Frozen Yogurt Wars – The Bay Area

By grace.g.yang · June 4, 2008
Under: California,Cheap Eats,Desserts,FRO-YOLYMPICS

For our birthdays, Chris and I flew to San Francisco for a culinary tour of San Francisco and Napa Valley (more on that later). On my actual birthday, I went on a little frozen yogurt tour around the bay area. I started out by myself (lame, I know), but my friends Chris and Audrey met up with me later and we went to a lot of awesome places. Here are the judges:

1. Grace, birthday girl and gracenotesnyc.com founder:


Working the machines at Tartini

2. Chris, race car driver, gracenotesnyc.com contributor:

IMG_0070 (Small)
Sporting my awesome new wayfarers

3. Audrey, future lawyer, gracenotesnyc.com fan:


A picture of me and Audrey from way back in the day

Since the tour was put together last minute and I didn’t have access to a printer, I basically took notes on a notepad (still VERY official).

1:30PM I run into a guy eating frozen yogurt in the Westfield mall and demand he tell me where he purchased it. He told me to go across the street to Icebee:

Icebee is directly across the street from Bloomingdales and is known for their self serve yogurt:

They have a lot of different flavors, but I went with tart (the original flavor). They also have lots of different toppings:

I went with tart and kiwi as a topping (I get kiwi when I’m not with Chris since he doesn’t like kiwis):

It doesn’t look like a lot, but it actually cost $1.50! The yogurt is $0.39/ounce, which is actually cheaper than most places, but the guys in front of me were complaining that they somehow ended up spending $11 on a frozen yogurt (Icebee only has one size cup, so you usually end up putting more in your bowl than you’d like).

Pros: Self-serve, tasty yogurt

Cons: Only one cup size, no option for sampling (unless you wait 5 minutes to ask the cashier who was very unattentive)

Icebee’s final score: 4.0/5.0.

3:33PM After an uneventful ride on the Caltrain to Palo Alto, I get off the train to meet up with my friend, Chris. Chris picked me up in his new car (a beautiful BMW) and took us to Fraiche, a place I found after reading valleywag. Fraiche is located in downtown Palo Alto, apparently close to all of the start-ups/VC firms:

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Fraiche is known for their housemade yogurt – they have plain, soy, and valrhona chocolate – after sampling all three, we decided to go with a plain yogurt with blackberries and mangoes:

Fraiche’s yogurt tasted like goat cheese to me (not tart, but slightly tangy). It didn’t have an unpleasant taste, but it was definitely different than the stuff I’m used to on the East coast. Their servings were quite large and the hole size was quite small:

They also have interesting toppings, including some jams that’s made out of ollaliberries:

I’d never heard of ollaliberries before, but apparently they’re popular in California because I saw them when I went to Napa as well. They’re a combination of loganberries and youngberries and it’s quite tasty (almost like a blackberry but sweeter and milder). One of the other special toppings was valrhona chocolate – they had a huge chunk of valrhona chocolate that they manually shaved (if you ordered it).

Pros: Make yogurt on site, soy option, really good fruit (the mangoes were very fresh), Blue Bottle Coffee (they sell the beans and serve the coffee – Chris told me that Blue Bottle Coffee is a big deal in the bay area), they’re always busy, and they sell kombucha.

Cons: Their yogurt tastes like creamy goat-cheese (in my opinion), they’re always busy (nowhere to sit and the tables were definitely not clean), a guy yelled at me for taking pictures.

Overall, I gave the place 3.0/5.0 and Chris gave the place 3.0/5.0 as well.

Fraiche’s final score: 3.0/5.0

8:00PM After my birthday dinner in Mountainview and a quick stop for boba milk tea, Audrey, Chris, and I head to Cafe Aroma. Cafe Aroma sells frozen yogurt, gelato, and savory items (hummus, toast, etc):

Audrey likes the place because she thinks their mochi tastes extra good and that it tastes the most similar to Pinkberry. They also have a frequent buyers card that gets stamped every $3 you spend – after 12 stamps, you can redeem the card for prizes:

We ordered a small frozen yogurt with mango, mochi, and strawberry (the mochi cost an extra $0.39):

They have cute fluted bowls and distribute the fruit evenly, which I like (and they give you a ton of mochi!). One disappointment – HUGE HOLE:

The frozen yogurt tasted exactly the way Pinkberry used to taste (I think it tastes a lot creamier than it used to) and we thought it was a tad tart. The texture was very granular (I like granular and smooth) and overall, we were pleased with the yogurt. The fruit was cut up into really tiny chunks (not appreciated) and we also didn’t like the decor (the owner told us that they’re actually turning into a franchise and it’s going to be self-serve frozen yogurt soon).

