Sunday, January 4, 2015

We pay a visit to the Ballard Full Tilt venue

Like, I assume, everyone in the country, we had a busy holiday season! This left us with little time for ice cream tasting (although we did try at home Trader Joe's seasonal salted caramel gelato, which was good enough for a post-dinner fix, but not extraordinary), but now that we're settled back into our Seattle routine, we decided to get back on the ice cream band wagon. (I've decided that since I'm training for a marathon, no New Year's resolutions were harmed in the eating of this ice cream.)

We opted to try Full Tilt Ice Cream, which has been on our list for awhile. Full Tilt was opened in White Center in 2008 by Ann Magyar and Justin Cline. It is unique among the local ice cream scene in that in addition to serving ice cream and beer, they have an extensive pinball machine array. Since the original location opened, Full Tilt has expanded into three additional neighborhoods: Ballard, the University District, and Columbia City, with apparently a couple more locations planned.

We stopped by on a classic rainy Seattle afternoon. The store was slow, so we were able to try several flavors. The flavors tended toward conventional (strawberry, chocolate, vanilla), with a few interesting flavors mixed in (cardamom and ube, which is similar to sweet potato). I tasted the salted caramel and peanut butter and jelly. Unlike many of the salted caramel ice creams we've had in Seattle, this one wasn't over-salted; it wasn't as complex as my gold standard salted caramel (obviously, Bi-Rite's in SF), but wasn't a bad attempt. The peanut butter and jelly had the interesting property of actually not being unlike the experience of eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; it somehow had an interesting, almost bread-y texture, and the peanut butter and jelly flavors were experienced separately, the same way they would be in a sandwich. It was entirely pleasant, but I wasn't sure I was interested in a whole bowl of it. In the end, I opted for classic chocolate in a cone. Forrest went with huckleberry chip and vegan coffee Oreo ice cream; the huckleberry chip had nice, bright flavor, but the ice cream had distracting ice crystals that took away from the creamy texture. Forrest thought that while the coffee Oreo was good, the coconut overtones of the vegan milk didn't pair well with the coffee flavor, which was slightly weak.

Overall, the ice cream at Full Tilt was rich and creamy; good, classic ice cream, similar to Molly Moon's or Mitchell's in San Francisco. It's not my favorite kind of ice cream, but overall it was a good experience. I love the arcade games as well; Full Tilt would be a great spot to come on a date, when you'd like to spend some time lingering after eating your ice cream. However, I don't think it's a stand-out among the places we've surveyed thus far purely based on the ice cream.

Here's the scores:

Texture - 7
Flavors - 5
Cone - 3
Execution - 7
Taste - 8
Ambiance/service/etc - 8

Total: 38/60

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do ice cream and cold weather go together?

The last week in Seattle has been unusually (I am told) cold weather for this time of year, but this cold has brought the sun with it as well, so I've been a happy camper. This, of course, brings up the perennial winter question: is it still appropriate to eat ice cream when the weather outside matches the temperature of your dessert? To which I reply, what kind of question is that?

I ran nine miles yesterday (I'm scaling up my mileage for marathon training), so I felt justified in taking myself out for an ice cream adventure this afternoon (now that my legs are working again). A few weeks ago Sirena Gelato caught my eye, so I stopped by their Fremont shop to try their gelato. The shop is cozy, with dark wood panels and seating along the front window. On this cold Sunday afternoon, the store was nearly empty, although the woman working the counter assured me that there had been a steady stream of groups through the afternoon.

Sirena Gelato is a small, local chain with three stores in Bellingham, Kirkland and Fremont. Their gelato is made fresh in Bellingham using traditional Italian techniques, using local ingredients whenever possible. The gelato is made according to tradition, using whole milk rather than heavy cream, and is stored at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, resulting in a denser texture. This technique was very apparent in the gelato I tasted; they were all exquisitely creamy and smooth, without a hint of the graininess that can be found in some ice creams.

The selection of flavors was moderately limited, but encompassed an appealing spectrum of fruit and chocolate/vanilla flavors. I tasted their salted caramel, black cocoa and stracciatella. I found the salted caramel to be average (and unlike most other salted caramel interpretations I've had in Seattle, not too salty), but pleasant. The stracciatella was rich and creamy, but plain. However, the black cocoa gelato was fabulous. It was everything gelato should be; it had a rich, complex flavor, complemented by incredibly smooth, silky texture and somehow managed to be amazingly rich without being too heavy. All of the gelato at Sirena is technically excellent, but the black cocoa flavor was out of this world delicious.

Overall, I can strongly recommend Sirena Gelato. The gelato is fabulously well made and all of their gelato is worth a taste for the texture alone. However, the black cocoa was a standout flavor that is definitely in contention among the best ice cream in Seattle.

Here are my overall scores:

Texture - 10
Flavors - 7
Cone - n/a
Execution - 9
Taste - 9
Ambiance/service/etc - 8
Total: 43/50

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

We try the burritos at Pecado Bueno in Fremont

We've had a busy few of weeks, so the blog's been on hiatus. We were in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, which was awesome- we got to catch up with lots of friends, and made it to lots of favorite old haunts, including Bi-Rite ice cream (obligatory salted caramel ice cream eating- frankly, it was even better than I remembered) and Papito's, a Mexican-French fusion restaurant which I think is criminally underrated (it seems to have a polarizing effect- people either love it or hate, but I'm firmly in the love it category). Inspired by our trip back to the land of America's best burrito, this weekend we decided we'd sample a new burrito establishment.

We did our burrito sampling on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of errands- we used Yelp reviews to choose Pecado Bueno, in north Fremont (at 43rd and Fremont Ave.). It was a rainy day, so the outdoor seating area wasn't appealing, but it looked like a great happy hour spot in the summer. The Seahawks game was on inside, and there were a few fans watching from the bar. The restaurant has a homey feel and it seemed like lots of regulars were there on the day we visited. I think the owner was working while we were there and when a mom came in with her baby, he went out of his way to get some squash for the little boy as a snack. Overall, it seemed like a great, friendly neighborhood restaurant. Forrest and I both ordered burritos, which come with seasoned rice and black beans; I tried pork and Forrest had a carne asada burrito. We decided that since it was barely noon, we'd skip the margaritas, but I would definitely have one if I was there for dinner!

The best feature of Pecado Bueno is definitely their salsa bar. They have about 6 kinds of salsa to try; Forrest and I sampled liberally. The standout was the pineapple mango salsa, which went well with both of our burrito fillings. Our burritos arrived quickly, and we dove in. The burrito is pretty basic; rice, beans, cheese and meat filling. All of the ingredients were fairly average; the seasoning of the rice didn't add to the flavor profile, and the beans and tortilla also lacked any distinctive flavors. The pork was salty, but not spectacular, and Forrest's carne asada was more like steak than classic carne asada. The salsas added nice flavors and were fun to sample, but I would have almost preferred to have had them mixed into the burrito for more even distribution of the flavors given the blandness of the rest of the burrito.

Overall, the burritos at Pecado Bueno were good, but didn't rise to a level of greatness I would go out of my way for. They were lacking any standout ingredient, and although the salsas were good, they didn't elevate the rest of the burrito. If I was in the neighborhood, I would definitely go again, but probably wouldn't make a special trip. The search continues for the best burrito in Seattle!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Burritos! We try Rancho Bravo in our first burrito adventure

Burritos are a San Francisco classic. The burrito as we know it today, popularized by Chipotle and others, actually originated in San Francisco's Mission district, and is known as a Mission burrito. This designation is to differentiate the Mission burrito (all ingredients tucked safely inside of their tortilla cocoon) from more traditional burritos, which are smothered in sauce and require a fork and knife to eat in the presence of others.

Recently, FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's (of election prediction algorithm fame) blog, which provides analysis of current events through a quantitative lens, applied this quantitative approach to ranking burrito goodness. Using a complex ranking method incorporating Yelp reviews, a statistical measure they termed the VORB that I won't get into and the opinions of burrito experts. FiveThirtyEight's amazing burrito correspondent Anna Maria Barry-Jester visited the top 64 burrito establishments in the US and pitted them in a tournament to determine the best burrito in America. If you haven't looked at it yet, I highly recommend it. Barry-Jester is a fun writer, and obviously, there are few things more satisfying for your stomach and your soul than a delicious burrito.

After months of travel, FiveThirtyEight crowned La Taqueria in San Francisco as the best burrito in America. Thankfully, Forrest and I visited before we left (and before it actually won- which was lucky, as we've heard lines have gotten out of control since its coronation) and therefore can attest that it was a magnificent burrito. It is a tightly wrapped, sturdy, delicious, perfect burrito. The meat is amazing, the seasoning and fillings are perfect; controversially, it doesn't contain rice, but I think this really highlights how delicious the meat is. This is all just to say that Forrest and I have experienced the best burrito in America is, so we know where the burrito gold standard lies.

Therefore, in addition to our quest for the best ice cream in Seattle, we clearly must also hunt for the best burrito. We decided to cheat in our first foray and try out the taqueria that was Seattle's sole representative in the FiveThirtyEight burrito bracket (the burrito bracket was regionally balanced, meaning that all regions needed at least some representation; it's clear that there was a struggle to find a Pacific Northwest representative). After a morning of exercise and errand running, Forrest and I headed to Rancho Bravo to try their burritos.

Racho Bravo is clearly old-school; they don't have a website (just their Yelp page) and there is no sign obviously marking their location. You order your burrito at a window outside and can stay and eat at one of two long, covered, outdoor tables. It's hard to beat the prices; we got our burritos for just shy of $6 each. Forrest got the Bravo burrito and I got a Rancho burrito; it's easy to miss the difference, but the Bravo burrito includes sour cream and diced tomatoes, which the Rancho burrito leaves out. We waited just a couple of minutes for our burritos to arrive, hot off the griddle. Immediately after removing the foil, it became obvious that these are not burritos with strong structural integrity; the burritos started disgorging their ingredients after just the first couple of bites. The contents were standard and average; lots of cilantro, raw onions, seasoned rice and meat. Nothing blew me away; the meat was dry and a little tough, although nicely seasoned and salty. The onions added nice crunch and flavor, but obviously were just raw onions and didn't help elevate the burrito. The Rancho Bravo burrito filled the emptiness in my stomach, but not my soul.

So, our hunt continues; it's clear from this visit why Rancho Bravo didn't advance in the FiveThirtyEight bracket past the first round. We'll keep looking though, and hopefully find a better contender!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mmm... Donuts... We try Lick Pure Cream in South Lake Union

It's been another beautiful weekend in Seattle so far! Yahoo! Forrest and I were in downtown Seattle on our bikes this afternoon; we'd heard that Lick Pure Cream, now in South Lake Union, formerly in Capitol Hill, was delicious, so we decided we'd stop by on our way home. Lick made it onto our list of must-tries a while ago, when we read about something we knew we had to try- an ice cream sandwich made with a donut. This mythic concoction sounded epically delicious (donuts?! ice cream?! together?!) but also seemed fraught with peril, so I was extremely curious to see one in the wild.

The owner of Lick, Michael (whose last name is ambiguous from the internet and may be either Darby or Avery- if anyone knows, leave me a comment) was working the shop the afternoon we dropped by and was really fun to talk to. He gave us the scoop, so to speak, on the origins of the flavors, and the development of the donut ice cream sandwich. Forrest and I each tried a couple of flavors; we tried the honey bacon, "se7en" (a Bailey's Irish cream containing concoction) and M2 (a secret flavor which Michael won't divulge the contents of to anyone- suffice it to say, it's delicious). Several of the day's flavors were already gone by the time we arrived, but the full selection was impressive, and we'll definitely be back to try more. The flavors were creative and extremely well executed. Although I didn't love the honey bacon, I thought it was nicely executed; the honey flavor of the ice cream was nice and not too sweet, and the bacon mostly added a textural element and a tiny hint of salt at the end of a bite. The ice cream is rich and smooth and all the flavors we tried were unconventional and interesting, but still delicious.

But, most important was the main event, the donut ice cream sandwich, known as a Lickwich. The Lickwich is an engineering marvel. Much thought has been put into the construction of the Lickwich; the donuts are made in house and have been formulated to be slightly heaver in consistency than a regular donut. They additionally lack holes (I was deeply concerned about the holes before I learned about this unconventional shape- how would the ice cream not drip?! were you committing to an ice cream bath by ordering one?!), allowing robust sandwich construction that allowed consumption of the entire sandwich without allowing even one tiny drop of melted ice cream to escape. When you order a Lickwich, the donuts are heated on a griddle for a few minutes to warm and crisp them, then a generous portion of ice cream scooped into them. The result is ice cream sandwich perfection; really, this is better than any ice cream combination I've ever had. Better than cones, better than cookies, possibly even better than brownies. The texture of the warm donut is the perfect complement to the ice cream; soft and easy to bite through, yet warm, slightly crispy and not too sweet. Seriously. It was amazing. Go get yourself a Lickwich.

Here's the scores:

Texture - 9
Flavors - 9
Donut (replacing the Cone category) - 9
Execution - 9
Taste - 8
Ambiance/service/etc - 8


In the event that you don't want an entire Lickwich (it is a bit of a commitment), I can wholeheartedly recommend just the ice cream, which was delicious on its own. Mora's may still be my favorite ice cream so far, but for establishments in Seattle proper, Lick is definitely my current favorite!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We explore farther afield in Vancouver, and try Bella Gelateria

Last weekend we went up to Vancouver to visit an old friend of Forrest's. We had an amazing weekend- Vancouver is an absolutely stunning city, and we were lucky to be there for a weekend of perfect weather and the Vancouver International Film Festival. We had a jam-packed weekend of viewing films, biking, exploring some of the fun neighborhoods and going to a really fantastic dance performance. I really can't recommend Vancouver enough- it's a great cosmopolitan city, with lots of culture and art, and is completely beautiful, with mountains rising up from right next to the city. And while we were there, we got to try Bella Gelateria, which was just down the street from our hostess's house, and has also been named one of the best gelaterias in the world (literally, there is a gelato festival in Florence where there is an international competition- and Bella Gelateria won the competition).

We went on a beautiful evening- the location we visited in Yaletown is a combination pizzeria and gelateria; we proceeded directly to the gelato, which we sampled from an incredibly long list of flavors (if you look closely in the picture, you can see the list of flavors behind us). There were lots of options to appeal to any palette; fruit, nuts, chocolate and everything in between. Forrest chose lemon ricotta and amarena cherry and I had toasted pecan with Maldon sea salt and salted hazelnut. All four flavors were awesome! The lemon ricotta was bright and lemony, while the amarena cherry was light and refreshing. I loved the salted hazelnut; both the salt and the hazelnut were subtle, but worked together well. The salted hazelnut also had a really nice texture, with fine pieces of hazelnut that added complexity to the creaminess of the gelato. The toasted pecan was also exceptionally good, with pieces of pecans, which had a nice, soft bite, again adding an appealing textural component to the gelato.

Since we were out of town, we won't put Bella Gelateria up against the Seattle establishments for a numerical score- but it was completely delicious and highly recommended in the event you find yourself spending time in Vancouver!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

We visit Capitol Hill and Bluebird Ice Cream

                                                                         (So, so true)

Could this weekend have been it- the last beautiful weekend in Seattle? I certainly hope not, the weather has been amazing and as a Colorado-by-way-of-California transplant, I'm grateful to have gotten so much sun since we moved! Since we'd heard great things about the Capitol Hill neighborhood, we decided to go explore the area. It was a gorgeous day; the Sunday farmer's market was in full swing and we stopped by some fun neighborhood hangouts. We wandered through some furniture stores, visited Elliott Bay books and tried some beer at Elysian Brewing Company (I'm sad to report that we tried the seasonal sampler and didn't find any beers that we liked- I'm hoping that maybe I'll like their regular beers better?). But, as usual, our primary mission: to sample the neighborhood ice cream shop.

With its high yelp ratings, it was clear that Bluebird Microcreamery and Brewery was our best bet. Bluebird completely fits in with the hipster vibe of the neighborhood, featuring some funky flavors alongside the classics, as well as a handlebar mustachioed server and a weed trade magazine. We were the only people there on the Sunday afternoon when we visited (to be honest, I was shocked by how empty the whole area felt- I'm used to the Castro in SF, which becomes an absolute disaster zone on a nice Sunday afternoon). Since business was slow, we didn't feel bad about sampling a selection of flavors.

Bluebird has a nice mix of classics, like Theo chocolate, vanilla and peanut butter, in addition to some more original flavors like chocolate pudding, peanut butter and jelly and marionberry. They've also thrown their take on salted caramel into the mix. Like Molly Moon's salted caramel, this one was way, way over the top with the salt. To be honest, I hated it; while it was salty and sweet, I felt like the saltiness was absolutely overpowering and made the ice cream almost inedible. I had much better luck with the more traditional flavors I tried; the chocolate pudding was delicious, preserving the very particular taste of pudding (where does that come from?!), while still being rich and complex. The peanut butter ice cream was slightly chalky, but nicely nutty; paired in a split scoop with the chocolate pudding, I got a delicious peanut-butter cup-like concoction. Forrest went for the marionberry and salted caramel; the marionberry was fresh and fruity, but ice crystals made it lack the creaminess of some of the other flavors.

Overall, we really liked Bluebird- I thought that the flavors were interesting and well-executed and the ice cream was creamy, rich and smooth. I'll definitely make another visit! One other consideration- the portions are very generous at Bluebird (they serve the ice cream in a tall cup, rather than a more traditional ice cream bowl), so it'd be easy to split if you wanted to spend a little less.

Very excitingly, there's also a Bluebird in Fremont that I'm looking forward to checking out in the near future. :) Our final numerical ratings:

Texture - 8
Flavors - 8
Cone - n/a
Execution - 7
Taste - 7
Ambiance/service/etc - 9