Tag Archives: travel

Our Year in Review (2014)

2014 went by so fast! We can’t believe it has been almost two years since we started UCL. Here’s a review of our eventful year:

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We went to Canoe for Winterlicious.

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We learned about Nigerian cuisine for a school project.

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We went on a Vancouver food trip. This was Ricelessasian’s first time visiting  Vancouver.

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Baked a giant cupcake for a special girl’s birthday party!  

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Ricelessasian made a lot of colourful cupcakes.

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Although Matchachoco stayed in Vancouver, we met again in Los Angeles a few months later. We went on a food trip…again (lol).

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We made our own birthday cakes!

Ricelessasian’s birthday cake:

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Matchachoco’s birthday cake: 

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Virtual Thanksgiving Potluck with EatPrayBake 🙂

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We had a couple of pasta posts throughout the year 😛

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Ricelessasian made an edible Christmas tree.

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Looking forward to more food experiments in 2015! 🙂

Happy New Year!

– Underground Culinary Lab Team

Los Angeles Eats


Our trip to LA came and went! I don’t know about you, but sometimes the best part about a vacation is getting home, looking through all the photos taken and reminiscing about all the cool places that were visited. Naturally Ricelessasian and I did some research about which places to eat and visit (see reviews below). I’m really not sure if we ate more in Vancouver or in LA (haha!) I’m guessing Vancouver still, due to the number of days. Some more impromptu events that we came across on our trip were actually quite exciting and fun! For example, being in the midst of dozens of paparazzi at the Sin City 2 premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and randomly walking into the red-and-black themed afterparty at the historic Roosevelt Hotel. I’d say we definitely had our fair share into the glimpse of the Hollywood Life.

Enough about our sightseeing, and now about the FOOD…

– Matchachoco

A.) Matchachoco’s Reviews

1. Bouchon Bistro
235 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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I’ve heard a lot about Bouchon and of course, the reputation of Chef Thomas Keller. My introduction to his work began when my friend and I once tried to make his classic chocolate chip cookie recipe in Ad hoc cook book – they were so delicious! Unfortunately we weren’t able to go to another one of his amazing establishments, French Laundry, because it was quite far in Napa Valley, but I guess it’s somewhere to put on my bucket list for another trip!

We were presented with the baguette placed directly on the table (they have a famous Bouchon bakery downstairs). The crust was perfectly crunchy, yet the interior was soft and chewy. It was warm and the whipped butter was a lovely addition. My pet peeve is definitely a cold baguette or bread – and yes, some restaurants still serve them that way 😦

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We passed on the appetizers and went straight for their entrees. After hearing their specials from our friendly waiter (who reminded me of the comedian Dane Cook), I decided on the Flat Iron Steak with Arugula salad. Ricelessasian tried the Steak Frites with caramelized shallots and maître d’hôtel butter, their popular French entree. Steak Frites reminded me of the time I went to Paris in 2005. It is a classic dish – and you can’t go wrong!  Our waiter mentioned about truffle fries, but it didn’t occur to us that it was a substantial upgrade! Haha oh well. We were on vacation we figured. Ricelessasian and I were surprised at the large portion size of the Steak Frites, perhaps representative of American standards. Half of her plate was consumed by the thinly cut truffle fries, which we felt was a tad overwhelming and unnecessary to be paired with such a lovely piece of protein. Her steak was cooked perfectly, medium rare, and I would have to say the same for my lighter flat-iron steak salad.

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My favourite part about Bouchon was the ambiance. When we first arrived, we noticed there were three different parts to the European-style building – Bouchon Bakery, Bar Bistro and Bouchon Bistro, which is more fine dining upstairs. The hallway with the wine cellar leading up to the dining area was quite impressive, as well as the dining room with a high vintage blue and gold trimmed ceiling. The ambiance was casual chic and is fit for any occasion such as business lunches or even lunch with the girls!

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Rating:
Food: 4/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Service: 4.5/5

2. Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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At first glance, Osteria Mozza looks like a typical restaurant in a suburban area. I guess that’s why they say, never judge a book by its cover. The star-frequented joint is no stranger to the foodie world, owned by two mega chefs, Batali and restauranteur Bastaniach (Eataly). Not to mention that its head chef, Nancy Silverton, recently won the James Beard award and has been a key gastronome in the culinary world. Nestled on the left side of the restaurant is Pizzeria Mozza, a casual sister restaurant of the more upscale, Osteria Mozza.

