Tuesday, May 31, 2016

QF 73, Sydney to San Francisco

After our lovely stay in the Qantas First Class lounge, it was time to get on board QF 73, from Sydney to San Francisco.  (Yes, Qantas has started flying direct again, I no longer need to connect through LAX!)

The flight was basically what I’ve come to expect from Qantas: lovely service, uncomfortable seats with crappy storage, decent food, good wine.

The Seat

11K (bulkhead).
The aircraft was a 747-400, outfitted with standard sky beds.  We were seated on the upper deck, front row, because pickings were slim for seats together, even though we booked far in advance.  As always, I have the same complaints about these seats, there really just isn’t much storage.  It really made me appreciate the well thought out seat we had on our American Airlines flight to Sydney.  But, because we were on the upper deck, my window seat did have a large storage bins beside it, so at least I could dig for my things, even if I had no where convenient to put them near me.  Grumble.
Front Row Storage.
Since we were in the front row, we also had no seat in front of us, so our TV screens were in the arm rest, and we didn’t have as much storage in front of us, but at least we had little shoe cubbies and a slot to stow our laptops.

Besides not having good storage, the seats also aren’t very comfortable for sleeping.  While they go “flat” and are supposed to be fully flat, mine certainly wasn’t.  It was very, very sloped.  Since the seat just slides out, you can tell that people put too much weight on the bottom over the years, and it has ruined the seat, resulting in the slant.  It also had some pretty big lumps and hard spots.

I also was not impressed with the sleeping amenities.  The “mattress” is just a very thin pad, nothing like what we had on our American or Air New Zealand flights, which had actual comfortable mattresses.  The blanket is scratchy.  A single decently fluffy pillow is provided (did I mention, American gave us 2 each?).  Of course, I knew that I’d want more pillows and blankets to build a sleeping nest with, so, the moment I was on board I asked for any extras they may have.  I was told that business class was fully booked, but premium economy wasn’t, and they could steal some from down there once underway.  I kinda assumed the FA wouldn’t remember this, but, he did, showing up with another blanket and two pillows a while later.  The premium economy pillows were a bit smaller, and the blanket was totally different, super scratchy on one side, but soft on the other.  I think I liked their blanket more, but it was much heavier too.  I really appreciated the attendant snagging me these items.

Ok, so, the seat isn't great for sleeping, the pillows and blankets aren't the nicest ... but there were more reasons I got no sleep.  The flight is always hard to sleep on, as you need to try to go to bed very, very early for Sydney time (as in, 6pm!)  I didn’t even bother trying until after 8pm, but the horribly uncomfortable bed made it nearly impossible.  Add on that the fact that Qantas serves breakfast 2.5 hours from landing and the SYD-SFO direction is about 2 hours shorter than SFO-SYD,  and … there just aren’t enough hours.  On the plus side, Qantas had the best movie selection I’ve seen in years, and I was happy enough to watch movies rather than sleep.

In the future though, it will be hard for me to pick Qantas over other airlines.  I do love the service, but … I got no sleep, and that seat just drives me crazy with its lack of useful space.

Anyway, I’ve talked about this aircraft before, so, I'll spare you more ranting.
Amenity Kit.
The amenity kit came in a colorful Kate Spade bag, with a low quality eye mask, ear plugs, socks, Aspar moisturizer, hand cream, and lip balm.  Light cotton pajamas were also provided, a nice touch, not always included in business class.

Dinner

Dinner was not served until 5pm, almost two hours into our flight, which was fine with us, since we wanted it later anyway to be at a slightly more "normal" time, but it was a fair length of time from when we took off.  The salad course and drinks came by cart, but the small plates and main dishes were served individually, row by row.  The dessert was also done from a cart, with coffee, tea, and after-dinner drinks.
Sparkling Water, Tempranillo, Nuts.
Meal service began with our selection of drinks, along with which packaged snacks (brazil nuts with pretzels) were handed out.   Since I remembered not loving the shiraz last time, I opted for the other red choice, tempranillo.  It was … fine.
Dinner Menu.
Although I was provided a menu, I ordered in advance online (through Q eat), to ensure my choice was available, and to opt for the exclusive online only entree.  The full menu:

Small Plates
  • Sweetcorn and basil soup with grilled focaccia.
  • Confit salmon with smoked tofu, pickled daikon, ginger and lemon dressing.
  • Tomato, mozzarella and basil calzone.*
  • Tapas plate of jamon serrano, piquillo pepper, tortilla and gordal olives.*
Main Plates
  • Roast pumpkin with udon noodles, miso eggplant, mushroom broth and soy beans (vegetarian)
  • Crumbed blue eye with tarragon tartare sauce, roasted chat potatoes and crushed peas.
  • Lamb kofta, celery, carrot and harissa mayonnaise in warm pita bread.*
  • Tandoori chicken with basmati rice, roast cauliflower, spinach and mint raita.
  • Roasted pork cutlet with onions and sage, soft polenta, roast cherry tomatoes and rocket. 
  • Panzanella salad with anchovies, basil and balsamic dressing. (Online exclusive)
Dessert
  • Selection of cheese served with accompaniments
  • Almond rice pudding with glazed peaches and praline
  • Maggie Beer ice cream
  • Seasonal fruit*
  • Valrhona chocolates*

Items with the * were available anytime during the flight, as were Red Rock Deli chips and another dessert (lemon coconut slice).
Mixed Greens.
To start, we were brought little bowls of salad greens, and offered balsamic or palm sugar vinaigrette.

