Working my way to The Charmery in Baltimore

I’m so sorry for the long absence, my fellow ice-cream lovers!

Summertime is usually when I’m most active on this blog, as the warm weather means more ice cream and a less intense work schedule. But this summer was different, and I found myself working most evenings and then too exhausted on the weekends to pick up my laptop to write. I love my job, so I’m not complaining. Just wanted to explain the long absence 🙂

While work distracted me from the blog this summer, it actually accommodated a fun ice cream experience this week! I spent Monday through Friday in Baltimore, Maryland for a team retreat, which was held in a hotel conference room downtown. While most of our days were highly structured, we had a couple free evenings. On Thursday evening, I was mentally exhausted and still feeling full from catered hotel lunches and lots of snacks. In lieu of going out to a restaurant for dinner, I decided to enjoy the warm October night and take a walk to find some ice cream.

One of my favorite co-workers, who lives in Baltimore, is well aware of my ice-cream obsession and has been urging me to visit The Charmery for a long time. She insisted it was the best ice cream she has found in Baltimore, so I knew it would be a shame to leave the city without a visit.

The Charmery is located in a cool residential neighborhood called Hampden, which reminded me of Seattle’s Capital Hill area. I walked over two miles to get there and planned to take an UberX back to our downtown hotel. Needless to say, the long walk helped build up my appetite for an ice-cream dinner.

The Charmery is very inviting, with its giant ice-cream scoop sculpture above the door and its bright blue  decor. It was not very busy at 6:30pm on a Thursday, but I would imagine that the shop gets quite busy on weekend afternoons and evenings. But I enjoyed the lack of crowds and took my sweet time perusing the flavors menu and trying a few samples.

There were 16 flavors posted on the menu, some of which appeared to be permanent (such as Salty Caramel, Malty Vanilla Chip, and the Maryland Mud flavor that my coworker raved about) and some rotating or seasonal options. I appreciated the nice mix of kid-friendly and more adult flavors, as many ice-cream shops seem to cater to one audience over the other. Some of the flavors that caught my eye included: Sunday Morning Cartoons (vanilla base with Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms mixed in), Sour Cream Chive and Potato Chip (sour cream ice cream with chives and chips mixed in) and Old Bay Caramel. As you likely know, Old Bay is a classic seafood seasoning blend made in Maryland. While I adore Old Bay seasoning on crab, fries, and chips, I couldn’t imagine it going well with caramel. The nice gentleman behind the counter offered me a sample of it, and I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I expected! When the ice cream first hit my tongue, it tasted like complex, spicy caramel. But the aftertaste was all Old Bay, which kind of grossed me out. Needless to say, I went with slightly more traditional flavors: a double scoop cone of Coconut Maple Praline (a vegan flavor made with coconut milk) and Pistachio Toffee. The scoop set me back around $5.50, which seemed reasonable.

Top: Coconut Maple Praline, Bottom: Pistachio Toffee

The verdict? This cone was just what I needed at the end of a long work trip. The Creamery clearly knows its stuff, and both flavors were well balanced and delicious. My favorite of the two flavors was the Pistachio Toffee, which had a light and natural pistachio flavor with just a hint of buttery toffee. It lacked the traditional chunks of pistachio nuts, but I didn’t mind. The Coconut Maple Praline was nice but was a bit icy, and the coconut flavor overwhelmed the maple and praline. Still, it was very tasty for a vegan ice cream! I enjoyed my cone while meandering down West 36th Street in Hampden, window shopping and people watching in the warm evening sun.

The Stats:
The Charmery
801 W 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 814-0493
https://thecharmery.com

Date with myself at Frankie & Jo’s in Seattle

I used to think that going out for ice cream had to be a social experience. After all, those childhood memories of sharing dripping cones on family vacations are a major reason why I love ice cream to begin with. So, for most of my life, I wouldn’t have dreamed going out for an ice cream alone. While I’ll almost always prefer to share ice cream with friends or family, I’ve recently begun to experiment with going out by myself. There was a time (not too long ago) when I wasn’t comfortable being alone, so I’ve been on a quest to learn to be my own best companion. After all, the only person I am with 24/7 is me!

