Thursday, July 02, 2015

Bacetti Ice Cream

Bacetti is a San Francisco based frozen treat manufacturer, with a facility located on Howard Street.  I've walked by many times, and noticed the sign advertising ice cream treats, but since they don't have a retail store front, I wasn't ever able to learn more.

That is, until I discovered the treats at Chantal Guillon Macarons.  I'm not really into macarons, but frozen treats?  Yes!  This is the only place they are sold, but you can also get them catered for events.

So what is Bacetti?  "Bacetti is an authentic gelato bite covered by a thin coat of chocolate."  Basically, individually wrapped gelato treats, available in assorted flavors.
Mint Bacetti: Packaging.
"Handmade and individually wrapped like a candy."

I must admit, the packaging is fun.  It does indeed feel like opening up a piece of candy!

The size is also fun.  You could pop the whole thing in your mouth in one bite, but it seemed best suited for two bites.  Someone with restraint might find a single one to be just enough to satisfy their sweet tooth, but I think it would take two for me.
Mint Bacetti: Inside.
I eagerly bit in (sorry, the photo was taken once I had a bite already).

The chocolate shell was thin, much better than what you'll find on most frozen confections at the grocery store.  It was clearly actual chocolate, made with cocoa powder, and wasn't waxy.  It had a nice snap to it.

The inside was fairly creamy ice cream, er, gelato.  It had a subtle mint flavor.  Chocolate and mint is always a combination I enjoy, and this was no exception.

Overall, it was good, it was fun, but I don't really see a reason to get another.
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Air New Zealand, AKL - SFO, Business Class

You are probably getting bored with reading about Air New Zealand flights.  I promise, this is the last one!

As you read about last week, our journey home began with a "Works Deluxe" flight from Sydney to Aukland, boring, although the food was better than anticipated.  We followed that with a visit to the lounge in Aukland, which really didn't have great afternoon offerings.  Our final leg was business class aboard NZ 8, exactly the same 777-300 aircraft as we flew on on N Z7 in the other direction.

Cabin and Service

Business Class Seat.
Since I reviewed the seat in my previous post, I’ll skip that this time, as it was absolutely identical.  As was the amenity kit waiting for me.  The water bottle at my seat was New Zealand brand, so I guess that was oh so slightly different.  But really, it felt like deja vu.

Take-off time was 7:35pm (2 hours ahead of Sydney).  Boarding started long after the specified boarding time on our boarding cards, but we still took off on time.  I actually hoped we’d take off late, since the just over 11 hour flight time isn’t great for a takeoff so early in Sydney time.  I knew that to have 8 hours of sleep with the dinner service and breakfast service on either side, I’d need to go to bed immediately after dinner, and by about 7:30pm Sydney time.  Ugh.

Standard pre-takeoff drinks of water, orange juice, and sparkling wine were offered once aboard, warm towels were brought by, and our first drink and main dinner selection orders were taken.  The service was all friendly and efficient, not much to say here.

The early departure time made it impossible to fall asleep until many hours into the flight.  I barely slept, but it wasn’t the fault of the comfort of the seat.  Just as before, I found the seat quite comfortable, wide, long, soft.

I had finally managed to close my eyes and perhaps nod off, when, all around me was a ruckus.  Exactly 2 hours and 15 minutes before landing the cabin sprung into action.  When I pulled off my eye mask to see what was going on, I saw that everyone, sans Ojan and one other, were already up.  Their beds were being converted into seats.  Ugh.  I pushed my mask back on, thinking I could sleep a little bit more, but it was hopeless.  Everyone was so loud.  I think the way the seats convert adds to this, since the staff basically have to do it for you, and the air is filled with, “Can I convert your bed for you?”  It is also a much more active process than a standard bed that just slides up, lots more motion, commotion.  Ugh.  So, up I was.  Unless my SFO-AKL flight, I did not awake feeling well rest.

Dinner

Dinner Menu.
Since this flight was a regular evening departure, rather than later night as our previous flight, the meal service was a full dinner service, no “Fast Dine” Option available.

As always, there were two choices “To Begin”, one meat, one seafood, no vegetarian option:

  • Seared venison fillet with kumara chips, pickled red onion, smoked chili, and micro herbs
  • Roasted sumac salmon and quinoa salad with tahini yogurt dressing
Followed by selections “ From the bakery”, a similar but slightly different lineup from our previous flight: purple wheat rolls, garlic bread, sourdough loaf, and ciabatta bread.

For the mains, there was again a red meat, a chicken, a seafood, and a vegetarian soup:
  • Lamb shank with golden kumara mash, green beans, spinach and pea medley with mint apple jelly
  • Moorish chicken with spiced saffron tomato broth, white beans and cinnamon roasted pumpkin hummus
  • Seared hapuka in miso coconut broth with steamed shiitake rice, gai pan, and fresh coriander salsa
  • Parsnip and yellow split pea slop with blackened corn and mustard seed relish
And finally, “To finish”:
  • White chocolate and rosewater panna cotta with pistachio cream
  • Gourmet dessert of strawberries and cream ice cream with strawberry compote and meringue
  • A selection of fine New Zealand cheese served with plum chutney and cracker selection
Available at any time was “Midnight snack” of salami, red pepper, and Swiss cheese toasted bap.

I was a bit devastated by the main dish selection.  I really dislike lamb, chicken, rice, and split peas.  And fish is just rarely good on flights.  I had been secretly hoping that the burger Ojan had on the previous flight would make a reappearance.  Of course I knew the menu in advance, since my colleagues had all flown over the previous few days, so I went in prepared to not really eat much dinner on the flight, having started my day with an epic feast at Mosiac Restaurant in my hotel, followed by both the breakfast and tea time selections in the airline lounge in Sydney, followed by a surprisingly good lunch on my flight from Sydney to Auckland, and finally, feasting in the lounge in Auckland before boarding.
Perrier, nuts.
Soon after takeoff, our previously ordered drinks were delivered, along with a little bowl of cashews and almonds.  The nuts were not warmed, nor spiced, nor actually interesting nuts.  Meh.