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For the appetizer, the grilled octopus with potatoes and celery caught my attention. The octopus was unfortunately overseasoned with salt, despite being paired well with the acidity of shredded celery and lemon. Without a doubt, though, the octopus was grilled beautifully and was as tender as could be. I can forgive overseasoning, but not octopus that is overcooked and rubbery.

For the main course, I ordered the orecchiette with sausage and swiss chard. It had great flavours. The balance between the meaty flavour of the sausage and the subtleness of the swiss chard flavour was perfect. It was recommended by the chef (the waiter explained) to add bread crumbs on top of the pasta. I loved the extra crunch because it gave a more layered texture to the entire dish. The orecchiette was on the heavier side and I wish it was cooked a little more because the pasta texture was quite chewy (a little less al dente).

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I enjoyed the Bastianich Vespa Rosso (red wine) from Italy immensely. It was smooth, had very bold fruit flavours and had a hint of spiciness (gave it an extra kick!). I hope to buy a bottle of this one day!

The service was spotty at times, despite there being several waiters standing around. The waitress that was attending to my table was MIA later into the dinner service, and she was not there to give me my bill. Another waiter, however, was nice enough to take a photo for me.

I would recommend it partly for the food, but also for that slight chance you might see Adam Levine there one day! (We hear it’s his favourite).

Rating:
Food: 4/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5

B.) Ricelessasian’s Reviews

1. Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars
4234 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019

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I’ve been wanting to go to Matteo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars ever since I’ve randomly seen a photo of their wonderful popsicle display on Instagram. Matteo’s also offer a variety of bionicos (Mexican fruit salad), vegetable and fruit shakes, milkshakes, and sandwiches. Upon visiting Matteo’s, I got pretty excited about the assortment of flavours that they have, some which I never even thought of being popsicle flavours, such as tamarind and smoked milk.

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Out of curiosity, I tried out the leche quemada (smoked milk) popsicle. In the photo, it’s the white popsicle with a dark red layer at the bottom of the popsicle. Surprisingly, it tasted it exactly what it’s called, milk that has a smokey flavour! I initially didn’t like the taste of it, but as I kept eating it, it turned out alright. The smokiness certainly added an interesting layer to it, but what I really enjoyed about it was the milky and creamy flavour of it. I also liked the fact that they added a fruit layer at the bottom of the popsicle balance the creaminess.

My mom had the strawberry popsicle dipped in chocolate with shredded coconut. I liked how they put a fresh piece of strawberry at the bottom of the popsicle. I had a little taste of popsicle, and I preferred it to the smoked milk one. The strawberry popsicle complimented the chocolate. It also wasn’t too sweet or too sour; I thought it was just right.

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I wanted to try their other popsicle flavours, but I only got to go there once. If you’re in Los Angeles, and you have sweet tooth for something refreshing , I’d definitely recommend Matteo’s.

Rating:
Food: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Service: 4/5

2. Sprinkles Cupcakes
9635 S Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly HillsCA 90210

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Sprinkles was one of the dessert places I planned to visit during my stay in Los Angeles. I was curious to find out what was the big deal about Sprinkles, other than their signature cupcake look and their cupcake ATM.  The first time I passed by Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, there was a huge lineup outside of the store for ice cream. It turns out they are also famous for their ice cream and cookies.

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Matchachoco and I were looking forward to try their cupcake ATM, but upon learning that they charged more for the cupcakes at the cupcake ATM than the store, we decided to buy a cupcake at the store instead and just take pictures of the cupcake ATM (lol). The popular cupcake flavours were already out of stock at the cupcake ATM anyways. In case, you’re wondering how the cupcake ATM works, check out this video on Youtube.

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Matchachoco and I shared one red velvet cupcake. The cupcake had a nice hue of red. Overall, it was a good cupcake, but there was nothing really special about its taste. It also wasn’t as moist as other red velvet cupcakes we’ve tried before. I wasn’t a huge fan of the circular topping on the cupcake; I just didn’t like how it tastes like. On the plus side, it wasn’t overly sweet as we thought it would be, and it just had the right amount of frosting. Perhaps trying out their ice cream or cookies would have been a better option.

