Monday, December 31, 2012

Bi-Rite Creamery: the Ice-Cream to Die for

It is one cool September afternoon. The undulating San Francisco streets are chilly, yet the autumn breeze seems to have no effect on deterring the queue forming outside Bi-Rite Creamery. Everyone in San Francisco knows Bi-Rite, or at least have heard about it. My best friend Angela raves about it. My Korean expat friend who works in San Francisco immediately screams "Bi-Rite" as soon as I mention ice-cream. And they all have one thing in common - they all roll their eyes backwards at the thought of the Creamery's signature flavor, Salted Caramel.

It has long since become customary for Angela to go on a pilgrimage to Bi-Rite whenever she and her family visit this very city that they have called home for many years. They literally buy tubs of Salted Caramel each time. Just how good can ice-cream get?

After circling the three-block radius numerous times and finally landing a parking spot, we stand in line quivering while I anxiously study the day's menu. Is this going to be yet another painstaking decision-making process? Roasted Banana... Brown Sugar with Ginger Caramel Swirl... Earl Grey... Coffee Toffee... yup, it most certainly will be tougher than choosing an automobile.

So I turn to Angela, who is determined to get nothing but double scoops of Salted Caramel, which I find slightly odd (why two scoops of the same flavor?). "Hey, how about I try your Salted Caramel, that way we can taste more flavors?" 

"Nooo." She is so firm I swear she almost rolled her eyes.

For more than a decade that I have known Angela, she is always generous, easy-going, and always accommodating. C'mon, it's Jaa. Never in a million years will I see that shock of rejection coming.
- "You're kidding right?" I snicker, in disbelief.  
- "No, I'm having my own two scoops!"
Wow. An ice-cream venerable enough to make your best friend turn her back on you.

Time to order... the point of no turning back!
There is always something intriguing about ice-cream parlours. People are always jolly. Ice-cream brings out the child in every individual. I make up my mind on my three chosen flavors as we scootch into the toasty interior of this crowded ice-cream shop. A herb fanatic that I am, and an off-the-beaten-path type adventurer, I go for Honey Lavander, the seasonal feature Basil, and of course Salted Caramel. A young woman in front who just claims her ice-cream exclaims to her companion, "O, M, G. The Salted Caramel... get it!!!" I begin to worry, will over-anticipation lead to a massive let-down? 

The ice-cream guy carefully stacks the third scoop onto my waffle cone. I clumsily put away my change and mindlessly take my first bite while Angela gets hers in a cup. And bang. The savoriness of kosher salt, dancing in tango with rich caramel, seducing the tongue with a hint of smokiness - all enveloped in a superbly smooth and creamy texture. The ice-cream is intense, and wildly complex. It is the happy-ever-after marriage of the sweet and the savory. My knees buckle like noodles while my eyes roll to heavens.

Yes, this Salted Caramel is to die for.

The Honey Lavander and Basil are no less decadent. Dainty, rather than soapy, is the word that comes to mind with the Honey Lavander - a subtle yet remarkable concoction of organic dried lavender and honey harvested from the Creamery's own farms and beehives. And the Basil, a creamy off-white with the slighest tint of meadow green, is a mouthful of bursting, freshly-picked-from-the-garden flavor.

Perhaps it is the quality of organic ingredients; the Creamery's efforts to source as locally as possible (The Straus Family Creamery organic dairy, only 45 miles away, supply all of the organic milk, cream and eggs in their recipes); their committment to the environment (all their disposables are biodegradeable); and the very fact that nearly everything is handmade, homemade and freshly made daily that lifts all the sins and guilt off the indulgence of really, really, really good ice-cream. 

So, what's the verdict? If the world were coming to an end as it was prophesied this past December 21st, and I was granted the chance for one last scoop of ice-cream, it would have to be Bi-Rite Creamery's Salted Caramel. Two scoops, if I may. To die for, again, and again.

Salted Caramel, Honey Lavander, and Basil

 [Any comments or thoughts? Share with me!]