Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Travelin' Tuesdays: London!

For the past few months, I've spent Tuesdays reviewing all the places I visited during my business trip in Tokyo, including my insane First Class Cathay Pacific Flight, 8 Michelin stars, and some indescribable experiences, like the Robot Restaurant.  You can read all about those adventures, and more, in my Travelin' Tuesdays: Tokyo series.

Now, it is time to travel again, on another business trip.  The trip was actually to Zurich, for a conference, and I (gasp!) decided to spend the time engaged with my co-workers, and not take dining notes.  Sorry!

To get to Zurich, we went by way of Mallorca, (which actually did make sense, I promise!), where we enjoyed a few days of sunshine, cocktails, and of course some Michelin star dining.  You can read all about those good times in my already published Mallorca Mondays series.

On our return journey, we went via London, since we were flying on British Airways and Heathrow is their home base.  We have an office there, so we opted to make a quick stop, rather than just breeze through.

After a few days off from blogging in Zurich, I was in full reviewing mode, so you'll get to read all about my time in London, starting with the breakfast in the executive lounge at my hotel, The Park Plaza.  I had only two meals in London, so I made them count, netting two more Michelin stars at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (I just HAD to compare to the Tokyo L'Atelier, right?), and seeking out indian food at Cafe Spice Nameste, since good indian cuisine is hard to come by in SF.  And of course, I'll review the airline lounges, including the Galleries Business Class Lounge, the Galleries First Class Lounge, and ... the Concorde room (for both breakfast and lunch).  I'll conclude with the First Class flight back.

Stay tuned, starting next Tuesday!  London, here we come :)

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Pacific Puffs Truck

For the past few weeks, you've been reading about food trucks on Mondays, although they have all been savory offerings.  I finally found a food truck offering something I like: desserts!

Pacific Puffs has a storefront on Union Street, plus a smaller space downstairs in the Westfield Mall, both of which I've walked by many times, yet somehow never stopped in.  I guess cream puffs aren't generally what I gravitate towards, although Ojan really likes them.

Anyway, I finally got a chance to try one, when I stumbled across the food truck one day.
Classic Sugar Puff. $3.25.
I opted for the "Classic Sugar" version, described as a "freshly baked choux pastry puff filled with a madagascar bourbon vanilla cream, dusted with powdered sugar" (the regular Classic has a chocolate glaze instead of powdered sugar).

The puff shell was fairly thin, resulting in a different ratio of shell to filling that I'm used to (more filling).  You couldn't really taste the pastry itself, which was ok for me, since I often find choux pastry to be too eggy.  The filling was creamy, but reminded me more of a vanilla pudding than standard cream puff filling.

Overall, it was fine, but not particularly remarkable.  I don't feel compelled to venture into one of the stores now.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

First Class, BA275, LHR-SFO

And finally, the final installment in Travelin' Tuesdays London!  It was time to return back to San Francisco, flying First Class, aboard British Airways.

After a few hours of enjoyment in the Concorde Room (and brief stints checking out the the Galleries First and Business lounges in Terminal 5 at Heathrow), it was time to actually take my flight.  I was so relaxed from my complimentary massage at the Elemis Spa, that I almost didn’t even care what was going to happen next.  No travel anxiety, at all.  I would have gladly spent more time in the lounge, as I was in no rush to leave, but I was also looking forward to my flight experience.  I laughed a bit inside as I realized this, since the actual act of traveling is never anything I’ve looked forward to before.  Flights were the thing I had to get through in order to get to my destination, but were never something I cared at all about actually experiencing.  Times have changed!

As we approached the plane, Emil broke some sad news.  Our plane was equipped with “old first”.  I had complained a bit about the seats in “new first” on the SFO-LHR flight, and he knew these were going to be worse.  I was disappointed for sure, but I was still pretty blissed out by the spa treatment, so I didn’t care too much.
My Seat - Old First Class.
The old first cabin is the same size and configuration as new first, but dates back from 1995.  It was just as open and spacious, but the furnishing are a bit shabby and dated.  The biggest difference is ] the seats.
Visitor Seat.
The foot of my seating area still contained a visitor seat, but this time it was a jump seat that wouldn’t really stay down unless weight was on it.  Not as nice, but I didn’t have a dining companion, so it didn’t matter.  My seat came with a light blanket as before.  An amenity kit and pajamas were soon offered, the same as before.  Next, a tray was presented with an eye mask, socks, and ear plugs.  I took only the socks, since I had no desire to sleep on the daytime flight.  No slippers were provided at my seat, although Emil’s seat came with them.  Once we got underway, I asked for some, and they were promptly brought out, again on a tray.
Electronics, Old First.
For lighting, there was a snake-style spotlight, rather than the cute little lamp we had last time.  Just as functional, but less attractive.  The seat also had older style controls, full of buttons and a bit complicated, not as intuitive as the knob in the new first cabin.

The biggest differences were with the electronic systems.  Rather than a large beautiful tv screen, there was a tiny screen.  And of course, the entertainment system was acting up.  But worst, there was no AC power outlet, so I wasn’t going to have power for my laptop.  However was I going to finish all the blog posts I queued up on my trip!

On my flight from SFO to LHR, it was an overnight flight, so I didn’t end up using the power at all, as I only minimally used my laptop.  I never even pulled out my tv.   I didn't take advantage of the nicer amenities when I had them.  But this was a day flight, and I’d read the entertainment menu in advance, and fully intended to watch 2 movies, which I’d already picked out.  I had big plans to write up a bunch of the restaurant reviews from my trip, before I forgot even more details than I already had.

But alas, old first was what awaited me.  No power, and at this point, no entertainment.  They kept promising to try to fix it, working with “the engineers in London” to fix it.  Sigh.  I don’t really blame BA, as I can’t recall the last time I was on a flight, on any airline, where the entertainment system actually functioned properly from the start.  Even Virgin America, with cabins that seem so modern, end up rebooting sections of seats several times per flight. And to be fair, BA offered us some Avios to make up for this, a “service recovery”.

After my meal, I did pull out my screen, and the entertainment system was indeed working.  The screen was small, smaller than even the domestic US airlines in economy, and the angle, while adjustable, never seemed quite right.  The screen also had a big grid overlaying it, which was visible against certain backgrounds.  Certainly an older product.  The provided headphones were comfortable enough, and the sound quality was good.
Bar Menu.
Once underway, our menus were presented.  I eagerly opened my multi-page menu.  The bar menu started with the same aperitifs, spirits, liqueurs, and digestives as my SFO-LHR flight.
Champagne Menu.
The list of sparkling beverages was also the same, proper champagnes (Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, Henriot Vintage Brut 2007, Taittinger Prestige Rose NV), along with the signature Kir Royale.
Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" Champagne, Warm Nuts.
On my previous flight, I started with the Kir Royale and didn’t really care for it.  I also tried the Taittinger Prestige Rosé NV Champagne.  I liked the rosé, but this time, I decided to just go for the regular champagne, the Laurent-Perrier "Grand Siècle" Champagne.  Emil loves this champagne, and I had a sip of it on the last flight and did enjoy it.

