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Yes, we did the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour. When in Vermont…

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Our $3, 20-minute tour started in front of these two boards: their economic mission and a wall of flavors.

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We watched a short video detailing the history of the company, which is no longer owned by Ben and Jerry, and proceeded to an area from where we could view the factory (no photos allowed, lest we be spies.) They make two flavors a day. As we watched, the pints just kept rolling by. I wasn’t that impressed by the tour, but I suppose I got my money’s worth when we proceeded into the “FlavoRoom” for…

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That day’s sample was sweet cream and cookies, and boy was it good. I suppose the distance between production and the sample room is short enough to make this ice cream some of the best Ben & Jerry’s I’ve ever had. At the end of the tour we passed by this board. In case you’re curious, here are the top ten flavors according to supermarket pint sales.

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The sample merely whetted our appetites, so we got in line to buy some cones at the scoop shop that is built into the side of the factory. I was disappointed that they didn’t have my favorite B&J flavor (mint chocolate cookie), but it forced me to branch out and try something new.

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Clockwise from top left: Dave’s Phish food, my dad’s chocolate chip cookie dough, my mom’s mint chocolate chunk, and my oatmeal cookie chunk. Delicious.

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Obligatory tourist shot outside the factory. My parents do not look pleased. After this photo was taken we visited the flavor graveyard on the way to the car. The graveyard contains headstones with old flavors on them and a pithy explanation of why the flavor didn’t make it. Some examples:

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We decided to spend Dave’s last week before school in Vermont with my parents. Having only seen the town of Waitsfield under several inches of snow, I was pleasantly surprised at how charming it is. I had made it my goal to cook a lot while in Vermont, to get back on track after our California trip. That said, we did eat out a few times to explore the local offerings. Our first full day there we had a lovely lunch at The Green Cup.

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We took a table outside (Kuma was with us) and I went inside to order. I was about to order a sandwich, when I saw the frittata of the day sitting on the counter. Filled with potatoes, tomatoes, and leafy greens, it called out to me. It did not disappoint. I am used to frittatas with a higher ratio of eggs to vegetables, but was happy that this one was mostly potatoes and greens.

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Everyone else went with hot pressed sandwiches. My mom had the Thai style shrimp, mint leaves, cabbage kimchi, and chili marinated radish. From bite one she could not stop raving about it. In fact, my parents went back a few days later and both got this sandwich. My dad ordered his go-to: chicken salad (not pictured).

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Dave had an avocado, Vermont bacon, romaine lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Do you see Kuma’s head? Always begging for food that dog; finding him in this photo made me smile.

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We ended the meal with another treat I saw when I was inside: a hearty slice of peach cake. We all shared it, though Dave and I did the bulk of the cake eating. It was dense, buttery, and just what I wanted. Savory and sweet, I can’t have one without the other.

Green Cup Cafe on Urbanspoon

Rouge Tomate

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Clare and I took advantage of the fact that restaurant week was extended and went to Rouge Tomate. I had heard good things about the farm to table restaurant when Kristen, a friend of ours from culinary school, did a stage there. Rouge Tomate cooks its food according to the principles of S.P.E. which revolves around the elements of sourcing (local, seasonal), preparation (in a way that preserves the nutritional integrity of the food), and enhancement (added nutritional value through menu diversity).

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I will admit right now that my photos of this dinner didn’t come out that well. Clare started with a gazpacho that I’m not posting a photo of because it was blurry. Clare said that it was too salty. I had a panzanella with nectarines. The bread was not crisp enough for me, but that’s probably because they don’t deep fry at Rouge Tomate.

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For her entree, Clare had the steak. I wish I had more information, but the restaurant week menu is no longer up and I don’t remember exactly what was in the dish. Clare seemed pleased with it.

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I went with the gnocchi with summer vegetables. The vegetable were ever-so-lightly cooked which preserved the crispness to the beans and peas. The broth, also very light, was well done, but the gnocchi itself was too mushy.

