Friday, August 26, 2016

Z. Cioccolato

If you've walked through North Beach, you've likely passed by Z.Cioccolato.  And if you were me, you'd obviously be drawn in.  Why?  Well, for one, the smell of fresh caramel corn floats out onto the side.  Second, also out on that sidewalk is a big sign saying "Free Fudge Samples!"  And third, if you peak inside, all you see is candy and sweets.  Oh yes.

Z. Cioccolato is a candy shop, self proclaimed "The Sweetest Spot in North Beach", which is likely true.  They have a vast array of candy, bins and bins of candy, mostly priced by the pound.  They also have bins and bins of taffy, that they make in house, in more varieties than you can imagine.  The front counter also includes an assortment of chocolate items, like giant peanut butter cups and many varieties of chocolate bark, and of course, the fudge with samples.  Oh, and gelato.

I've visited many times to pick up candy, and to uh, try some fudge samples (I mean, how do you not?)  They also used to encourage you to try all the taffy you wanted while in the store, a very dangerous offer given how long I'd spend browsing.  I always left with a ridiculous sugar high.

Anyway, the fudge is all fine, as is the taffy, but, I don't think I ever took notes on that stuff.  Its just candy.  But ... the caramel corn, that is another story.  You know how much I love snacks, and, popcorn in particular!
Caramel Corn.  Free!
When you enter Z. Cioccolato, there is an amazing aroma.  It is what drew me in the first time, as it wafted down the street outside.  Caramel corn.  Fresh popped caramel corn.  ZOMG.

I was really tempted to purchase a bag of it, as they had sealed bags of caramel corn displayed all around the shop, $3 each.  But I know that I'm a complete caramel corn snob, and I figured it wouldn't live up to my desires, and there were too many other sweets that I wanted instead.

But, luckily for me, it turns out, they give you a free small bag of fresh popped caramel corn with a $5 purchase.  Yes!

It was totally hot and fresh, literally right out of the popper.  Which, wasn't just lucky timing on my part, they actually pop it fresh every 15 minutes.  Clearly they realized the smell draws people in, and whatever isn't purchased immediately, they bag up, forming the bags I saw all over the place.  So, protip, don't ever get one of the pre-bagged ones, you can always get it fresher if you want it.

Anyway, it was decent caramel corn.  The caramel was a bit more on the burnt tasting side than I prefer, and it didn't have that strong of a buttery flavor, but the kernels were well coated, and it was hot, fresh, and free.  Hard to disagree with that.  I'm glad I decided not to splurge and get the $3 bag though, I would have been disappointed.  I won't buy it again, but if I'm offered a free bag again in the future, I'd obviously take it.
Z Cioccolato Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Frozen Yogurt at Pinkberry

Review #5, August 2016

Pinkberry has expanded beyond basic tart and sweet frozen yogurt.  They now offer a number of dairy-free flavors, and, finally, soft serve ice cream.  For dairy free, you can pick from "Just Fruit" flavors (strawberry, peach passion, or tropical mango) or you can opt for a coconut milk base (available in regular coconut or salted caramel flavors).  Ice cream comes in only one flavor "milk", is low-fat, and not available in San Francisco.

In fact, the San Francisco shop flavors continue to disappoint me.  When I went to redeem my birthday freebie, I was again faced with no flavors I wanted.  My choices were the standard tart, pomegranate, blood orange, and chocolate hazelnut that they always have, plus peach and the plain coconut milk based one.  I tried 4 flavors before I settled on two, but, honestly, I didn't want any of these flavors.  Why does our store never carry the good ones anymore?
Pomegranate Froyo and Coconut Milk Coconut Side-By-Side, With Cookie Dough, Cheesecake, Almond Roca, and . Small.
Even though I didn't really like them, I opted for Pomegranate and Coconut Milk Coconut, because the others were just way too sweet.  The coconut milk flavor was dairy-free.  In retrospect, I really should have considered the Original flavor.  Oops.

The pomegranate was slightly fruity, and very sweet.  Rather icy and not very smooth.  I know people love Pinkberry, but, there is much creamier froyo out there (like Yoppi, or my favorite local Prima Cafe).  As it melted, it got even worse, it separated into liquid and ice.  Meh.

The coconut milk flavor was about the same consistency, but was very rich.  Extremely coconut flavored.  It was a bit much, really.  It was also sweet.  I had hoped this would tame the sweet pomegranate, but it didn't.  I don't think I'd get it again, as it as just too much coconut for me.

For toppings, I went a bit crazy.  I had to rule out all fruit toppings since they had watermelon, which was sad, since the mangos and blueberries looked great.  I couldn't risk it.

I decided to get a bunch of toppings that I'd never had before, just to really mix it up.  And since I was saddened by the froyo flavors themselves, I decided to go big on toppings, hoping they'd jazz up the lackluster flavors.

So, I started with the most decadent option: cheesecake cubes.  They were awful! Cubes of mushy warm cheesecake, coated in some graham crumbles.  I tried a few, and discarded the rest.  Would certainly never get again.

The cookie dough balls were better, but not remarkable.  At least they weren't gross like the Baskin-Robbins ones?

Next up came almond roca, standard chocolate toffee crumbles, sweet, crunchy, fine.

My final topping you can't see here, but it was little pink balls.  I honestly had no idea what it was, I think she said they were pomegranate blueberry crunch balls?  They added great crunch, but were otherwise flavorless.

So, overall, not really great.  My toppings, besides the cheesecake, were all fine, but I wouldn't really recommend any of them.  And I didn't really care for the froyo itself.

I also sampled a few others:
  • Blood Orange: "Exquisite and succulent tart citrus with a zing".  Just like last year when I tried a sample, it was crazy sweet.  I honestly don't understand how they take a tart thing like citrus and make it so sweet.  I did not like this at all.
  • Peach: "Everything Is Peachy! light and succulent taste of a fresh harvested peach".  This is a summer flavor, and, we'll, it too was too sweet.  The peach was lost in the sugar.
A few months prior, I was on the East Coast, and got to sample the ice milk ice cream, when Ojan's niece couldn't finish hers, and I couldn't let it go to waste.  It tasted … well, like milk.  I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not.  Better than the froyo, but, compared to other soft serve ice cream, not as good.

Review #4, August 2013 and 2014

Many businesses give out freebies for your birthday, but usually they are chain restaurants, or fast food joints, and aren't really things I want (although, I've of course checked out many of them!).  This year, when my birthday rolled around, there was one freebie I was really looking forward to: Pinkberry!

Since I've reviewed them several times already, I'll skip the general details, and focus only on my experience on this particular visit.

The staff was friendly enough, happy to let me sample a few flavors first (in fact, the first question I was asked wasn't "What would you like?", but instead, "Would you like to try any flavors?").  And the cashier even wished me a Happy Birthday (always a great touch!).  And it was a beautiful sunny day, and I enjoyed the fact that they had outside seating.

My froyo was great, and I'll certainly be back again.

August 2013

Peanut Butter Froyo topped with Dark Chocolate Curls and Almond Roca, Mango Froyo topped with Blueberries and Mochi.  Small.  $4.95.
For my flavors I decided on two that I have always loved: Peanut Butter and Mango.  Of course, those flavors do not go together at all, so I had them side by side rather than swirled, and ate them separately.  My last few bites did have a little bit of each in them, as they had melted somewhat at that point, and ... yeah, mango and peanut butter just do not go together :)  But, I honestly don't know how I'd pick just one, so side by side it is!  I love that Pinkberry lets you have any two flavors you want in this way.

Peanut butter is the most decadent of their flavors.  While some are low-fat or non-fat, the peanut butter is definitely not.  They use real peanuts, which, yup, contain fat.  I'm certain that using real nuts is what makes it so delicious.  It is creamy and just so peanut buttery.  Always one of my favorite peanut butter froyos anywhere.

I love a chocolate and peanut butter combo, so I wanted chocolate based toppings on that side.  I had many choices, including milk or dark chocolate shavings, chocolate crunch balls, brownie bites, crushed cookies, chocolate granola, mini chocolate chips, or almond roca.  I have gone with the almond roca on many other occasions, and liked it, so I went for it again.  This time however, I didn't love it.  It was ok, I mean, it is chocolate covered toffee and ground up almonds, totally delicious, but it actually just seemed a bit too sweet to me.  The real winner on my peanut butter froyo was the dark chocolate shavings.  I was shocked by how much I liked them.  The chocolate was actually really good, slightly bitter, and the size of the shavings made them really fun to eat, added a bit of a crunch, and were big enough to really taste against the peanut butter froyo.  I'd certainly get the chocolate shavings again.  Surprising how the most simple seeming topping can be the best!

Mango is another one of their froyo flavors that I've gotten many times, although I've usually paired it with something more appropriate, like lychee.  I knew it wouldn't go with the peanut butter, but I didn't care.   I wanted a fruity tart option too!  And it was.  Not as creamy as the peanut butter, but still fairly smooth, nicely tart, and with strong mango flavor.  It was a refreshing contrast to the richer peanut butter.

