San Francisco: Smitten, the Ice Cream Innovator
Monday, October 27, 2014

Since its founding in 2011, Smitten Ice Cream has burst onto the ice national ice cream stage. Championing liquid nitrogen ice cream, Smitten has quickly become one of the most prominent shops in an exciting segment of the ice cream market. The shop is the brainchild of Robyn Sue Fisher, who graduated Stanford Business School in 2007. Given the founder's background, it's not surprising that Smitten incorporates some world class business practices. In addition to a delicious scoop, you'll also find great branding and a consistent experience across every visit at each of their three locations.

Smitten also incorporates Bay Area philosophies into their ice cream making. Ingredient lists are extremely simple, with the menu listing all the ingredients for each flavor. Flavors are seasonal, incorporating fresh, often local, ingredients. The quality definitely shows, and many flavors at Smitten are inspired and delicious.

But it is also this combination of simplicity and fast ice cream production that holds Smitten back from greatness. Because of Smitten's patented ice cream making process, each scoop is made fresh before your eyes in under five minutes. Base goes into Smitten's patented "Brrr" liquid nitrogen ice cream maker, and fresh scoops come out. The concept is extremely novel, but there are limitations to the type of scoop this process can create.

Though a visit to Smitten is a wonderful, carefully orchestrated food performance, world class ice cream cannot be made in few minutes. Smitten's scoop lacks body, resulting in a creamy, yet noticeably soft product. Proper ice cream texture takes hours to develop, requiring a careful "setting" process. A great comparison to Smitten is What's the Scoop in Portland. Although What's the Scoop also uses liquid nitrogen too, it then sets its ice cream in a freezing cabinet overnight. The result is a dense, ethereally smooth product. Smitten sacrifices proper texture for food theater, and although that may make for a novel experience, the scoop suffers.

Flavors at Smitten are well-done and balanced, if a little boring at times. We found that the flavor intensity and complexity could be turned up a notch or two, although the choices are all certainly tasty crowd pleasers. We would like to see Smitten try new things and create flavors that bring new experiences to their loyal and growing clientele.

Are stores like Smitten a good thing for the ice cream community? Championing quality, freshness and fun experiences, Smitten is definitely a great stepping stone for the aspiring ice cream aficionado. But it is only the first leg in a very long journey.

Flavor Tasting Notes

Maple Brown Sugar Pumpkin

Strong pumpkin purée flavor. Very pure, but slightly overwhelming. Good spice notes. Texture a bit mushy. Seems like a bit of purée in the mix.

Fresh Mint Chip

Mint with dark chocolate chips from SF's Tcho chocolatier. Made with fresh mint picked in front of you. Ice cream a little less dense, creamy than others offered at Smitten. Great, true mint flavor. A little less intense than desirable, but delicate. Chocolate is a very strong dark, overpowering the subtle mint. Has weird consistency of whipped butter.

Vanilla with Malt Syrup

Exceptionally smooth and creamy. Subtle vanilla note. malt unusual and flavorful addition. Unusually good combo.

Honey Nectarine

Strong delicate nectarine flavor. Very fresh, with bits of nectarine. Smooth as silk texture, but not dense. Not overly sweet, providing good balance. Texture was reminiscent of whipped butter. One of the reviewers felt the flavor left an odd coating on the mouth for a long time.

Brown Sugar with Cinnamon Shortbread

Good, balanced cinnamon flavor. Brown sugar hard to identify. Well-integrated shortbread. Since the shortbread is added fresh, it makes for a great texture that shows off the liquid nitrogen style. Creamy.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Smitten Ice Cream

432 Octavia St #1a, San Francisco, CA 94102