Thursday, September 29, 2016

All Star Donuts

Another day, another co-worker treating us to donuts.  Given my love for donuts, this is never a bad thing.

This selection came from AllStar Donuts, a no frills donut shop (and uh, cafe with burgers and Asian inspired rice plates ...).  I haven't visited myself, but given the location at 9th & Mission, I imagine it isn't the sort of place you really want to spend much time.  That said, they had good donuts.

Our co-worker brought a selection of raised, glazed donuts: chocolate glaze, maple glaze, and honey glaze.  Since the others were all chocoholics, I let them go for those, but I'll admit, the chocolate glaze looked pretty great.  I only got to try one donut, so, I can't comment on much else, but my donut was quite good, and if anyone showed up with All Star Donuts again, I'd gladly accept them.
Maple Glazed Raised Donut. $1.
I opted for the maple glaze, mostly based on the wonderful maple aroma.  Mmm, maple!

This was a shockingly good basic raised donut.  It was huge, no skimpy donuts here.  Fluffy, light as air.  It didn’t taste greasy or heavy.  Fantastic raised donut.

The maple glaze was generous but not overwhelming.  Sweet, with a nice maple flavor.

I usually go for more decadent creations like fritters or jelly donuts, but, this was an excellent raised donut.
Read More...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Club Europe, BA954, LHR-MUC

The flight: BA 954, LHR-MUC
Travel class: Club Europe
Departure time: 4:35 PM,
Meal served: Afternoon Tea.
Previous BA Club Europe meal reviews: Tea service on ZRH-LHR, tea service on LHR-BCN, lunch on MUC-LHR

Another day, another afternoon tea flight on British Airways.  Since I've reviewed it several times before, I'll skip all the general details this time around.  The offering was exactly like every other time: 3 little sandwiches, a scone and clotted cream, boxed cake.  And, just like every single time I've ever had tea service, I've instantly regretted not requesting a special meal, as many others around me had done.  They all had salads.  The rest of us?  Stale tea sandwiches.  Ugh.
Afternoon Tea.
The first one looked like curried egg salad.  Now, I like egg salad actually, but I was suspicious of the curry.  I asked Ojan, "Is it curried egg salad?" and he said yes.  So I took a big bite.  It wasn't egg.  It was CHICKEN.  I really hate chicken, and this was very "chicken-y" chicken.  I didn't really taste the curry at least?  The bread was a soft, hearty grain bread with some seeds in it, not bad.  Perhaps this was actually a decent sandwich ... if you eat chicken.

I moved on to the safer option, the middle one, which was clearly cucumber and cream cheese, on white bread.  A simple classic.  The cucumber was wilted, if that makes sense.  It turns out, thin sliced cucumber can actually wilt, when prepared days in advance.  This was pretty lackluster.

Finally, salami and pickles, on wheat.  The salami actually wasn't bad, and I did like the pickles.  If only it had some cheese too, or, really, if it were just a charcuterie plate rather than a sandwich.

Overall, it was possible to salvage some proteins from the sandwiches, but I was glad I had snacked so heavily in the lounge and wasn't counting on this "meal".

Scone service was as it always is, a basket passed without tongs, into which each person dipped their hands.  There were plain and fruit scones, I opted for the fruit one, which seemed to be raisin.  It also tasted like orange.

The scone was ... ok.  It was warm, and the top was actually nicely toasted, but the bottom was hard and soggy at the same time.  The jam was ok, not particularly good nor bad.  The clotted cream was standard too.   Overall, just, standard.  Yes, if you slathered plenty of jam and cream on the scone it was ok, but, no component was very good on its own.

And finally, the "Sweet Treat".  It was the same pistachio madiera cake I've been served many times at hated, so I didn't bother try it.
Read More...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eatsa

Update Review, September 2016

Sometimes, I crave healthy.  It is a rare thing, but, it does happen.  And even more rarely, that time is at breakfast.  So, one morning, I decided to return to Eatsa, to improve upon my breakfast parfait from last time.  Since I've reviewed the unique setup before, I'll let you start with my original review for the background on the "robots" and lack of ordering counter.  The only thing to note is that they finally released an Android App, which is what actually inspired my visit.
My Cubby.
Since it was breakfast and not busy, my order was ready very quickly.  The app notified me that I'd be in cubby 19, and, moments later, it lit up with my name.  I tapped, it opened, there was my breakfast.
Yogurt Quinoa Parfait (with modifications) $4.45, Medium Roast Coffee $1.95.
"Smooth and balanced, with hints of cocoa and nut."

