Parlor Tricks


By Anne Pautler, Jennifer Shaklan M.F.A '02 and Delan Bruce

Published Jul 1, 2018 8:00 AM

Through social media, Bruins picked their favorite places to eat ice cream in L.A.

A platterful of delicate flavors at Saffron & Rose. Photos by Mitch Tobias.

Last year, we put out a call over our social media channels to see what UCLA Magazine readers thought were the best burger joints in Los Angeles. The results were so much fun, we thought we’d again poll our readers on Twitter and Facebook — this time, with ice cream. And you didn’t disappoint! Responses varied from Milk (Fairfax) to Magpies Softserve (Silverlake) to Wanderlust Creamery (Venice), with a strong showing by perennial favorite Diddy Riese in Westwood. There was even a shout-out to the 1970s soft serve machine in Dykstra Hall! Here, then, are three of the top vote-getters.

#3: McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

Based in Santa Barbara, McConnell's has been serving up pure ice cream bliss for nearly 70 years. The company has always stuck close to its roots, making ice cream from scratch using organic eggs from cage-free hens, and milk and cream from descendants of McConnell’s original grass-grazed cows.

Tradition is everywhere — from the slow churning of the fine Central Coast ingredients to the site of production, the Old Dairy, the longest-running in Santa Barbara’s once-thriving dairy industry. Only three families have owned the company since its launch in 1949, including current owners Michael Palmer and his wife, chef Eva Ein.

The natural flavors, smooth texture and rich creaminess that are McConnell’s hallmarks don’t happen by accident — the continuous freezer process gently stirs and slowly freezes the ice cream, minimizing the amount of air that seeps in. Most other artisan brands use “batch freezers” that spin, blend and freeze the ice cream as it’s created. The amount of air, or “overrun,” whipped into most artisan ice creams usually tops 40 percent, but thanks to McConnell’s unique process, the ice cream contains an industry-low 10 percent.

How obsessive is McConnell’s about quality? Its ice cream contains 18.5 to 19 percent butterfat; most other brands have 15 percent at most. And all of that is achieved using a modified version of the same machine that Gordon McConnell invented in 1947.

Our models, Isac Sindell and Briana Strange, joined us for a daylong “ice cream crawl” around town.

The first shop to check out was McConnell’s, where they enjoyed an eight-scoop cone of the shop’s most popular flavors.

Then there’s master ice cream maker and dairy scientist Mike Vierra, who has overseen the ice cream–making process at the dairy for more than 35 years. A fourth-generation dairyman, Vierra ensures that McConnell’s puts out a product full of flavor without stabilizers, additives, fillers or high-fructose corn syrup. The company does this by relying solely on pure cane sugar for sweetness and on milk and cream to achieve that delectable dairy flavor.

McConnell’s stands out from other ice cream brands by owning its entire production process, from the Old Dairy and manufacturing machinery to the sauces, syrups, cookies, jams and brownies added to create the various flavors. All of it is made in-house, by McConnell’s or its partners, with the best local ingredients.

The McConnell's stand in Grand Central Market,

McC’s rotates approximately 60 flavors, the most popular being Sea Salt Cream and Cookies, Salted Caramel Chip, Golden State Vanilla and Double Peanut Butter Chip. Other flavors include Earl Grey Tea & Shortbread Cookies, which of course has real shortbread cookies folded into it; Chocolate Covered Strawberries, a bright, fresh, well-blended taste of childhood; and limited releases like Wild Berry Chip and Strawberry Rhubarb. Bruin fans describe McConnell’s offerings as pure, true, balanced and comforting.

Today, lucky Angelenos no longer have to travel up the 101 to get a taste of Santa Barbara’s — and maybe the world’s — finest ice cream. McConnell’s has expanded to three locations: L.A. at Grand Central Market, downtown; Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz; and Studio City. There are plans to open more scoop shops by the end of this year, bringing the total number in California to seven.

But if that’s too burdensome, you can also get McConnell’s at select grocery stores (including Whole Foods). In addition, McC’s ships ice cream across the country for orders from its website (www.mcconnells. com). And these days, you can even find McConnell’s satisfying customers craving creamy, cool treats in the desert at Coachella Fest.

— Delan Bruce

#2: Saffron & Rose

It's an unassuming little shop on Westwood Boulevard near Wilkins Avenue. To the north is a Greek restaurant aggressively adorned with gold-painted sculptures. To the south is a trellised Italian restaurant. Wedged in between is Saffron & Rose.

UCLA student Samantha Suman enjoys a cone in Saffron & Rose’s outdoor seating area.

Don’t be misled by the modest exterior. Saffron & Rose is an institution, featured in The New York Times’ “Food” section (2016) as well as in the Daily Bruin and other local publications. It’s a mainstay of the Persian Square neighborhood and a decades-long favorite of UCLA students. On Yelp, there are more than 1,500 positive reviews, and a claim of “almost legendary status among the student body.”

The ice cream is lusciously creamy, much like gelato in texture. But it’s the flavors that are especially distinctive. There are three flavor categories: floral, fruit and chocolate/nutty. To quote Trip Advisor: “The staff will gladly give free samples to try as many flavors as you want.”

Briana holding a coneful of flavors from Saffron & Rose.

Floral favorites include Jasmine, Lavender, Pink Rose and White Rose. Orange Blossom is lauded for its smell, as well as its taste. The fruit category includes some familiar flavors like Strawberry and Banana. But there’s also Date, Pomegranate, Cucumber and Fig/Cranberry. Most of these ice creams are dotted with chunks of fruit.

Prompted by the name of the shop, many visitors opt for one of the rose flavors. In an informal UCLA Magazine tasting, most found White Rose delicate and “springlike,” though a vocal minority complained that it was soapy. On Yelp, reviewers call it “refreshing.”

