Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drinks and Bites at Garaje

The other night I attended a birthday party at Garaje, in SOMA.  I was excited because it opened a year ago, and I still hadn't been, even though I've been hearing really good things.

So first, let me attempt to define what Garaje is.  At some level, I feel they are suffering from an identity crisis, so it is really hard to define.  Garaje is a sports bar, a taqueria, a beer hall, and a burger joint.  All in one.  But somehow, it works.

I'll dive into each aspect one at a time.

First, the sports bar.  The decor is uh, retro garage, with plasma screens showing sporting events.  You order drinks (beer only) and food (taqueria-style) at registers at the back.  They are cash only, but have an ATM near the doorway.  Drinks are dispensed immediately, and you are given a number for your food, which will be delivered to your table.  The single line, for food and drinks, is a bit of an issue, as it seemed to crawl along, and it regularly took 20-30 minutes just to get through the line.

Speaking of lines, the same goes for the bathroom, a single unisex room.  Yes one bathroom for an entire bar.  That line was regularly 5-6 people deep.

But I'll stop being grumpy now.  The food was shockingly good, even though the menu was expansive, and a bit of a strange assortment.  They somehow crank the food out quickly, even though it is all done à la minute.  This was the most impressive part.  I was at a private party up in the mezzanine, so I could watch the kitchen from above, and it was clear that they had minimal mise en place.  The cooks prepared each and every dish to order.  Each piece of fish going into a fish taco was dredged and fried to order, the slaw wasn't dressed until right before it was added to a dish, each order of fries was individually fired.  And this is at a bar?  This is certainly not ordinary bar food.

Like I said, a bit of an identity crisis.  Yes, it was a bar, albeit only with beer.  So maybe it was a taqueria, but with fancy microbrews on tap?  And burgers that people actually seek out?  Confusing, yes.  Delicious, also yes.

The taqueria part of the menu features tacos, basic street tacos, or far fancier options, like seared ahi tuna or plancha grilled farmed tilapia.  Ok, so it is an upscale taqueria.  The signature item seems to be zapatos, basically burritos that are grilled in a panini press.  But then there are also burgers, and they most certainly aren't the cardboard variety.  Marin Sun Farms grass fed beef, Acme buns, decadent toppings.  The birthday girl claimed that this is her favorite burger in the city.  The burgers are clearly not just thrown on the menu as an afterthought.  So now, it is a bar, a taqueria, and a burger joint?

Then, there are also salads and a slew of other sandwiches (fried chicken, grilled chicken breast, grilled pastrami, pulled pork, seared ahi) all also served on Acme buns.  At this point, I don't know how to define Garaje.

So I won't.  What I can tell you is that the food is on point.  Quality ingredients are used, it is well executed, and the food is incredibly flavorful.  It isn't a fancy place, and your food will arrive in a plastic basket.  But sometimes, this it is exactly what you need.

I highly recommend, and I'll certainly be returning, as there are too many menu items that I wanted to try.
Sangria.
Besides the food, the other major focus is the beer program, with a slew of microbrews on tap, and a sign proclaiming "no crap on tap".  But as a non-beer drinker, I was limited to only one alcoholic choice: house made sangria.  No cider, wine, malt beverages, or hard liquor are available.

The beer drinkers seemed very happy.  Garaje also has an impressive collection of glassware, and it seemed as if almost every type of beer came in its own custom glass.  Also exciting for some our group were the size options, including liter sized steins.  Given the long lines to order drinks, the liter option does make some sense, as you don't need to return as often :)  But, then again, perhaps it also adds to the bathroom line issue!

The sangria was not quite what I expected, as it was almost frozen and a bit slushy.  Not too sweet, a bit fruity, the strongest flavor was certainly the underlying red wine.  Not bad, and I was happy to drink it, but I of course would have loved more options.

For non-alcoholic options, they had soft drinks, iced teas, and a nice selection from Bundaberg, including tasty ginger beer.
Carne Asada Fries.  $8.
One of my dining companions ordered a bunch of fries, chips, and salsa.

We started with a side of plain fries, and I appreciated that they were crispy, clearly cooked fresh to order, and delivered immediately, as they were not soggy or limp.  The fries were a slightly thick style so they were fluffy inside, seasoned with the right amount of salt.  Pretty decent fries.

Next, the famous carne asada fries, the same thing, but topped with carne asada, jack, guacamole, and roasted salsa.  I didn't love the carne asada itself, it seemed a bit dried out and tough, but it was flavorful.  The jack cheese was perfectly melted, although I sorta wanted more, as many fries were left without.  I'm allergic to avocado, so I couldn't really dig into these much, but I'm sure if I was able to eat the guacamole, I probably wouldn't have missed the cheese as much.  Like all of the dishes at Garaje, there was a generous scoop of the guac, which was even more impressive on the tacos, as it literally seemed like there was as much guac as any other filling.  They don't skimp on the premium ingredients!

You can also add an over-easy egg for $1, which some of my companions added to their burgers, but not the fries.

Finally, we had some of Nico's chips and fire roasted salsa, also with guac.  The salsa was fine, spicy enough, and the chips crispy, but I didn't feel compelled to go back for more of them in the same way that I did with the fries.