The greens were boring, the dressing was mostly just oil.  Meh.  I declined the bread offering, sliced sourdough and multi-seed, served warm, with cultured butter on our trays.  The butter was tasty.
The Salad: After
The salad was fairly over-dressed, with tons of dressing pooling up in the bottom.  Maybe I should have gotten bread to dip into it?  I wonder if you can ask for dressing on the side?  It was added by the FA when she served it to me.
Panzanella salad with anchovies, basil and balsamic dressing. (Online Exclusive)
"A simple salad of quality Roma tomatoes marinated in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with fresh spring vegetables and chunks of toasted sourdough. It is accented with clean flavoured, savoury Spanish anchovies and fresh basil."

For the main, I really, really struggled in picking a dish.  I hoped that Ojan would want to share with me, so we could get the crumbed blue eye with tartare sauce and the Q Eat special panzanella, but, alas, he wanted the lamb kofta.  Doh.  I think I changed my selection online about 5 times in the week before the flight.  Finally, I settled for the panzanella, when I saw that it is an item normally only on the First Class menu and offered in business only as part of Q Eat online ordering, and, when I realized I’d have crumbed fish with mayo in the lounge right before, making more crumbed fish and tartar sauce unnecessary.  Thus, the panzanella.

Even though the panzanella was listed as a main, it was served as my starter. The attendant came with a calzone and a panzenella, and I thought they were both for me, assuming that they just did the entire meal in one service.  Nope.  The calzone was for Ojan, since he ordered a calzone as his starter, and the panzanella was for me as my starter, even though listed as a main.  Confusing, but, to be fair, this order made more sense, it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Anyway, the panzenella was not really a panzenella at all.  The bread component was ... 6 croutons.  Croutons do not a panzenella make.  They make a regular salad, garnished with croutons.

The base was sliced fennel, tiny cubes of carrot, red pepper, cucumber, celery, and capers  On top were slices of roma tomato, fresh basil leaves, and a few sliced anchovies.

The veggies were fresh and good enough, but, it was really, really overdressed.  Drowned in balsamic vinaigrette, even worse than the starter salad.  Really a shame, since I think this could have been quite good, and was obviously a higher end dish, with the fresh basil and everything clearly applied by the staff prior to serving.

Decent ingredients, decent plating, but, spoiled by the dressing application.  Maybe this FA just had a heavy hand?
Tomato, mozzarella and basil calzone.
“Originating in Naples, calzone is a stuffed pizza that resembles a large turnover.  Our calzone is filled with a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella, rich tomato sauce and basil. It is brushed with olive oil, baked and served fresh from the oven with a delicate baby leaf salad dressed with balsamic dressing.”

For my small plate, I selected the calzone, because it seemed like it would have potential to be done decently on an airplane.  I suppose the corn soup would too, but I never order soup.  But actually, given how full I was from my lounge feast, a little soup and bread sounded a lot more appealing than a big heavy calzone.  Whoops.  I guess that is one downside to pre-ordering, you can't modify based on how you feel at the time. 

Ojan also opted for the calzone for his starter, so, alas, I wasn’t able to try a second starter either.  I had assumed he’d go for the confit salmon!  He really wasn't helping with my desire to try more things.
Calzone: Inside.
Anyway, the calzone.  It was … pretty awful.  The filling was just mushy tomato sauce.  I honestly didn’t taste any cheese.  I didn’t like the flavor of the sauce.  It was very, very bready, and the dough wasn’t good either.  The crust was hard and almost burnt.  I was so confused by the lack of cheese that I interrupted Ojan to ask if his had come with cheese.  I really thought it was somehow left out of mine.  He said no.

The only good thing I can say about it is that it was served hot.  The crust was hard and not really doughy, and the filling I hated.
Lamb kofta, celery, carrot and harissa mayonnaise in warm pita bread.
"Spiced lamb koftas are grilled and served in warmed pita bread with pickled celery, carrot, red cabbage and harissa mayonnaise. Harissa is a North African pepper paste made with coriander, fennel and cumin seeds cooked with capsicum, garlic, palm sugar and chilli powder then blended into a smooth paste."

For his main, Ojan went for the lamb kofta.  Since I hate lamb, I never thought I’d even want a bite of his, but, I was so disappointed by my calzone, and I saw he wasn’t eating the last third of either of his pita pockets.  He ate the lamb kofta out of each pocket (2 balls in each), and discarded the extra pita bread with fillings.  I couldn’t resist trying.

And … it was good!  The pita, standard white pita, was served warm and was quite soft.  The shredded carrots, red cabbage, celery were crunchy and flavorful, slightly tangy from being pickled, and all the harissa mayo leaked down into the veggies.  So, fresh crunchy veggies, creamy mayo, and nice bread?  Totally tasty, and I quite enjoyed his discards.  Who needs the lamb?  His dish was clearly the best, and actually really satisfying.
Almond rice pudding with glazed peaches and praline.
To say I was thrilled when I saw the dessert selection is an understatement.  I love puddings and rice pudding is no different.  Plus, garnished with sweet fruit and praline?  Yes!  Of course, I also had my eyes on the ice cream, Maggie Beer brand.  Our selection of the day was burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel.  I had a really hard time picking, but, since I had gelato in the lounge just hours before, I decided the pudding was more unique.

The pudding was … fine.  It was different from any rice pudding I’ve ever had.  The grains of rice seemed almost more like farro, they were very thick, but decently cooked, not mushy or too hard.  The sauce too was thick, I guess almond flavored?  I’m really not sure where the almond was in here, it tasted more vanilla than anything else.  I would have liked more spicing, like cinnamon perhaps?  And some nuts mixed in?

The praline crumble on top was good, sweet, and nice to mix in for texture.  I wanted more.  Or, like I said, some nuts mixed into the pudding.

The peaches were gross though, clearly from a can.

Overall, fine, but certainly not great.

Ojan opted for the fruit platter, with kiwi, passionfruit, and a melon.  The fruit all looked pretty ripe and good.
Dessert Wine.
To go along with my dessert, I also opted for a little of the dessert wine, which was sweet and delicious.  It was probably the highlight of my meal.