I appreciated the bottle of Perrier, but amusingly, all subsequent sparkling waters I ordered were just generic cans.

After a little while, the cart came through with our choice of the two appetizers, both served cold, along with wine, and the warm bread basket.
Starter: Seared venison fillet with kumara chips, pickled red onion, smoked chili, and micro herbs. Garlic Bread.
Ojan opted for the venison.  I tried a bite, and it was actually really tender and well cooked, but cold venison is not really what I’d ever go for.  The dish also just didn't have much flavor.

I mostly wanted to snag a few of the kumara chips, but, alas, chips they were not, rather, they were totally soggy.  The micro herbs on top were a nice garnish.

This was better than expected, and good for what it was.

He opted for garlic bread again, which I skipped, having not really liked it last time, although, they did nail the heavy garlic.
 Roasted sumac salmon and quinoa salad with tahini yogurt dressing. Purple wheat roll.
I went for the seafood option.

The salmon was nicely cooked, it wasn’t fishy, and it was even a bit rare inside.  It was also served cold, which I think is how all their appetizers are, but I would have preferred warm.  This was all good, except that I hated the sumac coating.  Unlike the not-very-flavorful venison, this was very, very flavorful.  If you liked sumac, I’m sure it was fine, but it was not for me.

It was drizzled with a bit of the yogurt dressing which I didn’t really taste, and served over a multicolor cold quinoa salad.  The quinoa was all a bit mushy, and not particularly flavorful.  There were also some seeds mixed in.

This dish sounded similar to the salmon and cous cous salad I had on my previous flight, just a Works Deluxe and not business class offering, except that one was actually delicious, and this fell short on many levels.

I also selected the purple wheat roll from the bread basket.  I have no idea why.  I generally skip the bread basket on flights, but, I was struck by a moment of wanting to participate when the basket was put in front of me.

It was shockingly good actually.  Soft and fluffy, flavorful, nice wheat flavors.  Huh.  I was offered a little bottle of personal olive oil as well, which I accepted, and it was quite nice to dunk my roll in, decent quality.

So far, the roll was the best part of my meal, and I actually finished mine gladly.  When Ojan tried a bite after I said it was good, I somewhat aggressively demanded that he give it back quickly.

I also had a glass of Chardonnay alongside, that was very pleasant.  Smooth, a bit buttery, really quite nice.
Main: Lamb shank with golden kumara mash, green beans, spinach and pea medley with mint apple jelly.
Ojan opted for the lamb shank after rave reviews from our co-workers.  Given his look when he took his first several bites, he did not enjoy it.  Since I know I loathe lamb, I didn't try the meat.

I tried the golden kumara mash, it was creamy and decent.  The green beans, spinach, and peas were actually nicely prepared, not mushy, not too crispy.  But they were smothered in the sauce from the lamb, which tasted lamby, so that kinda ruined it for me.
Main: Seared hapuka in miso coconut broth with steamed shiitake rice, gai pan, and fresh coriander salsa.
Given that I actively did not want the other options for my main, I was left with the hapuka, a fish with which I was unfamiliar.

It was meaty, fishy, and cooked well done, a bit dry.  I did not like the fish.

It was served over rice, which I never like, and this was no exception.  Just, rice.

On the side was gai pan, which was cooked fine, but like the rest of the plate, smothered in the miso coconut broth.  Now, this sounds like something I should love.  I love miso.  I love coconut.  I love sauces.  But I absolutely did not like this sauce, and honestly didn’t taste miso nor coconut.  It tasted sorta like a citrus cream, which was really not enjoyable.

Both main dishes really failed for me.  The only good parts were the roll, and Ojan’s veggies.
Dessert: White chocolate and rosewater panna cotta with pistachio cream.
Next were the desserts.  Ojan and I decided to split both, since I wanted them both.

I adore panna cottta, but I was skeptical of this, since I don’t tend to care for rosewater.  The panna cotta was very thick, more well set than I’d prefer.  And … it tasted like rosewater.  Mild perhaps, but, not a flavor I really liked.  The cream on the side was fine, but it didn’t really taste like pistachio (which was fine with me).

Not a winner.
Dessert: Gourmet dessert of strawberries and cream ice cream with strawberry compote and meringue.
Next, the ice cream, another item I'm pretty familiar with.  Strawberry is my least favorite flavor of ice cream, sadly.  The ice cream was fine, and loaded with berries, but, well, strawberry.  The strawberry compote on top was way too sweet and definitely didn’t taste fresh.  The merginue pieces were fine but I don’t love crispy meringues.

Sigh.  I feel like most of my problem with the entire menu was that it was just things I don’t really like.  Lamb. Chicken.  Chick peas.  Rice.  Quinoa.  Strawberry ice cream. Rosewater.  The food all seemed decently prepared, but, alas, when you don’t like what it is made from, there isn’t much saving it.

I asked what was on the cheese platter, hoping for a nice triple cream, but, alas, the cheeses were blue cheese, feta, and cheddar.  For some reason lately I’ve been really not liking blue cheese, I don’t ever care for feta, and cheddar is fine, but booing.  I gave up at this point and moved on to an after dinner drink.
Decaf Coffee.
I went for a decaf coffee, served in a really nice sizable mug.  After a full week of feeling like coffee cups were all tiny, this was quite welcome.  The coffee wasn’t horrible.

Breakfast

Breakfast Menu.
Breakfast began with the same “Wake-up Drinks”: apple juice or orange juice, and a mango, pineapple, and coconut smoothie.  I tried the smoothie this time around, mostly out of boredom while waiting to use the bathroom.  It had a nice flavor, with the mango, pineapple, and coconut flavors all coming through, but it was a smoothie after all, thick with yogurt base, and I didn’t care for it.

