On Friday, Squid Ink swiped a few sneak preview tastes from the much-anticipated ice cream shop's kitchen, which opens in the Brentwood Country Mart on this Wednesday, May 12. Let us tell you, that $65,000 Italian ice cream maker was working overtime to churn out the shop's dozen rotating ice cream flavors and pie/sandwich fillings:
Salted caramel ice cream sprinkled with fleur de sel. Fresh coconut and chocolate fudge ice cream pops. Butterscotch crunch sundaes with vanilla ice cream, butterscotch sauce, pecan brittle and whipped cream. Strawberry ice cream sandwiches with gingersnap cookies. And pies, lots and lots of pies, including this dark chocolate version with burnt-to-order marshmallow cream topping.
The shop may be Huckleberry pastry chef Zoe Nathan and husband Josh Loeb's latest Westside venture, but the lead pastry chef is not Nathan. Shiho Yoshikawa, one of Nathan's friends from their Tartine Bakery days in San Francisco, is responsible for coming up with those strawberry rhubarb ice creams and fresh yogurt sorbets (Nathan recruited Yoshikawa to bake breads at Huckleberry shortly after the bakery opened).
The two were chatting over Nathan's shortbread and such at Huckleberry when the idea to open up an ice cream shop hit them. “I've always loved making custards — well, eating them, too,” says Yoshikawa, wiping her hands on her white chef's apron.
“When [Yoshikawa] mentioned it, we realized that there really wasn't a good ice cream shop on the Westside,” explains Loeb, who on Friday was juggling a half dozen painters and contractors putting the final touches on the shop with an equal number of eager new scooper staff recruits. “Real ice cream without bases,” he explains as the secret to Sweet Rose's ice creams. In everyday ice cream lingo, Loeb is referring to the master recipe, or base, that many ice cream makers (including some mom and pop shops) use to churn out those pecan praline and strawberry ice creams more quickly. Just add praline bits or strawberry coulis and voila, that vanilla is now two different ice creams. Efficient and cost effective.
But that's not what Yoshikawa had in mind. She and her crew make every batch from scratch, down to the brittles and marshmallows that are stirred in at the last minute (you can also order those salted walnut crumbles and homemade marshmallows as toppings). She uses Clover Organic Farms milk from the Bay Area (which beat out the more readily available Horizon in staff taste tests) in that fresh mint ice cream with homemade chocolate chips (yes, homemade).
It's the kind of slow-churned quality so often reserved only for high end restaurants. In fact, just last week Yoshikawa sharked a pastry assistant from Suzanne Goin's Tavern restaurant a few blocks up the street (it was an amicable spun sugar exchange, as the pastry chef, Sarah Hipwell, still works at Goin's flagship restaurant, Lucques, on weekends). For Yoshikawa, choosing which chocolate to use in those fudge pops (Valrhona) versus the chocolate ice cream pie (E. Guittard, the San Francisco chocolate maker's artisan line) was easy. Finding Hipwell, the Head Ice Cream Spinner, if you will, was not. “Until last week I was so stressed, I had to find the right spinner,” recalls Yoshikawa.
Take a look at that high-priced Bravo ice cream maker and you'll understand why. You add your fresh eggs, cream, sugar and flavorings to the top and the machine cooks up the base to the perfectly crème anglaise consistency. Pull a lever and the base drops down into the freezer unit. Easy enough. It's getting the flavor balance of that ice cream just right that requires a pastry chef's palette (or, as Loeb phrases it, when you buy the “Ferrari of ice cream makers,” you want the right driver).
That means the ice cream creations at Sweet Rose do not come cheap (and those frozen sandwiches and ice cream pops are moderately, not super, sized). A double scoop is $5 (plus $1.50 per topping), the ice cream sandwiches are $4.50 and the sundaes are $7.50. Should you gasp at that last one, we (politely) suggest you add all the sugary cereal to your damn $6.50 Pinkberry mass-produced fluff as you please. We're happy to pay a buck more for that butterscotch crunch sundae. And no, we're not sharing.
Sweet Rose Creamery, Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Ste. 51, Santa Monica, (310) 260-CONE, www.sweetrosecreamery.com. Opens Wednesday, May 12. Hours are noon to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with longer hours beginning in June.