This Belorussian chocolate bar has the right idea! Happy weekend!
Category Archives: Finer Things Club
M arrived at the Mercado de San Miguel with a single goal: eat jamón ibérico de bellota. “Iberian Acorn Ham” is the name given to the finest quality Spanish jamón, a fiercely protected product produced through a painstaking process. Black Iberian pigs, living in southern and southwest Spain close to the Portuguese border, freely roam oak groves consuming little besides acorns. Their hams are left to dry for weeks, and cured for another twelve months or more. The result is what is universally considered the finest jamón on the peninsula, if not the planet. The price definitely matches the quality – but it is worth it.
At the Mercado de San Miguel, most patrons get their jamón from a stall featuring Carrasco Guijuelo. The company was founded 120 years ago by the Carrasco family in the tiny town of Guijuelo (Salamanca province, on the border with Portugal). Now a protected designation of origin product, Carrasco Guijuelo now enjoys a major share of the Spanish domestic market, as well as running an enviable export business (but we all know the keep the good stuff). They also produce a lot of other food products.
While the standard jamón is a big seller, I splurged and got the 50 grams of the finest-quality Reserva, priced at 18.5 euros for 100 grams – or $111.13 per pound. The eight slices in this photograph – my total order – were priced at 9.25 euros (although, full disclosure, they accidentally charged me the price for the standard, at 16.5 euros/kilo. I did not correct the error).
We write many words on this blog, but there are simply none that can effectively describe the taste of a perfectly prepared and cured jamón ibérico. The ham is so finely cured that it when sliced, it looks like a wax copy of an actual ham, each slice retaining a light sheen that catches the light of the room. The sheen may is from the fat, which while visually obvious, may as well not exist when eaten. The fat all but liquefies on your tongue, melding with the muscle and acorns in a salty/sweet/nutty flavor profile that is subtle yet precise. Jamón ibérico de bellota is a food that, while you eat it, composes a most beautiful poem about its own taste, and you are more than willing to sit there and have that poem read to you over and over again. By the time I was done, I was ready to pull another ten euros out of my pocket for another 50 grams. If you ever have the chance to get some, don’t pass it up.
We love visiting markets while traveling, and making a little picnic out of the local meats, cheese and fruits. One of our recent favorites is the Mercado de San Miguel in the heart of Madrid. The Mercado de San Miguel is a metal and glass Beaux-Arts masterpiece that was recently opened after a long renovation. You can find nearly any kind of Spanish food in the mercado, including produce, cheese, meats, paella, pastries, ice cream, seafood and more. The market is open until midnight on most days (and 2 AM on weekends) and is nearly always full of people. It is especially crowded around Tapas time, from 7 to 9 or so, before the extremely late Spanish dinner. We visited one evening and filled up on a variety of excellent meats and cheeses, just wandering around and sampling to our heart’s content.
One of our favorite things to do in a country is to sample their typical iconic breakfast foods. We have found some of our most favorite foods this way – yogurt and honey from Greece, helva from Turkey, Torta Caprese from Italy, etc. – and we find it quite a lot more enjoyable than taking a bland continental breakfast. In Spain, the breakfast treat of choice is hot chocolate and churros. In the US, churros have something of a dubious reputation. While, of course, you can find some excellent renditions of churros in the US, the sugar-coated, soggy churro is often the purview of school lunches and amusement parks. I had personally sworn off churros after they were the only dessert offered in our junior high cafeteria. However, I am open to an opinion change.
Churros are a different affair in Spain though: no extra sugar is added, and the fried pastry is the whole deal. However the best part of having churros is dipping them in the thick, rich hot chocolate that traditionally accompanies them. No Swiss Miss hot chocolate here: this is thick, rich sipping chocolate. They sometimes even give you a little spoon to eat it with. We tried chocolate and churros and two locations in Madrid, each of which was completely different.