Vahlrona chocolates were also served with dessert, milk or dark chocolate. 

Breakfast

Breakfast Menu.
The breakfast menu is always hanging at the seat when you board, ready to fill out before take off, so your custom breakfast can be delivered to your seat with minimal interruption in the morning.  The menu was the same as my previous Qantas flights, with continental selections of muesli, fruit, yogurt, toast, croissants, and a breakfast pastry (blueberry danish this time), and three hot items.  You can also choose the express breakfast of just a danish and coffee, or choose to not be woken at all.

Drinks
  • Orange juice
  • Apple juice
  • Watermelon and ginger energiser
Continental Breakfast
  • Fruit salad (with yoghurt optional)
  • Brookfarm toasted muesli (with low fat or full cream milk)
  • Toast
  • Croissant
  • Blueberry Danish
  • Berry jam, marmalade, honey, vegemite.
Full Breakfast
  • Free range scrambled eggs on toast with bacon, hash browns, and mushrooms
  • Spinach and feta baked egg with cherry tomato salsa
  • Sour cherry french toast with mascarpone and cherries
As I mentioned, you pre-order breakfast from a card before takeoff.  Qantas serves breakfast between 2-2.5 hours before landing, earlier than most other airlines.  While I was grumpy at American Airlines for not having a “real” breakfast, their quick, continental style breakfast did mean that they served it only an hour out, which really makes a difference when it comes to sleep, particularly in the SYD-SFO direction, as the flight time is nearly two hours shorter.  I rolled over at one point, and immediately in my ear was the flight attendant, “Ms. Parent, are you having breakfast?”  I pulled off my eye mask, blinked, and looked around.  It was still dark.  I said, “uh … yes, can I wait a little while though?”  She told me that no, they were serving breakfast then.  Oooh.  I said ok, and got up to use the bathroom first.  I joined the line of two people, both of whom were changing, putting in contacts, putting on makeup, etc.  I saw my food arrive within moments of my standing up to join the line.  It was getting cold.  But a line was forming behind me.  If I went back to grab a bite, I’d get stuck waiting even longer, and I did need to use the bathroom.  Sigh.  So, the breakfast flow certainly didn’t go as planned.  Beside me, Ojan kept sleeping.  About 30 minutes later, after I’d finally used the bathroom and eaten, the FA asked me to wake him for breakfast.  Ugh.  I could have waited that long too then, right?  Why did she make me eat before I was ready?

Anyway, grumpiness aside, I really do appreciate that they offer warm interesting breakfast pastries and always a warm breakfast carb (french toast, pancakes, waffles, etc).
Blueberry Danish.
On my last Qantas flight from Sydney to LAX, I loved my rhubarb, brown sugar, and cream cheese danish.  So, when I saw a blueberry danish on the menu, I knew I was getting it.  It was served warm.  It was huge.  It was a different style though, no cream cheese, no artistic edges, this was just a standard danish.

And … it was seriously overcooked.  It was hard as a rock.  I’m not exaggerating here.  It really was rock hard and basically inedible.  The blueberry goo in the center was tasty though, and the pastry seemed like it had a nice buttery taste and would be flaky, but alas, ruined by the oven.  When I got up to use the bathroom later, I saw that every danish, croissant, and piece of toast went unfinished in the cabin.  Clearly, someone had the oven up too high and didn’t realize it, which, now that I think about it, also applied to my calzone ...
Sour cherry french toast with mascarpone and cherries.  Decaf coffee. Sparkling water.
For my main, I obviously went for the french toast.  The presentation was nice.

I’m sure it was warm when it was served, but, alas, I was stuck in the bathroom line, so it was basically room temperature when I got to it.  It was still pretty good though.

The bread looked like raisin bread, but, I guess it was cherry.  I wouldn’t really call it “french toast” though, it didn’t seem eggy, soaked, fluffy, or any of those things.  It really just seemed like toast, flavorful toast, but, toast.  Like the calzone and danish, it too was overcooked.  I really think they had a temperature problem in the oven.  The crusts were actually nearly black, and it was really hard.  Luckily, I could coat it in the delicious toppings and it wasn’t too bad, and I like some crunch, but, it was clearly over cooked.

The toppings were great though.  The sour cherry compote on top was flavorful, full of juicy cherries. I adore mascarpone, and I was provided a generous scoop on top.  I was going to say dollop, but, this was far more than a dollop.

So, even though the toast was overcooked, the tasty toppings made up for it, and I did almost enjoy this.  I’d like it even more if it were warm and fluffy.  This was better than the pancakes with raspberries and mascarpone I had on my Qantas flight from LAX to Sydney last year.

Ojan had the spinach and feta baked egg with cherry tomato salsa.  I had no interest in trying the eggs (it looked like a frittata), but he didn’t eat his tomatoes.  Normally, when someone leaves something behind it is because it is gross, but, you know me, I still needed to try it.  I actually really liked the cherry tomatoes, baked so they were blistered, in a flavorful marinate, perhaps balsamic?  Savory, and really fairly tasty.  I don’t know why he rejected them.  His dish also came with a piece of turkish bread on the side.  As you can guess, it was rock solid, nearly a weapon.  Seriously, that oven.

The decaf coffee was standard instant, and not very good.
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Friday, May 27, 2016

Popcorn Factory Popcorn

ZOMG, popcorn.  Yes, I have a problem with popcorn.  I'm obsessed, and I freely admit it.  It is my favorite of all snack foods.  But ... I don't actually really like standard microwave butter popcorn.  Or even movie theater popcorn.  

No, this doesn't mean that I like high brow popcorn, just, that I like it savory or sweet, with interesting flavors.  (And, strangely, I usually like it frozen.  Seriously.  Try it sometime, particularly caramel corn.  It gets even crispier!  And it lasts forever!)
Peek-A-Boo Snowman Popcorn Tin, 3.5 Gallon, 3-Flavor.  $39.
So, you know that time of year, when people get those popcorn tins from clients?  The ones they groan about, and bring to the office, and hope someone else will eat it?