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Rating:
Food: 3/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Service: 4/5
(Plus points for creative marketing of cupcakes lol)

3. Churros Calientes
11521 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90025

Eating churros in Los Angeles wasn’t even part of the original plan. One day during our trip I decided to Google “Best churros in Los Angeles” after my mom said she wanted to eat churros. One of the churros places that appeared on my Google search was Churros Calientes. We decided to see for ourselves if it really was as good as Google claims.

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We had the plain churros with thick, hot chocolate for dipping, and another one with that was drizzled with dulce de leche.  We found that there wasn’t enough churros for the hot chocolate dip, so we ordered another batch of churros.

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Overall, I was very satisfied with their churros, along with the hot chocolate dip and the dulce de leche. My parents, on the other hand, thought that the hot chocolate dip could’ve been richer, and it wasn’t as good as the one we used to eat in the Philippines.

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An interesting fact I learned about Matchachoco during this trip was that she never really liked churros because she was only familiar with the greasy kind that was available at fairs. I think she has gained some respect for churros now after this experience.

Rating:
Food: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Service: 4/5

Vancouver Eats

In between our baking adventures for Sam’s birthday order, we decided to do a lot of sightseeing in Vancouver. Actually make that eating our way through the city for 7 days. There were so many more cafés and afternoon tea places that Matchachoco wanted to bring me, but I guess that will just have to wait for the next visit 😉

Matchachoco: yes, we forgot beta5chocolates, Earnest Ice Cream, Secret Tea Garden, and the list goes on….

collage IMG_4735Outpost Mini Donuts
110 – 12240 Second Avenue, Richmond, BC

Somewhere along the streets of Steveston is this lovely vintage looking store which sell mini donuts. We came in a bit early as the store was still closed, so we waited outside as we smelled the fragrance of fresh donuts being prepared. We got half a dozen of mini donuts containing lemon, blueberry, vanilla bean, and Canadian maple flavours. While we were disappointed with the vanilla bean mini donut, we savoured the lemon and blueberry mini donuts. We loved the concept of fresh mini donuts with a variety of flavours, as well as the interiors and display outside the store.

IMG_4660Timothy’s Frozen Yogurt
3800 Bayview Street, Richmond, BC V7E 6K7
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/timothys-frozen-yogurt-richmond

This was one of the best and freshest frozen yogurt desserts I’ve ever tried! Pictured here is a fresh blueberry frozen yogurt served with a waffle cone made fresh in store.  Sharing is not recommended 😉  I would definitely try their other flavours when I come back.

IMG_4744Steveston Pizza Co.
3400 Moncton St, Richmond, BC 

This pizza is kind of a funny story. As Matchachoco and I continued to roam around Steveston, we passed by Steveston Pizza Co. which we’ve heard has one of the best pizzas in Richmond. We came to the store intrigued about their menu (they have a $120 and $450 pizza!) and came just in time as we witnessed a family devour the extravagantly priced $120 seafood pizza in the store. The pizza looked appetizing and it was topped with a variety of fresh seafood such as Icelandic scampi and lobster ratatouille (we wish we had a photo of it). We also had a brief chat with the friendly owner and we were pleasantly surprised (somewhat shocked) that he offered to make us a generously-sized margarita pizza on the house.The pizza was piping hot and had a thin crust with lots of bocconcini cheese! You could definitely taste the freshness of all the ingredients. While it wasn’t the most expensive item on the menu (lol), it was truly one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

I later found out that Steveston’s $450 pizza has beaten Gordon Ramsay’s $148 pizza for the Guinness World Record title for the most expensive pizza in the world.

collage2The Stock Market (Granville Island)
1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC V6H3R9
http://www.thestockmarket.ca/

One of the best parts of my trip was going to Granville Island as I was mesmerized with the countless of food shops/stalls that they have. We had soup from The Stock Market (a huge props to the owners for creating such a witty name!). We got the Smoked Salmon Chowder and the Chicken Barley Soup. We found the Smoked Salmon Chowder to be too salty, but we enjoyed the Chicken Barley Soup as it was hearty and had a nice balance of earthy flavour (although we could be biased because we love barley!). Both soups came with fresh focaccia bread. I liked the bread and thought it paired well with both of the soups, but Matchachoco wished the bread could’ve been warmed.

