Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I actually tried Illy espresso, today. I know, it sounds odd that I would have never tried one of the most famous names in espresso, but 'tis true. I bought some pre-ground, medium-roast espresso at Dave's, yesterday. I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised.

I was expecting to be able to turn up my coffee connoyseurree nose at it and declare it as garbage for the Starbuckian masses. Well, speaking of those Starbuckian masses, the espresso is first and foremost better than Starbucks. So if you drink a lot of espresso, it may behoooooooove you to go out and plunk down some cash on a good home espresso machine, say a Racilio Silva or a full-lever La Pavoni or Elektra- my personal favorites. I'd also recommend my current home machine, the Jura Capresso Z5, but having the Illy espresso grind sitting next to the grind that the machine produces highlights how it's impossible to get a true espresso grind out of the Z5.

That isn't a terrible knock, the espresso still tastes good, but the other big knock is that since I bought that machine the number of consumer-oriented fully automatic coffee centers on the market has increased exponentially. The Z5 was the best one on the market five years ago, now, maybe not so much.

But back to the espresso. The can is easy to open, attractive, the grind is good, and the coffee smells excellent, especially for pre-ground. The resulting espresso has a rich, dark brownish-red crema on top, and is very rich and balanced on the tongue. The medium roast has a little bit of roast flavor to it, but not enough to do any real damage to the coffee flavor. If this is medium roast, I'd never buy dark. It's not very complex, but it is rich, and very mellow. This is what I would call an effortlessly drinkable espresso. Very good for everyday applications.

For me, it's a non-issue, since I have a grinder built into my espresso machine. But if you don't, and you'd like to lop a minute or two off of your daily espresso procedure, this is a pretty good way to go about it. But if you're dedicated enough to have a large grinder setup on your counter, this won't tempt you away from it.

UPDATE 5/1/2010: I just tried the dark roast, and boy is it. It's super-dark and I don't like it very much. It's lost any of the flavors from the medium roast and just tastes of roast. If you like that, it's a very even flavor and you'll likely not be disappointed. As for me, no thanks.

UPDATE 5/16/2010: Well, I've finally figured out an issue I've been having. I have the most difficult time getting my doubles to hit 9-bar and 25 seconds. This article by a head barista for Illy Corp. illuminates why they'd choose a grind that's not quite right. They hate doubles. The don't even consider doubles to be espresso. WTF? They have doppios in Italy. It's in Italian! But, yeah. Illy pre-ground is not correct for doubles. If you're puling singles, you're good, or crema coffee, you're good. But true doubles, man, you're no good.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Saint Joseph's Day

Damn Saint's days. One right after another.

But, who can complain when they all have food's associated with them! Not me!

So in recognition of this glorious day, which has lost all religious significance, let's talk about zeppole. As a pastry, what a zeppola consists of can vary pretty significantly. In comparison to most other pastries, the big differentiating factor is that they're fried.

The most common type of zeppola in Rhode Island is a flat zeppola, with a pocket in the center that is filled with a custard. Traditional ones, or at least traditional for this area, have rum in the custard.

But you can also make zeppole with almost any filling, be it cheese, custard, cream, or even fish paste. Still, they are most commonly desserts and have sweet fillings.

I'm going to be a bit of cheerleader for my favorite local zeppole and say that people should get them from Scialo Bros. Bakery, on Federal Hill, or from Emilio's Bakery, in Warwick.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Well, since the Irish in Ireland don't particularly care about Saint Patrick's Day, it's more of a "Happy to be Irish and still alive" day for expat micks. Because, boy, if black people thought they had it bad, the Irish had it worse.

Anyone who remembers the Whacking Day episode of The Simpsons knows why I posted that video. For everyone else, fast-forward to 18:30 in the video.

Well, I'm happy to have a healthy dose of Irish in me, and any excuse to celebrate my culinary heritage and eat lots of corned beef is a good excuse, indeed.

Happy Saint Pats, everyone!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Holy cripes, this ice cream is good.

I don't know about any of you, but I'm always disappointed when I try certain high-end ice creams. Häagen-Dazs has its Reserve line of ice cream, which includes the Amazon Chocolate. They have the arrogance to list "flavor notes" on the front of package, as though it's a fine wine, and when I eat it, the texture is too icy, and the chocolate flavor that I think should be hitting me in the face with a rush of chocolate heaven is MIA. Godiva is a similar disappointment, almost as though they forgot they're a chocolate company.

If you feel similarly to me, do I have the ice cream for you. Choctal is the best chocolate ice cream I've ever had. Without a doubt in my mind. It is so dense... you know how Ben & Jerry's usually has four servings, with calorie counts anywhere between 180 and 300-ish. Well Choctal has FIVE servings per container. It's so dense they wedged in another serving. The texture is, at times, other worldly. It's almost gummy, yet creamy and smooth. It is the most satisfying ice cream to chew that I've ever eaten.

The taste is intense. It is that knock-you-in-the-face chocolate that I was seeking. It's dark, rich, and subtly sweet. There's an almost grainy, but not in a bad way, texture to it. Almost as though there's finely ground cocoa nibs directly in the ice cream. Let it melt on your tongue and it bathes your taste buds in an exceptionally smooth flavor. I love it.

I've only tried the Dominican Chocolate, and as you can see on the website, there's three more single origin locations to try. It's available at Dave's Markets (And is available at all Trader Joe's locations, apparently) and may be pricey at six bucks per pint, but it's oh so worth it.

