Friday, March 03, 2017

Pop Art Popcorn

Pop Art makes one of my favorite snackspopcorn, in a slew of interesting flavors.  Their tag line is "Popcorn is the canvas that we paint with bold flavors", and they mean it: there is not a single boring flavor available, no simple butter, salt, or even kettle corn.  Instead savory options come from cuisines around the globe, like thai coconut curry, tandoori yogurt, and nori sesame.  Less adventurous savory choices are rosemary truffle or white cheddar jalapeno.  They dance the sweet and savory divide with options like honey caramel & feta or chipotle caramel & cheddar.  Seasonal options include gingerbread caramel.  Bold concepts, for sure.

The popcorn is individually bagged, good for portion control for those of us who have, uh, popcorn problems.  Sadly, portion control was not needed, as I didn't like any of these.
White Pepper Parmesan.
"White Pepper is the dried ripened fruit of the Piper nigrum. We import it from Indonesia and take these white berries and grind them into a fine powder. This powder has a sharp penetrating aroma and a spicy, biting flavor. The rich and nutty taste of Parmesan cheese is a mild addiction of ours. We cover our salads, pastas and vegetables with this delicious cheese. It made mouth watering sense to use it in our popcorn as well. The symphonic blend of pepper spice and creamy Parmesan make this popcorn a fan favorite to all those that try it."

This certainly sounded like something that should deliver some reasonable flavor, from both the white pepper and the parmesan.  However ... the flavor was barely noticeable.  It was very plain popcorn, with a slight, slight cheesy-ness.
White Cheddar Jalepeño.
"For those that like a little spice in their life our White Cheddar Jalapeño Popcorn will satisfy the craving of both the addict for heat and the lover of mild spice.  The hickory flavor of the jalapeño with the smooth creaminess of the white cheddar is the first taste in your mouth.  As you chew and swallow, the spice burn starts to build and pretty soon you will find yourself stuffing handfuls of this addictive deliciousness into your mouth.  This zesty south of the border creation goes great with a cold cerveza or fresh squeezed lemonade. " 

This one at least had flavor.  I didn't taste the white cheddar really, but the jalapeño was certainly there.  I didn't like it, at all.

It was spicy, but just not in a good way.  I don't know how else to describe it, but I just really didn't like the flavor.  I tried several handfuls trying to understand it better, but just never cared for it.
Thai Coconut Curry.
"We often find ourselves dreaming about the beaches of Thailand.  We want to spend months there lying around soaking up the beautiful atmosphere and flavors.  When we realize we can’t do that right now, we head to our favorite Thai restaurant and order platters of Spicy noodles, Tom Kha soups and panang curry.  Our Thai Coconut Curry Popcorn will bring you back to your favorite Thai restaurant or if you are lucky enough to have been,  your favorite beach in Thailand.  This exotic blend of spices like turmeric, cumin coriander, paprika, cardomom and cinnamon, infused with a smooth and creamy touch of coconut milk, creates a popcorn loaded with flavor and a bright orange curry color.  We cut back on the cayenne (the heat) in this curry blend to make this a flavorful savory deliciousness with a hint of coconut sweetness.  Recommended for those that dream of Thai flavors and beaches."

This one I really, really did not like.  Curry on popcorn just did not work for me.  I like to think that I'm open to all sorts of popcorn flavors, and I was excited by this as a savory option, but, yeah, no.  I also didn't taste any coconut.  This one wasn't even fascinating enough to encourage a second bite.
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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Brunch at 'āina

I waited 2.5 hours for brunch.  Yes, I became one of those San Franciscans who spent her entire Sunday morning, and afternoon, brunching.  I became one of the people who I usually silently judge as I walk by, standing in a long line outside a hot brunch spot on a weekend morning.  Yes, I spent hours standing on a sidewalk, just to get seated in a tiny restaurant for brunch.  I left my house at 10am, finally got my first bite of food at 1:30pm, and got back home at 3:30pm.  And that was my day.

Now that I've got that out there, I guess I can explain why.

I had visitors in town, and we wanted brunch.  Normally, when entertaining out of town guests I find somewhere that takes reservations, and don't deal with this waiting crap, for my sake and theirs.  But ... I really wanted to try somewhere new, and all the best places don't take reservations.  I had been reading about 'āina for months, and was just waiting for an opportunity to visit, so it was at the top of my list.  In retrospect, going to a crazy popular, tiny brunch place that doesn't take reservations with a group of 4 was entirely foolish, and if I really wanted to go, I really should have gone with just one other person.  And gone early.  But, foolish I was, and arrived at 11am on a Sunday.

But let me back up a bit.  What made 'āina so appealing to me?  Well, it is different than your standard San Francisco fare, serving up Hawaiian fusion cuisine, open for brunch Wed - Sun and dinner Tues - Sat.  Yes, roll your eyes even more now, I know, not only did I wait in a ridiculous line, I waited for fusion food.  Yes, yes I did.

For dinner, they do take reservations, but at brunch they take reservations for only one table for 6, at fixed 9am and 12pm seatings.  I actually tried to snag those reservations, for both Saturday and Sunday, for any time slot, knowing I could fill the seats, but, they were gone as soon as they opened up.  So, wait we did.
Brunch.
By the time we were finally seated, we were starving, and ended up ordering 5 dishes to share amongst the 4 of us.  We easily polished it all off.

