Sunday, June 28, 2009

Point one of the Starbucks index?

We learned in Ec10 about the Big Mac index, which the Economist publishes as an unofficial way to represent exchange rate theory. (The going rate for a Big Mac right now is CHF 6.50.)

But what about a Starbucks index?

Well, of course, McD's is nearly everywhere and the Big Mac is a reliable indicator. But anecdotally, the Starbucks index would be more relevant to Gen X and Y, who grew up drinking brand coffee, know the high school stereotypes associated with a Vanilla Chip Frappucchino, and frequently lounge ("work") there for the free wi-fi. Here's a start: I paid CHF 6.70 for a tall (aka small) mocha. With my US $1:CHF 1 ratio (since that's what I get, more or less, when I exchange USD here), that means I paid...$6.70.

(Admittedly, maybe the premium is from the fact that they were open on a Sunday night.)

So, here's the goal. If you are reading this blog, please comment below or email me ( with:

  1. the price of a tall mocha at your local Starbucks (the local currency)
  2. how sad/elated you are at the price, especially compared to buying other beverages wherever you are.
  3. your location -- you can do this whether you're in or out of the States, or just traveling everywhere!
Hopefully, I'll compile a list for Foodivia to gawk over.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day-trippin': part 2, Carouge; Review: Wolfisburg

The day after our sixteen-hour trek to Lausanne and Vevey, we slept in. Which was fine, because I had, with five hours of sleep, doubled Erin's sleepless evening, and also because virtually nothing is open on Sundays in Geneva. So, what to do at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, besides creep on people in the park?

We decided to creep on people in the town of Carouge instead. A little context: Carouge, often referred to as a Genevan suburb, was founded by Victor Amadeus III, the King of Sardinia, in hopes of snatching trade and people from its rival Geneva. (Fail?) As a result, Carouge is supposed to be architectually distinct from Geneva; despite its non-lakeside location, it has Mediterranean-style buildings.

Moreover, because Carouge is further from the center of Geneva, local Michelin-starred restaurants' entrees are CHF 10 cheaper. But they are closed on Sundays, and so Erin and I settled for a lazy panini-search (we had eaten the last of the food in our room - potato chips - earlier that morning). We first ended up at GelatoMania and concluded our backwards meal with a debate between Chinese food and a cafe, Wolfisburg. Wolfisburg won out, partially because its entrees were under CHF 20 and because after two scoops of gelato, we weren't that hungry anyway.

Although we missed out on Peking duck, we also had a lot of fun at Wolfisberg...except Erin was missing tomatoes on her panini (CHF 9), which she described to me as "just okay." Wolfisburg was more about the experience of being rushed in and out of the cafe than about the food, though. (I swear, I'm not being sarcastic.) Upon swinging open the door, we were greeted by a row of customers and a chocolate bar, flanked by the bakery on the right.
I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but Erin - the enabler - suggested I get a traditional macaron (CHF 2.90). Two words: good call! I'm starting to be able to use my taste buds to parce the differences between amaretti and macarons. (German Wikipedia claims that amaretti are basically Italian macarons, while English Wikipedia doesn't link the two cookies. Both use eggwhites and sugar and almond paste, but macarons are a little less gritty, smaller, and in their modern form, have the cream sandwiched between two cookies. When you see them, they usually don't have a peaked top like amaretti do. Traditional macaron, like this one, are bigger and only have one cookie, no cream.) This particular macaron used hazelnut powder, instead of almond powder - it was a creative idea, but a strong hazelnut flavor does not beat a strong almond flavor in my book, as the hazelnut demolished every other taste in the cookie. The texture, though, was perfect for a amaretti. A chewy, nutty challenge without being jaw-crushingly nougaty, and when I bit it, it didn't have the styrofoam "crunch," either.
I've saved the best part for last. The real reason why we loved Wolfisberg? Its gift section, which made us hang out for fifteen extra minutes at the counter and why the people surrounding us shot dirty looks. Swiss chocolate knifes? Check. Gift-wrapped truffle boxes? Gourmet syrups from France? CHECK. We couldn't resist the brightly colored bottles, some with flavors that are rarely found in the States (especially when you're not buying in bulk). There were the brown food flavors, and then the neon food flavors:

If you look at the bottles, you can see what we mean. Acerola, in the top photo, is known as the Barbados cherry and is commonly used in Switzerland to garnish desserts. It's a small spheric jewel-colored berry -- think translucent crabapple -- and is super-tangy. In the bottom photo, pomme d'amour (aka tomato), chewing gum (yeah, because I totes want chewing gum moccachino -- but I guess bubble gum is a common ice cream flavor) and cactus. For kiddie flavors, like chewing gum and blue raspberry, they have smaller pump bottles (that I mistook for hand soap, my bad). Erin and I ended up with a bottle of strawberry and of lavender, respectively -- I had to have the lavender; I'm going to make easy lavender honey ice cream soon, I hope!

