Exciting surprises at Moo Shu Ice Cream in Ottawa

During the summer before my senior year of college, I interned at a non-profit in the Boston area. Since the nonprofit was  small and underfunded, they depended a lot on the help of summer interns. There were about eight of us that summer, and we broke up into smaller teams, researching and writing about specific topics. I was paired with Yael, a smart and passionate young woman from Canada, and it didn’t take long for us to develop a special friendship. When the summer came to a close, Yael headed back to McGill University in Montreal but promised to reach out next time she visited her sister — who conveniently lives in DC!

Lucky for me, Yael visits DC fairly often and we’ve been able to grow our friendship over the past 10 years. She’s also my e-mail pen pal; we write each other long and meaningful emails several times per year. I was so glad when K and Yael hit it off the first time they met; the two are very different on many levels, but their friendship has an obvious ease. But thanks to busy schedules and expensive airfare, we haven’t been able to spend nearly enough time together over the years. So K and I were both touched when Yael made the long journey out to Vashon Island for our wedding in 2014.

I’m ashamed to say that it took over two years for K and I to return the gesture, and visit Yael in her current home city of Ottawa, Canada. But we finally got our act together and booked a weekend trip last month. While the two days flew by, Yael gave us a fantastic introduction to Ottawa’s beauty, culture, and food scene. We shared breakfast tacos, took a tour of Parliament, walked through the downtown area, ate at a hip new restaurant, and even watched Yael play in her curling club!

Library of Parliament

Like the good friend she is, Yael offered to bring me to a new ice cream shop in her neighborhood called Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen. She had mentioned it to me in an email a while back, telling me about the black-sesame ice cream and an innovative flavor made by soaking Froot Loops in milk. So, on Saturday afternoon, Yael and I made the 10-minute walk down her street to Moo Shu. It’s a small shop, tucked in a row of cute shops and restaurants in a bustling part of the neighborhood. The friendly-looking cat logo is quite welcoming, and I can imagine this place is packed on warm summer evenings. But, on this cold afternoon, I wasn’t surprised to see just a handful of people inside.

Inside, Moo Shu is quite trendy – sparsely decorated, clean lines, white walls, and a couple tall wooden tables. But you’ll notice lots of charming small details, like a collection of small plastic Chinese cats along the wall behind the counter. Its young owner, Liz Mok,  spent her childhood in both Hong Kong and Vancouver and brings youthful Chinese flare to both her shop and food. While the focus is on ice cream, Moo Shu also serves wontons and rice during lunch.

Warm, sugary smells greeted me when I walked inside, thanks to the homemade cones cooking in the waffle iron behind the counter. The menu is quite short, with just a couple traditional flavors like Local Strawberry and Chocolate (which is vegan). I’d say that most of the flavors are on the unusual side, like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Froot Loops Cereal Milk, Vegan Apple Mint, and Black Sesame. There were two seasonal specials named for singers — “You Want It Darker” for Leonard Cohen (smoky sea salt + activated charcoal) and “Encore Un Soir” for Celine Dion (coffee with tarte au sucre).

Like many places in Ottawa, Moo Shu is very accommodating for those of us following gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan diets. Thus, I’m surprised that Yael had never noticed that Moo Shu’s homemade waffle cones are gluten-free and vegan! We were nearly giddy when I spotted those little GF and V markers. Despite the short menu, I had trouble selecting flavors. Black Sesame was a must, since – when done well – it’s one of my favorite favors. Celine Dion’s flavor sounded divine, but I decided to steer clear of the wheat in the pastry (which I can be sensitive to). In the end, I went with a small cone of Black Sesame and “You Want It Darker.” I wanted to know what this whole charcoal trend is about. Yael ordered a kid-sized cone of Ginger Vanilla Bean. The prices were reasonable, with my cone setting me back about Can$6.20 (including the $1.20 surcharge for a cone).

