Friday, August 19, 2016

King's Delicious

King's Delicious is a supplier of nuts and other packaged snacks for airlines, supermarkets, convenience stores, etc.  If you've had a packaged snack on Delta, American, United, Southwest, Alaska, Hawaiian, Spirit, Asiana, JetBlue, and more, you've likley had the products.  And if you haven't remembered the experience, well, that is because they are highly unremarkable.  At least I thought so.
Fancy Nut Mix.
"A Premium Blend of Roasted and Salted Cashews, Blanched Almonds, Natural Almonds and Honey Roasted Sesame Sticks."

The cashews were standard cashews, although smaller size than I’m used to.  Slightly salted.  My entire bag had exactly 3 cashews.  Not even distribution of components.

The almonds were skin-on, over-roasted and not very flavorful.  Again, generic.

The honey roasted sesame sticks had a good sesame flavor, and were crunchy, but did not have much flavor and weren't sweet enough for me.  They were my favorite element however.

This mix made me sad, as it was all things I should have liked, but was highly unremarkable.  It was sweet and salty, but not in a way that combined into the magic it should have.
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream

Update Review, August 2016

Yadda, yadda,  start with my original review, then the update, and then come back here, if you want more context for Baskin-Robbins.

For my birthday, I of course went to Baskin-Robbins to get my free birthday scoop.  I had a hard time picking a flavor, since, I don't actually think their ice cream is all that good.  I sampled a couple, and in the end, decided to just go for the special Flavor of the Month, OREO® Milk 'n Cereal Ice Cream, since it was, well, special.  This was an interesting choice for me given that I don't really care for OREO (sorry, Dad).  I was drawn in by the promise of the crunchy frosted corn flake ribbon.  Ben & Jerry's always does such a great job with ribbons, and my pick last year had an insanely good cookie dough batter flavored ribbon, so, I knew Baskin-Robbins could pull off the ribbon.
OREO® Milk 'n Cereal Ice Cream, Child Size.
"It's breakfast with Baskin! Cereal milk flavored ice cream swimming with OREO® cookie pieces, frosted corn flake cereal pieces, and a crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon."

This was actually pretty good.  And I admit, I was pretty skeptical about this flavor, as it sounded rather confused.  Cereal and OREO?  How do those go together?

The base ice cream was apparently cereal milk flavored, which, to be honest, I didn't really taste.  I assumed it was a vanilla base until I copied the description from the website here.  It was loaded up with goodes though, so the base didn't really matter.  Chunks of OREO cookie were as expected, assorted sizes, and, well, they were OREO.  Since I'm not an OREO lover, these were what they were, and were not particularly interesting.  But, everything else was.

I didn't necessarily find distinct "frosted corn flake cereal pieces" and "crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon", but, there was plenty of light brown stuff in there that had a slight crunch to it.  The texture was pretty strange, sorta like what you'd expect peanut butter to be like if it were made of corn flakes.  It wasn't bad though.  If you got a bite of it, it was also sorta like cookie dough with a bit of crispy crunch to it.  Pretty fascinating actually, and there was plenty of this too.

So, overall, a decent flavor.  The base ice cream wasn't flavorful nor particularly creamy quality ice cream, and the OREO cookie pieces I could do without, but the corn flake components were interesting enough that I enjoyed my scoop.   I'd likely try something new next time though.

Update Review, August 2015

If you didn't read my original Baskin-Robbins reviews, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review: August 2014" below.

This year's visit was inspired by, you guess it, a birthday freebie.  I can't resist free treats!  My birthday rolled around, and, just like clockwork, Baskin-Robbins sent me an e-mail offering up a free scoop.  I eagerly headed there to pick a new flavor.  Spoiler: I found a winner.
Mom’s Makin’ Cookies™, Child Size.
"Mom’s secret recipe of brown sugar flavored ice cream filled with chocolate chip cookie pieces, chocolate flavored chips, and a delicious cookie dough batter flavored ribbon."

Ok, this was just downright delicious.  It was like everything you always want chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to be.  All the flavors and textures, just amped up another notch.

So, stepping back.  The base was a sweet base, apparently brown sugar.  I'm not quite sure I'd identify it as brown sugar, but it was clearly more interesting than vanilla and not cloying sweet like cake batter.  It was creamy, and it melted perfectly on the hot day.

But the mix ins are where the magic was. First, the cookie dough batter ribbon.  This was really interesting, it wasn't thick like cookie dough gobs, or the flavored ribbons you find in Ben & Jerry's ice cream; it was more like a caramel, albeit a cookie dough flavored one.  Yup, it tasted like cookie dough, buttery and sweet.  Kinda awesome.

Next came the chocolate chip cookie pieces.  This is where I was a bit skeptical.  I didn't want chunks of cookie in my ice cream, I wanted cookie dough!  Except, these were soft, just like gobs of cookie dough, perhaps just a bit grittier?  Big, sizable chunks, perfect for some texture.

And finally, little chocolate chips, which added more crunch.

This was definitely awesome.  It was sweet, creamy, had a fun cookie dough batter swirl to keep discovering, and chunks to dig for.  It reminded me of Ben & Jerry's Milk & Cookies, just with the chocolate cookie swirl replaced with the cookie dough one, and a more interesting base swapped in.  Similar concept, but I think Baskin-Robbins had a slight edge here.

I'd definitely get this again.

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June Flavor of the Month, Dunkin’ Donuts® Coffee ‘N Donut

"Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and donut-flavored ice creams dunked with donut pieces and a chocolate flavored icing ribbon."  

Before settling on the Mom's Makin' Cookies, I also tried another tempting sounding option, inspired by their partnership with Dunkin' Donuts.  You know my fondness for Dunkin' Donuts, as I am originally from the east coast ...

I'm glad I tried it.  Because, well, wow, it was exactly as advertised.  It tasted like donuts.  Like greasy, sorta stale, cake donuts.  I didn't taste any coffee, but wow, donuts.  I can't imagine eating a scoop of this, unless maybe used in an affogado?  It was fun to try, and I'm glad I asked to sample before committing to a full scoop.