Last time I flew to Seattle for the weekend, I beat K to the city by several hours (he was working down in San Francisco). My body clock thought it was 11pm, but it was still early local time and very light. I love the long days of early summer in Seattle! Rather than curl up on our hotel bed, I decided to attend to my grumbling tummy and venture out to visit a new ice cream spot in Capitol Hill that my father-in-law had tipped me off to.

Frankie & Jo’s is only six months old but is already making a big splash online and in social media. It is the first entirely-vegan and gluten free “plant-based” ice cream spot in town. Like my beloved FoMu in Boston, most of the ice creams at Frankie & Jo’s are made with coconut milk instead of dairy. I’m not vegan by any means, but I really enjoy coconut-milk ice cream.

After a long walk in the warm evening sun, I was happy to spot the cheerful bright orange sign outside of Frankie & Jo’s. The shop is on the small side, and the interior is uber-hip, with bold green palm trees on the wall, real potted plants, and slate walls. Flavors, toppings, and prices are posted on a giant mirror hanging on the wall. It looked fantastic in person but did not make for good pictures!

There were a dozen flavors on the board, including one sorbet and three rotating seasonal flavors. None of the flavors are what I’d call “traditional.” I recognized the Salty Caramel Ash and Gingered Golden Milk from social media. The sorbet, Beet Strawberry Rose, also sounded fun. I was in the mood for something hearty, so the richer-sounding flavors caught my eye: Chocolate Mint Brownie, California Cabin (smoked vanilla and fir needle ice cream with black pepper cardamom shortbread), Mexico Morning (coffee ice cream with almond shortbread and dulce de leche), and Tahini Chocolate.

I ended up ordering a standard-size scoop of the Tahini Chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. I’d read about Frankie & Jo’s maple-vanilla waffle cones, which are gluten-free and vegan. Since I was a bit hungry, I decided to indulge. The standard size runs $6, and a waffle cone is a $2 upcharge. So, this was a pricey ice-cream cone, but I felt okay about it because of the high-quality and unusual ingredients.

Tahini Chocolate

The verdict? It took just one bite for me to fall in love with Frankie & Jo’s. The Tahini Chocolate ice cream was sweet, salty, and nutty. Unlike with most coconut-milk ice creams, I couldn’t pick up on the coconut at all. The texture was thick and creamy, with a good bite and a few chewy bits of tahini. I’m guessing that the light brown swirl was chocolate sauce, but I couldn’t detect a chocolate flavor. But all was forgiven because this ice cream was divine. My pleasure was doubled when I got down to the cone; the maple-vanilla waffle cone tasted more like a crispy cookie than a waffle cone. The flavors of maple and brown sugar complemented – and maybe even enhanced – the rich tahini ice cream. Between Frankie & Jo’s, Glass Bottle Creamery, and Moo Shu Ice Cream, it’s been a good year for gluten-free waffle cones!

It was such a lovely evening in Seattle that I walked with my cone over to Cal Anderson Park. Sitting on the bleachers and watching a recreational baseball game in progress, I felt quite happy as I savored every last bite of ice cream. Satisfying, delicious and plant-based. What a wholesome date night with myself 🙂

The Stats:
Frankie & Jo’s
1010 E Union Street
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 257-1676
https://frankieandjos.com

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

Sister Time at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Brooklyn

Two weeks ago, my two sisters and I met up in New York City for a 30-hour sisterly adventure. We did this last year and enjoyed ourselves so much that we simply had to do it again! The Big Apple is a good central meeting place for the three of us, coming from DC, Boston, and Connecticut. K was kind enough to find us a room at the Hyatt hotel near Times Square, and we used that as a home base. We packed in a lot of fun between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday evening: shopping at Rituals and Eataly, dinner at the veggie-forward Dirty Candy, petting dogs at Madison Square Park, and a yoga class at MangOh. I find that spending “special time” with my sisters, especially overnight, is very therapeutic.

