A whole week of temperatures over 80˚ (Saturday the mercury climbed as high as 97˚!). In San Francisco. In July. Simply amazing.
To celebrate our extraordinary good fortune, I headed across the Bay to my favorite gelateria, Sketch.
Sketch is located in a sliver of a shop in the posh and very un-sketchy Fourth Street shopping district of Berkeley. The storefront is set back a couple dozen yards from the street, across the way from Eccolo, an Italian restaurant I helped to open. As a beacon to alert passersby, the owners, husband and wife Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas-Shelton, placed a shiny 1920's Italian ice cream cart near the sidewalk. The cart lures people into the inviting scoop shop, a tiny cocoon adorned with a few antique ice cream scoopers along one wall.
I love Sketch and all its quirks. First off, the awning advertises "ice cream." While the consistency is undoubtedly "creamy," there is nary a drop of cream in the frozen confections. Neither are there eggs nor any of the other varieties of thickeners typically found in products labeled "ice cream." Eric and Ruthie limit their palette of ingredients to three: Straus organic milk, sugar, and the star ingredient. (This strict minimalist approach must be the inspiration behind the shop's name).
The flavors at Sketch are all about the main ingredient. Peach tastes like the best peach you've ever eaten. The owners obsessively procure the finest from our local organic farms and they want every nuance of those ingredients' subtle flavors to reveal themselves. I find that their approach to gelato is identical to the jam making ethic of June Taylor, whose still room is located just a few blocks away. (Not surprisingly, I spied more than a few of Sketch's colorful bowls scattered around June's kitchen at a class I took there a few weeks ago).
By eschewing richer ingredients in favor of purity of flavors, these former Aqua pastry cooks are clearly taking their cue from Sicily, the birthplace of gelato, as opposed to northern and central Italy, which don't shy away from using cream and eggs (now you know why you gained 15 pounds on that last trip to Rome and Florence). Eric told me the key to the satiny texture of their gelati is, as I quote him in the title of this post, that they freeze each of the 14 flavors fresh daily and hold them at precisely the right temperature (slightly higher than home freezers).
Another oddity: no cones. Again in a nod to Italy, the gelati are mostly served in cute brightly colored plastic cups, like the one pictured below that *briefly* held my apricot and hazelnut gelati.
In lieu of cones, you can choose to have your 'scream served in a crêpe or accompanied by one of the changing array of pastries and cookies, all of which are excellent (and contain all the cream and eggs omitted from the gelati).
Quirk number three: each customer is only allowed 2 tastes. I actually didn't notice this policy, but read about it online. It doesn't concern me. I don't stray far from the theme I pictured above (one scoop featuring whatever sexy local fruits are in season and one of the extraordinary nut gelati). My pilgrimages across the bridge to Sketch are too few, so I tend to stick to that familiar tango of textures and flavors that my tongue finds so ravishing. According to online reports, other flavors that consistently receive raves are Scharffenberger chocolate, tangy Straus yogurt, and Blue Bottle coffee. I read (and fleetingly have even noticed) that Sketch also serves sorbetti and granite.
If you're in New York and want a Sketch-like experience, head to Cones in the Village. Based on recommendations from Eric and Ruthie, I made tracks to this small scoop shop on Bleecker Street, which apparently gets the highest Zagat rating in the city. From what I read in the press clippings posted on the window, the owners of Cones share much of the same philosophy as our Sketchers. The main difference is that they add a little cream to their base (1 part cream to 3 parts milk). And, of course, cones are available here. The shop, however, lacks the charm of Sketch and flavors tend more towards the traditional. That said, my hazelnut was every bit as outstanding as Sketch's.
For a creamier, more traditionally custard-based experience, head to Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Their selection of flavors are amongst the most innovative you'll find (reminiscent of another Bay Area gem, Mitchell's). If I could sing, I would've have broken out in an aria over the black sesame and the mascarpone flavors I sampled.
1809A Fourth Street
272 Bleecker Street, between Morton and Jones
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard Street, between Broome and Delancey