That happens to be my favorite time of year.  (And not just for the popcorn tins!)

Every year, without fail, a few of these wind up around our office.  This year, one tin was from Popcorn Factory, as it has been in past years, but I never bothered write up a review before.

This time, I finally snapped a pic.  Behold: the tin!

Popcorn Factory is an online retailer of popcorn tins, gift baskets, and the like.  Generally used for corporate gifting, last minute Father's day gifts, etc.  They offer all your classic savory popcorns (butter, cheese, white cheddar, etc) and sweet (caramel, kettle, etc), but also like 30 other flavors including the fascinating sounding fruit flavors like sour green apple (also, um, its bright green!), crazy combos like butter toffee almond with pretzels, and a birthday flavor with sugar drizzle and rainbow sprinkles that I really really want to try.

Of course, no one sends the fun flavors, they stick with the classics, so that is what I was able to try.

Cheese Popcorn / Caramel Popcorn / Butter Popcorn.
Inside the tin was 3 varieties, all divided by a cardboard insert: cheese, caramel, and butter.  All you folks who actually like butter popcorn can have that one, while the savory cheese one and the sweet caramel corn can be mine, all mine!

The tin is also available in a 4 flavor version, with the addition of white cheddar popcorn.

My reviews, in order of preference (least to best):

Butter Popcorn: "The popcorn classic with freshly popped kernels and buttery deliciousness."
I tried it, just for trying it sake, but, well, yes, it was just butter popcorn.  Not fresh, not hot, why on earth would I ever want this?  I left it all for the rest of you, who seemed to devour it.  No one else touched the ones I kept returning for.

Caramel Popcorn: "Super crunchy and super delicious, one of our most popular popcorn recipes."
I fully expected the caramel popcorn to be my favorite.  And I did like it, I easily polished off the rest of the tin.  Each and every kernel was very well coated in caramel.  It was crispy.  Nice buttery caramel flavor, not the burnt caramel flavor you sometimes get.  Good, sweet, satisfying.  But the best was yet to come.

Cheese Popcorn: "A must for any popcorn fan. When you think of cheese popcorn, this is it!"
Huzzah!  Now this, this was amazing.  Like the others, the kernels were perfectly coated, no kernel left behind untouched.  It was so cheesy, in that fake cheese that you-know-you-love way.  It coated my fingers and left them orange.  You can bet I licked them clean.  I loved this.  It mixed nicely with the caramel corn for a sweet and savory combo, but really, it was just fantastic on its own.  I wasn't even tempted to freeze this one!
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tartine Bakery

Update Review, April 2016

Morning Bun.  $4.20.
"Cinnamon sugar, candied orange."

Ah, the famous Tartine morning bun.  I've had a few of these in my life, to mixed success. I haven't ever disliked them, but haven't necessarily understood the hype.

This time was no different.  It was very, very crispy on the outside, but not in that nice caramelized way.  One edge, the left side here, was actually really burnt and dried out.

The entire thing did have a nice sugar coating, and the dough was decent, but, it certainly wasn't magical in any way.  It also did finally taste like orange, something I always noted before that was lacking (but, actually, I prefer to not taste the orange ...).

So, it was fine, and I'd eat another if it showed up, but, I wouldn't seek this out.  I still really want to try their bread pudding though!

Two years ago, I published my original Tartine review, and, a morning bun was $3.85.  I guess, inflation?

Original Review, March 2014

If you live in San Francisco, and have any friends who reside anywhere near the Mission, you've inevitably been to Tartine.  Or seen the lines on a weekend morning.  Or at least had someone enthusiastically show up at a party with some of their goods.  It is definitely an institution.  Even my mom, who lives in New Hampshire, called me up one day asking me if I'd been, as she read something about it somewhere.

I don't live in the Mission, I don't go there often these days, and quite honestly I don't get the Tartine hype.  I much prefer getting bread from Acme, and while the croissants are indeed pretty awesome at Tartine, the other things I've tried (particularly the cookies), haven't been all that memorable, and there are plenty of other places to get good baked goods in the city.  That said, they do have an absolutely incredible sounding banana cream tart, with caramel and chocolate layers, that I really, really want to try sometime.  If you are looking for a way to bribe me for any reason, please bring me a slice of that :)

Pastries

Morning Bun.  $3.85.
This is perhaps Tartine's most famous treat.  Made with croissant dough, and loaded up with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and some subtle orange flavor.  It is crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, and ridiculously sweet.  And delicious.  Apparently even better if you get it fresh out of the oven in the morning.  Famous, and hyped, for a reason.

Update: I love all the cinnamon and sugar and the crunchy exterior, but the inside is not as moist as I recall, and I don’t really taste the orange (not that I want to).  It didn't live up to my memory, but it was still a nice sugary treat.
Pain au jambon, $4.95.
This photo shows less than half of one. These things are massive-tastic.  The croissant dough is flaky, crispy, buttery, and perfectly browned. Filled with ham and gruyere.  High price, but it is basically a meal :)  My favorite of their goods.

Previous tasting notes: [ The gruyere in here is just so good.  And it combines perfectly with ham.  And damn, they really just do make the best croissants. ] [ This thing is even more amazing if you warm it up in a toaster oven.  The cheese gets so melty, and the layers of croissant dough get a bit moist.  Absolutely amazingly delicious. ]
Frangipane Croissant. $4.50.
This was my least favorite, by far.  I'm not sure if you can see in the picture, but it was sadly burnt.  I hoped it wouldn't effect the taste, but it did.  I tasted ... soot, and it was fairly dry.