On Saturday afternoon, the three of us jumped in an Uber to head to Brooklyn for a bite of lunch and to visit my dear girlfriend Elysia and some of her friends at a going-away party. While we only spent a couple hours in Brooklyn, my sisters and I agreed that it was VERY hip and eccentric. Luckily, we happened to walk by one of Brooklyn’s hottest joints: Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream‘s Williamsburg location. While I can’t remembering hearing anything about the company, Ava first learned about Van Leeuwen’s ice cream when the company catered one of her friend’s dog’s birthday party (I can’t wrap my head around that). She told us that they were known for innovative vegan flavors, and we were sold!

Source: Van Leeuwen’s website

Van Leeuwen started as an artisan ice-cream truck in 2008, serving ice cream across the city. They built up quite a fan base and now have eight (8!) locations, scattered across the NYC area and Los Angeles. But, staying true their roots, Van Leeuwen still operates several ice-cream trucks seasonally and for private events.

The store was fairly busy for a late winter afternoon, with families and groups of friends sharing cones and cups of ice cream. The shop itself was a mix of modern and old-fashioned, with plenty of seating for guests. My only disappointment was that you can’t see the ice creams… they are hidden behind the counter in big metal tubs.

Van Leeuwen’s menu looks clean and simple, but there are MANY flavors to choose from. There are about a dozen “classic” ice cream flavors that are staples on the menu, along with 8 vegan versions and a selection of “special” flavors. Some of the “classic” flavors are quite traditional like Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chip, and Cookies + Cream, but several are unique, like Earl Grey Tea, Passionfruit Layer Cake, and Honeycomb.  The vegan offerings include Salted Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea, and Caramelized Banana Nut. And the “specials”? They were special indeed: Pumpkin Pie, Salted Caramel Rocky Road, Sour Cream Apple Cider Doughnut, and more.

But when I saw Honeycomb on the menu, I had no choice but pick it! Honeycomb candy is very popular in Australia, where our dad grew up, and is the star of one my favorite chocolate bars of all time: Violet Crumble.  Sadly, honeycomb desserts aren’t easy to find here in the U.S.! I ordered a single-scoop in a cone. Carolyn went with a cone of Vegan Dark Chocolate, and Ava ordered a cup of Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch. At $5.50 a pop, these single scoops were pricey. But, boy, were they pretty…

Left to right: Honeycomb, Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, Vegan Chocolate

The verdict? Overall, we were impressed with Van Leeuwen’s ice cream! The Honeycomb was the color of caramel, with thick swirls of softened, chewy honeycomb. The sweet-cream ice cream base was rich and milky, and served at the perfect temperature (cold but not rock-hard). Carolyn’s Vegan Dark Chocolate scoop was a chocolate-lover’s dream, with an intense cocoa taste that masked that ubiquitous flavor of coconut milk. You could have thought it was full-dairy ice cream! While Ava enjoyed her Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, she thought it was a tad too icy and could have used some more marshmallow to counter-act the rich peanut-butter flavor. We all agreed that the serving sizes were perfect — just big enough to be satisfying but not spoil your dinner! I can’t wait to return to Van Leeuwen to sample some more of their other flavors!

The Stats:
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (multiple locations in New York and Los Angeles)
204 Wythe Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(929) 337-6907
www.vanleeuwenicecream.com

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

 

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2016

Happy New Year! Politics aside, 2016 was a standout year for me. First and foremost, I’m grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. Highlights of 2016 include my sisters and their sweethearts coming to visit us in DC for a long weekend, a safari with my in-laws in South Africa, finally returning to Acadia National Park with my family after many years, a trip to Barcelona with dear friends, learning to ski (which has always frightened me), and getting the chance to drive a dog sled in Japan! I also cherished watching my sister Carolyn find her dream job, my sister Ava developing a strong relationship with a wonderful man, and my parents finally taking their dream trip to Italy! With all the tragedies that occurred in 2016 — domestic and abroad — it’s more important than ever to savor the joys and achievements, big and small, in my life.

Looking back on my posts from 2016, I realized that this year also brought me some wonderful ice cream! I also shared many ice creams with family and friends, which makes any flavor taste a little bit sweeter.

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
Peach Cardamom at Glass Bottle Creamery (Vashon Island, WA)

Best New Recipe:
Easy Salted Caramel Sauce

Best Atmosphere:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (Bar Harbor, ME)
(the Sea Salt Caramel was my 2nd favorite flavor of 2016!)

Worst Ice Cream:
Quejo com Goiabada at Sorvetes Ally (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)

Most Unique Ice Cream:
Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries at Salt & Straw (Portland, OR)

I’d love to hear about your favorites from 2016!

 

 

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/

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.

IMG_0131

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

Feeling Tipsy at Mexico City’s Helado Obscuro

The other week, K and I took a quick weekend trip to Mexico City. I’m still surprised how close Mexico City is to D.C. If you disregard having to go through customs and immigration, flying to Mexico City is easier than flying to Las Vegas! After falling in love with the city over a year ago, K and I talked often about going back. Mexico City is bursting with energy, music, good food, and culture, and I can always use more Spanish practice.

We arrived late on a Friday evening and left on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make the most of every minute. After checking into our hotel (I’d highly recommend the Hyatt Regency!) and dropping off our bags, we took an UberX to a bar I’d read about online. Jules Basement is an intimate speakeasy literally in the basement of a very casual taco restaurant. The juxtaposition is quite cool. We found an open spot along the bar and ordered fancy tequila (for me) and mezcal (for him) cocktails. Afterwards, we couldn’t help but grab a couple tacos upstairs before heading back to the hotel.

ojWe woke up to a beautiful Saturday, in the low 80s and sunny. We spent an hour wandering through Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. Taking up more than 1,600 acres, it’s far bigger than Central Park. There are museums, fountains, a zoo, live performers, and more food and craft vendors than you could ever want. We only covered a tiny section of the park before we had to start making our way to Azul Condensa for lunch with K’s uncle, Gary, who currently lives in Mexico City. It was my first time meeting him, and we shared some great food and conversation.

IMG_9839After our leisurely lunch, Gary offered to walk us over to an ice cream spot I’ve been following on Instagram for a while now: Helado Obscuro. I forget where I originally read about it, but this place is bonkers: it’s focused solely on alcoholic ice creams. The branding and flavors looked wildly inventive and fun, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

IMG_9840After a 20 minute walk, we arrived at Helado Obscuro feeling hot and thirsty. From the looks of the long line outside, we were far from the only people in the mood for some frozen refreshment. The actual shop is quite small, and most of the seating is outside. The crowd was primarily young adults; the vibe reminded me more of a hipster café in Seattle than an ice cream shop.

IMG_9841 IMG_9842When we got close to the top of the line, we could finally read the flavor options. This was when my Spanish  really came in handy! You wouldn’t really know what to expect from Helado Obscuro’s flavor names, as they are mostly characters that inspired the essence of the flavor combination. But Helado Obscuro does include a description of the flavor, including the type of alchohol(s) in it. For example, Frankenstein is a blend of mint, chocoretas (popular Mexican chocolate-mint candies), and absinthe. The Bloody Mary incorporates Clamato, salsa, celery pieces, and vodka.

IMG_9843I was drawn to two flavors: the Mariachi en Bikini, described as having guanábana (a local fruit), coconut milk, and smoky mezcal, and the Dirty Wonka, described as having Nerds candies, banana liquor, and white chocolate liquor. I’d seen the Dirty Wonka on Helado Obscuro’s Instagram page, and it looked colorful and fun! We got a single scoop of both flavors, which cost us around $6USD.

IMG_9844

Mariachi en Bikini

IMG_9845

Dirty Wonky

The verdict? Wowza. This ice cream is potent! All three of us were giggling because of the pure shock of how boozy this stuff was (or were they drunk giggles?). I’ll bet that a scoop of this ice cream is just as boozy as a strong cocktail. The Mariachi en Bikini tasted like creamy mezcal, and it overpowered any fruit flavor that might have been there. I preferred the Dirty Wonka, because the sweet and sour Nerds helped to cut the heavy liquor flavor of the rest of the ice cream. I also liked the slight banana aftertaste. In the end, we didn’t finish these scoops because we worried about getting too tipsy so early in the afternoon. But I’d love to return to Helado Obscuro next time I’m in Mexico City, when I’m in the mood for a fun cocktail in frozen form.

The Stats:
Helado Obscuro
Calle Córdoba No. 223
Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte
Ciudad de México, D.F. Mexico 06700
+52 55 4444 4878
http://www.heladoobscuro.com