August 21, 2014 § 5 Comments
A dozen years ago, I spent a week in Tuscany with friends, exploring the hill towns around Siena. As far as vacations go, it remains one of my most memorable for so many reasons — time with good friends, the beauty of the countryside, the kindness of everyone we met, not to mention a now-funny (not so much at the time) adventure to the Prada outlet store.
And then there was the culinary experience: the food, the wine, and places we experienced them. Before you start thinking that it was all fancy — oh, a Tuscan villa! oh the Michelin-starred restaurants! — it was nothing like that. Not at all. What has stuck with me all of these years was the delicious simplicity of the food, created and served by small, family-run businesses. Pasta? Sure, but also grilled fish, salads served family-style, roasted meats, rustic jam tarts, and acqua pazza (a vegetable soup topped with a soft-cooked egg). Most of the places we ate were selected by nothing more than a group agreement of “that looks good, let’s try it” — well, that and whether the place could seat a group of eight on short notice.
Each day, we loaded ourselves into our economy-style rented van (hard seats, bumpy ride, hot and stuffy for those sitting in the back, and just a whisper of air conditioning) for an adventure to a different hill town: Montalcino, Montepulciano, San Gimignano. We’d sightsee, have a leisurely lunch, and around mid-afternoon, someone would suggest gelato. By the end of the trip, it was a given: the afternoon gelato break. We’d find a little cafe or gelateria and, after several tastes, make our choices. I loved that you could combine two or three different flavors in a small cup — enough to enjoy every bite without feeling overwhelmed. A well-made, flavorful, small portion of gelato was more satisfying than a double-scoop of any chain-store ice cream I’d tried.
So, what’s the difference between gelato (the word for “ice cream” in Italian) and, well, ice cream? It comes down to fat, air, and temperature.
- Fat: Gelato contains less butterfat (the fatty content of dairy products) than ice cream; for gelato the content is typically 3.5 – 8%. Ice cream, on the other hand, has a higher butterfat content, with a USDA minimum requirement of 10%. Most premium ice creams contain 14 – 18% fat.
- Air: Gelato is churned more slowly than ice cream, thus incorporating less air, resulting in a denser product. Air adds volume, but not flavor or substance.
- Temperature: Gelato is stored and served at a lower temperature — which is why it looks a bit like soft-serve, but tastes more flavorful. Ice cream is typically served frozen. Studies have shown that we have a harder time tasting colder foods. Ever notice that softer ice cream is more flavorful and sweeter than when frozen?
Fortunately, you don’t have to run off to Tuscany to have your own afternoon gelato break. Locally owned Gelataio, which makes small-batch, Italian-style gelato has just opened in Palo Alto! With a commitment to using locally sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients, they’re creating some luscious gelato that reminded me of what I experienced in Italy.
For a shop that’s barely been open for three weeks, they’re off to a good start. The counter staff is friendly, knowledgeable about the flavors, and willing to answer questions about ingredients. The current flavor selection is small — 10 flavors of gelato and 3 flavors of sorbetto — but the selection is evolving and more flavors will be added in the future. (Coming soon: Daily flavor lists posted to their Facebook page.)
The flavor assortment includes classics such as Chocolate, Stracciatella, and Hazelnut, as well as more unique flavors like Earl Grey and Cajeta (caramel). Tastes are available, if you want to “try before you buy” or just can’t make up your mind.
Gelataio offers two sizes of cups and cones for gelato and sorbetto: small, which holds up two flavors and regular, which holds up to three flavors. I opted for the regular (hey, it was a late-lunch day) with Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cajeta.
Gelataio’s Chocolate gelato is a must for chocolate lovers. It has a rich, dark, cocoa flavor that isn’t cloying or powdery. The Pistachio was another wonderful surprise: the nutty, rich flavor was like eating a light, sweet, creamy pistachio butter. The Cajeta was one of the sweeter flavors I tried; it didn’t have as much of a true cajeta flavor as it did a sweet, light-caramel flavor. Flavor-wise, it’s milder than the Chocolate and Pistachio, so keep that in mind if you decide to pair it with another flavor.