Original Review, August 2014

I grew up without a Baskin-Robbins nearby, and we always got our ice cream at home from Schwans delivery, so I somehow made it to my 30s without ever having Baskin-Robbins.  But, I love ice cream, and I'm always interested in trying out new places, so I finally checked it out.

My first visit was when I had a very sore throat, and I was on a quest to eat soft, cold things, using my GoPago credits as inspiration on where to go (yes, this was a few years ago, since GoPago is no longer active in San Francisco).  I'd just spent a couple weeks on the east coast, eating tons of soft serve ice cream, so even though it was still freezing out and totally not ice cream weather, I headed for the one place on GoPago that had soft serve: Baskin-Robbins.  (Yes, soft serve.  No it is not normal for them, they clearly specialize in hard ice cream)/

My second visit was prompted by joining their e-club, which gave me a certificate for a free scoop of ice cream for my birthday, so I went to cash in on it.  I looked up all of the flavors online beforehand so I wouldn't be too slow to decide, and had picked out a slew of flavors that I wanted.  I thought choosing one would be impossible!  Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be quite easy, as they didn't have ANY of the flavors I wanted to try!  Out of my list of 8 flavors, they didn't have a single one I wanted!  Not quite sure how that was possible.  They also didn't have the monthly special flavor.

My third visit was due to my realization that Togos was on LevelUp, with a $2 credit.  Sure, I could use my free credits to get some chips or a drink, but Baskin-Robbins is attached to Togos, and they use the same checkout.  Thus, I could use my credits to get a mini sundae!  Way better than chips or drinks :)

My next visit came from Togos running another LevelUp promotion, with a whopping $10 credit.  I think the idea was that you could get a full meal at Togos, but again, I didn't really want Togos, and that could get me quite a bit of ice cream.  And ... since Ojan wasn't going to use his credit either, I could fetch some for him too!

So, over the course of the past few years, I've tried a lot of their ice cream.  And for the most part, I'm highly unimpressed.  Maybe I'd go back for another freebee, but I certainly wouldn't pay for this ice cream.

The service at the SF location was varied.  As I mentioned, it is adjacent to a Togos, with the same staff running both places, running back and forth between them.  They are attached, but not exactly right next to each other, so this seems a little crazy.  It means you can stand there for a very long time with no one paying any attention, since they are all on the Togos side.  One staff member was also completely unfriendly, never smiling, never seeming remotely interested in her job, and generally annoyed that I was there getting ice cream.  I'll call her Ms. Surly for the rest of this review.  Another staff member was less friendly on my first visit, but was more informative and personable on subsequent visits, even striking up random conversation with me the last time I was there.  The third, I think a manager, gave decent standard service.

Soft Serve

The menu was advertising a new item: mini soft serve parfaits.  They had several varieties, each with a sauce in the bottom, then the soft serve, and then a candy topping.  Since I wanted soft serve, and a sundae is far more fun than just a cone or cup, I eagerly tried a few.

The soft serve just wasn't very good, and the form factor of these mini parfaits was far from ideal, making it impossible to get to the sauce until the end.  Why was the sauce on the bottom?
Reese's Mini Soft Serve Parfait.  $2.
I have a thing for peanut butter, so the Reese's one immediately called out to me.  Peanut butter sauce in the bottom, vanilla soft serve, peanut butter cup crumbles on top.

It was ... basically exactly as advertised.  The soft serve is a newer item for Baskin Robbins, and they only have vanilla flavor.  It wasn't very good.  It had a strange sourness to it, not tart like frozen yogurt, just ... sour.  It was creamy and a decent consistency.  It also wasn't really vanilla flavored.  Very, very mediocre soft serve.  The peanut sauce in the bottom was basically just generic creamy peanut butter.  It was hard to get to, since it was only in the bottom, and thus even though I wanted some to mix into my initial bites, I couldn't really without spilling the whole thing.  And at the end, I wound up with just a ton of peanut butter left over.  The pb sauce also got really hard from having the cold ice cream on top, making it difficult to scoop up.  The peanut butter cup crumbles were exactly what you'd expect.

I wanted this to come together better, being more than a sum of its parts, but it really wasn't.  Mediocre soft serve, pb cups, and hard to get to low end peanut butter.  Meh.

But for $2, it really did seem like a bargain, particularly compared to anything else on the menu.  I don't really understand why it was so cheap (as in, cheaper than just a bowl or cone of soft serve, even though it was bigger and had toppings ...).
Hot Fudge and Almonds Mini Parfait.  $2.
On my next visit, I tried a parfait again, since it is the only ice cream item that tell within my LevelUp budget.  I wasn't a fan of the peanut butter last time, so I went for one with hot fudge.  Even mediocre hot fudge is usually pretty good, right?

This parfait suffered from exactly the same issues as the first, namely, that you couldn't get to the sauce in the bottom, until the end, when you are left with only sauce.  Unlike the first one however, I didn't have the problem of spilling the parfait as I tried to dig for the sauce, as this one was tiny.  I thought it seemed like it had much less ice cream than the first one, and looking at the photos afterwards confirmed it.  This one barely extended above the top of the rim, whereas my first one had a nice swirl on top.  I'm not sure which one was correct, I'm guessing the first, as this looked pretty sad.  This one was made by Ms. Surly.

Anyway, the ice cream was the same mediocre soft serve, decently creamy, but not very vanilla, and with a slight sourness.  The nuts were just generic little bits of almond.  The fudge wasn't actually hot, and it wasn't particularly chocolatey.

This would have been a very boring parfait, but being the pro I am, I brought along a banana and a peanut butter cup, and turned it into a real sundae.  My final product was pretty good, but that wasn't exactly what they were offering.

I certainly would not order this plain parfait again, as it offered nothing flavor-wise.
Build-your-own Mini Parfait, hot fudge and cookie dough.  $2.
My third and final attempt at a parfait.  I kept trying, because $2 for a parfait really does sound like a great deal, if I could come up with a combo I liked.  And Ojan didn't want his $2 credit, so I might as well try again if it was free ...

