Momo Gelato dishes out the darkest chocolate ice cream in Rio

Last month, K and I stuck to tradition and headed down to Rio de Janeiro for a long weekend of sunshine and beach time. This was a special year, however, since my little sister Carolyn and her boyfriend joined us. The two of them spent a full week in Brazil, spending several days in Búzios before driving to Rio to meet up with us. This was a special occasion – the first-time Carolyn and I have been together outside of the United States!

While our trip only lasted three days, we packed in a whole lot of fun! Since the weather was fantastic, we spent many hours lying in beach chairs on Copacabana Beach, enjoying the array of snacks carried by the many beach vendors and sipping coconut water and caipirinhas. Carolyn and I share a love of swimming, and it felt very special to splash around in the waves together like little kids. Vacation heaven.

We also discovered some new places and activities with Carolyn and her boyfriend. Thanks to Carolyn’s cravings for nutritious lunches, we discovered the deliciously hip, gluten-free fast food shop Jaeé (shout-out Fred, the owner, who was very hospitable). And on Saturday, the four of us rented bicycles from the Sheraton and rode along the beach all the way to Leme and back. Rio is known for being one of the best cities in the world for biking, so I’m not sure why K and I waited so long to try it!

On our last night in Rio, we enjoyed a special dinner at Zuka in Leblon. We agreed that while Zuka is a bit expensive, the staff was incredible (despite a language barrier) and the food was fresh and flavorful. Nothing on the dessert menu spoke to us, however. Lucky for me, one of Rio’s most popular gelaterias is located just a few doors down from Zuka…

Momo Gelato Artesanal is a well-known gelato shop in Rio de Janeiro, churning out Italian-style gelatos and sorbettos in dozens of flavors. They have two locations, but the Leblon one seems to be the original. Momo was very busy on this Saturday evening, with its storefront open to the street and people milling around with cones and cups of delicious-looking ice cream. Momo also offers sweet waffle sundaes. Not waffle cones, but actual waffles!

I thought Momo’s yellow and brown color scheme was surprisingly attractive. Like any uber-popular artisan ice cream shop, Momo sells a variety of shirts, hats, bags and other branded paraphernalia. But the focus of the store is clearly on the long cases of gelato pans. I counted at least two dozen different flavors, including nearly 10 sorbetto flavors. The flavors were posted in Portuguese, but a major advantage of gelaterias is that the gelatos are often are covered in toppings or decorations that identify the flavors. For example, you’ll see hazelnuts and chocolate over Gianduia, crushed pistachio nuts over Pistacchio Siciliano, and coffee beans over Cappuccino. While Momo serves these usual Italian staples among others (like Stracciatella, Pear, and Limoncello), the local flavors that jumped out to me were Caramelo com Flor de Sal (salted caramel), Banana com Canela (banana with cinnamon), and Pão com Nutella (bread with Nutella).

Momo’s serving sizes didn’t look very large, so I decided to order a three-scoop cup. I was immediately drawn to a black-looking chocolate, Neromomo, which the signage noted was 73% cocoa. The color was just so dark and interesting that I had to give it a shot! To cut the chocolate, I also ordered a scoop of simple Cremomo (sweet cream). And in the spirit of “When in Rome Rio,” I rounded out my cup with a Amazônia (açai + tapioca). I call this “Grace’s antioxidant special.” This cup set me back around R $15.00, or around five U.S. dollars, which is quite expensive for Rio!

Top left: Amazônia, Right: Cremomo, Bottom: Neromomo

The verdict? I may have finally met my chocolate limit! The Neromomo, Momo’s dark chocolate gelato was incredibly rich and powerful, and not very sweet. I can’t remember ever having a chocolate ice cream quite this dark. While I enjoyed it, this flavor was a bit much for me. It was a good thing that the sweet, milky Cremomo helped cut the overwhelming dark chocolate taste. Sadly, the Amazônia wasn’t as yummy as the açai bowls we had on the beach. The gelato was a bit icy and the flavor of açai wasn’t very pronounced, but I did like the little bits of granola! While I wasn’t “wowed” by these three flavors, I enjoyed the ambiance of Momo Gelato and would happily give it another try!

The Stats:
Momo Gelato Artesanal (multiple locations)
Rua Dias Ferreira, 147
Leblon, Rio de Janiero 22431-050
http://momogelato.com.br

Enjoying Italian Gelato in Barcelona @ Gelaaati! Di Marco

This post is long overdue! Earlier this fall, K and I had the pleasure of joining two of our dearest friends in Barcelona, Spain for a long weekend. Becca and Bryan were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary with a 10-day trip to Spain. They traveled all over the country and ended in Barcelona, where Becca studied abroad for a semester during college. Knowing that K had never been to Barcelona, Becca and Bryan kindly invited us to meet them there. I looked forward to the trip for months, and it did not disappoint.

