While we were sick this weekend, we sent special MenuPages correspondent Joe Rosner, a.k.a. Our Brother, to go check out the scene on opening day at iCream. He brought nine of his friends. No half measures here!
Quick recap: iCream’s concept is DIY ice cream from the bottom up + liquid nitrogen. You order your base (ice cream, yogourt, sorbet), then two flavors, and finally, toppings, which cost a little extra. The cheery lab technicians (I cannot call them ice cream baristas, nor creamery custodians, since this is the future) pour your order into a SCIENCE BEAKER, which they then pour into a Kitchen Aid which churns the concotion as liquid nitrogen is poured in, immediately evaporating into smoke right in front of you whilst freezing the ice cream. This looks INCREDIBLY COOL.
When we entered iCream in Wicker Park on its opening day we realized we were inside an iPod (or at least Steve Jobs’ treehouse). A white, curvy-square indoor storefront with futuristic words on the walls (the line is the iFactory, the countertops are the iLab), icy nitrogen tanks, and (of course) touch screens for placing your order. And although we didn’t witness it, we were told that soon customers could plug their own iPods (the original Apple ones) into the wall and add songs to a store-wide playlist. All this combined with the cold nitrogen smoke made me feel like a kid in Willy Wonka’s factory, except surrounded by taller workers.
Unfortunately, as cool (har har) as the liquid nitrogen and the whole concept were, we were sad the execution didn’t pay off. One problem we encountered early in our ten-something ice creams ordering spree was sweetness - we were asked whether or not we wanted our ice cream sweetened at all, and then naturally or artificially. Some of us didn’t catch this, got unsweeneted ice cream, and were quite let down (so we had to pump our own shots of corn syrup onto the ice cream at a counter, which really didn’t make sense and didn’t really help overall). (Also corn syrup is evil! — Ed.)
And then the texture of the ice cream was random - one tasted like gelato, another like hard ice cream, another like “refrozen melted ice cream,” according to my friend Andrew. Combined with the overwhelming abundance of choices for your ice cream, the whole experience was very hit or miss - the simple rootbeer/vanilla ice cream (which happened to taste like gelato), and the strawberry/raspberry with extra raspberry topping, were crowned the favorites (we agreed the natural sweetness of the fruit really helped). But the failures haunted us, and we now know never to order coffee/banana ice cream with orange food-coloring ever again.
The prices were relatively inexpensive (no worse than Coldstone’s; liquid nitrogen is pretty cheap), the other items like espresso-machine-steamed hot pudding intrigued us, and the store boasts it will stay open till four in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. We’re not sure how long those hours will last, but by the time iCream gets on its feet and maybe comes up with a more fixed, consistent menu, we wouldn’t mind stopping by on a weekend to…chill. Har. Har.— JOE ROSNER
top left: the SCIENCE BEAKER! top right: the mixer in action.
lower left: chocolate with gummy bears. lower right: root beer and vanilla
[All photos courtesy Joe Rosner]