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For dessert, Clare had the vanilla bean milkshake with figs, served with a fig bar. A solid choice. I tasted some of the shake and it was cold and not too sweet. At the bottom of the glass were fresh figs which were delicious. The fig bar was also good, though I’ve never met a fig bar I didn’t like.

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I had the plum cake which came with fresh plums and plum sorbet. This was my favorite course of the night. The sweetness of the ripe fruits was enough to make the dessert.

We left the restaurant satisfied but not stuffed. I think that there are some things (like fried bread), that just can’t be replicated in a healthful way. Others however (the desserts especially) can and are wonderful. Rouge Tomate is a great place to go if you want food that is beautiful and fancy, but you don’t want to feel like you’ve spoiled your health in the process.

Rouge Tomate on Urbanspoon
Rouge Tomate in New York

Kyotofu

As part of  Columbia Business School’s orientation, Dave and I (along with our friend Maria, the wife of a CBS student in Dave’s class) took a group of incoming students’ spouses and partners out to lunch. We decided on Kyotofu, a place we have been wanting to try for a while. Owned by a friend of Dave’s cousin, the small restaurant built its reputation serving dessert and has since expanded its savory menu. The menu focuses on the use of fresh, organic ingredients and many dishes (especially the desserts) contain tofu.

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Most lunch dishes come with the choice of soup or salad. I went with the salad and was very happy when it arrived filled with mizuna, my favorite green of the moment. The dressing was light and refreshing. Dave went with the soup, carrot-miso.

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Dave ordered the chicken and tofu burger which came with a side of purple potato chips. He proclaimed, “it tastes better than it sounds.”

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I went with the barbequed unagi, pieces of eel wrapped in phyllo dough. When I read this dish on the menu I was excited as it sounded like my favorite dish on the menu at Matsuri, my go-to Japanese restaurants for special occasions. The portion was smaller than I was expecting, but that was fine as it left me with more room for dessert…

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To say that the desserts at Kyotofu are good is a huge understatement. They are beautifully presented, delicious, and the portions are quite generous. What more could you ask for in a dessert. Above is the passionfruit tofu cheesecake ordered by one of the women at the lunch.

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Dave went with their signature dessert, the chocolate souffle cupcake, voted best cupcake by New York Magazine. (They even printed the recipe. I have it saved at home but have yet to try making them.) The cupcake, which also comes in chocolate green tea, comes with a dollop of cream on top and a side of mixed berry compote. On their own, the cupcakes are delicious, with the cream and compote, outstanding.

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I had the soymilk soft ice cream sundae which comes with the compote as well as pieces of mochi and some sweetened cream. This dessert satisfied the frozen dessert lover in me and then some. The ice cream was cold, creamy, and paired superbly with the compote. If I had one complaint it was that the mochi was too gelatinous and not at all the right texture.

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Someone else ordered the sorbet trio which was a sampling of various tropical flavors. It came with some okara cookies.

Kyotofu is worth the trip to Hell’s Kitchen. Have lunch or dinner, whichever you prefer, but make sure that you save the bulk of your stomach for dessert.

Kyotofu on Urbanspoon
Kyotofu in New York

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Our last night in California, we went with Jason to Katsuya in Hollywood. It seems like every time I read People or US Weekly there is at least one mention of someone dining at Katsuya. We didn’t see any celebrities, but we did have a fantastic meal.

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Our server informed us that menu items are meant to be shared, so we ordered some appetizers for the table and each ordered our own sushi. The boys also split a Hitachino white ale, a Japanese microbrew I had never heard of, or ever seen in Japan.

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We shared three starters:

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Agedashi tofu (fried tofu pieces served in a dashi-based broth). This is one of my go-to appetizers, and a good test of any Japanese restaurant. It was also the weakest dish of the night. The tofu is usually rectangular and soft, with a light, crisp exterior. In this case, perhaps because they were manipulated into balls, the tofu was too dense, and the exterior was too heavy handed, not at all light.

