Friday, December 29, 2017

Harry & David

Harry & David leads the gift basket market, so every year, I get to try various products when others bring in their gift basket discards to the office.  I fail to write them up usually, as the products are usually already open, or I just grab a snack as I run between meetings.  But I finally got to try the coveted "Mouse Munch", thus, an update review is in order.  You can read the original here first.

Update Review, December 2017

Moose Munch® Premium Popcorn - Milk Chocolate.
"Our milk chocolate Moose Munch® Gourmet Popcorn is the perfect mix of sweet milk chocolate, buttery caramel, and crunchy nuts."

"Popcorn, almonds, and cashews covered in caramel and milk chocolate."

Given my love for popcorn, and caramel corn in particular, it is no surprise that I was excited to try Harry & David's signature "Moose Munch".  The standard Moose Munch is just caramel corn with candied nuts, but I tried the milk chocolate version, with milk chocolate covered pieces in the mix as well.

It was certainly decadent caramel corn.  No piece was left uncoated, no piece even moderately coated, each and every piece was intensely sweet.  I can't imagine eating just a bag of this caramel corn actually, it was just too much.  Good, but, wow, it needed some less coated pieces in order to temper it.

The milk chocolate pieces were great though.  Good quality chocolate, and again, really well coated.  The chocolate did help counter the sweet caramel pieces.

I found myself seeking out more and more of the chocolate pieces, but there were substantially fewer of them than the caramel ones.

The candied nuts were good for a bit of crunch now and then, but, again, there weren't many of them.

Overall, I enjoyed it along side a cup of bitter coffee, but, I think it would be better with some more plain pieces in the mix.

Original Review, August 2014

Harry & David is a "gourmet gift" producer, whose products are generally sold via mail order or online, although they also have a handful of retail stores.  They mostly sell gift baskets, fruits, and chocolates.  Not exactly things I'm generally in the market for, yet sometime show up on my doorstep.

Their signature item is "Moose Munch" popcorn.  According to the site, "Moose Munch® Popcorn is not your average caramel popcorn. We pay attention to every single detail of our secret recipe. Right down to the way the popcorn looks and sticks together. We make over five million pounds a year. "

Now, 5 million pounds of anything is a lot, but particularly of a lightweight item!  Moose Munch® comes in a zillion flavors, like simple milk or dark chocolate, exotic banana coconut and apricot mango, and even some sugar free versions.  A flavor for everyone.

Of course, they take things a step further, and use the signature popcorn inside of other confections as well, like Moose Munch® Popcorn Bites: "they're like little candy bars, except they have Moose Munch® Popcorn in them", or, as I got to try, Moose Munch® Chocolate Bars.
Moose Munch® Milk Chocolate Bar.
"Moose Munch bars are crafted from a rich, smooth fudgy center, plus their signature snake - fluffy white popcorn, buttery caramel and crisp nuts all dipped in decadent milk chocolate."

"Signature snake"?  I do not know this term, but it is on all of their marketing, so I don't think it is a typo.
Cross section.
This one deserves a peak inside.

Every bite was loaded up with goodies: popcorn, nuts, caramel.  The caramel was sweet and very creamy, it almost tasted like really smooth peanut butter at times.  The nuts added a great crunch, and the popcorn ... was, well, popcorn inside my chocolate, a bit strange, but, it worked better than I expected.  It was much better than popcorn inside of other items, like inside the Circus Cookie from Goody Goodie, although it was still a bit strange to have a soft bite inside the bar.  The milk chocolate was smooth and creamy.

Overall, pretty tasty, a bunch of ingredients you don't necessarily expect together, but, I liked it.  The tasting club didn't get to try this one!
Read More...

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Carvel Ice Cream Cake

Ah, Carvel cake.  An essential part of every single birthday party in my family when I was growing up.  Children, adults, it didn't matter.  We had Carvel.  And not because my mom didn't want to bake - she's an excellent baker, and always had fresh cookies in the cookie jar, sticky buns on Christmas morning, and more pies than people at every Thanksgiving and Christmas eve gathering.  Baking *is* her thing, yet for birthdays, somehow Carvel always won.  Because we demanded it.

We did have a Carvel store in our town when I was much younger, so we selected cakes and customized them, and they were fresh.
"It’s not a celebration without layers of delicious, premium ice cream separated by a layer of chocolate crunchies and covered with whipped frosting and sprinkles."
I'm pretty sure they went out of business when I was no more than 10 years old though, so we moved on to the store bought ones, always just made with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, the crunchies, and the same decoration.  But it didn't matter.  We loved that stuff.

I remember always fighting for the piece with the most frosting, or the most crunchies, which, sadly, were rarely the same piece.  The distribution of crunchies (the best part!) was always infuriating - the middle had far, far more crunchies, with edge pieces often barely having any (!), but ... the frosting was mostly along the exterior.  It was always a struggle, did you go for the corner for #allTheFrosting?  Or a center piece for crunchies galore?  Or, uh, one of each?

Anyway, as an adult, when I visited home, my mom sometimes had a slice tucked away for me in a freezer from the last birthday party, and I always eagerly accepted it.  Best in a slightly melted form.
Special Edition Snowman!
This year, I was home for Christmas, and while out shopping for provisions for our Christmas Eve party with my mom, we spotted this.  A special edition snowman Carvel cake.

Now, my mom was already planning to bake pecan pie, chocolate mixed nut pie, pumpkin pie, and butterscotch pie.  She had about 15 kinds of cookies already made.  5 types of fudge.  An apple cinnamon pastry.  And, well, a huge feast proceeding that.  We surely didn't need the Carvel cake.

But ... my mom also has, um, a bit of a thing with snowmen.  I'd share a photo of her kitchen decorations, but, I'll spare her.  Its a bit ... overboard, and now a bit of a family joke, we've issued a "conservation of snowmen" on her, where she can only get a new one if she replaces something.  No increase in the number of snowmen.  The exception being if one of us re-gifts her a snowman she bought us.  Its all in good fun.  But it also meant we couldn't pass this opportunity up.