I’m not usually one to gravitate towards champagne.  Not that I don’t like champagne, because I do, but, given other options, I usually go for other choices.  But in this case, it really worked, and seemed a fitting way to start the journey.  It was sweet enough for me, but still a bit dry, perfectly sparkly.

My champagne was delivered along with a little bowl of nuts, just like last time.  Served slightly warm, a mixed of caramelized nuts, and plain almonds and hazelnuts.  The plain nuts were slightly salted, nicely toasted, high quality.  But just like last time, I adored the candied nuts, they paired perfectly with the sweetness of the champagne.  Since he doesn’t eat sweets, Emil of course asked for only savory nuts, and yes, someone sorted out the sweet nuts for him.  I scolded him for not keeping his original batch of nuts and just giving me all the sweet ones.  While the plain nuts were all fine, I’d gladly eat only sweet ones in exchange for my regular nuts.  If I ever wind up flying in First Class with him again, I’ll insist we make this trade.  We’d both be getting more of what we want!
White Wine Menu.
I continued on to the next page of the menu, white wines.  On my last flight, I went from the opening drinks straight to a red wine, so I skipped this page.  This time, I again had 3 choices to consider: a Chablis, a Verdicchio, and a Sauvignon Blanc.  One was French, one Italian, and the other American.  I asked Emil for advice, and he told me that he enjoys the Chablis, but thought it might be too dry for me.  He did not recommend the Sauvignon Blanc, so narrowed it down to the Verdicchio.  But, being a man of great wisdom, he told me I should just ask for a tasting so I could make up my own mind.  This seemed crazy to do on an airplane, but, perhaps this is just me not being accustomed to the service level of First Class?
White Wine Tasting.
So I asked for a tasting of the Chablis and Verdicchio, curious to see if Emil was right.  I was presented with very generous pours of each, not exactly what I’d consider just a "taste".  At this point, I had a half a glass of each white, and more champagne, all lined up on my side table.  Emil was laughing at me.  I’m not the lush here, really!

I started with the French offering, the Chablis Grand Cru Bougros 2009, Domaine William Fèvre.  It was quite nice, crisp, light, although yes, perhaps a bit dry for my taste.  Given no other choices, I would have gladly consumed it.

Then I moved on to the Italian offering, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC 2011, Stefano Antonucci.  It was a bit sweeter, more buttery.  I did indeed prefer this one.

Of course Emil was right.  I should know better than to question his knowledge of my wine preferences at this point.  Even though I had a side table full of wine, I ordered a full glass of this one.
Lunch Menu: Main Page.
Drinks sorted out, it was time to think about my meal.  Since the flight took off at 11:30am, it started with lunch service.

I had the choice of 4 starters and 4 mains.
For starters the choices were:
  1. Prawns and wasabi timbale with a watermelon, lime and coriander salad
  2. White and green asparagus and a poached Burford brown egg with a chervil and truffle sauce
  3. Cream of English celery soup with Blue Wensleydale cheese and walnut
  4. Fresh seasonal salad with your choice of honey mustard dressing or blue cheese dressing.
Uh oh!  Watermelon in the first starter.  Danger, danger.  I have a severe watermelon allergy, and although watermelon often shows up on fruit platters at breakfast or with cheese service, it rarely appears in the main meal on a flight.  I had a moment of understanding what life must be like for those with peanut allergies.  I was a bit terrified, honestly.  Cross-contamination is just too easy.  I quickly informed the purser of my allergy.  She asked how bad the allergy was, and if I carried an epi pen.  I said yes.  She said she’d put a note in my passenger record so it would be there for the future, and that she'd follow up on what to do on this flight.

Most impressively, she quickly went to check the status of the watermelon in their trolleys.  She came back to tell me that the watermelon appetizer and the asparagus appetizer were in the same trolley.  Not touching, but co-located.  The salad was separate, as was the soup since it was in a thermos.  I don’t really care for soups or salads though, and the asparagus was the appetizer I had picked out for myself.  I briefly decided risking it, because I do love asparagus so much, particularly with a truffle sauce, but decided to be a responsible adult and decline it.  Having a severe allergic reaction on a flight is not worth any bite of asparagus.  And practically, I’d just had plenty of breakfast in the lounges, and the bowl of warm nuts, and I knew there would be plenty of food throughout the flight, so I was not worried about not having enough to eat.  A bit disappointed though, since I was set to start with a nice appetizer.

Moving on, for main dishes, I had another 4 choices:
  1. Fillet of Aberdeen Angus, mini steak and ale pie with broccoli, carrots and fondant potato
  2. Steamed sea trout with marsh samphire, Jersey Royal potatoes, wild mushroom and a soft herb cream sauce
  3. Roasted Gressingham duck with peppercorn and honey glaze, blackcurrant sauce, pea and mint mash and baby vegetables
  4. Seared scallops on a Vietnamese salad with a sweet chilli dressing
Emil has advised me many times not to get the steak on BA, even though I must admit, the mini pie on the side, and the fondant potato, were both quite appealing.  I don’t like duck, so that was easy to rule out.  I was debating between the trout and the scallops.  But I had so much fish on my trip that the idea of another filet of fish wasn’t all that interesting, and, scallops are one of my favorite seafoods.  So I went for that.

I also could choose from the Bistro menu, made up of simpler options, rather than the main entrees.  The Bistro menu, in addition to biscuits and a cheese plate, contained a pasta and a sandwich option:
  • Macaroni in a red pepper pesto with garlic and basil cream sauce
  • Warm corn-fed chicken and Swiss cheese on Manoucher bread with pickled cucumber and harissa crème fraîche
On my previous flight, I actually choose the pasta from the bistro menu rather than a main dish, and I was tempted to do the same again. But, scallops won out.  How could I pick pasta when there were scallops?
Table Set For Dinner, Bread Service.
A little while after I ordered, my dining table was set.  White tablecloth, bread plate and knife, salt and pepper grinders, glass of still water, multiple sets of silverware.  A white napkin was offered for my lap.  I think this table pulled slightly closer to me than the one in the new first cabin, but it was still a bit too far forward.  I love that they provide individual salt and pepper grinders, not just shakers.  It is touches like this that make a difference!

