Friday, March 10, 2017

Gaslamp Popcorn Co

If you haven't noticed, I'm obsessed with popcorn.  Flavored, coated popcorn to be exact.  And, uh, usually, frozen popcorn (seriously, try it, it gets so crunchy!)  So when I was at an event with bags of a brand of popcorn I hadn't seen before, Gaslamp Popcorn, I gleefully grabbed some.

I did my research afterwards.  Gaslamp turns out to be a California manufacturer, and they make 5 flavors of popcorn: the classics (salted, white cheddar, and kettle corn), plus cinnamon caramel corn, and "Malibu Mix", which has the kettle corn, sea salt, and white cheddar all in one (sweet, salty, and cheesy).  None of these flavors are particularly exotic.  The popcorn is all made from non-GMO corn and all flavors are gluten-free.

The event only had two varieties, and sadly not the Malibu Mix.  I tried both, and they were just too plain for my taste.
Sea Salt & Olive Oil.
"Our California made Sea Salt & Olive Oil popcorn is the newest addition to the Gaslamp Popcorn family. Each small batch of gourmet popcorn is made using authentic California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, is non-GMO Project verified, and has only 37 calories per cup. Wow! A flavored popcorn never gave you so much taste for so little!"

The first flavor I tried was very basic: sea salt and olive oil.  The olive oil was a really nice touch, and made the flavor a bit more complex than standard butter popcorn.

This was still fairly plain popcorn (I'm more into decadent popcorn, smothered in white chocolate, caramel, and the like), but I'll admit that it was nicely done for what it was.
Kettle Corn.
"Our sweet & salty Kettle Corn popcorn is made in small batches to ensure that every handful is popped and sweetened to perfection. We use only ingredients like pure cane sugar and sea salt, to make this gluten-free snack. It's how we turn popcorn fans into fanatics!"

Next I moved on to one of my favorites, kettle corn.  (Side story: I'm absolutely obsessed with kettle corn from a booth at the farmer's market in my hometown.  My mom stockpiles it for me - in the freezer, where it stays fresh - and I always bring back a suitcase full whenever I visit.  I'm not joking).

Anyway, this kettle corn was ... less exciting.  It was what I'd describe as a "light" offering.  Both the salt and sweet components were just muted, noticeable, but just barely.  I really wanted ... more ooph.
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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Update Review, February 2016

"Oh, Julie, what are you doing from 10:30-11:30?", was a greeting I received from a co-worker one morning.  I replied that I was headed to a meeting until 11.  She told me I should swing by an event she was hosting when I got out of my meeting, and then she added it to my calendar.  She promised tasty things.  I knew nothing more.

I had no idea what I was in for when I stepped into the room a little after 11, but was beyond thrilled when I saw the display from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse.  I had their goods once before at an event and I was pretty impressed, so I was eager to try more goods.  For more background on the insanity that is Mr. Holmes, go start with my previous review, and then return here.
Assorted Items, February 2017.
I didn't know what the items were exactly when I was at the event, but, I looked them up afterwards.  I was immediately sad that I didn't have the insider knowledge when I was selecting my treats, as I certainly would have grabbed different items.

Only a few of these were as simple as they looked.  The plain croissant, and the chocolate croissant, were exactly what they looked like.  But the other croissants were far more exciting, including a
churro croissant (I thought it was just cinnamon sugar coated, but, it was filled with dulce de leche cream!), ferrero rocher croissant (filled with hazelnut and dunked in chocolate coating), matcha croissant (matcha white chocolate coating), and seasonal fruit danish (with brown butter streusel and pastry cream).  The donut was rolled in cinnamon sugar and stuffed with white mocha raspberry cream.  And the cookie even was far more exciting than it looked, brown butter caramel with cornflakes! 

I first grabbed a giant bear claw (not pictured because I had already snagged it from the platter), but came back for more later in the morning.

Since someone had already cut into the ferrero rocher croissant, I too cut off a chunk and tried it.  It really was a quality croissant, perfectly layered, flaky, crispy on top, buttery, shiny.  When I saw the green dipped one remaining later, I hoped it was matcha, and grabbed that for myself.

