May 19, 2011
The spiritual practice of ice cream
Once there was a world without ice cream — no Butter Pecan or Vanilla, not to mention Spicy Chocolate, Mint Cucumber or Honeycomb. While the evolution of this beloved treat has origins as far back as when snow sweetened with nectar was served to Chinese emperors 4,000 years ago, most people did not know the marvelous combination of cold and sweet we enjoy today in a perfect scoop or a crunchy waffle cone until the miracle of refrigeration in the mid-1800s. When commercial ice cream became available to those too busy or lazy to hand crank, however, convenience did not always equal deliciousness. Time and attention turn out to be important ingredients in heavenly desserts.
L.A. Creamery was founded on just this idea of attentiveness to quality. Brad Saltzman, a Southern California native, and his Israeli wife, Nancy, were looking for tasty organic ice cream for their young children. The couple, who own Valet Girls, took on a third partner, longtime friend Steven Bikoff, and they set about creating treats that are wholesome (organic and fresh), responsible (locally sourced) and out-of-the-ordinary (flavors you never would have imagined).
Straus Family Creamery supplies organic, kosher dairy products and “Top Chef: Just Desserts” finalist Danielle Keene is the corporate pastry chef. Keene comes up with wildly fantastic concoctions such as the aforementioned stunning deep, dark, Spicy Chocolate, Candied Ginger, Goat Cheese and Currant, Olive Oil, Tennessee Whisky and Chai Tea Latte, as well as a selection of store-made toppings, sauces, shakes, cakes, pies and cookies.
Ice cream and sorbet are sold by the scoop, in a dish or in a freshly made waffle cone. All toppings except the sprinkles are house made. Sundaes are built upon brownies, bananas or seasonal fruit, and old-school shakes and malts come in classic flavors or ones that you dream up. A selection of artisan sodas can be matched with your choice of ice cream for a float. Plans are in the works to offer a variety of other frozen confections, including L.A. Creamery-made versions of bonbons and fudgesicles.
The ice cream is actually made in the store, in the same small batches you see on display when you enter. Limes for the Lime-ade sorbet are fresh-squeezed; cookies are baked to be crumbled into the Cookies and Cream. The results are kept in a super-cold freezer. (Prepacked pints from this same freezer will stay frozen on the drive home even on the hottest Valley day.) As the product softens to serving temperature, enthusiastic servers smooth the creamy surfaces into tempting swirls.
Up to 24 flavors are featured each day, and the most popular ones, such as Salted Caramel, are always on hand. Others are rotated in and out, two to three new ones every day. More traditional flavors, albeit with a touch of sophistication, are offered for those less inclined to experiment with their dessert: Tahitian Vanilla Bean, German Chocolate Cake, Toasted Hazelnut and Coffee Toffee are just a few. Saltzman welcomes everyone who works in the store to contribute ideassfor new flavors, and they also keep tabs on those that are favorites and those that are, well, not so much.
The space — just outside Nordstrom in the Westfield Topanga mall — is sleekly retro, done in the cheerful turquoise, white and black of a 1956 Chevy. There are tables inside and out, and chairs nearby, as well as the whole mall, of course, but you might not want to go wandering with your treat because your mind will go wandering, too, and this pleasure is worth paying close attention to.
Jewish tradition is not unacquainted with pleasure. The concept of hiddur mitzvah teaches us to make spiritual practice beautiful. Usually it refers to more serious ventures like Shabbat, but perhaps we can apply it to everyday delights as well. When we’re busy and distracted, it’s easy to wolf down a treat almost unnoticed. Taking a moment to be grateful for what we have been given — the crazy profusion of the mall, air-conditioning in the sweltering West Valley, sweetness on a summer day — without a doubt makes for a better day.
Mondays are currently the store’s busiest day, says Stephanie Mason, an L.A. Creamery employee. “At the start of the week, people just seem to need something extra to get them going.” The artisinal ice cream shop is the perfect place to find that sweet lift.
A second location is now open in The Americana at Brand in Glendale, and a third store, in Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks, is scheduled to open by summer.