Friday, October 26, 2012

Ruffles Chips

My favorite chips back when I was a kid were Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream (or perhaps Cape Cod chips, those still hold a special place in my heart!)  I loved the addicting tang from the sour cream, and the cheesy goodness.

It was time to try them out again, along with their baked counterparts.  I appreciated them for the nostalgia, but, turns out, my tastes have changed. 

  • Baked! Cheddar and Sour Cream: These were unlike any other baked chips that I've had in that they were still ruffles, so they had ridges.  They were basically a healthier, more potato-y tasting Ruffle.  The sour cream flavor was very strong, the cheddar flavor was ok.  Not bad for a healthier chip, but not really something I want more of.
  • Cheddar and Sour Cream: Just like I remember!  Great flavor.  [ Yup, exactly what I remember, except that I don’t really like them now :( ]
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cako Cupcakes

Cako is a small cupcake chain, with a handful of locations in San Francisco and throughout the bay area.  I've walked by their shops a number of times, as they have a location at the Metreon, one in the food court at the Westfield, and one near Union Square.

The Cako location in the Metreon also offers ice cream, with most flavors featuring some of the cupcakes broken up in them, a play on cake and ice cream.  I've tried several of their flavors, but haven't ever found an one that I've really liked, as they have mostly have been fairly unremarkable and not very creamy.

I do love cupcakes though, and their cupcakes are always on prominent display, and look quite tempting.  I've almost bought some on many occasions.  I don't tend to purchase cupcakes very often though, as I get them regularly at work, and vary rarely find others as good.  But, I went to an event where Cako was catering, so I got to try out a few minis, no strings attached.  I'm glad I never purchased any in the stores, as they weren't very good.
Mini Back to Basics. Mini Strawberry Cheesecake. $2 each.
The Back to Basics is just that ... the most basic cupcake you can get, vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.  I actually really like vanilla/vanilla cupcakes, and use them as a judge for many cupcake shops.

This cupcake wasn't particularly good, although it was much better than the one from Cups and Cakes Bakery.  It didn't have that much vanilla flavor, but the cake was nice and moist.  The frosting was very sweet, but again, not very vanilla-y.

The Strawberry Cheesecake was a big disappointment.  It sounded great, "a perfect proportion of real blended strawberries, and the finest cream cheese we could find".  But, the cake didn't really have any strawberry flavor to it, and if blindfolded, I doubt I could have distinguished it from the vanilla.  Again though, the cake was moist.  The frosting was very cream cheese-y, but had a really strange consistency and I really didn't like it at all.
S'mores Cupcake.  $3.25.
A co-worker brought in some full size cupcakes, so I got to try one of them as well.  This looked delicious!  A chocolate cupcake with toasted marshmallow frosting.

The cake was moist, but not really remarkable.  The topping was fluffy, and marshmallowy, but it all slid off in my first bite. Meh.
[ No Photo ]
Red Velvet Cupcake.

"Moist, rich red velvet cake accompanied by our signature cream cheese frosting."  Tasting notes: The cake was indeed moist, like all of their cupcakes.  It had a subtle red velvet flavor.   It was fine, but the frosting was not.  It again had that really strange mouthfeel like on the strawberry cheesecake cupcake.  It didn't taste that cream cheesy, but the real issue was just the consistency, it was like toothpaste.  Did not like.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dinner at Marlowe

Tonight we returned to Marlowe for the first time in several years, to again have the famed burger.

It was a good meal, although quite heavy. Everything we had contained cheese, bacon, browned butter, cream, or all of the above :)  Overall, most things were good, but nothing blew me away.  As a complete package though it worked - good apps, good burger, good dessert.  I'd go back, but am not in a rush to do so, although there were several menu items I missed out on that I'm definitely interested in trying.

The restaurant was very loud.  Not sure exactly what was wrong acoustically, but I think that one of my friends only heard about 10% of what I said during the meal, as he was seated furthest away.  Other than that, the ambiance was typical SOMA, a little trendy, with communal tables, specials written on a paper scroll, and nice touches like coat hooks built in.  Prices were very reasonable.

My biggest complaint is with the temperature of the food we received - several things arrived lukewarm.  I'm not sure if the kitchen was having a hard time, or if our food was sitting in the pass and our waitress wasn't picking it up to bring it to us, but it definitely harmed the tastiness.
Baked Oysters: "New England chowder in a shell", topped with bacon and breadcrumbs.  $3 each.
I'm not a huge fan of raw oysters, but baked oysters I can get behind.  Particularly when there is bacon involved!


