Friday, February 13, 2015

Kameda Crisps

Snacks.  I love snacks.  I munch on things all day, and I'm always excited to try products other than classic chips and pretzels, so I was thrilled to discover Kameda Crisps.

Kameda Crisps come from a Japanese company, Kameda Seika Co, the largest rice cracker manufacturer in Japan.  There, they are sold under the name Kakinotane.  In the US, they sell two varieties of rice based snacks: savory rice snacks and a frosted sweet variety.  I know I tried the sweet variety, but lost my notes on them.  Doh!

The savory ones come in a few flavors including wasabi, bbq, black pepper, and sweet chili.  They come either as just the rice snacks, or mixed with roasted peanuts.  I've tried several flavors, and found them all to be quite snackable.  That's a word, right?

Since they are riced based, they are gluten-free, and also boast all the other buzzwords you may care about: non-GMO, no MSG, no trans fats, etc.  Oh, and did I mention, they are baked, not fried?
Sweet Chili Kameda Crisps.
"These light, crispy rice crackers have a savory flavor, with just a hint of sweetness. Enjoy the surprisingly delicious and tangy taste of sweet chili with every bite. Fresh roasted peanuts make each serving hearty and satisfying."

Given the name "sweet chili", I expected these to taste like ... well, sweet chili, in particular, sweet chili sauce, as I enjoyed so often with my wedges in Australia.  A bit of sweetness, a hint of spice.  I really didn't taste anything sweet chili about these.

They tasted like soy sauce, with a hint of chili.  Which, once I read the ingredients, I saw is exactly what they were (ok, they were made with tamari, not soy, because, gluten-free).  They also had mushroom extract and seaweed extract in them, a bit unexpected.

So, once my expectations were re-aligned, I enjoyed them, but they weren't quite what I wanted.  The rice crisps had a perfect crunch to them, and the peanuts were quite simple roasted nuts, but a good nutty contrast.

With this mix, and all the other flavors I tried, I enjoyed the mix, but wanted there to be more than just two components.  I made my own snack mixes with them, adding in corn nuts, wasabi peas, and other types of rice crackers, and then enjoyed them much more.  Just a bit too simple for me.
Wasabi with Roasted Peanuts.
"These light, crispy rice crackers have a savory flavor and a big kick of wasabi with every bite. Fresh roasted peanuts make each serving hearty and satisfying."

Next I decided to kick it up a notch, to the wasabi flavor.  The package said "Big Kick", and they weren't joking!

The mix was mostly the same, just rice crackers, with a few peanuts thrown in.  All crunchy and satisfying to munch on.  But the wasabi flavor ... wow!  Yes, it had a big kick.

I enjoyed this quite a bit, although perhaps there was just a tad bit too much wasabi for me.

Interestingly, the second bag of these I tried was far less wasabi flavored.  Not really sure why they were so dramatically different, but I could barely taste the wasabi in that batch.  I felt a bit like Goldilocks: one was too much, one was too little, and I wanted something right in the middle to be just right.

Definitely my favorite of the flavors I tried, although I'd love to try the BBQ sometime too.
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sprinkles Cupcakes

I love desserts, you know this.  But cupcakes are rarely near the top of my list.  Even during the height of the cupcake craze, they never did it for me.  Believe me, I tried, but all the top places on Yelp in the area failed me, like Sibby's Cupcakery, Cup and Cake's Bakery, Cako, or Delessio.

Sprinkles was one of the originators of that craze, credited with being one of the first cupcake bakeries in the US, and certainly the first on the West Coast.  It took a while for them to reach the Bay Area, and even though the general cupcake fad had passed, I remember people being very excited for the Palo Alto location opening.   They even make cupcake ATMs.  I figured if any cupcakes were going to be good, these would be it.

Spoiler: I didn't like them.  The cake was always too dry, and the cupcakes were all homogenous throughout, lacking the moist interior and crispy exterior I prefer.  The frostings were all too sweet, and there was too much applied.

I won't be trying more.
Salty Caramel.
"These fleur de sel granules are a delightful complement to the sweet, buttery caramel which flavors both the cake and frosting."

I didn't care for the cake at all.  It was fairly dry, and I really didn't taste caramel.

The frosting was super sweet, I guess caramely, and it seemed a bit cream cheesy.  The salt crystals on top were really good however, and complemented the sweet well.

