During the summer before my senior year of college, I interned at a non-profit in the Boston area. Since the nonprofit was small and underfunded, they depended a lot on the help of summer interns. There were about eight of us that summer, and we broke up into smaller teams, researching and writing about specific topics. I was paired with Yael, a smart and passionate young woman from Canada, and it didn’t take long for us to develop a special friendship. When the summer came to a close, Yael headed back to McGill University in Montreal but promised to reach out next time she visited her sister — who conveniently lives in DC!
Lucky for me, Yael visits DC fairly often and we’ve been able to grow our friendship over the past 10 years. She’s also my e-mail pen pal; we write each other long and meaningful emails several times per year. I was so glad when K and Yael hit it off the first time they met; the two are very different on many levels, but their friendship has an obvious ease. But thanks to busy schedules and expensive airfare, we haven’t been able to spend nearly enough time together over the years. So K and I were both touched when Yael made the long journey out to Vashon Island for our wedding in 2014.
I’m ashamed to say that it took over two years for K and I to return the gesture, and visit Yael in her current home city of Ottawa, Canada. But we finally got our act together and booked a weekend trip last month. While the two days flew by, Yael gave us a fantastic introduction to Ottawa’s beauty, culture, and food scene. We shared breakfast tacos, took a tour of Parliament, walked through the downtown area, ate at a hip new restaurant, and even watched Yael play in her curling club!
Like the good friend she is, Yael offered to bring me to a new ice cream shop in her neighborhood called Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen. She had mentioned it to me in an email a while back, telling me about the black-sesame ice cream and an innovative flavor made by soaking Froot Loops in milk. So, on Saturday afternoon, Yael and I made the 10-minute walk down her street to Moo Shu. It’s a small shop, tucked in a row of cute shops and restaurants in a bustling part of the neighborhood. The friendly-looking cat logo is quite welcoming, and I can imagine this place is packed on warm summer evenings. But, on this cold afternoon, I wasn’t surprised to see just a handful of people inside.
Inside, Moo Shu is quite trendy – sparsely decorated, clean lines, white walls, and a couple tall wooden tables. But you’ll notice lots of charming small details, like a collection of small plastic Chinese cats along the wall behind the counter. Its young owner, Liz Mok, spent her childhood in both Hong Kong and Vancouver and brings youthful Chinese flare to both her shop and food. While the focus is on ice cream, Moo Shu also serves wontons and rice during lunch.
Warm, sugary smells greeted me when I walked inside, thanks to the homemade cones cooking in the waffle iron behind the counter. The menu is quite short, with just a couple traditional flavors like Local Strawberry and Chocolate (which is vegan). I’d say that most of the flavors are on the unusual side, like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Froot Loops Cereal Milk, Vegan Apple Mint, and Black Sesame. There were two seasonal specials named for singers — “You Want It Darker” for Leonard Cohen (smoky sea salt + activated charcoal) and “Encore Un Soir” for Celine Dion (coffee with tarte au sucre).
Like many places in Ottawa, Moo Shu is very accommodating for those of us following gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan diets. Thus, I’m surprised that Yael had never noticed that Moo Shu’s homemade waffle cones are gluten-free and vegan! We were nearly giddy when I spotted those little GF and V markers. Despite the short menu, I had trouble selecting flavors. Black Sesame was a must, since – when done well – it’s one of my favorite favors. Celine Dion’s flavor sounded divine, but I decided to steer clear of the wheat in the pastry (which I can be sensitive to). In the end, I went with a small cone of Black Sesame and “You Want It Darker.” I wanted to know what this whole charcoal trend is about. Yael ordered a kid-sized cone of Ginger Vanilla Bean. The prices were reasonable, with my cone setting me back about Can$6.20 (including the $1.20 surcharge for a cone).
The verdict? Moo Shu may seem trendy, but their top-quality ice cream tastes timeless. Both scoops were my perfect consistency; frozen hard enough to be able to bite into, but creamy enough to melt quickly on your tongue. The “You Want It Darker” wasn’t my favorite; I liked the saltiness, but the activated charcoal tasted like sweet ash. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? The Black Sesame was nutty and toasty, with a bright and sweet aftertaste. It’s beautiful dark gray color made the ice cream seem oh-so-sophisticated. But the real star of my cone was the cone itself! Crunchy, light, and sweet, this cone was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.
How did Yael like the Ginger Vanilla Bean? As she put it, “I shouldn’t be afraid to try flavour pairings that I wouldn’t have thought went together, because clearly, tasty amazingness can happen when ginger and vanilla combine in silky smooth ice cream.”
Enjoying good ice cream with a good friend… does life get any better?
Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen
477 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON, Canada K2P 1Z2