These might have been awesome, except that they were served lukewarm at best. I'm not sure if it was the fault of the kitchen or our waitress, but these were really far too cold when they reached us. In retrospect, I wish we had said something, as they were obviously wrong.

This was basically an oyster chowder, served in the shell. Flavors were good and it was creamy. The bacon was a nice salty touch. The ratio of breadcrumb was off though - way too much bread crumb.

I'd be tempted to order these again in the future to see what they are like at the proper temperature.  $3 each seemed like a fine price, and I liked that you could order them individually, not forced to order a plate of 6 or whatever.

Warm Deviled Egg: Aged provolone, pickled jalapeño & bacon.  $1.50 each.
These are one of their signature dishes, a warm deviled egg.  I skipped it on this occasion as I'd recently had it at the Taste of the Nation event.  $1.50 is a fine price, and again I like that you can order as many (or few) as you want.
Twice Baked Dungeness Crab Soufflé : rock shrimp sauté, fines herbe, wine butter sauce.  $13.
This was the dish I was most excited about for the evening.  Souffle!  Crab!  Yes, please!

Except ... this was pretty mediocre/poor. The rock shrimp and crab meat in the wine butter sauce around the souffle were much better than the souffle itself. The souffle just didn't really have anything going for it - not light and fluffy, not cheesy, not crabby, just ...  not really anything.

This dish just made me want to go to Cafe Jaqueline!
Marlowe Burger: caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli & fries.  $14.
Ah, the Marlowe Burger. This is sorta why we were here. Listed as one of the top burgers in the city on basically every list, raved about by food critics, etc.

It was good, but certainly not the best burger I've had even in the past few weeks.

The bun seemed a little too big and thick for the size of the patty, I had many bites that were just bun.

The meat itself was grilled very well, it had a lovely seared crust on the outside, without cooking the inside too much (this was ordered medium-rare). It was decently juicy. The quality of the meat didn't seem great though - not particularly flavorful and some of my bites were strangely chewy, like the meat hadn't been ground consistently.

The cheddar and bacon were delicious, and I liked how much lettuce was on it as well. I didn't really get any of the caramelized onions though, which is too bad, as I tend to love them.

The fries were good, nice and crisp on the outside, decent seasoning. However, mine were fairly cold even when I first received my plate. (Actually, hmm, the burger was also not all that hot now that I think about it.) Again, not sure who the place the blame with here, but I was surprised that the fries were actually cold when I had one the moment the plate was set down in front of me.

The horseradish aioli was decent, I liked the kick from the horseradish, but the aioli itself was a little thick and flavorless.

$14 was an ok price for a burger with good components at a restaurant like this, but I have had much better cheaper burgers.
Smoky Cauliflower Gratin: aged provolone & smoked cheddar.   $9.
This was basically mac and cheese, but with cauliflower instead of mac.

Delicious!

Ridiculously cheesy ... I actually think there was too much cheese melted on top, but once you got past that layer, there was a really nice creamy cheesy sauce, with a complex flavor from the smoky cheddar. This was far tastier than any mac and cheese I've had in ages.

Protip: dip your fries in the cheese sauce. Yum!

Savory dish of the evening, and I'd get it again.  Price was about right.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta Affogato with amaretto & lemon biscotti.  $7.
All of the desserts are served in little mason jars.

This was a cute play on an affogato. Except instead of ice cream, it was panna cotta.

I didn't really like it. The espresso flavor was nice, but the panna cotta was very boring.  And I love panna cotta!  The biscotti was actually pretty bad and flavorless, we left them unfinished. A cute idea paired with the espresso, but they just weren't good.

$7 is a good price for dessert at a restaurant in this range.
Strawberry & Brown Butter Rhubarb Crisp, with bourbon ice cream & brown butter caramel sauce.  $7.

YUM!

I knew that this would be served in a jar so I wasn't expecting a fruit crisp with ice cream on the side or anything, but I was expecting something a little more crisp like, given that it was called a "Strawberry and Brown Butter Rhubrarb Crisp". But who cares, it was delicious!

The bourbon ice cream was creamy and had a decent boozy flavor. The brown butter caramel was sweet and delicious.  I only got a tiny bite with the strawberry/rhubarb component, but it was flavorful and seemed to work well.

I easily could have devoured another one of these myself.  Best dish of the night, and a good price, although it was a little on the small side!

[ Originally posted Feb. 6, 2012. ]
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dessert from Red Balloon

Red Balloon is a Nicaraguan restaurant, located in the Mission.  I found them on LevelUp, and was interested when I saw one of their desserts: fried yucca puffs!  I've had a thing for root veggies lately, and I obviously always have a thing for desserts, so these sounded intriguing.  I had no idea what to expect.

