Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scoop on Dining: Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop

I’m doing a two-part post this week on the “Bi-Rite Experience” in San Francisco’s Mission District. On a block of 18th Street, it’s like Bi-Rite is taking over the neighborhood, first with its grocery store selling fresh fruits and gourmet meats and now its ice cream destination, which I’m featuring today. Come back tomorrow for a tour of the Bi-Rite Market.Artisan Ice Cream with a Fifties Flair

Recently I got my cholesterol checked again because it was high last year, and now my doctor says I’m back in the normal range! So I went out to celebrate by checking out the Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. ;-)

Opened a year ago, the tiny ice cream spot is right across the street from the Bi-Rite Market on 18th near Dolores. It’s known for its creamy, fresh ice cream made from mostly organic dairy products (primarily from Straus Organic Dairy). They say they make their ice cream in small batches, supposedly emphasizing the home-made aspect and giving a dig to the mass produced ice creams like Haagen-Dazs.

Here’s my visit from this past weekend. I actually went twice—on Saturday on my own and then again on Sunday afternoon after the Giants baseball game with my friends David and Ann. The sacrifices I make for research.
Because I’m in marketing and do graphic design on the side, I’m always impressed by good branding. Bi-Rite does this well with its whimsical signage, including the hand-written notes all over the place. I have to note that the line didn’t seem as long and as slow as it is at my other favorite ice cream destination spot, Ici in Berkeley. Another difference? More single people in line, and not a kid in sight. There’s always an advantage to living in the city.

As you enter, there’s a ton of chocolate sauces and other items for sale along the wall. But hardly anyone was browsing. Everyone seemed focused on what to order.

Here are more organic chocolate sauces and a stack of David Leibowitz’s “The Perfect Scoop.” This book is in virtually every artisan ice cream shop. Gosh, he has a good publisher.

There’s a small refrigerator below all the chocolate sauces where you can find a drink. I love the old-time ‘50s look to all the appliances. Again, great job with creating the brand feel. You just know you can get a good bottle of Pop here.

The freezer to the side offers ice cream by the pint and a whole bunch of other things, including ice cream pies, ice cream sandwiches and coconut macaroons.

The moment of truth: Time to decide what to get. Again, love the hand-written displays—so organic and natural. Many of the flavors were focused on sweet candy inspirations, like mint chip, coffee toffee and butter pecan. Bi-Rite has less of the innovative fruit and spice flavors of Ici. It also has some odd flavors like roasted banana. I wasn’t that adventurous to try it.

The place is sooo small, but it has maybe three barstools on the side if you want to eat in. But it was such a beautiful day, I ate outside where there are a few tiny benches around the trees.

Here’s what I went with on my first visit—two scoops in a cup ($4.25). The top flavor is balsamic strawberry and underneath it is the famous salted caramel. I thought the strawberry tasted fresh, but it was just like strawberry ice cream you get at the store. Plus it had a few pieces of ice, which I thought showed a lack of perfection in technique. But the salted caramel was fantastic. It had a creamy texture similar to gelato and the flavoring was rich and deep. If I drank coffee, this would be a nice flavor to pair with a good cup of Joe.

On Sunday with David and Ann, I decided to go with my favorite flavors of lemon and ginger. So I got a scoop of each and I had them sprinkle the cookie of the day, which was a lemon-ginger snap. Yep, it was lemon-ginger overload. I liked both the lemon and ginger flavors of the ice cream, but I wasn’t a fan of the cookie. Some parts were crispy while others were stale. And I think the guy was a bit too generous on the sprinkling, if that’s possible.

This is what David and Ann went with. On the bottom is the salted caramel, of course, but on top was a new flavor: peanut butter with Fleur de Sel nuggets. Fleur de Sel, the fancy sea salt from France, is being generously used as toppings in a lot of confections these days. And why not? It’s a great contrasting flavor. The nuggets were like chocolate bits with the sea salt mixed in, and the combination with the ice cream was an amazing trick.

Bi-Rite is a fun and delicious destination for ice cream in the city, especially being near Dolores Park on a warm weekend (which will only be for the next two months in the Bay Area). It sells more variety of ice cream products, including three flavors of popsicles (pineapple, mango and kiwi for $1.95 each). The palette of flavors lean heavily on the candy (which is what my friend Ann likes) compared to the seasonal fruits and spices at Ici (which is what I like). So I say Ici is still my favorite for innovative ice cream flavors, but I wouldn’t turn down an offer to drop by Bi-Rite when in San Francisco. Especially since my cholesterol is back to normal. :)

Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop, 3692 18th St. at Dolores, San Francisco. Summer hours: Sunday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.


Anonymous said...

You should never drink coffee while eating ice cream...it can crack your teeth...seriously.

Anonymous said...

too much cookie crumble! my mouth is watering just looking at that. Feel free to send some my way ;)

Anonymous said...

the popsicle flavors change daily