The price for the plain fries ($2) was very good, but the carne asada fries ($8) were a bit high compared to other prices, since you could get a carne asada taco for just $3.  I wouldn't order them again, but, I also wouldn't have ordered them in the first place, due to the guac and steak.  Fries are also available in a pulled pork version.

The chips and salsa were $3, plus another $3 for the guac.  $3 for chips and salsa seemed a bit high compared with other prices, or compared to the fact that many taquerias include them with a taco.
Crispy Crab Crack. $10.
I really struggled deciding what to order.  Partially because I'd already had dinner, since the party started a bit late for me, and I thought it was just going to be a taqueria, so didn't think I'd be into the food.  So I wasn't really hungry.  But the real problem?  I wanted everything!  The seared ahi sounded particularly appealing, available as a taco, on top a salad, or as a sandwich.  And who can resist a classic fried fish taco, made with beer battered tilapia? (For the healthy types, you could also have your sustainable tilapia plancha grilled instead.  Or, you could just go all out, and get a full on order of fish 'n chips, which I was really, really close to doing.)  I also was very tempted by the "Surfer Leo" zapato, basically fish and chips (yes, including the fries), plus all the standard zapato fixings, inside a grilled tortilla.  Yelpers all rave about the zapatos, and this one had my name all over it.

Luckily for me, the line provided me plenty of time to ponder, make a decision, change it, and go back to pondering some more.  Such indecision.  But everything changed the moment I saw the "secret menu" (ok, not so secret, as it was posted on a large chalkboard just like the regular menu, and also listed on the printed menus at the register.  But they pretend it is secret.)  Indecision vanished, as I saw "crispy crab crack".  Crab crack.  Crispy.  No, not a type-o.  Described as "battered fresh Maryland crab cake, spicy slaw, cilantro lime sauce".

I was sold.  Sure, seared ahi or fish and chips are good and all, but ... crab!  One of my favorite ingredients.  Of course, in the Bay Area, I am used to local Dungeness crab, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Maryland crab make an appearance on a menu in San Francisco.  I love my Dungeness, but for crab cakes, Maryland crab does work well.

This crab cake was a monster.  Not an appetizer, not a side dish.  Probably best for sharing.  But share I did not do.  In retrospect, I should have.  Several people saw me with it and asked what it was, clearly seeking an invitation to try some.  But I just told them it was awesome rather than offering a taste.  And remember how I wasn't hungry?  Yeah, that vanished when this arrived.

First, they weren't joking with the "crispy" part.  I did see crispy in the name, and battered in the description, but I wasn't quite expecting this.  The same beer batter that they use for the fish, used to coat a crab cake, and then ... deep fried.  Genius!  I've had many crab cakes in my day, but I certainly haven't had one beer battered and deep fried before.  It worked beautifully, insanely crisp outside, moist inside.  Sooo much crab meat.  Yes, it was all shredded and there was some filler, no lump meat, but it was delicious.  Just like the fries, each one was made to order, dredged and battered and dropped into the fryer, delivered to me piping hot.

Served on top a bed of spicy slaw, fresh and crisp, with full slices of jalapeño in it for some serious heat, lightly dressed.  They are not afraid of flavor or spice.  As I watched from above, I saw each and every order of slaw dressed to order, so it was never soggy.  I loved combining bites of the crab cake with the spicy slaw.

And finally, the cilantro lime sauce, which was basically super flavorful mayo.  At this point, I was all in.  Deep fried crab smothered in flavorful mayo?  Sure, bring it on.  I hesitate to admit this, but I used up my entire container long before consuming my entire crab cake.  I wanted even more.  It was the perfect creamy compliment to the crispy fried deliciousness and the spicy slaw.

A fabulous dish, and I'd most certainly order it again.  The crab cake is also available as a sandwich, with chipotle mayo, on an Acme bun.  Tempting, but I'd still probably go for this version again.  But ... I do still want to try a zapato.  Perhaps I'd find a buddy to split with, and have half of each.   Yes, that is the plan, next time ... 
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Travelin' Tuesdays: Tokyo!

Dear readers, it is time to travel again!

As you know, I normally focus my reviews on establishments in San Francisco, but after my successful Travelin' Tuesdays series on Boston and New Hampshire, I've decided to do it again.  But this time, we are going somewhere far more interesting: Tokyo!

Epic does not even begin to describe my recent trip to Tokyo.  You'll just have to read all about it.  It was a business trip, with a few days of vacation thrown in.

Next Tuesday, I'll start with the actual travel, not something I normally review, but in this case, it too was epic.  I spent 7 hours in SFO, so I got to experience all the cuisine the assorted airline lounges have to offer.  And then, I flew on Cathay Pacific for the first time, to Hong Kong, and then to Tokyo.  No, neither the Cathay flight, nor the time in SFO were planned, but, I turned them into culinary adventures.

