Friday, September 16, 2016

Hi I'm Skinny

Yes, this company is called "Hi I'm Skinny".  And they make healthy snacks, aka, munchies made with whole grains, 40% less fat than regular chips, and, uh, "no nasty's".

The products are all snack sticks, thin things that look sorta like fries.  They make two flavors of quinoa sticks (sweet onion or sea salt), two flavors of "Superfood" sticks (mean & green or sweet potato), and one type of protein sticks (mesquite bbq).  I honestly don't recall where I found these, as I certainly didn't seek them out, so I only got to try one item.

They were too healthy for me.  Guess I like "nasty's"?
Sweet Onion Quinoa Sticks.
"Hi, I’m Skinny! I'm the all new Quinoa based snack stick packed with REAL Chia Seeds that makes me PERFECT for guilt free snacking!!  I’m loaded with all kinds of whole grains and seeds of all kinds and have just the right amount of seasoning! I’m "phat" on flavor, but I won’t make the scales or your skinny jeans a scary thought!!"

Um, yeah.

I opened my bag of quinoa sticks with some hesitation.  I had plenty of dips standing by to dunk them into, assuming I wouldn't really want to just eat these things.

From a distance, they sorta liked like fries, thin, and crispy, yet airy.  However, they certainly didn't taste like fries.  They tasted like Sun Chips, aka, like a healthy blend of whole grains.  Which, I guess is what they were.  They are made with quinoa flour, as expected, plus corn meal, white rice flour, brown rice flour, and chia seeds, and then sugar, salt, garlic, and onion for seasoning.

The flavor was ok, although I didn't really taste "sweet onion".  But really, just far too healthy of an item for me.
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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Svenhard's

Update Review, April 2016

You know how I said I'd never try another Svenhard's pastry again, after my previous review?  Sometimes I fail at taking my own advice.  Particularly when there is a free pastry involved.  Sometimes that isn't the worst thing.

The context: Walk to work day.  One of the walk to work stations was giving out free coffee (why I stopped) and ... Svenhard's pastries!  They had a large assortment, including a cheese horn that I almost went for, but, somehow, at last minute, I decided to grab a cinnamon horn.

And ... I liked it.  Sigh.  Guess now I'll have to try more?
Cinnamon Horn.
"Cinnamon folded in sweet dough, & glazed with our delectable icing delivers old-fashioned goodness, reminiscent of Grandma’s house."

This looked just as bad as the breakfast claw.  It was kinda smushed, the icing was all over the inside of the packaging, and, well, it looked like a packaged baked good.

But I tried it anyway.  I took a tentative first bite.  It was soft, it was fluffy, it was sweet.  No, the dough was nothing like a fresh pastry, but it had a really lovely sweetness to it.  I took a second bite.  There was plenty of cinnamon within the folds.  The glaze on top, while not evenly distributed and rubbing off all over the place, was pleasantly sweet and went nicely with the cinnamon.  I took a third bite.  I stopped for a sip of coffee.  And then I went right for the center piece, always the best part of a cinnamon roll.

And I liked it.  Soft, sweet, moist, a bit gooey, and not in a fresh way at all, but, I liked it.  I realized as I neared the last bite that it reminded me of a Little Debbie product, which I'd never think of as anything like bakery items.  If you frame it in that context, then it really just isn't so bad ...

Original Review, September 2015

Svenhard's is a "Swedish Bakery" located in nearby Oakland.  However, they aren't a traditional bakery, as they make packaged baked goods and do not have a storefront.  I've seen their items at Target, Costco, and even on Amazon.com, so I think they run quite a large production.  I wouldn't normally be that interested in packaged baked goods like this, but they have been around since 1893.  Clearly, they have staying power, so perhaps their products really are tasty?

Svenhard's makes "claws", "curls", and "horns", all different varieties of croissant-like products with fillings.  The "claws" are basically bear claws.  "Curls" are just pastries in curled form, aka, cinnamon rolls and raisin snails.  And the "horns" are danishes with different fillings.

I've only tried one item, but, well, it was a packaged baked good.  I had no desire to try another.
Breakfast Claw.
I went for the fascinating sounding "breakfast claw", since, well, I was having it alongside a coffee for breakfast and it sounded like the most decadent of all the choices.

The advertising says: "Served warm, or eaten fresh from the package, Breakfast Claws will melt in your mouth, and bring delight to your taste buds! Our special icing and secret filling formula garnishes every bite."

Sounded good to me, even though I must admit it looked a little sad ...
Breakfast Claw: Revealed.
Well, first I tried it "fresh from the package".  "Fresh" was rather questionable.  It was a bit scary looking.

The pastry was about as bad as you'd expect.  Sorta spongy and gummy.  Not flaky.  Not buttery.  Greasy.  The oil slick left on the napkin I set it down on for literally 20 seconds to take a photo was impressive.

So far, gross.

On the plus side, the icing on top was sweet and rather tasty.  The little brown crumbles looked promising, but didn't deliver much flavor.
Breakfast Claw: Inside.
Inside was a cinnamon sugar filling that was tasty enough, but, as you can see from the cross section, it wasn't exactly generously filled.

