Mid-Week Tangent: Dangers of a New Neighborhood

I am in love with my new neighborhood and the impact it has on my commute (hello, 15 minutes!), but there is a dark side to my new neighborhood: it’s full of tempting and delicious…and expensive distractions.

We walked 10 blocks in each direction from our house and discovered all manner of ways for us to fritter away our money. There are pizza shops, and fusion restaurants galore, and dear lord there is a Dairy Queen a mere 600 metres from my doorstep. I should not be allowed to live so close to my beloved pecan mudslides. Not only are they dangerous for my health but they also put a serious ding in the pocket book, weighing in (pun intended) at a steep $7 per treat.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of temptations at my doorstep now.  The one benefit of the suburban life was that very few temptations were within walking distance. Ultimately, I am too lazy to get into my car to drive for treats, but I will walk to them in a heartbeat. This does not bode well for me in my new neighborhood.

Already, in the span of three days, we’ve visited a nearby bakery twice. I am not normally a fan of yeasted donuts (cake donuts for life), but this donut was the best yeasted donut I’ve ever had. And I didn’t have to pay upwards of $4 for it, nor step foot in a hipster donut haven. I wish I could share a picture with you of this dulce de leche stuffed donut coated in thick caramel frosting but I devoured it so quickly that you get only this:

If you look closely, you may be able to see remnants of its deliciousness.

At this point, I am deeply concerned about our bank balances and our waist lines. This could be a very, very dangerous five months for us.

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Quest for Gelato Perfection: All Summer and No Perfection

Well, that was an unexpectedly long departure from blogging. I was away for an extended long weekend and planned poorly for this week’s posts. Never fear, though, I am back with my final installment of this Summer’s quest for gelato perfection. And I left the granddaddy of local gelaterias for last. I wish I could say that I planned it that way but this, too, was opportunity gelato.  I also wish I could say I went and saved the best for last (cue sappy Vanessa Williams to accompany), but sadly that was also not the case.

After a summer of trying desperately to find the best gelato, what I’ve come to believe is that nothing will ever taste as good as what I ate in Italy. It’s possible that the gelato there is leaps and bounds better, but it’s equally possible that its deliciousness was heightened by the fact that I was, you know, in Italy, surrounded by vast countrysides of vineyards and historic castles and whatnot. Yeah, that could be it. Still, here we go with this latest experience.

Where: Bella Gelateria (Marinaside location)

What: I ordered the Amarena Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel. My better half ordered the classic salted caramel.

Salted Caramel
Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What stood out: First, I have to get this off my chest. I have mentioned several times how I despise gelato shops in which gelato is hidden from view in charmless stainless steel bins. I don’t know why it irks me so, but it does. Only once have I been blown away by the contents of those bins. This was not that time.

Second, and a bit of a sidenote, some advice for those less wise than me: gelato does not make a great pre-concert choice. We stopped for gelato en route to the Guns n’ Roses concert and, though it seems obvious now, I didn’t question whether a giant bowl of gelato would make an ideal pre-show snack. It does not.

In terms of the gelato itself, I can say that the texture was lovely. It was velvety. It commenced melting the second it hit the warm air outside, as one would expect from gelato. It was served properly with a spade and not in scoops.

When it comes to the flavours, I was tremendously disappointed. They were fine. But here’s the thing: this gelateria is widely acclaimed as the best gelato in the city of Vancouver and supposedly the best outside of Italy. The location near my office regularly has a long line (upwards of 45 minutes!) wrapping around the block. If I had waited 45 minutes for this gelato, I’d have been pissed. I do not want to wait 45 minutes for gelato that is “fine”.

The Salted Caramel was nice enough, and was clearly the winner of the three flavours, but I’ve come to believe that salted caramel is one of those flavours that is hard to mess up.

The Amarena Cherry was a grave disappointment. Perhaps this is the one area where Italy legitimately has a leg up because I’m certain their cherries actually taste like cherries, whereas anything cherry-flavoured here seems far too subtle and/or overly sweet. I have decided that, aside from Dolce Gelato in White Rock, I am through ordering cherry flavoured gelato here. It is dead to me.

