Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Churros from Phat Philly

Phat Philly, as you may recall from my past reviews, is a cheesesteak shop, with really good fries smothered in cheese and other goodness and decent onion rings.

They specialize in things from Philly, and at the register also sell Utz Chips for only $1 and for dessert they used to carry Tastykakes.  I stopped by so many times to discover these amazing Tastykakes, but but they have never, ever had them when I am there.

Thus, I thought I'd never have dessert at Phat Philly, even though I'm a dessert-o-holic.  Until, one day, when I stopped in hoping to snag some Tastykakes (fail!) and saw ... churros were added to the menu!

Phat Philly is located in the Mission, so they clearly know who their audience is.  Churros make sense in that regard.  But a cheesesteak shop selling churros?  This sounded dubious at best.

You may also recall that I don't ever really like churros.  I WANT to like them.  I mean, they are fried dough coated in cinnamon and sugar.  They should be something I love.  But ... I generally find them way too crispy, way too oily, and just rather gross (except once at Nick's Crispy Tacos, but, my followup one there was not good).  Even my beloved Rubio's has failed in the churro department.

But ... dessert.  You know me and dessert.  I can't resist, even if I expect to hate it.  So, I tried one.
Cream Filled Churro.  $2.
The menu listed two types of churros, regular or cream filled.  When cream filling is an option, is there any other choice?  I eagerly ordered and awaited my treat.

It took longer than I expected for my churro to be ready.  I almost started wondering if it had been forgotten.  I think though that perhaps it was actually fried to order?

Finally, it was handed over, all nicely wrapped up.  Piping hot.  So far, so good.

I apprehensively took a bite.  It was crispy on the outside, but not super oily like so many others. Inside was a bit moist and soft.  It had plenty of cinnamon and sugar on the outside, but not too much like the Rubio's ones.  Just the right amount.

And the cream filling.  OMG.  I think it was just a basic pastry cream, but it was warm, comforting, like a pudding.

Crispy fried dough.  Cinnamon and sugar.  Cream.  YES.

Now, to rewind a bit, I didn't grow up with churros.  We had "fried dough".  We had donuts.  The few churros I've had since moving to California have all been the plain variety, not filled.  I've had them a few times at fancier restaurants with chocolate or caramel sauces to dip them in.  But I had no idea filling was even an option.  But it makes sense, since they make filled donuts.  And we even had bavarian cream on our fried dough at the local fairs (I hear this is a regional thing, specific to the Boston area, à la Boston cream pie?)

Cream filling was the extra magic here, adding a creamy element to contrast the crispy exterior, keeping everything moist.  So. Good.

I want another, right now.  Obviously the best churro I've ever had.  I hope these stay on the menu.

$2 was a fine price, perhaps slightly more than local taquerias, but I think it was much fresher, and I'd return to get another in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Club Europe, BA715, ZRH-LHR

As you've been reading about the past few weeks, I took a business trip to Zurich (via Mallorca!), and spent a few days in London on my return.  British Airways was my airline of choice, and as you know, I enjoyed my first class flight from SFO-LHR (particularly the waffles!). You'll get to read about the corresponding LHR-SFO return journey next week on Travelin' Tuesday.

But I also needed to get from Zurich to London for the return journey, and I accidentally forgot to publish this review sooner, so, please pardon the slight interruption in continuity, as I've already reviewed the Concorde room, the First Class Galleries Lounge, and the Business Class Galleries Lounge, without explaining HOW I got there in the first place.  Whoops!

The flight experience was fairly similar to the Club Europe journey from LHR-BCN.  The flight was fine, although we were delayed about 45 minutes before taking off, and had to fly around France because of a strike, but besides that, unremarkable.  Flight attendants were friendly and polite, and provided standard BA Club Europe service.
Wine Reserve de la Baume Colombard-Chardonnay.
I started with a white wine.  I had the choice of two, and went for the Chardonnay.  It was fairly drinkable.  Not harsh, a tiny bit buttery, but generally unremarkable.
Afternoon Tea Service.
My meal on this flight, just like my LHR-BCN flight, was tea service. After the last time, I was much less excited about this, as I knew what I had in store for me.  I’d also had lunch not long before, so I didn’t care much.

