Category: culinary adventures


Thanks to everyone for sharing your favourite thoughts and highlights of Montreal. If you haven’t visited the site since the last post was uploaded, please take a moment to check out everyone’s contributions in the “Comments” tab at the beginning of the last post.

This week, as promised, I’d like to focus on the sweeter side of Montreal, the city where Chocolatour  was officially launched back in October of 2009.

There are a plethora of excellent chocolate bistros around the city that not only offer a tempting selection of handmade fresh chocolates to take home, they serve sensuous chocolate creations that can be the main focus of your meal or the perfect ending by way of a make-you-squeal dessert.

I really enjoyed lunch at Juliette & Chocolat located at 377 Laurier Ouest. The atmosphere is perfect for lunch with the girls, and the menu offers some really unique offerings such as the chocolate salad! The Juliette & Chocolat Salad is served with seasonal fruit, and goat cheese with buckwheat crepe slices, topped with a chocolate raspberry vinaigrette. Delicious!

the Juliette & Chocolat Salad comes with a special chocolate raspberry vinaigrette

Juliette & Chocolat is also famous for its drinking chocolate, offering an exotic list of chocolate origins to choose from. This picture of a friend enjoying her drinking chocolate tells the story of complete satisfaction.

savouring one of the amazing drinking chocolates at Juliette et Chocolat

The chocolate selection is lovely, too, and take time to peruse the “Chocolate Bars” on the menu which provide interesting tidbits about chocolate and cocoa around the world. This is truly a place for chocolate lovers!

the selection of fresh chocolates at Juliette et Chocolat is tempting and creative

I also enjoyed chatting with chocolatier, Marlain Jean Philippe, owner of Marlain Chocolatier, located at 21 Cartier in Pointe Claire, a suburb of Montreal. The small shop is located in a historic house and don’t be surprised if you’re welcomed by the ear-to-ear smile of the proprietor when you walk in the door. He is French-trained (in Paris) and carries the designation of Maitre Chocolatier-Confiseur, so you know that he knows his chocolate!  I absolutely loved the Obama chocolates made from soft nougat, pineapple, ginger, coffee beans, almonds and the finest dark chocolate. They had an amazing flavour and texture that I shall always remember.

Marlain Jean Philippe is the creative force behind Marlain Chocolatier

And Marlain doesn’t stop at edible chocolate! He offers an assortment of cocoa-based creams and cosmetics to make your body as smooth and silky as the delectable chocolate he’ll box for you to take home and savour.

There are many other exquisite chocolate shops in Montreal. What are some of your favourites?

Please join us back here the week of September 12th, when we’ll enjoy more taste-tempting travels.

I know. I was supposed to be heading to Montreal for the next post. But it’s just so darned beautiful right now in Manitoba, and there are so many amazing things going on that I thought I’d treat you to one more round of local bragging. I hope you’ll indulge me, and join in with a comment celebrating your own favourite Manitoba place, memory or summer event. After all, as Travel Manitoba would say … “It’s Manitoba Time!”

the re-enactors of Vikings Vinland demonstrate battle techniques

We visited the Icelandic Festival in Gimli on the weekend and were fortunate to have timed our visit to see the battle re-enactment performed by members of Vikings Vinland, a troop of  re-enactors from all over North America. It was awesome! We also enjoyed a Goldeyes baseball game in Winnipeg.

But what really inspired me to write this post was the amazing culinary talent we have right here in the Interlake. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending High Tea at the Fat Cat Bistro (located just north of Camp Morton on Hwy 222.) It’s held every Tuesday from 2-4 pm and is a delight for just $13. We started with a plate of giant pinwheel sandwiches, followed by a course of hot appetizers. I loved the giant Japanese mussels made in a sauce of tomatoes and peppers. The mushroom puffs were also terrific and light. And a crostini featuring local Goldeye fish finished off the middle course with a lovely fresh flavour.

The dessert course consisted of a plate of cheeses and fresh fruits alongside a plate of dainties. And yes, there was chocolate! The chocolate coconut brownies were soft, chewy and really quite decadent.

My friend couldn’t eat nuts, so was made a special pavlova (which was dressed right at our table by John, partner of Karen Nielsen, our talented chef.)