IMG_4312collage4IMG_4320Black & Blue Steakhouse
1032 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2V6
http://www.glowbalgroup.com/blackblue/

This was a super heavy dinner! Pictured here are some of the dishes that we tried in addition to the meat selection display  (from top to bottom, left to right): Medium Rare Sirloin Steak, meat display, Stuffed Mushrooms, Blue Cheese Bread, Beef Carpaccio, and Surf & Turf. I never thought I would like raw beef, but that beef Carpaccio hit the spot. I also enjoyed the roasted brussels sprouts (not in photo) which had hint of sourness and was probably the lightest menu item we got (although Matchachoco thought it was too sour for her taste because of the balsamic vinegar). This place definitely has meat and seafood done right, but we found some of the dishes too rich and heavy.

IMG_4344IMG_4357IMG_4382IMG_4347Thierry
1059 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1A1
http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

Just across Black & Blue steak house is this crowded patisserie called Thierry. The place seems to be jam packed every time we passed by it. We came here quite late and they only had two flavours of macarons left: coffee and lime coconut (shown in the photo). I thought that their macarons were quite different from previous macarons I’ve had before as their macarons were relatively richer in taste and texture. The macaron shells were dense and had no air pockets whatsover (translation: it’s a sign of a good macaron and it’s not a rip off lol). Matchachoco and I weren’t a huge fans of the coffee macaron, but I enjoyed the lime coconut macaron. I gave some chocolates to my brother and he commented how shiny the chocolates were. I think most of the chocolates we got were dark chocolate based, and coming from a dark chocolate lover, Thierry gets a thumbs up.  We didn’t have any of the cakes and other pastries, but I was fascinated with their display. One of the cakes that particularly got my attention was the passion fruit cake (as shown in photo), which had mini macaron shells on the sides. I was really amused with how small they were able to pipe the macaron shells.

10346637_10152375598987969_6004380931402416712_nWhite Spot
1616 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC
http://www.whitespot.ca/

After a long bike ride at Stanley Park, we were starving, so we headed to White Spot. We decided on White Spot because it was a certain professor’s favourite burger place in Vancouver (haha). We had the Monty Mushroom Bigger Burger each and shared the salad and sweet potato fries which came as side dishes with the burgers. I was quite impressed with Spot’s salad (fresh arugula with honey sherry dressing, cranberries, toasted almonds and sunflower seeds) that came on the side. I thought it was just going to be a regular salad! Although we both enjoyed our meals, we couldn’t finish all of it even if we were starving. It was a heavy meal 😛

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collageIMG_4037Miku Restaurant
#70 – 200 Granville St, Vancouver, BC
http://www.mikurestaurant.com/

Our photos just don’t give justice to how good our dinner at Miku was! Matchachoco and I were struggling to take photos of the food as it was quite dark in the restaurant. Regardless, the view of the Waterfront from Miku was spectacular at night. Matchachoco and I love this place and of course the food! My favourite dishes were the Nutrigreens Farm Tofu Salad, Soba Pepperoncino, and the Salmon Oshi Sushi. The Nutrigreen Farms Tofu Salad definitely goes on my list of favourite salads ever 😛 The texture of the scrambled tofu and the crispy tempeh just goes well with the tangy salad with Japanese flavours. We also loved the freshness of the seafood in the Soba Pepperoncino and the Salmon Oshi Sushi. The sauce they used for the Salmon Oshi Sushi as well as the jalapeno topping really compliment the sushi combination.

imageimageNew Town Bakery
6360 No 3 Rd, Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
http://www.newtownbakery.ca/

We were recommended to try the Chicken Deluxe (Bola Bola) steamed buns at New Town Bakery. The bun was pretty huge, so Matchachoco and I shared the bun for brunch as we were travelling (there was just not enough time to go to all the amazing places in Vancouver lol). The bun had a juicy meat filling, but it wasn’t very rich, which I really liked.