On my last visit, I saw that they had the standard parfaits listed (chocolate with M&Ms, Oreos, or nuts, caramel with Snickers, peanut butter with Reece's, or strawberry with nuts).  But then it also said "or, build your own".  When I asked about it, Ms. Surly  told me that was only for the 31 Below Mix Ins, not the soft serve parfaits.  I was skeptical, since it was listed under the parfait section, but she was so grumpy and clearly unwilling to entertain this idea, that I gave up on it and picked the simple hot fudge and nuts, since I had my extra toppings with me anyway.

On this visit, I had the nicer employee, and I asked him about it.  He told me you can pick any sauce and any dry topping.  The dry toppings available were the standard candy toppings (M&Ms, Oreo, Snickers, Butterfinger, Reece's, gummy bears, sprinkles, nuts) or ... cookie dough!  This seemed like the clear winner, as it was more likely to be good than a generic candy topping.  Plus, cookie dough can be so good!  For sauces, there was the peanut butter, hot fudge, caramel, or chocolate sauce.  I didn't care for the peanut butter the first time, and thought the hot fudge was pretty mediocre, but it was the only one that seemed to go with the cookie dough, so I selected it again.  I guess the chocolate sauce would have as well, but why pick chocolate sauce when there is hot fudge?

As you can see, the nicer employee again made a much bigger parfait.  He even layered it a little, so there was the hot fudge in the bottom, then the soft serve, then some cookie dough, then he added even more soft serve, and more cookie dough!  Surly employee certainly did not do that.  Then, he asked if I wanted chocolate sauce on top too.  Such a difference!

The chocolate sauce on top was standard chocolate sauce, indistinguishable from Hershey's.  It didn't have a lot of flavor, but I appreciated that there was something on top, since, like every time, the hot fudge was trapped in the bottom.  The fudge was the same as last time, except that it was luke warm this time.  But like always, I had a very hard time getting any until  the end.

The ice cream was actually better this time, it still didn't have any vanilla flavor to it, but it didn't have the strange sourness.

But ... the cookie dough.  It was, quite literally, the worst cookie dough I have ever tasted in my life.  It was dried out beyond belief.  It tasted stale.  It just tasted ... awful.  I don't know how to describe it really, just beyond horrible.  I tried a couple pieces, and then picked them all out.  Or so I thought, forgetting that they nice employee had layered it throughout, so I accidentally got more later on.  Ugh.  It was truly foul!

Would never, ever, ever get this again.  Luckily, in my bag of tricks, I had a banana and other assorted toppings, and turned it into a proper sundae, which I enjoyed.

Hard Ice Cream/Sherbet/Frozen Yogurt

I've tried quite a few flavors of the regular ice cream, and several frozen yogurts.  Most were pretty standard, a few were kinda bad, and a few I really liked.
Mint Chocolate Chip, sugar cone.  $2.19.
For your birthday, you get a free kids size cup or cone.  I went with the mint chocolate chip, without sampling it first, because Ms. Surly looked like she wanted to kill me when I asked to sample one.  Rookie mistake.  It really wasn't very good.  Not creamy, no real mint flavor, even the chocolate bits weren't flavorful.  Really, really mediocre.

The sugar cone was also pretty generic.  Not much to say here.

The ice cream was just plopped on top of the cone.  It would have fallen off with my first lick if I hadn't secured it more properly.

Would not get again, and would have been very sad if I'd paid for this.
America's Birthday Cake, single scoop.  $2.19.
Another year, another birthday. I started this post over a year ago, which is crazy!  I returned this year to get my birthday scoop, and this time, went for America's Birthday Cake.  I'd probably never normally get such a silly flavor, but hey, it was free, and it seemed like the most fitting choice, given the circumstance.

Cake and ice cream, very festive, and quite colorful.  Described as "strawberries, cake-flavored ice cream, confetti topped cake pieces and blue whipped cream".

Like most of their ice cream, it wasn't creamy, was a bit icy, and kinda tasted stale.  I still don't know if that is just Baskin-Robbins in general, or if it is just this location.  Really just not good ice cream at all.

The "cake" flavored ice cream I actually thought was just plain vanilla, it wasn't until I looked up the description online that I saw it was supposed to taste like cake.  Very unremarkable.  The "strawberries" seemed to just be strawberry ice cream, fake tasting strawberry at that.

There were a few small chunks of vanilla cake mixed in.  I didn't see any promised confetti topping.  The cake wasn't stale tasting, or too hard, but was pretty unremarkable.

The "blue whipped cream" was my favorite component, and the real reason I picked this flavor.  It was sweet, fluffier than the ice cream base, which improved the overall texture.  It reminded me of the whipped cream style icing on Carvel ice cream cakes, which I always had growing up, and still have a weakness for.
Premium Churned Light Orange 'N Crème Ice Cream. $2.19.
"Soak up the sun with this orange light ice cream with a whipped cream flavored ribbon for a new twist on a frozen favorite!"

I didn't actually realize this was a Light version, but the flavor sounded somewhat interesting, at least, compared to my other options.  Baskin Robbins does have some really interesting flavors, but for some reason, my local shop never seems to carry them.  I hoped this would be somewhat like a creamsicle.

It was ridiculously sweet.  I'm not sure if they try to make up for the Light version by adding artificial sweetener or something?  Just way too sweet.  There was very little of the whipped cream ribbon, which is too bad, as I actually liked that, and it helped combat the sweetness of the orange ice cream.

The ice cream itself was fairly fluffy and light, but it was loaded with ice chunks.  Not just ice crystals, but actual chunks.  Sad for a scoop shop to not properly store their ice cream, as the result was just not appealing.

