Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chantal Guillon Macarons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Delivery from Pacific Catch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taqueria Mana

Ojan has been talking about wanting a burrito for a while now, and although I don't like burritos, his constant mentioning of Mexican food got me craving a fish taco.  But I was too lazy to go all the way to the Mission, so I went somewhere a bit different for Mexican cuisine: Union Square, to Taqueria Mana.  It is really not the sort of place I normally visit, but it it fun to mix it up a bit.  And you never know when you'll discover a hidden gem.

I placed my order at the register, and saw that they accept mobile PayPal.  I’ve been a big fan of using it lately, as it is so much easier than many of the other more cumbersome mobile payment systems.  The cashier however didn’t know how to use it, so the chef came over and showed her how.  He used his hands to touch the register, the computer, etc, and then went right back to cooking.  Ahh.  (On all subsequent visits, the cashier knew how to use PayPal with no problem, so perhaps the system was still new on that first visit).

Cleanliness is not their strong point.  I went to use the bathroom to wash my hands while I waited for my food to be prepared on my first visit, and somewhat regretted it.  The bathroom was fairly dirty, and had no toilet paper.  But, I wasn’t there for the bathroom …

I waited patiently at a table, for what seemed like much longer than I’d expect for a simple fish taco, but at least that implied it was being made fresh.  I had ample time to check out the inside of the restaurant, which featured a counter with single stools along one wall, and several tables for 2-4 diners.  It was very loud inside, partially because there was a family with very, um, spirited children, but partially due to the general acoustics of the place.  Not really a comfortable place to wait.  I was never asked if my order was for there or to go, which I didn’t realize until my order was finally called out, and I saw it was packaged to go.  Whoops.  I planned to eat there.

The staff were friendly on all of my visits, pointing out the condiments in the fridge that I could grab when I picked up my order, and generally being cheerful.

I've returned many times, however, not for the food.  For ... the horchata!  And, I'll continue to swing by for a horchata whenever I'm in the area on a warm day, but I'll likely continue to skip the actual food.
Catfish Taco.  $4.
I had the classic fish taco: deep fried catfish, with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream.

It was impossible to eat as a taco, the filling spilling out everywhere.  I guess I'm complaining that the piece of fish was far too large.

The shell was a flour tortilla, somehow both a bit too crispy on the edges and soggy at the same time.  It seemed rather stale.

The catfish was a large chunk, clearly freshly fried to order.  They get points for that, and I liked how crispy it was, but it was heavily battered and tasted way too oily.  Not as oily as the fish from Nick's Crispy Tacos, but still unpleasant.  Much crispier than the fish from Tropisueño, although I liked Tropisueños fish more, as the tilapia was more mild and less fishy than the catfish Taqueria Mana uses.

I appreciated the wedge of lime I could squeeze over it, but the rest of the garnish failed to impress.  The tomato cubes were flavorless, out of season tomato.  The lettuce and sour cream were both very generic.  Nothing else to add any zing.  It made me wish for Rubio’s with all their flavored creams rather than simple sour cream.  And their non-fried seafood tacos.  Mmm, Rubio's.

$4 is a fine price for a fresh fish taco, but I certainly wouldn’t get another.
Salsa on the table.
There was a single variety of salsa on the table, a red salsa, very watery.  No additional salsa bar.  Interestingly, for those with takeout orders, there was a fridge with two types of salsa, red and green.  Both very watery and flavorless.
Horchata. $2.
The horchata on the other hand was really quite good.  It did not have any ice in it, and it was a rather large cup, even though I ordered the small, so at first I thought that even this size was going to be too much.  And then ... I literally drank the entire thing in about 2 minutes.  It was gone before I knew it.  I wanted the large!

It was sweet but not too sweet, it was creamy but not too thick so it was still refreshing, it was well spiced ... it was really the best horchata I've found in the city.  Much better than the version from Nick's Crispy Tacos that is too rice-y, not sweet enough, and not well spiced.  Far more spicing than the one from Toma.

On each visit, I was even asked if I wanted it topped with cinnamon, and they sprinkled some on before handing it over, which adds additional spicing, and a lovely aroma.

I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I swing by regularly for horchata now when I'm in the area and want something refreshing.  Or something sweet.  Or, just because.  Great horchata.

