No ice for this ice cream

Scoop Microcreamery makes small-batch ice cream with liquid nitrogen

Yet another ice cream shop in Palo Alto? It's a crowded field, but it would be wrong to dismiss Scoop Microcreamery, a small-batch, mom-and-pop ice cream shop that opened on University Avenue in late September.

Scoop is owned by Dave and Cindy Somasunderam, New Jersey transplants who clearly love making ice cream.

Cindy, who has been making ice cream at home for years, makes two flavors of her own vanilla extract (classic and bourbon vanilla). The pair use homegrown herbs to make their sorbets. And she refers to herself and her husband as "Mr. and Mrs. Scoop."

But Scoop is not conventional. With two giant tanks of liquid nitrogen on hand, the folks at Scoop make all their ice cream throughout the day, freezing it on-site in small batches at minus-321 degrees Fahrenheit. This method of making ice cream is gaining popularity in the Bay Area because it creates a product that is said to be denser, creamier and more flavorful than traditionally churned ice cream.

The couple got the idea from an episode of "Shark Tank," an ABC television show that searches for unique businesses. One episode featured Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt, a Utah-based franchise that uses nitrogen to make made-to-order frozen treats.

"My husband said, 'We gotta do something like this,'" Cindy said. "But we didn't want to do one serving at a time, because we don't want people to have to wait for it. We also want people to be able to taste it. We wanted to do it not just for the novelty of having it made to order, but to make really good ice cream."

Their daughter, a scientist, got them some liquid nitrogen to play around with.

"Cindy whipped up some of her ice cream recipes and we froze it with the nitrogen," Dave said. "It was amazing, and at that point we knew we wanted to combine the best ingredients with the best ice cream technology."

The two shuttered their frozen-yogurt shop in New Jersey and moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, making the final move to Palo Alto this summer. They've taken over a space in downtown Palo Alto that used to house Haagen Dazs, adding personal touches along with two giant metal tanks of nitrogen behind the counter.

Cindy said that they blend all their ingredients (starting with Strauss Family Creamery organic cream, eggs and sugar) in advance, so the ingredients are ready to be frozen. Ingredients are poured into a bowl that resembles a KitchenAid mixer that's hooked up via a hose to the nitrogen tanks. As the nitrogen does its job, what looks like dry-ice vapor envelops the area surrounding the bowl. It takes approximately five minutes to make a batch of ice cream.

"It's nice because it's freezing it so fast, it doesn't have time for the ice crystals to form," she said. "Conventional methods of churning are a little slower. With nitrogen, there's no air pumped into it so it's creamy and dense. It really is a beautiful, velvety texture."

Dave said they make numerous "tiny" batches of each flavor throughout the day. Nothing is carried over from one day to the next in order to preserve freshness — one of Scoop's main commitments.

"We try to do everything the best quality possible," Cindy said. "We're not a big space but we're trying to do as much from scratch as we can."

Cindy's homemade vanilla extract, made from Madagascar vanilla beans, goes into Scoop's classic vanilla bean and chocolate. Her other extract, made with bourbon, makes what she said is their most popular flavor, vanilla bourbon with salted caramel.

It costs $4.50 for one scoop, up to $5.75 for three scoops. Flavors vary from day to day. They include mint with brownies (made with real peppermint oil), maple bacon crunch (so popular they started selling the crunch concoction, similar to bacon brittle, on its own), pumpkin with ginger streusel, dark chocolate, dark roast coffee, saffron and "hella Nutella," a play on the Northern California slang word.

Vegan options come in the form of sorbets, including strawberry-peach balsamic, raspberry-hibiscus and chili-mango.

The chili-mango sorbet drew Jennifer Real, a Fremont native who works at Stanford University, into Scoop on a recent afternoon. "I saw this interesting flavor — chili-mango sorbet — and tried it. I think it's amazing, but I wasn't in the mood for mango."

So she left with a single scoop of Biscoff cookies n' cream (made with Biscoff cookies and Biscoff spread).

"It's very light and not sweet at all," she said. "It's very subtle in flavor but not as creamy as regular ice cream."

Real didn't opt for any toppings, but Scoop offers quite a few: Cindy's homemade brown sugar caramel sauce; hot fudge; a drizzle of honey, maple syrup or olive oil; whipped cream; Nutella or a chocolate shell.