I tasted, but didn’t order the Earl Grey — but it’s on my list for next time. This flavor reminded me of a favorite cup of tea with cream and sugar, without overdoing the bergamot. Another standout taste was the Green Tea sorbetto. Sorbettos are dairy-free, but with the same rich creaminess as the gelatos. They’re less icy and taste less syrup-y than American-style sorbets. Need a treat to go? Gelataio also sells chocolate-dipped gelato “pops” on a stick.
The shop has tables inside, as well as outside, where you can sit and enjoy your gelato. During my recent afternoon gelato break, two ladies came into the shop — one Italian, one American. The American lady, translating for her friend, placed their orders. When the staff asked if Gelataio’s gelato was authentic, the Italian lady gave a big smile and said — “Italian,” emphatically. I’d call that an endorsement.
Have you tried Gelataio yet?
Where: 121 Lytton Ave, Palo Alto, California 94301 (between High and Alma)
Price: $3.99 for small cup or cone (up to 2 flavors); $4.50 for larger cup or cone (up to 3 flavors)
August 19, 2014 § 2 Comments
It’s mid-afternoon, and I’m craving ice cream. Not just any ice cream, mind you, but from-an-actual-ice-cream-shop ice cream. My first thought: head to Palo Alto. Why Palo Alto? Because this mid-peninsula city has more ice cream shops than any other city in the 650 (seriously, PA has about twice as many ice cream shops as other cities on the peninsula).
Whatever your style — chain or independent, old-school or trendy-and-new — Palo Alto has a place to feed your ice-cream craving. In addition to the usual chain shops (Baskin-Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery), Palo Alto is home to some locally owned, independent shops that make their own ice cream right here in the 650!
Tin Pot Creamery, which opened last summer, is one of the newer independent ice creameries. As a local craft food producer, they’re doing a lot of things right. They make all of their ice creams — as well as sauces, toppings, and baked goods — on site, in small batches. Tin Pot is also supporting the local/regional food system by using local and organic ingredients, which makes them unique among Palo Alto’s ice cream shops. Straus dairy products, TCHO chocolate, and Four Barrel Coffee are just a few of the locally produced ingredients that Tin Pot uses.
You won’t find a huge assortment of flavors here; the current flavor list has about 18 choices, some classic (Vanilla, natch) and some unique (vegan ChocoCoco, made with coconut milk). What you will find are fresh flavors, natural ingredients, and no artificial colors. Sorry kids, but there are no neon-blue “bubble gum” ice creams here. Another thing that makes Tin Pot unique? An active awareness of food allergies and plant-based diets. Flavor labels note whether an ice cream is vegan, gluten-free, or contains nuts. Need more info? The counter staff is very knowledgeable about the ice creams’ ingredients.
So, what to get? If you’re not sure, ask for a taste. You can taste up to three flavors before making a decision. According to the staff, Four Barrel Coffee with Cocoa Nib Toffee and Salted Butterscotch are “customer favorites.” You can get your scoops in a cup or housemade waffle cone. I opted for side-by-side scoops of the Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards and Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl.
As you might guess, I’m a bit picky about my chocolate ice cream (or um, chocolate anything) — I want it to taste like CHOCOLATE, not like chocolate powder. Tin Pot’s Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards delivered! The flavor was as advertised: rich, dark chocolate, with the added bonus of crisp, dark chocolate pieces. The Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl was a nice counterpoint: lighter in flavor, not too sweet, with a caramel-like swirl.
Want to try something a bit different? Taste the Earl Grey Tea or Lavender with Blueberry Swirl. Like all of the other ice creams I tried at Tin Pot (no, I won’t say how many), they’re flavor-rich with a texture that’s smooth and creamy.