And $2 is a reasonable price for a very large small!
Read More...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thintastic Bagels from Noah's

Last week, I reviewed the regular bagels from Noah's Bagels.  I wasn't impressed.  In fact, the only product I've ever liked from Noah's is the Asiago Garlic Bagel Clusters, fully of cheesy, garlicky, deliciousness.

But, it was time to try out another new product, and how do I say no to that?  This time, Thintastic Bagels.  Thintastic bagels are only available in the basic flavors of plain, whole wheat, or everything.  They are essentially a regular bagel, but, uh, thinner, designed for the calorie or carb conscious diner.  A plain Thintastic bagel weights in at only 140 calories, compared to a regular plain bagel's 250.

If you like Noah's regular bagels, perhaps these will appeal to you, but for me, they were exactly the same as the regular bagels, far too bready, not "real bagels.
Whole Wheat Thintastic Bagel.
Yes, it was shaped like a bagel.  It was called a bagel.  It looked like a bagel, albeit one that had been quite smushed.

But it tasted like wheat bread.  It had no crust to it, clearly not boiled.  Just, dense bread.  It was fine bread, but, bread.  Not a bagel.

It also just didn't look very appealing.  I know that it supposed to be thinner, but it just looked squashed.

If you like bready bagels, and are watching out for carbs, perhaps this is for you, but it was certainly not for me.

Honey Almond Schmear.
I also got some cream cheese, er, schmear, to pair with my bagel.  Noah's has schmear in a slew of flavors, all of which sound awesome.  It is always so hard to pick one.  I decided on the honey almond, as I thought it would compliment the whole wheat well.

It was pretty standard cream cheese, nicely fluffy, slightly sweet, with little bits of crunchy almonds inside.  Not bad, but, you aren't going to Noah's for the schmear, are you?
Read More...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Vosges Chocolates

For Christmas, I received a large selection of chocolate from assorted relatives, who knew I was into trying and reviewing chocolate.  Unfortunately, they mostly got me Hershey, Lindt, and Russell Stover.  My mom however did get me a large variety of assorted Vosges bars.

A few months later, one of my officemates received a HUGE gift box full of Vosges caramels and truffles, and generously shared the loot.

Vosges produces bars, truffles, caramels, bon bons, toffee, even covered marshmallows and drinking chocolate.  They use a slew of different chocolates for the base of their confections, ranging from 41% milk up to 70% darks.  The most interesting aspect of their offerings are the unique flavors, which I admit, always do sound intriguing.  But at this point, I've tried a large variety of Vosges products, and although the flavors are very unique, I haven't been impressed by any.  The flavors are usually the highlight, but I haven't really liked the chocolate itself, so no amount of curry powder, bacon, or exotic spices can really mask the mediocre chocolate base.  I wouldn't seek out more, no matter how interesting they sound.

Bars

  • Black Salt Caramel: "70% cacao dark chocolate surrounds the molten, salt-spiked, soft caramel center".  Tasting notes: I am not sure why, but I just didn't like this.  Dark chocolate shell, very liquid salty caramel filling.  Should be something I love but I don’t.
  • Mo's Bacon Bar: "45% Deep Milk Chocolate with Hickory Smoked Uncured Bacon + Alderwood Salt".  Tasting notes: The milk chocolate is milky, but has a strange mouthfeel. The bacon flavor itself is really nice, and the saltyness of the bar is also really nice.  The bacon flavor is very prevalent.  But ... such a horrible aftertaste, my mouth was left with very strange bacon/chocolate thing going on.  Would not purchase again. [ Agreed on subsequent tasting ]
  • Mo’s Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar: "62% Dark Chocolate with Hickory Smoked Uncured Bacon + Alderwood Salt". Tasting notes: I liked this a lot more than the milk chocolate version.  The bacon flavor and saltiness combined better with the more bitter chocolate.  Like the milk version, the bacon itself tasted nice and I liked the texture added by the little nibbles of it.  But overall, not my thing.
  • Gingerbread Toffee Bar: "65% dark chocolate., spiced with allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg".  Tasting notes: crunchy toffee bits give good texture and sweetness.  Nice quality dark chocolate.  Gingerbread is very subtle.  Slight salty highlights as well.  Better than the others.
  • Naga Bar: "Sweet Indian curry + coconut + deep milk chocolate, 41% cacao".  Tasting notes: Smells like curry!  Mediocre milk chocolate base, but good curry flavor, slight crunch from coconut.
  • Peppermint Candy Cane Bar: "62% dark chocolate with peppermint bits".  Tasting notes: Serious peppermint aroma!  This SMELLS like mint.  But the chocolate was a little chalky, bitter.  Candy cane bits are nice crunch.
  • Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee Bar: "45% cacoa + sweet butter toffee, walnuts + pecans".  Tasting notes: Little bits of crunchy stuff, sorta sweet, milk chocolate.  One of their better bars.

