Mid-Week Tangent: Battle of Fort Langley Gelato Part II

Oh, do I have a doozy for you today. And not in a good way. If you recall, last week I visited one of two gelato shops in nearby Fort Langley.   This weekend, in my quest to find gelato perfection, I returned to the other gelato shop.  Did I get closer to perfection? No. In fact, I found myself far, far, far from it. Like really far.

You can tell even from this picture that this is not gelato. Also, apologies for the picture taken while walking because I forgot before I started to eat it.

Where: Daily Scoop (no website), Fort Langley 

What I Had:  I had the Espresso Chocolate Almond Crunch (or something to that effect…the exact name escapes me now) and Rum Raisin.  My boyfriend tasted the Nanaimo Bar, after which he promptly switched gears and ordered the Belgium Chocolate (which, I assume, they meant to name Belgian Chocolate, but who knows).

What stood out:  I should have known by the utter lack of web presence that we were bound for disappointment. Last week when we went inside to check it out, but didn’t order anything, I was also thrown off by the lack of standard gelato cases. The gelato was nowhere to be seen, tucked away inside sterile looking stainless steel freezers.  Like I said last week, one of the joys of gelato, or any frozen treat really, is being able to see what you’re going to order before you order it. I should’ve trusted my gut.

We received another early warning sign. My boyfriend asked to taste the nanaimo bar.  I can tell when he loves a food item because his eyes tend to light up like a small child at Christmas. There was no sparkle of joy in his eyes. When I asked how it was he paused and responded “well, it doesn’t taste like nanaimo bar.” He ordered his Belgium[sic] Chocolate. The moment they set it on the counter I looked at him and said, “that’s not gelato.” There, on the counter, looking oh-so-chocolately, was ice cream plain and simple, scooped by an ice cream scoop in a rounded ball rather than the typical gelato spade. Uncool.  His chocolate ice cream–I’ll just call it what is is–tasted quite good but, really, it’s hard to mess up chocolate.

I still ordered because I do my research for this blog, and I couldn’t write a scathing review without having tried it. I wish that I hadn’t. I wish I had just formed a snap judgment on appearances alone and left it at that. Instead, I ordered the two above mentioned flavours.

Had the rum raisin not been called rum raisin, I never would’ve suspected that was its flavour. The supposed rum flavour was undetectable, and there was a nary a raisin the be found. It also had an odd texture, one I’m still struggling to describe, sort of a grainy and…dare I say, gelatinous feel to it. Zero gelato creaminess was present. Textural issues continued in my espresso “gelato”, which barely tasted of coffee and lacked the promised crunch.

I think you can tell that all in all it was a drastically disappointing experience, so much so that I barely ate any, drove all the way home without touching it (by the way, it barely melted on the drive home, yet another sign it isn’t legit gelato), and tossed it in the freezer for later.  The final insult: the gelato sat in the freezer all afternoon without so much as calling to me. I assure you that this never happens when I have frozen treats in my freezer. Most of the time, I can barely stop thinking about them and I rarely would’ve survived the whole afternoon without swan diving into the leftovers.

The final call: I honestly would’ve tossed this gelato in the garbage after two bites had I not just dropped $7 on it.  And so, my quest for gelato perfection continues…

Oh, and in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, and because this is a battle of gelato, if you’re in Fort Langley and jonesing for gelato, definitely go for Maria’s.


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.

Mid-Week Tangent: Gelato Repeat

Okay, so if you read last’s week post you know that my goal is to try as many different gelato places as possible this summer. And then today, just one week later, I went and messed it up already by going right back to Dolce Gelato in White Rock. Can it sort of count as a new place if I at least forced myself to try different flavours? Not really, right? What makes matters worse is that I totally would’ve had the meringa flavour again if it had been there today.  Also in my defence, I was wooed by the beach and my nagging desire to take advantage of what appears to be the last sunshine we’ll see for four or five days.  I’ll stop making excuses now. Let’s just move past this, though, and accept that I’m failing in my gelato mission after just one week.

