Earlier this year, the New York Times devoted 3,600 words to an ice cream shop in San Francisco. (“Who Wants Prosciutto Ice Cream?” June 30, 2010. A banana-bacon-peanut brittle flavor called “Elvis” headlined a selection of eight scoops that also included chocolate smoked sea salt and carrot mango ice creams and “Jesus Juice” sorbet.)
When I landed in San Francisco two months later, Sam asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to do. “Bacon ice cream?” I suggested, not knowing the way.
“Humphry Slocombe,” he said, and threw on some shoes.
The Muni propelled us to within steps of the shop, which on a Thursday afternoon in the bustling Mission was just almost quiet. I stood in awe of the flavors: browned butter, bourbon-and-cornflakes, honey-thyme, malted chocolate milk, Tahitian vanilla. I recognized Jesus Juice but failed to remember that the NYT identified bourbon/cornflake as the signature ice cream–and, without that knowledge, actually had to make a decision on my own. It was easy: peanut butter curry ice cream and Thai lime chili sorbet.
The two textures–velvet-smooth ice-cold sorbet and custardy ice cream–were as sensational in contrast as the two flavors were incredible in tandem. It was not at all unlike the very Thai or Vietnamese trick of assembling multiple intact flavors–mint, onion, curry, lime, carrot–side by side in a bite, in such a way as to engineer an instantaneous collision on the palate. Delicious, surprising, familiar, mysterious, and absolutely right.
On our return trip, I entered the store intent on building my two-scoop sundae around a topping: balsamic vinegar. Humphry’s is 20 years old, and I wanted it very much on strawberry ice cream. I nearly lost my patience standing in line hoping there would be strawberry-something at the counter.
As luck would have it, they had a strawberry szechwan–I took a taste and thought I found star anise in there. Pass. I opted instead for the highly-recommended (brilliant) salt-and-pepper, and olive oil ice cream. (Olive oil ice cream is on just about every menu in San Francisco these days. I was almost offended that the dim sum waitress in Chinatown didn’t unveil a little plate of it next to her shu mai.)
If you absolutely hate to lick a cone around highly-buzzed buzz and prefer your ice creams without hyphens, maybe this isn’t for you. But in spite of all the Twittering hype, this little ice cream parlor is still unfalteringly focused on the basic elements of simple pleasures. They are good, and kind, and reasonable, and imaginative. Line out the door? No matter. Taste away. (with real spoons).
$3.75 for two scoops and a cold shot of fun. Keep your eyes out for a luau sundae on this blog… I’m thinking tomato/green onion sorbet; and coconut taro leaf ice cream… sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt… :p