Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Update Review, November 2015

As you may recall from my review last year, Palomino is the restaurant located, literally, in the same building I work in.  It doesn't get more convenient than this, right? Yet, as I said last time, I never go.  Why?  The food is just not good.  The cocktails are not good.  The service is not good.  There is no reason to ever go here.  Go ahead and read my previous review for full details.

Except I recently did, two nights in a row. Just like last year, my work group had a large event hosted there, so, I went, both nights.

I tried to give Palomino another, chance I really did. But all my comments from last time are still true. The cocktails were all awful. The staff acted like they'd never hosted a large event before, again, no serving utensils, nothing labelled, running out of plates and forks, etc. Such a mess.

A couple of the appetizers were passable, and I found one that I really did like, but that is not enough to draw me back in.
Palomino has a large speciality cocktail menu. Many options sounded great, but they were all totally unbalanced. Over the course of two nights, I tried a number of drinks, but could barely find any that I wanted to finish, let alone order another of.

The "Candied Apple Drop" was strangely bitter, not "candied" and sweet as expected. The Cranberry Mojito tasted like rubbing alcohol. The Pomegrante Margarita was mediocre, but not as offensive as some of the others. I don't remember all the drinks I tried, but I assure you, none were worth getting.
Supernova. $10.
"Grey Goose Vodka, Strawberry Puree, Prosecco Float."

This drink was very unbalanced. Crazy sweet, way too much strawberry puree. Not good at all. I couldn't finish it, even when I tried to water it down.
Blueberry Smash. $9.
"Stoli Blueberi Vodka, Blueberries, Fresh Sweet & Sour."

This actually wasn't a bad drink. Lots of muddled blueberries, cute swirl lemon peel garnish, almost balanced between sweetness, acidity, and alcohol. I wouldn't get it again, but I did at least finish it.


Food Spread.
On both visits this year, just like last year, Palomino acted like they had never hosted a large group before. No serving utensils provided for anything. I can somewhat understand thinking that people can just grab pizza, but bowls of cheesy cooked cauliflower without a spoon to serve it? Bowls of meatballs to just grab with our hands? Seriously? In the photo above, we stuck a couple forks in, as we had no other choice ...

Also, they didn't really have small plates or utensils with which to eat the food. They set out a handful of small plates and forks, but they ran out immediately (the forks almost all went into the serving dishes), and they never replenished anything. I don't understand, as they hold large events all the time. Aren't these basics? Also, nothing is ever labelled, so even simple things like figuring out what is vegetarian was impossible.

Anyway, our hosts pre-ordered an assortment of apps and pizzas, none particularly interesting. I skipped a few, like the hummus and flatbread, and the bruschetta. I tried everything else though. Like last year, the apps were indeed the highlight.
Caramelized Cauliflower.
"Fresh Herbs, EVOO, Herbed Mascarpone."

I actually really enjoyed this. The cauliflower was nicely cooked, roasted yet still soft. Underneath it all was a cauliflower puree, flavorful, tasty. I loved dredging it in the herbed mascarpone that melted into the cauliflower.

I went back for more and more of this, both nights. This was, hands down, the best thing I've ever had at Palomino, and the only thing I really would consider ordering myself.
Crisp Calamari.
"Hot Chiles, Smoked Pepper Aioli, Marinara, Fresh Squeezed Lemon."

On my previous visit, the calamari was the only decent dish. It was again just that: decent. Not rubbery, nicely fried, crispy, and I really liked the spicy jalapeño bits.
The marinara was incredibly lackluster, but the aioli wasn't bad.
Overall fine, but not worth going out of your way for.


Our hosts ordered a ton of pizzas for the group. I recalled that last time I didn't like the pizza, but it looked really good, so I dug in again. Wrong move.

The pizza always looks much, much better than it is. The best was the Prosciutto Crudo, with a decently flavorful basil pesto, fresh housemade mozzarella, and a soft egg in the center. But still not good pizza, by any stretch of the imagination.
Pepperoni Pizza.
The pizza just tastes like nothing. Thin crust, boring sauce, boring cheese.


You know me, I'm not complete with dessert, and the crazy sweet drinks didn't count.  So we got permission to order dessert, even though not normally part of the large group experience.  At the urging one of the servers, we ordered tons of the donuts for the group.
Sicilian Donuts with Mascarpone.
The donuts are normally served with 7 donuts and a small bowl of mascarpone and whipped Nutella on a plate, but they just made massive portions for us. Ours came on two platters, one with the mascarpone, one with Nutella.

The donuts were fried balls, sorta like donut holes, but crispier. Hot and fresh. They do seem to do a decent job of frying things here (donuts, calamari). Not too oily. But not particularly exciting either.

The donuts were rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and plenty of it. I liked that aspect.

I did enjoy the mascarpone, but, I love mascarpone in general (see cauliflower above).

Overall these were fine, but not really worth ordering again. I didn't even go for a second one.
Sicilian Donuts with Nutella.
Everyone else went nuts over the Nutella, but, really, it was just Nutella, no different from any other.

Original Review, July 2014

Palomino is the restaurant and bar located in the same building as my office, which just happens to be across the street from my house.  You'd think that in the years of living and/or working here, that I would have actually gone there.  There really is not a more convenient place to get food, or even a drink.  They are even open on Sundays, a rarity in this neighborhood.  And they serve brunch.  Yet .. the place has somehow never struck me as worth setting foot inside of.

Palomino is actually part of a small chain, and the restaurants are described as "Urban Italian", "famous" for their hardwood fired Mediterranean cooking.  I think that means pizza.

I still haven't been for a normal meal, but I did attend an event hosted there.  It was obviously picked for the location, since we were coming from a conference right upstairs.  We had the back area reserved to be somewhat private.  The tables were all removed, so the area was open, save a few tables that were set up for buffet style food, as the host arranged for assorted appetizers and pizzas, along with a few specific cocktails that we could choose from.

I can't comment on the regular restaurant, and I usually don't like to review a place just based on catering or special event experience, but I doubt I'll be returning.  So, take this all with the knowledge that it was large, special event, and may not be indicative of their standard offerings.

The appetizers were actually fine, but the pizzas were not very good, nor were the cocktails.  But where everything really fell apart was with the way they handled the large group catering.  They laid food out randomly, without any signs or labels of what anything was.  Some items came out as only one batch, consisting of say 10 pieces, for our group of 160+.  All the food came right as the event started, and was never replenished, even though we had the space for several hours.  Maybe this was the fault of the organizer on our end, who just made a strange order?

There were also no serving utensils provided for many of the dishes, even though it was buffet style.  And, no forks for us to eat with.  The placement of the dishes seemed totally random, with dips on one table, without anything to dip in them, and the bread that was supposed to be used with them just off on another table.

It was really just a mess.  I certainly would not recommend hosting an event there.


Candied Apple Drop.  $5 HH.
I started with the very tasty sounding Candied Apple Drop.  Unfortunately, there wasn't anything remotely candied, nor apple, about it.  It had no distinguishable flavor and was highly unremarkable.  The only thing I liked was the cherry in the bottom.  $5 for a cocktail at Happy Hour is a fine price, but I certainly wouldn't it this again.
Whiskey Sour.  $5 HH.
I moved on to a more classic drink, a Whiskey Sour, hoping they would do it justice.  It was very unbalanced, acidic, and way too bitter.  Again, price was fine, but the drink was worse than the previous, and I didn't even bother finishing it.
Cranberry Mojito.  $5 HH.
I actually ordered a pomegranate martini, but received a cranberry mojito instead.  Turns out, I was quite happy with the error.

This was the best drink of the night, by far.  It was refreshing, yet fruity, minty, very balanced.  I really enjoyed this, and would get another.  $5 price was again great.


Crisp Calamari with Smoked Pepper Aioli and Marinara Sauce. $9.95 HH, $13 regular.
Tomato Basil Bruschetta. $5.95 HH, $9 regular.
The first appetizer set out was tomato basil bruschetta, with "herb oil, roma tomatoes, pesto, fresh basil".  I did not try it in the first few minutes since I wanted to see what else was coming, and when I looped back to get a slice, it was long gone.  They never brought out more of it.

