Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Home Plate Boba, AT&T Park

Update Review, September 2016

Last time I attended a ball game at AT&T Park, I discovered Home Plate Boba, and I was pretty excited.  I like bubble tea, but it is a treat I rarely splurge on (and, maybe TMI, but, my body doesn't always, uh, agree with non-dairy creamer commonly used).  On that visit, I didn't actually get a bubble tea.  It was hot and sunny, so I opted for a taro smoothie instead (and I grabbed a fruity tea to take home with me).

Both were ok, but, on this visit, I decided to mix things up a bit.
Menu / Ordering Area.
The menu at Home Plate Boba looks relatively unchanged, still featuring hot and cod milk teas, fresh fruit teas, and smoothies (I'm still confused why the hot taro milk tea has caffeine, and the cold one does not).  Options for flavors aren't extensive, and toppings only include boba, passion fruit popping boba, mango stars, and lychee jelly.  They still include one topping in the base price for every drink but drink prices have gone up $1-2 since last year.
Oreo Smoothie with Boba. $8.
Since it was a remarkably hot, sunny day, I picked a smoothie.  Last time I had a taro smoothie, and although I thought it was well made, but I made a note to get another kind next time, since the taro powder used wasn't very flavorful.  My options were strawberry banana (meh), honeydew (allergic), matcha green tea (which I'd love but I didn't want caffeine), or Oreo.

So, Oreo it was.  I'm not generally a fan of Oreo.  At least, just not the cookies.  Which I know makes my dad sad, as he loves them, and my house was always stocked with them growing up.  But, "cookies and cream" or other Oreo products I do like.  So, Oreo flavor good, form factor bad, as I just don't like cookies in general.

The Oreo flavor in this was good, and I saw bags of Oreos back in the preparation area, so I'm pretty sure they really do throw in real Oreos.  The ice was nicely blended too.  It was creamy and nicely flavored, and I liked the bits of texture from the ice and cookie.

Since I had one included topping, I wanted to add something fun, but, really, I just wanted it to be like a milkshake and have whipped cream on top.  I didn't like the boba last time, so I wanted something different.  Passionfruit popping boba seemed like it would totally not work with Oreo, and mango stars also seemed crazy, so I ordered it with lychee jellies, but the guy taking my order acted like that was crazy.  "With Oreo?", he questioned.  He talked me out of it and told me to get boba.  So I did.

The boba was not a success.  Just like last time, they were mushy and poorly cooked.  And they added tons of them.  And you just can't avoid boba once it is in a drink, they come up the straw no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

Overall, this was great, except, ruined by boba.  I'd gladly get it again and just leave the boba out entirely, sacrificing my "free" topping.

The $8 price is more than it was last year, but still seems pretty reasonable for a huge smoothie, with topping, at a ballpark.
Taro Milk Tea, No Ice, Lychee Jelly. $6.50.
As last time, I decided to grab a second drink to bring home with me, since I had a bunch of credit on my ticket.  The fruity tea last time was fine, but not particularly exciting.  I obviously couldn't bring home a hot drink or smoothie, so, regular milk tea it was.  I opted for no ice since I was bringing it home, which they questioned multiple times when I ordered.

For milk tea, I had 5 choices of flavors, but only one wasn't caffeinated (coffee, thai tea, black tea, and chai were the others).  Since I love taro anyway, that is what I would have picked, but, since I knew they use powder like in the smoothies, I wasn't super excited for it.

For a topping, I put in the lychee jellies, since enjoyed them last time, clearly didn't want boba, and lychee seemed to go better with taro than mango.

It was a very standard, made from powder, taro milk tea.  Creamy, way too sweet (they do not allow you to specify sweetness), and vaguely taro flavored.  I liked it well enough, but, it wasn't anything special.

The lychee jellies were good, ridiculously sweet, lychee flavored, and had a nice chew.  They went well with the taro, except for the fact that it was all really quite sweet.  They seemed to have made up for my lack of ice with adding even more jellies, there really were quite a few of them, but, I liked them, so I didn't mind.

I added ice and some regular milk to mellow it out when I got home and enjoyed it a bit more than way.

I'd get this again, although it was really not particularly remarkable.  I think my next version should be a taro smoothie, with lychee jellies?

Original Review, October 2015

AT&T Park has been known for having far better food options than your standard ballpark for a long time.  Several years ago, I visited for my first time, and reveled in the amazing crab salad at Crazy Crab'z.  Yes, amazing crab, at a ballpark.  I also tried many of the fan favorites, like the Chicago dog and the Gilroy garlic fries, although those didn't impress quite as much.  And of course, I had my share of margaritas from Lefty O'Doul's and wine from the slightly upscale Vintage 58 Wine Bar.

But on my visit this year, I had my sights set on something else.  Bubble tea.  Yes, bubble tea.  At a ballpark.  OMG.  You know how obsessed I get with bubble tea ...

The Space

The Stand.
It took me a while to find Home Plate Boba amongst all the concessions, but once I turned the corner and saw the sign, it was clear I had found the right place.  Bright, colorful, whimsical.  It didn't quite fit in.
The menu includes basically everything you'd expect from a bubble tea shop.

For an all-too-typical San Francisco chilly day, they have hot drinks of coffee, tea, milk tea, and hot cocoa, all $6.

Next are classic milk teas (black, green, or jasmine tea based), plus flavored milk teas (almond, mint, taro, thai, coffee).  These all use nondairy milk.  I appreciated that they clearly marked which ones were caffeinated or not.  These are also $6.

Next come fruit based teas, all with caffeine.  They must use black tea as a base?  Or green?  No option was given, but when I asked, I was told they all definitely have caffeine.  Fruit teas are made with syrups, plus some cubes of fruit, available in lychee, mango, passion, peach, and strawberry, all $6.50.

Tempting sounding smoothies round out the drink options, available in coconut, honeydew, matcha green tea, mint oreo, oreo, strawberry banana, and taro.

All drinks included a topping for free, with a choice of standard boba, lychee jelly, or flavored popping boba.

Finally, they also offer up a few desserts: ice cream sandwiches (which one co-worker had and said was great), macaron ice cream sandwiches, and just ice cream with boba on top.
Once you make the hard decision of choosing your drink, anther decision awaits.  The choice of straw.  Orange and black for the home team, assorted colors for visitors.  What if I just wanted a purple straw, because it matched my drink?  I didn't want to be judged for rooting for the away team, but I really would prefer a non-black or orange straw ...

Life is hard.

The Drinks

Taro Smoothie, with Boba. $7.50.
I adore taro, so my choice was fairly simple.  I wanted a taro based drink.  As for a milk tea or smoothie, that was dictated by the weather.  It was sunny and warm, thus, a more chilly smoothie seemed in order.

It was very well blended, no chunks of ice.  It had a decent light purple hue.  Not tons of taro flavor, but, what do you expect from powder?

The boba was nicely prepared, soft, not clumpy.  Clearly sweetened with honey.  For some reason, I didn't actually like the boba in my drink, and choose to drink it like a milkshake, and purposely kept my straw closed too tight to suck up boba.  But once the smoothie was gone, I gladly slurped up all the boba, like pudding.  The boba was sweet and tender, quite enjoyable.