With the fruity froyo, I wanted a light, fruit topping.  I've had such mixed experiences with the Pinkberry fruit toppings, ranging from underripe mangos to amazingly delicious raspberries, but generally the fruit is good, although not remarkable.  It all looked ripe and fairly fresh, so I took a gamble and went for blueberries.  They were as expected - not mushy, ripe, but not extraordinary.  Good enough, and I'd get this again.

I was a bit stumped on what to pick for my final topping.  I could go for another fruit, as the strawberries and raspberries both looked good, and would pair nicely.  I could add something crunchy, as there were plentiful choices, ranging from all sorts of nuts (caramelized almonds, slivered almonds, mixed nuts) to several varieties of granola.  But instead my eyes were drawn to the mochi.  The last time I had mochi on my froyo, I said I wouldn't get it again.  But I really liked the flavor combination of the sliced fresh mango and mochi when I used them as toppings on the Greek yogurt, and since I was having mango froyo, I thought it would go well.  Like all other occasions, the mochi was good.  Soft, glutenous, a tiny bit sweet.  And like before, I liked the mango and rice flavors together, reminding me of mango sticky rice.  But ... I still don't think mochi is a very good froyo topping.  I'm not sure what it is about it, I just do not like the soft mochi with the soft froyo.  I mostly pushed the mochi aside, and ate them at the end, in a pool of mango flavored melty goodness.

I also sampled the green tea frozen yogurt.  It was very creamy, but didn't have a strong enough green tea taste for my liking.

I'm still always shocked by the price of Pinkberry.  With no toppings a small is $3.50; with toppings $4.95.  Their stuff is quality for sure, but it always seems steep.  Of course, this was my birthday freebie, so I'm not complaining.

August 2014

Another year, another free birthday froyo!  The very first warmish day in the month around my birthday I headed straight to Pinkberry to redeem my freebee.  I was really looking forward to this, and hoped to get peanut butter.  But alas, my choices were fairly lame: chocolate hazelnut, which I've never liked and pomegranate which I wasn't interested in, neither of which I even bothered to try.  The promising sounding Vanilla Latte had a decent coffee flavor, but was incredibly icy.  I'm glad I sampled it first, because I wouldn't have wanted a whole cup of it.  Strawberry Banana was another sweet and not tart option, and it had pretty good flavor ... except that I don't actually like strawberry froyo or ice cream.  Thus, I was left with only the two tart options: pineapple and original.  I considered coming back another day instead, but, it was sunny, and I wanted froyo!
Small Tart and Pineapple Tart Side By Side with Strawberries, Strawberry Popping Boba, White Chocolate Chips, Almonds.
The pineapple was tart yet sweet.  I liked the flavor, except that it was actually a bit too sweet.  Both the pineapple and the original froyo were fairly icy, not as bad as the vanilla latte one I sampled, but far icier and less creamy than I remembered.  The consistency was disappointing.

For a fruit topping, I went for strawberries.  I thought strawberries and pineapple sounded good together, and it looked like the most ripe option.  The berries were good, sweet, fresh, pretty good.  I decided to continue the strawberry theme and also added strawberry popping boba (the other option was mango flavored).  They were pretty standard, sweet.

I wanted some crunch, but didn't want granola, so my only choice was slivered almonds, the only nuts available.  They were unremarkable.  Still, good for a crunch.

The final topping I picked was white chocolate chips, mostly just to have something sweet and a bit creamy.  Which is exactly what they were.

Overall, this was fairly successful in terms of the ingredients I picked working well together, but it failed to impress.  I actually liked the plain tart better than the pineapple once I had the toppings involved, because the sweeter pineapple yogurt was too sweet with all the sweet toppings.  I wouldn't get this exact creation again.

Review #3, April 2014

You know I like frozen treats, particularly on a warm, sunny day.  And, although it is a chain, I do like Pinkberry.  Sure, it isn't my number one pick for froyo in San Francisco (that honor goes to Prima Cafe), but it is creamy, reliable, and they have a great selection of toppings.

Pinkberry always carries 6 flavors, and they rotate regularly.  I wasn't very excited when I saw the 6 flavor options of the day.  My absolute favorite, peanut butter, was not available.  For tart flavors, they had classic tart, pomegranate, key lime, and mango.  For sweet, only chocolate hazelnut and chocolate chip cookie.

Hmm.  I briefly considered not getting anything, but it was a beautiful day, and I really wanted froyo!

As always, the Pinkberry staff were more than happy to let me sample things.  Rather than asking what I'd like, the first thing I was asked was, "can I get some samples for you?"  I wasn't really in the mood for tart froyo, so I asked to try the chocolate chip cookie, and the key lime, just out of curiosity, even though I rarely like anything key lime.  As I pondered a moment, the helpful worker asked if I like Nutella.  I said, sure, who doesn't.  She eagerly brought me a sample of the chocolate hazelnut, saying it was much better than the chocolate chip in her opinion.  I'd had it before and didn't love it then, so I would have never asked to sample it, but humored her and tried it.

Both the chocolate chip cookie and the chocolate hazelnut are not fat free, and thus, are clearly creamier than the fat free counterparts.  The creaminess and consistency are perfect, but the chocolate hazelnut didn't have much flavor.  And the chocolate chip cookie I just really didn't like.  I can't say what it was exactly, but the flavor just wasn't good.  And reminded me nothing of a chocolate chip cookie.

So, even though I wasn't in the mood for it, I went tart flavors ... with toppings of course.
Small Key Lime and Mango Side By Side with Toppings.  $4.95.
Shockingly, after trying the sample, I decided to get key lime.  Definitely the first key lime thing I've enjoyed in a long time.  I also decided to get my old tart standby, mango.  The key lime and mango were on the same machine, so I was offered the choice of a swirl, or a side by side.  Just in case I decided that the key lime wasn't too my liking, or, if the mango turned out to not be delicious that day, I did them side by side, but I think they would be fine as a swirl too.

The mango was fruity and sweet, just a bit tart.  It actually was a bit too sweet for me, at least, given my topping choices (more on that in a minute).  The key lime however was really tart, and I liked it.

Neither of these were as creamy as the versions with fat, but they weren't icy, and are probably the creamiest of any fat free froyo I've tried.  Very good consistency.

And then, it was time for toppings.  Pinkberry has a rule that you can get as many toppings as fit in your container.  Always such an overwhelming offer for me!

Now, a reasonable adult would get their tart, fruity froyo topped with wholesome things like fresh fruit, granola, perhaps some sliced nuts.  And Pinkberry offers all of these things.  One can craft quite a healthy treat for themselves.  And the fruit did all look good, freshly sliced, and would pair perfectly with the tart yogurt.

But ... I didn't get for any of those things, and instead picked all the ridiculous ones.  I kinda laughed when I saw my completed froyo, as I'm sure it resembled one ordered more often by a child.

  • Fruity Bears: I remembered loving these once before , so I made them my first pick.  They are rather hidden in the photo, peeking out below the boba.  I only received four of them.  As before, I loved them.  The flavor is just so intense, very fruity, and they are the perfect level of chewiness.  I wish I knew what brand they were, because I'd really love to eat more of these, just as gummy bears, sans froyo.  I don't particularly like gummy candy in my froyo, so I always let them fall to the side, and eat at the end.  It is kinda perfect, you have that moment of "oh man, it is my dessert gone already?  I want more!" and you then get to enjoy a pile of gummy candy as a second treat.  Perfect!
  • Sugarpova Smitten Sour Mini: Speaking of gummy candy, Pinkberry just introduced several new types of gummy toppings, by Sugarpova.  The "Smitten Sour Mini" are little ribbons, which weren't nearly as sour as I wanted them to be.  I didn't get these on my froyo, but when I asked how sour they were, I was immediately given a sample.  I'm glad I didn't pick them.
  • Sugarpova Flirty Mini: I did get the other Sugarpova offering, the "Flirty Mini".  These were little lips, in assorted flavors, two layers, with a cream bottom.  I didn't try them before I added them, but if I had, I wouldn't have ordered them.  They were too chewy for my liking.  The lemon flavor I really didn't like.  The strawberry was a nice flavor, and the cream bottom complimented it well in the strawberries-n-cream sort of way.  Like the bears, I received four of them, which you can see, cream side up, right near my spoon.
  • Strawberry Popping Boba: For my "fruit" selection, I went for popping boba.  Sure, they aren't actually made with fruit, but they had sweet strawberry flavor, and were kinda fun to eat.  They were too sweet though, at least in the quantity given.  Unlike the gummy candies, my server was quite generous with the boba, and there was far more of it than I wanted. I probably wouldn't get these again.
  • Yogurt Chips: I have no idea why I added yogurt chips.  Last time I had them, I thought they were useless.  I thought the same this time.  They added no flavor.  They are the perfect size though, and provide a good textural component, but, meh, no flavor.  Maybe I should try the mini chocolate chips next time.  I really don't want to get these again.
  • Fruity Pebbles: And finally, I wanted something with crunch to it.  I mentioned this thought outloud, and the server making my creation helpfully suggested granola or sliced nuts.  Instead I got ... Fruity Pebbles.  Now, I've never had Fruity Pebbles in my life.  Not as cereal, certainly not as a froyo topping.  I think whenever I go to Pinkberry, I have a moment of total weirdness where I can't make up my mind, and just call out whichever topping I see next.  And in this case, it was Fruity Pebbles.  They did indeed add a great crunch.  And, the quantity given seemed right.  But ... soooooo sweet.  With the mango in particular, they were just too sweet.  I guess if I were really in the mood for sweet I'd get them again, as the crunch and size were perfect, but not really right for this creation.
So, I sorta failed on selecting my toppings.  I probably would have liked my froyo more with fresh fruit, like mango, strawberries, or blueberries.  Perhaps some mochi.  Coconut flakes would go well with the mango.  Nuts are always good.  And who doesn't want chocolate shavings?  But instead, I had a pile of candy and sugar.  I still liked it, don't get me wrong, but ... not ideal.  As always though, those fruity bears really impressed me.  Best gummy bears ever :)

Pinkberry does make incredibly creamy froyo, but their prices are what keep me away.  $4.95 for a small with toppings?  It wasn't THAT big.

