Friday, June 12, 2015

Pretzel Perfection

Pretzel Perfection is a gluten-free snack food manufacturer.  I'm not gluten-free myself, but I love snacks, so, I was excited to try them out.

They make two product lines.  The first is their signature "Twice-Baked Pretzel Sticks", which look like any old pretzel sticks, but are available in five different flavors (they don't seem to make them plain at all).  The other is Clusters, which are sweet options, basically pretzel bits covered chocolate, with things like nuts and dried fruit mixed in, and even one version, dubbed "Ultimate Clusters" with butter toffee, peanut butter chips, and butter toffee peanuts!

Sadly, I never found the Clusters, but I've tried several flavors of the Sticks.

The pretzels themselves were far more crispy than I am used to, seriously crunchy.  I originally thought that perhaps they were stale or something since they were so hard, but, they didn't taste stale, so I guess not.  Plus, every flavor I tried was like this.  I think the unique texture must be the gluten-free aspect?  Regardless, I actually liked the crunch.  And the flavors were good.

I'd certainly eat these again, and will keep my eyes on the lookout for the flavors I never got a chance to try, and those Clusters!
Chipotle BBQ Sticks.
"All-natural, gluten-free pretzel sticks with a blend of earthy smoked jalapeno and southwestern spices."

These delivered in the flavor department, and had some serious kick!  They tasted more like Worcheshire than bbq however.  I didn't mind, and thought they were quite tasty, but the flavor wasn't quite what I was expecting giving the product name.

I really, really liked both the flavor and texture of the sticks.  Hmm, gluten-free pretzels, who knew?
Tomato Basil Sticks.
"All-natural, gluten-free pretzel sticks with a blend of tomato, basil, tangy balsamic vinegar and spices."

These ones were also really flavorful. You could taste the tomato and basil, and a touch of sweetness from the balsamic, yet they were certainly savory.  Incredibly munchable, and far more interesting than a bag of chips.

I really liked these too, and would gladly get another bag.
Lemon Toffee Sticks.
"All-natural, gluten-free pretzel sticks with a tangy blend of lemon, old-fashioned toffee and rosemary."

I was most excited for these, after really liking the others, since these sounded sweet and dessert-like.  But ... they didn't deliver the toffee as promised.  I'm not sure I tasted lemon either.  Certainly not "tangy" as described.  I did taste the rosemary.

I still loved the crunch from the pretzel, the texture, etc, but I was expecting a sweet treat, and was thus disappointed.  My least favorite variety.
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Muffins from Nourish Baking

Nourish is a local San Francisco wholesale bakery that makes a limited number of products: just four varieties of healthy mini muffins and breakfast bread loaves.

Everything they produce is gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, no added-sugar, only healthy fats, etc, etc.  This makes them rather nutritionally dense, and even the mini products have 3 grams of protein with only 1 gram of sugar.  Why would anyone want to make a product like this?

The answer is that the baker is a lover of baked goods, who suffers from Type-II diabetes, so she adapted by creating her own treats that are refined sugar free, using coconut nectar and coconut sugar instead.  And grain free, because grains are high carb, making them gluten-free, as well.  Since she's removing all the gunk, they are also dairy-free (although not vegan, they do have eggs).  And she uses only virgin coconut oil and nut oils for fats.

Ok, good reason.  I wouldn't ever have sought these out, but I was given a package of each flavor from a generous co-worker, so I obviously had to try them.  You can find Nourish products at a handful of specialty markets around San Francisco, including Rainbow Grocery.
Mini Muffin 2-packs.
I'll admit that I went into these quite skeptical.  Sure, I love my baked goods, but I'm pretty particular.  With muffins, I want a moist interior and a crispy top.  And I'm sorry, but gluten-free goods just generally aren't as good.  And dairy-free?  You've got to be kidding me.  No added sugar?  Please.  Flour, butter, cream, and sugar make up way too high of a percentage of my diet.

But ... I'll give anything a chance.  And honestly, I know my diet isn't good for me.  If I could find healthier treats that I actually like, well, it would be a good thing.

The products come as mini-muffins in 2-packs, bags of a dozen mini muffins, or as mini loafs.  I had the 2-packs of mini muffins.

I could tell they didn't have crispy tops from the start, but I was able to overlook that and move on.  However, they were all strangely moist and gummy, which wasn't great, but is rather expected in a packaged product.
Banana Chia Chocolate Chip.
"Real bananas, dates, pecans and dairy-free chocolate make these muffins a satisfying treat that requires no added sweetener."

I started with the most decadent sounding one, since it had chocolate.  I figured chocolate would counteract all the healthy ingredients.

I liked it more than I expected.  The chocolate (non-dairy) was the winning component, as I hoped.  It came in large chunks, which was a bit surprising given the mini muffin size, but meant a very high percentage of the muffin was actually chocolate.  Yes!

I also loved the crunch from the pecans.

The base basically tasted like, well, banana bread, which I never really love, but it was decent, nice banana flavor, although it had a slight grittiness and bitterness to it, presumably from the chia seeds and almond meal.

This was much more successful that I anticipated, so I was actually eager to move on to the next flavor.  Banana Chia Chocolate Chip was my second favorite overall.
Heirloom Carrot.
"Tastes just like old-fashioned carrot cake – you’ll never miss the flour, sugar or dairy!"

Next I moved on to the one I was most excited for: heirloom carrot, as it promised to be like carrot cake!  Of course, part of what I like about carrot cake is cream cheese frosting, which this obviously had none of, but it did have walnuts, raisins, and all the right spicing (cinnamon, nutmeg).

The strange moisture level worked well here, since it was like a moist carrot cake.  My favorite carrot cakes are super moist from adding pineapple, and this was similar effect.  And I liked the crunch of the nuts.