There was no choice.  We *had* to add Frosty to the Christmas eve spread.
Snowman Carvel Cake.
I mean, really, how could you *not* add this guy to the lineup?

It was a huge hit, particularly with the kids, and my generation who all remembered our previous Carvel cakes fondly.  My cousin and I were first in line, ahead of all the small kids.  We were bigger, no contest, and we were getting the best pieces!

Frosty ... was good for nostalgia sake, but, I found myself quite critical.

I went right for a hat chunk, loaded with tons of blue frosting.  I did love that frosting, and the white frosting, so fluffy, soft, and very, very sweet.  But the ice cream?  Meh.  Very generic vanilla and chocolate, not very creamy, certainly better as it melted, but, really, nothing special.

But oh those crunchies.  Sadly, my hat piece had basically none, so I had to go back for a center piece to get some.  And that piece was loaded with crunchies.  I adored them as always.  Chocolatey, crunchy, and still so addicting.

So I liked the crunchies.  I liked the frosting (although, wow, so sweet).  But the ice cream?  Meh.  I'll still gladly have a slice of this, but its much lower on my list of "must haves" when I visit home now.  Guess I grew up.
Read More...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Pull Apart Cheesy Bread

Another day, another adventure in repurposing leftovers, by reheating them in a waffle iron (read all about it starting here).

Well, almost, using the waffle iron.  This used my same waffling apparatus (the Cuisinart 5-In-1 Griddler), but with the panini plates, much like I have done with donuts as well.  Because, not *everyone* loves waffling things.
Transformed Leftover Pull Apart Cheesy Bread: Stuffed, and Panini'ed!
This adventure also was a bit more involved than most of my creations, where I simply throw leftovers into the waffle iron and transform them.  This time we added ingredients and stuffed something.  *Way* more work.

Normally, I ask, "Will it Waffle?", but this time, I guess the question is, "Will it Panini?"

And the answer, for leftover pull apart cheesy bread rolls, is, YES!
The Original: Christmas Tree Pull Apart Cheesy Bread.
The original was an appetizer my mom served at our Christmas eve party: a, uh, Christmas Tree composed of mozzarella stuffed cheesy pull apart rolls, made from her homemade pizza dough, brushed with butter, Parmesan, and herbs, served with marinara sauce on the side.

While the whole Christmas Tree concept might not have necessarily worked out, the dish was a complete success, and a serious crowd pleaser.  Everyone loved the pull apart rolls, made with her quality pizza dough and filled with gooey cheese.
Split Open and Stuffed.
Somehow we had a bunch leftover, which we reheated in a toaster oven one day and served with marinara sauce on the side again, but really wanted a way to make a proper meal, not just an appetizer out of them.

So ... we started experimenting, trying to find a way to repurpose them and make them more meal appropriate.  "Pizza" and "calzone" somehow feel more correct than just a big pile of rolls with sauce.

We took a chunk of them (I think it was 5 rolls?) that were still stuck together, sliced them in half, and stuffed them with pepperoni and more shredded mozzarella.  The idea was basically to make a calzone.
Pull Apart Cheesy Bread, Stuffed, and Panini'ed!
Normally I would have put this into the waffle irons to crisp it up and cook it, but, one member of the family is not into waffling things and finds this to be strange behavior, but is willing to accept paninis.  So, we put the panini plates on his behalf.

350 degrees, no coating needed, pressed down hard, and about 4 minutes later, a "calzone" was ready, cheese oozing out, nicely crisp top and bottom.

I thought this was pretty awesome, and a great way to repurpose the rolls.  We also made a few individual stuffed ones with other fillings, which also worked great, and allowed us to make them as either entree sized or appetizers.

It was a fun family adventure, and I think quite successful, although, the rolls were so glorious in their original form that they were still better that way.
Read More...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Vidalia Snack Foods

I love snacks.  Sweet, savory, it doesn't matter.  I just love munching on things all day long.   I'm not necessarily a chips person, but homemade assorted Chex mixes and flavored popcorns are my nemesis.

I do know how bad it is to eat gallons of caramel corn though, so sometimes I try to find healthier alternatives.

When I was in the grocery store one day, I saw Vidalia brand veggie snacks.  They had "sweet potato fries", baked items that looked like fries on the package, but I know certainly weren't, but also, "Sweet Onion Petals".  They looked like a Bloomin' Onion on the package, and I knew they wouldn't be that, but the idea of a savory, onion-y, snack drew me in.  Plus, they were baked not fries, and clearly a better choice for when I got the onion munchies than a can of French's french fried onions (wait, you don't just eat those by the jarful?  Gulp).
"All onions are not created equal.  From their accidental discovery in the 1930s, to their hand planted and hand harvest practices today, Sweet Vidalia® Onions are world famous.  The South Georgia soil at Bland Farms produces this flavorful, mild and sweet onion with unmatched taste."
I actually had no idea that Vidalia brands made snack foods, as I've known them exclusively for the namesake onions, which I remember my mom discovering when I was younger, and always talking about the "sweet Vidalias".   But they do.  In addition to the sweet potato fries and onion petals I saw, they also make onion flavored potato chips and other items.  I didn't explore the full product line though.
Sweet Onion Petals.
"Vidalia® Brands Sweet Onion Petals are made with Real Vidalia® Onion Puree offering your taste buds the superior quality, taste, and experience that you’ve come to expect from our products.  These delectable snacks are not only tasty, but they are baked, not fried, allowing for a sweet indulgence that fits into any diet!"

They were kinda boring.  Certainly more like chips than fried onions.  Corn meal is the first ingredient.  Sorta like a cheese puff actually, just, onion flavored.  They do have real onion puree in them, and MSG, salt, and sugars to get you addicted, but, unlike most snacks, I didn't get addicted.

The onion flavor was good though, and they were a healthier choice, I just didn't quite figure out what to do with them.  I tried dunking in aioli as if they were onion fries, but that wasn't quite right.  I tried putting on a salad as if they were fried onion bits, but that also wasn't right.  And just alone, as a finger food, they were too much like chips.