Was it worth the ridiculous wait?  Well, no.  But was it a unique and very tasty meal?  Yes.  I really enjoyed the slightly less usual ingredients used and the incredibly flavorful dishes.  I'd gladly return, perhaps for dinner when I could make a reservation, perhaps mid-week for bunch if I somehow decided to take a day off, or perhaps even on a weekend, just only with one person, and, earlier.

The Setting

'āina is located in the Dogpatch, a block or two off the main drag, down a side street, in a residential area, across from a park.
Milling About.
I arrived at 11am, to eat brunch with a group of 4.  I should have known better.  I did know that I'd have a wait.  I knew 'āina was popular.  I just didn't imagine the wait would be more than an hour, and when I asked to have my name added to the list and was quoted over an hour, I still didn't really believe it.  I should have known better.

Let's just say I became very familiar with the stretch of sidewalk out front from which I feared to stray, where I would remain for the next two hours.

Some other groups did leave, to take a walk and return to find they had missed their turns.  Others left to get coffee while they waited, to return to find that they were not allowed inside with it.  We listened to the hostess turn away group after group with coffee in their hands, asking them to throw it out.  Given the ridiculous waits, this policy seemed a bit cruel, particularly given that they didn't have a togo coffee window or anything themselves.

But we stayed, planted on the sidewalk, right out front, for over 2 hours.  And we waited.  And waited.  And watched.  I checked in on our place in line several times throughout the wait, knowing exactly how many other groups >2 were ahead of us.  I observed through the windows as tables opened up, and then immediately got seated with groups of two, over and over again.  I watched, extremely frustrated, as a 2-top opened up, and a pair that showed up 1.5 hours after us was seated, and then the very next table, also for two, opened up moments later.  Combining adjacent tables to seat larger parties was just not something they seemed inclined to do.   Instead, it seemed all groups bigger than two were destined for exactly two tables.

The two tables got seated, and there was one other group of 4 ahead of us.  I knew we just had to wait for the tables to turn one more time.  Or so I thought.  One table emptied, and the group ahead of us was seated.  We were next.  I knew we were next.  The other table for 4 opened up.  Under my watchful eyes, it slowly got cleared, and reset.  I was ready.  Ready for her to call my name and seat us.

And then, the unfathomable happened.  She beckoned to another group.  They arrived at least an hour after us.  What??!!!  They were seated.  We now had to wait for the restaurant to turn ... another time?  I was already incredibly frustrated with the use of a greedy algorithm to fill every table immediately, rather than combining to seat larger groups, but this threw me over the edge.  That, and the fact that I'd been waiting for nearly 2 hours.  I marched up to the hostess to ask, as politely as possible, "WTF!"  She told me that they "had an arrangement".  She told me we were next, and pointed at the two tables that had just recently been seated, indicating that we'd be waiting for those, as I expected.

I wish I could say that I was ok with this course of events, but, I was not.  I really considered leaving, as I was rubbed the wrong way by it in so many ways (and the whole coffee policy).  For a restaurant touting the "warmth and hospitality of the island spirit", I can safely say, I did not feel it.
Interior.
'āina is not a large restaurant, comprised mostly tables for two, plus that one larger table that is available by reservation only, and some counter seats.

Although small, it is bright and light filled, with comfortable seating and lively plants on the wall (and tables!).  It was a nice atmosphere, actually.

Not pictured here is the near side of the space, with a couple counter seats along the bar area where espresso drinks and cocktails were flowing, plus a pass into the (likely tiny) kitchen.
Place Setting.
The tables (and benches) were made from beautiful wood, and were set with plates that felt homy and welcoming.  We even had a little succulent on the table.

Service was fine, although we weren't really checked in on, and did need to flag someone down when we decided to order more.

Drinks

Once seated, we were provided a large beaker of house sparkling (or still) water.  As always I appreciated the house sparkling water, and the ability to refill my glass as I pleased.  I drink a lot of sparkling water.
St. Frank Coffee (decaf). $4.50.
I opted for decaf coffee since it was now afternoon, and I cut myself off from caffeine after noon.

The wait for coffee was rather long, it took probably 10 minutes to show up after we ordered it.  My coffee came in a large ceramic mug, again, comforting.  Mine was piping hot, but one of my dining companions commented that his was barely lukewarm.  Maybe his was made sooner and just not brought out until mine was ready too?

Anyway, the coffee was not very good.  I'm not sure if you can see it here, but there was a large oil slick on the entire top surface.  If I didn't know better, I'd think that they used a dirty, oily cup, but I think it likely was the result of very oily beans and a poor extraction method.  I didn't bother complain, but it was not very pleasant coffee.

Food

There are many things about 'āina that appealed to me, obviously, enough to make me visit a reservation-less place for brunch, but the primary thing I was excited about was, well, the food.  And not just because it gets such good reviews, or because it is brunch, but, specifically, because the menu had a slew of unique dishes I wanted to try.  Hawaiian cuisine is not something I encounter often, and I was really excited to see ingredients I love all over the eclectic lineup.

The menu had only 11 items on it, but honestly, I would have gladly tried basically any dish.  Even if I didn't care for the primary element of a dish, like, the chicken katsu, I still supported ordering it because I knew it came with a creamy, aioli laden udon noodle salad on the side, which I desperately did want to try.  In the end, our group of 4 ordered 4 dishes to share, family style.  And then we added one more on at the end.  We were starving by this point!