For those who wanted to maximize sleep, which I assure you was impossible given the ruckus, there was a "Sleep In" option that included just fruit, yoghurt, cereal, a pastry, and drink.

The menu then had "From the Pantry", "From the Bakery", and "From the Stove" options that we had become accustomed to at this point.
Breakfast Cart: "From the Pantry".
The first phase of breakfast come from the cart.

“From the Pantry” we could select similar fruit, yogurt, and cereal as our previous flights.  The selection was slightly different from our other flights, mostly likely just due to where it was catered out of, the but basic concept was the same:

  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Plain Greek yoghurt or fruit yoghurt
  • Berry cereal
  • Toasted muesli
Pantry: Fruit Yogurt & Toasted Muesli.
Since the fruit salad contained melons, I skipped it.

I opted for the fruit yoghurt (berry) topped with toasted muesli.

On the previous flight, the yogurt was low fat, this time it was not, which I knew, since the menu didn’t say low fat.  The difference between US and NZ catering!  

The yogurt was really quite good.  Creamy, a bit sweet with a little berry compote mixed in.  I would have preferred far more berry compote, but that was probably just luck of the draw, since I think they mixed it in themselves.

The cereal selections were a toasted muesli or a berry cereal.  I asked for just a little bit of muesli sprinkled on top of my yogurt for some crunch, and my yoghurt got absolutely buried under muesli.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  The muesli was uninteresting, mostly just toasted flakes with rock hard raisins inside.  I don't mind raisins, but why must they so often be little rocks?  I mostly shoved it aside and dug for my tasty yogurt.

So far, breakfast was much better than on previous flights.  I filled up on yoghurt and muesli, not having high hopes for anything else, and, well, it was tasty.
Bakery: Danish.
Next came the bread basket.  “Would you like something from the bakery?”, the staff member asked.  This made me laugh, as, clearly, it wasn’t exactly from a bakery.  Anyway, the “From the Bakery” selection matched what we had on our flight from Auckland to Sydney, rather than San Francisco to Auckland, which I’m assuming is the standard catering out of Auckland:

  • Croissants or fruit Danish
  • Vogel’s or fruit toast with your choice of marmalade, strawberry jam, Vegemite, Marmine
This time, when the options were shown to me, it was explained that Vogel’s is a New Zealand brand bread.  Both the Vogel’s and the fruit toast looked pretty good, nicely toasted, offered with jam or marmalade alongside.

There were also croissants and danishes, warm.  I again opted for a danish, I’m not sure why, given how bad the one was on my Auckland to Sydney flight.  I guess I was feeling lucky given the yogurt success.

The danish had a little custard and an apricot inside.  Since it had been warmed up, it was gummy and moist.  Certainly not flaky, nor buttery, but with a high oil content presumably to make it shelf stable.  The custard just tasted strange.  I ate this, I’m not really sure why, as it wasn’t very good.  Perhaps the simple toast with jam would have been a better option.
Stove: Waffles with mixed spice sugar, black doris plum compote, and Greek yogurt.
And finally, the hot items, “From the Stove”, which were ordered when they came through with smoothies, in advance.  (Side note: I wish that like other airlines you could order before bed, to allow more time for sleep.  Then again, I can imagine wanting to change my mind based on how I was feeling?)  Anyway, our choices were:

  • Ricotta and fried pastrami filled omelette with breakfast ratatouille and sautéed potatoes.
  • Scrambled eggs with gourmet pork and apple sausage, creamed spinach, and tomato relish.
  • Waffles with mixed spice sugar, black doris plum compote, and Greek yogurt.
  • Hot bacon roll - a warmed roll, buttered and filled with grilled bacon, offered with caramelized onion jam and barbecue sauce.
I’m a sweet, carb loving breakfast girl, so I obviously went for the waffles, although the french toast and the hot cakes from my previous flights were really quite awful.  From the other dishes, I wanted the creamed spinach served alongside the scrambled eggs, and perhaps the ricotta, but, uh, I couldn’t really have that.  I also noted that the famed hot bacon roll was the same as our other flight out of Auckland.

The waffle was actually worse than the pancakes or french toast.  It was flappy and soggy.  Not remotely crispy.  Remember how thrilled I was by the waffle on BA?  Yeah, this was nothing like that.  Just a floppy, soggy, mess.  Hard to cut even, as it was rubbery.  Wow.  The flavor of the “mixed spice sugar” was also really strange.

The black doris plum compote on top was sweet, but I also didn’t care for the flavor of that.  The greek yogurt topping seemed to literally just be greek yogurt dolloped on top.  Not sweetened, not whipped, not made creamy.  And, since it was on top of warm waffles, it too was warm.  Very, very off putting.

The only good thing I can say about this was the little pot of syrup on the side was cute.  It was a spiced syrup of sorts, certainly not maple.

Two bites into the waffles I realized there was no way I was going to finish them, and we still had a few hours before I’d be home, so I should probably eat more.  I rang my call button to ask for more fruit yogurt.  I wanted just a little more, but a giant bowl was brought out.  I didn’t manage to finish it all, but I did certainly load up on yogurt, and, without the muesli in the way, I liked it even more.  So sweet and creamy, really a nice product, and I wish I knew what brand it was.

Ojan went for the scrambled eggs, on recommendation from our co-worker who flew a few days prior and said they were good.  I didn’t get a photo, as I was busy watching my movie and didn’t notice that his meal had arrived, and he committed the crime of daring to eat without snapping a photo first.  But, let’s just say, he didn’t make much more progress on his dish than I did.  He ate only the spinach, and he did so before I even got a chance to try it.  That was the part I wanted to try!  The others around us who also ordered the scrambled eggs returned theirs virtually untouched as well.  I wonder if we just had someone in the kitchen who didn’t quite know what they were doing?  These breakfast meals couldn’t possibly always be THIS bad, could they?
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Monday, June 29, 2015

Fresh North Indian Homemade Meals by Preeti

I recently got invited to a tasting for a new meal delivery service in the San Francisco area: Fresh North Indian Homemade Meals by Preeti.