Next, I tried warming it up, which did make it marginally better, but it was nothing like the magical transformation of the 7-Eleven cinnamon roll, and I still would certainly never get another of these.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Sticky Buns

A few years ago, for Christmas brunch, my mom made incredible sticky buns, following a recipe from King Arthur Flour.  Since then, I request them literally every time I visit.  It is a given that I want them for Christmas brunch annually, but I'll also ask for them for a random breakfast when I visit in the summer, or for dessert even (because really, they *are* dessert!).  We've tweaked the recipe a few times over the years, trying different cinnamon fillings and ratios, and adjusting the cooking time slightly (I like them a bit under-baked, more soft and doughy inside, and the topping more gooey and sticky).  At this point, my mom has these sticky buns nailed, and they are a highlight of my visits.
Sticky Buns: Normal Version.
Anyway, I adore these sticky buns and they come out excellent nearly every time (there was one time when we baked them too long, and the topping turned into caramel brittle and the buns were kinda dried out ...).  Pictured above is how they normally look, with an amazing cinnamon sugar topping and tons of pecans bathed in the sticky topping.

A batch is fairly sizable, and not everyone in my family is as crazy about them as I am.  Which means, I generally end up responsible for eating ... 80% of the buns?  And, their shelf life isn't exactly long.

They are incredible hot and fresh out of the oven for a decadent breakfast.  They are pretty good later that day for a dessert, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.  They are acceptable the next morning, warmed, for breakfast again.  After the second afternoon though, I generally start to turn my nose up at them, and move on to whatever new baked good my mom's oven has produced (because, well, she knows I have a sweet tooth, and she keeps me very well fed!)
Sticky Buns: Not-risen.
So that is how things normally go.  Incredible sticky buns that I enjoy for about two days, and then move on.  But on my recent visit, things didn't quite go as expected.

My mom made up the dough in advance, knowing that is the time consuming part.  She stashed the dough in the freezer to pull out and easily make my sticky buns when I arrived.  On my first day there, she pulled it out and defrosted in the fridge.  She intended to surprise me the next morning with hot fresh sticky buns.  But ... she forgot.  And we had breakfast plans the day after that with my grandfather at 4 Aces Diner.  So, two days passed, and then she remembered the dough.  She pulled it out to make the buns on the third morning.  But ... they just didn't rise.  Was it from freezing?  Was it from being in the fridge for a few days?  We weren't sure.  But I still wanted my sticky buns, so, eventually, she put them in the oven, warning me that she could tell things weren't quite right.
Sad Sticky Bun: Not Risen, Way Too Much Topping.
And ... yeah, things weren't quite right.  The buns didn't rise, didn't get as fluffy and doughy as usual.  Instead they stayed fairly deflated.  The topping amount was too much, given the significantly reduced dough surface area.  So, what we had was kinda undercooked balls of dough, with way too much filling inside the folds and on top.  They looked horrible.

They tasted decent enough, but were crazy sweet, and totally not right for breakfast.  Warmed up later in the day with a huge scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness, they made for a fantastic dessert (in my mind), but, no one else wanted to touch them.  They were going to throw them out.

I had another one after lunch the second day, warm with ice cream.  It was still pretty good.  I had one after dinner the second day, warm with ice cream.  Still a winner.  But, no one else wanted any.  I had an entire batch of sticky buns to eat myself (save for one that the others split the first day).

By day three, I decided to get creative.  Even a perfect version of the buns never holds up to day three.

I imagine you might know where this is headed.  What else would I do with a sad leftover that I desperately wanted to save?  Of course I waffled it, following my tradition of waffling all the things

So, Leftover Messed-Up-Sticky-Buns: Will It Waffle?  Yes!
Mid-Way Through Cooking.
I knew this idea had potential.  The cinnamon sugar coating would likely get crispy and actually caramelized when it came in contact with the hot irons.  The entire thing would hopefully cook a bit more and improve upon its under-baked state.

I threw the sticky bun in, unmodified, into a 350 degree waffle iron. (Of course, my mom has the same waffle iron I do, with adjustable temperatures, so, no modifications were needed to my technique).
Waffled Sticky Bun!
The result was certainly better than the original, but, I did accidentally leave it in a bit too long, as I was busy socializing with my family.  Rookie mistake!

The outside sugar and cinnamon did indeed turn more caramelized, into a crispy layer encasing the side of the bun.  It went a touch too dark though, so had a hint of burnt flavor to it.  The pecans on the outside sadly did burn, so I ended up scraping those off.

I think the dough did cook a bit more, but, really, it just mattered less because the whole thing was mushed down to be waffled, so the lack of rise wasn't as strange in this form.

I served the sticky bun with both whipped cream and ice cream, and preferred the whipped cream since I could dunk the crispy roll into it easier.

Overall, this was a success, and a great idea for what to do with future extra sticky buns, even ones that DO rise properly, after day two.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One World Lounges, SFO

Update Review, 2016

This was my first time flying without BA Gold Status (I am now Silver), so, I had no access to the First Class lounge.  Not that the SFO BA lounge has ever been particularly nice, but, I was shocked by how uncomfortable it was in the main Terraces lounge.  It was loud, there were no working power ports, and it was crazy crowded.

