On any given night, hoards of diners and locals pile into a goliath line outside the Ici Ice Cream storefront. Sitting on a well-lit but quiet stretch of College Avenue, the parlor attracts denizens of the East Bay like moths to a honey-covered lamp. If we can call Humphry Slocombe the ice cream spirit animal of San Francisco -- experimental, hedonistic, brazen, and quirky -- then we may as well call Ici the refined, older aunt of Berkeley. For every jalapeno Humphry Slocombe flicks into its ice cream, Ici incorporates a dainty, candied Meyer lemon.
If Humphry Slocombe is a misunderstood rocker, Ici is a lady who lunches. A lady who lunches then goes home and scrawls provocative poetry on her walls. She's prim at first glance, but dig deeper and you'll find a restless soul keen to rip up the norms.
Ici was dreamed up by Mary Canales in 2006 after a nine-year tenure as the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. The product is what you may expect from a pedigree like that: simple and refined with a penchant for whimsy, and a thing for reinventing classics. The Earl Grey fudge swirl is an elegant distillation of Ici's character: a simple thing enlivened by a marriage of the unexpected that ends up utterly luscious and just a tiny bit strange. The base is a homemade concoction anchored by Straus cream, dressed up with Earl Grey tea, bergamot oil, and a hearty dose of TCHO chocolate. At risk of sounding like a marketing push, I'll call it floral, rich, and maybe a little nostalgic.
While I love the daring flavors that Humphry Slocombe infuses in its ice creams, it's good to know that classics still hold promise around here. That said, look out for variations on saffron and rice, coffee, and herbs. In the meantime, I'll be standing outside nursing a few scoops of this one, swimming in hot fudge and the last bits of Indian summer.