Soon after the bruschetta arrived, a couple platters of calamari were set out.  There were no serving utensils provided, but we were able to find a few forks.  Most people still just grabbed them with their fingers, touching numerous other pieces, and would then dip them in the sauces, usually getting their grubby fingers in the sauce.  I was fairly grossed out by this.  But anyway.

The calamari was described as coming with "hot chiles, smoked pepper aioli, marinara, fresh squeezed lemon".  It was decent calamari, delivered fresh out of the fryer, nice and crispy.  It had just the right amount of batter, not too heavy, but enough for crunch.  The calamari were mostly rings, not chewy.  There were also some battered pepper rings, that I wouldn't have known were supposed to be "hot chiles" if I didn't read the description.  Served with two dipping sauces, neither of which were remarkable.  The marinara tasted like it was from a jar.  The aioli wasn't really creamy, and certainly didn't taste of smoked pepper.  Besides the sauces, this was better than I expected.  I would have had more, but like the bruschetta, after this initial offering, no more was ever brought out, and I'd only taken a few pieces so I could sample everything else first.

Both dishes were $3.05 cheaper at Happy Hour than on the normal menu, which doesn't really make sense to me, since one dish was $13 normally, and the other $9, so it was a totally different percentage of the original costs.  Prices were about what I'd expect.
Curried Chickpea Fritters, Onion Jam Gastrique,  $5.95 HH, $6 regular.
Next they brought out a single order of the chickpea fritters.  A party for 160 people, and only 10 fritters?  That was really strange.

Anyway, since nothing was labelled, I had no idea what these were.  I could tell they were fried balls, and they had some parmesan cheese on top, and had what looked like an onion jam beside them, so I thought they might be filled with cheese or something.  It turned out that they were "chickpea fritters", which I'm still not really sure how they are different from falafel.  They were fried balls of chickpea.  The crust was nice on them, but I don't really like chickpeas, so I didn't really enjoy them.  Cheese sprinkled on falafel is also a bit strange.  The onion jam was flavorful, but again, there were no serving utensils, and it was thick and these weren't really dipable.

Amusingly, the regular and Happy Hour prices on these were only $0.05 different.  What?
French Onion Dip.  $5.95 HH, $6.50 regular.
Next came some dips.  Again, none were labelled, so it was a bit interesting trying to guess what they all were.  At least this one came with a spoon (although, subsequent batches would not).  They also did bring several batches of this out throughout the night.

This was apparently the "French Onion Dip", although it did not resemble any onion dip I've ever had before.  Rather than sour cream, it used cream cheese for the base.  And had pancetta bits in it (sorry vegetarians, I'm guessing you thought the onion dip was safe?)  For the onion components, there were caramelized onions in the dip, and fried onion strings on top.  Served with "brick-oven flatbread crisps" on the side, which, more often then not, were set out on different tables than the dip.

I wish I had photos of the flatbreads, as they were ridiculous.  They were slathered in butter, just dripping.  Yes, the idea is to coat super buttery bread with sour cream, pancetta, and fried onion rings? Yikes.  No worry, as they didn't actually put the bread out anywhere near the dips anyway, so people ended up just dipping their pizza crusts in it, or eating it by the spoonful.  But back to the flatbreads. They were completely burnt.  At one point, someone asked me, not jokingly, where I found dessert.  I was confused, and he said, "aren't you eating a brownie?"  Yes, the flatbread was sooo charred that it looked like a brownie.  And the dip looked liked cream cheese frosting.

Speaking of the dip though, it was tasty enough.  It came out very hot, and held temperature well.  It also tasted good cold later on.  By far my favorite of the dishes, although I'm still not sure I'd actually order it myself.  It was very, very creamy, and really had way too much cream cheese and too little anything else, but ... the onion flavor was good, and I really did enjoy the crispy onion strings on top.  The little pancetta bits added additional smokiness and salt.

Again, an amusing Happy Hour vs regular price difference, this time of $0.55.  This seemed like a really good price for a dish this size.
Crab and Artichoke Dip. $9.95 HH, $15 regular.
Along with the onion dip, another hot dip was set out.  I'm glad I'm not vegetarian, as I could have easily thought this was just a cheesy artichoke dip at first glance.  But, it was crab and artichoke, which I realized the moment I took a bite.  Well, I didn't realize it was crab, but it tasted really fishy.  In a not good way.  Like, in a very bad old seafood way.  It was topped with breadcrumbs.

Like the onion dip, it came out hot, and several more were brought out throughout the night.  And like the onion dip, the flatbreads it was supposed to come with were no where to be found.  And, this was the only batch that came with a spoon.  I didn't care, as I stayed far away from it the rest of the night after that initial very bad bite.

My least favorite of all of the dishes, which is sad, since I do love crab.  And hey, look at that, Happy Hour vs regular price difference of $5.05, both of which seemed overpriced compared to everything else.  I guess you pay a lot for smelly, fishy crab ...

[ No Photo ]
Moroccan Hummus & Tzatziki with Grilled Pita $5.

The final dips were a cold duo: hummus and tzatziki.  We were given a single order of this.  No spoons.  And the pita?  On a different table.  Seriously, what did they expect people to do with it?

The pita was much better than the flatbread that came with the hot dips.  It was nicely grilled, not burnt.  It wasn't drenched in butter.  But neither dip had any real flavor to it.  I wonder if they would have been good with the falafel, er, chickpea fritters.


And finally, pizza.  Palomino has a large pizza menu, and I think is their biggest seller.  Described as "featuring our hand-pulled fresh mozzarella and the freshest ingredients on a crisp brick-oven charred crust".

We received tons of pizzas.  While I was grumpy about mostly just getting a single batch of most of the apps, the pizzas did keep replenishing.  We received all 3 of the Happy Hour special pizzas.
Fresh Roma & Mozzarella Pizza.  $7.95.
I started with the simple roma and mozzarella.  As promised, it was indeed served on a "brick-oven charred crust".  The crust was super thin, super crispy.  I think a bit too charred, but no where near as bad as the flatbreads.  Plus, I know that is trendy these days.

The red sauce was totally unremarkable, just like the marinara for the calamari.  It could have been any generic canned brand, and it was spread too heavy for my taste.  The cheese was equally unremarkable, certainly didn't seem "hand-pulled" or fresh, but I'll take their word for it.  I thought there was too much of that too.  The tomato slices were soggy and didn't seem properly ripe.  I appreciated the large torn chunks of basil.  In fact, the pizza LOOKED really good, it just didn't really taste like much of anything.

Only offered on the Happy Hour menu, $7.95 price seemed fine.
Hot Italian Sausage & Mushroom Pizza.  $8.95.
I moved on to the next pizza, one that is far my more style anyway, sausage and mushroom.

The crust was about the same, thin and crispy, and this one was less charred.  The sauce and cheese were again unremarkable.  The sausage was ground, and the mushrooms were cut into tiny chunks.  There was a good amount of toppings, and I love the mushroom and sausage combo, but again, this pizza just didn't taste like anything.  $1 more than the basic pizza, seemed fine for the generous toppings.

I didn't get a photo since my phono battery died, but they also had a pepperoni, with large slices of pepperoni.  I didn't try it, but it was Ojan's favorite of the dishes.
Palomino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sailor's Thai Restaurant: Updated Format

You may recall that on my last visit to Sydney, my favorite thai adventures took place at Sailor's Thai, both the casual Canteen and the formal Restaurant. When making plans this time around, a co-worker had one request only: he wanted to go to Sailor's Thai.  I looked at the website out of curiosity, just to see if there were any new menu additions or changes, and was very confused. Why was there only one menu now, rather than one for the Canteen, and one for the restaurant? And why did it seem to be a hybrid of the two previous menus?  I asked the restaurant and was told that they have changed their concept, serving a new menu format, in both locations.   Hmm.  I wonder if their business wasn't going well?  Anyway, this made it easy to decide where to go.  If the menu was the same, we'd go to the restaurant, since we had a group of six, and the Canteen doesn't take reservations.

I was amused by the fact that for all dishes that remained on the menu from before, the Thai names were replaced with English equivalents, aka, gone was "ka nom hua lan" and in its place was "caramelized coconut dumplings".   I guess the thai names were too hard for people?

As for our visit ... not so successful.  The food was poorly executed and the service was horrible.  It was incredibly awkward throughout.  The server came to take our drink order within seconds of us sitting down, but after that, I had to flag him down to order anything.  Our water ran out and was never refilled.  Our wine glasses went empty and no offer of more wine was made.  Dishes we ordered to share were brought without any share plates or even cutlery for the individuals, let alone for serving.   Getting the bill took absolutely forever.   We had to flag someone down to ask for it, but even once we had it, getting someone to come take the credit card was actually incredibly difficult, and again, took physically getting up from our seats to get attention.  They never looked our way again after delivering the bill.

I didn't take a photo, but I had a glass of chablis, since I remembered liking the one I had last time.  It was again a tiny pour.  It was warm.  It was clearly not the same wine, and had an awful acidic finish.   Since the server ignored us the rest of the meal, I wasn't ever able to order something different.

I think Sailor's Thai may have gone the way of Bill's for me.   It remains a great Sydney memory, but, I'm not eager to return.


When we visited the Canteen before, the menu had only three choices for starters, all very simple, including the spring rolls that we didn't like, plus chicken satay and curry puffs.  The Restaurant had both "appetizers" and "starters" on the menu, all far more complex, like the intricate flower shaped dumplings, that we also sadly didn't really like.

Now the merged menu has 7 starters, all somewhere in-between the simple offerings from the Canteen and the fancier offerings from the restaurant, including scaled back versions of the crispy vermicelli noodles, betel leafs (now with prawn instead of salmon), and grilled scallops.  The dumplings and pineapple bites that we got last time are gone, as are all of the selections from the "starters" menu.
Starter: Prawn cakes w/ plum sauce. $10.
The restaurant had fish cakes on the menu before, but now offers up a cheaper alternative: prawn cakes.  You can tell they are trying to arrive at a menu that is not only a hybrid in terms of the presentation style, but also the price.

The cakes were crispy and hot, clearly freshly fried, but incredibly oily. They didn't seemed to have been drained at all.  Inside the cakes was big chunks of prawn plus a lot of filler that I couldn't identify.

The sauce on the side was light and sweet, and actually tasty, but, I wanted something more like an aioli to go along with the fried food.  The $10 price was reasonable for the portion.
Starter: Chiang mai pork sausage w/ green chili relish. $20.
One diner wanted the sausage. Not something I'd normally pick, but, I do like sausage from time to time, so I wasn't opposed.

The sausage was served a room temperature rather than hot.  It had a really bitter skin.   I didn't like it.

On the side was a huge pile of cilantro.   What were we supposed to do with that?  And slices of cucumber, which were refreshing and a nice compliment the heat from other components.

The heat I speak of came from the green chili relish, which was really quite spicy.   I actually really liked it and found it quite flavorful.  I ate it by the spoonful at one point, since I didn't really have anything else to add it to.

My least favorite dish, and it seemed pricey for $20.


The main dish menu is broken into Salads, "From the Grill", "Stir Fries", and "Curries".   We got at least one from each category.

For the new menu, none of the mains from the restaurant remained, I guess they were all deemed too fancy, so most of the menu for mains came directly from the Canteen, plus a few new additions.

Dishes were delivered as they were ready, which was appreciated since they were hot and fresh, but it was a bit strange to get our salad so late into the meal.   I guess I'm used to salads as more of a starter, and less of a main?

We also ordered rice, which is served per person.   We had six people, and I didn't want rice, so I ordered rice for five.   When our first dish came, the server also had a big bowl of steaming rice, and he then proceeded to walk around serving it to each person.  This made no sense to me.  Why not leave it on the table?  Once he scooped out a little bit for each person, he left with it, so when our later dishes arrived, we couldn't pair them with rice.   No further offer of more rice was made.  I wonder if we could have asked for more?  Of course, that would have required someone noticing us.   It was also annoying because it took him a long time to serve each person, and our precious first dish got cold while we waited.  Grumble.
Crispy Pork Belly. $26.
"in a sticky sweet and sour sauce."

We started with a selection from the "Stir Fries" section, the crispy pork belly.  It was the dish I was most excited for.  On our last visit to the Canteen  it was my hands down favorite.  I adored the sweet sauce and the perfectly chewy crispy pork.

This time it was ... fine.  The sauce was ok, but not as sticky, nor as sweet, as I remembered.  The pork belly didn't seem as well prepared; the edges were super chewy, almost too chewy, and the interior was just fat that didn't render out.  I don't know enough about cooking to understand this, but it seems like it wasn't done at the right temperature?

This was quite the disappointment.  I found that I didn't even want to bother soaking up the sauce, which, last time, I ended up dipping anything I could find into the sauce to get more of it.  Still, my second favorite dish of the night, which, might give you an idea the direction this review is going.
Crying Tiger. $29.
"Marinated wagyu beef served with a tamarind and chilli sauce."

This was our selection "From the Grill" (the other option was spatchcock).  I would normally just skip the grill section, since for me Thai cuisine is all about the spicing in the sauces and curries, but, one diner wanted this.

The beef was fine, obviously decent quality, nicely grilled, but certainly cooked well done.  We weren't given an option, perhaps we could have asked for it less cooked?  It seems like such a shame to cook wagyu well done.

It was served with a huge chunk of cabbage on the side.  It sounds silly, but I adore the cabbage at Sailor's Thai (normally with the papaya salad, more on that below).  It is always so fresh and crispy, and the perfect compliment to cleanse the palette and tone down the heat from the spicy dishes.

As you might expect, I did actually really like the tamarind and chilli sauce, and dunked my cabbage in it.  Eventually I just ate it by the spoonful.  I have no shame.  It had excellent flavor.

Neither Ojan nor I would get this again, but I did enjoy the sauce.  The portion wasn't huge, but the $29 price didn't seem too high for quality wagyu.
Green curry of slow cooked wagyu beef w/ roti. $29.
Next, moving on to a curry selection, we opted for the green curry.  Other options were red curry of chicken or jungle curry of barramundi.
I don't really care for green curry, but I wanted this dish for one reason: the roti!  Last time, I fell in love with the roti.  I ate more than half of it.  We even managed to order a second serving of just the roti, even though it is not on the menu, because we loved it that much.

This time, the roti wasn't very good.  It wasn't hot.  It wasn't crispy.  It was just thin and greasy.  Meh.  I slathered it in sauces, and even then, I didn't want it.  I was a bit heartbroken, since I really loved it so much on my previous visit.

The curry sauce was ok, but, as I said last time, not really my thing.  The beef was really tender and flaked apart easily, and this was Ojan's favorite dish of the night, and he said he'd still return to Sailor's Thai for this.
Som dtam. $24.
"Green papaya salad with peanuts, dried shrimp, spicy & sour dressing and sweet pork."

This was the only dish that still had its Thai name.  Guess papaya salad is just that well known.

It came from the salad portion of the menu, one of three choices, and always our number one order from Sailor's Thai Canteen.  It was this dish that made us become repeat customers in the first place, so I was glad that it remained on the merged menu (the banana blossom salad from the restaurant also remains).

And while I say it was weird to get our salad at this point in the meal, as you can tell, like always, this is not a skimpy little salad.  Served on one side was a bit of steamed rice with crispy bits on top.  I don't really eat rice so I could care less about this, but it did nicely soak up all the juices from the salad.

The salad is served atop a huge chunk of cabbage that Ojan used to always devour.  The first time I saw him do this, I made fun of him, until I realized how awesome it was.  The papaya salad has so much heat that you need something refreshing to cool your mouth.  The cabbage is crispy, fresh, and delicious.  And if you can handle the spice, the layer that gets soaked in the salad dressing is my absolute favorite.

And then ... the magic.  On the side is the sweet pork.  Pork candy.  Sweet chunks of chewy, delicious pork.  I absolutely adore this stuff.  On our last visit, I wasn't quite as great previous visits, but, I did love it again this time.  It just has the perfect level of chew and sweetness to it.  So good.

Honestly, I could do without the papaya salad, and just take the candy pork.
Som Dtam: Close Up.
Speaking of the papaya salad itself.

The execution wasn't great, which seemed to be the theme of the meal.

The base was standard shredded green papaya, and that was fine.  The green beans weren't properly cooked, too crispy, and not in a good way.  Bits of peanut are bits of peanut, unremarkable.

But ... take a look at the little shrimp here.  They were gross looking, with really, really visible poop tracks.  Now, cleaning little shrimps is rare, but these looked particularly bad.  I had a few of the nicer looking ones, but they tasted really fishy, really old, really off putting.  The description says they were dried, but, they really didn't seem it.  Either way, they were really quite nasty.