The food was the same as always, just some crudite, stale looking sandwiches, bags of chips, and hard cookies.  I grabbed a snack of mediocre wasabi peas and dried fruit, and quickly headed out to explore the regular terminal.  I was delighted to discover that the Cathay Pacific lounge was already open, so, I made a beeline for that, and sent Ojan a txt message telling him to come join me.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

The Cathay Lounge was the opposite of the BA lounge.  It was quiet, calm, and nearly empty.  They did have sandwiches like the BA lounge, but they also had fairly decent looking salads and cheeseburgers in a buffet, and, of course, the made to order noodle bar, which I had also tried on my first visit to that lounge several years ago.

The food wasn't great, but, it was much better than what BA had to offer, particularly if you like noodles.
Ordering Counter.
Noodles are made to order, so you select a style from the menu, and are given a pager to wait.  Once ready, the pager goes off and your noodles are handed over on a tray with chopsticks and a soup spoon.

My noodles took about 6 minutes to make, which seemed like a long time, but Ojan's were ready in less than 2.  Not sure why such a difference.
Noodle Kitchen.
The noodles are made right there in a small "kitchen" really, mostly just hot water boiling for the noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Ojan opted for the dan dan noodles, which I had on my previous visit to the lounge.  Of course I tried a few bites, but, I didn't care for them, as they were just too greasy for me.  Ojan also didn't like his dish.
Wonton Noodles.
I selected the wonton noodles (shrimp and pork).  My bowl was piping hot, with thin noodles, and two wontons.  I didn't like the flavor of the broth (too porky), the thin noodles were totally mushy, and the wontons were also overcooked.  I also wasn't expecting a big bowl of thin noodles, I'm just not a noodle girl, I only wanted the wontons.

The broth didn't have much flavor, and both Ojan and I were too lazy to go back up to the condiment station to add soy sauce or chilis or something to it, but we both thought it really did need it.

I handed it off to Ojan, who enjoyed it.  Then again, he likes noodles, and I don't.
Cheeseburger Slider.
Ok, so I knew better, but, um, I can't resist trying all the things.  Like cheeseburger sliders, in a buffet, from an Asian airline.

The bun was fairly stale, untoasted, and very boring and generic.  The patty was thin, fully cooked, and didn't really resemble beef.  There was a tiny bit of congealed, melted cheese on top, and a single leaf of lettuce.  No pickles, special sauce, or anything to jazz it up besides ketchup.

Again, I knew better, but I couldn't resist.
Salads, Sandwiches.
Ok, well, if the noodles weren't for me, and the cheeseburgers weren't for me, how about the salad?  I knew I didn't want a sandwich, and I was running out of options.   (Sandwich choices were turkey & cheddar, veggie with sprouts and cheese, and hummus, cucumber, and tomato pitas.  The sandwiches looked much better than the BA ones, with more generous, fresher looking vegetables.)

I selected the "Arugula & quinoa salad with parmesan cheese."  The arugula wasn't particularly crisp, it was very bitter, and just wasn't great.  I didn't taste any cheese.  I passed this off to Ojan too.  He also had, and enjoyed, a greek salad with cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, feta, and olives, with basil & oregano dressing.  The final salad offering was a spinach salad with radish, quinoa, and I think thinly sliced apple.

Original Review, April 2014

I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  It was my first time flying internationally since having One World Emerald status, so I was excited to check out the different lounges in my home airport of San Francisco.  Of course, I expected to only have an hour or so to "enjoy" these spaces, but ... I ended up being there for 7 hours.  Certainly not what I intended, but it gave me time to do very thorough "research" into all the lounge offerings.

JAL Sakura Lounge

Since I was flying on Japan Airlines (or, at least, I was planning too ... sigh, more on that later), I started with their lounge.  It was by far the least impressive.  The lounge was fairly small, the chairs very plain, and only borderline comfortable.  The entire place felt drab and dated.  Not many seats had nearby power.  The restrooms were a step above the ones in the main terminal, but not particularly nice.
Finger sandwiches, onigiri, Oreos, mochi, hot water for ramen.
The food offerings were sparse and laid out on a single bar area: a few finger sandwiches, hot water and ramen noodles, two types of pre-packaged onigiri, packaged sliced cheese, packaged rice crackers, packaged mochi, and ... Oreos and Lay’s potato chips.

I skipped the finger sandwiches as they didn’t look particularly interesting, and the American junk food, since I can have that any time.
Salmon Onigiri.
I started with the salmon onigiri.  I made a rookie mistake, and didn’t read the instructions on the package, and was left a bit confused.  I just opened it, to find the nori wrapper separated from the rest of it by a layer of thin plastic.  So I took that off, and tried to roll it up myself.  I was confused that I’d have to do this myself, and it turns out, that if I’d read the wrapper, I would have seen that it was magic, I was supposed to just pull a strip, and the whole thing would come together.