I liked this well enough, particularly once I separated it into two parts: taro icy dessert and boba dessert.  I'd get another, but would actually likely try something different, like the mint oreo smoothie.

The $7.50 price was reasonable compared to other prices in the ballpark, but is higher than your average Quickly.  Speaking of Quickly, it reminded me a lot of the taro slush I had there once.
Mango Fruit Tea, with Lychee Jelly. $6.50.
I still had some money left on my ticket near the end of the game, so I grabbed a fruit tea to go.  With the sealed top, I could throw it in my purse, stick it in the fridge when I got home, and just add ice the next day, and enjoy it in the sun.  I'm always planning ahead.

There were 5 fruit tea choices, all of which sounded good: lychee, mango, passionfruit, peach, or strawberry.  I would have been happy with any, but decided mango sounded the best.  I haven't had much fruit tea, but way back in the day I used to enjoy the mango iced tea at Pizzeria Uno, so it inspired me.  I added lychee instead of boba, as it seemed more appropriate with the fruit based drink.

I asked for no ice, since I wasn't drinking it right away, and didn't want to dilute it.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw chunks of mango in the drink.  I expected it to just be made with a syrup (which, I'm sure it was), but the additional fruit was most welcome.

It was sweet, fruity, with a not too bitter tea based finish.  Perfectly refreshing on a hot day.  The mango wasn't the freshest, ripest, or most flavorful, but I still give them points for putting bits of mango in it in the first place.

I really did like the lychee jelly, sweet, slimy, and easy to suck up with my big straw.  I think jellies might be my new favorite bubble tea add-in.

The $6.50 price was $1 less than a smoothie, but $0.50 more than a milk tea.  It seemed perfectly reasonable for the large size and ball park location.
Home Plate Boba Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Club Europe, BA951, MUC-LHR

The flight: BA 951, MUC-LHR
Travel class: Club Europe
Departure time: 1:50pm
Meal served: lunch
Previous BA Club Europe meal reviews: Tea service on ZRH-LHR, tea service on LHR-BCN

This was my first time having lunch on a shorter haul BA flight, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  The answer?  Salad and dessert.

Meal service began shockingly fast once airborn, given the less than 2 hour flight time.  The FA came through row by row offering up trays with the salad and dessert on them already, plus a cup for coffee later.  He took drink orders at that time, returned with a bread basket moments later, and delivered the drinks soon after.  Very efficient for our small cabin.
Asian Style Chicken Salad, Chocolate and White Chocolate Mousse Cup.
The entree was described as an "Asian style chicken salad".

It had three pieces of sliced, chilled chicken, that I did not try, as I hate chicken.

The greens were standard BA greens, not very good, but, at least assorted greens.  They weren't dressed, and no dressing was provided, although other elements on the plate had some flavor.  The other basic salad components were a single cherry tomato and chunk of red pepper.

The more interesting components were a side dish of marinated, slimy, mushy eggplant, mushy cucumber slices in thick yogurt, and some kind of extremely bitter, slimy greens with perhaps tahini on them.

Clearly, I wasn't so into this, but I had done my research and expected a salad, so I packed other food for myself.

The dessert however was another story.  I can't say I've been impressed with BA desserts in general, particularly the "sweet treat" offered during tea service on Club Europe routes, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a "real" dessert, a layered creation of chocolate and white chocolate mouse, with chocolate cake crumbles on top.

It was ... actually really tasty.  Both layers of mousse were light and fluffy.  It wasn't the richest, chocolatiest mousse ever, but, it was good.  The cake crumbles on top did get a bit soggy, but, this also kinda worked.  I enjoyed it with my coffee I brought on board.

Overall, with my own cheese and charcuterie platter and this dessert, I was happy enough.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Starbucks Sandwiches

Update Review: September 2016

Starbucks likes to give away breakfast sandwiches.  I really don't understand it.  I'm a Starbucks member, and besides a random $1 off, or extra bonus star earnings, I don't ever get freebies.  Except breakfast sandwiches.  I don't like eggs, I don't really like sandwiches, so these are the worst targeted item for me.  Why not pastries?  Why not frappucinos?  Wah!

Anyway, I'm also not one to not take advantage of a freebie.  So, even though I'd never normally get a breakfast sandwich, it was time to try yet another Starbucks breakfast sandwich.  I've had mixed success with past versions, like the disappointing Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss on a croissant or the shockingly decent Sausage & Cheddar or Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon on english muffin, so, I figured it was worth a try.  Plus, free!

My visit was actually not at breakfast time, given that I had only one day to use the free sandwich, and I wasn't able to go at breakfast.  I went at lunch, and thus selected the one that seemed most lunch appropriate.  I was glad they still had all the breakfast sandwiches in stock at 1pm, the last time I had tried to get a (free) breakfast sandwich, they seemed to run out by mid-morning.
Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. $3.75.
"We bring together cage-free egg whites, spinach, feta cheese and tomatoes inside a whole wheat wrap, then toast it to perfection. Vegetarian and protein-rich, this low calorie wrap is a tasty start to any morning."

So, um, yeah, I picked the veggie wrap.  Even though it contained a bunch of things I don't really like.  Like the wrap itself (although, besides a croissant, its not like I like the other bread choices much more).  And egg whites (although, I don't like any of the egg options in the breakfast sandwiches).  And feta (not that I hate feta, but I certainly don't like it, particularly compared with the other cheeses like gouda, swiss, and cheddar used in the other sandwiches).

So, why would I get this?  Like I said, it was lunch time, and it seemed the most lunch appropriate.  Plus, for some reason, spinach and tomatoes actually sounded tasty to me.

Like all the sandwiches, it was heated up in the crazy magic oven, and handed over to me in just a minute or two, literally.  It was piping hot, too hot actually, I had to wait for it to cool down before I could really eat it comfortably. 

The wrap was crispy on one side, but kinda moist and mushy on the other.  Not the magic heating job I was hoping for, but, it had potential, since one side was good.  It had a fairly hearty wheat flavor to it and was well wrapped.

The overall size was decent, maybe a bit small for a lunch item, but, for breakfast it would have been more than enough.  The price is usually $3.75.
Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap: Inside.
Inside the wrap was the veggies, cheese, and egg.

The most dominant part of the filling, at least volume wise, was the egg white.  It seemed to be a folded up egg white omelet that was surprisingly not offensive.  Not rubbery, not scary looking.  It really did look like an omelet.  Inoffensive is likely the highest praise I'll ever have for egg whites.  I removed a chunk of it since I really didn't want it, but, it wasn't bad.

The flavor all came from the other fillings: spinach, crumbled feta, bits of roasted tomato, and ... sundried tomato cream cheese?  I wasn't expecting that, as it is not part of the description, but, slathered all over the inside was a layer of flavorful sundried tomato cream cheese.  It added a nice creaminess and more strong flavor.  Also a surprise is the fact that the feta seemed melted.  I didn't realize feta melts.  Maybe it takes their magic oven to melt feta, or, maybe I just haven't encountered it before?

Anyway, the spinach/tomato/cream cheese/cheese was all very flavorful and savory.  The entire thing had an aroma almost like pizza.  It was enjoyable enough.

Would I get another?  Probably not, unless I was really craving something like this, due simply to the fact that Mediterranean flavors and egg whites just aren't really what I like.

Update Review: September 2015

If you didn't read my original Starbucks sandwiches post, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review: November 2014" below.

A few days ago, an e-mail popped up from Starbucks titled "Let us take care of breakfast".  Slightly intrigued, I clicked on the link, expecting to see something like a free baked good with purchase of an expensive handcrafted beverage.  Nope.  Starbucks just wanted to offer a free breakfast sandwich.  No strings attached, save the fact that I had only 2 days to redeem it.

Well, hmm.  I was used to Starbucks randomly throwing on freebies when I was a Gold member, but I lost my status long ago.  A measly Green card member, getting a freebie?  How could I not?
Breakfast Sandwich Lineup.
Starbucks must be struggling with sales of breakfast sandwiches.  Clearly there is a reason they gave me one for free (and it isn't the first time, the first one I had back in November was also a free offer).

But also, the lineup keeps changing.  At one point, I think there were at least 10 different sandwiches, and now they have reduced it down to only 7.  They kept the basic egg and cheddar (with or without sausage) on an English muffin, the very first Starbuck's breakfast sandwich I ever tried, that I thought was decent.  They also retained the healthier reduced-fat turkey bacon and egg white on whole wheat English muffin, that I liked even more, plus one on a "artisan roll" and a single vegetarian option, the boring spinach, feta, and egg white wrap.  But they also added two more decadent options, served on croissant rolls, one with bacon and cheddar, the other with ham and swiss.

I think one reason the breakfast sandwiches suffer is the presentation in the display case.  Honestly, they always look awful.  Of course, these aren't the actual sandwiches you are purchasing, but they are ones that someone made earlier in the morning, and set out on display.  They've been sitting for hours.  The cheese is always congealed, the bacon ridiculous flabby.  They simply don't look appetizing in any way.
Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich. $4.45.
I surveyed the lineup, a bit unsure of what to pick.  I knew I liked the turkey bacon one well enough, but, I didn't want to be boring.  I should try something new.  Gouda sounded great, but the "artisan roll" didn't seem likely to be interesting, and the bacon looked gross.

So, I decided to risk it, and go for one of the newest selections.  I didn't expect to like the egg anyway, this really was about bread and cheese (and maybe some decent meat), and obviously a croissant is much better than an English muffin.

I had two options: "double-smoked bacon" and yellow cheddar or ham and swiss.  Reviews I read in advance told me that people weren't happy with the bacon one, in particular, the cheddar didn't melt well and was never sufficient.  Since I was in it for the cheese, this mattered.  Thus, ham and swiss it was.

I ordered my sandwich, and stepped back to await my fate.  A few minutes later, the oven chimed, and my very hot creation was handed over.

Spoiler: even though it looked ok as I pulled it out of the bag, it turned out to be the most disappointing of the three sandwiches I've now tried.
Inside: swiss cheese, prosciutto cotto.
"Take slow-roasted Italian-style ham, 'prosciutto cotto' and nutty melty Swiss cheese layered on a flaky, buttery croissant, and you've got the perfect wake up call."

I eagerly opened it up to see what awaited me.

The construction was about what I expected: swiss cheese on top, ham (err, "prosciutto cotto") in the middle, egg patty on the bottom.

You may recall that the aspect of the previous sandwiches that I thought was remarkable was how melty the cheese was.  Here, it was melty, but ... where was it?  Yes, this was all the cheese.  Just a single, obviously small, slice of swiss.  I was hoping for a generous amount of cheese.  I was in it for the cheese!  

The cheese was good, it was melty, but ... I could barely taste it.

While there was only one slice of cheese, there were three slices of prosciutto cotto.  The ham was pretty soft and flabby.  The flavor wasn't awful, it had a bit of smokiness to it almost, but it certainly wasn't as fancy as its name would imply.
Inside: prosciutto cotto, fried egg patty.
Under the ham was the "fried egg patty".  This was my first time having this style of egg.  The sausage, egg, and cheese used the "puffed scrambled egg patty" (rather rubbery, but sorta like an omelet I guess?), and the turkey bacon used an egg white patty that I never expected to be decent.  I would have never called this a "fried egg".  There was no clear egg to be found.  The top half was mostly white, and the bottom yellow.  It was really weird, rubbery, and totally unseasoned.

I went to the condiment station to look for salt and pepper, but alas, not part of the offerings.  I could add mocha, nutmeg, sweeteners, etc, but some simple seasoning?  Nope.  Again, perhaps another reason these things aren't taking off?  It seems like basic salt and pepper make a big difference on breakfast sandwiches, but I could also imagine people wanting it for the savory lunch items too.

As for the final component, the croissant roll itself, it too failed to deliver.

In the English muffin sandwiches, I loved how crispy and perfectly toasted the English muffin got.  It seemed like the oven worked magic on those muffins.  It didn't work the same magic on the croissant roll.  The croissant was warm, but it just got moist, rather than getting a slightly crispy exterior.  It wasn't flaky.  It wasn't buttery.  It did have a slight sweetness to it that I thought was pleasant, but, besides that, there wasn't much going for it.

So overall, I had a moist and not buttery croissant, far too little cheese, flabby unremarkable ham, and a totally unseasoned rubbery egg patty.  I obviously don't endorse this one.  At $4.45, it was also the most expensive.  Keep trying, Starbucks.

Original Review: November 2014

Blah, blah, blah, Starbucks.  You obviously know Starbucks.  Perhaps all your extra spending money these days goes to getting your fix of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, (sorry, PSLs), before they vanish.  Or perhaps you avoid Starbucks like the plaque.  Either way, you know Starbucks.

And I've reviewed it many times before, from drinks, to seasonal beverages, to frappuccinos, and more recently, to the baked goods.  But have you ever dared try a sandwich there?

Starbucks has been expanding the menu to encompass more and more food, starting with introducing the La Boulange baked goods, but now by offering sandwiches of both the breakfast and regular variety.  They really want to tap into the food market.

Hot Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast sandwiches are available all day, although I was told that they do run out, so if you want a specific one, you should get it earlier in the day.  This is a still a nicer model than most fast food places with set breakfast hours.  It seem that you can have brunch any day!
Breakfast Sandwiches on Display.
Unlike most of the pastries, Starbucks does not have all of the breakfast sandwich varieties out on display.  Instead, only two are shown(in this case, the bacon and gouda and the sausage and cheddar), but the rest are listed on the placard behind, along with images of a few others.

Th breakfast sandwich line-up is actually pretty impressive, with 8 options, all quite different.  Each features a different type of bread, ranging from basic toast and english muffins, to a wrap or even multigrain ciabatta.  Eggs come in several forms as well, like a fried egg patty, a cheesy frittata, scrambled eggs, or egg whites only.  All the classic breakfast meats show up: sausage, ham, bacon, and turkey bacon.  And a slew of cheeses: feta, gouda, cheddar (white or yellow), fontiago, swiss.  But you cannot customize, nor can you mix and match.  The variety is there, but, you have to like the way in which they are combined.

Picking just one to try was hard.

The most basic option is the Egg & Cheddar, made with a fried egg and mild cheddar on multigrain toast for $2.95.  This sounded boring to me, so I easily moved on.

A step up is the Ham & Cheddar, except that it isn't just the same thing just with ham added.  Rather than toast, it is served on a white artisan roll.  Rather than a fried egg, it has a parmesan and monterey jack frittata.  Yet somehow, it is 350 calories, and the simple egg and cheddar is 400.  I can't say I understand that, given the ham and cheesy frittata.

If you are a ham lover, there is a much more appealing option: the Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich.  This one brings back the fried egg patty, switches in swiss for the cheddar, and upgrades to a croissant for the serving vessel.  And it isn't just ham, it is "prosciutto cotto".  This fancy meat also makes it the most expensive option, at $4.45, and the croissant pushes it up to 490 calories.  But, I don't like ham, so, moving on.

Sticking with the pork products comes the Bacon & Gouda, which again has the Parmesan frittata for the egg, plus the expected bacon and aged Gouda, and the same artisan roll as the Ham & Cheddar.  This was my 4th choice, but I was worried about soggy bacon, so I skipped it.  I'm a crispy bacon girl all the way.

Speaking of bacon, the healthiest option is the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich, which gains its more modest nutrition stats by using an egg white patty, reduced fat white cheddar cheese, and turkey bacon, on a whole wheat english muffin, only 230 calories and 6 grams of fat, which seems fairly impressive given that it still has cheese and some form of bacon.  This was my third choice, but Ojan wasn't excited about turkey bacon, and we were splitting it.

Which leads us to the least healthy option: the Sausage & Cheddar.  This one is a classic, served on a regular white english muffin, with a "puffed scrambled egg patty", aged yellow cheddar, and of course, a sausage patty.  And it clocks in at 500 calories, and 28 grams of fat.

Vegetarians have not only one, but two choices, either a healthy sounding Spinach & Feta Wrap, a wheat wrap filled with cage-free egg white, spinach, feta cheese and tomatoes, only 290 calories, or the more indulgent Vegetable & Fontiago Breakfast Sandwich, a fried egg topped with spinach, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and Fontiago cheese on a multigrain ciabatta bun, a more heafty 470 calories.  Since I don't like wraps or feta, I easily eliminated the wrap from consideration but the other vegetarian one did appeal; it sounded like a flavor powerhouse, with the spinach, sundried tomatoes, and caramelized onions.  However, I was splitting a sandwich with Ojan and he ruled it out immediately.

The two sandwiches on display in the case looked pretty gross, which you'd somewhat expect, as they likely had been sitting there all day.  At this particular Starbucks the cheese was melted and they looked like what you would receive if you ordered one, but at another Starbucks I visited the cheese was unmelted, and looked even less appealing.  Still, we forged on.
Sausage & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich. $3.25.
Which did we get?  Of course, the gut busting Sausage & Cheddar!  It was warmed up rapidly, only about 2 minutes elapsed between placing my order and the magic warming oven dinging.  A hot bag was handed over moments later.  That oven is amazing.
Inside the Sausage & Cheddar.
Let's just say I had very low expectations for this.  A pre-assembled creation, thrown fully made into a warmer?  Yeah right.  There was a reason I brought Ojan with me to try it.

I was a bit shocked by the results.  First, it was piping hot.  I could have easily taken it a few blocks home/to an office/etc and it would have remained warm.  Seriously, those ovens are something special.

Second, the english muffin was actually crispy on the outside.  I really didn't expect that given that it was placed in the oven fully assembled, rather than toasting the muffin separately.  The english muffin was otherwise unremarkable, just a standard white english muffin, but, the fact that it felt as crispy on the outside as if it came out of a toaster, and wasn't soggy or mushy on the inside, seemed like magic.

Next, the cheese.  As you can see, it was absolutely perfectly melted.  Not a single shred was unmelted.  Again, impressive given that it was stuck in whole, and, the sandwiches use a variety of cheese types, which must have totally different melting points.  The cheese wasn't particularly flavorful, but, the gooey consistency was just right.

The sausage patty was also better than I expected, really nicely seasoned.  My only complaint is that it was smaller than the english muffin, so, near the end, I ran out of sausage patty.

Finally, the egg.  This was the weakest component.  Unlike the sausage, it didn't seem at all seasoned.  And, it was clearly a reheated scrambled egg patty.  It wasn't super rubbery or as gross as I expected, but I don't really like scrambled eggs/omelets, so I wished this wasn't there.  In fact, both Ojan and I ended up removing the egg, and just enjoying the toasty english muffin, the melty cheese, and the sausage.

So overall, this was much better than I ever imagined it would be.  The components all seemed decent quality, they have nailed the heating, and, sans the slightly-too-small sausage patty, the ratios were all right, no single element dominated, and you could taste each component.  I certainly wouldn't get another, since I don't actually like egg sandwiches and will always go for a baked good instead, but, if you like egg based breakfast sandwiches, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Another part of the initiative to change up their offerings, Starbucks now offers sandwiches, paninis, and salads.  Most are pre-boxed and available along with bottled drinks, but the paninis are warmed up in the same magical machine as the baked goods, to order.  In the mornings, egg and cheese sandwiches are warmed the same way.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich.
“Reduced-fat turkey bacon and reduced-fat white cheddar cheese on an organic wheat English muffin.”

On my next visit, I was alone, and decided to go for a more modest offering, the slightly scary named “Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich”.

From the outside, it looked similar, except the “original english muffin” from the sausage & cheddar sandwich was replaced with a wheat english muffin.  As with my previous sandwich, I was very impressed with how well the english muffin came out, slightly toasty on the outside.  I liked the muffin, it had a bit of heartiness to it, a bit of subtle sweetness.  I did wish it was buttered, but I guess that would somewhat defeat the whole reduced-fat nature of this sandwich.  Still, a good start.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich: Inside.
Inside was an "egg white patty" instead of the "puffed scrambled egg patty".  This thing was pretty awful, a brick of egg white substance, not seasoned.  I desperately went back to the condiment station hoping to find salt and pepper, but alas, only a variety of sweeteners, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cocoa were available.  This was Starbucks after all.  After a few bites of this rubbery, flavorless thing, I just discarded it.  Did not like.

A single strip of turkey bacon replaced the sausage patty, and was the reason I selected this sandwich.  For some reason, turkey bacon just sounded good to me.  It was honestly pretty scary looking.  It had strange little holes in it.  It was floppy and not crisp.  But the flavor was actually pretty nice, smoky.

Reduced fat white cheddar cheese replaced the yellow cheddar from my previous sandwich.  Just like the cheddar, it was perfectly melted.  The flavor was mild, but the melty consistency added a lot to the sandwich.

Nutritionally, it doesn’t look so bad (if you can look past the fact that it has a lot of seemingly unnecessary ingredients, presumably preservatives): 230 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 12g protein, although I obviously lost a little protein by throwing out the egg, I think the whole wheat muffin, cheese, and turkey bacon probably made up the majority of it anyway.  The only shocking part to me was 560mg of sodium, since, in particular, the egg seemed so under seasoned.  I guess this was from the turkey bacon?

So overall, it wasn’t bad, as long as you didn’t care about not actually having egg, which, I didn’t.  A toasty decent english muffin, melty cheese, flavorful turkey bacon … fairly comforting and satisfying.  And again, I was pretty impressed with how this managed to be crispy on the outside and so well melted inside.  Magic.

Next time, I’m going to just try the classic egg and cheese, I’m curious about how the “fried egg patty” compares to these other mystery patties ...

Sandwiches and Paninis

Starbucks also rolled out a number of sandwiches besides the pre-made ones alongside the "Bistro Boxes" in grab-n-go in the cooler.  Sure, you can still grab a basic egg salad or turkey and cheese on sliced bread if you want, or, you can order one of the slightly more upscale versions from the case.  Like the breakfast sandwiches and pastries, they also get warmed up in the oven, and come on a wide variety of breads, but most feature chicken or turkey.
Assorted Sandwich Display.

I stopped in one Starbucks location that was trialing some new sandwiches.  They had several varieties, all La Boulange branded, served toasted.  Since they were trying to get people excited about them, they were walking around with samples.  Even though I don't even like sandwiches in general, I obviously HAD to try.

I tried the Smoked Turkey & Provolone on Toasted Wheat Baguette, normally $5.95.

It was far better than I expected.  The baguette was multi-seed, nicely toasted, and reminded me of a bagel.  It was crispy on the outside, had nice texture from all the seeds, a good crunch when you bit into it.  So far, so good.

Inside was sliced smoked turkey, standard deli meat.  And provolone cheese, really nicely melted.  There was just the right amount of cheese, not too much that it felt super unhealthy, but plenty enough to taste.  And consistently melty.  Have I mentioned the magic oven?

The real surprise was the veggies inside.  Smoked, caramelized onions, super flavorful.  And even some kale, wilted since the sandwich was toasted, so not fresh and crisp, but quite good.

All in all, this was ... good.  It could have come from any neighborhood cafe.  A nice combination of flavorful ingredients, and it even seemed a bit upscale due to the kale instead of lettuce and the caramelized onions instead of raw.  And, it really was toasted quite well.  Not sure they'll be able to do that consistently, but having a crispy exterior and perfectly melted cheese is pretty impressive.

Each sandwich also comes with your choice of "house made" condiment packets: bbq, mayo, pesto, sundried tomato, ketchup, or dijon mustard.  For the sample, she had dijon mustard to spread on top.  It was ... dijon mustard.  The sandwich had plenty of flavor already, so this wasn't needed at all.

Sadly, this sandwich didn't make it onto the real menu, although the Turkey Rustico Panini seems to be the version that did made it.  The provolone was swapped for smoked swiss, which actually sounds better to me.  The caramelized onions were swapped for a sweet onion marmalade, which seems reasonable, easier to do at scale.  The baby kale remains.  The choice of condiments is gone, and it always comes with Dijon mustard already on it.  And, the multi-seed baquette turned into whole grain focaccia.  Seems pretty close, and maybe, just maybe, I'd bother giving it a try, if I ever wanted a sandwich.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hi I'm Skinny

Yes, this company is called "Hi I'm Skinny".  And they make healthy snacks, aka, munchies made with whole grains, 40% less fat than regular chips, and, uh, "no nasty's".

The products are all snack sticks, thin things that look sorta like fries.  They make two flavors of quinoa sticks (sweet onion or sea salt), two flavors of "Superfood" sticks (mean & green or sweet potato), and one type of protein sticks (mesquite bbq).  I honestly don't recall where I found these, as I certainly didn't seek them out, so I only got to try one item.

They were too healthy for me.  Guess I like "nasty's"?
Sweet Onion Quinoa Sticks.
"Hi, I’m Skinny! I'm the all new Quinoa based snack stick packed with REAL Chia Seeds that makes me PERFECT for guilt free snacking!!  I’m loaded with all kinds of whole grains and seeds of all kinds and have just the right amount of seasoning! I’m "phat" on flavor, but I won’t make the scales or your skinny jeans a scary thought!!"

Um, yeah.

I opened my bag of quinoa sticks with some hesitation.  I had plenty of dips standing by to dunk them into, assuming I wouldn't really want to just eat these things.

From a distance, they sorta liked like fries, thin, and crispy, yet airy.  However, they certainly didn't taste like fries.  They tasted like Sun Chips, aka, like a healthy blend of whole grains.  Which, I guess is what they were.  They are made with quinoa flour, as expected, plus corn meal, white rice flour, brown rice flour, and chia seeds, and then sugar, salt, garlic, and onion for seasoning.

The flavor was ok, although I didn't really taste "sweet onion".  But really, just far too healthy of an item for me.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Update Review, April 2016

You know how I said I'd never try another Svenhard's pastry again, after my previous review?  Sometimes I fail at taking my own advice.  Particularly when there is a free pastry involved.  Sometimes that isn't the worst thing.

The context: Walk to work day.  One of the walk to work stations was giving out free coffee (why I stopped) and ... Svenhard's pastries!  They had a large assortment, including a cheese horn that I almost went for, but, somehow, at last minute, I decided to grab a cinnamon horn.

And ... I liked it.  Sigh.  Guess now I'll have to try more?
Cinnamon Horn.
"Cinnamon folded in sweet dough, & glazed with our delectable icing delivers old-fashioned goodness, reminiscent of Grandma’s house."

This looked just as bad as the breakfast claw.  It was kinda smushed, the icing was all over the inside of the packaging, and, well, it looked like a packaged baked good.

But I tried it anyway.  I took a tentative first bite.  It was soft, it was fluffy, it was sweet.  No, the dough was nothing like a fresh pastry, but it had a really lovely sweetness to it.  I took a second bite.  There was plenty of cinnamon within the folds.  The glaze on top, while not evenly distributed and rubbing off all over the place, was pleasantly sweet and went nicely with the cinnamon.  I took a third bite.  I stopped for a sip of coffee.  And then I went right for the center piece, always the best part of a cinnamon roll.

And I liked it.  Soft, sweet, moist, a bit gooey, and not in a fresh way at all, but, I liked it.  I realized as I neared the last bite that it reminded me of a Little Debbie product, which I'd never think of as anything like bakery items.  If you frame it in that context, then it really just isn't so bad ...

Original Review, September 2015

Svenhard's is a "Swedish Bakery" located in nearby Oakland.  However, they aren't a traditional bakery, as they make packaged baked goods and do not have a storefront.  I've seen their items at Target, Costco, and even on, so I think they run quite a large production.  I wouldn't normally be that interested in packaged baked goods like this, but they have been around since 1893.  Clearly, they have staying power, so perhaps their products really are tasty?

Svenhard's makes "claws", "curls", and "horns", all different varieties of croissant-like products with fillings.  The "claws" are basically bear claws.  "Curls" are just pastries in curled form, aka, cinnamon rolls and raisin snails.  And the "horns" are danishes with different fillings.

I've only tried one item, but, well, it was a packaged baked good.  I had no desire to try another.
Breakfast Claw.
I went for the fascinating sounding "breakfast claw", since, well, I was having it alongside a coffee for breakfast and it sounded like the most decadent of all the choices.

The advertising says: "Served warm, or eaten fresh from the package, Breakfast Claws will melt in your mouth, and bring delight to your taste buds! Our special icing and secret filling formula garnishes every bite."

Sounded good to me, even though I must admit it looked a little sad ...
Breakfast Claw: Revealed.
Well, first I tried it "fresh from the package".  "Fresh" was rather questionable.  It was a bit scary looking.

The pastry was about as bad as you'd expect.  Sorta spongy and gummy.  Not flaky.  Not buttery.  Greasy.  The oil slick left on the napkin I set it down on for literally 20 seconds to take a photo was impressive.

So far, gross.

On the plus side, the icing on top was sweet and rather tasty.  The little brown crumbles looked promising, but didn't deliver much flavor.
Breakfast Claw: Inside.
Inside was a cinnamon sugar filling that was tasty enough, but, as you can see from the cross section, it wasn't exactly generously filled.

Next, I tried warming it up, which did make it marginally better, but it was nothing like the magical transformation of the 7-Eleven cinnamon roll, and I still would certainly never get another of these.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Sticky Buns

A few years ago, for Christmas brunch, my mom made incredible sticky buns, following a recipe from King Arthur Flour.  Since then, I request them literally every time I visit.  It is a given that I want them for Christmas brunch annually, but I'll also ask for them for a random breakfast when I visit in the summer, or for dessert even (because really, they *are* dessert!).  We've tweaked the recipe a few times over the years, trying different cinnamon fillings and ratios, and adjusting the cooking time slightly (I like them a bit under-baked, more soft and doughy inside, and the topping more gooey and sticky).  At this point, my mom has these sticky buns nailed, and they are a highlight of my visits.
Sticky Buns: Normal Version.
Anyway, I adore these sticky buns and they come out excellent nearly every time (there was one time when we baked them too long, and the topping turned into caramel brittle and the buns were kinda dried out ...).  Pictured above is how they normally look, with an amazing cinnamon sugar topping and tons of pecans bathed in the sticky topping.

A batch is fairly sizable, and not everyone in my family is as crazy about them as I am.  Which means, I generally end up responsible for eating ... 80% of the buns?  And, their shelf life isn't exactly long.

They are incredible hot and fresh out of the oven for a decadent breakfast.  They are pretty good later that day for a dessert, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.  They are acceptable the next morning, warmed, for breakfast again.  After the second afternoon though, I generally start to turn my nose up at them, and move on to whatever new baked good my mom's oven has produced (because, well, she knows I have a sweet tooth, and she keeps me very well fed!)
Sticky Buns: Not-risen.
So that is how things normally go.  Incredible sticky buns that I enjoy for about two days, and then move on.  But on my recent visit, things didn't quite go as expected.

My mom made up the dough in advance, knowing that is the time consuming part.  She stashed the dough in the freezer to pull out and easily make my sticky buns when I arrived.  On my first day there, she pulled it out and defrosted in the fridge.  She intended to surprise me the next morning with hot fresh sticky buns.  But ... she forgot.  And we had breakfast plans the day after that with my grandfather at 4 Aces Diner.  So, two days passed, and then she remembered the dough.  She pulled it out to make the buns on the third morning.  But ... they just didn't rise.  Was it from freezing?  Was it from being in the fridge for a few days?  We weren't sure.  But I still wanted my sticky buns, so, eventually, she put them in the oven, warning me that she could tell things weren't quite right.
Sad Sticky Bun: Not Risen, Way Too Much Topping.
And ... yeah, things weren't quite right.  The buns didn't rise, didn't get as fluffy and doughy as usual.  Instead they stayed fairly deflated.  The topping amount was too much, given the significantly reduced dough surface area.  So, what we had was kinda undercooked balls of dough, with way too much filling inside the folds and on top.  They looked horrible.

They tasted decent enough, but were crazy sweet, and totally not right for breakfast.  Warmed up later in the day with a huge scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness, they made for a fantastic dessert (in my mind), but, no one else wanted to touch them.  They were going to throw them out.

I had another one after lunch the second day, warm with ice cream.  It was still pretty good.  I had one after dinner the second day, warm with ice cream.  Still a winner.  But, no one else wanted any.  I had an entire batch of sticky buns to eat myself (save for one that the others split the first day).

By day three, I decided to get creative.  Even a perfect version of the buns never holds up to day three.

I imagine you might know where this is headed.  What else would I do with a sad leftover that I desperately wanted to save?  Of course I waffled it, following my tradition of waffling all the things

So, Leftover Messed-Up-Sticky-Buns: Will It Waffle?  Yes!
Mid-Way Through Cooking.
I knew this idea had potential.  The cinnamon sugar coating would likely get crispy and actually caramelized when it came in contact with the hot irons.  The entire thing would hopefully cook a bit more and improve upon its under-baked state.

I threw the sticky bun in, unmodified, into a 350 degree waffle iron. (Of course, my mom has the same waffle iron I do, with adjustable temperatures, so, no modifications were needed to my technique).
Waffled Sticky Bun!
The result was certainly better than the original, but, I did accidentally leave it in a bit too long, as I was busy socializing with my family.  Rookie mistake!

The outside sugar and cinnamon did indeed turn more caramelized, into a crispy layer encasing the side of the bun.  It went a touch too dark though, so had a hint of burnt flavor to it.  The pecans on the outside sadly did burn, so I ended up scraping those off.

I think the dough did cook a bit more, but, really, it just mattered less because the whole thing was mushed down to be waffled, so the lack of rise wasn't as strange in this form.

I served the sticky bun with both whipped cream and ice cream, and preferred the whipped cream since I could dunk the crispy roll into it easier.

Overall, this was a success, and a great idea for what to do with future extra sticky buns, even ones that DO rise properly, after day two.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One World Lounges, SFO

Update Review, 2016

This was my first time flying without BA Gold Status (I am now Silver), so, I had no access to the First Class lounge.  Not that the SFO BA lounge has ever been particularly nice, but, I was shocked by how uncomfortable it was in the main Terraces lounge.  It was loud, there were no working power ports, and it was crazy crowded.

The food was the same as always, just some crudite, stale looking sandwiches, bags of chips, and hard cookies.  I grabbed a snack of mediocre wasabi peas and dried fruit, and quickly headed out to explore the regular terminal.  I was delighted to discover that the Cathay Pacific lounge was already open, so, I made a beeline for that, and sent Ojan a txt message telling him to come join me.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

The Cathay Lounge was the opposite of the BA lounge.  It was quiet, calm, and nearly empty.  They did have sandwiches like the BA lounge, but they also had fairly decent looking salads and cheeseburgers in a buffet, and, of course, the made to order noodle bar, which I had also tried on my first visit to that lounge several years ago.

The food wasn't great, but, it was much better than what BA had to offer, particularly if you like noodles.
Ordering Counter.
Noodles are made to order, so you select a style from the menu, and are given a pager to wait.  Once ready, the pager goes off and your noodles are handed over on a tray with chopsticks and a soup spoon.

My noodles took about 6 minutes to make, which seemed like a long time, but Ojan's were ready in less than 2.  Not sure why such a difference.
Noodle Kitchen.
The noodles are made right there in a small "kitchen" really, mostly just hot water boiling for the noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Ojan opted for the dan dan noodles, which I had on my previous visit to the lounge.  Of course I tried a few bites, but, I didn't care for them, as they were just too greasy for me.  Ojan also didn't like his dish.
Wonton Noodles.
I selected the wonton noodles (shrimp and pork).  My bowl was piping hot, with thin noodles, and two wontons.  I didn't like the flavor of the broth (too porky), the thin noodles were totally mushy, and the wontons were also overcooked.  I also wasn't expecting a big bowl of thin noodles, I'm just not a noodle girl, I only wanted the wontons.

The broth didn't have much flavor, and both Ojan and I were too lazy to go back up to the condiment station to add soy sauce or chilis or something to it, but we both thought it really did need it.

I handed it off to Ojan, who enjoyed it.  Then again, he likes noodles, and I don't.
Cheeseburger Slider.
Ok, so I knew better, but, um, I can't resist trying all the things.  Like cheeseburger sliders, in a buffet, from an Asian airline.

The bun was fairly stale, untoasted, and very boring and generic.  The patty was thin, fully cooked, and didn't really resemble beef.  There was a tiny bit of congealed, melted cheese on top, and a single leaf of lettuce.  No pickles, special sauce, or anything to jazz it up besides ketchup.

Again, I knew better, but I couldn't resist.
Salads, Sandwiches.
Ok, well, if the noodles weren't for me, and the cheeseburgers weren't for me, how about the salad?  I knew I didn't want a sandwich, and I was running out of options.   (Sandwich choices were turkey & cheddar, veggie with sprouts and cheese, and hummus, cucumber, and tomato pitas.  The sandwiches looked much better than the BA ones, with more generous, fresher looking vegetables.)

I selected the "Arugula & quinoa salad with parmesan cheese."  The arugula wasn't particularly crisp, it was very bitter, and just wasn't great.  I didn't taste any cheese.  I passed this off to Ojan too.  He also had, and enjoyed, a greek salad with cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, feta, and olives, with basil & oregano dressing.  The final salad offering was a spinach salad with radish, quinoa, and I think thinly sliced apple.

Original Review, April 2014

I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  It was my first time flying internationally since having One World Emerald status, so I was excited to check out the different lounges in my home airport of San Francisco.  Of course, I expected to only have an hour or so to "enjoy" these spaces, but ... I ended up being there for 7 hours.  Certainly not what I intended, but it gave me time to do very thorough "research" into all the lounge offerings.

JAL Sakura Lounge

Since I was flying on Japan Airlines (or, at least, I was planning too ... sigh, more on that later), I started with their lounge.  It was by far the least impressive.  The lounge was fairly small, the chairs very plain, and only borderline comfortable.  The entire place felt drab and dated.  Not many seats had nearby power.  The restrooms were a step above the ones in the main terminal, but not particularly nice.
Finger sandwiches, onigiri, Oreos, mochi, hot water for ramen.
The food offerings were sparse and laid out on a single bar area: a few finger sandwiches, hot water and ramen noodles, two types of pre-packaged onigiri, packaged sliced cheese, packaged rice crackers, packaged mochi, and ... Oreos and Lay’s potato chips.

I skipped the finger sandwiches as they didn’t look particularly interesting, and the American junk food, since I can have that any time.
Salmon Onigiri.
I started with the salmon onigiri.  I made a rookie mistake, and didn’t read the instructions on the package, and was left a bit confused.  I just opened it, to find the nori wrapper separated from the rest of it by a layer of thin plastic.  So I took that off, and tried to roll it up myself.  I was confused that I’d have to do this myself, and it turns out, that if I’d read the wrapper, I would have seen that it was magic, I was supposed to just pull a strip, and the whole thing would come together.

Anyway, the packaging was smart, as it kept the nori fresh and crisp, since it would have gotten soggy against the rice.  The rice was surprisingly good, and I don’t generally care for rice in any form (besides rice pudding for dessert).  It was sticky and consistently cooked.  The salmon inside wasn’t impressive, it was cooked, and tasted like it came from a can.  Overall though, I thought this was an decent selection.  I did want some soy sauce or something with it though to jazz it up, as just nori and rice is pretty plain, and there wasn’t much salmon inside.

Since I liked everything about the onigiri besides the salmon, I decided to try the other variety, a vegetarian one.  This time, I sorta followed the instructions, and it mostly all came together properly.  Like the previous one, the nori was crisp, the rice good.  The seasoned seaweed inside was more successful for me than the salmon since it had more flavor, but I still wished for more flavor from a sauce.

If I were stuck in SFO again, I'd get another seaweed onigiri.
Rice Cakes.
Next I moved on to the packaged rice cakes.  Crispy, slightly savory soy sauce flavor to them.  Not particularly interesting though.
But who are we kidding, I'm always in it for the desserts.  I was happy to see several varieties of mochi, since the only other sweet offering was Oreos.

The mochi was disappointing, soft enough, but obviously not fresh, and not particularly flavorful.
Juices, few types of hard alcohol, single choice of each type of wine.
The drink offerings were not much better.  A few soft drinks, a single red and white wine, a couple spirits, a few beers, tea, and already brewed coffee, regular only.  Not an impressive selection.

I tried the white wine, it was inoffensive, but not particularly special, and I don’t even recall the varietal.

Not so thrilled with the JAL lounge, I moved on and joined my colleagues in the British Airways lounge.

British Airways Terraces Lounge / First Lounge

"The Library"
The BA lounge was notably nicer from the moment I entered.  It was far larger, had more pleasant lighting, and higher ceilings.  There was also a variety of seating types, and multiple food and drink stations.
Our little section of couches.
My colleagues had commandeered an entire section of couches, all with power and coffee tables between them.

There was also a separate first class room, with its own food stations and bar with slightly premium offerings.
One Snack Station.
Like the JAL lounge, the primary food offering was finger sandwiches, although the BA ones were larger, more plentiful, and labelled.  There were at least 4 varieties including ham and cheese, tuna caper, egg salad, and veggie, all on different types of bread (sliced, rolls, wraps).  The egg salad wasn’t just egg salad, it had “locally grown arugula”.  A much nicer lineup, although still mostly sandwiches.

Alongside the sandwiches was crudite and assorted dips, which I didn’t try, but they looked fairly boring.  Assorted bagged chips and bowls of fresh whole fruit completed this food station.
Close up of the assorted sandwiches.
I tried the tuna caper on pumpernickel.  It was ok, but the bread a bit dry.  I appreciated that it wasn’t over mayo-ed, but it was a pretty basic tuna sandwich.
Second snack station: soup (minestrone), more snacks, yogurts, espresso machine, tea ...
The second snack station in the main room had different offerings.  Like JAL, there were also packaged sliced cheese in the fridges, along with yogurts.  But unlike JAL, they also had a few other fresh items, like minestrone soup with rolls.  There was also a nice selection of packaged desserts, a mix of American and British offerings.
Wild Mushroom Bisque.
I didn’t try the minestrone from the business class area, but there was mushroom bisque in the first class area, and I’d read reviews that people really liked it.  It was creamy, and full of mushrooms, decent, but I wasn’t a big fan.
First class station: chips, sandwiches, assorted packaged snacks ...
Both sections of the lounge had an impressive number of packaged snacks: a zillion varieties of chips (Cape Cod, Sun Chips, Miss Vickies, Stacy’s Pita Chips), a bunch of types of Nutrigrain bars, assorted packaged cookies (Pepperidge Farm, Oreos, and some english varieties), raisins, peanuts, crackers.