Professional food photographer I am not. This was not an attempt at an artistic backdrop. This was our beach blanket and my attempt to take a picture as quickly as possible so I could eat.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had:  I sampled the black sesame because I have an unabashed love for those little balls you get at dim sum stuffed with black sesame paste, and used to be on a stalker-like mission for black sesame bubble tea. In the end, for my actual order, I went with the Cassata and the Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans.

What stood out:  I was actually disappointed in the black sesame. It wasn’t as strong a flavour as I was expecting, which is precisely why I didn’t order it.  Maybe nothing can be as good as black sesame paste at dim sum, or black sesame bubble tea.  Or maybe, maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to just try another gelato place already.

The Cassata, on the other hand, was way better than I had expected. Like by leaps and bounds. I mentioned last week that I didn’t order it because the girl behind the counter said it tasted strongly of candied orange which, let’s be honest, isn’t really a flavour any candy-holic craves.  Still, I walked away last week wondering if I’d made a mistake. Indeed, I had. It was the best of my flavours today.  The orange was there, but perfectly subtle and complimented by candied fruit, nuts and chocolate. Would I get this again? Yes.

The Ricotta with Caramelized Pecans, dare I say it, was tasty but underwhelming. The challenge here may be that ricotta is a notoriously mild cheese, so it’s hard for its flavour to stand out.  That said, I had a fig and ricotta gelato in Cinque Terre that was identifiably (and in the best possible way) cheesy. And I must say, more pecans please! To be fair, I’m one of those people who never feel like there’s enough stuff in my ice cream. I get enraged by the final quarter of Blizzards because there is never enough candy mixed in near the bottom. Seriously, how have they not figured this out?!? But enough about Blizzards and back to gelato. I wanted more caramelized pecans, plain and simple.

I suspect that today’s relative lack of enthusiasm for Dolce Gelato really may be the culprit of my strategy to make gelato my lunch. I am not sure that it’s wise to arrive starving and rely solely on gelato to curb one’s hunger. I ate faster than I normally would have (think inhaling), which meant less pausing to notice smoothness, flavour and texture.  Note to self: eat a real lunch before gelato. Also, clearly this means that I have to return again.

Mid-Week Tangent: the quest for gelato perfection begins

I still dream of Italian gelato on the regular. I have zero regrets for eating up to three a day while on vacation last year. In fact, I regret not having eaten more of it. Since then, gelato has been notably absent from my life. Sure, on the odd occasion, I’ll buy a store-bought brand but, let’s be honest, there’s rarely a discernible difference between store-bought gelato and ice cream.  In my heart, I long to find the perfect gelato a little bit closer to home.

This weekend I tasted some damn good gelato, which got me wondering if I am missing out on all sorts of hidden gelato gems in and around this city.  And so, I’ve decided that I will boldly dedicate my summer to finding great gelato here, in and around Vancouver. Okay, I’m not actually going to devote my entire summer. My waistline certainly doesn’t need that, plus I’ll eventually be working again. It’s more like if I see a gelato place, I am going to try it. That’s half-assed dedication at its best!  Along the way, I will document the good, the bad and the ugly.

Today I’ll start with the best find I’ve found so far. Granted, I’ve eaten minimal gelato so far in the city. I used to live by Mario’s Gelati so I went there on occasion. Despite what many others think about it, I don’t like their gelato (gasp!). I find its texture to be quite grainy with ice crystals when what I want is silky creaminess. I blame mass production. I’ve also gone to the locally famed La Casa Gelato, which now boasts 238 flavours. I haven’t been in at least a decade, at which time they had a paltry 120 flavours I think, but I remember not being blown away and thinking their fame had more to do with quantity and gimmicky flavours (wasabi gelato? really?) than quality.  But there are so many more places to taste. And taste I shall.

As I mentioned, this weekend I found some brilliant gelato. It had all the hallmarks I personally look for: intensely creamy, boldly flavoured, interesting flavour selection, and made on the premises.