I ordered a single scoop, and got a very large multi scoop serving, which would have been quite nice, if I liked it.
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  • Apple Cinnamon Crisp Ice Cream: "Cinnamon flavored ice cream topped with a sticky brown betty ribbon and packed with tasty apple and oat chunks."  Tasting notes: This was decently creamy, seemed fresh, and had a ton of cinnamon flavor.  There was even little chunks of mushy apple in it. Not bad, but not great. [ This is really quite good.  Its like apple pie and ice cream, all in one!  Great cinnamon flavor, ridiculously sweet brown betty ribbon, but quite good. ] [ Loving this!  Yes, it is very sweet, but it is apple pie in ice cream form!  Kinda amazing.  Love the cinnamon flavor and the brown betty ribbon, oat chunks give some good texture. ] [ So sweet.  Love the gooey caramel swirl. ] [ My favorite of their flavors, by far.  Would gladly get again. ]
  • Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream: "A little bit blue, a lotta bit delicious. Creamy cheesecake flavored ice cream packed with cheesecake bits and swirled around with a blueberry ribbon."  Tasting notes: I didn't taste cheesecake at all, the base seemed pretty plain vanilla.  I also didn't find any cheesecake bits.  The "blueberry ribbon" however was quite generous, which was not a good thing, as it was just sweet and didn't really taste like blueberry.  I really didn't care for this.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream: "Vanilla flavored ice cream with cookie dough and chocolate flavored chips".  Tasting notes: Standard vanilla ice cream, with chunks of cookie dough.  This cookie dough was much, much better than the inedible stuff from the parfait.  It had a decent buttery flavor and wasn't all dried out.  Pretty standard cookie dough ice cream. [ Something tastes a little stale about this. ] [ Just not interesting.  Vanilla ice cream doesn't have much flavor, it isn't creamy.  There are little chocolate chips and some stale tasting dough.  I don't like this much at all. ]  [ Not creamy, base ice cream very generic, cookie dough bits not that great.  Would not get again. ] [ Just really not very good.  I've had a lot of different cookie dough ice creams, and this one just offers nothing.  The ice cream itself isn't very good, the cookie dough are just tiny chunks and not flavorful.  Meh. ]
  • Nutty Ice Creams
    • Nutty Coconut Ice Cream: "Coconut ice cream mixed with almonds, pecans, and walnuts." Tasting notes: Good coconut flavor, fair amount of nuts.
    • Old Fashioned Butter Pecan Ice Cream: "Butter pecan flavored ice cream with, yep, butter-roasted pecans.".  Tasting notes: Somewhat generic tasting base ice cream, with plentiful whole pecans.  Not particularly remarkable.  Decently creamy.  [ Ok creaminess  I like the whole pecans, ok buttery flavor, not really standout though. Could be any old butter pecan ice cream. ]
    • Pralines 'N Cream Ice Cream: "Praline-coated pecan pieces and caramel in vanilla flavored ice cream."  Tasting notes: Nice sweetness, thick swirl of caramel, pretty good.  Better than Butter Pecan.
    • Black Walnut Ice Cream: "Walnut flavored ice cream with a black walnut explosion." Tasting notes: Decent walnut flavor, but not particularly interesting.
  • Chocolate Ice Creams
    • World Class Chocolate Ice Cream: "Rich white chocolate flavored mousse ice cream swirled with even richer milk chocolate flavored mousse ice cream."  Tasting notes:  Not really sure I get the whole mousse part here.  Nor the white chocolate, mostly just seemed like generic chocolate ice cream and some white ice cream.
    • German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream: "Swiss chocolate ice cream with coconut, walnut pieces, and milk chocolate brownie. Oh and let's not forget the caramel swirl!" Tasting notes: the caramel swirl was nice, good sweetness.  Chocolate ice cream was pretty generic.  Liked the chunks of brownie. [ Big chunks of brownie, nice walnuts.  Yum! ] [ Love the nuts, love the texture from the coconut, great flavors. ] [ Nice coconut flavor, good rich chunks of brownie.  My second favorite of their ice creams. ]  [ Good creamy chocolate ice cream, nice flavor from coconut, plentiful brownie bites. ] [ I like this.  Fairly creamy, mellow chocolate ice cream, with good coconut flavor.  I love discovering the generous chunks of brownie and nuts throughout.  And the caramel swirl adds a little bit of gooeyness to it.  Second favorite flavor. ]
  • Splish Splash Sherbet: "Blue raspberry sherbet and a splash of blueberry sorbet".  Tasting notes: This was really quite good!  It was icy, but in the way that sorbet is.  Overly sweet, but fruity and refreshing.  I love, love, loved blue raspberry Slush Puppies when I was a kid, and it reminds me exactly of that. [ The blue colored one is way too sweet, so if you get some without the other swirl, it can be pretty cloying ] [ You need to be in the mood for sweet with this, but it is somehow refreshing at the same time.  Quite good. ]
  • Frozen Yogurt
    • Raspberry Cheese Louis: "Cheesecake flavored frozen yogurt is sprinkled with raspberry cheesecake pieces and graham crackers with a sweet raspberry ribbon.".  Tasting notes: I didn't taste cheesecake in any way.  Very icy.  Raspberry swirl just sweet.  Didn't like.
    • Sweet N' Salty Frozen Yogurt: "Super smooth salted caramel frozen yogurt and caramel pretzel balls tied up in a salted caramel ribbon bow."  Tasting notes: Just sweet, didn't really get any salt, my sample didn't have any pretzel in it either.

Novelties

Praline Caramel Ice Cream Cake Bite: Pralines 'n Cream ice cream over white cake, white coating, finished with caramel drizzle and crushed praline pecans.  $2.99.
This is one of their "novelty" items, small versions of their cakes, called cake bites.  Since I wasn't about to buy a whole cake for myself, this seemed like a good way to try out their ice cream cakes.  I grew up having Carvel ice cream cakes for every birthday, so ice cream cake has a special place in my heart.  Of course, Carvel cake is all about the crunchies and the frosting, of which this had neither.

The white cake was not good.  Kinda dry, and very flavorless, with a horrible aftertaste.  Cakes made from boxed cake mix come out better than this.  Not a good base layer.  The ice cream was just their standard Pralines 'n Cream ice cream, good enough I guess, but not really special.  It was covered in "white coating", which I give them credit for not even trying to call white chocolate.  It was kinda just sweet and there.  On top of that was a fairly tasty caramel drizzle and some bits of pecans.  The toppings were the best part.

Yes, this was cake and ice cream, which should be good together, but honestly, it didn't have much going for it.  Wouldn't get again.