And, look at the cabbage.  See the black on there?  While I loved the cabbage, it didn't seem washed.  There was a lot of dirt and grit on it.

The sauce was good though, great flavor from the fish sauce, and spicy enough.  The bits of pork from this salad were my favorite bites of the evening, but the rest of it I could do without.
Spicy Minced Chicken.  $26.
"With chilli, garlic, lemongrass and wild ginger."

Our final selection was another from the Stir Fries section, ordered by one of my fellow dinners.  It is not a dish I would normally order, since I don't like chicken.  I was full, so I didn't bother try it.  It was only about half finished, which could have been because it came last, or because it just wasn't great.  I didn't get a good read off my fellow diners to find out.

The $26 price tag seemed pretty high for a chicken dish.


The Canteen never really had much of a dessert menu, just coconut ice cream and sorbet of the day.  The new merged menu kept these, and kept just one dessert from the restaurant menu.
Caramelized Coconut Dumplings. $14.
"in pandanus pastry with cream."

I didn't care for these last time, and I didn't want the ice cream or sorbet, but others seemed a bit unsatisfied and wanted dessert, so we got it.  No drink menu was provided at dessert time, otherwise I'm sure some after dinner drinks would have been ordered, perhaps some dessert wines or tea/coffee.  We probably could have specifically asked, but, we were pretty defeated at this point, and just didn't bother.

I also didn't bother try a dumpling, since I knew I didn't like them before, even when the rest of the meal was better.  Everyone else split them in half.  No one liked them.  No one wanted the final one, and it went unfinished.  Even me, the girl who loves dessert, and hates for food to go waste, still didn't bother.

The dumplings took a long time to arrive, so I think they were freshly made, since they were served warm.  I lapped up the coconut cream, but even that wasn't good  Seriously, how do you make coconut cream not taste awesome?  I certainly wouldn't get this again.
Sailors Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, November 23, 2015

Starbucks ... the Pastries!

Update Review, November 2015

Starbucks is known for many things, but quality pastries, even after the La Boulange integration, is not really it.  Yet, as you may recall from my earlier review, I'm strangely fascinated by them.  I know they aren't high quality.  I know they arrive at Starbucks frozen.  But ... I enjoy the scones, even though they leave me feeling totally gross.

So, I gambled, and tried another item.  I moved out of the comfort zone of scones, past the quickbreads and cake pops I never liked, and zeroed in on the croissant style items.  Regular croissants, chocolate croissants, morning buns, and cheese danishes were my options.  And honestly, they all looked awful.  Flat as pancakes, not flaky.  But for some reason, I still went for it.  And, just the scones, I'm glad I did.  I don't get it. 
Cheese Danish.
“A flaky pastry folded around reduced-fat cream cheese.”

It didn't remotely live up to the description of a “flaky pastry”, as the dough wasn’t remotely flaky nor laminated nor layered, but, it wasn’t awful.  If you think of it more like a donut, it works.  It had that slight cloying oiliness about a donut that makes your gut hurt a little just thinking about it, but it wasn’t too bad.  And as long as you didn’t expect light, flaky croissant dough, it wasn’t offensive.  Although, it was flat as a pancake.

 The cheese filling was creamy, generous, and moist.  Overall, truly not awful.

I got it to bring home, so at first I had it cold, so I can’t comment on how it transforms warmed up by their magic machine.  Then I moved it to my own toaster oven, again, not a true reflection of how it would come served at Starbucks.  My toasting wasn't a great move - the top got crispy, perhaps a bit flaky, but not really. The filling got creamier, which was nice, but, overall, it was the wrong move, and I actually liked it more cold.

Original Review, September 2014

I know Starbucks isn't novel to anyone.  I'm sure you've been there.  Most likely however, it has been for the drinks, which I've reviewed before.  Perhaps for a frappuccino, which I've also reviewed before.  Or, maybe for one of their famous seasonal offerings, which I've also reviewed.

But have you been to Starbucks for ... the food?  Yes, Starbucks isn't known for their food, but when they purchased La Boulange a while ago, they revamped all of the food offerings, trying to turn more into a "bakery".  Except, you know, a bakery where all the baked goods are mass produced in off-site baking centers and shipped to the stores.  When they first introduced the items to stores, they required that you have them warmed up.  You can read all about the reasons why ... but I don't recommend it if you ever want to eat any of these things.

Anyway, you know I've never really been impressed with the La Boulange bakeries themselves, nor their breakfast catering, so what chance did I have to like the even more mass produced items?  Little chance for sure, but you know me, curiosity finally got the best of me.  I can't resist baked goods.


Starbucks now carries only three scones, two are regular size creations from the new La Boulange line, but the tiny little vanilla scones still remain from their original lineup.  I have of course tried, and compared, all three.
Petit Vanilla Scone. $0.95.
Back when I commuted regularly, I rode a shuttle from the Civic Center Muni station.  On the very rare days that I wasn't frantically dashing to catch my bus, I'd hit up to Starbucks to grab a coffee, and sometimes, a treat.  I always went for the cute little petit vanilla scones.  I remember really liking them.

I recently ventured into Starbucks and wanted something sweet to accompany my drink.  I saw that even though most of the baked goods had been replaced by the La Boulange offerings, the petit vanilla scones remained untouched.  Yes!

Described as, "a moist, bite-sized scone flavored with natural vanilla extract and real vanilla beans."

The scone looked exactly the same as I remembered, and I see no indication online that the recipe has changed at all, but ... I didn't like it.  Maybe I changed.

First, it wasn't really a scone.  It was strangely soft and fluffy.  A scone shouldn't be a brick obviously, but it also shouldn't be a cake.  The flavor of the cake itself was completely boring.  It did have visible little black flecks, which I guess were vanilla bean, but I didn't taste vanilla.  At least it wasn't burnt?

On top was vanilla icing, very sweet.  Too sweet.

This scone offered nothing, other than its reasonable $0.95 price.  I sorta wish I hadn't tried it, and let it stay in my memory as the great treat it once was.
La Boulange Blueberry Scone.  $2.45.
"A traditional scone with blueberries, buttermilk and lemon."

After the disappointing vanilla scone, I decided to try one of the updated scones from La Boulange.  This was an interesting choice on my part, since I haven't really liked any baked goods from the real La Boulange bakeries, so why would I like the less fresh ones at Starbucks?

Answer: I really was craving a scone.

I also forgot that they heat up all of the La Boulange offerings, without asking.  I was planning to get it to go, and eat it later, but once it was warm, I had to try it right then.

I was amazed when I opened the bag, as the aroma coming out of it was pure blueberry.  It was incredible.

Because it was heated up, it was really moist, and not hard, like a scone normally is.  This threw me off a bit at first, it seemed far more like a cake or muffin than a scone really.  But once I tasted it, I stopped caring about the fact that it wasn't really a "scone".

While I didn't taste the lemon that was supposed to be there, the buttermilk was fantastic.  It had such a great tang to it.  The blueberries were fairly plump and moist, and added a lot of flavor, however, they weren't very well distributed throughout the scone, and many bites did not have any.  But the buttermilk really made it a winner.  I also appreciated the large sugar crystals on top for additional sweetness and crunch.  It was also well cooked, not burnt anywhere.

What would have made this really amazing would be some jam to spread on it.  One thing I always really appreciate at La Boulange is that they have housemade jams available at the condiment station to jazz up any of their offerings.  I can't imagine Starbucks incorporating this into their stores, but it really would work well with this scone.

$2.45 was a pretty standard price for a scone, and it was a large size.  I liked this far more than I ever expected to, and would actually get another.
La Boulange Cranberry Orange Scone. $2.45.
"A traditional scone with cranberries, orange zest and cranberry spread."

After the shocking success of the blueberry scone, on my next visit, I decided to branch out and try the other variety of La Boulange scone: cranberry orange.

In the case, it looked hard and not very appetizing, but, the blueberry one surprised me before, so I still tried this one.  This time, I was asked if I'd like it warmed up, and since I was planning to consume it right there I said yes.  Starbucks really has worked some magic with their heating machines, as it was handed over to me in what seemed like only 30 seconds, totally nice and warm.

It was also totally and completely gross, but in an almost ok sort of way.  Let me attempt to explain this one.