My mom liked them though, and I admit that the onion flavor is a good one.
Read More...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pie and Ice Cream @ Chile Pies (Sweet & Savory)

Update Review, November 2017

You know it is a good day in the office when you walk by and find boxes of pie in the mini kitchen.
Oooh, pie!
I liked how Chile Pies has their logo on the box, and labelled each so that it was easy to know where they came from, and what they were.  (Not that not knowing would have deterred me from digging in ...)

I haven't loved Chile Pies in the past, but of course I was willing to give these a try.  And ... and found a winner!
Lemon Buttermilk. $41.
The first pie was lemon buttermilk.

I don't really care for lemon (or orange, or lime, or any citrus) desserts in general, so my first instinct was to move right on, but, then I remembered the Lemon Shaker Pie from Mission Pie that I adored, and decided to give it a chance, and cut a tiny slice.

I'm glad I did.

I loved it.  Really, really loved it.  And immediately took a *very* generous serving.

The filling was a tangy, creamy, lemon custard.  It reminded me in texture to the filling of a pecan pie (the custard layer, not the pecans obviously), but not cloyingly sweet.  It was tart and bright, and really quite enjoyable.  On top was slices of candied lemons, which added a decorative element, and a bit of texture.

The crust was also fantastic.  Flaky, light, perfectly cooked buttery crust.  Mmm, all butter crust.

I really enjoyed this pie, particularly with a dollop of whipped cream.  I think it would be great with a bit of raspberry puree as well.
Pumpkin Spice. $41.
Next was pumpkin, which I dove right for, as I do generally love pumpkin pie.

But this?  I didn't love.  It was "pumpkin spice", not just "pumpkin", and I think that means it was more aggressively spiced than normal.  It was too spiced for me.  But also, I just don't actually like pumpkin spice that much ...

The crust however was still perfection, and I loved the decorative maple leaves they put on top (extra crust!)

Original Review, April 2012

After a disappointing dinner that failed to include dessert, I was left seriously unsatisfied.  I wanted something to make me happy.  And what is more comforting than a warm slice of pie a la mode?  (At least for me, I grew up eating a lot of pie, so this is really just a total comfort food for me, not a rare special occasion sort of thing).

I'd been to the Chili Pies and Ice Cream in NOPA once before.  I didn't love it then, but I knew there was a location in the Mission a few blocks from where we were, so it seemed worth checking out.

Like the other location, they offer up a variety of sweet pies (as well as savory ones), including some fruit pies, a few chocolately pies, and on weekends only apparently, some cream pies.  They'll heat them up and serve them a la mode, with your choice of ice cream from Three Twins.  There is a decent selection of both pie types and ice cream flavors.  You can also just get a cup or cone of ice cream, or if you are feeling adventurous, a "pie shake", where they blend up a slice of pie, a scoop of ice cream, and milk, into a shake, full of chunks of pie, and top it with whipped cream.  This actually sounds pretty good, in a crazy decadent sort of way, to me, and I'd still like to try it out sometime.

I'm not a huge fan of Three Twins.  I don't actively dislike the ice cream, but it hasn't ever impressed me.  I tried three more flavors today, and still feel the same way.

Last time I visited, I sampled the signature pie: the green chile apple pie with a cheddar crust and walnut streusel.  It was ok, but the chili flavor was pretty strong and I felt like it dominated the whole thing.  I grew up having warm apple pie with cheddar cheese melted on top though, so the idea of the cheddar crust was really appealing (like the warm apple pie with cheddar ice cream at Spruce!).

Last time I was there, I settled on the country peach pie.  My memory (and tasting notes which I just found) said that the crust was delicious, the nut streusel topping was amazing, and the filling was kinda just meh.  I recall visiting when peaches weren't in season though, so thought it might have been my own fault that I picked one without a very good filling.
Strawberry-rhubarb pie, Three Twins lemon-cookie ice cream.  $9.50.
I had assumed this would be just like the peach pie - great crust, awesome stressel, and hopefully, since they are starting to be in season, delicious strawberry filling.  I was wrong.

The crust was not very good at all.  Crisp, crumbly, no flavor to it at all.  Not buttery, not sweet, just there.  The crumble topping was equally tasteless, and definitely not the nutty, sweet delicious one from the peach pie.  And the filling was really over-floured, mushy, with a bad mouthfeel.  There was far more rhubarb than strawberry, and I don't actually care for rhubarb, so this sort of ruined it for me (I wouldn't normally pick something with rhubarb, but the other strawberry pie was vegan, so I assumed that one would be less tasty, and the other fruit pies weren't in season fruits ...).  It was also served kinda as a jumble like this.  No presentation points here!  I do like that they warm it up, but it was more lukewarm than warm.

The ice cream was the best part, but I didn't particularly like it either.  You can see my tasting notes of that on my Three Twins review page.

I kinda doubt I'll be going back here, although I could be convinced if someone would want to go try a pie shake with me!


Ok, so I went back :)  But this time, it was because they were celebrating the anniversary of their opening, and were sampling a bunch of their pies and giving out free scoops of ice cream.  And since I can't resist freebies ...

My opinion of the place remains unchanged.  I just don't care for their pies, and don't like most of Three Twins flavors, although the Lemon Cookie ice cream is pretty good.  I really want to like this place more than I do, as I love pies, and they do look so good.  I'm glad I got a chance to try it again though, and my ice cream cone was really quite enjoyable on the hot sunny Mission afternoon!
Single cone of Lemon Cookie Ice Cream.  $2.50.
My  Three Twins review page has all the details on the ice cream, so I'll keep this brief.  Lemon Cookie is the best flavor I've tried from Three Twins, by far.  I love the balance of the tart lemon flavor and the sweetness of the ice cream, and the texture added by the cookies.  $2.50 seems like a decent price for a cone these days.  I actually really liked the cake cone, it didn't seem like the same generic cardboard like Joy cup, and instead had a nicer crunch to it.

