Friday, October 23, 2015

Kewaza Energy Balls

I know, just what you needed, another review of organic, non-toxic, non-GMO, gluten-free, clean, healthy snacks.

I don't seek these out either, but I was recently visiting another Google office (I think Waterloo?), and wanted to explore the exciting products in their microkitchens.  I found these little "energy balls" in tempting sounding flavors.

I turned over the package, expecting to find the familiar listing of isolates and protein powders, but instead ... I just saw real ingredients.  Well, hmm.  I decided to give them a try.

Kewaza makes only one product, these energy balls, known to them as "little balls of wholesomeness".  They are available in 5 flavors, which I think you'll agree, do sound quite tempting: cookie dough, dark chocolate coconut, peanut butter cookie dough, red banana bread, and dark chocolate peanut butter.  Besides perhaps the red banana bread, these all sounded like winners (although, to be fair, the same can be said for dreadful LÄRABARS ... shutter).

Still, I dug in.
Dark Chocolate Coconut.
I started with the Dark Chocolate Coconut.

I was surprised when I opened the package.  It looked like a chocolate truffle.  I know the packaging said it was an "energy ball", so I expected it to be round, like a ball, but perhaps I just wasn't expecting quite so ... chocolate?  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but something so dessert-like was not it.

I took my first bite, expecting the true nature to reveal itself.  Nope, it tasted like it looked.  Like a chocolate truffle.  There was no strange texture or flavor from spoilers like whey protein isolate.  It was just a dense, almost crumbly, ball of chocolate, coated in shredded coconut.

I tell you, this was a truffle.  It went oh-so nicely alongside my coffee.

That isn't to say that the ball doesn't have other ingredients.  Cocoa powder is mixed with brown rice protein, flax seed, goji berries, and maca powder to form the base (with coconut oil as the binding agent).  I just didn't taste any of that.  They use honey as the sweetener, and, did I mention, there were crunchy little bits of cocoa nibs in there too?  And ... that is it.  So yes, not just chocolate and coconut, but really nothing too strange in there.

A ball has only 90 calories, 6 grams of fat (healthy fats from the coconut products), and 4 grams of protein.  Not intended to be a meal replacement, but a very balanced little snack to have pre or post workout, or mid-afternoon.

I can't wait to try another flavor, and would certainly get another.
Peanut Butter Cookie Dough.
After the success of the dark chocolate truffle, you can only imagine how excited I was to try the peanut butter cookie dough.  Chocolate is good, but peanut butter is better!

This one also looked like a lovely little truffle.  I eagerly took a bite.

I didn't taste the peanut butter I was craving.  I tasted ... dates.  Dates are why I dislike so many healthy nutrition bars, as I just don't really like the flavor.  I understand that they add natural sweetness, but, this is not a sweetness I actually like.

I tried a second bite, hoping that the peanut butter would hit, but it never did.  I also think I was expecting chocolate chips, since "cookie dough" in my head just auto-completes to "chocolate chip cookie dough".  And it did have chocolate in the ingredient list, but, alas, I didn't find the crunchy chips I was hoping for.

If you like dates, and weren't looking for something to hit you in the face with peanut butter deliciousness, perhaps this is fine, but for me, it was a fail.  I could have guessed this if I had read the ingredient list in advance, very short and simple: dates, chocolate, peanut butter, emphasis on the dates first.
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gelateria Naia

Gelataria Naia is a local gelato manufacturer, with two Bay Area shops, one located in North Beach, and one in Walnut Creek.  I visited the North Beach location many years ago, but I recalled not really liking it.  They also make gelato in bar form, like a big popsicle, on a stick, and sell these at Whole Foods under the "Bar Gelato by Naia" brand.

I recently attended an outdoor event with a gelato cart by Gelataria Naia.  It was a beautiful, hot, sunny San Francisco fall day (gotta love October in SF).  Gelato sounded like the perfect treat for such weather.

I wasn't alone in my thinking, as the cart had a constant line.  Even though I remembered not loving their product, I can't resist frozen treats, and eventually gave in and joined the line.  And after I finished my gelato ... I may or may not have gotten right back in line.  It was really good!

I'll have to give the shop another try.  While I wasn't stunned by the flavors in the gelato at the event, the texture was absolutely perfect.
Gelato Cart.
The gelato cart held 6 flavors at a time, which they rotated throughout the event as each ran out.

The selection was generally 2 caffeinated (coffee and chocolate), 2 boozy, and two fruity sorbettos.

