Our adventure began on a beautiful sunny Wednesday morning at the start of our bike tour in Hayes Valley, where a mysterious shipping container stood closed and darkened beside the bike shop. This is the location of Smitten Ice Cream, a shop that uses a patented machine they call the Brrr that churns up batches of made-to-order, from-scratch ice cream. But alas, we would have to wait many hours before getting our hands on one of their scoops.
As we waited for the bike tour to start, our guide Adam touted this as the best ice cream in San Francisco, quite a prestigious honour given the ice cream powerhouses of Bi-Rite Creamery and Humphry Slocombe on the scene. In fact, he talked this ice cream up so much that this was all I could think about on the bike tour. As the hours rolled by, it was like the hype was growing and growing until Smitten became this mythical creature with the grace of a unicorn and the power of a dragon. Yes, folks, I expected this to make my taste buds cry out in a joyous chorus. Expectations were like, super high.
All kidding aside, I’m generally not the most objective judge when it comes to ice cream. I have a clear and obvious bias for it, which is evident when you look at my recipe page. I have a love so undying for it that not even mild lactose intolerance can keep me away. Get away from me non-dairy ice cream – you’re all imposters! Real dairy ice cream will be my one and true love, and I’ve hardly met an ice cream flavour that I didn’t enjoy. So even with all the crazy hype surrounding the scoops at Smitten, I knew I would enjoy it. It was just a matter of how much on my scale of ice cream enjoyment.
Many hours later, we arrived back to our starting point, feeling accomplished for not falling off the bike (ok, that was just me), with a huge hankering for some ice cream. We each got a 10% discount coupon from the bike shop to use (woohoo!), so we headed on over to the now-open and bright shop inside a converted shipping container to give it a try.
They only offer a few flavours that change daily (I think the vanilla and chocolate are the constants) because each of them requires its own Brrr machine that uses liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze the ice cream, resulting in smaller ice crystals for a much smoother finish. What’s great about the smaller menu is that they list all of the ingredients so you can see what exactly goes into each flavour. They pride themselves on keeping things local, which I’m always down with.
Here’s the Brrr machine in action. It takes a couple of minutes for the ice cream to finish churning so it’s not one of those instant scoop-and-eat shops.
Mark chose the TCHO 60.5% Chocolate. Look at those perfect orbs of ice cream. This is the smallest size we got and it was still a substantial amount of ice cream. Deliciously creamy with a bold and rich chocolate taste, it had the perfect level of sweetness.
I went with their seasonal offering, Olive Oil with Lavender Shortbread. I’ve never seen this combination before so I was instantly intrigued. I typically steer clear of lavender because when done wrong, it makes food taste like soap, but this was done right. When it first hit my palate, I experienced a split-second of, “I might regret my decision” but then it quickly faded into, “oooooh this is lovely!” Finished with a drizzle of olive oil, it had generous chunks of buttery shortbread with a distinct but not too overpowering lavender flavour. The ice cream itself was subtle and mellow; not overly sweet, but with the unmistakable flavour of olive oil. This was a grown-up, sophisticated ice cream and I felt grown-up and sophisticated eating it.
What truly sets this ice cream apart from the others is how it manages to be ultra-rich and creamy while being light at the same time. There’s some sort of sorcery happening in those Brrr machines because the resulting product is so unique and oh-so-delicious. This has easily got to be the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had and I don’t think anything will ever come close to it. That texture… I don’t even know how to adequately describe it. It’s like the softest cashmere in ice cream form, wrapping my taste buds in its irresistible allure.
While I can’t confirm whether or not it’s the best in San Francisco (that would’ve involved trying out all the ice cream shops in SF and sadly I didn’t have enough time to make it happen), I can confidently say that this rates in my top 10 ice creams of all time. We paid $4.75 for a small ($4.50 with our coupon), which I thought was a decent price considering the portion we got.
If you’re an ice cream lover (or even just an ice cream liker), I recommend checking this place out for its unique interpretation of a good old fashioned classic. Plus, everyone should experience the cashmere softness that is their ice cream texture; it really is something special.
**Also want to give a quick shout out to Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours – if you’re ever going for a visit and want to do a tour that’s not on one of those touristy double-decker buses, I highly recommend taking a bike tour with them. We had such a blast, learned a ton about San Francisco, and covered a large area of the city.**
Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia Street San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 863-1518