Since it was warmed up, it was very moist and doughy.  The center was almost raw even.  How was this possible, when moments earlier it was a solid lump?

It was loaded up with cranberries, which were very tart.  I'm not really sure why I even thought I'd like this, since I don't like tart cranberries. Mine didn't seem to have any of the cranberry spread in the description or photos from Starbucks, which I think is for the best, since I wasn't loving the cranberry.  It did also have a touch of orange to it, again, not something I really like, so I'm not sure why I choose this.

The scone was consistently cooked, no burnt or dried out edges, but the base flavor was quite boring.  No tang like the blueberry one.  It did have nice large sugar crystals on top for some crunch.

This thing was really quite fascinating.  The bottom and the sides were quite boring, not very flavorful, and kinda cakey, not at all what I think of as a scone.  The whole thing seemed not fresh and loaded with preservatives.  But that gooey inside was actually really addicting, even though it was sorta like raw muffin batter.  I devoured it.

And then, I felt ridiculously sick afterwards.  I can't say for sure it was the scone, but ... it sure seems like it.  I won't be getting another, gooey center or not!


Besides the scones, the rest of the La Boulange baked goods at Starbucks look really unappealing.  The muffins always look soggy.  The croissants and danishes look worse than what you see in a generic grocery store.  The rest of the "breakfast" menu is rounded out by a few coffee cakes and quickbreads.  The coffee cakes were turned into mini loafs, rather than slices, as part of the La Boulange re-vamp, which apparently has outraged fans of the old style.  The quickbreads, pumpkin or banana, remain slices.
Pumpkin Bread.
"A gently spiced bread with pumpkin flavors and pepitas."

I am never a fan of quickbreads, no mater where from, but Starbucks had samples out, trying to entice customers to give the new La Boulange items a chance.  Of course I had to try.

It was just a basic pumpkin bread, with crushed pumpkin seeds on the crust.  The pumpkin flavor was not very strong.  It was pretty dry.  It was however, very spiced.  Too spiced.  Too much nutmeg perhaps?  I did not like, and would never purchase.


And finally, my favorite category: desserts!  Not that Starbucks has a lot to offer here, just a couple cookies, a rice crispie treat, and pound cake.  Then again, I consider a majority of their "drinks" desserts anyway, so it isn't like it is hard to satisfy your sweet tooth at Starbucks.
Birthday Cake Pop.  $1.50.
Sometime in the past year or so, I had a cake pop that I really loved.  But for the life of me, I can't remember where it was from.  The most cake pops I've had have been from Sweet Lauren, but I haven't ever really liked those.  I really want to like cake pops though, as eating desserts on sticks just seems way too fun.  Let me know if you have recommendations for any!

Anyway, while I did research on Starbucks baked goods selection, I kept finding mentions of their cake pops.  People seemed to legitimately like them, which is more than I can say for most of their other food offerings.  In particularly people mentioned the chocolate ones, but I haven't been able to find those anywhere.

So I went for the one I could find, the "Birthday Cake Pop", described as "vanilla cake and icing, dipped in a pink chocolaty coating with white sprinkles."

It was a pretty standard cake pop.  The pink colored white chocolate shell was far too thick, resulting in one-note sweetness.  A little of this would have gone a long way, and it was exactly the type of white chocolate that gives white chocolate a bad rep, just so, so sweet.  I liked the crunch from the sprinkles it was dipped in, and wished there were more of them.

Inside was the cake, in classic cake-pop form, it had the icing mixed into the cake, creating a very dense, moist interior.  It wasn't particularly vanilla flavored.

So overall, not a winner, and far too sweet.  It would have probably paired nicely with a strong, bitter black coffee, but that isn't exactly what Starbucks is known for either.  If they added some actual vanilla flavor to the cake, thinned out the shell layer, and dunked it in more sprinkles, perhaps it would be a decent pick.  The idea is right, the execution just wasn't stellar.

$1.50 price was fine for the small treat.
Starbucks doesn't offer these anymore, but I tried one at some point.  I'm really not sure why.

This was totally unremarkable, although, I'm not sure what would make a good madeleine, they just aren't interesting in general.

It was fairly flavorless.  Kinda oily.  Obviously baked a long time ago, individually wrapped to last a while.  Meh.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I adore Chex mix.  Well, specifically, I adore homemade Chex mix.  Every year at Christmas, my mom and my grandmother make a great classic Chex mix, but the one I really love is "muddy buddies", aka, Chex coated with chocolate and peanut butter, rolled in powdered sugar.  You may also know this as "puppy chow".  Don't judge it by the name, I promise you, this stuff is sooo addicting.  I'm also generally a fan of whatever other sweet varieties my mom makes, and, she likes to experiment with these, so I've tried quite a few.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I never had commercially made Chex mix until recently.  Conclusion?  The ones my mom makes at home are much better.  Oh, and Chex Chips?  Also not a winner, but, interesting.

Chex Chips

Did you know that Chex makes ... chips?  I didn't either.

They are marketed as a healthier alternative to classic potato chips, made from wheat.  Available in 3 savory flavors (caramelized onion, cheddar jalapeño, and wasabi), and one sweet (cinnamon and sugar).
Cheddar Jalapeño.
I opened my bag and was a bit surprised.  They did indeed look just like Chex, except, super sized.

The texture however wasn't like classic Chex, they were puffier, lighter.  They reminded me of Bugles (which, interestingly, is made by the same parent company, General Mills).

I almost liked these.  The flavor was actually pretty good, cheesy and spicy.  The flavor lingered, not in a bad way.  But ... at the end of the day, I wanted either Chex mix, or I wanted chips, not this strange hybrid in the middle, that was just a little too light to be interesting.

Traditional Chex

Traditional Chex Mix.
This is your classic Chex mix, containing pumpernickle chips, wavy sticks, two shapes of pretzels, and two varieties of Chex.

The pretzels came in two shapes, a ring or a grid, but tasted the same, generic, kinda buttery, not interesting.  The chips were my favorite part, crunchy, but there were not many of them.  I have no idea what the wavy sticks were, but they were an interesting shape at least?  They seemed perhaps garlicky?  The Chex was … just Chex.

Overall, this was really disappointing, it was salty, but otherwise had no flavor.  I love Chex Mix, but a classic homemade mix with Worcheshire is just so much better.  Maybe I'm just more used to the versions my Mom and grandmother each make, but this just seemed soooo plain!  I really wanted more flavor.

Simply Chex

Simply Chex® is their healthier line of products, boasting 60-70% less fat than potato chips.
Simply Chex: Chocolate Caramel.
The chocolate caramel is a mix of, you guess it, chocolate covered and caramel covered Chex pieces.  There was an even distribution of both flavors.

I was excited for this mix, and it sounded quite decadent, but actually, it was far more restrained than I expected.  While the Chex pieces did have both caramel and chocolate coating, the coating was very light.  There was a slight chocolate flavor to the chocolate version, a slight caramel flavor to the caramel version, but overall, it wasn't nearly as sweet or coated as I wanted.

I guess they are trying to make this a bit healthier than the versions I'd make at home, as package was only 120 calories. But uh, I wanted a decadent sugar bomb, not a healthy treat!
Simply Chex: Strawberry Yogurt.
Next up, another sweet one: strawberry yogurt.  The strawberry yogurt mix contains 3 different types of Chex: a light and a dark colored one, each with slightly strawberry seasoning, and a third white one, actually coated in strawberry yogurt, like the ones pictured in center of the photo on the bag.  That final one was the only one with real flavor, and was my favorite, but my bag contained exactly 2 of them.  2!

The mix was overall very disappointing.  I like the crunch, the strawberry flavor was nice when I was able to taste it, but overall, there was just not enough flavoring, and it was not nearly sweet or decadent enough.  Again, healthy Chex mix just isn't my thing I guess.   
Simply Chex: Cheddar.
A finally, I tried a savory version: cheddar.

This mix contains two different types of Chex, each with a slight cheddar coating.  Like the others, I wished there was more coating, but the cheddar was much stronger than the sweet coatings.