Anyway, the packaging was smart, as it kept the nori fresh and crisp, since it would have gotten soggy against the rice.  The rice was surprisingly good, and I don’t generally care for rice in any form (besides rice pudding for dessert).  It was sticky and consistently cooked.  The salmon inside wasn’t impressive, it was cooked, and tasted like it came from a can.  Overall though, I thought this was an decent selection.  I did want some soy sauce or something with it though to jazz it up, as just nori and rice is pretty plain, and there wasn’t much salmon inside.

Since I liked everything about the onigiri besides the salmon, I decided to try the other variety, a vegetarian one.  This time, I sorta followed the instructions, and it mostly all came together properly.  Like the previous one, the nori was crisp, the rice good.  The seasoned seaweed inside was more successful for me than the salmon since it had more flavor, but I still wished for more flavor from a sauce.

If I were stuck in SFO again, I'd get another seaweed onigiri.
Rice Cakes.
Next I moved on to the packaged rice cakes.  Crispy, slightly savory soy sauce flavor to them.  Not particularly interesting though.
Mochi.
But who are we kidding, I'm always in it for the desserts.  I was happy to see several varieties of mochi, since the only other sweet offering was Oreos.

The mochi was disappointing, soft enough, but obviously not fresh, and not particularly flavorful.
Juices, few types of hard alcohol, single choice of each type of wine.
The drink offerings were not much better.  A few soft drinks, a single red and white wine, a couple spirits, a few beers, tea, and already brewed coffee, regular only.  Not an impressive selection.

I tried the white wine, it was inoffensive, but not particularly special, and I don’t even recall the varietal.

Not so thrilled with the JAL lounge, I moved on and joined my colleagues in the British Airways lounge.

British Airways Terraces Lounge / First Lounge

"The Library"
The BA lounge was notably nicer from the moment I entered.  It was far larger, had more pleasant lighting, and higher ceilings.  There was also a variety of seating types, and multiple food and drink stations.
Our little section of couches.
My colleagues had commandeered an entire section of couches, all with power and coffee tables between them.

There was also a separate first class room, with its own food stations and bar with slightly premium offerings.
One Snack Station.
Like the JAL lounge, the primary food offering was finger sandwiches, although the BA ones were larger, more plentiful, and labelled.  There were at least 4 varieties including ham and cheese, tuna caper, egg salad, and veggie, all on different types of bread (sliced, rolls, wraps).  The egg salad wasn’t just egg salad, it had “locally grown arugula”.  A much nicer lineup, although still mostly sandwiches.

Alongside the sandwiches was crudite and assorted dips, which I didn’t try, but they looked fairly boring.  Assorted bagged chips and bowls of fresh whole fruit completed this food station.
Close up of the assorted sandwiches.
I tried the tuna caper on pumpernickel.  It was ok, but the bread a bit dry.  I appreciated that it wasn’t over mayo-ed, but it was a pretty basic tuna sandwich.
Second snack station: soup (minestrone), more snacks, yogurts, espresso machine, tea ...
The second snack station in the main room had different offerings.  Like JAL, there were also packaged sliced cheese in the fridges, along with yogurts.  But unlike JAL, they also had a few other fresh items, like minestrone soup with rolls.  There was also a nice selection of packaged desserts, a mix of American and British offerings.
Wild Mushroom Bisque.
I didn’t try the minestrone from the business class area, but there was mushroom bisque in the first class area, and I’d read reviews that people really liked it.  It was creamy, and full of mushrooms, decent, but I wasn’t a big fan.
First class station: chips, sandwiches, assorted packaged snacks ...
Both sections of the lounge had an impressive number of packaged snacks: a zillion varieties of chips (Cape Cod, Sun Chips, Miss Vickies, Stacy’s Pita Chips), a bunch of types of Nutrigrain bars, assorted packaged cookies (Pepperidge Farm, Oreos, and some english varieties), raisins, peanuts, crackers.

The shot above is from the first class lounge, but the business class lounge had all of these offering as well.
Bar Area, business lounge.
Like everything else, the drink area was far more impressive than JAL.  In the main area there were two bars, with an additional one in the first class area.  They offered more types of soft drinks, juices, beers, multiple types of wine, champagne (in first only), and a much larger hard alcohol selection.
Spa Water.
They also had spa water that I fell in love with, with ginger and mint.  It was so refreshing, and they somehow really infused a ton of flavor in it.  They also had a larger tea selection and multiple espresso machines, including decaf.  Obviously, in a totally different league from JAL.
Vanity Area.
The bathrooms were also much nicer, with a separate makeup area.
Sinks.
The sinks were modern style, and they had more amenities with them.

Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge

I wasn’t intending to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge because it wasn’t going to be open when I was at the airport.  And then, the unthinkable happened.  Japan Airlines didn’t just delay our flight (which uh, they never do.  Look at their flight stats and prepare to be impressed!  Our flight, which had a 6:10pm scheduled departure time, averages taking off at 6:02pm.  What airline takes off early, on average?).  But ... we had a horrible experience.  We got to our gate at the specified boarding time of 5:40pm, and waited and waited with no update.  The monitors all still said boarding at 5:40pm, departing 6:10pm, even when 6:10pm came and went.  We asked for an update, and they told us not to go anywhere, but never made any announcements.  Finally at 6:30pm I asked if we could go back to the lounge, and they told me no, but also that they wouldn’t know more until 7:30pm.  So we went back to the lounge anyway.  7:30pm came and went.  No update.  I went to ask at the desk in the lounge.  They told me they didn’t have an update.  8:30pm came and went.  We STILL did not hear anything.  Nothing at all.  And then, my colleague who was already in Tokyo told me that FlightAware was no longer listing our flight.  Around 8:45pm TripIt sent me an e-mail saying my flight was cancelled.  There I was, sitting in the JAL lounge, and TripIt notified me before they did?  It gets worse.

