Tuesday, January 20, 2015

North Street Grille, Boston

On my recent trip to Boston, I met up with a college friend for brunch.  She let me choose the venue, so I did my research, and eagerly settled on North Street Grill, in the North End of Boston.  I love brunch, and their brunch menu sounded amazing.  Protip: they serve brunch not only on Saturday and Sunday, but on Thursday and Friday too!

Anyway, back to that menu.  They have all the brunch classic egg dishes, including omelets of every variety and eggs benedict with smoked salmon, crab cakes, lobster, or even stuffed inside french toast.  But I had eyes for only one they: they offer pancakes and french toast in more flavors than you can possibly imagine.  Seriously.  To say I had issues picking a dish is an understatement.  How do you decide between "chocolate fantasy", peanut butter and chocolate, raspberry and cream cheese, strawberry and nutella, banana bourbon, peanut butter and fluff, strawberry shortcake, and even cinnamon roll french toast?  And then there are pancakes too!  And of course, lunch offerings of sandwiches and salads.  But who picks lunch items at brunch?

North Street Grille is also open for dinner, but my visit was obviously targeted for brunch.

North Street Grille is a fairly small establishment, with bar seating, a few booths, and mostly small tables for 2, once of which we were able to snag after a short wait.  The line to get in was long, but I had read the advice to call ahead to get on the waiting list, which I did as soon as I got off the T.

The service was generally ok, although I did have to ask several times for water and coffee refills.  I was amused at the end of the meal, when the bill was presented to me on an Android tablet.  This wouldn't have been too novel in the Bay Area, but I was surprised to see it in Boston.
Maple Waffle Martini. Blueberry Muffin Martini.  $10 each.
I wasn't intending to get a cocktail before noon, but the brunch cocktail list didn't just have standard bloody marys and mimosas.  The list was too tempting to resist, including ones named after breakfast items, like muffins and waffles.

Kristin went for the "Blueberry Muffin Martini", with cake vodka, muddled blueberries, and ginger ale.  The server told us it wasn't too sweet because of the ginger ale, but neither of us really tasted ginger ale in it.  I also didn't really taste blueberry or cake.  Just vodka.  It was a bit of a punch in the face for breakfast, and way too alcoholic tasting for me, so I'm glad it wasn't my selection.

I went for the "maple waffle martini", made with Bailey's, and topped with bacon.  Yes, bacon.  In my cocktail.  Go big or go home.

A gimmick?  Potentially, but in this case, actually, no.  It was insanely good.  The bacon was crazy crispy.  How on earth did they keep it crispy inside the drink?  I have no idea.  There was also a ton of bacon.  Some was floating on top, and there was plenty more throughout.  I kinda think there were several full slices of bacon inside my drink.  Protein to go with my sugar, right? 

Contrasting with the salty bacon was the sweet Bailey's, very creamy.  This was not a light drink, obviously, as it was full of cream and bacon, but man it was good.  The salty bacon prevented it from being too sweet.  I'd certainly get it again.

$10 each for fancy cocktails seemed a bit fitting.

I also enjoyed a cup of decaf coffee, advertised as bottomless.  While perhaps true, I had to ask for refills constantly, as no one seemed to notice my cup going empty.  It was fine decaf, not really interesting, and for $3.50, a bit high for generic, pre-brewed coffee.
Complimentary Banana Bread, Butter.
I read about how diners receive banana bread upon being seated, and was looking forward to it; however we did not.  I saw the banana bread being delivered to all the tables around us, distributed along with the menus.  But we had our menus, and no banana bread.  I thought that perhaps it would arrive with our drinks.  It did not.  I thought it would arrive after we ordered our main dishes.  It did not.  So finally, I asked about it.  Our server said she'd bring it right out.  She also said she'd refill my empty coffee.  Neither happened.

Finally, our main dishes arrived.  At that point, my coffee was refilled (when I asked yet again), and the banana bread was brought out.  I'm still confused why we received it so late, when literally every other table got it right when they sat down.