Shakes

Very Berry Strawberry Shake, mini, $3.49.
I've went through a serious milkshake craze.  It had been years since I'd had one, and then I just got hooked.   I had just about every type of shake possible, ranging from ones made in real blenders (like the one at Roxy Cafe that started the trend), to those from shake dispensers at fast food joints (like my free birthday shake from Del Taco), to something in-between (like my shake from Bistro Burger).  But the best was from Holy Grill, made with Mitchel's vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.  Even though that one didn't have whipped cream, which I consider to be an important element, it was still the best one I've had flavor-wise.  Quality ice cream and fresh fruit really just makes a big difference!   Every time I've seen strawberry shakes since, I've gotten it, even though I never would normally pick strawberry, hoping to replicate my experience from Holy Grill.  The last one I had was the least successful shake ever, from McDonald's (yes, I should have known better).  That was horrendous.

This one wasn't nearly as bad as the McDonald's shake, but really wasn't very good.  There was no offer of whipped cream, even though I know they have it for making sundaes.  I wish I'd gone out of my way to ask for it, because once I left with it and tried it, it was obvious that it would have really helped out.

It was made in some sort of blender/mixer combo device.  Not quite a classic blender, nor a classic milkshake maker.  The result was not a good consistency.  Mostly, it was just milk, with a few bits that were too thick to suck up.  And then a ton of froth.  The high powered mixer thing just really destroyed the ice cream.  The small amount that stayed frozen melted far too fast.  It wasn't exactly hot out, as I was in San Francisco after all, and I had basically no ice cream or iciness remaining after about 2 minutes.  Very poor execution.  I was really surprised, since I think they sell a lot of shakes, and the machine seemed custom.

Flavor-wise there wasn't much going on.  Slight strawberry flavor, not even in the same ballpark as the one from Holy Grill, but not fake and horrible like the one from McDonald's.  It was at least made with real ice cream, with some bits of strawberry in it, but the addition of all the milk just watered it down.

On the plus side, I had the nicer employee this time.  I also ordered a hand packed pint, which he thoughtfully stashed in a freezer while he made the shake and rang me up.  I really appreciated that extra effort, as it helped my pint not melt as fast for my trip home.

I got the mini size, which was "only" 12 ounces.  $3.49 was actually kinda pricy for this size, more than the 12 ounce mini I got from Bistro Burger for $2.99 and just slightly less than the $3.99 large sizes I got many other places.  Certainly not worth the price, would no get again.
Baskin Robbins Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dinner @ Cafe Jacqueline

Update Review, March 2016

Cafe Jacqueline is one of the most unique dining experiences in the city.  If you haven't ever been, please drop everything and go now.  Well, first, read my earlier review, and then this update review, so you'll be well poised to optimize your experience there (short version: go with people you don't mind spending a lot of time with, get the soup, and save plenty of room for dessert).

Since I have reviewed before, I'm skipping the general details this time around. 

This particular visit was in honor of my parents, who came from the east coast for a very quick four day trip to help me with some home repairs.  We didn't end up going out to eat any other times during their visit, but, both of my parents made it very clear that they'd really, really, really like to go to Cafe Jacqueline.  It made an impression last time they visited.  So, literally the moment they booked their flights, I called for a reservation, Saturday night, 5:30pm, right when they opened.  I knew the meal would be long, and my parents were on east coast time, so, earlier was better.

We took a different approach on this visit.  We decided to skip the savory souffles entirely, and just have soup and dessert soufle.  This might sound crazy, but, I think it was a great idea, as the savory soufles are always my least favorite part of the meal, and it allowed us to double (er, triple) up on dessert.  And before you totally judge us, think about all the eggs in souffle ... plenty of protein, we were totally reasonable!  (Perhaps this gives you a little insight into my dessert loving nature?)

The Space

Cafe Jacqueline is ... tiny.  Along the walls are tables for two, and in the center is tables for 4.  I think there are 3 in each row (so, 6 2-tops, 3 4-tops).  
Tables.
The decor is simple.  Wooden tables and chairs, sturdy, timeless.  White table clothes, white cloth napkins, white plates.
The Kitchen.
If you take a journey to the bathroom, which I recommend you do, you'll walk through the kitchen, where Jacqueline, the sole chef, is working away whipping up souffles.  You'll see her epic bowl of eggs and all her whisks.  It is a sight to behold, and she always has a smile to give.

The Savory Food

Menu.
The menu at Cafe Jacqueline has not really changed in the years that I have visited.  It starts with two soups, one is always french onion soup (vegetarian), and the other is a vegetable soup that changes daily.  Then there are some very basic salads, and three appetizers that I've never seen ordered (caviar, escargot, and figs wrapped in prosciutto).

Most visitors get a soup or salad to entertain themselves while they settle in for the wait for entree souffles, available in a whopping 18 different varieties, ranging from a simple gruyere ($40) to decadent lobster ($60), with many other vegetable and cheese options along the way.  Each main souffle is designed to serve two people, so, not a place for solo diners, or those who can't agree on what to share.

The final section of the menu is the dessert souffles, bigger than the entree soufles, and designed to serve 2-4 people (or, uh, 1-2 people in my family.  More on that soon).
Bread and Butter.
Unlike some restaurants where table bread is brought out immediately after you order, the bread service at Cafe Jacqueline is like the rest of the meal ... it isn't in any rush.

Eventually, once you have settled in, drank some wine, and really started relaxing, a basket of warm, crusty bread is delivered, with a pat of butter.

I've never found the bread notable in any way.  Yes, it is warm, and it is crusty, but, given all the glory that lies ahead, it really isn't worth diving into, no matter how hungry you are, and no matter that it is the only thing in front of you for quite a while.
Watercress Salad.  $15.00.
This is the first time we ever ordered a salad.  Normally, I see no reason to, but since we were skipping entree souffle, I decided to throw a salad into our order, just to have something else savory.

None of the salads really sounded exciting, but my parents hadn't ever had watercress before, so, I picked that one so they could experience something new.  And ... it was a watercress salad.  Just watercress, in a light dressing.  The greens were fresh and crisp, and the watercress was bitter and peppery, but, that was about all there was to it.

At $15, this seemed very high for a small salad with one ingredient and dressing.  I wouldn't get a salad again.
Soup De Jour: Leek and Cauliflower Puree. $13.
The soup of the day is usually one of my absolute favorite dishes at Cafe Jacqueline.  And that is saying a lot, given that everything else is souffle!