Now let me unleash my bitterness about the over promising and under delivering Wickedly Burnt Caramel. This flavour is living a lie. It is decidedly not burnt, and presents its consumer with nothing even remotely wicked. My boyfriend described it best when he said it was “caramel lite”, as in it had the most subtle hint of caramel flavour possible for such a boldly named gelato. It was the biggest disappointment of the evening.

My final conclusion on Bella Gelateria is twofold: 1. This place is overhyped to the extreme and 2. Location may matter for this gelateria. We may have chosen a dud, but then again, part of multi-location eateries is meant to be their consistency. Make it good everywhere or don’t make it at all, I say.

I’m sad to end this summer’s quest with such a lacklustre finale. However, I still have hope for finding brilliant gelato next year, or at least visiting my Kelowna discovery many, many times when we make our move to Vernon. Until then, may you find your own gelato perfection and, if and when you do, please loop me in!

 

Triumphant Return of the Quest for Gelato Perfection

This was opportunity gelato, plain and simple, as in my boyfriend and I were picking up a birthday cake in a quaint little bakery somewhere in the heart of Bellingham when I noticed there was a chocolate and gelato shop next door. Had it not been for proximity, no gelato would’ve been consumed.  I should know better than to be tempted by a store that sells two completely different products. One of them is bound to be inferior. Though I can’t say for certain that the chocolate was any better, I can say the gelato left a lot to be desired.

Where: Chocolate Necessities & Gelato, Bellingham, WA

What I Had: Cherry Mania and Mascarpone

What Stood Out: I have no idea what is going on with me this year. I have never in my life been so tempted by cherry-flavoured anything, and now it appears to be my flavour of choice.  This was NOT my best cherry flavour experience.

The picture says it all. Disappointing. Texturally off.  Sigh.

Here’s the skinny:

The Mascarpone ice cream had good flavour, with more of a distinct mild cheesiness than I’ve had in many similar flavours. The Cherry Mania was indeed cherry-like, but completely unbalanced (i.e. way too sweet, and that’s saying a lot for a sugar fiend like me!). This is the most positive feedback that I have.

In general, the “gelato” had way too many icy crystals to be considered true gelato. I couldn’t tell whether it was just ice cream, or whether it was stored at an improper temperature. The glass case housing the gelato had a great deal of condensation on it, so much so that I had to bend down and crane my neck to even read the names of the flavours in the back row. On top of that, the gelato broke my spoon. Now, I may be an aggressive consumer of sweets at the best of times, but even in my most enraptured gelato eating moments I’ve never broken the spoon.

I should learn that when gelato doesn’t look fantastic in the case, it’s probably not going to taste much better, but I feared that if I didn’t seize the opportunity I would never get back to my quest for gelato perfection. I’m sure you can tell this stop on my gelato journey was far from perfection. In fact, I feel certain that the Orange gelato, which looked heinous in colour and even stranger in texture, and which appeared to be puking itself out of its metal bin, was actually attempting to escape its fate as mediocre gelato.  Having experienced the gelato, I completely understand its plight.

ps. However, if you want a wonderful carrot cake, do visit Pure Bliss Desserts directly next door. I still regret not buying a salted caramel cupcake in lieu of the gelato.

Mid-Week Gelato Quest: Gelato Repeat Repeat

No, that is not a typo. I am outing myself, yet again, for failing to visit a new gelato destination before my weekly quest for gelato perfection post.  It is trickier now that I’m working, and was made even trickier this weekend when I decided to host my own birthday party, which essentially turned one of my free days into a full-on scramble to get food, drink and decor sorted.  I am really seeing a pattern here, and that pattern is that I am a master of excuses.

Instead of broadening my horizons like I am supposed to be doing, I visited Dolce Gelato for the third time (here’s visit 1 and visit 2 if you’re curious). I’ll spare you the lengthy intros and jump right to flavours, because at the very least I did try two brand-new-to-me flavours. Trust me, that’s harder than it sounds.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

My boyfriend would like to note what a fine hand model he makes.

