Friday, August 30, 2013

Dole Fruit Crisps

I eat a lot of fruit, but it is generally fresh.  I'm spoiled living in Northern California, with a serious abundance of amazing fruit.  Sometimes I'll eat dried fruit, but canned?  No way.  Probably the only one of Dole's packaged products I'd ever even had before is the canned pineapple (which, as a child, I actually thought was the only way pineapple came - lols!).  But the fruit crisp line sounded great, in name anyway, as crisps are one of my favorite desserts.  If they were even halfway decent, I was sold, since nothing gets easier than opening up a package!

So yes, Dole Fruit Crisps are a totally random, totally generic grocery store item and ...  I really do like them!  I struggled deciding how to label these amazing cups of goodness.  One could argue that they make for a good breakfast (I certainly justified it to myself!).  Dole's marketing mostly positions them as a snack item.  Anyone who looks at the sugar content probably considers them dessert.  Regardless of what time of day you want to eat them, you should do just that: eat them!

Besides the sugar content, some of which obviously comes from the fruit (but there is added sugar), they are fairly healthy.  I won't tell you they are a health food item obviously, but they are fairly low fat, low calorie, and satisfying.  If you were having one for dessert, it would be a very guilt free item!
The fruit crisps come in several flavors: apple cinnamon, apple pear, and peach.  Each are standard Dole fruit packed in a fruit syrup, with a separate container of crumbled oat and brown sugar topping.  They are individually packaged, with two separate compartments, like those crazy yogurts with mix-ins, the crumble topping on top.

The packaging emphasizes how versatile they are, and I actually agree.  You can eat them at room temperature, making them a good snack/dessert to pack on a trip (imagine how jealous your seatmates will be on your next flight when you bust out apple crisp next to them!) or in a child's lunchbox.  You can stick them in the fridge and eat them chilled.  Or the containers are even microwave safe, so you can heat them up.  Who doesn't love warm fruit crisp?

You may wonder why I even encountered these in the first place.  I read about them a while ago, tons of rave reviews.  Perhaps my all time favorite dessert is warm fruit crisp served with ice cream.  Of course, I regularly eat warm fruit crisp, made with fresh, in season, local produce.  Why would I ever buy these?  Let's just call it a moment of weakness at the grocery store.  I went for the apple cinnamon, so it was chunks of apples, in a syrup, with cinnamon spicing.  To be honest, I had very low expectations, even though the internet was full of raving reviews.  I laughed at the fact that I was even purchasing packaged fruit.  I have no idea when I last ate something like this.

I wanted to evaluate them simply at first, and tried one right out of the fridge.  First I tried a bite of just the fruit.  It wasn't soggy.  It wasn't too crisp.  Hmm.  Clearly not fresh apples, but, not bad.  The syrup wasn't standard fruit syrup that canned fruit is packed in, instead, it was thicker, more like what belongs in a crisp.  It was sweet for sure, but nicely spiced with cinnamon.  Hmm.  Not bad.  I probably wouldn't want to just eat a cup of the fruit, as it was pretty sweet, but it was far better than expected.

Then I opened my crisp topping.  This is where I can be a serious snob.  When I get crisps at restaurants and the topping isn't actually crispy, or is just oats and not well spiced, I get so grumpy.  You may also recall that I've been on a quest to find granola I really enjoy, and I've been striking out over and over.  So, I really didn't think this would be much to write home about, and is clearly something I have opinions on.

I was wrong.  The topping was fantastic.  It was crunchy.  It was slightly sweetened, with a fantastic brown sugar flavor, not just sweet.  I could sprinkle on as much as I wanted.  And even better, there was plenty of it.  I had leftovers each time, and used it for other things later - topping for my own fruit crisp, stirred into yogurt, sprinkled over ice cream.  If I could buy just that topping, I would.