The adventures continued once I reached Tokyo, the land of sushi and Michelin stars, both things I clearly enjoy.  Let's just say that in my 3 days of free time, I consumed 8 Michelin stars.  I went to two of Joël Robuchon's restaurants, sadly, not the flagship 3 star, but settled for two star La Table de Joël Robuchon and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and netted another two star, Tateru Yoshino Shiba, along the way.  However, we were in Japan, and couldn't exclusively eat French food, so we also went to Michelin starred sushi at Sushi Kanesaka, and Michelin starred tepanyaki at Ukai-Tai Omotasando.

When we weren't busy eating stars, we went to more casual establishments with our co-workers, all Japanese cuisine, like Sushi Seizan for more sushi, President Chibo for okinomiyaki, and Beehive for ramen.  And of course, because I am me, a few pastry shops were also visited, like La Maison du Chocolat and La Boutique de Joël Robuchon.

And, for ridiculous factor, we may or may not have visited the Ganpachi, aka, "The Kill Bill Restaurant" and ... a robot restaurant.  Let's just say there was a pretty large mix of experiences on this trip.

It all concluded with what I am sure will go down as history as one of the most memorable experiences of my life: a flight back, via Hong Kong, on Cathay Pacific, First Class.  I literally spent the entire flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong dining in a ridiculously long, drawn out zillion course kaiseki meal.  Even the time spent in the airline lounges in Hong Kong was mind blowing (they have cabanas!) and sooo many food options.  But the truly amazing part was the flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco involved caviar.  I'm ruined for all future travel.

So stay tuned, over the next few months, every Tuesday will feature a new installment of Travelin' Tuesdays: Tokyo.  I'll update this master post with links to the individual posts.  Enjoy!
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Amazing Dinner by Chef Batson, Munchery

You've heard me rave about the local meal delivery service, Munchery, before.  I've been using it for more than a year now, for everything from simple comfort food dinners, to a fun play on a Heston Blumenthal's Chocolate and Cauliflower Risotto, to my entire Thanksgiving feast.  I've even used Munchery to get breakfast baked goods.  My absolute favorite Munchery order, perhaps not shocking if you know me, was the pumpkin pie cheesecake for dessert.  Well, my favorite before today that is.

Munchery meals are prepared by individual chefs, so there is some variance in the quality and style of food, depending on the chef whose dishes you choose.  But one chef I've had my eye on since she joined a few months ago is Chef Bridget Batson, previously executive chef at Gitane and Claudine.  Her menus always sound really appealing to me, very vegetable forward, focusing on seasonality and lighter dishes.  A few months ago, right when she joined Munchery, I tried her winter salad and shrimp cocktail, but I really wasn't impressed.

I've wanted to try her cuisine again to give her another chance, but, Munchery only operates on weekdays, for dinner only, and I am provided rather spectacular dinner at work during the week.  I really wish Munchery was available on weekends or at lunch time!

I recently had a realization though - although their primary service is dinner the evening you receive it, there are some styles of food that can keep well for a day, and since the food is delivered cold and designed to be finished by you at home, this can work reasonably well.  So when I saw Chef Batson offering a baked pasta dish on a Friday night, I speculated that it would still be fine for dinner on Saturday, and quickly sent the chef a message using Munchery's "Ask the Chef" feature to see if she agreed.  I had a response minutes later, and, as I expected, she assured me it would make for an excellent Saturday night dinner.

Everything about ordering from Munchery was easy as ever, from viewing the menus, to seeing the gorgeous photos of the dishes, complete with descriptions of each dish and what additional preparation would be required at home.  My order arrived at the start of my selected delivery window, which, since I wasn't planning to eat it that night wasn't necessary, but was very re-assuring.  When is the last time a delivery order ever arrived on time?

But the best part?  This was my favorite meal from Munchery so far.  I'd order it again in a heartbeat.  You should too :)  If you are interested in Munchery, use my invite link, you'll even get free delivery on your first order!
Stuffed Pasta Shells: greens, ricotta cheese, cauliflower "cream".  $10.95.
I've been really craving pasta lately.  I'm not quite sure what it is, but something about a big bowl of warm pasta seems so appealing.  Perfect comfort food.

I was particularly interested in the stuffed shells from Chef Batson, because I know she likes to incorporate a lot of vegetables, and takes a healthier spin on dishes.  The shells were described as
"large pasta shells stuffed with kale and Swiss chard braised with garlic and a pinch of chili, folded into ricotta cheese with lemon zest baked in a rich puree of cauliflower and Parmesan cheese."  They sounded like they would still tick all the boxes of cheesy comfort food, but sneak in some serious vegetables and perhaps not be too heavy?

I opened the package the moment I received it, just to check them out.  The dish didn't actually look that great.  Shells in a kinda thick white sauce.  Herbs sprinkled on top, along with unmelted cheese.  I know the idea with Munchery is that I finish the cooking at home, so the cheese would melt then, but it still didn't look all that appealing.  I re-packaged the shells into a plastic container, since I wasn't sure about leaving them in cardboard for the next day, and hoped for the best.