Preeti makes, you guessed it, fresh north indian meals.  She delivers to the SF area on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  You order via e-mail or phone by 10am the day before.  Since I've still yet to find an Indian restaurant in San Francisco that I really like, for dine-in or delivery, I was really excited to try Preeti's offerings.

The menu changes weekly, but always includes a dal and a vegetable dish.  She also offers a chicken dish.  Each dish comes with either roti or white rice, your choice.  Additionally, you can add in her homemade yogurt or kulfi.

Ojan and I got to try both the yogurt and the kulfi, along with two main dishes.  Everything was really quite good, probably the best Indian food I've had in the SF area, including all restaurants.  It was fresh and flavorful, clearly homemade, so different from Indian food at restaurants.  I've never had Indian home cooking, but, I imagine this is what it is like.  Far less oily and heavy than restaurant food.

We'll definitely order again, so we eagerly await her launching the service more widespread.

Homemade Yogurt.
We were given a large container of yogurt on the side.

The yogurt was clearly homemade, as it was lumpy and not the creamy consistency I'm used to from commercial yogurts.  It was a bit thin and watery, but again, I'm used to thick Greek yogurt.  The flavor was quite tart, it clearly wasn't loaded with sugar.

This wasn't my style of yogurt, as I go for very creamy, very rich, very smooth style yogurts, and I only have yogurt with fruit and granola for breakfast, not alongside savory dinner food.  It isn't something I've learned to like, even though I've had a lot of exposure to it from eating Persian food with Ojan and his family.

Ojan gladly dug into the yogurt along side our meal, and really liked the yogurt.  He said it was perfect with his tahdig (crispy rice).  He also commented that his parents would really like it.

So, the yogurt was not my thing, but, I'm not the target audience for it.
Chana Masala.
Next, chana masala.  A dish I literally never, ever order.  I don't like beans, and I certainly don't like chickpeas.  But ... I had to try it.  Plus, the color of the dish looked quite different from any other chana masala I've seen before.

As expected, I didn't care for the chickpeas, but, the spicing of the sauce was good, and it really tasted fresh and healthy.  Not that chana masala is generally an unhealthy tasting dish, but there really seemed to be far less oil than I'm used to.  I appreciated having some of the sauce on my tahdig, but again, this wasn't really a dish I'd ever want.

Ojan enjoyed it and said he'd get it again.  I was going to offer some to a friend, and he asked that I save it for him instead, always a good sign.
Paneer with Bell Peppers.
Next, paneer!  Now we were getting somewhere.  I love paneer, although, I'll admit, I normally have it smothered in a creamy sauce, rather than just stir fried with vegetables.

The paneer was fairly large chunks, and plenty of it.  The rest of the dish was bell peppers of assorted colors, plus plenty of other spicing.  There was sooo much flavor in this dish!  It was a bit spicy, but certainly not too spicy, even for Ojan who doesn't have a lot of spice tolerance.

We both really liked it.  Ojan was shocked by how much he liked it, since he doesn't normally adore paneer the way I do, and whenever we order Indian food, I always force us to get paneer.

I still can't get over how awesomely flavorful this was.  I would certainly love to try more of her paneer dishes, and, although I normally go for paneer tikka masala, butter paneer, paneer makhani, or cream laden palak paneer, I did appreciate having something that didn't leave me feeling quite so awful.

Thank you Preeti for teaching me about more healthy indian cuisine.
Homemade Kulfi.
And, the best part: homemade kulfi!

I have a freezer full of ice cream at all times, and thought I was sick of frozen dairy goods ... and then I tried Preeti's homemade kulfi.

It was delicious.  I loved it.  The texture was great.  The flavors incredible.  I detected so many flavors: Pistachio. Cardamom. Rosewater.  It was sweet, there was texture, there was so much going on.  It melted beautifully.

Hit of the meal for me, and really quite remarkable.  It didn't last long in my freezer!
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Sunday, June 28, 2015

3 Bit Chocolate Bars

I've mentioned before that my dear friends help supply me with a constant stream of new and fascinating chocolate to review, particularly when they go visit other countries.  This one comes from my friend who also brought me the bars loaded with nuts and fruit from Studentská Pecat and several selections from Milka, both of which I've previously reviewed.  She also brought me a 3 Bit bar.  I'd never heard of it.

I couldn't find much information about 3 Bit online, and the entire wrapper was not in English, so, alas, I don't have much more to say in way of introduction here, besides that I really do love trying new chocolate bars, so, thank you friends!
3 Bit: Inside!
From the photo on the wrapper, I expected this to be something like a s'more, sorta like a graham cracker, fluffy white marshmallow layer, and drenched in chocolate.  It wasn't anything like I expected.

There was a biscuit layer, not really like a graham cracker, more like a shortbread.  The white layer was crunchy too though, almost like a malt?  I have no idea what it was, and since the entire wrapper wasn't in English, I couldn't really figure it out.

I was really in the mood for something sweet and marshmallowy, so this was a bit of a disappointment for me, but Ojan eagerly devoured it.
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Friday, June 26, 2015

Pepperidge Farm Cookies

What do you do when you are bored in an American Airline's Admiral's Club?  I dunno about you, but I sample the food.  Of course, there isn't really much offered in most Admiral's Clubs.  But in LAX, the lounge is divided into two sections, and the Flagship Lounge has Pepperidge Farm Cookies.  I guess they are considered premium?  I am not really much of a cookie fan, at least compared to other desserts, and these didn't look great, but, I was bored, so I decided to try them all.

I'm not one who grew up with packaged cookies, Pepperidge Farm or otherwise, so I don't have fond childhood memories of these cookies, although I know many people do.  That isn't to say that I didn't have cookies, I just had fresh baked cookies at all times, because my mother was a baker.  But all those classic packaged cookies, Pepperidge Farm, Chips Ahoy!, Keebler ... they never found their way into our house.