My first enjoyment of one of these was at breakfast, as I just couldn't wait.  Besides the sugar, it really isn't that bad as a breakfast item: fruit, whole grain oats, seems ok to me!  Add a dollop of yogurt and it turns into a complete breakfast.  I had half of one cold, while waiting for the other half to warm up (in the toaster oven, not in the microwave as they suggest ... because, seriously who uses microwaves?)  I actually preferred it cold, which surprised me, as I'm always a fan of warm crisp.  Perhaps as a breakfast item it made more sense cold?  Either way, a dollop of yogurt on top was nice to cut the sweetness, and convince my brain I was having breakfast, not dessert.

But of course, I really wanted to try it warm, with ice cream, as a dessert.

So, a few days later, I warmed up another one.  Sprinkled on the topping, and baked it that way.  It smelt great.  I took my first bite, and again, didn't like it much when it was warm.  It is like the sweetness just gets concentrated or something.  But the moment I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was great!  Warm, sweet, decently spiced fruit.  Crunchy, equally well spiced topping.  Cold, creamy vanilla ice cream.  Quite tasty and satisfying.  Honestly, better than many crisps I've had at fancy restaurants.  This is clearly the winning way to enjoy it.

I found an individual serving too small.  It was gone in only a few bites!  I wanted more, more, more.  Yes, I licked the lid and scraped out every last drop.  I guess this is partially how they keep the nutrition stats fairly reasonable, and I do think they are mostly intended for children.  I did like that they provided plenty of the delicious oat topping though, no skimping there.

Will I go buy more of these?  Probably not, as I have access to plenty of fruit crisps regularly.  But if I didn't, they honestly weren't bad.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Private Event Dining @ Wayfare Tavern

The news just broke that one of my favorite chefs, Joey Elenterio, has joined the kitchen at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern.  I'm beyond excited.  My absolute top meal of 2012 was at Chez TJ, when he was the chef there.  Since he left Chez TJ, I've been anxiously awaiting the news to find out where he would wind up.  I was hoping it would be in San Francisco.  And it is!  I can't wait to see what he does with the menu and concept there.

But before he started, I attended a special event at Wayfare Tavern.  It had been a couple years since I last visited.  I only had vague memories of my previous visit.  I remembered the warm popovers in place of standard bread service.  I remembered that everyone loves their fried chicken.  I remembered that I thought the burger was just too fatty, with too much cheese, too greasy.  But I also remembered that the dessert was insanely good.

But back to this visit, for a special event. It was held in one of their private rooms, the Bartlett Room, a really nice space.  Rich mahogany panelling, hardwood floors, a private bar, attached private bathrooms.  Overlooking a wine cellar.  Really a great venue, particularly suited for a business lunch, as it has flat screen TVs with audio/visual hookups for presentations.

On our tables was a printed menu with a starter, 3 entrees, a side, and a dessert listed, so I thought we'd all select which entree we wanted.  I was confused when no one came to take our orders, and food just started showing up.  The entire meal was all done family style, with insane portions.  Each person really did receive a full starter, 3 entrees, a side, and a dessert.  It was a bit crazy.

The service was ok, but the way the food was brought out was really strange.  Some tables were served long before others, the side came out way ahead of the entrees, and we had a really long lag before the last entree.  Since I actually only wanted that one (I didn't want the fried chicken or the burger), it was really awkward, as I had no idea when it would be arriving, and it of course arrived last, after a really long lag.  They seem to do lots of group events like this, but the service was really not polished.
Lemonade.
Since this was a business lunch event, we were offered only soft drinks, iced tea, and lemonade rather than alcohol.  Since I'm not really a soda person, and I didn't want the caffeine, I went for lemonade.

This was not good lemonade, it was very, very sweet, and not tart.  It tasted like it came from a mix.  I did not like it at all.
Fresh Popover.
One of Wayfare's signature items is their fresh popovers, delivered at the start of a meal instead of basic bread.  Served with butter and salt on the side.

These were good popovers.  I was impressed that they were delivered so fresh and steaming hot, even to a large group of our size.  They were light and fluffy, slightly eggy.

The butter on the side was hard, but since the popovers were still so hot, it melted easily into them.

Good, but, I felt like something was missing.  Since it was served with only butter, I wanted some herbs or ... something.  Or maybe I just want popovers for breakfast with jam instead.
Di Stefano Burrata, Summer Harvest Caponata, Grilled Sourdough, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 
Since this was a large event, everything was served family-style.