Review #2, November 2012

A few weeks ago, I posted about Pinkberry, my second favorite froyo place in San Francisco.  I wasn't planning to go back so soon, but they just launched a new rewards app to replace their physical rewards cards, and to get everyone using it, they pre-load it with a free small with toppings!  You know I can't resist freebies, but particularly not at a place I know I like.  I also installed the Pinkberry app on Ojan's phone, and dragged him there with me a few days later to split another one.  So good.

It hadn't been that long since I'd last visited, but they already had several new flavors.  Of course I had to try them.  The staff were again very friendly, helpful, and eager.  Such a happy place to visit.

I still prefer self serve models, but I do appreciate that they let you pick two flavors even in a small, so you can be indecisive like me.  And the same with toppings, you can get 4-5 different ones, or as they say, "as many fit comfortably in the cup".
Lychee and Peanut Butter Yogurts with raspberries, mochi, chocolate covered pretzels, almond roca.  Small.  $4.95.
As always, I had a hard time making up my mind, so I went for my two favorite flavors, even though they totally didn't go together at all.  Which is fine, because they swirl them side by side.  I also wanted all the toppings, so narrowing down to four was hard.  They made it somewhat easier by not allowing any of the luxe toppings for the freebie.

Lychee was a new flavor for me, and I loved it.  It was sweet, but also quite tart, and just really tasty.  I'm not sure I would have known it was lychee, but I really liked the sweet and tart contrast.  On that side, I had mochi and raspberries.  The mochi was soft, not old or stale, but fairly unremarkable.  It was just plain mochi.  He gave a lot of it.  I probably wouldn't get it again.  The raspberries were the suggestion of the server, and seemed fresh, quality, and flavorful.  They were indeed a great pairing with the lychee.  But there were only 3 of them.  I would have certainly preferred more of them and less of the mochi!

The other flavor I picked was my old favorite: peanut butter.  Probably my all time favorite frozen yogurt flavor at most places, but Pinkberry does a particularly good job with making it creamy and flavorful.  On that side I had almond roca, which like before had a good crunch and went well with the peanut butter, and some tiny chocolate covered pretzels.  Like the raspberries, I only received 3 of them.  I guess that is the magic number for countable toppings.  They were a somewhat strange thing to put on frozen yogurt.  Tiny, but still a little big to eat comfortably.  And they did taste a little stale.  I liked the chocolate coating with the peanut butter yogurt though, and the salt and crunch from the pretzel were nice.  I probably wouldn't get them again though.

I certainly enjoyed my yogurt, but I couldn't help but think that $4.95 was a pretty hefty price for a fairly small yogurt.  Yes, it had toppings, but still.  I guess that is the going rate for froyo these days though.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mango and Lychee Swirl with Yogurt Chips, Raspberries, and a Waffle Cookie. 

This was a winning combination.  They were both very flavorful, tart yet sweet, and the two fruity flavors went together really well.  The lychee helped balance out the almost overwhelming mango.

Since I was impressed with the raspberries on my previous visit, I went for them again.  They were again fresh, slightly tart, and good, although ... one seemed frozen.  Do they actually use frozen fruit?

I also picked the yogurt chips, little tiny white chips that were a bit sweet, but mostly flavorless.  I would not get these again, as they added a little texture, but little else.

And at the last minute, I also had her add on a waffle cookie.  I think I got jealous when I saw the person next to me getting a waffle cone.  I'd had the waffle cookie on my first visit, and wasn't all that impressed with it, and felt the same way this time.  It really is just a little chunk of waffle cone, not stale exactly, but not fresh tasting.  I think I'd skip this in the future.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mango and Lychee Swirl with Raspberries, Organic Fruity Bears, and Chocolate Chips.

I again liked both of these flavors.  Tart, fruity, pretty good.  I think I would actually prefer to not have them swirled, as they are each very flavorful on their own, and swirling them somewhat cancelled out the flavors.

The raspberries were again about the same.  Better than you'd expect for out of season berries, but not particularly amazing.  The chocolate chips were semisweet chocolate, and added something good to crunch on.  The fruity bears were a big surprise, they were really good!  Perfectly chewy, really fruity and flavorful, quite good.  I don't actually like gummy candy in my froyo, and pushed them off to the side to enjoy at the end, and I'm glad I did.  I'd gladly just eat these on their own!

[ Not Pictured ]

  • Cookies and Cream: Delicious!  Really creamy, and almost tasted like soy milk (in a good way).
  • Gingerbread: Well, it tasted like gingerbread.  Which it turns out, I don't really want in my froyo.
  • Mango: Such a strong mango flavor.  Very tart.  Tons of flavor here, I think a full cup of it would be too much, but a small portion was delicious.
  • Pomegranate: This had a subtle pomegranate flavor, a good tartness.  I would consider getting it again, but I tend to like other flavors more.

Original Review, September 2012

I posted a few weeks ago about my favorite frozen yogurt in San Francisco: Prima Cafe.  They are a tiny, local place, not even known for their yogurt.  It seems strange, but my second favorite place falls on the far other side of the spectrum ... the nationwide chain, Pinkberry.

They only recently opened a Pinkberry in San Francisco, and I attended the big launch event, where they were sampling many flavors.  When I went back for a regular visit, the first thing they did was offer to let me try all of them (which I didn't do, I knew I wanted the peanut butter!).  They were still new at the time, perhaps that is why they were doing that?  It seemed very generous!  Again, perhaps because they are new, but the staff seem very friendly and enthusiastic.

Anyway, their frozen yogurt is particularly creamy, and they have a slew of interesting toppings.  I greatly prefer self-serve models where I can control the size of my creation and put the toppings on how I want them, but for a full serve place, they are my favorite.

As always, multiple tastings are denoted inside brackets.
Small peanut butter and original with peanut butter crunch, lemon cookie crunch, milk chocolate crunch, almond roca, and a waffle cookie.
Frozen Yogurt:
  • Chocolate: Very intense chocolate, but not a style I like.  [ Very rich, very chocolatey, but I don’t like it.]
  • Chocolate Hazelnut: Very creamy, nice hazelnut tones, tastes like nutella, pretty good.
  • Coconut: Nicely tart, great coconut flavor, nice consistency. [ Some coconut flavor, good consistency, ok ]
  • Hot Chocolate: Very creamy, not as intense in its chocolatey-ness.  Not sure what was hot chocolate about it, the picture had marshmallows?
  • Mango: Very nicely tart, creamy, good mango flavor.  [ Great tartness and creamyness, really good ] [ Tart but sweet, good mango flavor, very good ] [ Very tart, creamy, good flavor ]
  • Original: Nice tartness, fairly creamy, very good for this type of yogurt. [ Nice tart, nice creamy ] [ Nicely tart, pretty good for this type of flavor, slightly icy ]
  • Peanut butter: Creamy, soo much peanut butter flavor, awesome.  [ Soo much peanut butter flavor, really good. ] [ Creamy, rich, decandent, really good ] [ Creamy, rich, good flavor ]
  • Peppermint: Icy, decent flavor.
  • Strawberry: Kinda sweet, creamy, not my favorite.  [ Sweet and creamy, but not very distinctly strawberry, meh ] [ Tart, ok strawberry flavor, not great. ]
  • Lemon Cookie Crunch: One of the "luxe" toppings, a liquid with crunchy bits.  Very lemony, sweet, good with plain tart yogurt.
  • Milk Chocolate Crunch: Another "luxe" topping, basically chocolate sauce with crunchy bits.  Sweet, with a light chocolate flavor, great with peanut butter yogurt.  Crunch was nice texture, but I didn’t care for the crunchy stuff itself that much.
  • Peanut Butter Crunch: And another of the "luxe" toppings, a peanut butter sauce with crunchies.  It did not have much peanut butter flavor, but again had a nice crunch.
  • Almond Roca: Great crunch, yum, great with pb flavor yogurt.
  • Waffle Cookie.  Just a chunk of waffle cone, but kinda fun to dunk in the yogurt.
Pinkberry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dinner @ Zare at Fly Trap

Update Review, May 2016

Friday.  3pm.  Ojan sends me a message saying, "Hey, I have a group of 10 people for dinner tonight.  Do you have any thoughts where we can go near the office?"  I kinda laughed.  His default is to go to Osha Thai.  Osha is fine, but, I knew I could do better.  (And, if I was invited, I wanted to do better!)