It looked better before I ate half of it and before it started to melt in the sun. What you can gather from this picture is that I lack the self control to wait even 30 seconds before starting to devour gelato. Truth.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had: A firm believer in never having just one flavour, I opted for Foresta Nera (vanilla with chocolate, nuts and booze-soaked cherries) and Meringa (heavenly meringue gelato, with massive meringue shards and chocolate).

What stood out:  Oh my god, I could have eaten those meringue pieces forever. I have no idea how they stay crisp in a sea of dairy, but they do and it is wonderful. The cherries in the foresta nera were heavenly as well, incredibly flavourful. I shouldn’t have to say things like ‘they tasted like real cherries’, but most cherries in ice cream bear little resemblance to real fruit so I will explicitly proclaim that these tasted like legit cherries!!!!  I had a hard time selecting flavours here as there were so many that looked unique and delicious.  In particular, I’m sad that I didn’t get to try the Casatta (candied orange peel, nuts, chocolate and orange liqueur) because it looked amazing and like something I would have seen in Italy.  I opted against it because candied orange usually isn’t my jam, but in hindsight I think I may have missed out on something different and delightful.  In other words, I will return and I will devour more flavours.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find a place to get your gelato on.*

*and if you know of a place in my general ‘hood, please send me recommendations!

Throwback Thursday Cinque Terre Edition: Corniglia to Vernazza

As a continuation of last week’s Cinque Terre trail adventures, this week I present to you our hike from Corniglia to Vernazza. I’ll admit, my deep love for this trail could largely be in response to how much I disliked Corniglia and my strong desire to get out of it as quickly as possible. It could also be because Vernazza stole my heart. Either way, check it out.

Trail: Corniglia to Vernazza
Distance: 4 km
Elevation Gain: Unknown (though I suspect no more than 300 ft)

We hiked this trail the same day as our unexpectedly steep climb from Manarola to Riomaggore. I have to say for all I’ve read about this being one of the tougher trails, it was nothing compared to the Beccara Trail.  In fact, the only part I recall being tough was the initial slog out of Corniglia, and I believe that felt worse than it is because we’d already had to climb all the damn stairs from the train station into the town itself. Seriously, the stair case into Corniglia is ridiculous, and likely one of the reasons I was less enamoured with this Cinque Terre town…well, that and I had the worst of my Cinque Terre gelato there. And we know how important my gelato is.

Never ending staircase into Corniglia.
Never ending staircase into Corniglia.

At any rate, I was personally happy to start the climb out of Corniglia. What I recall of this trail, three weeks after the fact, was gentle ups and downs, and nearly constant coastal views. I recall the largest cacti I have ever seen. I recall a delightful little bar and patio exactly half-way between the two towns, which my refusal to stop at when my boyfriend was both tired and thirsty is likely still a point of contention for him (relax, I bought him a large beer when we got to Vernazza). I recall my first views of Vernazza and descending with constant views of what turned out to be my absolute favourite of the Cinque Terre villages.

It was wonderful.

Starting the trail. Blue skies and bluer seas surround us.
Starting the trail. Blue skies and bluer seas surround us.
Views through narrow passageways off the main trail.
Views through narrow passageways off the main trail.
High stone walls offer some much needed shade.
High stone walls offer some much needed shade.
This town...I cannot even tell you how much I adore this town. Coming into Vernazza.
This town…I cannot even tell you how much I adore this town. Coming into Vernazza.
One more of Vernazza because this town stole my heart, and can you blame me?

I personally recommend hiking the trail in this direction, but this opinion is largely based on my deep love of Vernazza and my general lack of enthusiasm for Corniglia. Also, if you hike it in this direction, you can treat yourself to a gelato at Gelateria Vernazza. Get the crema cinque terre and fig ricotta, and promptly walk through a nearby stone archway to visit the larger of Vernazza’s two beaches. You will think you have died and gone to heaven.

This is your waterfront gelato-eating destination in Vernazza. You're welcome.
This is your waterfront gelato-eating destination in Vernazza. You’re welcome.