That said, it was the same buttery, delicious croissant dough, and was filled with frangipane and sliced almonds, topped with more sliced almonds and powdered sugar.  If it hadn't been over-cooked, it would have been quite good.

Like all of their pastries, it was hugetastic.

Update review (June 2015):
I had another of these when someone brought in a bunch to work.  It too looked burnt, and I was initially put off.  But, I came around to it. I think this must just be Tartine style.

Yes, it was very crispy.  It leaned almost too far in the burnt category, but managed to stay on the caramelized and crispy side of the scale instead.  I loved the crispy actually.  Inside was dense and obviously very buttery, but not quite as flaky as I was expecting.

The almond frangipane filling wasn't very generous either.

So, hard to call it amazing, when there are plenty of things I criticize about it, but, the quality of the croissant dough is certainly there.

[ No Photo ]
Croissant. $4.20. 

Buttery, flaky, delicious.  Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  Definitely one of the best croissants I've ever had, but pricy at $4.20 each.  This is the same base that they use for the other filled varieties.

Update: Very textbook croissant, large size, easy to split with someone, incredibly flaky exterior.  Quiet messy, as flakes get everywhere!  But a bit boring to just eat plain.  I’d want jam with it, or I prefer the almond or chocolate ones.

Cakes

Passion Fruit Lime Bavarian.
    • Passion Fruit Lime Bavarian. “Lime-moistened genoise with passion fruit Bavarian. Topped with sweetened cream and coconut. "  Tasting notes: Light and fluffy genoise, but pretty boring as a cake layer, and I didn’t taste the lime.  The cream was intensely passion fruit flavored, but far more tart than I was expecting, not sweet at all.  Perhaps some of the lime in the cake is what I was tasting here?  The outside had sweetened whipped cream and coconut flakes, both things I like, but the whipped cream was very masked by the strong flavors of the passionfruit, and the coconut flakes were not toasted.
    • Tres Leches Cake, $5.50 slice. "Sweet coconut milk moistened chiffon, layered with cajeta and crema".  Tasting notes: A friend brought this to a party.  It did not look like anything special, not like something from a professional bakery, and certainly not from somewhere as famous as Tartine.  Many people kept asking if she had made it.  While it didn't win any beauty awards, it was obvious fairly quickly upon tasting it that this was not just a home cook's little cake.  First, it was unlike any tres leches cake I've ever had.  The bottom crust seemed to be made from their croissant dough?  The layers were moist and flavorful, with pastry cream in between them, and topped with whipped cream.  It somehow wasn't too sweet.  A nicely made cake, but the flaky croissant-like crust is really what made it something special.

Other Baked Goods

Lemon Cream Tart.  $6.75.
“Sweet pastry shell filled with rich lemon cream, topped with unsweetened cream”.  

Standard tart shell, hard style, not particularly interesting.  The filling was very tart, and lemon, which is not ever something that I like.  The whipped cream was not sweetened, quite rare, and so it tasted like … cream.  Fluffy cream.  Nothing wrong with that!

Definitely not something I care for, and the $6.75 price tag seemed high for a small individual size tart.
Currant Buttermilk Scone, $3.25.
Clearly, this photo was taken after I'd already dug in.  Whoops.  Good enough, but nothing amazing, hard style. Rolled in giant sugar crystals.

Previous tasting notes:  I really liked the buttermilk tang to it.  Did not hold up at all to a second day, got very soggy. I don't blame them though, no scones really keep!

[ No Photo ]
Gougère, $3.50: 

This was HUGE!  Decent flaky dough, decent cheese inside, but somehow just not that interesting overall.  Not bad, but not great.

Update: Very light and airy, cheesy, not bad.

Cookies

    • Coco Nib Rocher, $0.75.  Basically a meringue filled with cocoa nibs.  Nice crunch from nibs, very nice cloudlike consistency, a little too sweet.  Not really my thing.  Good price though.
    • Mexican Wedding Cookie, $0.85.  Covered in powdered sugar.  Not my thing, but another good price.
    • Toasted Almond Rocher, $0.75. Sweet, really nice almond, better than nib version, favorite of the cookies I've tried.
Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Waffle Iron Cooking: Quesadillas

I adore my waffle iron.  I use it to "cook" most meals.  As you know, my love of the waffle iron started with realizing it is the perfect way to re-heat so many things, as I've shared with you in my waffling leftovers series (what? You haven't read those?  Drop everything, and go read about waffling leftovers first, it will change your world!)

But I've advanced past just waffling leftovers.  Now, I create from scratch in my waffle iron too.  Last week, I shared how to make french toast in the waffle iron.  This week?  Quesadillas.

Quesadillas: Will if waffle?  Yup, easily, but, this one is subject to personal opinion.
Assembled Quesadilla.
Instructions for assembly are pretty simple.

Take a flour tortilla.  Put shredded cheese and whatever else you want inside (I used steak chunks in one, rotisserie chicken in another, and random veggies in another.  This is a great way to use up leftovers!)  Top with another flour tortilla.  Simple.

You could then take your quesadilla and cook it in any number of ways.  When I was a kid, I'd throw them in the microwave.  Slightly more advanced is baking in the oven or toaster oven.  In a pan on the stove top also works.  As does a panini press or grill.  Or, um, a waffle iron.
Waffled Quesadilla!
The cooking was simple too.

I slid it into the waffle iron, at 350° (a random choice, it just happened to be the previous setting), and cooked for about 5 minutes.  It got lovely waffle marks on it and was easy to remove from the waffle iron (unlike so many other creations!)

It was also super easy to cut into the requisite triangles, since the iron marks already divided it into quadrants.

I thought the waffle method of preparation was great.  It was cute, and I liked having the slightly soft areas and crispy bits where the iron touched, but Ojan was not a fan.  He said it was fine actually, but, not a quesadilla, and he wanted a quesadilla.  Since I could only fit one in the waffle iron at a time, I also put one on the George Foreman grill at the same time.  That one came out crispier since more surface area of the tortilla touched the grill, and he was much happier with it.  (I do wonder if I'd cranked up the heat more if this would have gotten crispier ...  but, I guess it will always have the problem of not having every surface touch the iron, so, if you want all crispy, you won't get it with a waffle iron).

So, super simple, I thought it worked, but, to each their own ...
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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney

Update Review, February 2016

Last week, I updated my review of the First Class Qantas lounge in Sydney, hands down, my favorite airline lounge.  Go there, read about the phenomenal food and massages, and then return here as as comparison point.

I've also reviewed the business class lounge before, so feel free to start there, and then return here for a quick 2016 update.

After we had our delicious main dishes, it was time for Ojan’s massage, and I had a half hour to explore before mine.  I wandered over to the business class lounge, just to take a peak (ok, who are we kidding, of course I was going for the food!)  As always, the staff noted my status and let me know that I really would be more comfortable over in the First Class lounge.  I told them I just wanted to check it out, and I was welcomed in.

The business lounge was much, much more crowded, a very different feel than the calm, serene First Class lounge.  I immediately understood why they warned me.
Salad Buffet (Business Lounge).
In the business class side, there is one “dish of the day”, and beyond that, the food is served at a buffet, a stark contrast to the full restaurant in the First Class lounge.

The buffet had one hot entree with sides (chicken, potatoes, carrots), a hot soup, and a selection of salads.  I recalled the salads being great before, so I went for them again.  And ... they were great!

From right:
 “Edamame vegetables”
The big bowl was the not-very-descriptively named  “Edamame vegetables”, which was actually delicious.  Now, I don’t care for edamame, but the sliced radishes and carrots were crunchy and refreshing.  I loved the dressing, and the crunch from the sunflower seeds.  Really, an excellent salad.

“Salt baked beetroot”
I didn’t try the beets, since I don’t really like beets, but, I know my mom would have liked this.  I almost tried them in her honor, but, I knew I should save my stomach space.

“Roasted sweet potato”
The roasted sweet potato wedges were quite nice, really nicely roasted and slightly caramelized.  I was hoping the white stuff on them would be an aioli of sorts, but, it was more like a tart yogurt.

“Rocket leaves”
I skipped the simple rocket (arugula).

“Tomato, feta, and basil”
Since I wanted one last taste of summer, I went for the tomato salad.  The tomatoes were delicious!  Ahh, summer.  I liked the slight saltiness and creaminess from the feta too.

Overall, the salads were excellent, and I have to say, I could have been quite happy just making a big, healthy meal of these.  But of course, I had the fish burger, pasta, and sashimi already, and had my eyes on dessert next …
 Baked Lemon Cheesecake, Raspberry Lamington (Business Lounge).
The dessert selection in the buffet had cheesecake, lamingtons, and flourless chocolate brownies.  Of course I planned to go back to order a plated dessert in the First Class lounge, but … cheesecake!  I couldn't resist the smallest slice.

I’m so glad I took a slice, as it was really, really good.  Creamy cheesecake, with just a hint of lemon.  The crust was buttery, sugary, and really good.

I wasn’t remotely hungry, but then … this cheesecake happened.  I was powerless.  Devoured.
Gelato & Sorbet (Business Lounge).
At that point, since I was already stuffed and clearly in “eat all the things!” mode, I swung by the gelato and sorbet stand.  Just to “look”.  The sorbet choices were strawberry, pink grapefruit, and pineapple.  For gelato, green apple, coffee, and panna cotta.  It was hopeless.  Of course I needed the panna cotta gelato.  I mean, my blog has a label for panna cotta, and another for ice cream.  I love these items, and combined together? I had to try.

It was really quite good, the flavor a bit hard to describe, sorta ... buttermilky?  It was a smooth, creamy gelato.  I really enjoyed it.

Also near the gelato area was a barista bar with soft, fluffy marshmallows and white chocolate disks (both delicious) and candy jars full of layered licorice.

On a sugar high, and absolutely stuffed, I headed back to the First Class lounge for my massage, and then to meet Ojan for … more dessert.  Mission accomplished.

Original Review, February 2015

Ahh, the Sydney Qantas lounges.  As you read about last week, I really, really enjoyed my time in the Qantas First Class lounge.  If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend spending as much time there as you possibly can.  The food is better than most restaurants in Sydney itself, the spa actually offers real massages, the seating is comfortable, the staff is friendly ... my accolades can go on and on.

But of course, I'm a curious girl, so after having lunch in the First Class lounge, I needed to go on a journey to check out the business class side, just to compare.  I didn't spend all that much time in the business lounge though, so this is mostly just a photo tour with a slight narrative, for informational purposes, rather than an in-depth review.

Overall, it is a nice lounge for sure, although not nearly as premium as in the First Class lounge.  The salads in the buffet were particularly impressive, and, just like the First Class lounge, compared to the Qantas Business Lounge in LAX, the Sydney one is a league above.

Seating

Lounge Style Seating.
The seating was not nearly as plush nor fabulous as the First Class area, but was still comfortable.
Workstations.
Apparently some strange creatures exist who travel without computers, so there is a row of workstations set up, overlooking the runways.
Long Bar.
The center of the room contains a long bar with seating all along it, plus a barista station, where they make fancy hot chocolate, using real chocolate, garnished with fancy marshmallows.
Gelato!
Right next to the barista station is ... a gelato shop!  Yes, seriously.  I obviously would have gone for this, except I was planning to return to the First Class area to order at least one, if not two, desserts from the restaurant there, so I had to use restraint.  The placement next to the barista however is perfect for an affagado, a trick I discovered with glee in the British Airways Galleries lounge at Heathrow.
Meringues.
The bar also had meringues set out, but they were the hard style, and not something I've ever tempted by, even when I'm not anticipating other desserts.  One point for me resisting a dessert!
Spa Water.
The very far end of the bar houses spa water, self-serve, which I really appreciated.  Hydration during travel is very important.
Self-Serve Beverages.
For other sorts of hydration, a self-serve beverage station is at one end of the room, with several beers on tap, a handful of wines and spirits, and a soda machine.