I was offered, several times, more wine or champagne.  It was a bit amusing, since I still had half a glass of champagne, and both of the whites I was tasting.  On the other hand, Emil was doing his best to drink the plane dry of its champagne supply, and his glass went empty.  To remedy it, he went back to the galley to ask for a refill.  He assumed they’d get the memo.  It didn’t work.  His glass went empty again.  They came to offer me refills at least twice while his sat empty.  I was amused; he was not.  He used his call button this time, something he said he’s never done before.  The attendant promptly responded to his call, and filled his glass.  She came back once more to check on him and refill later, so he thought the problem was solved, but alas, his glass went empty again not long after.

To be fair, our cabin was full.  Not that I've flown in first often, but this was the first time I’d seen the first class cabin fully loaded, and Emil said it is pretty rare.  He speculated that when they switched us to the older aircraft, they had to upgrade some business class folks.  When he went back to the galley yet another time to ask for a refill, they apologized, and brought a bottle out that they left out in the staging area in our cabin.  Problem solved.

After my table was set, bread service was offered.  I was highly unimpressed with the bread last time, and I don’t generally like bread even when it is fresh, but this selection was much more impressive: several types of grainy and seedy bread, and a fluffy looking garlic focaccia.

I went for one of the seedy offerings, a breadstick.  I’m not certain what the base was, nor what the seeds were exactly.  There were black sesame seeds, but I don’t know what the white ones were.  They weren’t sesame.

The bread was better than last time, served slightly warm, but still, it was bread, and it was not fresh.  I tried it with the butter, but that wasn't very exciting.  I ended up using it to dip in my amuse bouche spread, but it was easily skippable, and I'd likely pass up the bread selection next time.
Amuse Bouche: Sundied tomato & goat cheese.
Soon after bread, I was presented with an amuse bouche.  Without prompting, I was told that it too had been in a separate trolley from the watermelon.  I loved that the server paid attention to this, and, reassured me of the fact without my asking.  It is terrifying being trapped on board a plane with watermelon, and I really, really appreciated that they were doing everything they could to not only ensure that there was no cross-contamination, but also, to make me feel at ease.

The amuse bouche was a (sundried) tomato base, with little balls of goat cheese.  Now, I don’t like goat cheese, so I almost turned down the dish, but decided to give it a try.  The goat cheese was soft, and not too goaty.  I didn’t particularly want it, but it wasn’t offensive.  I imagine if you like the goatiness of goat cheese, this would be a bit disappointing, but for me, it was just fine.

The tomato part however was quite tasty.  A lovely roasted tomato flavor, and crunchy things.  I honestly have no idea what they were.  It almost looked like cucumber, but didn’t have that flavor.  Perhaps zucchini? Jicama? Emil thought it was celery.  I’m not sure.  Even though I didn’t care for the bread stick, I enjoyed spreading the tomato spread on it.
Main Dish: Seared scallops on a Vietnamese salad with a sweet chilli dressing.
Since I skipped the starter, others around me were served their starters, and I sat waiting.  The attendant came to re-assure me that she hadn’t forgotten about me, and, in fact, that the scallops weren’t quite right, so they were starting a fresh batch.  Emil informed me that when he went back to get more champagne, he’s seen them pull the scallops out, and that they were clearly over-cooked, and he saw them thrown the scallops out.  Quality control on a plane?  Impressive, and very appreciated.  I also thought it was really courteous to come tell me, not that I was upset in any way.  I knew I didn’t get a starter, and didn’t expect my main to come sooner than the others.  I had an 11 hour flight ahead of me, I was in no rush at all.

While I waited, additional bread service was provided, which I declined.

Finally, my entree arrived: seared scallops on a Vietnamese salad with a sweet chilli dressing.

Of course, “seared” is a generous term here, since, being on a plane, it isn’t like they were seared on board.  But, I didn’t expect otherwise.

The portion was certainly meal sized, 5 large scallops, served atop a Vietnamese salad and mixed greens, drizzled with sweet chili dressing.

The scallops were warm, and had some color on them, but, they were reheated scallops, and clearly were fully cooked through, not mid-rare as I’d want, and they had no crust or sear to them.  This I expected, but, they also just didn’t have much flavor.  I love the sweetness of a good scallop, and these were fairly flavorless.  I was happy that they were not too rubbery, but, they also were just not very good.

I adore sweet chili sauce, a discovery of mine while living in Sydney, so I was excited for that component as well.  While I didn’t think it went all that well with the scallops, it was good on the salad.

As for the salad, one half of the salad was just mixed greens, totally boring.  But the other half was the “Vietnamese” salad, with shredded carrots, cucumbers, green papaya(?), scallions, and mint.  It was crispy and fresh, and went well with the sweet chili drizzle.  I somewhat wanted a spicier dressing, and I thought the little drizzle wasn’t going to be sufficient, but the slaw was fairly satisfying, and did pair well with my white wine.

Overall, I did like the slaw, but, this was a pretty mediocre dish. Flavorless scallops, mediocre salad.  I ate the slaw, but, I wouldn’t get this again.
Lunch Menu: Bistro Selections, Desserts, Cheese.
Next, up, dessert!

The menu had three sweet choices, in addition to a cheese plate:
  1. Caramel, hazelnut and chocolate shortbread
  2. Apple and blackberry twist
  3. Madagascan vanilla ice cream
I asked for a further clarification of the “twist”, since I really had no idea what to expect.  Was that a pastry?  Instead of a description, the attendant offered to show it to me, along with the shortbread too.

The “caramel, hazelnut, and chocolate shortbread” was a cold dish, a visually stunning layered creation of a shortbread crust, chocolate, and hazelnut, beautifully decorated.  I was very tempted to get this.

But then she told me the apple and blackberry twist was served warm, and I could have my choice of ice cream or cream on the side.  Warm dessert? You know me.  I love warm desserts.  I was sold.
Red Wines, Dessert Wines.
I skipped the red wines, since I’d enjoyed white wine with my meal, and moved on to the dessert wines section, with two choices.

On my previous flight, I had the Soucherie, and found it to be far too sweet, so this time, I went for the port.
Dessert: Apple and Blackberry Twist, Port, Decaf Coffee.
To go with my dessert, I also ordered a decaf coffee.

The dessert was indeed served warm as promised.  It was sliced apples, arranged in a circular pattern.  They were fine, not too mushy, but not really spiced, and I never think apples are that great anyway.  Meh.

In the center was a tiny bit of a moist cake, and a blob of something.  It seemed to be a custard of some sort.  I liked having these components, but neither were spectacular.  The "blackberry" part of the "twist" was a sauce, along with 2 soggy, mushy berries.  I don’t tend to like blackberries anyway, so I didn’t mind, but the ratio of apple to blackberry was a bit strange.  I'd call this an apple dessert.

On the side, I was provided a small pitcher of cream.  I declined the ice cream, even though I love cold ice cream with a hot dessert, since I’d just had an entire tub of ice cream with my affogado in the lounge.  I used some cream, but, it seemed weird to be pouring just regular cream over apple.

The decaf coffee was standard, not remarkable.

And finally, a very generous glass of 1999 Warre’s Colheita Tawny Port.  It was sweet but not overbearing, caramely, a bit complex.  I gladly continued to sip on this, long after my dessert was finished.  The port was the shining star of this course.  In fact, the alcohol far outshone the food in all courses.

My dessert was cleared, however my tablecloth and napkin remained for quite a while after.  Someone even came to check on me several times, and I had no idea why they didn’t offer to take the linens away.  Nor did they offer to top off my water, which had long gone empty.

While service throughout the flight was very friendly and polite, there were little things like this that seemed off throughout the journey.
Highland Chocolatier Boxed Chocolate.
Finally I pressed my call button to ask for sparkling water, and casually mentioned, “I also saw something on the menu about chocolates?”  On my last flight, chocolates were offered after the meal, and this time, they were not.  The gentleman who responded to the call said, “as in, you were skipped?”  I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant, but I guess the chocolates were indeed offered, just not to me?  Strange.  Anyway, he brought me out the box of chocolates to select from, again an offering from Highland Chocolatier.  They were fairly picked over at that point, so I guess yes, indeed, I was skipped.

I tried two, the Milk Langue de Chat and Lime & Chili Truffle.

While I don’t really gravitate towards milk chocolate, the selection was limited, and the langue de chat, "elegant tasters of caramel noted milk chocolate", looked unique.  It was creamy, and quite good for milk chocolate.

I also selected the dark chocolate lime & chili truffle, "tangy limes crushed over white chocolate with a hint of chili".  I expected something spicy, and for there to be a strong dark chocolate component, but instead it was just a thin shell of dark chocolate, with a smooth white filling.  I guess it had some heat to it, but not much, and this was far less remarkable than I was expecting.
Beckleberry's Pastries: Chocolate Brownie, Raspberry Financier.
A few hours later, I was hungry.  Or maybe, just bored.  I’m not sure.  The interesting thing about being in First Class is that they don’t really have snacks.  Sure, I could order another entree, but snacks?  I guess the others flying with me aren’t into chips and the like.  I like to munch on snacks!  Emil assured me that I could ask for some snacks, but I still wasn’t so sure.  I hesitantly asked.

I was told that they had “crisps” or “biscuits”.  My mind went blank.  What were “crisps” again?  Is that what they call chips?  Because “chips” are fries?  And “biscuits”, those are cookies, right?  I asked what kinds they had, hoping that would help.  Instead of rattling off a list, I was invited to visit the business class galley.  The didn’t have much left at this point in the flight, just two types of chips (I mean, crisps).  I pondered, and then was shown some breadsticks and hummus.  I asked about something sweet instead.  They had yogurt, in assorted flavors, including a children’s variety.  Remembering the delicious yogurt I had in both Zurich and London, I almost went for the yogurt, but that still wasn’t quite what I had in mind.  Then I was told that they had “little cakes”.  Well, duh, this is clearly what I had to go for.

In Business, they are served in the package.  But I was told to return to my seat, and my cakes would be delivered to me on a proper plate.

The cakes were from Beckleberry's Pastries.  One was a brownie, with some chopped nuts inside and on top.  It wasn’t particularly moist, nor particularly chocolately.  Pretty unremarkable, just a packaged brownie.

The other was a little financier, served in a tiny tin, with a bit of raspberry jam in the center.  Just like the brownie, it was highly unremarkable.  Not moist nor dry, not flavorful, just there.  Not enough jam to jazz it up.  I appreciated the effort to bring me something else, but, meh.

Note to future self: if I get peckish and want something sweet at this point, just ask for my desserts from the upcoming tea service.  They'll be much better!  Or, have a scone with tea before the full tea service.
English Breakfast Tea, Elegant & English Biscuits.
Around this time, I saw a few others ordering tea.  I was bored, and I was sleepy, so I figured a pot of tea would help wake me up.  It was presented with cookies on the side, or, “biscuits”.  As in my previous flight, an entire pot was served, with a proper teacup, milk and sugar on the side.  Gotta love the presentation.

BA uses Twinings tea, and the English breakfast was exactly what I expected, good with milk and sugar.
Elegant & English Biscuit.
The biscuits were Elegant & English brand.  I wasn't familiar with them, but apparently they are exactly what you are supposed to serve with proper tea, "refined all-butter biscuits".  As an American, I'm not accustomed to biscuits.  They are sorta cookies, very thin, very crisp.  I’d say more like crackers, except, slightly sweet.  But not too sweet.  Clearly buttery.

I wasn't sure what flavor these were, but when I went to the web site to research them, I saw they made 4 flavors, but only the chocolate and raspberry were the dark color I had.  So, they must have been that, although I didn't taste chocolate nor raspberry.

I wouldn't want to really just eat these biscuits on their own, but dunked into tea (like a biscotti with a cappuccino), they did the trick.
Afternoon Tea Menu.
The second meal of the flight is afternoon tea.  The timing of the flight is a bit awkward.  We departed London at 11:30am, but would be arriving in San Francisco at 2:30pm.  What meal makes sense?  Lunch as the first meal worked, but a dinner service at 12-1pm local time wouldn’t really make sense.  So, BA serves afternoon tea, as in, a proper full tea service.

I expected the tea service to be similar to what we had in Club Europe, as the menu sounded similar.  But of course in First Class, things are much more extravagant.

For starters, it came as courses, rather than delivered at all at once, which I really appreciated.  As I noted in my review of the Club Europe tea service, I hated how my scones got cold while I was trying to eat my savory dishes first, so this was a better flow.

The tea service however was a bit overwhelming.  The experienced travelers around me had only the scones and tea, or only the sandwiches, or just a cheese plate instead, but I went for it all.  And I'd been snacking.  Whoops.

Next time around, I'd probably have at least one of the courses earlier on in the flight if I was hungry, and opt for just one scone rather than two.  After this giant meal, I was way too full and sugared up, and it made the whole landing and dealing with customs experience that much more unpleasant.
Tea Sandwiches.
Like in Club Europe, the tea began with sandwiches, 4 different selections.  However, unlike Club Europe, these sandwiches actually had some tasty components.

I started with the “Wiltshire ham with grain mustard”, served on a seedy bread.  I don’t like ham, so this wasn’t for me, but I liked the crunch from the seeds in the bread.  It also seemed to have more of a mayo spread than a grain mustard as described.  My least favorite.

Next I went for the “Asparagus and radish with cream cheese”, served on some sort of rather green bread.  I have no idea what kind it was, the color was certainly odd.  Maybe there was asparagus in the dough too?  The asparagus was spears, the radish shredded, and the cream cheese standard.  I liked how fresh the veggies actually seemed, but this was pretty boring.  My second to least favorite.

I moved on to the one I expected to by my favorite, “Loch Fyne smoked salmon tartare with wasabi mayonnaise”, served on simple white bread.  The salmon was fine, about the same as the other smoked salmon I’ve had on BA flights, but I didn’t taste any wasabi at all.  My second favorite.

The hit of the sandwiches was a complete surprise to me, the last one I tried: “Ploughman’s Cheddar cheese with caramelised red onions”, served on one slice of dark bread and one slice of white.  The filling was creamy and the caramelized onions incredibly flavorful.  I’d love this as a spread on some crackers or something.

The bread for all of the sandwiches was a bit dry and stale, but no where near as bad as on the Club Europe flights, and I liked having that comparison point.  Since the sandwiches are prepared before the flight, there is no way the bread could possibly still be fresh 10 hours later, and I was surprised by how little it had dried out this time around.

I’m not a sandwich fan and didn’t expect to really like any of these, but they are a cute part of the tea service, and were far better than I expected.  As I said, I’d gladly eat the fillings of the caramelized onion and smoked salmon ones again.

Served on the side was a tiny little salad of mixed greens and I think the same shredded veggies that were in my lunch entree salad.  It had a light dressing, but was otherwise unremarkable.
Mushroom Pesto Danish.
As I was finishing my sandwiches, I was surprised when the attendant came back with the bread basket.  The next course was supposed to be the desserts, and I couldn’t imagine wanting a side of bread at this point.  What did she have?

It was an off menu offering, described as a mushroom and pesto danish.  They were served warm, which was nice, but, they weren’t good.  Inside was just chopped up mushroom and I guess some pesto, but the highlight of any pastry like this should be the dough.  It wasn’t flaky, it wasn’t buttery, it was a bit gummy.  Certainly not a winner.
Scones, Jam, Clotted Cream, Patisserie Selections.
And now we were getting to the good stuff.  I was asked if I’d like scones or dessert.  I said yes.  I think perhaps there was supposed to an “or” there, but on the menu, they were listed as separate courses.  But how could I not try ALL the sweet things?  I'm a dessert girl after all, and no deserts thus far on the flight had been satisfying.  I expected the scones to come in a passed basket like in Club Europe, and that I'd get one scone.  But, it all arrived at once, individually plated for me.  My table began to quickly fill up.

I started with the scones, “buttermilk or fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves”, just like in Club Europe.

For First Class tea service, the scones come on a plate with the jam and cream in a little bowl, one each of the buttermilk and fruit.  In Club Europe, the clotted cream came in a plastic container, and the scones were in a passed basket (without tongs!).  I preferred the First Class presentation, although, I would have opted to just have one scone, rather than two, given the overall size of this tea service, if I had known that two would be showing up.

The scones were served warm.  On both my Club Europe flights, I only took one scone, and always opted for the fruit scone.  This time, I tried the plain buttermilk too, since I had it.  It had a slight tang and a nice shiny top, but was fairly plain.  The fruit scone didn't really seem to have much fruit to it, I think it may have had one tiny chunk of dried apricot?  I *think* the scones are actually exactly the same from Club Europe, but I can't be sure.

But really, who am I kidding, scones are just there to be a conduit for the tasty spreads.  As in Club Europe, the jam was Wilkin and Sons strawberry jam, served in a tiny glass jar.  I still just don't care for this jam.  I'm too spoiled by my mother's homemade strawberry jam to generally like commercial varieties, but, this jam in particular just seems lackluster.  No real chunks of fruit, just sweet.  Is this actually a good jam in England?

The clotted cream however was fabulous.  Even though I was totally stuffed, I couldn't help myself from finishing BOTH my scones, just to have an excuse to eat the cream.

A warm scone, a bit of sweet jam, and plenty of clotted cream is a pretty spectacular thing.  It reminded me a bit of my mother's version of shortcake actually, since her biscuits are similar to these scones, and we always topped it with sweet macerated strawberries and whipped cream.  Not the same obviously, but it gave me a tang of homesickness.

The scones were accompanied by "selections from the patisserie":
  • Chocolate Opéra cake
  • Vanilla Madeleine 
  • Passion-fruit and Raspberry Tower
None are items I would pick, but, they did look quite pretty, and I appreciated the garnishes in particular.

I started with the "tower".  From the description, I wasn't sure what a "tower" was going to be, but it had a shredded coconut base, topped with a passion fruit mousse, with a little bit of raspberry puree inside.  It was crazy sweet.  Way, way too sweet.  The mousse was smooth and creamy, but there was just nothing to cut the sweetness.  It reminded me of the mousse I had on my previous flight from Club Europe.  It was my second favorite of the items because I liked the creaminess, so I actually ended up ordering a decaf coffee, black, just to pair with it so I could have something to contrast the overwhelming sweetness.  I finished it, but I wouldn't ever get another.

Next I moved on to the madeleine, a dessert I quite literally never like. This was no exception.  It had powdered sugar on top, which was a nice touch, but it was strangely gummy and moist.  I think due to being kept refrigerated on board?  My least favorite, and I didn't bother taking more than two bites of it.

And finally, the opera cake.  This was the winner.  The chocolate layers were smooth and creamy.  It had some crunchy praline bits inside.  It was truly delicious, and went great with my coffee as well.  I'd gladly eat another of these.
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Friday, December 19, 2014

South Beach Diet Bars

Remember when I reviewed Slimfast shakes a while ago, because they showed up at my house?  Well, it happened again, this time from South Beach Diet.  I did not seek these out, but, I might as well try them, right?

I've heard of the South Beach diet, but didn't realize that they made branded products too.  I thought it was just a diet to follow.  However, a guess diet itself can only sell a few books, so to really be profitable, the empire needs products, so it makes sense.   Thus, along with books and DVDs, they sell branded bottled smoothies, "sweet delights" (aka, chocolate covered nuts and seeds), and a vast array of bars.  They make full meal replacement bars (featuring everyone's favorite soy nuggets for protein), cereal bars (available with extra fiber, or gluten-free if you prefer), and snack bars (several varieties depending on what "phase" of the program you are on).  For those who really want to invest, they also do ready-to-eat meal delivery, bringing you all 21 meals you'll need for the week.

Only a snack bar showed up in the mail for me, and I wasn't about to seek more more of their products, just for the sake of this review.  Sorry, folks!
Chocolate Caramel Nut Snack Bar.
I was sent one of the standard snack bars.  All are only 100 calories, with 6 grams protein and fiber, available in 4 fairly tasty sounding varieties: Whipped Chocolate Almond, Whipped Peanut Butter, Fudgy Chocolate Mint, and Chocolate Caramel Nut.

I received the Chocolate Caramel Nut bar, "with real chewy caramel and crunchy peanuts covered in a delicious, chocolaty layer".

I laughed when I opened the package.  One way to keep calories in check is through portion size.  And ... portion controlled this was.  So tiny!
Inside the bar.
The chocolate coating was actually pretty decent, although, a very thin layer.  The top 1/3 of the bar was the caramel, also pretty decent, and really gooey, as you can see here.  But ... the other 2/3 of the bar.  Sigh.  Soy protein isolate.  Meh.  I can't stand the stuff.  It had a chewy texture that I also didn't enjoy.  I never found the promised peanuts, I think they were ground up inside the bar.

Clearly, not something I'd ever want, and, I didn't actually finish the bar, I just took all the caramel and chocolate off of it and used it over ice cream :)
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Churros from Phat Philly

Phat Philly, as you may recall from my past reviews, is a cheesesteak shop, with really good fries smothered in cheese and other goodness and decent onion rings.

They specialize in things from Philly, and at the register also sell Utz Chips for only $1 and for dessert they used to carry Tastykakes.  I stopped by so many times to discover these amazing Tastykakes, but but they have never, ever had them when I am there.

Thus, I thought I'd never have dessert at Phat Philly, even though I'm a dessert-o-holic.  Until, one day, when I stopped in hoping to snag some Tastykakes (fail!) and saw ... churros were added to the menu!

Phat Philly is located in the Mission, so they clearly know who their audience is.  Churros make sense in that regard.  But a cheesesteak shop selling churros?  This sounded dubious at best.

You may also recall that I don't ever really like churros.  I WANT to like them.  I mean, they are fried dough coated in cinnamon and sugar.  They should be something I love.  But ... I generally find them way too crispy, way too oily, and just rather gross (except once at Nick's Crispy Tacos, but, my followup one there was not good).  Even my beloved Rubio's has failed in the churro department.

But ... dessert.  You know me and dessert.  I can't resist, even if I expect to hate it.  So, I tried one.
Cream Filled Churro.  $2.
The menu listed two types of churros, regular or cream filled.  When cream filling is an option, is there any other choice?  I eagerly ordered and awaited my treat.

It took longer than I expected for my churro to be ready.  I almost started wondering if it had been forgotten.  I think though that perhaps it was actually fried to order?

Finally, it was handed over, all nicely wrapped up.  Piping hot.  So far, so good.

I apprehensively took a bite.  It was crispy on the outside, but not super oily like so many others. Inside was a bit moist and soft.  It had plenty of cinnamon and sugar on the outside, but not too much like the Rubio's ones.  Just the right amount.

And the cream filling.  OMG.  I think it was just a basic pastry cream, but it was warm, comforting, like a pudding.

Crispy fried dough.  Cinnamon and sugar.  Cream.  YES.

Now, to rewind a bit, I didn't grow up with churros.  We had "fried dough".  We had donuts.  The few churros I've had since moving to California have all been the plain variety, not filled.  I've had them a few times at fancier restaurants with chocolate or caramel sauces to dip them in.  But I had no idea filling was even an option.  But it makes sense, since they make filled donuts.  And we even had bavarian cream on our fried dough at the local fairs (I hear this is a regional thing, specific to the Boston area, à la Boston cream pie?)

Cream filling was the extra magic here, adding a creamy element to contrast the crispy exterior, keeping everything moist.  So. Good.

I want another, right now.  Obviously the best churro I've ever had.  I hope these stay on the menu.

$2 was a fine price, perhaps slightly more than local taquerias, but I think it was much fresher, and I'd return to get another in a heartbeat.
Phat Philly Cheesesteaks on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Club Europe, BA715, ZRH-LHR

As you've been reading about the past few weeks, I took a business trip to Zurich (via Mallorca!), and spent a few days in London on my return.  British Airways was my airline of choice, and as you know, I enjoyed my first class flight from SFO-LHR (particularly the waffles!). You'll get to read about the corresponding LHR-SFO return journey next week on Travelin' Tuesday.

But I also needed to get from Zurich to London for the return journey, and I accidentally forgot to publish this review sooner, so, please pardon the slight interruption in continuity, as I've already reviewed the Concorde room, the First Class Galleries Lounge, and the Business Class Galleries Lounge, without explaining HOW I got there in the first place.  Whoops!

The flight experience was fairly similar to the Club Europe journey from LHR-BCN.  The flight was fine, although we were delayed about 45 minutes before taking off, and had to fly around France because of a strike, but besides that, unremarkable.  Flight attendants were friendly and polite, and provided standard BA Club Europe service.
Wine Reserve de la Baume Colombard-Chardonnay.
I started with a white wine.  I had the choice of two, and went for the Chardonnay.  It was fairly drinkable.  Not harsh, a tiny bit buttery, but generally unremarkable.
Afternoon Tea Service.
My meal on this flight, just like my LHR-BCN flight, was tea service. After the last time, I was much less excited about this, as I knew what I had in store for me.  I’d also had lunch not long before, so I didn’t care much.

The tray setup was the same, although I was lacking milk this time, and none was offered with my coffee.

The trio of sandwiches was much better than my previous experience, and I actually ate parts of each of them.

The bread, just like before, was really dried out and stale however.  There really is no way to make sandwich bread not dry out, why do they even try?  I know tiny sandwiches are part of a proper tea service, but … yeah.  There is no way for this to work well.

I started with the vegetarian sando: egg salad on wheat bread.  The egg salad was actually decent.  Not drowning in mayo, but plenty to make it creamy.  While I don’t like sandwiches, I do like egg salad, and I would have gladly had a scoop of this in another form.  Instead, I just ate all the filling, discarding the dried out bread.  Much, much better than the cream cheese and bell pepper vegetarian offering on the last flight, and, I’d eat another of these (well, the filling at least).  Not that it was interestingly seasoned or anything, just standard egg salad, but, sometimes, egg salad is all you need.  My favorite of the trio.

Next I got adventurous, and went for the meat option in the middle.  It had sliced meat that looked particularly frightening.  Some kind of pork?  I didn’t try the meat, but ate the cheese and sliced pickles, because, well, pickles are tasty.  I wish I’d had the foresight to mix the pickles in with the egg salad.  Next time!  Certainly better than the ham offering on the previous flight, but, still not something I wanted again.

Finally, the seafood option, simple smoked salmon with cream cheese on a grainy bread.  The smoked salmon was actually fine, and the cream cheese went well with it.  My second favorite.

Scones were presented at the exact same time as the sandwiches.  This made me sad, as the scones were served warm, and I wanted to enjoy mine warm, but I also wanted the sandwiches first.  Savory before sweet!  And again, the basket of scones was put in front of me, no explanation, no serving utensils.

I again picked the fruit scone.  Last time, I detected a hint of orange, but this time, my scone actually had slivers of orange rind, amping up the flavor considerably.  I think the scone base was probably the same as before, but I was far less into it this time.  I still used up my entire thing of clotted cream, and appreciated the warm scone, the cream, and a bit of jam, but the scone really seemed unremarkable, as did the jam.  I wanted a fresher pastry, and my mom’s jam.

With my scone, I ordered decaf tea.  It turned out, they didn’t have any decaf tea, only regular, or herbal.  I asked which herbals they had, and one choice was given as Earl Gray.  I asked if that was decaf, since I knew BA serves decaf Earl Gray on longer flights, but was told no.  Note to BA: “herbal” and “earl grey” are not the same.  Instead I went for decaf coffee, because I wanted something to go with my scone and dessert.  It was the same strange instant coffee again, somehow chocolate tasting.  It did the trick, but, not something I particularly want more of.  I did again appreciate the lovely cup, with the city skyline on it.
Sweet Treat: Pistachio Madiera Cake.
And finally, another “Sweet Treat”.  I was hoping for a different selection this time, and thought I was in luck, as the shape of the box was different.  As before, the type of treat awaiting me was not revealed until I opened the box.   But alas, it was another pistachio madiera cake, just a smaller one this time.

Now, a reasonable person would recognize that they hated this thing last time and not bother trying it again.  But we all know I’m not a reasonable person.  I had a dessert in front of me, I had to try it, right?

I should have known better.  I mean, I did know better.  Just like last time, I could tell the moment I opened the plastic wrapper that it was horrible and moist and gummy and spongy.  But I still tried it.  It again was awful, tasted like pistachios and a bit like a madeline.  Ugh.  Don’t try these.
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Monday, December 15, 2014

3-3-3 Truck

As you've been reading the past few weeks, my office has been bringing us food trucks for lunch.  This has been fun for me, since I love to try new things.  Sadly, none have been very good.

3-3-3 Truck serves 3 different cuisines, with 3 main ingredients per cuisine, and 3 preparations per main.  Thus, 3-3-3.  To be more concrete, they offer Korean, Mexican, or Indian food.  For Korean, you can pick from short ribs, bbq chicken, or a veggie mushroom tofu mix.  The Mexican choices are carne asada, pork chile verde, and chipotle chicken.  And finally, for indian, lamb curry, chicken tikka, or paneer tikka.  Each of those dishes is available as a taco, burrito, or rice bowl.
The Truck.
The paneer tikka sounded the most promising to me, but on my visit they had a reduced catering menu, rather than the standard menu.  Instead, they were offering only a vegetarian or fish taco.  This was no problem for me, since, as you may have noticed from my slew of Rubio's reviews, I have a thing for fish tacos.
Beer Battered Fish Taco.
This was a very simple fish taco.

The fish was super crispy, which was nice, except that it was just way too fried and oily.  The fish inside was fairly moist, but was not really the type of fish I like - I think it was rock cod?  I greatly prefer pretty much all the fish options at Rubio's, or the nice tilapia at Tropisueño.

It was garnished only with onions and tomatoes, although normally served with their signature "Green Sauce", which is made from fresh avocado, garlic, fresh citrus, and herbs.  Since I'm allergic to avocado, I had to skip that part, and there were no other options for me to add anything additional in.  The taco really needed some creaminess, even simple sour cream like the lackluster catfish taco from Tacqueria Mana was better than nothing.  I'd put this on par with the fish taco at Nick's Crispy Tacos.

The taco shell was a bit dried out, and seemed like it had been sitting out.  Flour tortilla only, I generally prefer the additional flavor of a corn shell.

Overall, very boring, and I certainly wouldn't get again.
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Rickland Orchards Greek Yogurt Granola Bars

As you know, I eat a lot of snacks, and in particular, I like to have different types of bars on hand for whenever I find myself out and about, and needing something quick and easy to munch on.

I was intrigued by the granola bars from Rickland Orchards, as they are all coated or drizzled with various flavors of greek yogurt.  Basically, taking the idea that people often eat greek yogurt topped with granola, and turing it into a portable form.  Rickland Orchards also makes greek yogurt coated pretzels, almonds, granola bites, and caramels.
Blueberry Acai.
"Two nutritional rockstars - blueberry, acai - plus oats, granola and a Greek yogurt coating."

The bar base is made of honey roasted granola, soy crisp nuggets, and almonds sweetened with brown rice syrup and honey, plus dried blueberries in this case.  Drizzled on top, and completely coating the backside, is the "white" Greek yogurt coating.  I'm not sure where the acai was, as it wasn't listed in the ingredients.

The granola was basic sweetened oats, unremarkable.  I didn't care for the taste, nor the texture, of the soy crisps.  The crunch of the whole almonds was a nice touch.

But the real issue here was the sweetness.  It was just out of control sweet.  The base was too sweet, and the "Greek yogurt coating" was way, way too sweet.  I couldn't manage more than a few bites.
Strawberry.
Next I tried the strawberry, basically exactly the same as the blueberry acai.  The bar was again made of granola and soy crisps, sweetened with brown rice syrup and honey.  The top was again drizzled in "Greek yogurt coating", and the entire bottom was coated in it.  It was again cloyingly sweet, and the Greek yogurt coating's first ingredient is sugar.  The strawberry flavor came from "strawberry shapes", made from apple puree, strawberry puree, and strawberry juice.

I was starting to feel a bit deceived.  Yes, it did contain "strawberry" I guess, and technically some yogurt, but, not exactly what I expected from an "orchard".  It did contain 7 grams of protein and only 8 grams of sugar, so not quite as unbalanced as I expected, given the taste and ingredients.
Pumpkin Spice.
During the fall season, when Pumpkin Spice was popping up everywhere, even Rickland Orchards made a Pumpkin Spice bar.

It started with the same base of honey roasted granola and soy crisp nuggets, sweetened with honey and brown rice syrup, with almonds, pumpkin seeds, and dried pumpkin.

This bar didn't taste nearly as sweet as the others, I think due to the pumpkin seeds and their slight bitterness.  The spicing also helped cut the sweetness, and did indeed have classic spices you'd associate with pumpkin: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg.

It was better than the others in that it wasn't as sweet and actually had some interesting flavors in it.  But, it was really hard, not nearly as soft as the others, and almost difficult to bite into.  The best of the "white" yogurt coated ones, but, I still wouldn't want another.


Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Next I moved on to the chocolate greek yogurt coated ones.  Yes, for real.

"Dark Chocolate Flavored Greek Yogurt" was the coating on this one.  Um, what?  It tasted like chocolate, but I have no idea where the yogurt was.

Anyway.  Still made from a base of soy crisps and oats, with a few large chunks of peanut mixed in.  I liked the peanuts, but I've realized that I really just can't stand soy crisps.

It wasn't too sweet like the others, so that was nice.  And chocolate and peanut butter are obviously a great combination.