Under the massive amount of burrata was grilled sourdough crostini.  It was very crunchy, and made the dish very hard to eat with knife and fork.  It seemed more like finger food, except that there was so much topping that it made it hard to eat that way too.

The burrata, as I hoped, was creamy and delicious.  Man, I love burrata.  I was amused at my tablemates, most of whom didn't know what burrata was, had never heard of it, and eventually concluded that it was mozzarella.  I tried to explain that no, it wasn't just mozzarella, but they didn't believe me.  They are missing out!

On top of the burrata was a "summer harvest caponata", made up of eggplant, pine nuts, olives, capers. It was very flavorful, but I didn't think it went all that well with the burrata.

Overall, this dish was ok, but really all that I liked was the burrata itself.  It also seemed like it was missing something, and in this case, I really think it needed some olive oil, which was listed on the menu, but wasn't present in the dish (besides on the crostini).   I probably wouldn't order this again.
Grilled Asparagus.
For a side dish, we had a platter of grilled asparagus.  The amount of asparagus for our table size seemed pretty off.  Most of us got only 1-2 spears.  I was trying to not be greedy, even though I really wanted more.  The last person to receive the platter actually didn't get any.

It was ok grilled asparagus, nothing spectacular, topped with bread crumbs.  On the regular lunch menu for $8.  I wouldn't get it again.
WayFare burger “Le Grand”: Grilled Onions, Smoked Bacon, Garlic Aioli, Brie Cheese, Brioche.
The first entree was a huge platter of their famous fried chicken, with enough for every person to have about 2 pieces.  Since I knew how much other food was coming, and I don't really like chicken, I skipped it.  But my tablemates seemed to think it lived up to the hype. It looked fresh and crispy.

The next entree was a platter of burgers.  This was really weird to have family style.  Each burger was cut in half, so each person got half a burger.

The burger is another one of their signature dishes, and what I ordered when I visited Wayfare Tavern for dinner before, after reading about how amazing it was supposed to be.  It has all the right petigree: a high end blend of beef, Mt. Tam cheese, Panorama bun, Nueske's Bacon.  I remembered that I didn't really like it before, and wasn't going to have one this time.  But, the final entree was no where in sight, and after skipping the fried chicken, I was hungry, and felt weird not eating anything when everyone around me was.

The whole thing was again just way too greasy for me, which is what you expect with high fat percentage (75!) beef, along with brioche, cheese, and bacon.  It also was served cold.  Downside of group dining for sure, and it seems like such a strange choice to put on a family-style menu.

The brie was nicely melted, but kinda congealed since it wasn't hot, and it was a really, really thin layer.  I thought this thing was known for oozing with the delicious cheese?  I'm pretty sure it was Mt. Tam, which I tend to adore.

The bacon was unremarkable, not as crispy as I'd like.  The grilled red onion was a giant hunk.  Sadly, it was my favorite part of the burger.  It was already slathered in aioli, that didn't seem very garlicky.

The beef itself is a mix of short rib, brisket, prime rib, and filet.  It should have been very flavorful, but it wasn't.  Perhaps I was just too distracted by it being cooked way more than I'd ever order (it was pretty much medium-well).  A shame for quality meat!

I would not get this again, which is exactly what I thought when I got it the other time I visited the restaurant.  Normally $19.
Seared Ahi Tuna: Carrot puree, roasted carrots, crispy ginger, soy caramel.
Finally, after everyone else had already consumed 2 pieces of fried chicken, a half a huge burger, burrata, and popovers, the final entree arrived.  It was the one I had wanted all along.

Seared ahi, served over a carrot puree, with roasted carrots, a soy caramel drizzle, and crispy ginger.  Another strange one to have family style, as many people didn't get all of the components.  There certainly weren't enough of everything to go around, and when serving off a big platter, it was hard to get some of everything.

The ahi was ok, nicely barely seared, but it wasn't very flavorful and was kinda stringy and chewy.  The soy caramel drizzle was tasty and went well with it, and with the carrots.

