Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Delta Sky Club, SFO

Most of my travel has either been domestic with JetBlue or Virgin America (main cabin or first class), or international with OneWorld partners (like British Airways, Qantas, or Cathay Pacific (business class and first class).  However, this year, when I lost my status, I decided to take this opportunity to explore other airlines and options.

And thus, I flew on Delta for the first time ever, on a quick connection from SFO to LAX (before heading to Sydney on Virgin Australia ... stay tuned!)  Because I was flying international business class, this gave me access to the Delta Sky Club in SFO.

I don't have comparison points with other domestic Sky Clubs, but it was clean, modern, and well designed.  It was also barely occupied, likely because it is member's access only (aka, my First Class domestic ticket would not have given me access).

Setting

Vacant Entry Way.
Check-in for the lounge is located on the same floor as the gates, but the lounge is upstairs.  Once up there, there is another check in desk that wasn't staffed, and lots of vacant open space.  It felt a bit strange walking into such a deserted area.
Window Seating.
The open area along the windows was light filled and quite bright, with standard round tables and more comfortable arm chairs.  I was surprised that very few people choose this area, as it had all the views.
High Tables.
I choose to camp out at a high table so I could just stand (I'd be sitting enough soon!), but there were also individual work stations that seemed to be the most popular seating, which is funny, as this area was relatively dark and not welcoming.

Outlets were plentiful, even built into the high tables.

Local artwork hung on the walls.
Bar.
A fairly long bar has both complimentary basic drinks and a premium menu, plus food you could order (and pay for).

Bathroom.
The bathroom was particularly stunning, with red countertops and Malin + Goetz hand soap and lotion.  Showers were also available, which you could sign up for at the check in desk.  I imagine they were stunning as well, but I didn't investigate.

Food & Drink

The food lineup is buffet style, fairly basic, with some things to nibble on and a handful of hot options.

I wasn't really needing food while I was there, so I only nibbled on a few things, so, unfortunately, I can't tell you much about food quality.

I did appreciate that everything was well labelled and constantly refilled.
Snack mixes: ranch pretzel mix, unlabelled snack mix, roasted tomato popcorn.
Snack mixes are my favorite part of airline lounges, even when they are generally stale and not very good.  You know how much I love snacks!  I'm just a muncher, what can I say?

The ranch pretzel mix was mostly just seasoned assorted shapes of thin pretzels, with a few corn chips.  It was fine, but, I'm not really one for pretzels.

The tomato flavored popcorn tasted like plain popcorn to me, but, at least it wasn't stale.

The final mix was not labelled, and seemed to have all sorts of things in it.  Pretzels, corn chips, almonds, peanuts ...  It was salty and seasoned in some way.  Decent enough I guess, but I didn't find myself getting addicted to it in the way I do with American Airlines Admiral's Club snacks.
Cheese, Salad, Crudite, Dips.
Next up came some little cubes of assorted cheese, base for salad, and some veggies to dip, and hummus, caesar, and ranch dressing.

I didn't try these, but they seemed popular.
 Salads.
Next up was more veggies to dip/make salads with (cherry tomatoes and broccoli), and 3 prepared salads.

The options were Greek chicken and cucumber salad, Mediterranean bulgar and veggie salad, and ramen salad with kale and edamame.

I tried the ramen one.  It was ... ok, the noodles were not too mushy, but there wasn't much flavor to it.
Chicken Pho Base.
A novel unique element of the Delta line up was a Pho station, with bowls ready for the broth to be added.  There were plenty of instructions to ensure that people understood what this was all about.
Chicken pho broth, veggie chili, toppings.
The broth was next to a pot of veggie chili, and both had assorted toppings, like crunchy corn chips and shredded cheese.  And crispy french fried onions, which I was thrilled to see.  I didn't want the soup or chili, I just like fried onions!
Veggie Fried Rice.
 Next up was fried rice, two trays of the same thing.
Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies.
The first dessert was brownies (using quality Guittard chocolate).
Chocolate Chunk and Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Fruit.
There were also jars of cookies and individually wrapped fruit.
Coffee Station.
The coffee station is Starbucks branded with drip coffee and a machine.  Decaf is offered in both.

I tried the drip decaf and it was only lukewarm.

The toppings were particularly impressive, several types of syrups (including pumpkin spice, because, November), chocolate powder, and mini marshmallows.
Tea.
Tea was from Harvey and Sons, a decent selection, but no rooibos

Assorted sweeteners and honey were on offer.
Infused Water, Iced Tea, Water.
I appreciated the sparkling water tap, except that I wanted a bottle of water to bring out the door with me.  Lemons were provided as well.

Other soft drinks were available at the bar, but, alas, no cans or bottles there either.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Chaat Corner

I've walked by Chaat Corner more times than I can possibly count.

I used to live a block away.  I walked by it daily on my way to work.  I walked by it every night on the way home.  Yet I never went, even when it was the only place open in the neighborhood.  Chaat Corner is open every day, and that area does not have many options on Sundays.  They are open until midnight every night, and it certainly isn't an area with late night options.  They are open for lunch, starting as early as 11am.  Yet these things still never encouraged me to visit.

Even since I moved down the street, I still walk by several times a month.  It has managed to stay around for years now, which should be a sign of something.  And I still never visit.  Why?  I have no idea.  I like Indian cuisine, and I'm always looking for good indian food in the city.  But this place just never jumped out at me.