Anyway, the banana bread was crazy moist.  I'm not really one for banana bread, but I admit, this was good banana bread.  But since I had hot pancakes in front of me, I wasn't too excited for the banana bread at that point.  It would have been nice to munch on while we were waiting.
Single Cookie Dough Pancake, $5.
As I mentioned, North Street Grille offers pancakes and french toast in more varieties than you can possibly imagine.  Deciding between french toast or pancakes was my first hurdle, but after careful deliberation, I picked pancakes.  Then I had to narrow in on a flavor.  I ruled out all of the basic ones just with fruit (blueberry, banana, triple berry, strawberry), the slightly more interesting fruit ones (cranberry walnut, banana nut, apple cinnamon with apple butter), and those with chocolate (chocolate chip, chunky monkey).  Then I was left with the fun ones: cookie dough.  Cannoli.  Boston Cream.  Cinnamon Roll.  Oh my.

I asked for descriptions of each.  The cinnamon roll ones were topped with icing, which I thought might be a be too sweet for breakfast.  I wanted sweet pancakes, but perhaps I didn't need to go quite sooo overboard, even though the waitress told me they were amazing.  This concern of being just a bit too over the top also ruled out the Boston cream pancakes (a layered stack with Boston Cream filling between the layers, topped with chocolate ganache) and the cannoli pancakes (layered with cannoli filling, with crumbled cannoli shell).  Which left ... cookie dough pancakes.  I was inspired from my Dunkin' Donuts Cookie Dough iced coffee from the day before, so, I went for it.

The pancake was very large, hard to tell given the photo, but that was a normal size plate.  The base dough was fairly standard, buttermilk, but not particularly flavorful.  And ... yes, it had chunks of cookie dough baked in.

I know this doesn't sound like a great endorsement so far, but, it was a very well executed pancake.  The outside was absolutely perfectly crispy.  Golden on both sides.  And, it was served with real maple syrup of course.  I enjoyed my pancake, but I'd probably pick another kind next time, as there are far too many to explore.  North Street Grille has proven that they have the basic cooking technique down, which gives me great hope about all of the other varieties.

Specialty pancakes are available as a stack of 3 for $10-11, or as singles for $5 each.  Since I had already had a first breakfast before meeting my friend for brunch, I went for just a single.  I really liked that they allowed you to still get speciality pancakes as singles, many places only offer their speciality ones as full stacks, with only plain pancakes as singles.  $5 for a giant pancake seemed fine, although obviously the $10 price for 3 is a better deal, if you want a full stack.  If I was hungrier, I'd probably just pick two different kinds and mix and match.  Or one pancake and one french toast, so I could best of both worlds!

Next time!
Crab Cake Eggs Benedict / home fries with caramelized onions, roasted peppers and cheese.  $17.
My friend went for a savory option, not tempted by the decadent pancakes.  She ordered the crab cake benedict, normally served with a dijon hollandaise, but she opted for the regular hollandaise instead, as she doesn't like mustard.  The crab cakes benedict also normally comes with plain home fries, but our server casually asked if she would like cheese, peppers, and onions on top, which she gladly agreed to (because, who wouldn't?)  She didn't mention the $3 extra charge.

My friend generously offered to let me try everything.  The english muffins were nicely toasted, standard muffins.  The hollandaise also fairly standard, a bit thick.  The eggs were nicely poached.  Those parts were all well executed, but not anything out of the ordinary for a good brunch place.  The crab cakes were far more interesting than either of us expected, insanely zesty.

As for the home fries, the potatoes were crispy, but too oily for my taste.  The melted cheese and onions and peppers were a nice touch, but the cheese was kinda congealed by the time it reached our table.

Overall, good, but not my sort of dish.  When do I ever order eggs?

$17 seemed a bit high, but $3 of that was the upsell on the hash browns, and the crab cakes were each a decent size, so not unreasonable.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dunkin' Donuts - Seasonal Specials

As you know, I often travel to the east coast, since that is where my family still lives.  When I'm there, I can't resist visiting Dunkin' Donuts, even though my standards for both coffee and baked goods have changed radically since I lived anywhere with a Dunks.  As I mentioned in my previous review of Dunkin' Donuts, it holds a special place in my heart, as it was my introduction to coffee.

