Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Legal Crossing, Boston

I visit the Boston area several times a year, since my family lives in New Hampshire, and Boston is the closest airport.  I'm always looking for places near the airport for an easy meal when I arrive, or, before I fly out.  On a recent visit, I had two great places picked out, both within 10 minutes of the airport.  Ojan's family came to pick us up from the airport, and we immediately started talking about the trials and tribulations we had endured over our past 7 hours.  And ... navigator Julie completely failed to pay any attention, missing our turn off.  We wound up on a limited access highway, in a tunnel sans GPS, going the wrong way.

Uh, oops.  I figured we could take the next exit and just turn around.  And then, Google Maps recalculated the travel time to the place I had picked out.  35 minutes!  But it was only 4 minutes away originally!  I looked up my second choice.  It was no better.  In fact, it was faster to just go all the way to our hotel, and eat somewhere around there instead.  Doh.

I had to make a quick decision for a fallback.  I wasn't planning to eat near the hotel, which was near Boston Common.  We obviously didn't have a reservation anywhere, we weren't dressed up, and didn't actually want a long, drawn out fancy meal.  Plus, it was only 3pm in our West-Coast minds.  I looked through my notes on restaurants near Boston Common, but none seemed fitting, all high-end, or focused on cocktails (Ojan's family doesn't drink).  I had one note, near the end of my list, to check out Legal Crossing.  It was a 5 minute walk from hotel.  They had availability on OpenTable.  I quickly booked it from my phone, and we headed that way after dropping our bags at the hotel.

Legal Crossing is part of the Legal Seafood chain.  I've visited several different Legal Seafood establishments over the years, ranging from full scale restaurants to takeout at airport locations, and I've never been impressed.  It isn't ever bad exactly, but it really isn't great, and it is pricey.  I have no real intension of returning to a Legal Seafood at this point.

But they also have a few spin-off establishments, like Legal Test Kitchen (more innovative cuisine), Legal C Bar (with a great cocktail program ), and Legal Harborside (the big flagship), plus this one, Legal Crossing.  The concept is a mix of the crowd favorites from Legal Seafood and some of their more exploratory restaurants.  It is located in Downtown Crossing.  Thus, the name, Legal Crossing, is a reflection of both the neighborhood location, and the mixed concepts.  Reviews are positive, so, I figured I'd give the Legal brand one more chance.

This, this was the last.  Again, it wasn't *bad* but it wasn't good, and again, pricey.  Service was quite slow and inattentive, particularly annoying as we were a bit pressed for time, and the restaurant was not full at all.

The Space

The inside of the restaurant was definitely more stylish than the standard Legal locations.  It was also not nearly as massive as other Legal Seafood restaurants I have visited.
Corner Table.
It was very dark (er, swanky?), making taking photos quite hard.  The curtains were actually metal mesh, and all decor had dark tones.

But it wasn't overly fancy, the placemats were actually made of paper, just, patterned and nice paper.  Food was served on ceramics and other beautiful stoneware.
Bar Area.
There was also a bar area, which didn't really fit in with the slightly swanky atmosphere.

Well, that isn't entirely true.  The area that housed the bottles of alcohol was backlit in a really cool way, and the bar itself was wooden, so those aspects fit in, but the huge flatscreens with sports on really looked insanely tacky and out of place to me.  Was this a sports bar?  Is this just a Boston thing?

Menu

Menu.
The menu is broken into several confusing sections.  First are "small plates", which I took to be standard appetizers.  But then there are "Plates to share", further broken down into different sections (seafood, meats, veggies & grains), some of which also sound like appetizers (crab cakes, calamari, ribs, charcuterie, salads), while others don't at all (herb crusted lamb, risotto, sides of kale).  But then there is a section for mains too, and an additional section of "Simply LX" mains.

The others I was dining with were clearly confused.  I understand what the restaurant was trying to do, with two different sized appetizer sections, and a clearly defined "simple" offering section for mains, but, it doesn't really come across in an easily digestible way.

Drinks 

Rising Sun. $10.
Even though no one else was drinking, I really wanted a drink, and the cocktail menu looked excellent.  I asked the server about this one, and she said it was her favorite, so, I went for it.

I don't recall the exact description, but it was a yuzu and gin based drink.

It really was quite good, and in fact, the highlight of my meal.  It was very refreshing, not something I usually say about cocktails, but it really was.  Of course, this made it far too easy to drink quickly.   Being the only drinker in the group, I certainly didn't want to be a lush!

It was tangy and well balanced.  You could taste the gin, but it wasn't harsh or strong.  Really, a lovely drink and I'd gladly get it again.  The $10 price was very reasonable.

Appetizers

As I mentioned, the menu had several section of what I'd consider appetizers.  The first was "Small Plates" and the second "Plates to Share".

The "Small Plates" section has some Legal classics, like their clam chowder, plus seafood stables of shrimp cocktail and freshly shucked oysters or clams.  Most of the other items are slightly asian inspired, including a lobster rangoon, brussels sprouts with miso butter and soy pearls, and tempura salt and pepper shrimp.  And then there are others like crispy polenta and scotch eggs, which seem slightly odd on the menu, more like pub food.  All dishes in this section are generally less than $10.  We tried two dishes from here.

The "Plates to Share" seemed to be larger appetizers.  It is broken down into three sections - one with seafood (ranging from raw tuna sashimi to clam pizza and everything in between), the next for meat (all over the place again, from short ribs to charcuterie to asian inspired duck buns with hoisin), and the final was vegetables and grains (salads or things like risotto).  These are all in the $8-20 range, and we opted to try one.
Small Plate: New England Clam Chowder. $7.
"Our award-winning recipe is full of tender Cape Cod clams, cream and herbs. It has been served at every Presidential inauguration since 1981."

Our first Small Plate.

Legal Seafood is known for their clam chowder.  It is on the menu at every one of the restaurants, and you can even buy it online, or at Sam's Club.  Of course Legal Crossing had it on the menu.

Ojan always gets the clam chowder whenever we go to Legal, or, really, to any seafood restaurant on the east coast (like Belle Isle, our frequent pre or post airport destination).  Creamy, New England style, chowder doesn't show up nearly as often on the west coast.

I'm not much of a soup eater, unless it is freezing cold, and I'm looking to warm up, but even then, I only go for creamy, decadent soups.  Which, chowder is.

