Opening Today: Sketch Ice Cream 3.0
Three years ago, fans of Berkeley’s Sketch Ice Cream were heartbroken to hear that the shop would be closing, as husband-and-wife owners Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas-Shelton shut down their retail operation to focus on raising their soon-to-be-born daughter, Audrey.
Now, Audrey’s off to preschool, and the Sheltons decided they were finally ready to turn their attention back to their “first baby”: Sketch reopens today, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. — at a new, larger store at 2080 Fourth Street (down the street from the old location, which now houses Chocolatier Blue).
Shelton explained that this is actually the third iteration of the ice cream shop — Sketch 3.0, if you will. He and his wife, both former San Francisco pastry chefs, first opened Sketch in 2004 and were among the area’s early trailblazers in terms of retail stores that were making small batches of organic ice cream fresh daily, with flavors that changed with the seasons.
Then in 2007, feeling that the texture of their product was changing too much during the day, the Sheltons started serving their ice cream out of soft-serve machines (which also necessitated scaling back the number of flavors they offered each day from fourteen to six). They also rolled out a line of house-made toppings — things like cocoa nibs and candied almonds. And they started making a Belgian waffle that folks on Chowhound went crazy for.
For Sketch 3.0, the larger location offers a little bit more seating, though it’s still not going to feel like a big cafe. While the new shop is further away from Fourth Street’s heaviest foot traffic, it’s close to a number of architectural and design firms, so Shelton said the shop will focus on offering coffee and baked goods in the mornings, as well as some grab-and-go savory items.
Of particular note are their Filipino-style empanadas (Planas-Shelton is Filipino), which have a firmer, flakier dough than some of the Latin-American versions — Sketch will offer one with a traditional Filipino filling of chicken, potatoes, and currants; an al pastor version with pork and caramelized pineapple; and a vegetarian version with wild mushrooms.
Shelton said they’ll also continue selling a variety of sauces, toffees, cakes, and other baked goods online — a part of the business they launched after they closed their original retail store in 2009.
For those of you who, like me, never had a chance to try the ice cream at the last iteration of Sketch, a quick primer: As noted, it’s soft-serve ice cream, with a base that’s made from scratch using organic Straus milk. Almost every other artisan ice cream or gelato shop in the Bay Area uses a pre-made Straus ice cream base — in the East Bay, Lush Gelato and Scream Sorbet (with its non-dairy product) are two notable exceptions.
Because Sketch’s product is made from milk (not cream), and because it contains no egg yolks, the ice cream is very light even compared to other soft-serves — Shelton describes the texture as “velvety smooth” and “elasticky.” The flavors are meant to be bright and clean, like a sketch: “the purest form of any idea.”
It’s because Sketch’s ice cream is so different that Shelton feels confident the shop will be able to stand out from the crowd — even as the competition in the local frozen confection market has gotten markedly stiffer even in the past three years.
As for the youngest member of the Sketch family, Audrey loves ice cream — her favorite flavors are burnt caramel and vanilla bean. But Shelton said the almost-three-year-old is still wrapping her head around the fact that she’ll now be running around her very own ice cream shop. “Oh stop it. You’re being silly,” she’d say, when her parents would try to tell her.
But today, Sketch Ice Cream becomes a reality once more.
“It’ll be a pure delight for her,” Shelton said.
Sketch ice creamery returns to Berkeley's
They’re back: and just in time for the passing of Fogest (that’s August to the uninitiated) and the arrival of real summer in Berkeley and elsewhere around the Bay. Sketch returns today — three years to the day that the popular ice cream spot shut up shop (and as tipped by Berkeleyside in June).
A culinary couple with a fine-dining pedigree, Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas-Shelton opened Sketch on the busy shopping strip along 4th Street back in 2004 (in the slip of a space that’s now home to a Chocolatier Blue outlet). At the time, the store was one of the first small-batch, organic ice cream purveyors in the area — before gourmet cup and cone businesses took off around the Bay.