 Since I've reviewed Dunkin' Donuts regular offering before, I'll focus this just on the new items I've tried, mostly seasonal specials.

Iced Beverages

Medium Decaf Cookie Dough Iced Coffee.  $2.39.
  • Cookie Dough: It turns out, that in the years since I've left the east coast, the classic Dunkin' Donuts order of cream and sugar is no longer sufficient: the new flavor "swirls" available already have dairy and sweetener mixed in!  The flavor shot includes sweetened condensed milk, cream, light cream, and milk, plus high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and brown sugar.  Seriously?  ALL THE CREAMS AND SUGARS!  Were people starting to get healthy and order skim milk and splenda instead of cream and sugar, so they had to up the ante and hide the crazy?  Anyway, this was crazy sweet.  It did taste kinda like cookie dough though, and I liked it more than I expected too.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Not nearly as creamy, nor as sweet, as the cookie dough, although it still obviously had both dairy and sweetener in it.  I wish I'd taken a photo, because it looked so different, and it makes no sense to me, given that the Dunkin' Donuts website has the same nutritional and ingredient information for the two varieties.  Given that the first one seemed way too creamy sweet, perhaps they added the correct amount to this one?  (Although, I'd expect the number of squirts they do must be standard, so I'm not sure why there is so much variance).  Like the cookie dough flavor, it did taste remarkably like mint chocolate chip.  Which, it turns out ... is not what I want from my coffee.  I wouldn't get this again.
  • Butter Pecan: Again sweet and creamy, but I didn't care for the flavor.  It tasted a bit burnt.

Hot Beverages

Small Dunkin' Decaf.
  • Sugar Cookie (Seasonal, Winter 2014): This was a flavor swirl, so, again loaded with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  I got a small, and I think the amount of syrup added would have been sufficient for a large.  Way, way too sweet. I'm not sure what I was expecting from "sugar cookie" flavor, but all this tasted like was sweetness.  Would not get again.
  • Peppermint Mocha (Seasonal, Winter 2014): Slightly pepperminty, but not very strong.  Didn't taste any chocolate or "mocha"ness.  Least sweet of all the flavor swirls.

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Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

"Now you can enjoy the doubly tasty sensation of sweet and salted caramel in your cup of hot chocolate."

My sister ordered this since she doesn't like coffee.  And ... I stole a sip.  It was crazy sweet.  Like way, way too sweet.  And not very chocolately at all.  It did have a nice froth on top, but I think it came from a machine, not a skilled barista.  Certainly not my thing.


Blueberry Cobbler Donut.  $0.95.
"Yeast shell donut with blueberry filling, finished with white icing and coffee cake streusel topping".

This was available for a limited time only, in June 2014.

The crumble on top was cinnamon streusel, which was good with black coffee, just like coffee cake.  It had a nice cinnamon flavor, but it was a bit soggy, not crispy like you'd expect.

The icing was very sweet, and flavorless, and there was way too much of it on top.

The donut itself was just a basic fried donut.  The blueberry jelly filling was basically ... slime.  It really made me want a classic jelly donut.

But then, it totally grew on me.  There is something about the classic Dunkin' Donuts fried dough that I just can't resist.  I wouldn't get this again, since I didn't like the blueberry filling and thought the icing was too heavy, but in the end, I enjoyed it.
Croissant Donut.
"Flakey layers of croissant glazed like a donut."

The famed croissant donut.  I actually wasn't even planning to get one of these, as I didn't think it would possibly be good.  But when I was visiting my family, my mom showed up with one.  I obviously had to try it.

It was exactly what I expected.  It tasted oily.  Stale.  Meh.

The layers were lighter and fluffier than a standard Dunkin' Donuts donut.  But, not flaky and buttery like a croissant.  And no crispy exterior like it should be.
Pumpkin Munchkin.  $0.25.
I'm really not sure why I ordered this.  I know I don't really care about the donuts at Dunkin' Donuts.  I'm there for the coffee drinks.  But, I saw that they had pumpkin and blueberry munchkins, instead of just the regular glazed, chocolate glazed, and jelly filled offerings, and I couldn't resist the urge to try something new.