I tried a bite.  It was ... not particularly interesting.  There were little cubes of potato, carrots, onion, and celery, all small and soft.  Not many clams actually (a comment I have made in the past as well).  It wasn't fishy.  It wasn't particularly seasoned.  Honestly, it tasted a lot like milk and flour, with a little salt and pepper thrown in for good measure.  I really wanted more depth, and more clams.  And ... some smoky bacon or something.

A small plastic bag of oyster crackers was served on the side.

Ojan seemed happy enough with it though.
Small Plate: Crispy Salmon / Sake Marinate. $6.
Another Small Plate.

Ojan's mother wanted a small salmon dish, but the main salmon dishes were all quite large.  She asked about what salmon options were available in smaller sizes, and the server told us there was smoked salmon or crispy salmon belly.

Ojan's mom immediately wasn't interested in the salmon belly, but it got the interest of both Ojan and I.  On many animals, belly is delicious, as, like with humans, it is where the fat is stored, and is usually more decadent and buttery (aka, pork belly.  Mmm, pork belly).

We still weren't quite sure what crispy salmon belly would be, but at $6 for a share plate, it didn't seem like a huge investment, and Ojan really wanted his mom to try it, so he ordered it.

The serving was 2 skewers, each with 3 chunks of panko (?) crusted salmon belly, deep fried.  The salmon belly, as expected, was very soft, moist, and buttery inside, but the coating was not "crispy" as advertised.  It was really quite soggy, and incredibly oily.  The salmon tasted a bit fishy.  I didn't like it at all.

The sauce however, was quite tasty, like a sweet chili sauce.  The menu just said "sake marinade", which didn't indicate that it would be sweet, and Ojan's family doesn't eat sweet, so they didn't like the dish because of the sauce.  I adored the sauce, and, if this had been properly fried, I see how it could be a great pairing.  Alas, poor execution ruined it.

The plate went unfinished, even though we were a group of 4, and had no other appetizers (beside's Ojan's chowder).  He was content with the chowder, I thought the fish was soggy and oily, and his parents didn't want the sweet sticky sauce that covered it.  However, at $6, it was a decent value.  
Plates to Share: Crab Cake / Asparagus / Pancetta / Mustard Hollandaise. $17.
A "Plate to Share".

Since it was still only 3-4pm west coast time, and I'd been munching away during my entire flight, I wasn't ready for a full dinner.  When no one wanted to split things with me, I decided to just get another appetizer as my main dish, even though the menu had a number of entrees I was interested in.  I opted for crab cakes, another signature Legal dish, although this one was prepared differently from their standard offering.  I know they use Maryland crab, not west coast Dungeness, which is my favorite crab, but, still, I like all crab, and when in a cake the exact type of crab matters less anyway.

This came from the "Plates to Share" section, so I assumed it would be a bit bigger than the "Small Plates".  The serving was two crab cakes, stacked on top of each other, served over a mustard hollandaise, with thin slices of tiny bits of asparagus and crispy pancetta, plus one lone spring of frisee.

I appreciated the sauce on the bottom, as it wouldn't make the rest of the dish soggy, and allowed me to use as little or much of it as I liked.  In the end, I didn't use much of it, because I didn't like it.  I love hollandaise, and creamy sauces with seafood, but, this was too strong on the mustard for my taste, and too tangy.  Not balanced.

The asparagus was amusing to me, tiny, tiny pieces, and, it was the end of December, so it was totally not seasonal.  It seems like they could have adapted this dish to something more suitable to winter produce?   Perhaps I'm just used to San Francisco, where our menus change with the seasons?  Anyway, I can't comment much about that asparagus, as honestly I couldn't taste it in the dish.

The pancetta however was good, super crispy, super salty, flavorful little bursts, basically like bacon bits.  Exactly what I wanted in Ojan's chowder.

As for the crab cakes.  Wow.  So, the sauce wasn't there making them unnecessarily soggy, but, that doesn't mean they weren't insanely soggy.  These crab cakes were basically just piles of mush.  Not remotely crispy on the outside, although very black on top.  The cakes had tons of filler.  Seriously, just a pile of mush.

I offered Ojan a taste.  His immediate response, "Do you want to send that back?  That really isn't good".  Well, at least I wasn't alone in feeling this way.  But given how poorly the other food had been executed, I didn't think sending it back would really have much effect, the kitchen clearly just didn't have the skill to execute basic techniques.

I soldiered on and ate my mush, not tasting any crab, not getting any enjoyment out of it.  Tragic.

$17 is on the low end for an entree at Legal, but, this wasn't an entree, it was an appetizer, so it wasn't really a good value.

Mains

Like the appetizers, the Mains section is also confusing.  There was a single non-seafood option of sirloin, served with fries and creamed kale.  No vegetarian mains.  The rest of the options were composed seafood dishes, all with different sides and sauces.  I eyed the cod from this section ($27), served with butternut squash gnocchi, butternut cream, and swiss chard, all things I really enjoy, but I just wasn't hungry enough for a full entree.  I also eyed the seared sea scallops with wild mushroom risotto, chanerelles, and sunchoke chips ($33), since I love wild mushrooms, scallops, and sunchokes, but again, it was just too much.

Ojan's father went for the trout almondine, with haricot vert and crispy potatoes (also $27).  His mom, who wanted salmon, could have picked the hoisin glazed salmon, asian inspired and served with pad thai noodles, veggies, and crushed peanuts, but she didn't want the glaze, thinking it would be sweet.  Other options included linguini with clams, butter poached lobster, and several other fish dishes.

The second section of mains is titled "Simply LX".  These are more basic, simple treatments of protein, served with "Chef selected seasonal sides".  Ojan's mom selected the grilled salmon from here, while Ojan opted for the baked cod.  Non-seafood eaters had only a single option here too, pan seared chicken.

Mains ranged from $20-50, and our group ordered 3 (2 from the simple section, 1 from regular).
Simply LX: Baked Cod / Buttered Crumbs. $18. 
"Paired with chef selected seasonal sides"

Since we don't have Atlantic cod on the west coast, Ojan took advantage of being in New England, and ordered cod, always a favorite of both of ours.  Of course, I planned to try it.

There were actually two cod dishes on the menu, but he opted for the one from the "Simply LX" section of the menu, topped with classic buttered crumbs and served with the chef's selection of sides.  I obviously would have chosen the one with butternut squash gnocchi and cream, but alas, this was his order.  On the plus side, the simple baked cod was only $18, as opposed to $27 for the roasted version I wanted.