The roasted carrots were nicely cooked, and I liked how they included coins of large carrots, and full baby carrots.  The carrot puree was creamy and flavorful, but seemed really, really strange to pair with tuna.  Trio of carrot preparations was fun, but ... carrots and ahi?

The best part was a roasted baby carrot with soy caramel, but I wouldn't order this again.

A normal lunch portion is $28.
Mini Chocolate Cupcake.
And to finish, we received a platter of mini chocolate cupcakes, with 1-2 per person.  We all loved these.

Fairly moist chocolate cake, creamy, sweet frosting, fun little chocolate pearls.  Best dish of the meal.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Brunch at Home Hill Inn

Home Hill Inn, truly, a hidden gem of a restaurant, located in rural New Hampshire, near my hometown.  Since discovering it on my last holiday visit, I now have an additional reason to visit my family! (just joking, Hi MOM!)

On my recent visit this summer, I was determined to make up for lost time, and experience all that Home Hill Inn had to offer.  I started with a visit for a six-course formal tasting menu, in the private room, with my mother and a group of her friends.  It was wonderful, as expected, and I quickly made a reservation for my next adventure: brunch!  Have I mentioned that I love brunch food?

I didn't actually know much about their brunch, as there are only a handful reviews of the restaurant on Yelp, and all are about dinner.  I had heard that unlike many restaurants, the executive chef actually works brunch service, which sounded encouraging.  And I did see many reviews of the Inn itself (the restaurant is actually part of a bed and breakfast) mention the fantastic breakfast, but unfortunately, that is offered only to Inn guests.  Brunch is offered to the public only on Sunday mornings.  I was in town for only one Sunday, and I had my priorities.  We were going to brunch at Home Hill!

I invited my mother and father to join me, along with my father's sister who was also visiting from out of town, and my grandmother, their mother.  Since I've reviewed the regular dining room before several times, I'll skip those details, and focus only on our particular dining experience this time around.

The brunch menu isn't huge, but contains a little something for everyone, including many different types of egg dishes (omelets, scrambles, benedicts, baked eggs, etc), along with more classic options like waffles, and lunch style dishes like lobster rolls and burgers.

As on my first visit, I found the atmosphere incredibly charming, comfortable, and just a really great place for a special, but not too formal, brunch.  It was light-filled, open, and bright.  Equally charming was the much older couple seated across the room, clearly regulars, on a first name basis with all the staff, who dinned with their newspapers and crosswords out.  They were so adorable.

Our service was much better at brunch than at our dinner a few nights earlier.  There were a few mis-steps (forgetting my grandmother's maple syrup and my home fries), but otherwise, it was friendly, comfortable, and informative.  Our server seemed genuinely happy to answer all my questions and tell me details about all of the dishes and their product sourcing (as I mentioned last time, they are uber local about their sourcing).

It turns out, like dinner, Home Hill serves a very good brunch (although the amazing brunch from Baker and Banker is still the most memorable brunch I've ever had!).  I highly recommend it if you are looking for a brunch spot near Lebanon, NH, and you can be sure that I will be making it a point to return again.  I wish it was offered on days other than Sunday however, as I am often not there on a Sunday, or have other plans that day since it is often the only day that high school and college friends who are still in the area are free.  I somewhat joking told my mom that next time I might just need to stay at Home Hill rather than her house, in order to have their morning breakfast.  She uh, was not amused.
Raspberry Bellini.
I wasn't planning to order an alcoholic drink at brunch, but when the server asked if we'd like any drinks to start, my mom asked about mimosas.  I was amused, as my mom isn't exactly known for being a drinker.  She did go for a mimosa, which she seemed to enjoy.  I decided to follow suit, and picked a bellini.  I had the choice of peach or raspberry, but couldn't make up my mind, and just had the server pick for me.

She selected raspberry.  It was made with Raspberry Liqueur from Flag Hill, a New Hampshire Winery and Distillery.  I told you they source everything locally, even the liqueurs!