Of course, somehow over the years I've encountered Pepperidge Farm cookies a few times, perhaps at parties or friends houses.  When I started my job, our microkitchens were filled with Milanos.  I remember always thinking the bags looked fancy.  But I still had no real memory of what these cookies were like.

It turns out, there was a reason for that.  They are just not memorable cookies!  My curiosity has been satisfied, but I won't be going out to buy any of these anytime soon.  Speaking of curiosity, I always look up information about a company when I write a post, and I learned that Pepperidge Farm is owned by the Campbells Soup company.  Random, right?  But maybe that is why people think of pairing Goldfish crackers and tomato soup?

Anyway, the assortment placed out in the lounge seemed to be the "Classic Favorites" assortment featuring 6 different cookies.  I tried them all.
Chessmen.
I started with a Chessmen.

I guess Chessmen are just simple shortbread?  But this wasn't nearly as buttery or decadent as a shortbread should be.  It crumbled very easily.

Plain and boring, my 3rd pick of the 6.
Bordeaux.
Next the "bordeaux".  The name told me nothing about it, so I had no idea what to expect.

What on earth is this thing?  It was super thin and crispy.  It almost seemed burnt, but perhaps this is the desired taste and texture?  Why on earth would you ever want such a plain, crispy cookie?  I'd promptly turn these into a tart crust, or at least slather them with ... something.

Probably my least favorite.
Lisbon.
Next I went for the "Lisbon".  It seemed to be a chocolate chip cookie, dipped in dark chocolate on one edge.  It isn't listed on the Pepperidge Farm website, so I think it only comes as part of the collection.

It was ... a plain, boring, crispy cookie, with bits of chocolate inside that were too small to taste.  Definitely not for me, my second to least favorite.
Milano.
"Ah, the classic Milano cookie. Simple. Elegant. The perfect balance of exquisite cookies and luxuriously rich chocolate—in irresistible varieties to match any mood."

Just slightly better than the Lisbon was the Milano.  Seriously, all these cookies are just so boring.  The chocolate filling placed the Milano above the Lisbon for me, but even then, there wasn't nearly enough chocolate to really taste or be interesting.
Brussels Cookie.
"A Brussels cookie is a celebration of contrasting textures. Lace-thin, crisp cookies embrace a layer of smooth, luxurious, dark chocolate"

Ok, this one was at least interesting.  It was super crispy in a good way, and almost seemed ... fried?  It was fairly decadent.  My second pick.
Lido.
The Lido is another one not listed on the Pepperidge Farm website, no longer available on its own, but still part of some samplers.  It seems to be buttery shortbread cookies filled with chocolate.  Sorta like a Milano, but round, and with better cookies.

My favorite of all that I tried, but I don't really have any interest in having more of these.
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

David's Cookies

Just to mix it up a bit, I'm going to stretch my "bakery" review day theme a bit to include ... mail order baked goods.  Hey, they still count as baked goods, and these are ones accessible to you anywhere in the US.  Expanding my review horizons!

David's is a large commercial "gourmet" baked goods manufacturer.  Given the name, you can guess what the signature product is: cookies.  They also make other baked goods such as brownies, scones, crumb cakes, and ruggalach.  Plus layer cakes, cheesecakes, chocolate truffle cakes, a slew of French tarts, and, randomly, chocolate covered strawberries.

I believe online is their largest market, although they seem to also have a large fundraising business, and have been around since 1979, so obviously their distribution channels have changed over time.  Corporate gifts and gift baskets seem to be the target market.
Cookie Brownie Party Tin, 5 lbs. $59.95.
When I was visiting my family, my mother received a lovely gift of a huge 5 pound party tin full of cookies and brownies from David's Cookies.  Ever curious, I had to try them.  All of them.  Even though you know I don't really like cookies.  I'd say it was for the benefit of the blog, but really, who am I kidding?  I can't resist trying a dessert, even if the chances of me liking it are low, as seemed the case with not even fresh cookies and brownies.

The tin had a selection of 6 types each of cookies and brownies.  The cookies were fine, but the brownies were far better.  Maybe next time someone will send her the decadent sounding cheesecakes ...

Cookies 

Cookies are obviously David's specialty, specifically chocolate chip cookies, although they make about 20 varieties.  Cookies come in tins, ranging from 1 to 5 pounds, or mixed with brownies or other items in gift baskets.  You can also buy the chocolate chip in mini form, or as frozen dough to bake off yourself.

Our tin had six varieties in it, and I obvious tried them all.  Sadly, our tin contained just the basics, not any of the fun ones like Butterscotch Pecan, Coconut Pecan, Red Velvet, Mint Chip or Smores, that David's also makes.
Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin.
"They are made with cinnamon, thick molasses, sweet brown sugar, and vanilla for a taste that will bring you back to the good ol days."

The oatmeal raisin was the first cookie I tried.  A fairly standard oatmeal raisin cookie.  Decent heartiness from the oats.  Good distribution of not-too-hard raisins.  Soft enough style.

A classic cookie, and Ojan liked it too.  My second favorite of our batch.  I am curious what was "old fashioned" about it though ... what do new age oatmeal raisin cookies look like?

They also make a orange oatmeal cranberry, which sounds like a fun seasonal selection around the holidays.
Macadamia White Chunk.
"What do you get when you combine delicious white chocolate with succulent macadamia nuts into one cookie?"

Next I moved on to the macadamia white chunk.

It was another softish cookie, although a bit overcooked and crispy.  However, there was only one macadamia in the entire cookie.  The distribution of raisins in the oatmeal raisin was totally acceptable, but this was not.  There were also a few fairly boring white chocolate chunks.  I did at least appreciate the use of chunks rather than chips, as they provided more sweetness.