The Gelato: 

My boyfriend, who always shows more restraint than I, ordered one measly flavour, Bacio. It’s chocolate hazelnut and it tasted like frozen Ferrero Rocher filling, which is pretty much as good as it gets in the chocolate hazelnut world if you ask me. It was velvety, chocolatey, hazelnutty perfection. If you’re in the mood for pure indulgence, get it.

My flavour choices were difficult. I really wanted the Cassata again, but have a tendency to stick with my favourites. Plus, I knew if I was going to pawn this gelato trip off as a new post, I better at least get different flavours.  In the end, I went with the Variegato and the Stracciatella.

The Variegato is a sour cherry gelato and packs some seriously tart kick. I am not always a fan of fruit flavours, but lately anything cherry has been a go-to for me. Aside from the foresta nera (essentially black forest) gelato that I had at Dolce last time, this is the best cherry gelato I’ve had outside of Italy. It was creamy and its sweetness was perfectly offset by sharply sour cherries.  That probably sounds offensive. Who wants sharply sour cherries? I do. They are amazing.

The Stracciatella was a strategic choice. I’m a firm believer that the simpler the gelato flavour, the more challenging it is to do it really, really well. You can’t get much simpler than vanilla with chocolate shavings.  It was very good, maybe not the best I’ve had, but very, very good. The vanilla base was top notch and ultra creamy. For me, it just needed way more chocolate. I’m also a chocoholic so perhaps take that with a grain of salt.

Overall: I don’t regret returning here. It was the only logical choice since we were golfing/Farmer’s Market-ing nearby. Any other destination would have been way too much driving given that it was my birthday and I had no desire to spend the whole day in the car. Plus, for once I actually picked complimentary flavours instead of cramming two things that should never be together into one tiny cup. That’s learning, my friends. After three visits, I still stand by my recommendation for Dolce Gelato. In a word: yum!

 

Mid-Week Gelato Quest: gelato fail

An alternative title for this post could be: the week in which I fail to visit a new gelato destination and instead present you with a gelato post about *gasp* store-bought gelato and my utter lack of motivation. It doesn’t have quite the simplicity nor the ring to it that my actual title has, though, does it?

I had good intentions of going for gelato today, my last day of total freedom before returning to work. It seemed a fitting way to celebrate. But then I got lazy. And it’s hot out. And I didn’t feel like driving. And I couldn’t figure out what to wear to work tomorrow. And I didn’t know if the gelato place would even be any good/worth all the trouble. And, and, and…the excuses could go on forever. At the end of the day, all that really matters is that I didn’t go for gelato.

But we did buy Haagen Dazs Cappuccino Gelato earlier this week because, let’s face it, I always have to have some form of ice cream in the house. I know I promised a quest for gelato perfection and am instead talking to you about commercially produced ice cream masquerading as gelato, but it is all I have. Plus, it still worked for a post-dinner weekday treat.  It tasted like coffee. It was creamy. It was frozen. It was sweet. Those are all winning qualities in a pinch. Perfection? No. Tasty? Sure. Plus you can get a whole pint for less than one small scoop in most gelato shops. Sometimes economies of scale are a good thing.

I know, and I agree, that was a wholly unsatisfying gelato review. You may be pleased to know that, although I failed in my quest for gelato this week, I did manage to locate several promising gelato prospects for future weeks. I also want to be realistic that between starting a new job and some unexpected weekend excursions (which sounds more fun than they really are), I may not get to them as quickly as I hope to. You have my word, however, that I will put more effort into my gelato quest than I did today when, really, I was just too damn lazy.

Too lazy for gelato. What is the world coming to?

 

Mid-Week Tangent: Battle of the Fort Langley Gelato Part I

Unbeknownst to me until last weekend, I have not one but two gelato shops right in my own backyard (not literally, of course, although that would be a pretty fantastic backyard).  Now that I’ve kicked off my summer gelato challenge , I think I am hyperaware of gelato shops everywhere I go, sort of like when you buy a new car and then you start to see the same model everywhere you look.  What I was most excited by is that there are duelling gelato shops.  While not quite directly across the street from one another, they’re pretty close and I think that gives this gelato-off a very West Side Story vibe. I’m excited to see which gelato shop reigns supreme.