The first stop for churros was Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, Madrid). All they serve is chocolate and churros, and boy do they serve a lot! We went on a Saturday night, which admittedly is probably the most crowded time you can get chocolate and churros, and there was a line snaking out of the door. The routine is similar to Giolitti: you order and pay and then get a receipt for what you ordered. If you are able to get one of the tables (either inside, outside or in the basement) the waiter will take your ticket and give you your order. The only things available to order are chocolate, churros and porras (a thicker churro). The churros were excellent: a nice portion and not at all greasy. The cost of a cup of chocolate and 6 churros is less than 4 euros.
On our last day we sampled churros from Chocolatería Valor (Calle Postigo de San Martin, 7, Madrid), which is more of a regular full service café. We visited Valor at an admittedly off hour, 8:45 on a Monday morning. So we were very pleased to find that a fresh batch of churros was fried up just for us. Perhaps as a product of their freshness, we found these churros a little greasier than the offerings from San Gines. However, the price was a lot cheaper, and you could get additional items off of the menu if you so desired. There are even paper cones for those who want to take the churros to go.
Going to Madrid completely changed my idea of the churro (especially when combined with hot chocolate). We especially enjoyed Chocolatería San Ginés, and we are looking forward to going back someday and trying more varieties. Do you have a favorite place for churros in Madrid?
It’s no secret we are huge fans of ice cream, gelato and paletas, and we are happy when a new place for these treats opens up in Chicago. But the latest place for ice cream in Chicago fills a different (and new) international niche: Cone, an Irish ice cream shop in the West Loop (1047 W Madison St.). Until now, we never associated Ireland with ice cream, though the country’s well-known cheese and butter products, in addition to a growing dairy industry, should have given us a clue. Cone is run by Irish expat Sean McGuire, and features all locally-made ice cream. McGuire’s menu highlights some classic Irish flavors, like Guinness and Jameson, while still providing the more typical mint and Oreo, among others. The store sells some Irish candy and beverages. Though Cone may seem unusual, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Irish ice cream: it turns out Irish citizens are among the top 10 consumers of ice cream a year, even beating out Italy.
I finally put a name to a food memory of buttery cookies I had many years ago – Yoku Moku cookies. I remember eating these cookies a long time ago and being very impressed by both the taste and the presentation, I think my dad brought them home from work, and I still have the distinctive blue tin. However, I didn’t know what they were called until I ran across a picture of the very same tin online (the style seems unchanged over the years). The Japanese company Yoku Moku got its unique name from the northern Swedish city of Jokkmokk, where the founder, Noriichi Fujinawa first tried European butter cookies. That first encounter was the impetus for the creation of Yoku Moku (and the towns’ name was adopted for the company). The most famous Yoku Moku cookies, and the ones I remember were the Cigares, rolled thin butter cookies with a hint of vanilla flavor. Yoku Moku also makes larger tins with other cookie assortments. Though primarily available in Japan, the cookie tins are available at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Dean & Deluca in the US.
This coming weekend marks Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne – and British companies have been pulling out all all of the stops to put out special editions of clothes, tea and even Heinz baked beans. However, what has most caught our eye are the special Laduree jubilee-edition macarons. The Union Jack themed box of six red and white macarons runs $25 and is available at Laduree NYC, Paris and London locations (and also Harrods in the UK). Apparently this is only the second time that special edition macarons were made – the first being a special nod to Hello Kitty. This year also marks the 150-year anniversary of Laduree, which first opened at 16 Rue Royale in Paris in 1862. We are a little sad that we cannot sample the special edition macarons, since Laduree was voted the winner of our Parisian macaron taste-test, but maybe one of our lovely readers can let us know how they are!
