Portland’s Salt & Straw has brought its chef-driven ice cream to San Francisco, and we are all the beneficiaries.
Since 2011, Salt & Straw has made some of the most innovative, highly regarded ice cream along the West Coast, and tomorrow (Friday, April 14), the mini-chain’s first Bay Area scoop shop opens on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento streets, featuring classic flavors like Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache, as well as a rotating cast of seasonal flavors every month.
Collaborating with local farmers, artisans, and organizations, S&S churns out flavors unique to San Francisco, too. Olive Oil and Lemon Custard, made in conjunction with Berkeley Olive Oil Grove, Salted Honey Marshmallow and Walnuts (made with nuts from Alfieri Farms and Marshall Farms’ San Francisco Bay Wildflower Honey), and Roasted Strawberry Tres Leches, made with berries from Oxnard and a swirl of tres leches cake that channels the city’s Mexican culinary traditions.
Cousins Kim and Tyler Malek started Salt & Straw after Kim cashed in her 401(k) and Tyler dropped out of culinary school. With humble beginnings as a small push-cart around Portland — not unlike the red wagon at S.F.’s own Smitten Ice Cream — the company quickly expanded to three brick-and-mortar locations in the Rose City and five in L.A. (A second S.F. store will open in Hayes Valley this summer).
“We are intimidated, but excited, to be opening in San Francisco, which has such a rich culinary scene,” Kim says. “We’ve found that we’re being welcomed with open arms by Tartine (bakery) and Dandelion Chocolate. … It’s been really unique in that way that other people seem excited too.”
This super-premium ice cream contains about 17 percent butterfat, creating lush texture that boosts the flavor of the high quality dairy and melts with decadent ease. For Tyler, the primary ice cream craftsman — and a 2015 Forbes “30 under 30” honoree — the work is never over. In May, he’ll offer a line of flavors based on flowers, while July will be devoted to seasonal berries. But before that, in June, Salt & Straw plans a whole fleet of ice creams using “recycled” ingredients, including “Roxie Road,” which infuses leftover popcorn from the Roxie Theater into the cream to create a popcorn base.
Asked if there were any flavors he’s never been able to nail down, Tyler admits to one.
“You know, it’s funny, being so close to Gilroy now in the Bay Area, the one thing I’ve tried time and time again but could never get to work in ice cream is garlic,” Tyler says, adding that he was asked to make “Crab Roll Neapolitan” for an event in Portland, but it simply would not come together, no matter how hard he tried.
In the Fillmore location’s small basement kitchen, he demonstrates how how simple it is to create complex flavors while using only a few high quality ingredients, remarking on how fun (and challenging) it is to cater to tastes that can vary so drastically from city to city. For San Francisco’s version of olive oil, he uses around 25 percent of the oil he uses for Portland’s, because the distinct notes and depth of California’s olives are so much more intense than the Northwest’s more limited offerings. You can find wisdom like this in the book of ice cream recipes and techniques Tyler will release later this year.
Salt & Straw debuts Friday, and the Maleks will be scooping from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day thereafter. For the last two weeks in April, you’ll find plenty of Bay Area-only flavors — Cinnamon Ancho and Cajeta, Caramelized Almond S’mores, and Green Apple Mayo Sherbet — that have to be tasted to be believed. In other words, repeat visits are mandatory.
Salt & Straw, opens Friday, April 14, 11 a.m., at 2201 Fillmore St., 415-829-2803 or saltandstraw.com