[ Not Pictured - Samples ]
  • Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pie: I was super excited to see samples of this, as it is one I've always wanted to order.  Unfortunately, it just didn't seem like much.  I didn't detect anything "mexican" about it, I was assuming that would be some spicing?  It was kinda just mushy, sweet, but flavorless.
  • Strawberry-Apple Pie: I think this one may have been vegan.  It reminded me of the strawberry-rhubarb pie I'd had before, mostly just mushy fruit.  Neither the crust nor the streusel topping were very good.  Sigh.
  • Chicken and Greens Salad:  I had no idea they served salads!  I knew they had savory pies, but salads?  Hmm.  Anyway, I don't really like chicken, so this wasn't very interesting to me.  It ... tasted like chicken? 
Read More...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Baked Brie en Croute

Yes, I waffle all my leftovers.  This isn't novel.  Most are usually pretty good, and always quite fun. Some are more successful than others.  This one I was VERY pleased with.
Baked Brie en Croute + Squash Gratin Transformation.
This is a story of two leftovers: baked brie en croute and butternut squash/apple/leek/pecan gratin.

I could have waffled both, but decided to only waffle the brie en croute, and used the gratin as a topping.

It was truly delicious, a magic combination.

Leftover Baked Brie en Croute: Will it Waffle?  Yup!
The Original, Baked Brie en Croute.
For a party, we had a massive wheel of brie, topped with a bit of sweet preserves and honey, wrapped in puff pastry, baked.  Served with dried fruit and nuts and crackers.

It was good, but also way too big, and there was tons leftover.
Leftover Baked Brie en Croute.
I stashed leftovers in my freezer, since soft cheeses are perishable, and I knew I wouldn't eat the rest right away.  I had never frozen brie before, but, cheesecake freezes ok, and I knew the pastry would be fine.  It was an experiment.

I pulled out a chunk and defrosted it first.  I considered just putting it into the toaster oven.  But ... I couldn't resist the waffle iron.
Waffling ...
I threw it in, 350 degrees, and let it go.

Although it had the puff pastry wrapping it, it didn't entirely protect the cheese from running out, since I had a slice, not a fully wrapped chunk.

Cheese bubbled out, the puff pastry got crispy, about as I expected.  I knew from previous experience that waffled chunks of brie are delicious on their own, so, I wasn't worried about the liquid cheese.
Waffled Baked Brie en Croute: Extracted.
It extracted easily, which always surprises me when it looks like such a disaster as it cooks.

I did let it go a bit too long though, the edges got a bit over-cooked.  Crispy yes, but, a bit too burnt tasting.
Waffled Baked Brie en Croute.
Not really a problem, I just broke the edges off, lamenting a bit about the loss of cheese.

And then, I had a waffle.

A waffle made of puff pastry, with some cheesy notes, and sweetness from the honey and preserves.  It was perfectly good just like this, and I bet you could throw an egg on top and please some people for brunch.

A success on it own.  But I had other plans.
Butternut Squash / Apple / Leek / Pecan Gratin.
I also had a ton of leftover savory fall gratin: thinly sliced butternut squash, sliced apples, tons of leeks, cooked down with olive oil, sherry, and sage, and topped with toasted brown sugar and butter roasted pecans.

It was crazy delicious, soft squash and apples, crispy top, flavorful leeks.  The top of this thing was just amazing though.  Sweet, sticky, buttery, pecans.  Kinda like pecan pie.  On top of a sorta savory gratin.  It was like ... pumpkin pie with apple pie with pecan pie mixed into one, but also slightly more savory.  If that makes any sense (yes, it was butternut squash not pumpkin, but you get the point).

I thought that it would go great with baked brie, really complimentary flavors.  I planned to heat both traditionally in the toaster oven, but, as you know, I went another direction with the brie.

This though, I did just heat up.
Waffled Baked Brie en Croute w/ Butternut Squash / Apple / Leek / Pecan Gratin.
And I put it on top of the brie waffle.

So, my final creation: waffled leftover baked brie en croute, topped with leftover butternut squash/apple/leek/candied pecan gratin. 

It was totally and completely delicious.

As I expected, brie and apples, brie and candied pecans, even brie and butternut squash, all excellent together.  So very ... fall.

I was thrilled with the results, and, I'm more thrilled knowing that I have more of each in my freezer, ready for another adventure.
Read More...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Terrace Breakfast Buffet, Westin, Tokyo

During my stay at The Westin Tokyo, I had my choice of 3 venues for breakfast.

I could dine at Victor's, on the top floor, for a fancy multi course sit down breakfast (which I did once, priced at 4,630 JPY), I could visit the executive lounge for a casual extended continental offering (which I did most days, included with my club level room), or finally, The Terrace, the huge buffet (priced at JPY 3,200 normally) on the ground floor.

I of course did all three, but have covered the others in previous reviews.

The Terrace was the most extensive, but it also tended to disappoint, often with the same item that was fine the day before.  Highly inconsistent.

Setting

The Terrace offers ... well, everything.  It is also crowded, loud, crazy, and overwhelming, in every way.  It doesn't seem to matter what time you visit, it is always insane.

Only a fraction of the items are labelled, so, beware if you have any food allergies or even preferences.  You never knew what was going to be inside of things.
Serving Area: Continental, Pastries, Juices.
The space is a huge open space, and sound just carries everywhere.  Clanking dishes, people chatting, and it is open to the full lobby as well, so its just ... not a calm relaxing place.  If you want calm, certainly go up to the Executive Lounge instead, where it is perfectly quiet, nearly empty, and light music plays.

But if you do visit the buffet, which I did daily, you get far, far more selection.  Seriously, it has everything.

The first area contains the continental selections (including huge bakery line up), cereals, fruits, yogurts, and a ridiculous variety of juices and smoothies.
Serving Area: Western, Japanese, Chinese.
It continues on to areas with hot Japanese breakfast, Chinese breakfast, and Western breakfast, all of which have made to order stations.  Around the other side is a salad bar.