Review: Lausanne-Moudon Restaurant

Hunger is the best pickle.
-- Benjamin Franklin (via stanfood)

When guidebooks lead you astray and there is nowhere to eat in town, the end of your two-hour search will always taste pretty good. That is not to say that you should discount the restaurant's own skills - because the meat at Moudon was pretty darn good, not to mention super reasonably priced by Swiss standards.

To elaborate: after hitting up Vevey (and spending a lot more time reminiscing on the lakeshore than expected), we train'd back to Lausanne and went to the other half of the city to check out the Olympic Museum, in hopes of catching the last three hour ferry to Geneva and being the next Andy and Akiva. Then, we encountered the most disgruntled teen employee ever: he looked like Josh Peck (yeah, I watched All That! growing up) but with unwashed hair and a monotone voice. Clearly, he wasn't getting paid on commission, as he explained that we wouldn't make the boat, there was no student discount, and the boat was really long and really boring. No kidding, a three hour boat with no T-Pain on we did it his way and left.

Since we could now stay a few hours longer without the constraint of the boat, Erin and I decided to grab dinner. The goal: not to have to walk a mile uphill, again. But plans change. When we realized that our choices for dinner in the shopping district were limited to the Cactus Bar (fajitas for $34 and the ambience of a Hooters) or the classic fondue place (only with a man screaming "N'entrez pas! C'est terrible!") we decided uphill was the way to go. Specifically, we headed to La Pomme de Pin, in the Old Town, only to realize that it was closed this particular Saturday night. And our consolation prize, the cafe with curry gelato, refused to serve us a couple minutes before closing time.

Mild cursing ensued on the walk downhill.

We regrouped to find la brasserie Moudon, which was described in the Lausanne book as "a culinary experience for Lausanne gastronomy." But at this point, we were just relieved that the Cactus Bar was no longer an option.

The exterior of Moudon is a porched house, though it is located on a corner of a public square that tops a highway tunnel. That said, the house alone looks like something that could be plopped down in the Disneyland version of Liberty Square. A little kooky - haunted - but hospitable. We got our menus and raced to find suitable meals, but our timing did not match that of our waiter's, who arrived twenty minutes later. My stomach growling, I ordered the jambonneau roti au four (baked ham hock) while Erin ordered la filet du canard (duck). Again - another twenty minute wait - and then, gloriousness.

That is, a giant ham hock on my plate, coated with a grainy honey mustard sauce and accompanied with steamed veggies (not from Costco, but close enough) and potatoes. The ham was excellent; it fell off the bone and never necessitated a knife; add sauerkraut and you would had the perfect German meal. The relatively thin texture of the honey mustard didn't really match the robustness of the ham, so I stole Erin's honey-black pepper sauce periodically throughout the meal.
Speaking of Erin's honey-black pepper sauce, it coated, surrounded, and redeemed her duck, which was perfectly sliced if not rather tough. That sauce was the MVP of the game, really, followed by the au gratin that accompanied it (ten times richer than any dhall au gratin).
Both meals were at a good price (CHF $29.50 for the ham, $34 for the duck). As we found anecdotally, the further from Geneva, the cheaper the food - at least on the French side. Vevey actually had dinners starting at $17...

Accordingly, we ordered dessert; Erin went "weird" this time and went for the cigares du phraron, the most "exotic" item on the menu, which turned out to be nutty, hazelnut and almond
stuffed wafers in a Greek yogurt and honey dip. I went for the moulleux du chocolat, because it was the only word I didn't know on the dessert menu...with the 10-minute prep warning, I deduced that it was molten chocolate cake.