So, I went up to the desk, and they confirmed that yes, our flight was cancelled.  At this point, they finally made an announcement.  In the lounge, we were told to exit, go find our baggage on claim 12, and then go line up at the ticket counter.  We were handed a $20 coupon for food as a consolation prize.

When we got to the ticket counter, the line was already massive, and we didn’t stop for food or drinks.  I think they must have told the people at the gate before they told us in the lounge.  I guess that is what we get for going back to the lounge, although, 3 hours had passed at this point . There was a single line forming, no additional line for business class, or status.  There was a single agent working the counter.

This was crazy, and JAL was clearly not prepared for this situation (although, it was now at least 9:30pm, hours after we were supposed to have departed, so you would think that they would have started planning what they were going to do with all of us, or that they’d have procedures for this.  But … if they really do never cancel flights, I guess this was a unique thing for them.)  Anyway.  We waited.  Other folks with status demanded a second line.  So they made a second line, but of course didn’t inform anyone about it, but we saw it happening and jumped in (we were all One World Emerald and flying business class).  A few additional agents came out, and the lines started to crawl along.  But they really crawled.  Processing each person took forever.  And once we made our way to the front, we found out why.  They couldn’t just rebook us the next day, there was no availability.  But with a smile, they told us they could seat us in economy on the next day.  Um.  No.  The other option was to take a ANA flight from San Jose the next day in business, landing in Narita (we were booked to Haneda, more desirable, but not a deal breaker).  But, San Jose?  The next morning?  Um.  No.

Now, at this point, I need to thank my friend Emil.  He wasn’t even flying with us, but was watching our ordeal via our increasingly grumpy FourSquare checkins and tweets.  He let me know that there was a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong that was supposed to depart at 11pm, but it was delayed until 12:10pm.  And a flight 1.5 hours after from Hong Kong to Haneda. Now, our original flight was direct, SFO to HND.  It was only 11 hours.  If we flew to Hong Kong, that flight alone is ~15 hours.  Then we’d have a brief layover, and another 4 hour flight.  But it would be that night, from SFO, and in Cathay’s “new business class”.  Sure, our trip that was supposed to be a simple 11 hour flight was turning into a 39 hour adventure, and we’d already been at SFO for 9 hours.  But ... we went for it.  It seemed better than going home, and then going to San Jose the next day.

Not that JAL made this part easy, either.  Since we knew the flight existed, we asked about it, as had the person in front of us in line.  The agent told him to just go check himself over at the Cathay desk to see if they had availability.  Um, no, we weren't getting out of line after waiting so long.  My travel companion suggested that perhaps the agent could call over to Cathay.  Instead, the agent took off running, literally.  Long story short, she came and went several times, we were left alone at the counter for 20 minute stretches at a time, but eventually, we were sent over to the Cathay counters, where our boarding passes were printed up, and things started to go much more smoothly.  Finally.

We had about an hour to kill, and at this point we needed more food since we weren't having the dinner on the flight at 6:30pm as we'd been planning, so after going back through security, we headed to the Cathay Pacific lounge.

I think the lounge was bigger than the others, and had a variety of seating choices, but honestly, at this point I was so exhausted that I didn't really take photos or many notes.  The food was the only thing I checked out.
Food Station.
Like all the lounges, they had sandwiches, salads, yogurts, and soup, this time a clam chowder.  Unlike the others, they also had several hot dishes, including fried rice, stir fried udon noodles, chicken, and a veggie stir fry.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Along with the prepared foods, they also have one of Cathay's famous noodle bars, where you can order noodles cooked to order.  We had three options: wonton noodles, dan dan noodles with peanuts, sesame, and chili oil, or vegetarian noodles with mushrooms, carrots, and bok choy.

I went for the dan dan noodles, my travel companion picked the wonton.  We were given a pager, and went to sit down at one of the tables.  A few minutes later, the pager went off, and our noodles were ready.  So fancy.

Our dishes were hot and fresh, and the aroma coming out of my bowl was lovely, with a strong peanut flavor.  But, I didn't love it.  Maybe because I'm just not much of a soup girl, but it was a bit too rich, very very oily, the noodles mushy.  The peanut flavor was quite good, and it was nice to have fresh made noodles.