The alcohol selection here was obviously greatly reduced from the rather impressive full bar and nice wine list in the First Lounge, but even just the soft drink selection was lower quality, with a soda machine rather than individual bottles, and no sparkling water.  The horrors.
Hot Drinks.
A robot coffee machine and tea selection completed the drink offerings.  The decaf coffee was pretty decent, the machine ground it to order, but of course, you could order from the barista with the full espresso machine too.

The tea selection, like the drink selection, was again lower-tier, here they just had Dilmah brand tea, and not a large assortment, whereas in the First Class lounge they had T2 tea, our Australian favorite.
Assorted Composed Salads.
Next came the food. The salad line-up was impressive, with 8 salads, fresh and not limp looking, with all sorts of interesting ingredients.  This really put the basic potato salad and brown lettuce from the Qantas Business Lounge in LA to shame.  Also, unlike the LAX lounge, everything here was clearly labelled.  The salad lineup:
  • Rocket and parmesan
  • Bean salad dressed in hazelnut and orange
  • Poached chicken pasta salad with olive tapenade
  • Cos lettuce with proscuitto
  • Panzanella with mozzarella
  • Beetroot and mint with cherry dressing
  • Potato, pea, and egg with cashew pesto
  • Spinach, feta and quinoa
  • Roasted pumpkin with chickpeas and preserved lemon
I had just eaten a full, wonderful lunch in the First Class lounge, but I couldn't resist trying a few things.  The beauty of buffets is that I could try just a bite!

I started with the panzenella.  I love panzenella, which is funny because I don't really like bread that much.  But make bread soggy, or turn it into bread pudding, and I'm sold!

The panzenella was quite good, perfectly soggy bread that soaked up all the tomato juices, plus fresh, ripe tomato, and quality mozzarella.  It was nicely seasoned too.  If I was looking for some food, I would have been quite happy with this.

I also had proscuitto and cheese from the cos salad, and it was salty and tasty, again, good quality, and really satisfying for lounge food.
Desserts! Fruit salad, flourless chocolate cake, lamingtons.
And of course, there were desserts.  I know, I know, I was just saying that there was dessert waiting for me next door in the First Class lounge, but ... dessert!  I had to try something.  I don't care for lamingtons and the fruit salad contained watermelon, so it was an easy choice: chocolate cake!

It was a decent flourless chocolate cake, very rich, very fudgy, particularly the top layer.  But chocolate-loving Ojan wasn't very impressed.
Hot Foods, Soup.
The hot dishes of the day were Hungarian beef goulash and butter and herb pasta.  The soup of the day was potato and garlic, with crusty rolls on the side.

We didn't try any of this, but I saw a number of people with big bowls of goulash, who really did look quite happy.

Bathrooms

Bathroom.
I poked my head into the shower suites, just to see.  They had a sink, large counter, and toilet, along with a rainfall shower.
Shower.
Just like in the First Lounge, they provided Aspar products
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Juice Shop

Juice Shop is one of many juice shops that has sprung up all over San Francisco, with several locations.  As a frugal gal, I'm certainly not one to go around spending $10 on a juice, so I haven't really been into this trend.  Also, um, as you can likely tell, I'm much more into baked goods than I am fruits and vegetables.

Anyway, I recently attended an event sponsored by Juice Shop, and then several other events that served the juices, so I got to finally see what all the fuss is about.  You can find these juices at Juice Shop's several locations around town (and they also seem to also run a pretty large delivery program).

I'm guessing the delivery program is mostly for folks doing full cleanses, ranging from the "Beginner Cleanse" to the "Advanced Cleanse", all consisting of about 6 juices and 2 elixirs, for $61 per day.  My mind is still blown that people actually do this, not only for the expense, but also, really, just drinking juice?  I can't imagine feeling remotely satisfied.

But anyway.  On to the juices!
Juices!

Cold Pressed Raw Juice

The juices are all raw, unpasteurized, and cold-pressed, meaning they must be kept refrigerated, and have a very short shelf life (3 days max).  They come in beautiful 16 ounce glass bottles (for which you also pay an additional $2 deposit).  The bottles really are lovely.

The cheapest juices are $8, such as the simple coconut water or lemon-aid.  Most are $9-10, blends of different greens (celery, cucumber, romaine, kale, spinach, parsley, sprouts, dandelion greens), citrus (lemon), roots (ginger), fruits (apples, pineapple, grapefruit, pears, strawberries, bananas), and other vegetables (carrots, beets).  Plus some seeds (hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin) and spices (turmeric, salt, vanilla).  Oh, and some mix in extras like algae.  The most expensive option is the nut milk.

Each blend is designed with a specific purpose, such as improving liver function, oxygenation, digestion, or even your body's pH.  I decided to pick solely based on what sounded the most likely to taste good, not for its additional benefits.
Pineapple Pear Chia: Pineapple / Pear / Filtered Water / Chia Seed. $9 + deposit. (2015)
"This juice has a large spectrum of powerful qualities. In a nutshell: Pineapple contains bromelain, an anti-inflammatory digestive enzyme. Nutrient-dense chia seeds, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and absorbable protein, clean you out and keep you regular. And because they can absorb up to 30 times its weight in water, chia seeds are a natural stamina enhancer, acting as a time-release of sustained energy and hydration."

