I recently changed jobs, so these last few weeks I have been focused a little less on touring scoop shops and more on making some pretty big life changes. Although one might argue that ice cream might just be the perfect source of comfort in a time of upheaval.
That could very well be what a few incredibly generous former staff members had in mind when they surprised me with a congratulatory ice cream gift card from Salt & Straw. I will not disclose the amount, but let’s just say it is enough to join the Salt & Straw Pints Club without batting an eye. I’m so lucky to have colleagues who are so supportive of this indulgent hobby of mine!
I decided I had better start making good use of the gift card this weekend. We wandered out to one of their new San Francisco locations in Hayes Valley. Since my visit to one of the original Portland locations last year, Salt & Straw shops have been sprouting up like flowers after a rain storm around here, bringing both their signature favorites and some really interesting seasonal scoops developed with local products. I really appreciate how much they are working to ingrain themselves into the local community.
This month, the Salt & Straw mad scientists collaborated with local chocolate artisans to develop the Chocolatier Series, some pretty original flavor combinations that are anything but your typical scoop of chocolate.
Naturally, the cacao bean is used to make chocolate, but collaborating with some of the country’s best chocolate artisans for our Chocolatier Series reminded us that there’s a lot more to the cacao tree than meets the eye (or mouth?).~ Salt & Straw
As it turns out, there are several local chocolate flavors on their standard menu as well, so rather than stick entirely to the seasonal menu I came up with my own mix-and-match tasting of the following:
- Dick Taylor’s Black Figs & Madagascar Chocolate – a light chocolate base is combined with slow-roasted sherried black figs to recreate Eureka, CA-based chocolatier Dick Taylor’s hand-crafted black mission fig bar. The ice cream was creamy smooth and with a lovely subtle milk chocolate flavor that was a perfect contrast against the rich chocolate figs. Of the four sampled, this was my favorite.
- Feve’s Chocolate Cherry Vinegar Cordial – as a huge Massimo Bottura fan (my husband and I went way out of our way to visit his mind-blowingly amazing restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy a couple of years ago), it was exciting to see this chocolate cherry truffle-inspired flavor on the menu. It blended together San Francisco-based Feve Chocolates and Massimo’s dark cherry vinegar in a duo of vanilla and cherry ice creams. The vinegar gave it some serious bite, and when combined with the rich cherries and creamy ice cream bases, the result was an unusual almost cheesy flavor that was as surprising as some of the complex flavors found in Massimo’s dishes.
- Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies & Cream – one of the San Francisco-area shops’ signature flavors, this combines an insanely rich dark chocolate base made with coconut cream and hazelnut milk with ribbons of chocolate from famed local San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate and chunks of homemade oreos. The overall consistency of the ice cream was lighter and more watery than the others sampled, but what it lacked in creaminess it made up for in flavor. Normally I love hazelnut, but it was pretty overwhelming here, as was the coconut. Combined with the deep dark chocolate, it packed a punch that completely overpowered the cookies.
- Freckled Mint TCHO-colate Chip – this peppermint coconut ice cream is sprinkled with little flakes of untempered dark chocolate from Berkeley-based TCHO Chocolate. The base was super light and fluffy, unlike many mint chip flavors. The coconut comes through pretty strongly, though, making for a bit of an unusual flavor combination.
As far as shop itself goes, the overall vibe is distinctly more subdued than the lively Portland location and is pretty cramped even without a crowd. But, just like with the Oregon shop, you know you’re getting close even before you spot the sign (or the line) when you catch a heavenly whiff of freshly baked waffle cones from all the way down the block!
I continue to be in awe of the Salt & Straw team’s creativity and originality. I love following their ongoing tales of mad scientist experiments with new production methods and flavor combinations. While I would still not necessarily rank this as an “every day” stop, it continues to be a unique experience worth revisiting every so often.
Total score: 3 scoops