I also had a surprisingly good berry scone, probably left over from morning service, but good nonetheless.  It was dry, and crumbly, but really hit the spot.
Drinks, cookies.
A drink station rounded out the area, with water, wine, beer, a few spirits, coffee maker, and some packaged cookies.  But all I wanted at that point was water.
Read More...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Noah's Bagels

Update Review, Sept 2016

Last time I reviewed Noah's, I concluded: "Noah's is nothing to write home about."  I had zero intention of going back.  But, my apartment complex hosted a brunch and they picked Noah's for the treats.  The spread was mostly bagels (no toaster) with plain cream cheese (it *is* whipped so was nice and fluffy), plus a couple muffins and decadent looking danishes.  Since the untoasted bagels with plain cream cheese were totally unappealing, I obviously went for the baked goods.  They were not good.
Cinnamon Walnut Strudel.
There was only one of these left when I arrived, and I went immediately for it.  I should have taken it as a sign that others in the room had mostly untouched strudels sitting on their plates.  I did hear one guy say, "I can't eat this, it is too sweet.".  I'm certainly not one to shy away from sweets, so, that didn't concern me.

The sweetness wasn't really the problem with it.  Yes, it was absolutely covered in white icing that was sweet.  But the pastry itself was the problem.  It was danish dough, but, it wasn't flaky, it wasn't buttery, and it certainly didn't taste fresh.  The top was way too crispy, over cooked but not burnt necessarily.  Just hard, dried out, and a bit stale tasting.

Also on top was the dark brown coating you can see underneath the icing and nuts above, which I think was cinnamon mixed with ... something.  It was super hard too.  The bits of walnut at least added a nice crunch?

The only redeeming quality was the sweet cinnamon inside the folds of the danish.  Sweet, good cinnamon flavor.  But, with so many other elements not good, that wasn't enough to go on.

Maybe it would be better warm?
Chocolate Chip Muffin.
Not satisfied, I went for the last muffin: chocolate chip.

It was perhaps worse than the danish.  It looked ok, loaded with little chocolate chips, and topped with a bit of streusel.  But ... it took was overcooked and stale.  And it tasted like ... cake.  Not a muffin, just like a cake, but sans frosting.  And the streusel?  As plain as the muffin itself.

Not a winner.

Update Review - Thintastic Bagels from Noah's, (circa 2014)

Last week, I reviewed the regular bagels from Noah's Bagels.  I wasn't impressed.  In fact, the only product I've ever liked from Noah's is the Asiago Garlic Bagel Clusters, fully of cheesy, garlicky, deliciousness.

But, it was time to try out another new product, and how do I say no to that?  This time, Thintastic Bagels.  Thintastic bagels are only available in the basic flavors of plain, whole wheat, or everything.  They are essentially a regular bagel, but, uh, thinner, designed for the calorie or carb conscious diner.  A plain Thintastic bagel weights in at only 140 calories, compared to a regular plain bagel's 250.

If you like Noah's regular bagels, perhaps these will appeal to you, but for me, they were exactly the same as the regular bagels, far too bready, not "real bagels.
Whole Wheat Thintastic Bagel.
Yes, it was shaped like a bagel.  It was called a bagel.  It looked like a bagel, albeit one that had been quite smushed.

But it tasted like wheat bread.  It had no crust to it, clearly not boiled.  Just, dense bread.  It was fine bread, but, bread.  Not a bagel.

It also just didn't look very appealing.  I know that it supposed to be thinner, but it just looked squashed.

If you like bready bagels, and are watching out for carbs, perhaps this is for you, but it was certainly not for me.

Honey Almond Schmear.
I also got some cream cheese, er, schmear, to pair with my bagel.  Noah's has schmear in a slew of flavors, all of which sound awesome.  It is always so hard to pick one.  I decided on the honey almond, as I thought it would compliment the whole wheat well.

It was pretty standard cream cheese, nicely fluffy, slightly sweet, with little bits of crunchy almonds inside.  Not bad, but, you aren't going to Noah's for the schmear, are you?

Update Review - New Products from Noah's Bagels, (circa 2014)

I received an offer to come trial a new product at Noah's Bagels (or, if you are in some parts of the country, Einstein's).  They called them "Bagel Clusters", described as bite-sized pieces of bagel dough, with toppings added, then baked.  They claimed to be "served piping hot, for you to pull apart and enjoy".  They were trying out one sweet version, cinnamon sugar, and one savory, asiago garlic.  I do sometimes really enjoy bagels, and hot baked goods, so I eagerly signed up to redeem my freebie.  I selected a Noah's location near me, and was assigned a day and time to come try them.

When I arrived at the location, the guy pointed me at the Bagel Poppers, little bite sized chunks of bagel, served cold, in a container.  They have had those in the stores for a while now.  I said, "uh, no, not the bagel poppers, the bagel clusters", and I showed him my certificate.  He said that they did not have bagel clusters, and that he was instructed to just offer people bagel poppers instead.  I didn't want cold little bagel nuggets, I wanted a hot, fresh, almost-muffin-bagel!  Grumble!

I tried to sign up for another location, but since I'd already signed up, I wasn't able to.  And you can't buy them yet in the shops.  So I had to enlist some friends to sign up and let me tag along to try out the real things.  I was impressed that Noah's kept good control of the trial experience, allowing only single sign ups, limiting the time slots, and requiring ID to actually receive the product.  But uh, I actually WANTED to receive the product, not the alternate!

They clearly have some kinks to work out before these go live everywhere, but one of them was really delicious, so I hope they decide to offer them.
Cinnamon Sugar Bagel Poppers. $1.99.
So, on my first visit, I got the cinnamon sugar bagel poppers instead.  They were basically bite sized bagel chunks, served in a togo container.  Served at room temperature, and already pre-packaged.  They tasted incredibly stale and dried out.  Yet at the same time, they were gummy, as condensation had formed inside the sealed container.  Dried out and strangely gummy?  Gross.  Very gross.  Would never get again.
Cinnamon Sugar Bagel Cluster. $2.99.
On the next visit, to a different location, I entered to see the bagel clusters displayed in the case along with all their other goods.  Seemed like this location was already selling them?

They looked exactly as I expected: basically, little bite size chunks of bagel dough, mushed together and baked kinda like a muffin.  I asked the staff member which one she recommended, and she said she hadn't tried either.   Dear Noah's, let you staff try them so they can help guide your customers!  Being a fan of sweets, I went for the cinnamon sugar version.

I was a little surprised when she just reached in and handed it over. I mentioned that the e-mail I received said they'd be served "piping hot".  She looked at me quizzically and was like, "uh, no.  And we aren't supposed to put other things into the toasters."  Hmm.  Perhaps some kinks to work out here.

Anyway, I eagerly dove in.  It looked pretty good, like a hybrid cinnamon roll / cobblestone muffin / monkey bread.  Unfortunately, it went the way of the cobblestone sweet bread from Panera: all looks, and never quite what you wanted it to be.

Like the bagel poppers, it was dry and stale.  There was cinnamon-sugar coating all over the chunks, along with some streusel on top and along the sides.

It had potential.  It was fun to pull the pieces apart, far more interesting to eat than a regular bagel or muffin.  But, the good part of bagels is when they get toasty and warm, and then you have plentiful toppings on them.  This didn't have warmth, or crust, or toppings.  It was just cold, stale, chunks of bagel.

There were several ways this could have worked for me.  If it had been drizzled with some kind of icing, and just turned into more of a dessert offering, that might have worked better, more like the Panera one.  Or, if it had something to dip the chunks into as I tore them off, that actually would have been fun.  Or perhaps, just if it had been served hot and fresh, like a warm muffin.  But as is, it was a failure.

It was huge however, hard to see in the picture, but far more bagel pieces than a standard bagel, far bigger than even an American-sized muffin these days.  The regular $2.99 price tag seemed appropriate, but I'd never get another one of these in this form.
Asiago Garlic Bagel Cluster.  $2.99.
On the last day of the trial, another friend had an invite, so we headed to yet another location.  As we walked in, certificate in hand, the guy at the register identified us immediately, before we even approached, saying "bagel clusters!!"  We looked up in surprise, and said yes.  He asked which kind, and given my horrible review of the cinnamon-sugar, my friend went for the asiago garlic.  Not something I'd normally order, but it was her choice, and I was just there to steal a bite.

To my surprise, the worker beamed.  "Great choice!" he exclaimed.  "It is really delicious!".  His excitement was very different from my previous visits, as was the fact that he'd actually tried the product.  I was still very skeptical, given how horrible the other one was.  He dashed off into the back.  The bagel clusters were not out on display, and were hidden away somewhere.

The first thing I noticed when he handed it over was how much smaller it was than the cinnamon-sugar.  Since they were from different locations, I'm not sure if they intend for one to be smaller, or if it was just a difference in the baker, since they are just starting making them.  Regardless, it was still plenty large for two of us to split.

As I pulled it out of the bag, the next thing I noticed was how slick my hands got.  They were glistening, just from touching the wrapper!  Uh-oh.  The next thing I noticed was that it was actually slightly warm. Not "piping hot" as promised, but not room temperature.  I forget what I noticed next, as I was immediately distracted by how delicious it was.

It was cheesy.  It was garlicky.  It had a nice chew to it.  A strange thing to have for breakfast, as I don't tend to have cheese or garlic for breakfast, but it was tasty.  It reminded me of garlic knots from a pizza place back in my hometown.  Probably more appropriate for an afternoon snack, unless you are into garlic in the morning.

Anyway.  It was good.  Not what I would have ever ordered on my own.  Not what I was expecting. But it turns out that cheesy, garlicky, warm, bagel can be really good.  I guess just like any good cheesy garlic bread at an Italian place.  I know Noah's actually has a garlic bagel, and a bunch of different cheese bagels, so I might be tempted to try those out too, although I'm not sure how I'd top them.  Cream cheese doesn't seem right, maybe just butter?

I hope these come to market, I'd certainly get another.  And I can only imagine how much better it would be even warmer, if the cheese were a little more gooey ...

Original Review (circa 2013)

I'm not really sure what has inspired it, but a while ago, I went on a bagel kick.  The thing is, I don't really like plain bagels, or even what I'd call "basic" bagels - sesame, poppy, everything ... they just really don't do it for me.  I want bagels that are more like muffins, loaded up with goodness.  Or I want to have all sorts of flavored cream cheese to put on top.  Most cafes carry only standard bagel flavors, with plain cream cheese, which are so boring!

