It is an uncharacteristically warm day in San Francisco. I have the day off of work and have made camp in the office of a good friend and mentor to post and work. In this office there is a library of cookbooks. They span the room’s walls and call to be perused. I read my copy of The Professional Chef and page through Nate Appleman’s cookbook before being quickly overcome by belly-churning hunger. I have brought with me no food and am in desperate need of a snack.
Just five blocks from this wonderful office is Humphry Slocombe, the mount Olympus of ice cream parlors. While I delight in traditional parlor offerings of rocky road and caramel swirl, Humphry Slocombe stands apart from its peers and competitors, lending its freezers to innovation. The hip spot offers flavors like crème fraiche and honey thyme, all scooped generously into paper bowls to be lasciviously devoured with plastic spoons.
I taste almost everything, but decide eventually on three scoops ($5.50). The first is called secret breakfast, a staple at the parlor and famous treat to San Francisco foodies in the know. The ice cream tastes of bourbon and corn flakes, a striking tribute to eye-openers and a fabulous dessert. Though in frozen treat form, the ice cream imparts the gentle sting of alcohol on the back of my throat. The cream and cornflakes offer a rich counterpoint to the bourbon.
My next scoop is a chocolate smoked sea salt ice cream. There is a strange muddled flavor lingering somewhere in the chocolate’s background that I take to be smokiness. The combination is interesting, but less harmonious than the secret breakfast. This is my least favorite of the three.
My third and favorite scoop is brown butter ice cream, which is simple and borderline genius. Brown butter is among my favorite smells. Its nuttiness is an aroma that permeates most kitchens, even among bold fragrances of reducing bordelaise or simmering fish fumet. Fireworks abound when it is combined with chocolate, the brown butter ice cream swathing its bitter adjacent in fat and drowning the odd smoky character in butter’s sweet richness.
I frown as I finish my three scoops, wishing there were more in my bowl. Ice cream is always a treat. Flavored with chocolate or caramel it is an obsession of children everywhere and guilty pleasure of adults the world over. A bowl of ice cream is seldom refused. At Humphry Slocombe, the product is different. Here, ice cream is not flavored. Flavor takes ice cream’s form.