I actually preferred Erin's cigars to my own cake; her combination of nut-honey-cream was light and refreshing, though CHF 10 was pretty pricey for the quantity (3 small wafers). My molten chocolate cake (also CHF 10), of course, was the opposite of that; it was very rich, and while the chocolate was excellent (we are in Switzerland, after all), the cake was a little too floury and a little overcooked to provide a gooey consistency. The shot-sized vanilla ice cream was a good buffer for the richness though, if lacking in quantity.
Moudon left a positive stamp on our trip to Lausanne, but probably more from the recency effect. Meanwhile, we left Lausanne happy to return to the bevy of restaurants open Saturday night in Geneva.

Rue du Tunnel 20, 1005 Lausanne, 021.329.0471

Friday, June 26, 2009

T-Rex of Museum Awesomeness: the Alimentarium

Planetarium: pictures of stars on a screen.
Imaginarium: overpriced '90s educational kiddie store.

Natch, neither of these compare with the four-room beaut of a particular museum in Vevey, Switzerland.

When the woman at Vevey's tourist center told us to walk down the river until we hit a giant fork and then to turn left, Erin scoffed at the pun that went over my head. But she was right, just like any city official; lo and behold:

(The whole Vevey setup reminded me of home, actually - the fork being a low-key version of Spoonbridge and the lakeside town being the mountainous, gorgeous older sister of Wayzata.)

We turned left, and walked into the Alimentarium's garden; rows of vegetables - including corn native to three different continents - lined the walkway.

The entry foyer featured wallpaper covered in French verbs for different cooking - and eating - techniques, but the museum only had four major rooms: cooking, eating, consuming and digesting.
Erin and I led ourselves to a kitchen where the cooks at the in-house restaurant were prepping for the days' meal (souffles for two kiddie birthday parties). Surrounding the actual working equipment were displays of pots, pans and ovens, separated by global region. We joked around about photographing the notes, because they had tips on how to properly braise meat.

On the other side of the room were smaller "artifacts" - including these jell-o molds. Yes, you can get your asparagus jell-o to look like asparagus -- this would have been an easy cheat for the Brooklyn jell-o mold contest.

Erin, always the curator, was impressed by the unique setup of the Alimentarium collection: things in the eating room were displayed non-linearly, but in a tower, with a photo of the corresponding era that the items were from.

On the other hand, I was impressed with the fake food. The whole museum reminded me of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which has a floor that is farming themed and, more importantly, filled with fake food.

As a child, I was always fascinated with fake and miniature food: things that resembled what you ate, but whose shape (and in the '90s, scent) remained long after you had its doppelganger. I couldn't stand dollhouses, the ghostly empty eyes of dolls who were in there, but I loved their kitchens; I received a Kitchen Littles grocery set for Christmas one year - which my cousin promptly destroyed. It's a little shameful to say that I have never quite fully forgiven and forgotten this particular incident on my beloved two-inch high fake slushie machine.

In any case, I marveled at the giant food pyramid (outdated!):

and the milk 'n' honey wafers from a pharoah's tomb:

years and years later, a remnant (of bread!) from the Irish famine:

and most definitely the display that showed what a "real person" should eat, five times a day, which finally legitimized elevenses (although this picture effectively says apples, not bagels, for Brain Break).

Erin and I also regressed and played the kiddie games, which were nutritional anthropology variations of Guess Who and Go Fish.

By far, the most photographed part of the museum; we love our processed food and took lots of photos with our preferred cravings (not all of them are here).
As an economics major, I really enjoyed checking out how payment methods for groceries changed over time.

There were nine stations, each with some interactive video or ridiculous faux phone conversation, but the real star was the walls of the consumption room, which contained plexiglas'd food items from a typical Swiss grocery store.

There was a giant chocolate cup. The photo had to be taken.

The Nestle Room
The center of the museum is actually the Nestle room, where the Nestle board met in the late 19th century; as I've previously mentioned, Henry Nestle, the founder, was born in Vevey. The conference room is filled with information about old mergers and acquisitions as well as some Nestle memorabilia. A TV is set to loop old Nestle television commercials.

I should note that Nestle is mentioned frequently in the Consuming room as well - no other company is really represented in the sample. It's clear when you look at the three displays of chocolate history in the Alimentarium; only Nesquik and its previous incarnations are seen. In this sense, the Alimentarium especially reminded me of the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, which is covered in Pillsbury material despite attempts to represent a unified Midwest mill scene.