Of the first four we ordered, two were my top two picks, and I refused to visit 'āina without trying them - their version of french toast and breakfast potatoes, which may sound ordinary, but I assure you, neither was.  Spoiler: the french toast was made with taro bread, and drizzled with coconut caramel, vanilla whipped cream, macadamia nut crumble, among other goodies, and the breakfast potatoes are topped with aioli and furikake.  Yes, yes, yes.  The other two dishes we ordered were mostly to satisfy the savory breakfast eaters of the group (chicken katsu and loco moco), and the final add-on was just the others going rouge and wanting more.

There were 3 other dishes I did want to try but was not able to.  One was malasadas, portuguese sugar coated donuts.  As an avid donut lover, and fan of sweet carbs for brunch, you'd think these would be at the top of my list, but, since they were filled with guava custard, I wasn't as excited.  I still did lament not trying them as nearly every other table ordered them.  The other smaller dish that looked like a lot of fun is their house made spam, served in a lettuce wrap ssam style.  I mean, really, how did we not try this?  And finally, the smoked honshimeji & king oyster mushrooms.  Yup, the mushroom dish.  First, well, because I do love wild mushrooms, but also because it came with okinawan sweet potato puree (my fav kind of potato!) and grilled portuguese sweet bread.  Like I said, every dish had really fascinating components.

I loved the french toast and potatoes though, so, I was happy with our order, and would be hard pressed to get anything else on another visit.
Breakfast Potatoes. $7.
"Kennebec potatoes, aïoli, furikake, compound butter, japanese pickles, micro cilantro."

This was the first dish I took a bite of, and, quite literally, one bite in, my grumpiness about waiting for hours vanished.

The potatoes were that good.  Yes, the potatoes.  The Yelpers had said this, which is why I ordered the potatoes in the first place, but, nothing prepared me for how delicious these potatoes were.  I was not expecting breakfast potatoes to blow me away, but, they did.

These breakfast potatoes were different from any preparation I have had before, and I'm not just talking about the toppings.  The potatoes themselves were sliced into rounds, then cut in half, and fried.  Since they were fried, they weren't really like homefries, but more like french fries, except that they were not thick like steak fries, and had much more surface area than regular fries.  They were super crispy, clearly freshly fried in a small batch, and really a wonderful form factor.

And then ... the toppings.  They were drizzled, very generously, with creamy aioli.  I adore aioli, and choose to dunk my fries/potatoes in aioli over nearly any other choice normally, so, this was a winning component for me, and I'm glad they didn't hold back on the aioli application.

Then, sprinkled on top was furikake.  If you have never had furikake before, its basically one of the best condiments ever, with a bit of crunch from sesame seeds, tons of flavor from seaweed and ground dried fish, and then salt, sugar, and MSG to just make it ridiculously addicting in all ways at once.  It amped up the flavor of this dish considerably.  Also on top were a few sprigs of micro cilantro, that got entirely lost amongst all the other goodness.

The menu listed "compound butter" as an ingredient, and I'm not sure where that was exactly.  Maybe the potatoes were actually fried in butter?

The only thing I didn't care for was the Japanese pickles on the side.

Anyway, this dish had everything you want in a potato dish - perfectly crispy potatoes, creamy sauce, crazy flavorful condiment.  I easily polished off nearly this entire plate.

My second favorite dish of the meal, but it didn't register in the top 3 for the others.  I really don't know why.  These potatoes were excellent, and I'd certainly get them again.
Kahlbi Loco Moco. $19.
"Slow braised kalbi short rib, smoked honshimeji mushroom jus, short grain rice, sunny side up eggs, hearts of palm pico de gallo, cilantro, pea tendrils."

We needed an egg dish, even if I didn't really want one.  I clearly would have gone for the smoked mushroom dish with slow poached eggs because I love king oyster mushrooms and it came with a fascinating sounding okinawan sweet potato puree and Portuguese sweet bread, but, the loco moco got the votes of everyone else.

Since I don't really like short ribs, rice, or eggs, particularly sunny side up, there was very little that appealed to me here, and I didn't actually try it.  One diner did say it was his second choice, but everyone else seemed indifferent to it.
 Punalu’u Bakery Taro French Toast (full). $17.
"Taro portuguese bread, applewood smoked bacon, macadamia nut crumble, coconut caramel, pomegranate seeds, vanilla whipped cream, mint."

This dish is really why we were at 'āina.  While there are many attractions on the menu, and the restaurant has gotten such good reviews, it was this dish that I needed to have.

I absolutely love taro.  I like savory taro fries or mash, I like sweet taro milk teas, I like taro in desserts.  And I obviously like decadent breakfast carbs like french toast.  Combine these two things, and I just couldn't resist.  And then, top with a sweet sauce (coconut caramel), crunchy components (pomegranate seeds, macadamia nut crumble), and something creamy (vanilla whipped cream), and I couldn't imagine a better bite.

Let's just say I had high expectations, and, it actually lived up.

The taro french toast is available in two serving sizes, a single, thick slice (half serving) or two (full serving).  Since we had 4 people, we went for a full serve, and I think we easily could have taken down a second serving.

The french toast came drizzled generously with coconut caramel.  I really loved the caramel, and could taste the coconut in it more than I expected.  The presentation of the dish was nice, but I did almost wish we had been provided with a little pitcher of that caramel, as I certainly would have used more, and, as it was, I rubbed my chunk of french toast around in the pool of caramel on the plate to get as much as possible.

The french toast itself was large, thick slices, very moist, not eggy (my pet peeve when it comes to french toast!)  The taro was more subtle than I would have liked, but I could still taste it, and the bread had a lovely purple hue.

Perched on top was slices of bacon, nicely crispy, sweet because they were also coated in caramel.  The bacon was good, but, unnecessary, this dish was awesome enough without bacon.

Scattered around were pomegranate seeds that actually did make me a bit grumpy, as I don't like pomegranate seeds, and they were in the way.  I'm sure if you like pomegranate though, these added a great crunch.  I did like the other crunchy element, the macadamia crumble, and it went great with the coconut and taro flavors, and, being a texture girl, I really liked having something crunchy.

And finally, three puffs of whipped cream, each topped with a bit of chiffonade mint.

This was, hands down, the winning dish of the meal.  Of the 4 dishes we originally ordered, it was everyone's top pick, without hesitation.  Once we added on a 5th, extra dish, that took the top slot for two diners, knocking this down to second place for them, but still, overall, the most successful.

I'd gladly get this again, and I'm pretty sure I could eat the half size myself with no problem.  Or order the full, and bring half home for later.
Chicken Katsu. $17.
"Mary’s chicken, folded omelette, curry carrot purée, udon noodles, aioli, katsu jelly, grilled seasonal greens."

There was a lot going on on this very large plate.

Drawn on the plate in an X shape in the middle was curry carrot puree.  The front half of the plate held the crispy chicken cutlet, sliced into pieces.  There was a glob of katsu jelly beside it.

Then, in back, the omelette, folded, and sliced into triangle shapes.  And the "grilled seasonal greens", which seemed to be broccolini.  And, uh, cauliflower.  And aioli covered udon noodle salad, wound up into a log shape.  Yes, there was a lot going on here.

It didn't necessarily all make sense.  What were we supposed to do with the carrot puree?  Was it a complimentary sauce for the chicken?  If so, there certainly wasn't enough of it.  It was gone by the time the plate made its way to me, so I didn't get to try it anyway.  I did try the dark jelly, which was super salty, and reminded me of vegemite.  And why did the dish have a full serving of chicken and an omelet on it?  I really don't know.  Since I don't like eggs or chicken, I didn't try these components, nor did I try the veggies.

But I did try the noodles.  I had far more than my share of the noodles, as I seemed to be the only one excited by them.  They were absolutely covered in the aioli and spices, super creamy and flavorful.  The noodles were served cold, a fact which surprised one of my fellow diners.  He really wanted them warm, but I don't understand how these noodles would have made sense warm with aioli on them.  Anyway, I really liked the noodles, but I was glad the portion was so small, as they were very very rich, and more than a few mouthfuls actually would have been too much.

This dish was the third pick for three of us, the others for the actual chicken, me for the noodles.
Auntie's Banana Bread. $11.
"House made banana bread, papaya puree, kinako sabayon, sesame honeycomb, & fried curry leaves." 

After we finished the 4 dishes we had ordered, the others wanted to order something more, as they weren't quite satisfied.  I was still eying some of the other dishes, like the spam or the mushroom dish I wanted the first time around, but, going back to savory items at this point didn't seem right.  We could have gone for the malasadas, which did seem like an appropriate dessert, but everyone else wanted the banana bread, and since I wasn't really hungry and was totally satisfied by the taro french toast, I went along with their pick, although I did say that I didn't really want more than a bite.

I did try my bite though, of course, once it came.  Like everything else, it took a while, and we clearly had thrown off our server, and perhaps the kitchen, a bit by ordering again.  Our plates were cleared and reset for us, as we settled in to wait.

The banana bread was a very thick, large slice, served warm and toasted.  It had a few sugar coated fried curry leaves on top, a tiny piece of sesame honeycomb and a dollop of the kinako sabayon on the side, and a spiral of papaya puree on the plate.

Everyone else loved this.  To me, sure, it was warm, nice, moist banana bread, but, well, it was just banana bread.  How exciting could banana bread be?  The sabayon was a nice touch, but there was very little of it.  For me to like banana bread, I at least had to slather it in something (like the warm banana bread with whipped cream cheese at Universal Cafe, literally, the only banana bread I think I've ever really liked).  I did like the sesame honeycomb, and may or may not have taken the entire sweet, crunchy piece.  It wasn't just sweet candy that drew me in, it really did have an incredible sesame flavor.

Two of my fellow diners ranked this their top choice, kicking my beloved french toast out of the top slot.
Aina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Breakfast Buffet at Glass, Sheraton Cascais, Portugal

After a fairly poor breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Lisboa in Lisbon, I can't say I had higher hopes for the Sheraton in Cascais, just 30 mins up the coast.

I approached the buffet with a bit of apprehension, but, pretty much the moment I saw it, my doubts vanished.  This was a very good buffet, particularly, uh, in the sweets department.  I can't speak much to the hot foods or savories, but I was very happy with my selections.

