee. The Maple Candied Bacon was a bit too sweet for my taste, so I order the remaining two on a cone.
Unlike traditionally dense and creamy versions of homemade ice cream, Ici’s concoctions have the consistency of icy milk; the lightness makes eating pints of it virtually guiltless. I feel as if I were drinking liquid English roses with every lick of the Rose Vanilla. The earthy tones of vanilla are highlighted with floral notes, fragrant and delicate. Speckles of rosemary and generous bits of candied orange peel pepper the scoop of spicier Orange Rosemary Toffee. The crunchy toffee bits are buttery and sweet, bringing in that extra naughtiness of candy into a seemingly fruity and herbal ice cream.
Ici’s cones are not your average waffle cones. They’re smooth like flat cookies and crunch like a very thick crepe. It also doesn’t soften like waffle cones, but that may be because I always finish the ice cream too quickly. Hardened semi-sweet chocolate pooled generously at the bottom wraps up the dessert. Once I had finished, I wish I had bought a second cone.
You absolutely have to go to Ici for your fix of artisan ice cream, bon bons, or fancy root beer floats served with Abita root beer. Past ice cream flavors include Bourbon Salted Pecan, Honey Chamomile, Persimmon Brandied Currant, Chicory Cinnamon, Saffron Coconut, Earl Grey, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Crème Fraiche Hazelnut Praline, Brown Sugar Gingersnap, Cardamom Ro–…sorry, got out of hand. Hungry yet? What are you still doing in front of the screen? Go, go, go!
Ici Ice Cream
2948 College Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705