Monday, January 21, 2013

Dinner by Chef Steven Levine, via Munchery

A few days ago, I wrote about getting cookies delivered to my doorstep, via a wonderful service called Munchery.  Today I bring you a full dinner review, from one of the top rated chefs on Munchery.

First, let me tell you a little about Munchery, as I'm a huge fan.  The simple description is that it a food delivery service, but that doesn't really do it justice.  I've seen it described as "personal chef for the masses", but that doesn't really fit either.  So, I'll be more wordy, and try to accurately portray it!

The items available on Munchery are prepared by an assortment of chefs, some of whom offer dishes daily, others whom only contribute occasionally.  It basically seems like an opportunity for them to cook whenever they have some extra time.  These aren't just random folks, they are alums of great places like Gary Danko, Michael Mina, The French Laundry, etc.  The food selection is incredibly varied, ranging from healthy dishes (lots of salads and soups) to classic comfort foods (meatloaf, mac and cheese, fried chicken) and everything in between.  There is Asian cuisine, Mediterranean, even Caribbean.  And then there are bakers and pastry chefs, offering up fresh breads, cupcakes, cookies, and other treats.  There is certainly something for every taste, and the menus change daily.
Well packaged, with clear preparation instructions.
The meals come nicely packaged, with detailed instructions on how to finish preparing the food.  For most items, this just means heating something up, or adding a sauce.  One thing that makes Munchery really different from restaurant delivery is that the items arrive cold, rather than hot (er, lukewarm), and are designed to be delivered that way.  This means for some things the chef deliberately under-cooks the items, so that in your warming process, you complete the cooking, rather than over-cook it.  Items like salads come with the dressing on the side, so they don't get soggy.  This results in a much better meal than restaurant delivery!

Menus are constantly updated, some posted a couple weeks in advance, but many items are not added until a day or so before.  If you order early enough (two days ahead?), you get "early bird" pricing, which seems to be about $1 less than normal prices.  If you order late enough, you might catch a "flash sale", where 50% off discounts are offered.  You can see photos and very detailed descriptions of the dishes, along with reviews by other diners.

I've been wanting to try out real food from Munchery for a while now, as the photos and menu items always sound incredible, but I was a little nervous.  I'm a food snob, and honestly didn't think that reheated food, no matter how nicely prepared, would really satisfy me.  But San Francisco got crazy cold, and I went into hibernation mode.  The idea of a nice dinner showing up on my doorstep was too much to resist.  I knew I could play it safe and just get a salad, or a soup, or perhaps something like a lasagna, dishes known to be easy to reheat.  But, I love seafood, and I figured I'd just go all out and try something that sounded good.  I read a bunch of reviews, and when I saw a seafood entree come up from a well rated chef, I went for it.

The ordering process, just like when I got the cookie, was through their website and very easy.  You select a 1 hour delivery window (or go pick it up at their headquarters in the Mission), and pay a modest delivery fee.  It all worked flawlessly, and the driver sent me a text message about 5-10 minutes before he arrived to let me know he was almost there.  If I wasn't going to be home, I could have provided a cooler, and he would have left it there for me.  So simple!

I'll definitely be ordering more from Munchery, whenever I'm feeling lazy, or when a great looking dish shows up on the menu.  If you are interested in checking it out yourself, you can use my invite link and get $20 off your first order!
Grilled Mahi Mahi, Shrimp-Root Vegetable "Home Fries", Watercress Slaw, Lemon-Caper Tartar Sauce.  $13.99.
First, do not be shocked by the portion shown here.  This wasn't the whole dish, it was actually Ojan who ordered this, I just took some to try, and didn't get a photo of the larger portion.

The full description was given as: "Grilled Mahi Mahi served on diced potatoes, celery root, parsnips, carrots and rutabagas sauteed with onions, celery and bell peppers and diced shrimp 'home fries' style. Topped with a slaw of shredded cabbage, onion, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, radishes and watercress tossed with a lemon-celery seed vinaigrette. Served with a lemon, caper and dill tartar sauce."

The mahi mahi was the star of the dish.  It had lovely grill marks on it, but they weren't just for show, the grilled flavor was pronounced and quite delicious.  The fish had some slight seasoning on it, but honestly, the smokey grill flavor was more than enough to flavor the whole thing.  It was a good size piece of fish, fresh tasting, well cooked.

I was really excited for the tartar sauce, and to be honest, it is partially what made me select this dish over other seafood dishes offered.  I love tartar sauce, particularly caper tartar sauce.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it.  I'm not sure what it was.  It did have capers.  It was creamy.  It had some nice dill undertones.  But something was just off for me.  It disappointed me, but the fish was so good on its own that it wasn't necessary anyway (did I mention that grilled flavor?  Yum!)

The "home fries" were the part I was most intrigued by from the description, and were a fun addition to the dish.  They came as a very generous portion, cubed root veggies, which apparently included potatoes, celery root, parsnips, and rutabagas, but all I really tasted of those were potatoes.  They seemed a bit mushy and overcooked however.  I liked the flavor that the onions and peppers added, but I kept thinking the entire time that I'd want to have this for breakfast, with an egg, rather than with the mahi mahi.  It was also too oily for my liking.  My least favorite part of the dish, although I really like the shrimp that were included.  They were small little shrimp, and their tiny size perfectly matched the veggie cubes.

The slaw was a mix of fresh vegetables, including cabbage, yellow and red peppers, cucumbers, red onion, julienned carrots, and watercress.  It was fresh and crisp, but otherwise unremarkable.  I enjoyed the strong peppery watercress, and the balance that the slaw added to the final composed dish.

The portion size was good, and it was a well balanced plate containing the fish, the home fries, and the salad.  The price was great for the portion and quality too.
The slaw, dressing, and tartar sauce came separately packaged.
I appreciated that the slaw came in its own container, so it stayed fresh and crisp.  The dressing was on the side, which helped the slaw not get soggy, but also allowed me to dress it to the level I wanted.  I was impressed with the packaging and thought that goes behind the fact that the items are going to be re-assembled.
The fish and hash, in the main container.
Here you can see the full portion of fish and the hash, which came in the main container.  They had to be transfered to an oven-safe dish for heating up, obviously.
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