La Dolce Vita!

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Mercury rising, I quickly learned to combat summer heat like the locals with ‘gelato’ (Italian ice cream).

Setting off route, I found an authentic ice cream parlour, dating back to the 1900s – Gelateria Giolitti. This genuine Italian creamery is enchanting for its vintage décor, and blend of natural ingredients used to produce the epitome of handmade gelato. Craving both the ‘la dolce vita’ and ‘la bella vita,’ I managed to find both in frozen batches of happiness. Equally striking, is the quality of service. It’s all about you! Hailing to your inner-Caesar, hospitable servers abide to your every inclination by preparing the ultimate icy treat.

Dagnino Cakes 2 arrScream not for ice cream here! Following the leader – a.k.a. you – ask for one to three helpings of highly dense lusciousness. Select among dozens of recipes varying from melon to coffee or opt for a range of full-bodied taste in pistachio, zabaglione, tiramisu and yes, even the famed chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella. The scoop’s the limit! Served in a cup or cone, once determined, complete your creation with a dollop of freshly whipped cream – the real stuff – or other toppings for a tastier ‘finale.’ Armoured with a tiny plastic utensil, holding a chilled dessert never felt so rewarding. I, unequivocally, defeated the scorching sun. Every spoonful of this slowly-churned soft-serve gelato felt as refreshing as being fanned by palm leaves – a Cleopatra moment, almost.

Dagnino Cookies 3 arrContinuing with my epicurean escapade, I adopted a Roman custom of my own – to close the evening with a scrumptious night cap. To Dagnino I go! Makers of traditional Sicilian desserts, this bakery and coffee bar is for lovers of sweet-everything. To be shared over a sit down chat or boxed for a dinner party, the selection of crumbly butter cookies looked tempting. In another refrigerator, in epic proportion, vivid fruit jelly tarts and moist dome-shaped cakes were attractively displayed; a suitable match for a gladiator-worthy appetite.

Dagnino Purchase arrVictory prevailed! The best of both worlds, in texture and measure, presented itself in something I had yet to try – ‘cassatina siciliana.’ Typical of Palermo, a southern region of Italy, this dessert is soft and sweet; it contains a cake base – soaked with liqueur – covered with a mixture of ricotta cheese and candied fruit, then enrobed in a pale green marzipan shell similar to icing. Needless to say, personal history had been made! Also adding to my cannoli-eating repertoire, I had now tried the pistachio variation; a crispy pastry containing a creamy pistachio-infused ricotta filling that’s reliably divine. Goodbyes are normally bittersweet. Fortunately, my Roman holiday concluded with a sweet ending. To good sights and eats, “cin, cin!”

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

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The ‘Cure’

Salt is a pantry favourite and cooking staple that evokes the essence of any dish. Used as a preserving agent, its multi-purposes encourage the aging, curing and pickling process for countless meat and relish recipes. You can’t escape salt! This mineral is everywhere! Find it in the sea, salt dunes and even on your kitchen table next to its friend, pepper – in a salt shaker. For salt lovers, there’s a prized ‘cure’ that will make you say “¡Olé!” Museo J Store Exterior arr

Along the street of Calle Mayor, in Madrid, you’ll locate an atypical museum that is home to a revered delicacy – ‘Jamón serrano’ and ‘Jamón ibérico’ (ham). Not to be missed, the ‘Museo del Jamón’ (museum of ham) offers bustling crowds sliced and shaved portions of numerous encased meats. Adequately seasoned and dissolving like butter, jamón remains to be the Spanish favourite. In fact, popularity for jamón will lead one to believe the only ‘white meat’ of choice, here, is hock-inspired. Far from being salt-happy, I still wanted to visit this madrileño delicatessen that literally hams up the capital.

Museo J Deli Counter arrOpen to the public, this ‘museum’ feeds patrons’ mind and appetite. Supplied in abundance, these meat sculptures are noticeably hanging around for those whose Achilles heel is ham. “The trend is your friend,” as the saying goes, and you can easily engage in friendly conversation with locals where the topic of conversation is one in the same – everyone sees and thinks pink! And, if you can’t wait to taste a slice of melt-in-your-mouth jamón, do yourself a favour – ‘por favor’ – and ask for a ‘bocadillo’ (sandwich); it’s made at lightning speed and for immediate consumption.

