Friday, October 09, 2015

Gorgeous! Guilt-Free Goodies from the UK.

Another day, another random set of snack bars to try out.  I discovered Gorgeous! products in the Club Kitchen on a recent British Airways flight.

They are marketed as "guilt-free goodies", with 30% less fat and sugar than equivalent products.  While these aren't health food products, they do try to use less sugar, no artificial colors/flavors/preservatives, and care about having fiber, without sacrificing taste and texture.

They come in 4 varieties.  Two are basic desserts: Belgian chocolate chunk cookies and brownies, and the later two are more ... British: oaty or chocolate chip flapjacks.  None of these sounded all that great, but, well, the desserts on British Airways flights often leave something to be desired, so I decided to try them anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised.
Belgian Chocolate Brownie.
"Our brownies are fudgy, chewy and chocolate-chunky."

I'll be honest.  I expected to take a single bite of this, and give it to Ojan.  Bars aren't really my thing, and neither are brownies.

Even once I opened the package, I didn't expect to take more than a bite or two.  It looked like a flat, stale, brownie.  I don't generally even like fresh baked brownies (not that I dislike them, just, not ever my treat of choice).   Ojan likes brownies, so I figured he'd appreciate it, if it managed to actually pull off the brownie thing decently.  But I figured it would be like most bars, named something dessert-like, but not resembling a real dessert in the least.

And then I tasted it.  I was glad to be proved wrong.

It was ... a brownie.  Sure, not a home baked brownie.  But, it was nicely chewy, chocolatey, and didn't taste strange in any "healthy" way.

I became more interested, and flipped it over to read the ingredient list.  Hmm.  It actually mostly read like a real brownie recipe: flour, sugar, margarine, butter, egg, cocoa powder, Belgian chocolate chunks, and chocolate chips.  There are a few more interesting things in there, like dried plum juice, which I imagine is used as a lower sugar natural sweetener?  The only strange ingredients were wheat dextrin and polydextrose, the former used to add fiber, the later as a lower calorie sugar replacement.

So, well, yes, a brownie.   A very decently sized one at that, as it was the size of a regular bar, a full 55 grams (they also make a smaller 27 gram version).  But 30% less fat and sugar than equivalent products.  A bar is only198 calories, 13.9 grams sugar, 7.6 grams of fat.  Really, not bad at all, and if it hadn't come out of a wrapper and was slightly differently shaped, I would have believed it was a "normal" brownie.

It was fine on its own with some coffee, but I immediately wanted to warm it up, and serve it at least a la mode, if not with chocolate sauce and whipped cream too.  I realize this defeats the whole healthy thing, and the easy treat for on the go, but, that is how I'd like it!
Oaty Flapjack.
"They’re gooey, chewy and as moreish as we can make them. Made with golden syrup, two types of oats and three generations of baking expertise."

Next, I moved on to the one I thought I'd like: the oaty flapjack.  I first discovered flapjacks in a Graze box, where I didn't love it, but dubbed it basically a healthy oatmeal cookie bar.  I was interested by the concept of flapjacks though, these softer granola bars that seemed so popular in the UK, so when I visited later that year, I tried out the flapjacks at my office, made by Seed Stacked.  I really liked them, and decided they were quasi-healthy almost-cookies, totally acceptable to eat anytime of day, as breakfast, or alongside a cuppa in the afternoon.

This one also looked kinda flat, dense, not very interesting, although it had oats scattered on top.  But after the success of the brownie, I was quite excited for this.

Sadly, the brownie was much better.  This did have a next texture, it was chewy, it was even a bit gooey.  But ... it just wasn't very exciting.  I guess a bit like a very dense yet gooey oatmeal cookie?  I wanted some mix-ins, something to give it flavor.  On its own, it was just boring.

Again, the ingredient list wasn't scary.  45% of the bar is just oats.  It has margarine, butter, sugar, golden syrup, skim milk, and flour.  The dried plum juice concentrate and polydextrose again show up.  But that is it, I think why I found it boring.

A bar is again about 200 calories, 7 grams of fat, 10 grams sugar.  I wouldn't try this one again, although, maybe the chocolate chip one is better?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Mission Pie

Update Review, October 2015

If you didn't read my original Mission Pie review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review, June 2015" below.

One Friday in July, a mere month after I published my original review of Mission Pie, I was sitting at my desk when an e-mail with a very appealing subject line showed up: "Peach and berry pie in the kitchen".

It had the following explanation: "I was at Mission Pie on my way to work and it looked awesome so I got one.  Because Friday.  Help yourselves.   Its still warm."

