Thursday, October 19, 2017

King Kone

I have a serious love of soft serve ice cream - the real stuff, the kind you find at little New England roadside ice cream stands, the places that are only open in the summer.  I have my favorite spot in my home town (Dairy Twirl!), and although I've tried all the others around there, I don't often find myself seeking out new ice cream places around town during the limited time I'm on the east coast in the summer.  Dairy Twirl is good and reliable, and most places don't really match the quality.

But on my recent trip home, I wanted to find a place for my mom and I to stop for ice cream on our way to Boston, when she returned me to the airport.  I did a bunch of research, looking for somewhere right off the highway.  That was an easy requirement, but, I also wanted somewhere that would be awesome.  And I found it.

King Kone, in Merrimack, NH.
King Kone!
King Kone was everything I wanted it to be.

Easy to take a slight detour to from the highway, adorable, and, well, delicious.  My mother, who is even more of an ice cream aficionado than I am, said it was the best soft serve she's ever had.  After several visits, I completely agree.

The ice cream is creamier, smoother, and more flavorful than any other ice cream shop I have visited.  It is also sweeter, and I think I'd prefer the sweetness toned down a bit, but, it is still the best I've ever had.

Setting

King Kone is located on the side of the road, right off the highway (Route 3), down the street a bit further from a handful of fast food establishments.  It has been there longer, more than 40 years.
Old-School Signage.
Everything about King Kone is old-school, starting with the sign, complete with a ice cream cone man wearing a crown, aka, the King Kone?

They take cash only, by the way.
Parking and Side View.
King Kone has some parking, but on our visit (3:30pm on a warm Friday afternoon) the lot was entirely full.
Front Window, Seating.
King Kone is a classic ice cream stand, with no interior space, just a window, with signs out front, and some picnic tables.

And yes, it is shaped a bit like a castle, you know, for the king.
Picnic Tables.
The space out front has a single set of picnic tables, and a little space to mill around, but not much else.  Many people seemed to take their ice cream back to their cars, but I'm always such a disaster with sprinkles falling off and ice cream running down my arms, that going inside a car is risky business.  Luckily, we grabbed a spot at the table.

The neighboring properties all have signs asking you to respect their space, and in particular, not come sit on their grass.  I feel bad for the neighbors, but, yeah, King Kone doesn't have much space.

Food

King Kone features soft serve using a unique base from Oakhurst Dairy from Portland, Maine, rather than Hood or any of the larger scale bases used by most other ice cream shops in New England.  They use all natural extracts and emulsions to craft the flavors rather than just syrups.  They care, a lot, about the quality of the ice cream, and it shows.
Menu.
King Kone does have a little bit of food in addition to ice cream offerings: hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs, tacos, and chili.  I didn't see anyone ordering them though.

Ice cream is obviously the focus, soft serve only.  No hard serve, no frozen yogurt, no dairy free options, etc.  Just soft serve ice cream.

Ice cream is available as a cone or dish, in "standard" sizes (kiddie, small, medium, large) with a small assortment of toppings: rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, "crunch coat", and three types of dip (chocolate, cherry, peanut butter).  Sundaes are also available, with a few liquid toppings (hot fudge, strawberry, butterscotch, pineapple), as are "Razzles", soft serve with mix-ins blended in, and basic ice cream sodas and frappes.
Flavors for the Week.
King Kone offers 5 flavors at a time.  They have 3 soft serve machines, each of which holds two flavors.  One always contains classic vanilla and chocolate, available as a twist.  The other 4 slots are filled with 3 flavors of the week, plus another vanilla or chocolate slot for a twist with one of the weekly specials.

If you ask for a sample, you are given a very generous sample, on a sundae spoon.

Visit #1: May 2017

On my first visit, our options were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla/Chocolate) 
  • Peach
  • Peaches & Cream (Peach and Vanilla Twist)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Banana
  • Peanut Butter & Banana Twist
Peanut Butter & Vanilla, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I love peanut butter soft serve, so I certainly had my eye on it the moment I read the flavors of the week.  But, the "Peaches and Cream" mix also sounded good.  So I asked to sample both the peach and peanut butter.  Both were good, but I knew they wouldn't combine well.  The peanut butter had the edge, so I went with it.

However, I didn't want *just* peanut butter, but it was on the same machine as banana, so my options were peanut butter, or peanut butter and banana twist.  I asked if I could have vanilla and peanut butter, and I was told no.  I specified that I didn't want them twisted, and suggested just one on top of the other.  It is always interesting to me to see how different places handle multiple flavors, the response is really different everywhere.  Some places won't do it for the smallest sizes, but will for others.  Others, like J.P. Licks let you pick two and they do a single layer of each, and others, like my favorite Dairy Twirl in my hometown, allow you to pick even three (yes, in the smallest size!) or if you pick two, they layer them twice.  Here, the person taking my order was amenable to trying to do two flavors, so I asked for vanilla on the bottom, peanut butter on top, which she did with no problem.