[ Subsequent review: I again found the cake really dry and uninteresting.  The frosting however was nicely sweet, and I certainly detected cream cheese in it.  The edible decoration was also tasty. ]
Red Velvet.
"Southern style light chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting."

This is their signature flavor, made with Callebaut chocolate.  Also available in gluten-free or sugar free, although, if you want a gluten-free cupcake, I recommend the vanilla ones from Kara's Cupcakes.

I'm never a big fan of red velvet.  This was no exception.  It had a decent chocolate flavor to it, but way too much sweet cream cheese icing.  Meh.  My least favorite of the flavors I tried.
Strawberry.
"This juicy cupcake is made with ripe, succulent strawberries pureed into both its cake and frosting."

This sounded promising.

But ... the cake was still a dry, consistent style that I don't really like, and it didn't have any flavor.   Where were the strawberries pureed in it?

The frosting was really lovely however, with a strong strawberry flavor, although still a bit too sweet.  The strawberry flavor in the icing was very ... fruit forward!
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Delica

Delica is a Japanese deli, located inside the Ferry Building.  Since I live nearby, I've grabbed food there a number of times during the day, when it operates as a casual grab and go establishment.  Many items already pre-boxed in bento boxes, or you can create combos from the selection of pre-made salads, sushi rolls, fried deli items, soups, and donburi, although nothing is cooked to order.

In the evening, it transforms into a sit down restaurant, with a completely different menu, but I've never visited at night, so I'll focus only on the grab-n-goes here.

Everything at Delica is fairly tasty and unique, although I don't really feel compelled to go back frequently.  Service is friendly enough, but it is always so crowded and chaotic, and, I really do prefer my fried items fresh!

Deli

The deli section features mostly fried items, available individually or as part of a bento box.  They cook are cooked in small batches, so the items are always fairly fresh, but still, fried items are best when piping hot, not lukewarm.  If I see something coming out fresh, that is when I pounce!
Potato Croquette (vegetarian). $1.75.
"Delicately fried Russet and Yukon gold potato croquette with sautéed onions."

Every culture has its own version of fried potatoes cakes.  I've had potato croquettes from a variety of cuisines in my life, but never Japanese.

The is a patty made of mashed potato and onions, fried up, served classically with a packet of tonkatsu sauce.

It was quite tasty.  Sure, fried potatoes are generally tasty, and it was made even better by the super flavorful sautéed onions inside the patty.  It had a perfectly crispy exterior.  The tonkatsu sauce was also delicious, and I enjoyed smothering my patty in it.

I liked this quite a bit and would certainly get again.  $1.75 for a nice sized snack is reasonable.
Fried Shrimp Cake with Tartar Sauce.  $4.
"Made with white shrimp and coated in our freshly made panko breadcrumbs. Served with our house tartar sauce. "

After the success of the potato cake, I was interested in trying more of their fried deli items, an area I had previously avoided.  People on Yelp most commonly raved about the shrimp cake, so I went for it.

I was a little worried when I opened the box, as it smelt very fried.  I knew I was ordering a deep fried item of course, but all I could smell was oil.  But, I didn't need to be worried.  It didn't taste oily at all.

I loved the crust on the cake, really amazingly crispy, and not too thick.  It added crunch to each and every bite.
Inside the shrimp cake.
Inside the cake was shrimp.  I am not sure what other filler there was, if any.  It was loaded up with shrimp.  It didn't taste fishy at all.  And the shrimp were not rubbery.  It was well executed, except ... the shrimp were not cleaned.  I know it isn't necessary, and particularly with smaller shrimp it would be a ton of work, but one of them had such a large, dark intestinal track left in that it did gross me out a bit.  Please de-poop my shrimp!

The tartar sauce served alongside was quite good, tangy, with some herbs.  I did find the amount they provided a bit skimpy, I easily finished the whole thing.  I love tartar sauce, and I did think it went well, particularly the creamy sauce with the fried crust, but I think it would have been equally delicious with the tonkatsu sauce served with the potato croquette, or even with some sort of cocktail-ish sauce.

My only real issue is it was served lukewarm.  The deli items are all dishes you'd probably prefer hot and fresh, and they make them in continuous batches throughout the day, but unless you really luck out, you aren't getting one hot out of the fryer, and they aren't even kept under heat lamps.  Most of the items I think would probably be pretty good cold too, but they don't serve them that way intentionally.  When I picked up the potato croquette, I actually brought it home to eat later, and warmed it in the toaster oven at home, so the serving temperature didn't bother me, but the shrimp cake I ate right away, and it was in that in-between land of hot and cold, which left something to be desired.