But, as I expected, it was a bit plain for me on its own.  Luckily I had some cream cheese buttercream in my freezer.  Because, um, doesn't everyone?  I slathered a little on, and then I was quite happy.  I'm not good at healthy.

This was my favorite.
Pumpkin Spice Streusel.
"Fresh grated ginger makes this pumpkin spice muffin densely rich and decadent."

Ok, I lied.  Perhaps I was most excited for this one.  I'm a sucker for streusel.

The base muffin is made with real pumpkin puree and of course, pumpkin spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger).  It is loaded up with additional ginger for some zing.  The much-anticipated streusel uses almonds for the crunch, since there are no oats.

It was nicely spiced, but I don't really love pumpkin spice (I know, October just isn't as exciting for me as for some).  And ... the "streusel" was just a couple almonds, not at all the crunchy, sugary top I was hoping for.

My second to least favorite, and I wouldn't get another.
Lemon Chia Seed.
"Full of lemon flavor with a cake-like texture and a buttery finish from organic coconut oil."

And finally, the one I was least excited for, since I dislike both chia and lemon flavor generally.  There was no chocolate, nuts, or other add-ins to save it.

And ... it was as expected.  It was lemony, which wasn't awful, but it was loaded up with chia seeds, which I just don't like.  If you like chia seeds, and you like lemon poppyseed muffins, perhaps this is for you, but it just wasn't my type of muffin, making it my least favorite.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Buster's Cheese Steak

By now you probably have noticed that I've never reviewed a cheese steak before.  I've reviewed cheese steak shops, like Phat Philly, but, uh, I reviewed their amazing churros, their onion rings, and of course, the cheddar beer fries.  But cheese steak?  Not my thing.

Ojan however likes cheese steaks.  And after months, literally months, of him talking about wanting a cheese steak, I finally suggested it one day.  It was a beautiful day, so we took a walk to Buster's, located in North Beach.
Menu.
The menu at Buster's is pretty simple: cheese steaks, burgers, and hot dogs.  There are options to add different toppings, but, for the most part, the offerings are classic.  For sides, you can get fries (topped with cheese or chili if you wish).  No frills, but, they claim to serve "no more overcooked meat from a national fast food chain loaded with preservatives" and "any way you want it ... any way you like it".

You order at the counter, and the cheese steak is made to order, ready within minutes, by the single line cook.  The only other staff member is the person working the register.

Service was rather horrible, myself and other patrons were standing there for quite some time before being acknowledged by the employee who was refilling squirt bottles and never looked our way.  It really might have been 6 or 7 minutes before she acknowledged us.  Meanwhile, the cook was a flury of activity.  I enjoyed watching him quickly assemble the cheese steaks and burgers.
The Sauces!
One real reason I selected Buster's was the sauce line up.  Yelpers all commented about how much they loved the sauce selection.  I sorta expected that implied the sauces were housemade or something, but, alas, I do not think they were.  The selection included basic ketchup, mustards, and bbq along with several different hot sauces.  None tasted like anything special, and each and every squirt bottle was horribly sticky.  I was slightly grossed out, but, this is kinda common with condiment bottles at places like this, as I noted regarding the sauces at Phat Philly and the salsas at Nick's Crispy Tacos.

But, Yelpers give the place 4 stars overall, which is certainly saying something.
Indoor Seating.
Inside is a counter along the window, and a counter along where the register is.  There are only a handful of seats, but pretty much everyone got their cheese steaks to go anyway.
Outdoor Seating.
Outside on the sidewalk were exactly two tables.  Luckily for us, one was empty when we arrived, so I had Ojan snag it while I went inside to order (and wait).
Mushroom Philly Cheese Steak, Small. $7.35.
And finally, the cheese steak.

First, we needed to select the protein: chicken or steak.  We clearly went for steak, who gets chicken?

Next, cheese.  Here the options were more numerous: Cheddar, White American, Provolone, Swiss, Pepper Jack, or Cheese Wiz.  Since this adventure was much more for Ojan, not me, I left him to make this decision, and, he went for the Wiz.  Classic.

The basic cheese steak comes with onions (for $6.85), but we upgraded to include mushrooms, since we both like them.  Other options included a strange "North Beach" version with spinach and zucchini, or the "Whole Sub California" with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo.

The cheese steak was well wrapped in foil, and handed over moments after leaving the grill.  It was hot.  I dug in, and burnt myself immediately.  Doh.

As you can see above, it was a greasy creation.  Ojan's very first comment: "I kinda feel like I'm chewing into oil".   His ending comment: "Yeah, it was just too greasy".  I agreed.  The grease didn't seem to come from the cheese, so it clearly came from the cooking process.  It was very, very messy, as oil just dripped out from everywhere.

The bun was slightly toasted, soft enough, not notable or remarkable, except that, well, it was covered in grease.  The meat was thinly sliced, and actually seemed decent quality.  No gristle, no chunks of fat, just meat.  The onions were my favorite part, beautifully grilled.  I have a thing for grilled onions.  The mushrooms were thinly sliced, pretty generic like pizza topping mushrooms, but, I appreciated them.  Both Ojan and I agreed that it needed more onions.

And finally, the cheese.  Cheese Wiz is Cheese Wiz, so there isn't much to say about that, except, it really wasn't applied very well.  All the cheese was in a clump in the bottom, not distributed with the meat and veggies.

Sandwiches are in two sizes, "small" or "large".  I did my research, and knew that even the "small" was a full size sandwich, and since I only wanted a few bites, I knew a small would be plenty.    The $7.35 price was reasonable for the quality.  A large, which would include another segment, is $9.15, and, if you were splitting with another person and adding in some fries, would easily make for a meal for both of you.