The restaurant was small and uncrowded.  The server was very friendly.  Soft music was playing, incense burning.  Decor was nice, with wooden tables.  The bathroom didn't seem to match the place at all, as it was super modern, with one of those freestanding glass bowl sinks.

I only ordered the yucca puffs, and I got them to go, so I can't comment much more on the establishment itself.
Buñuelos.  $2.50.
The description on the menu said: "buñuelos, fried yuca puffs".  I had known buñuelos as little donuts, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I think I pictured something like a ball of fried pieces of yuca.  Or like really poofy yuca chips.  Although, I wasn't sure how that would be a dessert.

Anyway, these looked exactly like little donuts.  But, apparently the dough was made from yuca?  They were freshly fried to order, and were piping hot.  I was excited for them, as I'd recently been craving donuts.  Unfortunately, I really didn't like them.  They just tasted really fried.  And the dough was tough and flavorless.  They were served with a sweet syrup as well, which I think may have been honey.  It didn't really help.

Disappointing, but since I've never had Nicaraguan buñuelos before, I have no idea if these were poorly done, or just not something I like.  The serving was two small donuts, which seemed a little steep for the price, particularly given that my bill was actually $3.29, even though the menu said $2.50 (which exceeded my $3 LevelUp credit!)  I didn't ask about it, but I somewhat wish I had.  I clearly wouldn't get these again.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Catering by Bamboo Asia

I recently attended an event catered by Bamboo Asia.  I had low expectations, as I'd checked out the restaurant once, and walked out about as quickly as I'd walked in, without actually getting anything.

It is a quick service establishment, divided into several stations: India, Vietnam, Japan.  Everything is already prepared and in big vats, and you just select which things you want combined together, and they slap it together for you.  For example, at the India station, you can create a rice bowl, a tortilla wrap, or a salad, with your choice of Indian-inspired veggies (chickpeas, lentils, cauliflower), proteins (tandori chicken, paneer), and curry sauce.  In the Vietnam section, you can again create a salad or a rice bowl, but also a banh mi sandwich or noodle bowl, and the proteins switch out to be shaking beef, sesame chicken, or lemongrass pork, the veggies turn into things like bok choy, and the curries are coconut and peanut inspired.  And then Japan of course has the same salad or rice bowl options, but adds on sushi, with tuna, salmon, tempura shrimp, etc for proteins, avocado, cucumber, etc for veggies, and wasabi mayo, teriyaki, etc for sauces.

On my visit, none of it looked appealing or remotely fresh, I had no faith in a place serving such varied cuisines.  I hadn't ever really given a thought about them since.

It turns out they also do catering, and when I saw that they had catered the event I was attending, I was a little disappointed   And quite honestly, nothing at the event looked good either.  I wish I had a photo of the platters, everything was plated up on platters loaded with completely wilted, shredded lettuce.  And it was all served cold.  Very unappealing.  We had some selections from the Indian and Vietnamesse sections of the menu.

While the proteins met my expectations of being fairly low quality, I was absolutely shocked at how tasty everything was.  The sauces and spicing were really quite good.  Hmm.  Maybe I will actually check the place out sometime.  And, they are on LevelUp (although they only give $1 starter credit!)
Vegetable Samosa.
I started with the Indian choices.  First up, was a veggie samosa.  Since it was catered, these were cold.  And there were no sauces served with them.  I'm not even sure why I tried this, given how low my expectations were.  I guess I was mostly just curious.

And I'm glad I was.  The shell was nice and crispy, the inside was a standard mix of mostly potato, but it was really well spiced.  It certainly would have been better warm, or with some chutneys, but it wasn't bad at all.  My second to least favorite of the night, because I wanted it served warm or with accompaniments.  This is not part of their regular menu, only the catering menu.
Mini Paneer Wrap.
This was a mini version of what you could create full size.  A wheat tortilla, filled with tandori paneer, greens, and two curry sauces.

The tortilla was a little strange.  Not really what I associate with indian food, and it wasn't roti style, it really was just a generic tortilla.  It was a little bit gummy.  That part was really not good.

But inside, was nicely cooked, firm, tasty tandoori paneer.  I love paneer, and thought this was better executed paneer than I find in most indian restaurants.  Again, it would have been better warm, but it well done.

There were two curry sauces, a green one that I believe was spinach, and a red one that I think was tomato based.  They were both creamy and flavorful, with a little bit of spice.