Seriously, the buffet has it all.  Hot items, cold items, healthy items, decadent items.  Pre-made buffet items, made-to-order items.  Everything.

A huge selection.  Overwhelming, really, particularly for me, since I want to try it all, and I was only at the Westin for 4 days total, and also wanted to visit the fancy restaurant.
Table Setting.
Tables are preset with two forks, two knives, and two spoons each.  At first I thought this was a bit odd, more appropriate for a formal coursed meal, but then I realized it was just practical, given multiple visits to the buffet.  Cloth napkins, placements, salt and pepper, assorted sweeteners round out the setup.

Food & Drink

Day One: #allTheCarbs
So, uh, I have no restraint.  Alternately, this *is* restraint?

Day one of a breakfast buffet, I just couldn't help myself

After my platter of dim sum, and a salad to feel healthy, I was ready to move on to my sweet carbs.

I thought I was being reasonable, picking just my top choices, but, in seeing this, I realize I'm not really the most reasonable girl out there, when it comes to my breakfast pastries.

Almond croissant, almond mango brioche, melonpan, waffle, bread pudding, whipped cream, condensed milk, all the jams ... that's a normal first pass at the buffet right?  Uh ...  yeah.

You know I finished almost all of it, and, well, I loved it.  Sadly, when I tried many of these items on subsequent days, they weren't very good.

Bakery

All hotel breakfast buffets offer a large selection of baked goods.  Usually they aren't very good.  The Westin's lineup was ridiculous extensive, and some were actually quite good, although the quality varied widely between days.

This section had standard French pastries (croissants, danishes), Asian pastries, and some random items like churros and donuts.
Bread, Toaster.
The area I have dubbed "the bakery" starts with the basics.

Different styles of loaves of bread, including a vibrant green and orange one, a fruit bread, and classic baguettes.
Green and Orange Bread.
I thought this might be ... matcha and mango swirl?  I'm still not sure what the orange was, but the green did have a slight matcha flavor.  It was really just kinda dry bread, no distinct flavor.  Far more exciting looking than it was.
Jams.
To go with your toast was a large assortment of jams (strawberry, apricot, blueberry), orange marmalade, peanut butter, chocolate spread, honey, and even a non-sugar blueberry jam.

Quite the lineup, and I enjoyed trying them all.  I appreciated the little bowls to serve the jams in too.
Bagels, Toast.
A standard toaster with plain bagels and toast was also available.
Croissants.
Now, we get into the croissants.  They weren't good.

Large plain croissants, smaller ones (were these different styles?), cheesy ones, almond croissants, and chocolate croissants.

I was terrified/impressed by the oil stains on the paper the croissants sit on top of.  I mean, I know they are croissants, and loaded with butter but ... I don't want to see that!

The croissants were kept moderately hot.  In the skillet was a swirl croissant danish (that turned out to be filled with apple cinnamon).

From this section, I first went straight for the almond croissant.  It wasn't very good though.  Kinda dry, not very flaky.  Yes, it was coated in an almond paste, and filled with almond filling, and coated with crispy almonds, but, it just wasn't great.
Large Croissant.
Next, I went for the large croissant.  It was shiny on top, warm, and seemed like it might be good.

But it wasn't.  Not laminated, not flaky, not good.
Glazed Apple Cinnamon Swirls.
The first day, my dining companion took one of the swirl croissants from the skillet, but was sad when he discovered that it was filled with apple.  He discarded it after one bite.

Of course I was curious, so I took it, thinking I'd just try a bite, write my review, and move on.  I devoured it on the spot.  Bonus points for them keeping these warm, although I'm still not sure why this one item was kept separate like that.
Apple Cinnamon Filled Swirl.
On top was a sweet gooey glaze.  Between the folds was really nicely spiced apple chunks.  It was moist, the croissant was flaky, it was just really quite good.

I can't really understand how these were made by the same pastry kitchen, as this was excellent, and the other croissants so lackluster.  I'd gladly have more of these.
Apple Cinnamon Filled Swirl, Day Four.
Which of course I did.  These were offered every day, always in the separate skillet on the side.

They were always decent, slightly crispy, moist, flavorful filling.
Apple Cinnamon Filled Swirl: Day Two.
But, as I'd quickly find, there were many inconsistencies in the buffet.  The second day, the swirls were in the same skillet, kept warm.  They had the same filling.  But, no glaze on top.  The glaze is part of what made them awesome!  Some days they had none, some they had a little, some they had a lot.  It seemed up to the whim of whoever was serving them that day.
Day One: Baked Goods.
But next ... um, overwhelming.  So many baked goods.  I'm used to trying every single baked good at a breakfast buffet, but in only 4 days on the property, and planning to visit the other venues, it quickly became obvious that there was no way possible for me to do this.  Also, the selection did change every day.

The top row seemed to have: Nut studded banana bread, cheesy rolls, savory breadsticks. Chocolate glazed donuts, cinnamon sugar donuts, melonpan, buns. Soft pretzels, pretzel rolls, poppy seed rolls, sesame rolls.

The second row: Almond cakes, muffins, english muffins. Danish bread, fruit danishes, raisin custard swirls, raisin custard sticks. Cherry danishes, mango danishes, custard rhubarb danishes.

Nothing at all was labelled, so I'm somewhat guessing.  I ended up trying most of this, hoping to find something I liked.
Chocolate Chip Melonpan.
The first day, I went straight for the melonpan.  I was on a quest to have good melonpan in Tokyo, and not that I expected the breakfast buffet to provide it, I still couldn't resist.

I was a bit surprised when I bit in and discovered it was chocolate chip melonpan.  Not a problem, just, not what I was expecting.  It was good though.  Sweet, crispy, sugar cookie top, just like I was hoping for.  Soft, fluffy base.  It was everything I wanted it to be, my favorite item.

The second day, I eagerly grabbed another.  And ... it wasn't good.  Not only did it not live up, it just wasn't good.  Stale.  Yes, crispy top, but the sweet fluffy base was just stale.  I honestly think they were day-olds.

The final day, I tried one more time.  And again, it just wasn't good.  The bread part was just ... bread.  It was crispy on top, but not sugary in the way it should be.
Mango Topped Almond Cake.
I have absolutely no idea why I grabbed this the first day.  I blame my overwhelmed brain.  And I think it. It was wonderful.

A fluffy, moist, broiche cake, stuffed with a moist flavorful almond paste, and topped with a very, very juicy chunk of mango.

I really loved this, and it really isn't something I normally would even try.  Sometimes, being overwhelmed and random is good?

I was excited to have one the next day as well, but, alas, they were not available.
Jam Topped Almond Cake.
The third day they came back!  I eagerly grabbed one.

But ... it wasn't as good.  Still a fairly light brioche donut, but not very moist, and the almond paste was just a little dollop on top.  The jam was just jam.
Sweet Bun.
I'm a sucker for asian sweet buns, so I eagerly grabbed this one.  I expected perhaps red bean filling?
Lotus? Sweet Bun.
It wasn't red bean, instead, the filling was a yellow paste with a few bits of brown in it.  I think this was lotus paste?  It had a very familiar taste.

I really liked this.  The bun was soft and lightly sweet.  It wasn't stale like many of the other pastries.  It was slightly warm.

The filling was sweet, a nice texture, good flavor.  One of my favorite items.
Donuts: Day Two.
The second and third day, most of the selection was the same, but the donut varieties changed.  None were good.

Since some of my favorites were not available, I went for donuts.  I think someone had fun / was bored icing them, as some had faces on them, and the bottom row had totally inconsistent drizzle.
Icing Donut.
I went for one of the smiley-ish ones.  I thought it would be filled with cream.

It wasn't.  Just a plain, oily, stale donut with a bit of sweet icing on top.
Maple (?) Icing Donut.
Undeterred, I returned for the one that looked like it had peanut butter drizzled all over it.

It wasn't peanut butter.  I think it was maple flavored?  It was really hard to tell though, I couldn't quite place the sweetness.

And no, it had no filling either.  Same stale oily donut.  Not good.
Curry Pan != Donut.
The final day, in the same basket as the donuts, was these little balls, topped with crunchy flakes.  I could see that they had filling, so I gleefully took one, thinking, "Yay!  Finally!  Filled Donut!"

Imagine my surprise when I bit in, and found not the sweet filling I was expecting, and not just something like red bean, but ... curry!  Meat curry!

I know that curry pan is very popular in Japan, and it makes sense that they'd have multiple asian baked goods, since the have the lotus buns and melonpan, but placing these in the same basket as the donuts certainly lead to surprise.  I can't really evaluate this as I was so taken by surprise, and not wanting curry that that time.
Danishes: Day Two.
I had planned to try the danish bread the second day, but alas, it was gone.  I picked a random danish instead, no idea what was inside of it.  I didn't like any of the danishes I tried, either.
Apple Raisin Danish.
The filling was little bits of apple and raisins, slightly spiced.

The pastry was ok, a bit crispy on top, nicely glazed.  But not particularly buttery nor flaky, basically, standard buffet quality.
Danishes: Day Two.
I also was planning to try a mango topped pinwheel danish the second day, as the mango almond cake had been so great.  But alas, the fruit topped ones were also gone, with just an apricot slice version remaining.  I don't like apricots.
Chocolate Walnut Pastry.
But there was a chocolate walnut rolled danish.

My excitement was short lived.  The pastry wasn't flaky nor buttery, it was fairly dry, and the chocolate and almonds were pretty lost in here.  Again, standard buffet quality.
Danishes: Day 3.
Luckily for me, the danishes changed out again on day 3.  Still, none were good.
Custard - Strawberry Jam - Icing Danish.
I think I've realized something.  I think all the danishes in this shape come with just a custard dot in the center, and then they decorate them daily in different ways.  And, uh, based on the whim and skill level of whoever is doing it.

This one had tons and tons of strawberry jam in the center.  Just the same jam as available on the side.  Way too much of it.  Just sweet.  And dots of icing on the edges, the same kind as on the donuts.

This wasn't good at all.  Too sweet, and the pastry was oily.
Custard - Chestnut - Icing Danish.
If at first you don't succeed ...

Yeah, try more danishes?

As you can see from the color of the pastry, it wasn't as burnt and oily as the others, but it still wasn't very good.  It had the same custard in the middle.  Only two dots of icing on this one.

But in the center were slices of chestnut, glazed.  I liked those, mostly out of novelty, as Japan was filled with chestnut everywhere, and it just isn't an ingredient I see as much in the US.
More Pastries, Day 3.
The third day featured the almond broiche cakes (which weren't as good the second time, boo), and new types of filled lattice topped danishes.  I tried most of them.  Again, none good.
Chocolate Custard Danish.
Hedge your bets, and get one with two different fillings?  That was my plan.  One side was custard, one side chocolate pudding.  Both fillings were ok.  This pastry was less oily than others.
Cheese Stuffed Braid.
I also grabbed a slice of the braided danish, as it appeared to have a cheese filling.

Again, the pastry wasn't good, a bit too cooked, too oily.  The filling had a slight lemon tang.  Meh.
Churros, Butter.
Next came butter, unsalted (a bit of a random placement for the butter, why wasn't it with the jams?)

And speaking of random.  Churros.  Cold churros.  Both chocolate and regular cinnamon sugar.  I can't explain this.
Cinnamon Sugar Churro.
On my third day, I tried a churro.  I did it in honor of a friend who loves churros, and I always make a point to send him photos churros when I see them.  I don't ever love churros, but I had plenty of condensed milk and whipped cream to dunk it in, and warm chocolate soy milk, so I thought it would be a nice pairing.

I barely needed the additions.  The churro was good!  Sure, it wasn't hot and fresh, but it was crispy, coated in tons of cinnamon-sugar, not greasy, not stale.  It met the breakfast pastry / donut needs I wasn't getting met by the other items in the "bakery".