The matcha croissant was also good, again, a great specimen of a croissant.  The inside folds were moist and buttery, the outside flaky and messy in all the right ways.  The white chocolate matcha coating was very well balanced, strongly matcha flavored but not bitter, and not overwhelming sweet from white chocolate either.  Very good, although a bit simple.
Cookie Dough Bear Claw / Cookie Dough Mousse. $4.50.
Like I said, I didn't know what anything was when I was at the event, and I just picked this one for myself as it was the biggest and most decadent looking.  You know how I roll.

It turned out to be a bear claw, stuffed with cookie dough mousse, topped with cookie dough crust, and drizzled in white chocolate.  It was massive, a real bear paw.  And I ate it.  All of it.

It was good.  It was very good.

Like the croissants, the pastry was fantastic.  Incredible layers, buttery, flaky, slightly crispy, just, perfect.  I liked breaking the fingers off one-by-one, and eating them as delicious croissant-bites.

The cookie dough coating on top was kinda fun, full of crunchy little cocoa nibs.  It reminded me of a pineapple bun from a Chinese bakery, you know, the kind that look like pineapples because they have the crunchy sweet sugar cookie topping?  It was good, but unnecessary on top of a bear claw that was also drizzled with white chocolate (yay, more sweet topping), AND stuffed with cookie dough mousse.
Cookie Dough Bear Claw: Inside.
Let's talk about that mousse.

I cut the claw in half to reveal the contents, and found it very generously stuffed with the pastry cream.  The cream was absolutely loaded up with mini chocolate chips, making it very chocolatey.  It was sweet, it was creamy, and had a nice texture from all the chips.  I didn't love the filling, but it was good.  There was so much of it that it was actually too much with just the main part of the claw, but I found that I could break a finger off and dunk it in the extra filling for a "perfect bite".  I also clearly enjoyed dissecting this thing as I devoured it.

Overall, this was very good.  I was a bit shocked to find that I ate the whole thing in one sitting, as it really was quite large.  But, such quality pastry, seriously, look at the layering here on the interior!
It was also a fairly fascinating item, so it held my interest.

Original Review, June 2016

A couple years ago, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse hit San Francisco by storm.  If you follow the bakery media at all, you certainly know about Mr. Holmes, for any one of several reasons.

Mr Holmes became a phenomenon instantly as they introduced the cruffin.  Yup, a croissant muffin hybrid, with a flavor that changes daily.  Limited to 2 per person.  They sell out ridiculous quickly.  The website has a countdown timer until the next morning when they'll be available.

They also became everyone's favorite Instagram place for something besides the food: their slogan, which is "I got baked in San Francisco".  It is printed all all their packaging, but, also, in huge neon letters in the store.

And then, finally, the scandal.  The bakery was broken into.  And the thief stole only one thing: recipes.  No cash.  Just the cruffin recipe.

You can't make this stuff up.  Trendy baked good.  Limited supply.  A robbery.  A silly slogan.  Their marketing department did well.  The place was known for crazy long lines, and the hype just grew and grew.  They now have a location in Los Angeles and in Seoul.

Since I love baked goods, you'd think I would have been all over this opening.  But, actually, it seemed like a lot of hype to me, and I just didn't feel like getting up at 6am to get in line for a cruffin.  So I waited, until I attended an event with Mr. Holmes baked goods.  Of course, that means I still haven't tried a cruffin, since you can't get more than 2, and they don't offer them for catering or delivery.

That said, their other items are no slouch.  Many others have made waves too, like the California croissant, stuffed with smoked salmon, ginger, wasabi, and nori.  They also have a kouign amann, a number of fascinating danishes, and even just their basic croissant has won awards.
Donuts: Chocolate & Coffee.
Most of the Mr. Holmes menu changes seasonally, like the danish fillings.  But the aforementioned cruffin changes daily, as does their donut.  They always offer two flavors of each, named Le Donut #1 and Le Donut #2.  Given how much I like donuts, I was thrilled when the event I attended had them.
Le Donut #1 (coffee). $3.50.
I started with Le Donut #1.  I was not sure what flavor it was.  I was told "pistachio" by the host, but I'm quite certain that was not right, as I didn't taste a hint of pistachio in here.  Ojan described his as "weird, I can't figure it out".  In the end, I thought it was mocha.  I followed up with the bakery the next day because I was really curious.  The answer?  Coffee.