Both flavors were incredibly creamy, rich, smooth, ice cream.  They melted perfectly in the hot weather.  No ice crystals, just, absolutely perfect texture.

The vanilla was very, very good.  It wasn't a boring vanilla, it had some real flavor to it, but, it was sweeter than most.  The peanut butter had nice flavor, you could taste the peanut butter, but, it wasn't the most intense I've had, and it too was a bit sweeter than average.  My mom also commented that her flavors (chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, in a dish), seemed to have more sugar than usual.

I had no idea what "Crunch Coat" was, but the image on the sign showed something crunchy, so I was very excited to try a new cone-friendly topping.  I love having sprinkles on my cones because I like having something on the cone, but, sprinkles aren't exactly delicious on their own.  Crunch Coat also includes rainbow sprinkles, for a pop of color too!

I'm still not entirely sure what Crunch Coat is ... it seemed to be candied peanuts, mixed with the sprinkles?  But the nuts were coated in something more than just regular candied nut coating.  It was really crunchy, flavorful, and very sweet.  The chunks are bigger than sprinkles, so the eating experience is even more fun than just regular sprinkles.  On a hot day though it was a bit hard to deal with, I think the weight of the crunch made it slip down faster than sprinkles, so I had to lick very fast.  It was also really a bit too sweet, at least, it was when combined with the sweet ice cream.  Still, I really liked it.  (Side note: I didn't grow up in Dairy Queen world, but, apparently, this is something they serve too?)

The rainbow sprinkles were good, and, like other reviewers had said, they aren't the same generic brand most places have.  Better colors, a bit crunchier, less waxy, less like plastic.

The cone was a standard Joy cone, full size.  Many places use smaller cones for kiddie cones / baby cones / x-small, but here, it was a regular full size cone, containing far more ice cream than I am accustomed.  It was not stale, but obviously just a standard Joy cake cone, which I never actually want (I like to lick ice cream from a cone, but I never actually like the cones).  Luckily, I had a spoon left from my tasting that I was able to use to extract the plentiful ice cream from the cone.

I went with the kiddie cone, and it was a fairly large cone.  Not a monster or anything, but certainly not what you'd want to give a 5 year old, particularly because of the usage of a regular cone as the base, rather than a special smaller one.  I wasn't actually particularly hungry when we arrived, so it was a bit more than I wanted, but on a normal day, I think the quantity would be just right.

Overall, this was a success.  I was glad to have two flavors of ice cream when I got a bit sick of one, and I'd happily get either again.  I liked both my coatings, and I'd get them again too - the crunch coat because I really liked the experience of eating it, the sprinkles because I love sprinkles.

A kiddie cone is $2.85, with each topping $0.35.  I liked that they charge differently for toppings on different sizes, aka, for a medium ($4.50), each topping is $0.50 instead.  It makes sense to charge based on consumption, it just isn't something I've seen before.

Visit #2: July 2017

I was back in New Hampshire several weeks later, and, I planned my transit back to Boston to include a stop at King Kone.  My mom did not object.

Our flavors this time were:
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Twist (Vanilla & Chocolate Twist)
  • Lemon
  • Cake Batter
  • Lemon Lush (Lemon and Cake Batter Twist)
  • Mint
  • Mint Chocolate (twist)
As before, the flavors all sounded great, so I tried a few, and then made my decision.  As before, all were good, and I would have been happy with any.  The flavors were all good, the texture perfect.
Vanilla & Mint, with Crunch Coat, Kiddie. $2.85.
I liked the lemon.  I liked the cake batter.  But the mint was my favorite of the weekly specials.  Not content to pick just one flavor, and not wanting chocolate (the swirl option), I decided to ask for vanilla too (I didn't think mint and lemon or cake batter would mix very well, and, well, they make a seriously good vanilla).

Last time I asked for two flavors, my server had never done it in a cone, but was more than willing to try it.  This time I was told no.  I could do it in a cup, as a side by side.  But not a cone.  I pressed, saying I had it that way once before.  I still got a no.  Two different servers got involved, and each told me no.  I probably looked like I was going to cry or something, because, they finally agreed.  I asked for mint on the bottom and vanilla on top since I wanted the crunch coat again and thought it would go best with the vanilla, but, she made it backwards.  At least I got my two flavors though?

The mint was, uh, minty?  A really nice mint flavor, refreshing, creamy, perfect.  It didn't go great with the peanuty crunch coat though, and would have been better with chocolate sprinkles or chocolate dip probably.  Or in the bottom of my cone, as I intended.

The vanilla was again fantastic.  A simple flavor, but so well done.  So creamy.  Seriously, most creamy soft serve I've ever had.  It melts perfectly too.  I loved it, particularly with the crunch coat.

I'm sold on crunch coat.  I think it adds a great texture, sweetness, and fun.
Vanilla / Chocolate Swirl, with Peanut Butter Dip, Kiddie.  $2.85.
A companion went for classic vanilla chocolate swirl, but ... he added my favorite type of dip: peanut butter.

I demanded a try.  If King Kone's ice cream quality, and sprinkle quality, was much higher than everywhere else, I hoped that their dip too would blow my mind and exceed expectations.

The dip was good, but, it was like most other dip I've had.  No better, no worse.

One thing we did notice is that dipped cones were taller and thinner, with more of a peak, whereas coated cones were shorter and wider, with no tip.  I wonder if this was intentional, or, just coincidence based on my other two.

Other Flavors:
  • Cake Batter:  This was a great flavor, it tasted like good cake, not fake.  But it was very sweet, too sweet for me at the time.  Perhaps swirled with another flavor it would be less intense?
  • Chocolate:  I'm not one for chocolate ice cream in general, but when Ojan couldn't finish his cone, I tried it.  It was ... well, chocolate ice cream.  Not for me, but I loved how creamy it was, like all the others.
  • Lemon:  As I've said many times, I don't like lemon desserts, so you wouldn't even expect me to give this one a second glance.  But, I loved the lemon at Dairy Twirl, so, I wanted to give King Kone a try.  It was very good.  Lovely lemon flavor, slightly tart, but still fairly sweet.  Creamy and perfect texture like the others.
  • Peach: Great texture like the other flavors, sweet, creamy, a bit fruity.  I liked it, but I opted for other flavors instead that I liked even more.
Read More...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Double Crusted Apple Cheese Tart

More Waffling Fun: Double Crusted Apple Pie.  I mean, why not? #willItWaffle #yesItWaffles #waffleWed

I waffle a lot of leftovers, as you read about regularly.  But they are actually rarely originally desserts, or even baked goods, which surprises many people.  I use the waffle iron as a way to reheat things, not to turn things into dessert.

But sometimes, I do start with dessert, and try to waffle it too.  Those items have been ... less successful than my savories, for the most part (although, ok, what was I thinking trying to waffle butterscotch pudding?)

Good news though: I have found a success.  Pie.
Apple Cheese Tart: Transformation.
Certainly not a standard item to stick into a waffle iron, but, this was a fun one.

So, the burning question: Leftover Double Crusted Apple Cheese Tart: Will It Waffle?

Indeed, indeed it will.  I can't wait to try waffling more pies.
The Original: Apple Cheese Tart.
"Scalloped buttery pastry crust filled with sweetened cream cheese and layered with fresh apples, brandy, and cinnamon." - GourmetXpress, Distributor

The original was an "Apple Cheese Tart", a lovely layered creation with a sweet butter shortcrust as the base, a layer of creamy sweet cream cheese filling, a layer of spiced soft apples, and pastry on top, with cutouts and decorations, all covered in pearl sugar.  Really, this was just a double crusted apple pie, with an additional sweet cheese filling, baked in a tart pan instead of a pie pan.

I enjoyed my first slice at room temperature, with whipped cream.  (And yes, I appreciated the Julie-appropriate sized slices!)
The Original: Apple Cheese Tart: Inside.
The pie, er, tart, was good as originally served, but I like my pie warm (particularly the crust).  I brought home a few extra slices, and heated up the next one.

But .... this pie didn’t work great warm due to the thick cream cheese filling layer.  That layer got a bit odd when you heated it up (it got chunky and separated), so, the pie was best cold/room temp.

But I wanted warm pie a la mode!
Leftover Apple Cheese Tart.
Then it struck me: um, waffle it?  I thought that perhaps the contact with the waffle plates would warm up the crust (and caramelize it!) and leave the center filling perhaps cooler?
Halfway Done ..
So, I stuck a slice into the waffle iron.  350 degrees per my standard.  I pressed down hard, laughed, and walked away.

I checked on it after a few minutes, and, well, it looked far more like a waffle than I ever expected.  And, um, not at all like pie at this point.

But it wasn't as crispy on top as I was hoping, so, I let it go longer.
Waffled Apple Cheese Tart.
It got perfectly crispy as I hoped it would.  The pearl sugar coating, and a bit of the sweet apple filling that ran out really helped caramelized it beautifully.

It extracted very easily from the oven, a solid, um, waffle.  The pie shape was long gone.

My idea didn’t go quite according to plan though - the cream cheese layer still warmed up, and just like when I heated in the toaster oven, got strangely separated and chunky.

Still, I tried it of course.  I topped it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, a generous drizzle of rum caramel (because, um, why not?  Caramel and apples are a perfect pairing!), and a sprinkling of sea salt (aren’t I fancy?).  I plated it really pretty, and then … failed to take a photo.  Oops.

But, lack of photo evidence aside, I assure you, this was good.  Crispy, caramelized crust, warm apples, and, although the cream cheese layer wasn’t quite ideal warm like this, when mixed with melty ice cream, and whipped cream, and caramel … who really cared?

I call this a success, but mostly it made me think about waffling pies that don't have cream cheese layers ...
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Japan Airlines, Business Class, San Francisco to Tokyo

Flight Details

Flight: JL1.
Departure Time: 4:25pm.
Aircraft: 777-300.
Class: Business.
Seat: 5K

My journey began checking out the JAL and British Airways lounges, still quite mediocre.  Our boarding time was set to 3:55pm, and, at 3:55pm on the dot, orderly boarding began, with announcements in multiple languages, AND signs held up.  There were at least 8 staff members helping with boarding, and it went faster than I've ever seen a plane board before.  When the PA system came to say it was time to push back, I was barely even settled in my seat.  We pushed back before our scheduled departure time.  Amazing efficiency.

It was overall a decent flight, smooth, good enough food, pleasant enough service.

The Seat

This was my first time flying on Japan Airlines (last time I tried, my flight was cancelled, and I wound up on Cathay Pacific, via Hong Kong, instead).

The cabin is 2-3-2 configuration, although every seat has aisle access.  The cabin is broken into a mini cabin with only one row behind first class and ahead of the galley and bathrooms, and a larger cabin with 6 rows.

I was able to get a window seat (!) in the mini cabin (!) so it was incredibly private, no foot traffic at all.  It did get a fair amount of noise from the galley though.

Overall, it was a nice seat, comfortable, private, but did lack handy storage.

The cabin also only had 2 tiny bathrooms, insufficient for a fully loaded flight.  They had toothbrushes and mouthwash in them, but nothing else of interest.  And again, tiny!

The flight was equipped with wifi (through T-mobile).  It quasi-worked, which is better than most international flights that don't even offer it at least.  However it required you to go back through the entire login flow if you didn't use it for 15 minutes, like, if you were eating (!), which was incredibly annoying.  Still, appreciated.
My Seat.
The seat was a bit narrow, and unlike many other aircraft, there was no storage along the window, the seat was right up against the wall of the aircraft.

Overall though, the seat was fairly comfortable for sitting, and had good electronic controls for moving the leg rest, back, etc.
TV / Ottoman / Storage.
In front of me was a HUGE glossy TV screen.  Really an impressive screen size and quality.  The control was a remote on a cord, easy to use and figure out, no silly touch screen necessary (not that I could have reached it, it was soooo far away).  Content available was great, many recent movies.

In front of the screen was a large ledge, but it wasn't very usable (again, very far away).  On the side was the magazine rack filled with their literature.

Under this was an ottoman and place I could keep stuff.  It became the foot of the bed when it converted.

And under that, a huge storage area, which we *were* allowed to stash stuff even during takeoff and landing.

But that was the sum of my storage space (besides the overhead bin).  I had no side pockets, no cubbies.  No where really to put my phone, my laptop, even my drink.
Aisle Seat.
The aisle seat however did have plentiful storage, and ledges all around for setting things on.  Instead of the larger forward ledge, it had a smaller one that went all along the side, providing a fine place for a drink or phone right next to the seat.
Aisle Seat: Cubby.
And those seats have a huge cubby next to the seat!

While I prefer the window for the privacy, I did lament the lack of storage.
Divider Between Seats.
Speaking of privacy, once underway, the seats have a divider between them, which makes each seat incredibly private (and the staggered layout means you aren't really right next to the person next to you anyway).
Bed.
If you choose to sleep, the seat turns into a flat bed, and an additional mattress pad (stored in the overhead bins) is available to go along with the thin blanket and pillow provided.

It was ... ok as a bed.  Perfectly flat, not sloping, and the foam mattress pad was comfortable.  It was so private.  But, the bed was very narrow.  I'm not a large person, and I could only side sleep in one direction, with my knees overlapping the gap (until I learned I could fill in the gap with my extra pillow).

The pillow, while supportive (foam), was not lofty, and felt like sleeping on a pancake.  I was glad I had brought an extra travel one as well.  And the blanket was laughably small.  I requested a second.

I attempted to sleep for about 2.5 hours, but, it was very early to be sleeping in the US, I wasn't particularly comfortable, and didn't sleep much at all.

Amenities

Amenities were on the weaker side.  I wanted pajamas!
Pillow, Amenity Kit, Slippers, Headphones, Blanket.
Waiting at my seat was a large pillow, slippers (and shoe horn!), headphones, blanket, and amenity kit.

I quickly asked if there were any extra pillows available, knowing I'd want a second one for sleeping, and was thrilled that I was provided one immediately, as it was a full flight.

The slippers were great for putting on to go to and from the restroom.

The amenity kit had a nice case.
Amenity Kit.
But the contents were lackluster.

Tissues, toothbrush (also available in the bathrooms anyway), lip blam, ear plugs, eye mask, "moisture mask".  

In amenity kits, there are really two things I ever want: lotion and gum.  Why gum is never included is beyond me, but lotion is a standard, and I missed it here.

No pen?  I didn't use anything from here.

Cardigan.
Cardigans were distributed once we got under way.  Note: they do not offer pajamas, so, bring your own.

My cardigan was amusingly large, as I think they had only one size, only one style for everyone: adult male large.  Which I am not.

It had a single button, and was a light weight material.  I actually used it, since I was wearing a white cardigan myself, and didn't want to stain it at the start of my trip.

Dinner

For the main meal service, you have the choice of a Japanese or Western menu.  Both have the same amuse bouche and dessert, but different first and main courses.
4 Course Menu.
I managed to mix and match: Japanese first course, Western main, to form the feast I wanted.
Menu.
The menu wasn't given out until we were under way.  I usually spend time reading it while we are taking off, so I was eager to see it (although, to be fair, I had already looked it up online, JAL has all the menus, by route, available on the site 3 months in advance).

The menu was many pages long, in both English and Japanese.
Drink Menu.
The wine list was fairly extensive, as was the other alcoholic drink list, including things you don't see on Western airlines, like multiple choices of sake, shochu, and plum wine, and a decent whiskey lineup.  Standard soft drinks, tea, coffee, and other hard alcohol were also offered, and JAL's signature, non-alcoholic, "Sky Time" beverage.
Japanese Menu.
The Japanese Menu was as follows:

Sakizuke
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese

Irodori Gozen 〜Selection of seasonal colorful delicacies〜
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth
Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce
Egg Cake
Tender-simmered Octopus 
Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly
Deep-fried Taro
Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom 
Sweet-simmered Chestnut

Dainomono
Grilled Beef Miso Flavor
Salmon with Colorful Vegetable Sauce

Steamed Rice
Miso Soup
Japanese Pickles

Kanmi
Chocolate Mousse

Western Menu.
The Western had an option for the main course (seafood, beef, or vegetarian), but everything else was fixed:

Amuse-Bouche
Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese

Hors-d'œuvre
Roast Beef Salad
Autumn Vegetables,
Wasabi Cream,
Vincotto Teriyaki Vinaigrette

Main Dish Choice
US Prime Beef Tenderloin
Mushroom Duxelle Potato Purée,
Shallot Cream Truffle Sauce

Sea-bass
Warm Parmesan Risoni,
Smoked Tomato Vin Blanc Sauce

Light Vegetarian Choice
"Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese"

Assorted Gourmet Breads

Dessert
Chocolate Mousse
Table Setting.
I was really surprised but how promptly meal service got underway.  Again, so efficient.

Our orders were taken, and moment later, I was asked if it was ok to set my table (with a small tablecloth).  I kinda thought it seemed early, but agreed, although it meant I had to put away my laptop (there was no space to stash my laptop other than my lap, or bag (unlike aisle seat which had a side area for it), and the tray table didn't have a half-size mode for just holding drinks, and it didn't push back out of the way either.

But my drinks were close behind.  Each person's drinks were brought out individually, along with the amuse bouche.

I opted for sparkling water and pinot noir.

The bottle of pinot was presented to me, and my serving was poured in front of me, a nice touch, no cart, no wine just fetched from the galley.

I actually really liked the wine, not too much tannin, really, just a nice wine.  I had been regretting my quick decision to go with wine rather than sake or a cocktail to start, but, I liked this, so I didn't mind.

I also tried the Sky Time that my companion ordered.  It was ... sweet kiwi based watery juice?  Not my thing.  Perhaps good with some gin?

This is likely the fastest I've ever been served on a flight (to be fair, I was in the first row of business, and seemed to be the first one in my row served).
Amuse Bouce.
"Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Wild Mushroom Truffle Oil
Pumpkin Agrodolce, Cottage Cheese"

All diners received the same duo of amuse bouche, both cold items, vegetarian.

They were both ... interesting.  And served with an adorable tiny spoon and fork.

I'm no stranger to savory panna cotta, and the cauliflower one was ok.  It wasn't smooth and creamy, but rather, was textured.  In a way I didn't quite love.  And it was very cauliflower-y.

On top was cubes of mushroom, decent enough.  I didn't taste truffle oil, nor did my companion, who does not like truffle.

The pumpkin agrodolce with cottage cheese was ... ok.

I kinda liked the cubes of cooked pumpkin, but the yellow raisins and sweet sauce were just too sweet.  The dollop of cottage cheese was also a bit odd.

Overall, both ok, but not great.
Japanese First Course: Irodori Gozen: Selection of seasonal colorful delicacies.
The next course came served from a cart, a salad and rolls for the Western meal or a box of assorted small dishes for the Japanese.  All cold items.

My request to get the Japanese starter and the Western main was honored (although I was again asked if I didn't just want the Japanese main).

My box had many goodies.

Top row:
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste

Bottom Row:
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth
Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce

Egg Cake
Tender-simmered Octopus 
Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly
Deep-fried Taro
Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom 
Sweet-simmered Chestnut

If I thought the presentation of the amuse bouche with the cute utensils was impressive, this was something else entirely.

Each dish was in an entirely different style tiny bowl.  They were elaborate.  My tray also came with chopsticks, an oragami bird chopstick rest, soy sauce, a toothpick, and napkin.

Still water was also on the tray, no offer to refill my empty sparkling was given.

The assortment was a mixed bag, but I'm very glad I tried it.  Some seriously fascinating stuff, and far more interesting than a salad.
Vinegared Snow Crab & Radish.
The description didn't quite match what was here.  It did have vinegared snow crab (two pieces, sorry I ate one right away!), but it also had carrots, lots of sweet stuff, black beans ...

The crab was ok, it didn't taste like much besides vinegar, but I really didn't care for the sweet stuffs under it.  Kinda meh.
Conger Eel rolled with Chinese Cabbage.
This I did not like!

The eel was super fishy.  The cabbage was slimy, really hard to chew, and tasted like the fishy eel.  My least favorite item.
Shrimp Cake Mashed Green Soybean Paste.
The cake on top I didn't care for.  It was a cold, mushy, fishy cake.

But, shockingly, I adored what was under it.  A green paste, that looked a bit like wasabi.  It wasn't wasabi, but rather, "mashed green soybean paste".  Really tasty, I liked it quite a bit.  My second favorite thing on the platter (paired with my second least favorite).
Simmered Fried Eggplant in Japanese Broth. Braised Duck with Sweet Soy Sauce.
This I also did not like.  While not quite as bad as the conger eel, the eggplant was crazy slimy.  Crazy, crazy slimy.

The sauce on top was really good, it said "sweet soy sauce", but it was more like a miso paste.  I used it to dip other items in.  Third least favorite, since I did like the sauce at least.
Egg Cake / Tender-simmered Octopus / Spicy "Konnyaku" Jelly / Deep-fried Taro /Simmered "Shimeji" Mushroom  / Sweet-simmered Chestnut.
And finally a crazy assortment of items, 2 of each (except the chestnut).  And again, a mixed bag.

The slices of egg omelet had something in them, I'm not really sure what.  I couldn't even say if it was animal or vegetable.  Fine, but not interesting.

The octopus I was really excited for, as I love octopus, but, "tender" as advertised this was not!  It was crazy chewy.  Did not like.

The jelly was ok, an interesting item I know I've had before, but wasn't entirely sure what it was.  Kinda jelly like, didn't have much flavor, but it looked cool?  The internet tells me this is pulverized konnyaku powder and water gelatin, very low calorie.

The deep fried taro is another I was super excited about (I love taro!), but, eh, it was only ok.  Certainly didn't seem deep fried.  Was mostly just soft taro.  It was fine, but, cold soft taro isn't particularly interesting.  I used the miso-like paste from the eggplant on it, and enjoyed it more that way.

The shimeji mushrooms were fine.

The highlight of this compartment, and the whole platter, was the chestnut.  And sadly, it was the only one that came as a single!

I really, really loved it.  Sweet, soft, flavorful.

Also on here was an adorable star shaped carrot and several slivers of pea pods, all fine.
"Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese" (Vegetarian).
And then, my Western main dish, the vegetarian pasta.  Boring, I know, but I just wasn't excited for dried out fish or overcooked beef on a plane, sorry.  My companion went for the Japanese choice, but I didn't get a photo before he dug in.

The dish was actually quite decent.

The pasta was well cooked, not soggy, not dried out.

I really loved the meaty assorted mushrooms.  The stewed tomatoes were also quite good.  Since this was vegetarian, the stuff that looks like ground beef wasn't ... it was some kind of vegetable protein that I wasn't really into.  But the mushrooms and tomatoes were great, and it was presented very nicely.

I also kinda wished I that I had some cheese to sprinkle on top, but, otherwise, this was fine.  Again, quality presentation, even if just pasta.

My companion opted for the Japanese menu, and I did steal some of his pickles.  They were fine, crunchy, an interesting mix of veggies (some of which I couldn't identify).
Chocolate Mousse.
Dessert was a single option for everyone: chocolate mousse (although the "anytime" menu also had ice cream).

I was pretty sad to see this, since I avoid chocolate in the evenings (caffeine), particularly when I'd be trying to go to bed soon after.  But ... I know people say JAL does great desserts, so I figured I could at least try a little.
Chocolate Mousse ... devoured.
Uh, oops?

I didn't just try a little.

It also wasn't what I expected from a chocolate mousse, as I was expecting a pudding.

Instead it was a chocolate mousse cake, a thin layer of chocolate sponge cake, topped with chocolate mousse.

The bottom cake layer was light and very moist.  The chocolate mousse was creamy and nice.  It also came with a stewed raspberry and blueberries, in a sweet sauce.

All components were good.  It did scream out "I want whipped cream with me!" to me, but, perhaps that was just me, and my never ending love for whipped cream.
Anytime you wish Menu.
The menu continues for many more pages, as the second meal service doesn't have a set time (just a cutoff, usually until 1 hour 30 min before landing, earlier for us due to expected storm activity).

There is a huge selection of additional hot items you can order (small plates, noodles, sandwiches, cheese, the aforementioned ice cream), and two set menus (one Japanese, one Western). 

There is no breakfast service on this flight, due to the somewhat odd timing.  The "Anytime you wish" menu was as follows:

Order in the Sky
Rice Bowl with Spicy Cod Roe & Grated Yam

Light Meal
Rigatoni Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese
〜Recommendation for light vegetarian〜
Assorted Japanese Brochettes
Crab Quesadillas
Vegetable Curry
Mushroom Soup

Noodles
Japanese "Udon" Noodles in Soup with Seaweed

Sandwich
Smoked Salmon Bagel
Croissant Sandwich with Ham & Cheese

Cheese Selection
Assorted Cheese

Refreshments
Ice Cream
Fresh Fruits

Set Plate Menu.
Then there is a  choice of two set plates, Japanese or Western options.

Japanese:
Grilled Sea-bass Salted Rice Malt Flavor
Kobachi
Japanese Pickles
Steamed Rice
Miso Soup

Western:
Chicken Pot Pie
Assorted Gourmet Breads
Greek Yogurt with Mango Sauce
Western Set Plate.
"Chicken Pot Pie / Assorted Gourmet Breads / Greek Yogurt with Mango Sauce"

Due to expected turbulence, the galley closed 2.5 hours before landing, but, we were warned.  For my next meal, I could order anything from the "Anytime you wish" menu, ranging from a cheese plate, to curry, to a ham & cheese croissant sandwich.  I wasn't particularly hungry, and if I wanted anything it would have been breakfast (not available, since, evening in Tokyo), but I went for the more ambitious Western Set Plate.

It arrived soon after ordering.

The pot pie wasn't quite what I was expecting, as, it didn't have a top, and didn't have any puff pastry.  Instead, it was a tart shell, filled with bits of chicken, in a cream sauce.  Chicken chowder tart?

It wasn't bad, actually.  I avoided the chicken since I don't like chicken, but the tart shell was ok, a bit crumbly, kinda a savory thing.  It sorta met my desire for a breakfast pastry.  The sauce was like a gravy almost, except mustard flavored?  I really liked the flavor, but it certainly wasn't as I was expecting.  I didn't find much else in the shell, just the bits of chicken and the cream sauce, not really any potatoes, carrots, or celery.

So certainly not a traditional pot pie in any way, but, not entirely bad.

The salad on the side, not listed on the menu, was great though.  Fresh, crispy greens in a light dressing.  It was really refreshing, particularly the spinach.  I was glad to have some greens.

The "Assorted Gourmet Breads" was a warm seeded roll.  No butter.  Not particularly good, but not stale or spongy.

Finally, it had a little bowl of Greek yogurt.  The menu said it had mango sauce, but there was no mango sauce.  There did seem to be a bit of something sweet, more like a honey sauce.  It was ok, thick, tangy yogurt, and I did like the sweet sauce, but there wasn't much of it.

Overall, there were some satisfying bits in here, but I was pretty confused (it was just after midnight after all), and didn't quite feel it.
Japanese "Udon" Noodles in Soup with Seaweed. Smoked Salmon Bagel.
 My companion selected two items from the Anytime menu: the noodles and a smoked salmon bagel.

The noodles was a nice portion, hot and fresh, with a seasoning packet to add as much umami as he wanted.  I tried the broth, and it was flavorful and salty.

The smoked salmon bagel was only a half bagel, and it was cold.  Not toasted.  And the bread was not good at all.  He salvaged the smoked salmon.
Vanilla Ice Cream.
Still not quite satisfied, I ordered the ice cream.  I love ice cream, and ice cream on planes always makes me quite happy, it feels so ... fancy.   However, they had only vanilla available, Haagen-Dazs.  It arrived rock solid, and still I couldn't get a spoon into it after 30 minutes.

Meh to this.  On the flight out of Haneda however they had amazing ice cream.  More on that soon.
Decaf Coffee.
Since it was night where I was headed, I couldn't order regular coffee, although they have a partnership with a fancy coffee company.  I still wanted a little zing, so I got the decaf.  

I think it was instant.  It wasn't very warm, and it wasn't very good.  Sugar and cream were offered, no sweetener available.
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Monday, October 16, 2017

7-Eleven in ... Tokyo!

Most people in the US think of 7-Eleven as perhaps a place to buy a soda or gum, but little more (of course, I do kinda like the coffee and love the cinnamon rolls).  You certainly don't go there for lunch, right?  I mean, someone must buy those taquitos near the door, but I'm not sure who.

In Japan though, things are very, very different at 7-Eleven (and other convenience stores).  It is a respectable place to get food.  The coffee is actually very good, ground to order, and they make iced coffee too.  The sushi is good, particularly the onigiri.  People love the sandwiches (with crusts cut off) and fresh baked (?!) breads.  Regular people do get food to eat there, and as packaged and scary as it looks, it is fresh.  They even have premium brands, Seven & I Premium and Seven Gold.  And its crazy cheap.

So you know me, always one to try things from silly places like this in the US, I was thrilled to do it in Japan too (plus, ZOMG, the snacks!)

And, spoiler, I loved it.

Seven Premium Deli Salad Pouches

"Seven Premium" products rigorously pursue these seven qualities: ① safety and reliability ② deliciousness ③ local flavors ④ best technology ⑤ universal design ⑥ healthiness ⑦ reasonable pricing."
First up for me, was bagged deli-like salads with Japanese ingredients.  I was beyond fascinated by these.  They also had more mundane salads in plastic boxes, with actual lettuce and the like, but I went straight for the crazy looking ones in pouches. 
Salad Pouch Feast!
The selection was huge, easily 15-20 different deli-like salads, all entirely in Japanese, except for the part telling me that the Seven Premium brand is always evolving.

These items all had pictures showing what was inside, nutrition stats on front, and were sealed tight, easy to open via a slit on top.   Each one cost about the equivalent of $1.  I was provided with chopsticks and a spoon by the cashier.
Burdock Root Salad Pouch.
First up, I went for the burdock root salad.

I would have never been able to identify it by the photo, but, luckily for me, Google translate on my phone was able to tell me this was burdock root.  I had no idea what else would be in it, but, at least I knew the main ingredient.
Burdock Root Salad: Inside.
Here you can see the contents for all their glory.

Since I wasn't bringing it home to plate up, I literally at it from the bag.  With chopsticks.  Just like this.  And it was glorious.

The burdock was crispy. Whatever it was in was really flavorful, perhaps soy based?  Lots of flavor, great texture.  What's not to love?

I might have gotten a tad bit sick of it by the last bite, but I still easily polished off the, uh, bag.
Potato Salad Pouch.
Next, potato salad.

I had no idea what the orange stuff would be (Salmon? Krab stick? Carrots?), but I knew it was potato salad from the translation, and that it was made with something from Hokkaido (perhaps the potatoes?)
Potato Salad: Inside.
Deli potato salad is obviously a fairly normal thing in the US, but I knew that 1) potato salad is really big in Japan these days, and 2) Hokkaido is known for food.  And, well, I like potato salad.

This was quite good potato salad.  Crazy creamy.  It seemed to have some potato that was sorta mashed into a paste with cream/mayo/something, which gave it an incredibly creamy texture.  The chunks of potato were nicely cooked, not too soft, but certainly not the al dente style I do prefer.

I never figured out what the orange things were though.  I think carrots, but I can't be certain.

This was very good, but yes, just potato salad, and I did grow sick of it, mostly because there were too many other things to try.

Onigiri

Next, snackable sushi -  onigiri.
Row of Onigiri.
7-Eleven serves 3 types of Onigiri:
"There are 3 main types of 7-Eleven onigiri. A type not wrapped in seaweed, a type wrapped in seaweed, and a type that is not wrapped in seaweed until right before it is eaten. They are separated into types according to the ingredients used in the center. Please give Japan's easy and healthy fast food "onigiri" a try.?"
The later are the ones I encountered on my previous visit to Japan, and was intrigued by.  The opening procedures are elaborate, but when they work out, its magic, crispy seaweed wrapper and all.
Wasabi Seaweed Onigir?
So that is the style I went for this time, but I failed at opening it properly.  I was able to cobble together a decent solution, but the 1-2-3 didn't quite work.

I really applaud the packaging though, as the nori was fresh and crisp, and really quite good.  The rice too was good, firm, fresh tasting, not mushy.

I'm not entirely sure what was in my onigiri, but I think it was seaweed, and it had some wasabi kick to it.  Flavorful for sure.

Overall, very good for a packaged onigiri, and better than most I encountered on my trip elsewhere.

Sandwiches

I mostly had Lawson (another very popular convenience store) on my agenda for sandwiches (in particular, the famed egg sandwich), but a dining companion grabbed a yakisoba pan because he had seen it in anime before, and was interested in trying one.
Yakisoba Pan.
I tried a bite.

It was ... well, what it looked like.  Noodles in a hot dog bun.  The bun was soft, and didn't taste stale, but wasn't exactly high quality.  The noodles were well sauced/seasoned, but I didn't like the sauce.

My companion enjoyed it, so, success.
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