Overall, it was fine, but not remarkable in any way, and we don't really have any reason to return.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Air New Zealand, SFO - AKL, Business Class

I’ve travelled to Sydney many times now, but I’ve always flown with Qantas (like my last flight from LAX-SYD and SYD-LAX), as my status is with One World.  But this time around, the prices to fly Business Class on Qantas were just so high that it was time to try something different.  I’ve heard good things about Air New Zealand, and it was literally half the price.  Their Business class also has fully flat seats, the flight time is about the same (I always flew on Qantas through LAX, with NZ I’d fly through Aukland), so, besides price, it seemed similar enough to try.  I do prefer the idea of dealing with the layover early on the trip rather than once I’m tired and jet lagged, but, alas, the reasonable prices for Air New Zealand were just too compelling.

I'm glad I did.  Spoiler: these reasonably priced business class seats have the most comfortable beds I've ever flown on.  I actually slept on a plane, for the first time in my life.  The food was very hit or miss, but I was shocked at the quality of the produce served on board.

We started our journey at the Singapore Airlines SFO Lounge, since Air New Zealand doesn’t have their own lounge in SF.  Like all SF airline lounges, it was highly underwhelming, but we weren’t there for long and it didn’t really matter.

The flight, NZ 7, departed from SFO at 9:45pm, with 13 hour flight time.  The departure time and length were ideal for sleep (at least staying on an SF schedule) but was a bit awkward for dinner on board.  I ate before I even went to the airport though, so that wasn't a big deal.

Cabin, Seat, and Amenities

Business Class Seat.
The aircraft was a 747-300, their premium product.

The flight offers economy, premium economy, and business, no first class.  I was seated in business, broken up into the large front cabin with 28 seats, and a smaller cabin directly in front of premium economy, separated by a galley and two bathrooms.  An additional galley and restroom are in front as well.  We were in row 3, which I selected since I wanted to be as far away from the large main cabin as possible, but not directly adjacent to the galley.  It was quiet and everyone on board our flight was really polite and nicely behaved, I was never bothered by noise of any sort.

The layout is 1-2-1, but herringbone, so every seat has direct aisle access.  This turns out to be incredibly nice.  Of course, if you were traveling with someone and wanted to spend quality time together on the plane, that wasn’t really possible.  You could probably chat over the divider a bit if you were seated one in front of the other?  Ojan and I were across the aisle, me in the window, him in the center, since from the seat map, I thought that would be better for talking, but it really wasn’t.  Not that we needed to talk much anyway, we both had our own agendas for the flight, and spent most of it sleeping anyway.  Plus, each seat did have a visitor seat (more on that soon).  Next time, I’d try to place us one in front of the other, along the window, but I don’t think there is any major advantage one way or the other.

The front cabin had only one vacant seat, but the smaller cabin behind had a few.  I expected bathroom contention since there were only 3 bathrooms, particularly in the morning, but I rarely waited, and when I did, it was always less than a minute.
My Seat.
The seat wasn’t super comfortable when fully upright, but once I was able to recline it was much nicer.  A fluffy pillow was provided at the seat.  The seat also has an ottoman which proved to be really nice to put my feet on for a while, but eventually I felt myself wishing the seat had a customary foot rest/leg extension, rather than just the short seat.  The ottoman doubles as a guest seat, to go chat with another passenger, and is designed specifically to allow two people to dine together with the table between them, a fact that was pointed out to Ojan and I more than once.  We didn’t set up together for dinner, but, since I love to try bits of everything, I kept dashing over to his guest seat during the meal to try his dishes, and it worked out perfectly.  The little guest seat really was convenient.

Storage is provided in the overhead bin for large items, and I was able to tuck both my purse and my laptop bag under the ottoman, even during takeoff and landing.  The seat had a small pocket on the side for the headphones, a water bottle, and book or magazine (although I sorta managed to cram my MacBook Air into there as well).  Overall it was slightly less well designed for in-flight comfort than some other First Class seats I’ve been in, and there was no large storage cabinet nor nice little cubbies to tuck things into, but, I didn’t actually have any problems since there was so much space under the ottoman in front of me.  For the price, and business class, the seat was very nice.

As the night wore on, I watched the seats around me all get transformed into beds. Unlike most seats that extend out to form a bed, this one actually flips over, which explains the lack of leg rest.  They also provide an actual almost-matress, a blanket, and a second pillow.  The flight attendants were very proactive in telling people that they’d make their beds up at any time, I imagine no one can ever figure this out themselves unless they had watched it happen many times before.

The bed was magic.  I’ve been on a handful of very premium first class flights at this point.  Their seats are obviously bigger, more full of bells and whistles.  But this was, hands down, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on airborne.  I have no idea what happened to my photo of it, I know I took one!

Yes, it was fully flat, but many airlines have fully flat beds.  Due to the way it flipped up and over and formed a solid foundation with the ottoman though, there was absolutely no sag, no weird lumps, no slight slant, none of the other things that often plague “flat” beds.  The foundation was very, very solid.  On top of that they place a rather thick mattress pad.  Definitely more than an inch thick.  It wasn’t crazy memory foam or anything like that, but it was very, very comfortable.  The seat, while it didn’t seem extravagantly wide when I was sitting up, felt ridiculously wide once I was laying down.  I’m a side sleeper, and one who always curls up slightly, and normally my knees end up hitting the sides, the wall, or sticking into the aisle.  I had no such problems on this flight.  The provided blanket was a nice thickness, and the cabin temperature was held ideal throughout the flight.  I often am cold during the awake time, or hot during the night, but neither of these things happened.  I was really a comfortable temperature, the entire flight.