K and I took a red-eye from Washington, D.C. to Barcelona and arrived on Saturday morning. We met Becca and Bryan at our hotel, the W Barcelona, which is right on the beach. We were too excited to be tired, and so we almost immediately headed out to Park Guëll. I remembered the enchanting and eclectic park from my brief excursion to Barcelona during my semester in Madrid many, many years ago, and I was thrilled to go back. The park, designed by Antoni Gaudí, was just as lively and inspiring as I’d remembered, and we enjoyed strolling around together for an hour or two. We kept up a swift pace for the entire weekend, and I can’t believe how much we fit into just two days. Other highlights of the weekend include swimming in the Mediterranean Ocean (it was chilly but fun), wandering around the Boqueria market, walking up the towers of La Sagrada Familia (a basilica also designed by Gaudí), and enjoying delicious paella by the beach.

On our second day in Barcelona, I made sure to find time to sample the local frozen dessert of choice: gelato. We saw countless gelato shops throughout the city, so I did some quick research to help us choose a good spot. According to TripAdvisor, Gelaaati! Di Marco in the Gothic Quarter is not only one of the best gelato shops in the city, but it also has the greatest variety of flavors. Becca and Bryan are just as adventurous as I am when it comes to wacky ice cream flavors, so I knew we had to try it out.

We arrived at Gelaaati! Di Marco in the late afternoon, after sightseeing all morning and afternoon. While none of us were starving (thanks to our fun lunch of tapas), we were more than ready for a little pick-me-up. The shop is located in a beautiful old part of town, nestled among cute stores and restaurants along a cobblestone street. While there was a small crowd in the shop, the friendly folks working behind the counter ensured that the line moved quickly. It took us a few minutes to decide what to order — there are probably 30 flavors to choose from!

There’s something for everyone at Gelaaati! Di Marco, from traditional gelato flavors like Vanilla, Stracciatella, and Pistachio to more interesting ones like Chai Tea, Tiramasú, and Cioccolato Piccante (Spicy Chocolate). There are also plenty of non-dairy / vegan options, too, including Coco, Mango and Mojito. Interestingly, Gelaaati! Di Marco also offers six premium flavors for a small extra charge. These flavors, classified as “Gold Line” were incredibly decadent. Bryan had his eye on the Zolaus (cream-flavored gelato with gorganzola and fig marmalade) and Milanès (fresh ricotta gelato with saffron and pistachio cookies). Many flavors had traditional Italian or English names, but some (like Canela, or Cinnamon) were in Spanish.

In the end, I decided to go with a medium-sized cup of three flavors: Caffe (for some caffeine!), Dulce de Leche, and Extra Dark (vegan chocolate sorbet). My cup cost me about $4 Euros. Bryan’s cup was more expensive because of the two premium flavors he chose.

The verdict? This gelato was smooth, thick, and almost sticky (in a good way). The Caffe was strong and not very sweet. While it fit my preferences, folks who don’t drink coffee might find it too potent. The Extra Dark Cocoa was my favorite of the three flavors; very chocolatey, delicious, and creamy – I couldn’t believe there was no dairy in it! I’d order this time and time again. The Dulce de Leche was yummy but not life changing. It’s burnt-sugar undertones were a bit too harsh. Becca’s favorite was the Pistachio, which she thought was crisp and refreshing.  Bryan let me taste both of his flavors. I thought the Milanès was quite delicious, and liked the subtle saffron taste paired with the sweet pistachio brittle. But neither of us enjoyed the Zolaus; the gorganzola flavor was really strong. But I had no problem polishing off my cup before we continued off for more sightseeing!

The Stats:
Gelaaati Di Marco
Carrer de la Llibreteria, 7
Barcelona, Spain 08002
http://gelaaati.com/en/

Celebrating at DC’s Dolci Gelati

Here in the U.S., National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July. This year, the “holiday” happened to coincide with a heat wave in Washington, DC. Despite the heat, K and I ventured out to a new-to-me ice cream shop so I could celebrate my favorite food. I’d been meaning to try Dolci Gelati for months, ever since I spotted its store across the street from a Giant grocery store.

According to my research, the company has actually been around for about 10 years. Before opening Dolci Gelati, Italian owner Gianluigi Dellaccio was a pastry chef at fancy spots like the Ritz-Carlton. Initially, Gialuigi and his wife Anastasia focused on wholesale orders from DC restaurants and specialty grocery stores before selling at the zoo, Nationals Park, and farmers market. It wasn’t until April 2014 that the Dellaccios opened a retail store in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Maryland store must have been a success, as the Dellaccios opened a second store last January, this time in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And, finally, Dolci Gelati was on my radar!

IMG_0244 The interior of Dolci Gelati is pretty adorable, complete with chandeliers and bright green walls. There are a couple small tables inside and outside, and comfortable white stools along the window. I was surprised to find the café mostly empty on a hot afternoon — maybe it’s too far off the beaten path? Shaw isn’t as bustling as nearby Logan Circle or Dupont Circle.