L: Black Sesame (bottom), You Want It Darker (top); R: Ginger Vanilla Bean

The verdict? Moo Shu may seem trendy, but their top-quality ice cream tastes timeless. Both scoops were my perfect consistency; frozen hard enough to be able to bite into, but creamy enough to melt quickly on your tongue. The “You Want It Darker” wasn’t my favorite; I liked the saltiness, but the activated charcoal tasted like sweet ash. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? The Black Sesame was nutty and toasty, with a bright and sweet aftertaste. It’s beautiful dark gray color made the ice cream seem oh-so-sophisticated. But the real star of my cone was the cone itself! Crunchy, light, and sweet, this cone was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.

How did Yael like the Ginger Vanilla Bean? As she put it, “I shouldn’t be afraid to try flavour pairings that I wouldn’t have thought went together, because clearly, tasty amazingness can happen when ginger and vanilla combine in silky smooth ice cream.”

Enjoying good ice cream with a good friend… does life get any better?

The Stats:
Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen
477 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON, Canada K2P 1Z2
https://www.mooshuicecream.com/

Stumbling upon the famous Nevería Roxy in Mexico City

Don’t you love when, sometimes, what you desire magically comes to you without any effort? You might receive a call from a long-lost friend you’ve been meaning to reach out to, or get a big discount on something you’d expected to pay full price for. Every once in a while, the stars perfectly align and you can’t believe your luck.

I had one of these moments on a trip last month, when K and I joined our friends Becca and Bryan for a weekend in Mexico City. A mere four-hour flight from Washington, DC, Mexico City seems like a world away. The four of us squeezed a lot into 36 hours (we left early on Sunday), eating plenty of street food, taking a long walk through Chapultepec Park, exploring one of the city’s largest markets, and enjoying a fancy meal at Pujol (quite possibly my favorite restaurant in the world). The only disappointment of the weekend was when we took an Uber over to Frida Kahlo’s house on Saturday afternoon, only to find that they had temporarily stopped letting visitors inside due to a power outage in the neighborhood. The line was getting quite long, so we bailed in favor of taking a stroll through the beautiful neighborhood of Condesa.

Since we had so little time to spend with our friends in Mexico City, I wasn’t planning on going out of my way to find a new ice cream shop. But, alas, the stars were about to align for me (and the blog!): our Uber driver dropped us off in the middle of the Condesa neighborhood. Without a specific plan, we began meandering down the pretty tree-lined streets. We couldn’t have walked more than two blocks when we came upon a true Mexico City ice-cream establishment: Nevería Roxy.

Nevería Roxy is a small family-run ice cream chain, with four locations around Mexico City. The first shop opened over 70 years ago, and the shops are known for their nostalgic 1950s vibe. When we just happened to stumble upon the Condesa shop, I took it as “a sign” that we had to take an ouce-cream break! Nevería Roxy was crowded on a Saturday afternoon, with a long line to get to the counter and plenty of people sitting around the formica tables enjoying ice-cream floats, cones, and sundaes.

Like their decor, Nevería Roxy sticks with good-old fashioned ice cream flavors. With a couple dozen flavors of ice cream (“helado”) and sorbet (“nieve”), there is something for everyone. Some of the ice cream flavors that caught my eye were Arroz con Leche, Tutti Frutti, Amaretto, Macademia, Menta (mint), and Mamey (a local tropical fruit). But several of the sorbet options — Sandia (watermelon), Tamarindo, and Maracuya (passion fruit) — sounded enticing. But when I saw Cajeta, I knew there was no turning back. Cajeta is a traditional Mexican caramel made with goat’s milk, and it reminded me of one of my favorite ice creams of 2015: the Greedy Goat’s salted caramel goat ice cream. Since we had big dinner plans that evening, I stuck with a small cone (called “bola chica”).

While the serving size was small, this cone  set me back a mere 22 pesos, or  USD$1.25. It would be difficult to find a better deal than that!

The verdict? I had high expectations for this ice cream, and Nevería Roxy delivered! The ice cream itself was smooth, dense, and creamy. It was slightly too soft, thanks to the hot day and no air conditioning. But the Cajeta flavor more than compensated; it had a deep, carmelized flavor with just the tiniest tang from the goat’s milk. I found myself wishing the scoop was larger, because I finished this cone in about 2 minutes flat (despite savoring and “mmm”ing the whole time). I’m so glad that we stumbled upon this Mexico City institution!

The Stats:
Nevería Roxy (three other locations)
Av. Fernando Montes de Oca, 89
Cuauhtémoc, Condesa
06140 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
http://neveriaroxy.com.mx

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

Terminal Treats – Green Tea Soft-Serve @ Narita Airport

To celebrate the New Year, I joined K and his family on a trip to Japan! More specifically, to the island of Hokkaido, a quick flight north from Tokyo. K, his parents, and brother are all avid (and talented) skiers, and they’ve talked for years about skiing in Japan together. Hokkaido has several world-renowned ski areas and is loved for its “powder.” While my future sister-in-law and I don’t really ski, we’re big fans of snow and sushi so couldn’t miss out. Our group of six spent a couple days in both  Kiroro and Rusutsu, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in both places. Both ski areas were covered in several feet of snow, although locals told us that there is usually even more snow.

While I visited Tokyo several years ago, I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Hokkaido. I soon fell in love with the less populated countryside, with its rolling hills and Japanese pine trees. The hospitality we encountered at the Sheraton Kiroro and Sheraton Rusutsu was great, and I’d highly recommend either resort. It’s hard to pick my favorite memories of the trip, as there were so many special highlights: “skiing” two mornings with my mother-in-law (who is an amazing teacher, and calmed this little scaredy cat down on the slopes), sharing an epic sushi lunch with the family, going snow-shoeing with the girls, and even trying my hand at dog sledding! I went to bed every night feeling so darn lucky to be in Japan.

We finished our vacation with a quick 24-hours in Tokyo. We stayed at the new Andaz hotel, which was easily one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. (Thanks, K, for cashing in so many of your hotel points!) We also squeezed in a couple great meals and plenty of walking. But, sadly, we eventually had to get back to the “real world.” We packed up our bags, hopped on a bus, and headed to the airport.

Narita International Airport, Tokyo’s major airport, is large, clean, and busy. Terminal 1, which United Airlines uses, is modern and easy to navigate. We were at our gate with plenty of time to spare. I whined about being hungry, and K suggested that I find some ice cream! I didn’t expect to find anything exciting, but a quick search on Narita’s website pointed me to a café promising desserts and ice cream: FaSoLa Café. There was a location in Terminal 1, and another in Terminal 2. We left our bags with my parents-in-law and headed off in search of the café.

After a 10-minute walk, we finally found FaSoLa Café in the south wing of the terminal. It was a cute little walk-up counter with plenty of coffee, tea, juice, and snack options. I quickly spotted the ice cream offerings: cones of Vanilla soft serve or Green Tea soft serve.

The decision was easy: Green Tea! This generously-sized cone only set me back ¥400, or about $3.50.

The verdict? During a long day of travel, this was such a refreshing treat! The Green Tea flavor was strong but not at all bitter or too strong — perfect for a tea novice like me. The soft serve was thick and creamy, but it could have been served a bit colder since it melted really quickly. The waffle cone  was light, crunchy, and sweet. It all came together for a wonderful airport ice-cream experience.  If you find yourself (and your sweet tooth) at Narita Airport, I’d definitely recommend trying this local treat.

The Stats:
FaSoLa Café @ Narita International Airport (NRT)
2 locations  – Terminals 1 & 2
1-1 Furugome, Narita, Chiba Prefecture 282-0004, Japan
http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/shops/detail/t1sw03_t00019

 

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/

Classic New England flavors at Quietside Café

The second half of my August trip to Acadia National Park was quite special because it was just me and my parents. I can’t tell you the last time I had my parents all to myself for more than a day. As the oldest of three sisters, I told my parents that it was a thro2wback to “the good old days, when I was an only child!” Just kidding! I absolutely adore my sisters 🙂

My parents and I made the most of our last days on Mount Desert Island. One morning, we fulfilled a lifetime ambition of mine: get up early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the first place to see the sunrise in the continental US. My mom sweetened up the awful experience of getting up at 4:30am by bringing a thermos of hot cocoa to share. And, man oh man, I’ll never forget this view.

After the sunrise, we took it slow for the rest of the day. After a relaxing afternoon swimming and reading at Echo Lake. After our last lobster dinner of the trip (I forget the restaurant’s name!), we headed back to our campsite. But we had to drive through downtown Southwest Harbor, and my parents agreed to make a pit stop at an ice cream shop I’d spotted earlier: Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop.

Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop epitomizes classic New England ice cream culture: family-owned business, a cluttered but quaint store covered with linoleum floors and wooden tables, strong smells of hot fudge and homemade waffle cones, and tubs of homemade hard ice cream in many different flavors. The only thing missing was an ice-cream window.

fullsizerender

img_0606At 8:30pm on a humid summer evening, the shop was crowded with big families, groups of teenagers, and couples of all ages. Quietside Café does not post its ice cream flavors, so you have to wait to read the labels on the freezer. This adds a lot of pressure to people like me who don’t take flavor decisions lightly! When we got to the head of the line, I quickly scanned the flavor signs taped to the ice cream freezer. All the traditional flavors were represented — Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio Nut, Coffee, French Vanilla — along with a few New England favorites like Moose Tracks (vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter cups), Pink Peppermint Stick (which we New Englanders savor year round), and Grapenut (want some high-fiber cereal with your dessert?!).

I spotted something bright red in one of the tubs… it was a flavor I’d never heard of: Maine Lobster Tracks.  The young woman behind the counter told me it was vanilla ice cream with lobster shaped chocolate-covered caramel cups and a chocolate swirl. Since I was already in the mood for chocolate, I went ahead and ordered a scoop of the Lobster Tracks. My mom and dad shared a cup of Pink Peppermint Stick and Maine Black Bear (vanilla ice cream with a black raspberry swirl and chocolate raspberry truffles).

img_0607This ice cream ain’t cheap — $4.50 for a single scoop and $6.50 for a double scoop. Including tax, these two ice creams cost me about $12!

img_0609

From top: Maine Black Bear & Peppermint Stick, Lobster Tracks

The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled our cravings for dessert, but none of the flavors blew us away. I liked the generous amounts of lobster caramels in my scoop of Lobster Tracks, but the candies themselves tasted a bit fake and chalky, and I could barely taste the caramel in them. I did like the chocolate swirl, which was deliciously fudgy. My parents kindly allowed me take a nibble from their shared cup. I found the  Pink Peppermint Stick to be strong and refreshing, reminding me of my favorite store-bought version from Friendly’s. The Maine Black Bear was good but a bit too icy. The chocolate truffles were way better than the ones in the Lobster Tracks, and the black raspberry swirl was thick and fruity.

Overall, we thought the ice cream at Quietside Café was light and sweet, but not as creamy and rich as most high-quality homemade ice creams. And sure enough, after doing some online research, I discovered that Quietside Café doesn’t make their own ice cream… rather, they serve Gifford’s ice cream. Gifford’s is based in Maine and is available at stores and restaurants throughout New England. So while I appreciate that Quietside pays homage to New England ice-cream flavors and setting, I wouldn’t recommend that someone go out of their way to visit. Instead,  I think most ice-cream lovers would have a better luck at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop
360 Main Street
Southwest Harbor, ME 04679
(207) 244-9444

Family Trip to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

Does your family have a special “vacation spot”? A place that holds memories from different stages of your life? For my family, it’s Acadia National Park in Maine. Growing up in Massachusetts, Acadia was the ideal family getaway: far enough to feel exotic, yet close enough to reach by car. We’d set up camp (literally) at Smuggler’s Den and spend the week exploring every bit of Mount Desert Island. Sadly, our trips became more infrequent as my sisters and I got older and took on summer jobs, etc. Its been a dream of mine to bring K to Maine (he’s never been), and to share the magic of Acadia with him. So when our family discussed a possible group vacation for Summer 2016, I voted enthusiastically for camping in Acadia.

Flying over Acadia

Flying over Acadia

So, a couple weeks ago, we all packed our bags and spent a wonderful weekend together in Acadia. My sisters and I successfully coerced our significant others to join in the fun and all eight of us camped at Smuggler’s Den on Mount Desert Island. We loved visiting our old haunts, including Echo Lake, Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, the Cool As A Moose store, and Thunder Hole. While a contingent of the family (including K) flew back to Boston on Sunday afternoon, the rest of us made plans to visit our favorite pizza parlor in Bar Harbor (before you judge, we’d already eaten a LOT of lobster).

After dinner, we had dessert on the mind. And what pairs better with pizza than ice cream? We had one specific place in mind: Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. I’d read that President Obama had visited the shop during a trip to Acadia a few years ago. And Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream got on my radar again a few weeks ago, when my friend Annette handed me a Food & Wine article about the “best ice cream spots in America” (the list is online, too). Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was listed as the top spot in all of Maine. How could I resist?

Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream has two locations in Bar Harbor, and they are quite close to one another. We chose to visit the flagship on Main Street, which is situated just beyond the busiest part of town. Street parking was a breeze, but we found a long line of people waiting to get inside the small quaint house that serves as the ice-cream shop. The line moved fairly quickly, perhaps due to the fact that Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream posts its flavors on a chalkboard outside so folks can decide what they want before even setting foot inside.

IMG_0524 IMG_0526There were nearly 20 flavors being offered that night, with something for everyone. I was looking out for Coconut, which the President chose during his visit, but it wasn’t listed. While I was tempted to try Nectarine Prosecco after chatting with a girl in front of me who waited every year for this seasonal flavor, I went with my craving: Sea Salt Caramel. My mom chose the Bay of Figs, dad went with both the Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate, Ava chose Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl, and Ava’s boyfriend Chanse appropriately chose The Dude (White Russian ice cream) in a waffle cone.

IMG_0346 IMG_0347Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream ain’t cheap (almost $4 for a single scoop, $5 for a double), but I  picked up our group’s tab since they’d agreed to join me on this ice cream excursion. Sadly, I didn’t get a shot of everyone’s ice cream. By the time I finished paying, my family was well into their cones and cups! I did manage a shot of my mom’s cone of Bay of Figs.

Bay of Figs

Bay of Figs

Sea Salt Caramel

Sea Salt Caramel

The verdict? Mount Desert Island Ice Cream made us five very happy campers! The Sea Salt Caramel was perhaps the best I’ve encountered — a perfect balance of sweetness and salt. It was not nearly as sweet or overpowering as other versions out there. My dad had the right idea, pairing his scoop of Sea Salt Caramel with Chocolate. It’s difficult to describe, but I swear it almost tasted like really good hot cocoa powder, even though the ice cream was smooth. So weird, but so good. My mom’s Bay of Figs did not disappoint either. My mom noted that she didn’t get any of the chunks of fig that were promised, but she did not have any other complaints. Ava’s Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl stole the show in my opinion. A lemon poppy muffin in ice cream form, this scoop totally ‘wowed’ me. The lemon flavor was obviously natural, and the generous swirls of homemade raspberry jam cut the sourness. Chanse’s The Dude was sweet and creamy but a bit light on the liquor; it tasted very similar to plain vanilla ice cream.

Beyond the flavors themselves, we all agreed that the texture and quality of ice ream was top notch; smooth, rich, and served at an ideal temperature (not too hard, not too soft). This really is ice cream fit for a president!

IMG_0525The Stats:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
325 Main Street
Bar Harbor, ME 04609
http://www.mdiic.com/
(2 other locations: another in Bar Harbor and one in Portland)

Creativity reigns at Taiwan’s Snow King

This blog post is long overdue! It’s been several weeks since K and I returned from a fabulous long weekend in Asia. While Taipei, Taiwan has never been at the top of my travel destination wish list, K was looking for an opportunity to brush up on his Mandarin and also see Taiwan for the first time. And we both ended up having a blast! Plus, the trip included overnight stays in Hong Kong on the way to and from Taipei, and it was fun to revisit after our amazing honeymoon stop there.

Taipei is a great city for foodies. The night markets were just as exciting as I’d imagined after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain exploring one! We didn’t eat in a formal restaurant during our whole time there; we would eat brunch at our hotel, snack our way through the afternoon, and then eat dinner at the street markets. Our favorite was the Raohe Night Market, mostly because it was home to the best soup dumplings ever (as proclaimed by K). While the famous Maokong Gondola was closed for renovations, we did get to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the city from the observation deck of Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world!).

Despite feeling perpetually full from all the fantastic food we were eating, I made a point of finding some ice cream in Taipei. A brief internet search pointed to Snow King, which earned great reviews for their interesting flavors. The shop was quite far from our hotel, but UberX made it easy and affordable to get there.

IMG_0126Open since 1947,  Snow King is apparently legendary in Taipei. It is oddly located on the second floor of a commercial building. We actually initially thought it was closed (see the grate above?). Inside, Snow King was bright, cheer, and thankfully air-conditioned 🙂

IMG_0127 IMG_0129The staff was friendly and even though they didn’t speak English, we all spoke the language of ice cream! I enjoyed looking at the colorful tubs in the display case and reading over the menu – which thankfully did have English translations.

IMG_0128 IMG_0130If you can manage to read the small text above, you will see some strange flavors listed! Tomato, Kidney Bean, Pig Knuckles, Soybean Curd, Beer, Carrot, Curry? Yes, those are all ice creams! There were plenty of more traditional, yummy flavors like Mango, Chocolate, Sesame, Red Bean, Ginger, Coffee, and Mint. K and I decided to try three different flavors: yummy-sounding Sticky Rice, intriguing Jasmine, and out-there Chili Pepper.

The biggest drawback of Snow King is that it’s cash only. But the ice cream is cheap; from memory, our bill was around USD $4.

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front to back: Jasmine, Sticky Rice, Chili Pepper

The verdict? This is good ice cream. I tend to be skeptical of places with such long menus, as I oftentimes find that these places are more concerned with developing wacky flavors than they are with the quality of the ice cream. At Snow King, each ice cream we tasted was full-bodied and creamy. We both agreed that the Jasmine was the standout, floral and lightly sweetened. It was lighter in texture than the other two — somewhere between sorbetto and ice cream? Given that neither K nor I drink tea, we were quite impressed! The Sticky Rice was satisfying — thick with a chewy bite from the ice. The light, sweet soy aftertaste was oddly addictive. This ice cream stands on its own, and I don’t think it would pair well with many other flavors or desserts. Next up was the Chili Pepper, which I made K taste first. He liked it but warned me that it did pack some heat. I tentatively took a small bite, and I liked the bright flavor when it first hit my taste buds. But it only took a few milliseconds for my mouth to feel the heat from the chili pepper. I hurried to get water! While I’m a wimp, I bet any lover of spice would like this flavor.

Overall, Snow King impressed me with its dedication to both good-quality ice cream and boundary-pushing flavors.

The Stats:
Snow King
No. 65, Wuchang Road
Section 1, Jhong Jheng District, Taipei City
+886 2 2331 8415

“Self-Service” Ice Cream in Rio de Janeiro

This Presidents’ Day weekend, K and I embarked on a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro. Between a pre-trip bout of food poisoning and the Zika situation in Brazil, I can’t say I was entirely thrilled to head down there this year. But K successfully ushered me onto the plane, armed with lemon-lime Gatorade and some potent bug spray.

IMG_9438Despite low expectations this year, we had a really nice weekend! We spent about 80% of our waking hours on the beach covered in 50 SPF. It was incredibly hot and sunny, so frozen treats and drinks were a must. While I ate plenty of frozen açaí (more on that in the next post) and drank, I couldn’t let a whole weekend pass without getting ice cream. So between the beach and heading back to our hotel to shower on Sunday, K called up an UberX (yes, Uber is available – and cheap – in Rio!) to bring me to Sorvetes Ally in the Copacabana neighborhood. We’d spotted the shop on Friday after dinner, when we were both too stuffed to consider eating anything more. This time, I brought my appetite!

IMG_9498Sorvetes Ally is the first self-serve ice cream shop I’ve stumbled across. Nearly every city in America has a self-serve frozen yogurt place or two, but the concept hasn’t extended to traditional ice cream or gelato shops. Perhaps hygiene has something to do with this? Hard ice cream and gelato requires scooping from tubs, and it must be fairly easy to spread germs via scoops and standing (or coughing/sneezing) over open tubs. Still, I wasn’t too horrified with the concept when I saw how relatively clean and well-staffed Sorvetes Ally was.

IMG_9499IMG_9500The secret must be out, because Sorvetes Ally was hopping on a Sunday afternoon. We had to stand in line for a minute or two, which gave me a chance to take in the surroundings and observe the self-serve experts ahead of me in action. But then the hard part: deciding what flavor to try! Sorvetes Ally has more than 20 options to choose from, and there is no menu. I had to scan all the little signs attached to the tubs.

IMG_9502 IMG_9503I must have looked a bit lost, because the young woman in front of me kindly pointed out Ovomaltine and gave me a smile and the universal “thumbs up” sign. I recognized it as the Swiss brand of malted chocolate. While I’m not the biggest fan of malted flavors, I had to try it after the recommendation! The only flavor that caught K’s eye was Queijo com Goiabada (Cheese & Guava Paste), so I scooped some of that into my cup, too. I was very skeptical, though, given my last experience with cheese ice cream. With room to spare, I added two other interesting-sounding flavors: Tapioca and Ameixa (Plum). When its executed well, I adore tapioca ice cream!

IMG_9501Like self-serve froyo places in the U.S., Sorvetes Ally charges by weight. I forget how many ounces my cup was, but it cost me the equivalent of around $2 USD. Not bad!

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Clockwise from top: Tapioca, Ovomaltine, Amiexa (Hidden: Quejo com Goiabada)

The verdict? I had nearly as much fun trying all the different flavors as I did scooping them! We both enjoyed tasting multiple flavors and having control over the size of each scoop. The only downside was that we rushed to finish before the ice cream melted into mush. I don’t think the constant opening of the ice cream freezers — and the waits between scooping — did anything to maintain the ice cream’s temperature. The surprise standout was the Ameixa, which featured plenty of little soft plum pieces and a deep sophisticated flavor. I loved the dark color and subtle sweetness of this flavor. Sorvetes Ally’s Tapioca lived up to our high expectations; rich cream-flavored ice cream chock full of soft-yet-chewy tapioca pearls. I must figure out how to recreate this one at home! The Ovomaltine did indeed taste of malted chocolate, and the level of malt was pleasant. K was happy with the Queijo com Goiabada, which he thought was a nice blend of sweet and savory. I took one nibble and just couldn’t get over the actual chunks of cheese in my ice cream. I should probably just give up on cheese ice cream in Brazil. Who am I kidding? I’m sure K will talk me into it again next time 🙂

While the “self-service” ice cream concept is a bit gimmicky (and a germophobe’s nightmare), Sorvetes Ally executes it well with their wide variety of ice-cream flavors and toppings.

The Stats:
Sorvetes Ally
Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, 435
Rio de Janeiro RJ 22020-002
+55 21 2236-3540
http://sorvetesally.com.br/

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2015

The year 2015 treated me well. It was a challenging year in some regards, but I’m heading into 2016 stronger and happier. Highlights of the past year included ringing in the new year with K and my in-laws in Australia, watching my sister Ava graduate from UCONN, salmon fishing in Alaska, finally visiting the McRae homeland in Scotland, and a “family weekend” in New York City this fall. In August, K and I celebrated a successful first year of marriage. And in December, I officially entered my 30s. There’s a heck of a lot to be grateful for!

Not surprisingly, many of my favorite memories from 2015 involved ice cream. Here is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ice creams I experienced in 2015. I hope you enjoy!

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
Magic Bar at FoMu Ice Cream (Jamaica Plains, MA)

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Best New Recipe:
Toasted Oat Ice Cream (no-churn!)

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Best Atmosphere:
Lapp Valley Farm (New Holland, PA)

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Worst Ice Cream:
Millions at Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

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Most Unique Ice Cream:
Chocolate Chip at Greedy Goat (London, U.K.)

Bottom scoop: Chocolate Chip; Top scoop: Salted Caramel

What was your favorite ice cream from 2015?