by Helen Wang, Yale University
Obscure spices, foreign flavors, and unconventional edibles have found their way into desserts over time, especially in Berkeley, but few do it with Ici’s flair—the three storefront-long line and twenty minute wait attest to their success. (And yes, it’s worth it.) From their Maple Bacon to their sweet Basil, Ici offers a diverse bunch of flavors waiting to please the palate. Here’s something that kicks more than their Curry: it’s all ice cream.
Ici, pronounced “ee see,” means “here” in French, and if the name doesn’t clearly indicate that all their treats are made in the store, the sweet smells of organic cream, fruit, and chocolate wafting through the air soon will. All of their ice cream is made by hand in small batches, which maximizes the potential of all the local (and sustainable!) flavors.
The adorable interior is covered in clean white tile and simply can’t contain the crowds, with scanty seating only comfortably fitting about eight. A roomy bench outside can seat a small family, so long as they don’t mind the envious glances of customers waiting in line outside. The anticipation built up by the wait in line makes the seeing the storefront, warmly lit with little ice cream cones strung in the windows, an even happier occasion. The eleven flavors of the day written in neat script are framed and hung by ribbon on the walls.
Now for the good stuff.
While I recognize that each epicurean holds his or her own ideals as to the flawless form of anything, especially ice cream, I stand by my belief that Ici has crafted the perfect vanilla ice cream. The vanilla assaults your taste buds with an unexpected intensity straightaway, while the texture is neither too thick and sticky nor too thin and icy. The vanilla sits like a key in a lock in one of their handmade cones—a lovely hunk of dark chocolate waits patiently at the bottom of the cone, both preventing ice cream loss and ensuring a last bite just as pleasantly surprising as the first.
But you simply cannot wait twenty minutes for ice cream and only order vanilla. Tastes are a must, and two scoops (or three!) are highly recommended. The flavor choices, which change every day, stall even the most decisive and are at least partially responsible for the long waits in line. Creativity runs free in Ici, showing its colors in the Earl Gray Fudge Swirl, Nectarine, and Brown Sugar Pecan, and the eight other flavors nestled in the display case. My Earl Gray Fudge Swirl proved that Ici knows how to pick a good tea and even brew it and churn it too. Most Earl Gray desserts I’ve had fail to capture the refreshing bite I crave and that most teas on the market lack, but Ici nailed it and even threw some dark chocolate in the mix as well. Before I could fully appreciate Ici’s efforts, all the ice cream was in my stomach.
Also in the frozen case are bombes (ice cream cakes), ice cream sandwiches, and bon bons, all in flavors as original as the ice cream’s. Assorted baked goods and candies (hazelnut meringues, snickerdoodles, and cones for home, to name a few) wrapped in cellophane and ribbon decorate the counter for a visual overload to match the gustatory.
As far as flavors go at Ici, you can rely upon chocolate and vanilla, but all other bets are off. Flavors change by the day and by the season, and even by the hour when some flavors run out, so adventure awaits in every visit. Summer is a great time to visit—aside from the obvious joy of a frozen treat on a hot day, summer is one of my favorite flavor seasons, when roses, blackberries, and peaches make appearances in Ici ice cream and other desserts. While I chose a very busy time to visit (9:30 PM on a warm summer night), midafternoon is a great off-peak time to visit Ici and really savor the tastes at your own pace.
Ici, located at 2948 College Avenue in Berkeley, CA, is open from 2:00 PM Monday, 12:00 PM to 9:30 PM Tuesday through Thursday, and 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM Friday through Sunday.