Author

Max

When I was a kid in Italy, the end of August was the time to can tomatoes which would last us through the winter. It was family and friends affair and took us all day from 6am through the evening.

We used to make 2 types: diced tomatoes (pomodori a pezzetti) and crushed tomatoes (pomodori passati).

This past weekend we re-engaged in the tradition. We had few friend over, got together in the morning – a more casual 10.30am – had lunch and dinner together. Yes, we also managed to can the tomatoes!

Being the first time we learned a bit and we’ll be more prepared next time. Nevertheless we had a ton of fun.

 

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In a recent weekend visit to Vancouver BC we had the chance to stop by Bella Gelateria (map) to try their “world” renowned gelato.

I first learned about them when I was reading an Italian article about the top 10 gelato places outside Italy.

Bella Gelateria has been racking up a fair share of accolades.

2014 Winner – North American Gelato World Tour Championship
Held May 9-11 Austin Texas

2014 Winner – Georgia Straight Newspaper – Golden Plate Award – Best gelato/Ice Cream

2014 2nd Place – Vancouver International Wine Festival Wine & Food Pairing

2014 Winner – Westender Newspaper – Reader’s Choice Best Gelato/Ice Cream

2013 Named 1 of The Top 20 Artisan’s of Canada – Ace Bakery Artisan Incubator

2013 Winner – Westender Newspaper – Reader’s Choice Best Gelato/Ice Cream

2012 Winner – Technical Jury, Florence International Gelato Festival, Italy

2012 Winner – People’s Choice Award, Florence International Gelato Festival, Italy

2012 Winner – Westender Newspaper – Reader’s Choice Best Gelato/Ice Cream

2011 Gelato Pioneer Award – “The Father” – Carpigiani Group, Italy

What’s the verdict?

The gelato texture and creaminess (not sure it’s a word) was fantastic. So on the technical merits Bella Gelateria scores very high. It is On par of some of the best gelato places in Italy.

I found the flavor to not have as much bite and freshness of the ingredients coming through. That’s were the true outstanding gelato separates itselft from the wannabes.

Overall though it’s still a a good gelato and worth the 5-10mins wait.

They do get bonus points for the to-go box. That’s an old school container that they use. It reminds me of what my grandpa would bring back on a Sat evening. Good stuff.

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Earlier in July we headed up to Lummi Island to celebrate my birthday. Aside from the natural beauty of the island the main reason for the trip was a visit to Willows Inn restaurant run by Chef Blaine Wetzel. Over the past few years Chef Wetzel has been gathering several accolades:

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]In 2011, the New York Times declared Willows Inn on Lummi Island “One of the 10 Restaurants (in the world) Worth a Plane Ride.” Chef Blaine was listed by Food & Wine magazine as the Best New Chef of 2012 and in 2013 he became a James Beard Award finalist for the first time. Just this year, he was awarded the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award.[/mk_blockquote]

Even more importantly before Willows Inn Chef Blain Wetzel worked as chef-de-partie at Noma in Copenhagen that repeatedly garnered recognition as the best restaurant in the world.

 

What’s the verdict?

To me it was totally worth it.  For me most dishes scored high both in terms of style, creativity, and flavor.  The smoked salmon was impeccably executed, the grilled cabbage with the herring roe was genius.  Only couple of lowlights: the flower dish felt a bit gimmicky and the grassy icecream in the dessert was a bit of a creative reach.

Dinner will set you back a bit (I believe it’s 165/person+drinks+tip – I skipped the tasting wine menu because I felt it was a bit on the over-overpriced side of things at $85).   But overall it’s a fantastic dining experience and most definitely worth the $ (and the drive up from Seattle).

 

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We spent this past 4th of July weekend in Napa Valley. H and I had been before, but it was the first time our daughter (almost four). We also met with friends that also have a son (three yrs old). So we had to keep that in mind when choosing the hotel, restaurants and wineries to visit.

Napa Valley airport

We decided to fly to Santa Rosa for a few reasons:

  • It’s the closest airport (mileage wise). Oakland is a bit farther (60m iles), but it’s an easier drive, which makes it fairly comparable in terms of travel time in the car
  • It is small airport. It takes only 20-30 mins to go from landing to being in a rental car
  • You can checkin a box of wine for free!

 

Napa Valley hotels

We decided to stay in Yountville. It’s right in the middle of the valley, it has phenomenal places to eat, and we found a great hotel there. We stayed at the North Block. We wanted something that was kids friendly (or at least not kids unfriendly). The hotel has a great pool, great facilities, and it is walking distance from most restaurants. Overall we were super happy.

A quick tip. If you go with friends (with kids) make sure you get rooms across from each others (or adjacent). We were able to put the kids asleep in the rooms and meet up in the courtyard with our friends being able to keep an eye in the rooms.

 

Wineries

Being with kids we knew that some of the fancy wineries would be out of reach. But there are plenty that are kids friendly and are still great places to visit (both for the wine and the winery).

We had received lots of suggestions from friends. We ended up visiting Paraduxx, Robert Sinskey, and Sterling. Paraduxx was my favorite. Sinskey was good and a worthy stop. Sterling was the least favorite (and would not recommend to others).

 

Paraduxx

The Paraduxx winery is awesome and their blends are excellent. It’s $25 for a tasting. The opening rose was complementary. The main flight had two of their popular blends and two of their estate wines. My favorite was their Howell Cab and Zinfandel blend

Tip: they gave us 10% off on the wine purchase for a checkin on Facebook.