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Dolci Gelati’s pastry selection was minimal, but it makes up for that with a well-rounded assortment of gelatos and sorbets. Some flavors that stuck out were Salted Caramel, Toasted Almond, Honey Mascarpone Fig, and Strawberry Lavender. Uncharacteristically, I found myself gravitating towards the sorbets rather than the gelatos. I blame the heat!

I went with a small cone of Mango sorbet and Birthday Cake gelato, since I was in a celebratory mood. This place ain’t cheap, though — this cone cost me over $5.

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The verdict? This was just what I needed on a hot summer day! The gelato and sorbetto were beautiful, although a bit too soft. The Mango sorbetto was sweet and refreshing, just like the real fruit. The Birthday Cake was less sugary and more natural-tasting than most other versions I’ve tasted. The base tasted like regular vanilla ice cream studded with sprinkles, but every lick found grainy bits of yellow cake. While the combination of these two flavors was a bit odd, this was one satisfying cone. I’ll be back, Dolci Gelati!

The Stats:
Dolci Gelati
1420 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
http://www.dolcigelati.net/
(other locations in Takoma Park, MD & Old Town Alexandria, VA)

Third Day in Scotland: Stewart Tower Dairy

The morning after our special night at the Three Chimneys, K and I woke up to this view:

IMG_8376I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming! Our fast-paced itinerary had us traveling to Edinburgh that afternoon, so we reluctantly packed our bags into the rental car and drove off the magical Isle of Sky. But not before a quick walk (for me) and run (for him) along the water and breakfast in the stunning Three Chimneys sitting room.

The drive from the Three Chimneys to Edinburgh took us about 5 hours. Under normal circumstances, I’d be bored and restless sitting in a car for so long. But the vast and diverse beauty of Scotland kept me thoroughly entertained. We drove through a section of Cairngorms National Park, the largest park in the United Kingdom. I found myself nodding off at one point but quickly snapped myself out of it just to experience what was outside my passenger seat window!

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iPhone photos don’t do Scotland justice!

About two-thirds of the way to Edinburgh, K pointed out one of those highway signs that lists food and lodging options accessible via the upcoming exit. The sign read “Stewart Tower Dairy,” which he insisted had to be an ice cream shop. But I wasn’t convinced. The area off the highway still seemed quite remote, and I couldn’t imagine we’d find anything besides a dairy farm. I said we should probably just keep driving, but K overrode me (driver’s prerogative) and took the next exit.

We quickly found ourselves on a narrow rural road — there were hardly any other cars, nor any businesses in sight. Still, K forged on with a sense of adventure. His conviction was contagious, so I wasn’t too surprised when a large dairy farm and shop came into view. Our gamble had paid off!

IMG_8960Despite being far off the beaten path, Stewart Tower Dairy appears to do a bustling business. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and we spotted the animal farm with a petting area. And dairy cows were grazing in every direction.

IMG_8491K and I entered the dairy shop, where we first found ourselves in a room with specialty grocery items — including an impressive selection of cheese and milk. This dark-wood room led into a bigger and brighter circular room (aptly called the “Round House”) with plenty of seating for customers. This is where I found what I was looking for… ice cream!

IMG_8487Stewart Tower Dairy makes their ice cream in the Italian soft-style gelato style. There were well over a dozen flavors behind the glass counter. Some were traditional, like Vanilla, Chocolate, and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were quite a few interesting combinations like Orange Chocolate Crunch, Toffee and Fudge Pieces, and Turkish Delight. I was immediately drawn to the Pink Panther, described as strawberry ice cream with white chocolate and strawberry pieces. Isn’t it gorgeous?

IMG_8489K usually gravitates to sorbets, and he immediately picked out Mango Passionfruit Ripple. The guy absolutely LOVES passionfruit. We decided to share one cup, and the double scoop of gelato was  €3.25, so less than $4. The serving size was perfect.

IMG_8488The verdict? K was a bit more impressed with this gelato than I was. But it was still very good, and we had no problem polishing off this cup. Neither flavor had that rich, silky texture or almost buttery flavor that I’d expect ice cream coming from grass-fed cows to have. I’m guessing this might be due to the lower fat content of gelato. K and I both agreed, however, that Stewart Tower Dairy’s flavor creations were well-executed. Not surprisingly, K’s favorite was Mango Passionfruit Ripple and mine was the Pink Panther. The Mango Passionfruit Ripple tasted tropical and refreshing, and K was happy to actually taste the passionfruit. Oftentimes, mango overpowers whatever it’s paired with. I really appreciated that the strawberry gelato in the Pink Panther wasn’t too sugary sweet. The white chocolate chips were delicious and just the right size: small enough for easy chewing, but hefty enough to taste the white chocolate.

I’d love to return to Stewart Tower Dairy and enjoy a lazy afternoon with family, enjoying cups of coffee and gelato before meandering around the beautiful Scottish grounds.