The instructions said to reheat at 350 degrees for 3-4 minutes.  I was skeptical.  How would they possibly warm up that fast?  And, indeed, they didn't.  I heated them for at least 10 minutes, and then finished them under the broiler.  The aroma coming from my toaster oven was incredible.  As I pulled the casserole dish out, and all thoughts I originally had about them not looking impressive vanished.  They cooked up beautifully, I wish I had taken a photo of the finished product.  Piping hot and bubbly.  The cheese that made contact with the edges of my casserole dish was crispy, and the edges of the shells got a bit crunchy, exactly what I was aiming for with the broiler.

They were too hot to dive immediately into, but I enjoyed waiting for them to cool for moment, as they smelt incredible.  I was honestly happy just sitting there inhaling the garlic aroma.  I had even almost convinced myself, in my mind at least, that I was about to sit down to a home cooked meal, the smell so permeated my apartment.

My happiness grew as soon as I took my first bite.

Inside the shells was, as promised, a mixture of kale and Swiss chard, finely chopped, braised with garlic and chili, along with ricotta cheese.  As I was hoping, there was a plentiful amount of the greens.  Don't get me wrong, they weren't just filled with greens, there was plenty of ricotta as well.  The balance between the ingredients was just right.  You could taste the ricotta, it was a creamy filling, but the flavor of the greens was the amazing part.  The garlic that I could smell was evident in the filling, but didn't overwhelm.  Little hints of chili made the flavors pop even more, but again, didn't overwhelm.  And the acidity from lemon zest just accented the flavor of the greens.  Seriously delicious filling, and the shells were a great vessel for it, but it could easily be used in any form of stuffed pasta, or in layers of a lasagna.

The shells themselves were standard large size pasta shells, well cooked, and did not get mushy waiting a day to consume.  I liked how I crisped them up a bit when I heated the dish, but if you just heated them without the broiler, I think they would have been fine too.

The final element was the one I was most skeptical of: the sauce.  I love sauces.  I'm such a sauce girl.  I like cauliflower, I've even had my share of cauliflower mac and cheese or mashed faux-potatoes using cauliflower, but I wasn't exactly excited about a cauliflower sauce.  In my head, stuffed shells really should have a red sauce.  Or, if it was going to be a white sauce, it really should be a very rich alfredo.  Cauliflower puree?  Hmm.

I needed not worry.  Like everything else in the dish, it totally delivered.  It was creamy, and yes, it did taste like cauliflower, but, it did so in a way that just worked.  I think because you could taste the greens so dominantly in the filling, it made sense to also taste a vegetable in the sauce.  And, just like the filling, the sauce did clearly have cheese, in this case parmesan, so it was still comfort food.

Everything about this dish was just spot on.  It was an example of how you can lighten up a classic dish like stuffed shells to incorporate vegetables, yet still keep it feeling fairly decadent, but simultaneously not weight you down.  It was a demonstration of ingredients in perfect harmony - just enough cheese to satisfy a comfort food craving, balanced by the right amount veggies to feel healthy, enough chili pepper, garlic, and lemon zest to make all the flavors pop, but nothing dominating.  I have a hard time imagining anyone this dish wouldn't please.  Even if the ingredients don't sound amazing to you, the way they all balance out creates a truly phenomenal dish.  While not high end cuisine, I'd gladly order this at an Italian restaurant any day.

I'd obviously order this again.  It worked perfectly for a next day meal, which is very encouraging for me, since I don't normally order from Munchery since I don't need weeknight meals.  If you managed not to eat it all, or perhaps ordered an extra, I'm guessing it would freeze well too.  If you wanted to impress your friends, you could order a big batch and serve it at a dinner party.  It is "simple" enough home cook food that no one would doubt you prepared it, but they'd be blown away by the skilled application of flavor.

When I placed the order, $10.95 seemed maybe a bit high for "just pasta", but the serving size was very generous.  Ojan and I were able to split it for dinner, with a salad on the side, and a half serving was perfect.  And, while you can probably get cheaper stuffed shells at some Italian restaurants, I guarantee they would not be this good.  Order this dish.  Now.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

More Godiva Chocolates

As you know, I eat a lot of chocolate, ranging from local high end speciality chocolatiers to standard Hershey.  I eat it all, but that doesn't mean that I like it all, I'm actually fairly snobby when it comes to chocolate.  But if chocolates comes my way, I have to at least try it.

I always want Godiva chocolate to be better than it is.  The offerings sound good.  Godiva has fancy boutiques all over the city.  People keep bringing me Godiva.  But it just doesn't impress.

I've reviewed Godiva several times before, once when I wrote a fairly extensive review of all of the domestic chocolate I had tried up to that point, and again when I received a box of their international truffles.  The international truffles were better, but I'd still never purchase them myself.

I didn't seek out more Godiva.  It sought me out.  But still, even after trying a slew more of their offerings, my opinion is basically unchanged, except that I have finally found one that I do enjoy: the Chocolate Lava Cafe Truffle.  I'd gladly consume more of those!

White Chocolate

White Chocolate Raspberry Star
“Refreshing raspberry puree within creamy-sweet white chocolate.”

I really did not like this.  The white chocolate was very boring, waxy.  But the filling just had an awful flavor to it.  It was a pink liquid, I guess raspberry.  Would never get again.

Shakes

White Chocolate Strawberry Shake.
At the boutiques only, you can get shakes.  As I mentioned last time, I had one that I loved once, but the next time I tried one I was unimpressed, and found it just icy and vaguely chocolately.