The donut was ... ok.  Nicely coated in sugar, not too oily, stuffed very, very, very generously with the filling.  I think the part I didn't enjoy was the filling.  There was tons of it, it was very think, and kinda gritty, and I spent the whole time trying to figure out what it was.

The donut wasn't bad, but, really not worth raving about.  With a filling I liked though, I could imagine feeling differently ...
Le Donut #2 (chocolate). $3.50.
So, I took one of the other kind, and kept it "for later".

The second one was milk chocolate filled, with two little chocolate crunchy balls on top.

You can also guess about how much later, "later" really was.
Le Donut #2: Inside.
This one also was perfectly coated in sugar, and generously filled with cream.  Here you can see just how much filling was inside, they really aren't messing around with the filling.

Both Ojan and I liked this flavor much more, because the chocolate cream was smooth like a nice pudding, and not gritty like the filling in the coffee one.  I still didn't love the filling, but, sugar coated fried dough is always a good thing.

Ojan devoured his and asked me to get him another.  Yes, after eating 2 of these, he wanted another, stat!
Cookie: Chocolate, sea salt. $3.
You know I'm not really one for cookies, but, I got this for Ojan.

And as always, I took a bite.  And then, I went and got myself one.  For a cookie, this was great!

It had a generous sprinkle of large sea salt crystals on top, which really amped up the flavor.  It was still a hard, crispy cookie, so, not my favorite item, but, it was a good one.  The chocolate chunks in particular were really tasty.

It was also rather huge, a very hefty size for the $3 price.
Croissant. $3.50.
And finally, a basic croissant.  I wasn't able to try the crazy California croissant, but, this plain croissant has earned its place on many "Top 5 in San Francsico" lists.

It was a pretty decent croissant.

Crispy exterior, moist interior, very strong butter flavor, laminated.  Not mind blowing, but for a plain croissant, very solid, and on par with the best I had in Paris.

Ojan took one bite of his, and said, "hmm, this is a pretty good croissant!".  When I returned to the room a few minutes later, he further raved, "I don't normally like plain croissants, but this grew on me!"
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Oren's Hummus Shop

Oren's Hummus is an institution in the Palo Alto area, starting as a little shop and farmer's market stand (by a techie who missed good hummus), and expanding into a very successful catering business, and now multiple restaurants.

I've heard about Oren's for years, as everyone raves about it, but, Mediterranean food is really not my cuisine of choice so I never sought it out.  Then, about a year ago, a friend of mine catered an event with Oren's and I was blown away by the flavors.  I didn't take notes, but it left a lasting impression, so when we were looking for somewhere in the Palo Alto area for a casual dinner for 6, and I actually wanted to eat light and healthier (due to an epic wait for brunch at ai'na, we were eating only 4 hours after we finished a huge brunch!), Oren's seemed like a good choice.

And healthier and lighter it is.  Oren's takes pride in the ingredients - they use as many organics as possible, chicken, eggs, and beef are all natural.  The pita is housemade, baked fresh daily, available in white or wheat, or even gluten-free.  They import ingredients from Israel.  They don't use preservatives.

My visit to Oren's was with a group of 6 on a Sunday night.  When we arrived, the restaurant was full, right at 6pm.  Palo Alto is an early dining crowd!

I was able to put my name on the list and was quoted a 10 minute wait time.  They took my phone number, and actually sent me a text message when the table was ready.  Very easy.

We were seated at a table that barely fit 6, 3 of us crammed along one side.  Once we had a table full of food, it was a bit impossible, and we had to very carefully re-arrange everything in order to move things around.  But, we did get seated within the quoted 10 minutes.