It was sweet, sparkly, fruity, pretty nice.  I don't drink a lot of bellinis, so I don't have much to compare it to, but it was a fun celebratory way to start the meal.
Bloody Mary.
My aunt went for the bloody mary.  Never my drink of choice, so I didn't try a sip, but she enjoyed it, and said it was flavorful, but not too spicy.  They won points for the serious stalk of celery :)

My father and grandmother didn't follow us in our morning drinking, but each had a fresh fruit juice, and enjoyed them.
Decaf French Press.
I also ordered a coffee, which is what I was intending to drink all along, decaf of course.  I remembered that on my first visit I was impressed with their decaf coffee at dinner, and was looking forward to some good coffee, which is so rare for decaf.

It was served in a small french press, with a stick of rock candy, and a small pitcher of cream.  I'm a little confused as to why it was in a french press however, as it didn't actually have any grounds in it.  Even more puzzling was the fact that I was instructed to give it another few minutes.  But there weren't any grounds.  Hmmm.

The server also specified as she sat it down that it was decaf, which is always a touch I greatly appreciate.  I always fear that someone will confuse things and bring me regular, and that extra clarification relieves me.

The coffee was again great.  Light, but with a fair amount of flavor, bitter, complex.  It didn't have any decaf funk to it.  Amusingly, it turned out to be Green Mountain Coffee's House Blend.  Nothing fancy, but it was fresh, it was well prepared, and I'd order it again in a heartbeat.  In fact, I did order a second one later that morning.
House Made Wild Berry Muffins.
After we ordered, we were brought a basket of muffins.  I wasn't expecting this, but it seems that they always bring a basket of muffins, instead of a bread basket, at brunch.  They weren't mini muffins, rather, full size, and one for each of us.  A large muffin can be pretty filling for me, and if I knew we'd be getting these, I probably would have opted to split an entree with someone.  Or maybe skipped the scone I had earlier fort breakfast that morning.

As I mentioned in my last review, they run an extensive bread program, with all breads made in-house, including the muffins. It sounds like they also make muffins for the inn guests at breakfast daily, with flavors changing all the time, as you'd expect, based on what is in season.  I'm still so impressed that a restaurant this size does all their own breads!

For us, the muffins were described as wild berry, which seemed to be blueberry.  They were good, not remarkable, but clearly fresh, served warm, and had an interesting citrus note to them.

The most memorable part of the muffin basket wasn't the muffins itself however.  It was the butter served with them!  Like all dairy served at Home Hill, it came from MacNamara Dairy, right down the street.  It was incredible butter.  Obviously, butter is always a great ingredient, but I honestly didn't know butter could be so delicious.  I love sauces and condiments in general, but butter isn't something I normally would rave about on its own, particularly just plain butter.  But this was seriously good butter.  If it was socially acceptable to do so, I probably would have tried some plain, just to really taste it!
Side dish: Fruit Salad.
All breakfast dishes were served with our choice of home fries, fruit salad, or mixed greens salad.  My mom is the only one who went the healthy route, opting for the fruit, while the rest of us all went for home fries.

Her bowl of fruit was brought out well in advance of the entrees.  It contained mostly just cantaloupe, from the Edgewater Farm down the street.  Super ripe, incredibly fresh.  Since I have a melon allergy, I didn't try any of it.  She enjoyed it, but wished there was more variety in her fruit salad.  There were only a few blueberries, and perhaps some honeydew, but essentially, it was a bowl of cantaloupe.
Eggs Benedict, House Cured Salmon, House Made English Muffins.  $15.
Home Hill is known for their Eggs Benedict.  They offer several varieties, and they change regularly.  Our choices that day for toppings were butter poached lobster, house cured salmon, heirloom tomatoes, or bacon.  Since we had so much lobster in the previous few days, my mom went for the salmon.

I of course needed to try a bite of it, as it was the dish I almost ordered myself.  It would have been my first pick if the english muffins were not sourdough, but, I'm a horrible San Franciscan who just doesn't like sourdough, so I decided against ordering it myself.

This was pretty textbook Benedict, which I don't mean in a bad way.  The eggs were perfectly poached.  Just the right amount of hollandaise, not swimming in it, but plenty available to soak up with the english muffins, which were, of course, house made.  The english muffins were perfectly toasted.  They were fresh and fluffy, and not too sourdough-y.  I could have easily ordered this dish and been happy.

