Friday, July 11, 2008

Ici: Ice cream review (lament)

My sister always used to tell my mom that she was impressed by my confident air that (presumably) implied I knew so much about life. Until the day she realized that I say everything with confidence -- even when I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Yes, it's true, I am a prime offender when it comes to speaking with conviction while lacking the necessary expertise to do such. Call it a quirk, call it a flaw, call it exceptionally annoying, whatever you like. In my quest for the best Berkeley ice cream, however, I've made the sad discovery that I am not the only one with this tendency.

The problem with living in a new city where you don't know anyone is that the only people whose opinions are available about food destinations are those on the unfiltered internet. This is not to say that I think of sites like Yelp and Chowhound as electronic hangouts for the Great Unwashed. What I mean is that you need people you trust to lead you to the best place for you. My boyfriend understands this better than anyone, in that every time I rave about a restaurant, his first question is, "Yes, but would I like it?" It takes an individual who knows you quite well to be able to answer that question, and unfortunately for me, none of those individuals are members of the online review boards.

This is all a big build-up for me to say that my experience at Ici, an outrageously popular ice cream establishment on College Avenue in Berkeley, was underwhelming. Yes, the owner was the former pastry chef at Chez Panisse. Yes, they boast exotic flavors like chickory-cinnamon, cardmom-rose, and lemon-thyme. And yes, my ice cream was tasty (one scoop of coffee ice cream in a cup -- it's cheating to get yours in a cone when reviewing a place, as ice cream nearly always tastes better in a cone).

BUT! My ice cream was not worlds better than any other ice cream place (except when compared to a place like ColdStone, my opinions on which could make me spontaneously combust). In fact, the first bite immediately made me wish I was eating the ice cream of Fosselman's instead. The texture was smooth and creamy, but I tasted more pure sweetness than coffee flavor, and I found myself thinking of it as the Nice Guy of ice cream. [As has often been said, girls tend to avoid dating the Nice Guy because he's all sweetness -- no edge, no complexity, no excitement.] Would I eat it if it was free? Certainly. Would I call it the best? Not by a long stretch.

The fact is, the simplest, most traditional flavors are the best ones by which to judge any ice cream joint because there's no novelty of the Gourmet Ice Cream Mad Libs that goes on nowadays. You know, [normal ice cream flavor] + [random trendy herb or spice] = [cutting edge]. Besides, if you find there's a combination that sounds great as a garnish for a steak (such as the "lemon-thyme" on the menu yesterday), isn't that a sign that it wouldn't make the best ice cream? So for now, I'm still on the lookout for a Berkeley standout.

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