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Creamy rock shrimp. This reminded me of a similar dish that I once had at Morimoto. A bit too fusion-y for me to love it, but they were tasty little suckers. The combination of creamy sauce on fried anything is tough to beat.

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Vegetable tempura. Simply delicious.

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For his entree, Dave ordered three rolls: eel avocado, blue crab, and yellowtail.

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Jason and I both had the sushi sampler. I thought the sushi was well executed (good rice and seaweed are key) and it definitely hit the spot. When we lived in São Paulo we had sushi all the time, it’s one the things I miss most about living in Brazil.

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(The dessert menu)

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We made the mistake of ordering the dessert special to share. Our server described it as a baked Alaska but with a lemon tart and raspberry sorbet under the bruleed meringue. While beautifully presented, it was way too sweet. The meringue was too soft as well (it could have been whipped a bit more).

Aside from the dessert disaster, I was very happy with my meal. I would definitely go back if I’m in LA again. Maybe next time we’ll see someone famous.

Katsuya on Urbanspoon
Katsuya in Los Angeles

Dim Sum belly

Our last day in LA, Jason took us to Monterey Park (where he grew up) for dim sum. The neighborhood boasts the largest population of people of Chinese descent in the US. I was excited. On Jason’s recommendation, we decided on Ocean Star.

I had just taken a killer yoga class and was starving, as were the boys. As soon as we were seated, we began selecting dish after dish from the passing carts. We should have been more patient, waiting for favorite dishes, but our stomachs got the best of us.

Above are the dishes we ordered (click on any photo for a larger view). I know the proper names for some of them, for others I’m going to bastardize the names, I apologize in advance.

Top row: fish balls, Chinese doughnut (the main mistake of the afternoon), cart with a carved watermelon.

Middle row: char siu bao (barbecued pork buns), large flat rice noodle with soy sauce, red bean desserts (my favorite).

Bottom row: har gao (shrimp dumplings), shiu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), egg custard buns (Jason’s favorite)

I ate too fast, and the grease factor didn’t help. By the end of the meal I was full but still hadn’t eaten everything I wanted to, having filled up too quickly on whatever came by first. The doughnut was a big mistake, but the red bean paste-filled desserts (much like Japanese mochi desserts, but greasier) were delicious.

Dim sum (much like cheap Indian food) is often a good idea beforehand, and a very bad one afterwards. We all got hit with a case of dim sum belly, that I-swallowed-a-grease-coated-bowling-ball feeling that doesn’t go away, no matter how much water you drink. We drove home and all passed out for afternoon naps.

If your stomach is up for it, Ocean Star is the real deal.

Ocean Star on Urbanspoon
Ocean Star in Los Angeles

Pizzeria Mozza

The best lunch we had our entire trip had to be at Pizzeria Mozza in LA. Started by Mario Batali, the pizza joint is small and bright; reservations are a must. Aside from the fact that the woman seating us had some major attitude (making us wait unnecessarily long when our table was visibly ready), lunch was perfection.

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We dined with my friend from high school, Justine, and the pizza was the perfect compliment to our gossiping and catching up.

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We started by sharing a salad of arugula, parmesan, and mushrooms. I’m not a huge fan of raw mushrooms, but the dressing and combination of arugula and cheese were just right. It was also visually stunning.

The pizza was divine. The best I’ve had since we went to Grimaldi’s last year. The bottom crust is paper thin and crispy while the outer rim is puffy and chewy. This combination is everything that I look for in a pizza. Coupled with delicious toppings, there’s no going wrong.

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Dave had prosciutto and fresh arugula on his pizza. I had mushrooms. The mushrooms were smoky and tender, sprinkled with some fresh parmesan, I was in pizza-eating heaven.

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For dessert we all shared the house made gelato. We each chose one flavor and wound up with espresso (Dave’s choice), mint chip (mine), and vanilla (Justine’s). Mint chip is my favorite flavor of frozen dessert, and this one did not disappoint. The mint flavor was strong and pure, nothing artificial there. The wafer that came in the gelato was also great–light and crisp. A sweet end to a perfect lunch.

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Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon
Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles