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Travel

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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Few weeks ago I had the chance to travel to Sao Paulo for a business trip.  No… unfortunately I did not go to the World Cup, I was there few days before it actually started.   The business part of the trip kepts us pretty busy and I had not had the chance to properly research where to head out for dinner.    Nevertheless a mix of recommendations by our business partners, concierge, and pure luck yielded some awesome dining experiences.  On the way back I did check the Tripadvisor page and it seems we hit few of the best restaurants in Sao Paulo. Few of the highlights…

Figueira Rubaiyat

One of premier restaurants in Sao Paulo. Great looking crowd, great food, and in a great neighborhood. Price is a bit on “holy #$#@”, but definitely a great experience. We got a table under the massive fig tree.

 

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Churrascaria Vento Haragano

Holy… wow… We went here the first night.  It comes with pick up and drop off (it seems a standard service that the nice Churrascarias provide).   Place was simply amazing.  The buffet selection of appetizers and sides has an outstanding selection.  The meat keeps coming and coming… and coming… and coming.  Luckily we had bunch of meetings and skipped lunch that day.   Highly recommended.

 

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Vila Madalena

According to Wikipedia: [mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]These neighborhoods have become a hot spot for artists, writers, journalists, movie directors, intellectuals in general and, of course, wannabes in every one of these categories. It’s not uncommon to run into someone famous – or nearly so – when casually drinking in a bar, leaving the supermarket or having an espresso[/mk_blockquote] Well… we didn’t see anybody famous, but we did a great time walking around and stopping at one of the bars for few cold beers.

 

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La Maison est Tombee

We literally stumbled accidentally at La Maison.  We were in a cab and asked the driver to drop us off in a restaurant area.  He dropped us off around the corner where there are several nice restaurants, but they felt a bit cozy and elegant.   The noise from La Maison pulled us there.

Mostly a French inspired bistro it features great drinks, food, a warm happening environment and diverse crowd. 

Recommended for a more casual fun evening.

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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Last night we had the chance to dine at the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas (at Caesars Palace). H had been there before and really liked it. It was my first time. Although I am not the biggest Bobby Flay’s fan I was looking forward to trying Mesa.

Overall the service was excellent. It was friendly, unpretentious and professional. There were ten of us including a toddler and our waiter was textbook good on helping us with everything.

Food was very good, but I would not considered it in the great/fantastic category. In fact, some of the dishes were excellent. Others were a bit “meh, it’s good but for the price…not that great”.

I ordered the Chorizo Meatballs for appetizers and the Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit as the main entree. The chorize meatballs were fantastic. Great smoky fire, perfectly cooked and the sauce was also delicious. The Rabbit was more in the “meh” category. It was good, but nothing special. The couscous was very bland (the last thing you’d expect from a Bobby Flay’ dish).

Some of the other diners had different experience. H loved her Chile Verde Cioppino. Another friend was lukewarm on the Espresso steak.

Overall I am glad we went. We had lots of fun. But I also now know there are better places to go in Vegas.

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I ordered the Seelbach. It was really good and worked well with food.

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Jalapeno Corn Muffins

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Crispy Blue Corn Lobster Tacoc plus Pickled Habanero Relish

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Chorizo Meatballs with Red Chile Tomato Sauce plus Cotija

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Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit. Toasted Cous Cous, Fava Beans, Smoked Red Pepper Sauce plus Queso Blanco.

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Green Chile Cioppino with Jumbo Prawn, Scallop, Grouper, Little Neck Clams, Mussels. Served with Blue Corn Stick plus Scallion Butter

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This past weekend we headed out to the Pacific coast for a razor clamming gateway. This was my first time, but fortunately our friends had been there before. “Razor clamming” is essentially the harvesting of the pacific razor clam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_razor_clam). In Washington State the harvesting of razor clams in is highly regulated. You can find location and dates here: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/. You will also need to get a Wild ID.

One of the things that early on sounded very restricting is that you can also catch up to 15 clams a day. It sounded very little…well it’s not. In a couple of hours it is not easy for beginners to even get to ten.

We headed to Seabrook. Housing is great there, easy access to a great beach with little day traffic, and pricing is great as well.

We lucked out with the weather. It was sunny and warm all weekend, which made the morning activities much easier and a lot more fun.

As for the actual cooking. We lightly fried the clams in butter after buttering them in a mix of thick cornmeal, flour, pepper and salt. The sauce was mix of mayo, wasabi, lime juice, and spicy sauce.

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We are in a business trip in the Bay Area. On the way from the airport (Oakland) we were passing through Fremont and I remembered that the city is essentially the west coast capital of Afghanistan. So I called H and got the name of the the locals favorite Afghan restaurant: Salang.

We ordered Mantu for appetizer (afghan ravioli with a light white beef sauce and yogurt dressing). We followed with Chapli Kabab (very fine ground beef mix with lots of herbs and bread crumbs and than grilled) and Qabili Rice (basmati rice with lamb, nuts, mix raising, and shaved carrots).

One quick note. Alcohol is not sold in the restaurant, but you can bring your own bottles (and I believe there is no corkage fee).

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