Thursday, November 13, 2014

Arizmendi Bakery

I recently attended an event with treats provided by Arizmendi Bakery, which gave me a chance to try a bunch of their cookies.  I've also enjoyed their other baked goods in the past, although I only have tasting notes no photos from then. You'll have to do your best to imagine what a muffin looks like! :)

I didn't find the cookies very remarkable, but their muffins and scones are some of the better ones I've had, and their "Chocolate Thing" is pretty amazing.  They have several locations in San Francisco, along with their sister operation, the Cheeseboard Collective, in Berkeley.

Cookies / Shortbreads

Spicy Chocolate Shortbread.
Wow, this packed some heat!  I know it said spicy chocolate, but I didn't expect it to have SOOO much intensity.

Anyway, it was a classic shortbread, with crunchy chocolate bits, and uh, something spicy.  Like Mexican chocolate, but in a shortbread.  I really enjoyed it paired with my coffee.
Cinnamon Anise Shortbread.
This is the one I expected to have the more intense flavor, as it featured both cinnamon and anise.  The top was brushed with cinnamon, and there were little bites of anise in it.  The flavors were subtle though, which was fine, just not what I expected.  Or maybe my taste buds were just blown from the spicy chocolate!  I appreciated the crunch from the anise bits.
Lemon Rosemary / Espresso Shortbreads.
I'm guessing the flavors here, as a friend brought these to a party.

The darker colored one most certainly had espresso in it, super strong coffee flavor, bit of texture from the grounds.  Once I realized it was caffeinated however I didn't have more, as I was avoiding caffeine late in the day.

The other was perhaps lemon rosemary?  It certainly had herbs and a strong citrus flavor.  A decent enough basic shortbread.
Chocolate Chocolate Cookie.  $2.
A hard style cookie, fudgy chocolate base, with chocolate chips.  Pretty intense chocolate flavor.  Not really my style of cookie, as I prefer soft ones.  A bit small for a $2 cookie, but I didn't actually want it to be any bigger.
Ginger Cookie.  $2.
Again, hard style which I don't care for, but good ginger flavor.  Not particularly complex.  Fairly small for $2.  Unremarkable.

Rolls / Breads

Double Chocolate Tea Cake.  $5.50 per loaf.
This was probably my least favorite item. It was dry, and somehow didn't have any flavor.   Even though it had chocolate chips in it, and it was chocolate bread, it wasn't chocolatey.  I had a single slice out of a small loaf, normally $5.50, which seems pricy for the size.
Gingerbread Tea Loaf.
Tea loafs are not ever that exciting to me, but I still tried a slice.  For what it was, it was good.  Very moist, amazing ginger flavor.  But still, just a slice of gingerbread, and not particularly interesting to me.
Chocolate Thing. $2.50.
Yes, "chocolate thing" is its real name.  Described as "sweet broiche with chocolate chunks".

It was a moist, good sweet bread, with dark chocolate chunks.  Yum!!!  (Note: It did not freeze and reheat well at all.)

Update review: Good quality dark chocolate, in large chunks, but it was otherwise dry and uninteresting.  We speculated that it would be better warm.
Pecan Roll. $3.
This was very lackluster.  Not moist, not gooey.  Very disappointing.
Raisin Cinnamon Swirls?
Some friends brought these to a party, and dubbed them cinnamon rolls.  This doesn't really match what I thought Arizmendi's cinnamon rolls are like though, so I'm not really sure what these were.

I tried a chunk of one, but didn't really care for it. It was very dry, more like a scone than a roll.  It wasn't very cinnamon-y, but I'm not sure if it was supposed to be?  It had tons of raisins, both golden and regular (meh!).  It had no glaze or icing on top, but did have a little bit of sticky something.  I liked the sticky bits, but there wasn't much of that.

I'm really not sure what this was trying to be, but, it wasn't for me.

[ Not Pictured ]
  • Wolverine: "Sourdough roll loaded with pecans, cherries, raisins, apricots."  $2.50.  Tasting notes:  This was ok, but I don't love sourdough.   Best toasted with butter.
  • Asiago Cheese Roll. $1.50. Tasting notes: Very cheesy! But sourdough, which I don't like.
  • Sweet Brioche, filled with cinnamon and raisins.  $2.50. Tasting notes: Very moist, nice cinnamon flavor, juicy and plump raisins added a nice moisture.  But it dried out pretty fast, better once re-warmed. [ Really delicious, even when frozen and re-heated.  Moist, cinnamon flavor, juicy raisins, sweet, nice dough. ]

Muffins / Scones

Over the years, I've tried several different scones and muffins from Arizmendi.  The Corn Cherry Scone remains one of the best scones I've ever had.  
Daily Fruit Scone.
Some friends brought these to my house for a party, and they didn't know what kind they were, just, the daily fruit scone.  They seemed to be ... blueberry pear perhaps?

I didn't care for them.  The scones were very dry and crumbly, with no interesting flavor in the base.  No tang at all.  The fruit was there, but, overall, these were just dry and flavorless.


[ Not Pictured ]
  • Muffins
    • Cranberry & Apricot Muffin.  $2.  Tasting notes: Very moist on the inside and outside.  All flavor comes from the cranberries and apricots as the batter itself pretty boring and plain.  This froze and reheated fine too.
    • Blueberry Millet Muffin.  $2.  Tasting notes: More flavorful than the cranberry since it has millet to add a nice earthyness.   Again, moist inside and out.  I really liked this, it reminded me a corn muffin and a blueberry muffin crossed into one.  Good quantity of blueberries and nice crunch from the millet.  A great price for a large muffin too.
  • Scones
    • Corn Cherry Scone.  $2.75. Tasting notes:  Really freaking good.  Bursting with flavor from the dried cherries.  And I love corn muffins/corn bread, and this took the wonderful flavors of corn and put them into a scone … genius!  Yum!  One of the best scones I've ever had.
Arizmendi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dessert from Darbar

Darbar is a Indian restaurant in Nob Hill.  I haven't actually been there for the savory food, I just swung in to pick up a rice pudding to go, when I was seriously craving rice pudding, and found myself nearby.  I was literally just walking by, recognized the name of the restaurant from having read what I recalled to be decent reviews, and decided it was worth a try.   I really wanted rice pudding! (Have I mentioned that I love pudding?)

The restaurant is small, with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet set up along one side for $7.99.  It was 12:45pm on a Sunday, and there was only one patron in the entire place.  I think that buffet does not see much action, never a good sign.

I ordered my rice pudding from the woman at the register, expecting her to take one out of the cooler next to her, where beverages and pre-packaged rice puddings were waiting.  Instead, she called back for an assistant, who came out with a little container, and proceeded to walk over to the buffet.  There, he scooped rice pudding from the big vat that was sitting on the buffet line.  He put a lid on it, wrapped it in saran wrap, and handed it over in a paper bag.  WAT!

I appreciate that they wrapped it in saran wrap, which helped minimize any mess.  But um ... why didn't I get one of the pre-packaged rice puddings, and instead get one of the contaminated ones from the buffet?  I was too blown away by this move to even say anything.  Buffets are notoriously gross, this one clearly wasn't high throughput, and the rice pudding was just out at room temperature.  Ahhh.  Not cool.  Literally.

The woman behind the counter pointed out to the guy who gave me the rice pudding and bag that he should have included a spoon for me.  So, he included a fork.  At this point, I was still in shock over the buffet antics, so I didn't bother giving him the plastic fork back.

Anyway, the rice pudding was fine, but I won't be going back.
Darbari Kheer.  $2.
I almost didn't eat the rice pudding, as I was so disgusted by the whole buffet thing.  But ... I love rice pudding.  I really wanted it.

It was very simple rice pudding, described as "rice pudding enriched with nuts", but I didn't find any nuts in mine.  Perhaps there was a sprinkling of pistachio bits?  It was just basic rice pudding, short grain rice, a bit al dente, in a thin creamy sauce.  It had some spicing, but I couldn't quite identify it.  It wasn't particularly good nor bad.

$2 was a fine price for a little cup of rice pudding, right in line with the similar portion I had from Lahore Karahi.  In fact, it reminded me a lot of the version from Lahore Karahi, not just in size and price, but also consistency, flavor, everything.  Perhaps they don't make either in house and it comes from somewhere?  I do appreciate restaurants offering small desserts.

While the rice pudding wasn't bad, it wasn't memorable enough to bother going back for, scooped from the buffet or not.  I'm still claiming the packaged stuff from Juan J's is the best I've had around town.
Darbar on Urbanspoon
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Funnel Cake from California's Great America

This past week, my group at work went on an offsite to ... California's Great America.  Now, Great America closed for the season a week or so before, but, somehow we were able to rent out the park just for us.  Only a handful of rides were open, and none of the arcade games or stands, but it was still pretty awesome having the park to ourselves.

But this is not Julie's Theme Park Review Club.  Of course while we were there, we had to eat, but the regular concession stands were also closed.  For lunch, they set up a buffet in a pavilion.  The food was horrible. I didn't bother take photos.

The lunch buffet included chicken, pulled pork, hot dogs, black bean burgers, baked beans, mac and cheese, and mixed salad.  I didn't try any of the meat, nor the salad as the lettuce looked incredibly wilted.  The baked beans were very watery (although fairly spicy), and the mac and cheese wasn't really cheesy.  The mac was the best part of the savory food, but it was mostly just mushy noodles in congealed cheese sauce.  Others recommended generously applying condiments to the food to make it taste like something.

Scattered around the park they also set up a few bars with beer and wine.  They required photo id to get wine, and, I didn't bring my wallet with me.  Sigh.   I wasn't actually able to get any beverages while out in the park, as they bars didn't even have water, even though it was a hot, sunny day.  Inside the picnic grounds they had regular soda fountains, way-too-sweet lemonade, and tap water.  I made do with the orange soda and Mello Yellow from the soda fountain, somewhat out of nostalgia more than actual desire to drink the stuff.

Also at the lunch buffet were mediocre brownies and chocolate chip cookies.  The cookies were really soft, and not bad, although, not really any better than a Soft Batch Chips Ahoy.  I also discovered ice cream freezers near the soda machines that ... yes, had frozen treats!  I'm pretty sure most of my co-workers never noticed this.  You know I can't resist ice cream, so I eagerly dug into the selections: Outshine Bars (just popsicles, I skipped these, they also looked freezer burned), Wonka Push Up Pops (icy, not really creamy, I have no idea if these are "ice cream" or "sorbet" or what, plus it was a really strange flavor ... I think it was supposed to be cherry?), and mini Drumsticks (Lil' Drums).  Now, I haven't been super impressed with Drumsticks in the past, but after all this fairly awful lunch, it was quite welcome.  Plus, the mini ones are adorable!  Sure, the ice cream wasn't that creamy, the cone a bit soggy, the scattering of nuts insufficient, but, I enjoyed it more than anything else in my meal.

But, I wasn't there for the lunch.  Or, perhaps, not even for the rides.  When I say all the concession stands were closed that is a slight lie.  They did have a single popcorn stand open, and really pushed the popcorn on us every single time we'd walk by.  They also brought it around whenever they saw groups standing around.  They really wanted us to eat that popcorn.  Of course we eventually tried it, even though Ojan scoffed at it as he took a box full, "it isn't even freshly popped!".  It was ridiculously salty, not exactly fresh, worse than mass-produced chain movie theater popcorn, yet ... addicting, due to the salt level I guess.  And recall how I had no water?  This didn't leave me the happiest person.

But there was one more stand open: the funnel cake stand.  Our event organizer made sure of it.  I may or may not have been there for the funnel cake alone.
Funnel Cake with "Everything".
Where I grew up, we had fried dough, not funnel cake.  Similar, but different in a few key ways: fried dough has much less surface area exposed to the oil, so you get less fried-ness.  It is also made with yeasted, risen dough rather than batter, so it is doughier.  Which I prefer.  But, a good funnel cake is still good (like the one our pastry chef makes at my office!).  I mean, it is still deep fried dough after all.

But sadly, this was not a good funnel cake.  It was impressive ... in its size.  But it was way too oily, way too fried, and the oil tasted stale.  I really, really did not like the funnel cake.  Luckily for me, there was much more to this funnel cake than just the funnel cake itself.

Where I grew up, fried dough was always topped with butter, cinnamon, and powdered sugar, or perhaps some bavarian cream if you were being crazy.  And at Great America, you can just get powdered sugar.  Or you can add chocolate sauce, caramel, whipped cream, strawberries, or ice cream.  Or all of it, which is how the server suggested it.  I have never heard of ice cream on funnel cake.  That is just ... odd.  But ... why not?

The ice cream was soft serve, offered in vanilla, chocolate, or swirl.  It was classic soft serve, pretty tasty, and my favorite part of this ridiculous creation.  The chocolate sauce was just regular Hershey syrup, from a squirt bottle, thin and watery.  The caramel was totally lost.  The whipped cream came from a can, standard.  And, the strawberries were mostly just gooey syrup, crazy sweet, but actually quite tasty with the whipped cream and ice cream.

Ojan and I shared a funnel cake with "everything", and didn't finish the funnel cake part since neither of us liked it.  But a few hours later, bored with the rides and popcorn, we returned for another ... sans the funnel cake.

I asked for just an ice cream sundae, and was told they didn't have them.  I explained, "just the ice cream, strawberries, chocolate sauce, caramel, and whipped cream", and was again told that they couldn't do that.  I persevered, and ordered "a funnel cake with everything ... except the funnel cake".  Now, that worked.  Our second sundae was less satisfying, I think just because we were a bit sugared out at that point.  But, if you go to Great America, I recommend it that way.  The funnel cake just isn't good on its own.
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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Hawaiian Host Chocolates

Hawaiian Host is a confectioner from Hawaii, specializing in products using macadamia nuts.  They make plain, salted nuts, but most of their products involve chocolate in some form or another.  When co-workers have returned from Hawaii I know they've brought the macadamias, plain and chocolate coated before, and I never really cared for them.  But, Hawaiian Host is "World Famous" and has been around since 1927, so when I saw them at L & H Hawaiian BBQ in San Francisco, I couldn't resist picking up a few treats, since I love trying new chocolates.  Sadly, I didn't like them any more than the low quality macaroni salad from L & H either ...
Maui Caramacs®.
Hawaiian Host makes a large number of Caramacs®, all featuring roasted macadamias, caramel, and chocolate.  Kona Caramacs® add Kona coffee to the caramel and Coconut Caramacs® infuse the caramel with coconut and are dusted in additional coconut, but I had the originals, Maui Caramacs®.

I really didn't like them.  The caramel was too chewy, the macadamias bitter, and the chocolate unremarkable.
MacNut Crunch.
I moved on to the MacNut Crunch, "dry-roasted macadamia nuts and crisped rice covered in rich milk chocolate".

I also didn't like these.  The nuts were again bitter, and the rice was crispy, but not enjoyable.  Same mediocre chocolate.
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