Pros: They serve gelato for those of you that don’t like frozen yogurt, they have a “yogela,” which is a combination of frozen yogurt, gelato, and toppings (I didn’t see it until after we ordered), and they have a frequent buyers program (something I’d definitely benefit from).

Cons: Small pieces of fruit, they used to have a 10% off coupon (which is instant gratification), and the entire place is under construction.

Overall, Audrey gave Cafe Aroma 3.75/5.0, Chris gave it 3.0/5.0, and I gave it 3.5/5.0.

Cafe Aroma’s final score: 3.42/5.0.

8:55PM Audrey and I walk into I Love Yogurt and find out they don’t have plain yogurt. Audrey walks out.

9:05PM We cross the street and almost miss the parking lot for Tartini, a newly opened frozen yogurt shop. Tartini also has self-serve yogurt (the newest rage in frozen yogurt), and they offer flavors like green tea, pomegranate, acai, raspberry, vanilla, lychee, and original:

I sampled most of the flavors (the acai and pomegranate were absolutely gross) but all of us really liked the lychee (it tasted like a combination between yakult and the lychee jello shots they sell in Chinese grocery stores). Since it’s self-serve, we went with half plain and half lychee with watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries:

The lychee and watermelon combination was absolutely amazing (we didn’t think that much of the plain yogurt, but we had to try it for the tour!). Tartini has a lot of interesting toppings, including lychee, logan, watermelon, and honeydew:

One disappointment – they didn’t have any mango!

Tartini just opened up a week and a half ago and business seemed a little slow, but we enjoyed our experience (Chris gave it extra points for having cute girls):

Pros: Cool decor, self-serve frozen yogurt, good toppings, pairfaits, smoothies, frequent buyers card.

Cons: Original had a weird after-taste (almost like the aftertaste you get after drinking a diet soda).

Overall, Audrey gave the plain a 2.0/5.0 and the lychee yogurt a 4.5/5.0, Chris gave the plain a 4.0/5.0 and the lychee a 4.0/5.0, and I gave the plain a 2.5/5.0 and the lychee a 4.0/5.0.

Tartini’s final scores: Plain: 2.83/5.0 and Lychee: 4.16/5.0

9:55PM We sat at Tartini for quite a bit before heading to the next spot, Blondie’s:

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Audrey warned us that their frozen yogurt definitely doesn’t taste like other places we’d been visiting, but we decided to check it out. We went with a small plain frozen yogurt with mango:

I asked if the toppings were all fresh and the server assured me they were, however, the mangoes were definitely frozen chunks (they weren’t even fully defrosted!). The yogurt tasted really creamy and I thought it tasted a little like orange sherbet. Chris thought it was a little chalky and overall, we weren’t that impressed. They only had four types of fruit AND the frozen yogurt melted really fast. Bleh.

Pros: They sell other things, like cupcakes, which you can personalize. You pick the filling, topping, and it comes with a side of frozen yogurt.

Cons: The yogurt melts really fast, the fruit isn’t fresh (and they only have four options!), it tasted chalky, and the server lied to me (if your fruit is frozen, just tell me).

Overall, Audrey gave Blondie’s 3.0/5.0, Chris gave it 2.0/5.0, and I gave it 1.75/5.0.

Blondie’s final score: 2.25/5.0.

10:05PM Our final stop on the tour – Frozo’s:

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Frozo’s looks like a laundromat (it might have been before they took it over) and they sell self-serve frozen yogurt as well. They have a lot of flavors, including plain, mango tart, and something that tasted like maple syrup. The plain was really heavy/creamy, and we decided we weren’t going to get any (but I’m still posting pictures!). Frozo’s has a ton of toppings you can choose from:

Pros: Lots of topping options, free wi-fi, self serve

Cons: The lighting made it seem like it was a laundromat, the yogurt didn’t taste that great.