John preparing a lovely pavlova at our table

Although the High Tea was not traditional in the sense that there were no scones with clotted cream, it was delightful in every way. I’m told by Chef Karen that she does make scones on occasion and changes the menu every week to keep her scores of regular customers happy and coming back each week or every second week to see what she has in store.

Today, we visited Fat Cat for breakfast. I’d been there once previously for dinner, but had not (until today) had the pleasure of enjoying one of their tasty breakfasts. As I’m watching my calorie count these days (the two years of intense chocolate tasting has finally caught up with me!) I ordered a simple breakfast of two poached eggs and sausages with multi-grain toast and sliced tomatoes. Include your coffee or tea and you’ve got an amazing breakfast for $5!

My male companions were not as concerned with their waistlines and ordered much more elaborately. Roy had the omelette, asking Chef Karen to create something unique for him. And that she did! His fluffy omelette was stuffed with goat’s cheese and local Saskatoon berries. A bit heavy for me, but Roy loved it!

My husband, Reg, ordered the authentic Icelandic pancakes (Karen is a local girl of Icelandic heritage) stuffed with seasonal berries and topped with fresh whipping cream. Wow! That was truly amazing, and something that I would order on a return visit.

Fat Cat's Icelandic pancakes

Fat Cat Bistro is becoming a local favourite with discerning diners of the Interlake. That, along with Mask Mediterranean Restaurant of Gimli are boasting internationally trained chefs who love the Interlake region and are hoping to tantalize diners’ taste buds beyond the (pickerel) fish and chips (french fries) that have become the flagship meal of many area restaurants.

Let’s talk. Tell me about your favourite hangout, event or memory from YOUR most coveted Manitoba time.

Please note there will be a special “Blog Jog Day” post on this blog on Sunday, August 7th, as I once again participate in an event that helps fellow bloggers expand their audiences. And we’ll be back the week of August 15th, when we will finally explore the virtues — and chocolate — of Montreal.

How appropriate that the next post on my chocolate travel blog will come on Chocolate Day! Chocolate truly is the international language of love, as no matter where you go in the world, if you arrive with a fine box of chocolates in hand, you will be well received.

The British certainly love their chocolate, and based on figures detailing chocolate consumption around the world, the Brits are near the top on every list I have seen. And they seem to be willing to spend more on their chocolate, as I have found their chocolate to be quite pricey. But definitely worth it!

In the last post, I introduced you to two of my favourite chocolate masters from the UK. But there are so many more! In our celebration to Chocolate Day, I’ll briefly introduce you to a few more.

I was fortunate to be in London for the launch of Hotel Chocolat’s signature
66% dark chocolate, introduced at their Rabot Estate chocolate boutique in Borough Market in London. I loved exploring Borough Market and meeting Angus Thirlwell, co-owner of Hotel Chocolat and the Rabot Estate. I can’t wait to get to St. Lucia and visit their cacao plantation and chocolate spa that makes Hotel Chocolat stand out as the chicest of chocolate makers.

chocolate tasting at Rabot Estate, Hotel Chocolat's boutique bistro in Borough Market

If you’re looking for chocolate with a feminine flair, then Rococo Chocolates is the place for you. Founded in 1983 by Chantal Coady, Rococo was the first brand of luxury, artisan brand chocolate in the UK and is characterized by the labels and packaging that show off Chantal’s amazing talent as a textile designer.

Chantal Coady, the creative force behind Rococo Chocolates

This is designer chocolate in a soft, subdued fashion, offering 25 flavours of fresh truffles and exotic bars with flavours such as Cardamom, Caramelized Onion and Moroccan Mint. Rococo makes some of its chocolates from cocoa beans grown on their plantation in Grenada.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul Wayne Gregory of Paul Wayne Gregory Ltd. How could I not love a guy whose motto is “Indulgence is everything”? Paul is another extremely creative chocolatier with a Caribbean connection. His family hails from Jamaica, and many of his chocolate flavours celebrate tropical treats such as passion fruit (Paul’s personal favourite as well as mine) which took him 18 months to perfect! Yes, Paul admits to being a perfectionist and it shows in his creations. They are simple, yet delectable.