I tend to like all varieties of Chex mix, sweet or savory, but this one didn't quite do it for me.  It was crunchy, it was fun to nibble on, and the cheddar flavor was actually pretty good, but somehow cheddar on Chex doesn't quite work for me.  I didn't dislike it exactly, and easily finished the bag, but I wouldn't get it again.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sweet E's Bakeshop, Los Angeles

As you likely realize by now, baked goods, and well, any desserts, are pretty much my favorite things.  I love trying basically any and every baked good I come across, so I was thrilled when an event I attended had absolutely adorable cake pops supplied by Sweet E's Bakeshop, in Los Angeles.

In addition to a retail storefront, Sweet E's operates a food truck (which you can also book for events).  They seem to do a lot of special event catering, with or without the truck.  And they ship nationwide.  But what I was really surprised by is their local delivery network.  Their sweets are offered via basically every big delivery platform: Eat24, grubhub, Postmates, Doordash.  Yes, you can get same day, nearly instant, delivery of bakery products.  OMG.  Dear San Francisco, you need to catch up (random stale muffins from generic cafes does NOT count!).

So, what does Sweet E's offer?  Um ... everything?  OMG.

For cookies, you can go for any of the classics (chocolate chip, M&M, oatmeal, snickerdoodles, sugar), or slightly amped up (peanut butter white chocolate, trail mix, triple chocolate chunk, white chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia), or French macaroons if you want a bit classier (in nearly 20 flavors), or even chocolate covered Oreos (with your choice of dark, milk, or white chocolate, or even peanut butter coating).  Or, opt for stuffed cookies, chocolate chip cookies stuffed with candy (Twix, Rolos, Peanut Butter Cups, etc).  Yes, full size candy, baked inside a cookie.  Wat?!

Maybe you like things dipped in chocolate, but didn't want the Oreos? You can also have strawberries or pretzels dipped in assorted chocolates and coatings (as in, dipped in dark chocolate and coated with say ... M&Ms).  Or a ridiculous range of candy coated caramel apples.

More of a brownie/bar person?  You've got more than 10 choices, including items like a loaded brownie with chocolate chips, pretzels, Oreos, cookie dough, and mini M&Ms or the "Peanut Butter Bliss" with a peanut butter and white chocolate fudge base, with marshmallows, rice krispies, and chocolate chips).  Or crispie treats, not just standard rice crispie treats, also cocoa puffs or fruity pebbles.

Are you more like me, more of a pie person?  You can get full size pies, mini pies, or pie "bites".  Prefer tarts?  Individual tarts, or tart "bites" are for you.  And they make chocolates, s'more's lollipops, treats for your dog (including pupcakes and dipped dog bones), and randomly, challah.

But from their menu, my eyes narrowed right in on the sweet popcorns.  I love, love, love popcorn and other snack mixes, sweet or savory.  Serious addict here.  And Sweet E's has a bunch of offerings, with all sorts of goodies mixed in.  Did I mention, OMG?

However, none of these items mentioned so far were available at the event.  The majority of the menu  (yes, I've barely gotten started) is devoted to cake products.  Yes, this already impressive lineup has more, much, much more.  Standard cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops.  Oh, and "cupcake push pops".  And cakes served in mason jars.

If you thought there was a lot of options already, then ... prepare to be overwhelmed.  Let's start with the classic layer cakes.  Offered in a whopping 39 varieties!  I won't enumerate them here, but they include multiple gluten-free and vegan options.  The peanut butter lover in me had a hard time looking past the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, with peanut butter mousse, crushed Reese's, and silky chocolate fudge between the layers of chocolate cake ... all coated in chocolate buttercream and topped with even more crushed Reese's peanut butter cups.  ZOMG.  I have a co-worker who I know would go nuts for the Nutella Praline Cake.  The S’more Cake, coated in toasted marshmallow buttercream, is a sight to behold.  And yes, those 39 are just the "classic" layer cakes.  They also make a slew of pre-designed cakes, or can take your logo or design and turn it into a stunning creation.

But let's move on.  Cupcakes.  A more modest selection, only offered in 26 varieties, many with beautiful garnishes.  And then ... cupcake push pops.  You can kinda guess what these are.  Sorta a hybrid between a classic layer cake and a cupcake, stuffed into a push pop.  Three layers of cake with frosting between, topped with even more frosting a la cupcake.  Here you can only pick between 11 varieties.

However, none of that was available either.  We had only cake pops, which, while still desserts, are one of my least favorites.  Really, I tend to not care for cake in general, I just don't generally get excited by cake and frosting, no matter what form you put it in.  I do tend to like cake pops more than classic cake, and, I mean, no matter what, I obviously had to try out a new bakery!

So I dug in.  I was glad I did.  I found one variety I really liked, and wish I had a chance to try more of Sweet E's offerings.  Next time I'm in town ...
Cake Pops! $3.25 each.
"Sweet E's cake pops are made of fully baked cake and frosting creating a moist, truffle-like center.  They are then dipped in chocolate, beautifully decorated, and individually wrapped and tied with a pink bow."

Sweet E's makes cake pops in 16 different flavors.

There are some that sound awesome, like Banana Split, Cookie Dough, Cookies 'N Cream, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.  They also have some citrus flavors (key lime, lemon), seasonal offerings (pumpkin spice of course), and more.

At the event though, they stuck with the classics, so I wasn't able to try any of the fun sounding ones.  I did of course take one of each of the three varieties available: Vanilla White Chocolate, Chocolate White Chocolate, and Red Velvet.

As you can see though, these aren't just standard round pops on a stick.  They have ears.  And adorable cat faces.  Each is individually wrapped, and tied with a bow.  So cute.

I started with the red velvet.  Like the others, it had a white chocolate shell of a good thickness.  The white chocolate was pleasantly sweet, not plastic-y.  But,  I’ll admit it, I don’t really like red velvet flavor.  The only element of red velvet I usually like is the cream cheese frosting, and this didn't have any I could taste.  So, it was just sorta chocoaltely red cake.  Meh.  Certainly not my flavor of choice.

Next I went for the vanilla white chocolate, expecting it to be plain and boring.  I was shocked to see the inside wasn't just white.  It was ... rainbow sprinkles!  Like, funfetti!  I actually really enjoyed this flavor, and devoured it in just a couple bites.  I tried to stop to take a photo, but alas, I devoured it way too fast.  It was sweet, it tasted like a birthday, and the consistency was great, very very moist.

Ok, maybe cake pops aren't always a let down ...
Chocolate White Chocolate: Inside.
Finally, I tried the chocolate white chocolate.  Here you can see the interior, I cut off a chunk to show you better.

This had the same nice sweet white chocolate shell, and moist textured cake/frosting mix on the inside, this time, chocolately.  It was fine, but since chocolate cake isn't really my thing, I saved the rest of this one for chocolate loving Ojan.
Sweet E's Bakeshop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Bazaar, Los Angeles

I recently stayed at the SLS Beverley Hills while in town speaking on a panel at a recruiting event.  The hotel was ... well, stunning.  I still can't get over the rooftop pool deck.  Nor can I forget the incredible breakfast served at Tres, one of the Jose Andres restaurants in the hotel.  It was an astonishingly good continental breakfast, and literally, the best yogurt I've ever had in my entire life, anywhere.

You may have noticed that I said "one of the Jose Andres restaurants".  Yes, he has two in the hotel.  Tres is the more casual space, open daily for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and drinks.  But The Bazaar is the flagship, located through a separate entrance, up a red carpet.  Yes, seriously.

It is a huge, gorgeous space, broken up into a bar area, main dining room, private dining room, and even a patisserie.  They call the design a "modern-day indoor piazza".  My friends who have visited the area before all told me I had to go to The Bazaar, so, even though I was solo, I made a reservation for the evening I arrived.

It was crazy convenient to have a great restaurant at the hotel, as hotel restaurants aren't normally much to rave about, and indeed the menu was awesome.  The food was good, but, definitely not geared towards a solo diner, as the entire menu is tapas, meant for sharing (more on this soon).  I'd love to return with a group, so I could sample more items.

The staff was incredibly friendly, and made me feel comfortable, even though it really wasn't the place to be dining alone.

The Bar

The bar area is near the entrance, and divides the rest of the space with the dining room on one side and the patisserie on the other.  I only passed through, but it did look like a nice space.
Dimly Lit Bar Area.
The cocktail program is extensive, so coming just for drinks seems like a wonderful idea, or even a more casual meal in the bar area.  In retrospect, I probably should have just opted to walk in and dine there, rather that making a reservation (reservations are for main dining room only), but I really wanted to ensure I'd get a seat.

