Sunday, September 14, 2014

Salt & Straw: Plus One for Farm-to-Cone Small Batch Ice Cream in LA

With a loyal following in Portland, and buzz that had been building in Los Angeles via pop-ups in Joan's on Third, the grand opening of Salt & Straw's first standalone location in Los Angeles was one of the most highly anticipated among the good food loving community in the city.

Nestled among the tree and small business lined Larchmont Blvd, the little Salt & Straw storefront still stood out on opening day due to the long line of enthusiastic foodies from the moment they opened.

During my 30 minute wait in line, we heard many passersby, puzzled by the crowds in the scorching September heat wave, ask: "Are they handing out free ice cream or something?"  And the response I heard from people in line was consistently some variation of "No, you have to pay, but this ice cream is amazing, we're so excited to try it, it's worth the time in line!"

While Salt & Straw is offering some of their signature classics, like Sea Salt and Caramel Ribbons rooted in their Portland store, they've very smartly not just replicated their Oregon offerings -  but taking the core of their philosophy of featuring local ingredients and supporting local businesses, really making their new LA location feel like a community gathering place that is of and for California.

This is apparent in all the lovely details of the store, designed to highlight local purveyors and ingredients used in the ice cream.

There were the bars from local chocolatier Compartes, including my addiction favorite Love Nuts, used in a newly created ice cream flavor (more on this later); brittle from LA artisan Morning Glory; olive oil from Ojai; jams and preserves from Sqirl for their (PB&J) sundaes.

And the element that I really loved on top of it all: they go to the effort and expense of printing up signs that tell the story of those ingredients, so that you can understand where, how and why.  Be connected to what you consume.

And it truly was tough to choose from among the bounty on their menu: Classic flavors, Seasonal, "whole pint" milkshakes, sundaes, floats and drinks...all sounded delicious.

And then I noticed in smallish print under the seasonal flavors section: "Tasting Flight, $10".

That's when co-owner Kim, busy scooping but still clearly enjoying the sight of her own enthusiasm reflected in customers' faces - stopped to explain the flight: you get four tasting scoops, your choice from ANY flavor on the menu, for $10.  It really lets you sample more of the flavors without committing to full scoops (which, I was seriously about to do, because I had such a hard time deciding - calories be damned!)

Here is what I went with, with friendly server Ian's help as it was hard to narrow down:

*Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese
*Tomato Water & Ojai Olive Oil Sorbet
*Stumptown Coffee with Compartes Love Nuts
*California Peaches with Lemon Crumble

I had been immediately drawn to the creativity of the Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese flavor, but in the back of my mind did have some reservations about how it would taste: goat cheese can be pretty pungent and dense in texture.  It turned out to be a favorite that I will definitely return for soon: the olive brittle had a lovely, perfectly balanced mix of briny flavor with that distinct caramel/candied crunch, in super smooth, ever so slightly denser creamy texture with the goat cheese almost coming through as an after thought.  So uniquely delicious - who would have ever thought to put these ingredients together, and in ice cream form?

As I worked my way down the sample bowls, I found myself calling every single flavor my favorite.  The (almost blood orange sorbet hued) Tomato Water & Ojai Olive Oil Sorbet was sweeter than expected, as if it was made with heirloom tomatoes picked fresh from the farm, late season so that the sugars were even more concentrated. 

Stumptown Coffee with Compartes Love Nuts could easily be the mascot flavor of Salt & Straw and their marriage of Portland (coffee) with LA (chocolate) - and the blend of fragrant roast bean with hand roasted nuts that are caramelized with Tahitian Vanilla, sprinkled with sea salt, then layered in chocolate blend and topped off with raw cacao powder (best invention ever) was irresistible.  I bought a pint to go.

Last but not least was the California Peaches and Lemon Crumble: peaches are of course in season and a must-get on every farmers market trip recently, so I loved that they featured this in a seasonal ice cream flavor and paired it with citrus (!) and crumble, so that it was like the essence of a gorgeous height-of-the-season peach pie in the smoothest, creamiest ice cream form.

The Tasting Flight is a great option for newbies or those who want variety: a single full sized scoop is normally $4.25 and double $6.25.

I almost licked every bowl clean, and were it not for limits of biology and social decorum, I would have ate my way through the entire menu the first day.

Also, beyond the clear love and care S&S puts into their products, the service is amazing as well.  Despite neverending lines and customers demanding attention on opening day, Kim and Ian still took the time to really try to connect with each customer.   Kim came by several times to ensure I had my tasting and was enjoying it on what I called the 'flight deck' - the little counter to the back side of the cash register where I snuck to do the tasting, since the few counter seats along the window were already taken.  Between the great ice cream and personal service, I was sold.

Can't wait to go back, to try their milkshakes as well (especially another taste of Portland / tease to local outpost PokPok: Pomegranate PokPok Drinking Vinegar Shake).

Beyond what they're scooping / churning: I've also got to go back and check out all the fun gourmet goodies in their cubby shelves: from "chocolate vermicelli" to "hand crafted bourbon barrel matured maple syrup"!

See you again soon, Salt & Straw!


Salt & Straw
240 N Larchmont Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90004


Parking: Larchmont Village Plaza structure


Salt & Straw on Urbanspoon

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