It was ... a basic Dunkin' Donuts munchkin.  Not very fresh tasting.  Lots of sweet glaze on the outside.  But, it was decently "pumpkin" spiced I guess.  And it was orange inside, even though I didn't taste pumpkin.  Maybe worth the 25 cents :)


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Blueberry Muffin

The muffin had large sugar crystals on top, and it was a bit crispy on top like I like.  The inside was moist and loaded with berries.  Overall decent flavor.  I only had a bite of my sister's muffin, but I was impressed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fisher's Popcorn

It is no secret that I like snacks.  I love to much on things, particularly popcorn.  Bonus points for sweet popcorn.

So while the rest of my office quickly tires of the tins of popcorn that show up from clients around the holidays, I am overjoyed, and eagerly devour the neglected tins.
1/2 Gallon Fisher's Popcorn. $12.
Fisher's is a small family business in Ocean City, MD.  They've been making popcorn, and specializing in caramel corn, since 1937.  They make a slew of other flavors, including a savory Old Bay flavor, and an Old Bay caramel corn, which I think sounds more fascinating than actually tasty.
Caramel Corn.
I tried the classic caramel corn.

It was super sticky, and many of the kernels stuck together in clumps or mini popcorn balls.  I don't consider this a bad thing necessarily, but it definitely made for sticky fingers.

The popcorn wasn't crispy, so it almost seemed a bit stale, but there was so much caramel that it didn't really matter.  I appreciated how well coated the kernels were.

Like most caramel corn, it got even better when I froze it, as it got crispier.  I'm still partial to the caramel corn I get from Munchery, but I did quite enjoy this, and would gladly consume more.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sift Dessert Bar

My office does funny things to motivate us sometimes.

For background, we have the most incredible pastry team, who regularly churn out desserts that rival, and generally surpass, those of top restaurants.  This is impressive in its own right, but even more insane given that they never repeat a dessert from day to day, offer up multiple desserts every day, and produce them for 1000+ people at a time.  Our pastry chefs are my heroes.

But this isn't about them.  This is about our "reward" for being good during a fire drill.  Yes, for real.  In the past, to encourage us to properly exit the building during fire drills, they set up a Ben & Jerry's stand at the designated meeting point across the street.  People did leave, but I think they generally grabbed ice cream, and then kept on going, not returning to the office.  So this time, they did something a bit different: the gave us cupcakes, but, they didn't give them to us until we came BACK to the office.  Doh.
Cupcake Display.
They didn't bake the cupcakes in-house, rather, they sourced from Sift Dessert Bar in San Francisco.

Sift has several California locations, plus they ship nationwide.  Sift's main focus is cupcakes, including gluten-free or vegan options if necessary, although they also make a few other standard items like macarons, cookies, brownies, pies (including a kahlua chocolate pie that I'd love to try), and cakes.  They also get creative, offering up cupcakes a la mode, cupcakes blended into ice cream shakes, and fascinating sounding frosting shots.

We had an assortment of four cupcakes waiting for us: Berry Good Cheesecake, Ohh La La, All for the Cookie, and Snickerdoodle.  I tried all except the Snickerdoodle.  None were very good.
Berry Good Cheesecake.
"Vanilla graham cracker cake, filled with raspberry jam and topped with cream cheese frosting".

This one was the most pretty, so I started with it.
Berry Good Cheesecake: inside.
In the base of the cupcake was graham cracker crumbs, as you can see here.  They were just crumbs, not bound together by anything, which was a bit strange.  If you took off the wrapper, it would have crumbled apart everywhere and made a mess.  Protip: do not fully unwrap this cupcake!

The cake was very dense, almost ... gummy.  I didn't care for it.

The jam inside was clearly raspberry flavored, but not particularly interesting.  I did like the cream cheese frosting.

Did this remind me of a cheesecake though?  Besides the cream cheese frosting ... no, and besides the frosting, I didn't really want this.
All For the Cookie.
"Chocolate cake topped with cookies n' cream cheese frosting".