Main Dining Space

I was then escorted through the main dining area.
General Seating.
The majority of the seating is in a big, open area.  It is elegant, decorated with white and tan toned materials, with fairly formal arm chairs.
Counter Seating.
I was given a seat at a counter overlooking the cold apps prep station, a very thoughtful place to seat a solo diner.  I had something to watch, and, wasn't left awkwardly at a large table alone.

The place setting was simple and classic: a fabric placemat, white square plate, folded cloth white napkin, standard silverware, and wine glass.  Some fall inspired leaves and squashes decorated the back side of the counter.
Cold Apps Prep Station.
The prep station was a fun place to sit, as I got to watch the action, and interact with the chefs.  They had a number of squeeze bottles and pastry-style bags filled with different liquids, plus bowls with different spheres submerged in liquids.  I also got to see them making some of the spheres later on.
Unfortunately, I had an early reservation, so this station didn't have much action during my time there.  I mostly saw advance prep work being done, rather than plating any of the actual dishes.

The cooks working the station were very friendly, asked me about where I was from, welcomed any questions I had, etc.  At some level, I didn't end up feeling like I was dining alone, as I had plenty of people to talk to, between the several cooks working this station, and the multiple servers who came to check on me throughout the meal.


As I mentioned, I had an early reservation, because I knew I had a long day ahead of me the next day, and wanted to make sure I was able to settle in to the hotel and wind down for bed.  I basically arrived at the hotel, dropped my bags, changed my clothes, and headed down to my reservation time.  It really was too early, and I wasn't particularly hungry.  Whoops.


Cocktail Menu.
I settled in to my seat, and was instantly drawn in to the cocktail menu.  Words like "liquid nitrogen" and "tableside service" immediately jumped out.  As did creative cocktail names, ingredients, and preparation styles like like "salt air" in the margarita,  "olive spherification" in the "New Way Dirty Martini", and a "Magic Mojito", served over ... cotton candy?

Well ok, I guess I had to get a cocktail.  I also instantly understood why Emil and others recommended going to The Bazaar, even if only to the bar.

Of course, now I had the problem of picking one cocktail from the list of amazing sounding options, but, there are worse problems to have.
Smoke On The Water (The Pliska). $18.
"Black berries, atomized scotch, islay mist, flame."

I settled on the Smoke on the Water, since I do love my scotch, and the combination of scotch and fruit sounded quite interesting.

A few minutes later, a glass was ceremoniously presented to me, with fog rolling out of it.  Woah, what?  I wasn't expecting liquid nitrogen or dry ice in this drink.  Maybe some smoke due to the drink name, perhaps from the "flame" ingredient, or a light "mist", but not this.

Inside the glass was a huge cube of ice, and I think liquid nitrogen.  I was instructed to keep swirling it around for a while, and not try to drink it until it had burned off.  It was fun to play with for a few minutes, but, I got bored quickly, and I just wanted to drink my cocktail.  The giant ice cube never melted much at all.

The drink was ... way too sweet.  I wanted to taste scotch, and it was fairly masked under all the sweetness.  I really wasn't expecting that.

I can't really say if this was a good or bad drink, but it certainly was not what I was aiming for.

At $18, it was a costly mistake, so I drank it, and got used to the sweet, but I would clearly not get this again.
Tableside Drink Making.
My drink arrived pre-made, but the ladies at a table nearby opted for something with a tableside prep, I think likely the "LN2 Caipirinha".  They were oohing and ahhing, the whole time, and even started clapping.  It was like they were watching a magic show.


I moved on to the food menu.  The style of cuisine is tapas, broken into two categories: "Traditional" and "Modern", both sections two full pages each, even more overwhelming than the cocktail menu.

There was a lot to take in, and I was glad to have my cocktail to sip on as I attempted to make  decisions.  If I thought picking a drink was hard, it was nothing compared to picking a few dishes.

It was harder than usual being a solo diner, as everything is designed to be shared, tapas-style.

Traditional Tapas: Page 1.
The first page of traditional tapas consisted of latas y conservas (fresh versions of canned seafood), jamones y emutidos (ham and sausage), quesos (cheeses), and sopas (soups).

It was pretty easy for me to move past this page, although the "Foie Gras Floating Island Soup" with corn espuma and corn nuts certainly gave me a moment's pause.  Next time.

Traditional Tapas: Page 2.
The next page was more traditional tapas: verduras (vegetables), pescado y mariscos (seafood), and carnes (meat).

Again, it was fairly easy to move on, although, I saw a few favorites, like seared scallops (but I could get those anywhere, right?) and grilled octopus with caramelized onions (swoon), plus something titled the "Ultimate Spanish Tapa!", exclamation mark at all.  How do you not get that?
Modern Tapas: Page 1.
Next came the modern tapas.  The first page had salads, vegetables, and seafood.  Interestingly, these categories were listed in English, rather than Spanish, like the traditional tapas.  Is English more .... modern?

It got harder to plow past this page.  "Salads" doesn't sound that exciting, but what if I told you the salads included burrata with baby japanese peaches and hazelnuts?  Or that the "Vegetables" section includes a "linguini" made from dashi that people rave about?  And obviously, don't get me started on the "Seafood" section, since you know seafood is my favorite thing.

But still, I didn't order anything from this page either.  Because there was more.
Modern Tapas, Page 2.
The final page of modern tapas was my goldmine, broken into two sections "Some Little Starters" and "Some Little Sandwiches".  Not only were these the dishes that sounded the best, they also were served in smaller portions, less sharing focused, so I could order a few myself.

Of course "Sandwiches" didn't mean what I think of as sandwiches, no sliced bread filled with deli meat here.  No, the sandwiches included asian style steamed buns, filled with amazing options like sea urchin, king crab, oxtail, foie gras, or caviar or "air bread" stuffed with cheese foam and topped with steak or mushrooms (aka, the inspiration for the Filly Tank at Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage, which I reviewed earlier this week).  These were sandwiches I actually wanted!

The "Little Starters" pretty much all sounded interesting too, like "cones" in several varieties (California, Bagel & Lox, or caviar), ceviche with uni and "lime air", and many more.

Seriously, next time, I must go with others.  There were far too many dishes to try!
Cotton Candy Foie Gras. $8.
The first dish I opted for was one of the modern "small little starters": cotton candy foie gras.  Yes you read that correctly.  Does this not sound like it was made for me?  I love sweets, I love foie gras, OMG.

It arrived quickly and was placed in front of me in a special stand.

I'll admit, I was a little surprised by how small it was.  I know it said "Some Little Starters", but, I did expect something a bit more substantial.

So, what was it?  No, it was not cotton candy that tasted like foie gras, it was cotton candy wrapped around a cube of foie gras (torchon I imagine?) and crunchy corn nuts.

Um, yes.  The cotton candy was fluffy.  The foie gras center was creamy.  The corn nuts crunchy.  It was rich and sweet.  Heavy and light.

It was creative, it was whimsical, and, most importantly, it was delicious.  Sure, $8 for literally a single bite might be a little ridiculous, but, I almost immediately ordered a second.  I still somewhat wish I did.  I could have easily both started and closed my meal with one of these.

My favorite dish of the night, and I'd gladly get it again.
Sea Urchin Steamed Buns. $14.
"Avocado, eel sauce, tempura flakes."

Next to arrive was my "sandwich" selection, the sea urchin steamed buns.  This was actually a really hard choice.  I knew I wanted to order buns, but they only come in trios, not individually, and must all be the same kind.  I really wanted to pick 3 different buns, as, well, I wanted all 5 varieties, how could I pick just one?  The foie gras buns with preserves were the hardest not to order, but since I went for the foie cotton candy, I wanted to mix it up a little.  Hence, another favorite: uni.

Since I'm allergic to avocado, I asked to have it left out, or replaced with another complimentary ingredient.  The server was quick to tell me that the kitchen would not be able to replace it with anything else.  He urged me to order another dish instead.  After that much hard decision making, I didn't want to re-evaluate my whole game plan.  Sure, I could get the foie buns instead of uni buns, and then maybe go for uni ceviche instead of the foie gras cotton candy?  I'd still get uni and foie, just in different forms.  No.  I was staying the course.