His was served with two unknown sides.

The first was farro with pomegranate seeds and pistachios.  This was quite seasonal, and clearly pushes boundaries for some people, as neither of Ojan's parents were familiar with farro.  I tried a bite, and wasn't really impressed.  It was just farro, steamed, tossed with the nuts and fruit, and not really seasoned.  Ojan gave his entire portion to his father, since his dish had only crispy potatoes with it, no grains.

The other side was a selection of veggies: brussels, fennel, and carrots.  Again, at least this was seasonal, but they weren't particularly well cooked, rather mushy.

As for the cod itself, it was decent.  A large portion, flaky, tender, delicate, moist.  The crumbs on top were a classic touch.  Served with just lemon on the side to drizzle over it, per the "Simply LX" section of the menu.  Definitely not my thing, as I want at least some tartar sauce, but, the fish was decent.

$18 for a large piece of fish was actually a good value, particularly as all other seafood dishes were $27+.  If you want something simple, this was a nice option.

Ojan's mom had the grilled salmon, served with the exact same sides.  Hers was also just very simple, a grilled piece of fish, no sauce, nothing.  It seemed to be what she wanted though.

Dessert

You know me and dessert.  Who am I to say no, even when no one else wants dessert (I was with Ojan's family, non-dessert eaters).  Who am I to say no, even when I'm pretty full (still on West Coast time, I'd only landed about 1.5 hours before, and wasn't even hungry for my meal).  Still, dessert!  I asked to see the menu.

The dessert menu was largely uninspiring, at least to me.  Pistachio cake with citrus (meh to pistachio, meh to citrus).  I wanted to share with Ojan, and he can't have caffeine or alcohol, so out went the boozy "adult" profiteroles, the "sin free" chocolate mousse, and the very, very tempting sounding chocolate peanut butter pie (with peanut brittle!)

There was only one other option, but it did happen to be something I love: bread pudding!
Croissant Bread Pudding / Salted Caramel Ice Cream. $8.
So, I love bread pudding, it is no secret.  I love it sweet, I love it savory.

When sweet, I want it with whipped cream or ice cream.  The menu said it came with ice cream, so that was a big plus.

I want it warm.  I asked if it was served warm, my server said yes.  Another big plus.

I like the consistency of my bread pudding to be a certain way.  I want the top crispy, the inside moist.  I want distinct chunks of bread.  I asked about that too, and she told me that it was very moist, the top crispy.  All good signs.

Oh, and I want a fun choice of bread, like croissant or brioche.  Bonus points for some kind of caramel sauce, nuts, or other spicing.  I was told this was a mix of croissant and brioche.

Well, ok then.  The right type of bread, the right consistency, warm, and served with ice cream.  So, even though none of my fellow diners were willing to eat any, I decided to get it, knowing I was on my own.

It didn't take too long to arrive, no more than 10 minutes.  It did come hot, fresh out of the oven, in a large ramekin.  This was not a serving meant for just one person, which, I rather expected.

I stuck my spoon in.  Hmm, the top was not crispy.  Strike one.

It was moist, but, very dense, rather gummy.  All one consistency, exactly as I don't like.  I couldn't find distinct chunks of croissant, nor the promised brioche.  I would have never known there was croissant in here.  Strikes two and three.

It was however served hot.  And the salted caramel ice cream on top was tasty, and was indeed salted.  But it melted quickly, and left me with at least half the dessert with no ice cream to pair with it.  The ratio was just off, the bread pudding too big, the ice cream scoop too small.  It would have been much better with a smaller serve of the bread pudding, and a bigger scoop of ice cream.

There was some subtle flavor in the bread pudding, I still am not quite sure what it was, it tasted almost almond-like.

Ojan tried one bite just to try it, said it was awful, and looked like he wanted to spit it out.  I didn't think it was THAT bad, but it was clearly not a winner.  That said, I did half-heartedly eat at least half the bread pudding, and all the ice cream.  The salted caramel was nice at least.

The $8 price was fine for a large dessert.
Legal Crossing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Travelin' Tuesdays: The Northeast US

A year or so ago, I wrote up a master post about some dining in the Boston area.  I'm not sure why I thought that would be the extent of my posts, given that my family lives in New Hampshire, and I travel through Boston all the time.

I'll be headed back to the East Coast for a few weeks this summer, and have decided to dedicate my blog to the Northeast for a few weeks in honor of my trip.  This post will serve as a directory of what is to come.

Boston (and suburbs)

Southern NH / MA

  • Innovating Mediterranean at Republic Cafe, Manchester, NH
  • Excellent indian buffet, Zaikoa Indian, in Woburn, MA
  • Good Italian, at Campo Enoteca, Manchester, NH

Lebanon, NH (and surrounding area)

  • Sadly closed, but really excellent, Home Hill Inn (including dinner, brunch, full tasting menu, another dinner ... )
  • Poor everything at The Flying Goose
  • Over the top breakfasts, baked goods, and excellent sausage from Lou's.
  • Mediocre indian, from Taj e India.
  • Some excellent, and some mediocre, breakfasts, at The Hartland Diner
  • A very intimate, unique experience at Le Meridiana
  • Seriously good baked goods from the Danbury County Store.
  • Mediocre food at Millstone at 74 Main.

Chains

Airport
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Monday, June 27, 2016

Private Event Dining at Boulevard

Boulevard is a fairly classic San Francisco restaurant located just down the street from me.  I say classic because it has some staying power, as it has been in business since 1993.  It may not be Tadich Grill or Zuni, but, in the restaurant industry, this is still a pretty significant time.  The restaurant, and team behind it, have won many awards over the years, including James Beard Nominations and Michelin stars (although, they lost their star this past year!).

I've been to Boulevard a handful of times over the years, such as my full dinner in the main dining room, a full dinner at the Chef's Counter, and just appetizers and desserts.  I do love sitting at the Chef's Counter to watch all the action.  It is also a fantastic place for cocktails, although, the bar area is not large.  I often leave Boulevard a bit disappointed though ... because I love the atmosphere, the menu, the people, but I usually find the food a bit lackluster.  Not bad, but, just not amazing, and it is fairly pricey.

But I always want to like Boulevard more.  The chef and management team show up at events all over town (like the Meals on Wheels big gala I volunteer at).  I like them.  I want the restaurant to continue to do well.