I got the chocolate offering for Ojan, named All For the Cookie, but obviously tried it myself first.

It was also a very dense, moist cake.  Again a bit gummy.

The frosting was ok, sorta Oreo-tasting.  But very meh overall.

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Ohh La La

"Our famous red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting".

Unsatisfied with the other choices, I also tried the Ohh La La, even though I never like red velvet much.

I didn't care for the cake, as it was all homogenous.  I like a moister interior and a crunchy top, and this was all just the same, and a bit dry.

The cream cheese frosting was the same as in the Berry Good, very sweet, a bit too sweet, but good enough.  Overall, meh, but I liked the frosting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bamboo Asia

A while ago, I attended an event catered by Bamboo Asia.  The food was far better than I expected, so I decided to return to the physical store to give it another chance.  As I mentioned in my previous review, I've actually been before, but everything looked so unappealing that I left without trying anything.  But if Bamboo Asia can pull off decent catering, I decided perhaps looks were deceiving.

Bamboo Asia offers 3 cuisines: Vietnamese, Indian, and Japanese.   Each occupies its own distinct section of the store, in a layout that is a bit confusing at first, as they each has its own line to order and its own register.  I'm not sure what would happen if you wanted a Vietnamese spring roll and a Japanese mochi dessert ... would you have to go through both lines and pay separately?

At the catered event, I tried dishes from the Vietnamese and Indian parts of the menu, so this time, I went Japanese to start.  I still wasn't feeling brave enough to get the sushi, so I just went for sides and dessert ... because I'm willing to try dessert just about anywhere.

It turns out, I should have listened to my initial impressions and instincts.  The food wasn't good.  The staff was completely un-organized, rang people up for the wrong items, prepared orders for dine-in that were to-go, etc.  That said, the worker who prepared my little bowl of seaweed salad was very friendly, and even told me he gave me "a little extra".  Aww, thanks!  And, they accept PayPal mobile as payment, which is my new favorite way to pay on my phone these days.

But ... I don't think I'll be returning.
Seaweed Salad.  $2.95.
I was really craving seaweed salad.  When I ordered it, the guy fetched a big bag full out of the fridge, cut it open, and dished me up some.  Clearly, not something they make fresh in store, but I still had hope.

It wasn't good.  Yes, there were multiple types of seaweed.  There was light sauce.  There were sesame seeds.  But ... something just tasted quite off.  I can't put my finger on it, but it really just wasn't a good flavor.

$2.95 is a fine price for a small side salad, although places like Onigilly offer it for only $1.84, where it is actually good.
Red Bean Mochi.  $1.49.
I wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth too, so I grabbed a mochi at last minute, also from the Japanese area.  Some pieces were labelled with the flavor, some weren't.  I asked what kind this was, and the person behind the counter didn't know.  I hoped it was taro, based on the slightly purplish color, but alas, I think it was red bean.

It was unremarkable mochi.  Soft-ish, not much flavor.  I'm guessing they don't make their own mochi either.  Meh.
Anjou's Laddoo. $1.95.
I wanted another dessert, since I wasn't into the mochi.  This one came from the Indian section, the only other choice that day, labeled "Anjou's Laddo".

I'm not really sure who Anjou is.  And actually, I wasn't familiar with laddoo, but ... dessert!

Laddoo is apparently an Indian sweet, almost like a cookie.  I really wanted to like it.  The spicing was good, predominately cardamom.  But the item itself was basically just a dry ball of coconut.  Like a  macaroon, but not moist.  It offered nothing.  I wouldn't get again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Class, Virgin America, SFO-BOS

Whenever I travel to the east coast, I always fly on Virgin America.  The wifi is the feature I just can't live without at this point, but the good food is a strong selling point too.  I've been shocked by the food quality, particularly the really good tuna salad and roasted pear salads I had in Main Cabin.  Sadly, my first experience in First Class was not nearly as impressive.

So when I was recently traveling and was offered an upgrade to First, I was a bit hesitant.  I had actually preferred my experience in Main Cabin Select more than First before, but, I really wanted to give them another chance.