As I walked by one day, they were just finishing off some samples of a different flavor: white chocolate strawberry.  They looked delicious, and I remembered how much I loved the first one I had, so I gleefully took a mini-shake.

Described as "Strawberry purée blended with white chocolate flavor, topped with whipped cream and strawberry sauce."

It was again just very icy, vaguely white chocolate flavored I guess, which just sorta means sweet.  I found out why they have seemed so icy though - it turns out, they aren't actually milkshakes!  The guy handing out the samples initially said, "White Chocolate Strawberry Milkshake", and the other Godiva employee immediatley corrected him, "Not milkshake, just shake".  Someone else asked what was in it, and the mystery was solved: ice, blended with white chocolate powder, and I think she said something about white chocolate chips.  No wonder it tasted like blended ice, it was blended ice.

The consistency was really nice though, and I loved the texture from little bits of something ground up inside of it.  The whipped cream was generic out of a can, and the raspberry drizzle was sweet but good.

Overall, tasty-ish, but I'd never pay for a real one, a whopping $6 each for just sweet blended ice?

Ultimate Dessert Truffles

Birthday Cake.
“Vanilla cake mousse in a white chocolate shell, sprinkled with white pearl nonpareils, with colorful sprinkles inside.”

Thin milk chocolate layer, pink layer, fun little balls.  Inside very creamy ganache that had no real flavor.  Not sure what is "birthday cake" about it.

Subsequent tasting:  Just sweet and creamy, not worth getting again.
Strawberry Crème Tart Truffle.
“Strawberry puree and vanilla mousse in a white chocolate shell”.

Wow, this was seriously sweet.  I might have liked it with a black coffee or something, but on its own, it was way, way too sweet.  The inside was divided into two halves, one was the strawberry puree and one was the vanilla mousse.  The “vanilla mousse” was really just some creamy sweet stuff.  The strawberry puree was just thick, fruit colored stuff.  I didn’t taste vanilla, I didn’t taste strawberry.  Surrounding it was a layer of milk chocolate, then a pink layer of white chocolate.  The chocolate wasn’t remarkable.
Chocolate Lava Cafe Truffle.
“Dark chocolate ganache with liquid fondant in a dark chocolate shell, dusted with powdered sugar.”

This was actually one of my favorites.  I’d even say I liked it, which I can’t say for pretty much any other Godiva truffles.  The inside was liquidy, but not too runny.  The dark chocolate flavor was complex, in the shell, the ganache, and the “liquid fondant”.  It paired beautifully with my coffee.  I’d actually get this one again.

Update: I got it again.  And again, I really enjoyed it.  Dark chocolate with some real body to it, very pleasant smooth fondant inside.  I think this is my new go to!

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Creme Brûlée Dessert Truffle

Now, this sounded amazing, given my love for dessert, creme brûlée, and chocolate.  But what was it actually? A white chocolate shell, with candied sugar crunches on outside, split inside with half dark chocolate and half vanilla ganache.  Um, not creme brûlée.  How is this creme brûlée?  The crunchy sugar on the outside?  Meh.  It was just sweet, fairly crappy white chocolate.  Not good at all.  The sugar crunchies were the only good part.

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Red Velvet Dessert Truffle

No red velvet flavor, just white chocolate coating, dark chocolate shell with some sugary cream inside (they call it ganache, but I wouldn't).  Not good.

Nut Lovers Truffles

Salted Almond Truffle.
"A smooth and subtle center of milk chocolate and almond praline with salted almonds."

This was better than many of the milk chocolate truffles, but I still wasn't a big fan.  Again, the milk chocolate shell just wasn't creamy.  The inside was an almond praline, slightly sweet, slightly salty, which was enjoyable.  I also liked the crunch from the almond bits on the outside.

It wasn't awful, but I wouldn't get it again.
Hazelnut Crunch Truffle.
"Rich, creamy hazelnut praline blended with crunchy hazelnuts and crispies achieves textural perfection inside a shell of pure milk chocolate topped with crunchy nut pieces."

I liked the little bits of hazelnut on the outside, as they gave it a fun crunch.  But the milk chocolate shell was again not good, it had a strange bitterness to it, not good bitter like dark chocolate.  The center honestly didn't taste like hazelnut or much of anything really, although it was obviously not chocolate.  I didn't like this at all.

Ice Cream Parlour Truffles

Mint Chocolate Chip.
“Mint ganache with chocolate chips in dark chocolate shell.”

A little minty, but not much.  Smooth creamy ganache.  Not remarkable.
Pistachio.
"Pistachio and white chocolate ganache in a white chocolate shell, topped with pistachio bits."

This was better than I expected. The inside was a creamy, slightly pistachio-y flavored ganache.  There was then a thin dark chocolate shell, and then the green colored white chocolate shell.  Both were standard Godiva, not remarkable.  I liked the crunch from the pistachio on top.

I wouldn't get another, but this wasn't bad.

Dark Decadence Truffles

Aztec Spice Truffle.
"Dark chocolate ganache flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, and exotic spices inspired by an ancient Aztec recipe, all in a dark chocolate shell sprinkled with red cocoa."

