Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lindt Chocolate

For Christmas, I received a large amount of chocolate from the one chocolate shop in my family's hometown: Lindt.  (No, I didn't grow up in Switzerland, but Lindt for some reason has a store in New Hampshire.)  I've thus been able to try a lot of their chocolates ... none of which were very extraordinary, but better than the large selection of Hershey that I also received!

As always, subsequent tastings are denoted in brackets.

Truffles

These are the Lindt product that most people are familiar with.  Round balls with a fairly creamy filling.
Assorted Truffles: Peanut Butter, White, and Strachiatella.
  • Strachiatella: a white truffle with cocoa nibs inspired by "cookies 'n cream" ice cream.  Tasting notes: white shell with cocoa nibs in it, creamy white chocolate filling.  This was surprisingly ok.  It is just sweet and whatnot, but I liked it [ Sweet and creamy and fake …  but I like it. ]
  • 60% Extra Dark: Tasting notes: better than I remembered, filling not really dark but outer chocolate is dark and not bad.  Not complex or anything, but overall pretty nice. [ just standard lindt, not very dark chocolate … 60% != “extra dark” folks! ]
  • White: Tasting notes: White shell with creamy white filling.  Super sweet!  If you are in the mood for super sweet and white chocolate flavor, these aren’t bad.  
  • Mint: Tasting notes: milk chocolate shell with creamy white chocolate based mint filling.  Chocolate generic and uninteresting.  Mint flavor not very strong, filling more sweet than anything.  Would like to try this when the truffle is warmer and filling more melty though, had while fairly firm. [ Very boring milk chocolate.  Mint flavor totally not there.  Very waxy tasting and feeling.  Did not like. ]
  • Peanut Butter: Tasting notes: milk chocolate shell with creamy pb filling.  Chocolate generic and uninteresting.  Peanut butter flavor not very strong or interesting.  A Reece’s cup is better than this.  But again, would try when warmer to see if more melty interior improves it. [ Generic, not good milk chocolate.  Not very strong pb flavor.  Didn’t even want to finish. ] [ Tried it warmer, got slightly meltier, but the peanut butter just isn't strong enough ]
  • Snowman: Tasting notes: Milk chocolate shell with an irresistibly smooth white chocolate filling.  Generic milk chocolate, white filling kinda waxy and not flavorful.

Bars

These are just regular chocolate bars.
  • Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts: Tasting notes: Ok milk chocolate, with chunks of hazelnut inside.  Not very creamy.
  • Cresta: “Swiss milk chocolate surrounds a creamy hazelnut filling and crunchy bits of almond brittle.”  Tasting notes: crunchy filling ok, but chocolate not very good or creamy.
  • Chocolat Noir, Cremant: Tasting notes: ok dark chocolate, nothing special.  Fairly bitter finish.
  • Lindor: Milk chocolate with smooth center.  Tasting notes: Soft, creamy, but meh.
  • Cresta blancor: White chocolate surrounding a crunchy interior made from almond brittle bits.  Tasting notes: white chocolate is just kinda there and sweet.  The filling has a decent crunch, but it is not very flavorful - I couldn’t identify what it was (almonds apparently).
  • 99% dark: Tasting notes: Had a gritty quality.  Very dark and bitter.  

European Specialties

These are a more speciality line, that sounded pretty fantastic, but failed to deliver.
  • Wildberry Yogurt Eisdessert: Wonderful mix of blueberries, raspberry and blackberry filling over yogurt cream covered in smooth milk chocolate.  Tasting notes: uh … not very interesting, sounds much better than it is.  Not strong berry flavor, chocolate kinda meh, etc.  Berry part nice but yogurt is totally useless.
  • Hazelnut Nougat Fiorettos: Smooth hazelnut nougat centers enrobed in milk chocolate and crisped rice.  Tasting notes: not much hazelnut flavor, basically just a Lindor truffle with crappy rice crispies in shell.
Read More...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Starbucks

A few weeks ago, I posted my reviews of all of the assorted drinks, baked goods, and candies that I have tried from Peet's.  It seems only fitting that I should do the same for Starbucks, although honestly, I don't go very often, so I don't have a whole lot to say here.