It took me only about 10 seconds to think of Fly Trap.  It had been several years since my last in-person visit, but I knew it was the perfect answer ... if they could fit a decent sized group, last minute, on a Friday.  I called the restaurant, and literally, by 3:02pm, I had our reservation for 10 people, just a few hours later, secured.  Amazingly, it was Hoss, the Chef and owner himself, who answered the call and welcomed me warmly.  I couldn't believe how well this worked out.  The only downside?  He told me, unprompted, that he had no foie gras in the house that night.  Heh.  Next time, he said I needed to give more notice, which, I totally would, if I had even known I was going to be arranging a last minute dinner!

Hoss set us up in the side room so it would be more quiet.  There were 2 other small tables set in that area, but they joined mid-way through the night, so it was almost like having a private room.  I thought I got a photo of the room, but, alas, I don't seem to have.  It is a class but casual space, with wooden tables, real candles on the tables, decorative lamps and mirrors on the walls, and a big curtain behind our table that the wait staff would magically appear through.

Everyone enjoyed the meal, and for most, any sort of Persian cuisine or influence was new to them, which tends to be true with most folks we bring there.  I love how the menu is easily approachable, so, although unfamiliar, they were excited about it.  Amusingly, one member of our group actually went just the night before (which I didn't know when I suggested going!), but he enthusiastically agreed to go back again.  Every plate, at every course, was easily cleared, so, I think everyone was quite satisfied.

Service was friendly, the server even addressed me by name, a cute touch.  Fresh cocktails and other drinks were offered whenever a glass went empty, but not in a pushy way.  We felt very taken care of.  The only stumble was while we were still eating our appetizers, one server came and tried to clear away the plates, even though they still had plenty of food on them, and no one really looked done.  It was a bit odd, particularly when someone reached to grab the last piece of naan as he tried to take the plate away, saying, "wait, I'll eat that ..." and then still proceeded to try to take the next plate with plenty of food on it too.  We still had a good 10-15 minutes before our main dishes came, so it wasn't like the server was trying to make way for another course.  Not really sure what was going on there.  But, overall, very good, comfortable, service and a solid choice, particularly impressive for a last minute large group.


Drink Menu.
I always love the cocktail menu at Fly Trap, and this time was no exception.

The menu has great variety, including classics with slight twists (like a martini with house made pickles), ones with Persian ingredient inspiration (a pomegranate daiquiri with pistachio salt), and showcases a large assortment of liqueurs.  Everyone at my table was eager to order cocktails to start, and everyone enjoyed their choices.

The beer and wine by the glass selection is good too.  For my second drink, I opted for a glass of Zinfandel, and it was decent, light, drinkable.
Gold Digger. $12.
"Armagnac, amaro nonino, douglas fir, cranberry shrub."

The Gold Digger caught my eye.  Not because of the name, but, I like armagnac, and this sounded a little more unique than my standard choice of a bourbon or whiskey based cocktail.  Plus, I was interested to see how the cranberry and douglas fir made their appearance.

It was a good drink, not too alcoholic tasting, nicely balanced.  I didn't really taste the cranberry shrub, there was no real tartness or fruitiness, but I imagine it was there adding to that balance.  I did taste the armagnac on the finish, which was quite delightful.  Inside was a citrus peel.

Overall, good, and it was a lovely drink to settle into the meal with.


Dinner Menu.
The menu changed since my last visit, in format and in content.  Most Fly Trap classics were still there, like the Trio of Hummus, Bone Marrow, and Pistachio Meatballs appetizers, and the Lamb Burger, but there were also some seasonal changes and new additions.  But, the primary change was the layout, now broken into four categories: "Garden", "Barn & Yard", "Water" and "Sides".  As you might have guessed, "Garden" was vegetarian options, "Barn & Yard" was meat, and "Water" was seafood, but within each section were both appetizers and main dishes.  Main dishes seemed to be contained within call out boxes, and appetizers were not.  It took most of my party a good 10 minutes to figure this out.  They all thought that the Garden section was appetizers, the Barn & Yard was mains, and didn't even see the Water section.  A bit confusing.

Anyway, I ordered a few appetizers for the table, including the easily sharable dips and classic meatballs, and then each person ordered their own main dish.  Almost the entire table ordered the burger or the braised lamb.
Appetizer: Trio of Hummus. $12.
"Roasted squash, pine nut pesto, jalapeño black bean, crispy lavash."

Fly Trap often has a trio of hummus on the menu, and the varieties change out with the seasons.  I'm not really a hummus fan, because I don't really like chickpeas or beans, but I'm always interested to try the hummus trio at Fly Trap, because it usually isn't standard hummus, and really, I think of it just as dips or spreads for bread, and those are something I do like.  Last time I ordered takeout, the trio was chickpea, roasted squash, and beet.  This time, we again had a roasted squash version, but also  pine nut pesto and jalapeño black bean versions.

I tried a bite of each, but, there was something in the flavor of the black bean one that I really didn't like.  Feta maybe?  I'm not sure.  I quickly moved on to the next appetizer, and left this for the others.

The lavash served on the side was good, super crispy.
Appetizer: Grilled Spiced Naan & Fava Bean Spread. $14.
"Soft ricotta, aged balsamic, asparagus, cumin, chermoula, parmesan."

This was a new menu item for me, and I think it replaced my old favorite sourdough bread & lavash, with feta-walnut spread and caspian tapenade, that I literally used to get every single visit.  I loved those spreads.

I didn't love this quite as much as the old spreads, but, it was a very good dish, although perhaps a bit too involved.

The fava bean spread occupied much of the plate.  It was fresh and light, a great way to showcase the in-season beans.  I believe the chermoula was in here.

The ricotta was fabulous, soft, and very fresh tasting, I think housemade.  It was drizzled lightly with aged balsamic and sprinkled with salt.  The texture was lovely and the flavors just popped.  I could eat this easily by the spoonful, but of course, it was best when spread on the naan with some fava bean spread too.

Speaking of the naan, this was quite nice too.  Small, bite sized triangles, warm and grilled.  They had a deep, smokey grilled flavor that I adored.

A bit strange was the asparagus.  I like asparagus, and it was fresh, crisp, and in season, but I couldn't quite figure out why it was part of the dish.  The light mustard vinaigrette drizzled over the asparagus was tasty.  The dish was also garnished with some kind of fresh sprouts.  These too seemed a bit out of place, just a couple too many elements on the plate.  Not that they were bad, but, I just wasn't sure why they were needed.

Overall, this was good.  Ojan really liked it, and he easily polished off both plates.  I really appreciated the grilled flavor to the bread and the freshness to the ricotta, plus, the excellent salt level.  But I still miss my old spreads.
Appetizer:  Pistachio Meatballs. $10.
"Beef, red harissa, honey, pomegranate."

The final appetizer I ordered for the group was the signature meatballs.  I thought I remembered these being lamb before, so when the server asked if we wanted one for everyone (I think they normally come 3 to an order), I said no, that we only wanted 9 for our group of 10, since I didn't want one.

I didn't try a bite, which was fine with me, but, I did plan to at least soak up some of the yummy sauce with the bread from the other appetizers.  Unfortunately, the plate was cleared away as soon as the meatballs were taken, no sauce plate left around for me.  Doh.

So, I have nothing really to say here, besides that everyone liked them, and I thought it was thoughtful that the server asked if we wanted one for everyone, rather than just assuming we'd want multiples of the standard order size.
Asparagus & Watercress Salad. $14.
"Jicama, caramelized onion, herbs, sumac, and yogurt dressing."

We went to Fly Trap after several nights in a row of eating out, and eating heavy food.  I really just wanted something light, so, I opted for the Asparagus & Watercress salad as my main.  If I'd been up for something larger, I certainly would have gone for the linquine with scallops and prawns, with a fascinating sounding mix of caramelized fennel, leeks, salsa verde, arugula, pink peppercorn, and breadcrumbs mixed in.  I wished someone else ordered it so I could try it, but alas, they were all eyeing the meat dishes.

Anything, this order was definitely not a normal move for me, since, I don't really order salads, and I usually like the cheesy, creamy, heavy stuff, but I really just was looking for something with a lighter touch.  Plus ... I remembered how much I loved some Fly Trap salads in the past, like the similar sounding "Spring salad with asparagus, apple, jicama, caramelized shallots, marscapone, yogurt citrus dressing" that I enjoyed last time for take out, or the absolutely incredible "Smoked trout, cucumber, seaweed, tobiko, dill salad" I had when I dined in.