Meh.  I honestly didn't taste any spicing.  The inside was chocolate ganache, creamy, but not that flavorful.  The dark chocolate shell was totally unremarkable. The red cocoa on the outside is the only thing I really tasted, added a bit of bitterness.  I was hoping this would be more like the Chocolate Lava Cake Truffle that I had enjoyed, but somehow both the ganache and the shell failed to compare.

Boutique Exclusives

Pumpkin Spice Truffle.
"Pumpkin spice ganache in a milk chocolate shell."

This is the only one I've seen with ... packaging?  Wrapped in orange foil, with a cloth leaf, and a metal twirly stem.  Super weird.  Also amusing is that they then wrapped it in the Godiva paper, as they normally do with the non-packaged truffles.

Anyway, the truffle.  Once I removed the foil, the pumpkin spice aroma was strong.  Perhaps that is why they wrap it?  The milk chocolate shell was the same as always, and I just don't like it.  The ganache was orange-ish, creamy, and I guess pumpkin spiced, in that it certainly had nutmeg.  I didn't taste any pumpkin, and it didn't promise to have pumpkin, just the spices, so I guess that makes sense.  I imagine there was cinnamon too, but all that came through for me was the nutmeg, a bit too strong, so it had a kinda soap-like finish.

Thanks for playing the pumpkin spice game Godiva, but not really a winner.
Peppermint (?)
White chocolate shell, pink minty filling.

There was a lot of white chocolate going on here, the shell was thick and there was a band through the center as well.  And it was the cloyingly sweet version of white chocolate that gives it a bad rep.  The inside was creamy, minty, and uh, pink.  The mint flavor was quite nice.  I think this would be decent paired with a rich, dark hot chocolate, something to compliment the peppermint, but also help cut the sweet.  Or maybe just put this filling into a dark chocolate shell.

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Myer’s Rum Truffle

"Rum flavored milk chocolate butter cream, enrobed in dark chocolate, rolled in dark chocolate flakes."

The inside butter cream was a bit boozy and creamy, which was nice.  But the shell was a bitter, unpleasant dark chocolate. The chocolate flakes it was rolled in added interesting texture at least, but not good taste.  Would not get again.

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Salted Caramel

"Luxuriously soft caramel blended with gourmet sea salt nestled inside a dark chocolate shell."

The filling was indeed a very soft, almost gooey caramel.  I didn't taste any sea salt however.  The dark chocolate shell was better than their milk chocolate, but I still wasn't into it.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Cosmos Creations

In my world, there are certainly not only three meals in a day, and snack foods are a particular weakness of mine.  I love to munch on things.  Even better if they are sweet things.  Even better if they are some form of popcorn.

I was delighted to discover Cosmos Creations, aka, "Heavenly Morsels of Baked Corn Creations".  Not popcorn exactly, because there are no kernels or hulls involved.  Instead they are made from cornmeal that is extruded and then baked, more like a corn puff.  Like any good snack food these days, they are also gluten-free, non GMO.  I'm still not sure why I should be happy to avoid kernels and hulls though, but their marketing certainly drives this point home.

Cosmos Creations come in both sweet and savory varieties.  I did not try the savory flavors, but I could imagine them being like cheese puffs.  I also wasn't able to try their original sweet flavor, caramel, but instead got to try the rest of the sweet product line.

The satisfied my munchy cravings, and I'd happily try out more varieties.
Salted Caramel.
I know they said that it wasn't popcorn, but I somehow still expected something more popcorn-like.  As you can see in the photo, the pieces were about the size of popcorn, and at a first glance almost look like popcorn, but ... they aren't.

Since they are a puff, they are lighter and not as crispy as popcorn.  I like the crunch of popcorn more.  I do see some appeal of not ever having unpopped kernels though.  But overall, the form factor wasn't great.

But my real problem was the flavor.  Caramel can often have a bitter taste, in a good way, but this was a bit bitter in a bad way.  I didn't really taste salt, which should be a distinguishing feature of a salted caramel flavor.

Other samplers said, "these are like cereal, but better!"  Others said they couldn't quite decide if they liked them, but they had to keep eating them because they were so "intriguing".  We were interested enough to try another flavor, but wouldn't purchase this flavor again.
Cinnamon Crunch.
Next, I tried the cinnamon crunch.  I expected the pieces to just be coated in cinnamon, perhaps cinnamon and sugar, but instead they were covered in cinnamon caramel.  Much better.  The pieces were very, very, well coated, resulting in an incredibly crunchy exterior.  They seriously met my munchy desires.

The cinnamon caramel was sweet, but the cinnamon flavor was quite intense, so they were more spicy than sweet.  Really quite good.

I gladly shared the Salted Caramel flavor with others, but these I kept all for myself.  I intended to save a few to try with coffee, which I think would have been fabulous.  Black coffee paired with cinnamon and sweets?  Yes!  But ... alas, the bag was gone before I knew it.  I also intended to save a few to heat up in the toaster oven, because they actually recommend this on their web site.  But ... alas, I devoured my bag in record time.  Whoops.