Cold Drinks

Cool lime refresher, Very berry hibiscus refresher.
These are Starbuck's newest products.  They are meant to be refreshing and energizing, due to their use of green coffee extract, which is apparently made from unroasted coffee beans.  I'm not really sure how the caffeine content compares to other things, but I didn't really notice anything from it.

The cool lime version was really watery, and didn't have much flavor.  It did have a full slice of lime floating in it, making it seem almost juice-like.  It was light and fairly refreshing, but I didn't care for it.

The very berry hibiscus version was much better.  It had a strong blackberry flavor, and was clearly made with fresh, real berries, as there were chunks and seeds floating all over in it.  I can't say I enjoyed getting the blackberry seeds stuck between my teeth, but it was nice to know there was real fruit in there.

Both were interesting to try, and were given out free as part of a promotion to market the new product line, so I enjoyed trying them, but I wouldn't buy one.

Coffee

I've tried a few of their different coffees, and never been impressed.  My tasting notes are pretty minimal, as I didn't find any of them worth trying again.

  • Holiday Blend: bitter, not good.
  • Blonde: way too light, no flavor whatsoever.
  • Pike’s Place Roast: ok, but nothing special at all, no complexity.
  • Bold: best I’ve had, but still not complex.
  • Decaf: horrible

Baked Goods

  • Holiday Gingerbread Cake: "Ginger spice cake topped with sweet cream cheese icing and candied orange peel."  Tasting notes: Surprisingly good.  Nicely spiced, moist.  Icing wasn’t all that cream cheesy, but pretty good overall.
Read More...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rubio's

I had a little fun this year in celebrating my birthday by getting my birthday freebees at assorted places.  Most are not places I'd normally visit, many I'd never been to before in my life, and it turns out, there was good reason, like Jack In The Box, where I got a truly horrible free slice of birthday cheesecake.

But others are surprisingly good.  Like Rubios.  I've walked by their location in Embarcadero Center a zillion times.  There never seem to be many people inside.  It is basically fast food Mexican.  They are known for their seafood, in particular, their fish tacos.  But I'm little miss snob, and won't even eat seafood at full service restaurants that aren't high end.

But ... the allure of free was there.  There was little cost to me in trying it out, besides walking there, but it wasn't far away, and it was a beautiful day out.  If it was horrible, I'd take a few bites, and throw it out.  No problem.

So I signed up for their e-mail club, and was immediately rewarded with a coupon good for a free taco. Any taco from their extensive taco menu!  And, I also received my birthday coupon, good for a full meal.  I went to use the single taco on the first visit, and figured if it was good, I'd go back to use the full meal.  And ... I did, the very next day.

The food was surprisingly good.  I'm not claiming that Rubio's is fine dining.  It isn't.  You order at a register, are given a pager, and take a seat in the dining room.  You eat off a paper plate, on a plastic tray, with plastic silverware.  The drink options are just a basic soda fountain with a slew of sugary generic sodas, or some iced tea.  But ... the food is good, and the staff were really friendly.

On my first visit, I asked the person taking my order what his favorite taco was, since I really had no idea where to start.  He said he was more of a burrito guy, but my coupon was only good for a taco.  He said if it was my first time I should go for the signature taco, The Original Fish Taco, but it honestly didn't sound that interesting to me.  So I went for his second choice.  He happily explained all of the different tacos to me, in detail, including the cooking techniques used.  And ... he brought me both the one I ordered, and the original, even though I was just there using my free coupon!  He seemed to genuinely want me to get to try out that taco.

On my second visit, the person taking my order was just as friendly.  I haven't been to fast food places in ages, but how often do you get a really friendly greeting when you walk in, that doesn't seem forced or required?  She cheered for me when I showed her my birthday certificate, asked when my birthday was, and made pleasant small talk about what I'd done to celebrate.  So unexpected.

I have an avocado allergy, so had that left off of my tacos, and they seemed really happy to make any modifications or substituions, suggesting alternate things they could add in its place.