The Stats:
Stewart Tower Dairy
Stanley
Perth PH1 4PJ
Scotland
http://www.stewart-tower.co.uk

Gelato Messina: Over-the-top ice cream Down Under

The morning after Christmas, K and I headed to Boston’s Logan International Airport to begin our long journey to Australia. Most of the Australian-side of my family could not attend our wedding last August, so we planned this trip to celebrate with them. When K’s parents heard about the plans, they offered to accompany us… After all, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere 🙂

Our trip began in my father’s hometown of Melbourne. The four of us spent several days visiting family and exploring the city itself. One of the highlights was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this urban oasis.

Botanical GardensOn Sunday, my Aunt Kathy put on a lovely afternoon barbeque for everyone who could make it. It was so special to introduce my in-laws to my extended family and family friends. As anticipated, everyone got along swimmingly!

IMG_6558Before we headed off to Sydney to experience their New Year’s Eve celebrations, I made sure to schedule some time with my dear friend Rangi. While she’d attended our wedding in Seattle and Kathy’s barbeque, I always try to soak up as much time with Rangi as humanly possible. We’ve been friends ever since my grandma introduced me to the “lovely gal” next door over 15 years ago. Rangi and I hit it off immediately and continued our friendship as pen pals. Remember when people used to have “pen pals” instead of “Facebook friends”? Oh, how I miss those glitter pens and stickers…

On our last night in Melbourne, Rangi picked the four of us up from our hotel and drove over to a popular new restaurant, Epocha, where we devoured an incredibly tasty (and gluten-free friendly) meal.

2014-12-29 22.57.32-1 copyAs we polished off dessert at Epocha, Rangi informed us that the night was not yet over. So we piled into her car and headed to the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Our destination? Gelato Messina. The wildly-popular chain started in Sydney (where it has six stores and a devoted following) and  opened its first Melbourne location in 2013. Gelato Messina focuses on all-natural ingredients, and the gelato is made in-house daily.

I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar photographs. It was quite dark!IMG_6819 IMG_6820Gelato Messina eludes easy classifications. Its décor reminded me both of classy European cafés and trendy Manhattan nightclubs. On this warm evening, the lights were turned low and the music cranked loud. And the long lines after 10pm on a weeknight were impressive.

IMG_6822On any given night, Gelato Messina Fitzroy has over 40 flavors of gelato and sorbetto. In addition, there are 5 weekly specials — often the most wacky or seasonal flavors. Each gelato is displayed behind a lovely, curved glass gelati case. Several of the flavors were common — Vanilla, Choc Mint, Coffee, Gianduia, Mango, etc. —  but most were not. Some examples:

  • Coconut & Lychee – coconut milk gelato with lychee fruit
  • Banana Split – caramel and banana gelato with peanuts and whipped cream
  • Pear & Rhubarb – pear gelato with poached spiced rhubarb
  • Salted Coconut and Mango Salsa (vegan sorbet!)

I regret not taking photos of the stunning gelati cakes on display at Messina. There were many to choose from, and I thought the prices (most around 45 USD) were reasonable for such works of art. Here’s an example from their website:

Understandably, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. The guys decided to opt out, claiming they were “full.” But we all know that I don’t have such willpower. I did, however, limit myself to one flavor, choosing a single-scoop of one of the weekly specials: Christmas Pudding. I’ve missed the classic Aussie treat since going gluten-free, but Messina’s version was clearly marked as not containing gluten. I couldn’t pass it up! My mother-in-law chose Caramelised White Chocolate while Rangi went with Apple Pie. (Side note: apple pie is highly unusual in Australia. Rangi first tried it at my parent’s house in MA just last last year!)

Our three single-scoops came to about $10 USD, which I thought was pretty good.

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L to R: Apple Pie, Caramelised White Chocolate, Christmas Pudding

The verdict? This is my type of gelato! All three scoops were thick and creamy, frozen to just the right temperature. My Christmas Pudding tasted exactly as it was advertised: “brandy, candied fruit, and brown sugar gelato.” First to hit my taste buds was the deep, molasses-like flavor of brown sugar, but the aftertaste was strong brandy. Not for the faint of heart! Unlike the classic dessert, the candied fruit in this gelato was shaved into tiny bits. This made for a smooth, yet slightly interesting, texture.  My mother-in-law  thoroughly enjoyed her Caramelised White Chocolate. I stole a bite, and it definitely had a more complex  flavor than traditional white chocolate ice cream. Rangi’s Apple Pie was the real show-stopper. It was all the goodness of homemade spiced apple pie à la mode in a single scoop of gelato. Gelato Messina’s apple gelato is mixed with real apple pie! I took a tiny bite, carefully avoiding the chunks of pie crust (which Rangi confirmed were buttery and crunchy, but not gluten-free!). The apple gelato was sweet and heavily spiked with cinnamon, and the bits of apple from the pie were soft and delicious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Gelato Messina. In my opinion, this gelato is worth the hype!