The scientific part of the museum (the temporary exhibit on the top floor was about the five senses and was rather consisted of vials of phenol red and inflatable balloons that represented ear and nose cells). Lots of self-quizzes about our eating and cooking habits, and a giant hamster wheel that was, admittedly, rather hard to jog in. Digesting concluded with a 3D film, highly reminiscent of the infamous Life Sciences 1a intro - we watched ten minutes of sugar molecules disappear down animated character's esophaguses and sweep around the body.

All in all, the museum was bliss for a food lover - probably not a sophisticated foodie (but you know they'd have wanted to run the hamster wheel too). Especially good for those of us who like to know where our food's from and who like our history laced - nay, saturated - with food. For those of you thinking about visiting: without all the photo ops, the museum would probably have taken an hour and a half.

Real Men Love Brunch

In an Absolut world, real men could eat quiche.
-- Michael Sonsteng, one of the candidates for One Man Minneapolis, a charity benefit and grown-up pageant.
Admittedly, I laughed at the quote. The juxta of Absolut and quiche? Moar lyk some fruity permutation of Smirmoff Ice and quiche, according to the demographic at HoCo stein clubs.

Then my mind drifted to the relationship between men and brunch. As How I Met Your Mother points out, it's awkward for just two men to get brunch together. Brunch is a couples thing, brunch is a girls-post-mani-pedi thing, brunch is for family to gather after the one Sunday you attended church this year. Let's broaden that Absolut world, okay?

More than when they sit through all six hours of Pride and Prejudice, more than when they get friendzoned for months on end, I'm impressed when two guys are actively willing to get brunch, and not because of a girl.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Let it simply be known that rooibos tea ice cream kicks butt. So refreshing, so fruity without being fruit-based, sweet and mild without the tea screaming at you, look at me I'm a yuppie, and yet, it tastes like glorified milk tea.

(The cinnamon unfortunately loses in this matchup of GelatoMania flavors - it probably would have done better against a vanilla or "average fruit flavor.")

Basil pineapple is still my favorite, though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

She ordered the Kobe beef like Shaquille O'Neal
Second I walked in, the whole room got still
I don't know how to put this but, I'm kind of a big deal

- Kanye West, Back Like That (remix)

Day-trippin': part 1, Lausanne and Vevey

On Saturday, Erin and I woke up after five hours of sleep - we had to catch our early train from Geneva to Lausanne (protip: Supersaver tix at, the Swiss railway system, will cost 60% off if you buy tickets for a specific train). After leaving our room a half-hour late (I knew we needed buffer time), we managed to get a pain au chocolat, an apple croissant, a custard bun and a Nestea at the train station for CHF 12, and get to our line twenty minutes early. Skills, I tell you.

Once we got to Lausanne, we went immediately to its major landmark, the Cathedrale Lausanne. And when I say immediately I mean we got somewhat lost on the way up...until we saw a cluster of buildings that resembled old-school Fantasyland.
This is not the cathedral, but this is:

(As I mentioned before, the curry-flavored gelato was in this area too. Proof!)

And then, of course, we navigated our way down to the market near Lausanne's Palais, which houses more than ten museums.
The market, through the gates of the Palais.

As it was Saturday, the market, like in any other city, was sprawling: bakery booths, produce, stationary, used clothes, Anonymous...

For CHF 3, we bought the best baguette I've had so far (and that's saying something; I became a bread snob three days in. There must be a crusty outside on every good baguette), and then for centimes short of CHF 6, we got two small slabs of local Gruyere totaling about 200g.

Because we couldn't find sliced salami - just raw meat - in the market, we headed to the Coop (one of the major grocery chains here, along with Migros and Metro) for peppered salami and drinks. I managed to get organic lychee pop (worth it at CHF 2, but not as sweet as I liked -- tasted like fruity ginger ale) and Haribo gummies (sour, obvs) for the ride.

My lychee soda, chillin' on the Lake Geneva shore 'cause it's so crisp.

(A note on Coop pronounciation: at Harvard, we call it the Coop, one syllable (as in "chicken coop"), and accuse MIT students of saying it normally, like Co-op. They, in turn, accuse us of pronouncing it Co-op, too. In Switzerland, it is pronounced one syllable, but like "cope." Not having realized this and tragically having appropriated Coop as an wholly Harvardian word, I walked around for a half hour on my first day in Geneva and wasn't able to get an answer for where the Coop was...until I finally had the brilliant idea of spelling it out.)