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Robert Sinskey

The flight at the Robert Sinskey winery came with food tasting. I believe it was about $30/person. I actually liked their white blend (riesling, pinot grigio, and sauvignon). It has a summery fun factor to it. Ideal for a casual summer night dinner with friends. Our friends liked the Pinot.

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Sterling

The waitress at French Blue suggested to go to the Sterling vineyard because of the tram and the views. In theory the idea to take the tram for the kids was great, in practice the kids didn’t care that much and it ended up being a big overhead to taste some average wines. Below couple of pix of the view from the winery.

 

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Napa Valley restaurants

As mentioned above our hotel was  walking distance from many great places (French Laundry, Bouchon, Bottega, and others).  Although not all kids friendly we did find some great places.

 

Redd Wood

Redd Wood is the casual and pizza restaurant owned by Richard Reddington.   To us was mostly the “hotel restaurant”.  We had lunch there, grabbed drinks, and a late night pizza.   Pizza was good (say between a 7 and 7.5 out of 10).  Salads were very good.  Overall it was very fairly priced and drinks were surprisingly well priced ($4 for a beer, $10 for a cocktail).

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Bistro Jeanty

Overall bistro Jeanty was great.  Unfortunately my dinner picks were a bit underwhelming, but everything else my friends ordered was great.  So just make sure that you stay away from the rabbit and the artichoke terrine! 🙂

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French blue

Sunday morning we decided to venture up to St Helena.  We had couple of breakfast spots, but only one was opened at 9am.  It happened to be one of the top 10 most beautifully designed restaurant in 2013 according to Architecture Digest.  Indeed the place is great, it’s open, lots of light, perfectly french-ly decorated.  Most importantly food (farm-to-table) is excellent.  Menu has a few choices, but all great.

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Ad-Hoc

Ad-Hoc is the latest Thomas Keller restaurant.  You can read the story here.   I loved it.  Loved the concept, loved the atmosphere (relaxed and friendly), and of course the food (fresh, simple and delicious).   They adapted the menu for H (replaced the pork with salmon), brought a nice extra dessert for my daughter (who loved her pasta dish).  I highly recommend Ad-Hoc.

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Last night we had dinner in what is hands down the best Japanese restaurant I ever been too: Raku.

We had made reservations for the Omasake style dinner. The place is in a strip mall in Vegas’ chinatown. It’s a very unassuming location. The place is fairly small (about 40-50 seats) and you really need a reservation (ours was at 10pm). The decor is a tasteful traditional Japanese.

Back to the food. Loved it. It was perfectly executed and presented. Most importantly every single bite was a punch of flavor.

We started by ordering the sake sampler.

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Tofu handmade daily. It comes a choice of condiments. The green tea salt was excellent. The spicy chilli oil was very flavorful.

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Hairy crab.  The waitress explained that they get them from Hokkaido in Japan.  They cannot be purchased in the USA (not legally).

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Sashimi.  The toro was great.  Really liked the pairing with the marinated seaweed.

 

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Grilled seabass.    It’s grilled in a stick.  Possibly one of my favorite dishes of the night.  Buttery, very flavorful.  The light char on the skin added a fantastic texture.

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Scallop.   Although the scallop was not perfectly cooked as most of the rest of the other dishes the broth was incredibly flavorful.  All of us drank it off the shell!

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Fried catfish.  It good, not great.  The broth definitely helped.

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Kobe beef skewer with wasabi.  One of the best dishes all night.   Took the first bite and i could not believe how tender it was.  The flavor and char were perfect.

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Pork cheeks skewers.  Really tough to follow the Kobe beef.  The pork cheeks delivered a much different bite with a good crunch.

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After the pork they served us rice with salmon and salmon eggs.  I am not a bit fan of salmon pasta or rice.  The rest of my friend loved it.

 

Strawberry sorbet.  Great dessert.  Light and flavorful.

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This is a take on a very traditional dish from Abruzzo.

Ingredients for two people:

  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • one clove of garlic
  • 3-4 anchovy fillets
  • Couple of dry spicy chillies (feel free to use more!)
  • a generous bunch of italian parsley (also known as flat parsley).  Roughly chopped.
  • about 200gr pasta (a bit less than 1/2 pound)

Really easy on the execution side.

  1. Bring water to boil and put the pasta in
  2. Slowly cook the chopped garlic, anchovies, and chilies. I usually start it over medium heat and as soon as it gets hot (you see the garlic starts to fry a bit) I lower the heat to a simmer.  Let is simmer until the pasta is cooked (about 12mins)
  3. Drain the pasta and our in the oil mix
  4. Quickly stir it and add the parsley

 

Done!

 

King5 is launching a bracket-based competition to determine the best restaurant in Seattle.

Below my picks for the first round. It was mostly an easy one for me aside from a couple of matches. Matt’s in the market vs Harvest Vine was a very tough one for me. They are both excellent and much better than most restaurants in the list. Not sure who seeded them, but this is an awful first round.

What do you think?

Just ran into this great tip on how to pick the watermelon

1. LOOK – Your watermelon should be firm, symmetrical and free of major bruises or scars. Some minor scratches are okay, however. After all, the purpose of that thick rind is to protect the delicious contents inside. Ripe watermelons should also be dark green in color.
2. LIFT – The ripest watermelons have the most water. And since watermelons are 92 percent water, your watermelon should be relatively heavy for its size.
3. TURN – Turn your watermelon over and check out its bottom, which should have a creamy yellow spot (also called “the ground spot”). This is where the watermelon sat on the ground while it soaked up the sun at the farm. If this spot is white or greenish, your watermelon may have been picked too soon and might not be as ripe as it should be.

You can read more here.