Noah's Bagels is obviously not a cafe, and of course offer something like 25 types of bagels, starting with Classics like you can find in just about any cafe (everything, plain, whole wheat, pumpernickel), to the "Signature" bagels, which are still pretty commonplace varieties, ranging from the savory (sesame, salt, garlic, egg, potato, 9 grain, sourdough, onion, asiago, etc) to sweet varieties (blueberry, cinnamon raisin, cinnamon sugar, chocolate chip, etc).  For the truly interesting ones, they have "Gourmet Topped Bagels", like the dutch apple crunch, power protein, or a slew of cheesy offerings.

A few months ago,  I went to a new product sampling for Noah's, for their new bagel clusters.  I tried both the sweet and savory versions, and was pleasantly surprised by the asiago garlic ones.  I'd never had cheesy bagels before, but the cheesy bagel clusters inspired me to try their slew of the regular cheese bagel options.

I've also tried a few other bagels and spreads from Noah's over the years, so I've included those notes below too.

Overall, Noah's is nothing to write home about.  Their bagels remind me more of bread than what I consider a bagel.  I realize that yes, bagels are a bread product, but particularly if you were to just eat one plain, they really are just bread. They don't have an interesting chew, nor a crust to speak of.  They are moist and fluffy.  I think they are not boiled like real bagels should be.  You certainly wouldn't ever want to just eat one plain.  If you toast it and add a generous slathering of their slew of flavored cream cheeses, or turn it into a bagel sandwich or pizza bagel, then perhaps they are worth eating.  But as a bagel?  Not winners.
Tuscan Pesto Gourmet Topped Bagel.
I started with the most extravagant of the cheesy bagels - Tuscan Pesto Gourmet Topped Bagel.  You may be looking at the photo and saying, "uh, bagel? Where is the hole?"  I guess the "gourmet topped bagels" are regular bagels, but with so many toppings baked in that they cover the hole.

I'm not sure what a tuscan pesto bagel really is made of.  Their website has absolutely no information.  It seemed to be a plain bagel, topped with some form of cheese, some pesto, and it seemed like onions?

I also wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.  They say that the gourmet topped bagels are designed to stand alone, or be served with cream cheese.  Putting cream cheese on this seemed really strange.  I sliced mine in half and toasted it.  The top half, with all the pesto and cheese, was decent enough.  Basically warm, pesto-y, cheesy bread.  It certainly didn't benefit in any way from being a bagel, nor were the pesto or cheese particularly good, but it was what it was.  Not a breakfast item, and not really a meal, perhaps a side with some pasta?  But again, why a bagel?

The bottom was pretty much devoid of anything worthwhile though.  It was just a plain bagel, slightly more oily than normal from oils that ran off the cheese when they baked it.  Recall that I find no purpose in life for plain bagels, particularly not for oily ones that are basically just bread.  I turned it into a pizza bagel with sauce, and it was ok, but I was just trying to salvage it at that point.

Maybe I just don't get it, but I don't see why I'd ever want this.  If I wanted a good bagel, this is not it.  And if I wanted good cheesy pesto bread, this was also not it.  A mediocre cross of all of the above.  Meh.
Cheddar Jalapeño Gourmet Topped Bagel.
Next I moved on to another of the gourmet topped bagels, the Cheddar Jalapeño Gourmet Topped Bagel.  Like the tuscan pesto, it was a plain bagel, coated in cheese and toppings, with the hole filled in.

This one was worse than the tuscan pesto.  That one at least had something interesting going on from the pesto and herbs, but this was just a plain bagel, covered in poor quality cheddar, with a few slices of probably canned jalapeño.  Yes, the jalapeño had a little heat, but it wasn't interesting enough to stand alone.  Perhaps it would work with some sundried tomato cream cheese?

I wasn't sure what to do with it.  Again, why was it a bagel?  Maybe it would have worked well with egg in it as a breakfast sandwich, with the cheese on the bagel instead of inside?  Since I saw it as basically just cheesy jalapeño bread, I cut it into chunks, warmed it up, and served it alongside some chili.  It worked fine as a cheesy bread to dunk into my chili, but again, why a bagel?  I wouldn't get again.
Asiago Cheese Signature Bagel.
And finally, the most basic of the cheese bagels, this one from the Signature bagel line.  A standard bagel, (this time with a hole!), and some asiago baked on top.

The asiago actually had a decent flavor, far more flavorful than the other cheese bagels I tried.  But again, I wasn't sure what to do with it.  Sundried tomato cream cheese?  Turn it into a pizza bagel?  I dunno.  I wouldn't get again.

[ No Photos ]
Assorted Bagels
  • Blueberry Bagel: Loaded up with blueberries, but just not much flavor.  Decent chew.  Nothing great, and wouldn't get again.
  • Pumpkin Bagel: Very … pumpkiny.  But same boring, bread-like,  texture.
Blueberry Shmear.
 I liked that it was whipped and fluffy, but it did not have much flavor to it.  Blueberry cream cheese, er, shmear, should taste like blueberries!  Meh.

Noah's Bagels Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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