I only went for the boozy ones.  They make at least 14 different boozy flavors, all using St George Spirits.  
Root of All Evil.
I started with a flavor dubbed "Root of All Evil".

I forget which spirit was in it, but it was St. George brand.  It also had root beer, hence the name.

I didn't really taste root beer, but it was really awesome gelato.  It melted perfectly, and the consistency was just perfect.  I didn't mind that it didn't have that much flavor, but obviously, more flavor would have been better.
Raspberry Liqueur.
I moved on to a raspberry liqueur flavor.

The raspberry liqueur was similar.  Again, I didn't taste much flavor, but it was just so perfectly creamy, so perfectly melty, that I didn't mind the indistinguishable flavor.  It was a pleasure just to eat such perfect gelato.

[ No Photos ]

Interestingly, I clearly haven't always liked the gelato from Naia.  I uncovered some tasting notes from long ago, from when I visited the shop in North Beach.  It seems I didn't like any of the gelato, and, even more surprisingly, it was the consistency that I had a problem with.  The consistency was beyond perfect this time around!  Specifically, I thought the Numi Chai flavor was icy.  I thought the gianduja, chocolate malt, peanut butter chip, and mint chocolate chip were all "very hard, like ice cream, not gelato consistency".  I concluded that I'd never go back, and I didn't understand why anyone liked it.  Hmm.  I wonder what changed?
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Freshroll

Update Review, October 2015

You may recall that a while back, I needed takeout for my group at work, and picked up springrolls and taro chips from FreshRoll.

I recently returned again, when I needed a quick takeout option and I was in the area.  Since I've reviewed Freshroll before, I'll skip all the general details this time, and focus just on the cuisine I had on this visit.

I've dubbed Freshroll the Chipotle/Subway of Vietnamese food: fast casual, customizable, made to order.  They should totally market themselves like this, right?
Single Roll, Garlic Shrimp.  $3.95.
Since I don't like pork, chicken, or tofu, I went for the only other option: shrimp.  I also added
lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, jalapeño, scallions, and of course, crispy goodness.

My roll this time was even larger than on my previous visit.  Last time, I remarked at how it wasn't overloaded with vermicelli noodles, but this time, it was.  I'd guess that 50% of its girth was the noodles.  They were flavorless, slimy, and I really didn't care for them at all.

The other veggies were all fine, fresh, crisp, but otherwise unremarkable.  I again loved the crunch from the "crispy goodness", but again, it was just a fried thing, indistinguishable as a scallion.

The shrimp were a bit fishy, and again, not garlic as advertised.

I choose my favorite two of the sauces again, Vietnamese vinaigrette and sweet & sour chili.  The vinaigrette was not very good this time, it didn't have any real flavor to it.  The sweet and sour chili sauce was again basically sweet chili sauce with a bit of kick.  I liked it the best.

Overall, the roll was not nearly as good as my first visit, and I wouldn't get another.

I realized once I left that I was charged the standard price for a single roll, $3.95.  Garlic shrimp should have cost $1.25 extra, and the crispy goodness should have been another $0.50, so it should have been $5.70.  $5.70 for a single roll most certainly would not have been worth it, but hey, I got a bargin.
Close up of the roll.
The roll was constructed much better on this visit than the last however.  It didn't fall apart, and had a very large amount of shrimp, far more than on my previous visit.

I think that given the type of establishment that Freshroll is, with a large varied staff, consistency is not their strong point.
Single Roll, Grilled Chicken.  $3.95.
On another visit, for Ojan, I got the chicken.  I didn't try it, but he liked it.

The roll was assembled with much greater care than my previous visits, and was packaged in a more appropriate container, sized for one roll.  Previously, when I've picked up a single roll, they have put it in a container meant for three rolls, and it has gotten a bit discombobulated on the way home as it has rolled all around.  The smaller container fit it much better.  I think this is probably the box for the sandwich, and other staff never thought of using it?

Anyway, well made, same mediocre product. 

Original Review, August 2013

For one week, I was tasked with providing nightly dinner for my co-workers.  Being me, I didn't just order delivery pizza or Thai food.  I like pizza and thai, but, I don't like it soggy and cold.  Delivery was obviously the easiest option, but I didn't want to limit myself to only places that deliver, so I also looked into takeout in the area.  My goal was to find something that was satisfying, but didn't need to be served warm.  I also really didn't just want sandwiches or salads, this was dinner after all.