Ingredients: pineapple*, pear*, filtered water, chia seed*

I started with the pineapple pear chia.  While I've never been one for chia seeds, pineapple seemed like one of the more friendly options, since most of the others were loaded with greens and vegetables.  The whole drinking your vegetables thing hasn't ever struck me as something I'd like to do, so I wanted to stick more fruit based.  I'm new to this.

It really was a good juice.  The pineapple was sweet and a bit refreshing.  The pear surprised me, it sorta seemed like sophisticated apple juice, if that makes any sense.  The two fruits were actually really well balanced, no one dominating.  It was a bit crazy how one moment I could really taste pineapple, and another, pear, depending on how I focused.

The chia seeds were a shocker.  I really didn't think I'd like them.  But the soft texture was almost like having boba in my drink.  I had to keep putting the lid on and shaking though, as they settled down to the bottom basically immediately.  This definitely should have been consumed with a straw.

Overall, much better than I expected, and actually pretty enjoyable, although a bit too sweet for me.  I'd never pay $9 for it, but I'm glad I got to try it.
Citrus Gold: Orange / Carrot / Grapefruit / Turmeric. $9 + deposit. (2015)
"A combination of citrus fruit and turmeric root, this tangy formula is exceptionally high in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties. Both the carrot and grapefruit provides a strong detoxifying effect on the body, and collectively the ingredients raise the whole body's immunity response."

Next I got a bit adventurous with the Citrus Gold.  I was really curious how the citrus fruit would balance out the carrot, and actually, I really randomly decide that I love carrot juice sometimes (usually when I'm not feeling well).

This was also really good juice, but again the flavor so complex it is hard to describe.  The citrus was strong for sure, particularly the tart acidic nature of the grapefruit.  But the carrot was also there.  It was rather refreshing, and definitely not too sweet.  I was shocked when I looked down to realize that I had consumed half the bottle in literally a few seconds.  Whoops!

Citrus Gold. $9. (2016)
Ingredients: orange*, carrot*, grapefruit*, turmeric*

I'm not convinced this was actually Citrus Gold.  It tasted like plain orange juice to me, although  a bit more bitter, which I guess could have been the grapefruit.  And I've had the Citrus Gold before, and I tasted carrot then.  I did not taste carrot this time.

It also was a darker, more orange color this time.



Anyway, this tasted like fresh squeezed orange juice.  Excellent juice, but I really didn't detect the carrot.  Not sure if somehow I got a plain orange juice?  But they don't even make plain orange juice?  So confused.
Beta Beet. $9. (2016)
Ingredients: celery*, carrot*, beets*, ginger*, lemon*

I was feeling ... healthy.  Or something.  I'm honestly not quite sure what got into me.  I actually had a box of fresh donuts sitting a few feet away, and instead, I wanted ... juice?  I think I'd been over doing it on sweets and carbs and my body knew it.  So, when I had the option to grab some juice, I did.

This juice totally matched the mood I was in.  It was fresh, clean, refreshing.  It tasted like beets.  And greens (I guess the celery?)  It tasted healthy.  Mmm, vegetables.

I can't say this is something I'd normally want, but, well, it was at the time.

Raw Smoothies

Maca Malt. $10. (2016)
Ingredients: maca*, cacao ariba*, banana*, sprouted almonds*, coconut water*, vanilla bean, himalayan salt, filtered water

This one wasn't labeled, so the first time I tried it, I actually had no idea what it was.  It looked like a mocha, or chocolate milk, so I expected something chocolately, milky, and perhaps a bit bitter from some coffee.

I was shocked when I took my first sip and tasted banana.  It was also much thicker than I anticipated, more like a milkshake.  What?!  So I looked it up, and quickly identified it as the Maca Malt.

With my expectations reset, I tried it again.  It was sorta like a thick chocolate milk, which could be a good thing, except it had a lot of banana on the finish.  I don't hate banana, but I certainly don't love it, and I just didn't really want to taste so much banana.  The banana probably did add to the thickness, which I did like, but, it was too dominant of a taste.

If it weren’t for the banana, I’d like this.  This was definitely more of a smoothie than a juice.
Almond Drink. $10. (2016)
"We believe our almond drink stands apart from the rest. Light and creamy, we simply use coconut water to avoid added sweeteners. And by sprouting our almonds, we unlock the nut's dormant nutrients."

Ingredients: raw almonds*, filtered water, coconut water*, vanilla bean, himalayan salt.

So, um, this was delicious.  "Almond drink" sounds so boring and unpretentious.  But, this was not boring.

I loved it, which really shocked me.  It was almond milk … with coconut water.  Which I know doesn’t sound like it should be good at all, but I thought it was fantastic.  It was creamy but watery enough to refreshing.  Light but satisfying.  Sweet but not too sweet.  Um, almond-y and coconut-y.  I can’t explain this, but I really liked it.

Elixirs

While the majority of the menu is the large bottles of juice, they also make a few "elixirs", small shots designed to cure what ails you.  One is just blue algae, another is a aloe and coconut water blend, and the final is designed for "Immunity", which is the one I tried. 
Immunity Shot: Ginger / Lemon / Oregano Oil / Garlic. $3 + deposit. (2015)
"This elixir is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, and antiviral. A jolt to your immune system, the super potent combo of garlic, lemon, ginger, and oregano oil has natural antibiotic-like effects."

I saw others trying these, and the reaction on their faces was priceless.  There was choking.  Gasping.  Lunges for the nearest water bottle.  Many comments of "don't sip that!  Definitely do it as a shot!"

Still, I made the mistake of sipping it.  Woah.  A punch in the face, for sure.  I had a couple sips, as I was really trying to evaluate it, but, wow.  The description of "super potent" is right.  So much garlic.  So much ginger.  So many very strong competing flavors.  I wanted nothing to do with this.

Definitely for the hard core who believe in the effects of this stuff, not for the taste.
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