I did enjoy it quite a bit, and I'd get another.  Perhaps I'd bring it home to warm it up, or only order one if I saw the cakes being placed out fresh.  I'd still really like them to devein the shrimp.  But still good.

$4 price for a good size snack, particularly with so much shrimp, was fine.
Crab Croquette with Tartar Sauce. $4.00.
"Seasonal Dungeness crabmeat blended with a creamy Béchamel sauce then lightly breaded and fried."

After the success with the other fried items, I had my eyes on the most interesting sounding of all: a crab croquette, as you know, I love crab.  I was a bit skeptical of the béchamel, not because I don't love béchamel, but, because it seemed like an odd fit with the crab.

Like the shrimp cake, it wasn't very warm, so I brought it home and popped it in the toaster oven.  It re-heated easily, particularly in that it got nice and crispy again.  The breading was good, although the whole thing was a bit oily for my taste.

The crab was better than the shrimp, but as I feared, totally lost in the creamy béchamel.  The béchamel was nice, don't get me wrong, but, it drowned out the crab.  The crab was all shredded, no lump meat.  

The tartar sauce was the same as with the shrimp cake, which I did like, but I also thought didn't really go with the béchamel.

$4 was again a fine price for a snack, but I wouldn't pick this one again.
Chicken Dumpling with Sweet Chili Sauce.  $2.
"Ground chicken, organic tofu, water chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms in a sweet chili sauce."

This is not something I'd normally ever go for.  Chicken?  Definitely not my thing.  And tofu?  Really not my thing.  But, I stopped in Delica a bit late, and they were out of the rice balls that I intended to get.  And these looked good.  I think it was the sweet chili sauce that I couldn't resist.

Shockingly, I liked it.  I think this is first item with chicken in it that I have actually, legitimately liked, in ... years.  It was basically a chicken meatball, with the chicken and tofu both ground up so you couldn't tell what was what.  It was incredibly moist, yet a bit crispy on the outside.  The little chunks of water chestnut inside were crisp and added a great crunch.

And ... it was slathered in sweet chili sauce, which is always delicious.

The only thing I did not like is that it was lukewarm when I got it.  I know that is the style of Delica, but I still wish they could keep the hot deli items hotter.

$2 price was fine for a small item, and, shockingly, yes, I'd get another.

[ Update: I got another.  It was just as delicious, although just as lukewarm.  I can't get over the sauce!  Ojan also enjoyed these several times, as he is a sweet chili sauce lover as well. ]
Tofu & Chicken Patty with Hijiki. $4.25.
Since I loved the chicken dumplings so much, I took a serious risk and ordered the Tofu & Chicken Patty with Hijiki on a subsequent visit.  Yes, more chicken and tofu, ingredients I generally hate.  And this one was even stranger, as it came from the cold deli case, rather than the hot section.  Cold chicken and tofu sounded far less appealing, but, I braved on.

The description read: "an all natural, hormone free chicken and organic tofu patty with hijiki seaweed and carrots. Served in a sweet soy sauce and topped with daikon radish and green onions."

It was quite large, easily the size of a burger.  It was clearly made from ground chicken, and the chicken flavor was stronger than in the dumpling since there were fewer mix-ins.   There was barely any tofu, which wasn't noticeable unless you dissected it, and found strange texture bits, which I'm assuming were the tofu.  The hijiki was visible, but didn't seem to add any taste or texture.  I didn't taste nor see carrots.  I greatly preferred the water chestnuts in the dumpling since they added a crispness and helped break up the chicken.

The sauce on top was a thick goo, which I guess was "sweet soy sauce".  It was fairly tasty, but no where near as delicious as the sweet chili sauce, and the consistency was fairly off putting.

The grated daikon on top added a bit of freshness, but I didn't like it, and found myself wishing it were more like the water chestnuts from the dumplings.

So overall, still better than most chicken and tofu preparations, but I found myself wanting it to be the dumplings the entire time.  I wouldn't get it again, and Ojan also didn't want a second bite of it, and he eats chicken.