IMG_5595IMG_5593La Patisserie
6360 Number 3 Rd, Richmond, BC V6Y 2B3
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/la-patisserie-richmond

I got pretty excited when we went to La Patisserie. I noticed that they had a variety of cake flavours which I don’t usually find in Chinese Bakeries in Toronto (e.g. blueberry, lychee, and something that had wasabi in it). While I didn’t get to try their breads and other pastries, Matchachoco and I got to try a variety of their cake flavours. Pictured here are: blueberry, green tea, mango, chocolate, taro, strawberry, and black sesame. The cakes were very light and not too sweet, which is typical in Chinese bakery cakes. Although we were impressed with the flavour choices they had, we weren’t as impressed with how the flavours were incorporated into most of the cakes that we got. For example, the strawberry one tastes a bit ‘artificial’. However, we really enjoyed the taro and fresh mango cakes (which everyone raves about). The taro cake tastes similar to an ube cake with cream, while mango cake reminded me of one of my favourite mango cakes when I was a kid.

imageTasty Kitchen
8300 Capstan Way, Suite 1226, RichmondBC V6X 4B5
http://www.yelp.ca/biz/tasty-kitchen-richmond

This is a relatively new restaurant that I learned about from Matchachoco’s dad. Since we already tried other different cuisines on this trip, we decided to go to this traditional Cantonese restaurant. We had Pepper Beef which was served with some vegetables. I thought it was one of the best dishes of the night.  The beef chunks were so tender and the onions and mushrooms accompanied the earthy flavours of the eggplant very well. We also tried the lobster which is a must-try in Vancouver. It was cooked Asian-style with soya sauce and thin egg noodles. I also enjoyed the steamed Cantonese White Cut Chicken with green onion & garlic dipping sauce. Hopefully this restaurant is still around when I visit Vancouver again since I heard this location has changed restaurants many times!

-Ricelessasian

Carlo’s Bake Shop

I’m huge fan of Cake Boss, so imagine the hype and excitement I went through when I finally got the chance to visit the famous Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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I went to the bake shop twice during my stay in New Jersey. I initially went on a Friday evening, but I decided to go back again on a Monday afternoon because they didn’t have the lobster tail pastries anymore when I went there on Friday. Weekends were to be avoided because I’ve read that the line-up can get really bad on the weekends. The bake shop was packed during both visits, but it wasn’t as bad as the 3-4 hour line up I’ve read online. Surprisingly, there was no line-up outside the bake shop when I went there on Friday, but there was a line up outside when I came there on Monday. I was lucky enough that I came earlier on Monday, because the line-up behind me got worse.

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Arriving inside Carlo’s Bake Shop, you’ll see an abundance of desserts and souvenir items. It’s a shame that the place was so crowded that you wouldn’t be able to marvel at the desserts in peace. It takes skills to be able to take photos of the desserts without anyone photobombing it.

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Pictured here are lobster tail pastries, vanilla cupcake with fudge frosting, and cannoli.

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Hands down to the cannoli! I’ve tasted a couple of cannoli before and I never really liked them, but the ones from Carlo’s Bake Shop were the best I’ve had. It was so good that it was my favourite out of the desserts I’ve sampled from the bake shop. The cannoli shells remained crispy and the filling was on the creamy side, rather than the ricotta cheese side. It was different from cannoli I’ve tried before. They also had cannoli shells covered in chocolate which were also really good, but I thought that it was too rich.

The lobster tail was also a noteworthy pastry that I tasted. It consists of a custard filling wrapped around a crisp pastry shell shaped like a lobster’s tail. It tasted like the crispy version of a cream puff. My parents said that the pastry shell stayed crisp even after eating it the day after. This was one of the pastries recommended by many to try when you visit Carlo’s Bake Shop (that’s why I went back on Monday), and they were right about it.

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Of course let’s not leave the cake part as this post is about Cake Boss’ bakery. We got a mini tiramisu cake and my parents really liked it. My brother and I shared a vanilla cupcake with fudge frosting and a chocolate cupcake with fudge frosting. We got fudge frosting because my brother loved their fudge frosting. I thought that the frosting tasted like the typical fudge frosting, but this one softens at room temperature. Both vanilla and chocolate cakes were very moist, just like how it’s supposed to be. I found that the cakes had a very distinct flavour that I just can’t seem to describe, though it’s not bad. At first I thought it was because of salt, but now I’m not sure.

I got a variety of Italian cookies to bring home to Canada to share with friends. I’m not really that familiar with Italian cookies, but it seems like most of the cookies had the same cookie base only differentiated by shape, garnish, filling, and colour.

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Next time, I hope to visit Carlo’s Bake Shop with Matchachoco and to actually see Buddy in person 😛

-Ricelessasian

Address:

Carlo’s Bake Shop
95 Washington St
Hoboken, NJ