I've been absolutely stunned by the soup of the day on every prior visit.  The soup is always a vegetarian puree (vegan if you leave out the creme fraiche on top), and it always sounds incredibly boring.  I think the first one I ever got was "red bell pepper puree", which sounded beyond boring but was incredibly flavorful.  Last time I really enjoyed my tomato puree. So, even though leek and cauliflower puree didn't sound particularly good, I still ordered it.

And ... I really, really didn't like it.  It tasted, well, like cauliflower.  It is hard to see in this photo (due to the dim lighting), but, it was green from the leek.  I didn't taste much leek however, and tasted a lot of cauliflower.  Now, I like cauliflower ... roasted, caramelized cauliflower, but, I don't ever really like cauliflower mash or puree.  I'm not sure why, since I do like cauliflower flavor and I do usually like mashes.

In the center was a very generous glob of crème fraîche that melted in, and that aspect I did like.

Anyway, I didn't like my soup, and it was most certainly my fault for ordering cauliflower puree.  Ojan also opted for this soup, and he devoured his, and repeated several times how good it was.   I swapped soup with my mother, and she said this was good, but, she did prefer her original order of the onion soup.
Onion Soup. $15.
Which brings us to the onion soup.  My parents both opted for the onion soup.  It is always a stunner, topped off with tons of melted cheese and crispy croutons.  It is also always piping hot, with the cheese and bread on top trapping in the heat.  I'm pretty sure someone I'm with burns themselves on it every time.

After I didn't like my cauliflower puree, my very generous mother offered to swap with me, so I got this instead, basically untouched since it was still too hot for her to consume.  It was fantastic.  The depth of flavor in the broth is incredible, particularly given that this is a fully vegetarian soup.  The onions are super cooked down, sweet, and just the right level of mushy.  But, the winning element is certainly the gruyere, so flavorful, so perfectly melty.  Seriously delicious.  And tons of cheese, Jacqueline does not skimp.

Everybody at the table agreed that this was the better soup, but, it is a very heavy offering, a meal itself, seriously, so, if you are planning on savory and sweet souffle, the lighter vegetable puree is probably a better choice.  Or split a onion soup with someone.  Of course, if you are skipping the savory souffle, by all means, dig in to this as your entree!

Dessert Souffle

Dessert is, well, souffle.  They don't have anything except souffle on the dessert menu, for good reason.  Your choices range from simple citrus (lemon or lime, $35) to boozy Grand Marnier ($50), to favorites like chocolate and seasonal fruit ($40).  The desserts take just as long as the savory souffles to make, and are ordered at the start of the meal.

According to the menu, each dessert souffle serves 2-4 people.  We were a group of 4.  We ordered two ... to start.

When we arrived at Cafe Jacqueline, I had our plan established: we'd get the seasonal fruit souffle, whatever it was, because it is always our favorite.  And, we'd try the white chocolate one finally, since none of us are crazy about citrus, and the chocolate always disappoints me.

I was about to eagerly ask what the seasonal fruit was, when the server broke the very bad news.  They had no seasonal fruit souffle.  Doh.  Our group kinda sadly decided to get the Grand Mariner and White Chocolate.  They were both fine, but not nearly as good as the seasonal flavors have always been.

Some members of the table somewhat jokingly suggested we order a third one ... AFTER we had finished the previous two.  Again, each dessert souffle is supposed to serve 2-4 people.  We were all full at this point.  And it would take another 45 minutes at least to make another.  But, we were all kinda unsatisfied by our dessert souffles, and, when a quick poll was taken, everyone at the table said they wanted the chocolate one (everyone except me ... I just never like the chocolate one).  But, 3 votes meant it happened.  So we told the server we "had a problem" and "needed another souffle" and he happily obliged.  It was the right move, as everyone loved the chocolate souffle and left very happy.  As the server said on our way out, "if only all problems in life were so easily solved!"
Grand Marnier Souffle. $50.
The first souffle to arrive was the grand mariner.  This was our first time having it at Cafe Jacqueline.

Like all her dessert souffles, it was a beauty.  So fluffy, and perfectly risen.  Coated on top in confectioner's sugar, which, somehow we did all avoid chocking on, for the first time ever.  We are getting to be pros at souffle eating!

Anyway, the souffle.  It was light and fluffy as always.  It had a subtle orange flavor to it.

I didn't really love it though, since, again, I don't like citrus.  I'd pick this over lemon or lime, but, still not for me.  My mother, father, and Ojan all preferred this to the white chocolate, but greatly preferred the chocolate.  It was my last pick.

At $50, it is the priciest of the dessert souffles, and, honestly, does seem a bit high.  But, Jacqueline is a master of her craft, and, I'm willing to pay it.
White Chocolate Souffle. $45.
Moments after the Grand Marnier souffle arrived, the white chocolate followed suit.

Another gorgeous, huge, fluffy souffle, topped with not only powdered sugar, but also disks of white chocolate.  I really liked the white chocolate on top, as it melted in quickly when it made contact with the hot souffle, and created a big pocket of melty sweetness.

It was good, and my favorite of the souffles, but, compared to the seasonal fruit ones that we normally get, it just lacked some oomph.  It wasn't ... exciting.  "It needs fruit!", declared Ojan.  "Too sweet for me", said my mom.  And thus, we placed the order for the chocolate souffle.

At $45, this was more expensive than the others (besides the Grand Marnier), which surprised me a bit.  Is white chocolate pricey?
Chocolate Souffle. $40.
And finally, the chocolate souffle.

This one was actually a different consistency than the others, the middle was more liquid-y.  I actually quite liked the liquidy center, but didn't care for the edges and the rest of it that was cooked normal.  It was just ... kinda like chocolate cake.  The chocolate flavor wasn't that intense.  It made me want whipped cream.

But everyone else loved the chocolate flavor.  They were full, and devoured it.  They all said over and over that it was their favorite.  It was my second favorite, for the liquidy center alone.  But none of these souffles quite did it for me.  I miss the seasonal fruit one, and, well, I guess I have to go back now.