$4.25 price tag was fine, particular since it was certainly far more than twice the size of the $2 dumplings.
Sweet & Spicy Chicken. $1.75.
"Sake marinated chicken, lightly fried, served with sweet & spicy sauce."

This was for Ojan, not me, as I obviously don't like chicken, so I'd never pick an item that was literally just chicken.  He really likes these, and gets them often.  I finally tried a bite, just to try it ... well, it was chicken :)  The sauce was tasty though, sorta like General Tso's, and I liked the sesame seeds on the outside too.

$1.75 is the price per piece, but I'd say 80% of the time, they give 2 pieces instead of just one.

Grab N' Go

On weekdays at lunch time, the lines for the deli get ridiculous.  When I can't deal with them, I just go for the Grab N' Go items, which is either just pre-portioned salads or rice balls.

In San Francisco, the only other place I've had onigiri is Onigilly, where I was not remotely satisfied, mostly due to their use of brown rice.  But when I was in Tokyo, I got a bit addicted to the onigiri, and even loved the version from the Japan Airlines lounge in San Francisco.  So, I decided to give Delica's versions a try.
Hijiki Rice Ball. $2.
"Our famous Hijiki salad base mixed with steamed rice."

Delica makes two varieties of the rice balls, salmon or hijiki.  I wanted to try the salmon offering, but alas, they were sold out, so I went for the vegetarian option.

Since the onigiri are already prepared, they are served at room temperature, a bit warmer than I'd prefer.  And since it is a street food item, there was no sauce to accompany it, although, I asked for soy sauce on the side.

The first thing I noticed is that it was not wrapped in seaweed, as it traditional.  Still triangle shaped, but just wrapped in saran wrap, with little bits of seaweed distributed throughout the rice.  I missed the crunch from the crispy seaweed wrapper, but since they weren't being made fresh to order, nor do they have a fancy packaging system, it makes sense that they wouldn't wrap in seaweed, since it would get soggy.

Also distributed throughout were soybeans and and small amount of daikon.  I don't care for soybeans, so I could have done without them, and I would have preferred that the hijiji just be in the center, as a flavorful burst of filling, like I experienced in Japan.  I appreciated the 3 kuko that topped it though.

The rice was ok, white rice, but not particularly sticky, nor sweet, nor vinegary.  Far better than the rice at Onigilly, but, it didn't compare to the sushi rice in Japan.  Because of the temperature, it was also a bit mushy.

Overall, this was a bit boring, but with some soy sauce added, I did easily finish it.  I would have liked more concentrated flavor.

The $2 price tag was totally reasonable, and if I needed to just grab a quick bite, I'd consider it again, but I'd rather continue to explore their menu.
Salmon and Sesame Rice Ball. $2.
"Cured and roasted wild salmon mixed with sesame seeds and steamed rice."

On another visit, they finally had salmon balls.  I can't even count how many visits it took me to attain one, it seems that they always run out before 12:30!

It was much like the hijiki, triangle shaped, without a nori wrapper (although it had a thin strip of nori on it, which, predictably, did get soggy).  And, served at room temperature, which on this day was quite warm, which is kinda strange when it is salmon.  This concerned me slightly, food safety wise ...

Mixed with the rice was sesame seeds and little tiny bits of salmon.  The salmon was such small chunks that I didn't really taste it though.  The rice was again fine, but a bit boring, not quite sticky or flavorful enough.

Overall, just kinda blah.  I added soy sauce, which definitely helped, but, I wouldn't get another of these.

$2 price is crazy reasonable though for a snack in the Ferry Building!

Salads

Delica offers a slew of different composed salads, of which I've tried most.  You can order them by the pound, or as part of a bento box.
Green Bean Salad.  $12.99/lb.
"Organic green beans and shredded carrots with a traditional creamy sesame dressing."

The green beans were nice and fresh, crispy.  The dressing is what makes this dish though, there is something about that sesame flavor that is just totally addicting.  I recall in the past that the dressing had more flavor though, I felt it was a bit lacking this time.  The shredded carrots don't seem like much, but they go really well with the dressing.

[ Previous notes: love the sesame dressing, nice crunch in green beans, not too al dente, not soggy. ]
Wasabi Potato Salad.
"Garlic potato salad with wasabi mayonnaise, edamame, snap peas, and romaine hearts". 

This is my favorite of the Delica salads.  Romaine hearts in potato salad is so strange, but I really like the freshness and crunch it brings to the salad.  The potatoes are nicely cooked, and it is nicely creamy, but not overdressed.  I like how it is creamy without feeling unhealthy, and I think the greens add to that.  The wasabi adds a fun extra flavor.  I most certainly could do without the edamame though.

[ Previous notes: decent, lettuce in potato salad is kinda weird, but it works, although again, not worth going out of way for but decent. ]

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  • Asparagus:  "Asparagus and organic shredded carrots with a traditional sesame dressing" Tasting notes: This is the seasonal version of the green beans, available only in the summer.  I like this even more than green beans, and it is by far my favorite of their salads.  The dressing goes great with the asparagus and the asparagus goes great with the carrots.
  • Eggplant: "Japanese eggplant blanched in rice bran oil with a “Piri Kara” sauce consisting of ground free range chicken, and bean thread noodles. Topped with cilantro and green onions."  Tasting notes: I didn't care for this.  The ground chicken was just strange cold, and even though I liked their ground chicken in other items, the flavor of the salad didn't mask the chicken flavor here, which I generally don't like.  The eggplant was nice enough.
  • Hijiki and Soybean (vegan): "Hijiki seaweed mixed with dried soybeans, edamame, konnyaku (mountain yam), daikon, wild mizuna, fried tofu, and kuko (wolfberry) and cooked with soy sauce." Tasting notes: Again, decent but not worth going out of way for. [ Same impression, seaweed is flavorful but I don't really crave this.] [ Not very good.  Flavors not popping, just kinda meh. ]
  • Spicy Burdock and Lotus Root (vegan): "A spicy mix of braised burdock and konnyaku (mountain potato) tossed with thin slices of white onion, celery, julienne carrots, and wild mizuna.".  Tasting notes: decent flavors, but not worth going out of way for. [ Meh, not very interesting ] [ I really don't get the "spicy" here, as it wasn't spicy at all. I did like the crisp chunks of lotus root. ]

Soups

Organic Tofu Miso Soup. $2.50.
"Miso soup with bonito dashi, organic tofu and wakame seaweed."

This was pretty standard miso soup, although loaded up with a generous serving of very large chunks of tofu, and plenty of wakame.  The green onion was added to the top fresh when I ordered it.

It was fine, but not really something I'd get again.  It was also lukewarm, sigh.

Soups are available in either cup or bowl size.  Even the cup size is quite large however, so this was a great deal for only $2.50.


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  • Beef Curry: Nice and spicy, decent quality beef.
  • Butternut Squash (seasonal): Flavorless, do not get this!
  • Carrot and Ginger: "Organic carrots, ginger, and onions pureed with chicken broth."  Tasting notes: warm, refreshing, not too strong carrot nor ginger flavor, quite balanced.
  • Salmon Chowder: "Wild Sockeye Salmon from Copper River, yellow onion, potato with chicken broth." Tasting notes: nice chunks of salmon, potato, celery, etc.  Broth kinda watery/oily though.  Decent but certainly not worth getting.

Desserts

Matcha Pudding with Homemade Anko (Sweet Red Bean). $3.50.
"Pureed Matcha pudding layered with homemade Anko (sweet red bean) topped with seasonal organic fruit and mint leaf."

This was beautiful!  They had a few in the display case without the toppings, so I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get when I ordered it.  When I asked for the pudding, the person taking my order went back behind and pulled out a bunch of extra components, and assembled it to order.  I'm pretty sure it is the only item on their menu that they prepare to order.

It wasn't quite what I was expecting.  The pudding wasn't a creamy style as I was hoping, but rather, was more like a panna cotta.  The matcha flavor wasn't super strong, but I could taste it.  It was fine, but I was in the mood for something creamy.

On top was their homemade sweet red bean.  It was absolutely delicious, and the red bean and matcha flavors went well together.  Then there was some whipped cream, fresh, and also tasty with the red bean.

Finally, there was a sliced strawberry.  I didn't expect anything of it, yet it turned out to be one of the most delicious strawberries I've ever had.  It was crazy sweet.  It almost seemed like it had been sweetened somehow, but, it seemed like just a fresh berry, so I don't think it was.

Overall, this was good, just not quite what I was in the mood for.  The red bean and berry were quite memorable though, so I'd consider getting it again.  The $3.50 price was remarkable for a dessert like this, even if it wasn't huge.
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