It was garnished with scattering of sprouts, insanely fresh, tender, and far more flavorful than I knew sprouts could be.  I'm guessing they were picked just minutes before.  And as you can see, well seasoned with fresh pepper already on top.

As with all my meals at Home Hill, I was shocked by the price.  $15, which included the fruit salad, and the starter muffins.  My mother really enjoyed this, and would order again.  She continued to talk about it for days later.
Beet and Egg White Omelet: Shallot, Goat Cheese, Broccoli.  House Made English Muffins, Home Fries.  $14.
My aunt is vegetarian, and I think she was surprised by her plentiful choices.  She lives in Southern California now, but is not accustomed to rural NH actually offering her options!  There was the heirloom tomato topped benedict, a wild mushroom scramble, and several other dishes that I'm sure could have had the meat left off.  But she went for the healthiest option on the entire menu: a beet and egg white omelet.  More power to her, in resisting all the decadent options!

Like all the egg dishes, it was served with house made english muffins, and her choice of sides.  To go with the english muffins, our table had individual jars of jam, orange or raspberry.  They were the only thing during our entire visit that wasn't house made or local.  A bit surprising, as it seems like carrying local jams or jellies, or making them in house, would be right in line with their entire concept.

She liked her dish, and said she'd like to try re-creating it at home herself.  Her only criticism was the lack of seasoning.  I was a bit surprised, as all other dishes I've ever had there were notable in how well seasoned they were.  It also came garnished with the sprouts, which she remarked on how tasty they were.

Our table did not have any salt and pepper on it, so she had to ask for some.  We were brought in a cute wooden two sided serving dish, with large coarse salt and pepper.  None of the rest of of required additional seasoning.  Interestingly, the table next to us also asked for salt and pepper, and they were given standard shakers.
Prosciutto and Mozzarella Baked Eggs: Herbs, Tomato, Zucchini.  House Made English Muffins, Home Fries. $17.
My dad went for the baked eggs.  Again, served with house made english muffins, and his choice of sides.  Like the rest of us, he went for the home fries.

I didn't try any of this, but it looked really good, served in its own little cast iron skillet.  If my dad was more of the sharing type, I certainly would have taken a sample.

 [ Not Pictured ]
Strawberry Waffle: Edgewater Strawberries, MacNamara Whipped Cream, Mac's Maple Syrup.  $13.

My grandmother is the only one who selected a sweet option: the waffles!

I eat waffles several times a week at work, otherwise, I would have been very tempted by this dish.  I wish I'd taken a photo, as it also looked great.  Topped with plenty of strawberries, again from the farm down the street, and fresh whipped cream from the dairy down the street (the ones who made that amazing butter).

My grandmother doesn't have the largest appetite these days, and I usually only see her nibble slowly on a few bites.  Let's just say, this waffle didn't stand a chance against her.  It was devoured.  Every little last drop of strawberry juice was even scooped up.  I kinda think if we weren't in a nice restaurant, she may have licked the plate :)

Seriously though, she loved this.  I noticed partway through her eating it that she didn't have any syrup.  I realized it because I wanted to try some of the syrup on my homefries, and because we'd had a whole conversation about the maple syrup, wondering if "Mac's Maple Syrup" came from MacNamara Dairy or not (yes, it does).  When I asked the server about this, she apologized and quickly brought out a small pitcher of syrup for her.  My grandmother loved her dish even more once she had syrup.  I tried some on my homefries, and I must say, that was good syrup, clearly the real stuff.
Smoked Salmon Popover: Mustard Crème Fraîche, Greens, Capers.  Eggs Over Medium.  $18.
When I first decided to go to Home Hill for brunch, it was because I really wanted to try their fish and chips, normally part of their brunch menu.  I've been seriously craving fish and chips for literally months now, as we just don't have any good versions in San Francisco (primarily because we don't have Atlantic cod, haddock, scrod, hake, or any other really good fish to use).  My heart sank when we arrived and it was not available.  In its place was "fried lobster", which sounded totally fascinating, basically, lobster prepared fish and chips style, but I really didn't want more lobster!

So, I decided on the smoked salmon popover.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I've had popovers before, but they were always more like dinner roll to slather with butter, or a breakfast bread, to slater with jam, not a main dish.  The server said it was fantastic, and composed of many of the same elements as the benedict, but a more unique option.  So I went for it.

The popover was unlike anything I've had before.  It was not what you picture as a classic popover, normally light and fluffy, hollow interior, crispy exterior.  It was more eggy, but not like a quiche filling, which is good, because I don't like quiche.  It was moist, light yet also dense, almost like a soufflé.  I think it might have been a bit cheesy, or maybe it was just that creamy.  Anyway, I didn't know what to make of it really, but it was quite delicious.  I was intrigued with every bite, and loved it.

Served alongside was an incredibly generous portion of smoked salmon.  As you can guess at this point, the salmon was of course smoked in-house.  It was the same as the smoked salmon served with my mom's benedict, but I had a lot more on my plate.

The menu said it came with a mustard crème fraîche, but it seemed to be drizzled with the same hollandaise that my mother had on her benedict.  It was creamy, although a bit thick. The flavor was good, bursting with lemon.  Also garnished with the amazing sprouts.

The pop-over came with two eggs, cooked any way.  I selected over-medium, and was blown away.  Yes, they were just two eggs over-medium.  Nothing I couldn't get at any old diner.  And I get eggs over-medium cooked to order at work a couple times a week.  But these might have been the best eggs over-medium that I've ever had.  I'm sure the freshness of the eggs was one element of their success, but also, they were just cooked perfectly.  The whites were set but not rubbery, the yolks just a tiny bit runny.  Precisely how I want them.  And, like everything else I have encountered at Home Hill, seasoned to perfection.  See the large pepper flakes?  There is a reason no salt and pepper are normally required on the tables here!

For my side, I selected the homefries, but as you can see, I didn't get any!  When I asked the server about it, she quickly returned with a side plate full.  She apologized, and said she'd accidentally taken it from the pass before it was completed.  The homefries were fine, salty, nice, but just little cubed potatoes.  Much better once I dunked them in hollandaise, or even better, my grandmother's maple syrup!

Overall this was a great dish, the popover and the eggs really quite memorable.  I'd certainly get it again.
Chocolate Pot De Crème, Whipped Cream, Chocolate Chip Cookie.
I honestly don't know how we managed to order dessert at this point.  We'd all each consumed a full muffin, huge entrees, large side dishes ... but the allure of dessert was just too much.  We all remarked on how satisfied and completely stuffed we were.  I think at some level we all felt like we were so stuffed at this point that it just didn't matter.  For dessert, there were only a few options: the blueberry crumble or chocolate pot de crème that my mom and I had just a few nights before , a housemade ice cream, and a seasonal pie.  The moment the server mentioned the pot de crème, my mom's mind was made up.  She loved it the first time, and wanted more!  And since I didn't have before because I was avoiding the caffeine in the evening, I eagerly welcomed the chance to try the dessert that everyone else previously enjoyed.

Unlike the last meal, when were weren't offered any beverages with dessert, we were offered coffee and tea.  My aunt went for a mint tea, served in a cute little cast iron pot.  The tea selection was all local, of course.  My dad had a regular french press, and I had another decaf.  We all enjoyed our warm beverages alongside our desserts.

The pot de crème really was quite good, and I liked the presentation in the tiny cup.  I love pudding-style desserts, and actually eat a lot of chocolate pudding/mousse/pot de crème at work, as our pastry department makes some killer versions.  This was was creamy, with a next consistency, just firm enough to have a little give, not runny at all.  The texture was incredibly smooth, no grit.  Good chocolate flavor, but I would have preferred it even darker!  It was quite rich, and the whipped cream on top paired perfectly and cut the richness well.

It was served with a chocolate chip cookie, cuz, you know, you need some crunch with your pot de crème!  Our previous dessert platter had a cocoa nib cookie, which I didn't get to try.  My mom didn't like the cookie, and found it too hard for her liking.  It was certainly more crisp than I generally like, but it was a thick style, and it worked.  It was really, really buttery, which I liked, but otherwise, unremarkable.

Overall, a good chocolate pot de crème, but I eat so much of this sort of thing that it takes a lot to wow me in this department.  I'd get it again if I was in the mood for it.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Whipped Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream.
Home Hill is known for their pies, always seasonal and changing, and since we'd tried the other desserts already, we also got several slices of the day's option: strawberry rhubarb.  When I visited last winter, we had the apple pie, and I really liked it then.

Like last time, it was served with both vanilla ice cream AND whipped cream.  I just absolutely love that.  Why pick when you can have both?  The presentation was improved this time, with the ice cream in a separate little cup, rather than melting all over the plate.

Like last time, the pie was a double crust, but it wasn't as buttery nor flaky as I remembered.  It was good crust, but not all that remarkable this time around.  Sadly, it wasn't served warm.  I love warm pie and cold ice cream, so this was really a disappointment, particularly as it truly was served hot last time.

That said, the filling was quite good, a mix of sweet strawberry and tart rhubarb.  My dad and aunt both ordered a slice, and even though everyone was full, they got finished pretty quickly (with my assistance, of course).
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Monday, August 26, 2013

Buca di Beppo Redux

Last year, you may recall that I went on a little journey to Buca di Beppo to enjoy a free birthday brownie sundae.  I didn't think any component of the sundae was all that successful, but all combined, and enjoyed while sitting in the sun at Yerba Buena Gardens, it was pretty enjoyable.  I sought to replicate that experience again this year.

Since I've reviewed it before, I'll skip the general details and focus only on what was different this time.  Summary: even though this was free, and I love my birthday freebies, I see no reason to return next year.  The staff was again very friendly though!
Birthday Brownie Sundae.
I laughed when I opened my togo bag.  You can't tell the scale in this photo, but this bowl was absolutely enormous!  Seriously, hugetastic.   Last year, my sundae came in a slightly more reasonable size container.  I guess Buca di Beppo doesn't serve anything in standard portion sizes, so it somewhat makes sense that they wouldn't have a regular size container.  But still, quite hilarious that this was the smallest container they had.

As I mentioned last time, the birthday sundae is a scaled down version of the Colossal Brownie Sundae.  Instead of 12 chunks of brownie, it has 2.  Instead of 6 scoops of both chocolate and vanilla ice creams, it has only 1 of each.  Basically, 1/6th the size of the colossal one, this one is designed for a single person, whereas the other is listed as "sharable".  Lols.

My brownie sundae contained two chunks of brownie, each large enough to be considered a full serving of brownie on their own.  The menu said "freshly baked", but I have my doubts.  The brownies were again not served warm.  Seriously, this dessert would actually have potential if they just heated the brownies up!  But as they were, the brownies were unremarkable.  They were loaded up with chocolate chunks, which gave a nice texture, but still somehow weren't that chocolatey.  They were dry both on the inside and the outside, except for strange little blobs that were a bit gooey.  I have no way to explain this strange inconsistent texture, other than to suspect that the brownies were pressed up against something and sweat a little, causing this.  They didn't look, nor taste, very good.

And then, just like last time, two tiny, tiny scoops of ice cream.  I honestly do not understand why the ice cream scoops are so tiny, given the size of everything else.  I think they must use a melon baller not an ice cream scoop.  There was a vanilla scoop and a chocolate scoop, both generic, not very flavorful, kinda icy, and they melted rapidly.  A bite of brownie with the ice cream wasn't bad, but it also wasn't particularly good.

And again, just like last time, tons and tons of whipped cream, clearly the kind from a can.  It was what it was.

Sprinkles on top were fun, a maraschino cherry topped it off, but ... yeah.  Brownie, two ice creams, whipped cream, sprinkles, a cherry ... should have been delicious, and I kept eating it hoping it would be, but it just really wasn't that good.  I almost brought one brownie home with me to try heating up and topping with my own ice cream and whipped cream, but decided it really wasn't worth it.  Meh.
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