So we ate on the train to Vevey. Remember how I mentioned Erin's claim that this was a "pseudo-food tour"? This is because the particular half-day trip from Lausanne I chose, Vevey, is where Nestle headquarters is (it's the birthplace of Henri Nestle, the founder). Not that you can enter there, since headquarters equal corporate offices and not fun factories that may or may not give you cookie dough. However, Nestle established a food museum, the Alimentarium, in the 1980s to talk about food and its relationship to culture and history. (That visit requires a whole post, probably the next.)

Other Vevey claims to fame: according to Wikipedia, "Vevey is one of two locations that comprise the setting of Henry James' novella Daisy Miller." Also, according to the town map, Rousseau's muse lived here.

Anyways, Vevey was ridiculously beautiful. Lakeside town (with "cute town" status amped up more than Wayzata - because really, you can't compete with Lake Geneva on that one). As mentioned, we stopped by for caramel de sel gelato, and since it was still Saturday, we caught the Marches Folkloriques (i.e., the big market).

More handmade jewelry, spices, produces and best of all, jams and jellies - with samples. I've never heard of kiwi jelly in the States, but it looked good - green with speckles of seeds, just like the corresponding gelato. (Again, why is that people eat so much kiwi and cassis flavored items here?) I went less adventurous this time, and settled for the caramel-soaked pineapple and nectarine jam, while Erin went for the triple berry; a 200g jar went for $9 - pricey, but there is whole fruit inside and we got raffia-newspaper gift bags, too. The jam came from Montreux, 7km away; Montreux is known for its jazz festival the first two weeks of July (DMB and Black Eyed Peas are on the line-up this year).

So that's part 1. The Alimentarium is next, and it's going to be a beast of a post (documenting a place that documents food? Yeah.)

for jam: La Cuisine du bonheur, 1820 Montreux, 021.963.0908

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: Hotel les Armures

My friend Erin, who some of you may recall from her guest post on Yale d-halls, came out to Geneva for a weekend visit. Her history skillz compelled her to photograph all the Genevan fountains (free water for all!) and other ancient fixtures and signs, but I still managed to convert her into make the weekend a pseudo-culinary tour. (Pseudo, only because because I had an obligation to bring her to regular touristy things.)

Hence, the next series of posts will be reviewing our chock-full-of-food weekend - from chains to fine dining to the Alimentarium (a museum specializing in food and culture, and which I've been plotting to see ever since I've gotten here).

To begin: after Erin got here Friday night, we scrambled to get a stash of food before everything closed at 7. After a quick tour of Old Town, we wandered Bourg de Four for dinner before settling on Hotel les Armures, whose claim to fame is that diplomats and "three Democratic U.S. presidents" have stayed there. (Translated: those darn Republicans.)

Hotel des Armures is well-known for its cheese fondue, but although it was rather cold on the patio, we wanted to get some red meat into our systems for the rather lengthy day trip tomorrow. Erin chose the traditional saucisson-rosti combination (CHF 19), which consisted of a Swiss-cut sausage coupled with rosti, a round cake of shredded potato that can be compared to soft, non-crispy hash browns. I went for a house specialty, the cold roast beef with tartar sauce coupled with fries and a spring mix (CHF 24). We split a wild mushroom soup as a starter (CHF 14).

(You get CHF 1.05 for every US$1 exchanged here, so we just think about it heuristically as one-to-one.)

The mushroom soup was my favorite part of the meal, though Erin relinquished the majority of the bowl to me. As a bisque, it was neither cream-of-mushroom nor chunky broth; although the color was a bit off-putting, it tasted like mushroom sans the bitterness (I silently compared it to the mushroom tart at Porter Square's Chez Henri).

My roast beef froid was pretty good; lots of the red at the center. I usually try to steer away from tartar sauce in the States, but homemade tartar is a different there were no capers in the tartar. The chunky raw chive added to the top of the tartar made it a little more crisp. The salad was lackluster, and although shredded potato was a good idea in theory, drowning it in a creamy mayonnaise dressing and tossing it on top of the salad was not the best idea.