One of our favorite treats to have at tea-time are Biscoff cookies, which are kind of a riff on Dutch/Belgian Speculoos. However, we have recently been made aware of an amazing new Biscoff product – Biscoff spread! Basically, this is a peanut-butter like spread made OUT of Biscoff cookies. Though it seems to have been available in Europe for a while, the product has only recently become popular in the states. Trader Joe’s even has a knock-off version called Cookie Butter. Enchanted by the Biscoff spread, naturally our first order of business was to make a Biscoff sandwich, combining 2 Biscoff cookies and Biscoff spread, which even though it seems hopeless redundant, was very delicious. For the more ambitious, you can make your own spice cookies with Biscoff filling or Biscoff truffles. M will also be happy to note that they make a crunchy Biscoff spread, which I have never seen in the wild, but is available on Amazon.
How, oh how, did it take us so long to realize the wonders of this culinary marriage? Our first stop in Istanbul had introduced us to the wonders of fresh honey – breakfast each day at the hotel supplied fresh honeycomb, which we liberally spread on, well, everything – but Greece made us realize what it means to spread that honey all over some smooth, rich, yogurt. Our first day in Santorini, we walked into Oia and hopped into a cute cafe. Our honey love having been born only a few days before, M opted for the “yogurt and honey” for 4.5 euros. What came out was nearly a meal – a large bowl of Greek yogurt drowning in honey. This quickly became our newest obsession: we scoured the island, and the rest of Greece frankly, for versions of this culinary delicacy. Both of our hotels in Santorini had great versions, but Crete took things to another level.
The small town of Vrysses, in central-west Crete, is famous around the island, and most of Greece, for the honey produced there, as well as the yogurt that goes with it. Driving into the small town square, the central fountain plaza is surrounded by honey shops. With no info to make a decision, we opted for the one that looked the most family-run: Kaprri. We ordered two plates – not bowls here, as they usually come – and we quickly caught on to what makes Vrysses honey so distinctive. The yogurt was approaching the consistency and flavor of sour cream, which was paired with a light clover honey, a wonderful complement that reduced a lot of the overpowering sugary sweetness that we usually associate with yogurt and honey.
In Athens, we were fortunate enough to discover a yogurt and honey BAR, Fresko – yes! – located just outside the spectacular new Acropolis Museum (Fresko, Dionysiou Areopagitou 3, Athens 11742, Greece). Notice: we need this place in the United States. Six kinds of yogurt, two kinds of honey, plus an assortment of smoothies and other drinks. M nearly died and went to heaven, savoring both some honey and a pomegranate smoothie while there.
Back in the USA, we’ve been getting more into the yogurt and honey scene around us. Our favorite brand of Greek yogurt – which we were happy to find also for sale in Lisbon – is Fage. We’ve been buying a four-pack almost weekly, and pairing it with locally-produced honeys at breakfast. Chicago has a great honey collective for those of you around town, the Chicago Honey Co-op.
31, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île
You know ice cream is good if you crave it even in 40 degree, rainy weather (hmmm, just like Chicago right now). Despite the gross grey drizzle we made a pilgrimage to Berthillon on Île Saint-Louis, fine purveyors of delicious house-made ice creams. Along with L’As du Fallafel, Berthillon is another one of our Paris must-dos – beware though – many places on the same road on the Île advertise that they carry Berthilllon ice cream, but only one is the ORIGINAL Berthillon. As a respite from the cold we opted to go into the small but elegant Berthillon tea room to sample some ice cream (in the Summer there is a walkup counter).
The little tea room serves all of Berthillon’s myriad ice cream flavors – which rotate in and out on a daily basis. The flavor selection at Berthillion is massive – and includes all of the classics, like hazelnut or vanilla, as well as particularly fresh and potent fruit sorbets, there are even a few more unusual flavors like Earl Grey Tea, Turron and Ginger (full list of ice creams and sorbets here – both PDFs). We are partial to the chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet flavors, however you can’t go too wrong. Also – as a bonus – they serve Mariage Frères tea – another one of our all-time favorites! While the Eaters opted for a decadent dish of chocolate ice cream covered in chantilly and chocolate sauce along with an almond tuile, our friends went for the salted caramel ice cream. For an accompaniment we got a small pot of Thé à l’Opéra, one of our favorite Mariage Frères varieties, a green tea and red berry blend. For the more adventurous there are also more elaborate sundaes (but those will cost you a lot more). It doesn’t matter the weather – you know you want ice cream!