The Stats:
Gelato Messina
Multiple locations – 6 in Sydney, and 1 in Melbourne
(I visited the Melbourne store in Fitzroy)
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

Pozzetto: Italian Gelato in the Heart of Paris

The last stop of our honeymoon brought us to the City of Lights. K and I had been to Paris before, but not with each other. When I visited during my semester abroad (which I spent in Madrid), I was struck by the old-world beauty and charm of Paris.  Of course, my girlfriends and I were staying in a cheap hostel room of questionable cleanliness and eating cheap meals at McDonalds (I still shudder to think of that). So it was such a treat to return to Paris with a bit more money in my pocket and my new husband at my side.

We had a lovely couple days in Paris. We took a great boat tour down the Seine River, relaxed by the Eiffel Towel, strolled along the Champs Élysées, and explored just a corner of the Louvre (I forgot how massive that museum is!). And we spent a LOT of time eating and drinking. Macaroons, foie gras, and fries, oh my!

In the spirit of exploring the tastes of Paris, I went in search of some local ice cream. Like in many European cities, ice cream in Paris is actually Italian-style gelato. And while an internet search will yield a dozen different gelaterías, it was a slightly lesser-known shop that caught my attention: Pozzetto. Why? For the simple fact that one of my favorite food bloggers of all time, David Lebovitz called it “the best gelato in Paris.”

Located on an idyllic street in the Marais historic district, Pozzetto is an adorable shop with a service window where pedestrians can grab an ice cream or cappuccino to go. I read that you can expect a long line during the summer, but it was pretty quiet on this weekday afternoon.

IMG_6332 IMG_6335 IMG_6331After walking around the Eiffel Tower and the Marais neighborhood, K and I were more than ready to rest our feet at one of the tables inside. Pozzetta has very limited seating indoors, but the vibe is so romantic and Parisian that it would be worth a wait on a busier day. (And for you coffee-lovers out there, Pozzetto is well-known for their espressos. Several Parisians were lingering over cups when K and I were there.)

Pozzetta offers about a dozen flavors of gelato and sorbetto. The inside menu features a couple sundae (“coppa”) options. Everything is made in small batches daily, so there’s no need to worry about freezer burns here.

IMG_6336My French abilities are laughable, so I couldn’t understand half of the flavor names. I saw several chocolate options, including Gianduia di Pottezzo (hazelnut-chocolate) and Stracciatella. But Cioccolato Fondente (dark chocolate) sounded too good to pass up.

I wanted to try a second flavor; Pistacchio del re di Sicilia is what Pozzetto is known for, but I was drawn towards a more refreshing sorbetto (which is made with real fruit). Of the three options, Fragola (strawberry) seemed like it would go best with dark chocolate.

We paid about 7 euros for a double scoop with table service. A bit pricey, since the same serving size cost about 5 euros at the take-out window. But I was in need of a respite from the hot afternoon sun, and the table was definitely worth a 2 euro premium.

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How cute is this bowl?

The verdict? Wow. Pozzetto is the real deal. Their gelato was thick, sticky and very flavorful. The Cioccolato Fondente was the real star of the show; rich but not too filling or sweet. It was almost like frozen dark-chocolate mousse.  I could eat this every day. The Fragola was also delicious. Strawberry ice cream or sorbet can often be artificial-tasting and icey, but Pozzetto’s creamy version is made with fresh ingredients and it shows. These two flavors complemented each other beautifully — it was even better than a dark-chocolate covered strawberry. If you’re in Paris, I’d highly recommend swinging by Pozzetto for an afternoon pick-me-up. Their gelato is as good as any of the famous gelatarías in Italy, but the experience is uniquely Parisian.

The Stats:
Pozzetto
39 rue du roi de Sicile
Paris, France 75004
(2nd location: 16 Rue Vieille du Temple)
www.pozzetto.biz/

Gelato with a View — Gelato Mania in Cape Town, SA

One of my favorite stops of the honeymoon was Cape Town, South Africa. When we were planning our honeymoon, I told K that a safari was at the top of my list. Several people had recommended Kruger National Park in South Africa, telling us that it was a great location for “safari beginners” (which we certainly are!). And it seemed silly to K to go all the way to South Africa without seeing Cape Town.

While people rave about the coastal city of Cape Town, K and I were still blown away by the spectacular natural beauty surrounding the city. When I think of Cape Town now, the word that comes to mind is “dazzling.” There is so much to do and see here. Some of the highlights for me included riding the rotating cable car up the steep sandstone and granite slopes of Table Mountain and the day-long tour of the Cape Peninsula and Constantia Winelands that we took through Luhambo Tours. I’d highly recommend both experiences!

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain
Wine tasting at Steenberg Vineyards

Between our planned activities, K and I enjoyed exploring different neighborhoods of Cape Town. We both agreed that if we ever moved to Cape Town, we’d love to live in Camps Bay. The coastal suburb is a mere 15-minute drive from downtown Cape Town, but it seems like a world away. K said it reminded him a lot of Malibu or Manley Beach, with its white sandy beaches, open patio restaurants, and volleyball parks.