Fries...hmph. I'm already slightly disgruntled with fries here in Switzerland; they're too potato-y (potatoe-y looks better, but I don't want to pull a Dan Quayle just in case) and yellow colored for my McD sensibilities. To make matters worse, I asked for ketchup and was never served it, and the already-brusque service went downhill from there. Yes, I know I'm hopeless - so please, the ketchup. I can't do it with cracked black pepper, alone. (I could have done with some aioli, too.)

On the other hand, Erin's sausage was amazing. Lots of dense flavor permeated it, and the casing wasn't obnoxious. I prefer Perkins pan-fried hash browns to rosti, but that's probably just because the chewier texture is acquired.

Throwdown: go for the lunch specials at CHF 19. You can get a main plate with risotto/rosti and veggies on the side. And don't ask for the ketchup.

The Closest I'll Get to Minnesota Out Here, or the Lutheran Church Ladies' Bake Sale

Before les Armures, Erin and I were getting really, really hungry. But not hungry enough to wait for twenty minutes for our food. So we went to church.

Specifically, Erin is fond of photographing old church sites, and I am fond of choral music. Because the Fete de la Musique - the annual music festival - was this weekend, we got to enter church buildings during typical off-hours (Erin: check) to listen to motets that were on my Music 1a syllabus (Heidi: check). And near one of these churches (virtually all Lutheran, of course, given John Calvin's OG status in Geneva - yah, you betcha I linked Urban Dictionary in a Calvinist sentence) was a bake sale. Given the collusion of our hunger with our Minnesotan (and more-or-less Lutheran) roots, we were (pre?)destined towards the Lutheran ladies' lunch cart.

We had to buy something. We ended up buying several things, especially as we realized these goodies were the equivalent of savory two-bite brownies and could be managed in one bite. Plus, one item was CHF 2.50, but four items were CHF 8, as we here they are.

Erin and I both agreed that we each picked a hit and a flub. First photo and top of the third: the salmon-spinach roll. That was my flub -- I picked it because it looked pretty. The phyllo was delicious and flaky, but the spinach - as well as the salmon - was just plain salty. Hitting the piece of salmon in the roll was like the opposite of hitting an oasis. That said, my winner was amazing - it was the onion donut (bottom right of third photo). Biting it felt like striking payday on an oil sponge, but it was clearly just fried, and the oil evaporated once you swallowed. The onion flavor was strong but not overpowering, and the texture was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Think about it as a spongy popover.

Erin's flub was the regular cruller-donut ball (left of third photo; partially shown). It was basically a copycat of the onion donut, but supposed to be "sweet." I imagined it as the donuts one eats at Chinese restaurants, but it was not very soft or doughy like Chinese donuts. In fact, despite the giant air bubble in the middle, it was pretty dense...this might have been due to the fact that they were probably cooked much earlier in the day as the donut felt a little stale. Also, not judging, but there was no visible hint of sugar. Her winner was excellent, though - a ham, cheese and potato mixture wrapped in phyllo. Warm and comforting, especially with all the rain outside this period, and a good portion to boot.

Pride and Pesto

When the summer residents in my dorm were asked to prepare for the potluck last week, I was rightfully scared. It's a little-known fact that I have cooked very few things -- and by myself, to boot. (Green bean casserole for Thanksgiving is the one consistent exception.)

And so I began planning like we had done for our Harvard house Iron Chef, except I realized something: absolutely none of the food was going to be pre-cooked. I had no fallback, not even chopped chicken tossed with spicy peanut dressing (oh look, satay!) This, this required different plans.

I quickly laid down some ground rules:
- No baking. Too many desserts and baked pastries in Geneva.
- No meat. I haven't cooked meat before, with the exception of overcooking my hot pot at Shabu-Zen. Inadvertently causing a salmonella outbreak = not good.
- Has to be easily made in small batches. My cooking equipment here consists of a 10" frying pan and a pot that barely fits a rectangle patch of ramen.
- Preferably something I won't botch on the first try. This eliminated a good deal of the ideas I had.
- No sandwiches. Most people in the dorm make sandwiches for all three meals (breakfast: Nutella, lunch: salami and Gruyere, dinner: prosciutto mozzarella and tomato), so that would be cop-out central. I briefly considered smoked salmon wraps (which happened to be a potential entry for last month's Iron Chef), then realized that was a little too close to a sandwich for my comfort.

