August 12, 2007

Ici [Berkeley]

Ici – Where Peach-Habanero Sorbet actually counts as a good thing

When Ici opened in Berkeley last year, it was to Berkeley what the recent Osteria Mozza opening was to Hollywood—elusive.

I had driven by it and intrigued by the fanciful signs, I scoured the Chowhound boards and blogs in search of an opening date. First it was one month, then it was two, and then it just fell off my radar until I found it quietly open on my way back from campus one day.

In the beginning, portions were meager, at $2.75 for a single scoop of ice cream. But once they worked out the kinks and offered me more value for my money, I was hooked. Ici was not five minutes from where I lived and rain or shine, day or night, fat or skinny I made sure to make the daily pilgrimage. Even now, I cant bare to overlook a visit if I’m anywhere within a 1-hour radius.

Ici's ice creams stand out on two levels: 1) texture and 2) flavor. The ice creams are smooth, but not overly rich and with an icy finish that is the perfect companion for a hot summer’s day. The flavors are incredibly crisp and the combinations make for happy marriages. Whether it is a simple mint-lime or an intriguing peach-habanero, you will first taste the components individually, before enjoying the harmony that they sing together in your mouth.

I had originally settled on the Honey-Saffron, but after trying the Strawberry ice cream, there was no doubt in my mind that it would go perfectly with the Peach-Habanero sorbet. I was at first ambivalent to Peach-Habanero by itself, but the contrast of textures and the similar flavor profiles of the two together were nothing short of sublime.

My first taste of the sorbet revealed only sweet notes of ripe peaches. I waited and waited and was then found by the subtle, but striking heat of the peppers. You know when it’s so cold that its burns? Well, Peach-Habanero sorbet operates on a similar principle: your tongue is first tickled by the chill of the sorbet and then piqued by the heat of the habaneros. The continuity is seamless, while the combination of temperature and flavor onto a single spectrum makes for a thoughtful transition. I suggest pairing Peach-Habanero with a creamier ice cream (e.g. Strawberry) to soothe the tingling sensation left by the sorbet.

On top of offering a seasonal menu of ice creams, sorbets, bombes, and ice cream sandwiches, Ici also does some amazing cardamom-semolina cookies and gingersnaps. Did I mention the hand-rolled cones with their chocolate-filled tips and dusting to sugar crystals? And on top of all that, they’re a green operation serving their treats in 100% biodegradable packaging.

2948 College Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 665-6054

My favorites: Lemon-gingersnap ice cream sandwiches, cardamom-semolina cookies, ginger cookies, any of the sorbets, citrus-flavored ice creams

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