Service was friendly,  items were constantly replenished, and the restaurant was bustling the entire time I was there.  Protip: 9:30-10:15am seems to be crazy time.  Go earlier if you'd like it calm.
Round One!
You'd think that my eyes were bigger than my stomach here, but, uh, this was just round one.  And all for me.  And I ate it all.  Great cheeses, breads, pastries, a fresh pancake machine, toppings to make your own yogurt parfaits ... really a fabulous spread.  Although, uh, yes, I needed to be rolled out of there.

Setting

The entire dining experience is light filled, and made me immediately understand the name of the restaurant: Glass.  The room is surrounded by full length glass walls on almost all sides, that look like they do open in warmer weather.
Tables with full place settings.
The inside area is wooden tables with metal (very scratched) tops and fairly comfortable off-white leather padded chairs.

Placemats and a full table setting with 2 forks, 2 knives, a spoon along the top, and coffee mugs were waiting.  I thought it was funny that with such a formal place setting, they still had paper napkins.

Also on each table was a live plant.
Outdoor Patio.
Seating extends onto an outdoor patio, complete with wicker furniture with comfortable chair pads and umbrellas.
Buffet is under the huge light fixture.
The buffet is huge and occupies one entire region of the restaurant, under a really impressive light fixture.

Buffet

Breakfast is served from a buffet, featuring both hot and cold items.  Everything is self-service except for hot drinks.  Most items are labelled (unlike the Sheraton in Lisbon).

Drinks

Juice, Water.
The juice selection is limited to apple and orange.

Sparkling and still water were available, both chilled and room temperature, a nice touch for those who prefer.
Regular Coffee.
Regular coffee is served by the pot.  I appreciated having the entire pot to refill my cup as needed, but this is way more regular coffee than I normally drink.  Whee, caffeine!  The coffee was fine, not particularly good nor bad the first day.

The second day, I ordered my coffee, and waited.  And waited.  I was actually in a rush, but I wanted bitter coffee to pair with my platter of sweets, and, it just didn't come.  I ordered another coffee, from another server.  And waited.  I heard others around me also asking for coffee.  It was crowded, and the servers just couldn't keep up.

When the coffee finally came that day it was acidic, harsh, and not very good.

Regular sugar and sweetener were on the table.
Decaf Coffee.
I moved on to decaf the first day.  It was served by the cup, and was clearly instant.  It was also awful.  Do not recommend, and I didn't try it again.

Continental Food

Continental selections include everything you'd hope for: cheese, charcuterie, nuts, seeds, yogurt, cereal, fresh fruit.  Fairly extensive and quality options in every category.
Cheese, Charcuterie, Nuts: Part 1.
The first spread of cheese included brie, swiss, manchego, and the local specialty "Serra", served whole with a little spoon to scoop out.  I tried the brie and swiss, both cut into nice sized chunks, both decent enough.

The first section of charcuterie contained prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, and mortadella.  I tried the mortadella, it was fine, not remarkable.

This area also had some whole nuts and dried fruit: hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, raisins.  I grabbed some almonds (blanched) to munch on.  They were pretty standard, but good.
Sliced Deli Meats, Smoked Salmon.
Around the corner was more meats, sliced ham and turkey, and smoked salmon with onion, capers, and lemon slices.
Fresh Cheese.
There was also fresh cheeses, sliced queso fresco and the other chunks of "flamengo cheese".

The flamengo cheese was a very soft, mild fresh cheese, fairly flavorless, but I think would be great used like paneer or cottage cheese in something.  The queso fresco was my favorite of all the cheeses, nice flavor, good firmness.
Yogurts, Butter.
On the side was packaged yogurts in assorted flavors, drinkable yogurt, butter (with and without salt), margarine, and little glass cups of yogurt.

I didn't try the packaged products, but took a glass jar of yogurt, and made a parfait.

The yogurt was tart and pretty good, and I loved topping it with the extensive topping options from other stations.   I really enjoyed the assortment of toppings to make my yogurt parfait, as I added fresh cut fruit, cereal, nuts, seeds, jams and honey.  I was pretty happy with the results, although, I took the photo here before I realized I wanted even more toppings, and went back to load it up.
Fruit, Cereal, Seeds, Jam.
The cereal selection was the same as the Sheraton Lisbon, except here it was actually labelled: All Bran, All Bran with Fruit, Corn Flakes, and Chocapic  (ok, so, the sign said "All Brain", but, at least they tried!) .  There was one type of milk next to the cereal.  No hot cereal or porridge.

I liked using the All Bran with Fruit as a crunchy topping on my yogurt parfait.  This was the same cereal that I found moderately enjoyable at the Sheraton Lisboa Executive Lounge.

This area also a big jar with honey and two big jars of jam.  The honey had a huge spoon, and was really difficult to serve.  I ended up with way too much and made a horrible mess both times I tried to use it.  The jams were not labelled, which was a bit strange because everything else was so well labelled, but, one seemed to be a mixed berry and the other perhaps peach?  They were both sweet, and pretty tasty, great to use as a topping on my yogurt.  No nut butters or Nutella.

The jars in front had goji berries and other seeds, including chia and sesame.  The goji berries made a great yogurt parfait topping too.  The jar presentation was cute.
Fresh Fruit: Part 1.
Next came fruit.  In the back jars was stewed pears and peaches, next came chopped kiwi, oranges, and melon, and in front was larger kiwi slices and papaya.

The fruit was the best I had in Portugal.  I had sorta decided that kiwi in Portugal was just bad, since the breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Lisboa had such bad kiki, as did Weeel on the froyo (stay tuned, great froyo, besides the kiwi), but this was ripe, juicy, and flavorful.  I added the cut kiki on top of my parfait.

The papaya was really ripe and fresh too.
Fresh Fruit: Part 2.
Next came sliced pineapple, watermelon, other melon, and larger orange segments.

On the side was also whole fruit, including bananas, apples, pears, and more.

I was impressed with both the range and freshness of the fruit.

Hot Foods

Next, was hot items.  There was no made-to-order egg station, only a buffet.
Hot Buffet.
Here we had all the standard buffet classics:  bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, baked beans, rosti potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and a mixed veggie.

I tried only the bacon, it was crispy, but super greasy, and tasted more porky than I like.
Buffet Close Up: Sausage, Mushrooms, Rosti Potatoes.
I didn't try any of this, but it looked identical to other Sheraton offerings.
Pancake Machine!!!!
I turned the corner, and saw this.  Yes, a self-serve instant pancake machine.  One of the Google offices I visited had one of these, and I quickly learned that it was more of a novelty than anything actually tasty, but you know me, I couldn't resist.

Fresh pancakes in 60 seconds!  And, likely better than those that have been sitting in a buffet for hours ... and if nothing else, more fun.

I pressed the button, put my plate out, and 60 seconds later, 2 pancakes rolled on on.

Real maple syrup was provided, a luxury, but I'm guessing not many people actually use the machine, given the plethora of other options.
Insta-Pancake.
The pancakes were ... kinda boring.

Thin, flavorless, but, fresh I guess, and basically just a means to get butter and syrup into my body.  I wouldn't get them again.

Baked Goods

And then ... the best part of any buffet for me, and usually the part that makes me the most disapointed: the baked goods.

Here, we had an incredible selection, and actually, some hits!
Breads, Croissants, and more.
The first station started with breads, sliced breads, whole loafs to slice yourself, and rolls.  There was a toaster available as well.

Ojan didn't make it down to breakfast, so I made him a platter with meats, cheeses, and breads to make his own little sandwiches.  I tried a couple of the breads, when he didn't finish it all.  They were mostly hard and not great.  The one I did like was a raisin roll, softer than the others, with juicy raisins inside.  I had a fresh cheese and fruit spread in the room that I used on it, and thought it was a pretty tasty combo.

This area also had assorted pastries like croissants (regular, whole wheat, chocolate), apple turnovers, raisin swirls, and a few others.  I tried the raisin swirl and it was ok, the pastry wasn't flaky and buttery, but it wasn't as spongy as sometimes happens at buffets.  It had juicy raisins and a custard filing.

I also tried the little rolls on the top right.  They looked sorta like donut holes, but not glazed, and in the bread station.  I think they were little Portuguese sweet breads, but they were kinda stale tasting.

Also in this area, on the right hand front side, you can see the little mini waffle things.  I was super excited by these, but they were sorta like just eggy waffle shaped cookies, not really waffles.  Amusingly, one kid who was dining near me had a huge, huge plate full of these and nothing else.  He refused to eat anything else, and you could see his parents were just resigned to it.
Cookies, Cakes, Donuts, oh my!
And then I turned the corner to all the goodness.

Donuts, so many types of donuts.  Cookies ... for breakfast.   Cakes.  Brownies.

Yup, "breakfast".

The brownies (front right) were ok, they had walnuts and a decent enough chocolate flavor.

I tried one cake from the back row, the almond cake, labelled as a speciality.  It was dry and boring.  The other cakes, chocolate and orange, looked equally boring so I didn't try them.  I'm just not into pound cakes ever.

I also took some cookies (front left basket) to go.  I'm not really a cookie person, but I knew some were local specialities, and I figured Ojan might like them.  They were far better than I expected (of course I tried!).

The one on the front right had cinnamon on top, and was soft and crumbly, sorta like a biscuit.  I believe these are called Bolinhos de Canela, aka, Cinnamon Cookies.  Next to that, front left, was the larger one that was very soft, I think actually perhaps a scone, and glazed.  Top left was a harder style, rolled in sugar, with a good buttery base.  These were "areias", Portuguese "sand" cookies, literally just butter cookies.   All far better than I anticipated.  I was glad to get to try some local items.
Stuffed Raspberry Donut(!)
But, the donuts.  Oh my.

The first day at the Sheraton Lisboa I kinda liked the little mini donuts, in a very nostalgic way.  These were a similar experience, except this location had a ton more types and I liked them even more.

The first one I took had a pink glaze and white sprinkles.  I bit into it, and was met with surprise.  It was stuffed!  With pink stuff!

I LOVED this.  It was sweet, soft, fluffy bread.  The glaze was sweet and the perfect thickness.  The filling was sweet and fruity.

I ate it in about two bites.

I got one for Ojan, that looked exactly the same, and ... it had no filling.  I have no idea why some were filled and others weren't.  He rejected it, and I quickly devoured that one too, still tasty, but better with stuffing.

The next day, I got another, and, just like before, mine was filled, and I again really loved it.
Vanilla Glaze with Caramel Drizzle, Chocolate Glaze with Nuts, Almond Cake.
Even the first day, with my giant plate of food, I couldn't stop eating the donuts, and returned for more.

