As a youngster growing up in New Jersey I frequently visited Six Flags during the summer. In between lines and massive roller coaster rides, our trips always required a refreshing pit-stop at Dippin’ Dots, the ice cream of the future. These little vendor carts served a unique treat of little ice cream pebbles produced by liquid nitrogen flash-freezing. I’d often wondered why this interesting technique wasn’t more common since the people seem to love it and it didn’t seem that difficult to do.
Well I don’t need to wonder about that any more. While exploring San Francisco, I stumbled across an outdoor shanty in the middle of a park in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, where Smitten is making ice cream to order using this very technique.
I guessing you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I watch a lot of Top Chef. It seems to me like every season, one adventurous contestant tries to pull off making liquid nitrogen ice cream during competition. It’s always quite an impressive visual demonstration so it’s no wonder this ice cream shop draws such impressive lines. Though the line may appear long, it does actually flow quickly and you won’t mind being there because it really is fun to watch everyone’s ice cream being made while waiting.
As you await your turn, you’ll be treated to the spectacle and splendor of the show. Fluffy, wispy clouds of liquid nitrogen-based smoke will billow out of industrial machinery as gorgeous, fresh, hand-made ice cream gets presented to anxious, excited customers. Children and adult faces glow alike in anticipation of this fun, cold, summery treat while in line at Smitten.
Amy and I glanced at the large menu on the wall, but I knew immediately which flavor she was going to go for. The Strawberry White Balsamic option just screamed as an Amy pick. We decided to get it topped with the Brown Sugar Caramel sauce which was the shop’s recommended pairing with this ice cream flavor. We paid and stepped up to the glass to watch our treat be made. With a puff of smoke our ice cream was magically prepared and was handed over to us so we could dive in.
The texture was wonderful. It was firm and frozen well from the liquid nitrogen-based molecular gastronomy technique. The strawberry flavor was bold and vibrant and truly tasted like real strawberries and the sweet sticky caramel sauce was really great with it as well. The white balsamic flavor, however, was pretty subtle and a bit more restrained than we had hoped for. Admittedly, the balsamic flavor did get bolder towards the bottom of the bowl and those ended up being our favorite bites.
With that being said, if you’re in San Francisco and want to try a unique, fancy, delicious, artisanal summertime treat head over to the Hayes Valley neighborhood and get some liquid nitrogen ice cream at Smitten. It was really fun to watch this stuff being made, it was really quite delicious, and was just an excellent place to be to cool off from the summer heat.
Got another spot in San Francisco serving unique sweets that I should check out? Let me know in the comments below.
Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia St. #1a San Francisco, CA 94102