The week before I was about to embark on this adventure, I walked by the Metreon and saw Freshroll.  I hadn't ever been, but it did sound interesting.  The concept is build your own Vietnamese rolls, sandwiches, and bowls.  Hot rice or noodle bowls wouldn't be appropriate for our dinner, but the rolls sounded like a perfect fit.  Yelpers seemed pretty happy with it.

You can order ahead online, or just walk in. First, you pick you style.  For cold options, there are the rice paper rolls, salad, or bahn mi.  Since I didn't want sandos or salad, I went for the rolls.  If I wanted something hot, I could have also picked a rice bowl, a vermicelli noodle bowl, or pho.

Next, you pick proteins.  Choices aren't plentiful, but there should be something for everyone: lemongrass pork, grilled chicken, garlic shrimp, or crispy tofu.  The only real thing missing was a red meat option.

Then it gets harder, you have to pick your veggies.  There are tons of options: lettuce, bean sprouts, bell pepper, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapeno, pickled veggies, pineapple, scallions, basil.  Luckily, they offer a combo called "the standard" if you can't decide.  For an additional fee, you can also add avocado or "crispy goodness" ... more on that later.

And then, my favorite part, sauces! Peanut sauce, citrus ginger, sweet and sour chili, or vinaigrette.

A side of taro chips and a few drinks round out the menu.  Sadly, no desserts are available.

Since I was ordering for a big group, I probably should have ordered online in advance.  It was a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of everyone's orders and get them all straight.  The staff were reasonably nice, but did seem slightly annoyed with me.  I did only get 9 rolls, I didn't think that was too many!

Overall, Freshroll was good, but not outstanding.  I love to customize things, so I really appreciated that aspect, but none of the ingredients or flavors were that memorable.
Thai Iced Coffee.  $2.95.
They had Thai Iced Coffee, but strangely, not Thai Iced Tea.  Darn!  I always love the sweet milky goodness.  Other fresh beverages were lychee sweetened black tea and limeade.  They also had bottled beverages, including a slew of different types of coconut water.

I settled for the coffee as a consolation prize.  It was decent, nice coffee flavor, not too sweet.  $2.95 for a drink this size seemed fine.
Housemade Taro Chips. $1.95.
I love taro, and crunchy salty things, so I was excited by the single side on the menu, housemade taro chips.

They were ok, nicely crispy, good sized, not broken up.  But they were a bit too oily for my liking, and under-salted.  I'm not sure how much I would have liked them plain, but I liked dunking them in the assorted sauces I had for my rolls.

The package was perhaps a bit small for $1.95, but you wouldn't really want more.
Assorted dipping sauces.
They have 4 different sauces to choose from for the rolls.  When asked which one I'd like, and I very quickly asked for all 4.  How could you ever pick just one?  Particularly when this was for a big group?
  • Grandma's Peanut Sauce: Hmm.  I usually love peanut sauce, but this wasn't good.  It somehow wasn't very ... peanuty?  It was thick, gloopy, and had no real flavor.  My least favorite by far.
  • Sweet & Sour Chili: Pretty standard sweet chili sauce, although it had a bit of heat.  Another thing I got hooked on in Sydney, sweet chili sauce!  Not sure why it said "sour" though, as it was sweet and spicy, and not at all sour.  I didn't love it with my roll, but I liked it with the taro chips, and with assorted other things I dunked in the leftovers.
  • Tangy Citrus Ginger: Well, it was citrusy, and gingery, but definitely not my thing.  The flavors were strong, and exactly as advertised.  Least favorite.
  • Vietnamese Vinaigrette: This was nice, light, with good flavor.  The fish sauce shone through.  Very good for dipping the rolls.  For the rolls, my favorite by far.
Assorted Rolls.  3 for $7.95 or $3.95 each.
Since I was ordering for a group, they nicely labelled the boxes to keep them all straight.

I ordered 4 chicken rolls, 2 pork, and 3 shrimp, mostly with the standard fillings, but slightly customized.

Of course I wanted to try several options, so we cut some of the rolls in half to be able to try more.  Since I don't like chicken or pork, I only tried the shrimp.  I started with the "standard": vermicelli noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño, and pineapple.  At the advice of the Yelpers, I added on some "crispy goodness", aka, a fried scallion, to another, and then I threw some pickled veggies into another.

I was amused by the pricing of 3 for $7.95 or $3.95 each.  I only needed 8 rolls, but I got 9 since it made no sense to get two singles.  Shrimp is $2 extra, and a "crispy goodness" is $0.75 extra.