Next I tried the one with white glaze and a caramel drizzle.  I hoped it would be stuffed with caramel or cream, but it wasn't.  It was still plenty tasty though, sweet fluffy dough, sweet icing.  My least favorite of the ones I tried though.

I moved on to a chocolate glazed with nuts (regular chocolate glaze was also available).  It too had no filling (nor did the plain chocolate glazed I got for Ojan).  Again, good, soft, fluffy dough (more like a sweet bread than what I think of as a donut, but that isn't a bad thing, it meant it wasn't greasy or oily or too fried).  Again I enjoyed it, and felt that the thick chocolate glaze was just right.

I didn't try the sugar coated ring donuts, as they seemed far less exciting than the icing topped ones.

The final donut selection was donut holes in a separate basket, not stuffed, not particularly interesting.
Chocolate Iced (and stuffed) with Nuts.
The second day, I grabbed a chocolate icing topped with nuts donut again, and bit into it, and, much to my very happy surprise, I found it was stuffed!  Stuffed with a wonderful chocolate cream.

This one turned out to be my absolute favorite, as I liked the crunchy nuts on top and the creamy chocolate filling.  I quickly sent Ojan a message to get these when he went to breakfast, and, lols, just like the first day, he got one and it wasn't stuffed.  His second one however was, and there really was no way to know if one would have filling or not.

I'm curious now if there were any of the vanilla/caramel ones with filling, as I think that would have been my favorite, but, alas, I was only in the hotel for two days, and, I had 4-5 donuts every day, and well, even I have my limits.
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Monday, February 27, 2017

Papa John's Pizza

I rarely order pizza.  Sure, I had plenty of pizza growing up, takeout pizza at birthday parties, personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut for Book It, my dad's homemade pizza when my mom worked nights.  When I was in college, I had way more than my fair share of monster slices (with blue cheese to dip my crust in!) delivered late at night to my dorm room.  I went through a phase where I loved making bagel pizzas in my toaster oven.  I discovered deep dish pizza (no, not Pizzaria Uno, I'm talking the good stuff like Little Star), and couldn't get enough.  I went through an artisanal thin crust 900 degree wood fired trendy pizza phase (like Tony's Pizza Napoletana).  My office had a pizza oven for a while, and we had pizza every day.  I've certainly eaten, and enjoyed, plenty of pizza.

And I like carbs.  I love cheese.  I adore toppings.  But, for some reason, pizza has fallen off my list of preferred foods as of late, and I'm really not sure why.  I keep trying to like pizza, and just ... don't.  The only exception is when I transform it via my waffle iron, of course.

But Ojan loves pizza, and one day I had a coupon for a free large 1-topping carryout pizza from Papa John's (thanks, T-Mobile Tuesdays!).  Not one to pass up a freebie, I of course used it as a chance to try Papa John's again for the first time in years.

Do you need me to tell you about Papa John's?  It is a pizza franchise, the 3rd largest in the world (behind Dominos and Pizza Hut, with ~5,000 locations worldwide.  Fairly impressive, given that it was only started in 1983, yes, by a guy named John.

Ordering from Papa John's website was actually kinda fun.  They let me customize far more than I was expecting, and, illustrated it the whole way.

First, the crust.  I could choose my style (original, thin, pan), and then my size (medium, large, extra-large for original, large only for thin, or 12" for pan), and then how it was cut (normal, square), and finally, how it was baked (normal, well done).  There was so much I found novel at just this crust selection step.

For example, sizes.  If the pizza comes in medium, large, and extra-large ... how is that not just small, medium, large?  Have they inflated the sizes so much small no longer exists?  And why does thin crust only come in one size (large)?  And why is pan crust specified in inches, a real metric, rather than these arbitrary sizes?  How does a 12" compare to a large? (If you care, the internet implies that they did used to make a 10" small, but now only have the 12"/14"/16" sizes, the thin crust comes only in large because it isn't made in-store, and the pan pizza comes only in 12" which is a medium in original crust).

Then, cut.  Normal or square?  I had no idea that I had options like this.  I clicked on "square", and watched my pizza illustration change from "normal", 8 triangle slices, to 4 crustless squares in the center, 8 square-ish slices with crust, and 4 rounded corners that were more than 50% crust.  Well, huh.  When getting a large pizza, I immediately saw the appeal.  8 same size slices never really is ideal, is it?  Someone always wants more, but not a full slice more.  Someone always discards the crust.  Someone else always wants the crust for dipping.  With square cut, you can take a small piece more.  You can opt for crust or not.  You can go for the little corners with all the crust.  So much better for groups.  Why is this not an option at more places?  Or is it, and you just have to ask normally?

And finally, baked regular or well-done.  I guess that is for the folks who want really crispy pizza?

Next up was sauce.  I had choices: original (aka, tomato based pizza sauce), bbq, or ranch.  I could choose how much sauce (normal, light, extra, no).  Again, I guess you can ask any place to go light or heavy, but it was great having it built into the ordering process without feeling like asking for something special.  While there was only one choice for cheese, I again could pick if I wanted it light.

Finally, toppings.  For meats, I could add pepperoni, bacon, canadian bacon, grilled chicken, sausage, spicy sausage, beef, anchovy, and salami.  Veggies were pineapple, onion, black olive, roasted garlic, jalapeno peppers, roma tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, green peppers, and banana peppers.  Oh, and here was more cheese customization, extra cheese, 3-cheese blend, or parmesan romano.  You can opt for half toppings, and choose which half, again, nicely illustrated.

I had way too much fun playing with the online pizza maker, particularly the toppings.  It animated them dropping on!

Since my coupon was for a single topping large pizza only, I didn't spent too much time exploring the rest of the menu, but, Papa John's is basically just a pizza place, no other entrees, no token salads or pasta dishes.  They do have a few starters, a slew of different forms of breadsticks (original, cheese, Tuscan 6-cheese, garlic parmesan, Wisconsin cheese stuffed, bacon cheddar stuffed), garlic knots, wings (buffalo, bbq, honey chipotle, plain), and chicken poppers.  Oh, and dipping sauces.  All pizzas come with their magic garlic dipping sauce, but they also have bbq, ranch, buffalo, blue cheese, honey mustard, cheese, and pizza sauce dipping cups, $0.65 each.  As a dipper, this is a highlight for me, although I wish you could sub in another sauce for the garlic sauce from time to time, since they are all the same price.  I could have added on crushed red pepper or special seasoning packets (complimentary), but I totally forgot, as they weren't part of the pizza making flow.  Doh.

Of course I did glance at the dessert options, but alas, no dessert pizzas here.  They do have a huge family size chocolate chip brownie cut into 9 squares and a large format 8 slice chocolate chip cookie, both served warm, plus local It's It Ice Cream Sandwiches, and the only one that looked good, cinnamon pull aparts, sweet roll pieces covered in cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with cream cheese icing.  Alas, my freebie was not for dessert.

Anyway, I easily ordered my pizza from the San Francisco location online.  I could have specified a pick-up time in the future, but I opted to get it ASAP, worried that saying I wanted it at 5pm, could mean they'd make it early to prepare, and it would be less fresh.  Of course, this meant I didn't know exactly when it would be ready, and the online system just told me that I'd get an e-mail with more info.  The e-mail said ... 5-15 minutes!  Luckily, I was just a couple blocks away.

My pizza was ready when I arrived, and, my order was correct.  The sole guy running the place looked up when I entered, greeted me (even though he was in back making pizza), and hurried out to help me.  He double checked my order, handed it over with a smile, and was really quite pleasant.  Perhaps I lucked out, as I honestly was a bit worried about the whole thing, given Yelp reviews consistently saying that online orders were not received and that the staff are rude.

My entire experience was pleasant, from ordering, to pick up, to consumption.  Is Papa John's amazing pizza?  Nah.  But it was well made pizza, and the garlic sauce is really a thing of (awful) beauty.
Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza. $18.74.
I could say this was just a "Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza", but, if you want the real order, it was a Large, Original Crust, Square Cut, Regular Bake, Original Sauce, Normal Amount Sauce, Normal Amount Cheese, Sausage Pizza.  As with all Papa John's pizzas, it came with a single pepperoncini on the side and a single pot of garlic sauce, each of which you can order more of for $0.65.

The box was warm, and the pizza looked like any old standard takeout pizza.

The SF location does not have any seating, but, I wanted to try it hot, so I pulled out one small slice as I walked down the street, pizza box tucked under my arm.  Don't judge.  (Side note: this is part of the beauty of the square cut, I could pick just a small piece, easy to hold and munch on the go, rather than a full sized triangle slice).

It was indeed hot and fresh.  It was a well made pizza, for this style of pizza.  It had plenty of cheese, equal coverage to the edges.  Generic, shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, not too greasy.  The sauce was also well distributed, and in a proper proportion, although, I didn't quite care for the tangy, herby nature to it.  Maybe I'd get light sauce next time, or even switch in the bbq or ranch.  My topping pick, sausage, came in a good quantity, although the coverage wasn't quite even.  The sausage was fine, a bit spicer than I expected given that they also have a spicy sausage, but I didn't mind this at all.

But the sauce, cheese, and topping weren't particularly interesting to me.  It is those elements that have made me kinda sick of pizza.  What I cared about was the crust and the dipping sauce.

Again, the beauty of the square cut, is that I could opt for those tiny corner pieces that were 80% crust.  The loser piece to many, but for me, the prize.  The crust was fluffy and light, crispy on the bottom, puffy and doughy on the edges.  It had a good chew to it, as in, not chewy, and a subtle sweetness that I really liked.  Sure, still generic takeout pizza crust, but, I liked it.

Ok, maybe I just liked the garlic dipping sauce?  The Papa John's "Special Garlic Sauce".  A magical mix of scary ingredients, that tastes like liquid garlic butter (although, it, uh, has no butter).  The garlic is great.  The buttery nature is great.  It transforms crusts into what you always want a garlic breadstick to be.  If you read the ingredients however, you'll be scared: soybean oil, vegetable mono & diglycerides, soy lecithin,  lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA, citric acid ... Their online ingredient guide does tell you why they add each of these things (some help maintain the consistency, others for freshness, others for color).  But still.  I pretended it was just totally natural liquid garlic butter of perfect consistency at room temperature.

I enjoyed my crusts dipped in the garlic sauce.  I appreciated that, even though a generic pizza, it was made some decent care.  I can't imagine paying $18.74 for this though.
Papa John's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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