The folks behind Salt & Straw are no strangers to whipping up outlandish ice cream concoctions, and their new fermentation-focused flavors are no exception. Head ice cream maker Tyler Malek — who previously created batches of the sweet stuff that tasted more like a loaded baked potato than anything you'd traditionally put in a waffle cone — this month unveiled a menu featuring sweet and savory ingredients such as fish sauce caramel and dill pickle. While these new Willy Wonka–esque additions may sound off-putting and even gross, they all work surprisingly well.
The fermentation series, available at Salt & Straw's three L.A. locations now through the end of June, falls in line with the Portland, Oregon–based ice cream shop's tradition of releasing five artisanal flavors (including a vegan option) every month. What's special about their outposts in Los Angeles — in Larchmont, Venice and Studio City — is that Malek uses flavors specific to Southern California. Take this month's California avocado and cardamom with fermented carrot custard ice cream, a collaboration with the California Avocado Commission and Sqirl chef-owner Jessica Koslow.
The aromatic ice cream is a riff on an Indian custard dish called carrot gajar halwa, which is often served with pistachios and cardamom. The flavor has the most avocado Salt & Straw has ever used in its ice cream, according to the Studio City restaurant's assistant manager, Andy Stevens. Malek utilizes Sqirl's avocado cardamom ice cream as a base and adds in his own fermented carrots that have been brined in salt and black cardamom, which is richer in flavor than the green cardamom used in the cream. Believe it or not, it's one of the more accessible flavors to less adventurous diners who are a little apprehensive about the zany fermentation series. Also on the tamer side of the June menu is the sourdough with chocolate and strawberries ice cream, a bread-y, almost strawberry shortcake–like dessert.
But the flavors only get funkier from there. Take, for example, the cacao nibs and red miso ice cream, a delightful umami-laden creation that's not overly sweet. It's lightly reminiscent of eating a rum-raisin cake. Stevens says they use organic red miso, which is aged for three years, because "it's more floral and less salty than your traditional miso." The red miso isn't masked at all — it's actually the flavor that leads the charge in this dessert. Ground-up cacao nibs and brown sugar are added to the miso and fermented a little longer before the mixture is combined with the custard ice cream. Salt & Straw uses cacao nibs because they're not as sweet as your average chocolate. Plus, they give off a more raw and natural flavor.
The fish sauce caramel with palm sugar ice cream is also a flavor you won't come across every day. It's surprisingly tasty and complex: Think Southeast Asian–meets-Western tastes. The fermented anchovy mixed with the caramel is akin to salted caramel, but it has more of a punch and is lifted by the umami from the fish sauce. The ribbons of fish sauce caramel are mixed in the brown sugar custard–based ice cream, which also has palm sugar. A little coconut cream rounds out the tropical ingredients native to places such as Vietnam and Thailand.
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And if you want to take your savory flavors up a notch, there's the vegan dill pickle sorbet for the pickle-obsessed. The fermentation process of the pickles is stopped early in the process, so you'll get more of the cucumber-dill-and-fennel essence rather than the tartness of pickle. It's lightly kicked up with lime, giving it a fresh flavor. It tastes like an oddly refreshing sweet pickle.
Salt & Straw, 240 N. Larchmont Blvd., Larchmont; (323) 466-0485; 1357 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 310-8429; and 12180½ Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 358-2890, saltandstraw.com.