The shot above is from the first class lounge, but the business class lounge had all of these offering as well.
Bar Area, business lounge.
Like everything else, the drink area was far more impressive than JAL.  In the main area there were two bars, with an additional one in the first class area.  They offered more types of soft drinks, juices, beers, multiple types of wine, champagne (in first only), and a much larger hard alcohol selection.
Spa Water.
They also had spa water that I fell in love with, with ginger and mint.  It was so refreshing, and they somehow really infused a ton of flavor in it.  They also had a larger tea selection and multiple espresso machines, including decaf.  Obviously, in a totally different league from JAL.
Vanity Area.
The bathrooms were also much nicer, with a separate makeup area.
The sinks were modern style, and they had more amenities with them.

Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge

I wasn’t intending to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge because it wasn’t going to be open when I was at the airport.  And then, the unthinkable happened.  Japan Airlines didn’t just delay our flight (which uh, they never do.  Look at their flight stats and prepare to be impressed!  Our flight, which had a 6:10pm scheduled departure time, averages taking off at 6:02pm.  What airline takes off early, on average?).  But ... we had a horrible experience.  We got to our gate at the specified boarding time of 5:40pm, and waited and waited with no update.  The monitors all still said boarding at 5:40pm, departing 6:10pm, even when 6:10pm came and went.  We asked for an update, and they told us not to go anywhere, but never made any announcements.  Finally at 6:30pm I asked if we could go back to the lounge, and they told me no, but also that they wouldn’t know more until 7:30pm.  So we went back to the lounge anyway.  7:30pm came and went.  No update.  I went to ask at the desk in the lounge.  They told me they didn’t have an update.  8:30pm came and went.  We STILL did not hear anything.  Nothing at all.  And then, my colleague who was already in Tokyo told me that FlightAware was no longer listing our flight.  Around 8:45pm TripIt sent me an e-mail saying my flight was cancelled.  There I was, sitting in the JAL lounge, and TripIt notified me before they did?  It gets worse.

So, I went up to the desk, and they confirmed that yes, our flight was cancelled.  At this point, they finally made an announcement.  In the lounge, we were told to exit, go find our baggage on claim 12, and then go line up at the ticket counter.  We were handed a $20 coupon for food as a consolation prize.

When we got to the ticket counter, the line was already massive, and we didn’t stop for food or drinks.  I think they must have told the people at the gate before they told us in the lounge.  I guess that is what we get for going back to the lounge, although, 3 hours had passed at this point . There was a single line forming, no additional line for business class, or status.  There was a single agent working the counter.

This was crazy, and JAL was clearly not prepared for this situation (although, it was now at least 9:30pm, hours after we were supposed to have departed, so you would think that they would have started planning what they were going to do with all of us, or that they’d have procedures for this.  But … if they really do never cancel flights, I guess this was a unique thing for them.)  Anyway.  We waited.  Other folks with status demanded a second line.  So they made a second line, but of course didn’t inform anyone about it, but we saw it happening and jumped in (we were all One World Emerald and flying business class).  A few additional agents came out, and the lines started to crawl along.  But they really crawled.  Processing each person took forever.  And once we made our way to the front, we found out why.  They couldn’t just rebook us the next day, there was no availability.  But with a smile, they told us they could seat us in economy on the next day.  Um.  No.  The other option was to take a ANA flight from San Jose the next day in business, landing in Narita (we were booked to Haneda, more desirable, but not a deal breaker).  But, San Jose?  The next morning?  Um.  No.

Now, at this point, I need to thank my friend Emil.  He wasn’t even flying with us, but was watching our ordeal via our increasingly grumpy FourSquare checkins and tweets.  He let me know that there was a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong that was supposed to depart at 11pm, but it was delayed until 12:10pm.  And a flight 1.5 hours after from Hong Kong to Haneda. Now, our original flight was direct, SFO to HND.  It was only 11 hours.  If we flew to Hong Kong, that flight alone is ~15 hours.  Then we’d have a brief layover, and another 4 hour flight.  But it would be that night, from SFO, and in Cathay’s “new business class”.  Sure, our trip that was supposed to be a simple 11 hour flight was turning into a 39 hour adventure, and we’d already been at SFO for 9 hours.  But ... we went for it.  It seemed better than going home, and then going to San Jose the next day.

Not that JAL made this part easy, either.  Since we knew the flight existed, we asked about it, as had the person in front of us in line.  The agent told him to just go check himself over at the Cathay desk to see if they had availability.  Um, no, we weren't getting out of line after waiting so long.  My travel companion suggested that perhaps the agent could call over to Cathay.  Instead, the agent took off running, literally.  Long story short, she came and went several times, we were left alone at the counter for 20 minute stretches at a time, but eventually, we were sent over to the Cathay counters, where our boarding passes were printed up, and things started to go much more smoothly.  Finally.

We had about an hour to kill, and at this point we needed more food since we weren't having the dinner on the flight at 6:30pm as we'd been planning, so after going back through security, we headed to the Cathay Pacific lounge.

I think the lounge was bigger than the others, and had a variety of seating choices, but honestly, at this point I was so exhausted that I didn't really take photos or many notes.  The food was the only thing I checked out.
Food Station.
Like all the lounges, they had sandwiches, salads, yogurts, and soup, this time a clam chowder.  Unlike the others, they also had several hot dishes, including fried rice, stir fried udon noodles, chicken, and a veggie stir fry.
Dan Dan Noodles.
Along with the prepared foods, they also have one of Cathay's famous noodle bars, where you can order noodles cooked to order.  We had three options: wonton noodles, dan dan noodles with peanuts, sesame, and chili oil, or vegetarian noodles with mushrooms, carrots, and bok choy.

I went for the dan dan noodles, my travel companion picked the wonton.  We were given a pager, and went to sit down at one of the tables.  A few minutes later, the pager went off, and our noodles were ready.  So fancy.

Our dishes were hot and fresh, and the aroma coming out of my bowl was lovely, with a strong peanut flavor.  But, I didn't love it.  Maybe because I'm just not much of a soup girl, but it was a bit too rich, very very oily, the noodles mushy.  The peanut flavor was quite good, and it was nice to have fresh made noodles.

I also had a surprisingly good berry scone, probably left over from morning service, but good nonetheless.  It was dry, and crumbly, but really hit the spot.
Drinks, cookies.
A drink station rounded out the area, with water, wine, beer, a few spirits, coffee maker, and some packaged cookies.  But all I wanted at that point was water.