As I said, this was pretty similar to the "Spring Salad" that I had before, although, adjusted for the season.  The base was watercress, asparagus, and batons of jicama, all fresh, vibrant, and crisp.  These elements were all good, but, not particularly noteworthy.  What was noteworthy however was the caramelized red onion.  I loved the onion, just like I loved the caramelized shallots in the previous version.

Squash blossoms were an unexpected touch, and they added a pop of color and an interesting element to eat.  These replaced the edible flowers from previous versions.  There was also a generous amount of sumac all over, which looked excessive, but really was just right.

The only thing I didn't really care for was the yogurt dressing.  It was just a bit too tart, a bit too much like yogurt for me.  I liked it better in previous versions where it was balanced by mascarpone.  This just felt, uh, too healthy?  I know I wanted something light and fresh, and this certainly was those things, but, the net result was that it wasn't actually quite something I wanted.  Oops.

Still, I'd continue to try the salads at Fly Trap, as they are always interesting, flavorful, and creative.
Main: Zare's Lamb Burger. $21.
"French fries, little gem lettuce, bell pepper, feta, house-cured pickle, saffron aioli."

Ojan, and several others, all opted for the burger.  Since I don't like lamb, I had zero intention of trying it, but ... the burger patty looked really quite good, so, I snuck a bite.  The bun was seeded, nicely toasted.  The burger was quite juicy.  But, um, yes, it tasted like lamb.  I did not like.

The most interesting thing about this burger to me was the salad on the side, a mix of lettuce, chopped bell pepper, and crumbled feta.  Since there was nothing on the burger, no lettuce, no tomato, no cheese, just, bun and burger, I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be used as a garnish on the burger.  But really, it was a mini salad.  Some in the group piled it onto their burgers, others just ate it as a salad, others did a bit of both.  Interesting way to serve burger toppings.

Also on the plate was a pickle spear.  I quickly grabbed that from Ojan, as I love pickles.  But, I did not love this pickle.  It was a bit soft, and clearly a fresh pickle, not very tart, not dill.  I gave it back just as quickly.  Ojan also took a single bite and discarded it, a strong sign from him, also a pickle lover.  Maybe this is just how Perisan pickles are?

The final element was the fries, thin, crispy fries.  They were fine, fairly unremarkable, classic thin fries.  Served alongside, and I guess for the burger too, was ketchup and saffron aioli.  I appreciated the creamy aioli.

Anyway, this isn't something I'd ever order, but the burger eaters seemed happy enough, and I was happy to steal a few fries, dunked in tons of aioli of course.


Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had 6 different items.  Several folks were not interested in dessert, and most others wanted to order their own dishes, so, it was each person for themselves for dessert, no group ordering or sharing.

We got 7 desserts total, picking all but the faloodeh, and doubling up on two others.  Every dessert plate was cleared, instantly.  No drop of dessert remained a mere ... 4 minutes after the plates were placed in front of us.  And no, it wasn't because people were starving.  They were devoured because, well, everyone really liked what they ordered.
Goat Cheesecake. $9.
"Candied almond, eggplant preserves."

Always a classic at Fly Trap, the goat cheesecake.  Two members of my group ordered it.

You may recall that I really don't like goat cheese, and I've tried this before.  I didn't take a bite this time, since I knew I wouldn't like it, and, well, they devoured it before I really had a chance to reconsider.  A bit hit for those who ordered it, although they did say it was a pretty rich dessert.
Baklava. $9.
"Persian cream, rose preserves."

Instead I went for the baklava, another item that is a classic on the menu, and one I had for takeout once.

Again it was a deconstructed creation, not your standard bar form of baklava.  Crispy phyllo dough, layered with cream and sweet rose preserves, garnished with plenty of pistachio.

I again liked the crispy layer, and found it quite fun to eat.  The Persian cream was delicious, but I felt the ratio of cream to phyllo was a bit off.  I had far more phyllo dough than cream to dunk it in.  The crispy, caramelized phyllo was good, but, I wanted something more with it, and too quickly ran out of cream.

The rose preserves provided the sweetness that normally comes from honey in baklava, and was a more interesting flavor for sure.  I'm pretty sure there was cardamom in there too.

I thought there was too much pistachio on the plate, again, the balance of items just a bit off, but perhaps that is just because I'm not crazy about pistachio?

What I loved however was the salt.  Yes, the salt.  There was salt in the dish, and it really enhanced the flavor.

Overall, it was good, a creative play on baklava, an enjoyable dish to eat, but, I really just wanted more cream!
Poached Apple. $10.
"Saffron and cardamom whipped cream, cinnamon ice cream, walnut jam, rum-soaked fruit medley."

Next to me, a fellow dinner got the poached apple.  In fact, two people did.  I mocked them, as honestly, poached apples and pears are near the bottom of the dessert barrel for me, but I'll admit that this was a pretty awesome looking preparation.

While I didn't want to try the poached fruit, I was very interested in the walnut jam.  It was really delicious, made from black walnuts, in a slightly sticky sauce.  Yum.  I'd like to see that added to the baklava instead of the pistachio ...
Cucumber Yogurt Preserves. $9.
"White cherry preserves, cardamom."

Another member of the table ordered the cucumber yogurt preserves.  It was definitely the most interesting dessert, and one I'd never, ever order.

To me, yogurt and cucumber are just not dessert, even when plated with sweet preserves.  I did try a bite, and yes, it was creamy yogurt with fresh cucumber, but ... yeah, not for me.

The guy who ordered it loved it, declaring it "lovely and refreshing", and, I guess if you like this sort of thing, it really was a nice light ending to a meal, and one that wouldn't leave you feeling gross from having something too rich or too sweet.

I give Fly Trap credit for having a unique option like this on the menu, and, for the beautiful plating.
Flourless Chocolate Pecan Torte. $10.
"Champagne zabaglione, fresh berries."

And finally, a chocolate option, for the chocolate lovers out there.  I was planning to ask for a bite of this, but, by the time I looked up to ask, it was gone.  Doh.  Seems like it was also a hit.
Decaf Coffee.
I also ordered a decaf coffee alongside my dessert, as I like the pairing.  The server warned me it would take a few minutes since he was going to brew a fresh pot.  It arrived with my dessert, which is exactly when I wanted it, so, no problem.

The coffee was fine.  Not very memorable, but, for decaf, that is a good thing.  Smooth, drinkable, exactly what I wanted with my dessert.

Original Review, April 2012

The day my Australian visitors were leaving, another group was arriving!  So much dining hosting to do!  I didn't know they'd be making it to San Francisco, so the first meal I took them too was planned fairly last minute (as in, an hour before we went).  I fell back on an old favorite of mine: Zare at Fly Trap.

The restaurant is located just down the street from our office, and used to be the halfway point between my home and work.  A few years ago, I went somewhat regularly, but it had been at least a year since I'd been.  Lately, the chef has been sharing photos on Facebook of all the incredible special dishes he has been serving, and I've been seriously drooling over them.  I somewhat jokingly sent him a message asking if there was anything with scallops, uni, or foie gras on the menu that evening (a bunch of my favorite ingredients!), and he replied saying he'd combine them all into a dish just for me.  Um, clearly I had to go there, stat!

The cuisine here is a little hard to describe.  I guess I'd call it French, but with Persian and Mediterranean inspiration, and of course, using fresh local Californian ingredients.  I find the menu really fun, ridiculously creative spins on Persian dishes, or more standard French or Californian items with Persian ingredients thrown in.  Be on the lookout for pomegranate, pistachios, saffron, and rose water!  They do fun things like on Monday nights always serving some kinda of crazy kufte, and offering some form of dolme every night, where dolme is a very lose interpretation basically meaning just something stuffed with something.

Fly Trap was just as I remembered.  Nicely decorated, in that casual, swanky, SOMA style.  A little on the loud side, but mostly just in an energetic way.  Service was ok, not particularly notable.  Food was good, and reasonably priced.  The best part of course was the owner/chef creating a dish just for my group!  That is hospitality taken to a whole new level!  Thank you :)

I'll definitely be back before July, as I hear a rumor that the chef's old signature dish, the manage a foie, will be coming back sometime soon!
Sourdough bread & lavash, feta-walnut spread, caspian tapenade.  $6.
Back in the day, I used to stop in on my walk home from work and just get this togo.  I was obsessed with these spreads, so I ordered them immediately when we sat down, to munch on while we figured out what else to get.

The bread was crisp and toasted, the lavash warm and soft.  The caspian tapenade had a great olive flavor and the feta-walnut spread was creamy, nutty, and salty.  Each was good on its own, but I enjoyed them the most by combining some of each.