Of course, I liked it *more* when I dunked it in my toppings, but, I would have been fine without.
Chocolate Churro.
Since the regular cinnamon sugar churro was so good, I tried a chocolate one too.

This one I didn't care for.  It too was crispy, not stale, and well coated in cinnamon-sugar, but the chocolate taste just didn't do it for me.  Maybe I needed to dunk this one in chocolate dip?
Plain Churro.
The final morning, after breakfast upstairs at Victor's, I swung by the buffet for "one more churro" ... which of course turned into one more-lots-of-things.  But the churro was the highlight the day before, and I wanted to end on a good note.

I grabbed the churro, bit into it, and then ... realized it had no cinnamon sugar coating!  A crispy, plain, cold churro is not very good.  I was quite sad and waited around for the next batch, but they too didn't have any coating.

I can't tell if this was intentional, or, like many things, just that the person serving them choose not to do that step that day.

Chinese

A decently sized section of the buffet is geared towards Chinese offerings, mostly, dim sum.  This was the least tasty area of the buffet, sadly.
Porridge with Toppings.
First up, porridge, with a large variety of toppings.

I really liked the crispy fried wontons, and added them to salads.

The chinese donuts weren't available the first day, but I opted for one the second day, hoping to dunk it into my various sauces.  But ... yeah.  Oily, stale, hard.  Not very good.
Dim Sum.
Next, steamer baskets filled with dim sum, of course, none labelled..

Chinese mustard was available here, soy sauce was down with the rest of the condiments.
Dim Sum Platter.
Since none was labelled, I had no choice, I had to try it all, right?

Sadly, none of it was very good.

The sui mai was pork, a decent wrapper, but solid mass that wasn't particularly flavorful inside.  Same with the har gow, shrimp, as I expected, again, decent enough wrapper, but another dense filling that wasn't particularly seasoned.

Inside the rope tied leaf was glutinous rice, with an assortment of bits and pieces.  Meh.

But the biggest disappointment was the bun.  I thought it would be a bbq pork bun.  The others I guess correctly, but this ... was just a bun.  It had no filling at all.  Who wants just a bun?

None of the dim sum was worth getting, and just made me sad.

Japanese

The Japanese section of the buffet is clearly a source of pride, with many made-to-order stations, and the most generous amount of real estate.
Made To Order Onigiri.
Here you could pick the size (small, medium, large) of your rice ball, the type of wrapper (kelp, sea weed, mustard leaf), and the filling (seasoned cod row, salmon flakes, pickled mustard leaf, salt kelp, dried bonito flakes), and a chef would make the onigiri to order.

I appreciated how well labelled, and illustrated, this section was, but none of this is what I want for breakfast.
Made-to-order Noodles.
Next, made to order noodles, with your choice of glass noodles, udon, rice stick, and ifu noodles as the base.
Mix-Ins.
To add to your noodles, you could select assorted proteins (shrimp, pork, seafood balls, tofu), and veggies (sprouts, mushrooms, green onions), and more.
Pickles.
Dried radish, pickled cucumbers, pickled eggplant, pickled celery, pickled plum, plum & baby sardines to put on top?  The pickle variety changed out daily.

I went for the pickles just on the side, and I enjoyed them, as I like Japanese pickles.  Crunchy, flavorful, and I either enjoyed them just as a side, or even on top my salad.  I had these most days.
Miso Soup.
Miso soup came next, with lots of toppings and sauces to mix in.
Japanese Hot Selection: Day One.
Two hot dishes were next, "Japanese Steamed Dishes" and "Roasted Mackerel Salt".
Japanese Hot Selection: Day Two.
The next day, another "Japanese Steamed Dishes" (I think the same?) and "Roasted White Fish Teriyaki" (at least they change up the fish).
Japanese Hot Selection: Day Three.
Another day, another "Japanese Steamed Dishes" and a fish that was a mashup of the previous two: "Roasted White Fish Salt".

I finally tried the steamed dish, specifically, the fish cake inside.  It was ... fishy.  Meh.
Warm Soy Milk.
This was really interesting, a first for me.

It was a warm soy milk dispenser.  Next to it was little bowls, not cups.  Was I supposed to drink it?  Use it as a soup and mix things in?

I'm not sure, but I really enjoyed the warm soy milk, which I did sip from a little bowl.  Very rich flavor, better than the soy milk I'm used to.

The second day, I added some cereal to it, and that was kinda fun, but I think just warm sipping soy milk was my favorite.

The third day, I added chocolate sauce.  Mmm, warm chocolate soy milk.

Western

Next up, Western breakfast

Standard breakfast meats, veggies, and hot carbs.  The breakfast carbs were ok, but nothing special, standard buffet fare.
Bacon.
Both crispy and flabby bacon were offered.
Grilled Zucchini.
This was totally random.  A platter of ... zucchini?

The token veggie the second day was the same.

On day three, it was roasted tomatoes.
Grilled Veggies.
The final day, the platter was more interesting.

Grilled tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and lotus.

I liked the lotus, particularly when I drizzled it with sesame dressing.  Nice and crispy.
Veggies, Scrambled Eggs.
Sad looking boiled veggies and scrambled eggs.
Hash Browns, Chicken Sausage, Pork Sausage.
Standard breakfast sausages and hash browns.

I tried the chicken sausage, which really tasted to me like a turkey hot dog.  It was just boiled, and nothing special, but, sometimes I do like my hot dogs! (just ... not usually for breakfast).
Condiments.
Ketchup, assorted mustard, hot sauce were included in a finishing station for the Western items.
Egg Station.
The egg station had boiled eggs, offered at 8 min and 12 min varieties.  I thought this was interesting, rather than "Hard" and "Medium".

You could also order eggs any way, and omelets, here from an egg chef.
Bread Pudding, Pancakes, Waffles.
Now we were talking!

The bread pudding was only ... ok.  It had bits of fruit and nuts in it, seemed to be made from mixed breads (brioche? croissant?) but I just wasn't really into it.  It was also really oily.

I also tried the waffle the first day.  The waffle was ok, decent base flavor, but not the crispy style I prefer.  Again, check out the oil slick on the paper.  It really wasn't attractive.

I returned to the waffle on the third day, and that time, I liked it more.  It was crispy, it was more of a yeasted liege style.  It wasn't amazing, but it was better than most of the pastries.

Both of these were fine, particularly when loaded up with the plentiful toppings (stay tuned!), but, the pastries were a better selection for sweet breakfast carbs.
Toppings!
But ... the toppings.  I loved them for the toppings lineup.

Condensed milk.  Whipped Cream.  Berry Sauce.  Maple Syrup.  Honey.  Uh, Hershey's chocolate syrup.  This is of course in addition to the chocolate sauce and other jams from the bread section.

The condensed milk was good to drizzle over things (or honestly, to just lap up on its own).

The berry sauce was actually really quite good, bright fruity flavor, excellent with whipped cream.

I really liked the whipped cream, it wasn't too sweet, but it was very rich, and the quality and flavor of the cream was excellent.

Continental

The least interesting section of the buffet to me, at least originally, was the continental offerings - salads, yogurt, fruit, cereal, etc.  I quickly discovered that the salad was nice to have on days where I felt my over-indulgence catching up.
Salad Station.
The salad station had many types of greens (yes for mitzuna and radicchio!), carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.  There was also a potato salad, mushy creamy style, with bits of perhaps ham in it?  I wasn't able to identify the mystery meat chunks, but it was actually pretty tasty.

On days when I needed some veggies, I was grateful for the bitter greens.
Salad Toppings, Dressings.
The toppings station had a few awesome things: crispy fried shallots and garlic slices.  I loved having these to top other things for fried crunch.

Only the dressings were labelled.  The sesame and "Japanese", whatever that was, were actually quite good.
Salad, Julie Style.
By the end of my visit, after nearly two weeks eating in hotel breakfast buffets every morning, and dining out all other meals, I was ready for vegetables.

I actually really enjoyed my salads, but I still don't want salad for breakfast.  I wished I could have these at lunch, to lighten the load on my body!

I used the bitter radicchio as a base, with the crispy sprouts. To that I added ... all sorts of things not from the salad bar.  Pickled things from the Japanese section.  Crispy fried wontons and peanuts from the Chinese porridge station.  Fried shallots and garlic slices (ok, these were appropriate salad toppings).  I adored this combo of fresh, pickled, and crispy, particularly with the sesame dressing.
Cold Cuts, Smoked Salmon, Cheese.
The cold cuts were just labelled "Cold Meet" (yes, "meet") with no other details, but I think there was salami, ham, and mortadella.  Cheese selection included "smoked cheese", blue, camembert, and comte.

This area also had lemons, capers, pearl onions, cornichons, and horseradish, plus a soft cheese.  I tried the soft cheese, thinking it was probably cream cheese for the smoked salmon or the bagels, but it was more like a ricotta?  Maybe this is what Japanese cream cheese is like?
Yogurts.
Both plain and non-fat plain yogurt were offered in big bowls, and "berry", "fruits", and "mueslie" came in little pots.
Mueslie.
I tried the mueslie (sic), bircher style, but I didn't like it.  Very mushy, very tart, too much acid.  I did like the crunchy nuts and other things in it though.
Fruit.
Next came whole fruit (bananas, apples, lychee, grapes) and cut fruit (citrus, pineapple, pears).

The pears had the skin removed, so were a bit hard to identify.  I took one just trying to know what it was, and it was actually great.  Really juicy, flavorful, refreshing.  The pears were good every time I tried them.

The lounge had more premium offerings, like whole peaches.
Dried Fruit, Gluten-Free Station.
A small gluten-free section with muesli and packaged cakes came next, along with dried tropical fruit.
Cereal.
Cereal line-up was corn flakes, all bran, fruity granola, "chocolate cereal", and sugar-free muesli.  A fairly interesting variety, actually.

I liked the crunch and assorted bits in the fruity granola, and the intense chocolate flavor left behind in my soy milk from the chocolate rings, but, the cereal was stale.

Drinks

The buffet includes many drinks stations, with juices, smoothies, milks, and water.  No sparkling water, no bottled still water.  The Prince Gallery clearly wins this.

Coffee and tea are ordered from a server.
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice, Cucumber & Pineapple Juice.
First up, fresh squeezed / pressed juices.
Water.
The only water.  Tap water.  No sparkling.  You could order sparkling for an extra charge.
Smoothies: Strawberry, Banana.
Next, smoothies, two flavors.
Apple & Tomato Juices.
More juice, not fresh squeezed.
Wheat Grass, Tomato Juice.
The second day, wheat grass replaced the apple juice.  I have a hard time believing that was more popular ...
Mango Juice, Non-Fat Milk.
More juice, the start of the milk section.
Soy Milk, Regular Milk.
Only regular, non-fat, and soy milk were available.  Far less selection than the Prince Gallery with rice and oat too.
Coffee.
Coffee, both regular and decaf, was ok.  Served in a large cup, but, just a cup, no carafe left behind.

Coffee, only every visit, took a very long time.  I was able to order coffee, take photos of everything, walk around a bunch deciding what to get, and *still* had to wait for my coffee.  

Minus some points for this.
Iced Coffee.
The iced coffee was also fine, and also took a while.  On this day, I even ordered it while in line to get seated (the person seating us was taking drink orders too, I think trying to speed things up as it was crazy busy).

Very dark though, I needed to add a bit of water to tone it down for my preferences.

Like most places in Japan though, they did iced coffee well - served with liquid sugar and a straw.  This was standard basically everywhere, and not something we see much of in the us.

My final day, since I visited after breakfast at the restaurant, I asked for decaf iced coffee.

It was horrible.  Horrible, horrible.  As in, tasted like battery acid.  One of the worst coffees I've ever had.
Read More...