While the service and seat were fantastic, the food again disappointed.
Spicy chili hummus chips.
To start, we were given bowls of very strange looking chips.  The description said they were "hummus" chips, but honestly, I have no idea what was supposed to be hummus-like about them.  They didn't taste like hummus, they didn't seem to be made of hummus, such a strange name.   This was fine with me, since I don't actually like hummus. They were however spicy, as promised, and I did like the crunch.  They were fairly light.

A quick Google search lead me to discover that they are made by Simply 7, a company that makes natural snack foods, preservative-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, etc.  They make 4 types of chips: the hummus chips, quinoa chips, lentil chips, and pomegranate chips.  While "hummus" chips don't make much sense to me, pomegranate chips make the least sense.

I didn't love these, but it was nice to start with something other than just nuts.
For the main entree, I had 3 choices, which were honestly quite lame.  Both the hot and cold non-vegetarian options were chicken:
  1. Dijon Chicken with Wild Mushrooms
  2. Rigatoni with Fava Beans
  3. Roasted Chicken Salad
We were also given a few options from the Main Cabin menu:
  1. Green Goddess Sandwich
  2. Artisan Cheese Plate
  3. Protein Plate
  4. Southwest Veggie Wrap
Amusingly, you can guess what the protein was in the Green Goddess Sandwich ... yup, chicken.  The veggie wrap and the protein plate featured hummus, which, as I mentioned with the hummus chips, I don't care for. But I really hate chicken, so I went for the vegetarian pasta.

There was no choice of appetizer, and unfortunately for me it was a salad that contained watermelon, so I had to skip it, since I'm deathly allergic.  The rest of it sounded good though, with arugula, tomatoes, ricotta salata, and proscuitto.
Rigatoni with Fava Beans, Wheat Roll, Hail Merry Chocolate Mini Tart.
As before, meal service was done all at once, with the appetizer, bread, main, and dessert served on a single tray.

My platter is missing the appetizer, obviously.

My tray came with a roll, rather than a bread basket like most airlines, with no options given.  The roll was a hearty wheat roll with some seeds on top, served warm.  It was actually my favorite part of the meal, and somehow wasn't stale tasting.  Plain butter was on the side, along with the signature airplane salt and pepper shakers, so I was able to create salty butter to add, which was fairly enjoyable.

For the main, I selected the pasta, since I wanted nothing to do with the chicken options.  Described as "rigatoni pasta topped with fava beans, caramelized leeks, and roasted grape tomatoes in an herb garlic tomato sauce topped with optional shredded Parmesan cheese".

After my last disappointing pasta experience aboard Virgin America, I didn't have high hopes for the pasta dish, but, anything sounded better than chicken.

Sadly, it was about what I expected, not good.  The rigatoni was the worst component, but I can't say it was really their fault, what do you expect from pre-cooked pasta that is then just warmed up?  The sauce was a close second in the worst component category though, as it was mostly just oil.  I didn't taste any garlic.  Actually, I take it back, the fava beans were the worst part, incredibly overcooked, mushy.  So the pasta, the favas, and the pile of oil were all pretty gross.  As were the breadcrumbs, which were just mush.

But, the roasted grape tomatoes were quite tasty.  Nicely roasted, and I actually loved the flavor.  The parmesan cheese was also decent, and a generous amount was sprinkled over the dish.  I ended up using the tomatoes and cheese on my roll, and created a sorta pizza-like creation.  As for the caramelized leeks, which I was actually looking forward to, I think I only found 2 tiny slivers of leeks in the entire dish.  

And finally, my favorite part of a meal: dessert!

Described as "Rich chocolate ganache cradled in an almond crust with a hint of sea salt."

On my last flight, the dessert was kinda a joke, just a tiny little bar.  It was no different this time.  The dessert was a tiny little tart this time, served with a single blackberry and strawberry half.  The tart was made by Hail Merry, who also supplies the chocolate macaroons and seasoned nuts you can order in main cabin too.  I've enjoyed some of Hail Merry's products in the past, but they are just snacks rather than full desserts.  I believe this tart was from their line of "Miracle Tarts", which are vegan and gluten-free ... not exactly generally selling points for desserts.