Overall, the food was fine, but, not memorable, and not nearly as good as I remembered from my previous catering encounter.
Menu, Place Setting.
Oren's is a very casual establishment, with lower end furnishings and cutlery, and plastic laminated menus.  They do have table service, but it was not particularly attentive.  Also on the tables were little pots of red and green sauces.  The red one was uninteresting, but the green was quite spicy.

The menu at Oren's is divided into 6 sections: Hummus Bowls, Grilled Skewers, Salads, Israeli Favorites, Pita Sandwiches, and Sides.

It isn't entirely clear what is intended to be an entree, but I think everything but the sides was.   For example, the salads listed in the Salad section are all large size salads, priced the same as entrees, and smaller side salads appear under the Sides section.  The hummus bowls too seem like entrees, again, priced like entrees, they come topped with options like ground beef or lamb, and the sides menu contains a smaller portion of hummus.  My read of the menu was that basically everything besides the sides is entree sized, but you could obviously share hummus bowls or salads to make them appetizers?

And then, the sides.  Oren's has a seriously impressive lineup of sides.  Some of the entrees come with your choice of sides, but they are also available a la carte, 1 for $4.50, 2 for $8.50, or 3 for $11.95 (except for the different types of fries, priced at $4.95).  Sides include smaller salads, hummus, and falafel, so you could easily make an appetizer platter out of these, or even, really, a meal.  The total list of sides is 17 (!) items, all vegetarian.  The list included 5 different preparations of eggplant, smaller portions of the Israeli salad and hummus, two types of tabule, marinated beets, spiced carrots, pickles, labane, fries, sweet potato fries, "cauliflower fries" ... lots of options.

So, a slightly confusing menu, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.  I thought it just meant that everything was family-style, and so I ordered a bunch for the table, but, the resulting service we got made it clear that that wasn't really intended.  For example, as each dish came out, servers really wanted to put a dish in front of a specific person, rather than shared in the center of the table.  They didn't bring any serving utensils.  They didn't pace the meal out into separate courses.  Oops?
Feast!
We ended up ordering one hummus bowl, two types of skewers (each of which came with two sides), one large salad, and one of the Israeli favorites, and it was too much food for 6 people, even though that seemed like less than 5 main dishes.

We opted not to stay for dessert, and headed down the street to Yogurtland (which, I may or may not have planned from the start ... ).
Slaw (Complimentary).
Provided nearly as soon as we sat was little bowls of complimentary slaw.  It was mushy and not fresh and crisp, and not mayo based, so, I didn't care for it.  We were given 2-3 bowls of it, and it went mostly untouched.
Hummus Triangle. $9.85.
"The classic topped with masabacha, fava, and tahini."

Since Oren's is most famous for the hummus, we obviously had to order a hummus bowl.  We had 9 choices of hummus bowls, ranging from classic to topped with vegetarian options (fava beans, stewed chunky eggplant, mushrooms and sauteed onions) to topped with more substantial meat and poultry (ground beef with pine nuts, braised lamb shoulder, or even chicken livers).

We let indecision guide us towards the "Triangle", topped with 3 different toppings: masabacha (whole and pureed chickpeas blended with tahini), fava (slow-cooked fava beans), and tahini.

Now, I'm pretty sure I've never really liked hummus.  I don't care for chickpeas and bean flavors, so, hummus has never been for me.  And I didn't care for this, as expected.  That said, I could appreciate that this was good hummus.  It was far more creamy than I knew was possible.  I also didn't care for the toppings, since, well, legumes.

The others remarked that it was good hummus though, so, I guess it was?
Mixed Homemade White and Wheat Pita (included with hummus).
Hummus bowls are served with your choice of white or whole wheat pita (gluten-free available).  We opted for a mix, since we couldn't decide.

The pita is all homemade at Oren's, and is their other claim to fame.

Since many of our side dishes were essentially dips, we were hoping to have pita to use for those too, and the basket of pita initially didn't really look substantial enough to last through our meal.  But, looks are deceiving, and this was more pita than we needed.