The price for 3 seemed fine, although the shrimp being a full $2 more was a bit surprising, and $0.75 for a single piece of fried scallion seemed a bit much.  But the regular set of 3 was totally reasonable.
Shrimp falling out.
I was not impressed with the roll job.  They were all different sizes.  Most were falling apart and things were breaking through and sticking out all over the place.  Really sloppy.

But the fillings were fresh and decent quality.  The shrimp was advertised as "garlic shrimp", but I certainly didn't taste the garlic. That said, the shrimp was fine, although they were a smaller size than I was expecting.  The veggies were all crisp and fresh.  The jalapeño certainly added some kick, which was nice.  The pineapple is not something I'd normally put, but it was kinda nice.  I'd probably skip it in the future though.  I was glad there weren't many vermicelli noodles, I always get annoyed when my rolls are loaded up with noodles.

The "crispy goodness" did live up to its name.  Not worth $0.75 perhaps, but it added a totally delightful crunch.  I wouldn't have known it was scallion of course, as it was mostly just fried stuff.  But, recommended.

Overall, these were fine, and I'd eat them again, but I wouldn't go out of my way for them.  Mostly I just wish they had some different proteins, as none were my favorites.
Freshroll Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Aqua Restaurant at Crowne Plaza Kitchener-Waterloo

In late July, I travelled to an unusual destination: Kitchener, ON.  Yes, to a random town in Canada.  Why?  I had a friend getting married in Buffalo, NY (2 hours away), and I figured it was a good excuse to check out our Waterloo office for a few days, rather than just visiting the east coast for a day or two.

I planned to stay at the Sheraton, because I'm a loyal Starwood gal, but a co-worker said I should stay closer to the office.  I obliged, after doing a little bit of due diligence research on my options.  The Crowne Plaza was clearly the top choice.  While there were some noise complaints, it was recently renovated, and, you know me with my one track focus, people actually really raved about the breakfast buffet.  The Sheraton had good reviews for the hotel itself, but, alas, no one had anything positive to say about their mostly-continental breakfast offerings.

Thus, the Crowne Plaza it was, with a rate that included breakfast, of course.  And, failing that, my office was just down the street, and they serve breakfast.  I really enjoyed my breakfast the first day, but subsequent days were lackluster.  I do wish I'd checked out the offerings at our office instead.  Next time?
Bar, Seating.
Like the rest of the hotel, the restaurant recently had a major renovation.  The space was modern, swanky, beautiful.

Breakfast is a buffet, normally $14 for the hot buffet or $9 for just a continental.  There is an a la carte menu as well, but only the buffet was included in my rate.  Drinks are not self-serve, rather, you order from the waitress as you enter.

Service was actually really good ... the first day.  The single server was friendly and, as I watched her work, I was crazy impressed.  Every guest who walked in after me had clearly been there before, and, she knew each drink order by heart as they walked in, no matter how standard ("orange juice and coffee?") or a bit odd ("unsweet iced tea and warmed milk?")

The next morning was a stark contrast.  It was impossible to get any attention.  Myself, and many other guests, resorted to walking up to the front with our empty glasses to get refills of juice/coffee/water/etc.  New patrons entered and just sat, waiting for minutes before someone finally acknowledged them.  Granted, it was busy, and there were only two servers, but when I commented about how busy it was, the server said it was normal.  If this is normal mode of operation, you think they'd be better able to handle it?

The final morning was back to calm.  I walked in, was greeted, and offered coffee.  They came to check on me several times throughout my stay.  What a difference a day makes.
Table Setting, Coffee.
All days I ordered decaf coffee.

The water is tap water, and I can't say I liked the taste of it.  The second morning I knew better, and brought along a bottle of water.  Other included drink options are basic juices.  Ojan opted for the grapefruit juice, but said it wasn't very good.

The coffee was fine, although not great.  The first day, the awesome waitress poured me a cup while I was up getting my food selections, but also left an entire carafe on the table for me.  I loved that I didn't need to ask for refills or go without coffee.  Major bonus points.  She also left a pitcher of creamer.

The next morning however ... total opposite.  I was given just a single cup of coffee.  I could not, no matter what I did, get attention to get more.  I waved, I said, loudly, "excuse me?" as the server passed by.  Nothing.  The only effective route to more coffee was marching up to the front, placing myself in the server's path, and pointing at my empty cup.  Le sigh.  No creamer was provided, but, I didn't actually use it, so I didn't mind.

The final day, I ordered decaf, as usual, and the server even offered to go brew me a fresh pot, warning that it would take 4 minutes.  And then he instructed the other server to just bring me a whole carafe, which I gladly consumed in its entirely.  Such inconsistencies!