Museo J Menu Poster arrDon’t dig pig – no worries! This eatery dually runs a deli counter and tapas bar, under the same establishment. Should you stay or should you go? It all depends on you, and your basic need – to eat! You can comfortably find yourself ordering chorizo or regional cheeses to take home, or retreat to the bar for a ‘cerveza’ (beer). The menu selection is vast and pricing reasonable. Delight in familiar options like prepared hamburgers and rotisserie chicken or try something with a Spanish flair, like paella. Adventurous or not, in your food selection, keep in mind that the meat museum gets busy. No surprise here, though, as this ‘charcutería’ (deli) has a “leg up” – with jamón – on the other guys. Finally, a place where eating like a…I meant to say, etiquettely ingesting is welcomed!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

‘Atelier’ – Simply the Best!

Boulangerie Patisserie Shop arr One of the many things I love about Paris is the fact that you can find traces of the old world in modern times. To this very day, the Île-de Paris maintains cultural integrity by offering clients an extensive selection of singularly-themed specialty food shops. Whatever your guilty pleasure – cheese, chocolate, bread, pastry, pâté or wine – brace yourself when entering stores that purely dedicate their products and services to artisan standard merchandise. Truly a gourmand’s paradise!Parisian Chocolate Shop arr

A chocolate connoisseur, of sorts – knowledgeable in tasting – this indulgence never disappoints. As such, the sight of any premise devoting every square inch to display high-grade cocoa-inspired handmade creations is thrilling. Parisian Chocolate Bins arrSuffice it to say, I knew I was in for a treat upon sighting the term ‘chocolat’ – translation not required. Scene it: bins of chocolate, ranging in shape, textures and ingredients, ribbons and fancy packaging – ‘ooh, la, la,’ is right– I couldn’t wait! Having watched Juliette Binoche in Chocolat, of course, I understood perfectly the purpose of incorporating a line of stringed dehydrated capsicums in a chocolate boutique. In the presence of red hot chili peppers – ‘pas’ the band – good chocolatiers know how to spice things up, by delivering variety. Anything but an odd pairing, sweet heat is bound to tantalize anyone’s taste buds.

Parisian Chocolates arrLeaving “trick or treating” days behind, I have, too, left any desire for candy bars. Complex flavour compounds cited in dark chocolate – where cocoa surpasses sugar – is much preferred, and where better to expect refined chocolate in all its splendour than at ‘l’Atelier du Chocolat.’ Why come here, for chocolate? In French, ‘atelier’ signifies a workshop where designer quality products are made by field experts. Being witness to shelves of cocoa products, superior in quality and unique in flavour combinations, it was only a matter of time before receiving my own pièce de résistance – a pistachio encrusted chocolate cluster.

Paris Desserts arr“Pourquoi pas,” I’d say, when it comes to sampling masterly produced chocolate. After all, high-end ‘chocolat’ is bon appétit-pleasing! Parisian ateliers abound, there’s more to discover. Catering to various palettes, I spotted workshops dedicating time, precision and skill in generating all kinds of edible goods. Among the terrine shops, most-loved boulangeries (bread stores), and farmer’s fresh cheese vendors, I had to convenient a ‘pâtisserie’ (pastry shop).

Parisian Patisserie arrHandcrafted and soft on the eyes, the glistening sheen on the sighted luxurious cakelettes and tarts was enough to lure me in one particular bakery. I can only imagine the arduous process involved in the manufacturing and assembly of these pastries. If anything, the overall detail evident in the final presentation is revealing of the level of talent, and attention put forth in making these desserts. To me, food succeeds when it’s a complete package; it looks attractive, smells appealing, and tastes just as enticing. Always exceeding expectations, ‘ateliers’ are leading artisan shops that consistently exhibit the finest chef d’oeuvres – food art!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

¿Chocolate? ¡Vale, vale, vale!

Madrid Fountain arrStepping off the train and onto the Chamartín platform, I had arrived in Madrid. The delicate and warm breeze stirred a sweet memory. My thoughts specifically trailed back to a professor, who once mentioned an authentic Spanish drink – ‘chocolate a la taza.’ Compared to American hot chocolate, she likened the Spanish equivalent to pudding. Given the direct translation, ‘chocolate in a cup,’ the Spanish version demands a high ratio of chocolate content. And, who wouldn’t want more chocolate?

El Rastro arrFor the love of chocolate, I was happy to try this specialty drink. After an afternoon trip to ‘El Rastro,’ Madrid’s popular open-air flea market, I retreated to a nearby family restaurant. Feeling peckish, I reviewed the menu and was delighted to notice my sought-after treat – ‘chocolate a la taza.’ Mission accomplished! Not only was the drink available, it was made-to-order and served promptly; all of which left me satisfied. Success tasted sweeter upon receiving a plate of fried strips of dough, ‘churros,’ which I had not expected. In the presence of chocolate, I must say, the grass is greener.

ChocTazaChurros arrFamiliar though slightly different, which do you try first – the hot chocolate or crispy fried curlers? Decisions, decisions… Luckily, most people think and eat alike. Two words: Dunkin Donuts. That’s how you treat this duo; dunk the strips into your beverage and allow its ridges to soak up all the chocolaty goodness. Rebel with a cause, I preferred to taste ‘chocolate a la taza’ in its purest form – straight up!

Is it a chocolate drink or dessert? Distinct tastes will yield differences of opinion. As such, categorizing ‘chocolate a la taza’ is up for debate. With respect to flavour and consistency, I would judge Spanish hot chocolate to be richer, and unmistakeably thicker than the American variety. Close to but not an exact replica of pudding, I deem this liquid ganache to be divine on its own, and more heavenly when paired with ‘churros.’ Food or drink, ‘chocolate a la taza’ is unquestionably from the Gods.

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

“Vive le macaron!”

Food-spotting? We’ve all heard of trend-spotting – when you see every other person dressed in identical outfits. The same can be told about societal eating patterns. Don’t believe me? It does exist! In Paris, and other regions in France, I identified the next North American edible craze when I saw the very same “it” dessert being sold everywhere. From the Charles de Gaulle Airport to innumerable pastry shops, there were no coincidences in seeing flocks of people, lined-up in queue, patiently waiting to get their hands on bite-size discs – ‘le macaron.’Macarons Topiary 2012 arr

These meringue cookies carry a ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor, making them all-the-more appealing. Attractively displayed in topiaries and neatly packaged into tissue-lined boxes, just holding these chic treats makes you feel more cultured, and even – do I dare say – French. In fact, if Chanel were ever to release ‘haute biscuits,’ these macarons would live up to standard –grand in both quality and sophistication.

Macarons Topiary arrLadurée, the leading producer of macarons, has been making these cookies for more than 150 years. Their boutiques offer clients these sweet, yet light, indulgences that vary in flavour profile and hue. Pale green macarons, for instance, are synonymous with pistachios; grouping colour and flavour is just one contributing factor that allures consumers into easily picking their desired macaron. Mix and match your macarons or stick to your favourite(s) – chocolate, lavender, vanilla, raspberry, and lemon among others. The possibilities are endless! With the exception of unique flavours and added food colouring, these crispy meringue cookies are practically stiffened egg whites, beaten with sugar and ground almonds.

Macarons Display Case arrMeringue recipes are not original, in concept, as they have been seen and done before –think pavlova. Still, popularity in favour of the marcaron continues to spread continentally. Pretty irresistible, these round temptations transcend from a level of ordinary to ‘extraordinaire.’ And it’s no wonder! The meringue itself has a chewy interior – good just as is – but, it gets better as two cookies are sandwiched between ganache, buttercream or fruit filling. Mess-free and jam-packed with flavour, literally, macarons are convenient to eat.

Ever indulged in these cookies? Guilty! I simply had to inquire what the fuss was all about, and content for having tasted this ‘trend.’ After all this sweet talk, you may decide to do the same. Steadfast to years of tradition and history, the simplest joy has come out of simple ingredients. As in the case of this French meringue, ‘le macaron’ is ‘très bon!’

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

Going, Going, Gone…‘Gaufre’

Nickles Inside arrSince watching Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, I’ve been exposed to Guy Fieri’s countless trips to classic American food joints. Given his success in discovering one-of-a-kind finds, at these local town favourites, I’ve decided to make similar stops when given the chance.

Nickles Desserts arrOpportunity arose in Montréal, when I intuitively found a retro-inspired restaurant. Warmly greeted by a hostess, I immediately felt welcomed to Nickles. Second memory that comes to mind is the refrigerated cakes. Located near the entrance, they were hard to miss. Right then and there I decided, full or not, I must have a piece of that multi-layered chocolate cake – can you blame me?