Join me next week for the final instalment in Throwback Thursdays Cinque Terre Edition, at which point I will probably get even more deeply nostalgic for my adventures there…particularly if we head into yet another week of Vancouver rain!

Mid-Week Tangent: Gelato Edition

I’ve written many times about my unabashed love for ice cream. My goal in Italy was to eat Gelato twice a day and I’m proud to share that I came damn close to achieving that goal.  Truth be told, if it weren’t for my sprained ankle and some cold and rainy days, I know I would have exceeded it.

The benefit of eating all that gelato is that I have been able to identify my personal five favourite gelato flavours should you ever find yourself in Italy.  Whenever possible, I’ve also included locations, though I admit I rarely made note of locations so I had to rely heavily on Google combined with my poor memory.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with running or training, the answer is absolutely nothing. However, I know that I’m not the only one out there who exercises and/or trains mostly to allow for the not-so-occasional indulgence in treats, so let this be your motivation to workout more…and then to go to Italy to undo all the good your workout’s done with copious amounts of gelato!

#5. Crema Vernazza (Gelateria Vernazza): A perfectly crafted blend of berry swirl and white chocolate in a vibrant yellow custard base.  It looked appallingly yellow, but was astoundingly delicious.

#4. Bisca Rata (Gelateria Dandoli, San Gimignano): This blew my mind. To be honest, I can’t even tell you what was in it and I’m quite certain I spelled it wrong and/or got the entire name wrong. What I do know is that it had crumbled biscuits in it,  pumpkin seeds, and a divine swirl for which I couldn’t quite put my finger on the flavour but which was heaven in a swirl. I took a chance on this flavour as it is not my norm, but it kickstarted my effort to try as many new flavours as possible (resulting in other honarable mentions that didn’t make this list but were phenomenal, such as amerena and peach crostato to name just a couple).

#3. Fig & Ricotta (Gelateria Vernazza): Imagine the most perfect of not-overly-sweet cheesecake ice creams with a rich ribbon of ultra sweet fig swirl. Perfectly balanced. Even writing about this is making me hungry…

#2. Crema Cinque Terre (Gelateria Vernazza): Oh. my. word. Though this didn’t make the number one slot, it is the most palatable for the average person (you’ll see what I mean when you read below) and a better everyday gelato choice. It was rich. It was indulgent. It had a ribbon of chocolate that bordered on obscene in it’s size, and which provided the perfect textural contrast to the brilliant yellow base.  It had hazelnuts, which are the best and only suitable nut for ice creams, in my opinion. It was perfection.

#1. Zenzero or Ginger (Frigidarium, Rome): My first caveat is that I am only 60% sure this is actually the name of the gelateria. I did some serious post-vacation detective work (i.e. Googling), based on our walking path from Castelo Saint Angelo. The Google street view looked sort of similar, but in reality all gelaterias kind of look the same. At any rate, the flavour is what’s important. This is not for the faint of heart, or the casual ginger admirer. This is for passionate ginger lovers, the kind of people who thrive on the burning heat of fresh ginger and who want their ice cream to make them feel like their mouth is on fire. In other words, people like me. It will be a small handful of people who would appreciate this flavour, but for those who love ginger like I do, who feel that every supposedly ginger-flavoured product out there lacks the true spicy intensity of real ginger, who order triple the ginger at the Whole Foods juice bar and still find it too weak, for those people this will be your world. Get on a plane. Find this place. Order this gelato. It is so perfectly and insanely intense in its ginger-ness that the girl I ordered from warned me twice, in very broken English, that it was very hot. She was right, and I was in heaven.

My biggest regret is that I allowed myself to pile all that strachiatella on top of that ginger glory. She doesn't look like much, I know, but she was life changing.
My biggest regret is that I allowed myself to pile all that strachiatella on top of that ginger glory. She doesn’t look like much, I know, but she was life changing.

So there you have it, a post with no connection to running, ultra marathons, workouts or anything of the sort but, let’s be honest, posts about gelato are infinitely better. Go forth, run for those who can’t (i.e. me) and get yourself some gelato.