I recently planned a multi-day event for my group at work, including members from all our other offices, about 35 people.  The majority of the time was spent in talks, meetings, discussion sessions, etc, but, the first night, we also wanted to do a group dinner.  And, as the planner, it was up to me to pick where we would go.

This was no easy feat.  We needed somewhere walking distance from the office.  And, while anywhere within about 3 miles is what I'd consider walking distance, I knew that wasn't true for all my colleagues.  We needed somewhere that could seat 35 people.  Most private rooms I found were could seat only 15-20.  Places that could accommodate a group our size tended to be too pricey.  I had a decent budget, but these places started at $150/head just for the food.  Ooph.

I nearly went with Alexander's, which you know I love.  It is walking distance.  However, even the basic private dining menu would certainly push our budget, but, it was doable.  They have a fantastic private dining room, the Wine Library, which I know as I've attended many events there (and held a big dinner for my work group before).  But the menu ... it just wasn't interesting.  A 3 course dinner with just a soup or salad to start, steak, fish, or veggie main, and a single dessert option.  I love Alexander's, but, this just wasn't very appealing.

I also really wanted to do something less formal.  I knew that we would be sitting all day long, for multiple days, and a long, formal, seated dinner just didn't sound great.  And I wanted the group to be able to mingle and socialize, after all, a big part of getting us all together in the space place was to form connection.  So, ideally, I wanted to do a cocktail reception, with heavy appetizers, wonderful cocktails, and of course, some sweet bites.  Finding somewhere that would do that was impossible.

Somewhere along the way, I remembered that Prospect (right across the street from my office, where I've also been many times) had a private dining room.  While not my favorite place, it clearly would be the most convenient (ok, actually Palomino would be, but, um, no.  Besides that killer Caramelized Cauliflower, there is no reason to go there).  Unfortunately, Prospect was booked, but thinking of Prospect reminded me of Boulevard (they are sister restaurants), so, I looked up Boulevard's private dining info.

As I read the private dining package, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Yes, the had a private room, and it could easily fit our group.  The restaurant is only two blocks away.  And the menu options?  Fantastic.  We had to do a three course dinner, but, I could choose one appetizer for the group from a decent list of choices, not just soup or salad.  For the main, I could offer two items, again, from a decent list.  And then, two dessert choices.  I've never seen a group dining menu where they offer up two desserts!  And finally, the icing on the cake for me, the group dining menu is mostly drawn from the regular menu.  The choices change weekly, just as the main restaurant dishes do.  It always makes me so sad when group dining menus are generic, designed to be crowd pleasers or dumbed down versions of dishes, and really don't accurately reflect the quality of the restaurant at all (ahem, Alexander's!)  At Boulevard, these were regular menu items, plated up just as nicely as in the main restaurant.

I immediately sent an inquiry in, fingers crossed, that my date was available.  It was.  Once I decided to go with Boulevard, everything happened easily.  The event planner was very responsive over e-mail, paperwork was handled quickly, and our space secured.  Phew.

I am very happy with my choice.  The space was beautiful, the service spot-on, and the food good.  Large group dining is never a restaurant's strongest point, but they handled it wonderfully, and I'd gladly host an event with them again.

The Space

The private dining room is located on another floor from the main restaurant, but, we had to walk through the entire dining room to reach the back where the stairs and elevator were.  It was a bit funny leading a group of 30 t-shirt and jeans clad engineers through the lovely dining room of Boulevard.

I was absolutely thrilled when I saw how nice the room looked.  Elegant yet comfortable, professional.  Perfect.  I'd host an event in this space again in an instant.
Private Dining Room and Bar.
The private dining room is really a beautiful space.  Elegant, classy, but not stuffy.  Lots of dark wood, red tones, gold accents, including long gold curtains.  Stunning light fixtures.

Near the entrance to the private room is a bar, which I choose to have fully operational.  As host, I could have chosen just to serve beer and wine, but I knew this group wouldn't be too crazy, particularly as we had an early schedule the next morning.

As we all entered, the friendly bartender welcomed us and asked if we'd like drinks as we got settled.  It was a bit of a bottleneck having 30 of us show up at once and line up at the bar, but, he handled us quickly.

I also was able to pre-select a red and white wine to offer to the group.  I somewhat randomly picked from the extensive wine list, opting for the varietals I liked at a reasonable price point.  For the white wine, I went with a sauvignon blanc, Lieu Dit, Santa Ynez 2014.  I sadly didn't like it at all, and found it way too harsh and acidic, but, my tablemate enjoyed it, and gladly took my glass off my hands.  For a red, I went with a pinot noir, Dutton-Goldfield, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley 2014, and I loved it.  Smooth, easy to drink, very low tannin, and able to pair with seafood, which is what I was going for.

Service throughout the night was great.  Servers were attentive but never in the way.  They kept everyone's glasses full and the wine flowing, without being pushy.  They cleared plates in a timely fashion.  Impressive service, and they are clearly accustomed to handling groups of our size.  We felt well taken care of the entire night.
Private Dining Room.
The room could have easily fit more than the 5 tables I asked to have set up, but 5 felt just right, nicely spaced out, easy to move around, but still filled the room.  Along the back wall was wooden furniture and more curtains, and along the side was a large painting.

It felt very comfortable and was fully private.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with white cloth table clothes and napkins, wine glasses, water goblets, shining silverware, bread plates and knives, and hand written name cards (my request, since I was orchestrating the seating).

Savory Food

There were several themes throughout the meal.  The seafood was shockingly well prepared, particularly for group dining.  Fruits and vegetables shone, all clearly fresh, seasonal.  Quality ingredients were evident throughout.  Plating was just as elaborate, and dishes just as complex, as when served in the main dining room.  And yet we were all served quickly, and our food was all hot.  I was really impressed with how they handled our group.
Custom Menu.
Our 3 course dinner was priced at $90 per person.  Since most dishes are available on the regular restaurant menu, I can tell you it would have been about ~$72 if we weren't dining privately.  There was a markup, obviously, but that is to be expected.

Since I planned the event, I also got to pick the menu.  Picking the menu was actually incredibly hard.  Unlike most private dining menus, they gave me a lot of choice, and I really wanted many dishes.