Assorted sweeteners, Dickenson's jams (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, orange marmalade), and salt and pepper completed the place setting, along with cloth napkins.  I never care for Dickenson's jams, no matter how fancy they look, and how many times I try them.
Hot Buffet.
I started at the hot buffet.  Only one side of the buffet was filled, I imagine the other side is used only on weekends or when crazy busy?

The hot selection always featured "Roasted Breakfast Sausage" and "Maple Smoked Bacon", 2 daily egg dishes, 1 breakfast carb special, homefries, and grilled vegetables or baked beans.

The sausage and bacon did not look good at all, so I never tried them.  Ojan had bacon one day, and said it was fine.  I never like grilled veggies at breakfast, so I skipped those.  I did try baked beans on the one day they were offered and they were not very good.  Tasted like they came from a can, no real flavor in the sauce.  I mixed in ketchup and syrup to try to make them taste like ... something.

The potatoes weren't bad the first day.  Little cubes, seasoned, some crispy.  Clearly cooked with plenty of oil, but not in a gross way.  I tried them again on the third day, and that time they were soggy, tasted like stale oil, and were just not good at all.

Noticing a theme here?  The service, the product offered, the food quality ... inconsistent!
Scrambled Eggs w/ Tex Mex Cheese & Tomatoes, Cheese Omelet, Pancakes.
The final hot station was the most exciting, as it offered up two different egg dishes and a daily carby breakfast special.

On all days, one egg creation was Scrambled Eggs with Tex-Mex Cheese & Tomatoes.  I never really like eggs, and these didn't look great, so I moved right on.  The first and third days the second egg option was a frittata, which is perhaps one of my least favorite egg preps, so I obviously skipped that.

On the second day, the frittata was replaced with a cheesy omelet.  I decided to make an egg and cheese sando with a croissant, so I grabbed a chunk.  It was better than I expected, lots of nice melty cheese inside, and decently fluffy eggs for something sitting in a buffet.

It was of course the main breakfast carb specials that I really was excited to try.  On the first day, waffles!  On the subsequent days, pancakes!  Of course, these were sitting in a hot tray, on a buffet for who knows how long, so how good would they be?  But I love my breakfast carbs.

The first day, I eagerly dug into a waffle.  It looked crispy, and was covered in powdered sugar, plus there was a big pitcher of maple syrup on the side.  Anything can be made better with maple syrup, right?

Wrong.  The waffles were ... awful.  Rock solid.  Cold.  Really not good.  No amount of syrup, nor powdered sugar, could save these.

The next day, I tried again, with the pancakes.  They were just as bad.  Flimsy, flavorless.  I added more and more syrup, but the syrup itself was also pretty bad.  I was in Canada, and I assure you, this was not real syrup.  On one visit, the guy sitting next to me ordered the pancakes a la carte.  I was interested to see if they were different.  I expected that they'd at least be larger?  Fluffier?  Served with better accompaniments?  Nope.  Just three of the same pancakes, with what I imagine was the same syrup, and some unripe sliced fruit on the side.  Glad I didn't give up on the buffet and splurge for a la carte.

On the first day, I was pretty sad at this point, as the buffet was failing me.  I considered walking right out and rushing to my office, where I knew they were serving french toast and house-made croissants instead.

But this was just the hot buffet.  There were many more sections to explore.
    Assorted Cheese / Fresh Fruit / Hardboiled Eggs / Cottage Cheese / Yogurt.
Next comes the cold selections.

The first platter contained an assortment of cheeses, er, a "Local & International Cheese Platter".  I skipped it on the first day, but on the second, I tried the decent enough triple cream, and on the third, some flavorless Swiss.  Ojan tried the others, including something smoked, something cheddary, and a blue cheese, and discarded them all after a single bite.  I snagged a few grapes from this platter, but they were not good, the skins were very bitter.

Next was sliced fruit, including watermelon (and other melons subsequent days), which I'm allergic to, and a platter of assorted other fruit including pineapple, grapes, and strawberries.  I had to skip this entire area due to the melons, but given how unripe and unfresh it looked, I don't think I missed out.  Whole apples and oranges were available on the side.

Next was cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, and uh, lettuce.  Just lettuce, no dressing.  Not really sure what that was for.

Finally, a selection of Dannon yogurts, in assorted flavors.

I moved on.
Cereals.
Next up is the cereal station, all Kellogg's .

On offer were your sugary friends (Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms), classics (Cherrios and Corn Flakes), and two varities that were new to me, at least by name (Vector and Two Scoops).  I'm pretty sure that "Two Scoops" is just raisin bran (there are "two scoops" of raisins in every box ...).  Anyway, cereal is cereal right?  I ignored this area the first few days.

On my final day, I decided to try the cereals.  First, side note: I hate these dispensers.  You can't just get a little cereal.  You twist and turn, it gets jammed, and then all of a sudden tons pours out.  Ugh.  Anyway.

Vector seemed to just be jazzed up corn flakes, that is, corn flakes that were a bit more crispy and coated with bits of something, but also fairly sweet.  Meh, whatever.

I also had some Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms, because, well, when is the last time you had these fun cereals?  If nothing else, I wanted to drink the cereal milk.

All of the cereals were pretty stale.  I guess they must sit there in those twisty things all the time.  And I can't say I saw anyone else try them.  Who knows how long that cereal had been there.

Additional toppings of dried fruit and seeds were on the side, none of which seem to really go with those cereal options, more what I'd expect with oatmeal.

Cereal offerings?  Pass.
Toast / Assorted Breakfast Pastries / Bagels / English Muffins.
Finally, we were getting somewhere.  More carbs.

The boring options are bread to toast (3 varieties), english muffins, and bagels.  I was impressed that they had not only plain cream cheese, but flavored herb cream cheese too (Philadelphia brand, individual pots), and a large assortment of bagel types.  The bagels didn't look particularly good however.

But I had eyes only for the middle section: baked goods.  I love my baked goods.  Sure, I know that hotel breakfast buffets rarely have good baked items.  These didn't look particularly great.  And why would this random hotel in Kitchener have anything good?

All days, one board was croissants, all plain.  I didn't try one the first day, but did the second.  The croissant was ... ok.  Very oily and doughy, not flaky, but I did like the sweetness to the dough.  I sliced it open and stuffed it with cheese omelet, and made a decent enough breakfast sandwich.  But I wouldn't get another.
Muffins and Danishes (day two).
The other board featured muffins both days (corn, blueberry, chocolate), plus a variety of other pastries.  The first day, it had cinnamon swirls and lattice topped apple danishes.  The next, cherry and custard round danishes.  The final, cherry round danishes and lattice apple danishes again.

The muffins looked generic.  The cinnamon swirls ... well, pathetic.  The danishes only looked moderately better.

But I braved onward.

The first day, the toaster had a big sign saying that you could not put croissants or cheese in it.  I understand this sign, as I uh, started a fire doing something like this in Sydney at a hotel.  But I wanted my cinnamon swirl warm!  It just looked so sad otherwise.  And I knew it was thin, so it wouldn't get stuck, which is the reason not to put croissants in, right?

I'm awful at breaking rules when I know they exist, but, I was confident that I wasn't actually violating the sign (it said croissants and cheese, this was not either of those items ...), so I slipped my cinnamon swirl in, cranked the speed up to as fast as it would go, and watched carefully.  No problem.

The cinnamon swirl turned out to be really good.  I took one bite and was beyond shocked.  It was really thin, had no icing, but ... somehow was so tasty.  How looks can be deceiving.  It was doughy and moist, with fantastic cinnamon flavor.  My mood changed immediately.  I almost rushed back to grab another, they were small, right?  Sadly, these never showed up on subsequent days, and were, hands down, the highlight of the buffet.

Next I grabbed a corn muffin.  I really like corn muffins, particularly when slathered with honey butter or strawberry jam.  Eying the jam on the table, I knew this was an option, if the muffin itself needed some help.

Like the cinnamon swirl, it turned out to be really tasty.  It was moist on top, crumbly inside.  I loved the grit and corn flavor.  Really, it was exactly what I like in a corn muffin.  I often only like the tops of muffins, and find the edges or bottom burnt, but this was delicious down to the last crumb.  My second favorite of the breakfast baked goods.

I would have preferred my corn muffin warmed up, but I didn't dare stick that in the toaster.  I'm sure I could have sliced it and done so, but, then I'd be getting into risky territory.  And really, it was fine as it was (although I did slather it with additional whipped butter.  Hey, I was traveling, no rules, right?)

The next day wasn't as satisfying.  No cinnamon swirls, to start.

So I tried a custard danish.  It had a decent enough sweet custard filling and slices of almond on top.  The dough was a bit oily and not particularly flaky, but, the filling was good.  Better than an average generic buffet, but not particularly great.

Then I eagerly dove into a muffin, this time, blueberry.  I loved the corn muffin the day before.  It only had tiny blueberries in it, yet tons of blueberry flavor.  I am guessing they were the little wild Maine (or I guess Canada?) berries rather than big juicy California berries I'm used to.  The blueberry flavor was there, but, the muffin itself just wasn't great.  Rather dense, lackluster, a bit dry.

Unsatisfied, I went for the other muffin selection, chocolate chip.  It had a nice crispy top and was generously filled with mini chips, but it too was really dry and quite oily.  The flavor wasn't there in this one either.

I was pretty sad.  I was considering getting yet another muffin, another corn muffin, when Ojan joined me.  He got the corn muffin.  He commented that he didn't understand why I liked it so much, and discarded it.  I tried a bite.  Yup ... not the same, at all.  Dry.  It didn't have the grittiness or flavor I loved the day before.

So day one: tasty cinnamon roll, awesome corn muffin.  Day two: ok custard danish, bad blueberry, chocolate chip, and corn muffins.  Inconsistent!

And day three?

I went straight for the corn muffin.  I crossed my fingers that it would be like the first day.  It wasn't.  Honestly, I wouldn't even know it was a corn muffin.  It tasted like a plain muffin.  Dry.  Stale.  I'm starting to think they bake these in batches, and ration them out all week.  I have no other explanation for how the muffins on Wednesday were great, Thursday were ok, and Friday were just bad.

So I went for the cherry danish, after the mild success of the custard one.  It wasn't very good.  The dough was incredibly oily.  The filling was just goo.  Meh.

And finally, the apple lattice.  This thing didn't look good, and I don't tend to like apple filling, so I never intended to try it, but I had exhausted my other options.  At this point, I had even tried baked beans and cereal, totally not what I generally go for, but I really wanted something tasty.

The apple lattice was the best of the pastries that day, and my third favorite overall.  The only other one I'd consider getting again.  The lattice top was nicely crispy, and the filling actually pretty flavorful.  Yes, it was apple goo, but it was nicely spiced, and also had bits of nuts on it.  Again, certainly not amazing, but I enjoyed the textures, flavors, and sweetness alongside my coffee.

And just a final note.  There was one thing that was really off putting about the buffet.  Flies.  Every single day, there were flies all around the food.  Every single day there were flies perched on top of the baked goods.  Every single day they buzzed around as you neared the baked goods.  This was ... really quite gross.  Couldn't they try to get rid of these (or, I'm sure they had?) or at least put the pastries into a case?  Or put a mesh shield over them?  It truly was gross.
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Monday, October 19, 2015

Scones from Panera Bread

Update Review, October 2015

If you didn't read my original Panera scones review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.   See "Original Review, September 2014" below.

The short version: I've never loved their scones, but finally found one that is decent enough.
Wild Blueberry Scone.  $2.59.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone overfilled with plump, wild blueberries."

This is a hard-style scone, but somewhat cakey, more like a shortcake biscuit. It had a decent tang to it, not as much as I wanted, but at least there was some flavor in the base.  Studded with little blueberries, which provided decent pops of flavor.  They are tiny wild blueberries though, not big, bursting with flavor berries, which I'd prefer.

It isn't quite what I want in a breakfast scone, but actually would be quite good with whipped cream and some fruit, turned into a shortcake.  Or perhaps just with clotted cream and jam, for tea time?  But on its own, it falls a bit short.

Original Review, September 2014

Panera likely isn't novel to you.  As a chain, their stores exist all over the country.  I've reviewed them before, for their drinks (not bad!), bagels (I love their cream cheese!), and muffins (not good) .

I'm skipping all the generic details in this review, and only commenting on the specifics of their scones.  Because, even though I didn't like the muffins, I love my baked goods!
Strawberries & Cream Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone made with dried infused strawberries and white chocolate chips."

After failing to be impressed with the muffins at Panera, I decided to try my luck with a scone instead.  They had several varieties, but the strawberry & cream caught my eye.

The description didn't really seem accurate.  I didn't find any white chocolate chips in it, anywhere.  Nor any consistency changes that it could have been a melted chip.  I'm very puzzled by the description.

The strawberries also didn't seem dried.  They came as decently sized, moist, chunks.  They were quite flavorful and good.

The scone base was crumbly but moist.  It was clearly cream based.  Pretty good flavor.

On top was a lot of glaze.  It didn't seem to have any particular flavor other than sweet.  Perhaps lemon?

Overall, this was a very sweet product.  I would have liked a black coffee with it, rather than the tea I was drinking.  I thought tea was the right pairing for a scone, but in this case, it was just too sweet and needed something bitter to balance it.

Not a mind blowing scone, but it was enjoyable.  Not sure if I'd get one again, but it wasn't bad.  A decent price for an insanely large scone.
Cinnamon Crunch Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, soft and tender cream-based scone flavored with cinnamon chips and finished with a cinnamon crunch and white icing glaze."

The next time I wound up at Panera, I decided to try another scone, since the previous scone had been far better than the muffins I'd tried, and I wanted a sweet, bready breakfast item.  This time, a new seasonal option jumped out, the cinnamon crunch scone.  It sounded like a cross between a scone and a cinnamon roll.  I've been on a cinnamon roll kick lately, so it sounded intriguing.

Unfortunately, the scone sounded much better than it actually was.  The texture was right, with a good crumbliness to it, not dried out. But the base didn't really have much flavor.  I always love a bit of a tang to my scone.  There were plenty of little tiny cinnamon chips throughout, which I thought would give it a ton of flavor, but really didn't.  The cinnamon aroma was stronger than the taste.  On top was an unremarkable sweet glaze.  I appreciated that part, as I was really in the mood for sweet.

I also really wanted it warmed up, and wish Panera offered their goods that way (besides just using the microwave).  Warm muffins, scones, etc are always just soo much better!  I brought home the part I didn't finish and heated it up in the toaster oven, and indeed it was better that way.

Overall, it was quite unremarkable.  No bad, but not good.  I wouldn't get another.  Perhaps my problem is that I went into it wanting it to be more like a cinnamon roll, I wanted more cinnamon flavor, more icing, more ... something.  (Panera does make a cinnamon roll, but it really didn't look great).

Like most of Panera's food, the nutrition stats shock me.  Yes, it was a large scone, but 550 calories? 23g fat?  And, I guess due to the glaze, 41g sugar?  Wow.  I don't care that much about nutrition stats these days, and only noticed it because the signs in Panera all prominently display these details, but certainly not worth it.

The price of $2.49 however was fine for a huge scone.
Caramel Apple Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone with dried cinnamon apples and caramel chips, topped with a thumbprint of apple filling and caramel icing."

And finally, another visit to Panera, another scone.

As I stared at the rows of pastries, a helpful employee came bouncing up.  "Do you like apple pie?", she asked.  Now, this is a hard question.  In the realm of pies, apple is pretty low on my list.  But, a nice, flaky double crust apple pie, served hot, with melted cheese (don't ask, its a New England thing) and a scoop of ice cream can be pretty good.  But a generic apple pie?  Meh.  Although, still a pie.  With all these thoughts running through my head, I simply said "Sure?" And she eagerly went on to tell me all about the latest seasonal offering, the caramel apple scone.  She said it was the absolute best item they had, and, just like an apple pie.

Since I was being indecisive anyway, I went for it.

The scone base had a slight tang to it, but it was minimal.  There was a slight taste of cinnamon, but again, minimal.  It seemed dry and almost stale.  The bottom was a bit burnt.  So far, not much of a foundation to build on.

Throughout the scone were little bits of caramelized apple.  They were chewy and sweet, which was kinda nice.  I never discovered the promised caramel chips, which reminded me of the strawberry and cream scone, where I never found any promised white chocolate chips.  On top was a sweet glaze, not particularly interesting, but, it was sweet, and did give a bit of flavor.  I guess this was the "caramel icing".

In the center was apple filling, the part that was supposed to make it amazing, and, "exactly like an apple pie".  The filling was awful.  It was just goo.  Mushy little bits of apple, in a very, very thick goo.  A spiced goo, but the spicing, particularly the nutmeg, was just too strong.  Also, why on earth did the scone have a bunch of goo in it?  Doesn't this sort of filling belong in a danish, not a scone?

Anyway, the helpful employee also told me that it was best to stick it in the microwave to warm it up first.  Now, you know me.  I don't use microwaves for anything but popcorn.  And certainly not for baked goods.  I wasn't intending to take her suggestion, but after not really caring for it at room temperature, I figured it wouldn't hurt.  So, I did it (also, yes, every Panera has a microwave, which I've always thought was really strange.  They really seem to be there just so customers can heat up their baked goods.  Shutter.)

It was worse warmed up.  Yes, it was more moist and not dried out at least.  And yes, it was more like a pie I guess.  But the icing just melted away.  And the almost-pleasant chewy bits were now soft.  I certainly preferred it at room temperature.  Warm like this, it reminded me of airplane food.

It wasn't the worst scone I've ever encountered, but it certainly wasn't good, not a good way to spend 450 calories, or $2.49, and I won't be getting another.
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