The tray setup was the same, although I was lacking milk this time, and none was offered with my coffee.

The trio of sandwiches was much better than my previous experience, and I actually ate parts of each of them.

The bread, just like before, was really dried out and stale however.  There really is no way to make sandwich bread not dry out, why do they even try?  I know tiny sandwiches are part of a proper tea service, but … yeah.  There is no way for this to work well.

I started with the vegetarian sando: egg salad on wheat bread.  The egg salad was actually decent.  Not drowning in mayo, but plenty to make it creamy.  While I don’t like sandwiches, I do like egg salad, and I would have gladly had a scoop of this in another form.  Instead, I just ate all the filling, discarding the dried out bread.  Much, much better than the cream cheese and bell pepper vegetarian offering on the last flight, and, I’d eat another of these (well, the filling at least).  Not that it was interestingly seasoned or anything, just standard egg salad, but, sometimes, egg salad is all you need.  My favorite of the trio.

Next I got adventurous, and went for the meat option in the middle.  It had sliced meat that looked particularly frightening.  Some kind of pork?  I didn’t try the meat, but ate the cheese and sliced pickles, because, well, pickles are tasty.  I wish I’d had the foresight to mix the pickles in with the egg salad.  Next time!  Certainly better than the ham offering on the previous flight, but, still not something I wanted again.

Finally, the seafood option, simple smoked salmon with cream cheese on a grainy bread.  The smoked salmon was actually fine, and the cream cheese went well with it.  My second favorite.

Scones were presented at the exact same time as the sandwiches.  This made me sad, as the scones were served warm, and I wanted to enjoy mine warm, but I also wanted the sandwiches first.  Savory before sweet!  And again, the basket of scones was put in front of me, no explanation, no serving utensils.

I again picked the fruit scone.  Last time, I detected a hint of orange, but this time, my scone actually had slivers of orange rind, amping up the flavor considerably.  I think the scone base was probably the same as before, but I was far less into it this time.  I still used up my entire thing of clotted cream, and appreciated the warm scone, the cream, and a bit of jam, but the scone really seemed unremarkable, as did the jam.  I wanted a fresher pastry, and my mom’s jam.

With my scone, I ordered decaf tea.  It turned out, they didn’t have any decaf tea, only regular, or herbal.  I asked which herbals they had, and one choice was given as Earl Gray.  I asked if that was decaf, since I knew BA serves decaf Earl Gray on longer flights, but was told no.  Note to BA: “herbal” and “earl grey” are not the same.  Instead I went for decaf coffee, because I wanted something to go with my scone and dessert.  It was the same strange instant coffee again, somehow chocolate tasting.  It did the trick, but, not something I particularly want more of.  I did again appreciate the lovely cup, with the city skyline on it.
Sweet Treat: Pistachio Madiera Cake.
And finally, another “Sweet Treat”.  I was hoping for a different selection this time, and thought I was in luck, as the shape of the box was different.  As before, the type of treat awaiting me was not revealed until I opened the box.   But alas, it was another pistachio madiera cake, just a smaller one this time.

Now, a reasonable person would recognize that they hated this thing last time and not bother trying it again.  But we all know I’m not a reasonable person.  I had a dessert in front of me, I had to try it, right?

I should have known better.  I mean, I did know better.  Just like last time, I could tell the moment I opened the plastic wrapper that it was horrible and moist and gummy and spongy.  But I still tried it.  It again was awful, tasted like pistachios and a bit like a madeline.  Ugh.  Don’t try these.

Monday, December 15, 2014

3-3-3 Truck

As you've been reading the past few weeks, my office has been bringing us food trucks for lunch.  This has been fun for me, since I love to try new things.  Sadly, none have been very good.

3-3-3 Truck serves 3 different cuisines, with 3 main ingredients per cuisine, and 3 preparations per main.  Thus, 3-3-3.  To be more concrete, they offer Korean, Mexican, or Indian food.  For Korean, you can pick from short ribs, bbq chicken, or a veggie mushroom tofu mix.  The Mexican choices are carne asada, pork chile verde, and chipotle chicken.  And finally, for indian, lamb curry, chicken tikka, or paneer tikka.  Each of those dishes is available as a taco, burrito, or rice bowl.
The Truck.
The paneer tikka sounded the most promising to me, but on my visit they had a reduced catering menu, rather than the standard menu.  Instead, they were offering only a vegetarian or fish taco.  This was no problem for me, since, as you may have noticed from my slew of Rubio's reviews, I have a thing for fish tacos.
Beer Battered Fish Taco.
This was a very simple fish taco.

The fish was super crispy, which was nice, except that it was just way too fried and oily.  The fish inside was fairly moist, but was not really the type of fish I like - I think it was rock cod?  I greatly prefer pretty much all the fish options at Rubio's, or the nice tilapia at Tropisueño.

It was garnished only with onions and tomatoes, although normally served with their signature "Green Sauce", which is made from fresh avocado, garlic, fresh citrus, and herbs.  Since I'm allergic to avocado, I had to skip that part, and there were no other options for me to add anything additional in.  The taco really needed some creaminess, even simple sour cream like the lackluster catfish taco from Tacqueria Mana was better than nothing.  I'd put this on par with the fish taco at Nick's Crispy Tacos.

The taco shell was a bit dried out, and seemed like it had been sitting out.  Flour tortilla only, I generally prefer the additional flavor of a corn shell.

Overall, very boring, and I certainly wouldn't get again.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rickland Orchards Greek Yogurt Granola Bars

As you know, I eat a lot of snacks, and in particular, I like to have different types of bars on hand for whenever I find myself out and about, and needing something quick and easy to munch on.

I was intrigued by the granola bars from Rickland Orchards, as they are all coated or drizzled with various flavors of greek yogurt.  Basically, taking the idea that people often eat greek yogurt topped with granola, and turing it into a portable form.  Rickland Orchards also makes greek yogurt coated pretzels, almonds, granola bites, and caramels.
Blueberry Acai.
"Two nutritional rockstars - blueberry, acai - plus oats, granola and a Greek yogurt coating."

The bar base is made of honey roasted granola, soy crisp nuggets, and almonds sweetened with brown rice syrup and honey, plus dried blueberries in this case.  Drizzled on top, and completely coating the backside, is the "white" Greek yogurt coating.  I'm not sure where the acai was, as it wasn't listed in the ingredients.

The granola was basic sweetened oats, unremarkable.  I didn't care for the taste, nor the texture, of the soy crisps.  The crunch of the whole almonds was a nice touch.

But the real issue here was the sweetness.  It was just out of control sweet.  The base was too sweet, and the "Greek yogurt coating" was way, way too sweet.  I couldn't manage more than a few bites.
Next I tried the strawberry, basically exactly the same as the blueberry acai.  The bar was again made of granola and soy crisps, sweetened with brown rice syrup and honey.  The top was again drizzled in "Greek yogurt coating", and the entire bottom was coated in it.  It was again cloyingly sweet, and the Greek yogurt coating's first ingredient is sugar.  The strawberry flavor came from "strawberry shapes", made from apple puree, strawberry puree, and strawberry juice.

I was starting to feel a bit deceived.  Yes, it did contain "strawberry" I guess, and technically some yogurt, but, not exactly what I expected from an "orchard".  It did contain 7 grams of protein and only 8 grams of sugar, so not quite as unbalanced as I expected, given the taste and ingredients.
Pumpkin Spice.
During the fall season, when Pumpkin Spice was popping up everywhere, even Rickland Orchards made a Pumpkin Spice bar.

It started with the same base of honey roasted granola and soy crisp nuggets, sweetened with honey and brown rice syrup, with almonds, pumpkin seeds, and dried pumpkin.

This bar didn't taste nearly as sweet as the others, I think due to the pumpkin seeds and their slight bitterness.  The spicing also helped cut the sweetness, and did indeed have classic spices you'd associate with pumpkin: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg.

It was better than the others in that it wasn't as sweet and actually had some interesting flavors in it.  But, it was really hard, not nearly as soft as the others, and almost difficult to bite into.  The best of the "white" yogurt coated ones, but, I still wouldn't want another.

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Next I moved on to the chocolate greek yogurt coated ones.  Yes, for real.

"Dark Chocolate Flavored Greek Yogurt" was the coating on this one.  Um, what?  It tasted like chocolate, but I have no idea where the yogurt was.

Anyway.  Still made from a base of soy crisps and oats, with a few large chunks of peanut mixed in.  I liked the peanuts, but I've realized that I really just can't stand soy crisps.

It wasn't too sweet like the others, so that was nice.  And chocolate and peanut butter are obviously a great combination.

But ... I still didn't like it.  Soy crisps.  Meh.  I need to stop trying products with soy crisps.
Caramel with Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Flavored Greek Yogurt.
Another one with the magical "dark chocolate flavored greek yogurt".  Again, yes, it was coated in chocolate, but I failed to detect any chocolate flavor.  There was a secondary drizzle of caramel as well, sweet, but not quite as cloying as the white yogurt bars.

The base again had whole almonds along with granola and soy crisps.  The almonds helped mask the soy crisps flavor.

Again, I just don't care for the product in general due to the soy crisps and the sweetness, but, the caramel and chocolate were at least decent. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Downtown Bakery

When I first moved to San Francisco and discovered the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings I was, like most others, drawn in by the amazing fruits and vegetables on display.  Once this abundance of produce became "normal" to me, I finally started paying attention to the other merchants.  While most of the prepared foods still never jumped out, the bakeries of course did.  This girl cannot resist her baked goods.

The one with the longest lines is always Downtown Bakery.  Their full bakery and cafe is located in Healdsburg, and has been around since 1987.  Their products always look great, but the lines deterred me for quite a while.  One day I discovered that they make "donut muffins" and I finally had to break down and try it.  I tried a few other items too, including a mini pecan pie for Thanksgiving a few years ago, but sadly, I never really liked anything I tried, and stopped after a few items.

The lines are much shorter these days, but I barely give them a second glance as I stroll past, generally making a beeline for the tastiest stone fruits, persimmons, or other seasonally appropriate item of the day.
Mini Pecan Pie.
Pecan pie is a classic for me.  My mom always makes the classic Karo syrup version, and I love it (although yes, Flour & Co makes a brown sugar nut pie that puts all other nut pies to shame, my mom's included, sorry mom!).  So when Thanksgiving rolled around, I knew I needed a pecan pie.  And a pumpkin pie (more on that later).  But I was planning to cook the entire meal myself for Ojan and I.  I decided to not take a risk with making pies (plus I thought that the two of us shouldn't really have a full pumpkin and full pecan pie to eat just ourselves ... ), so I decided to leave it up to the experts.

They held a special farmer's market on Wed before Thanksgiving, and I was happy to see Downtown Bakery present, with a bunch of pies, and even better, mini pies.  This way, I could have both my pumpkin and pecan pies, and not have a ridiculous amount of leftovers!

But it really was not good.  There was no sweetness in the filling.  No flavor in the filling.  It was just there, and there was very little of the expected gooey sweet layer.  It was however loaded with pecans, as it was 3 layers deep of pecans.  The pecans were all left whole, so it was a bit hard to eat.  They were also toasted and a little burnt even.  It was the inverse problems of the awful pecan pie we had at The Flying Goose.

The crust was also flavorless.  Disappointing, but also s actually pretty gross, and we didn't bother finish it.

[ Not Pictured ]
  • English Muffins ($1.75) : Big huge fluffy muffins, but we got a pack for use with egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, and they were just too much.  Very thick and overpowering.  Not their fault exactly, and they were nice just toasted with jam.  Somewhere closer to a crumpet than what we think of as english muffin.
  • Donut Muffin ($1.75): Probably their most famous item.  Donut dough baked not fried, covered in cinnamon sugar.  Looks like a muffin.  It tasted exactly as you'd expect ... there is a reason donuts are normally fried.  While famous, this was nothing special.
  • Chocolate Chip and Macadamia Cookie ($1): Thin, crunchy, totally generic, no reason to ever eat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Taro Milk Tea from R & B Cafe

Do you remember when I went through a taro milk tea phase a while ago?  You may recall a slew of reviews, all of fairly mediocre bubble tea, concluding with me deciding that basic Quickly is about the best I can find.  Well, the craving for bubble tea hit me again, and I was delighted to discover that R & B Cafe, located just a few blocks from my office, has bubble tea, and incredibly customizable bubble tea at that!