For the starter, I could offer only one for everyone, out of 7 choices.  This was actually a bit strange to me since they let me offer two for everything else, and starters seem the easiest.  I'm curious what the reasoning is.  Anyway, I could pick from a soup of the day, salads (little gem, various greens, beets with blue cheese, or Dungeness crab salad), or, the far more exciting options of ahi tuna tartare or scallops.  Ok, this choice was easy: scallops (although, I was a bit tempted by the Dungeness crab salad, and, I did really like the ahi tuna tartare once before ...).

Next, I could pick two entrees.  This was harder.  Again, 7 options, and I could pick 2, but, there were no easy to exclude dishes like salads in this category.  I decided to offer one seafood and one non-seafood.  I ruled out the roasted chicken, even though I knew it might be the safe crowd pleaser.  I also ruled out the pork chop, and settled on the kobe bavette as my non-seafood option (filet mignon was also an option, but, it carried a $15 surcharge).  Everyone likes steak right?  The seafood was the hardest choice.  I could offer wild halibut or king salmon, both available with multiple preparations.  I do like salmon, but, I adore halibut.  So, halibut it was, even though I thought salmon might have more wide appeal to the group.  From there, I had to pick the preparation, and went for the one with the sides I liked more (asparagus, corn, etc), although I would have been perfectly happy with the option that came with peas, pea shoots, watercress, and fresh horseradish too.

And finally, dessert.  Here I could also pick two to offer, from a list of 5.  I ruled out the cheese plate, although I realize perhaps that would have been a nice offering for those who don't like sweets.  But, when I could pick only two, I really didn't want to waste one on a cheese platter!  I also ruled out the two chocolate desserts, not entirely intentionally.  One was a pretty amazing sounding chocolate pudding with peanut butter powder and chocolate pop rocks (!!) and the other was a flourless chocolate cake with ice cream.  Wow, I sound like a jerk for eliminating those.  But I was totally intrigued by the red velvet layer cake with cheesecake and ice cream listed as components and the panna cotta trifle with seasonal strawberries and apricots.  I mean, really, I wanted them all, this was a very hard choice.

Once we were seated, servers came to take our full orders, desserts included, all at the beginning of the meal.  Vegetarians also had a custom menu, made up of fresh, seasonal picks.  My table had a mix of both regular entrees and desserts, so I was able to see, and taste, most of it.
Sourdough and Salted Butter.
After our orders were taken, we were brought bread and butter.

Ojan, clearly starving, dug into the bread.  It looked like sourdough to me, and, sadly, he confirmed that it was.  You may recall that I don't like sourdough.  But everyone else at the table loved the bread.  "It is the correct amount of chewy and crispy!", exclaimed one dinner.  "The butter is really, really good", said another.

I didn't try the bread, since I knew I wouldn't like it, but I did try the butter.  And, I'll admit, it was really fantastic butter.  Slightly sweet, full of cream flavor.  Oh, and on top of the butter?  Huge salt crystals.  I wished I liked sourdough, but, alas, I had to just wait.

The appetizers actually took a while to arrive, not until 45 minutes into our dining time, so, we quickly depleted the bread.  Servers were quick to bring us more.
Appetizer: Sea Scallops.
"Salsify, Smoked Shiitake Mushrooms, Buttered Buckwheat, & Nasturtium."

Our appetizers were worth the wait.  We were each presented with 2 huge seared scallops on a bed of grains.

The scallops were well seared, not mid-rare as I'd prefer, but solidly medium, not rubbery or over cooked.  My table mates remarked at how impressive it was to get scallops cooked well, particularly in such quantity.  I love scallops, so, these were a hit for me.

The buttered buckwheat reminded me of farro, in that it was a hearty grain.  It was fine I guess, but, not really my thing.  There were also small chunks of salsify mixed in with the buckwheat, and on top.

At the very base of the plate was a smooth puree, only a very small amount, but it was very good.  I think it may have been a puree of the same salsify?  I'm not sure where the smoked shiitake was though, perhaps that was in the puree too?

Anyway, this was a good dish, and impressive that someone seared 60 scallops, and served them hot, that well.

This dish is currently on the dinner menu for $25, perhaps a bit pricey for only two scallops, but it was everyone else at my table's favorite dish of the night.  I ranked it second, and it was certainly good, but the best was yet to come.
Main Dish: Northern Halibut.
"Green Asparagus, English Peas & Sweet Corn, Carrot Top & Garlic Scale Pesto, Wild Greens."

For my main, I obviously picked the halibut, on the menu because, well, I wanted it.

It was really well prepared.  The fish had a slight sear on the outside, and inside stayed moist and tender.  It was seasoned fairly simply with just the right amount of salt and pepper.  The quality of this mild, delicate fish was allowed to shine.  Again, impressive execution of cooking the protein at such scale.

As well prepared as the fish was however, it was not the star of this plate.  Shockingly, the sauteed peas and corn totally stole the show.  It was basically a succotash (and actually, the original  menu I was provided listed favas in place of peas).  I don't have words for how good this was.  Lightly cooked, not at all "mushy peas".  Beautiful vegetables, generously coated with butter, well seasoned.  Seriously amazingly delicious.  The diner sitting next to me also ordered this dish, and I was amused when I watched him just devour the vegetables, leaving the fish on the side for after.  I tried to compose balanced bites, mixing fish with the vegetables, but wow, it was so hard not to just devour the veggies immediately.  There was a generous amount of this succotash as well, although you can't see it in the photo very well, there was a sizable mound under the fish.  Still, it took literally all my willpower to save one bite for Ojan.  I felt like I *had* to, given how much I was proclaiming the deliciousness, and how clearly superior my dish was.

The asparagus spears were less successful.  Thin spears of asparagus, slightly too crisp, not particularly seasoned or flavorful.  But honestly, nothing could have compared to that succotash.

On top of the fish was another shockingly good element: carrot top and garlic scape pesto.  The simple, well seasoned fish didn't actually need an accent, but this pesto was fantastic.  I really couldn't believe how strong the carroty taste was to it, which messed with my head, since it was green, not orange.  A lovely compliment to the fish.

Finally, a pile of herbs on top, which I think were also carrot tops?  They added to the visual quality of the dish, but weren't really necessary.

This was hands down dish of the night for me.  Well prepared halibut, tasty pesto, and just totally amazeballs succotash.  I'd gladly get this again, and was impressed with the cook on the fish for such a large group.

The halibut option on the regular dinner menu is $36, which seems correct for a quality dish of this level.
Main Dish: American Wagyu Bavette Steak.
"Crushed Olive Oil Potatoes with Soft Fennel, Leeks & Arugula, Broccoli & Kale al Limone, Sauteed Broccolini, Mushroom Relish, Beef Jus."

Most of my table, Ojan included, went for the bavette.  Before the entrees were brought out, they were provided steak knives.

The bavette eaters were ... not very happy.  One commented on how chewy it was.  Another said that the fat wasn't properly rendered out.  Chewy and fatty?  Sadness.  The kitchen executed the other proteins so well that this surprised me.

I didn't try anything on this plate, but, all of the diners who got it said it was less good than the scallops, and Ojan, who tried my dish, said it was the weakest dish of all three.

The dinner menu has a very similar dish, but it is a filet rather than bavette, but has the exact same sides.  It is $49.

Dessert

And now, usually my favorite part of any meal, dessert!  The dessert options were the hardest for me to narrow down to only two choices, so I'm glad that Ojan was willing to split both with me.  And by split, I obviously mean, take a bite of each, and then just give them both to me.  #winning
Panna Cotta Trifle.
"Roasted Apricots, Dirty Girl Strawberries Sugar Cookie Crumble, White Velvet Cake."

Ok, so this was the dish I was really intrigued by.  Sure, I know what panna cotta is, it is a dish I love, and my blog has a label devoted to it.  But as a trifle?  And with "white velvet cake"?  What is white velvet cake, anyway?

This was an interesting layered creation.  I believe the panna cotta element was the firmer pudding at the base.  Above that was the sugar cookie crumble, which added a great crunchy element.  Above that, the roasted apricots and strawberries.  The fruit was really fantastic, soft, flavorful, clearly perfectly ripe and seasonal.  Above that was a generous amount of whipped cream.  And then?  A ring of cake, which I guess was the white velvet.  It tasted more like angel food cake to me.  And then, on the very top, apricot sorbet. The sorbet was wonderful, so intensely apricot flavored.

This was a pretty fascinating dish, with so many elements.  It was good, and I enjoyed creating bites out of all different combinations of the elements.  Creamy, fruity, crunchy, all in one bite?  Yes!  The cake I could have done without however.  It reminded me of all other desserts I've had at Boulevard though ... lots of thought clearly went into it, it was complex, but, just didn't blow me away, for no particular reason.

I was again impressed by the execution of the chefs, this time the pastry kitchen.  All our dessert had a frozen element (sorbet here, ice cream on the other), and they all arrived perfectly intact.  And again, I appreciated the restaurant not dumbing down the dessert selection for a large group, because assembling 30 of these to be ready all at once is too hard ...

Both Ojan and I agreed this was the better dessert of the two, but I wouldn't go running back for it.
Red Velvet Layer Cake.
"Cream Cheese Cheesecake, Malted Milk Ice Cream with English Toffee, Fudge Sauce, White Chocolate Curls."

We also went for the other option, which sounded nearly as intriguing.  Red velvet layer cake sounds boring, but, um, cheesecake was involved?  And ice cream?  I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it wouldn't be a standard red velvet cake, which I clearly wouldn't have ordered.

This one was a little more simple.  I thought that perhaps the ice cream would be a layer in the cake, but it was just a small scoop on the side.  It was fine, but, just ice cream with some bits of toffee in it.  Boulevard takes their ice cream seriously, as I believe every dessert has an ice cream component, and they also offer scoops of housemade ice cream as a more basic option.  I guess I expected more from the ice cream, as this wasn't remarkable in any way.  That said, it also wasn't store-bought, freezer burned, plain vanilla either, which far too many places serve ...

The layer cake had layers of classic red velvet cake with cheesecake in place of the standard cream cheese frosting layer.  The cheesecake layer was fantastic, rich, creamy, flavorful.  I loved it.  Why on earth would you use frosting when you could use cheesecake?  Genius idea here, and they have clearly improved upon red velvet cake.

The red velvet cake itself was just cake.  I never really like cake.  It wasn't particularly moist or flavorful.

On top was more crumbled english toffee bits and white chocolate curls.  They added a bit of crunch and sweetness, and, well, looked good.  The final element was the small line of fudge sauce on the bottom, a very rich chocolate fudge that I loved and wanted more of.

So, overall, this was ... ok.  Better than a regular red velvet cake, but, still, cake.  I enjoyed a few bites, particularly of just cheesecake with chocolate sauce and toffee from on top, but, I preferred the other dessert.

This is on the current dessert menu for $11.
Decaf Coffee.
After the desserts were served, servers came around with coffee.  I appreciated that they had both regular and decaf available, I so often need to ask for decaf and it comes much later.

That said, this decaf was horrible.  I'm sorry, but it was foul.  I really, really love having coffee with my desserts, and I tried a few sips of this, but I just couldn't handle it.  By far the worst coffee I've had in ... years, including on airplanes and in hotel breakfast buffets.  Seriously.

Coffee and tea service was included with our dining package.
Boulevard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Friday, June 24, 2016

Reef Bars, NZ

A while back, I flew on Air New Zealand to Sydney (via Aukland).  On one of my flights, they had a snack basket with REEF Bars.  I grabbed one, just in case I got peckish at some point.  You never know when you need a snack bar ...

I wasn't able to find out much about the manufacturer, which seems to be Bite Me Foods, located in New Zealand.  The bars are made for sports and recovery, not exactly what most airline flyers need at the time.

"The Reef Bar is the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and essential fats your body needs for energy and recovery before, during and after sports or exercise.  They are healthy, nutritious, balanced and they really taste amazing. Reef Bars don't contain any fillers like oats of peanuts. There is only 0.4g of brown sugar used in each Reef Bar."

I found this pretty amusing, because, really, how often are folks on a plane "before, during, or after sports or exercise"?  Still, it was nice to have a balanced bar like this available.
Tropical Fruit & Nut.
This was a delightful mix of fruit, nuts, and seeds smashed together, with very few random filler ingredients or binding agents.

I tried the tropical flavor, which included papaya and pineapple, along with standard dates and raisins.  I really liked the bits of fruit, quite sweet, and flavorful.  I appreciated the ratios in this bar, with 19% each devoted to the star ingredients of papaya and pineapple, and only 7% and 5% to the raisins and dates, respectively.  I hate it when bars are overwhelmed by dates!

The nuts used were brasil nuts, making up 10% of the bar, plus almonds (only 4%).  The seeds were sunflower (like the dried fruit, 19% of the bar).  I loved the nuts, as brasil nuts are always a favorite of mine. The seeds were not my favorite, a bit bitter.  I'd like to swap the percentages of these.