I really liked the paneer and sauces in here, but it was my third pick of the night due to the tortilla.  I can imagine trying one of the paneer bowls at the eatery.
Shrimp Spring Roll.
Then I moved on to the Vietnamesse selections.  There were assorted spring rolls, shrimp or tofu.  I bravely went for the shrimp, mostly because I don't really like tofu.

It was filled with crisp, flavorful veggies.  I was shocked at how fresh they tasted.  I actually didn't really notice any shrimp, but it must have been in there somewhere.  Again, not served with any sauces on the side, which would have made it better, but it did have a little spicing inside of it.  Not remarkable, but not bad either.  Least favorite of the night.

They also had chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce.  The chicken really didn't look good, but I got some of the sauce, and tried to use it with my spring rolls.  It was not very good, kinda thick, and just gloopy.
Coconut Sesame Chicken Bahn Mi.
Ok, this one looked horrible.  And I don't like chicken.  Again, I have no idea why I bothered trying this!

I was so incredibly surprised.  The bread was a "country french roll", crusty on the outside, super soft on the inside.  Like the spring roll, it had amazingly crisp carrots and diakon, slightly pickled, with a good tartness to them.  The chicken was in sweet sesame sauce, which I didn't really taste, and it was all thigh meat, which I didn't care for.  That aspect was pretty meh.  But there was also a ton of coconut curry sauce, that was creamy, slightly spicy, and delicious. This shocked me so much.  Second favorite of the night.
Shaking Beef Bahn Mi.
Well, after the surprise with the chicken one, I went back to try the shaking beef version.  Since these really looked horrible, no one else was eating them, so there were plenty left for me to check out!

Like the chicken version, the roll was again really quite good.  And it had the same crispy pickled vegetables, and some crunchy pieces of wonton.  The beef was thinly sliced, tender, but otherwise not that great.  But the sauce.  Oh the sauce.  Are you noticing a theme here?  They called it "spicy tomato sauce".  It was creamy, super spicy, delicious.  I could have gladly just had the delicious bread, this sauce, and the crispy veggies.  Who needs the beef?  My favorite of the night.
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

World's Finest Chocolates

This past week, one of my co-worker's children came in doing a fundraiser for school, selling "The World's Finest Chocolate".  Now, I was pretty skeptical that these chocolates would measure up to their name, but he was trying to win a limo ride to In-N-Out for being a top seller.  Perhaps this doesn't sound all that interesting, but back in my day, I won pretty much the exact same thing.  Sure, we were selling Toblerone, and our limo ride was to Wendy's (my first time ever there!), but I still remember it as one of the most amazing experiences of my childhood.  I felt like a celebrity.  I got to ride in a LIMO.  ZOMG.  So I wanted to make this child's dreams come true.

As I expected, this was not "The World's Finest Chocolate", but it was actually far better than I anticipated.  Each type sold for $2 a piece.  I certainly wouldn't ever go buy this in a store, but if another child came around doing fundraising, there were a few that weren't bad that I'd get again.
Assortment of their offerings.
  • Mint Meltaways: "Milk chocolate shell with a smooth chocolate center flavored with mint."  Tasting notes: I'm not sure what they meant by "smooth chocolate center", as the center was basically the same as the outside, and not really smooth.  Slight minty flavor.  Meh.  Least favorite of their chocolates.
  • Caramel Whirls: "The sweetest, most indulgent caramel center imaginable, engulfed in creamy milk chocolate."  Tasting notes: Creamy milk chocolate shell, filled with mediocre caramel.  Fairly generic, but not bad. Second to least favorite.
  • Continental Almonds: "Premium almonds roasted in pure cocoa butter, then drenched in milk chocolate."  Tasting notes: Very creamy milk chocolate coating.  Falls strongly in the very milky, mild, questionable amount of actual chocolate range, but if that is the style of milk chocolate you like, it is pretty good.  The coating was very thick, so you really tasted the chocolate.  The almonds had a nice flavor, and were crunchy.  Third favorite.
  • Milk Chocolate with Almonds Bar: "Creamy, smooth milk chocolate and roasted California almonds team up to make an extraordinary chocolate experience."  Tasting notes: More creamy, smooth milk chocolate, with little bits of fairly flavorful roasted almonds.  Second favorite.
  • WF Crisp Bar: "Creamy World's Finest ® Chocolate blended with crunchy crisped rice."  Tasting notes: And more creamy, smooth milk chocolate, filled with crispy rice.  Reminded me of a Hershey Krackel bar.  The crisp rice was kinda addictive.  This surprised me!  My favorite of their chocolates.
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