Paul Wayne Gregory's chocolates are simple in design and intense in flavour

This post has introduced you to three more exotic masters of chocolate from the UK. There are many more! I hope you’ll now realize why Britain is leading the Chocolate Revolution and changing the way we make, eat and enjoy chocolate.

Please continue to share your thoughts with everyone here. I love hearing from you! And come back the week of July 18th, when we’ll take our next chocolate journey along the Chocolatour.

I hope you’ve been enjoying our Chocolatour through Europe. Our next stop is Pisa, Italy.

I must say Pisa really surprised me. I expected only an old dilapidated  Leaning Tower. I didn’t know that the Leaning Tower is part of a large grouping of impressive historic buildings and that the Leaning Tower is far from being dilapidated. It has recently been cleaned and is almost sparkling white! Much restorative work has been done to many of Italy’s historic treasures and a trip to Pisa is sure to please.

there are a number of beautiful historic buildings nestled into the square where you'll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The food is amazing. What else is new?  Good food and libations is always top of my list. No wonder I love Italy!

So we were very grateful at the choice of hotel that Fabrizio Quochi, our friendly contact at the Pisa Tourist Board had made for us. The NH Cavalieri is literally across the street from the Centrale train station and is a surprisingly lovely place with a terrific restaurant. I liked the Tuscan pasta with olives so much I ordered it twice during our stay! It was excellent. The feather-light pasta was served with black olives and a delicious red sauce with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese.  Served of course, with a local hearty Chianti Classico. Magnifico!

the wonderful meal I had (twice!) at the NH Cavalieri Hotel

Later, we enjoyed the local specialty, Cecina, a chickpea pizza cooked in a wood oven. Have it with Spuma, a favourite Pisan soda (much like Mountain Dew) to really feel like you’re enjoying life like a lucky resident of Pisa. You can get both at Pizzeria Filippo, just a short walk from the NH Cavalieri.

The nice thing about Pisa is that is has a terrific location with easy accessibility  by air, train, bus or sea. Ryan Air has an increasing presence in Pisa, so you can fly directly there from a number of destinations. And just 45 minutes south of Pisa, we were able to gain access to a wonderful beach in Tirrenia, where we could stroll and swim. For just two Euros, we took a public bus from Pisa to the beach and spent the day just enjoying the sun and surf and watching the local fishermen.

enjoying a view of the beach in Tirrenia at a Tuscan restaurant

Please come back the week of March 1st for the next post on Pisa. And yes … there WILL be chocolate!

I’d never even heard of Pistoia before, and suddenly I found myself spending two days there. All in the quest of tasting the finest chocolate in Italy!

the Romanesque style of architecture is prevalent in Pistoia

Pistoia is a small Tuscan village highlighted by Romanesque buildings of the 12th century. That’s about all I’m going to tell you about the history of Pistoia, as everyone who knows me knows I’m not a history buff. I’m there to meet the people and to taste the local specialties: the food, the wine, and of course … the chocolate. I was not be disappointed!

We ate some of the best meals of our journey while in Pistoia, thanks to the culinary talents of Renzo and Laura, the charming couple who run the Toscanelli Ristorante, where we enjoyed two sumptuous meals. Having grown up indulging in the best of Italian cuisine at the home of my dear friend, Maria (and the homes of her extended family members in Winnipeg) I really knew my Italian favourites, and I can assure you, Laura and Renzo did not disappoint.

Renzo welcomes you to Toscanelli's with a complimentary champagne cocktail

At Toscanelli’s, we enjoyed fabulous wine and olive oil made by the owners at their nearby home. We ate local porcini mushrooms that had been picked that day. And squealed at the flourless chocolate lava cake (called chocolate pie on the menu.) We were truly in heaven.

Laura’s attentive service and bounty of fresh produce are two more reasons to visit Toscanelli’s Ristorante

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Paulo Bresci, also referred us to Aoristo Ristorante on Via De Buti, where we had a fabulous view of the historic skyline, personalized service by one of the partners and top-notch Tuscan cuisine paired with some amazing local wine. In totally chic surroundings. What’s not to like?

amazing flavours were present in every offering at Aorista Ristorante

Pistoia may not be Venice, Florence or Milan, but it provided us with an authentic taste of Tuscany without the crowds, the high cost or the crime associated with larger centres. Many thanks to Rosy of Verde Paradiso B&B who hosted us during our stay. Although we couldn’t converse too deeply due to a language barrier, we knew we were truly welcome, and felt very safe and comfortable during our stay.

