Friday, January 18, 2013

Popchips

I've been craving salty snacks like crazy lately.  I have no idea why.  In attempts to at least have something slightly healthier, I decided to try out Popchips, a local San Francisco snack company, rather than standard chips.  You can find their products in many stores, and they sponsor tons of events around town.  The have two major product lines, potato chips and tortilla chips.  Their entire premise is that they make healthier chips using some crazy method to pop the chips, rather than fry (unhealthy! oils!) or bake (loses flavor).

I liked the idea behind their products, and I'm all for local brands, but I just can't get past the consistency of their chips.  No matter how great the flavors are, they are just totally and completely off-putting to me.  Blech.
  • Tortilla Chips, made with stone ground masa.
    • Salsa: These had a strange mouthfeel, like all popchips, that takes some getting used to.  It is very obvious that these are a healthy chip, without any oil.  But the flavor was good, zesty, from tomato, garlic, onion, cayenne.  I probably wouldn't buy these again, but they weren't bad.
  • Potato Chips, made with potato starch, potato flakes, and rice flour.  All have a very strange consistency.
    • Original: Super boring.  No flavor whatsoever.
    • Barbecue: Pretty decent bbq flavor. [ I can't stand the consistency of these.  Flavors don't matter, they are just gross, gross gross. ]
    • Cheddar: Meh, not that cheddary, popchip consistency wierd [ Popchip consistency is just horrible, can't really stand these. ]
    • Thai Sweet Chili: These tasted like styrofoam.  With some slight flavor, that wasn't distinguishable as sweet chili, perhaps just a mild bbq.  But I couldn't get past the horrible airy styrofoam nature of them.  Eww.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cookies from Goody Goodie Cream & Sugar

If you read my blog, you know I eat a lot of desserts, and a lot of cookies.  One bakery that I keep seeing pop up on all of the "Best Cookie In SF" lists is Goody Goodie.  They make a number of different cookies, all of which have won numerous awards.  They use high quality E.Guittard chocolate.  I wanted to try them for a long time, but their location isn't really convenient for me, so for over a year, they remained on my ever-growing "To Try" list.

I was thus delighted when I discovered them on Munchery.  I could finally try the famous cookies, delivered right to my doorstep?  YES!

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 once in a while.  It basically seems like an opportunity for the chefs 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, offering up fresh breads, cupcakes, cookies, and other treats.  There is certainly something for every taste, and the menus change daily.

Using Munchery is simple: you browse the menus and order online.  Menus are posted a few days in advance, some even 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?), 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.  Finally, you select a 1 hour delivery window (or go pick it up at their headquarters in the Mission), and pay a modest delivery fee.  The driver will text you when they are close by, and then, your food shows up on your doorstep!  And if you won't be there to receive it, you can provide a cooler, and they'll stash it there for you.

The meals come nicely packaged, with detailed instructions on how to prepare the food.  For most items, this just means heating it up, or tossing with a sauce or dressing.  One thing that makes Munchery really different from restaurant delivery is that the items arrive cold, rather than hot (er, lukewarm), and are actually designed to be delivered that way.  This means for some items the chef deliberately under-cooks them, 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!

Stay tuned for future reviews of main dishes that I have gotten through Munchery, but if you are interested in checking it out yourself, you can use my invite link and ... get a free delivery on your first order!

Anyway, back to Goody Goodie, my very first Munchery order.  After my Munchery adventure, I also did end up venturing to the Goody Goodie cafe to try out a few other cookies that are not offered on Munchery, so I've included those reviews here too.  Overall, they just aren't my style of cookie, but I understand why they have won so many awards.  And, it was the perfect excuse to try out Munchery!
The Circus Cookie, with kettle corn and chocolate.  $2.80 at Goody Goodie, but only $2.49 from Munchery.
The circus cookie sounds awesome.  A chocolate chip cookie, with extra huge chocolate chunks, and kettle corn?  All things I love.  And it has been featured on many "top cookie in SF" lists.

But ... it doesn't really live up to what I'd hoped it would be.  The popcorn was soft and kinda soggy, and not very pleasing.  There is indeed a ton of chocolate, some little chips, some big chunks.  But it seems like there was actually just too much chocolate,  as you don't get to taste the cookie dough much at all.  Overall, it just seems out of balance.

A shame, as I really wanted to like this!
The Goody Goodie Cookie.
This is their signature cookie, with a 4:1 chocolate to dough ratio.  It uses several types of chocolate, including giant chocolate chunks of high quality chocolate and cocoa nibs.  I loved the crunch from the nibs. This was a very thick cookie, not soft like I usually like, but definitely good!    The ratio of chocolate to dough makes it a little strange as you don't get as much "cookie" flavor, aka butter and sugar, but you get a ton of amazing chocolate flavor, the nice crunch from the nibs, and just a bit of cookie. I would certainly eat again.  I didn't finish it all in one sitting, and on the second day, I liked it less, as I really missed the cookie part.  I tried warming it up, but still felt the same way.