One of our main goals while visiting Paris was to sample the macarons. L and M are huge fans of macarons, and even had them as our wedding favors (chocolate, blueberry and chai). However, we will freely admit that none of the macarons in Chicago (even the most expensive) can rival those in Paris. Prior to our trip, we did some research to narrow down the overwhelming choices for some possible top contenders. After reading many ‘best of ‘ lists we arrived at two top contenders – Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. With this shortlist in mind, we set out to conduct a scientific study of what would be the top macaron in Paris, along with our good friends and gracious Paris hosts, T & I. Below, we compare the two shops on various parameters, and discuss our final decision. And no, we did not get IRB approval for this study (Social Science joke!)
Location in Paris we visited: 21 Rue Bonaparte, Saint Germain des Prés, Paris
Flavors Sampled: Salted Caramel, Colombian Chocolate, Pistachio
Location in Paris we visited: 72 Rue Bonaparte, Saint Germain des Prés, Paris
Flavors Sampled: Creme Brulée, Venezuelan Chocolate, Salted Caramel
Price and Line:
Both stores had lines out the door (and were located mere blocks from eachother in the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood). However, Ladurée gets the hat-tip for having lower prices for roughly the same sized macarons. At Pierre Hermé eight macarons were €15.70, Ladurée came in at €12.10.
Verdict: Ladurée – we are poor grad students, what do you expect?
We got yelled at in each store for taking pictures – but only after about 20 photos. Oops…?
In terms of decor, the two shops could not be more different. Ladurée is a pastel-colored confection, full of filigree and antique fixtures. Pierre Hermé, on the other hand, is extremely stark and sleek, and really goes for the minimalist look. This style was also reflected in each store’s Christmas window decorations, as seen below.
Verdict: We slightly preferred Ladurée, for its old-world charm.
Pierre Hermé provided little menus with all of the macaron flavors so you could decide while waiting in line. However, Pierre Hermé was also out of a flavor – one that might have been our favorite flavor! Overall, Pierre Hermé was more inventive, and had flavors like Olive Oil/Citrus and Chocolate/Foie Gras, whereas Ladurée only had more classic flavors.
In terms of flavors, it was decided that at both locations, the salted caramel and chocolate were the best, so we will discuss those below.
Both of the restaurants featured a single-original dark chocolate South American macaron, with chocolate cookies and dark chocolate mousse filling, dusted with cocoa powder.
Verdict: Split Decision – One of our testers preferred the Pierre Hermé, and two preferred Ladurée.
Salted caramel is such a delicious and unexpected flavor – and is one that lends itself very well to macarons! All 4 testers ranked salted caramel as the top flavor at both stores. While each was delicious. the key difference was between the fillings – Ladurée had a filling of actual milk caramel, while Pierre Hermé was filled with a salted caramel-flavored buttercream.
Verdict: Ladurée – the actual caramel made all of the difference.
You can’t really go wrong with either choice. But we do have a winner. Overall, considering price, decor and overall taste, Ladurée was the champion. We can’t wait to go back!
Coming Soon! It is no secret we love macarons – but who has the best macarons in Paris? We enlist an impartial 4-judge panel for a very scientific (sort of) taste test…. [UPDATE] Check out the results of our taste test.