Verde Paradiso B&B is a clean, friendly and safe place to stay while in Pistoia

I’m heading off to Florida from January 21-31 (yes, more chocolate tasting!) and so may be slow in responding to your questions or comments. But please keep them coming!

Look for the next post on Pistoia during the week of February 1st. Ciao for now!

Turin/Torino is famous for a lot of wonderful flavours, probably the most popular of which is Bicerin, a hot drink made with chocolate, coffee and steamed cream. Almost every establishment you visit will make it slightly differently and will tell you that they like to keep their recipe a secret, but this hot delicacy is not to be missed by any visiting chocolate lover.

the Bicerin drink shown with chocolate pasta

We tried the traditional version at CaffèAl Bicerin in the Piazza della Consolata. This establishment was founded in 1763, and claims to have invented the drink. They do a great job at it, as I found their Bicerin to be less sweet and less heavy than those sampled at other places. You can even buy chocolate pasta here! We tried a trendy new variation of the Bicerin called the Espressone Chocolate Mousse at Lavazza Espression on Via Garibaldi. It was a real taste treat that is eaten with a spoon as it’s ultra thick and super smooth. (Travel secret: if you take your Espresso or coffee drinks standing, establishments charge you much less than if you sit down. Many coffee bars only charge 1 euro for an espresso served to a standing customer.) You choose!

the modern version of espresso at Lavazza Espression

Continuing our exploration of Torino’s sweet scene, we stopped to enjoy another variation of the Bicerin at Gertosio Pasticceria, a business originally founded in 1880 by master chocolate maker, Pietro Viola. In 1961 the Gertosio family took it over and now have a father, mother, son and daughter-in-law team bringing taste sensations to everyone who walks through their welcoming doors. The Gertosios offer the il Sabaudo, a delicious drink of hot chocolate, coffee, crushed nuts and whipped cream.  All I can say is … Wow! Truly decadent. They have plenty of amazing chocolate creations to take away, too, but you’ll have to wait for my book, Chocolatour, to hear more about those. Take a peek at this page on my website for more on that!

Pretty much every chocolate maker in Torino offers the city’s special creation: the Gianduiotti, three-cornered chocolates made of cocoa and hazelnuts. They are a bit sweet for my liking, but very smooth and creamy.

Torino's famous gianduiotto chocolates are seen in windows everywhere

Cioccolato Peyrano offers a Torte Peyrano that is to die for: a dense dark chocolate cake made with hazelnuts and orange jam and covered with a layer of thin dark chocolate. A 600 gram Peyrano cake is pricey at 29 euros, but worth every cent. The flavour is truly out of this world. But don’t take my word for it, plan a trip to Torino!

Torino is one of three Italian cities (Rome and Florence are the other two) that will be celebrating Italy’s 150th anniversary this year, from March 15 until November 15, 2011. With any luck, I’ll get back there in time to help them celebrate!

Join me back on the blog the week of January 17th for a post on our next stop: Pistoia.

OK. Several of  you have been asking me when I’m going to get to the chocolate! I can assure you … Barcelona is an important stop on any chocolate lover’s quest. I met an incredible chocolate maker who will be profiled in detail in my upcoming book, Chocolatour. (Stay tuned to this blog for more info on that.)

But what I would like to focus on for this final post on Barcelona is the amazing chocolate museum you will find in this city of senses. The Museu de la X0colata is a must for any chocolate lover. You will learn about the history of chocolate, see an extensive assortment of equipment used for chocolate making, and be enticed and entertained by a broad assortment of chocolate creations. And yes … you can taste, buy, and even learn how to make chocolate on site.