Comfort, comfort, comfort.  That is the theme here.  This truly was a remarkably comfortable bed.  I’m an awful sleeper in general, anyone who knows me knows this.  I sleep poorly whenever my environment is not ideal, when I visit anywhere, stay in any hotel, or even go back to my parent’s house.  Or, when my AC breaks at home and my bedroom is literally just 1 degree warmer than usual.  Given this, you can imagine how bad I normally am on flights.  I never get any actual sleep.

But I slept on this flight.  No, I didn’t sleep a solid 8 hours.  I got up to use the bathroom 4 times through the night, each time when awoken by turbulence.  But I fell back asleep instantly each time, even faster than I do when I’m at home.  Ojan said I looked like I was totally out of it the entire time.  I woke up with no back pain, no strange soreness.  Wow.  What a bed.
In-Flight Unit.
The inflight entertainment system had a decent selection of movies and tv, including a feature where you can “favorite” selections as you browse through, which I really appreciated.  I “favorited” a bunch of selections, and then could go back to review them, no need to keep them all in mind.  You can provide your e-mail address so they could sent it to you later too.

The entertainment system also had games and music, which I didn’t explore, and the menus for drinks and snacks, which I could order through this system if I wanted.  I’m assuming that feature is more used in economy, as I never needed to ask for anything.

A power port and a usb port were available at the seat.  I’m so glad to see USB basically everywhere these days, as I always have my phone with me.  It helped to just keep it plugged in and attached, so I didn’t ever lose it.
Bathroom.
The bathroom was pretty simple, the faucet at least had a motion sensor so it doesn’t turn off annoyingly (seriously, I hate the push button, get 2 seconds of water models!)  It didn’t have anything besides soap however, not even hand lotion, which I found pretty disappointing given how awful air travel is on the skin.  I didn’t bring my own lotion, assuming the bathroom and amenity kit would have it.  So, they do cut some corners to keep the costs down.

They did have the little washcloth things that are nicer than paper towels for washing your face in the morning, but it pilled all over my hands, and made putting my contacts in a bit difficult.  The front bathroom was smaller and didn’t have a window, but the ones in the middle of the cabin each had a window.
Amenity Kit.
Sitting on our ottomans when we arrived was an amenity kit, with socks, eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, and ear plugs.  No lotion here either.  Nor lip balm.  I’m used to these being standard in amenity kits and failed to bring them myself, which I immediately regretted.  My lips and skin were so dry, so fast!

(It turns out, they were there, in a hidden compartment in the kit, that I never discovered.  Nor did Ojan.  Or about half my co-workers.  I was complaining about this and one person mentioned it, so I went and looked - of course I kept my kit! - and lo and behold, yes, there was a tiny lotion and lip balm in there.  Doh!)
Socks.
Air New Zealand wins some serious points for the socks.  They were colorful and ridiculous, and yet we all put them on.  It was quite humorous to see them paired with all sorts of ensembles, from pajamas to full suits.  I just had to take a photo when I looked up and saw everyone in the entire flight wearing their socks!

Speaking of pajamas, no pajamas are provided either, but I knew this in advance, and brought my own.

The Food

Full Menu.
And now, for the part you were clearly waiting for, since this IS Julie’s Dining Club after all - the food!

Waiting on our ottomans for us was the printed menu, with both the supper and breakfast selections.  Before takeoff, our dinner orders were taken, including drinks.  We were offered pre-takeoff sparkling wine, orange juice, or water as well.

Supper

Supper Menu.
The menu started with a “Fast Dine” option, meant for folks who just want to get to bed quickly.  The Fast Dine option is always just a hot soup, chunky bread, and dessert.   It is served as soon as possible, and on a single tray right away.  No pacing.  For this flight, the selection was:
  • Sweetcorn and saffron soup with blue corn chips and sour cream.
  • Raspberry white chocolate mousse cake.
Otherwise, a full dinner menu is available, with starters, a bread basket, mains, and dessert.

There were two choices “To begin”:
  • Prosciutto with preserved figs, bocconcini, and green olive and basil dressing.
  • Grilled prawns with pico de gallo and jicama cucumber salad.
Followed by selections “From the bakery” of wholegrain sourdough bread, black olive bread, or garlic bread.

Next were 4 choices for mains.  The only vegetarian selection was the same soup as offered in the Fast Dine.  I guess a vegetarian could order a special meal?  I still thought it was notable, normally airlines offer a vegetarian pasta option, which is usually what I go for, as I rarely find the proteins well cooked, or decent quality.
  • Angus beef burger with pickles, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled bacon, and jalapeño mayonnaise.
  • Smoked paprika dusted chicken with Spanish style potatoes, roasted cauliflower, red peppers, garlic aioli, and rocket.
  • Blackened king salmon with citrus labneh, chive potato mash, asparagus and snow peas.
  • Sweetcorn and saffron soup with blue corn chips and sour cream.
And for dessert, 2 options:
  • Tiramisu ice cream with chocolate sauce
  • A selection of fine cheese served with fig relish and cracker selection.
I imagine you could order the mousse cake from Fast Dine as well, if they had some left?

The menu also listed “Midnight Snacks”, letting you know that there would be snacks available in the galley to grab throughout the flight, and that you could order a warmed bacon and cheese bagel at any time.
Fast Dine Tray.
The flight took off around 10pm, and I already had dinner before I left for the airport, and munched more in the lounge, so I didn’t really want a full dinner.  I obviously could have chosen something simple from the main menu, just a starter perhaps, but I decided to just get the Fast Dine, even though I wasn’t trying to be fast in particular, but because I wanted something light.  It was then that I noticed there wasn’t really a salad on the menu at all, besides the prawn starter, if that counts.  No simple green salad for someone who wanted something truly light.

My tray showed up immediately once the cabin crew were allowed to get up and move around, before the others were even served drinks!  Interestingly, it also contained one of the starters.  I wasn’t expecting that.  It also had no dessert!  That was the part I cared about! (Don’t worry, it came soon after).
Fast Dine Starter, Bread.
"Wholegrain sourdough bread, black olive bread."

I started with the bread, dry, and stale, a slice each of the wholegrain sourdough and the black olive from the main menu.  Slightly warm.  The only bread I would have picked from the menu was the garlic bread, and it wasn’t on my tray.

Next, the bonus starter.  I still don't understand why I got this.

"Prosciutto with preserved figs, bocconcini, and green olive and basil dressing."

I intended to have Ojan order this so we could try it, so I was actually glad to receive it.  The prosciutto was basically just ham.  It had no flavor, it was kinda limp.  I didn’t not like it.  The bocconcini balls were entirely flavorless, indistinguishable from little balls of rubber.  Did not like.  The “green olive and basil dressing” was a bunch of chunky olives, which at least had flavor, but, I wasn’t really into this either.  The figs were fine.  I passed this off to Ojan.
Fast Dine Main: Sweetcorn and saffron soup.
"Sweetcorn and saffron soup with blue corn chips and sour cream."

I was hoping for a nice creamy corn soup.  While I not normally a big soup eater, I like corn soup.  And soups can be done well on a plane.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste the corn at all.  Unlike the starter, it had flavor, but in this case, it was all just saffron.  So much saffron.  I don’t particularly love saffron, but even Ojan, who does like saffron, thought this was way too much.  There was a little drizzle of sour cream and some unremarkable blue corn chips on top.  At least they were added freshly and weren’t soggy.  Neither Ojan nor I liked this at all.

I also had a glass of mediocre pinot, a bit too tannic.
Main Meal Service: Beverages, Starters.
After all the quick dine folks were served, then regular meal service began.

Starters and drinks are served from the cart, followed by a passed bread basket.  The main dishes were brought out individually.  Yes, this all happened after my entire meal had been served, and I was actually done.  They were serious about the quick dine!  It worked well actually, since Ojan snacked on my offerings first, and then we moved on this his.
Starter: Grilled Prawns, Garlic Bread.
"Grilled prawns with pico de gallo and jicama cucumber salad."

Ojan had the choice of either of the starters listed on the menu.  Since we both tried the prosciutto starter with my meal, Ojan opted for the other choice of grilled prawns.  We had no hopes for it compared with my starter, since seafood seems like it should be harder to do well than prosciutto, and fresh vegetables should be harder than cheese, but, we had no desire to have more of the prosciutto one, so we gave it a try.

It was much, much better.  The prawns weren’t rubbery and seemed pretty fresh, not fishy.  The pico de gallo was fresh and decent, the tomatoes not too mushy or flavorless.  The cucumber jicama salad was refreshing, crispy, and again, pretty fresh tasting.  It wasn’t an amazing dish or anything, but it was all better than expected for a flight, and much better than the choice I got.

The passed bread basket had all three breads, and Ojan smartly went for the garlic bread.  It wasn’t warm, and was soggy from way too much butter, but, it was loaded up with garlic, and that was quite nice, better than the plain breads at least.

So far, he was definitely faring better than I.
Entree: The Burger!
"Angus beef burger with pickles, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled bacon, and jalapeño mayonnaise."

The main dish he had to order before takeoff, just like me, and, at my encouragement, he selected the burger, perhaps a strange pick for a flight, but it turned out to be a great one.

Neither of us were interested in the chicken, and I was already getting soup, so that left just the burger or salmon.  The salmon sounded interesting too, and many others on board got it.  I admit, it looked good.  Very generous sized pieces of salmon, thick, and it didn’t look overcooked or dried out.  But I had read a number of reviews of different burgers served on board Air New Zealand flights, and people seemed generally happy with the burger.  

Interestingly, they served the hot meals all grouped by the entree, so they served all the salmons, then all the burgers, and then all the chickens.  I imagine this gives them better control of the quality of the food coming out?  It does make sense in that regard, but would perhaps be odd if you were dining with someone.

The burger came with plenty of great sounding toppings to: Pickles. Bacon.  Jalapeño mayonnaise.  Sure, I would have picked a different cheese than Monterey jack, but still, this sounded promising.  And it was.

We were immediately impressed with the burger when it arrived, on looks alone.  3 slices of actually red tomato, two large pieces of crispy baby gem lettuce, 3 pickles, and little pots of a tomato relish and jalapeño mayonnaise were on the side.  The burger had tons of perfectly melted cheese and a generous amount of bacon on top.  The bun looked to be a brioche.  Wow.

This looked better than burgers I've had at many restaurants!
Assembled Burger.
Ojan set to assembling the burger, slathering the bun with mayo and relish, loading it up with toppings.  We were both amused by the bun size however, far smaller than the patty.  It looked like a messy disaster was about to be unleashed, particularly interesting given that we were on a plane.

Anyway, it was actually quite good.  The patty was a decent size and thickness, well seasoned, although cooked well done.  With all the toppings, it didn’t seem too dry.  The cheese was perfectly melted and there was plenty of it.  The bacon wasn’t a crispy style as I’d prefer, and it was a bit fatty, but, hey it is bacon, and bacon, cheese, and beef are all good things, particularly when combined.  The lettuce was indeed crispy.  The tomato wasn’t mealy.  The jalapeño mayo had little chunks of jalapeño in it, although it wasn’t really spicy.  The relish or whatever it was was very flavorful.

The individual components were all good, and combined, it really worked.  We were both quite impressed.  I thought I wasn’t hungry, and that I didn’t want more than a bite of this, but, well, I had far more than one bite.  Amusingly, the part I liked the best was the tomatoes, slathered with mayo and relish, since Ojan abandoned them.  I basically got my “salad”, albeit one loaded with mayo, after all!

I’d definitely get a burger on this flight again, particularly if I wanted a full meal.
Fast Dine Dessert: Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake.
Once I asked about my missing dessert, it showed up.  Dessert, usually my favorite part of a meal!

It was a layered creation, 3 layers, with a puddle of whipped cream and two raspberries on the side.  The bottom layer was a basic white pound cake.  You can guess how much I liked that, boring.  Next was the raspberry mousse.  It wasn’t creamy like I was hoping, but it was very fluffy and airy, and had intense raspberry flavor.  The white layer must have been white chocolate, but it didn’t taste like anything besides subtle sweetness.  It had the same crazy fluffy texture as the raspberry layer.  On top was … red.  I think it probably was red sugar crystals that somewhat melted?  I’m not sure, they didn’t have flavor.

The whipped cream on the side was just cream, not actually very sweetened.  The berries were fresh enough.

Overall, it was … fine.  If I got it in a restaurant, I would have been sad.  If I got it in my cafe at work, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.  But, given no other option, it was sufficient I guess.  Again, I wasn’t really hungry in the first place, and it was weird to be eating at 11:30pm anyway.

Alongside a had a glass of port.  I didn’t really like it either.

The main dessert was Air New Zealand’s famous ice cream.  They are known for the ice cream, from a gourmet ice cream producer in New Zealand, always an interesting flavor, served with toppings.  I was sooo looking forward to this, since I like ice cream, but alas, for our flight, the selection was tiramisu flavor with chocolate sauce.  I knew better than to have caffeine at night, particularly when I was going to try to sleep.  But I really, really wanted it.

Breakfast

Breakfast Menu.
Like “Fast Dine”, a “Sleep-in Breakfast” option is available for breakfast, that includes just fruit, yogurt, cereal, and a bakery item.  You indicate that you'd like this through your entertainment system (or perhaps tell the flight attendant).

Otherwise, breakfast service starts with “Wake-up Drinks”, with a choice of juices or a smoothie.  Our smoothie option was a raspberry and pomegranate smoothie, juices were apple or orange.  These were brought around on a platter as everyone was waking up, I think designed to get some commotion in the cabin to get us all out of bed.

After the drinks, our main course breakfast orders were taken.  I do prefer how most other airlines seem to take your breakfast order the night before, to maximize sleep time better.  It was also served further out than other similar flights I've taken, which again I didn't really like, I wanted more sleep!

But anyway, “From the Pantry” we could select:
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Low fat plain yogurt or low fat plain yogurt with wild berries
  • Honey nut granola
  • Toasted fruit cereal
And “From the Bakery”
  • Croissants
  • Whole wheat, white, or raisin pecan toast with our choice of marmalade, strawberry jam, Vegemite, or Marmite.
And finally, the hot items, “From the Stove”:
  • Poached eggs on toasted butter baps with bacon, steamed spinach and hollandaise sauce.
  • Herb scrambled eggs with chicken and apple sausage, sautéed potatoes, and tomato relish.
  • Cinnamon French toast with blueberry compote and vanilla cream.
  • Warmed bagel with grilled bacon, spinach and cheese offered with caramelized onion jam and barbecue sauce.
Since the flight was reasonably priced, pretty much all of my co-workers chose to take it, just on various days.  The day before me, a large group of them travelled, and of course, they all gave me their reports.  They had the same menu we did.

The poached eggs got unanimous negative reviews, so, that was obviously out.  I do like bacon, spinach and hollandaise, and I wondered what on earth “toasted butter baps” were, so I was curious about that dish.  (It turns out, baps are just english muffins, and really, this was just eggs benedict).  Many people around me ordered it, and they actually all liked it.  I saw a lot of finished dishes, and honestly, it did look good.  Perhaps my co-worker who hated this was just unlucky?

The scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and breakfast potatoes is one I’d obviously never go for.

The bacon sandwich got all rave reviews from co-workers.  Apparently this thing has caused a bit of an outrage amongst Air New Zealand frequent flyers however, as it recently changed.  Before it was a bacon roll, and now it is a bagel.  Folks are very upset with the change.  Anyway, my friends all loved it, bagel or not.  A warm breakfast sandwich with bacon and cheese, and tasty spreads, seems hard to resist, right?

Well, that is, except for when there is a choice like french toast!  So of course I got the french toast, and sorta made Ojan get the bacon bagel.
Breakfast Cart: "From the Pantry", coffee.
The first round of breakfast came on a cart rolled down the aisle, the “From the Pantry” items.  These were all cold options.

The fruit salad contained assorted melons and strawberries, which I skipped due to melon allergy (luckily there was no watermelon, which I’m severely allergic too, but other melons I react to as well, so I never really eat them).

I’m not sure what brands the yogurts were, as they were not in individual pots, but rather in large serving dishes.  One was plain and the other had fruit mixed in, both low-fat.

The cereals were also served from large containers so I’m not sure what brands they were, but we had two options, a "honey nut granola" or a “toasted fruit cereal”, which looked just like Raisin Bran to me.
From the Pantry: Yogurt.
I didn’t particularly want any of the Pantry items as I wasn’t hungry yet, but I opted for berry yogurt with granola sprinkled on top mostly out of boredom.  The yogurt wasn’t very good, clearly low fat, gritty, not creamy.   Mixed in were strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, more of a compote than fresh berries, but all tart and flavorful at least.

I also had coffee, regular, since I knew it was going to be a long day.  It wasn’t bad actually, and I even drank it black.  I appreciated that they served it in a nice big mug.  I hate how quickly my drinks tend to run out on flights!
Decaf French Press.
Soon after, a tray came around with “From the Bakery” items, warmed croissants and assorted toast with spreads.  This was a bit funny given the main dish options.  I opted for the french toast main, so having toast before french toast wasn’t really fitting.  The guy in front of me ordered the eggs benedict, and when they offered him the toast, he was like “Doesn’t mine come on english muffins?”  And the flight attendant said “Well, yes”, and he was like “so … why would I want toast now?”  Ojan’s selection was the bacon bagel, again, it came with major bread component.  So only one dish out of the 4 choices would have made any sense with additional toast, yet they seemed surprised we were all turning it down.

I also ordered a decaf coffee, since I didn’t want to overdo it on caffeine right away.  I was thrilled when an entire french press was brought to me!  I totally expected instant coffee.  I can’t remember the last airline that served me real decaf coffee.  More major points to Air New Zealand!  It wasn’t awesome or anything, but, hey, it wasn’t instant.
Breakfast Entree: French Toast.
“Cinnamon French toast with blueberry compote and vanilla cream.”

As I mentioned, hot breakfast orders were taken before the cart came through with pantry and bakery items, but after the wake up drinks, while our beds were still being made up.  The hot selection was a no brainer for me.  I adore french toast, pancakes, and that sort of thing, so, no question.  And I’ve actually had some really good carby breakfast items on a plane, like the epic pecan waffles with sautéed bananas and cinnamon honey on my first class British Airways flight. 

The Air New Zealand breakfast menu always contains a french toast or pancake option, with fun toppings, and people seem generally happy with them, but I wasn’t able to find out anything about this preparation in particular before my flight.  Still, french toast, fruit compote, and cream?  Sounded great to me.

The serving was three slices of french toast.  I tried each one, but the french toast just wasn’t good.  It was only lukewarm, just like my pancakes on Qantas.  It was mushy and soggy, not crispy on the outside or moist on the inside, not eggy.  It was intensely cinnamon-flavored, but too much so, not good.

The blueberry compote was sweet, but again, just not very good.  I didn’t expect a nice fresh blueberry sauce or anything, but this was just mush and included a bunch of stems.  The little dollop of vanilla cream was nice enough.

It was served with a cute little pot of syrup, clearly not real maple syrup, but at least the syrup was provided on the side for me to add as I wanted.

So overall, I didn’t like this at all.  I ate the fruit and cream, and I tried bites loaded with all different amounts of syrup and cream and fruit, but alas, I couldn’t salvage it.
Breakfast Entree: Bacon Roll.
“Warmed bagel with grilled bacon, spinach and cheese offered with caramelized onion jam and barbecue sauce. “

As I mentioned, I encouraged Ojan to get this, and of course, I had my share of it.

Just like dinner, he easily won this round.  The bagel was warm, decently toasted actually.  The bacon was crispier than in the burger.  The cheese was well melted.  The spinach was a nice “healthy” component against the heavy cheese and bacon.

It was warm, comforting, and perhaps a bit much after the bacon cheeseburger, but really quite satisfying.  The onion jam was also a nice touch, but I didn’t try the bbq sauce, as I’m not sure how that makes sense with the bagel.
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Monday, June 08, 2015

David's Tea

I haven't ever reviewed a tea shop before, but I've been really impressed by the tea at David's Tea, so I wanted to share.

David's Tea shops are found throughout the United States and Canada.

David's Tea opened up in San Francisco a few years ago in the Westfield mall near my house (and another location on Polk street, and another in Noe Valley).  I wasn't familiar with the brand before, but they carry a very large variety of teas: black, green, white, rooibos, herbals, you name it.  In every category they have traditional teas, but also a slew of dessert teas that sound absolutely incredible.  They have one called Birthday Cake that actually contains rainbow sprinkles, another called Red Velvet Cake that smells exactly like a cake, a Crème Caramel that has bits of caramel in it, etc.  They all sound absolutely amazing, particularly given my love of dessert.

They also always feature two teas of the day, one hot and one iced, which you are offered samples of the moment you walk in the door.  I've enjoyed getting to try so many different teas this way.

The David's Tea locations are primarily retail stores selling loose leaf tea and accessories, but they also sell individual cups or pots of tea.  Most patrons are there to buy tea to bring home, so the fresh brewed tea area is really just a side thing, with barely any counter space or signage devoted to it.

The staff are incredibly knowledgeable, and will ask you questions about what sorts of teas you like, and start bringing down canisters of tea for you to smell, to help you narrow in on a selection.  It can be a bit overwhelming, as they have soooo many choices.   But they really do seem to want to help you find your perfect tea.  This has been true at every location I've visited, in both San Francisco and the Boston area.

The teas are fun and unique, so if you have a tea drinker in your life, definitely check it out sometime.  Side note: they also make the best travel mug ever, the "timolino".  I'm not one to market random products, but I bought one of these for Ojan for a Christmas gift a few years ago, borrowed it once, and have pretty much refused to give it back.  The thing is magic: it keeps my coffee hot literally all day long.  Not just 1-2 hours, not just lukewarm.  Piping hot.  For hours.  It is also a really sleek design, easy to throw into my purse, super comfortable in my hand.  It is my constant companion around the city.  For times when I actually brew tea, it also has a built-in infuser, and even a compartment to store a tea bag or extra tea.  It is an amazing mug.  Highly recommended.

Iced

Iced Forever Nuts Tea.  $3.
It was a rare hot San Francisco evening when I first walked by David's, and the idea of an iced tea was really appealing.  So I stopped in, and found that you can get any tea prepared, hot or iced, for $3.  Perfect!  I asked for recommendations for a not caffeinated iced tea, and the woman working gave me a slew of choices.  She brought each down for me to smell.  But it was her description of this one that sold me: "it tastes exactly like an oatmeal raisin cookie" she said.  Dessert in a cup!

As it brewed, I was intrigued.  Why was it pink?  The answer: beetroot!  It also had almonds, apples, and cinnamon.  And indeed, it did taste a lot like an oatmeal raisin cookie.

She also asked if I wanted any milk in it.  I've never put milk in iced tea, but it actually sounded like a good idea with this, in a milk and cookies sort of way.  I think she detected my hesitation and told me she'd never had milk in iced tea until she worked there, but discovered that some iced teas take the milk really well, and this was one she really liked with the milk.  I decided to take her suggestion, and added soy milk.  It was even better, as it added a creaminess.

I really enjoyed this, and it made me wish we had summer days like that more often.  Hard to describe the flavor exactly, but yes, it was a bit nutty, and with the milk and sugar, a bit like a oatmeal cookie.  Really fascinating and delicious.  I'd certainly get another.

I bought some loose leaf Forever Nuts to bring home, intending to make myself more iced teas when the mood struck.  I never got ambitious enough to make it iced, but served it hot instead, slightly sweetened, with soy milk.  It really makes for such a sweet treat when you want a little bit of liquid indulgence.  It also pairs nicely with real cookies, particularly iced sugar cookies, as I soon discovered.

This is my goto David's tea.
Cocomint Cream Tea, Iced.  $3.
My next visit was inspired by another hot day, again perfect for iced tea.  I returned, eager to have another experience like my first, an iced tea, with soy milk.
I asked for a recommendation, and was easily overwhelmed.  So many great teas to choose from!

After smelling about 15 different teas, I settled on a new herbal holiday tea: Cocomint Cream.

It contained apple, coconut, peppermint, and blackberry leaves.  The coconut flavor was very pronounced, and went really well with the mint.  I didn't taste the blackberry or apple.

I tried a few sips before having the barista add the milk.  It was really quite good, and had an amazing aroma.  I had the milk added since I was in the mood for it, but I think it was better without the milk, as it totally drowned out the more subtle herbal flavors.  I probably wouldn't get it again.

[ Not Pictured ]
  • Black
    • Chocolate Chili Chai.  Made with black tea, chocolate and ancho and Aleppo chilis.  It had some subtle chocolate flavor, and some kick, but was not really my thing.
  • Green
    • Grilled Pineapple.  Made with green tea and rooibos tea, plus candied pineapple bites, dried pineapple pieces, blackberry leaves, and toasted rice?  This was super refreshing and sweet, really perfect as an iced tea, and would be great on a summer day.
  • Rooibos
    • Pink Lemonade.  Roobios tea, with hibiscus, mango, lemon peel, lemon myrtle, lemongrass.  It is sweetened with both stevia and sugar.  Fairly refreshing, it reminded me of an Arnold Palmer, which, makes sense, given that it is tea and lemonade.  Neither the tea nor the lemonade were very strong however.

Hot Teas

Birthday Cake Tea, Hot, $3.
When I was in Boston one winter, I decided to somehow bypass Dunkin' Donuts, and head to David's Tea to get my warm, sweet drink instead.  I know, shocking, but somehow warm tea sounded better to me.

I went for the "Birthday Cake" tea, because, honestly, how do you not try a tea called "Birthday Cake"?  This insane creation is a blend of red and green Rooibos teas, along with ... sprinkles and ice cream bits.  For real.  The tea mix itself contains dairy.  And the sprinkles are very visible in the mix.  The aroma of it is unmistakable.  This is a cake!
The aroma was stronger than the flavor however.  It did taste of cake, but I found it needed some soy milk and agave to really amp it up.  I enjoyed it, but probably would not get again.

[ Not Pictured ]
  • Black
    • Banana Dream Pie.  Ok, this one sounded amazing, so I actually ordered a cup of hot tea one day when I was browsing in the store.  Made with black tea, cocoa nibs, banana pieces, white chocolate, and cocoa powder.  But, I just didn't get much banana, nor chocolate flavor from it.  Wouldn't get again, and I wished I had sampled it first!
    • Brazillionaire.  Made with black tea, Brazil nuts, golden raisins, and coconut chips.  The aroma on this was amazing.  It was nutty, slightly sweet, with a subtle coconut thing going on.  Very tasty.  I think it would have also been good iced.  And would tolerate milk pretty well too.
  • Green
    • Merry Cranberry.  This is a holiday tea, made with green tea, cranberry, apple, mistletoe leaves, star anise, cinnamon, blackberry leaves.  A fairly complex tea, fruity, but spicy.  Very festive.
  • Rooibos
    • Creme Caramel Rooibos.  Made with rooibos tea and bits of caramel.  This was delightful!  Sweet, balanced, delicious.  It was as good as the name implied it would be.  I think it would be great with some milk too.
    • Green & Fruity (sweetened).  Made from a mix of both red and green rooibos, with apple, mango, papaya.  I hadn't ever had green rooibos before, but this did remind me a lot of a standard green tea.  I didn't get any of the depth of flavor you expect from a red rooibos.  And it had some subtle fruity tones.  I wouldn't normally go for a tea like this, and actually got it for Ojan, but I of course tried it.  For fruity green tea drinkers looking for something with less caffeine, I could see it being a good choice.  When she asked if I wanted it sweetened, I hesitated, and she said it was best that way.  And since Ojan likes sweet tea, I said yes.  She added several pumps of their agave syrup, which made it way, way too sweet for me.  Ojan didn't really give me much of a review of it, so I think he didn't care for it.  Whoops
  • Herbal
    • Mulberry Magic.  Made with mulberry leaf, macadamia nuts.  This had a nice nutty flavor to it.  I think it would have been tasty with some soy milk added.
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