Like any good beach town, Camps Bay has its fair of ice cream and gelato shops. Many of Camp Bay’s good restaurants and shops are found in the Promenade shopping center. With its stunning views of the beach, its easy to see why the spot is so popular.

Panorama from the Promenade (photo cred: K)

I quickly zeroed in on Gelato Mania, a shop advertising “artisan gelato.” It was late afternoon, and I was a bit hungry. A snack was in order to tide us over until our dinner reservation at the Woodlands Eatery.

Gelato Mania has a bold and lively decor, and the gelato flavors and toppings match the fun vibe. We discovered that there are five outposts of the small South African gelato chain, and that they all share the same cheerful decor and gelato. There had to be more than two dozen flavors — all of which looked like crowd-pleasers. While none of the flavors sounded too outlandish or unique, everything sounded yummy. I was told that the most-popular flavors included After 8 Mint, Angelo Blu (bubble gum!), Tiramisu and Chocolate Hazelnut. There were even several sorbets; the Mango looked particularly good! But I was sold on the Cherry Bomb and Quello (described as having “loads of caramel”). And while the numerous topping options looked enticing, I figured these flavors would be fun enough on their own.

Gelato Mania’s prices seemed reasonable to me — R46.80 (about $4 USD) for my two scoops — but this must be pretty expensive by South African standards (cost of living is much lower there than in the States). But this view itself is worth something, right?

Gelato with a view

The verdict? Gelato Mania’s gelato lived up to my expectations. While it wasn’t the most dense or refined gelato ever, my scoops were sweet and flavorful. The texture was light, but the gelato melted fast in the warm afternoon heat. For any East Coasters or Midwesterners, the Cherry Bomb reminded me of the Black Cherry ice cream at Friendly’s. The cherry flavor was strong and sweet, and little bits of sweetened black cherries were found throughout the scoop. While it was good, it wasn’t exactly memorable. But the Quello was a different story; the gelato base had a rich custard-like flavor. But it was that caramel that took this gelato over the top. When the staff of Gelato Mania scooped the Quello out of its bin, they made sure to grab a healthy chunk of that caramel coating. The resulting caramel swirl was a showstopper; its buttery depth and sticky consistency was reminiscent of the center of a fancy caramel truffle. I don’t think I could return to Gelato Mania and not order the caramel again. And I have a feeling that this won’t be our last time in Cape Town… or our last time at Gelato Mania in Camps Bay 😉

The Stats:
Gelato Mania
Shop 11, Ground Floor
The Promenade, Victoria Road
Camps Bay, Cape Town 8040
(Multiple locations in South Africa)
http://www.gelatomania.co.za/

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Bend, Oregon

One of the reasons I love ice cream is that it’s fun. Plain and simple fun. No matter how busy or stressful my life gets, ice cream provides me a moment of escape. It’s hard to be anxious while licking an ice-cream cone. Stress and ice cream just don’t go together!

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Bend, Oregon for work. It was a quick 36-hour trip during an already-busy week, so I was a bit frazzled by the time the trip rolled around. But I was glad to get the chance to see Central Oregon for the first time. And I made sure to schedule a stress-reducing ice-cream adventure 🙂

Bend is a small city to the east of the Cascade Range, so it does not suffer from the same rainy, dreary winters that Portland and Seattle do. In fact, the locals boast about the “300 days of sunshine” here. So it’s not surprising that Bend is a mecca for outdoors-sports enthusiasts. There’s plenty of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing to enjoy (provided you’re not here for work). But I got a bit unlucky; it snowed the entire day I spent in Bend!

Luckily, the snow didn’t impede my meetings or my ability to check out downtown Bend. In between work obligations, I drove through the quaint city streets. Downtown Bend is full of cute shops, unique coffee shops, family restaurants, and (of course) breweries! Bend does have a hippy/alternative vibe similar to that of Portland, but I appreciated just how clean and well laid out Bend is. In fact, the town reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado and Burlington, Vermont. (I just realized these three cities all start with “B”… Coincidence??)

I noticed a couple small ice-cream shops around town, but I had a particular pit stop in mind: Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in downtown Bend.

View from across the snowy street

Oh, the colors! Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is overwhelming in the best way possible. It’s a small store, but every inch of the space is covered with brilliantly wrapped candies and whimsical displays. It’s like a fun penny-candy store meets an old-fashioned soda fountain. Eying the huge array of treats in every size and color, I felt lighter and giddier, forgetting any work stress I was feeling just moments before. This place is every child’s dream, and this big kid explored every inch of the store. I saw all the familiar candies (like M&Ms, Jelly Belly, PEZ, and Nerds) and nostalgic candy (Jujubes, Cow Tails, and Necco Wafers), but also lesser-known retro treats like Ice Cubes, and Sky Bars. Powell’s website claims they carry 5,000 varieties of candy — and after seeing the store, I could believe it!