You can taste, buy, and create chocolate at the Chocolate Museum

Spain plays a very important role in the history of chocolate

I’ve been to several chocolate museums around the world. Each has its own personality, just as every culture — and its chocolate — has its own unique personality.  What’s special about Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum is that it showcases life-like, and in some cases, life-sized chocolate creations that really show you how chocolate masters are using our favourite confection to entertain, inspire, and entice us with chocolate-based art. Here’s a look at some of the examples you will see!

chocolate gaucho and bull

global pop culture in chocolate

We didn’t have time to take a class at the museum (they hold chocolate making classes, and also special chocolate tasting and celebratory functions here.) But if you plan your visit ahead, you can do just that. Spend some time perusing their website to learn more.

Indeed, Barcelona is a city that will satisfy every one of your senses. I learned that one of my favourite celebratory libations, Freixenet, is made in the Catalan region of Penedés, just south of Barcelona! What goes better with decadent dark chocolate truffles than a glass (or two!) of dry sparkling wine? And Freixenet is the world’s number one sparkling wine! Learn how to pronounce Freixenet here.

Enjoy all of the pleasures of Barcelona, and be sure to visit this blog again during the week of December 20th (leading up to Christmas) when we’ll continue our chocolate quest with a visit to Torino, Italy.

First of all, let me say thanks to British Airways (BA) for bumping us up to Business Class for our chocolate adventure. Having that extra bit of comfort really made a difference for us being able to hit the ground running — or should I say … tasting! Much appreciated, and I can say with all sincerity that BA really knows what customer service is all about. They remain my first choice for overseas travel to the UK and northern Europe.

Now, for what you’ve been waiting for. A report on Chocolatour II. I must say it was wonderful in every way. Hats off to my friend, travelling companion, researcher and navigator extraordinaire, Virginia Heffernan, for getting us on the right trains at the right time to the right place. For having the most refreshing and encouraging smile on the planet, and for being able to stuff more chocolate (and other edible items) in her cheeks to make even the most enterprising squirrel envious with wonder. I would not be able to attempt a project of this magnitude where it not for the assistance of dedicated colleagues. (Thanks again to Kathe Lieber for being my tasting sidekick on the maiden voyage of Chocolatour.)

Doreen & Virginia enjoying an amazing meal at Sucre

We were also blessed with wonderful weather. Blue skies and above average temperatures were prevalent throughout the two-week, three-country chocolate extravaganza.

We began our adventure in Amsterdam. Although the Dutch are known for making fine chocolate, I must admit I was not overly excited about visiting Amsterdam. Why? I don’t know.  What I do know is that the city blew me away! It is strikingly beautiful. I was awe-struck by the extensive canal system. And by the number of bicycles! I’ve never seen so many bikes in my life, and was amazed at how the Dutch have been able to embrace the bicycle as a mode of transportation. Not just a recreational vehicle as we seem to think of it here in North America. We can definitely learn from them. But watch out! They’re not just out for a Sunday drive. Those 600,000 bikes are burning rubber, and if you don’t keep a keen eye in every direction, you’re likely to get in the way of one! (Some sources say there are more than 1,000,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, so whether it’s 600,000 or 1 million, let’s just say the presence of bicycles is everywhere, and a signature characteristic of this fine city.)

there is no shortage of bicycles in Amsterdam

I was also impressed by the culinary talent of Amsterdam. We met several interesting chocolatiers (whom you will read about in the book), and also some amazing chefs. I was particularly impressed by the worldclass creative talent of chef, Peter Scholte, owner of Sucre, a restaurant specializing in — you guessed it — sweet things.

the amazing chocolate & eucalyptus platter at Sucre

But chef Scholte does not limit his talent to producing remarkable desserts. He wowed us with a six-course meal, each course matched with a superb wine specially selected by his sommelier-partner, Aline.

Aline & Peter of Sucre

If you plan to visit Sucre, do make a reservation. The restaurant is extremely popular with locals and is full most evenings. More at www.sucrerestaurant.nl.

We were hosted by the Kings Villa Hotel, a small revitalized property located on Vondelpark, a beautiful greenspace fully utilized and appreciated by local residents and their pooches. The dining room at the Kings Villa was particularly picturesque and served a lovely breakfast.

the beautiful dining room at the King's Villa Hotel

That’s it for this entry. Much more to come! More travel info on Holland is available from the Netherlands Board of Tourism.

If you’ve been to Amsterdam, let me know your thoughts. What impressed you most about the city?

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