Chaat Corner recently opened a second location near Union Square.  That too should indicate that they are doing well.  But Yelp reviews are fairly mediocre.  No one I know has ever mentioned going there.  "Meh", I thought.

And then one day I was at home and really, really wanted salad.  And naan.  And something with spice.  I quickly looked online at menus of indian places nearby, and saw that the intersection of naan and salad is fairly limited, but Chaat Corner had several salads that sounded interesting (Indian ceasar? Grilled paneer topped salad?), and a huge assortment of breads, so, Chaat Corner it was.

I placed my order online, and headed the few blocks to pick it up.  My order was completed soon after I arrived.

Setting

Chaat Corner is really quite large.  I was shocked by how much seating and open space they had inside.  It was 5:15pm when I arrived, and it was mostly empty.

It isn't fancy.  It has basically no charm whatsoever.  I was glad to be getting takeout.
Cashier at Front.
Right inside the door is a cashier station, with a menu board on the wall.  This surprised me a bit as I thought this was a regular full service restaurant, so I think they must do a lot of takeout (unless tables order and pay up front too?)

On the side is also a cooler with canned/bottled drinks (do tables get cans too?)
Seating.
Decor is not particularly interesting, fairly low end, lots of shiny materials and faux stone.
Bar.
There is a small bar with counter seating, where I was invited to sit while I waited for my takeout.  I could have watched TV while I waited.

Food

The menu is large, all standard indian offerings.  I didn't explore it much, as I had my eyes on exactly two things: salad and bread.  That said, they had an extensive selection of pakora, and I almost threw some battered fried onions into the mix too ...
Sometimes, you just need 2 spoons and a fork?
Things started going downhill as I opened up my packaging.

I was provided a fork and 2 spoons.  No knife.  Luckily, I was bringing it home anyway.
Tandoori Roti. $1.99.
I'll admit, I was overwhelmed by the bread selection.  I thought I knew indian breads, but, once I started reading the list, I realized I'm still uncertain.  One section was titled naan, with 13 different options, including 10 types of naan (plain, butter, garlic, garlic pesto, paneer, cauliflower, potato, onion, chicken pesto, ground lamb), plus tava roti, bhatura, and tandoori roti.  Then, another section, labelled paranthas, with 8 more options (plain, laccha, potato, cheese, onion, cauliflower, ground lamb, chicken).  Why were the roti and bhatura listed as naan?  And what is tava roti vs tandoori roti?

I fairly randomly picked the tandoori roti, thinking that tandoori items are usually nicely smoky, and, I like roti.

It turned out to be basically ... whole wheat naan?  Hearty tasting, but, very boring.  Dry, no butter.  Crispy bottom.

I guess fine, but highly, highly boring, although I suspect it was supposed to be?
Chaat Salad. $6.99
"Romaine lettuce, lentil chips, spicy chickpea noodles, cilantro and spices tossed in
tamarind and mint sauces."

For salads, I could pick the interesting sounding caesar (zesty mint caesar dressing!) or the chaat salad (lentil chips and spicy chickpea noodles!).  I opted for the later, based entirely on the promise of fun crispy things on top.  Since I had other food at home to finish, I decided not to add a protein topping, but I could have added chicken breast, chicken kebab, tandoori salmon, shrimp, seekh kebab, or paneer on top.

Since I got it to go, my salad came disassembled.  I appreciated this so it wouldn't get soggy.  The dry toppings came in separate containers, and the wet sauces even came with an extra protective foil wrapped around them.  Points for this.
Chaat Salad: Lettuce.  $6.99.
I did have to laugh when I opened my box though.  It was ... lettuce.  Just lettuce.  It seemed freshly chopped, not wilted, very crisp.  A decent base.

The menu said there should be cilantro too, and other people seemed to have tomato and cucumber in theirs (in the photos I saw), but mine?  Just lettuce.
Lentil Chips, "Spicy Chickpea Noodles".
Things got more amusing as I opened my other containers.

I quickly discovered the "spicy chickpea noodles" were ... just chickpeas.  Not toasted, no spicing.  Just chickpeas.  They seemed like they came from a can.  I had seen photos of this salad from others, and they did have chickpea noodles.

Since I actually hate chickpeas, I tried one, recognized that it was watery, slimy, and like from a can, and threw these out.  Chickpea noodles would have been nice.

The lentil chips were tasty though.  While I don't like lentils, I do like lentil chips (and likely would have liked chickpea noodles!)  I really liked the crunchy element, and the promise of the crunchy things is what made me order this in the first place.

I added a bunch of the lentil chips, but it looked like there was a bunch of rubble left in the bottom of the cup.  It was only later that I realized this is where the spices were added.  Doh.  I missed out on a lot of spice and flavor by missing this.  Not their fault though.
Tamarind and Mint Sauces.
The dressing for the salad is a mix of standard tamarind and mint sauces, like you use to dip samosa.  It was pretty strange putting these onto my salad as if they were dressing, but, actually, the result was good.  Obviously, normally it comes dressed for you, which seems less ideal, as you can't get the right balance of flavor that way.  I liked that I could add different amounts of each to create my preferred flavor (heavier on the herby mint, less of the sweet tamarind).

Both sauces were pretty standard, though I doubt housemade.  They didn't have that kind of freshness about them.  Still, it was nice to have some left to dip my naan in.
Cafe Chaat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Friday, May 19, 2017

9 Bar

9 Bar is a snack bar manufacturer from the UK, producing bars based on their "super-seed" base, of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and hemp seeds.  They make 4 different product lines.