Original Review, April 2012

Cafe Jacqueline is one of my favorite places to bring visitors, as it is such a unique experience.  The short version is that it is a charming french cafe, serving basically only souffle (savory and sweet).  But that doesn't really do it justice.  Cafe Jacqueline is one place, that no matter how hard I try to describe it, you won't really understand it unless you go visit yourself.  Which you should do!

The restaurant is tiny - 6 (maybe 8?) tables for two line the outer edges, each set with white cloth tablecloths and adorned with white roses.  They are usually filled with couples holding hands and gazing longingly into each others eyes.  This is, very much, a perfect date place.  Running down the center of the room are 3 tables for larger groups (4-5 people maximum).  I've been to Cafe Jaqueline many times, in a variety of group sizes, ranging from two to five people.  I think that the ultimate group size is three, as the portions aren't quite right for two people (you cannot really finish both a savory and sweet souffle, even if you skip appetizers), and then four has the same problem (you want more than one of each, but two of each would be two much).  Tonight we had five people, and that actually worked pretty well.

The menu has a few appetizers on it, mostly completely forgettable salads.  Don't bother with these.  You will also be served warm crusty bread and butter, neither of which are notable.  Don't be tempted to fill up on this, it just isn't that good, and you will want the space for souffle!  It also has two soups: a french onion and a soup du jour.  The French onion is loaded up with gruyere and a crouton, is crazy heavy and decadent, and absolutely delicious.  The soup du jour  changes constantly, and is always an absolutely amazingly flavorful vegetable puree.  These soups continue to surprise me, no matter how many times I visit.  The waiter will tell me the type of soup, and it will sound totally boring, like "red pepper", yet somehow turns out to be this ridiculously light, flavorful, delight.  Depending on your mood, you should order one of these soups, as they are not only fantastic, but you'll want something to tide you over for the hour or so it will take before your souffle arrives.

And yes, it will take a least an hour before your savory souffle comes.  This is a long meal, which is part of what makes the experience.  When I say it is a great date place, I certainly don't mean a first date.  You will be there for several hours, and unlike doing a tasting menu you won't be interrupted by food, so you sure better have something to talk about!  Order some amazing wine, enjoy your soup, and just sit back, relax, and wait for more delicious things to come your way.  The waiter/sommelier will help guide you to a wine that makes you happy, whether it be by the glass or the bottle.  The wines are all very reasonably priced, and the sommelier really does want you to find one you are happy with.  Again, a big part of the experience for me!

A final part of the experience is going to use the restroom.  Not for the bathroom itself, but for getting to it.  You must walk through the kitchen, where you instantly see exactly why it takes so long for the food to arrive.  There is a single person in the kitchen: Jacqueline.  An absolutely adorable older French woman, working her butt off making each and every souffle by hand.  She stands behind the largest bowl of eggs you will ever see, whisking away, and cooking each souffle in a single oven.  She'll smile at you if you make eye contact, and in a thick french accent direct you to the bathroom.  You'll want to run over and give her a hug.

I love this place.  If you ever want a lovely, long, drawn out meal with people you really want to talk to, go here.  But first, do make a reservation!
Soup Du Jour: tomato puree with cream.  $8.50.
This soup was exactly what I expected.  Like all of the soup du jours I have had here, it was a delicious, intensely vegetabley, slightly chunky puree.  Served nice and hot, you didn't feel like you needed to rush to eat it before it cooled down too quickly.

The tomato flavor was intense and really quite good.  The puree was the perfect consistency, not too runny, not too thick, and with a little texture to it.  It was incredibly light and refreshing, and you really felt like you were just eating some amazingly fresh tomato.  The cream on top added some richness and creaminess, without weighing it down.  It was slightly too salty for my taste, but just barely.

I highly recommend the soup du jour when you are in the mood for a light start to the meal.  But you do need to like vegetables, because you certainly will taste them here!
French Onion Soup: gruyere, bread.  $10.50.
And on the other end of the spectrum is the french onion soup.  This is quite certainly NOT a light soup.  Coated in a very thick layer of melty, insanely flavorful, gruyere cheese.  Under the cheese is a slice of bread.  And under all that, are some caramelized onions in a salty, flavorful broth.  Surprisingly, this is a vegetarian soup, so the broth doesn't contain classic beef stock, yet it is still very flavorful.

And a word of caution.  This is served HOT.  Very hot.  And the cheese traps in that heat.  I was warned by others how hot it was, and still managed to burn the roof of my mouth so badly that I got a blister.  Doh.
Gruyere and Leek Souffle.  $33.  Or  Gruyere, White Corn, Ginger & Garlic Souffle.  $38.
I only took a photo of one of the two savory souffles we ordered, and I'm not sure which this was.  All of the souffles on the menu are made with gruyere, with the exception of the roquefort and the brie and broccoli.  The menu has a variety of souffles each featuring a vegetable and the gruyere, with the vegetable chopped up and mixed into the souffle.  They also have a couple options with meat or seafood, where they are used as toppings rather than integrated into the souffle.  I haven't ever really cared for those ones.

Both souffles we had used the same cheesy base.  They had a good crisp crust on them, and were moist and eggy on the inside.  I liked the texture changes from the outside edges to the inside.  The base did seem a little too salty for me.  Maybe I was just being really salt sensitive this evening, as I felt the same way about the soups.

The leek souffle was a little boring to me.  It did have plentiful leek integrated into it, and it was flavorful, but at the end the day, it kinda just seemed like a quiche.  I generally feel this way about the simple vegetable and cheese souffles though.

The one I suggested ordering was the corn, ginger, and garlic, and, as I expected, I liked this one much more.  The ginger and garlic added a lot more flavor and there was just a lot more going on in this one. The corn was slightly crisp, giving more texture and fun in every bite.
Initial serving of each souffle.
The waiter always serves you a portion of each souffle to get started.  I'm sure this is because he has the technique down, and we'd all just deflate our souffles instantly and make a mess.  You can see the plentiful amount of corn inside here.  Yum!
Fresh seasonal fruit souffle: strawberry.  $35.
And, my favorite part of the evening.  Dessert!  I was so glad to come with a bigger group, as we got to order not one, but two dessert souffles!  It is always a toss up on which one to get - I know that the grand marnier tends to disappoint, but how do you resist a classic chocolate souffle?  And I have still never tried the lemon or lime ones, which everyone says are very good.