But ... I still didn't like it.  Soy crisps.  Meh.  I need to stop trying products with soy crisps.
Caramel with Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Flavored Greek Yogurt.
Another one with the magical "dark chocolate flavored greek yogurt".  Again, yes, it was coated in chocolate, but I failed to detect any chocolate flavor.  There was a secondary drizzle of caramel as well, sweet, but not quite as cloying as the white yogurt bars.

The base again had whole almonds along with granola and soy crisps.  The almonds helped mask the soy crisps flavor.

Again, I just don't care for the product in general due to the soy crisps and the sweetness, but, the caramel and chocolate were at least decent. 
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Downtown Bakery

When I first moved to San Francisco and discovered the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings I was, like most others, drawn in by the amazing fruits and vegetables on display.  Once this abundance of produce became "normal" to me, I finally started paying attention to the other merchants.  While most of the prepared foods still never jumped out, the bakeries of course did.  This girl cannot resist her baked goods.

The one with the longest lines is always Downtown Bakery.  Their full bakery and cafe is located in Healdsburg, and has been around since 1987.  Their products always look great, but the lines deterred me for quite a while.  One day I discovered that they make "donut muffins" and I finally had to break down and try it.  I tried a few other items too, including a mini pecan pie for Thanksgiving a few years ago, but sadly, I never really liked anything I tried, and stopped after a few items.

The lines are much shorter these days, but I barely give them a second glance as I stroll past, generally making a beeline for the tastiest stone fruits, persimmons, or other seasonally appropriate item of the day.
Mini Pecan Pie.
Pecan pie is a classic for me.  My mom always makes the classic Karo syrup version, and I love it (although yes, Flour & Co makes a brown sugar nut pie that puts all other nut pies to shame, my mom's included, sorry mom!).  So when Thanksgiving rolled around, I knew I needed a pecan pie.  And a pumpkin pie (more on that later).  But I was planning to cook the entire meal myself for Ojan and I.  I decided to not take a risk with making pies (plus I thought that the two of us shouldn't really have a full pumpkin and full pecan pie to eat just ourselves ... ), so I decided to leave it up to the experts.

They held a special farmer's market on Wed before Thanksgiving, and I was happy to see Downtown Bakery present, with a bunch of pies, and even better, mini pies.  This way, I could have both my pumpkin and pecan pies, and not have a ridiculous amount of leftovers!

But it really was not good.  There was no sweetness in the filling.  No flavor in the filling.  It was just there, and there was very little of the expected gooey sweet layer.  It was however loaded with pecans, as it was 3 layers deep of pecans.  The pecans were all left whole, so it was a bit hard to eat.  They were also toasted and a little burnt even.  It was the inverse problems of the awful pecan pie we had at The Flying Goose.

The crust was also flavorless.  Disappointing, but also s actually pretty gross, and we didn't bother finish it.

[ Not Pictured ]
  • English Muffins ($1.75) : Big huge fluffy muffins, but we got a pack for use with egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, and they were just too much.  Very thick and overpowering.  Not their fault exactly, and they were nice just toasted with jam.  Somewhere closer to a crumpet than what we think of as english muffin.
  • Donut Muffin ($1.75): Probably their most famous item.  Donut dough baked not fried, covered in cinnamon sugar.  Looks like a muffin.  It tasted exactly as you'd expect ... there is a reason donuts are normally fried.  While famous, this was nothing special.
  • Chocolate Chip and Macadamia Cookie ($1): Thin, crunchy, totally generic, no reason to ever eat.
Downtown Bakery and Creamery on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Taro Milk Tea from R & B Cafe

Do you remember when I went through a taro milk tea phase a while ago?  You may recall a slew of reviews, all of fairly mediocre bubble tea, concluding with me deciding that basic Quickly is about the best I can find.  Well, the craving for bubble tea hit me again, and I was delighted to discover that R & B Cafe, located just a few blocks from my office, has bubble tea, and incredibly customizable bubble tea at that!

R & B Cafe offers online ordering via eat24, including through the mobile PayPal app, which I did as I headed out the door, hoping my order would be ready as I walked in.

As an aside, the PayPal app is much more stable now, it no longer crashes like when I ordered a taro milk tea from Chai Yo (spoiler: Chai Yo's version is better than R & B), although my experience wasn't as seamless as when I used it for taro milk tea from Cocoa Cafe (spoiler: Cocoa Cafe MUCH better than R & B).

As I said, I placed my order as I left the office, but unlike my pickup experience at Cocoa Cafe, my order was not ready when I arrived.  Nor was it even started.  Why?  Because they were out of the taro that I asked to have as my "topping", rather than boba (one of the many choices).  So I asked for the red bean as my next choice.  And ... they were out of that.  The only options were regular tapioca, or, popping boba in a few flavors.   Boo.  A lot of the reason I picked R & B Cafe as my source of bubble tea, besides convenient location, was the topping choices!

Anyway, service was friendly enough, and they made my drink quickly once consulting with me on adding regular boba instead, but I won't be going back.
Taro Bubble Milk Tea, Green Tea, Lightly Sweet, Honey Boba. $2.95.
R & B offers incredibly customizable milk teas.

To start, you pick a base of black or green tea.  Since I didn't want tons of caffeine, I went for green.  I can't say I tasted a difference, and many places don't even use tea in their milk teas anyway.

Next, you pick the flavor.  12 different fruity flavors were offered, but, I only wanted taro.  Like most places, a powder was used for the taro flavor.  Unfortunately, even though it was a vibrant purple color, there was somehow no taro flavor to it.  I honestly wouldn't have known it was taro.  Very disappointing.

Next, toppings.  As I mentioned, I was excited to have additional taro in my taro tea, but alas, they didn't have any.  Nor did they have red bean.  I didn't want fruity popping boba, so I went for the classic boba instead.

The tapioca were fairly awful.  Really soft and mushy, just like the horrible tapioca I had in my taro milk tea from Little Garden.  Luckily for me I guess, there really wasn't much tapioca added, which I originally thought was lame when I saw the small quantity in my large drink, but ended up appreciating this since I didn't want the tapioca.

And finally, sweetness.  I appreciated that this was an decision you had to make when you order, rather than needing to specify it separately.  "Light", "Normal", or "Very" were my options, and I wisely went for "light" remembering numerous too sweet experiences in the past.  I think I made the right choice.  It was certainly sweet enough, but not overwhelming.  Perhaps the only element of this milk tea that I actually liked.

Clearly, this was not a winner, and I won't be getting another.

The price of $2.95 was right in the middle of the range of others around town.  Interestingly, a single topping is included in the base price, rather than a $0.50 add-in like most others.  Obviously, the $1.99 Quickly version is the best deal in town, but R & B was more reasonable than $4.40 charged by Little Garden, or $3.50 from Cocoa Cafe or Chai Yo.
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