One of my favorite details about Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is the movie-viewing area in the back, where “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” plays on a loop. This must drive employees absolutely bonkers, but I loved how it brought such strong memories of my childhood back. That movie is just so timeless.

The fact that I meandered through the isles of candy instead of making a beeline to the gelato case is a testament to how fun this store is. The candy alone could have kept me occupied for an hour. But, alas, I was here for the gelato.


Much like the candy selection, Powell’s gelato case included both classic and nostalgic flavors. I counted about 20 options. From Dark Chocolate, Mint Chip and Cookies & Cream to Salted Caramel, Cherry and Coconut Macadamia, there is something for everyone.

I ordered a “small” cup which cost less than $4 and allowed me to pick two flavors. I went with the Crème Brûlée and Almond Crunch. It wasn’t until after ordering that I noticed that some of the flavors (including my Almond Crunch) were listed on Leo Leo Gelato signs while others (including Crème Brûlée and some of the more fun flavors) were posted on Powell’s-branded signs. I inquired about the difference, and the lady behind the counter told me that only some of the flavors are Powell’s own creations while others come from their favorite gelato company (Leo Leo).

The verdict? First of all, there is no real seating area in Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, so I had to stand inside to eat this before venturing out into the snow. On a sunny day, it would be fun to eat your gelato while window shopping downtown. Now, onto the gelato… Both flavors were enjoyable, but the Crème Brûlée was hands-down my favorite. While both flavors were too soft (almost like soft serve) and too sugary-sweet for my tastes, I was impressed with the thick, dark-brown swirls of caramelized sugar in my scoop of Crème Brûlée. Although the base wasn’t anything special; it was more like a sweet cream instead of the eggy custard I was hoping for. And the Almond Crunch wouldn’t offend anyone, the almond flavor was pretty bland. I did like the texture of the bits of almond, though. Nuts can sometimes be soggy, but these held onto some of their bite. While the gelato at Powell’s didn’t quite knock my socks off, I would go back to try some other flavors. The prices are affordable, and the store is just so fun!

The Stats:
Powell’s Sweet Shoppe
818 NW Wall Street
Bend, OR 97701
(multiple locations)
http://www.powellsss.com

Dozens of Brazilian Flavors at Mil Frutas

Winter in DC has been rough. Not so much for me (I’d take extreme cold over extreme heat any day) but for K. He’s an avid runner but loathes the treadmill with passion. Thus, he continues to run outside when he’s in DC — coming back with a ruby-red nose and shirts frozen with sweat. Needless to say, K was eagerly awaiting our Presidents Day trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Like last time, K and I stayed at the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort (thank you, hotel points!). And once again, we spent our days lounging by the hotel pool or down along the popular beaches of Leblón and Ipanema. We both drank more than our fair share of fresh coconut water and cold caipirinhas — two of my favorite Brazilian specialties.

While it can be difficult to eat healthily on vacation, the entire city of Rio de Janeiro seems to focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles. You don’t see much fried food around, but it’s easy to spot fresh fruits and vegetables on restaurant menus and in little corner markets. Thus, K and I are able to balance fun vacation indulgences with some fresh produce and super-foods. On Saturday, for example, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Zazá Bistrõ Tropical in the Ipanema neighborhood. Seated on the restaurant’s romantic outside patio, we savored crunchy cassava chips with wasabi mousse, grilled fish, smoked steak and plenty of grilled vegetables. So needless to say, we didn’t leave feeling hungry. But that didn’t stop K from suggesting an ice-cream stop.

Just another reason I love the guy 😉

In my ice-cream research before Rio, Mil Frutas popped up time and time again. Mil Frutas has many locations around the city, and the ice cream receives some glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. K checked his iPhone and lo and behold, there was a shop several blocks away from us!

After an enjoyable stroll down the street, we spotted the well-lit storefront.

I was excited to see just how long the menu is at Mil Frutas. In fact, they might offer more ice-cream flavors than any other place I’ve been to?

Mil Frutas loosely divides their ice creams into several categories, including “sabores de frutas” (fruit flavors) and “sabores cremosos” (creamy flavors). There are also several “sabores light”, but who cares about the diet ice cream flavors? Not me!

I tested K’s patience by studying the menu for far longer than necessary. Not only was I trying to loosely translate the flavors from Portuguese to English, but I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for…

Some of the local Brazilian flavors such as Coco, Açaí, and Tapioca sounded delicious. And while I nearly picked Tapioca, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the amazing version I had at Sorvete Itália during my last trip. Other flavors that caught my eye included After Eight (like the chocolate mints), Figo Verde com Marscapone (i.e. Green Fig and Mascarpone) and Banana Caramelada. And I’m sure there were even more delicious flavors that I missed because the Portuguese words didn’t resemble either English or Spanish words.
 
In the end, I decided on Figo com Água de Coco (i.e. Fig and Coconut Water) and Chocolate Branco com Amêndoas (i.e. White Chocolate with Almonds). I figured the flavors might clash, but both  sounded refreshing and light for a warm evening. 