The pair weren’t planning to return to Berkeley — let along the same street — when they started scouting around for a new location for their signature sweet treats last year. Shelton, 44, and Planas-Shelton, 31, who live in Jack London Square, had their sights set on an Oakland location, but when a deal fell through, they agreed to check out a space in the new 4th & U complex on the quieter end of 4th Street. It felt like a good fit. So, yet again on the food front, Oakland’s loss is Berkeley’s gain. …
The partners in life and work spent the past three years on other projects. Shelton, who hails from a high-end pastry chef background (Aqua, 5th Floor), managed the Whole Foods bakery department in Oakland. A first for him in the corporate grocery world. Planas-Shelton, who met Shelton when she went to work for him at Aqua, consulted with Blue Bottle on their pastry line. Oh, and the couple debuted their most important product to date: daughter Audrey, who turns three on Monday
Berkeleyside spoke with the duo, who are delighted to be working together again in their own edible enterprise, at their new store this week.
The openness, natural light, and patio area are all perfect for us. It’s also a corner location on a main thoroughfare — it’s not a big shopping district — but there are a lot of offices here, bicycle traffic, and good exposure. We hope we’ll be a destination spot.
The landlord has been very accommodating, including putting money into the build-out. And we’re paying about half what we paid for our previous store for a space more than four times the size.
We’ll have five or six flavors: vanilla, burnt caramel, Sightglass coffee, Earl Gray tea, and a seasonal fruit. And we’ll offer fixings: our salted caramel sauce, our chocolate sauce, sea salt, olive oil, a fruit compote, our candied nuts, and our candied cocoa nibs.
We’ll also serve Sightglass coffee and pastries like our olive oil cake, coconut macaroons, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding cake, and lavender shortbread. And we’ll have our salted pecan toffee, burnt caramel sauce, and caramel popcorn.
In the morning we’re going to do a Belgian waffle with fresh fruit and frozen yogurt.
We plan to have savory offerings too. We’re starting with empanadas — wild mushroom, classic chicken and potato, and a pastor [pork] with pineapple. Down the track we may have a simple sandwich too, like some boccalone on a crusty baguette. A grab-and-go lunch.
Customers are very particular about what they want to spend their money on. They’re not into trends. Change is something new for a lot of residents here who have lived here a long time and like the same things. But we knew that once we got people to try our product, appreciate the consistency and quality behind it, and our passion for what we do, we’d develop a loyal following and we did. People have an appreciation for artisan food products here; they just get it.
Well, to start with we’re soft-serve: not for novelty reasons for consistency’s sake. It keeps the ice cream at the right temperature, anything too cold and it freezes the palate. And if there’s too much fat it coats the tongue and that affects the taste too. We make our ice cream with low fat, very little air, and just the right temperature. We make our own ice cream base from scratch. We use Straus milk and local, seasonal fruit.
We really like Riva Cucina; the simplicity of their food appeals, in particular their calamari sandwich, bolognese, and hand-cut pasta. And we enjoy Tacubaya for its mole and their taco al pastor [pork] and torte al pastor are just delicious.
Bette’s Oceanview Diner serves a consistently good corned beef hash. We love consistency. If you’re going to spend money on food, it’s not so much about the fluff and flair, it’s about producing really consistent, flavorful, well-seasoned dishes.
They’ve thrown out the scoops at Berkeley’s popular ice cream shop, SKETCH, and Ruthie Planas-Shelton and Eric Shelton are now serving their ice cream freshly churned, straight from one of their spanking-new Stoelting machines (the same company that made the first soft-serve machines for Dairy Queen). Sketch’s signature eggless base combines Straus organic whole milk with seasonal fruits and flavorings, and has long been the source of what many of us believe is the best ice cream around. And now that we can eat it smooth and fresh, straight from the machine…well, let’s just say that we’ve become more familiar with a certain stretch of Fourth Street.
11am: Fourth and Long. Fourth Street is not far from Telegraph, but it's miles away in style. This trendy shopping district has become a chic, open-air mall with funky home decor, local art and designer fashions. Visit the Stained Glass Garden for elegantly curved glassware, funky dangly jewelry that resembles Calder mobiles, and kaleidoscope-like lampshades, with many products made from local artisans. After blowing too much money, reward yourself again with a double scoop of chocolate ice cream at nearby Sketch--ranked by many local foodies as the best dessert shop in the Bay Area.
Salted caramel or double ginger? Butter pecan or baby coconut? Tough calls face ice cream lovers enjoying an explosion of artisan creameries and gelaterias across the West. Handcrafted ice cream is frozen in tiny lots, often in-season local fruits and nuts, organic chocolate, real vanilla beans, and uncommon flavorings. Sketch Ice Cream - burnt caramel, earl gray tea.
