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.
R&B Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Galleries Business Class Lounge, Terminal 5 Heathrow.

After venturing through the Galleries First lounge, I realized I still had time to do a little more lounge hoping, so I decided to downgrade further to check out the Business class lounge, located right above the Galleries First Class Lounge and the Concorde Room.  I was only able to visit during breakfast hours however, as my lunchtime trip was spent dining in the formal dining area of the Concorde room.

Just like when I entered the Galleries First lounge, I presented my boarding pass, was smiled at, and was reminded that I could use the Concorde room.  I felt in no way that they didn’t want me to use the other lounges, it really seemed like they genuinely wanted to make sure I was aware that I had other options.  I said that I just wanted to see the room, and was again encouraged to come and go as much as I liked.

It was fascinating to compare the two Galleries lounges.  While the Concorde Room and the Galleries First are clearly just totally different models of lounge, the Business lounge is really just a slimmed down version of the First lounge.  Except, it was absolutely packed, even though the lounge is massive, occupying the same floorspace of both the other lounges combined.

I’m sure the main terminal is more chaotic than this lounge, but it felt like night and day compared to the First lounges.  The space was huge, yet almost every seat was filled.  It was loud.  People were sprawled out everywhere.  This was not a relaxing, peaceful environment.

As a First Class customer, there is absolutely no reason to visit this lounge.  (Ok, not exactly true, there is one reason.  And I’ll get to that soon.  But spoiler: it involves ice cream!)
Seating area.
The seating was not quite as nice as the Galleries First lounge, in terms of comfort or aesthetics.
Cereal Station.
I laughed when I saw the cereal station.  It had exactly the same cereals as the First lounge, except, lacking the one choice that I enjoyed: the granola.
Warm Baked Goods.
And then I cried when I saw the baked goods.  The exact same offerings as the First lounge, minus the brioche buns, but here, they were kept under a heat lamp.  First class customers don’t get warm baked goods, and business class do?  Not fair.
Fruit, Yogurt.
The fruit and yogurt station was about the same in the two lounges, with a fruit yogurt and a plain greek yogurt.  I tried both, and they were fine, but not remarkable.

You might wonder why I’d even try yogurt, but, I've really enjoyed yogurt on a few occasions in Europe, as their full fat yogurt is just so much better than what we have in the US, and I was hoping for something like that.  Alas, no.
Porridge, Fruit.
There were also two large vats of porridge, with minimal toppings, only cinnamon and raisins.

I felt compelled to try it.  I honestly have no idea why.  I think it just sounded really comforting to me.  And, indeed it was.  Probably my favorite of any of the breakfast items I had, in any of the lounges.  It was warm, it was creamy, and the oats were stone ground, rather than large flakes.  I loaded it up with dried fruit and cinnamon, and really quite enjoyed it.  I’m glad I tried it.

Next to the porridge was whole fruit, only apples and bananas.  In First, they also had oranges.  Again, just a reduced offering.
Bar, bar snacks.
The business lounge also had the same trio of snack mixes, along with a greatly reduced bar offering.  Still quite good, but lacking many of the better options of course.
Ice Cream Freezer.
At this point, you might still be wondering why I said there was one reason to visit this lounge.  Sure, the warm baked goods are better than the cold ones, but the baked goods weren’t very good to begin with, so that isn’t it.

The reason is: they have an ice cream freezer.  I quite enjoy ice cream, even at breakfast.

I also loved that when I walked into the lounge, there were actually signs pointing my way to it.  I'm clearly not alone in visiting the lounge for one reason.

The freezer was stocked with local Kelly's of Cornwall Cornish Ice Cream.  Sadly, they only had vanilla and chocolate, which initially deterred me.  The most boring flavors ever, particularly without any toppings.  Plus, it wasn’t even 10am, I’d been sampling my way through the lounges, I wasn't exactly hungry.  It was totally unreasonable to eat ice cream at this hour, right?  I almost walked away.
Makings for an affogato.
In fact, I did walk away.  I took exactly two steps, and found myself beside a coffee station.  A lightbulb went off in my head.  Vanilla ice cream.  Coffee.  Affogato.  YES.

I felt a bit ridiculous, but grabbed my little tub of ice cream, had the machine make me a coffee, and gleefully took a seat along the window looking down into the terminal.  Below me, people were scurrying about, stressed, dealing with security, and here I was, about to enjoy an affogato.  I was clearly doing it right.

The ice cream was creamy, very rich, yet super fluffy.  I actually think I would have even liked it plain, which is really saying something for vanilla ice cream.  But with my coffee, it was totally perfect.  I was so proud of myself.