I also ordered coffee.

Since I really did not like the light roast coffee last time, I went for the medium roast this time.

It was ... marginally better.  A bit darker than the light roast as you'd expect, so a bit more going on, but it still had some funk to it, like generic Folgers, or something else not very fresh.  I also don't like that they only have this large size, it really is too much caffeine for me in the morning, but if I'm buying a coffee, I don't want to waste it.  And I got it black, since I don't trust others to put in my sugar/creamer for me, given how subjective "a little" is.  I wished they had a condiment station.

So, I think I'm doing trying to get coffee there.  I'm clearly not alone; when I was in the store, the other two guests were each holding cups of Peets coffee.  Peets, luckily, is right next door.
Yogurt Quinoa Parfait, Extra Berries, Add Agave. $4.45.
"Cool, refreshing parfait blended with a kick of coconut and honey."

I took my own advice from last time, and added extra berries and agave, in addition to the standard toppings of sliced almonds and some berries.

I again really liked the yogurt and quinoa base, which continues to amaze me.  I don't really like yogurt.  I don't generally like quinoa.  But ... it works.  It is creamy, the quinoa is a bit crunchy, for some reason, I like it.  The quinoa is a mix of both red and white quinoa.  I still did not taste any coconut nor honey.

The berries on top were sliced strawberries and blueberries.  They were fine, but, in this case, I think 2x the berries was too much.  It was hard to get to my quinoa, and I grew sick of the fruit.  Ok, so, next time, back to regular berries.

I again appreciated the crunch from the sliced almonds, but would prefer some other nut or seed choices, like walnuts or pumpkin seeds.  Wouldn't pumpkin seeds be the perfect fall touch?

And finally, the agave.  The agave is served in a little plastic container, on top of the parfait, inside the container.  I like that they don't mix it in, so I can drizzle as makes sense.  But ... it gets covered in yogurt.  You can't put it down on a counter without making a big mess.  It really should be on the side, not inside the container.  The agave was perfect, necessary to add the touch of sweetness that I really wanted.

My suggestion though?  Pumpkin seeds and honey, for a perfect fall treat ... maybe I'll just bring my own toppings next time :)

The base parfait with two toppings is only $2.95, which is an excellent value.  Each of my additions added $0.75 to the price, making this $4.45, a bit pricey.  But if I bring my own honey and seeds next time ... 

Original Review, Summer 2016

I remember when Eatsa first opened in my neighborhood.  There was a lot of hype.  I remember phrases like "your food is cooked by robots!" and "restaurant of the future!" being tossed around.  In reality, the press was confused.  The food is indeed not cooked by robots.  But, granted, the model is pretty unique.  For one, the "restaurant" is basically just a big room with cubbies and ipads.

And what do these non-robot humans create?  When they opened, Eatsa served lunch only, but they now offer breakfast as well.  The lunch dishes are all "bowls", mostly based around quinoa or salad greens.  Oh yeah, it is a healthy, entirely vegetarian, establishment, did I mention that?  Breakfast is also mostly bowls, egg scrambles, or warm porridge like quinoa.  Dishes are highly customizable, portions are great, and it is really moderately priced, particularly for the neighborhood.

There are two Eatsa locations in San Francisco now, plus one over in Berkeley, and one in SoCal somewhere.  Unfortunately, they are open only Mon-Fri, so I have little opportunity to visit, as I eat my meals in my office during the week.  I'm eagerly waiting for them to realize our neighborhood really does have people on the weekends, and to open at least on Saturdays.  Because, well, those non-robots do make some tasty bowls.  Yup, healthy food, and I liked it.

The Setup
Ordering Stations.
To order, you either order via your own phone (iphone only, sigh) or via an ipad at the front of the store.  No human interaction.  All digital payment.  I'm all for this, in particular, order ahead, but, without Android or even better, basic web support, I'm stuck using the ipads upon arrival.  Boo.

Your meal is assembled in the back somewhere by real people.  No robots, sorry.  When it is ready, it is delivered to a cubby, where you pick it up.  You can track your order status via the app and via screens in the room.

So yes, certainly different, although not quite as automated as the initial press lead me to believe.
Cubbies.
I had read about the pickup experience, but, it was still fascinating to see.  Cubbies of assorted sizes, all numbered, with text flashing on them.

When an order is ready, your name appears on the cubby.

On my second visit, I borrowed an iphone so I could see how that process worked.  Since I ordered through the app in advance, the app showed me my cubby number, and, sure enough, my name was displayed right on it, along with a flashing "Double tap" circle.  I could see my order through the transparent window.

I double tapped, and the face plate moved away so I could grab my order.  Magic ... ish.
Cutlery Dispenser.
No silverware is provided with your order, but you can get whatever you need over on the side.  They smartly double up on forks, the most commonly used utensil.

This area also has trash/compost/recycling and napkins.

This dispenser is also magic.  It doesn't look like it, but, once I grabbed a spoon, I heard the dispenser vending a new one.  I kinda assumed they were just stacked in there and would spit out naturally, but, nope, this was actually robotic.

Breakfast

The breakfast menu is broken into three sections: beverages, bowls, and sides.  The only side available is a fruit cup, also available during lunch.

Beverages

For breakfast, Eatsa offers 3 varieties of coffee (light, medium, and dark roast), 3 types of tea (breakfast, green, or mint), and water (sparkling, Smart Water, or house water).

No decaf coffee, no juices, so, minus a few points for that.
Light Roast Coffee.  $1.95.
"Mellow and flavorful, with bright citrus and rich chocolate notes."

I opted for the light roast.

When I ordered, I had the option to customize it by specifying my sugar level ("none", "light", "medium", or "sweet"), sugar type (regular or "low sugar blend"), milk level ("light", "medium", or "creamy", and milk type (soy, skim, half and half).  No upcharge for soy.  I went with black, assuming there would be a condiment station for me to use if I needed it.  I prefer black coffee, but, if the coffee isn't good, I'll add milk and sugar to make it bearable.

And ... the coffee wasn't very good.  It was fairly harsh, and I think just tasted rather old and over-brewed.  It was a light roast, but, yeah, not good.

And, there was not a condiment station, so, if you want to have the milk and sugar, you need to specify it when you order.  I understand that they want to streamline everything and not have a condiment station, but, I would have liked the ability to fix this bad coffee.  Instead, I brought it back to my office and added milk and sugar there, but, still, it wasn't ever very good.

Only one size is available.

Bowls

Breakfast bowls are available with three bases: yogurt parfait (cold), porridge (warm), or scrambled eggs (warm).  All include quinoa as a primary component.  As with lunch bowls, they have a few suggested pre-designed options, or you can make your own.  Since I don't like eggs, it was easy to rule out the scrambles.  Both the warm porridge and the chilled yogurt parfait sounded tempting.
Yogurt Quinoa Parfait. $2.95.
"Cool and refreshing parfait in a bowl blended with a kick of coconut and honey."

I opted for the chilled yogurt and quinoa parfait.  The standard recipe includes sliced almonds and fresh fruit on top, with a bit of honey, vanilla, and coconut miked in with the yogurt and quinoa.  To that you can add/sub dried cranberries, raisins, brown sugar, agave, and extra fruit and nuts.

I opted to double up on the fruit.  I pondered adding agave, but, when I looked at the nutrition stats, the base quinoa yogurt mix had 15 grams of sugar, so, I assumed it would be plenty sweet (plus, it said it had honey).

I opened up my bowl, and it looked pretty good.  Just the right amount of sliced almonds, and plenty of fresh fruit, strawberries and blueberries.  Doubling up on fruit was a good idea, I think half as much would have been a little weak.

The nuts were a good addition, and added a textural crunch.  The fruit was also pretty good, fresh enough, although I did wind up with a strawberry stem in my bowl.  Those "robots" could do a better job cleaning the fruit.

As for the quinoa-yogurt, I was a little surprised on my first bite.  It wasn't nearly as sweet as I was hoping.  The quinoa was a mix of both red and white quinoa, and had a bit of a crunch to it.  It was mixed with yogurt, slightly tangy, slightly creamy.  The overall result and texture was quite fascinating, creamy yet with a bit of grit, and I actually really liked it.  But, it was a little too un-sweet for my liking.

There was a large group of workers stationed around the room, so, I went and asked one if it was possible to get a little agave.  She said sure, and came back moments later with a little pot of agave.  Once I added agave, I really liked this.  It was creamy, it was crunchy, it had fresh fruit, and it satisfied my sweet tooth.

The portion was also good, fairly small at first glance, but the quinoa was filling, and it filled me up easily until lunch.  It felt healthy and satisfying, a rare combo for me, particularly for breakfast, as I usually go for more decedent options.

I'd gladly get this again, and my order would be double fruit, plus agave.

Breakfast Test Items

I stopped by Eatsa once when they were testing out some new items to consider for the breakfast menu.  Instead of bowls, they were trying out a really unique concept: savory biscuit-scones, topped with veggies and egg.  Not breakfast sandwiches exactly, as they were open faced.  The branding they were looked at was "egg in a scone" and "egg in a savory biscuit".  It didn't quite work, and as far as I can tell, this was a limited test that didn't ever get offered to the public.  Still, it was fascinating enough to share here, even if you can't try it yourself ...
Pesto and Tomato Test Item.
As I said, it was not quite a breakfast sandwich, as it was open faced.  I loved that they used a far more interesting base than just a standard english muffin.

So, let’s start with the base, the savory scone-biscuit. It was … ok.  I didn’t love the texture. Obviously, a classic crumbly scone texture wouldn’t work here, since you didn't want this to crumble, but it was a bit too dense.  It also had no tang that a good biscuit or scone does.  And the bottom was a bit hard, perhaps from whatever heating technique they used?  It had savory, flavorful herbs throughout.

Next, the egg.  It was … also just ok.  Clearly a fresh egg, not some strange microwaved patty creation that many fast food or fast-casual breakfast sandwiches tend to use.  But the white was a bit slimy.  The yolk was runnier than I prefer, but, that is just personal preference.

Next, my toppings.  I went for the tomato and pesto version.  The pesto was very flavorful, and slathered on in a nice amount.  The tomato was two slices of roma tomato, soft, warm, and nice flavor with the pesto.  On top was also a bit of melted cheese, but, not much.

Eating this item was a bit difficult. You lose the one handed easy eating nature of a breakfast sandwich due to the open faced format. You can sorta pick it up and eat it, but once you get into the runny yolk, that makes a pretty big mess and I don’t think one-handing can possibly work at that point.  So you resort to a fork, which then becomes strange too.  So, the format is fascinating, but, a bit hard to manage.

Overall, a very interesting idea and I’m curious to see where they go with it.  But, for now, my impression is that there is a reason we normally make our breakfast sandwiches closed on both sides, or, decide to put eggs inside our savory pastries (aka, Craftsman and Wolves egg-in-a-muffin).

Lunch

Lunch is the main focus for Eatsa.  The menu is all built around bowls, served hot or cold.  And yup, most involve quinoa.  All are vegetarian, many vegan.   There are only three side dishes: house made potato chips, chips and guac, and fruit salad.  No desserts.  Drinks are house made sparkling flavored sodas, like citrus, ginger lime, and mango guava, plus ice teas.  No cans of standard soda or bags of generic chips here.

As with breakfast, some recommended bowls are on the menu, but you can opt to create your own, or make any substitutions you want.  Bowls are all $6.95, but if you want to add additional items, then there are extra charges ($0.75 for most items, $1.95 for fancy add-ins).  A basic bowl comes with 1 choice of base, 1 sauce, 1 cheese, 1 crunchy, and 4 veggies/fruit.

The cold bowls are salads, using greens for the base (kale, mixed greens, arugula), with a huge assortment of options for toppings, ranging from raw veggies (jicama, tomato, cucumbers, cabbage slaw, green onion, avocado, green pico de gallo, salsa fresca, guacamole, assorted herbs like cilantro), to cooked and marinated veggies (roasted yams, pickled onions, roasted red peppers, portabello strips - bbq, miso, or asada, grilled corn, artichoke hearts, calamata olives, roasted potatoes), to proteins (garbanzo beans, tandori tofu, egg, chipotle black beans, seasoned pinto beans, edamame, truffled egg), to crispy things (tortilla strips, crispy onion strings, pita chips, crispy wontons - plain or curried, fried chickpeas, croutons, curried parsnip strips, pecans), cheeses (cotija, white cheddar, feta, queso mexicano, goat cheese), and of course, fun dressings (three types of ranch - roasted jalapeno, bbq ranch or house, creamy balsamic, citrus vinaigrette, chimichurri sauce, orange miso, creamy buffalo sauce ) and chilled quinoa (red, greek style, or lemon-herb).  The pre-created recipes are the Mexican "Cantina Kale Salad", a Southwestern "Smokehouse Salad", and a Greek "The Mediterranean".

Warm bowls have even more variety, based around warm quinoa (lemon-herb or stir fried with egg), and then all sorts of sauces and curries (dill yogurt sauce, cucumber raita, saag paneer, corn curry, teriyaki sauce, chili, red thai curry, teriyaki sauce, roasted garlic chili sauce, or even szechuan fire oil), plus any of the other toppings.  The recommended bowls are the Indian "Spice Market Bowl", a Mexican "Burrito Bowl", an Asian "Bento Bowl", another Indian "No Worry Curry", and "Chili con Quinoa".

Whatever variety of cuisine you are looking for, as long as it is healthy and based around a bowl, you can build.  So many possibilities!

I finally got a chance to try a bowl when I was headed to the airport, and wanted something tasty to bring on board.  This limited me to cold options only, but I can't wait to get to try one of the warm ones, I'm particularly eying the one with paneer!
Smokehouse Salad - with Modifications  $6.95.
"White Cheddar, Mixed Greens, Crispy Onion Strings, BBQ Portabello, Tomato, Grilled Corn, Cucumber, BBQ Ranch Dressing, Pickled Onions, Toasted Red Quinoa."

"No mixed greens, No cucumber, No tomato, No white cheddar, Add tender kale, Add cotija cheese, Add salsa fresca.  Add jicama."

I started with the base recipe of a Smokehouse Salad, but, did modify it by removing 4 items and replacing them with others, as my label clearly communicated, listing out the items I removed and added, and concluded with "and more ...".

Ordering through the app on the phone was easy, and it was clear to understand what I could substitute free of charge, and what would incur extra.  I ordered on the phone when I was a block or so away, and was given a 3 minute wait time, but, the final "1 minute" estimate remained for a good 5 minutes while I waited.  It kinda reminded me of Uber estimates, in the totally unreliable sense ...

My bowl came with my choice of green covering the entire base, and then my veggies, protein, cheese, and crunchy elements each in distinct piles around the outside, plus scoop of quinoa and my container of dressing in the center.  I liked that everything was kept separate so I could try each component individually, and then begin assembling and mixing as I wished.  I imagine this also would help it hold up for a little while if you needed, as the wet ingredients stay in one place and do not soggy up the others.

At the base, I replaced the "Mixed Greens" with "Tender Kale", as I just tend to like kale more than mixed greens (and both sounded better than just arugula, the other option).  The kale was fine, it was actually baby kale, which I wasn't expecting.  It was fresh enough, and a bit bitter, in a good way.  I didn't love it though, and I realized that what I really wanted was baby spinach, sadly, not an option.

I kept the "Toasted Red Quinoa" as my grain choice, as I wanted a cold bowl so the hot options were out, and red quinoa seemed more interesting than the white options of "Lemon-Herb Toasted Quinoa" or "Greek-Style Quinoa".  That said, I almost left the quinoa out entirely.  I can't say I'm a fan of quinoa, or grains in general, particularly in my salad.  However, I thought that the "toasted" quinoa might be a bit crunchy, and, I do appreciate some crunch in my salad.  I also hoped there wouldn't be too much quinoa, just enough to add some texture.  

It ended up being more quinoa than I really wanted, and, it was moist, not crispy like I hoped.  That said, there was nothing wrong with it, it was just quinoa.  I'd likely leave it out in the future, although it makes me feel bad, since quinoa is there main attraction.

For cheese, I went for cotija, since the included "White Cheddar" sounded kinda boring, and I do like the crumbly, salty nature of cotija.  I also considered the "Queso Mexicano", but I wasn't quite sure which Mexican cheese it really was.  Isn't cotija a Mexican cheese too?  Really, I wanted the saag paneer, but, that is served warm, and really made absolutely no sense with my bowl.  For next time.

I really did not like my cheese choice.  I like cotija, but, it was strangely very dry in this bowl.  It also just didn't have much flavor.  I regretted this choice more than any other, and certainly wouldn't get it again.  Maybe I should have stuck with the white cheddar?  Or gone for the vague "Queso Mexicano"?  I think that was a shredded option.

With the veggies, I stuck with the included grilled corn and the pickled onions, but replaced the cucumber with jicama and the tomato with salsa fresca.  I don't dislike cucumber or tomato, but, salsa fresca seemed like strictly an upgrade from just tomato, and I thought jicama would add a better crunch and similar juicy element as the cucumber.

The corn was a hit, as I love corn, and the slight grilling added a bit of char on it.  I wished my bowl had even more corn.  The pickled onions though I really didn't like, they were too tart, too slimy.  I wouldn't get these again.

The jicama came as little cubes, and didn't have much flavor, as expected, but added freshness.  It went really well with the dressing too.  Like the corn, I wanted more (by the way, you can double up on ingredients).  The salsa fresca was a bit disappointing, as the tomato cubes weren't very ripe.  Maybe I should have stuck with tomato.  Since tomato was in season, it was particular tragic to have such lifeless, not even red, tomato. 

The crispy topping was the hardest choice for me.  In the end, I left the included Crispy Onion Strings, but I really do love Crispy Wontons (although, hmm, they probably wouldn't go so well with my other choices in this rather southwestern style salad).  The Fried Chickpeas sounded really fun too.

The crispy onion strings were great, basically exactly what you'd expect, and I loved the generous portion.  I love that all bowls include a crunchy element.  I'd definitely get this again, or explore other options just to mix it up.

For my extra, I left the BBQ Portabello, but, I was tempted by the Miso Portabello instead (although again, probably not the best match for my theme) or the Truffled Egg (but, that is served hot).

The BBQ portabello was a complete shocker.  It was really good.  I know other reviewers all say this, but, I just didn't imagine mushroom would be that tasty.  I loved the smoky nature and the seasoning, and it was big, bold, and even a bit meaty.  Sure, it was slimy, and it was mushroom, but, it totally worked for me.  I wanted more of this too.

And lastly, the dressing.  I kept the BBQ Ranch, although, again, there were several others that sounded pretty good, like the Roasted Jalapeno Ranch and the Creamy Buffalo.  The dressing was good, creamy, smoky, flavorful.  I liked it, and would get it again, but, I'd also love to try some other options.

Overall I liked my creation, and everything in the bowl was well prepared, decent quality.  I didn't love it though, partially because I made some poor choices, and partially because I'm just unlikely to get all that excited about a salad and grain bowl in the first place.  For the most part, I was happy with my choices, but I clearly have some refinement to do.  If I wanted to stick with the southwest theme, I'd try a different cheese, double up the jicama, and try the regular tomato.  I think I'd leave out the quinoa, and stick with the suggested mixed greens.  But really, I'd like to try something else entirely, likely asian inspired, with the crispy wontons and miso portabello included.  Or, go in the hot curry direction, so I could have the saag paneer.  So many possibilities.

For <$7 a bowl, it won't break the bank to experiment some, and the portions are quite generous, my bowl was more than enough to fill me up.
Eatsa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...