I'd certainly eat these again.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chantal Guillon Macarons

I eat a surprising number of macarons, for someone who doesn't really like them.  It isn't like I've never tried good macarons.  I've had the ones from Top Chef: Just Dessert's winner Yigit Pura, at Tout Sweet.  I've had the famous Luxemburgerli from Zurich.  Not that I think macarons taste bad, but in the realm of sweet treats, I would just never pick them.

Well, unless we are talking about foie gras macarons, like the black sesame and foie mousse filled ones I had at a special dinner at Alexander's.  And for regular, sweet macarons, Sugarie does an incredible job.  They showed me that I am actually capable of liking macarons.

Yet somehow, I've wound up at Chantal Guillon Macarons several times.  If you look at the Yelp reviews, these are pretty much the best macarons you can get in San Francisco.  They have ~700 reviews, and still average 4.5 stars.  That must be saying something.

The store is located in Hayes Valley, and sells pretty much exclusively macarons.  You can order coffee or tea to go with your macarons, and they also have bite sized ice creams, but basically, macarons, in more flavors and colors than you can imagine.  A beautiful shop, for sure, but I'd only go back if looking for a gift.
Raspberry-Lychee, Pumpkin Spice. $1.80 each.
No, they didn't look like this when I picked them up.  I tried so hard to be careful so they would not get crushed on my journey home but ... alas, macarons are such delicate creations!

I started with the raspberry-lychee.  When I was trying to decide which type to get at the store, the worker told me that this was more on the lychee side of things, and very sweet.  He was correct.  I did enjoy the strong lychee flavor, and the subtle raspberry combined nicely.  It was intensely sweet, as he warned.  Overall, nice flavors, but still, just a macaron.

I moved on to the seasonal pumpkin spice variety.  The filling was creamy, pumpkin-y, and well spiced.  But again, just a macaron.  If I wanted pumpkin pie flavors, I'd just have a slice of pie.

Overall, these were good for macarons.  The exterior shell was crisp, the cookie light and fluffy.  The fillings were flavorful.  I liked them more than most macarons, but at the end of the day, I still would not pick them over another type of dessert.

$1.80 each seems about normal for macarons.
Coconut - Milk Chocolate. $1.80.
I was in the area again, and decided to give Chantal Guillon another try.  They get such rave reviews!

I went for the coconut milk chocolate.  The cookie did have a nice coconut flavor, and it was delicate and light.  I'd prefer it to have a bit more of a crispy exterior, but it was decent.

The filling however was just sweet overload.  I guess there was milk chocolate in there, but mostly it was just sweet, sweet, sweet.  I'm a girl who likes my sweets, and this was too much, as it overwhelmed the coconut flavor that I liked in the cookie.

I wouldn't get this again.
2 Piece Gift Box.  $4.50.
A good friend of mine loves macarons, and she was having a bad week, so I decided to surprise her with a little treat.  Individual macarons are $1.80, but they just come in a little bag, and even if you are crazy careful, they get easily smushed, as you can see above.  So I splurged for the gift box, which protected them well, was sealed with a fancy label, and had a little ribbon on top.  If you are gifting macarons to anyone, I recommend going this route.

I selected the green tea and the dark chocolate for her, and she enjoyed them far more than I would have.  The chocolate was her favorite, and she said it reminded her of molten chocolate cake.  That sounds like an endorsement to me!
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Delivery from Pacific Catch

One night, we were really craving sushi for dinner, but didn't want to go out to get it.  I looked through all the possible sushi locations on the popular delivery sites in San Francisco: Seamless.com, GrubHub, Eat24, Foodler, delivery.com.  Sure, they had sushi, but every place that I cross referenced on Yelp scared me away.  They all seemed to be the bottom of the barrel.  I was at a loss.  We considered using Postmates to deliver Whole Foods sushi.  It isn't amazing, but seemed less scary than the other choices before us.

And then ... I remembered Caviar.  A much smaller delivery service than the others, they partner with restaurants that do not normally offer delivery, but offer takeout.  They charge a flat rate delivery fee of $9.99 anywhere in the city, and automatically add on 18% gratuity.  It isn't the cheapest option, but their web site is beautiful, with quality photos of every dish so you know what you are getting, and they provide real time monitoring of your delivery.  But the best part: they partner with places you actually want to get food from.  I've only used Caviar once before, when we wanted pizza, and were able to get Little Star Pizza, my favorite pizza in the city.  So I eagerly pulled up their site, hoping that their curated options would include sushi.  And indeed they did.  I had two choices even.

I picked Pacific Catch, mostly because I've walked by their Marina location in the past, and it always looks busy, which seems like a good sign.  They actually have 2 locations in SF (6 total in the Bay Area), and I think my order came from the further location.

Ordering on the Caviar site was easy and flawless, and I received a call from the driver when he was a few blocks away.  I appreciated being able to GPS stalk him via the website as he approached with our sushi.  No problems with Caviar, at all.