My buns came presented in a steamer basket, the lid removed with a flourish at my table.  Inside was three little buns, served warm, each stuffed with a generous amount of uni, tempura crispies, and thin slices of chili.

This was another really fun dish.  The uni itself was good, not particularly amazing, but good, and kinda dripped out all over the place in a pleasantly messy way.  The tempura crispies gave a perfect crunch and the chili just a slight heat.  I didn't taste any "eel sauce", but I could see something drizzled over it.  The only complaint I have is with the buns.  They were soft, moist, and warm, all good things, but, there was just too much bread, and it overwhelmed everything else.

This was almost really awesome, and I wonder if leaving out the avocado really was a bad move.  With more filling, the bun wouldn't have overwhelmed.  Maybe it would have been in perfect balance.  Doh.

But still a very solid dish and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I had no trouble devouring all three of these.  $14 for 3 was a more reasonable price-per-bite than the foie gras cotton candy, particularly given how much uni was in here.

My second favorite dish of the night, and I'd get it again, although I'd probably try one that I didn't need to modify instead.
 Tortilla de Patatas "New Way". $5.
"Potato foam, egg 63, caramelized onions."

My final savory selection was an odd choice for me, also from the "small little starters" section of the modern menu: Tortilla de Patatas "New Way".  Tortilla de patatas is a traditional dish, a Spanish omelet with potatoes. By now, you likely have read enough of my posts to know that I don't really like egg dishes.  Why on earth would I order this?

Well, I knew that "New Way" meant that it wasn't an omelet at all.  Too bad for anyone who orders this expecting otherwise.  And I had read so many rave reviews about it.  It sounded unique, and like a decent way to round out my meal.  People described it as custard-like, and I do love my custards.  It sounded a lot like the fantastic amuse bouche they serve at La Folie.

What it was was a "potato" foam, with a 63 degree egg.  The "foam" really just seemed like mashed potatoes to me, not light as airy as I expected.  And the egg wasn't even warm.  It was, just a poached egg.  On top was a sprinkling of chives

This dish fell down hard for me.  I didn't like it at all.  Granted, I don't like eggs, so, just getting a poached egg with some mashed potatoes was never going to wow me, but, from reading other reviews, I was expecting a creamy custard.  I swear, people described it that way, and I do love my custards.

The little wooden spoon it was served with was cute though.  $5 price was reasonable for a single serving.

I was really sad to finish on this note, as the other dishes were fantastic and so memorable.  I almost ordered another foie gras cotton candy, until I remembered that they have a separate dessert room.  Clearly, I needed to head there ext.

The Patisserie

After my meal, I was transferred to the Patisserie.  There is no option to have dessert in the main dining room, all patrons are moved to the Patisserie to enjoy dessert.  The bill is moved over, and someone comes to carry remaining beverages, as they escort you to a new table.
Interesting Chairs.
The decor changes as you move to the Patisserie, suddenly far more whimsical.

I walked by many tables with "chairs" that were certainly the most unique I've ever seen.  Cute, but I can't say I'd want to sit in any of these.
More Strange Seating.
The seating options were quite varied, with tables of all sizes.  But all were quite unique, and again, most didn't look remotely comfortable.
My Table.
However, I was quite happy with the table I was lead to.  Sure, it was designed for four people, and kinda had a throne, but it looked quite fitting for me!

Yes, really, this was my table.
The Store.
Inside the Patisserie is also a store, Regalo, with glass display cases of goods you can purchase.  No, these are not pastries, and I'm not really sure why they are integrated into this space.


Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu is ... extensive to say the least.  No wonder it warrants its own room.

There really is something for everyone here, starting with little bites for the chocolate lover, including a large assortment of chocolate bon bons and mini-tablettes for $3 each.  If you just want something sweet, there are little pate de fruits ($1.50 each), marshmallows ($1), and caramels ($3).  Cookie lovers have many choices too, ranging from just $1 to up to $3 for macarons.  There are also tarts, cakes, and cupcakes.  And some pastries like gianduja croissants and canneles de bordeaux.

Everything I've listed so far is on display at the main patisserie counter, to drool over before you make your choices.

The menu also includes made to order items, not on display, since they are temperature sensitive, including a chocolate flan with caramelized bread and brioche ice cream (‘Pan Con Chocolate’, $12) that sounded pretty awesome, and "Hot Chocolate Mousse" with sticky praline ($12).

If I was going to order a full size dessert, the Nitro Coconut Floating Island certainly sounded like it had potential, or, since I do love custards, I imagine that their Traditional Spanish Flan, a recipe from Jose's grandmother, must be pretty top notch.

After taking a quick, overwhelming look at the menu, I went up to admire the products first hand at the counter.
Patesserie Counter! ZOMG.
The counter at the patisserie is a sight to behold.  Nearly all the items from the dessert menu are on display here, available to eat in the amazing whimsical space, or to take away, all under glass domes, lit up dramatically.
Cakes ($12)
Here you see a close up of just a few of the cakes, all individual selections, none of which remotely looked like what I'd consider a "cake".

If I was hungry at all, I certainly would have gone for the Vanilla Pillow Cake with caramel and speculoos crisp on the bottom (middle).  I wished Ojan was there to get the "chocolate cake of your dreams" (right), as it sounded right up his alley.
Cupcakes ($6), 
The cupcakes were quite different from what you'd expect.  Square block rather than round.  No pretty cupcake wrappers.  Really, I'd call these cake chunks, not cupcakes ...  I wonder if they just make a sheet cake and cut squares out?  Seems easier than baking individual cakes?
Bon bons for days. ($3 each)
The line up of bon bons was impressing, spanning the entire length of the massive counter, far too many to enumerate here.
Coconut Marshmallow ($1), Pecan Pie Cookie ($1)
I, shockingly, settled on just two little nibbles.  I know, me, the dessert girl, managed to pass all that up.  Really, I was just too full.  If I had anyone else to split something with, you know I would have gone for one of the made to order items, or at least one of the cakes.  Instead, I just went for two bite sized choices: a marshmallow and a cookie.

You might be in even more disbelief at this point.  Not only did I pass up hot, fresh desserts, I opted for ... a cookie?  Don't I talk all the time about how I don't like cookies? 

Yes, yes I do.  The Patisserie had about 8 different types of cookies, none of which seemed interesting except ... the pecan pie cookie.  Sure, I don't like cookies.  But I adore pecan pie.  And, yes, reviewers say the cookie is great.  Even if it wasn't, I wasn't taking that much of a gamble for only $1!

The cookie was really hard to describe.  Even though it doesn't look it, it was soft, just like pecan pie, but not gooey. It had a slight chew to it.  And tons of pecan flavor.  I don't entirely understand how they got so much pecan flavor in there, it must have been ground up pecans in the mix?

Anyway, it was actually really, really good.  Yes, pecan pie, in cookie form.  Sure, I'd rather have a pecan pie, but, for a small bite, and easily portable, this was great.  It would be even better if it was warmed up and served a la mode ...

My other selection was a coconut marshmallow, as I totally have a thing for marshmallows.  I've been claiming for years now that marshmallows are the new cupcake, and taking over the cutesy dessert space, so I wasn't surprised to see several option.  I went for the coconut one.

And ... I hated it.  It was fluffy, and sweet, but I didn't care for the coconut flavor.  But what really sunk it was the shredded coconut throughout.  It was such a bad texture, and there was so much of it.

I, Julie the dessert girl, didn't even finish this marshmallow.  I finish ALL desserts!

Both of these treats were ridiculously reasonable at only $1 each.  Seriously, $1 each?  They weren't large obviously, but I haven't seen anything for $1 outside a dollar store in years!
Apricot Marshmallow ($1).
My server noticed that I didn't finish the coconut marshmallow.  He asked what I thought of it, and I was honest, telling him that I really didn't like it, and explained that the coconut flakes inside really just were off-putting to me, like it was infused with sawdust.  He told me he agreed completely, and that they used to have another flavor that he loved, and they removed that one, but kept the coconut, which he disagreed with.

He brought my bill, and I pulled out my card to settle it.  Moments later, he reappeared, with another treat: an apricot marshmallow.

It was much better.  Not as puffy and light as the coconut, but sweet and fruity, with sugar crystals all around the outside.  A lovely closing note, and although normally $1, he brought it to me complimentary.
The Bazaar by José Andrés Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato