Monday, May 21, 2018

Dog Haus, Pasadena

Dog Haus is a ... a hot dog chain, essentially.  They specialize in gourmet hot dogs and sausages, although they also offer burgers, fried chicken, and standard sides.  Their tag line?  "The Absolute Würst".  Tee hee.

Dog Haus opened in 2010 in Pasadena, CA and has since expanded to more than 30 locations spanning 9 states.

And there is a reason why.  The concept sounds simple, hot dogs right, but they do it right.  Quality ingredients, cooked to order.  The hot dogs are all beef, the sausages are hand made with no added nitrates, etc, the burgers are 100% Black Angus, the chicken is hormone-free.  Oh,and the kicker?  The buns they use for everything are ... King's Hawaiian rolls!

I'll admit, I adore a good hot dog, but it was the King's Hawaiian rolls that drew me in.  I really, really love the soft, sweet, fluffy bread.

I'll gladly return.

Setting

I visited one of the two locations in Pasadena, in a not very interesting area, nearby CalTech where I was helping at a recruiting event.  The other Pasadena location is in Old Town, and features a Biergarten, and looks much nicer.
Storefront.
Outside has plentiful seating on metal tables on the sidewalk, in an quasi-enclosed area so you could bring booze out there, but not onto the "public" street.
Register, Drinks, Sausages.
Ordering is all done at a register from a not very engaged employee, where chilled sausages and the alcoholic drink selection are displayed.

The drink selection was kinda awesome, they had plenty of non-beer things including even a boozy nitro cold brew!  What??!

Once you order, you are given a buzzer.  I was handed mine without a word.  Not the friendliest human.

On the plus side, the "We Love Wieners" sign did make me laugh.
Grill Station, Seating.
Lots of seating is available inside as well, nicely lit, etc.
Grill Station.
All orders are made to order, and you can watch items being prepared if you wish.

I loved seeing the ridiculous quantity of King's Hawaiian that they go through!
Drinks.
Soft drinks, plastic utensils, and hot sauce are self serve.

Ketchup and mustard, in HUGE dispensers, are located right up at the area where you pick up your order.

Food

Menu Board.
So, the menu.  A slew of different "HausDogs", with some pretty fun toppings.  Many are bacon wrapped.  They have cheddar cheese sauce, caramelized or crispy onions, flavorful aiolis.  Oh yes.  You can get any of these hotdogs made with a sausage of your choice isntead, or just customize your own too.

Oh, and they have housemade corn dogs, in a root beer batter.  Oh my.

Next is the signature "HausSausages", ranging from spicy italian to thai currywurst to polish kielbasa and more, plus of course some chicken sausage and veggie sausage options.  And yes, you can get any sausage made into a hand dipped corn dog too, or top it any way you want.

Then there are "HausBurgers" and chicken burgers (simply grilled or beer battered and fried).

They also make sliders, using a single King's Hawaiian roll each, available as simple cheeseburger or hot dog, plus a mini corn dog.  Sides have all the classics: fries, tots, cheese fries, chili cheese fries, sweet potato fries, chili, slaw, onion rings, etc.  You can get crazy and go for the "Love Boat", with the fried base of your choice, topped wit chili, cheese, and slaw.

Happy Hour is Monday - Friday, 3-6pm, and features $1.25 sliders and fries or tots.  Not that prices are usually expensive at all, but, wow, what a deal!
Hot Dog Slider. Happy Hour. $1.25.
"All beef mini dog, haus made cheddar cheese sauce, smoked bacon."

Since it was actually only 4:30pm and I wasn't ready for dinner, but wanted to get the chance to try out Dog Haus, I went for the hot dog slider.  It was made to order, and came quickly.  I ordered it unmodified, although those aren't necessarily the toppings I would have picked.

It was adorable.  And it was a very well executed slider.

The bun, perfectly toasted.  Not burnt at all, just crisp enough, and the toasting really enhanced the buttery quality of the Hawaiian roll.

The hot dog, juicy, and lightly charred.  Just enough to make the skin crisp, yet retain all the juices.  Exactly how I like my hot dogs.

The cheese sauce?  You guessed it, perfectly melted.  Enough to smother the hot dog, but not overwhelm.

The bacon?  Yup, perfectly crisp.  No flabby bacon here.

Execution-wise, this was just spot on.  A little slider, only costing $1.25, and yet made with such care.
Hot Dog Slider: Side Profile.
And how was it, other than being really well prepared?

It was good.

I adore King's Hawaiian buns, and the soft sweet bread really was excellent with the hot dog.  We need more uses of these buns in general, and they certainly beat a boring hot dog bun.

The cheese sauce was tasty, creamy, cheesy.  Not *too* fake tasting, just fake enough to be tasty, if you know what I mean.  It went really well with the bread and the bacon.

I didn't love the hot dog though.  Not because there was anything wrong with it, as I mentioned, it was really well prepared, I just ... wasn't actually feeling the all beef hot dog.  I really prefer turkey dogs (which they have in full size only).

I still enjoyed my snack, but honestly would have liked the bun/cheese/bacon without the hot dog more.

Next time: full size, turkey hot dog, maybe with some other toppings ... spicy basil aioli? Caramelized or fried onions? Mmm ...

Oh, and I want to try the onion rings and sweet potato fries, they looked excellent too ... must ... return ...
Dog Haus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Biena Snacks

Biena is ... another snack food company trying to change what Americans grab for an afternoon snack, aiming for healthier, higher protein, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, etc, etc.
"Biena prides itself on creating a delicious protein-packed, high-fiber flavored line of chickpeas sourced right here in the USA! Did we mention they are also gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO verified? We must be doing something right, because we've sold over 1 billion chickpeas to date (humble brag 😉 )."
Well, ok then.  Not that I'm one to just reach for a bag of chips, and I do love crunchy snacks, I was highly skeptical of these as I don't tend to like chickpeas.

The basic chickpea snacks come in 7 flavors, from simple sea salt, to spicy habanero, to "classic chip flavors" like sour cream and onion or bbq, to sweet honey roasted or cinnamon crunch.  And then they make chocolate coated ones, milk, dark, Girl Scouts Thin Mints branded ... which I was even more skeptical of.  Chocolate covered chickpeas?  Those just didn't sound good ...at all.
Packaging.
The snacks come portion controlled into packages that were actually decently sized, more than enough for a snack.
Rockin' Ranch.
They ... were ok.

They were really crispy, crunchy, satisfying in that way, just like corn nuts.  Nice to munch on, would be great as a salad topper.

And the ranch seasoning (tomato, garlic, onion powders, salt, sugar, etc) was flavorful, each piece well coated.  It sorta helped mask the chickpea nature, but, at the end of the day, they were indeed still just chickpeas.  Flavorful, crunchy, but, chickpeas.

I liked trying something different, and it was nice to have a savory snack, but, I'm not going to go for chickpeas of my own accord.
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Muriel's Donuts, Lebanon, NH

I'll just start with this: I know this review is going to make people sad.  It made *me* sad to write it.

Muriel's is an institution in the Lebanon area.  A donut shop, as ridiculously old school as it gets, helmed by a woman named Muriel, who has been in business since 1967.  She runs it alone, even though she is nearly 80 years old.  It is impressive, really.

I grew up having a Muriel's donut once a month, when my church had them after mass.  I remember being partial to the sugar donuts.  But it had been years since I had one.  And since then, I've had a lot of donuts.  I generally have at least one a week.  (Shh!)
The Muriel's Donuts Experience.
I went to Muriel's on a mission, despite the bad weather, despite it being closed even when supposed to be open, causing me to go back again.  I met Muriel, who is amazing.  I experienced the charm.  I got donuts.

But ... I didn't want another one.  I didn't want to finish one.  I'm sorry.

Setting

Muriel's is not located alongside any other business.  No, it is on a side street, next to houses.  It is located in a house, for that matter.  If you didn't know to be looking for it, you'd certainly never find it.

But find it people do.  When I was there, there was a steady stream of visitors, which honestly, puzzled me.  Where did all these people come from?  Its such a small town!
Storefront.
The only marking that tells you that you are at a business, rather than a home, is the sign painted above the window, and the posting of the hours.

Open every day but Sunday, 10am-1pm only.

The hours are ... well, a bit annoying, to be honest.  I wanted a donut for breakfast, but she didn't open until 10am, and I was up much earlier.  Or I've wanted a donut as an afternoon snack, but, alas, closed by then.  But worse, I arrived at 10:05am, and ... there was no one there.  I waited until 10:15am, determined to get a donut, hot and fresh, but, when there was no sign of anyone being there, I decided they must not be opening due to the weather (it was sleet and freezing rain, with a winter advisory in affect.  Like I said ... I really wanted my donut!), and finally gave up.  Other patrons also hesitated in their cars out front, and eventually drove away.

If these hours are not possible for you, you can also purchase her donuts at some gas stations around town, but, only later in the day, and clearly never as fresh.

I went back another time to find her open, but I recommend calling ahead, as the posted hours may not always mean she is open.
Donut Making Area.
But once inside, I was charmed.  It really is just a small front room where you enter and order through a window that looks into the back room, where the donuts are made.

It is there that Muriel is located, making donuts and taking orders.  She greeted me, and others who entered, immediately, pausing her work to take our orders, hand over our goodies, and then went right back to work.  As it was near the holidays, she even took the time to wish me happy holidays.

Off to the left, out of the photo is her board on one side with the dough laid out where she was working, which I didn't photo just to be respectful of her.  Next to that is the fryer ... with a big tub of lard under it.
Jelly Station.
The other side is the jellying station, and cooling racks.

Donuts

Muriel's offers the classics.  But even fewer than you are probably imagining.
Plain Donuts.
One style only, cake donuts.  No raised donuts.

Donuts are available in rings or twisted crullers, all just plain, although you can get them rolled in sugar or cinnamon sugar.  That is it.  She also makes a jelly stick.

But no other toppings, no other fillings.  Just simple donuts.

Very fresh donuts, on cooling racks right in front of you.  Chances are high they'll still be warm, as she makes very small batches.

They cost $0.75 each, or are sold by the half or full dozen for a discount.
Donut Bag!
Even if you get a dozen, your donuts do not come in a pink box.  Nope, paper bags are the serving choice at Muriels.

I could feel how hot and fresh my donuts were even just holding the bag, the warmth coming through immediately.  And the grease.  This was taken within moments of receiving my donuts, by the time I drove 5 minutes to my grandmother's house to deliver her one, the bag was ... drenched.
Jelly Stick. $0.75.
This was a very fresh donut.  That I knew.

I loved the crunch to the exterior, caused by the cooling racks imprinting a pattern on the exterior.

But it just tasted fried.  I know donuts are fried, and I like fried things, but this was just too much fried taste for me.  Maybe I just don't like the taste of lard?  I don't know when I last had something actually fried in lard.  It kinda tasted like bad bacon.  But I know the lard helped make it so crispy.

The jelly filling was good, sweet and tasty, likely homemade.

I just didn't like it, nor the way it left my stomach feeling after.

I also had the simple sugared ring donut, which had the same awesome crispy exterior, but it too tasted too fried.  The generous sugar coating helped mask the fried taste a bit, but, I still just didn't care for the fried-ness.

Sadness, as I really wanted to love these donuts, and I know my family members all do, and found the entire experience quite charming, but ... I didn't even want to finish my donutdonut.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wild Roots, Vermont

Before I get into my review of Wild Roots, I need to give some backstory.

In 2012, I discovered a new reason to visit my family in New Hampshire.  That reason was Home Hill Inn, quite literally, the first restaurant I dined at near my hometown that made me excited to return.  It was a small, adorable place, actually a bed and breakfast, with a restaurant open to the public.  My first meal there was mindblowing  - complete with foie gras, scallops, and skate wing that remains one of the best seafood preparations I've ever had.

My second visit, that following summer, was an epic tasting menu in the private room, again, with an amazing seafood prep (this time, halibut).  On that same trip home, I also checked out the Tavern, a more casual pub environment, which, sadly, was not very good.  And I took my entire family, grandmother included, to brunch on the weekend, where they totally redeemed themselves, with creative options like savory breakfast popovers.  The next year, I went again, and it wasn't quite as good, but I was still eager to return on my next visit.

And then Home Hill Inn closed.

I was very disappointed to say the least.  I dined all over town, tried to find somewhere else that I'd like, but, I wasn't ever all that successful (full list is here, if you want to read a lot of reviews!).

Flash forward several years.  The chef left the area, and moved out to Napa.  He learned a lot from the chefs there, working closely with local products, really learning to elevate produce in particular.  He refined his techniques.  And then moved to Denver for a while, again, continuing to focus on working with what is fresh and seasonal.  And then ... after 4 years, he returned back to New England, to found a new restaurant in Vermont, as the Executive Chef, with two other young owners.

That restaurant, is Wild Roots.  It opened only a month or so before my most recent visit to see my family, and, the moment I found out about it.  I immediately made a reservation for myself and my mother, who I knew would appreciate the meal.

And we did.
Lovely Meal.
The cuisine is hyper local, either done in house, or nearby.  This extends far beyond just the produce (which of course does come from nearby farms).  Dairy is from the farm nearby, beer is produced in-state, cheeses are local, bread is baked in house, and even the cured meat and fish is done in house.

Dishes are creative spins on familiar dishes, catering to diners who are adventurous for the rural area, but not totally outside their comfort zones.  The cuisine, and the setting, are comfortable yet refined.

I saw elements and inspiration from Home Hill Inn throughout the experience, but it clearly is the evolution of everything that the chef was doing there, and has learned since, combined with the vision of the other owners.

We had a wonderful meal, and I'll gladly return.

The Experience

Service was good, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, all casually dressed, but not sloppy.
Historic Building.
Wild Roots is located inside what I think is a historic building, located along route 14.  The building was renovated, but retained the old feel.

The curb appeal is legit, a large well tended to brick building, mowed lawns, flowers growing alongside.

A sign out front marks the spot, with directions to park across the street, in a medium size lot.
Entryway.
The entryway is even more inviting, with a host stand inside the front foyer.  Everything is wood, from the floors, to the stairs, to the walls, to the stand itself.

From the stand, you will be lead into several different adjacent rooms for seating, or, if you prefer, outside on the back porch.  I believe there were 3 inside rooms, plus the outside area.  The kitchen is also off this main hallway.

I'm not sure what is upstairs (do people live there?), but the basement also seemed used by restaurant staff.
Bar Area in 2nd Side Room.
The largest room, to the right of the host stand, also includes a bar, with counter seating for 4, plus the actual bar and espresso station.  The rest of the room is filled with small tables, I think mostly for two.

The room is bright any sunny, full of warm tones like the wide blond wood planked floor, light blue walls, white orb lights, and white accent work.  It featured a lovely landscape paining on the walls, a fireplace with light colored birch log, and fresh flowers on the mantel and along the windowsills.

I loved the decor, as it felt so warm, welcoming, and really like stepping into someone's home, albeit one with lots of dining tables.
Small Side Room.
My mom and I were seated in the room across the hall.  This room was smaller, with only 5 tables, but these tables mostly for groups of 5.  There was only one other party seated in this room with us, which lead to a really intimate setting, perfect for catching up on my first night in town.

The decor in this room was similar, but with slightly more darker, bolder tones.  Thinner planked wood floors, dark green wainscoting and picture rail, larger, darker light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

We also had a non-functioning fireplace, mirrors, and artwork on the walls.
Back Patio.
Out back is a (yes, wooden) patio, overlooking the river, with metal tables and chairs, little lights, and red umbrellas to match the doorways.

Folks out here seemed mostly to be having drinks, but we were offered a place out here for our full meal, if we had wanted.
Table and Place Settings.
Our table was natural wood, complete with knots.

Tables were set with cloth napkins, water glasses, and each had a vase with fresh flowers (unique on each table).

Chairs were also wood, darker.  I thought they were fine, but my mom really wanted padding.
Bathroom.
I don't normally include photos or bathroom reviews, but I found even the bathroom charming, again, it felt like I was in someone's house, with a old style mirror, and real hand towels.
Bill.
The charm extended even to the bill, delivered on a wooden (yup, more wood!) clipboard, with a smile and message from our server.
Leftovers!
I'm pretty sure I've NEVER included a review of the leftovers before, but, I couldn't get over the fact that each of our boxes came labelled with the restaurant name, date, and contents.

Of course, for completeness, I'll say that the contents weren't actually packaged up very well, e.g. the pesto dipping sauce was just in the box right along with the veggies, rather than separated out into a little container, etc.  And I did transfer everything to proper storage as soon as we got home, so the labels were entirely unnecessary, but, I thought it was a nice touch.

Drinks

Water was house still or sparkling, both complimentary.  This is something I really appreciate at any restaurant, not just for the cost, but also, so much waste from plastic bottles!

No carafe was left on our table, and my water glass frequently ran out.  I rationed as best I could, but still went empty, and needed to ask for refills more than once.
Wine List.
The wine list is limited.

3 whites available by the glass (one on tap), and 3 by the bottle (two of which are the same as glass offerings).  One rose.  4 reds by the glass (again, one on tap), and 5 by the bottle.

There were strangely no years given on any of the listings.

I was pretty surprised by the list given that one of the owners is a Level II Sommelier, and is passionate about wine.  Perhaps this is just the offerings as they get started, and will expand when they are able?  Or maybe it is highly curated?
Beer, Cocktails, Mocktails.
The beer and cider list was similarly small (4 beer, all local) and two ciders.

The bar program was no slouch though, 6 house cocktails, all with fun names, and interesting ingredients (e.g. Beet Shrub in the "Beeting Heart", local honey in the "Mint to Bee", and more).

Most impressive though was the "Hold the Booze" section.  I'm always appreciative of having non-alcoholic offerings that aren't just Pepsi products.  Here they had "Sodas made with magic", housemade mocktails, iced tea, and some high end bottled sodas (maple soda, Maine root beer).
Montsable Chardonnay, Languedoc, France. $8.
The cocktails sounded fun, but, I wanted only one drink for the night, and opted to go for wine as I thought it would be better to sip alongside my meal.

I asked my server for more information about the white wines, wanting something not too dry, but also not too sweet (my mom wanted sweet though).

Our server wasn't really sure how to answer us, and sent over the Sommelier, who gave us a description, and then just offered to bring us tastes of each, one in each glass, which we shared.  once we picked our selections, she came to just fill those glasses, rather than bringing fresh ones, which I saw as sensible, but I'm sure others might not.

My mom went for the sweet option, from Argentina, and enjoyed it.  I opted for the Chardonnay.

Neither were very good, and I wouldn't want either again.

The Food

The reason we were there, of course, was the for food.  I couldn't wait to experience Chef Peter's food again!

The menu is seasonal, local, and constantly evolving, as you'd expect from a farm to table place.

The savory food menu is broken into 4 sections: Cheese + Meat (basically, a build-your-own charcuterie platter section), To Share (appetizers portioned such that they should be shared), Supper (regular dinner entrees), and Daily Requirements (extra sides of vegetables).

My mom and I agreed to just share everything, and knew we wanted dessert too, so we got just one appetizer (which we were warned was really quite big for only two diners), one main, and one side.  Portions were all quite generous, we were both more than full, and we went home with plenty of leftovers.

Our server asked if we'd like it coursed out as the To Share dish first, and the Daily Requirements with the Supper, which is what we did.  Pacing was good.
Menu.
For a starter, I was drawn in by a few items.  The smoked tomato salmorejo sounded unique, and I was interested to see how it compares to gazpacho.  The cheese and meat lineup was also quite temping, high quality locally produced cheeses, and, house cured meats?  Yes!  In particular, I was eyeing the duck liver pate, particularly once the table next to us got it.   My mom of course put in a vote for the roasted beets (her favorites, but, sorry, just not my thing), or the tuna poke (since she had her first poke with me {at Pine, on my last visit}).  But we opted for the signature dish (or, at least it seems signature to me!), the Farm Share.

Picking a side dish was a no brainer.  We had no need for the tender green salad or baby zucchini + roasted turnip salad, given our giant platter of veggies as a starter.  The heirloom tomatoes, from the local farm down the street, were appealing, except, we literally had plans to go pick strawberries in the morning from that very farm, and to stop at their farm stand after to buy heirloom tomatoes.  We'd be having those at home the next day.  Which left one item: fried garlic scapes.  Which sounded awesome anyway, even if they weren't the only real option for us.

Selecting a Supper was nearly as easy as picking the side, even though there were substantially more options, 7 total, one for each major category: two vegetarian items (one pasta, one bean based), two seafood (one shellfish, one fish), one beef, one chicken, one pork.  The protein options were all fairly classic, nothing too out there, although the creativity of the kitchen shined in the accompaniments and prep.  The beef sirloin doesn't just come with a side of mashed potatoes and uninspired daily veg, but, rather, kale + garlic scape salad, and horseradish aioli.  The fish is tuna steak, served grilled, with charred scallions and smoked chilis.  Oh, and the token veggie pasta dish?  That would be house made stinging nettle dumplings, with brown butter, sage blossoms, and ricotta.  Oh yes.  I nearly ordered that.  But how could I order pasta, no matter how interesting it sounded, when there are scallops on the menu?   Luckily for me, when I proposed this choice to my mom, she immediately said, "oh good, if you said anything else, I was going to say we were sharing".
House Sourdough & Butter.
Soon after we ordered, a bread presentation arrived.  I was going to say "bread basket", but it wasn't a basket.  A ... box?  A wooden tray, with cloth napkin, and warm, house made bread.

And ... it was sourdough.  Doh.  I just don't like sourdough, so I didn't try it.

My mother however loved it.  She wanted to devour the entire bread box on the spot, and I warned her she should save space for the great food that lay ahead.  She still opted for a second slice, and, loved it.  She said it had a great chew, great crust, amazing flavor.  All I could smell was sourdough, and even the smell I dislike.  I'm glad she enjoyed it though, and I give Wild Roots points for serving house made bread, and serving it warm.

The butter I did try, and it was fantastic.  Local whipped butter, perfectly soft and spreadable, and it melted nicely into the warm bread.  It was sprinkled with generous amounts of sea salt, which amped up the flavor.  Seriously quality butter, and, when my mom asked to have the final slice of bread boxed up, she also asked for the rest of the butter.  I don't blame her.
To Share: Farm Share. $14.
"Abundant vegetables, herb dip, bagna cauda."

We went for the Farm Share, mostly because I'd seen photos of it, and, because I was excited to celebrate local vegetables.  Yup, I ordered a giant plate of vegetables, not quite the decadence I normally opt for!

I think my mom was a bit skeptical about this order, as the menu didn't say much.  Our server did describe it, and some of the veggies that would be on it, and let us know that the herb dip of the day was basil salsa verde, and educated us about bagna cauda (I didn't bother cut her off, I'm familiar with it), but still, if you hadn't seen a photo, this might not make sense.

Our server also warned us that it was quite large, particularly for only two people.  "But, don't worry, we have togo boxes!", she chirped.  She also warned the party of 4 next to us that it was large, and it was then that I got concerned that maybe we were crazy for still ordering it as only two people.

When it arrived, we barely knew what to do.  We just had to take it in.  What on earth was in front of us, besides an overwhelmingly large platter of seemingly grilled veggies?  The server who brought it out just said, "here is your farm share", without describing anything, or, giving us a chance to ask.  I wanted to know what was on it!

And so we began our adventure in discovering this dish.  What exactly did we have?

Strawberries.  Zucchini.  Carrots.  Broccoli.  Cucumbers.  Those were all easily identifiable, and grouped together in little piles.

A little harder to spot was the basil, just because sprigs of grilled basil was a bit unexpected.  Pea pods were easy to pick out, once we found them.  Unlike other items that were grouped into sections, the whole pea pods seemed to be scattered about, underneath other things.

I finally saw the purple bell pepper our server had mentioned, there was only one chunk, but it was large.

Garlic scapes.  A green succulent, that I later confirmed was purslane.  All sorts of edible flowers, including editable chive flowers.

So many colors, sizes, and more.  Everything was grilled, except some of the flower petal garnish.  Everything was beautifully seasoned with large chunks of salt.  I loved the salt level.

I'll admit that I wasn't actually excited by most of the vegetables on this platter.  I don't really care for zucchini, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or bell peppers.  Doh.  They were all fine, nicely cooked, with beautiful char marks and grilled flavor, but, just not veggies I was hoping for.  I appreciated that the mini zucchini still had zucchini flowers attached.  I like strawberries, but they did seem a bit out of place on the platter, pickled green strawberries would make more sense perhaps?  They did add a nice pop of color though.

The garlic scapes were a good flavor, but a bit chewy, as expected, much like when my mom had them in her salad at Worthy Kitchen (review coming soon!).

What I ended up enjoying was the more random stuff, like the basil.  Just, simple, grilled basil.  Who knew it could be so tasty?  I really liked the grilled chive flowers.  They were super charred, and I just thought they were awesome and unique.

But the best element for me?  The purslane.  I couldn't get enough of it.  Juicy and crispy, and something I'd love to throw into more salads.  I wasn't quite sure what it was, and asked someone who came to check on us, and he said it was a succulent, but he didn't know what.  I said I thought it might be purslane, but he really didn't know.  I later confirmed that it was.

"You have to dig around a bit", said my mom, as she found a pea pod, "it's just like being in the garden!"  I think really summed this the dish up well.  It really connected you to the garden, to the farm, and to looking a bit deeper to find the goodies you wanted.

The veggies honestly didn't need the dips, as they were so well seasoned, but, I'm a sauces and dips girl, so of course I tried them, particularly as my mom couldn't stop talking about how much she loved the salsa verde.  I'll admit, it was quite flavorful, and I loved the garlic in it.  She didn't care for the bagna cauda, "that doesn't excite me at all", she said, going right back for the salsa verde.

Overall, this was a unique dish, and I'm glad we tried it.  It felt good to eat veggies, and not just a salad, and I'd love to see how this evolves as the seasons change.  We made what barely seemed like a dent in it, and thus went home with a big pile of grilled veggies, which my mom threw onto a bed of mixed greens for lunch the next day, mixing the leftover basil salsa verde with a bit of olive oil to make a vinaigrette that matched perfectly with it.  This meal just kept on giving!
Daily Requirements: Fried Garlic Scapes. $7.
"Lemon mayo, arugula." 

From lovely grilled veggies to fried ones, served with mayo sauce.  Now this was starting to look more like a Julie meal.

This was an incredibly fun dish.

First, lets just talk about the execution of the frying.  They were perfectly crispy.  But moreover, this was some of the best fried batter I've ever had.  It was expertly seasoned, incredibly flavorful, with a bit of kick.  It stuck to the scapes well.  I don't even like chicken, but this made me want fried chicken.  (Side note: honestly, this chef could open a fried chicken place and be crazy successful).  Seriously, amazing fried job.  I hope he keeps a seasonal fried side on the menu always.

I can safely say this is the first time I've ever had fried garlic scapes.  And, it totally worked.  The thin pieces reminded me of onion straws.  The bigger curled chunks were juicer, and more like an onion ring.  I liked them both, equally, and for different reasons.

But, I forgot to mention one thing.  This was more than just fried garlic scapes.  It was ... fried *pickled* garlic scapes.  Another dimension thrown in, transforming this not just into a play on fried onions, but also a play of fried pickles, which seem way more common around New Hampshire and Vermont than I'm accustomed (seriously, on menus everywhere, like Millstone at 74 Main, where I had them for perhaps the first time).

Now, for a bit of critique.  When I get a fried appetizer, it usually has a dipping sauce.  And this did come with lemon mayo, except that it was a thin layer in the bottom of the dish, not a sauce on the side.  I realize that this was a side dish and not an app, and that the fried scapes were actually so delicious that I didn't *need* to drench them in aioli, but, I found it a bit hard to get to the mayo and slide my scapes through it when I wanted to.  The mayo itself was fine, very lemon forward and herbaceous, more interesting than just plain mayo.  I think a garlic scape aioli would be more fun ...

And finally, the menu said the dish had arugula in it.  Ours had no visible arugula leaves, so I'm not sure where that was.  It did however have some lightly charred flowers.  Which I loved.  I wonder if those were arugula flowers?  They very well might have been.  Again, since our dish was presented without description, I wasn't able to find out.

Overall, this was quite fun, and quite successful.  A play on fried onion strings, onion rings, and pickles, all at once, made with seriously the best fried chicken batter I've ever had.  Hard to stop eating, but actually, my second favorite dish, because our entree, which arrived alongside, was even better ...
Supper: Cape Cod Sea Scallops. $29.
"Kohlrabi salad, smoked bluefish, mustard seeds."

 It had been far too long since I had a New England sea scallop (these were indeed from Cape Cod).

The serving was 5 seared scallops, plated over the kohlrabi salad (which turned out to have lots of cucumber in it), with more purslane (yes!), a light cream sauce with the promised mustard seed in it, and, two large chunks of house smoked bluefish hiding under the greens (not visible at all in this photo).

The scallops were very good.  Large size, clearly fresh, very flavorful.  I loved that they had a bit of a meaty character to them, if that makes sense, mixed with a subtle sweetness.  The sear, on only the top side, was a good hard sear.  They were properly seasoned.  Cooked through, but not rubbery.  Overall, obviously a good quality product, well prepared, although, I do prefer my scallops mid-rare.

The kohlrabi salad I didn't care for though.  I like kohlrabi, and was looking forward to the refreshing crunch, but, the cubes of kohlrabi just didn't do it for me.  They were soft rather than crunchy as I was hoping, and the salad was equal parts sliced cucumber, of which I'm not a huge fan.  Maybe I was just sick of veggies at this point?

But ... I again adored the purslane, so maybe not.  It was so fresh, so flavorful, so crispy.  With the very light sauce, which had a bit of kick to it, this was a fantastic mini salad on its own.  A bite of scallop, with some purslane dragged through the sauce, made me quite happy.

But this dish kept on giving.  Smokiness was brought in through the chunks of house smoked bluefish.  Lovely smoky flavor, mild fish.  Add a bit of that to the aforementioned bite, and then it was even more perfect.  I loved the smoky element.

Overall, a wonderful dish, even if I didn't personally want the cucumber and kohlrabi salad.
Dessert, Cheese, After Dinner Drinks Menu.
I was already quite satisfied with my meal, but, I don't ever skip dessert.  Ok, not quite true, but it is extremely rare.  While I appreciate my local seasonal veggies, and the quality seafood, I'm a sweet tooth at heart.

I asked to see the dessert menu in advance, when we ordered our mains, so I knew how much "space" to save, as if that is even really a question with me.

The dessert menu included coffee drinks (including pour over), tea, and some cheese selections, plus 5 sweet options.

Sweet options were house made ice cream in a few flavors (not really something I ever order at a restaurant, ice cream has its place, obviously, I eat it near daily, but restaurant dessert is not it for me), 3 types of cake, and a seasonal fruit crisp.

If you've read my blog much, you probably know which I went for.  I'm just not really a cake girl.  I don't eat chocolate (caffeine) at night, so the chocolate molten cake was out, although the table next to us loved theirs.  My mom likes olive oil cakes, but for me, that is about as boring as a dessert can be, and didn't ever register on my radar.  The final cake was a grilled pound cake, served with grilled strawberries and lemon cream.  This also didn't cross my radar, meh to pound cake in general, except the table next to us did get it, and I'll admit, it sounded fantastic.  Grilling pound cake, and serving it with sides like that, might just elevate it enough for me!

But, we went for the fruit crisp, strawberry rhubarb, even though my mom correctly noted, "uh, you don't really like rhubarb?"  She is right, but I tolerate it, particularly when mixed with strawberry, and, well, I love fruit crisp and ice cream!
Something Sweet: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. $8.
"Molten wheat crumble + brown butter ice cream." 

Our crisp was delivered piping hot, in a crock.  Yes.  Points for this.  Seriously, why bother serve a cold crisp?

The ice cream clearly was just added before serving, as it wasn't melted at all, a perfect little scoop.  It did quickly melt in, and, we wished we had a second scoop.   I didn't taste brown butter necessarily, but it was a smooth, creamy ice cream, not too sweet, and complimented the sweet crisp filling well.

The crisp filling was ... mostly rhubarb.  My mom commented on it immediately.  We had trouble finding much strawberry.  Mostly little chunks of rhubarb, clearly stewed in sweet syrup though, as it was very sweet overall, not much tartness.  It really needed the aforementioned ice cream to cut the sweetness.  A bite of the fruit filling on its own was pretty intense.

And finally, uh, my favorite part of a crisp: the topping!  It was described as "molten wheat crumble", which, I'll be honest, I don't know what that means.  Did it just mean ... molten, as in, hot?  If so, why was that modifier on the "wheat crumble" and not the "crisp", like the molten cake?  Or did it, more likely, refer to the type of wheat, and was a misspelling of "moulton wheat"?  I dunno.  Whatever it was, it was more whole wheaty, and just totally delicious, large chunks on top.

The only problem?  There wasn't much of it at all.  The surface area of the crisp wasn't huge, and, as you can see, the topping didn't extend to the edges.  My mom's comment, as she had a bite of the crisp topping, "Wow, that's really good crumble ... when you get it."  Both my mom and I loved the crumble, but only had about 2 bites each.

My mom appreciated the size of the dessert.  We shared it easily, and it left us both satisfied, but not too full.  She acknowledged that sharing probably wasn't necessary.  It is nice to have dessert portions that aren't monsters, since, often, no one else wants desserts but me, and restaurant desserts are usually too big for just one person.

Overall, this was a fine dessert.  We left satisfied, but, it wasn't a dessert I'll rave about.  A bit too sweet, not enough crumble, and a fruit I don't love.   Lots of promise here though.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Poke from New Sushi Inc, Boston

New Sushi is fairly new to Boston, opened in 2016.  While the restaurant name is "new sushi", they don't actually serve any sushi, or at least, any nigiri or standard rolls.  Instead, they offer, well, "new" style sushi, that is ... sushi burritos.  And poke bowls.  So on trend.

And, as much as I hate being into trends, well, they are ones I get behind (e.g. I love Sushiritto in SF for the sushi burritos, and during my recent travels to Seattle and southern California, I've gotten a bit addicted to poke bowls ... like Cubed Poke and Pokéworks in Irvine, CA, Pokéworks in Mountain View, CA, MIX Poke Bar in Bellevue, WA, and, more locally, Big Fish Little Fish in San Francisco). 

So when I was in Boston staying just one night in a hotel near the airport ... poke delivery called out.

New Sushi offers 3 options for your creation: a burrito (sushi rice and seaweed wrap), a poke bowl (sushi rice or white sticky rice base), or a salad bowl (romaine base).  All come with choice of 2 or 3 proteins, 1 sauce, up to 6 regular toppings, and 2 crunch toppings.  Most places allow you to pay extra for more toppings, but, New Sushi does not.  Want al 4 crunch toppings?  So, no luck.
Delivery Create Your Own.
I didn't visit in person, rather, opted for delivery (via DoorDash) to my hotel room on a very, very cold night, but I know the concept is Chipotle style, with everything laid out and assembled to order.

My order came quickly, no drama, and the bowl was clearly handled with care, not mixed around, and nicely assembled.

For proteins, you can select 1-2 for a regular bowl, and 1-3 for a large, from a set of 6 options, 3 standard raw poke style seafoods (tuna, albacore tuna, salmon), 1 cooked seafood (tempura shrimp), 1 vegetarian (tofu skin), and 1 ... chicken.

For sauce, you pick only one (boo!), again out of 6 options, including creamy mayo bases (spicy mayo, classic mayo, wasabi mayo) and lighter options (spicy ponzu, ginger sauce, and "yazu" sauce ... whatever that is).

Next, up to 6 toppings, out of a list of 12, mostly basic veggies (romaine, cucumber, red onion, cabbage, jalapeno, carrot), crunchy things (tobika, sesame seeds), plus the standard higher end add-ins (avocado, seaweed salad, and crab salad), and a more unique choice of Japanese pickle.

And finally, two crunch toppings out of four: onion, scallion, or garlic crisps, and shredded nori.
Regular Create Your Own:  $10.50.
My order was:
  • Base: Salad Bowl.
  • Protein: Shrimp Tempura, Tofu Skin.
  • Sauce: Spicy Ponzu. (on the side).
  • Toppings: Cabbage, Crab Salad (x2), Japanese Pickle, Seaweed Salad, Sesame Seeds.
  • Crunch: Scallion Crispy, Shredded Nori
Yes, not really a "poke bowl", as I didn't have rice, nor raw fish.  Let's just call it a Japanese-ish salad?  I feel silly, since I don't actually like poke (meh, rice, and I just haven't been into raw fish lately), but, well, I adore bowls like this.

The base was actually fairly boring, chunks of romaine.  I prefer more interesting mixed greens or kale, but they only offered romaine.  I was impressed by the quality.  Clearly very fresh, very crisp, juicy, not wilted, not browned, etc.  Very good ... but it was romaine.

The crunchy toppings were good, a pile of chopped shredded nori in the center, some crunchy crispy bits of scallion on one side.  I would have liked even more of these, or some of any of the other crunchy toppings, just cuz I adore crunch, but, the amount was reasonable, and both were good.

The sesame seed topping was sprinkled all over the top which added a bit more crunch too.

The other toppings were all arranged in piled around the exterior of the bowl.

The cabbage (purple) was fresh and crisp, a nice compliment to the romaine, good portion, just enough not dominant.  It made me wonder about a "poke" bowl with a cabbage/slaw base rather than greens?

The seaweed salad was also a good portion, a nice mound, but I didn't really like it as much as most.  It didn't seem to have much marinade nor flavor to it. It was fine, but, boring.
My Bowl: Under the Toppings.
The "Japanese Pickles" turned out to be takuan, slices of pickled daikon.  Crisp, but, I didn't care for the flavor (and I do like takuan).  There was more of this than any other topping, and it kinda dominated (which, would be great, ifI liked it).

My final topping was the crab salad (fake crab) which I asked for double of since I adore it (enough to have a label on my blog devoted to it!), but, since it was a delivery order, I did that via the comments section in the ordering tool, and I'm pretty sure this was just a single serving.

I loved it.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.  Shredded "krab", creamy mayo base.  I seriously would have been happy with just a big bowl of this and some crunchy toppings.

For my actual protein choices, I went for the shrimp tempura and tofu skin, since I haven't been into raw fish lately, and I dislike chicken.

The shrimp tempura was an amazing surprise.  I think it was just one piece of shrimp, chopped up into a few pieces, but it was excellent.  Flavorful, great batter, somehow still crisp, and the shrimp itself wasn't fishy at all.  Really shockingly good.

The tofu skin was eh.  Marinated, chopped up, but, not particularly flavorful nor interesting.  I wish I could have just had two shrimp tempura!

And finally, sauce, which I asked for on the side.  I went for the spicy ponzu (because I had a spicy mayo sauce in the fridge already), and it wasn't particularly good.  Certainly not spicy.  Mostly just tasted like soy sauce.  I was glad I had my other sauce to dunk the shrimp tempura in, and the crab salad had so much creaminess already that I didn't need more for that.

So, overall, there were some highlights (the crab salad! The shrimp tempura!), but, overall, I don't feel compelled to order from New Sushi again, unless I really could double up on the shrimp tempura and crab salad, and add on more crunchy toppings.

Regular size was plenty, and decent for the $10.50 price.
"Chips". $2.
The list of sides available is meager: edamame, seaweed salad, and chips.

Most poke places offer chips ... they are usually taro chips, usually made in house.  So I eagerly added "chips" onto my order, slightly concerned because the menu didn't specify what kind of chips, but also didn't offer any options.  If the chips were just regular potato chips, surely, they'd have options, right?

Apparently ... wrong.

Really, I paid $2 for a tiny bag of plain Lay's potato chips?  Boo to this.
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Bi-Rite Creamery Breakfast Catering

Bi-Rite Creamery.  A SF institution.  The lines for the ice cream on a rare warm SF day are well known (which, I've never really understood.  Its fine ice cream, but, honestly, I've never been that impressed). 
"We may be known for our ice cream, but we started as bakers! Today our team bakes sweets like the ones we grew up with.  Our changing menu reflects the fruits offered by each season as well as holiday classics like pumpkin pie, Christmas stollen and hot cross buns."
But did you know that Bi-Rite started as a bakery?  And is actually known for their baked goods?  I didn't either, but, I was eager to learn more.

The bakery wing of the creamery makes a slew of items, ranging from cupcakes, bars, cookies, and puddings, to beautiful cakes, to breakfast pastries.  They are available at the Bi-Rite Markets, or, through their catering service, which is how I had them.
Granola. $45.
"Maple and brown sugar granola with almonds, sunflower and flax seeds, unsweetened coconut, and raisins." 

This was interesting granola.  From inspection alone, I did not think that I'd care for it.  It really looked quite plain, was loaded with way too many raisins, and had no chunks. Not my style at all.

My feelings on the raisins didn't change much (yup, raisins, but at least they were soft and not hard pellets, and yup, way too many).  And I did wish for chunks of granola (it did have chunks, they, uh, just were all of raisins).

But it was good.  The almonds surprised me, they were a small size, and well roasted and sweetened. Really crunchy and somehow more flavorful than your average almond.  I also liked the crispy coconut flakes, which the description said were unsweetened, but really did taste sweet to me.  Which is probably why I thought the granola was decent, as it was beautifully sweet from maple syrup, brown sugar, AND honey.  And it very crisp, toasted with butter.

The flax and sunflower seeds gave a bit of bitterness, but not too much, and I didn't mind them at all, another surprise.

So for the style of granola it was, I liked it.  Better as finger food or with milk than yogurt.

This came served with our choice of Straus whole milk yogurt or Clover 2% milk.  It was a huge bowl of granola, but $45 still seems a little pricey for a few tubs of yogurt and granola.
Fruit Salad. $60.
"Freshly-picked, peak of the season fruit salad."

The fruit salad too was actually really quite good.  The pineapple and cantaloupe I didn't care about, the blueberries were good but nothing special, and the kiwi and mango were both fabulous, really juicy, really ripe, nicely sweet.  I almost wonder if they had some agave drizzled over it all?  They were too good to be "just fruit"!

Again, a big bowl, but, $60?  Maybe it was reasonable for this premium fruit.
Mini Pastry Basket. $45.
"An assortment of 32 of our favorite mini pastries to start your day."

The part I was obviously most excited for was the baked goods.  Bi-Rite has many different options for catering pastry baskets - just croissants/danishes, just scones, or mixes, full size or mini.  This was the most inclusive option - mini mixed.  So I could try ... everything.

The selection changes depending on what they want to send you, so we didn't get any muffins, nor quickbreads, which was fine with me.  What we did have was plain croissants, pain au chocolate, almond croissants, cinnamon rolls, and struesel coffee cake.

Yes, I tried them all (except the plain croissant).  They were mini, after all ...
Almond Croissant.
I started with what looked the most decadent, an icing drizzled almond croissant.

It was ... eh.  Fine.

The pastry was a bit spongy, not very flaky.  The sweet glaze on top was nice.
Almond Croissant: Inside.
And it wasn't very well filled.  The gritty almond filling wasn't particularly great either.

My least favorite, not recommended.
Coffee Cake.
"Warm cinnamon and brown sugar coffee cake baked from scratch."

Better was the coffee cake.

The cake was just sour cream pound cake, dense, moist, not dry, very buttery and rich, but, still just fairly plain cake.

The streusel though was good, brown sugar, cinnamon, and regular sugar, and I appreciated the layer both on top, and the layer in the middle.  Nicely sweet.  Lots of sugar.

My third pick, because of the topping, but still not an item I really wanted more of.

They also sell the coffee cake whole for $40.
Pain au Chocolat.
Things improved with the pain au chocolate.

The pastry was a bit better, more flaky, more crisp, but still not that great.

What was great was the filling, three large bars of totally not melted quality dark chocolate.  I really liked the chocolate.

My second favorite, because I liked the chocolate, but, a stellar pastry it was not.
Cinnamon Roll.
And finally, I saved the best for last.  The cinnamon roll.

This was actually quite good.

I really liked the sweet dough used, good flavor, good texture, just a bit crisp.  The filling was cinnamon and sugar, again, lots of sugar, which created caramelized edges that seeped out.  And of course, icing on top for more sweet.

This was certainly my favorite and one I'd gladly have again.
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