The food was fine, which is saying something for delivery sushi, but it certainly wasn't remarkable, and seemed pricey for what it was.  I'd still consider going to Pacific Catch in person sometime to get some of their other food (the menu is very extensive, featuring fried seafood, seafood tacos, etc, but those items didn't seem particularly suited for delivery), but I wouldn't go for the sushi again.  So far, no takeout sushi has even come close to the takeout sushi we had from Roka Akor.
White Tuna Poke.  $12.
I know I said we were ordering sushi, but Pacific Catch has an entire section of the menu devoted to Hawaiian Poke, in more styles than I even knew existed - 7 total, including a vegetarian tofu option.  Since they featured poke so prominently, I had to try it.  And, it was raw fish I was craving, I didn't entirely care what form it was served in, poke worked for me.  Most of the pokes are ahi based, and since we were getting an ahi roll, I decided to go for the white tuna version.

Described as "yuzu citrus, fresno chilies, white soy sauce, red onions".  Served on the side were crispy wonton chips.

This was good.  Nice sized chunks of tuna that tasted fresh.  Very thinly sliced onions and peppers.  Flavorful from the soy and burst of citrus, well seasoned.  Everything was well balanced, both in the flavors, and in the ratios of different ingredients.

I really liked the crispy wontons.  It sounds silly, but they just got these right, super crispy, not too oily, great for scooping up the poke.  But, the poke itself was so tasty, I preferred to just eat it plain, and enjoyed the leftover crispy wontons dipped into sweet chili sauce later.

Definitely my favorite dish of the night, clearly fresh, and well thought out.  I'd gladly try another variety of their poke, or order this one again.

$12 price seemed a little high for the small quantity, but this was clearly fresh, quality seafood, so it wasn't too bad.
Spicy Tuna Roll. $9.
Next, an actual sushi roll, since, sushi is what we wanted.  Pacific Catch doesn't actually serve any nigiri or sashimi, so rolls were the best we could do.  Plenty of the rolls included deep fried components, which wouldn't work for delivery.  And all but one use avocado, which I'm allergic to.  I could easily ask to have the avocado left out, but I was worried my note would get missed in the delivery order, and I'd be unable to eat the sushi.  So, I had one choice: spicy tuna.

Described as "ahi tuna, sriracha aioli, chili oil, cucumber, daikon sprouts & green onion".

The role was very mediocre.  All components were a bit mushy, particularly the rice.  I couldn't taste the tuna, as there was way too much of the sriracha aioli, which didn't actually taste like sriracha, just like mayo, but it was orange colored.  The cucumber was fresh and crispy at least.

So, somehow flavorless, just mushy rice with a crunch of cucumber.  I didn't really care for this, and it turned me off from ordering any of their other rolls too.  Price was fine.
California Roll Salad. $19.50.
And finally, we went for the only other cold choice, a salad.  They offer salads topped with seared ahi, grilled salmon, chicken, or crab salad.  The ahi looked good in photos, but since I love crab, and Ojan was craving California rolls, we went for the California Roll Salad.

Described as "meal sized" and "made with organic spring greens & hearts of romaine, real crab salad, avocado, cucumber, ginger, tomatoes, carrots & shredded nori with soy-wasabi vinaigrette".

Ah yes, avocado, again, clearly, since it was a salad version of the California roll.  I asked to have the avocado on the side, and knew that if they failed to read my instructions, it hopefully would just be touching part of the salad, and I could work around it, unlike inside a roll.

My request was honored, and the avocado came in a separate container on the side.  I didn't get a photo, but it was a generous amount.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting, since I'd seen photos, and read the description, but somehow, I wanted this to be more than just the sum of its parts.  It wasn't.  It really was just a salad.

The lettuce was a mix of spring greens and hearts of romaine, fresh, crispy enough.  Same with the shredded carrot, the grape tomatoes, the sprouts.  There wasn't any cucumber, as was listed in the description.  Nothing exciting here.

I found the addition of a big clump of ginger a bit fascinating, as it was really strange inside a salad, but given that Ojan is a ginger-o-holic and stole all the ginger from the sushi roll, this meant I actually got some.  The nori sounded great, but because it was thinly shredded was just totally lost in here.  Perhaps some kind of bigger chunks would work better.  Both of these components reflected the sushi roll aspect of the salad well.

The salad normally comes with one scoop of the crab salad, but I had them add on a second scoop (extra $4.50), since that is what we really cared about.  I knew it was supposed to be "crab salad", but I wasn't quite sure what that meant.  It turned out to basically be the filling from a California roll, which, I guess is expected.  Cooked, shredded crab.  It didn't contain any pieces recognizable as crab, which was disappointing.  While filler-style crab like this works fine inside a sushi roll, it was a bit sad on the salad.  Sorta like eating canned tuna, as opposed to the real thing?  I think I was hoping for something more like the style of crab salad you get inside a sandwich crab roll, not a sushi crab roll.  It wasn't seasoned either, so it was pretty flavorless and mushy.

The soy-wasabi vinaigrette was good, it had a bit of zing from wasabi, and the soy flavor went well with the crab.

Overall, this was disappointing, but really was what it advertised to be, it just turned out to not be what I really wanted.  $19.50 is pretty pricy for a salad, even if it has two scoops of crab salad on it, since the crab salad wasn't remarkable.  I wouldn't get this again.
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