I was really saddened by this, not only because I love dessert  but because I had heard that they were serving Humphry Slocombe ice cream on board in First Class.  But alas, I guess that partnership ended?

The blackberry and strawberry were fine, fresher than I expected.  They reminded me of the salad and fruit I've had in main cabin on Virgin America, where I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the produce.  But the tart ... really boring.  The chocolate ganache in the center was creamy and pretty good, but it was gone in a single bite, and I would have loved some whipped cream or something with it.  I didn't taste the "hint of sea salt".  The shell for the tart was very dry and I didn't care for it, I guess it was made from almond meal.

Overall, another disappointing meal.  If I ever wind up in First Class again, I really think I might just order from the main cabin menu, as I've genuinely liked their food in the past.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Melons Catering and Events

For the past several years, Melons Catering and Events has catered my annual company holiday party.  These are large events, with ~1500 attendees, so certainly not any easy job for any caterer.  And you know how I tend to feel about catering ...

Every year, they do entirely different menus.  Two years ago, it was downright incredible.  One room at the venue was a special seafood room, where they served seared scallops that rivaled those of most restaurants.  Using their tiny little catering facilities.  I honestly have no idea how they pulled it off, but I was absolutely blown away.  They also always set up a dessert room, and many of the items featured there have been particularly notable.  Of course, I never took photos or notes before, so I don't have any real details to share on my past events.

So this year, when I heard that Melons was catering our party again, I was excited.  I took photos.  I was ready to write a glowing blog post.  But ...  there was little to glow about with the main food options.  Some of it was menu choice, as there was no extravagant seafood room this year (although there was a sushi bar, which was decent), but mostly, the hot food just really wasn't good, and perhaps most tragically, the desserts were all lackluster as well.

Melons has done a great job in the past though, so I'm hopeful that next time will be better ...
I was excited to walk in to the first room and discover a whole charcuterie table.  The perfect place to start, particularly alongside my glass of mediocre red wine, and the lineup was quite impressive.

Melons cures all of the meat in house, using products from Stone Valley Farms.  There were several salami-style items that were all fine, including pork fennel salami, coppa, lonza, and prosciutto.  The prosciutto was the most memorable, and I genuinely enjoyed it, particularly slathered with a little mustard, of which there were several choices.

But the star of the lineup was the duck liver mousse (and not just because it reminded me of foie gras!).  It had the perfect consistency and flavor, not too livery.  I went back many times throughout the night for more and more of this.  Once I tried all of the desserts, and was not satisfied by any, I may or may not have come back for more of the mousse as my quasi-dessert.  Winning item of the night.

The charcuterie station was completed by housemade focaccia and breadsticks, wild mushroom salad, chick pea and olive salad, and roasted peppers, none of which I tried.
Nigiri Sushi Bar.
The next room we entered featured a sushi bar.  Now this looked promising, particularly given how much I enjoyed the seafood offerings the previous year, it seemed possible that they would have decent quality product.

But, catering sushi?  The shelf life of sushi is on the order of minutes, how could they possibly do sushi hours before and have it be good?  They couldn't and knew that, so the sushi was actually being prepared behind the bar by a line of chefs, it hadn't been sitting around for hours.

There was a decent line up of nigiri including unagi, hamachi, salmon, octopus, and two types of tuna.

I tried all but the unagi, and they were all fine, not incredible obviously, but good enough, and the product was decent quality.

However, the fish was a bit warm.  They obviously weren't in a climate controlled area, and were working with what they had, but there is something off putting about warm fish, and it certainly changed the texture.

The sushi was served with wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce, as you'd hope, but there were no dipping cups for the soy sauce, so you had to dump soy sauce on each piece of fish from the big vat as you served yourself, and this just didn't work well.

But for massive party catering?  Not bad.
Assorted Sushi Rolls.
There were also pre-made sushi rolls.

One entire tray was California rolls, which turned out to be a good thing.  Of all the sushi, it turned out to be my favorite, it tasted fairly fresh, and wasn't overly coated in mayo or anything.

The other platter contained a mix of spicy tuna, unagi, tempura shrimp, and veggie rolls.  The spicy tuna was also tasty enough, but the fish was a somewhat grey color, which scared me a bit.

[ No Photo ]
Italian and French Buffets.

There were also two themed buffets: Italian or French.  I somehow lost the photos.

The buffets annoyed me.  They were buffets, but, you couldn't serve yourself, instead, they had staff there to add items to your plate.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but it was impossible to communicate that I truly just wanted a little dollop of each dish so I could try everything, and then come back for more of something if I liked it.  No matter what language I used, I got giant scoops of everything.

The French offerings had two salads, a good enough basic frisee salad with nicely crispy bacon bits (and an optional poached egg), and a fairly tasty celery root and carrot slaw.  Hard to go wrong with bacon and mayonnaise.  The hot offerings were not as successful.  The gratin potatoes were completely undercooked and basically raw, so even large amounts of cream and cheese couldn't save them.  The beef looked dried out and awful, so I didn't even try it, and I never like quiche, so I skipped that too.  I was sad, since I love French cuisine, and there was potential here, but there weren't even delicious sauces to try!

The menu for the Italian section was no better.  The main entrees were pork and rock cod, both of which I actively dislike (seriously, you want to hear me rant sometime ... ask me about rock cod.  I don't think it is possible for rock cod to be tasty).  I also skipped the fried stuffed olives, since they clearly weren't freshly fried.  Since it was an Italian station, it obviously had pasta, and I did try those.  The first had rubbery baby shrimp in a vary banal red sauce.  Meh.  The other was a vegetarian option, that just tasted really strange, and was crazy mushy.  I didn't want to finish a single bite of this, not even for exploratory purposes.

The buffets were clearly not the way to go, and after the awful pasta and the undercooked gratin, I was too disheartened to try anything else, and just went back to the sushi and charcuterie to eat enough "real food" that I could move on to dessert.
As I mentioned, the previous years always had impressive dessert rooms.  While I am fairly picky about food, dessert is the area where my standards do lower.  Enough cream, butter, and sugar and I'm generally happy enough.  But ... nothing here came close to satisfying.

On the left is carrot cake bites.  They were fairly dry and flavorless, topped with a tiny insufficient dollop of cream cheese frosting.  Seriously, carrot cake is ALL about cream cheese frosting, who thinks that a dot of it is enough?

Next was tiramisu, that clearly didn't set right.  As it was spooned onto my place it ran all over the place like melted ice cream.  I didn't mind the runnyness exactly, except that it also didn't taste like anything.  No mascarpone flavor, no coffee flavor, nothing.  Just runny whiteness.

In the back were tiny espresso panna cotta.  Panna cotta is always a favorite of mine.  This had a good consistency unlike the poor tiramisu, and it was topped with good enough whipped cream, and did taste a little like espresso, so, it wasn't bad, but it also wasn't particularly good.

The best was cheesecake, with a sweet, buttery, crunchy crust, and a creamy interior.  It was topped with booze stewed dried fruits, which I wasn't a fan of, but the cheesecake itself was decent.  Not earth shattering, and I wasn't even tempted to get a second piece, but, good enough.
More Desserts.
There was also a pear p√Ęte de fruit, topped with a dollop of cheese and a nut, which I skipped.  Yes, gasp, I skipped a dessert.

And last, a chocolate gateau.  It had a mediocre base chocolate cake layer and a decently creamy chocolate pudding layer.  It was served with a sauce they ladled over the top, that was cloyingly sweet.  Like, unpalatable sweet.  And I like sweet!  The sauce also had little chunks of banana, which were quite good, but I didn't understand the sauce at all.  I'm normally a sauce girl, and a fan of having a hot component with my dessert, but this just didn't make any sense.

Last year's dessert lineup was much, much better, as there were multiple items that I couldn't stop going back for more and more of, and this year, I didn't bother with seconds of anything.