The Ferry building is something of a foodie mecca in San Francisco – located on the Embarcadero – it has a farmers market outside and a range of awesome local specialty shops inside. You are definitely spoiled for choice when you get inside with a range of bakeries, butchers, greengrocers and other delicacies. Some of our favorites included Cowgirl Creamery – an amazing cheese shop, Blue Bottle – a coffee roaster and espresso bar, and Miette – a specialty bakery. One caveat – you definitely pay for quality here! Nevertheless, if you are in San Francisco it is a must do, especially for the waterside views when sitting on the back patio. Check out some of our photos below.
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
Who knew that something that only cost 2.50 Euros could be so wonderful. We had our fair share of gelato in Sicily, but nothing could compare to the amazing gelato we got at Giolitti in Rome. Tourists and locals alike fill this place every morning until 1:30 AM, and probably have since its opening in 1900. It became a Roman ritual of ours to get a scoop (or 3) of Giolitti and walk over to the Pantheon, which was a few mere blocks away. Though both of these places were constantly packed to the brim, we never seemed to mind.
The ordering process at Giolitti is a little bit different than most shops. You pay at the front cashier and get a receipt with your order. You then take your ticket to the ice cream counter and elbow your way to the front. You tell the scooper what flavors you want – and fast! No time for pondering!
The only ‘problem’ is choosing between a dizzying array of flavors of ice creams and sorbets. There are common flavors like chocolate, hazelnut and strawberry, but also other more esoteric offerings like Indian Fig, Baba al Rhum and Champagne. The chocolate fondente flavor was the darkest richest chocolate gelato we had ever tasted, so we were pretty much hooked from first bite. But since there were 3 flavors per scoop we felt we had to try a few of the myriad options. Here are the optimal flavor combinations we arrived upon after days of deliberation:
- L: Chocolate fondente, Oreo & Raspberry
- M: Chocolate fondente, Oreo & Coconut
If you wanted any evidence of the gluttony present, this is an example of a single scoop. Yes, a single scoop at Giolitti is in fact a triple scoop with a huge dollop of whipped cream on the top. Heaven! We will never forget our daily trip to Giolitti, and we would be hard pressed to find a better gelato anywhere.
2148 w. Chicago Ave.
Chicago IL, 60622
A Tavola is quite a lovely little restaurant. It is perfect for a date night out with your special someone, but despite the ambiance or any other fine menu offerings, there is only one reason – one very important reason – to go to A Tavola – the gnocchi! This remains our gold standard of gnocchi, even after going to Italy (where we coincidentally had terrible gnocchi 😦 ). The A Tavola gnocchi are impossibly light and pillowy, so much so that one serving is hardly enough. They come served with a sage and brown butter sauce, definitely a classic preparation that compliment the gnocchi well. The sauce is quite good on its own as well, and we found ourselves scraping up the remainder with pieces of bread. What are the secret behind these gnocchi? We don’t know, but they certain put most of the other leaden gnocchi we have sampled to shame.
3317 N. Harlem Ave.
As Italians, both L and M consider ourselves experts at cannolis and other Italian sweet treats like cassata and sfogliatelle. One of our favorite places to get cannoli is Palermo Bakery, which specializes in Sicilian baked goods. We are heading to Sicily this fall – and are ready for pastry overload.
Zeppole by Caleb Lost
We here at ETW do a St. Joseph’s Day post every year, mainly as a reason to feature zeppole, a delicious custard-filled doughnut. Currently I (L) am in a location where the zeppole landscape is unknown to me, so I’ll be up bright an early to see if I can find any at the local bakeries. But in the meantime here’s a recipe from Giada.
We think perhaps more diplomacy should be arranged with food. One of the European Union’s cultural initiatives of the past few years was Café Europe, which aimed to promoted gastronomical exchange between the 27 countries of the EU. Each country got to nominate an emblematic sweet. Many are no surprise such as Tiramisu from Italy and Waffles from Belgium. However, some of the treats are new to us like Lithuania’s Šakotis, a layered, sweet pastry made on a spit or Maltese Imqaret, a fried date confection. While the initiative seems to be over, without it would have never heard of Prekmurska gibanica.