Then, I tried to recall what I had made before. That left one thing, besides casseroles, cakes and stirfry (I'm not counting boiling frozen dumplings here): pesto. This was the closest foolproof recipe I would get; I quickly ran to the grocery a few hours before and grabbed all of the ingredients: basil, garlic, etc.

Of course, I forgot a few details: last time, I had someone boil the pasta for me...whoops. Also, I had neither blender nor sharp knife for mixing/cutting - which meant I coarsely chopped everything with a butter knife. And then equipment issues:

- It took fifteen minutes for the water to finally boil...since I didn't have salt, either.
- My pot really truly only cooks for one. This means half a package of pasta will not fit inside.
- If your water takes a long time to boil and you're cutting everything with a butter knife, cooking pasta for twenty will probably take more than the twenty minutes I alloted myself.

With all of this in mind, I didn't take photos of my experiment. I also showed up fifteen minutes later, which was fine because so did everyone else (whew, being on Harvard time is not a dealbreaker). The potluck was excellent - and surprisingly enough, I was one of three people to cook (couscous and potato-dill stuffed phyllo were the other dishes). I quickly discovered an addiction to chocolate covered almond wafers, and that in Switzerland, it's common to put Smarties on your fruit salad.

And! My ego won't let me forget -- I got two compliments on my past, including: "I'm Italian and I can say that this tastes authentic." I wish there was a pasta badge I could iron onto my backpack...

although one of the housemates did have to get a extra glass of water after she bit into a unchopped clove of garlic.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gelato Wars

(And when I ask if I can take a picture, I really mean two...sorry!)

Ever since I "moved" to Boston for school, I've found myself shifting away from cakey, pastry desserts towards ice cream (never sorbet, unless it's ninety degrees and there's nothing else - buying sorbet, in my opinion, is like rationalizing your Icee, but for a dollar more). This might be due to the inch-thick layer of icing on Harvard desserts (I dislike excessive icing, unless it's cream cheese on carrot cake), but more likely due to the opening of Berryline, coupled with the handfuls of dollar-off coupons I received from Herrell's at the beginning of the year.

In any case, I've channeled this love for solid dairy into the search for the best gelato here. So far, I've been to four places, two of them repeats. The main takeaway? Don't buy gelato in places that sell other food. Good gelato deserves fidelity. (This fact remains true in Boston's North End - go to the place left of Mike's Pastries and not in Mike's Pastries for gelato...)

1) The gelato/glace cart adjacent to the Jet d'Eau
I've mentioned this cart before; any cart along the Geneva side of the lake will do, given that they serve the same company's ice cream. The rose gelato was amazingly refreshing and well scented; the flavor somewhat makes up for the thinner texture. Although this place had the smallest portion, it's also slightly cheaper than the other gelato I've tried at CHF 2.50. Highly recommended, though I can't say much about the other flavors.

2) The gelateria at Bourg de Four
Partially because so many restaurants are in Bourg de Four, I've gone here twice. (I don't have its name down, but it's the only gelateria in the area, between the cheap green-awning pub on the left and the wonderfully pink chocolate shop on the right.) Both times were subpar experiences, even on a hot day (which immediately lowers one's expectations); the first time, I chose the blood orange since I bypassed that particular flavor at the Jet d'Eau. The texture was thick, but felt rather grainy. It wasn't as if there were chunks of orange pulp in the gelato (which I wouldn't have minded, anyway), but it seemed as if there was well-mixed powder inside. Questionable. I attributed this particular distaste to my own anti-preferences for anything that resembles sorbet, and chose the almond a few days later. Different, but not better - still a grainy texture, and again, it wasn't a nutty texture (though it was clear that they had used genuine almonds). At CHF 3.50 a scoop, it's clear that there will be no third visit.