Final Round Up:

First Place: Tartini’s lychee frozen yogurt! (Yes, I know it was a plain frozen yogurt tour, but the lychee frozen yogurt was so much better than any of the other stuff we had!)

Second Place: Icebee, although I was the only one that tried it :)

Third Place: Cafe Aroma, the Pinkberry copycat

Fourth Place: Fraiche, even though I thought it tasted like goat cheese

Fifth Place: Tartini Plain

Last Place: Blondie’s

Thank you so much to Audrey and Chris who drove around the entire night and for having so much frozen yogurt! I have a video review, but I need to edit it, so please be patient! Also, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be uploading my entries from California – stay tuned!

Happy Birthday to Grace (and Cali Update)

By Justin · May 29, 2008
Under: California,Travels

Hi! It’s Justin. I’m a Long Time Watcher, First Time Poster (LTWFTP). Grace’s computer is acting up, so I’m helping her out by posting an update from Cali. Here’s the latest:

Happy birthday to ME and my brother (yes we were born on the same day!). I just wanted to make some quick announcements:

- I safely arrived in SF last night after a bad flight with Virgin. They advertise outlets for every seat, but fail to mention that half of them don’t work.
- I will be “liveblogging” on my tumblr: www.gracenotesnyc.tumblr.com if you’d like to see updates on what I’m doing throughout my culinary adventure.
- Thank you to everyone that wished me a happy birthday – you guys are the best!

Grace

Il Mulino Chicago

By grace.g.yang · May 27, 2008
Under: Chicago,Desserts,Dinner,Italian



One great thing about being back in Chicago for work is the chance to see all of my friends that live in the Windy City. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet up with my friend, Jack, who recently graduated from college and is starting his career in banking this July. To celebrate, we headed to Il Mulino Chicago, which is the only Il Mulino to change their name (all of the other Il Mulino’s are known as Il Mulino New York, even though they’re in different locations). Il Mulino is in the Biggs Mansion (most people will probably recognize it from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and is absolutely beautiful inside. When we sat down, the waiters immediately came over and brought us a ton of free goodies:

IMG_1106 (Small)

They also serve bruschetta tableside (my favorite out of all of the freebies). None of the free things were that good (the breads were all too hard) and the zucchini was too oily (although it was Jack’s favorite dish).

Since the portions at Il Mulino are pretty large, the waiter suggested we get a half portion of pasta and a main course. We decided to split an order of porcini ravioli in a black truffle/champagne sauce:

I didn’t know there were only four pieces in a half order (it seemed like so little!) but the sauce is really rich and two pieces really is enough (especially since there is so much cream in the sauce). Jack really liked the porcini filling of the ravioli since there was a lot of flavor in the filling (especially since the taste is usually overpowered with the sauce and pasta):

After the porcini ravioli, we had a serving of osso bucco with risotto:

Jack thought the osso bucco tasted like it was drenched in A-1 sauce/came from a can, which I totally agreed with, and the risotti was a little too mushy. The veal was definitely very tender and cooked well (Jack mentions that it falls right off the bone in the video review), but the sauce basically ruined the veal.

For dessert, we ordered tiramisu:

The best thing of the night – I really didn’t plan on eating the whole thing, but somehow it was gone in about 3 minutes. (oops!) Il Mulino finishes off every meal with grappa (a very strong Italian brandy) – they infuse the grappa and change the flavors on a daily basis (we had a sampling of green apple).

Il Mulino Chicago would be a great meal for a winter night (when you don’t feel bad about having an extremely heavy meal), but I practically had to be rolled out of the restaurant after we finished our meal. I might try Il Mulino in New York, but I’ll wait until the winter time when I don’t have to worry about eating a little extra! :)

My video review of Il Mulino Chicago:


Il Mulino Chicago Review from Grace Yang on Vimeo.