The fresh seasonal souffle is the one I order almost every time.  And yet again, it was fantastic.  The souffle itself is actually just a plain, sweet souffle.  The fruit is only in the topping.  Most times I have visited the fruit has been strawberry, and today was no exception, although the waiter did tell us that once stone fruit season arrives, it will switch over to peach, and that that peach is even better!

The souffle was moist and just delicious.  The outer edges were crispy, and inside the bowl were nice bits of sugary, sweet, crust that you could scrape off.  Which we did.  There wasn't a spec remaining.  Soooo good.  The strawberries were sweet and delicious, and given how early in the season it is, I'm guessing had been marinated in some additional sugar to make them so.

This souffle is just one of the absolute best things in life.  Always amazingly delicious.  Even my father, who I have never seen be excited by food in his life, seemed to have a life changing moment when he ate this when I brought him a few years ago.

I will continue to always order this souffle.  I only half jokingly tried to get everyone else to agree to order a second one, even though we were all pretty full.  No one else was willing :(
Chocolate souffle: $33.
I'm glad we ordered this, as it is always tempting, and I always have a bit of angst about which one to order (usually there with fewer people, and must choose just one).  Now I know for sure, the fruit one is the one to get!  This was a fine souffle, a lot fluffier and less moist than the fruit one, with decent chocolate flavor.  But it just didn't compare to the amazingness of the fruit one.

Another warning: these have a big layer of powdered sugar on them.  Why does this matter?  Because you will inhale it, and choke on it :)  We warned everyone at the table.  And amusingly, of course, someone still did it.  More times than not, this happens, and someone else at the table starts laughing at the person choking on it, and then starts choking themselves, setting off a chain reaction.  Good times.  You've been warned. 
Cafe Jacqueline Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Travelin' Tuesdays: The Northeast US

A year or so ago, I wrote up a master post to dining in the Boston area.  Or at least, what I thought would be a master post.  I'm not sure why I thought that would be the extent of my posts, given that my family lives in New Hampshire, and I travel through Boston all the time.

Of course, I headed back to the East Coast for a few weeks this summer, so, I devoted my blog to the Northeast for a few weeks in honor of my trip.  This post is a pointer into all my dining adventures.  Future trips to the Northeast will just have entries added here.

Boston (and suburbs)

Southern NH / MA

Lebanon, NH (and surrounding area)

Chains

Flights / Airport / Hotels
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Vegetarian Tacos at Rubio's

Rubio's, Rubio's, Rubio's.  I <3 Rubio's.  And I realize how ridiculous this is.  I don't really like Mexican cuisine.  I'm kinda a snob so "fast casual" concepts rarely impress.  Yet, I love Rubio's.  I reviewed the place so many times, I added label to my blog for it.  If you somehow haven't discovered the magic of Rubio's and have no idea what I'm talking about, go read my other posts first.  I'm skipping all the generic details this time around.

This visit was inspired in the same way as my first visit to Rubio's: a freebie.  I'm a member of Rubio's "Beach Club", so, for my birthday, I get a free taco.  I couldn't wait to go redeem my coupon.

I decided to really mix things up this time, and get a non-seafood taco, the veggie version of the Grilled Gourmet Taco.  My choice was not a reflection on Rubio's seafood in any way; I genuinely enjoy most of their seafood (basically, everything but the salmon), but, I was really desiring vegetables.  Plus, I'd had the roasted veggies on the salad before, so I knew how good the roasted veggies are.
Grilled Gourmet Taco with Veggies, no avocado, plus bacon.
"Grilled sweet peppers, onions, zucchini and squash served on a warm stone-ground corn tortilla with toasted cheese and topped with buttery Hass Avocado slices, our roasted chipotle salsa, our creamy chipotle sauce and cilantro/onion mix."

I was not disappointed by my choice, although, at a first glance, it looked pretty horrible.  My heart sank when it was delivered to my table.  The tortilla was glistening, it looked crazy oily and soggy, and the bacon seemed to have been thrown on top at last minute, and it too was all flabby and soggy looking.  My memories of past Grilled Gourmet Tacos were of a slightly grilled corn tortilla, coated in perfectly melty crispy cheese, with the bacon mixed in and crisp too.

A bit heartbroken, I picked it up, and took a bite.  My fears were instantly erased.  Execution flaws aside, it was delicious.

The mix of veggies was red, yellow, and green peppers, all diced, along with onions, and bigger batons of zucchini.  The veggies were all soft and tender, really well seasoned (I believe they marinate in garlic and lemon), and had a decent grilled flavor to them.  There was tons of veggies inside, my taco was a bit hard to fold up and eat without veggies spilling out everywhere.

Although it wasn't listed in the description, I also found some of their fire-roasted corn inside, which was a bonus surprise that I was happy to find, as I've always liked the corn.

The roasted chipotle salsa and creamy chipotle sauce were flavorful as always, and, even though I wanted to load my taco up with stuff from the toppings bar, it was perfect as it was.  I loved how the creamy sauce complimented the spicy salsa.  I really adore the sauces at Rubio's.

Since I'm allergic I left out the avocado, and, since I'm not actually vegetarian, I had the bacon added back in (bacon is included on all the other Grilled Gourmet tacos, just, not the veggie one).  I think this may have confused someone, because I know that the bacon is usually baked on to the tortilla with the cheese, and mine was just thrown on top.  I *almost* said something, but, decided to not be a pain.  Still, the flabby bacon on top was not great, and I'd leave it off in the future.

The final element was a little bit of the onion/cilantro mix, really, a meager amount, but the salsa bar has more if you want it, but I didn't feel the need.

Overall, was it perfect?  No.  The tortilla *was* soggy and oily, the bacon *was* flabby and thrown on top, and the cheese, while melted, wasn't crunchy like I wanted.  But, the great flavors and textures made up for all of these shortcomings, and I really enjoyed it anyway.

Rubio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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