3) Gelateria, Vevey (Old Town)
You begin to wonder if gelaterias have specific names. (Usually, they don't - unless it's a cafe, and then you avoid their gelato.) This particular place had some unusual flavors for Europe, including guava and lychee. (Interestingly enough, cassis - aka blackcurrant - is a pretty common flavor in Swiss gelaterias. As is chocolate orange - which is also available at JP Licks.) I actually ditched the guava for the caramel de sel gelato, inspired by Stanfood's wonderful review of fleur de sel cupcakes coupled with my love of the $4.50 box of Trader Joe's salt-coated brownies. It was a good call for CHF 3.50, though I probably should have asked for the guava sample. The caramel de sel gelato was wonderfully rich - almost too much (I was starting to gag without any water nearby). The salty overtone was there, though it would have been nice to have some crystallized sea salt in the gelato's contents; the caramel was buttery, but clearly brown-sugar based. Twenty minutes later, the aftertaste continued to linger.
The gelato counter at Vevey, complete with fake styrofoam balls spraypainted with the corresponding color of each flavor.

4) The winner: GelatoMania (Geneva and Carouge)
Yes, this is a chain store. But yes, they only sell gelato. And yes, this is our winner on all four major dimensions: taste, texture, quantity, and presence of weird flavors (as my friend Erin duly noted, "Only a few would go out of their way to find the weird gelato flavor, and then order a full cone of it."...but apparently we also share the tourist consensus). The gelato is creamy and refreshing without any freezer burn. And the scoops are significantly larger than the first two places I've mentioned; one scoop for CHF 3.50, two scoops for CHF 6, and if you get two scoops you can get a double cone. If you're easily amused like me, the choice should be obvious.
The choice is obvious. Here: basil pineapple on the left, cucumber mint on the right.

Like the Vevey gelateria, this chain has at least twenty something flavors - but besides the standard stracciatella or noixette (hazelnut) - all of which they have - GelatoMania makes fairly unusual combinations, per its claim of making "perfumees glaces" (perfumed ice cream): basil pineapple, cucumber mint, spiced apple, goat milk, and popcorn; in my two visits, I've tried all five. Erin swears by another unusual flavor: cinnamon. The basil pineapple might be my favorite; I know I criticize basil for being "trendy," because I'm obviously a hipster, but pineapple is one of my favorite ice cream flavors - the basil makes sure it's not too saccharine, while adding a mild herb flavor.
Double cone: basil pineapple on top, popcorn on the bottom.

(When Bridgeman's used to be open in Minnesota, pineapple ice cream was my default order - the only other place I know of with good pineapple ice cream is Adventureland in DisneyWorld. There, the Dole pineapple stand sells soft serve pineapple. Protip: if you want pineapple ice cream in the dining hall, mix french vanilla with canned crushed pineapple - the pineapple has to be crushed, not in big pieces, and the sugar water has to be strained out, otherwise it looks somewhat disgusting.)

Goat milk was also much more mild than I thought - GelatoMania makes sure this isn't a savory gelato and so a good deal of sugar was added in, making it more like a "sweet milk" than a goat milk or vanilla. It would have been a good combination with the basil pineapple, though I didn't try it in that context. Spiced apple was my next favorite; it had hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, but upon tasting it it was clear that the flavor was apple. Tasting the spiced apple was like licking a frozen, very creamy apple cider. Popcorn was surprisingly delicious and made a good pair with the basil pineapple; its strong, rich butter taste made the gelato seem more like a dessert, while the basil pineapple tempered the flavor and made my stomach less queasy. Far, far better than a buttered popcorn Jelly Belly - however, the popcorn pieces in the gelato could have been better popped, since I nearly choked a few times from unpopped kernels. The cucumber mint was my least favorite of the bunch. I assume this is partially because I've never really been accustomed to natural mint flavor, but it's also weird - I was able to transfer the flavor of popcorn, but not cucumber mint, to gelato. Perhaps it's because the popcorn tasted like hot cereal, but that doesn't make sense either, since the cucumber mint tasted like tzatziki sauce. In any case, the blended shards of cucumber weren't as appealing as I expected, but it wasn't terrible, either.

5) Honorable mention: Cathedrale gelateria, Lausanne
On our way to the Cathedrale Lausanne, forty five minutes away from Geneva, we passed a gelateria that sold twelve flavors. One of them was curry - I promised myself that I would head back and get a scoop. Unfortunately, in our rush to Vevey, we couldn't stop by and by the time we walked up hills and hills to the gelateria, they had closed ten minutes ago.

I will assume that the curry gelato, unlike my curry potato chips (for which I spent $5 on), was delicious.
Lemon-black pepper dark chocolate bar: CHF 2.50 (and good 'n' tangy...though there could have been less lemon crystals and more lemon essence). Oriental curry chips: CHF 5.