Overall, there was nothing interesting here, it was just inoffensive.  My 4th pick overall.
Cherry with White Chips.
"Silky smooth butter, sweet sugar, creamy milk, and powdery flour are paired with the perfect balance of tart dried cherries and sweet white chocolate for the ideal cookie flavor."

Next, cherry white chip.  It was very similar to the macadamia white chip, just with dried cherries replacing the macadamias.

It also was a bit overcooked and crispy.  The base cookie was pretty boring.  The white chocolate chips were generic.  The cherries were large, but rock solid.

My sister, Ojan, and I all did not care for this, and we ended up throwing out the extras.  Our least favorite, by far.
Chocolate Chunk.
"David’s has perfected the art of the chocolate chip cookie by using only the best ingredients. Our recipe calls for fresh eggs, milk, velvety butter, and loads of big Hershey’s Chocolate chunks to create the most irresistible cookies on this planet. "

Next, the one Ojan was most looking forward to: chocolate chunk.

It had another slightly sweet standard cookie base.  It was a nice soft style, not overcooked like the white chip varieties.  Although I doubted them for using Hershey, since I don't exactly endorse the the quality of Hershey chocolate, the milk chocolate really wasn't bad.  And chocolate chunks are obviously better than little chips.

Like the oatmeal raisin, this was a pretty standard chocolate chunk cookie, no more, no less.  My 3rd pick.
Double Chocolate Chunk.

"They have gigantic chunks of Hershey's chocolate mixed into smooth and sweet chocolate cookie dough. It's a soft chocolatey cookie stuffed with delicious chunks of milk chocolate."

Like with the chocolate chunk, I appreciated the large chocolate chunks, and again I didn't actually mind the Hershey chocolate.  But the base cookie wasn't very chocolatey, so flavor-wise, it didn't offer much over the standard chocolate chip.  This was Ojan's favorite flavor, since he does love chocolate the most, but my second to last pick.

[ No Photo ]
Peanut Butter with Peanut Butter Chips

"Our original cookie dough made with fresh butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and milk is swirled with peanut butter and Peanut Butter Chips for one of our most divine cookies ever."

This was, hands down, the winner of the bunch, and I didn't get a photo of it.

The base was the winning component, full of peanut butter flavor.  It was accented with further peanut butter in the chips throughout.  The style was more like the macadamia and cherry cookies however, crispier than I would prefer.

My favorite, but still, not something I needed more of.

Brownies

David's also makes 6 varieties of brownies: Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Swirl, Cheesecake, Pecan, Rocky Road, and Macaroon, plus a Blondie.   Brownies are available alone, or mixed with cookies or crumbcakes in tins or boxes.

The chocolate varieties all use a chocolate chip base, "made with pure melted chocolate and loaded with sweet chocolate chips", Hershey again.   Each brownie is a large 4 ounce "slice".

Unlike the cookies that were loose in the tin, the brownie slices were individually packaged.  Our tin contained all 6 varieties of brownie, but no blondies.  The peanut butter swirl and cheesecake were my first picks based on descriptions, but both looked rather dried out, so I skipped them. 
Pecan.
"A luscious blend of our fudgy chocolate chip brownie with gently toasted buttery pecans."

The pecan brownie was indeed fudgy, fairly rich, and not dried out or stale, which surprised me a bit.  I did enjoy the addition of the chips for an extra chocolate burst, and the nuts for crunch.  For a packaged brownie, it was not bad.
Rocky Road.
"Indulgent black walnuts, rich peanut butter chips and a chocolate swirl on top make this brownie the one to cure any craving."

Next, the fun sounding Rocky Road.

There was a lot of goodness in this one.  Again, a very rich, fudgy chocolate chip base.  I liked the addition of the peanut butter chips and the nuts.  A good mix of textures and flavors.

Again, for a not fresh brownie, it was fairly tasty.
Macaroon.
"Our newest brownie starts with our classic brownie and covers it deep in toasted coconut with a drizzle of chocolate."

This was a very dry brownie.

The base brownie was mild chocolate, fairly dried out.  It had a shredded coconut layer on top of that which was very dry.  Artistically drizzled with chocolate which looked nice, but didn't really add much flavorwise.

Definitely the losing brownie, way too dried out, and with no real flavor.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Desserts from Café Claude

A few weeks ago, I dined on Claude Lane for the first time.  I've walked through that area a zillion times, yet never stopped to eat, probably because many of the establishments are only open on weekdays.  Claude Lane is a peculiar place, basically just an alley, but a "lane" sounds so much cuter.  And, when the restaurants are open, it really is pretty cute.  They each set up outside seating in the lane, and then, it really is much more than an alley.

My first visit to Claude Lane brought me to Claudine, where I had, quite literally, the best crème brûlée of my life.  And if you know me, you know I love desserts, particularly puddings or custards, and crème brûlée is one of my ultimate favorites.  Impressing me with a crème brûlée is no easy feat, and Claudine blew me away.

So I returned to Claude Lane on a Saturday afternoon, this time dragging Ojan with me.  We could not return to Claudine, as they are only open during the afternoon on weekdays, so we choose their sister restaurant, Café Claude, located across the alley.  Both locations serve up classic French cuisine, but just like when I went to Claudine, I had eyes for only one thing: dessert!
Outdoor Tent Seating.
Café Claude has a generous seating area outside, under a red tent.  Since it was a bit cool out, on our first visit, we ventured indoors.  Inside are small tables, mostly just 2-tops, all set with white tablecloths and cloth black napkins.  A bit more formal than I was expecting.  The restaurant wasn't very full, but when I said we'd just like dessert, we were told that only the bar seating was available.  This was fine with me, as I loved the bar vibe at Claudine.  The bar area at Café Claude however is clearly a second class citizen, and honestly, one of the least comfortable bars I've ever sat at.  It had no overhang at all, so it was impossible to get close to the counter.  There were no purse or jacket hooks, so my belongings had to sit on the floor.  The bar stools were nicely padded however.

