This austere storefront doesn’t divulge Tai Kim’s towering ambitions with frozen treats. He shops at ethnic markets each morning to deliver the most original and delicious ice creams, gelatos and sorbets in Los Angeles.
Before Tai attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland, his first passion was art. He earned a Bachelors degree from CalArts. While he no longer paints, Tai still manages to support the arts, devoting walls to the Antai Gallery, where local artists sell their creations.
Tai has built an arsenal of over 700 flavors of ice cream, gelato and sorbet, and he’s constantly inventing new varieties to fill his 18 bins. This freezer case includes vanilla avocado, green tea & ginseng, brown bread, cucumber & lemon sorbet, and orange mamey.
Not to be outdone, this freezer case flaunts bins of coffee cardamom; lavender coconut; chocolate Guinness; and vanilla, nutmeg & amaretto. There are even three vegan varieties, including sunflower cookie dough. Shockingly, the vegan flavors are even tasty. It must be due to their higher sugar content. Tai is generous with samples; ask for a taste of each flavor and he’ll still keep his smile.
Scoops offers variety of ways to consume gelato or sorbet. Get it in a cup, cone, shake, float or cake. The white board used to feature an ice cream pizza. Sadly, it was just a tease. Tai never produced one.
UPDATE – Saturday, November 17, 2007
Originally a one man operation, success has led to flexibility. Tai is no longer tied by an invisible leash to the back of the counter for ten hours a day. He often receives assistance from his parents and from employees like J.D. and recent addition Peter, Tai’s long time friend.
On Friday, I ran into Scoops owner Tai Kim at Intelligentsia, and like a Siren, he drew me back to his store with talk of honey and ham ice cream. There was no way I’d skip an opportunity to marry hog meat and frozen milk fat. Unfortunately, when I stopped into Scoops on Saturday, there was no honey-ham ice cream. Thankfully, Tai provided three satisfying alternatives, all made with bacon fat: bacon caramel: bacon chocolate, and bacon, banana and peanut butter, a combination Elvis would appreciate. Tai didn’t incorporate bacon in its solid form, but he did cook stacks of bacon on site and blend pans full of residual bacon fat with ice cream. I ate a scoop of the flavor I’ll call The Elvis, topping it with a scoop of brie rosemary for good measure.
Tai told me a funny story about his last experience making bacon ice cream. After frying the bacon, he was ready to toss it in the trash when Scoops regular Frank intervened, saving the prodigious stack of crisp pork from oblivion by taking the bacon home and eating every slice. Frank certainly threw himself on that cholesterol grenade.
Bacon fat isn’t the only welcome addition to Tai’s 2007 repertoire. This year, Tai’s artist friend lent him this massive mobile, featuring large versions of red, green, blue and yellow ice cream spoons. Tai and employees like Peter use smaller versions to scoop samples for customers. The artist created the piece for a market of one. Lucky for him, Tai decided it fit with his vision for Scoops, so it remains.
No trip to Scoops is complete without checking out the always-changing Flavor to Suggest board, which is one of the fun ways Tai is able to interact with his ever-widening community. Tai has been known to mix batches based on what’s written on the dry-erase board. Sign me up for Darjeeling plum, basil fig and pumpkin sea salt, but no thanks to mashed potatoes, parmesan oregano, “monsters + worms” or “face slap.”
Tai has streamlined his menu since opening in 2005, eliminating the ice cream sandwich, ice cream croissant and ice cream cupcake. Thankfully, he’s retained his drive to deliver genre-shattering and stomach-satisfying ice cream.