The perfect bite for me was some lavash, spread with equal parts of each of the spreads, and then rolled up and enjoyed as finger food.  I'm not sure if the spreads have changed, or if I had so much of them back then that I'm finally over them, but they weren't quite as fantastic as I remembered.  Still nice to have something to munch on at the start of the meal though, and I'd order again if others wanted it.
Pistachio meatballs, red harissa, honey, pomegranate.  $13.
I'm pretty sure these are a lamb based meatballs.  Try as I might, I still just can't get into the flavor of lamb.  I keep trying it whenever others order it, in a variety of forms, but it still just isn't appealing to me.  I'll keep persevering though, one day, I may finally like it!

Given that, I didn't really like the meatballs.  They did have a really nice crust on the outside, but weren't very moist inside, and were really lamby.  But the sauce was awesome.  Perfectly balanced, with the tartness from the pomegranate and the sweetness from the honey.  I enjoyed soaking up all of the remaining sauce with the lavash!

Our server noted when we ordered this that there were only three meatballs, and four of us, and asked if we wanted a forth.  We declined, but this was thoughtful and great service!
Smoked trout, cucumber, tobiko, dill.  $14. 
Surprise awesometastic dish of the night!

I think we all expected this to just be some smoked trout, with a little bit of cucumber on the side or something.  Instead, it was cucumber "linguine", with chunks of smoked trout integrated throughout.

The trout was fantastic.  It was flaky, and had a really wonderful smokyness.  I really liked it.

The cucumber linguine was also really great.  Clearly incredibly fresh, crisp, and refreshing.

It was all dressed in a creamy, slightly tart, crème fraîche based dressing.

Then there was was ton of fresh dill mixed in, which paired perfectly with the trout, cucumber, and yogurt, and just kicked the flavors of the entire thing up a million notches.

Every component of this dish was great on its own, but then combined they also complimented and enhanced each other absolutely perfectly.  This dish was a serious winner, full of great flavors, and also really fun to eat.  Creating the perfect bite was just like eating pasta: a fork swirled with the linguine, and then stab a chunk of trout.  Awesome.

I'd order this again in a heartbeat!  It was really, truly, fantastic.

( If you want to make this at home yourself, here is a video of Hoss preparing it! )
Bone marrow, turmeric, preserved lime, bergamot.  $14
We didn't order this, but the chef sent it out for us.  Somehow, I've never actually had bone marrow straight from a bone before (I've had it in sauces, etc, but never just ordered the marrow).

As this was my first time having it, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It kinda reminded me of seared foie gras, which I love, but it was slimier and fattier tasting.  I didn't really like it.  I'm sure this is an acquired experience though, so I'd certainly try it again.

The persian pickles on the plate were salty, crunchy, and good.  I'm a pickle lover, so I appreciated these!

The pumpkin jam was awesome.  It had this great pumpkin flavor, but was also sweet.  It tasted a lot like "classic" Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole, just in a jam!  It had the pumpkin/sweet potato flavor to it, and then a hint of brown sugar/maple syrupy flavor, and even the sweetness like from marshmallow topping.  Really hard to describe, but honestly, it was like putting one of those casseroles into a spoonful.  I loved it, and again used all the remaining bread in sight to finish it up!

While I didn't really like the marrow, I'm really glad I finally tried it in this pure form, and appreciated the gesture from the chef.  And that pumpkin jam!  So tasty, I'd encourage someone else to order this again just so I could eat the jam :)
 Diver scallops, asparagus, prosciutto, potatoes.  Plus ... uni sauce, seared foie gras!  $28.
This was our custom made dish.  It was the standard preparation of the scallops on the menu, but then topped with uni sauce and a few chunks of seared foie gras!

The potatoes and asparagus were just simply roasted and seasoned, fairly standard.

The scallops were decently seared, but more cooked than I prefer, definitely cooked all the way through rather than a little rare.

The prosciutto was crispy, salty, and a great compliment to the scallops.  I think it works really well in the original dish, also complimenting the potato and the asparagus, but prosciutto and foie was a little much :)

The uni sauce (added because I love uni!) was very light and mild.  I could somewhat distinguish the uni flavor, but it wasn't very strong.  I believe they were using this as the finishing element on a soup that evening, where it probably came across stronger, as it wasn't masked by as many other rich components.

And then there were chunks of seared foie gras (added because I love foie gras!).  Each scallop came topped with its own piece (two had fallen off by the time this photo was taken).  Like I was hoping, the foie gras went really well with the scallops, a good contrast of both flavors and textures.  The scallop was slightly sweet, light, and firm, contrasting and complimenting the foie, buttery, rich, and creamy.

I enjoyed this, and I'm still rather stunned that they added the foie and uni sauce to the dish for me!  What amazing hospitality.  Thank you very much Hoss!
Goat cheesecake,  date jam, walnuts.  $9.
So, I love dessert.  I was stuffed at this point, but I really don't know how to finish a meal without dessert.  Its just my thing.

I was excited for the panna cotta listed on the menu (again, another one of my obsessions these days), but the waiter informed us that it had been replaced by a pistachio crepe and ice cream.  Sadness!

So then I was excited for the baklava, but no one else at the table was interested in sharing it.  One other diner was interested in the goat cheesecake, which isn't something I'd ever normally pick since I really, really don't like goat cheese (at least, traditional soft style goat cheeses), but I wanted dessert, and this seemed like my only option!  We also had one other diner who loves cheeses, but hates sweets, so if this was cheesy enough, and not super sweet, it was possible he'd be into it as well.  We asked the waiter if it was really goaty, he said no.  We asked if it was really sweet, he said no.  He told us that it was just really well balanced and really fantastic.  So, we ordered it.

On the plate were some dates, some pistacho crumble, some date jam, and of course, the goat cheese cheesecake.

The cheesecake was incredibly fluffy, almost mousse like, and sat atop a shortbread crust.  The crust was buttery and delicious.  The cheesecake however was both very sweet and very goaty.  My non-sweet liking dining companion wanted nothing to do with this, nor did I, finding it way, way too goaty.

I do admit that the goat cheese and fig paired very well together, and if I liked goat cheese, I could imagine this would be fantastic.
Pistacho crepes, ice cream.  $9.
One other person at the table ordered the pistachio dessert.  It was gone within seconds, so I think he really liked it.  I didn't get a taste, so don't have anything to add here.  He also ordered the lamb shank entree, which I also didn't have, but I did have a taste of the torshi (persian pickled stuffs) that comes on the side, and thought that it was fantastic.
<Fly Trap Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Breakfast @ Tres, SLS Hotel, Beverley Hills

Update Review, June 2016

Do you remember when I stayed at the SLS Hotel in Beverley Hills last year, and came back absolutely raving about the breakfast?  Seriously, the best continental breakfast I've ever had, with quality pastries and the most insanely delicious yogurt I've ever had.  Seriously, that yogurt.  You can read all about my original visit here.

I returned for a few days this summer, and, as before, breakfast was a highlight.  Overall, the breakfast was basically as I remembered.  That yogurt, particularly the pear one, is just incredible (and the pastries are higher quality than usual at a hotel restaurant).  Have I mentioned that I'd travel to LA just for that yogurt?
Citrus Yogurt, Blueberry Muffin, Cream Cheese Danish, Granola.
The berry topped yogurt was exactly as I remembered.  Creamy, panna cotta like vanilla yogurt, with berries on top.  The vanilla bean infused throughout is also fantastic.

But, as I discovered last time, I liked the pear/citrus version even more.  The tart compote on the bottom just goes so well with the yogurt, and I liked the acidic grapefruit segments on top.  This time it did clearly have cubes of pear on top (and a beautiful flower) as well.

The granola wasn't quite as I remembered.  It wasn't quite as crispy and caramelized, but it was still good.  The yogurt was delicious enough without it though.
Pastries: Cinnamon Apple Pocket, Raspberry Bear Claw, Chocolate Croissant, Cheese Danish.
The first item I went for was the folded danish on the far right.  I am pretty sure it had cream cheese filling.  The filling wasn't particularly creamy, but I loved how flaky the pastry was.  This was my favorite of the pastries on this visit.

The chocolate croissant was good, except that it was lacking in the chocolate department.  Again, crispy, flaky crust, and the chocolate was really great dark chocolate, but, there just wasn't enough of it.

The raspberry bear paw was another solid pastry, again, crispy flaky crust.  It had layers of raspberry jam folded throughout, but, just like the chocolate croissant, I found myself wishing it had a bit more.

The item on the far left was the one I was excited for, as it was coated in sugar crystals and I had no idea what kind it was.  Sadly, the filling turned out to be apple cinnamon, little cubes of apple in spicing, just not something I like.  The pastry was good and flaky though.  Notice a theme here?
Pastries: Raspberry Swirls, Chocolate Croissants, Apple Pocket, Apricot Danish.
As on my previous visit, the pastries changed out slightly every day, although plain croissants and chocolate croissants were always offered.

On my final day I went for the apricot danish, forgetting that I had not enjoy it before.  The crust wasn't as flaky as the others, and it was coated in a soggy glaze.  I just really didn't care for it at all.

The  (not pictured) almond croissant was again as I remembered.  I didn't love the sliced almond coating, generous as it was.  The filling was a decent almond paste and provided in a good quantity.  It had the same decent croissant dough.
Muffins: Strawberry Rhubarb, Bran, Blueberry, Banana Nut.
I remembered not being super impressed with the muffins, but, I wanted to give them another try.