UPDATE 3/19/09: I've tried the Kalimantan variety. It's richer and darker than the Dominican. It's almost like chocolate pudding. I prefer the Dominican because it's brighter, with a bit more bitterness to it. It's texture is also a bit grainier which, I think, adds to the chocolatey-ness.

UPDATE 3/24/09: I tried the Ghana chocolate variety. It's color is far and away the lightest of three. It's flavor is, I think, the most traditional-tasting, as far as chocolate ice cream goes. It's not as fudgey as the Kalimantan, and not as bright as the San Dominican. A little more bitter than the other two, but it has more punch to it than the Kalimantan. I still prefer the San Dominican, personally.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Quickview Triple Play

Oot and aboot in Providence, my soul needed some chicken soup of the caffeinated kind. I've been dying to try Tazza cafe on Westminster for a long time, and I threw in a couple of others into the adventure.

Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House

Situated on one of the loveliest stretches of Douglas Avenue in Providence, BC&T would be a good place to hide from that mugger. The exterior is a an absolutely (I'm being serious on this one) gorgeous turn-'o-the-century building. It was built in 1873 to serve as a grocery store for the local Irish population. I know this because it has a plaque on the side of the building explaining as such.

The aging wooden and brick front, red door, and aged yellow wood trim around the windows is old-world charm embodied. It's a really beautiful building because it's that kind of charm that architects, today, so desperately try to capture and only end up appearing either modern and retro-chic or just plain kitschy. The area around the back is equally gorgeous, with old trees, overgrown plants, and a loose-stone walkway.

Sadly, the cafe is not a standard cafe that you can visit at any time. It's become, as the owner describes it, a destination cafe. They have movie and music nights and show local productions and bands. If you are interested, stop by or call and ask for information. It's something I'll be making a trip to. I can't officially give this place a rating since I didn't get a chance to try any food.

Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House- N/A


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209 Douglas Ave
Providence, RI 02908

Tazza Cafe

On the Tazza website, they have a picture of latte art. I was both hopeful and cautious because they have a photo of latte art on the wall at Blue State Coffee which no one at the actual cafe can do. I was disappointed.

Not specifically with the gestalt of the cafe, but just the latte. I got no latte art and the milk was only adequately foamed. The espresso was of good quality. It was very dark, on par with Starbucks in the darkness department, which was initially a disappointment. As I proceeded through the drink, though, some complexity came out. A faint nuttiness combined with a bit of an acidic snap. So, in the end, the drink became acceptable. Nothing special, though. I think I was especially disappointed because my barista oozed style. He looked like a porn star from the 1970's. That's a compliment.

The interior of the cafe is very chic. The exterior is beautifully lit, and the inside is dominated by the large windows that make up the street-side walls. A large stage dominates one corner and the overall layout seems like it would make a pleasant place to listen to a band. The menu is extensive with a wide selection of dinner items, which are competitively priced, desserts are good-sounding if standard fare, and the breakfast/brunch selection sounds tasty.

I like the surroundings, the walkability of the neighboring shops, and Westminster in general. But therein lies one of the biggest problems. If you don't live nearby or take the bus, you're at the mercy of street parking or the expensive lots. Parking makes Tazza a restauranta non grata, for me. If the coffee was better or the food was more inventive, it might overcome what I see as a significant knock, but it's not, so it doesn't.

I'm giving it two marks, even though it probably deserves something in-between two and three. I think it's a worthy destination if and only if you have easy transport to and from, or you treat it as a night-time bar/club and go for dinner, drinks and music (for which Tazza is very good). Otherwise, there are many more easily accessible locations with similar food and coffee that are better options.

Tazza: ++


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250 Westminster St
Providence, RI 02903

Johannson's Cafe

As a cafe that exists more for the convenience of shoppers at the Cardi's/Rhode Island Design Center than for its own sake, I wasn't expecting much from Johannson's. They more than lived up to none of my expectations.

First off, it's very nice inside. The cafe counter is situated right as you enter the building, bathed in natural light from the large windows, with a giant fountain trickling away next to the attractive wrought-iron tables and chairs. They certainly give a good first impression. Once you get to the counter, it's not bad, either. They have a wide variety of cookies and baked goods, and a decent selection of drinks. It's when you order that things get dicey.

They don't have whole milk. Only skim. They use a fully automatic machine that burps up a bubbly stream of espresso and milk into a cup. They do use a local roaster, which is nice. Specifically, they use Ocean Coffee Roasters, based in Newport. Sadly, though, that does nothing to help the coffee. The latte I got is in the running for the worst steamed milk I've gotten. Again, it looked like someone steamed it by blowing through a straw. Definitely on par with the disaster that was Felicia's Coffee. I took a sip and was pleasantly surprised. It didn't seem half-bad. It was very dark, but had some complexity to it. At least the brewing mechanism is alright, I thought.

Sadly, though, that impression didn't last. As the drink cooled down, the burnt, overly-dark aspects of the coffee came out. It became watery, bitter, with burnt notes denoting a grinder that's worn. I dumped the rest out in the parking lot. The baked goods were a similar story. The brownie tasted like it was made at Stop & Shop, which I suspect it was. The cannoli was adequate, and the puff pastry was filled with what tasted like Cool Whip. If you're feening for espresso in the area, trust me, make the 10-minute trip to the Emerald Square and go to Starbucks or Border's Books. You can also get a good bottomless cup of coffee down a bit into Pawtucket at Lumana's Cafe & Gourmet. Just do anything to avoid Johannson's.

Johannson's Cafe: +

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999 Newport Ave
South Attleboro, MA. 02703