This one has also won a bunch of awards.  It isn't available on Munchery, but their other chocolate chip cookie (The Old School, which I haven't yet tried) is.
Peanut Butter Circus Cookie
This is like the circus cookie, but with a peanut butter cookie base rather than chocolate chip.  So basically, a peanut butter cookie with caramel corn and sea salt.

This was another one I wanted to love, since I love peanut butter, and the combination of sweet and salty.  But like the other cookies, it was very thick, hard.  The peanut butter flavor was not very strong and the popcorn inside again lead to a weird kinda soggy texture. Would not get again.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A.G. Ferrari

I've known about A.G. Ferrari for years.  They have several locations in the city, and feature a deli with prepared foods, along with pantry supplies of imported Italian goods.  For a while, my apartment complex got catering from them for our monthly events.  I didn't take notes back then, but I remember some pretty good charcuterie, cheese, and antipasto platters.  But what I really remembered, was the cookies!  They were always the highlight.

I hadn't ever visited their actual stores though, so when I saw them listed on GoPago, I had to try out their deli selections.  The salads I tried were ok, but really, go for the cookies!
Macaroni Salad.  $6.99/lb.
This was very classic macaroni salad, albeit with a non-standard pasta shape.  The pasta was decently cooked, not mushy, but not al dente either.  In the mix was little chopped onions, celery, and hard boiled egg.  The dressing was mayo based.  This wasn't anything remarkable, but it wasn't bad either.  The bits of vegetable added a nice crunch.
Potato Salad.  $7.99/lb.
The potato salad was made with the same base as the macaroni salad, with little bits of egg, red onion, celery, and green onion.  The red onion was very sharp and overwhelmed the rest of the flavors.  There wasn't much seasoning or flavor to it otherwise.  The potatoes were overcooked and mushy.  I didn't like this at all.  The macaroni salad was far better.

[ No photo ]
Swiss Chard & Roasted Garlic Frittata.  $3.99.
"A torte of Swiss chard, roasted garlic and egg."  I hated this.  Now, I don't like frittata in the first place, but they had samples of it out, so I figured I'd give frittata another try.  It was very bitter from the chard.  And ... it was frittata.  Would never try again, even for another free sample!

Cookies

$1.99 each.
  • Chocolate Chocolate Chip: Very fudgy, great flavor, quite good.
  • Chocolate Chip: Moist, good flavor, very good.
  • Sugar: This looked just like any old sugar cookie, not particularly interesting.  But what a surprise!  It was awesome. Super buttery, super sugary, great!
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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Destino

[ Originally posted January 8, 2012.  Moving to blog now to complete my trio of Peruvian reviews. ]

I've been on Peruvian crawl, and have been to three different Peruvian places in the past week (the others were La Mar and the new Limon Rotisserie in Bayview).  Destino was by far the worst.  Do not recommend. We only got 3 appetizers and decided to leave and go elsewhere (Absinthe, for decent crab and desserts), it was that bad.

I think I hated this more than my dining companions, but I don't think any of us particularly liked the food.
Yuca fries with mint mojo sauce.  $6.  Fried plantain chips with serranto-cilantro salsa. $4.
The yucca fries were overly greasy, with an old oil sort of flavor. They were very starchy and unevenly cooked. The yuca fries at Limon were much better.  The mint mojo was kinda nice.

The plantain chips were, again, overly oily. No real flavor to them at all.  The plantain chips from La Mar were much, much better.  The serranto-cilantro salsa accompanying them was very boring.

We also ordered the crema de recoto salsa ($1.50 extra) to try to add some kick to these.  I figured we could save anything with some good sauce.  Unfortunately, it also was flavorless.
Ceviche Sampler.  $24.
We couldn't decide on which ceviche to order, but luckily they offer a sampler platter.  They were all varying degrees of bad.

(L to R):
  • Del Caribe: "Butterfish, coconut milk, piquillo pepper, serrano chili, fried leeks."  This was my favorite, but that shouldn't be surprising as it was butterfish in coconut milk :) But still, not much flavor in the marinade and the butterfish wasn't as melt in your mouth as it should be.
  • Mixto: "Mahi mahi, baby octopus, tiger prawn, habanero, lemon, tomato, avacado, plantain chip." This one had decent flavor and the octopus chunks were fine, but the mahi mahi was pretty awful.  I had 2 pieces that were really grisly and hard.
  • A la Pernana: "Red snapper, aji amarillo, onions, cornnuts, sweet potato chips." This was downright horrible. The snapper was incredibly fishy and off tasting. Ugh! 
Not surprisingly, the ceviches from both La Mar and Limon were much better.  $24 was way too expensive for this low quality fish.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

Catering by JJardine

For our annual Winter Solstice Party this year, my apartment complex hired a new caterer: JJardine.  I had high expectations going into the event, as we have had some pretty spectacular food (and drinks!) in the past, including a particularly memorable carving station one year, and plethora of amazing desserts.  This year however, I was a little shocked when I walked into the room.  The bar was offering a single white wine (a Beringer Sauvignon Blanc that was really bitter and acidic, and really not good at all), a single red wine (Beringer Cab, that wasn't exactly good, but wasn't bad), and a single beer (Anchor Steam, I didn't try it).  This was a major step down from the open bars we have had in the past, or passed speciality mixed cocktails.  On the plus side there was a really talented harpest playing traditional carols at the start, and as the party livened up, a jazz band came out.  The entertainment was far, far better than years past, and certainly the highlight.

But, this is "Julie's Dining Club", so you aren't here to read about the talented musicians, you are likely more interested in the food.  I was really, really disappointed.  There wasn't a single thing that was even remotely good.  We had a buffet of cold appetizers, a bunch of passed warm appetizers, and a measly cold dessert station.  I do not recommend a single item.
Cold buffet spread.
The cold buffet looked nice, with little candles, flowers as garnish, and decent enough plating.
Pear and camembert quiche with roasted onion jam.
So, I dislike quiche (and all variants of it).  But I like camembert, and when I first walked in, I thought the cold hors d'oeuvres were the only food being offered, so I had to try them all.

This was ... quiche.  I didn't like it.  I didn't taste pear nor camembert, mostly just some eggyness, topped with very tart, vinegary onions.  I kinda liked the onions.  But meh.
Vietnamesse Spring Rolls, filled with smoked tofu, sei fun noodles, crisp vegetable chifonade.  
Totally unremarkable spring rolls.  Mostly just filler rice noodles and some veggies.  The tiny dollop of peanut sauce on top was completely insufficient.
Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, smoked salmon, roasted and grilled vegetables, olives, roasted peppers, garlic mushrooms, with bread basket on the side.
With so much on these platters, there had to be something good right?  Not really.

The cheeses were all from Cowgirl, which sounded promising, but they were pretty generic.  There was some of the Devil's Gulch, a creamy soft cheese with spicing on the rind that I tend to love, but unfortunately, it wasn't ripe enough.

The marinated and grilled vegetables were all also fairly boring.  Even the pretty looking purple cauliflower and the romanesco were lacking any real flavor.  And the roasted squash were completely inconsistently cooked, with some parts raw, and others mushy.

The smoked salmon had a lovely color to it, but it too was lacking much flavor.
Serrano Ham & Fontina Risotto Croquettes.
Next, we moved on to passed hot appetizers.

This was the best bite of the evening.  A nice crispy exterior, gooey, cheesy inside.  Not too oily, nice cheese flavor, little bit of salt and flavor from the ham.  Not wonderful, but the best thing I had all night, by far.

I raved about these to others, and was surprised when they had some, seemed totally unimpressed, and didn't ooze cheese everywhere like mine had.  I went back for another later on in the evening, and like everyone else's, mine didn't leave with me strings of cheese hanging out of my mouth.  The second one was mediocre at best.  Sigh.
Niman Ranch Sliders with Bleu Cheese & Caramelized Onions.
Little sliders!  These seemed to be a big hit.  The servers could barely take two steps before the platters were emptied.

I gleefully joined in the attacking of the servers as they walked in, and scored my very own slider.  It ... wasn't good.

The brioche bun was a nice touch, but the meat itself was very overcooked, barely warm, and had a really strange taste to it.  Not gamey exactly, but something just wasn't right.  The blue cheese was pretty lost in it, and the few shreds of onion that existed weren't particularly caramelized.

This *could* have been good, it certainly had the pedigree of something tasty, but it fell very short.
Wild Mushroom Empanadas baked in gorgonzola pastry with red pepper chimichurri.
Another hot passed appetizer.

Unlike the croquette, this was super oily.  All I could taste was the oil.  The filling was mushroomy, but not particularly well seasoned.  And the shell, ugh, seriously, so oily.  And like the spring rolls, the tiny bit of sauce (in this case, red pepper chimichurri) was totally insufficient.

[ Not Pictured ]
Papas Bravas with meyer lemon aioli.

Meh.  Just slices of potato, on a skewer.  Slightly spicy.  I rubbed mine in the aioli on the platter, but it didn't really taste like anything.  Noticing a theme here?
Mini Pecan Pie with Vanilla Bean Mascarpone.
Once the dessert station was set up, I eagerly approached.  Even if the rest of the food was pretty bad, I'm a bit of a dessert slut, and can pretty easily be satisfied with even mediocre desserts.

Not in this case.

The tart shell was soggy and flavorless.  There was barely any pie filling in it, just a few pieces of chopped up pecans with a tiny bit of slightly sweet filling.  Sigh.  I didn't taste a hint of vanilla in the mascarpone, nor could I have told you it was mascarpone rather than whipped cream.

Even the dessert-o-holic in me couldn't find a single thing good about this, and I tried several, even scooping out just the insides in order to get a tasty bite.
Chocolate Truffle Cups with Crystalized Ginger Macadamia Praline.
I usually skip chocolate in the evenings, but I was pretty desperate for something to be good at this point.  Chocolate seemed hard to screw up.

The shell was unremarkable chocolate.  The filling, not creamy, nor chocolately, nor notable in any way.  The topping ... was just soggy.  I had no idea what it was.  I didn't taste ginger nor macadamia.  I laughed when I went and read the catering purchase order later and saw the description.  I'd have never, ever guessed what the topping was supposed to be.  As you can probably guess, I was not impressed.
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