Pairing Earl Grey with the Lavender/Blueberry was an interesting choice, but lavender is such a dominant flavor that it overwhelmed the Earl Grey. Next time I might try pairing either of these flavors with something else (chocolate!), although they’re totally luscious on their own. Of course, there are still another dozen flavors I want to try (hellooo, Malted Milk with Milk Chocolate Pieces!).
If you want to dress up your scoops, Tin Pot offers an assortment of housemade toppings and sauces so that you can create your own sundae. How about adding salted caramel sauce and shortbread crumbles? Or hot fudge sauce, almond toffee, and brownie crumbles? Overwhelmed by the possibilities? Choose one of the four “pre-designed” sundaes from the menu board.
If you’re in the mood to share or want to take something home for the family, Tin Pot has pre-packed ice cream pints, as well as ice cream cakes and pies in their freezer. Custom-order cakes and pies are available withseveral days’ notice. (Call the shop for details.)
So, let’s recap: small-batch ice creams, made with local and organic ingredients, not to mention an intriguing flavor list AND a luscious, creamy texture? Yeah, you gotta get some.
What: Tin Pot Creamery
Where: Town & Country Palo Alto
855 El Camino Real, #121, Palo Alto, California 94301
Hours: Mon–Wed 11:00am–9:30pm; Thu 11:00am–10pm; Fri 11:00am–10:30pm; Sat 11:00am-11:00pm; Sun Thu 11:00am–10pm
July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
If you follow national food holidays, then you might know that yesterday was National Peach Ice Cream Day. Years ago, I came across a super-easy recipe for fresh peach ice cream in the New York Times Magazine.
It’s the kind of recipe that makes you want to make fresh ice cream as soon as possible: the ingredient list is short and seasonal, and the technique is simple. What could be more summery, more luscious than fresh juicy peaches (or any stone fruit, for that matter), rich cream, sugar, and lemon juice swirled together in your own ice cream machine? And better yet, there’s no custard to make, which cuts the ice-cream-making time in half! You read that right: no eggs to separate, no cooking, no straining, no “did I overcook the custard?” worries.
That NY Times Magazine recipe, which has become a summer standard in my house, was a timely find for me all those years ago. I’d learned to make ice cream using a classic custard base, but it’s a time-consuming process that takes about 12 hours when you factor in the “best practice” of chilling the custard overnight. Custard-based ice cream, while delicious and indulgent, definitely requires planning ahead to make at home. Finding a no-cooking version changed things for me — I could whip up a rich, fruity ice cream in a few hours! (It’s also inspired me to make ice creams with other stone fruit, which leads me to…)
This year I’ve used that simple recipe as the inspiration for homemade apricot ice cream. Why? you might ask. Why not stick to the tried-and-true, especially when peaches are so plentiful and still in season? Simple: because I don’t have peaches. But I do have apricots — lots of them. So much so that they’re taking up most of my freezer, and it’s time start using up some to make room for other food.
I love apricots, but the sad truth is that they have a short season and don’t keep long. Most of the fruit on my tree ripened within one week, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the harvest (not to mention trying to stay ahead of the greedy squirrels and birds in the process). Not wanting to waste any of the lovely fruit, I grabbed everything I could: the perfect, the bruised, the really soft, and the verging-on-overripe. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I opted to freeze most of what I harvested, especially the soft and overripe fruit. This “ugly fruit” is perfect for ice creams, sorbets, sauces — any recipe in which the appearance of the fruit doesn’t matter.
So, if you find yourself with a bounty of apricots and have exhausted your jam and tart recipes, try this Apricot Honey Ice Cream.
Recipe: Apricot Honey Ice Cream
I love the honeyed flavor of very ripe apricots balanced with a bit of tartness. The addition of mild-flavored honey and lemon juice play up the sweet-tart components of the fruit and provide some contrast to the richness of the cream.
Yield: Slightly less than 1 quart of ice cream
Adapted from “Frozen Assets,” by Julia Reed, NY Times Magazine, June 29, 2003
What you need:
Ice cream maker
1-quart container with lid
1¼ pounds very ripe fresh or frozen apricots (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 – 1½ tablespoons light-colored, mild honey (such as orange blossom)
- Place the fruit in a large bowl (or, if frozen, in a flat dish to thaw).