Kaze Sushi

By grace.g.yang · May 26, 2008
Under: Cheap Eats,Chicago,Desserts,Dinner,Japanese,Sushi


Since I landed in Chicago, I’ve been seriously craving sushi. I had sushi with my college roommates the first night I got here (some place in Evanston that was pretty good) and I made reservations for Kaze Sushi for Wednesday night with another friend. We were deciding between two sushi restaurants but people said Kaze Sushi was some of the best sushi they’d had in Chicago, so my friend and I decided to go to Kaze. We arrived a bit early (around 6pm) and the restaurant was completely empty. After being seated and looking through our menus, our waiter gave us a rundown of all of the specials and things that are really great on the menu. I decided to order the duck entree and six different types of rolls. The duck entree was brought out first:

The duck was surprisingly tender and well cooked in a white wine reduction with apples and raisins. At first I was a little iffy on the sauce because I’m not a fan of raisins in food, but then I realized it was actually really delicious with the duck (I even ate the sauce after the duck was finished!). The tempura shiitake mushrooms reminded me of carnival fries (same oily smell and a little tastier) and the sweet potato fries on top of the duck were crunchy but good. The boiled spinach was cold on one side and slightly warm on the other (the duck was keeping it warm), but overall, the dish wasn’t very hot/felt like it sat out a while before it was brought over to us. There were too many different temperatures in the food that it was kind of hard to stomach. My friend (who shall not be named for privacy reasons), was finishing up the meal when he thought he ate a hard piece of duck, but when he took it out of his mouth, he saw that it was a broken piece of plastic! Isn’t that absolutely TERRIBLE?!

After we alerted our waiter and he profusely apologized, he brought out our rolls – 6 different types of rolls including a dragon roll with salmon, a shrimp tempura roll, a negi hamachi roll, a spicy tuna roll, a spicy salmon roll, and a spicy tuna eel roll. Here’s a picture of three of the rolls:

And the other three:

My biggest complaint, which I mention in the video review, is that there isn’t enough fish in any of the rolls! The hamachi roll had TINY TINY pieces of hamachi (I couldn’t even call it a hamachi roll, I’d call it a ROLL OF RICE). I also had to send back the soft shell crab with salmon because the salmon was seriously rubbery and couldn’t be chewed through. The other rolls were fairly decent, except the shrimp tempura had too much batter on it and I could only taste the tempura, not the shrimp.

For dessert, we decided to share the black sesame flan:

My first question – why is black sesame flan GREEN?! Second question – why does it look like there are spider babies on the plate?! The flan tasted more like peanut butter than black sesame and was very creamy (as a random side note, my mom sometimes mixes black sesame with almonds and soybeans to make soy milk – it’s quite delicious if you drink it cold).

Kazi Sushi had a great open space and lively atmosphere, but it couldn’t make up for the sub-par food.

My video review:


Kaze Sushi Review from Grace Yang on Vimeo.

Mario’s Italian Lemonade

By grace.g.yang · May 25, 2008
Under: Cheap Eats,Chicago,Desserts,Grace's Picks



Four years ago, I spent my summer in Chicago, working for a small paper company as an “interactive marketing associate.” I lived with four other girls (my aunt helped me set up my living situation because I didn’t really know anyone in Chicago) and it was the first time I lived without my family being an arm’s length away. Everyday, I’d walk to the El and do the reverse commute to my office, work for 10 hours, and then head home and place tennis with one of the neighborhood girls. It was a pretty great summer – I had some friends from college living nearby and we would explore Chicago, I was being independent and making money, and I was in really great shape because I played tennis all the time. After long nights of tennis, we would walk to Taylor Street to Mario’s Italian Lemonade stand and pick up large cups of Italian ice – I’m a big fan of Italian ice and Mario’s Italian ice/lemonade is the best I’ve ever had:

I’m not positive what Mario’s background is, but I’ve been told that Mario was just a guy from the city that didn’t graduate high school, but opened up a shop near UIC and has been there for over 50 years. His ingredients are simple but good – fresh fruit, real lemon juice and lemon peel, ice, and sugar. My favorite lemonades are the watermelon and cantaloupe:

They use huge chunks of fruit in all of their Italian lemonades/ices – the fruit is partially frozen and tastes really good with the lemony ice. The only thing Josh didn’t like about the Italian lemonade was that there were huge chunks of lemon peel in the lemonade as well (I like eating it but he wasn’t a fan and spit it out).

Mario’s isn’t open year round – they open in mid-May and close after Labor day (I think). The lines are really long during the summers, but it’s worth the wait!


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