Sketch’s ice cream excites. All the flavors ($3.50 each) are made fresh every day in small 3-gallon batches. The fresh fruit is hand-selected, the chocolate is estate-grown, the coffee is Blue Bottle and the organic milk is from Marin’s Straus Family Creamery.
Sketch’s ice cream flavors are both classic and unusual. The burnt caramel has a nuttiness that comes from cooking sugar in a difficult two-stage process. It’s like no other caramel ice cream. Another flavor, Earl Grey, seems confounding till you taste it and smell its aromatics of roses and bergamot. The pistachio is on par with the great pistachio gelato of italy.
This is 4-star restaurant ice cream, and it should be. Owner Eric Shelton was pastry chef at SF’s Aqua during its heyday (where he met Ruthie Planas, his wife and co-owner) before working at another Michael Mina restaurant, Arcadia in San Jose, and at Fifth Floor in San Francisco. And technically, since Sketch uses milk instead of cream, this isn’t ice cream per se. Curiously, because the ingredient flavors aren’t competing with the higher butterfat of cream, they taste purer and brighter.
Try the chocolate and the peach and berry flavors if they’re in season. Then go back to the burnt caramel. Sketch’s ice cream is the best out there.
-Maria Lorraine Binchet
Description of business:
Sketch Ice Cream is owned by two San Francisco pastry chefs, formerly of the restaurant Aqua. Artisan ice cream and gelato are made daily with the highest quality local ingredients. They also specialize in sorbets, granitas, hand-made candies, and French-press coffee.
Ruthie trained at the San Francisco Culinary Academy. Eric Shelton worked with David Lebovitz (formerly of Chez Panisse). Ruthie likes to say that she was mentored by her husband, Eric.
What inspired you to enter the frozen
dessert market? We love ice cream. It’s very sad that most ice cream is mass produced, because we believe that ice cream should always be pure and fresh.
Thoughts about american ice cream
versus italian gelato:
US ice cream contains more fat and egg yolks and the air in the product makes a huge difference. American ice cream is more whipped and has more air than dense Italian gelato.
Number of flavors:We make about 12-14 flavors fresh, daily.
Most popular flavors:Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream, Jasmine Tea Granita, Burnt Caramel Ice cream, Blue Bottle Coffee Ice Cream and Granita, Santa Rosa Plum Sorbet, Rose Geranium Ice Cream and Lavender Ice Cream.
Favorite ingredients:El Rey Chocolate and Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. We use organic milk from the Straus Family Creamery, which is clean, delicious, and without growth hormones.
Cost for a scoop:$3.50 per scoop. $5.50 for any ice cream sandwich using our homemade cookies.
How many times do you change flavors?Every two or three days.
Type of machinery:15-quart Carpigiani (batch Freezer). We love it because it’s so easy to operate and clean.
Type of display case:We use Rossi. They’re fabulous, with great circulation.
Do you use flavor base?We make everything from scratch, even our nut pastes. We even roast our own nuts. Nothing is frozen or canned. We use only raw products.
Favorite tool:Immersion blender, Champion Juicer.
How do you market product off-season?Mostly by word of mouth.
Number of staff:2
Average number of customers per day:150 (Friday), 400 (Saturday), and 500 (Sunday)
One thing you wish you’d known before
getting into the business: We wish we had known more about the level of administrative work, including all the paperwork. Permitting and sales tax is a drag. We are food artists not accountants of secretaries.
Best part of business:An ice cream business is the happiest place on earth next to Disneyland.
Advice to frozen dessert retailers:Keep it fresh and simple and be creative. Use real food to make real food.
motto:“One of life’s simpler pleasures.”
year opened: 2004
owners:Ruthie Planas and Eric Shelton
how the name was chosen: “A sketch is the beauty and purity of any idea.”
number of flavors in repetoire:
Fifty-ﬁve to sixty.
most popular flavors: Sur del Lago Chocolate, burnt caramel.
signature flavors:Straus Family Dairy yogurt, Yirgacheffe coffee, Earl Grey.
what do they do when it gets cold out:
Sell hot chocolate with ice cream in it.
available for shipping:Sorry, you have to go there.
the scoop:Ruthie and Eric are well-known pastry chefs in the San Francisco area. Tired of being cooped up in restaurant kitchens all day, they opened an ice cream shop on Berkeley’s popular Fourth Street shopping promenade.