If frozen, let the fruit thaw at room temperature, which should take about an hour.
- Sprinkle fruit with sugar and lemon juice, mixing well. Let the fruit macerate for about 30 minutes.
Using the back of a rubber spatula or large spoon, press on the fruit, breaking it up as much as possible. We’re going for a “rustic” ice cream with some chunks of apricots, not a fine purée.
- Optional: Slip the skins from the fruit and press them against a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl to extract any remaining juice and flesh. Add the extracted juice/flesh back into the fruit. Discard the skins.
It’s up to you whether you want to keep the skins on the fruit or remove them. I found that once the fruit thawed, the skins easily came away, so I just removed them. Plus, it’s a texture thing. If you’re ok with the skins, keep ’em and skip this step.
- Combine the cream and honey in a small saucepan, place on the stove top, and bring to a simmer.
I prefer the honey flavor to complement the apricot, so I used 1 tablespoon. If you prefer a more dominant honey flavor in your ice cream, use up to 1½ tablespoons.
- Once the cream has reached a simmer (lots of tiny, frothy bubbles around the edge of the saucepan), remove the saucepan from the heat and let the cream cool on the stove top.
- Combine the cream and fruit mixture and taste for sweetness and acidity.
Here’s your chance to make any adjustments to mix. If you prefer a sweeter ice cream, add a bit more sugar. If you want to add some brightness, add a bit more lemon juice.
- Cover the mixture and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours — or, if you can wait, overnight — so that the flavors combine and the mixture thickens.
- After the mixture has chilled, process it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.
- While the mixture is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container in the freezer.
You want to transfer your churned ice cream (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
- Transfer the ice cream to the prepared container and freeze for 2 — 4 hours before serving.
After about 2 hours, the ice cream will have a softer consistency, so if you prefer a texture that’s more soft-serve-like, then don’t freeze it as long. For a harder texture, freeze for 3 — 4 hours.
April 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
The first time I walked into Taylor’s, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto’s Town & Country shopping center last fall, I was super excited to order my all-time-favorite Ahi burger. Maybe I’d even splurge and order a side of sweet potato fries!
From the time construction started and the “Coming Summer 2013” sign appeared in the window, I was counting the weeks. Even after the opening date slipped into fall — and seemed like it might slip into winter — I kept the faith. So on that cloudy, grey fall day when I saw the front door wide open, my stomach did the happy dance. Yes, finally!
I walked right in and up to the counter, ignoring the wall-sized menu and legal-sheet-sized paper versions in a galvanized metal pail. Nope. I knew exactly what I wanted. How disappointed was I to find out that the restaurant wasn’t quite open yet — and that I’d actually walked in on a staff training session! Oops. Opening Day was still about three weeks away. The thought of jumping in the car and fighting afternoon traffic and city parking to get my fix at the Ferry Building started an internal tug-of-war that lasted the rest of the day. I decided to bide my time and wait for the Town & Country location to open. It was a loooong three weeks.
I’ll be honest: I just can’t get used to calling it Gott’s. To me, it will always be Taylor’s Refresher. The Palo Alto location, now open about six months, is the fourth in the growing Gott’s empire. The original location is in St. Helena, on Main Street, right before you cross the bridge into downtown. (Other locations are at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and Oxbow Market in Napa.)
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher was opened by Gott brothers Joel and Duncan in St. Helena in 1999. The concept was a classic 50’s style drive-in with upscale Napa Valley burgers, thick milkshakes made with Double Rainbow ice cream, and a decent wine-by-the-glass selection. (Not to mention a pricey corkage fee that brought criticism from the locals.) On a hot summer weekend afternoon, the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot was long and slow. The wait was always worth it — especially if you could score a picnic table in the back, away from the road. For me it became a must-stop location during any trip to the Wine Country.
When I moved up to St. Helena to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone a few years later, Taylor’s would turn out to be a saving grace. Despite a hefty tuition at one of the nation’s finer culinary schools, student meals left something to be desired. Let’s just say the student-meal program had some major kinks that needed to be beaten worked out. On the days we couldn’t take the third re-run of walk-in leftovers that had seen better days, someone would stand up and announce a Taylor’s run. Lifesaver!
The weekends that I stayed in town, I’d treat myself to an Ahi burger and — if they hadn’t run out yet — the sweet potato fries. That was the thing then: the sweet potato fries weren’t on the regular menu. They were only available on weekends, and when they ran out, well, you were S.O.L. As a “local,” I learned to call ahead for my order and skip the line, gliding over to the pickup window, while hot, hangry tourists waited in the ordering line for up to 30 minutes. (Trust me: been there, done that.)
So how did Taylor’s get to be Gott’s? The Taylor family owned the original burger spot, which opened in 1954 with the name Taylor’s Refresher. When the Gotts leased the place from the Taylor family so many years later to open their version, they did so with the agreement that the Taylor name would stay in place. Which it did — until 2010 when, after a disagreement between the Gotts and Taylors over trademarking resulted in legal action on both sides. So, in 2010, Taylor’s was renamed Gott’s. (Want to know more about the dispute? Check out this article from the Napa Valley Register.)
What else has changed in 15 years? Burgers are still the heart of the menu, but there are some additions — salads and fish tacos — that provide more options for the non-meat eaters. Sweet potato fries are available all the time now, and there are seasonal menu specials as well. What hasn’t changed? You still get a pager to let you know when your order is ready. Orders are still delivered on stainless steel quarter sheet pans and “napkins” are actually paper towels. The quality of the food is still excellent. You can still find parking near the restaurant (although you might have to wait a bit to get a good spot). The Ahi burger is still my favorite. And without fail every guy I know loves the Western Bacon Blue Ring burger. (No idea why. I’ve just learned to accept it as a fact of life.)
What will you love about Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto? Lots! The restaurant sources high-quality, local-ish ingredients — Niman Ranch beef and Mary’s Free-Range Chicken, for example — and the results are simple, yet delicious, fresh, and craveable. With a family-friendly environment and something for every taste (yes, vegetarians, too!), you can keep the kids and the grownups happy. Let the kids choose what they want from the Kid’s Menu and enjoy a milkshake on the side. Grownups can indulge in burgers (beef, turkey, or veggie), chicken sandwiches, and salads (if you must).
True to its Napa Valley roots, Gott’s is not just a basic beer-and-burger place. Wine lovers will find a thoughtful, reasonably priced assortment of wines by the glass, half bottle, and full bottle. Some of my favorites: St. Supery Sauvignon ($8/glass) and Merryvale Starmont Chardonnay ($12/half bottle).
Wanna get fancy? There’s also Rombauer Chardonnay ($24/half bottle) and Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon ($50/half bottle). For you beer drinkers, Gott’s offers a good selection of draft, bottled, and canned beers. Craving that PBR or a Lagunitas IPA with your Double Cheeseburger? Either way, Gott’s has you covered.
Got room for something sweet after the burgers and fries? Head back to the counter and order a classic Black-and-White (chocolate and vanilla, so good!) or seasonal milkshake, ice cream in a cup, root beer float, or fountain soda.
I have to admit that the original Taylor’s Automatic Refresher will always hold a place in my heart. And yet, Gott’s Roadside in Palo Alto brings a bit of the Wine Country to the 650. Whatever you want to call it, it’s still the home of one of my favorite dining experiences. Good food and good times. So, if I ask you to meet me at Taylor’s, you’ll know what I mean.
Have you been to the newest Gott’s Roadside location? What did you eat?
What: Gott’s Roadside
Where: Town & Country, 855 El Camino Real #65, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Hours: Sun-Sat: Breakfast 7am-11am; Main Menu 10:30am-9pm
Bar: Wine, beer