The other namesake flavor is Saffron Pistachio. The color is all saffron — golden and distinctive. The taste, like the taste of White Rose, has a delicate floral tinge. The pistachios provide a nice contrast in taste, as well as texture.

Same for Green Pistachio. The color looks like mint, but the taste is pure pistachio, a kind of savory-sweet effect. Also easy to relish is French Espresso: little chunks of coffee bean and chocolate give it just the right amount of coffee tang (although one dissenter didn’t think there was enough coffee flavor). The pistachio and espresso flavors all fit in the chocolate and nutty category.

Persian specialties include the Poppy Seed Slush and the faloodeh, which Wikipedia describes as thin, vermicelli-sized noodles mixed in a sorbet of sugar and rose water. There are about a half-dozen vegan options on the menu in the fruit and floral categories.

Hannah Rapoport-Kamman enjoys a messy scoop at Saffron & Rose.

The take-home containers are distinctive, printed all over in black and white and red, in Farsi and English. The distinguished gentleman pictured on the label is founder Ali Kashani-Rafye. According to the Saffron & Rose website, he began making ice cream in Tehran more than 75 years ago. He brought his recipes with him to the U.S. and introduced Southern California to true Persian-style ice cream.

Here are a few words of advice from the label: “This recipe for this delicacy is 2,400 years old. Enjoy it the same way that the King of Persia did.” Now that’s not something every ice cream store can say.

— Anne Paulter

#1: Salt & Straw

If the thought of waiting in a mammoth line for ice cream keeps you from venturing beyond your own freezer’s shelves, you may be missing out on what many consider the creamiest, dreamiest artisanal ice cream in town.

Kenneth Patterson enjoys a giant waffle cone of his favorite flavors.

Fear not! Salt & Straw, founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Kim Malek and her cousin/culinary whiz Tyler Malek in Portland, Ore., turns time spent queueing into a distant memory with just a few licks of their delicious, handcrafted flavors, which are made with seasonal, local, organic ingredients. Plus, you can taste as you wait.

At each location, the inventive menu features a selection of year-round classics, like Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was designed with Mark Bitterman, owner of a world-renowned salt shop and author of a James Beard Award-winning cookbook about salt; Chocolate Gooey Brownie, whose brownie bits taste soft and freshly baked, thanks to mixed-in marshmallow fluff; and Salted, Malted, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, as mouthwatering as the name sounds and with the added bonus of malted fudge swirls.

You can also always find a themed series of limited-edition flavors that change monthly. Chief ice cream designer Tyler, who has a passion for blending flavors, views coming up with new series as a form of storytelling. By planning far in advance, he can let his imagination run wild and, when the theme calls for it, join forces with culinary connoisseurs like Jonathan Grahm of Compartés Chocolatier. For the chocolatier series, they created Compartés’ California Love, a pretzelbatter ice cream with caramelized pretzels, hazelnut fudge and Compartés’ California Love chocolate bar.

An employee makes fresh waffle cones.

Other series have been inspired by flowers in honor of spring, by vegetables for fall, and, each April, by student inventors. For the latter, Salt & Straw works with nearby elementary schools to challenge kids to tap into their wildest dessert fantasies, then donates a portion of the proceeds from those flavors back to the schools. This ice cream-inventing assignment results in fun, fantastical flavors like Rainbow Unicorn Galaxy Swirl — a mix of grape, strawberry and chocolate ice cream with marshmallow and chocolate-covered, freeze-dried strawberries. And, thanks to the “Vote Back Your Favorites” series each March, customers who had a favorite during the year can hold out hope for yet another scoop.

Curious about the name? Kim Malek, who launched the business as an ice cream cart when it turned out the first shop wouldn’t be done in time for summer, said they opted for Salt & Straw since their ice cream is handmade in small batches, much like it was in the old days. Back then, rock salt helped freeze the ice cream, which then was packed in straw to keep it cold.

With nearly 400 unique recipes to its name so far, this growing, family-run business continues to wow customers with its top-notch ingredients (including all-natural cream from nearby farms) and its fresh perspective on one of our most classic treats. In the Los Angeles area, Salt & Straw has shops in West Hollywood, the Arts District, Studio City, Venice Beach and Larchmont.

— Jennifer Shaklan M.F.A. ’02

Isac and Briana wait for their cones to be prepared at Salt & Straw.

More on the Frosty Stuff...

One thing you can say about Bruin ice cream lovers: They have widely varying tastes. Besides the three shops we’ve profiled in this story, our social media respondents cast votes for 17 others in the Los Angeles area and beyond.

One favorite was Little Damage in downtown L.A., whose specialty soft serve ice cream is prepared daily in small batches, using local ingredients supplied by organic dairy farmers. A popular item is the black ice cream paired with the shop’s signature black cone, naturally colored with activated charcoal.

Coolhaus co-founders Natasha Case M.Arch. ’08 and Freya Estreller started baking cookies and making ice cream in 2008. Now with stores in Culver City and Pasadena and 10 mobile trucks in three states, the duo specializes in unique flavors such as Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone, Blueberry Sweet Corn and Fried Chicken & Waffles.

Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, has 34 shops throughout the country, including those in Los Feliz, Venice, Larchmont Village and Calabasas. Some of her creative offerings include Ricotta Toast with Red Berry Geranium Jam, Cream Puff, and Brandied Banana Brûlée. “We like to make people feel good,” she says.

Other vote-getters: Sweet Rose Creamery, Scoops Westside, Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, Smitten Ice Cream, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, Carmela, à la minute, Diddy Riese, Milk, Magpies Softserve, Wanderlust Creamery, Dykstra Hall’s soft serve machine and Thrifty. And, of course, everyone’s childhood favorite — the neighborhood ice cream truck.



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