We checked out the interior of both shops this past weekend before choosing where to taste first.  I admit, I may already be biased against one of the shops. Bucking all gelato trends, they’ve opted not to display their gelato. While I’m usually supportive of bucking trends, part of the delight of gelato is being able to scan the flavours in their glass case. I’m not sure how I feel about sight-unseen gelato. But we’ll get to their products next week. For now, let’s take a look at our first Fort Langley gelato experience.

Reminder: I am not a food blogger. My goal is shoot as fast as possible to commence eating. But kudos to me for actually taking a picture before eating half of it…unlike the last two weeks.

Where: Maria’s Gelato, Fort Langley 

What I Had:  For some reason, though I typically select the most sickeningly sweet and rich dessert options, when selecting gelato I love me some fruit flavours.  It’s inexplicable to me. That’s my Cherry Mania on the left there, and my boyfriend’s (wiser) choice of coffee and salted butter caramel. I also sampled the peach gelato.

As a sidenote, I was disappointed in the lack of really interesting flavours. Aside from the pistachio and rosewater and strachiatella, most flavours were completely standard fair, lacking that Italian flair that I’m ultimately seeking in my quest for gelato perfection.

What stood out:  I had lower expectations for this place. For once, I did my research before checking out a gelato shop. The things I do for this blog! At any rate, I read countless reviews of tiny portion sizes, high prices, and rude service. I didn’t find any to be fair reviews.

As you can see from the photo above, these are fairly standard gelato serving sizes. My own theory is that customers are comparing to ice cream shops where double-scoops are often the size of your head.  It’s not ice cream. This is how gelato works. As for prices, I felt they were comparable to other shops at $5-7ish, depending on how much you ordered. Maybe it’s because when I lived downtown all the ‘artisan’ ice cream shops charged an arm and a leg for ice cream, but I’m not phased by that sort of price tag. Lastly, service was fine. It was pretty empty when we went, though, so perhaps when it’s busy service goes downhill. But I also have pretty low expectations for service. If I were scooping gelato on the daily, you’d better bet I’d have trouble being pleasant when customers want to sample every flavour under the sun and suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes time to place an order.

Okay, enough about the boring stuff, let’s get on to the taste! I’ll start with the worst of the day: the peach gelato. Granted, I had the world’s smallest sample, but the artificial peach flavour was noticeable nonetheless.  Perhaps since peaches are out of season, they are supplementing with artificial flavours…I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but something tells me I’m being overly optimistic on this one.

The cherry mania and coffee were both fine.  Flavour-wise, they were about what I was expecting.  The cherries were delightfully tart but the base was otherwise a fairly typical vanilla.  To me, coffee ice cream is coffee ice cream. I’ve yet to had one that blew my mind, so I’d say this one was perfectly fine. But I’m looking for perfect not perfectly fine with this gelato challenge.

The salted butter caramel, on the other hand, was a flavour explosion, so much so that I immediately regretted ordering only one flavour (seriously, why did I only order one flavour???). If you don’t like the flavour of butter, you will hate this gelato. If you’re like me, though, and have a mild butter addiction, this flavour is the only way to go. It is so rich and so over-the-top bold in its buttery-ness that you will be swooning. I may have eaten more of this flavour than my boyfriend. How he so willingly shares sweets is beyond me.

My biggest letdown at Maria’s wasn’t the flavour profiles, though. I need to talk texture and creaminess.  In the end, I would classify this gelato as more akin to ice cream.  It was still a bit airier than gelato, and lacked the rich creaminess that I was craving. For ice cream, it was good, but it didn’t have that velvety, easily-melting, supremely smooth quality for which I love, love, love gelato.

Overall, I’d say that I had a positive experience at Maria’s, but more as a destination for solid ice cream than gelato. I can’t wait to see whether the other Fort Langley gelato offerings blow my mind. But for that, you’ll have to wait until next week.