The "Original Lift" series I believe is the first line they made, and includes mix-ins like cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, and pumpkin.  Slightly more interesting is the "Carob Hit" line, again with a super-seed base, obviously carob, and other mix-ins like flax, pumpkin, apricots, dates, and chia.  I'm not quite sure what is breakfasty about the "Breakfast Boost" range, but these include dried fruits (apricot, strawberry, raspberry, raisins) and oats in the base.  I guess oats are for breakfast?  The most exciting line is "Cocoa Kick", available in 4 flavors: hazelnut, coconut, raspberry, and cashew, all of which have a super-seed base, cocoa mixed in, and a chocolate layer on top.  I went for the raspberry.
Cocoa Kick: Raspberry.
"The super-seed goodness of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and hemp combined with indulgent cocoa and tangy raspberry with a delicious chocolate-flavoured topping."

I almost liked this bar.

The layer of chocolate on top was dark chocolate and seemed to be decent quality.  It was thick and generous, and didn't leave me wanting for more.  The seed mix had cocoa mixed in as well, so, this delivered in the chocolately department, I did indeed get my "cocoa kick".

The raspberry flavor went well with the chocolate, but, I really didn't care for the raspberry seeds.  I have this problem with raspberries and blackberries, I just can't stand the seeds when I eat the fruits, and here there was tons of raspberry seeds mixed in.  That was off-putting to me.

But finally, I just didn't like the flavor of the seed mix, predominantly sunflower seeds.  A bit bitter, and just not a taste I like.

So, not the bar for me.  If you like seeds (both sunflower AND raspberry), then perhaps this is the bar for you.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Red Dog Restaurant

Update Review, May 2017

I'll admit it, I totally forgot about Red Dog, even though I was excited when I heard it was opening several years ago.  I was familiar with the chef from her role at Il Cane Rosso, and I was really happy she was opening her own restaurant.  I went once to get takeout brunch , and then ... uh , I forgot about it.  Which is sad, given that it only a block from my house.

I think the restaurant is suffering from people forgetting about it, and is trying to get back in touch with the neighborhood, so they invited my apartment building for a party.  They reserved an entire private area for us, on a Saturday night, from 6:30pm-8:30pm.  They brought us tons of food, and unlimited drinks, free of charge.  I appreciated it, for sure, but, I couldn't help but wonder why they were doing this for us.

Red Dog is open every day for lunch and dinner, plus brunch on weekends.  They have Happy Hours every day of the week from 3pm-7pm.  My visit was a Saturday night, and the restaurant had only a handful of tables occupied in the main room during that entire time.  Maybe lunch is busy during the week with all the businesses nearby?  Maybe they do a good weekend brunch?  Otherwise, I really don't understand how they can still be open all these hours?
Food & Drinks.
The dinner menu is broken into 4 categories: "getting started", "vegetables", "house-made pasta", and "entrees".

At our event, we were served items from the first 3 categories, plus off-menu pizza and Happy Hour specials.  It was a nice spread, and everything was fairly good.  Well prepared, well seasoned, but mostly a bit uninteresting.  There was one standout dish however, that I would return for.
Live Band.
On Friday and Saturday nights, they feature a live jazz band starting at 7pm.  Again, I thought this was really nice, but, couldn't help but wonder about it.  How can they pay a band when there are only a handful of occupied tables?  It did make for a lovely atmosphere though.
Grayhound / Vodka / Grapefruit.
Our hosts had selected a sparkling, a white, and a red wine, a handful of beers, and a single cocktail for us to pick from.  I started with the cocktail, a grayhound.

It was good, simple, but well made, and nicely balanced.  I was impressed that it wasn't too tart, but the vodka also wasn't too strong.

I moved on to the red wine selection (grenache) and wasn't such a fan, and wished I had just stuck with the cocktail.  I'd love to try some of their signature cocktails next.
House-cut Kennebec Fries / Curry Ketchup / Spicy Aioli. $5.
The fries came from the "getting started" section of the menu.  It is the only dish we had from the "getting started" section, which I was a bit disappointed by, as I really wanted to try their most famous dish, the deviled ham scotch egg, and the signature house-made rustic beer bread with honey butter.  Alas, I'll need to return to order them myself sometime.

The fries were fine, crispy enough, skin on, but, not particularly interesting.

I did not try the curry ketchup, but the spicy aioli was good, it did indeed have a bit of a kick to it.

Overall, fine, but not remarkable fries.  My second to last pick of the night, and I wouldn't get them again.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts & Romenesco / taggiasca olives /  lemon / remoulade. $7.
Next we had crispy veggies, from the vegetables section of the menu.  This menu section featured items I'd consider first courses like soup and salads, plus dishes that seemed more like sides like sauteed swiss chard and grilled asparagus, and this, which really seemed like an appetizer.  It was the only veggie dish we received.

This dish was awesome.  Dish of the night, hands down.  I loved it, and was thrilled that they kept bringing us fresh orders.  I certainly uh, ate my vegetables this night.

But this was not a healthy veggie dish, obviously.  The veggies were fried, very fried.  They clearly soaked up a ton of oil.  But, that is what made them delicious.  I really enjoyed both the brussels (particularly the crispy leaves) and the romanesco (softer, more juicy).   I didn't particularly want the olives, but they were fine.

I loved the remoulade.  It was fantastic.  Seriously, really, really excellent remoulade.  I liked the bits in it, I appreciated the slightly spicy flavor, and it was just a wonderful compliment to the veggies, although, actually, the veggies were tasty enough that they didn't need it.

Was this a perfect dish?  Nah.  The veggies weren't actually that crispy, and they did have too much oil.  But I really liked it, regardless.  I'd get it again.
Chilaquiles Dip / refried beans / juanito’s salsa / poached egg / house-made chips. $6.
Chilaquiles is featured on the Happy Hour menu, with a larger version with multiple eggs is also on the brunch menu.

The housemade chips were ok, a bit oily, but they had a good flavor to them.

The dip itself was, well, beans, which I'm not particularly fond of.  I did like that it was mostly smooth but still had bits of beans for texture, and it was well spiced, a fairly complex flavor.  The poached egg seemed strange for a Happy Hour / appetizer item, although I think it would be fine for brunch.

I felt this dish didn't quite hit the mark and seemed a bit confused / trying to hard, but I know my opinion is tainted in that I don't like beans or eggs much.  My least favorite dish.
Off-Menu Flatbread.
Pizzas, er flatbreads, aren't on the regular menu anywhere, but, we had many of these brought out throughout the night.

It came topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, some kind of meat, melty cheese, and arugula on top.

It was decent pizza, crispy crust, flavorful toppings, and I really liked the fresh perfectly melty cheese.  It might have been crescenza, like showed up in the pasta dish?  I even liked the arugula on top for added freshness.

My second favorite dish, although I wouldn't necessarily get it again.
Rosemary Pappardelle / pork & cabbage sugo / piquillo peppers / crescenza cheese. $19.
The "house-made pasta" section contains only two items, a vegetarian farro spaghetti, and this pappardelle.  We had only this one.

It was pretty good.  The pasta seemed like fresh pasta, large sheets of egg noodles, decently cooked.  I love crescenza, so the big glob of cheese was most welcome, although it didn't really melt into the dish very well.  The pork was soft and tender.

Overall, this was fine, although it didn't have much flavor nor complexity to it.  Still, I appreciated fresh pasta and I did like the cheese.  My third pick, middle of the road, I wouldn't get it again.

Original Review, October 2014

Last week I reviewed Il Cane Rosso, the fast casual restaurant of chef Lauren Kiino, located on the Embarcadero, in the Ferry Building.  That establishment was originally part of the Daniel Patterson group, although I think chef Kiino was the head chef there from day one.  But this past year, she opened her own restaurant from scratch, down the street in the other direction from my house: Red Dog.  The astute reader may notice the naming: Cane Rosso/Red Dog.

Red Dog in many ways feels like a slightly more grown up version of Il Cane Rosso.  It is a full service restaurant, unlike Il Cane Rosso, but it is still comfortable and casual.  The focus on local, seasonal ingredients, and Californian cuisine is there, but this time, in an environment where the cuisine can be more refined.  They are open for lunch and dinner daily, and brunch on weekends (when they first opened, they were open for breakfast during the week too, which is when I visited).

Service very friendly.  I was there to get french toast to go, and when the waitress saw that I had a coffee in hand, she offered to fill my cup up for me.  I said no the first time, but when she came to check on me while I was waiting a few minutes later, she offered again.  I had already paid my bill, but I hesitantly said sure.  She really seemed to want to give me more coffee, chirping about how she  brews it fresh all morning long.  The coffee was actually great - deep, dark, rich.   I imagine it is the same coffee they use at Fearless, their coffee shop next door (review coming next week!)
Dining Area.
The space is beautiful, in a casual way.  Bright, light-filled, open, airy, with gorgeous wood tones throughout.  I can't even count how many different colors and styles of wood I saw; the table tops were made from blond, narrow planks, the chairs from a darker wood, and floors were made of wide, dark planks.   It was stunning, in a modern rustic way.
Bar Area.
The wood tones are carried through to the bar area, with the same lighter colored wood is used for the bar,  and darker tones used for the stools.
Small Griddled French Toast: l emon fromage blanc, pluot compote. $7.
After a short wait, and some excellent coffee, I was presented with my to go bag.

The packaging was nicely done - utensils included, plentiful high-quality napkins provided, all in a nice paper bag with handles.  I imagine given the location in an office park, with such nice seating areas around outside, that take out is fairly common.

I was a bit surprised when I opened the box.  I did not see any slices of bread, which is uh, what I think of as french toast.

Instead, it was more like bread pudding.  A very thick slice, moist inside, slightly eggy.  Moderate spicing, I detected at least a little cinnamon.  What I loved was the griddled aspect - it provided a smokiness, almost burnt, but not quite.  The griddle also gave a lovely crust.  Something I always care about with bread puddings is having a crispy exterior and a moist, custardy interior, and they nailed that in a unique way with this preparation.

On top was a good sized scoop of lemon fromage blanc.  At first I was a bit disappointed by it, as it was tangy, and not very sweetened.  In my mind, when I'm getting french toast, I somewhat expect it to be a sugar bomb, all drenched in maple syrup or sweet fruit sauces, topped with sweetened whipped cream.  But once I re-adjusted my expectations, I quickly fell in love with it.  The texture was a bit more like ricotta than a smooth cream, but the tang was remarkable, and really made it feel like I wasn't eating dessert for breakfast.  Not that I have a problem with dessert for breakfast, but it makes it more of an acceptable "everyday" dish.

On the side was fruit compote, made from pluots.  It provided some of the sweetness that I was looking for, but it was not overly sweet.  There was a generous amount of this provided as well.  The pluot compote and fromage blanc made for a lovely combination, almost reminding me of a yogurt and fruit parfait.

Overall, this is not at all what I was expecting from the name french toast, but I really did enjoy it.  I'd get it again, but would rather explore more of the menu first.

The $7 price was remarkably reasonable for a very well thought out dish.  This was the small size, it is also available as two "slices" for $12.
Red Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Travelin' Tuesday: New York

As I've done with most major cities I travel to, such as ParisMunich, Boston, New Hampshire, Lisbon, Tokyo, soon to be updated, Sydney and London, I like to write a master post of my coverage of the city.

My ventures to New York were entirely too brief, so, this isn't a very impressive listing, but I'll add to it over time.

Bakeries/Treats

Restaurants

Flights




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Monday, May 15, 2017

Salad from Munchery

Munchery continues to pivot and try to find the right balance of offerings to be successful.  I'm honestly fairly impressed at how much the company has transformed over the years.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go read any of my previous Munchery reviews, where I've reviewed everything from an impressive version of Heston Blumenthal's World-Famous Chocolate and Cauliflower Risotto, to their partnership with local Indian restaurant Dosa, to totally amazing stuffed shells I still drool over, to simple comfort foods like fish sticks and bacon wrapped meatloaf, to even a full Thanksgiving dinner, and much, much more.

Since my earlier reviews, Munchery added cooking kits for those who do want to do some prep, but no shopping, they've added children's meals to accommodate whole families (or smaller appetites), they've partnered with local juice shops, they've added better desserts and ceased making them in-house.  They've also really increased their healthy, trendy offerings, with numerous salads, poke bowls, and grain bowls.

Salads aren't usually that interesting to me, but, for some reason, I went through a phase of craving salads on weekend evenings.  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't really on a health kick, I also wanted a big slice of cheesecake and a chunk of cornbread with honey butter alongside, and I started my days with weekend brunch of pancakes, waffles, and the like, but, I kept finding myself strangely wanting salads in the evenings.

Luckily for me, Munchery was able to satisfy these cravings with numerous salads to pick from, both entree sized and side salads, nearly every day.  Oh, and they have fantastic desserts too (more on that soon), so, I could satisfy all my needs.  If you'd like to try it yourself, just use my referral code and get $20 off your first order!
Standard Munchery Packaging.
So finally I caved and ordered a salad from Munchery, not really sure what to expect in terms of quality for something where freshness and quality produce matter.  I was drawn in by a caesar (always a favorite of mine) that came with all sorts of interesting "Mexican" ingredients.

It came in standard Munchery packaging: compostable base, plastic lid, colorful labeling with instructions ("Pour dressing and croutons over salad and mix"), ingredients, and nutritional information (470 calories) clearly presented.
Munchery Photo.
The stock photo looked like a well rounded salad, and, actually, what I received it was decently represented, sans nice plating of course.  My salad had the same number of shrimp, although far, far fewer croutons and cherry tomatoes.  And, uh, my corn was green and seasoned.  But, not too far off?
Mexican Shrimp Caesar Salad: corn / cojita / tomatoes / pepitas / croutons. $12.95.
"A modern, south-of-the-border twist on the traditional Caesar salad. We put citrus-marinated shrimp over shredded romaine lettuce with corn, tomatoes, and diced red peppers. Add our ciabatta croutons, crumbled cotija cheese, toasted peptias, and chipotle-Caesar dressing for the final step and you're ready to dig into one fantastic salad."

The packaging was done thoughtfully.  Croutons were in their own little container so as not to get soggy, and the dressing too was on the side separately.  The other elements were arranged on top of the lettuce in different sections: roasted red peppers over in one corner, seasoned corn in another. shrimp in another, cojita and pepitas in the middle, etc.  For the most part, this worked well (the pepitas weren't crunchy anymore though, there weren't nearly enough croutons in that tiny container, and the shrimp were kinda slimy).

The lettuce was the ingredient I was most worried about, and it was fine.  Fresh, crisp, not browned, not soggy.  Just standard romaine (not shredded as the menu said, but, regular chunks), and not quite enough of it (the ratio was just off here), but, the lettuce was fine.

I appreciated the concept behind the slew of toppings: little cubes of roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, and seasoned corn, plus pepitas, cotija cheese, and of course, the croutons, but, in practice none worked out great.  I don't really like roasted red peppers, and the flavor of the corn was horrible.  I have no idea what the seasoning was that coated it, and in the photo online it showed regular, vibrant, yellow corn but mine was covered in something green.  This made me sad, since, I do love roasted corn.

The cotija was fine, a good cheese choice, and a nice amount of it.  I love pepitas and looked forward to the crunch they would add, but, they had softened considerably inside the salad, and didn't seem toasted as described.  Maybe they too should have been on the side?  The croutons were actually awesome, really crispy, really flavorful.  The menu description said they were "ciabatta croutons" but the ingredients listed "batard bread", so, uh, someone needs to at least figure out what country invented the bread they used.  The problem?  I had only 4 croutons.  The tiny little container that kept them separate fit exactly 4 croutons.  I wanted more.  Many more.  They were awesome.

The other little container contained the chipotle-caesar dressing, and it was pretty good.  Creamy, good amount of parmesan, and it actually had anchovy in it.  It also had some kick, presumably from the chipotle, and this is what helped make the salad "mexican".  I liked the dressing, and the amount provided was about right.

The shrimp I feared would be rubbery, slimy, not cleaned, fishy, or all of the above.  And ... the shrimp were fine.  My salad contained 7, just like the photo.  They were a little slimy, but, besides that, actually fine, cooked well, not fishy, and marinated nicely.

My salad also came with a lime wedge to drizzle over, a nice touch.

So, overall, it was fine, but it sounded better than it actually was.  Still, kudos for fresh lettuce, not nasty shrimp, and very good croutons.
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Friday, May 12, 2017

Bite Box Snacks, Germany

I'm a snacker.  I prefer to just munch on things continuously throughout the day, rather than eat big meals.  Or even if I do eat meals like a normal person, I still like to snack all evening.  Granted, this is probably a bad habit I should get out of sooner rather than later, but, alas, it provides me lots of material for review, as I'm constantly trying new snacks, particularly when I travel.

When I was in Munich visiting my office there, I of course did what I always do - I explored the snacks.  Their little microkitchens were stocked with products from Bite Box, a company that seems to specialize in individually packaged snack foods for offices.

Their product line is huge, ranging from sweet to savory, healthy to decadent, fruity to chocolatey, and everything in between.  This include all sorts of dried fruits, coated nuts, and trail mixes, savory crackers, sweet cookies, and chocolate coated nibbles.  The products names are an amusing mix of English and non-English, like "Mac Daddy" (macadamia nuts), "Coffee To Go" (dark chocolate covered espresso beans and cappuccino almonds), and "Waasssup?!" (wasabi peanut), alongside "Asien Rundfahrt" (Asian rice cracker mix), "Holzf√§ller" (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts), and "Kolbenresser"(corn nuts).

Since I didn't have Google translate built into my brain, for most of these, I tried them without knowing what they were, and only looked them up later.

I enjoyed my adventures into the unknown, and found a few I really liked.

Tasty Mixes

This category was called "Tasty Mixes", which, the best I could tell, just meant it was the least healthy and most sweet items, mostly made up of assorted types of cookies (ranging from biscotti to stoopwafels), and chocolate coated items.
Coffee to Go.
On my first day in Munich, I discovered these.  The English name gave me a clue that this might be caffeinated, which sounded good to me.

Given my jetlag, this was a welcome first find, dark chocolate covered espresso beans and white chocolate cappuccino covered almonds, both of which gave me a bit of uplift.

I really loved the almonds, the creamy coating was quite enjoyable, and they had a nice crunch.  The chocolate covered espresso beans were pretty standard, crunchy, bitter, fine.  A handful of each was a nice mix, but, I really preferred the cappuccino almonds on their own.

My favorite of everything I tried.
Ka Rammel.
These were adorable little mini stroopwafels.  Except, I don't really like stroopwafels, like the locally made ones I totally failed at using properly by Rip Van Wafels or the "Award Winning" version by Lady Walton.  But, I still tried these, hoping I'd finally find a stroopwafel I liked, as everyone else loves these things.

And?  Yup, just stroopwafels.  The cookie was sorta like a chewy graham cracker, and the filling was chewy caramel.  Nothing particularly interesting here.
Kokosnasen.
"Coconut Biscuits with Spelt Flour."

"Kokosnasen", aka, "Coconuts", were small little hard style coconut cookies.  I liked them far more than I expected, given that they were 1) cookies 2) made with spelt flour.  They were crunchy, but the coconut flavor was good, and I didn't taste spelt.  I didn't really want to eat them plain, but I made mini ice cream sandwiches out of them with some snickerdoodle ice cream, and they were great that way.

Ojan also almost liked them, but proclaimed that they were "like coconut macaroons, but, not as good".

Dried Fruit

The dried fruit category includes everything from single dried fruits (mango, apricots, pineapple) to mixes (strawberry and pineapple, apple and cranberry, raisins and bananas).  Some of these were quite tasty.
Strandperlen.
Many of the mixes had English names, but, alas, this one did not.  What was it?  I had no clue, besides that it seemed to be dehydrated fruits.

I easily identified the big chunks of dehydrated pineapple, and little chunks of apple, but I had no idea what the other objects were.  I kinda thought they were dehydrated figs, but, that didn't seem quite right.

When I looked it up online after, the ingredients said "Physalis".  That still didn't help me.  A few internet searches later, and I learned that I know them as Cape gooseberries, you know, the little yellow-orange tomato things with the strange wrapper around them?

Anyway, the apple chunks I didn't care for since I don't like apple, and I wished they didn't make up 50% of the mix.  I liked the size of the pineapple chunks, and they were pretty sweet.  But I loved the physalis.  Super crunchy, just the right amount of sweet.  I'd gladly just eat a big box of those.

Overall, a decent mix for fruit, and, the dehydration was nicely done, more enjoyable that standard dried fruit.
Pure Lime - Kiwischeiben.
Dried kiwi ... with lime?

I didn't like this.

The kiwi was super chewy, more like jerky than crunchy dried fruit.  That was fine actually, but what wasn't fine was the lime.  The result was crazy tart, way too tart for my liking.

Hearty

Bite Box dubs this category "Hearty", but I didn't think they were especially hearty, just, that they are savory.  Included in this range is asian rice cracker mixes, coated corn nuts, wasabi peanuts, and veggie chips, among a few others.  I tried several of the asian mixes, when I was looking for something not sweet.
Black Pepper.
Next I went for something savory, rice crackers, coated in soy sauce and black pepper.
The crackers were pretty standard rice crackers, crunchy, good to snack on.  The soy sauce was also pretty standard for asian style rice crackers.  But the black pepper gave it some kick.  I'm not sure I wanted that kind of kick, but, it was interesting at least.

Overall though, uh, a bit too peppery for me, not quite the flavor I was looking for.
Asien Rundfahrt.
The "Asien Rundfahrt", "Asian Tour", was another asian inspired rice cracker mix, this time with coated peanuts and seaweed elements mixed in.

It was a pretty standard mix of Asian rice crackers, most with a slightly sweet soy sauce coating.  I liked the coated peanuts the best, but, my "Tour" only included 2 in the box.

Overall, fine to munch on, but not particularly exciting.
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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar

Update Review, May 2017

By now you know that in October, I visited New York, where I experienced much that the Momofuku empire has to offer: dinner at Nishi (swoon, those butter noodles!) followed by soft serve and cake truffles at Milk Bar (seriously, the best sprinkles ever!).  We also each snag a cookie to take with us, for, uh, breakfast.  I've reviewed these cookies before, so, this is just an update.  
Blueberry & Cream Cookie. $2.25.
"Sugar cookie dough, bits of milk crumbs and morsels of dried blueberries transform into a cookie that tastes just like the top of a blueberry muffin!"

Yeah, oops, I took a bite first.  Sometimes even I forget to snap a photo before I dig in ...

In general, I do not like cookies.  Momofuku Milk Bar cookies however are an exception.  These things are so buttery, so sweet, so rich ... that they just aren't "cookies".  I had this in a hotel room, so I wasn't able to warm it up and make it slighly soft and gooey, but I can only imagine how much better it is that way.

So, the cookie.  Very sugary, buttery base.  The sweetness isn't *just* sweet though ... accented with brown sugar and white chocolate for a more complex experience.  The little bits of dried blueberry momentarily convince your brain that it is totally ok to eat one of these for breakfast, since, uh, its like a blueberry muffin?

I enjoyed my cookie (perhaps for breakfast) quite a bit, but I wished I had been able to warm it up, or crumble it on top of ice cream ...
Confetti Cookie. $2.25.
"Just like the milk bar b’day truffles and layer cake, this sugar cookie is full of birthday sprinkles, birthday crumbs and that familiar old fashioned vanilla flavor!"

The confetti cookie was the seasonal selection while we were in New York, and Ojan snatched it up for himself to try something new.

He may have beat me to it (ahem!), but at least he saved me a bite?  And a very, very good bite it was.

It may not sound like a very exciting cooking, particularly when compared with the other creative options, but I think it was actually my favorite.  A sweet, buttery, sugar cookie base.  Crunchy little sprinkles.  And then .... the birthday crumbs mixed in!  The crumbs were just fantastic and kicked it up a zillion notches.

I was pretty sad not to get more than a single bite though.

Original Review, November 2015

Many years ago, at least ... 6? 7?  I visited New York, and learned about Momofuku Milk Bar.  Being a dessert girl, I was drawn in by the creative offerings, including a pie that everyone raved about (crack pie), and soft serve ice cream made from the sweet milk left in the bottom of your cereal bowl (cereal milk).  These signature items from Momofuku Milk Bar are ridiculously well known at this point, but they were just becoming a rage at the time.

I don't recall exactly what we got on that visit, but I do remember both Ojan and I loving the cereal milk soft serve, and I was smitten by the cake truffles.  I didn't write a blog then, but I did rave about it to a friend over IM, saying, "Basically, everything I had a Momofuku Milk Bar was incredible.  If you are ever in New York, you definitely need to go!!!"

A few days later, we were at a party at a friend's house (still in New York), and someone brought Momofuku Milk Bar cookies.  I remember trying the blueberry and cream cookie and being blown away.  You may recall, I'm not really that big of a cookie person, but these were something else.

Flash forward a few years, to 2011.  Christina Tosi, the pastry chef, published a cook book, and went a book tour, stopping in SF.  I went to one of her talks, and found her to be really engaging.  She told so many stories about her work in the kitchen, how she crafted recipes, etc.  Her love of baking was infectious.  I really enjoyed her talk, per personality, and obviously, her treats.  She brought samples. 

The interesting thing is she didn't just bring finished products, she also brought "crumbs".  Crumbs are building blocks to many of her recipes, and the cookbook includes recipes for a number of types of crumbs.  You'll find the crumbs on top of, and in between layers of, her epic layer cakes.  You'll find them inside the cookies.  The cake truffles are rolled in them.

I started with the plain milk crumbs.  These are used for the "cream" element in the blueberry and cream cookies.  They were really tasty to just snack on, basically like buttery shortbread, with a milky, creamy taste.

I moved on to the cornflake crumbs.  These weren't as good to just eat on their own, but I see how they have their purpose in the cornflake cookies.

And finally, the birthday crumbs, like the milk crumbs, but, with rainbow sprinkles inside.  Ridiculously tasty just to nom on.

I was pretty hooked at this point.  And then I had the Crack Pie for the first time.  My world changed.  Seriously, stop what you are doing now, if you somehow haven't had Crack Pie, go get some.  If you are in New York/Washington DC/Toronto, go to Milk Bar.  If you are elsewhere in the US, order it online.  Pay the ridiculous overnight delivery fee.  It is worth it.  It is an earth shattering pie, aptly named.

Anyway, I don't claim to have discovered Milk Bar early, but, it was long before they shipped nationwide, before Christina Tosi was on Masterchef, and before you could buy the cookie mix at Williams-Sonoma.  I loved it then, I still love it now, so I dug up these notes to share with you.

Oh, and if anyone is interested in sending me a cake, I've never had any of Momofuku's Milk Bar's cakes, but the Birthday and Dulce de Leche Cakes look like the best versions ever of these classics.  (I'd settle for a Crack Pie or any of the cake truffles too).

Cookies

The cookie menu at Momofuku Milk Bar has not changed in years.  The selection of 5 I tried on my visit many years ago is exactly what is still offered today.  They came up with some winning recipes, and haven't messed with them.

As I've said in many other reviews, I'm not normally a big fan of cookies, but these are truly great cookies.  The soft, gooey textures, the amazing flavors, just set them apart from all other cookies.

They are pricey at $2.25 each at the shop, but they are large, and, some of the most unique flavors I've ever had.  You can also order online for delivery nationwide, and, the cookies do seem to freeze pretty well.  Williams-Sonoma also carried cookies mixes for some flavors, although they seem unavailable now.
Compost Cookie®.
"Packed with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch and chocolate chips, this cookie strikes the perfect balance between salty & sweet."

The Compost Cookie® may be Milk Bar's most famous, or at least, the name sure is (so much so that they registered it).  Does it sound appealing?  Well, not if you stop reading at "compost".  But if you read on to "salty & sweet", then, yes!

The base is ridiculously buttery, ridiculously sweet, ridiculously gooey.  It is a thin, gigantic cookie.  That alone is great, but then it is loaded up with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coffee grounds, graham crumbs, pretzels, and chips.  Yes, all of that.

Unfortunately, I didn't detect any chips or pretzels in mine, which resulted in it being more of a sweet overload.  I needed the salty, I wanted the crunch.  It was still pretty tasty, but you need to be in the mood for serious amounts of butter and sugar to enjoy it.  Coffee grounds did add a nice bitter component.  My 3rd favorite overall, and one I'd eat again, but not as special as some of the others. 

I froze several of these, but they were not as good post-freezing, as they lost their soft gooeyness.  In general, cookies freeze well, but this one I wouldn't recommend freezing.  The sugar and butter delicious flavor is still there, but the lovely softness is lost.
 Cornflake-Marshmallow-Chocolate-Chip Cookie.
"Our play on the classic chocolate chip cookie with crunchy cornflakes, gooey marshmallows & mini chocolate chips!"

There is a reason butter is the first ingredient listed for this one.

Another thin cookie, ridiculously buttery, ridiculously sweet, ridiculously gooey.  The base seems very similar to the Compost Cookie.

I liked it as a chocolate chip cookie, and I loved the addition of the marshmallow, it gave a really nice flavor and texture.  But, I hated the cornflake!  It was a super strange texture to have in the cookie, as it was kinda soggy, and flavor-wise it totally didn't work for me.  My least favorite of all the cookies.
Chocolate Chocolate Cookie.
"Chocolate cookie dough with cocoa powder, 55% chocolate, chocolate crumbs and a hint of salt- a cookie that’s dense and fudgy like a brownie and very, very chocolate-y!"

This was a thicker cookie, not thin like the first two, but still very soft and gooey.  I think the texture of the cookies is my favorite aspect of Milk Bar's cookies, and I'm sure it is due to the butter content.

This one, like the others, was very buttery.  Ir reminds me more of a brownie than a cookie. The  chocolate flavor was not very intense though, which surprised me given all the chocolate used, and the deep brown color.

I tried these a few more times, and always remarked on how the chocolate flavor just wasn't that strong.  They did freeze well, and were good, but just not amazing, and not really my thing.  4th pick of the 5, and not one I really wanted more of.
Corn Cookie.
"A milk bar cult favorite – the familiar flavors from cornbread transform into a sweet, buttery cookie!"

This was the thickest cookie, not nearly as soft, more crunchy.  In fact, not gooey at all.  It tasted like ... cornbread or a corn muffin.  Except a cookie.  And very buttery cornbread at that.

It was not very sweet.  It had a smaller diameter than others due to the thickness, but was still a massive cookie overall, and weighed a ton.  It was really strange to have cornbread as a cookie, but it was very flavorful.

It took a while, but this cookie totally grew on me.  Think of all the goodness of buttery corn bread or a corn muffin, but ... as a cookie.  Strange, but it totally works.  My second favorite, and I'd gladly eat more of these.  The thicker style, and less gooey, made it more amenable for freezing too.
Blueberry & Cream Cookie™
"A cookie that tastes like the top of a blueberry muffin- we take our sugar cookie dough, add bits of milk crumbs & morsel of dried blueberries!"

Speaking of muffins, the Blueberry & Cream Cookie™, like the corn cookie, is also muffin inspired.

This one was thicker than the Compost and Cornflake cookies, but thinner than the Double Chocolate and Corn, somewhere right in the middle.  Same with the texture, not as gooey as the thin ones, not as crisp as the thicker ones.

It had little dried blueberries and the signature milk crumbs throughout, as various size chunks.  I loved the chunks of milk crumb, and the intense pops of blueberry flavor.

This was like a blueberry pie or blueberry muffin ... but as a cookie.  Just like the corn cookie, it isn't how you traditionally expect to taste these flavors, but, it works.  Why NOT turn delicious things into cookies?

I loved this one, my favorite overall.  It was not as sweet or gooey as the Compost or Cornflake, but that just made it possible to eat more of it, and it was still plenty sweet and gooey.

But, like the other softer styles, it was not as good after freezing, as it lost some soft goeyness.
Momofuku Milk Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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