The final elements were bits of crystallized ginger and fruit peel, which both added zing, but I didn't really like.  The binders were just egg, potato starch, soy flour, rice flour, and maize flour,  making it gluten-free, but I didn't detect them in the bar at all.  A little brown sugar and vanilla round it out.
I actually quite enjoyed this.  Great crunch from the nuts (and nuts that I like!), and sweetness from the fruit.  The texture was great, the flavors were good, for a bar, it was quite enjoyable.  I appreciated the slightly chewy, sticky nature to it as well.

I don't often have the need for items like this, but, if I were looking for a snack, I'd certainly get another.
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Monday, June 20, 2016

Reception Catering at Town Hall Restaurant

Town Hall is a southern inspired restaurant located a few blocks from my house and office.  It has been around for a while, and has a decent reputation.  I walk by regularly.  But I hadn't been to the restaurant in years.

So let's rewind first.  Back in January 2009 I went to Town Hall for the first and only time, for lunch, during Dine About Town.  I don't remember anything about the savory food, but I did remember that we went there intentionally for the butterscotch pudding.  Mmm, I love pudding.  And then ... we all felt sick afterwards.  Not that I was scared of going back, but, the place just hadn't left an impression so I saw no real reason to return.

Fast forward to 2016, when I was invited to a reception in the private dining room.  So, I gave it another try.  The private dining room is upstairs, and has a small area near the entrance where they set up a little bar.  It then opens into the larger room, long and fairly narrow, with large windows.  They use this space for formal sit down dinners, cocktail parties, meetings, and more, so it is pretty customizable.

Our event only had beer, wine, and appetizers, so I can't comment on much else.  The little bites were all decent, but nothing mind blowing, about what I remembered from our previous visit.  I'd go back if someone else wanted to, but, I have no reason to return of my own accord.
Corn fritters with cilantro aioli. $5 (back) Some other fritters (front).
These two trays contained different items, even though they looked similar.

In back were the corn fritters, basically hush puppies.  Honestly, I'm not sure why they called these corn fritters, as they were cornmeal, not corn kernels.  Anyway, they were dense balls of cornmeal, not particularly interesting.  They had a dot of aioli on them, but, too small to really taste.  I wanted some kind of pop to this dish, like a jalapeño aioli, or honey butter, or ... something.  It was just kinda dry, dense, and boring.

The front tray is something I'd actually call a fritter, and I expected to taste some vegetables in here, perhaps corn, perhaps okra, uh, something.  But, they just tasted like balls of fritter dough.  These had a more sizable dollop of what seemed like a yogurt sauce?

Both of these were pretty lackluster.
Tuna tartare with Tabasco aioli on a crispy wonton. $6.
The crispy wonton looked incredibly oily, and I don't really like tuna tartare, so I skipped these.
Mushroom profiteroles, mint-pea creme friache. $5.
The mushroom profiteroles sounded better than they were.  Not that they were bad, but, don't profiteroles and crème fraîche sound awesome?  These were good, not awesome.

They were small little profiteroles, stuffed with a woodsy chopped mushroom mix, with a dot of the crème fraîche  on top.  Fine, but, well, just not very interesting.
Roasted veal herb meatballs with green peppercorn sauce over potato purée. $5
The veal meatballs were quite good.

Super moist, juicy, cooked medium (almost medium-rare actually, perhaps a tiny bit under).  They were drenched in jus and served over creamy, flavorful potato puree.

Overall, nicely executed, although not particularly memorable.  I'd prefer to have some kind of sear on the meatball to give a little crispy exterior.

Still, my favorite dish of the night and I went back for seconds.
Grilled ribeye skewers, guajillo chile jus. $7.
The ribeye skewers were so close to being delicious.

The meat was really well cooked, as you can see, still some pink, medium.  And the sauce was delicious.

But ... it was ribeye.  I took one bite, and it was tender and pretty good.  I went for my second bite, and wound up with a mouth full of fatty chewiness, and, since we didn't have silverware, I had no way to cut off a piece, and the entire chewy thing wound up in my mouth.  I did not appreciate this.

Still, delicious sauce, more creamy yummy potato puree, but, alas, ribeye.  My least favorite item.
Smoked chicken mini tacos with avocado salsa. $7.
Well, these were a surprise hit.  I actually tried these last, and didn't intend to try them at all, but curiosity got the better of me.

The taco shells looked super greasy, like the wontons I skipped.  I was pretty sure it was chicken inside.  Why would I want these?

I'm glad I tried though.  The taco shell, although, yes, greasy, was really delicious.  Crispy, oily in a good way, like a giant wonton.  I loved it.

The filling was I think smoked, shredded chicken.  It was tender and actually had a nice flavor to it.  On top was a slaw, crispy cabbage and carrots, and some creamy sauce.  The event menu lists smoked chicken tacos with avocado salsa, but I certainly didn't find any avocado salsa on these, hence my confusion as to what they really were (items were not labelled at the event).  They might have been pork?  Or duck even?

Anyway, the crispy shell and the slaw were tasty, making these my second favorite.
Town Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Friday, June 17, 2016

Perfect Bar

I don't really like granola bars, protein bars, and the like, but, sometimes I need convenient snacks to carry with me, or to make sure I have protein to supplement my sometimes ridiculous lifestyle, and bars work well for this.  As such, I end up trying a lot of bars, surprising for an item I just don't generally like all that much.

Perfect Bars are nutrition bars, all with peanuts or almonds as the base (well, specifically, peanut or almond butter).  They are sweetened with only honey.   Like all trendy bars these days, they are non-GMO, gluten-free, kosher, full of protein, no refined sugar, laden with super foods ....

They produce 3 types of almond based bar: plain almond butter, almond acai, and almond coconut.  I didn't try any of these, since I don't generally care for almond butter.  Peanut options are Carob Chip, Fruit & Nut, Cranberry Crunch, and plain Peanut Butter (available as a mini only).

Perfect Bars however lose out in the convenient factor, because they require refrigeration and have a shorter shelf life.
Peanut Butter Mini.
"Creamy organic peanut butter meets organic honey meets 20 expertly-hidden whole foods."

The first flavor they ever made was peanut butter, so, I started with this, their first, and signature, item.

I tried a mini version, not really expecting to like these bars, and not wanting to invest in a full size bar.  The mini was indeed mini, easily finished in 2-3 bites.

The bar was a fairly solid texture, just kinda a block.  Since I had it straight from the fridge, it was also cold, and crumbled a bit.  I wonder what it would be like if it warmed up a bit?

Anyway, my 2-3 bites was only 100 calories, which is decently low given that it is a peanut butter bar, and, shockingly, the first ingredient is indeed peanut butter.  And you can tell.  It mostly just tastes like, well, peanut butter.  There was not a strange bitterness to it.  There was not an awful aftertaste.  It tasted like peanut butter, honeyed peanut butter even.

As I said, the first ingredient is peanut butter, and the second is honey, so, it actually makes sense that that is what I tasted.  The bar actually tastes like what it is made of.  There are more ingredients in it, including "Dried whole food powders", which includes kale, flax seed, rose hip, orange, lemon, papaya, tomato, apple, alfalfa, celery, kelp, dulse, carrot, and spinach, but honestly, I didn't taste any of that.  Notably, there is no "whey protein isolate", or any strange chemicals.  The only not entirely obvious ingredient is rice protein, which never tastes as nasty to me as the other proteins commonly found in bars.

Anyway, was this actually tasty?  Well, not really.  If it had some chocolate chips in it though, I could imagine liking it (they do make a version with carob chips, perhaps that would work?).  Or just something to give it a bit more oomph.  As it was, it was just a strange textured bar, that mostly tasted like honey peanut butter.
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sift Dessert Bar

Update Review, May 2016

A while ago, I reviewed some fairly mediocre cupcakes from Sift Dessert Bar.  I was not impressed.  I didn't seek Sift back out, but, I was at an event recently that was catered by Sift.  I avoided the cupcakes given my past experience, but was pleasantly surprised by everything else.

Sometimes, giving a place a second chance is a good thing!  I'll gladly try more of their creations now.
Cupcakes, Whoopie Cookies, Macaroons.
The array of choices at this event was impressive.  Cupcakes in an array of flavors.  Macaroons in every flavor Sift makes.  Whoopie cookies.  Rice crispy treats.  Even a few cruffles hidden amongst the macaroons.

Since I remembered not liking the cupcakes much before, I skipped right past them, and moved on to the other goodies.  I also skipped the macaroons, because, well, I never generally care for macaroons, although, I'll admit, some of the macaroon flavors did sound interesting, like churro, margarita with salt, and  piña colada.
Rainbow Sugar Whoopie Cookie. $3.
"2 Rainbow Sugar cookies filled with vanilla buttercream frosting "

The first item I grabbed was a cookie sandwich, dubbed a whoopie cookie, basically a play on a whoopie pie, but made with regular cookies rather than standard fluffy cake-like whoopie pie cookies, and filled with regular frosting.  I grew up with whoopie pies, so, I was a bit skeptical of a "whoopie cookie".

I also realize this is a bit of an add move in general, since I don't generally like cookies all that much, but, it caught my eye.  Perhaps because it was so colorful, you couldn't help but notice the rainbow sprinkles.  But really, I wanted it because it was stuffed with frosting.  My general aversion to cookies isn't that I don't like cookies themselves, it is just that they are so boring that way.  Why would I ever want just a cookie?  But I also don't generally like cake.  Its dry and boring.  The only reason I eat cake is for the frosting.  I could easily do without the cake part.

Enter the cookie sandwich.  Do away with the dry boring cake and still get the frosting.  Jazz up a cookie significantly.  This has potential.

Sift makes 3 varieties of cookie sandwiches: classic chocolate chip, rainbow sugar, and salted caramel white chocolate chip.  The later sounded the best to me, but, when I approached the display, they only had chocolate chip and rainbow sugar cookie sandwiches out.  Of course, just a few minutes later, the ones I wanted came out, but I had already taken this one and felt rude going for another.
Rainbow Sugar Whoopie Cookie: Inside.
So, how was it?  Well, it was about what I expected.  A decent sugar cookie, not too hard, not too soft, and sweet.  The rainbow balls were a fun touch for color and crunch.  The filling was just plain white frosting, also sweet.  Sweet on sweet, which I guess is to be expected.  The frosting made the cookie more exciting, and the cookie served as a vessel for the frosting.  But, still not that amazing.

The salted caramel white chocolate chip whoopie cookie uses salted caramel buttercream, which certainly sounds more flavorful.  And the chocolate chip one uses cream cheese frosting.  Had I realized the frostings inside were different, I certainly would have gone for a different one.

Overall, I'm glad I tried it, and I certainly liked it more than I would have liked a plain cookie or a piece of cake.  But, not really my dessert of choice.

Cookies are $1.25 each, and whoopie cookies are $3, basically, $0.50 for frosting.
Pink Champagne Cruffle.
Cruffle: "Cake and frosting blended together.  Hand dipped in chocolate."

I also managed to grab a cruffle, one of very few, mixed in with the macaroons.

It took me a little while to figure out what a "cruffle" was.  The answer?  Cupcake + truffle = cruffle.   Cruffles are basically cake pops, without the stem.  Sift makes them in the same varieties as the cupcakes.

I had no idea what flavors I was getting, but this one turned out to be the cruffle version of their Pink Champagne cupcake.
Limonatta and Pink Champagne Cruffles: Inside.
Pink Champagne (right):
"Moist raspberry cake with a delicious champagne frosting."

It was ... pretty awesome.  The raspberry flavor was sweet and flavorful, really quite delicious.  I loved the texture of the inside, dense from the frosting blended with the cake.  While I don't really like cake, um, I do like cake pops, or, in this case, cruffles.

The white chocolate shell was sweet and the perfect thickness.  It had a nice snap to it.

Overall, the cruffle form factor was great, and honestly, makes more sense than a cake pop anyway.  Everyone knows its more fun to eat with your fingers!

Limonatta (left):
"Lemon cake, lemon curd filling topped with Meyer lemon buttercream"

When I circled back through a while later, I saw a few more cruffles set out.  Given how delicious the first one was, I grabbed another, again, not knowing what it was.

It turned out to be the limonatta.  Darn.  I don't really like lemon desserts.  But, I still loved the texture and the sweetness of the shell.  For a lemon treat, it was a good one.

Cruffles come in boxes by the dozen for $24.

Original Review, January 2015

My office does funny things to motivate us sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ No Photo ]
Ohh La La

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

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

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

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