Top half: Chocolate Branco con Amêndoas
Bottom half: Figo com Água de Coco

The verdict? Surprisingly, this this ice cream was just okay. Neither flavor made me swoon, but both were unlike anything I’ve experienced in the United States. It took me a while to warm to the  Chocolate Branco… it tasted artificial to me at first, but I grew accustomed to it and ended up polishing it off. The almond chunks were soft but retained some of their bite. While I’m not sure what I expected Figo con Água de Coco to taste like, it surprised me! The actual base was icy from the coconut water, and it reminded me more of a creamy take on Italian ice than of traditional ice cream. The best part was the bits of fig seeds in every bite. While neither flavor was memorable, they were light and refreshing. I’d like to give Mil Frutas a second chance next time I’m in Rio; there are so many other flavors to try, and I’m sure some of them are stellar.

The Stats:
Mil Frutas
Multiple locations in Rio de Janeiro
http://www.milfrutas.com.br/

Pitango Gelato… Best Gelato in DC?

Last Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. Kevan already had a nasty cold, and I was afraid I’d catch it if I didn’t nip it in the bud with plenty of rest and fluids. So I decided it was a work-from-bed day.

When lunchtime rolled around, nothing much in my fridge looked appealing. But I know that food is the best medicine. Growing up, the pinnacle of any good sick day was when my Dad would bring me a de-carbonized ginger ale and the blandest crackers he could find for my lunch. Since he worked from home, our Dad would play the “Doctor Dad” role, catering to us while we’d read on the couch (If we actually had a fever, he’d let us watch TV!). But, alas, Dad isn’t in DC, so I was forced to fend for myself. And rather than venturing to the grocery store to find some gluten-free crackers, I opted for a quicker fix: gelato.

There is healthy competition in the Washington, DC gelato market, and one of the crowd favorites – Pitango Gelato – has a storefront just 100 yards from my apartment. And in full disclosure, I’d already been a couple times before I stumbled over there last week. But my first visit occurred long before I started this blog, and the steep prices (over $5 for a small cup) have largely kept me away. But on this particular winter sick-day, I was more than willing to fork over big bucks for some homemade gelato.

Pitango Gelato was actually started in Baltimore back in 2007, but the small chain has really blossomed in DC. And while the original Fells Point storefront remains open in Baltimore, there is a lot of buzz about the four DC locations. The one in my neighborhood of Logan Circle is nearly always open and busy. In the morning, most patrons leave the store not with gelato but with cups of Italian-style espressos and lattes. Pitango is known to make a mean espresso. But, of course, the real focus here is on the gelato (and sorbet).
Pitango Gelato focuses on local, high-quality and often organic ingredients for their gelatos and sorbets. They get all the organic milk and eggs from a family farm in Pennsylvania. Using these fresh ingredients, Pitango makes their homemade gelatos and sorbets in small batches.

On any given day, Pitango offers around 20 flavors in each shop. While some traditional Italian flavors are constant fixtures on the menu (like Stracciatella and Chocolate-Hazelnut gelato or Strawberry and Lemon sorbet), the more-interesting ones rotate on and off. But you won’t find anything reminiscent of cotton candy or cake batter here 🙂 The flavors are all refined; the ones that caught my eye today included Walnut and Cinnamon gelato and Quince and Bosch Pear sorbet.

In the end, I decided to go with a “regular” (Pitango’s smallest) size cup of Cinnamon gelato and Bosch Pear sorbet. But I was particularly excited by my choices when the lady behind the counter commented “That sounds like a great combo!” while she scooped out my serving. These are the best type of compliments an ouce-cream lover can receive!

Now remember, the prices are STEEP at Pitango; this little cup cost me over $5. But of course, higher-quality and local ingredients do come with higher price tags. And I’m always happy to support a local gelato-maker and family-run dairy farms.

Top half of cup: Bosch Pear sorbet
Bottom half: Cinnamon gelato 

The verdict? The gelato looked so enticingly cool and creamy that I couldn’t help but start licking the top of my cup while crossing the street to my apartment building. Even in the freezing temperatures, the gelato was refreshing and soothing on my sore throat. I tried the Cinnamon gelato first; the spice wasn’t overwhelming but simply softly accented the sweet cream. And it was a perfect complement to the sweet and sophisticated Bosh Pear sorbet. Pitango’s version of this fruit sorbet was just as good as the versions I had in Italy a couple years ago. Both flavors were authentic and true-to-form, and neither was overly sweet. By the time I finished my last bite, I wanted more! And, sure, naysayers may say it was all in my head, but this cup of gelato DID make me feel better.

Now the question remains… Is Pitango Gelato the best gelato in DC? I plan to find out in 2014!

The Stats:
Pitango Gelato
Multiple locations in DC, Reston and Baltimore
(My spot is at 1451 P Street NW in DC)
www.pitangogelato.com