After ordering, you are given a pager, but on both occasions, they brought the food out and delivered it to me at my table.  I'm guessing when they are busy they don't do this, but again, an unexpected touch. Food came pretty quickly on both visits, taking long enough that I knew it wasn't entirely pre-made, but certainly not long enough to be doing serious cooking.

I was really pleasantly surprised by both of my visits.  The staff was friendly, the restaurant was clean, and the food really did seem fresh and good quality.  And ... if you follow my blog, you know how much I love sauces.  They have some really awesome sauces (although surprisingly, some really mediocre salsas).

I kinda think I'll go back.  I'd like to try the other fish, like the salmon or ono.  It is nice to have found a quick, casual, cheap place so close to home that I like.  Turns out, there is some benefit to the restaurants for having these free meal things!

Original Fish Taco ($2.99), Salsa Verde Pan-Seared Shrimp Taco ($3.99), Mexican Rice ($0.75), No Fried Pinto Beans ($0.75). 
I ordered a single Salsa Verde Pan-Seared Shrimp Taco, and got a platter with an Original Fish Taco too!  The worker explained that since it was my first visit, I just had to try their signature taco too.  And, who doesn't love beans and rice with their meal?  Thanks!  I got to try even more stuff!

As he said, The Original Fish Taco is their signature taco.  It has been their thing since 1983.  The website describes it as: "Sustainable wild Alaska Pollock, caught in Alaska's ocean waters, hand-dipped in our signature seasoned beer batter and cooked to crispy perfection. Topped with Rubio's white sauce, mild salsa and fresh cabbage. Served on a warm stone-ground corn tortilla and garnished with a slice of lime".

The corn tortilla had a really great corn flavor, and it was nice and warm, but it got soggy and strangely moist really quickly.  The cabbage added a nice crunch, but there was tons of it, as you can see in the photo.  The mild salsa was pretty flavorless, I wouldn't have even known it was there.  The white sauce added a creamy component, but again, not really any flavor.  The fish itself was a really generous portion, a single large piece. The fish was flaky, moist, and quite honestly, surprised me.  It wasn't fine dining quality or anything, but it wasn't bad at all.  The breading was really crispy and decent.

Overall, the taco just lacked flavor.  Nothing was bad, but the flavors didn't pop.  Once I added some of the roasted chipotle salsa from the salsa bar, I enjoyed it much more.  My least favorite of the tacos I tried.  A single taco is $2.99 normally, but $1.50 on Tuesdays.  This seems like a rather insane value for $1.50, and I'd even consider actually paying for one :)

The taco I picked, at the worker's recommendation for his favorite taco other than The Original Fish Taco, was the Salsa Verde Pan-Seared Shrimp Taco.  The website describes it as: "Sustainable pan-seared shrimp topped with a salsa verde sauce made with tomatillos, poblano chiles and fresh herbs, along with buttery Hass Avocado slices, a melted three-cheese blend, our creamy chipotle sauce, a cilantro/onion mix and cabbage. Served on a warm flour tortilla and garnished with a slice of lime."  Since I'm allergic to avocado, I had it left out.

This taco came in a flour tortilla instead of the corn tortilla.  While it didn't have the flavor of the corn tortilla, and was just a fairly standard flour tortilla, I liked it much more, as it didn't get soggy.  It was warm and soft.  This taco also had the cabbage in it, but there was much less of it, so it just provided a nice crunch and completed the taco, without overwhelming it like the other one.  I didn't really notice the cilantro and onion mix, nor the melted three-cheese blend, but there were a lot of great flavors going on, that I think these contributed to.  Speaking of the flavors, the creamy chipotle sauce was a winner.  It was their white sauce, but kicked up a notch with some chilis.  It was really creamy, really flavorful, with just enough heat to really make everything interesting.  There were 4 small sized seared shrimp, nicely cooked, not rubbery or anything.  I was surprised by how well executed they were, and certainly didn't expect that.  But even more unexpected was the flavor in them - they had a great smoky flavor, really complex, quite good.  I ate one on its own just to really enjoy the flavors, and would have gladly eaten just a skewer of them.

Everything came together really nicely in this taco, from the flavorful well cooked shrimp, to the amazing creamy sauce.  My favorite of the tacos.  Normally $3.79 each, and I'd definitely pay that for one!

As I mentioned, the worker also upped my order to be a platter, which includes the rice and beans.  These are also available separately as sides, or included when you can make a platter out of any two tacos.

The mexican rice was fairly generic, very mild flavor.  It was really moist and fluffy though, not at all dried out.  Again, a bit of a surprise.

The beans were the "no-fried" pinto beans, their version of a refried bean that isn't actually fried.  The website says "made fresh daily from scratch, seasoned with a dash of garlic and black pepper, and topped with cotija cheese."  They were creamy, but didn't have much flavor.  The cotija cheese on top was nice.

Everything was served hot and fresh.  There was steam coming off of the rice and the beans.  The fish was nice and hot.  The shrimp were hot.  This was food served at the proper temperature, better than what many restaurants do!
Sesame Soy Fish Taco, no avocado.  $3.49.
Since I didn't love The Original Fish Taco due to the lack of flavor in the salsa and white sauce, but I did like the fried fish, I decided to try a different fish taco on my second visit.  The menu has 4 different tacos all made with the same base fried pollock (also available as a burrito), but changes out the accompaniments and sauces.  I went for the Sesame Soy, since it sounded the most promising, flavor-wise.

The web site describes it as: "Lightly drizzled with a sweet sesame soy sauce and a mild, creamy wasabi sauce. Topped with a fresh spring mix and buttery Hass Avocado slices. Served on a warm flour tortilla and garnished with a slice of lime."

Since I'm allergic to avocado, I obviously had them leave that part out.  The staff member offered to add anything else I wanted in its place, like cheese or sour cream, but I choose to leave it unmodified.

The spring mix was exactly as advertised: fresh.  Crisp, not wilted, not brown.  There were a variety of types of lettuce included.  A pleasant surprise.

The flour tortilla was just like the one I had in the Salsa Verde Pan-Seared Shrimp Taco, warm, soft, decent.  And again, I liked it more than the corn tortilla.

The fish was the same as in The Original Fish Taco, except the breading job on this one wasn't very good.  There were big chunks of it that were just breading, and not fish, and those bites tasted just like fried oiliness.  I guess this is what you get from the hand-dipped battering?  The parts that included the fish however were good, the fish again moist and flaky, quite decent.

But what really made this taco shine was the sweet sesame soy sauce!  It added a really great sweetness and flavor.  I didn't really taste the creamy wasabi sauce, as there wasn't any heat, but there was a creaminess that mixed in really well, and I could see the sauce.

This taco certainly didn't win any presentation awards.  It looked sooo sloppy when it arrived, and I originally thought it had way too much sauce on it, but it was really tasty.  The only thing I'd change is the extra breading on the fish.  There were some great flavors in here, and I loved the freshness and lightness of it from the spring mix and the flour tortilla, even though it was fried fish.  Just really well balanced.

This was my second favorite overall, and if it wasn't for the breading issue, probably would have been my favorite.  And again, the $3.49 price was excellent.
Grilled Gourmet Garlic Herb Shrimp Taco, no avocado.  $4.29.
Since I was so impressed with the shrimp on my first visit, I decided to try another shrimp taco on my second visit.  It took a lot of restraint not to just order the same one I'd had before, but I did want to try new things!

There was a hand-battered shrimp taco, but since I was having the battered fish, I decided to go for the Grilled Gourmet Garlic Herb Shrimp Taco.  Plus, it was "gourmet"!

The web site describes it as: "Sustainable shrimp in a garlic herb marinade grilled over an open flame. Served on a warm stone-ground corn tortilla with toasted cheese and topped with crisp bacon pieces, buttery Hass Avocado slices, habanero citrus salsa, our chipotle picante sauce, a cilantro/onion mix and cotija cheese. Garnished with a slice of lime."

Again, since I'm allergic, I left out the avocado.  The taco did seem a little empty, and I think it really was missing the slices of avocado to fill that space, since it didn't have cabbage or spring mix like the others.

The corn tortilla was just like the one in The Original Fish Taco.  Again, a great flavor to it, but strangely moist and just not my thing.  I clearly prefer the flour tortillas.

The shrimp was again quite excellent.  This one included 3 pieces, each slightly larger than the ones I had in the first shrimp taco.  They were apparently marinated in garlic herb marinade and grilled, whereas the ones I had the first time were pan seared with salsa verde sauce ... but they really seemed the same to me.  I didn't have them side by side to compare, but I really felt like the flavors and cooking were identical.  And that was a good thing.  The shrimp had that same great smokey flavor, weren't rubbery, and were really just quite good.  I again ate one of them on its own just to really experience the shrimp, and thought it was great.

The entire tortilla was covered in cheese.  Tons of cheese, that was melted/toasted into it.  It overwhelmed the shrimp, but was really good with the bacon.  The bacon was little tiny chunks.  Mmm, cheese and bacon.  And corn tortilla.  They all went together really well, particularly with the sauces.

Again, the sauces were amazing.  I couldn't really pick out habanero, or citrus, or chipotle, but it was creamy, flavorful, and just went so well with the cheese and bacon.  It was insanely messy from the sauces however, kinda watery, and stuff was dripping out of it non-stop.  The cilantro and onion mix was kinda lost in the sauces, but I'm sure were providing some additional flavor.

And again, this was no beauty.  So sloppy looking, and seemingly swimming in sauce, but again, delicious.  My real issue with this is that it didn't quite come together.  The shrimp was flavorful and delicious.  The corn tortilla + bacon + cheese + sauces were great together.  But the shrimp was just too easily lost with all of the other components, which is sad, because it had so much flavor on its own.  But the other flavors were great too.  I wanted everything, just not together.  So ... that is what I did.  I ate the shrimp on its own, with just a little of the sauce on it.  And then I rolled up the cheesy, bacony, saucy, tortilla and ate it on its own.  Mmm!

This taco was also really quite heavy feeling, despite being a grilled shrimp choice, due to all of the cheese and bacon.  My third favorite, but there were really some great things going on here.  It was the most pricy taco by far, $4.29!

I'd love to create my own shrimp taco, basically combining the two shrimp ones I had.  I'd use the flour tortilla from the first one.  And I'd have the cabbage from it for crunch.  But then I'd take the sauces from the second one.  And maybe a little cheese, but not nearly as much.  Mmmm ... that would be tasty!
Condiments bar: Tomatillo salsa, picante salsa, mild salsa, roasted chipotle salsa, lime wedges, cilantro and onion, lemon wedges, peppers.
Rubios has a large self-serve condiments bar.  It includes a variety of salsas, lime and lemon wedges, and chopped onion and cilantro.  I enjoyed trying all of the salsas, but found that the tacos already included plenty of sauces, and further saucing wasn't necessary on most of them.  If I was getting chips however, I'd definitely love the salsa bar!  I tried the salsas on both visits, and they seemed almost exactly the same.
  • Mild Salsa: "With a deep tomato flavor, white onions, cilantro and a hint of heat from serrano and jalapeño chiles".  Tasting notes: this really just tasted like tomato sauce.  It wasn't spicy or complex at all.  It was included in the Original Fish Taco, and really was quite uninteresting.  Least favorite of the salsas.
  • Roasted Chipotle Salsa: "Our Roasted Chipotle Salsa creates complex flavors with fire-roasted tomatoes, smoky red chiles, jalapeño chiles and lime juice. "  Tasting notes: This was my favorite of the salsas.  It has a nice smokey flavor to it, and was fairly flavorful.  I used some inside the Original Fish Taco to actually give it some flavor. [ Again, great flavor.  My tacos the second time were some awesomely sauced that I couldn't come up with a use for it besides dipping the final pieces of my tortilla shells in it.  I wish I'd gotten chips, just to have more of this salsa. ]
  • Tomatillo Salsa: "Our Tomatillo Salsa, made with tomatillos, has a mild heat from jalapeño chiles and a hint of cilantro and citrus."  Tasting notes: This was really watery, and didn't have much flavor.  But, better than the mild! [ Again, just watery and flavorless.  Really not very good. ]
  • Picante Salsa: "Our Picante Salsa has a spicy heat with a rich, toasted chile flavor."  Tasting notes: This did have some heat!  It wasn't that well balanced however. [ Very spicy, but tasted burnt ]
Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon
Read More...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Umami Burger

Another Sunday night, another try at eating casual food, since Sunday nights are certainly not good nights for fine dining (most places are not open, ones that are often don't have their executive chefs working, and no where has fresh seafood).

Continuing my theme of the past week, I decided to use GoPago as my inspiration, and choose a place that would accept it.  My options were fairly limited, as many GoPago locations are not open Sundays at dinner time, leaving me with the choice of indian, thai, burgers, or a few casual places that didn't sound very good.  Since my dining companion didn't want spice, this pretty quickly led us to burgers.

I don't have them often these days, but I can love a good burger.  Back a few years ago, I ran a group that went to get burgers every Thursday night.  We had our regular spots, like Big Mouth in the Mission, but also tried out pretty much every burger on every "best of" list we could find.  We had fancy burgers, casual burgers, fast food burgers.  Eventually we got sick of burgers, and expanded the night to be "B-night", where the B could still be burgers, but also often turned into burritos.  Eventually it turned into restaurants whose names started with B too.  And then like all good things, it came to an end at some point.  But burgers still have a soft place in my heart!

I debated between a few places listed on GoPago that I'd never been to before, but decided to give the famous Umami Burger another try.  I'd visited once before, over a year ago, back when they were fairly new, and had a pretty horrible experience.  I had to send the burger back because it arrived stone cold.  It was also well done, when ordered medium-rare.  And it was awful even when I got the replacement.  The sides were also not very good.  But everyone loves them.  Deemed "the best burger in America".  I was willing to believe that I somehow just had a horrible experience there, and that they deserved another try.

We arrived soon after 6pm, before the dinner rush.  No wait required, and immediately we were lead to a table.  Everything was going fine, until I went to place the GoPago order.  To-go was the only option listed.  Many places have dine-in or to-go as options, but I'd encountered the single listing before, but everyone else said it was no problem, and just allowed us to order using GoPago and dine in.  I asked the server, and he said that it wasn't an option.  GoPago was to-go only.  I asked if we could eat at the bar with our GoPago order.  Again, no.  I'm really not sure why, as the prices were the same.  Why do these care how the order is placed?

Anyway, fine, we left the table and ordered it togo.  Since it was early, there was still sunlight, and there was a bench next door to eat on.  Not ideal, but not bad.  It was a little ridiculous given that all of their outdoor tables were vacant, but whatever.  Our meal ended up being a ton faster, as the food was ready in about 5 minutes, and we didn't need to deal with any transactions.  Nor did we have to pay tip.  I guess there was some silver lining, but I was kinda grumpy about this.  I'm sure they have their reasons for not wanting people to use GoPago to dine in, but I wish they'd change that.  They also included the healthy sf fee!  I'm used to seeing tax on GoPago orders, but not healthy SF.  I guess this makes sense since the workers are still working, I just haven't ever seen it on a take out order before.

Anyway.  GoPago snafus aside, I basically felt the same was as the first time.  It wasn't nearly as bad this time, but it wasn't that good, and I certainly have no plans to return.  I've read a lot of great things about the scallop burger, can someone go try that at let me know if its worth my trying?
Cali Burger : butter lettuce, slow-roasted tomato, house spread, house-made American cheese, carmelized onions.  $10.
I got the same burger on both visits, a 6 ounce Cali Burger.  The first time, neither of us liked the burger.  We thought it was horribly greasy.  When I looked at photos online after, others didn't look as greasy, and no one else seemed to mention it in their reviews, so I figured it must have been a fluke the first time, and went for it again.

The second time, it was less greasy than the first time, but I still think it was one of the greasier burgers I've ever had, and I'm really surprised no one else comments on this fact!  The whole thing was a bit of a moist, oily, mess.  It required consuming in a few seconds, as it was breaking down into a pile of sogginess before our eyes.

The bottom bun was completely saturated in oil/moisture.  My dining companion removed his and I thought he was being silly, until I took a few bites of mine and realized how off putting a completely soggy bun was.  It wasn't just a little soggy, it was really turning into liquid.  Quite nasty.  It is possible this was due to having take-out, but we dug into the burger within moments of exiting the restaurant, so it really hadn't sat much at all.  The error here seems to be two-fold: the bun just wasn't strong enough to stand up to the burger and the burger was far too greasy.  The top bun wasn't as greasy, but also wasn't anything special.

The patty itself was cooked medium.  Ordered medium-rare, but at least it wasn't well done.  It was incredibly juicy, but not in a good way, it wasn't that it was nicely moist.  I'm not really sure what made it so juicy, I don't think it really was the meat itself.  Was it basted in tons of oil or something?  I don't really know.  I just know there was liquid oozing out of this thing all over the place.  It had a decent char on it, and some real flavor.  Not anything awesome, but better than a generic burger.

The butter lettuce was crisp and fresh, and a very large piece.  It added a nice crunch.

The slow roasted tomato was really quite flavorful and delicious.  My favorite component of the burger bar far.  Why don't more places serve these on burgers?  So much better than just a slice of raw tomato!

The house spread was lost in the rest of the toppings, I didn't taste it at all.

The cheese was well melted, but also fairly greasy, contributing to the messy dripping everywhere issues.  It didn't have any particular flavor.

The caramelized onions didn't taste all that caramelized.  There were cooked and soft, plentiful, but not all that flavorful.  They were also dripping in liquid, again, adding to the mess of the whole thing.

My tasting notes from the first visit: "Grease bomb.  So much grease.  So gross.  The slow roasted tomatoes were flavorful but you couldn't taste them amongst the grease.  The meat was super greasy and fatty.  The caramelized onoins were super greasy.  The house spread was lacking in flavor.  The cheese was greasy.  The bun was overwhelming and greasy."  Geeze.  I think I needed to expand my vocabulary :)

I'm really not sure why I ordered this again after such a negative review the first time.  I liked it more this time, but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way for it.  $10 is a little pricy for a burger, but I think this was made with quality ingredients, so it wasn't too bad.
Thin fries.  $3.50.  Cheesy tater tots.
Ordered on my first visit.

Tasting notes from then: "The fries were lackluster at best.  Do not order again."

The cheesy tater tots are not on the menu, but not exactly a secret.  My tasting notes from that visit: "These got great reviews on Yelp, people say they are not too cheesy, and people love love love them.  We thought they were not good.  They were incredibly deep fried.  And yes, not too cheesy, as the cheese was not even there in most bites.  Not good at all, do not order again."
Tempura Onion Rings.  $4.50.
Since my notes from last time told me not to order the fries or tater tots, we had to choose a new side.  I debated between the sweet potato fries and the onion rings, but its been ages since I've had onion rings, so decided to go for those.  Plus, Yelpers called them "the best ever"!  Note to self, again: do not trust the Yelpers!

These were just not very good.  The onion inside was slimy and flavorless, and larger than I like.  The batter also had no real flavor.  They were insanely oily.  I don't even know why we finished these, as neither of us liked them, and they made us feel kinda sick and gross afterwards.

I'd certainly never get them again.  And $4.50 for 6 onion rings?  Really?

They, like the other sides, were mostly just vessels to try out the different sauces ...



The Condiments: House sauce, roasted garlic aioli, jalapeño ranch, umami ketchup, dijon mustard, diablo chili sauce. 
These are not brought to you, unless you specifically request them, but are complimentary.  We requested them on both visits.  The first time, we were brought all 6 of them, in cute little spoons.  The second time, we ordered togo, and only 4 were included, although we also received the ketchup with the onion rings, so we had 5 of them.  I'm not sure why they didn't include all 6, and I still can't figure out exactly which ones we had.
  • Umami Ketchup:  This is their signature sauce.   "Umami Ketchup is slightly sweet with the perfect balance of tomato, vinegar, salt and just a hint of truffle."  The first time my notes said: "ketchup was decent but kinda just sweet".  My second visit I thought it was basically just ketchup, with a little something extra going on.  Not worth raving about, but my favorite of the sauces.
  • Dijon Mustard: We did not receive this on the second visit.  The first time I said: "the mustard was sorta interesting but not for dipping fries, which is what we had it for".
  • House Spread: I think we did not receive this on the second visit, although we did have 2 containers of white stuff, but I really thought they were both the aoili.  If they weren't then I think one was this.  The first time, I said: "house dressing was just like thousand island but not good".
  • Roasted Garlic Aioli: I'm guessing this is what the white sauce was.  It was indistinguishable from generic mayo.  I didn't taste a hint of garlic.  I seemed to have felt the same way the first time, with my notes simply reading: "aioli was just mayo".
  • Jalapeño Ranch: I really didn't like this.  It tasted like ranch, but a very bad version of it.  Something in the flavor was very off for me.  The first time however, I said: "ranch not even recognizable as ranch, no flavor".  Something must have changed?
  • Diablo Sauce: This was indeed spicy.  But not in a good way.  The first time, I also didn't like it, but commented, "at least the hot one was hot".
So yeah, I wasn't exactly impressed by any of the sauces.  On my first visit, my overall note was "dipping sauces were all pedestrian at best."  I pretty much agree this time around.
Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream Sandwich: Oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon brittle ice cream.  $5.
The dessert options were a root beer float or ice cream sandwich.  I wasn't really in the mood for either, and I haven't ever been a huge fan of Humphrey Slocombe in the past, even though I've tried a ton of their flavors, but it was my birthday, and I wanted my dessert!

They make the ice cream sando on the spot.  I was given the choices of vanilla, chocolate, or cinnamon brittle ice cream.  I went for the cinnamon brittle, as it sounded far and way the most interesting.  For cookie, they had chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia, or oatmeal raisin.  I was leaning towards white chocolate macadamia, but the server recommended the oatmeal raisin with the cinnamon brittle ice cream, so I went for it.

The flavor in the cookie was decent, buttery, and they were loaded up with raisins.  The cookies were fairly soft.  Not very oatmealy however, and definitely too sweet, particularly when paired with the ice cream.

The ice cream was very sweet.  It was decently creamy, and the cinnamon flavor did pair well with the oatmeal raisin cookie, but it was fairly subtle.  I only found one tiny chunk of brittle.

My biggest issue here was the ratio of cookie to ice cream. There was far too much cookie for the ice cream, I ran out of ice cream long before cookie.  And the cookies just weren't anything special on their own.  It was kinda like the classic problem with eating a burger and running out of bun, but in reverse.

This wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good.  Pretty generic cookie, decent ice cream, but meh.  I think partially it just isn't really what I wanted, but they didn't have any options.  $5 was a good price, as this thing was actually really large, which could also have contributed to my feeling meh about it, as it was just too much, and I was sick of it after a few bites, but somehow finished the whole thing.  I'd recommend somehow sharing it with someone, although that would be really hard to cut.  I wouldn't order again.
Read More...

Vice Chocolates

And another local chocolatier that I met at the SF Chocolate Salon.
  • White chocolate matcha almonds: "Candied almonds coated in white chocolate + matcha green tea".  Tasting notes: Nice crunch in the almond, good tea flavor.
Read More...

Monterey Chocolate Company

And another local chocolatier from the SF Chocolate Salon.
  • Firecracker Chocolate: "An organic dark chocolate with a four chili infusion of ancho, chipotle, cayenne and habanero, covered in ground cacao. This is for those that enjoy the extra heat of the habanero chili."  Tasting notes: Smooth chocolate, serious heat.
Read More...