Sure, I could be in the Concorde room, having eggs benedict made to order, like Emil.  Emil thought I was ridiculous for even going to the Business lounge, and I admit there really was no reason to go there.  Except, ice cream.  To be fair, I probably could have ordered it in the Concorde room, even if it wasn’t on a menu anywhere.  In retrospect, this was probably the same "Cornish ice cream" we had served with our desserts on our lunchtime visit to Concorde room.

But I was quite pleased with my discovery, I enjoyed it more than anything else in any of the lounges, and I’d totally do it again.
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Monday, December 08, 2014

Waffle Amore Food Truck

As you read in last week's review of Oaxacan Kitchen Mobile, my office in Mountain View has been hosting food trucks.  Most have not been very good, but then again, they are food trucks, not Michelin star restaurants after all.  I'd pretty much given up on them, until one truck immediately caught my eye: Waffle Amore.  It didn't matter that I was on my way to a real cafe for lunch, I stopped dead in my tracks.  I love waffles, particularly when they have interesting mix-ins or toppings, which I assumed these would as they were presumably going to be savory.

I'm no stranger to savory waffles, and have a hobby of taking random leftovers and asking the question "Will it Waffle?"  (The answer is generally yes.  Mac and cheese, pizza, and mashed potatoes are all at the top of my list, happy to provide details on how to best waffle things!  Maybe I should start a second blog ...).  The all time best savory waffles are of course the Vadouvan waffles with foie gras from the glory days at Spruce, but obviously, alas, those are no more.

Anyway, back to Waffle Amore.  The food truck is based in the South Bay, featuring both savory and sweet waffles, although sadly for me, it seems Google only ever gets the savory ones.  Their website proclaims they top the sweet ones with strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, hot fudge, and even maple bacon butter.  But I've yet to encounter these.

My first introduction to street waffles was through b. Street Waffles, where I fell in love with Liège waffles.  Before then, I always thought waffles were to be eaten with a knife and fork, loaded with plentiful toppings.  I also didn't realize just how amazing waffles can be.  Seriously.  b. Street Waffles are ridiculously delicious, and unlike any other waffles I've ever encountered.

Waffle Amore does offer Liège waffles, but ... only for sweet ones.  Alas, the savory ones all seem to be Brussels style instead.  I really prefer the crispness and denseness of a Liège waffle.
The truck!
Anyway, the Waffle Amore waffles aren't exactly true Brussels waffles.  They are more like something in-between a street waffle and an American waffle.

There is no way you could eat one with just your hands, and they are covered in toppings (not that this is a bad thing of course, but, it isn't quite what I was expecting).  They have the characteristic deep, large pockets and doughy style that I was expecting, and the square format.
Bacon Cheddar Brussels Waffle.
"Brussels waffle with bacon and cheddar cheese baked until golden brown, and topped with sour cream and green onions.  Oh and more cheddar cheese!"

On the first day I visited, I had the choice of a vegetarian pizza waffle, or a bacon waffle.  Like that is really a "choice".

Unfortunately, it wasn't very good.  It was lukewarm.  It was really, really oily.  There were little bits of bacon in it, but that couldn't really save the off-putting oily nature of it.  The sour cream seemed like a good idea, but didn't really go with the dough at all.  And, why was the shredded cheese dumped on top cold and unmelted?  Meh.
Bacon Mac 'n Cheese Waffle.
"Thick-cut bacon and Macaroni and Cheese baked into a crispy cheesy waffle".

On my next visit, there were again two choices, this time, a vegetarian Mac 'n Cheese waffle, or, one enhanced with bacon.  Again, not really a "choice".  Bacon is always better.  Also, zomg, mac 'n cheese waffle?

I expected some garnish on this one, like the previous waffle, even though the description didn't say it would have any.  Like some cheese sauce or ... something?

The mac and cheese was baked into the waffle.  They used gouda and sharp cheddar, but, I didn't really taste any particularly interesting cheesy flavor.  And having macaroni noodles inside a waffle doesn't turn out to be very good (now, waffling straight leftover mac and cheese, that is another story - delicious!).

Like the previous waffle, it was really oily.  It was crispy on the outside, but it wasn't fluffy or moist or light or anything nice inside.  And it was served quasi-warm.

Serious meh, which is sad for something that sounds so promising.  Oh, and it also didn't have any bacon.  I'm assuming my order was messed up, as "thick-cut bacon" should have been noticeable ...
Waffle Amore on Urbanspoon
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