I love my coworkers.  Now, it was only 9:30am, but I rushed to the kitchen area.  Pie is totally legit breakfast, particularly if it has fruit, right?
Peach Blackberry Crumble Pie.
I apologize for this photo.

As I mentioned, I dashed to the kitchen moments after seeing the e-mail at 9:30am, and there was indeed a whole, hot, fresh pie.

I grabbed my slice, made a cup of coffee to enjoy alongside, went back to my desk to savor it, and then returned to take a photo.  I don't think it was more than 20 minutes later.  Definitely still before 10am.  And ... this is what was left.  Turns out, others were just as shameless as I was about eating pie for breakfast, and it was nearly gone.

For good reason.  This was a very good pie.

Inside were huge chunks of peach and blackberries.  The fruit was crazy sweet, definitely sweetened, but still quite tasty.  It really needed some whipped cream or ice cream on the side to counter it, which, if you got it at the shop itself, they would serve it with.

The topping was delicious, sweet, crunchy, and the perfect crisp topping.  The crust was buttery and flaky.

Overall a winner, and I love this concept of getting the best of both a crisp and a pie in one dessert.  Pie crust AND crisp topping.  YES!

I'd definitely eat this again.

Original Review, June 2015

Mission Pie is, you guessed it, a pie shop, located in the Mission.

Apparently they also sell some savories, such as soups and salads, plus quiches, pot pies, galettes, and tarts, although I'd argue that quiche, pot pie, galettes, and tarts are basically pies themselves, even if savory.  To go alongside your pie you can also get coffee or tea, or, if you stop in earlier in the day, they make scones and muffins too.  But basically, they make pie.

They do care about sourcing, and use local and organic ingredients as much as possible, even including the flour.  The pies use an all butter crust, which they make in large batches and then hand roll (except for vegan varieties, that use coconut and conola oil).  You might not expect a company whose business is pie making to care about health, but they do purposely use 1/3 white and 2/3 whole wheat flour and not too much sugar.

I was really excited when Mission Pie came to San Francisco, because, well, dessert.  And people all raved about it constantly.  Hype was high when they opened, and I eventually trekked all the way to the Mission for it.

I remember not being very impressed.  I visited perhaps two or three times a few years ago, and then moved on, and haven't thought about Mission Pie since.  But, recently, a co-worker showed up with a fresh whole pie, so I was eager to try again.

I also dug  up the tasting notes I somehow still have, from when I tried the banana cream pie, clearly something I got with Ojan, since it is often a favorite of his.  My notes were simple: "Not very good.  Crust not yummy.  Pudding layer totally generic.  Whipped cream totally generic".  Hmm, I wasn't impressed!  I hoped this time would be better.

And indeed it was.  I'm glad my co-worker brought the pie in, because now I'm eager to try Mission Pie again.
Strawberry Rhubarb, 9 inch, $24.
If you've read my blog for a while, you might recall how I feel about rhubarb in general.  It was the ingredient that ruined jam for me as a child.  I still have a thing against it.  So I wasn't thrilled when I saw the variety of pie my co-worker had chosen, but still, I persevered.

The pie did not have not the tartness I expect from rhubarb, although there were generous chunks of nicely cooked down rhubarb (and strawberries of course).  The fruit was in a very thick sauce, which I think was highly sugared, even though they claim they don't use much sugar.  The filling was far to sweet to be just from the strawberries alone.

It was double crusted.  The top crust was perfect, although the edges were pretty crisp.  It had a rich butteriness that reminded me of a croissant.  I guess all butter crust will do that.  The bottom crust was quite doughy, not actually cooked through, but, I liked it that way.

Right after lunch I had a slice alongside a cup of black coffee, and it totally satisfied my sweet tooth.  The super sweet pie plus the black coffee made for a great pairing.  However, when I went for a second slice later, it was just too sweet for me.  It clearly needed whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, to cut the sweetness (which I would have gotten if in the shop itself).

You can get pie by the slice ($4), or a whole 9 inch for $24.  If you get a slice in store, it comes with complimentary Straus Family Creamer organic whipped cream, or you can add Strauss vanilla ice cream for $1.50, and I'd clearly opt for at least one of those with this pie.

Click to add a blog post for Mission Pie on Zomato

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Aldo Lamberti Trattoria, Philadelphia Airport

As you've been reading, I recently had a layover at the Philadelphia Airport, my first time.  After stopping at Red Mango for froyo immediately upon landing, and picking up takeout from Legal Seafood for my next flight, it was time to grab some savory food to actually eat then.