The setting fit the meal perfectly. Sitting comfortably in my booth, I scanned both the menu and the vintage black and white photos of my favourite celebrities – James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Eating while on vacation also means ignoring calories. As such, I selected what sounded interesting. “Howdy-Doody?” Don’t mind if I do – it’s a burger, really! A classic hamburger topped with Havarti cheese, and jalapeño peppers. In the spirit of enjoying my down time, I upgraded the fries to a poutine and added a strawberry milkshake. I know, I know…what about leaving room for dessert? Fortunately, I had a dinner companion to share this moist and rich cake. The food was ideal for a diner, and the memories exceptional.

Hunting and gathering didn’t stop there. My Montréal rendez-vous extended to Les Trois Brassseurs. There, I was presented with not only dessert and drinks but, too, the best breakfast item. Gaufre 2 arrIn following the waiter’s recommendation, ‘gaufre’ (waffle) had been ordered. Served à la mode, this dense waffle’s exterior was so crispy, as if it had been encrusted with pecans – unlike any other late night snack. Surprisingly nut-free, one bite of the ‘gaufre’ was enough to ease my guilt for having second helpings of dessert. Lesson once learned, again reinforced – expect the unexpected!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

“Melts in your Mouth…”

LV Welcome Sign arr“What happens in Vegas…” Well, I’ll tell you all about it! Las Vegas has something for everyone. There are no limits when it comes to the selection of live entertainment, clubs, and reputable casinos. The “city that never sleeps” virtually keeps you awake by catering to your every need.

Given the range of choices, what’s a girl to do? Watch a live performance by Sean Kingston? Check! Sunbathe pool-side and watch a fountain spectacle at the Bellagio? I stayed there, and clearly done that too!

M&M Shop arrIn addition to shopping and a Grand Canyon tour, food finds made my excursion as memorable as these leisurely activities. Chocophile that I am, I practically died and went to choco-coma as a bouquet of cocoa engulfed the air, guiding my senses into the M&M Candy Store. Surrounded by chocolate, I was in my happy zone. Just picture the following: colourful rows of bulk M&M candies, M&M ice-cream bars, individually-wrapped chocolate, and even candy-inspired memorabilia present in surplus volume. Being in a chocolate shop was fun, as it reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Homer dreams of life in chocolate.

These candy-coated morsels are undeniably pleasing. Since childhood, however, I’ve developed an affinity for dark chocolate and, in due consideration, chose to forgo these confections and continued walking along the strip. Venetian Outside arr

Patience, as they say, “is a virtue.” I found validity in these words upon exploring the lobby grounds of the Venetian. As much as I was mesmerized by this hotel resort’s interpretation of the Grand Canal, with gondolas afloat, I noticed a quaint dessert hideaway. Host to an assortment of fine Italian pastries, Tintoretto Bakery also displayed one specific item that caught my attention. Tintoretto ChocoMousse arrBehind the vibrant fruit tarts, there it was – chocolate mousse. Generous in serving size, this treat lived up to a standard of equal proportion. I saw, I ordered and I pampered my taste buds with a highly refined, luxurious, decadent chocolate creation worth the find, and wait!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

L’air du café…

Cafe Cropped arrCoffee is a must! Morning or afternoon, I enjoy cozying up to a ceramic mug filled with this hot liquid gold. Arguably closer to bronze, in colour, tone is irrelevant. As long as it smells good, and is strong enough to wake me up and keep me going through the day, I love coffee; my preferred afternoon pick-me-up.

Bistro Chairs cropped arrLanding in Paris, a.k.a. bistro central, how could I passé on the café? To do so would be unthinkable, for me, and perhaps to coffee-lovers everywhere. For the love of coffee, my ‘joie de vivre,’ I retreated to one of the many cafés in the city of lights.

Already familiar with Turkish-style coffee, I would liken Parisian coffee to be just as strong. Its consistency is by no means watered-down like cafe Americano, which I am often exposed to back home. I usually only take milk in my coffee, but even I found my Parisian café-drinking experience more pleasurable with the addition of sugar. However you like it, I would describe French coffee as bold, robust and authentic in flavour. To my understanding, French café is coffee made the right way – the real deal.

