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: 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!

Monday Musings: Rain, Rain & More Rain

I know, I know, it’s so perfectly banal to speak of the weather, and I choose to live in Vancouver, where one can expect season upon season of above-average rainfall.  Still, it’s putting a serious damper (pun fully intended) on my desire to get outside. Think I’m exaggerating? This year, it rained 28 out of 31 days in October. I don’t know about you, but that seems fairly excessive. Come on Mother Nature, cut us a break!

If any of you happen to live in a generally grey and gloomy locale, you may echo my sentiments here: the grey and the rain really start to get you down after a while.  You might find that your motivation starts to dip. You might even start to play the “I’ll-just-wait-until-the-weather-gets-a-bit-better-before-I-go-for-a-run” game…except it never stops raining and, as a result, you never seem to go for that run.  I have no answers to this vicious circle of laziness.  None. I just know I struggle with workout motivation when we have particularly monsoon-like years here in Vancouver.

Yup.
Yup.

Instead of solutions for coping with dreary weather, I present you with my unfiltered thoughts on working out in the rain after several weeks of seemingly endless showers:

  1. I get that rain is good for the planet, but seriously can we just get a few consecutive days of blue sky?!?
  2. For the love of God, why has no one invented waterproof workout gear that BREATHES?!?!
  3. Would it be so bad to stop working out until the sun comes back? I mean, what’s a little winter weight?

Ah, that feels a little better. Sometimes you just need to vent. And, who knows, maybe the weather gods will hear my cries for sunshine. Also, if anyone lives in a sunnier and warmer destination and is open to a perfectly delightful (and temporary) houseguest, just say the word. I will bring lots of wine.

Throwback Thursdays: Local Hill Run Edition

Sometimes when I drive home from the Grouse Grind, I pass Cleveland Dam and fondly miss one of my favourite, local, (relatively) easy hill runs. So for those of you who are able bodied enough to run, live in the Vancouver area, and looking for a very adaptable hill run, here’s one of my faves.

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Starting Point: Behind Park Royal, West Vancouver

Turnaround Point: Cleveland Dam, North Vancouver

Distance: As shown, the return distance is 11.73 km, making it an easy short run.  But it can easily be extended by starting at the western edge of Ambleside Park, adding an additional 3 km or by running past Cleveland Dam to the base of Grouse Mountain for an additional 138 m of elevation gain and an additional 4 km of distance.  You can also do some repeats within the cap canyon trail itself for extra elevation and distance.  See? Flexible!

Elevation Profile (basic route):

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Why I recommend it:  If you’re just starting to run hills for training, this is a great, gentle grade with only a couple short sections that would classify as moderate grade. In other words, you won’t feel like you want to die very often. This, of course, is all relative to your fitness level.  Other plusses:

  • Once you get into the forest behind Capilano Suspension Bridge, you’ll enjoy the benefits of the tree canopy, making even a hot day feel cool.
  • While popular, it’s not uber popular so you won’t feel like you’re dodging people right, left and centre.
  • The trail isn’t technical so even the most clumsy (i.e. me) can safely navigate the terrain.
  • As mentioned above, it’s highly customizable to add (or subtract, for that matter) distance and elevation gain.
  • There’s both water and washrooms at Cleveland Dam, excellent for days you drink a litre of water before starting your run.
  • The view at the top is pretty damn nice
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Evidence of aforementioned view.

So there you go, a ready-made running route for your hill training needs. Please enjoy it for me as I fear it will be quite some time before I make it out there.