I know that the order in which I did things didn't make sense in many ways.  Yes, ideally, I'd get my savory lunch first.  Follow it with froyo.  And pick up the takeout last.  But each was in a different terminal, and I landed in the terminal with the Red Mango, was passing through the one with Legal Seafood on the way, and took off out of the one with Aldo Lamberti Trattoria, where I wanted my savory food.  I could have just picked other establishments that made more sense logistically, obviously.  There were a slew of options.  But I did my research, and I knew what I wanted.  Red Mango and Legal Seafood were not new to me, but Aldo Lamberti Trattoria was.

Reviews told me that it was the place to go for good pizza.  Not just good pizza for an airport, good pizza in general.  Pizza may not be what I often pick, but sometimes there is a place for it, and it certainly sounded better than lackluster sandwiches or salads, or random fast food.  The reviews did not lead my astray.

I'm not familiar with the Lamberti name, but I guess they own a handful of Italian places in New Jersey, and one in Philadelphia.  This is obviously a fast concept for an airport, with everything pre-made, but the quality still showed.
Menu Board.
The menu board was pretty simple: pizza, salads, sandwiches, paninis (oh, and breakfast, including french toast!)

No frills here, and nothing to imply it would be any better than the slew of other airport dining options.  I hoped my research paid off.
Specialty Pizzas.
They make a variety of pizzas throughout the day, so options are always changing, and nothing is labelled.  The menu just lists "cheese", "1 topping", or "specialty".  I felt obnoxious, but asked the server what they all were. He rattled them off with ease, so I'm sure this is common.

I was tempted by nearly all of them.  The margarita and margarita with sausage looked incredible, the fresh mozzarella perfectly melted.  Then there was the buffalo chicken and bbq chicken, with fantastic looking sauces and toppings.  And plenty of classics like onions, peppers, and sausage.  I think probably 10-15 types total?

The pizzas are pre-made, and looked varying degrees of fresh.  All slices are heated to order in the oven, and handed over once they look good as new again.
Sandwiches, Paninis, Salads.
A few assorted premade salads (caesar, house, caprese) and sandwiches came next.  I imagine they heat the paninis up too.

Prices were very reasonable, <$5 for a small salad, $8 for a large.
Desserts, Fruit, Drinks.
An assortment of other treats completed the lineup, including cookies, tiramisu, and some really, really good looking muffins.  If I hadn't just chowed down on a massive Red Mango froyo, and hadn't just picked up Legal Seafood takeout for my next flight, I definitely would have taken one to eat on my next flight.
Specialty Pizza: Margarita with Sausage. $5.50.
And finally: the pizza!

Slices are huge, served in slice shaped boxes.  I loved the boxes, and, our slice literally fit perfectly.  How did they do that?

My research paid off.  This was good pizza.

The crust was thin, crispy.  The sauce flavorful and tangy, plenty of it.  The fresh mozzarella perfectly melted (Ojan thought there wasn't enough, but I actually like this style with it in islands on top and not encompassing the entire thing).  A generous amount of nicely seasoned well sized sausage chunks.  Fresh torn basil.

Overall, very good.  No real complaints here.  Actually, shockingly good, particularly given that this was airport food, and, it wasn't made fresh to order.

The price of only $5.50 was also a shocker (plain cheese was only $4 and a single topping $4.75.)  Seriously? In an airport?  For a monster slice?  Incredible.
Aldo Lamberti Trattoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 05, 2015

Grand Opening of Lobster ME

Dining at the Westfield Mall in San Francisco has always been a step up from your standard mall food court options (even though I haven't loved the selection).  The top floor houses the Restaurant Collection with full service restaurants like Martin Yan's M.Y. China (where I ate once, and wasn't impressed) and Cupola Pizza (where we really didn't like the pizza).  But even the lower level food court is nicer than average too; you won't find any standard fast food here, the closest you get are a few larger local chains (Andale, SF Soup Company, etc) and of course the lackluster Coriander Gourmet Thai and the slightly better Loving Hut.

One eatery I never visited in the food court, but kinda always sorta wanted to, was Catch Isle.  The fish and chips always looked tempting.  But, alas, I waited too long, and they closed.  Perhaps it wasn't that good.  In the space however came something even more promising: Lobster ME.

Lobster ME is a small chain, with two locations in Vegas and one in Maryland, and now one in the food court.  They serve a fast-casual menu centered around lobster.

For the soft opening, they were giving out free lobster rolls.  I couldn't resist.  Yes, the idea of lobster from a food court sounds a bit scary (although not nearly as scary as a McLobster!  Perhaps more like Panera lobster sandwich scary?)

I braved the lines and drama of opening day in order to claim my freebie.  I'm glad I did.  The lobster was good, the staff impressive.  Next time I'm uh, wanting lobster, and I'm in the mall, I'd certainly try it again.

The Space

Lobster ME is located in the San Francisco Westfield mall ground floor foodcourt.  The space is typical of this slightly more upscale foodcourt.
Food Court Location.
Lobster ME is in the center of the food court, rather than along the exterior like most of the food options.  This means it is fairly small, and the entire kitchen facility is contained within view, rather than out back like the establishments on the outskirts.

It has no dedicated seating, all seating is shared with others places in the food court.
The light up menu lists out the options: lobster rolls, lobster melts, soups, "more lobster", and a few non-lobster items.  Appetizing photos of lobster are there to entice.
Front Area.
The space behind the counter hosts the drink station, and an open pass to the very small kitchen area and a doorway to the back room.  It is small, but the staff do a good job of navigating around each other.
The kitchen is on display with glass surrounding it on all sides.  I felt a bit bad watching and taking a photo, but, well, this is how they designed it.  They want you to watch lobster rolls being assembled, in all their glory, right?

The cooks ran an impressive assembly line, one person grilling rolls and filling them, another prepping lobster, and another frying batches of their house made chips.  For a grand opening, they really were quite organized.

The Food

Obviously, the menu centers around lobster. I expected this, but even so, I was a bit shocked at how few options they had that didn't involve lobster.  Really not the place to bring friends who aren't into lobster (not that it matters really, since the food court location means everyone can get whatever they want from where and still eat together).

The menu starts with lobster rolls, the signature item.  All served with housemade potato chips and coleslaw, all $18.  There are 5 options, starting with the classics: the original Maine roll (chilled lobster, mayo based) and the Connecticut (warm lobster, butter based).  From there things get more interesting with the cajun (chilled, Canjun mayo) and the Beltway (warm, Old Bay, shallots, chives, and panko crumbed).  The final selection was created just for the San Francisco location: The Golden Gate, with miso-sesame sauce and shredded nori.  I'm not really sure what is San Francisco about this, but, I love miso, so it sounded great to me.

If an $18 roll feels like a splurge, opt for a lobster melt instead, offered in 3 varieties (including one with brie and shallot-cream cheese!), all for $10.  With the melts and rolls, you can opt for a combo to include a drink and fries ($4), soup ($5), or chowder and fries ($6).  Speaking of soup, there are two varieties, one is, you guessed it, lobster bisque, and the other clam chowder.

The final lobster choices are a decadent looking lobster mac and cheese, lobster cheese fries, and "the lobsicle"... a lobster tail on a stick (grilled or batter fried).  The lobster cheese fries are even more crazy than they sound, topped with lobster bisque, cheese curds, and of course lobster meat.  Other Lobster ME locations have lobster tacos, lobster & chips, lobster grilled cheese, lobster sliders, and lobster salad.  I expect the lobster salad will be added soon at our location, as we do have so many gluten-averse ...

So yes, this is a menu full of lobster.  If you somehow wind up here, and don't want lobster, you can get a regular grilled cheese, fries smothered in clam chowder and bacon, or ... a hot dog.  Their other locations offer a much more extensive non-lobster menu too, including fish & chips, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, and shrimp sliders.
Apple Cider. $3.
Beverage options are pretty basic: lemonade, cider, and iced tea for $3, or fountain drinks for $2.

I went for the cider, appreciating the nod to the east coast.  I grew up drinking a lot of fresh cider.

Fresh cider this was not.  Honestly, it tasted like apple juice.  It was fine apple juice, but there wasn't anything remotely cider-y about it.  Apple juice is fine, but, I like apple juice for breakfast, not alongside my lunch.  I grew a bit worried.  If the cider wasn't good, what did that indicate about ... the lobster?
Original Maine Style Lobster Roll / House-made Chips / Cole slaw. $18. 
All lobster rolls are "made to order in our split-top rolls, grilled to perfection, and served with house-made chips and cole slaw."  The Original Maine Style is described as "chilled lobster meat with just a touch of mayo and subtle spices."

If I were picking anything off the menu, I'd be hard pressed to make a decision.  I can never decide between a chilled lobster roll with mayo or hot with butter.  I love mayo, so I'm always inclined to go for that version, but, warm lobster and butter is hard to resist too.  They offered not only these two classic choices, but many, many more options.  I'm pretty sure I'd opt for the Golden Gate, because I just love miso so much.

Perhaps luckily for me, I had no choices to make.  I was there for the Grand Opening, and they were giving out one thing: the Original Maine Style Lobster Roll.

When my basket was handed over, I had to admit, it looked far more promising than I expected.  The bun was glistening, and it was generously loaded up with lobster.  I could see real chunks of lobster.  Well then.  This looked more legit than the apple cider.

I eagerly dug in, starting with the lobster roll of course.  The bun itself really was as advertised, grilled to perfection.  I was impressed with how perfectly grilled it was, nice and crisp on the outside, and piping hot.

The lobster too was actually pretty warm, which surprised me because it said it would be chilled.  I wonder if it was just heat transfer from the bun? Or was it under a heat lamp?  It didn't really matter though, the lobster was really quite good.  There were decent size chunks, some claws, and plenty of shredded meat.  It was very generously stuffed.  I never expected quite that much lobster in a quasi-fast food lobster roll!  The lobster was nicely cooked, no rubbery lobster here.  Not even one tiny piece of shell in my entire roll.  Really quite impressive.

The most impressive part was the seasoning.  There were tiny cubes of celery for some crunch and just salt and pepper (and other "subtle spices"?), but the seasoning really worked, accenting the lobster meat perfectly.  It also wasn't overdressed at all, again, as promised, just "a touch of mayo".

I laughed as I wrote this up, as I did so without the marketing material in front of me, and found myself writing exactly the same words they had  Roll: grilled to perfection. Lobster salad: touch of mayo. Check.

Hidden from view in this photo was a lemon wedge, which I thought was a great touch.  The little hit of acidity was perfect to accent the lobster.

The sides weren't quite as exciting as the lobster roll.  They weren't bad, but the roll was clearly the star.  They did go nicely with the roll though, and cole slaw and chips are two things I do love.

The house-made chips tasted almost burnt, a bit too oily and almost stale, although I think they really were fresh.  The salt level was nice though.  I'm guessing that they just haven't quite figured out the frying technique at this brand new location.

The slaw, served in a little paper cup, was fine.  A mix of mostly green cabbage, with a little red cabbage and carrots for color.  It was crisp and fresh tasting, lightly dressed, but not really memorable.  I wanted a bit more seasoning, or, because I like creamy slaw, more mayo.  But it was fine.

Overall, this really was an impressive showing, particularly for a food court location, and on opening day no less.  $18 is a bit high for grabbing an easy lunch at the mall, but the portion was generous, and the quality showed.  I'd certainly try it again, although next time, I've got eyes only for the miso roll!
Lobster Me Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Whittaker's Chocolate

I'm always eager to try new types of chocolate bars.  I'm not a major chocolate-o-holic, and usually don't opt for chocolate desserts, but a little piece of quality chocolate in the morning alongside my coffee always hits the spot.  Or in the afternoon, for a little pick-me-up.  So, on a recent flight to Sydney, when I saw a new brand of chocolate onboard my various Air New Zealand flights, I was happy to drive in.

The brand was Whittaker's, a New Zealand based company.  The company was founded in 1896 by J.H. Whittaker, when he moved to New Zealand.  Business took off, was passed down through the generations, etc, etc.  Still a family run company.

But you don't care about the history.  You care about the chocolate.  Whittaker's has several product lines, including standard bars (dubbed "Blocks"), fancier bars (the "artisan collection"), and then a bunch of other shapes: slabs, mini-slabs, chunks, squares, pips, and "sante".  The also make chocolate milk, ice cream, toffee, and "k-bars", a kind of toffee based confection.

Our flight had the sante bars, so that is the only product I tried.  I wasn't impressed.  They claim to be the premium chocolate maker not only of New Zealand, but of all of Australasia.  I hope this isn't the best the region has to offer.


So, what are sante bars?

According to Whittaker's, "there is simply nothing like the snap of one of our pure chocolate sante bars.  Long, thin, and elegant, Sante means health - in a happy way.  These certainly make you feel happy".

They come in 4 varieties: creamy milk, dark, dark peppermint, and dark ghana.  I tried the two that our flight offered.

I did like the Sante form factor, a thin bar, with a nice snap to it.  I'm not quite sure why I liked the form so much, maybe just because it was something different?  But, it worked.
35% Cocoa Creamy Milk Chocolate Bar.
I started with the milk chocolate, a 35% bar.

The chocolate was very nicely creamy.  So far, so good.  Nice form, good creaminess.

But ... the flavor was a bit odd.  There was a strange aftertaste to it, it reminded me of decaf coffee, in that way that decaf coffee sometimes has a bad funk to it.

I couldn't get past the aftertaste, which is sad, as it really was nice and creamy.
50% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Bar.
I moved on to the dark chocolate, only a 50%.

It was ... sweet.  It reminded me of a Hershey Special Dark.  Dark chocolate shouldn't be sweet like this.  It just wasn't at all what I was looking for, but the finish was smooth.