I started with the blueberry.  It was moist, and a bit too dense, but had a generous amount of blueberry, and nice huge sugar crystals on top.  It wasn't earth shattering, and I'd prefer more flavor in the base, but, it was a good muffin.

The one in the front here I had no idea what kind it was when I picked it up.  It turned out to be strawberry rhubarb.  It too was a bit too dense, and the base didn't have a very interesting flavor.  Overall, ok, and better than most hotel muffins, but, not something I'd get again.

The bran again turned out to be my favorite, with a hearty bran flavor and studded with plentiful currants.  Perhaps a bit boring on its own, but slathered in the raspberry jam it was quite tasty.

Original Review, November 2015

I spent years of my life never visiting Los Angeles (well, besides LAX).  Yes, just a simple hour flight away from San Francisco, with much nicer weather, but ... for some reason I never visit.

A few weeks ago, Ojan had to visit our Venice office, so I tagged along.  We stayed at the very mediocre Le Meridien Delfina.  Emil described it as "a motel", which it obviously wasn't, but I can't say it was a particularly nice place.  But it was close to the office, which is what mattered.  We were only in the area for two days, but I can't say I had any interest in staying longer (delicious burgers aside).

So why, a mere few weeks later, would I go back?  I had an opportunity to speak on a panel at UCLA, at an event targeted at recruiting women in Computer Science.  I really enjoy interacting with students, and encouraging more women in the field.  Plus ... as much as I hated the smog, the traffic, the grime, etc of Santa Monica ... I did love the weather.  And San Francisco was starting to get dreary.

I checked the weather.  Upper 70s and 80s.  I quickly looked to see what Starwood properties are near UCLA.  Since I didn't need to go to the office, I didn't need to stay at Le Meridien again.  There is a W right adjacent to the campus.  Perfect!  Except ... way too pricey, even with our corporate rates.

I expanded my search radius.  I only needed to be at UCLA one night, so, I didn't actually need to stay super close by.  But, all the Starwood properties, besides the ones right near the airport, were just too pricey.  I was a bit dejected, until I discovered a ridiculous AARP rate at the SLS Beverley Hills.  Yes, it was slightly more than my corporate spend allowed, but just slightly.  And remarkably, cheaper than even our corporate rates anywhere else.  This seemed too good to be true.

I knew about the SLS.  Part of Starwood's Luxury Collection.  Category 6 property.  Of course, Emil's top recommendation of places to stay in Los Angeles.  I'd never stayed at any category 6 properties before.  Never at a Luxury Collection property.  I certainly never thought I would.

I was sold.  Since this is a food blog, not a hotel review blog, I'll skip the general details about the hotel, except to tell you, if you ever get a chance to stay here, ZOMG, do it.  When Emil recommends something, listen!  The staff are amazing, the rooms crazy, and I can't even begin to describe the rooftop pool area.

It also helps that Jose Andres runs the two restaurants in the hotel.  Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, I was seated at dinner at The Bazaar, the high end restaurant serving dinner, with a huge bar area, and separate dessert room.  It was great.

The other restaurant in the hotel is a more casual affair, called Tres.  It serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea.  Spanish inspired, as you might guess given the name and proprietor.

As a Starwood Platinum member (!!!), continental breakfast was included in my stay, served at Tres.  Generally, "continental" means a couple stale, lackluster muffins and generic Kellogg's cereals.  Spoiler: that was not the case at Tres.  Think baked goods from The Bazaar patisserie, housemade granola, and, the most epic yogurt I've ever had (yes, yogurt.  Read on for more details).

And to top it off, the breakfast hours are quite generous, even during the week - served until 11am!  No need to rush to breakfast in the morning.

The Space

The space, simply put, is gorgeous.  It is unlike any anywhere you've ever been served a hotel breakfast in before.  Of course, they use the space for more than just breakfast, it is the hotel guest exclusive lounge the rest of the day, and they serve lunch and dinner as well.

But wow, the space.  The options for how you'd like to enjoy your breakfast are endless.
High Tables.
For the classy, there are high tables, made of white marble, available for small groups of two or four, or large communal high tables for solo travelers to perch at.

Each table has a stunning unique chandelier above it.
Standard Breakfast Tables.
If you'd prefer a more classic offering, there are round wooden tables with regular dining chairs, set for 2-4 people.  These were generally occupied by families.
Little Lounges.
Next came lounges, with slightly lower wooden tables, with comfortable arm chairs and couches, for those who wanted to relax a little more.
Fireplace Library Lounges.
And then, the ultimate: fireplace lounges.

These were alongside the length of the room, arranged in a line, with optional curtains to fully enclose each for privacy.

Like the lounges above, they have lower wooden dining tables, with arm chairs and couches, but are set up like personal libraries, each facing its own fireplace.

Each area has an individual rug under the table.  The wall they face is lined with bookcases filled classic books in assorted disciplines and stacked firewood.  The fireplaces are electric, but really add to the ambiance, and do provide warmth.  Above each fireplace is a ridiculous light up deer head, the only slightly tacky element about the entire space.  Gorgeous large lamps are on the side, along with assorted little stools and pieces of artwork.  It really does feel like a room in a very fancy house.

You can likely guess where I choose to sit.  Yes, I had one of these amazing little rooms each day.  The staff quickly learned my preference, and sat me in the same private library every day.  My section, rather fitting actually, included the bookcases for "Science" and "Planes & Boats".  Although my father would never ever enter a place like this, I think he'd really like digging through the books.  The library to my left shelved "Gardening" and uh, "Doors".  The one to the right had "Design" and "Cinema".  I didn't check out the selection in the final room.

The Buffet

So, the food.  My included option was a continental buffet, although an a la carte menu is also served.
Jose's Breakfast Table.
Sorry, not a buffet.  A "Breakfast Table".  For continental only, it is priced at a hefty $28 for adults, $15 for children.  For an additional $14, you can add a hot entree. 
The Breakfast Table Spread.
I stuck to just the breakfast table, as it was more than sufficient.  Continental only, which is not usually exciting, and not that extensive, but nearly everything on the table was a winner.  You don't need a more elaborate spread when the options are all delicious.


Coffee Station.
The breakfast table also comes with your choice of coffee or tea.  I asked for decaf coffee, and when it didn't arrive in about 10 minutes, I assumed it was forgotten, and went and helped myself to the coffee carafes near the entrance, available for hotel guests to drop in and get at any time.
Decaf Coffee.
Eventually a little carafe was brought to me.  The server saw that I had already helped myself to the other coffee and apologized, but assured me that this was more fresh.  The next day, when I asked for decaf, I was provided my own large french press.

Both the fresh carafe and self-serve station were not very good.  But, I did get decaf, what do I expect?

Assorted sugar and sweeteners are available on the tables, and milk, including soy and almond, are available at the coffee station.

I was glad to have coffee, and to not need to be asking for refills all the time, but, this wasn't particularly good.
Aqua Fresca: Pineapple, cantelope, watermelon.
Up at the buffet is a selection of aqua fresca, rather than just standard juices, as this is a Spanish restaurant after all.

I obviously avoided the melon flavors, but tried the pineapple.  It was very, very sweet.  I couldn't really drink it on its own, but I think it would make for a great mixer for a cocktail.


Organic cereals and granola.
The continental selection begins, like most, with cereals.  However these weren't boxes of generic Kellogg's cereal.  Only two options, one seemed to be some kind of wheat flakes, the other was house made granola.

Like the coffee station, various types of milk are offered alongside, including nonfat and soy.

I didn't try the wheat flakes.
Granola Closeup.
The granola was great.

While it wasn't a clumpy style of granola like I like for munching on as a snack, it was perfect to add to my yogurt parfait (more on that soon).

I can't even begin to enumerate all the goodies I found inside the granola.  A slew of assorted nuts including crunchy pistachios, sliced almonds, and pine nuts.  Tons of different seeds.  Little wheat sticks, flakes of this and that ... just so many things.

The granola was slightly sweetened, just enough to feel a bit decadent.  No raisins, an element that always ruins perfectly good granola for me.  In fact, no dried fruit at all.  I don't mind dried fruit, but I can't stand it when it is rock hard!

Good stuff for sure.
Chef's Selection of Assorted Pastries.
"Croissant, danish, muffins, pain au chocolate.  Selection of marmalades, organic butter, and cream cheese."

Next came my carbs.

Assorted sliced breads and bagels, plus all the good stuff: muffins, croissants, and danishes.  Butter, cream cheese, and assorted marmalades (unlabelled) were available in little pots on the side, and a toaster was provided if you wanted to toast things.

I skipped the basic breads and bagels.  I discovered a few days later that interestingly, on weekends, the selection is more limited, and there is no bread or bagels, no toaster.  I think this is because the buffet is moved to the side, as a far more extensive brunch buffet is offered starting at 11am, and they need to prepare for it and use the full space for that.  I saw a carving station and epic dessert displays being set up.  But uh, not included with my hotel stay.  Next time ...