There are also almonds, carob coconut clusters, toasted coconut, peanuts, roasted cashews, "cornflakes n' milk crunch" (from Mrs. Scoop's secret recipe) and chocolate toffee almonds. All toppings and sauces are 75 cents each.

And there's more. Create a sundae for $6.95 or a "fruit twister," essentially a smoothie, for $6.25. The milkshakes — chocolate, vanilla, coffee or avocado for $6.25 — are touted on the menu board with this slogan: "The best ice cream makes the best shakes."


Scoop Microcreamery, 203 University Ave., Palo Alto. 650-323-1203


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Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

It's good to see the ice cream business thriving again in Palo Alto, kind of like an updated version of 1985, when several providers of the prior generation were quite popular: Peninsula Creamery, Haagen-Dazs (who used to be in "Scoop's" location), Swenson’s, Baskin-Robbins, Bud's, and more, not to mention walk-in places like University Creamery. It's hard to believe that the combination of frozen yogurt and blended juice drinks, along with new attitudes about healthy diets, knocked ice cream "out" as a significant feature of downtown PA for many years! Make mine with extra nitro! :)

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2013 at 12:25 am

The best ice cream in Palo Alto - by far - is Gelato Classico on Emerson across from the Aquarius theater. It's been open since the early 80's ... that's like 30+ years ... and they always have people in there because the ice cream is great. No gimmicks, just really good quality ice cream.

I was kind of bummed when 31 Flavors left its University location, but their product had already started to get cheaper ingredients and higher prices ... does anyone remember the little creed that B&R used to hang up in their stores about not using second rate ingredients? Well, I do. And their stores all used to have a water dispenser ... and now they took them all out. Sure is nice to know our corporate business people are looking after improving our lives so competently.

I went into this new place and looked at some of the ice cream, and there was some kind of liquid at the bottom of it in bucket. I could not even take a sample of it it looked so creepy. They people there did not know what it was ... I suppose it was melted ice cream or something. That was the first time I think I've ever left an ice cream store without getting something.

Like this comment
Posted by No smiles
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:49 am

Cpa, just went to that gelato place a few days ago with my kids. Yes, the gelato there is always good, but the two people working there that night could really use a lesson in customer service. I don't think either one of them cracked a smile the entire time we were there, and they were dealing with little kids, which made it that much stranger.

Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:55 am

Does anyone know where the best soft serve ice cream can be found in Palo Alto. With a Cadbury Flake bar (available from Piazzas) it should be possible to make a great British 99 ice cream cone, something I miss terribly in hot weather.Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2013 at 9:50 am

> No smiles …

LOL ,,, you are right about Gelato Classico. For some reason they have hired the grumpiest most surly old man who cashiers for the store in the evenings. I went there with my girlfriend less than a week ago and asked for a taste of some new flavors, and he barely dipped the little spoon in a quarter way … and he was rude to boot. When I go during the day it's never like that, and when the owner is there everything is cool. Still the best ice cream in Palo Alto, maybe anywhere else as well - and not only good, but consistent for 30 years or however long it's been open. For me I just do not eat that much ice cream anymore except on special occasions being mostly a vegan eater.

> Brit

If you want soft serve … if that is what I think it is, you have to settle for frozen yogurt anymore. They used to have Foster's Freeze where they had software ice cream that was dunked in a chocolate liquid that would harden into a shell … but I think they are all gone now. Too bad.

Like this comment
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Baskin-Robbins in Midtown has soft-serve ice cream. Vanilla only, but perfectly nice as soft serve goes.

Like this comment
Posted by Hate the Location
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2013 at 11:25 am

I think the new store has okay ice cream, but hate the location. The product is not worth going downtown for. gelato Classico is great, just do not go there on weeknights when the grouch is working.

Rick's on Charleston and Middlefield is good, and they had soft-serve the last time I was there. They also have fat-free froyo.

Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Thanks for the heads up on Baskin Robbins, I will give it a try when the weather turns hot.

Rick's soft serve is nothing like ice cream.

Just longing for a 99 with monkey blood!Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by OK for no smiles
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm

"No smiles" requires that people smile at her children. He wasn't rude or unkind, he just didn't pretend. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Desi Jean
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

We finally got to try Scoop this afternoon and it was superb. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the liquid nitrogen but ice cream was super dense and the flavors very vibrant. Gingerbread flavor tasted like there was fresh ginger grated into it. I'm not crazy about the decor though. It still looks like the old Haagen Dazs. It's definitely a nice addition to the food scene in downtown PA.

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