On my next visit, it was a nicer day out, so we sat outside.  I was seated directly under a heat lamp, which I hadn't noticed on my first visit, and makes much more sense given San Francisco's weather.  That is the secret to making the lane seating usable!

Another thing I loved about Claudine was how open, bright, and airy it was.  Café Claude was again the opposite in this regard.  Although the walls are painted yellow, there is very little light inside, as the only windows are on the front entrance, facing the lane, since both sides of the dining room, and the back, are all enclosed by other buildings.  It felt very dark.

The service was friendly enough, and I liked being in the bar area to watch the drink orders come through.  I'm always a bit fascinated to see what people are drinking at 2pm.  Most were opting for coffee drinks, although a few did go for wine.

Like Claudine, Cafe Claude accepts PayPal for payment, but unlike ever other time I've used PayPal, it did not work smoothly on my first visit.  The PayPal app was really acting up.  I wasn't able to log in, a necessary first step.  I killed the app several times, toggled airplane mode on and off, and eventually got it to log in.  I thought my woes were over, as I received my paper bill, typed in my special code, and my order showed up.  I could easily split the check if I needed, and add my desired tip amount.  Everything looked fine, and I hit the button to pay.  The app told me to check with my server that it had gone through, so I did.  And ... no luck.  I went through the whole process 3 more times.  Same result.  Pulled the bill up fine.  Added tip fine.  Hit the payment button.  Same strange warning to make sure it worked.  Sigh.  So I killed the app again.  Fought with login again.  Typed in my bill code again.  Added the tip again.  Hit submit.  And this time, the app told me it was successful, but I still verified with the bartender.  It worked, but it really was not a smooth experience.  It seems like it was likely a PayPal problem, but this is the first time I've ever had trouble paying with PayPal, normally it a time saver.  On my subsequent visits however, it worked without a problem.  I think PayPal was just having issues on that first visit.

Anyway, the desserts were well made.  I didn't love any of them, but mostly due to my own preferences.  I think their pastry chef is talented, and I appreciated aspects of each dessert I tried.

First Visit, April 2014

Decaf Coffee.  $3.
I may have been at Café Claude for dessert, but if you've ever dined with me, you know how much I love pairings.  In particular, I always love a bitter coffee to compliment my sweet dessert.

Since it was later in the day, I went for decaf.  It was pre-brewed, just poured for me out of a carafe.  It was ... fine.  Served nice and hot, which I appreciated, with a small glass on the side filled with assorted sweeteners, and the offer of cream to add.  I added nothing, which means, it wasn't too bad.  I prefer my coffee black, particularly when pairing with dessert, but often decaf is so bad that I have no choice but to add sweetener and milk.

The timing was also perfect.  I was able to enjoy a few sips before my dessert arrived, but it didn't run out before my dessert.  I get pretty grumpy when I specifically order coffee intending to pair it with my dessert, and it arrives immediately after I place the order, which is nice in theory, except that it is long gone, or stone cold, by the time my dessert arrives.  Or, if it arrives after my dessert, which I do sorta understand, as I'm sure some people like it to conclude their meal.  Anyway, this timing was perfect.

It is hard to see in the picture, but also on the saucer was a small chocolate, Café Claude branded.  A nice touch!

So overall, it was fine, and I appreciated having coffee with my dessert, but there wasn't anything special about the coffee.  The cup was really small though, I found myself wanting to ration it.  Price was fine, particularly with the inclusion of the chocolate!
Crème Brûlée.  $8.
And for the main event, my precious crème brûlée, which the menu proclaimed was "made with 'bourbon' vanilla bean".

The first thing I noticed was the different size serving vessel than the one from Claudine.  There, it was in a wider, more shallow dish.  Here it was in a classic crème brûlée ramekin.  I quickly realized part of why I loved Claudine's version so much - even if there was the same amount of pudding, in a more shallow dish, you have more surface area, and hence, more of the caramelized top.  And, that top is an essential component of crème brûlée for me.  Now I wonder why this style is the standard ramekin used?

But back to my crème brûlée.  I first performed the standard "tap test".  It stood up to my spoon tapping, then easily broke into pieces.  Not bad.  I then did the "temperature test".  Yes, the top was still a bit warm, and the rest very cold, indicating that it had been freshly brûléed.  Another point.  You'd be surprised how many places get even these two basic aspects wrong!

As I said, it passed the tap test, but the topping wasn't as thick as I'd like it.  Claudine did this aspect better.  What was there had a good caramel flavor, not burnt, but there wasn't enough for my liking.  And, as I noted, the smaller top surface area decreased the amount of topping in the first place.

Ojan was with me on this visit, and he took the first bite, and said, "yup, it tastes like pudding".  I rolled my eyes, thinking that he always says that about crème brûlée, or any other pudding-like dessert.  However, in this case, I absolutely agreed with him.  It tasted like vanilla pudding.  Good vanilla pudding for sure, but, it was lacking the custardyness and thicker consistency that transforms pudding into crème brûlée.  Since there was so little topping, and it was really just a pudding, once I thought of it as vanilla pudding instead, I did enjoy it, and it was very, very creamy.  But, a great crème brûlée it was not.  I was also a bit disappointed by the vanilla component, as I always prefer to actually see flecks of vanilla bean throughout.

You may be wondering what the thing on the side of the plate is.  We were too.  The menu description did not indicate that it would come with anything.  I tried a bite plain to figure out what it was.  It was a rolled up cookie, with a taste and texture that reminded me of a waffle cone.  Slightly sweetened, easy to break into pieces, and very thin.  But it was coated in seeds, making it look almost like a cracker.  I think they were anise seeds, but it might have been fennel.  Either way, the flavor was strong, and very savory.  A bit of a strange pairing with the crème brûlée.  But ... I did really enjoy breaking off pieces of the cookie and dipping it into the pudding.  It filled the void that thicker chunks of caramelized topping would have filled.  I also appreciated serving crème brûlée with something besides just a few token berries on top.  I think if they changed up the spicing on the cookie, this could be a very successful pairing.

The $8 price was fine, and I enjoyed it as pudding, but the version from Claudine was in another league entirely.  I think I need to go back there soon!

Second Visit, June  2014. 

Decaf Iced Coffee.  $3.
On my second visit, since it was a warm day, I went a iced coffee instead, again decaf since it was afternoon.  It was again served with a cup of assorted sweeteners, and a little pitcher of milk.  No chocolate accompanied this one though.

Like the hot coffee, it was highly unremarkable.  Not particularly good nor bad.  The server noted that the ice was melting quickly when he added it (since, they just poured the hot coffee over ice), so he brought me an extra glass of ice that I could add.  A very thoughtful touch!
Paris Brest. $9.
On my second visit, I knew that I wanted to branch out from the crème brûlée.  I'd been eyeing the menu for a few weeks, and had my heart set on the pain perdu, a custard soaked brioche, with strawberries.  Oh yes please!

I was a bit devastated when I arrived, and found it no longer on the menu, even though it still showed on their online menu.  There was still a strawberry dessert, but, alas, it was a tart.  I never really care for tarts.  Besides the crème brûlée, there were two chocolate options, but I try not to have chocolate late in the day.  Which left me with only one choice: the paris brest.

Paris Brest is normally filled with praline cream, and isn't very high on my list of pastries. I was thinking of maybe picking the strawberry tart instead.  Or just going for the chocolate mousse.  But I asked my server for advice, and he told me the paris brest was fabulous.  And, it wasn't a typical paris brest, as the description said: "pâte à choux, lavender & mascarpone diplomat crème, blackberry coulis, almonds".  While it include almonds, it didn't really sound like typical praline cream.

So, I went for it.  Service was fast, my dessert arrived quickly, with a friendly "bon appétit"!

It looked like a typical paris brest, a pâte à choux ring, sliced in half, filled with cream.  The pâte à choux was ok, but, is one of my least favorite pastries, as it can often be fairly eggy, in a way that I just don't care for.  And sadly, this was eggy, and a bit soggy.  The very top was crispy, and I liked the crunch from the almond slivers on it, but I didn't care for the bottom.  The ratio of pastry to filling seemed off, just way too much pastry for the amount of filling, but, that is likely just because I didn't like the pastry.

Inside was the cream, certainly not a standard praline cream.  The menu described it as lavender & mascarpone diplomat crème, but it was very, very thick.  Diplomat cream is normally made by mixing pastry cream and whipped cream, resulting in a lighter filling than standard pastry cream, so that is what I was expecting.  This was much thicker, presumably due to the mascarpone?  I didn't love the texture, nor did I pick up on much mascarpone, but the lavender was fairly remarkable.  Lavender can be so dangerous.  A little too much, and it tastes like soap.  The lavender here was applied expertly.  Subtle, but you could still taste it, but certainly not overwhelming.  It also wasn't too sweet.

Also inside with the cream were a few blackberries, which, are one of my least favorite berries, due to the seeds.  I can't stand the seeds, and these were no exception.  When the server described the dish to me, he said raspberries, not blackberries, even though the menu did call out the blackberry coulis.

Speaking of the coulis, the whole thing was sitting in a pool of berry coulis.  Like lavender, another element that so often goes wrong.  When is the last time you had a coulis that wasn't just crazy sweet?  Well, Cafe Claude got this component right too.  It was sweetened, for sure, but it wasn't sickeningly sweet.  It tasted intensely blackberry flavored, but was strained, eliminating the seeds that I hate so much.  Beautiful flavor, very balanced, and the combination of the blackberry flavor and the lavender was really quite extraordinary.

So, did I like this dessert?  Actually, no.  But, in this case, I think it is entirely my fault.  Cafe Claude nailed the difficult aspects of the dish with the lavender and the coulis, what I didn't like was the pastry itself, which again, is normal for me and this style.  It could have been a great choux pastry, it doesn't matter, when I just don't care for the taste.  I did enjoy some bites where I just scooped out the cream and ran my spoon through the coulis, appreciating the creamy component and the balanced flavors.

The menu read $8, but my bill said $9.  I noticed, but didn't say anything.  I'm sure it was a mistake, but still ...

Third Visit, September 2014.

Tarte au Fruit. $8.
On my final visit, I just wanted to pick up a dessert to bring to Ojan, who was home sick.  I was disappointed that the menu hadn't changed at all since my last visit.  I was hoping summery, seasonal creations would have made their way on to the menu.

I didn't think crème brûlée was best for takeout, and I knew that Ojan would love the molton chocolate cake, but that certainly wasn't the right choice for takeout either, so I was left with the paris brest again, or the tarte au fruit.  I didn't like the Paris Brest, so it was an easy choice, particularly as the tarte au fruit sounded promising: "Almond frangipane tart, seasonal fruit, chantilly."

Of course, I say this was for Ojan, but clearly I intended to steal a few bites.

I was disappointed when it arrived.  Not by the presentation of course, as they did a really nice job of plating it up, even for takeout.  Berry sauce on the bottom, fresh raspberries alongside, scoop of chanilly cream on top, dusted with powdered sugar.  No, what I was saddened by is that it looked like clafoutis, not the fruit tart I was expecting.  I thought it would be a tart shell, with a layer of frangipane, plenty of raw fruit, and fresh chantilly cream.  This was cakelike, the fruit was cooked inside.  There was a tart shell.

I don't really have much to say about this, as it just really wasn't what I wanted.  Maybe if you like this sort of desert it was good.  There wasn't anything wrong with it, but I really just didn't want it.  I ate a few bites of fresh fruit, the tart shell, and some cream, and Ojan had the rest.  He seemed to enjoy it.

I did appreciate the size, it was actually the appropriate size for one person.  The $8 price would make sense if dining in the restaurant.  I'll be waiting for a menu change up before I return.
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