I started with muffins.  There were three kinds the first day, only two the others.  One looked bran with flakes on top, one was blueberry, and one had a streusel top.  These muffins are available at the Patisserie at The Bazaar next door for $3 each.

Clearly, I went right for the streusel topped muffin.  The streusel didn't have tons of flavor, a bit disappointing.  But the muffin was very, very moist.  It turned out to be banana, with big chunks of banana inside, adding to the moistness.  Not my thing, as I don't really care for banana muffins, but it was decently made.

A few days later, I went for a streusel topped muffin again, because it looked different.  And, indeed, it was.  It had little chunks of fruit inside, I think bits of dried apricot and maybe strawberry, rather than banana.  Hard to tell.  The top was crispy and ok, but I didn't love that muffin either.

Next I went for the blueberry.  I honestly think there was more blueberry than muffin base to this muffin.  Just absolutely bursting with blueberry flavor, crazy moist.  And the muffin base itself was quite good, a hint of some spicing to it.  The top was a bit crispy, with large sugar crystals on it.  I adored that part.  For a muffin, it was a very good muffin!

On my last day, I went for the bran.  It was a hearty muffin, studded with currants, and flecked with oats.  For a bran muffin, and something that at least tasted a bit healthier, a nice option.  I of course slathered it with the delicious raspberry jam.

I didn't really need any, but I couldn't resist trying the marmalades, adding them to my pastries, or even to my yogurt.  The orange marmalade was pretty standard, but I really liked the raspberry jam.  Maybe I went for the bran muffin just as an excuse to have more jam.
Danishes, Day Two.
The muffins were fine, better than most hotel muffins, but the danishes were clearly calling out to me.

The first day, I went right for the most decadent looking, topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar, drizzled with chocolate (far right).

It turned out to be a pan au chocolate, sliced in half, and stuffed with almond paste.  The slicing and stuffing certainly seemed to have been done after the fact, but as you can see, it wasn't exactly the same as the standard pan an chocolate next to it, as it had the toppings.  It was a good pastry.  Crispy exterior, quality chocolate inside.  I liked the extra crunch from the almond slices on top.  However, it was a bit sweet for me, the almond paste inside was generous and very sweetened.  (What is wrong with me?  The aqua fresca was too sweet, the pastries too sweet ... )  Still, far superior to most hotel pastries, and my third pick overall for the pastries.

I tried it again a few days later, and it was actually different.  Not nearly as much almond paste filling, so it wasn't as sweet.  I still liked the almonds on top, and the chocolate, but something about it was just not remarkable.  Subsequent days it was not offered, so I didn't get to try a tie-breaker, but if it was, I would have tried it again.

I skipped the plain pan au chocolate, but these are on offer at The Bazaar for $3.

Next I went for the raspberry bear paw (middle).  It was swirled with really delicious raspberry jam.  The danish dough, just like the pan au chocolate, was above average.  Flaky, buttery.  The raspberry filling was really quite flavorful.  My forth favorite, and I'd gladly get it again.

The next selection the first day was one of the best: a cinnamon sugar apple filled danish (not pictured here).  Now, I don't love apple, but the bits of apple were nicely cooked, well spiced.  The dough was great, a bit flakier, and ... it was coated in cinnamon and sugar.  It was more like a donut.  I loved it, my second pick overall of the baked goods.  Sadly, a few days later, when an apple filled creation re-appeared, it did not have the cinnamon sugar coating, which certainly was a big part of the appeal.

Several days into my trip, a new offering appeared: an apricot danish (second to left).  It was my least favorite, by far.  The dough wasn't flaky, the apricot in the middle was boring, and it was covered in a glaze that was seemed too sticky in this context.  Like many other items, also sold at The Bazaar, also $3.

On my last day, I opted to make a croissant sandwich with cheese and charcuterie, on a plain croissant.  The plain croissant was a decent specimen.  Buttery, slightly flaky on the outside, good layers to it.  Certainly not an award winning croissant, but compared to what you normally find at hotels, very good.
Pain Au Raisin ($3 from The Bazaar).
The final selection turned out to be the best however, Pain Au Raisin, aka, glazed raisin swirls.

They actually looked like the least interesting, but were hands down my favorites.  Crispy exterior, moist interior, loaded with cinnamon and raisins.  Tons of sweet, sticky glaze on top.  I'd actually prefer a plain roll, sans raisins, but still, this was great.  Sticky, sweet, decadent.

I wish I discovered these on the first day, but I assure you, after having one, I immediately went back for seconds each day, and added them to my lineup on subsequent days.  Totally dessert worthy, and I liked to close my meal with one each day.  Wow, I drool just thinking about these again.

Also available at the patisserie of The Bazaar for $3.
Cheese and Charcuterie.
As  I mentioned, there was a selection of charcuterie and cheeses.  Not what I'd normally go for, and not my idea of breakfast, but, this is the same product served at Tres for dinner, and I know that they are known for their charcuterie and cheeses, a Spanish restaurant after all, so on my final day I finally tried some.

The charcuterie on offer was jamon serrano, chorizo, salami. The jamon serrano was thin sliced, a bit too porky for my liking.  The chorizo and salami were both good, spicy.

The cheese lineup was manchego, vino de cabra, and idiazabal.  I normally prefer cow's cheeses, but I tried them anyway.  As expected, I did not like the vino de cabra, as I actually really dislike goat cheese.  The other two were fine, but when it comes to cheeses, I'm all about the triple cremes.

I used these inside a croissant sandwich, and it was fine, but really, there were just too many other better things in the buffet to waste stomach space on this.
Greek Yogurt Parfait, Mixed Berries.
The final element of the breakfast table is fruit and yogurt jars.  These looked pretty standard.  But, in reading reviews of the restaurant, person after person mentioned how amazing the yogurt was.  I'm not really one to go for yogurt, not that I dislike it, but, really, how exciting is yogurt?  It certainly didn't look special, but, if everyone says it is amazing, I figured I should try it.

Even after reading the reviews, I had no expectations for the yogurt.  Sure, people like greek yogurt, I thought.

But wow.  This was unlike any yogurt I've ever had before.  None were labelled.  From visual inspection, it looked like the one on the far right was plain, the one next to that had a little citrus, then next had berries, and the final two rows were just fresh mixed berries, no yogurt.
Berry Yogurt.
The first day, opted for the one with berries on top.

There was much more to this than meets the eye.  I thought it was just some yogurt with a few berries thrown on top.  Wrong.  Yes, there was yogurt, and it was topped with berries.  But there were more berries inside.  And a sweet berry compote on the bottom.

The yogurt wasn't really what I think of as Greek yogurt, as it wasn't thick and it certainly wasn't tart.  But it also wasn't runny.  Rather hard to describe really.  It was light and fluffy, and obviously sweetened.  I think it was vanilla?

I added granola on top before I realized how many other goodies were in the jar.  I loved the extra crunch, and added it again subsequent days, but it certainly wasn't necessary.

This was great yogurt.

The next day, I went for the one with the citrus segment on top.  The printed menu said "apricot", but I'm certain it wasn't apricot.  The online menu says "pear", which seemed slightly more likely, but, I'm still pretty sure it wasn't that either.  Like the berry version, it too had a compote hiding on the bottom.  This one was less sweet, more tart, and I actually liked it a bit more, even though I'd normally pick berries over citrus any day.

Finally, I did try the one sans toppings.  I'm pretty sure it was the same yogurt, vanilla.  I added a swirl of the delicious raspberry jam, a cup full of berries, and granola to it.  So good.  I think it would have been great with honey too.

This yogurt really reminded me of dessert.  Every single version could easily be served as a dessert, like a panna cotta.  Sweet, creamy, decadent.  Really, really wonderful, yet not over the top, so it felt not unreasonable to have with breakfast.

I needed to know what brand the yogurt was.  On my last day, I finally asked my server.  I thought she'd think it was a strange question, and likely wouldn't know the answer, but I really wanted to know, and figured it was at least worth a try.  She perked right up.  "Isn't it amazing??!!", she chirped.  "I can eat it every day, and never get sick of it.  It can even double as dessert, it is so creamy and delicious."  I instantly agreed, and leaned forward eagerly.  Maybe she did know!  Maybe I could get this at home!

And then, she revealed the magic ... it is made in-house, by the pastry kitchen.  They use Fage as a base, whip it, and infuse it with vanilla bean.   Doh.   I can't just go buy it somewhere.  The only place I can get it is Tres.  Guess I have to go back to LA?

Seriously, I'd return to the SLS, for this yogurt alone.  Totally worth the nightly rate.  Or, ok, fine, if I was ever back in the Los Angeles area, I supposed I could just go to Tres for breakfast, and splurge for the Breakfast Table for $28?  Or, I, could just get the yogurt a la carte for $12, which may seem like a lot of a little pot of yogurt, but, seriously, you don't understand how incredible this yogurt is!
Tres By José Andrés Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato