Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Taro Milk Teas from Chai-Yo

We all get random cravings.  I eat a wide variety of foods, snacks, and drinks and any given day, so really strong random desires for things are not actually very common for me.  But when they hit, they hit hard.

And today, I woke up desperately needing a taro milk tea.  I wanted it cold and iced, and I wanted boba.  The closest option, Out The Door, was a definite no, given how much I really disliked the last one I had there.  I considered going back to Miss Saigon, for their taro boba smoothie, that I claimed was even better than regular milk tea, since it was like a taro-boba-milkshake.  But I decided I wanted the classic.  I certainly could have returned to Quickly, as I've always enjoyed my taro teas from there.

But instead, I decided to be adventurous, and seek out a new location.  I also decided to play with more new technology.  Paypal and Eat24 have partnered to allow you to order online through Eat24, embedded in a Paypal app, and the payment obviously goes through Paypal.  I gave it a try.

It worked ... ok.  The Paypal app crashed several times while I was trying to complete more order, but luckily it saved most of my state.  In the special comments section, it converted all of my words to starting With Capital Letters, Which Made Me Feel Very Obnoxious.  But besides that, it was easy to browse the menu and order in advance.  It did make me miss GoPago though, as that app worked much better (unfortunately, shut down in San Francisco for some legal reasons).

I enjoyed my drink the first time, and returned a second time.  Since I just got my drinks togo, I didn't stay in the restaurant, but it was small and the food looked good.  I'd like to return sometime for an actual meal.
Taro Milk Tea, Iced, with Jelly.  $3.50.
They offer milk tea, aka, "flavored tea with non-dairy creamer", in a variety of flavors.  I obviously went for taro.  It is available hot or cold. Since I had a very specific craving on my first visit, I got it cold.  But those were all of the options.  Flavor, temperature.  No mention of boba.  Uh oh!

So I did what any good researcher does, and pulled up the full menu on the Eat24 website, rather than the Eat24-in-Paypal app.  There it said,  "Add Free Jelly, in any drink for free. Request it, in the special instructions!"

Phew.  It wasn't boba, but jelly would do the trick!

I arrived before the drink was ready, so I got to see her mix it up.  Made with a taro flavored powder, which I expected.  Well mixed, delivered to me nice and frothy.  It only had a few tiny ice cubes however, so I did ask to have more added.

The drink was good, milky with taro flavor, but I wanted to taste the taro even more.  It was the perfect level of sweet, which for me, at that moment, was not that sweet.  I wasn't in a super sweet mood, so I'm glad it delivered.

I actually loved the jellies.  I thought that tapioca was my favorite thing to add, and I thought the taro puddings I tried at Quickly didn't add enough chew, but the jellies were a perfect middle ground.  They added more chew than the puddings, but less than boba.  I sometimes get a little too sick of the boba by the end, and these, even though plentiful, never got old.  I'm not sure what they were made of, but the jellies were small cubes in assorted colors and flavors.

Overall, this was good, and I enjoyed it, but I think I'd go back to Quickly next time ... and switch to jellies there.  At $3.50 it was a bit more expensive than others, and the taro flavor wasn't as strong as I wanted.  But if I was in the area and craving a taro tea, I wouldn't say no to returning ...

Update: I returned, only the next time, I tried the hot version.  Of course, I ordered through the app again.  However, what was handed over to me was a cold drink.  It was very cold out, and I was really desperately wanting a hot drink, so I pushed back on this.  The person who had made the drink said, "oh, but I made it cold."  I pointed out how on the paperwork it even said hot.  She then followed up with, "ok, so you want a new one?"  I felt obnoxious, but yes, I wanted a warm drink.

I'd never seen warm taro milk tea before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  It came in the same type of cup as the cold one, which was strange for a hot beverage.  However, it wasn't that hot, so it wasn't a problem temperature-wise to hold.

I think there is a reason why we don't see hot milk teas more commonly.  It was just a bit strange.  You want to sip a warm drink, not suck it up through a straw.  And of course, I added the jellies, and that is really strange in a hot drink.

I'm not sure if they follow a standard recipe that is different for hot vs cold teas, but this one was also way too sweet.  The sweet jellies made it even worse.

The hot drink really did not work for me.  I kept trying, but alas, it was a lost cause.  I had an empty travel mug with me however, so I dumped it into there, and served it over ice when I got home.  Much better.  The way it should be.   Guess I should have gladly accepted her original cold version instead.  At least I know now, get these iced, always :)
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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"Dining" at the American Airline's Admiral's Club, Boston

As I mentioned last week, I'm kicking off a series of traveling reviews, departing my from standard SF Bay Area based reviews.

And where does any travel start?  The Admiral's Club of course!

I've reviewed the SF Admiral's Club before, so I'll skip the basics here, and just jump right into the fine "dining" I experienced at this location.

Breakfast

Admiral's Clubs aren't exactly known for their extensive complimentary food options (usually limited to cheese and crackers, snack mixes, veggies and dip, and soup), but the breakfast spread was decent, at least as far as Admiral's Club locations go.  No hot food, no pastries, but, still, better than I expected.
Bagels, Quickbreads.
One station had bagels (plain or cinnamon raisin), with butter, cream cheese, and jam, plus a toaster. 

No regular bread for toast, but there were two types of sweet breads, which I tried.  One was fairly plain, perhaps orange or lemon, and not very interesting. The other was chocolate, and, after taking a quick trip through the toaster to warm up, was actually not bad.  It satisfied my desire for a muffin, and was a bit indulgent.

The sweet breads were taken away promptly at 10am, FYI.
Oatmeal, Yogurt, Fruit.
The other food station had hot oatmeal with mix-ins (brown sugar, raisins, pecans), which was a nice offering, to have something warm and comforting, and I appreciated the mix-ins, but the oatmeal was really watery and boring.

The yogurt was assorted flavors of decent quality Greek yogurt (Chobani), and I liked the grapefruit segments.  Nothing amazing, but, decent.
Cereal.
Next came cereal, an assortment of 3 varieties (granola, raisin bran, rice chex), plus milk.  The granola was basic, no nuts, no dried fruit, but I guess I could have added some from the oatmeal station.  Again, not exciting, but if I was hungry, Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola would have been fairly satisfying, and far better than what I'd expect from an Admiral's Club.

Snacks

I'm always drawn to snack mixes.  There is something about having something to munch on that I just can't resist.  The Admiral's Club snack mix is never that good though.  Yet I find myself eating tons of it every time.  Is it because it is so salty?  Is it because I just WANT to like it more than I do?  I'm not sure.

Mixes change out all the time, but generally rotate between 3 common savory versions, plus sometimes some sweet little yogurt pretzels.
Honey Mustard Mix.
 The wasn't labelled, but, I believe this is known as the Honey Mustard mix.  It has way too many boring pretzels in assorted shapes and sizes (short rods, full size rods, twists), corn nuts (never that great), orange sticks (ok), and sesame sticks (ok), all with some very mild seasoning, which I guess they think is honey mustard.  As always, I want to like it more than I do, but, it at least gives me something to munch on, and I do like the saltyness.
Mardi Gras Mix.
For once, one of the snack mixes was labelled!  This one is apparently "Mardi Gras Mix", with pretzels (meh), corn nuts (never as good as I want them to be), sesame sticks (decent), and the spicy little cheesy sticks (the best part).  As always, I want to like this mix more than I actually do, but the sesame sticks and spicy sticks satisfy any salty cravings I have.
Snack Mix.
The mix in the Boston (and DFW during my connection) was actually different from the one I had over the summer in San Francisco.  While still loaded up with way too many pretzels, that I totally didn't like, this one had wasabi peas instead of the corn kernels.  This was exciting to me since I do like wasabi peas, however, they mostly just tasted like ... peas.  Not much wasabi zing to them.  There were also almost as many rice cracker snacks as pretzels, and they were completely flavorless.  And a few of the token sesame sticks, something I always want to like, but always fail to impress.  Overall, this was a very bland mix.

Instead of the larger plastic cups the San Francisco club offered, the Boston location had tiny little ramekins. I guess they were a reasonable size for people with restraint when it comes to snack mixes, but for me, they were too small.  It took many refills to get enough of the mix (minus the pretzels), to fill me up!  Luckily, during my layover at DFW, the big plastic cups made a re-appearance.

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Yogurt Pretzels.

Over in the other snack station were the mini yogurt pretzels.  Like last time, they weren't great, but I appreciated having something slightly sweet to go along with my coffee.  Speaking of the coffee, it was the standard Nescafe automatic machine.  Not particularly good, but they did have flavored creamers available, which helped jazz it up a little.

Sweets

Otis Spunkmeyer® Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
When I travelled over the summer, the new snack offerings were just being rolled out.  I had read that they would have new "upgraded" cookies, so I was met with disappointment then when the same old stale, hard, cookies were available.  This time, the new cookies made an appearance.

I always love the warm cookies served onboard American Airlines flights, so I was hoping these would be similar.  I knew they wouldn't be hot, but they did look the same - large size, soft.  So much better than the old ones.

And they were better than the old ones. But, since they weren't warm, they wound up just being fairly unremarkable soft style cookies.
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Monday, December 02, 2013

Thanksgiving From Munchery


You've heard me rave about Munchery before.  I've described the service many times.  I'll skip all those details now, but if you aren't aware of what Munchery offers, go read those reviews first :)

This time, I wasn't just ordering any old dinner from Munchery.  I was ordering Thanksgiving!  This year, for Thanksgiving, they had a slew of options.  If you just didn't want to deal with the turkey, they offered whole turkeys seasoned and brined, ready to pop into the oven on Thanksgiving morning.  Or, it could come already roasted.  Or you could get a full feast, designed for a group, or just an individual meal.  Or you could just order sides, designed for groups of four.   And of course, some stunning looking desserts!

I went for the individual meal, plus an additional starter, and desserts.  I'll cover the desserts in my next review, as they were certainly the highlight.  The main meal was ok, but the least successful of all Munchery orders I have made.  Overall, this was a very easy way to get all of my Thanksgiving cravings met with minimal effort, but nothing can really compare to a Thanksgiving feast cooked by Mom.

Anyway, I still recommend Munchery, and if you want $10 off your first order, just sign up with my invite link.
Roasted Chestnut Soup: chive crème fraîche, crisp shallots, sage.  $6.50.
Not part of the Thanksgiving package, but I decided to add on an additional soup as a starter.  This was a creation from Chef Steven Levine, whom I had ordered from once before.

The soup was described as: "a rich sweet puree of roasted chestnuts, parsnips, leeks, celery and sage. Made with a vegetable stock and finished with a little cream. Topped with a chive crème fraîche, crisp shallots and fried sage leaves."

This was a restaurant quality dish!

I'm not a huge fan of soups in general, but I love chestnuts, and I don't see them on menus very often.  So, when I saw the soup, I thought it would be a great starter course for our Thanksgiving dinner.  When meal time came around, we decided that we had too much food already, and decided to save the soup, so I enjoyed it separately.

The soup itself was a puree, again, not something I tend to like.  The flavor was good, but I probably wouldn't have guessed it was chestnut.  I'm not sure what I would have guessed actually.  I was fairly disappointed that the chestnut, the component I was most excited about, wasn't more prevalent.  I did taste the parsnip, leek, and celery.

But, what made this shine was the accompaniments.  The chive crème fraîche had plentiful chopped chives, which added a lot of flavor.  I loved the contrast of the hot soup with the cold crème fraîche.  It also made it even creamier, not that it wasn't creamy to begin with.

The fried shallots and sage were supposed to be crispy toppings to add on top as well, but I touched them, and they were flimsy.  I was sad, until I realized I could just pop them in the toaster oven for a few minutes to crisp them up.  They transformed right back into the crispy components they were meant to be.  Crispy fried shallots are just about one of the most delicious things on the planet, so it was hard to go wrong here.  I really loved the additional textures from the crispy components, and both of these were very flavorful.

The toppings really completed the dish, and transformed it from just a simple soup you could get anywhere, into a stunning restaurant quality dish.

Overall, I enjoyed this, although again, I'm not a soup girl, so I probably wouldn't order it again.  High quality, well thought out dish however, so if you are a soup fan, I recommend.  $6.50 for a bowl of soup seemed high to me at first, but again, this was restaurant quality, and you'd easily pay that at a restaurant.  My favorite (savory) dish of the meal.
Individual Thanksgiving Dinner: Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Winter Greens Gratin, Cornbread, Apple and Fennel-Sausage Stuffing, Cranberry Apple Chutney Sauce, Giblet Gravy. $14.95 ($13.95 Early Bird)
The Munchery chefs all teamed up for this feast, traditional turkey with sides.

First, the main course, the turkey.  "Brined, roasted and sliced Diestel Farms turkey white and dark meat", also by Chef Steven Levine.  The portion of this was insanely generous.  3 large slices of white meat on top, with many smaller chunks of white and dark meat underneath.  I don't like turkey, at all, so I gave this all to Ojan.  He said it was decent, and appreciated the crispy skin.  He happily ate the leftovers the next day as well.

Next came the stuffing, from Chef Michelle Harrison.  It was described as a cornbread, apple, and fennel-sausage stuffing,  "completely made from scratch, this stuffing is packed with flavor. Freshly baked cornbread is blended with chicken stock, a variety of seasonal aromatics, apples and house-made fennel-sausage."

Sounded fantastic, as I love cornbread.  And stuffing is one of my absolute favorite things, so I asked for a little extra.  Unfortunately, this just wasn't very good.  First, the bread didn't actually seem to be cornbread.  It didn't have any corn-y grit to it.  And it was soggy.  Even when I heated it in the toaster oven for far longer than they said, it still didn't crisp up.  Flavor-wise, it was also lacking.  There were visible additions to it, like celery, but the aromatics didn't deliver on flavor.  I was also sadden by the sausage component, as I only found a few tiny bits, all too small to really taste.  I expected this to be the highlight of the meal for me, but it was my second to last favorite.

Next up was the vegetables, a winter greens gratin with rainbow chard, collard greens, and gruyere by Chef Allison Jones.  Described as "rainbow chard, collard greens, and dino kale are blanched, creamed with nutmeg and thyme, then baked with gruyere and breadcrumbs on top. "

This sounded good enough, but I eat greens like this all the time, and didn't expect to care much about it.  But I've been really into nutmeg this holiday season, and who doesn't love gruyere?  Plus, I should have SOME vegetables with my feast right?

It was better than I expected.  Well cooked greens, creamy sauce, and crispy breadcrumbs on top.  It reheated very well.  Ojan's favorite dish from the meal, my second favorite.

It can't be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes right?  Chef Jeremy Goldfarb provided these, classic mashed potatoes with chives, described as "whipped together with some cream, a touch of butter and some fresh chives".

The potatoes came in a mound that was clearly scooped with an ice cream scoop.  Visually, it reminded me of grade-school cafeteria food, which I think is the last time I encountered mashed potatoes served with a scoop.  But, you can't judge potatoes by their looks right?  Unfortunately, they didn't taste good either.  They seemed really, really starchy.  Neither Ojan nor I even wanted to finish the scoop.  Least favorite dish for both of us.

For accompaniments, there was also cranberry sauce, but it was fairly non-traditional, a cranberry apple chutney.  Described as cranberry sauce, with "pears, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, and the essence of orange", made by Chef Raymond Rayes.

I liked this quite a bit, it was my favorite component.  Sadly there was just a small little container of it, I would have easily enjoyed more!  I used it on top of everything to jazz it up.  I really liked how it wasn't cloying sweet like cranberry sauce can be, and the additional ingredients made it far more interesting.  Very well spiced.  I'm not sure if it had apples or pears, one description called it "cranberry apple chutney sauce" but the other said "pears".  Either way, quite tasty, and my favorite part of the Thanksgiving offering.

And of course, there was gravy, also by chef Levine, "a rich turkey broth thickened with flour and butter, confit giblets and black pepper."

It was pretty classic gravy, but I mean that in a good way.  It was flavorful, not lumpy, and a good addition to everything.

Overall, I was glad to get a Thanksgiving meal delivered to me, but I wouldn't do this again.  The price was quite reasonable for a full Thanksgiving feast like this.  I would never order turkey normally anyway, but I certainly would not get this stuffing or mashed potatoes again, since they were quite disappointing.  The gratin has inspired me to check out more of Chef Jone's dishes, since I hadn't tried any of her offerings before.  And the cranberry sauce makes me want to try more from Chef Rayes, as he clearly knows how to work with flavors.
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