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!