R & B Cafe offers online ordering via eat24, including through the mobile PayPal app, which I did as I headed out the door, hoping my order would be ready as I walked in.

As an aside, the PayPal app is much more stable now, it no longer crashes like when I ordered a taro milk tea from Chai Yo (spoiler: Chai Yo's version is better than R & B), although my experience wasn't as seamless as when I used it for taro milk tea from Cocoa Cafe (spoiler: Cocoa Cafe MUCH better than R & B).

As I said, I placed my order as I left the office, but unlike my pickup experience at Cocoa Cafe, my order was not ready when I arrived.  Nor was it even started.  Why?  Because they were out of the taro that I asked to have as my "topping", rather than boba (one of the many choices).  So I asked for the red bean as my next choice.  And ... they were out of that.  The only options were regular tapioca, or, popping boba in a few flavors.   Boo.  A lot of the reason I picked R & B Cafe as my source of bubble tea, besides convenient location, was the topping choices!

Anyway, service was friendly enough, and they made my drink quickly once consulting with me on adding regular boba instead, but I won't be going back.
Taro Bubble Milk Tea, Green Tea, Lightly Sweet, Honey Boba. $2.95.
R & B offers incredibly customizable milk teas.

To start, you pick a base of black or green tea.  Since I didn't want tons of caffeine, I went for green.  I can't say I tasted a difference, and many places don't even use tea in their milk teas anyway.

Next, you pick the flavor.  12 different fruity flavors were offered, but, I only wanted taro.  Like most places, a powder was used for the taro flavor.  Unfortunately, even though it was a vibrant purple color, there was somehow no taro flavor to it.  I honestly wouldn't have known it was taro.  Very disappointing.

Next, toppings.  As I mentioned, I was excited to have additional taro in my taro tea, but alas, they didn't have any.  Nor did they have red bean.  I didn't want fruity popping boba, so I went for the classic boba instead.

The tapioca were fairly awful.  Really soft and mushy, just like the horrible tapioca I had in my taro milk tea from Little Garden.  Luckily for me I guess, there really wasn't much tapioca added, which I originally thought was lame when I saw the small quantity in my large drink, but ended up appreciating this since I didn't want the tapioca.

And finally, sweetness.  I appreciated that this was an decision you had to make when you order, rather than needing to specify it separately.  "Light", "Normal", or "Very" were my options, and I wisely went for "light" remembering numerous too sweet experiences in the past.  I think I made the right choice.  It was certainly sweet enough, but not overwhelming.  Perhaps the only element of this milk tea that I actually liked.

Clearly, this was not a winner, and I won't be getting another.

The price of $2.95 was right in the middle of the range of others around town.  Interestingly, a single topping is included in the base price, rather than a $0.50 add-in like most others.  Obviously, the $1.99 Quickly version is the best deal in town, but R & B was more reasonable than $4.40 charged by Little Garden, or $3.50 from Cocoa Cafe or Chai Yo.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Galleries Business Class Lounge, Terminal 5 Heathrow.

After venturing through the Galleries First lounge, I realized I still had time to do a little more lounge hoping, so I decided to downgrade further to check out the Business class lounge, located right above the Galleries First Class Lounge and the Concorde Room.  I was only able to visit during breakfast hours however, as my lunchtime trip was spent dining in the formal dining area of the Concorde room.

Just like when I entered the Galleries First lounge, I presented my boarding pass, was smiled at, and was reminded that I could use the Concorde room.  I felt in no way that they didn’t want me to use the other lounges, it really seemed like they genuinely wanted to make sure I was aware that I had other options.  I said that I just wanted to see the room, and was again encouraged to come and go as much as I liked.

It was fascinating to compare the two Galleries lounges.  While the Concorde Room and the Galleries First are clearly just totally different models of lounge, the Business lounge is really just a slimmed down version of the First lounge.  Except, it was absolutely packed, even though the lounge is massive, occupying the same floorspace of both the other lounges combined.

I’m sure the main terminal is more chaotic than this lounge, but it felt like night and day compared to the First lounges.  The space was huge, yet almost every seat was filled.  It was loud.  People were sprawled out everywhere.  This was not a relaxing, peaceful environment.

As a First Class customer, there is absolutely no reason to visit this lounge.  (Ok, not exactly true, there is one reason.  And I’ll get to that soon.  But spoiler: it involves ice cream!)
Seating area.
The seating was not quite as nice as the Galleries First lounge, in terms of comfort or aesthetics.
Cereal Station.
I laughed when I saw the cereal station.  It had exactly the same cereals as the First lounge, except, lacking the one choice that I enjoyed: the granola.
Warm Baked Goods.
And then I cried when I saw the baked goods.  The exact same offerings as the First lounge, minus the brioche buns, but here, they were kept under a heat lamp.  First class customers don’t get warm baked goods, and business class do?  Not fair.
Fruit, Yogurt.
The fruit and yogurt station was about the same in the two lounges, with a fruit yogurt and a plain greek yogurt.  I tried both, and they were fine, but not remarkable.

You might wonder why I’d even try yogurt, but, I've really enjoyed yogurt on a few occasions in Europe, as their full fat yogurt is just so much better than what we have in the US, and I was hoping for something like that.  Alas, no.
Porridge, Fruit.
There were also two large vats of porridge, with minimal toppings, only cinnamon and raisins.

I felt compelled to try it.  I honestly have no idea why.  I think it just sounded really comforting to me.  And, indeed it was.  Probably my favorite of any of the breakfast items I had, in any of the lounges.  It was warm, it was creamy, and the oats were stone ground, rather than large flakes.  I loaded it up with dried fruit and cinnamon, and really quite enjoyed it.  I’m glad I tried it.

Next to the porridge was whole fruit, only apples and bananas.  In First, they also had oranges.  Again, just a reduced offering.
Bar, bar snacks.
The business lounge also had the same trio of snack mixes, along with a greatly reduced bar offering.  Still quite good, but lacking many of the better options of course.
Ice Cream Freezer.
At this point, you might still be wondering why I said there was one reason to visit this lounge.  Sure, the warm baked goods are better than the cold ones, but the baked goods weren’t very good to begin with, so that isn’t it.

The reason is: they have an ice cream freezer.  I quite enjoy ice cream, even at breakfast.

I also loved that when I walked into the lounge, there were actually signs pointing my way to it.  I'm clearly not alone in visiting the lounge for one reason.

The freezer was stocked with local Kelly's of Cornwall Cornish Ice Cream.  Sadly, they only had vanilla and chocolate, which initially deterred me.  The most boring flavors ever, particularly without any toppings.  Plus, it wasn’t even 10am, I’d been sampling my way through the lounges, I wasn't exactly hungry.  It was totally unreasonable to eat ice cream at this hour, right?  I almost walked away.
Makings for an affogato.
In fact, I did walk away.  I took exactly two steps, and found myself beside a coffee station.  A lightbulb went off in my head.  Vanilla ice cream.  Coffee.  Affogato.  YES.

I felt a bit ridiculous, but grabbed my little tub of ice cream, had the machine make me a coffee, and gleefully took a seat along the window looking down into the terminal.  Below me, people were scurrying about, stressed, dealing with security, and here I was, about to enjoy an affogato.  I was clearly doing it right.

The ice cream was creamy, very rich, yet super fluffy.  I actually think I would have even liked it plain, which is really saying something for vanilla ice cream.  But with my coffee, it was totally perfect.  I was so proud of myself.

Sure, I could be in the Concorde room, having eggs benedict made to order, like Emil.  Emil thought I was ridiculous for even going to the Business lounge, and I admit there really was no reason to go there.  Except, ice cream.  To be fair, I probably could have ordered it in the Concorde room, even if it wasn’t on a menu anywhere.  In retrospect, this was probably the same "Cornish ice cream" we had served with our desserts on our lunchtime visit to Concorde room.

But I was quite pleased with my discovery, I enjoyed it more than anything else in any of the lounges, and I’d totally do it again.