Truffles

Wink of the Rabbit®, Chef Pescal, Absinthe, Gianduia.
Visually, I liked the truffles.  I appreciated how the topping helped determine which variety of truffle it was.  However, I expect that element to be carried through the truffles, and in most cases, they were.  They seemed to mostly be plain truffles, with a little decoration on top.
  • Wink of the Rabbit®: “soft caramel + 41% deep milk chocolate + organic New Mexican pecan”. Tasting notes:  The pecan was only on top, I didn’t detect any inside.  Inside was smooth chocolate, and then a thin layer of caramel on the bottom.  The caramel was more gooey than the type used in the actual caramels.  I didn’t care for the flavor of the chocolate, either the shell or the truffle filling, it tasted stale or something.
  • Chef Pascal: “kirsch + 65% dark chocolate + dried Traverse City Michigan cherry“. Tasting notes: Snappy dark chocolate shell, but didn’t really taste the kirsch in the filling.  The filling wasn’t remarkable in any way.  The dried cherry on top was tart and a nice compliment to the dark chocolate.
  • Absinthe: “Chinese star anise + fennel + absinthe + 65% dark chocolate + cocoa powder”.  Tasting notes: I had to look this one up, as I had absolutely no idea what type it was.  I read all the descriptions, and nothing matched.  I had to resort to the visual guide.  At that point, it was clear, but I still was surprised.  This was my absolute favorite of the truffles.  I loved the flavor of both of the chocolates components, and it was the perfect experience biting it, the shell had a bit of snap, the filling was sooo smooth and creamy.  I didn’t taste star anise, fennel, or absinthe however, which is shocking, as those are all very strong flavors, and, ones I do enjoy.  I guess they tried to keep it subtle, but it was far too subtle for me!  Regardless, I really enjoyed this piece.
  • Gianduia: “crunchy hazelnut praline + 41% deep milk chocolate + praline bits”.  Tasting notes: The milk chocolate shell was smooth and creamy, and not bad.  But, just like the Wink of the Rabbit, I really didn’t like the flavor of the milk chocolate inside.  The praline bits were crunchy and slightly sweet, but, like many of the others, appeared only on top.  I would have loved some crunch inside as well

Caramels

Crema, Verde, Maple, Leaf.
  • Crema: “Argentinean dulce de leche + Costa Rican cashews + 45% cacao deep milk chocolate“.  Tasting notes: Very light milk chocolate coating, caramel inside.  I couldn’t quite pinpoint what I didn’t like about the caramel.  The consistency was good, just the right level of thickness that it didn’t run out, but not too chewy.  But the flavor wasn’t quite right, not buttery enough, slightly burnt tasting, but not really … just, something was off for me.  The little bits of cashew were dusted only on top, not throughout.
  • Verde: “Mexican guajillo chillies + licorice root + 65% cacao dark chocolate + organic pumpkin seeds“.  Tasting notes: Nice dark chocolate coating, and I liked the crunch of the pumpkin seeds inside the caramel.  But again, the caramel itself just really didn’t do it for me.
  • Maple: “Canadian maple sugar + maple syrup + walnuts + 62% cacao dark chocolate“.  Tasting notes: The coating on this was quite tasty - sugary with a dusting of walnut.  The dark chocolate was good.  But again, I didn’t care for the caramel.
  • Leaf: “Aboriginal anise myrtle + 65% cacao dark chocolate “.  Tasting notes: I’m pretty sure this was the leaf, which I figured out only based on process of elimination, as it didn’t seem to match any of the other descriptions of the “exotic” caramel line.   Dark chocolate coating, thick caramel inside, a bit too chewy, not really buttery, just there.  The outside was coated in flakes of green stuff, that honestly sorta tasted like sawdust.  I guess I don’t like anise myrtle?  It didn’t taste like anise until I ground it up in my teeth, then I got a hint of anise.  So, caramel that I didn’t like, covered in sawdust.  Clearly, not a favorite!

Toffee, Bonbons, Marshmallows

Bapchi's Caramel Toffee.
“Buttery toffee + deep milk chocolate + organic walnuts and pecans”.

I had the toffee previously inside the Caramel Toffee Bar, where I liked the crunch it added.  The crunch was again fine, but on its own, it was fairly mediocre toffee.  The toffee itself wasn’t that buttery or flavorful, and all the nuts on the outside made it all seem a bit chalky.  And a bit bitter.  Definitely not a favorite.
Organic Peanut Butter Bonbon.
“Rich organic peanut butter draped in milk chocolate and topped with a Maldon salt”

Wow, the salt on this was perfect.  Huge flakes, and they stayed with you on the finish.  When I first bit into this piece, I thought I had mis-identified it, as I didn’t see any peanut butter, and the inside filling looked more like milk chocolate.  Instead, it seemed to be a peanut butter infused chocolate?  Not as intense peanut butter as other similar styles of treat, but the chocolate was high quality, and the salt, so good!

Probably my favorite piece, but if you are expecting something peanutbuttery like a peanut butter cup, this is not it.
Caramel Marshmallow.
“Fluffy Madagascan vanilla bean marshmallows + French Guérande grey sea salt + bubbling sweet caramel + Bapchi's Caramel Toffee bits + dark chocolate”

Reading the description alone I was intrigued.  I could see the dark chocolate coating and the toffee bits on the outside, but where was the “bubbling sweet caramel” going to be?  When I bit in, would thin style caramel come pouring out?  Was it going to be stuffed inside the marshmallow?  Or just infused?
Inside the Caramel Marshmallow.
The answer: in a thick layer, above the marshmallow.  No it did not come pouring out, as it was thick and not runny, but it was also not chewy nor solid.  A nice consistency.  Studded throughout was more toffee bits for a bit of crunch.  I can’t say I tasted any sea salt, which was a shame, since salt really enhances chocolates, and they did such a nice job with the salt on the peanut butter bonbons.  The marshmallow itself was fluffy and fine, but just a marshmallow.  The dark chocolate coating was decent.

Overall, the components were all fine, but this didn’t come together for me as much as I wanted it to.
Read More...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares

Last week, I reviewed Nature Valley's granola bar product line, including both chewy and crunchy granola bars, protein bars, and granola thins.  None were real winners.

So why did I try more products from Nature Valley?  Because I discovered their soft baked oatmeal squares.  I loved the sound of the soft baked oatmeal squares, basically like oatmeal cookies in a slightly different form factor, with a name that makes it seem totally acceptable for breakfast.  Cookies for breakfast?  Yes!  They even have a drizzle on top.  Come on, how could you not want to try them?

But, I still went in with fairly low expectations since I don't tend to really like bar-type snacks, which may be surprising given how many reviews of them I do.  Luckily for me, these are certainly not like granola bars, or sports bars.  They are their own thing.

And ... they are good!  Just as advertised, they are very soft.  I was most shocked by how much flavor both varieties had.  The heartiness of a nice bowl of oatmeal is there, just in a more convenient form.  While sweet, the sugar content isn't that high, making them totally reasonable choices for a quick grab and go breakfast.  For real, I'm not just making up excuses for cookies for breakfast.  If I need a breakfast on the run again, I'd certainly consider these.
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Square.
The peanut butter version is made from whole grain oats and peanut butter flavored chips with a peanut butter flavored drizzle on top.  Mmm, drizzle.

The peanut butter flavor was incredibly strong.  They weren't messing around here.  I really appreciated that.  The bar itself tasted like peanut butter, but it was the extra drizzle that pushed it over the top.  I let mine get a bit warm in the sun, and the drizzle turned sorta into a glaze.  You could almost say it was like an adult version of a toaster strudel :)

My favorite of the varieties I tried.
Cinnamon Brown Sugar.
I also tried the other variety, cinnamon brown sugar.  This one is made with the same oat base, with brown sugar and cinnamon mixed in, and topped with a molasses drizzle.

This one was also pretty good.  Again, nice and soft.  And very flavorful, just in a different way.

It tasted like a traditional bowl of oatmeal.  Or at least, how I always have my oatmeal, as I always add both brown sugar and cinnamon.   Those flavors came through loud and clear.  The molasses drizzle added a little extra touch of sweetness, and precisely mirrored the drizzle of maple syrup that I always put on top of my oatmeal.  Seriously, if you could transform my oatmeal into a bar, this would be it (although, I'd probably have some chopped up nuts and raisins too).

I preferred the peanut butter version, but I wouldn't say no to eating another one of these.

Update:  I got another.  The cinnamon flavor was good again, and I liked the sweetness from the brown sugar.  So, flavor-wise, it was a winner.  But it wasn't really "soft" this time.  Sure, it was softer than a standard granola bar, but it was very dry and crumbly.  I wanted it to be more like a muffin, or more like the soft-baked Belvita.  I did like the heartiness from the oats.
Read More...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Flavors from Ben & Jerry's

It is no secret that I love ice cream.  I grew up eating it pretty much every night after dinner.  Sometimes just a simple scoop, or uh, two, but more often than not, we made sundaes.  Or topped our homemade pie with it.  Yes, I was spoiled.

I grew up in New Hampshire, not far from the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont.  To me, the generic brand of ice cream was Ben & Jerry's.  Even the farm stand where I worked sold Ben & Jerry's, it was that commonplace.  Pints were 2 for $5.

I moved a bit further away for college, to upstate New York.  But Ben & Jerry's was prevalent even there.  Our little on campus diner stocked pints, and we had the option of redeeming our meals for grab and go items from the diner instead.  I will not admit how many pints I got over the years, and how many I may or may not have consumed in a single sitting.

It amazed me once I left my nest to learn that Ben & Jerry's is a bit of a novelty to people elsewhere.  For many years, I didn't have any in San Francisco.  Why would I pick that, over our local, artisanal choices?  But eventually, the craving for that experience of just digging shamelessly into a pint of Ben & Jerry's returned, and, so I did.

I've reviewed the flavors I've had over the past few years before, so I'll spare you a repeat, and this time, focus on the brand new flavors that they just added in 2014.  Ben & Jerry's always adds a few new flavors every year (and of course, sends some to the "flavor graveyard" to make way for them).  Many don't last long.  Flavors that are removed are often mourned.  But this year, the new Salted Caramel Blondie is quite a winner.  I hope it sticks around!
Salted Caramel Blondie, single.
"Sweet Cream Ice Cream with Blonde Brownies & a Salted Caramel Swirl"

This is an excellent new addition.  Basically a blondie sundae, turned into an ice cream.  The only thing it was missing was whipped cream.

The ice cream base apparently was sweet cream, although I assumed it was just basic vanilla.  Creamy, rich, good base.  Standard Ben & Jerry's.

The caramel swirl was exactly what caramel should be.  Buttery, sweet, delicious.  I didn't actually taste much salt, which would have been better perhaps, but it was pretty delicious as it was.  If they just removed "salted" from the product name, I wouldn't have minded the lack of salt.  The caramel was particularly fascinating because it didn't get hard, even inside the cold ice cream, it still stayed pleasantly runny, like caramel that had just been poured over an ice cream sundae.  My only complaint, which is a bit silly, is that there was too much caramel.  It was very sweet, and at one point, I wished to have a little more ice cream to balance out the plentiful caramel.  Perhaps that was just my scoop.

And finally, the blondies.  Chunks of just the right size, big enough to know you got a goodie, but not too big to be annoying to eat.  Sweet, classic blondies.  And again, like the caramel, I was impressed with how they didn't get hard.  They somehow stayed perfectly soft inside the cold ice cream.  Ben & Jerry's knows how to work magic here.

So overall, definitely a winner, and one I'd gladly get again.  Salted Caramel Brownie is only available in Scoop Shops, although a similar offering, Salted Caramel Brownie Core, is available in pints.  That one is the same sweet cream ice cream with blondie bits, with a caramel core down the center of the pint.  It seems like the amount of caramel you get in a scoop could be more easily controlled with the core version, although I did like it being all mixed in.

I also had the chance to sample the other new flavor, Cotton Candy: "Cotton candy ice cream loaded with cotton candy pieces."  It tasted, you guessed it, like cotton candy.  Super sweet.  I'm sure this is a huge hit with children, but for me, not quite something I'd want a bowl full of.
Read More...