Thursday, March 20, 2014

Baked Goods (and coffee) From Diller's

Diller's is a deli located in the Financial District, catering to the business crowd, open for breakfast and lunch weekdays only.  Since I usually eat those meals at my office, I don't often have occasion to venture out, but sometimes, I just want something different.  I've had my eye on their apple fritters for literally years (more on that below).

I also like to try out new technology.  Lately, I've been really into paying with the Paypal app on my phone.  It seems like the least clumsy of all the payment systems I've tried, no handing over your phone, no awkward scanning of QR codes.  You just check in on your phone, and tell them your name.  Very easy.

Anyway, Diller's wins the award for using just about every single food delivery and payment system available in San Francisco.  You can order online on Seamless or Orderhead.  Back when it was running, you could use GoPago to order from your phone.  And to pay, you can use LevelUp, Paypal, or LeapSet.  I think there are more.  The front door is covered in stickers for all these services.  I was amused, but also, I applaud them for embracing technology and giving their customers options!

On my first visit, I went for a breakfast pastry, but I also decided to get coffee since it was cold out, and figured I'd appreciate something warm for my walk back to the office.  They had a selection of brewed coffees, perhaps 6 total, one decaf, a few flavored, all self-serve.  I predominantly drink decaf these days, but I couldn't resist making up a mix of 1/2 decaf, 1/4 hazelnut, 1/4 french vanilla.   I haven't been somewhere with multiple coffees and self-serve in years, I'm pretty sure the last time was at a gas station.  I kinda liked this freedom.  The coffee wasn't bad, particularly for not freshly brewed, cup-at-a-time coffee.  I really enjoyed my creation.

I was very impressed with the coffee add-ins station.  There was standard half and half and skim milk, but also soy milk.  And flavored Coffee Mate.  And powdered creamer.  Something for everyone!  And an assortment of sweeteners.  And cinnamon.  And nutmeg.  And cocoa powder.  So many ways to jazz up your coffee!

Service was friendly and efficient on all of my visits, never any lines.

The overall space was great for grabbing a quick bite, featuring a long counter with single stools along the window, perfect for a solo diner, with great sunlight and people-watching.  There were also regular tables in the back.

I only went for baked goods, so I can't say anything about the actual deli, but they also make breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, and have a salad bar.  And an insanely impressive selection of chips and bottled drinks.  Seriously, any brand of chips you ever possibly want, you can find here.

I love the feel of Diller's, as it seems so down-to-earth.  The other patrons all seem like "real people".  It  can be really refreshing sometimes to step away from the world I normally live in, and just blend in.  I plan to return.
Mixed Berry Scone.  $2.50.
I've actually stopped in Diller's before, when I used GoPago to get a donut months ago.  It was a Rolling Pin donut, which I'd heard good things about, but I didn't really like it.  On this visit, I still wanted a baked good for breakfast, but not another donut.  I was hoping for a fritter, but alas, I arrived too late.  The other items didn't call out to me, so instead, I went for a scone.

Now that I'm looking at the options, I think their non-donut baked goods (muffins, danishes, scones, quickbreads, cookies, bars, brownies, etc) come from City Baking Co, but I'm just guessing.  City Baking Co makes scones in both round and triangle shapes.  I had a triangle one before from Prima Cafe, and I really didn't care for that scone.  If I'd known the Diller's ones were from the same bakery, I probably would have gone for something else.  The more you know.

I also find scones to be problematic.  I tend to feel that they have about a 30 second shelf life.  A warm scone, fresh out of the oven, slathered with clotted cream and jam can be quite delicious.  But most often scones are just dry and boring.  Sometimes they can be slightly redeemed by having a great buttermilk tang.  Or a delicious glaze.  But generally ... not my baked good of choice.  I'm not sure why I selected one on this visit, given that I tend to feel this way towards scones.

But alas, I got the scone.  For some reason it looked good, bursting with berries.  I inquired as to what kind it was, and was told "mixed berry".  I'm not certain what type of berries there were, I think raspberries at least.  

The scone was not very good.  Dry, crumbly.  It looked like it would be moist from the berries, but it wasn't.  The base had no flavor, no tang, just plain.  Plain, plain, plain.  And the berries?  Not many at all.

I brought it home, warmed it up, and slathered it with my mother's jam, which slightly saved it, but only slightly.  I won't be getting another.  Price was standard for a fresh baked scone.
Apple Fritter $2.25. Medium Self-Serve Coffee $2.00.
On another visit, I finally lucked out.  They actually had an apple fritter remaining!  I've literally been trying to get one from Diller's for almost two years.  Sure I don't go every day and check, but I've never make it there early enough, and they always seem to sell out of the fritters first.  On this visit, I got the last one.

The fritter was huge.  Massive.  I wish I put something into the photo for reference so you could see how large it was.  The size of ... 4 regular donuts?  I don't know.  This should be illegal.  Or come with a sugar and fat warning label.  Or maybe not, because then I'm pretty certain they wouldn't sell out :)

Luckily for me, it turns out, my crazy quest to get a Diller's apple fritter wasn't all in vain.  It was quite delicious.  Once I recovered from the fact that I was about to eat a ridiculously unhealthy monstrosity, I just dug in, and took it all in stride.

The outside was crispy, coated in a sweet glaze.  The coating was very thick, but that helped make it incredibly crispy on the exterior.  So sweet.  Sugar bomb.

The dough was clearly fried.  It did taste like fried dough, but it wasn't horribly oily like the apple fritter from Henry's.  It was moist in the interior pockets, spiced with cinnamon swirls, and studded with little chunks of apple.  I was a bit disappointed by the small amount of apple, it certainly could have used more.

But overall, it was exactly what an apple fritter should be.  Sweet, crispy, fried, decadent.  Totally not a "breakfast", but we'll pretend.  I only managed to eat 70% of it in my initial sitting (which, I attest is still far more than any human SHOULD actually eat at once), so I brought the rest back to my office for a mid-afternoon treat.  It held up fine for the few hours I managed to ignore it.

$2.25 for such a ridiculous beast of a pastry was a great price, although, I really would prefer if it were smaller.

I also got another coffee, since how do you eat a donut without coffee alongside?  As on my previous visit, I was impressed with the slew of creamers, sweeteners, and spices available to jazz up my coffee.  The coffee was pre-brewed, self serve, but was hot and fresh, even the decaf.  I again enjoyed my coffee, although I made it a bit too sweet, particularly when pairing with my crazy dessert totally-breakfast-appropriate baked good.  I'd happily drink another.
Diller's Delicatessan on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Actual Food From Chai-Yo

I’ve swung by Chai-Yo before, but never for the food, only for the taro milk tea.  I was going through a bit of an, uh, obsession with taro milk tea, and they were one of few places I could order milk tea online, and just swing by to pick it up.  But the place always looked cute when I stopped in, and the food did look good, so I finally visited to get actual food for takeout one weekend.

I placed my order on Seamless.com for pickup, but still didn’t receive my confirmation e-mail after 15 minutes, so I just went to the restaurant, assuming they just forgot to confirm or something.  I’ve only used Seamless a handful of times, so I wash’t certain I was supposed to get another e-mail anyway.  When I arrived, the woman told me that she hadn’t received my order.  I asked her to check again, as Seamless showed my order.  She again said no, and rather insisted several times that I was wrong and ordered from Modern Thai instead.  (This must happen often, as Modern Thai is right down the street, and in fact, I’ve been there before, for the pad se ew a year ago, and more recently for their coconut shrimp and thai iced tea with tapioca).  Finally, she realized the order was there, just no one had seen it and put it in to the kitchen yet.

So, I had to wait, which was fine, as it meant my food was certainly going to be fresh.  I waited in the second room, next to the dining room, which has seating but never seems in use.  That side looks like a dessert parlor, and they have an ice cream counter with several flavors of Mitchell's ice cream, decadent looking cakes (not Thai at all), and is where they make all the drinks.  While I waited, I also used the bathroom.  I’m not one to normally write about the bathrooms unless they are particularly notable, and this one was.  It was huge!  For such a small restaurant, I was really surprised to see so much real estate devoted to the bathroom. It had a large mirror, and a gorgeous counter top.  And it was sparkling clean.  Major points for their bathroom facilities.

Since I was getting my food for takeout, and I wasn’t planning on eating it right away, so I stuck with cold dishes, or, what I thought were cold dishes.  Both were ok, but not really worth going back for.  I’d still consider other menu items if I went back for another taro tea though, and if I were getting a hot dish, they have one dish that sounds fascinating: stir fried taro rice cakes.  Yes, I have a thing for taro!
Soft Spring Rolls with Tamarind Sauce.  $8.95.
I started with the soft spring rolls.  Described as “Rice paper filled with egg, tofu, green leaf, bean sprout and cucumber, topped with real crab meat and tamarind sauce.”  I was surprised when my takeout bag was warm, as I thought I was ordering cold dishes.  These were instead served warm.  Strange.  So I had to try one right away, rather than later as planned.

The temperature wasn’t the only thing that wasn’t standard.  The wrapper wasn’t rice paper like normal, but instead, more of a rice noodle.  Neither Ojan nor I liked the wrapper, it was too thick, and a weird texture.  Almost like a crepe.  It was even worse once it got cold.

Inside the rolls was an assortment of fillings.  Most dominant was fried tofu.  I don’t really like tofu, but I recognized the good execution of the cooking, and there was a generous amount of it.  There was also egg, sorta like chunks of omelet. It reminded me of tamago, and I really liked it, particularly dipped in the sauce.  There was also bean sprouts, cucumber, and some sort of green leaf, but these components were all kinda soggy, perhaps because the rolls are warm?  They were very soggy by the time Ojan got to try them, not successful.

I was really interested in the rolls because of the crab on top.  I love crab, and it is crab season.  There was indeed crab in the dish, but not much.  Just a few bits of shredded crap sprinkled on top.  No chunks.  It was fine, but not very substantial, and I think snow crab rather than local Dungeness.

The tamarind dipping sauce was awesome.  I dunked the crab in it, I dunked the egg chunks in it, and I even dunked my salad in it.  And more things when I got home.  Stellar sauce!

The price was about standard for Thai, and I actually thought it was a bit low since it included crab crab, but given the actual amount of crab, I take that back.  While I liked the sauce quite a bit, the rest of this dish really did not appeal to me, and I won’t order again.
Som Tum Salad. $8.95.
I also ordered a papaya salad. Since I knew I wasn’t eating it right away, I asked for the dressing on the side.  I’m not sure if they normally do that or not.  This dish came chilled as expected.

Described as “shredded green papaya, tomato, green bean, carrot and ground peanut, tossed in chili-lime dressing.”

It was a pretty standard papaya salad, made of up of mostly shredded papaya and carrots.  The vegetables were quite fresh and crispy, and held up fine even a few hours later.  I was disappointed by the other ingredients however, only 6 cherry tomato halves and 4 green beans in my entire salad.  Do you see any here?  Yeah, exactly.  Slightly spicy, as requested.  A decent sprinkling of ground peanuts.

There was also a lot of lettuce in the container, I think normally used as a garnish?  I ended up dunking it in the tamarind sauce from my spring rolls, and then later, once I discovered how delicious the papaya salad dressing was, I moved on to that dressing.  Speaking of that dressing … it was delicious!  I imagine fish sauce based.

So the salad itself was fairly generic and unremarkable, but they won me on the dressing.  I probably still wouldn’t get it again, but given that the dipping sauce and the dressing were both standouts, it does really make me curious about more of Chai-Yo's offerings.  Price was also about standard.
Chai Yo on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

First Class on Virgin America

Update Review, January 2015

(You might wanna start with my earlier review below, then come back here ... )

Whenever I travel to the east coast, I always fly on Virgin America.  The wifi is the feature I just can't live without at this point, but the good food is a strong selling point too.  I've been shocked by the food quality, particularly the really good tuna salad and roasted pear salads I had in Main Cabin.  Sadly, my first experience in First Class was not nearly as impressive.

So when I was recently traveling and was offered an upgrade to First, I was a bit hesitant.  I had actually preferred my experience in Main Cabin Select more than First before, but, I really wanted to give them another chance.

While the service and seat were fantastic, the food again disappointed.
Spicy chili hummus chips.
To start, we were given bowls of very strange looking chips.  The description said they were "hummus" chips, but honestly, I have no idea what was supposed to be hummus-like about them.  They didn't taste like hummus, they didn't seem to be made of hummus, such a strange name.   This was fine with me, since I don't actually like hummus. They were however spicy, as promised, and I did like the crunch.  They were fairly light.

A quick Google search lead me to discover that they are made by Simply 7, a company that makes natural snack foods, preservative-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, etc.  They make 4 types of chips: the hummus chips, quinoa chips, lentil chips, and pomegranate chips.  While "hummus" chips don't make much sense to me, pomegranate chips make the least sense.

I didn't love these, but it was nice to start with something other than just nuts.
Menu.
For the main entree, I had 3 choices, which were honestly quite lame.  Both the hot and cold non-vegetarian options were chicken:
  1. Dijon Chicken with Wild Mushrooms
  2. Rigatoni with Fava Beans
  3. Roasted Chicken Salad
We were also given a few options from the Main Cabin menu:
  1. Green Goddess Sandwich
  2. Artisan Cheese Plate
  3. Protein Plate
  4. Southwest Veggie Wrap
Amusingly, you can guess what the protein was in the Green Goddess Sandwich ... yup, chicken.  The veggie wrap and the protein plate featured hummus, which, as I mentioned with the hummus chips, I don't care for. But I really hate chicken, so I went for the vegetarian pasta.

There was no choice of appetizer, and unfortunately for me it was a salad that contained watermelon, so I had to skip it, since I'm deathly allergic.  The rest of it sounded good though, with arugula, tomatoes, ricotta salata, and proscuitto.
Rigatoni with Fava Beans, Wheat Roll, Hail Merry Chocolate Mini Tart.
As before, meal service was done all at once, with the appetizer, bread, main, and dessert served on a single tray.

My platter is missing the appetizer, obviously.

My tray came with a roll, rather than a bread basket like most airlines, with no options given.  The roll was a hearty wheat roll with some seeds on top, served warm.  It was actually my favorite part of the meal, and somehow wasn't stale tasting.  Plain butter was on the side, along with the signature airplane salt and pepper shakers, so I was able to create salty butter to add, which was fairly enjoyable.

For the main, I selected the pasta, since I wanted nothing to do with the chicken options.  Described as "rigatoni pasta topped with fava beans, caramelized leeks, and roasted grape tomatoes in an herb garlic tomato sauce topped with optional shredded Parmesan cheese".

After my last disappointing pasta experience aboard Virgin America, I didn't have high hopes for the pasta dish, but, anything sounded better than chicken.

Sadly, it was about what I expected, not good.  The rigatoni was the worst component, but I can't say it was really their fault, what do you expect from pre-cooked pasta that is then just warmed up?  The sauce was a close second in the worst component category though, as it was mostly just oil.  I didn't taste any garlic.  Actually, I take it back, the fava beans were the worst part, incredibly overcooked, mushy.  So the pasta, the favas, and the pile of oil were all pretty gross.  As were the breadcrumbs, which were just mush.

But, the roasted grape tomatoes were quite tasty.  Nicely roasted, and I actually loved the flavor.  The parmesan cheese was also decent, and a generous amount was sprinkled over the dish.  I ended up using the tomatoes and cheese on my roll, and created a sorta pizza-like creation.  As for the caramelized leeks, which I was actually looking forward to, I think I only found 2 tiny slivers of leeks in the entire dish.  

And finally, my favorite part of a meal: dessert!

Described as "Rich chocolate ganache cradled in an almond crust with a hint of sea salt."

On my last flight, the dessert was kinda a joke, just a tiny little bar.  It was no different this time.  The dessert was a tiny little tart this time, served with a single blackberry and strawberry half.  The tart was made by Hail Merry, who also supplies the chocolate macaroons and seasoned nuts you can order in main cabin too.  I've enjoyed some of Hail Merry's products in the past, but they are just snacks rather than full desserts.  I believe this tart was from their line of "Miracle Tarts", which are vegan and gluten-free ... not exactly generally selling points for desserts.

I was really saddened by this, not only because I love dessert  but because I had heard that they were serving Humphry Slocombe ice cream on board in First Class.  But alas, I guess that partnership ended?

The blackberry and strawberry were fine, fresher than I expected.  They reminded me of the salad and fruit I've had in main cabin on Virgin America, where I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the produce.  But the tart ... really boring.  The chocolate ganache in the center was creamy and pretty good, but it was gone in a single bite, and I would have loved some whipped cream or something with it.  I didn't taste the "hint of sea salt".  The shell for the tart was very dry and I didn't care for it, I guess it was made from almond meal.

Overall, another disappointing meal.  If I ever wind up in First Class again, I really think I might just order from the main cabin menu, as I've genuinely liked their food in the past.

Original Review, March 2014

My Christmastime trip to the East Coast concluded with a flight from Boston to San Francisco, onboard Virgin America.  On New Year's Eve.  Not exactly when I wanted to be on a plane, but the prices were so much more affordable that day that we couldn't pass it up.

Ojan and I were booked in regular Main Cabin, but moments before takeoff, Ojan was approached and offered a seat in First Class, due to his high One World status.  Wow, thank you Virgin America!  But we were traveling together.  Others seated near us actually asked if I could join him, but they turned me down.  Ojan hesitated, and said no, not wanting to leave me behind.  I told him he was crazy, and encouraged him to go up front.  I was happy for him, and waved goodbye.

We took off, and then ... reality set in for me.  No, I don't mind being deserted for a 6 hour flight, nor do I care that much about the bigger seat.  But, I wanted the other perks: the food and drink!  I've never been in First Class on Virgin America before, but I've been seriously impressed with the food in Main Cabin, like the restaurant quality tuna niçoise salad I had on one flight, and the ridiculously tasty dressing from my arugula and roasted pear salad on another.  If they could do main cabin food that well, what would it be like in the wondrous land of First Class?

Now, not to go into too many personal details, but Ojan has some GI problems that prevent him from being able to drink any alcohol, and require a really strict diet.  His mother packed him all of the snacks and meals he needed for the flight.  He didn't intend to drink or eat a thing up there, while I was sitting in the back, and would need to order and pay for anything I wanted to consume.

So ... once we were airborne, I asked if he was willing to switch with me.  Since he didn't intend to take advantage of anything besides the free movies up there, he nicely agreed to switch.  But ... the flight attendants were not happy with this.  They said that the upgrade was for him only.  I explained that he couldn't drink and had his meals packed, so he wouldn't be using any of the First Class services, but the flight attendant insisted that it was for him only.  I promised we wouldn't try to switch back and forth or anything.  The people seated around me, the same ones who were championing to get me upgraded as well, made remarks about how it really shouldn't matter, please just let us switch, etc.  The flight attendant left, and came back with another attendant, who wanted to hear the story.  Long story short, lots of drama, and they were really not happy with us, but did allow us to switch, eventually.

I excitedly took my seat up in the first class cabin.  8 seats, only 2 others occupied.  Ok, yes, they really could have let us sit together up there, but I understand it was a special status upgrade.  It still would have been nice, given that it was New Year's Eve though!

Anyway, the experience was far from impressive.  The service was fairly non-existent, even though the cabin wasn't full.  Dishes were not cleared after the meal, even as they piled up on our armrests.  Ojan came up at one point in the flight just to say hi, and they actually yelled at him, telling him that he was not allowed up there.  I understand that it is against the rules for Main Cabin passengers to enter the First Class cabin, but they were quite nasty about it.  And he really wasn't bothering anyone, as that entire side of the cabin was empty, and he was just standing talking to me for literally 2 minutes.  Rules are rules I know, but it just wasn't the nicest treatment.

The seat itself was a major upgrade obviously, as was the dedicated bathroom, but besides that, I would actually prefer sitting in Main Cabin Select.

But the most disappointing part ... the food was not very good!  Honestly, everything I've ever had in main cabin is much better.
First Class Menu.
In regular Main Cabin, the menu is provided via the in-flight entertainment system, where you can browse the menu, and order from your seat electronically.  In First, the menu is printed and handed out when you sit down.  This is nice in theory, except that it is collected immediately after you order your meal, so you no longer even have a drink menu to consult for future orders.  The menu contains all of the meals they serve, not just the ones available on your flight.

While none of the food options in Main Cabin are hot, the options are plentiful.  In First, there is a single appetizer, a choice of entree that is either vegetarian or not, and a single dessert.  Just based on choices, I preferred Main Cabin dining.

The entire dining service really did not seem First Class worthy.  There was no preflight beverage offered.  No water bottles given out.  Not even warm nuts.  No after dinner drinks offered with dessert.

But even more strangely, once the meal was served right after takeoff (which is normal obviously), there was no later service offered.  In Main Cabin, you can order snacks anytime from your seat.  I could press my call button to order another drink, which I had to do since we were very rarely checked in on, but I had no menu to consult to even know what was available for drinks.  And, there were no additional snacks offered.
Appetizer: Roasted Pear Salad with Goat Cheese. 
Our appetizer was a salad, with roasted pears.  I was thrilled when I read the description: "roasted pear and gratin of goat cheese, served on arugula mesclun salad, with toasted walnuts, dried figs, grape tomato, and fig vinaigrette", since I had really enjoyed the two salads from Main Cabin, and the pear salad then had such memorable dressing.  This would be better, right?  Wrong.

The part that was better was the pears.  Two slices, decently poached but still a bit firm so they weren't mushy.  They were good enough, but I don't really like poached pears.

The other salad toppings were a bit laughable.  "Toasted walnuts" equaled literally one walnut half.  A great component, added a crunch factor, but a single half?  "Grape tomato" actually did mean a single grape tomato, which was actually nice and juicy, and I would have loved another.  "Dried figs", just like the walnuts, meant one half a dried fig.  Another ingredient that was a great addition, adding a chewy texture and complimentary flavor, but only one?  The "gratin of goat cheese" seemed pretty indistinguishable from just a regular slice of goat cheese.  And I don't like goat cheese.

I was fairly disappointed at this point, but the real failure was the dressing.  Not only was it not delicious like the other dressing I'd had previously, it just wasn't good at all, somehow both cloyingly sweet and sour at the same time.  And, it was drenching the entire thing.  In Main Cabin, the dressing comes on the side, here, it had been smothered for us.  This isn't necessarily Virgin America's fault, as I'm sure there is variance based on who is pouring the dressing on, but ugh.

The salad was a nice mix of greens, but they were just a pile of sogginess due to the excessive dressing.

Was this worse than any other airline salad?  Nah.  But it was worse than any First Class, or even Business Class salad that I've had, and it wasn't even in the same league as their Main Cabin salads.  Sadness.
Entree: Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage.  Wheat Roll.  Dessert: Chocolate Coconut Bar.
Next came the main meal.  The entree and the dessert were served all at once, on one tray.  Again, didn't quite seem like First Class service, particularly as this wasn't a short flight, so they weren't trying to consolidate service.  No drink refills were offered with our main courses.

I picked the vegetarian option, as it sounded quite good: "pumpkin and sage-stuffed al dente ravioli, with roasted butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts, roasted tomato, and sage brown butter sauce – all garnished with fresh sage leaves and parsley."

This sounded promising.  I love pumpkin and butternut squash, and I had a really quite fantastic similar dish on board American Airlines a month earlier, and I know ravioli is something they can reheat decently on an airplane, compared to the meat option (steak).

It wasn't very good.  There wasn't much sauce at all, it was just oily.  The ravioli was glistening.  This would be fine if it was delicious brown butter, but it did not have the nutty characteristics of brown butter, nor did it even really taste like butter.  Just slick and oily.

The ravioli (five of them) were certainly not "al dente" as advertised, rather they were a bit mushy, although I did like the edges since they were more firm.  Inside was a pumpkin and ricotta blend, with a strange spicing that I didn't care for, and chunks of squash.  The chunks of pumpkin on top were well cooked and I enjoyed them.  I have no idea where the "roasted tomato" was, I certainly didn't see nor taste it. The hazelnuts were whole, and more burnt than toasted, adding an unpleasant bitterness.  I did actually like the fact that they garnished it with fried sage leaves, which was great in theory, but instead were oily and soggy.

I was pretty disappointed by this, and mostly just ate the squash.  However, since no one came to clear our plates, I had it sitting there for quite a while, and eventually I ended up picking at it again.  It turned out that it got better as it got cold, as the paste turned more al dente.  Anyway, still not very good.

The other entree option was Filet of Beef Saltimbocca: "Prosciutto-wrapped beef fillet, served with sautéed mushrooms, horseradish-chive mashed potatoes, onions, and green and yellow beans."  It was a large steak, and looked decent, but how good can microwaved steak really be?  Even though I didn't really like mine, I'm pretty sure I made the better choice.

My meal was served with a roll, a dark wheat roll, nice crusty outside, and a packet of generic Land O'Lakes butter.

Also on the platter was an adorable plane shaped salt and pepper shaker.  Ok, they win points for that.  So cute.

The dessert was a pathetic chocolate coconut bar, made by Sweet Lady Jane.  It was small, and perhaps the least interesting dessert I've ever had on a plane.  It had a strong coconut aroma, a chocolate drizzle on top, almonds inside, and a shortbread crust.  The filling was really mushy.  It wasn't that great, and it didn't standalone very well.  It didn't seem very fresh.  No whipped cream or anything was served alongside.  Well, actually, there was a half slice of strawberry, incredibly dried out.  Least remarkable dessert ever.  Again, American Airlines had them majorly beat, as they offer hot cooked baked on board, and ice cream sundaes.
Taster's Choice Instant Decaf.
There was no beverage offered with dessert, since it came on the same tray as the entree.  I wanted coffee to pair with my measly dessert, and went for the decaf.  It was just instant Taster's Choice brand, the same as what they have in Main Cabin.  It was totally awful, but I really wanted hot coffee with my dessert!  At least in First Class, it is served in a mug, rather than a paper cup.

My water glass was empty, and no water refill was offered.  I also tried the Circadia Chardonnay with my entree, it was ok, a bit too acidic.

Several hours later, when it became obvious that no additional food service was going to be provided, I called my flight attendant to ask if there were any snacks available, since I'd seen the listing back in Main Cabin.  She said she'd bring out a snack tray.  A while later she came around with a tray containing nuts, popcorn, cookies, and chocolate, all items included in the Main Cabin menu, but alas, not any of the Main Cabin snacks I actually wanted.  I asked if I could order a different Main Cabin snack instead, and got a very confusing answer.  I gave up and just had popcorn.

Since the beverage selection was the same, and the meal and snack selection actually greater in Main Cabin Select, I think I greatly prefer Main Cabin Select, which really makes no sense.  Besides the seat, First Class on Virgin America was incredibly disappointing.  I hope my experience was just a single bad case, but I can't say I have any desire to book First Class again to find out.
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Catering by Presidio Social Club

As I mentioned last week in my review of catering by Dobbs Ferry, my office ordered catering from several local San Francisco restaurants, as part of an experiment.  For a month, each restaurant provided food once a week.

I haven't ever visited Presidio Social Club, although I almost did a year or so ago.  You may recall that I had a bit of a foie gras obsession, particularly right before the California ban went into effect.  I ate a ton of foie.  And then, on that tragic day, it (mostly) vanished from San Francisco.  Presidio Social club however was in an interesting position.  They are located on federal land as part of the Presidio National Park, and thus, the California law did not apply to them.  So, they continued to serve it for a while.  I was actually planning to go when I heard that they pulled it from the menu.  Sigh.

So I never went, but when I heard they were providing the catering, I was excited.  I knew we wouldn't get foie, but I also knew Presidio Social Club was supposed to be a decent restaurant.  But since they are not a standard caterer, I didn't really know what to expect, and I know it is a bit unfair to judge them entirely on this experience.  I present this very clearly as a review of their catering services, not the restaurant itself.

It was a mixed bag, as they really brought a large variety of dishes, some more successful that others.  The first week, it was healthy soup and salad, and I didn't care for either.  The next week, it was full on comfort foods, which I loved.  And on the next, rustic style, which I also didn't like.  But all of it was far, far better than Dobbs Ferry, the other restaurant who provided our catering throughout this experiment.
Chopped Kale Salad: shaved garden vegetables, toasted seeds, sherry vinaigrette.
On the first catering event, they went healthy and simple, with just a salad and a soup.  I tried both, starting with the chopped kale salad.

Yes, kale is very trendy this days, but I do like it, and I absolutely love delicata squash, so I was thrilled to see it included in the "shaved garden vegetables".  However, it was … raw.  Shaved thin, but still raw, which just wasn’t very tasty.  This was sadness, as delicata can be one of the most delicious things ever, particularly when roasted and slightly caramelized.

The salad base was kale, and the other shaved vegetables were radish and carrots.  All fresh and crisp.  There were sesame seeds as garnish on top for a bit of crunch.  But overall, it had no flavor, and was not remarkable in any way.

I wouldn't get this again.  Served as an appetizer for $12.50 at lunch and dinner.
East West Chicken Soup: Jidori chicken, egg noodles, carrots, ginger, scallions, cilantro.
Alongside the salad was chicken soup.  Now, I don't like chicken at all.  And I rarely like soup.  But I still really wanted to try it.

The soup was really oily.  As in, lots of visible oil floating on top.  The noodles and carrots were soggy.  The broth didn’t have a particularly good flavor.  Said a coworker, “This is the most unremarkable chicken soup I’ve ever had”.  Another said it was indistinguishable from canned soup.

I wouldn't get this again.  Served as an appetizer for $11.50 for lunch and dinner.

At this point, I wasn't excited about Presidio Social Club.  Their soup and salad failed to impress, but, those are not items I'd normally order anyway.  On the next visit, they went in a total different direction.  Rather than healthy appetizers, they went for total comfort food entrees, much more up my alley!
Classic Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Natural Jus.
The first entree selection was meatloaf, served over mashed potatoes.  It didn't look all that great, and given all the other catering experiences, I didn't expect much of it.  I was wrong.

This meatloaf was delicious.  Very moist and flavorful, made with a mix of beef and pork, with bacon fat added in for good measure.  It also seemed to have a bit of a sear on the edges, which gave a crispy crust which I enjoyed.  On top was the "natural jus", which had its flavor amped up with red wine and port.  Very, very good meatloaf.

The mashed potatoes were also good, incredibly smooth and creamy.  Clearly, there was plenty of heavy cream and butter used.  The potatoes also soaked up the jus well, and I liked dipping my meatloaf in them as well.

I really liked this, and would gladly eat it again.  It is on their regular lunch menu for $17.50.
Macaroni & Cheese with Herbed Bread Crumbs.
The vegetarian offering alongside the meatloaf was mac and cheese.  Both full size entrees, but both things I really like, so I couldn't resist getting the mac and cheese too.

The mac and cheese was made with a slew of cheeses: Blue Cheese, Cheddar, Fiscalini Cheddar, Gruyere, and Grana Padano.  As such, I expected it to be very cheesy and flavorful, but I think the combination of so many cheeses caused them to cancel each other out and mask each other.  The cheese sauce was creamy and coated the noodles well, but didn't have the flavor I was hoping for.

The noodles were a bit overcooked, the whole thing was mushy.  The bread crumbs on top were very oily and not crisp.  This could have just been a side effect of being catering and sitting in a hot box for a while.

Overall, it was ok, but not that great, and I wouldn’t get it again.  Probably a little better than most homemade mac, but not restaurant quality.  On the regular lunch menu for $12.00.
Winter Farro Stew.
On the next visit, they went an entirely different direction again,  this time featuring rustic style dishes,  with a braised chicken thigh as the meat option, and winter farro stew for vegetarian.  Since I really don't like chicken, I went for the stew, even though I admit that the chicken did look good.

It was called a stew, but it didn't have any broth, so I'm not quite sure why it was a stew.  Rather, it seemed like just warm farro with wild mushrooms and kale.

I like farro in general, but this was way overcooked.  The entire thing was just a bowl of textureless mush.  The farro was mush, the kale was mush, even the mushrooms were mush.

The flavor also wasn't there.

Did not like, at all.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Läderach Chocolatier Suisse

Another day, another co-worker returns from a trip abroad with chocolates to share.  This time, boozy Swiss truffles for Zurich.

His offering was from Läderach Chocolatier Suisse.  Chocolate has been in the Läderach family since the 1920's, and the company has been handed down generation by generation.  That is about all I know.  Well, besides the fact that they make tasty truffles, and are only available in Switzerland and Germany.  I was particularly impressed by how good the creamy milk chocolate shells were, and the consistency of the creamy fillings.
24er Truffes mit Alkohol: Milch, Cocos, Baileys, Dunkel, Weiss, Marc de Champagne (L-R).
  • Truffes Milch: "Truffle made from milk chocolate (at least 36% cocoa) and dark chocolate (at least 52% cocoa), with a milk truffle filling."  Tasting notes: Very smooth milk chocolate filling.  A simple truffle, but well made, high quality, with lovely milkiness, if you like milk chocolate.
  • Truffes Cocos: "Truffle made from milk chocolate (at least 36% cocoa) and white chocolate, with a Batida de Coco truffle filling." Tasting notes: Smooth creamy milk chocolate shell, with a sweet creamy filling, more liquidy than the others, but not explosive.  The filling had a good coconut flavor to it, and was slightly boozy.  I really liked the chocolate, coconut, and booze flavor combinations, and this was my favorite of the truffles, but it was certainly a sweet choice.
  • Truffes Baileys:  "Truffle made from milk chocolate (at least 36% cocoa), bittersweet chocolate (at least 52% cocoa) and white chocolate, with a Baileys truffle filling and a dash of Scotch whisky."  Tasting notes: The same creamy milk chocolate shell as the others, that I really liked, even though it was clearly a milk chocolate.  Inside was a smooth milk chocolate, clearly boozy, clearly Bailey's.  A very nice piece, particularly if you are in the mood for a hit of booze!
  • Truffes Dunkel: "Truffle made from bittersweet chocolate (at least 52% cocoa) and dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), with a dark truffle filling." Tasting notes: I usually like dark chocolate more than milk, but here I didn't find the dark very remarkable. The bittersweet shell was much sweeter than I expected.  The filling was smooth and darker, but it just wasn't very complex.  It was only a mediocre dark chocolate, while their milk chocolate was stellar.
  • Truffes Weiss: "Truffle made from white chocolate with a white truffle filling."  Tasting notes: I didn't get to try this one, I had to share with others ... boo hiss.
  • Truffes Marc de Champagne: "Truffle made from bittersweet chocolate (at least 52% cocoa), with a Marc de Champagne truffle filling."  Tasting notes: Rolled in white powdered sugar, surrounded by a milk chocolate shell like most of the truffles.  Inside was a smooth chocolate filling, with another creamy, boozy filling in the center.  I wasn't entirely sure what the booze was in it until I looked it up later, but it was too delicate to be rum, so I wasn't surprised to learn it was champagne.
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