When in Paris, you’ll note a distinguishable scent looming in the air – it’s the smell of coffee. If you crave it, lookout for a set of neatly arranged chairs in any arrondissement (district), and you’ll be sure to find a well-dressed waiter to serve you a cup of joy. Having tasted French café in a Parisian bistro and the McDonald’s along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, I can honestly rate both drinks as very good. The main distinction, then, lies in the manner of service and the atmosphere. Wherever you decide to take your Parisian coffee break, remember two things: first, rejoice in knowing cafés are within arms-reach; and, second, the city of love is not entirely ‘in love’ with drive-thrus – no Timmies here, just so you know!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

Sí-trus Delight! …La Boqueria

Wherever I go, I am drawn to food. It’s quite comical because among taking part in typical tourist-type activities, while vacationing, I often frequent grocery stores – private or commercial, I’m unbiased. Without question, I must eat. I must-indulge!Boqueria Entrance arr

It’s no wonder I immediately knew to visit food markets, upon arrival in Barcelona. Also, cognizant that Barcelonans spoke Catalan, a language foreign to me, I was confident in my Spanish-speaking skills enough to make appetite-pleasing purchases. Luckily, hunger is an international language.

Boqueria Deli arrI’m enthusiastic about absorbing food in its entire splendor. And, given that I first eat with my eyes, I was eager to uncover unseen fresh and authentic national products, which I couldn’t get back home. In avoidance of mass-produced finds, and local chains, I had my heart set on La Boqueria. The quintessential open food market, in Barcelona!

Along La Rambla, a long path bustling with street performers and independent vendors, I spotted ‘the sign,’ Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. The sign was my entry way; an open access, the ‘in’ into this action-packed buying/selling haven of good eats.Boqueria Seafood arr

Look to your right or left and you’ll find something delectable. Whether raw, cooked, cured, dried, sweet, salty, or savoury you name it, and you can find it. Whatever ‘it’ is, ‘it’ is here! Once you do claim your heart’s desire, your options don’t stop at La Boqueria. You can indulge your fabulous food finds in-house or “para llevar” (take-out). The choice is yours, and you have plenty!I always heard of good seafood smelling like the ocean, and it’s true; the coastal catch of the day had a pleasant essence of sea salt. Being a visitor, I had no kitchen to pan sear fresh tuna or scallops. But, I did find floor-to-floor coverings of stacked, packed, wrapped, and overflowing rows of gummies, nuts, fruits, vegetables, deli meat, and much more; all ready to be taken, cooked and eaten.Boqueria Fruit Salad arrAcquiesce to your senses? Gladly! Conveniently accompanied with a fork, I bought mouth-watering fruit salad ranging in a rainbow of colours. All the produce looked vibrant and lively, as if it had just been picked off the tree. Taken aback by the perfume of Spanish oranges, I could no longer resist temptation; I have had a little taste of heaven, and I now I wanted more.

Boqueria Produce arrFinally, in good conscience, I decided to sacrifice comfort and lugged a bagful of these spherical treats back to my hotel room. Citrus so luscious, scrumptious, and ever-so-juicy; the best oranges I’ve had. Sweet dreams indeed!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.

Persian-Eating-‘Persian’

Thunder Bay – T.Bay, as I know it – is located in the most western part of Ontario, which I have travelled to date. Among rural hotspots, one is led to the discovery of the ‘Persian.’ Not just any Persian, and not Persian in origin. The ‘Persian’ I’m talking about is of the edible variety. It’s soft, sweet, and unique to Thunder Bay. Above all, the ‘Persian’ is a local specialty that was on my list of must-see, must-try and must-experience items. Generously covered with strawberry icing, this sweet fried cinnamon-flavoured dough can be likened to a doughnut.

The Persian Man Store arr

Where does one get to sample a ‘Persian?’ I was amused to find near my apartment, approximately a fifteen minute walk, The Persian Man. Presumably, ‘the man’ after whom this eatery is named is the owner, though I’m not quite sure. In retrospect, I am certain that this shop has a clear following, and it’s not just for sandwiches and coffee. Within my academic year, I found numerous ‘Persians’ throughout a number of bakeries and shops. Needless to say, ‘Persians’ are in abundant supply; and, they’re offered here, in Thunder Bay!P.S. Personally, I find them fair but a little too sweet for my taste. Still, you can eat them! In fact, if anyone asks, I ate a ‘Persian.’ True story!

Copyright © DISHFUL, 2013.