For a kid, no summer evening is complete without a visit to the ice cream parlor, but eventually a scoop a day loses its allure.
Lately, ice cream is heating up again. Baskin-Robbins has introduced sundae bars, more than 2,000 Cold Stone Creamery locations are open, or in the works, and the Bay Area is exploding with premium ice cream parlors and exotic ﬂavors. “We’ve always been in love with ice cream, but all of a sudden we’re having a new love aﬀair,” says Emily Luchetti, the author of ‘A Passion for Ice Cream’ (Chronicle Books, $35) and the pastry chef at San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant. “With all the great produce available and good quality chocolate, we can make really, really good ice cream from scratch.”
Passion for ingredients is just what drives Sketch owners Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas to make ice cream seven days a week. Technically what they make is closer to gelato than to ice cream because it has a lower butterfat content, but they shrug oﬀ attempts to classify it, focusing instead on how it’s made.
Each batch starts with organic Straus milk and sugar. Shelton and Planas bothworked as pastry chefs before opening Sketch in Berkeley two summers ago, and they prefer to taste as they go rather than follow a strict recipe. “Everything is dependent on the sweetness of the fruit,” Planas explains. Three days a week, the husband and wife team trolls farmers markets looking for inspiration. All the fruit they buy is grown locally, and most of it is organic. They take their haul back to the store, where they cut each blackberry and ﬁg by hand.
Simple ingredients, unexpected ﬂavors. Flavors change by the season and even by the day, and no more than three gallons are made at a time. Standards include burnt caramel, dark chocolate and coﬀee made with Oakland’s Blue Bottle beans. In the summer, ﬂavors like Santa Rosa plum and olallieberry ﬁll the ice cream case, making way for cactus pear and blood orange come fall. But the real thrill is ﬂavors like basil and avocado that push the limits of the palate.“We want people to taste something out of the ordinary,” says Shelton.
Luchetti praises their sense of adventure. ”I love the ﬂavors,” she says by phone. “Some people are always going to go in there and get chocolate chip. But there’s another group of people willing to try something diﬀerent.”At night, whatever is left in the case is melted down and refrozen. This process adds three hours to the workday – a substantial chunk of time with only two employees – but it ensures just the right texture.
Sketch serves ice cream in cups, or atop housemade crepes or ﬂaky brioche. They also fashion custom ice cream sandwiches from fresh baked cookies like pecan lace and lavender shortbread, but you won’t ﬁnd any cones. “We spend so much time on other things,” says Planas. “We would want to make our own cones, too.”
This tiny, elegantly austere ice cream take-out shop is the brainchild of married couple Ruthie Planas and Eric Shelton. The two met when they were pastry chefs at Aqua, one of San Francisco's top restaurants. Their small business collaboration has yielded a gem of an upscale experience, with a dozen ice creams made daily from Straus organic milk and local, seasonal ingredients. The texture is as silky as fine chiffon, and almost as light, depending on what you order; it was the most delicate upscale ice cream I found. Unique are piping hot, eggy, wafer-thin crepes, cooked to order, rolled up into a cone shape, wrapped in paper and stuffed with the flavor of your choice. Burnt caramel was divine with the crepe, as would be a flowery vanilla, a superb blackberry, chocolate or bean-flecked coffee. House-made pastries include one of the best chocolate pudding cakes I've ever had. Between 6 and 8 p.m., get your ice cream with cooked-to-order warm waffles or brioche. Cookies include lavender and chocolate shortbread, apricot oatmeal, chocolate chip; there are housemade marshmallows, toffee and other confections as well.
Flavor Patrol Pastry chefs and entrepreneurs are rushing to appease Americans’ inﬂamed appetite for new twists on an old favorite, both in restaurants and in creative retail operations.
When San Francisco pastry chefs Ruthie Planas and Eric Shelton worked together at Aqua, romance bloomed at the ice cream freezer. Eventually they left their restaurant jobs, married, and two years ago opened Sketch Ice Cream in Berkeley, named to convey the notion that the purest form of an idea begins with a sketch—in their case, ice cream freshly made each morning. “Pure” and “fresh” are the mantras for a whole new crop of fervent frozen dessert artisans, whether they are pastry chefs experimenting with outrageous ﬂavors, organic dairy farmers making16 percent butterfat maple walnut ice cream, or entrepreneurs providing restaurants and retail customers with dense, low-fat, Italian-style gelati and sorbetti. They speak enthusiastically about milk from grass-fed cows, day-old farm fresh eggs, stabilizer-free homemade ice cream bases, and splendid ingredients like California’s Lagier Ranch almonds, berries from Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington, or 61 percent Guittard chocolate.
From traditional vanilla to exotic chocolate jalapeño, the East Bay oﬀers a variety of icy treats to beat the heat this summer. West of the Shattuck cold front, in Berkeley’s Fourth Street district, is the spare but cheerful Sketch, oﬀering gelato-style ice cream (though technically not gelato). “Every idea in its purest form begins with a sketch,” says Ruthie Planas-Shelton, who opened the store two years ago with her husband Eric. Outside the store is a white wooden ice cream cart imported from Ruthie’s native Philippines.
The couple met when they were both pastry chefs at Aqua restaurant in San Francisco, and they bring a chef’s reﬁned sensibility to all of their unusual and sumptuous creations, including gelato, granita, sorbet, and cookies. Sketch ice cream is made with Straus organic milk, pure extracts, and seasonal fruit from the local farmers’ markets. On a recent visit they featured cherry and blueberry ice cream, and a cactus pear sorbet, along with their popular concoctions: saﬀron, burnt caramel, chocolate, and organic coﬀee made from Oakland’s boutique Blue Bottle Coﬀee roasting company. The sorbets and granitas also beneﬁt from the summer harvest: plum, jasmine tea, lemon verbena, rose geranium, and varietal melons. Individual scoops are served up in charming pastel Italian (recyclable) cups, or in freshly made, paper-thin waﬄes. Homemade cookies buttress custom-made ice cream sandwiches, and for an über-indulgence try homemade chocolate pudding cake à la mode.
Eric and Ruthie Planas-Shelton’s ice-cream stand is the eco-foodie’s Fosters Freeze. The couple, former pastry chefs at Aqua, make what they call “gelato-style ice cream” from milk, not cream, and serve it at a slightly higher temperature so it stays soft. Many of the ingredients come from organic and local sources, and the fruit is always seasonal. Before you start whining about how those gourmet types spoil everything, give it a taste. Damn ﬁne stuﬀ. It is ice cream, after all.
gelato or ice cream?
Not quite one, not quite the other.
Dark, dark chocolate, any of the tea-ﬂavored granitas and ice creams, toasted almond, and that famous burnt caramel.
percentage of flavors in plain english:
100 percent Gourmet Ghetto English.
if the vanilla were a pop star:
Dolly Parton, with a high, clean voice that promises purity while her body promises sex.
If this ice cream has one fault, it’s that it’s entirely guilt-free.
“It is immediately clear on walking into this diminutive storefront on Fourth Street in Berkeley that this shop is the product of many carefully made decisions. The owners of Sketch–Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas, who met in the pastry kitchen at Aqua–are earnest in their undertaking, and their passion is inspiring. The ice cream case displays more than a dozen options, some conventional, like vanilla bean and chocolate, and some surprising, like the plain yogurt ﬂavor, with a tanginess that is uncommon in most ice creams. There are other uncommon ﬂavors too, like basil, Earl Grey, or lemon verbena granita.
They use organic Straus Family Creamery milk, as well as local organic fruit and organic coffee.
Folks with a more intense ice cream appetite might consider topping freshly made waffle with their favorite flavor, for that matter, have it sandwiched between two cookies, also freshly made. For the sweet tooth on the run, there are packaged confections like meringues, cookies, and caramels–all made right here. Sketch’s prices are noticeably higher than those at run-of-the-mill ice cream parlors, but considering the ingenuity, care and attention that the two young proprietors put into their products and the constantly changing menu, you should consider it money well spent. This is a chance to broaden your ice cream horizons.”
-Sylvan Brackett, Sue Moore & Wendy Downing with Slow Food USA
Seasonal ﬂavors like Medjool date and prickly pear seem thoroughly modern, but Ruthie Planas, 24, and Eric Shelton, 37, run their year-old Berkeley shop, Sketch Ice Cream, with a devotion to detail that calls to mind an old-fashioned mom-and-pop enterprise. The couple, who are now engaged, met in the pastry kitchen of San Francisco’s Aqua restaurant. They bring a chef’s respect for fresh ingredients to their ice creams, hitting the farmers’ market three times a week to pick up exemplary produce and buying organic milk for the amazing gelati, luscious sorbets and refreshing granitas they churn out every morning. They serve scoops on crêpes, brioches, waffles and cookies they bake daily; on chillier days customers might prefer having their ice cream drowned affogato-style in hot chocolate, spiced cider or French-pressed coffee.
Charming 4th street gelateria serves European inspired, handmade ice cream with lots of love...
Love is in the air at ice cream scoop shop Sketch, evident from the newlywed owners to the complex creaminess of the store’s famous burnt caramel ice cream. Ruthie Planas-Shelton and Eric Shelton, married not even a month, oﬀer an ever-changing array of lovingly self-made ﬂavors, ranging from the subtle Earl Gray to the robust pear sorbet.
The couple, who met as pastry chefs in San Francisco, had worked at a series of restaurants before realizing while employed at Michael Mina that they wanted their own shop rather than work long hours for someone else. Since both are ice cream fanatics, they decided to try their hand in the business. “We both love ice cream. It puts a smile on everyone’s face. People think ‘I’ve had a bad day, I need an ice cream,’” said Shelton.
The couple dated for three years before tying the knot 22 days ago on the anniversary of the day they met. They plan to close down the shop during February to honeymoon in Thailand. Otherwise, the honeymoon tip jar on the counter is the only obvious indication that Planas and Shelton were just recently wed.
Meanwhile, both work at the shop, which is open year-round, seven days a week. Planas-Shelton estimates the shop, now in its 14th month of business, serves anywhere from 100 to 500 patrons every weekend, with fewer customers on weekdays because of Fourth Street’s slightly concealed location.
“It’s oﬀ the beaten path, a destination spot. There’s no nightlife down here,” Shelton said. “But people hear about us by word of mouth.” Sketch looks and feels in many ways like a nostalgic, cozy mom and pop place, with a small retro, rolling ice cream stand and decorative wooden paddle-spoon decorations on pleasant pastel walls. The couple emphasizes the shop’s personalized service and easygoing vibe. Planas-Shelton is known to shock returning customers from months earlier by greeting them by name. ”If they’re not here, we don’t exist. We’re pouring our heart and soul into what we believe in, and we think people see that,” said Shelton.
For both, the philosophy of ice-cream making is nearly as important as the treat itself. Both are disappointed with the state of American ice cream, which they said is lacking in quality, stingy on creativity and deﬁnitely light on love when compared to European versions. “American culture is all about consumption, shoving in food. People feel like they can cut corners to prolong the product’s life,” both said. “In Europe, in smaller countries, the product is made from the soul.”
As such, Sketch ice cream is personally created every morning in a slow-turning machine. Everything older than two or three days is thrown out, and stabilizing ingredients and artiﬁcial coloring are banned. The couple picks out diﬀerent, seasonal ingredients, all either organic or pesticide-free, from a market each day, which keeps the Sketch selection continually surprising. Sketch usually oﬀers approximately 14 ﬂavors at a time, all or which are made without cream or eggs to make the ice cream more substantial.
“American style ice cream is usually supercreamed or whipped. It’s airy,” Planas-Shelton said. “Our’s is gelato style, though not classic gelato or exactly ice cream. It’s psuedo gelato.” Shelton said that while eﬀorts to create ﬁne ice cream aren’t noticed by uninterested customers, Berkeley residents appreciate Sketch’s high quality. Sketch oﬀers its rich, distinct ice creams, sorbets and granitas in crepe, brioche, waﬄe, cookie sandwich or the most popular cup form. “We wanted to open people’s eyes to something diﬀerent,” Planas-Shelton said. “We wanted to show them that ice cream doesn’t have to be in a cone.”
Ok, maybe is wasn't fair to send Aziza's Janet Rikala Dalton, San Francisco's 2004 Critics' Choice pastry chef, on this quest. "Best is just too hard to say," she pleaded. But she was game for tasting--carefully considering texture, appearance, smell, mouthfeel, and balance of flavor. These are the cool winners:
SKETCH: Tasting spoon poised above a pint of hazelnut praline from Sketch, the new deluxe parlor on Fourth Street in Berkeley, Rikala Dalton asked herself, "But do i want more?" By then she'd already quadruple-dipped.
A second migration from San Francisco giving sweet satisfaction is Sketch, the Italian-inspired artisan-style ice cream shop on Berkeley’s Fourth Street. A collaboration of former Aqua pastry chefs Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas, the focus here is on freshness, friendliness and fabulous flavor. They don’t use cream or eggs–just Strauss organic milk slow-churned with ground pistachios, blended seasonal fruit, a brewed extract of Earl Grey tea or Yirgacheffe coffee. There’s always a new surprise. Expect candied ginger ice cream and chestnut and chocolate ice cream for the holidays. You can have your ice cream with a waffle, crepe or brioche at Sketch. For the holidays, they’re making gingerbread and bread pudding. They open at noon seven days a week serving waffles, shakes, crepes, their custom ice cream sandwiches and their distinctive selection of “drowned” ice cream (affogato).
Heading into November, some of us still haven’t given up the ghost. The forecast might be for rain, but we’re still longing for fresh peaches and ice-cream cones. Luckily, ice cream isn’t seasonal. It provides relief from the summer heat, but in the form of affogato (most typically, vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso), cold meets hot halfway to become a dreamy, melty swirl of sweet and bitter–the perfect transition to winter. In SF, you can get affogato everywhere from Tango Gelato to Caffé Greco to The Last Supper Club. But Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas, the pastry chefs and owners of the excellent new East Bay ice creamery Sketch, have come up with their own takes on the Italian classic: apple cider with maple-sugar ice cream, French-pressed coffee with burnt caramel ice cream and hot cocoa with pistachio.
Former Aqua pastry chefs Ruthie Planas and Eric Shelton make every gelato and sparkly granita daily. They bake cookies for ice cream sandwiches and little brioche loaves to stuff with ice cream each morning. Crepes and waffles are made-to-order. No cones are available, but I don’t mind. I prefer their bright flavored, sparingly sweet ice cream and ices in recyclable plastic cups, because I can savor them without distractions. I am absolutely wild about the Straus Yogurt gelato, which captures all the tang and creaminess of the original West Marin product. The other day I had a medium-sized cup of fantastic yellow watermelon granita with excitingly large, faceted crystals; an aromatic lemon-verbena granita; and the Straus Yogurt gelato–a stunning pastiche in pale yellows and white. On cooler days, a hot eggy waffle as a platform somehow turns ice cream into a winter dish.
“There's something about ice cream that touches people’s hearts,” says Ruthie Planas. Certainly it’s touched hers. The 23-year-old pastry chef fell hard for Eric Shelton when the two made ice cream together in the kitchen at Aqua. Last August–just a few days after Shelton slipped a diamond on Planas’ finger–the couple opened Sketch, an old-fashioned scoop shop devoted to their favorite treat. Fresh is the key to the gelato-style ice cream here. Lighter on the palate than ice cream made with eggs, the Straus organic milk-based custard the couple puts flavor front and center. The changing list follows the seasons (Mariposa plum and fresh peaches in August, pumpkin and persimmon come November), but they’ve made room in the freezer case for a few timeless favorites, too, like chocolate from single-bean varietals, coffee flavored with beans from Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee, and a burnt caramel made with sugar cooked almost to the carbon stage to give it a sharp, less sweet edge. For more than one customer, it’s love at first bite.
It was already difficult to imagine Berkeley’s Fourth Street equipped with more culinary treasures than it already had. Then Eric Shelton and Ruthie Planas came to town. Pastry alums of San Francisco’s famed Aqua restaurant, they’ve opened Sketch Ice Cream, setting their specialty shop next door to Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Sketch features sorbet and gelato-style ice creams, the latter churned at a low speed and made with organic milk instead of cream. Ten to twelve homemade flavors, including hazelnut praline and burnt caramel, are staples, while seasonal specials change daily. Shelton and Planas, who plan to marry, chose the name Sketch because “it means a concept in its purest form.” Yeah, right. Just keep that hazelnut praline coming.
Former Aqua pastry chef Eric Shelton, along with Ruthie Planas (also an Aqua pastry alum), should have their Berkeley ice cream shop called Sketch open by now. The focus is freshly spun, gelato-style and organic. (Shelton first learned to make ice cream in Florence–Oregon, that is– where he grew up on an orchard.)