The pita was served warm.  It was clearly very fresh, very fluffy.  But just like I'm not a hummus girl, I'm also not a pita girl, so, to me, it was still pita, but again, I recognized the quality.
Greek Salad. $10.95.
"Chopped romaine, cucumber, tomato, kalamata olives, bell pepper, and imported sheep's feta cheese."

Some of the group was concerned I wasn't ordering enough, and wanted to add in a salad.  There were 4 entree salads on offer, all of which started with cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions: Israeli salad, Fatush (with feta and pita chips), an "Alpha Beta Salad" with rice, lentils, and bell peppers in addition to the base trifecta, with lemon tahini dressing, and, a classic Greek salad.  My group selected the Greek.

I didn't try this, as there is basically no ingredient in there that I liked.  It was, however, the only dish which we managed to finish, so, clearly the others liked it.
Vegetable Skewer Entree with 2 sides (Sweet Potato Fries, Falafel).  $12.95.
"Onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers, eggplant, and mushrooms."

The Grilled Entrees section of the menu contained 3 types of skewers: chicken, beef, and vegetable.  We had a vegetarian in the group, and, although all the sides, and many of the other options were vegetarian, someone thought we should also order the veggie skewers to make sure he was satisfied.  Thoughtful, but I'm not sure necessary given how much other vegetarian fare we had.

Anyway, the veggie skewer was ... well, not a skewer, just a pile of grilled vegetables.  The vegetables were all fine I guess, but not a single vegetable was particularly notable, they didn't have a nice char, there was no sauce ... really, as boring as could be, and these went basically untouched.

"5 falafel balls topped with tahini." 

Each skewer entree came with our choice of 2 sides, from the massive list of 17 choices.

I selected the falafel because it seemed like a classic , and I figured folks could make little falafel wraps with the hummus and pita (they didn't).  The order came with 5 balls, and since we were a group of 6 I opted not to have one, since, well, guess what? I don't really like falafel either.  No one really commented on the falafel.

"Sweet potato fries with red pepper mayo."

The second side I picked was the sweet potato fries.  I'm pretty sure I was the only one who wanted this, and sweet potato fries are entirely not Mediterranean cuisine, but, I wanted something that I'd like too!  In the fried carbs department, I also had the choice of regular fries or the interesting sounding "cauliflower fries" served with pesto labne, but, sweet potato fries and aioli were impossible for me to move past.

The sweet potato fries were actually very good.  They were super crispy, and chunky enough to really have a strong sweet potato flavor.  The red pepper aioli wasn't particularly flavorful, but I was glad to have a creamy, mayo based dip.  I really enjoyed these, and would gladly get them again, and I was thrilled no one else seemed to even be interested in trying them.  I polished of 90% of them myself.
Beef Skewer Entree with 2 sides (Labane, Babaganoush). $14.95.
"All natural ground beef and lamb with blended herbs and garlic, drizzled with tahini."

The second grilled entree we picked was the beef skewer.  Again not a skewer, but rather, 3 balls.  Unfortunately, I didn't read the description before ordering, and assumed that a beef skewer would be, well, beef.  Not beef and lamb.  Since I really don't like lamb, I didn't try these.

"Fire roasted eggplant mashed with tahini, garlic, and herbs."

We also had to pick 2 sides to go with this.  Since the menu had 5 different eggplant options, it seemed like we should pick at least one of them.  There was a pureed "Greekstyle" version, a mashed Romanian version, a chunky version, another pureed "Oren's" version, and, Babaganoush.  I advocated for the Oren's (it had caramelized onion in it!), or the chunky (stewed with garlic), but, babaganoush was the crown consensus.

It was ... fine.  It was babagaoush.  Standard, nothing special.  It combined nicely enough with the hummus and pita.

"Strained yogurt cheese topped with za'ata spice and olive oil."

The final side I picked was labane, because I wanted something rich and tart to compliment everything else.  It came topped with very flavorful tomatoes, olive oil, and spices on top.

The labane was a hit, with nearly everyone declaring it their favorite.  I particularly liked the flavorful toppings.  Interestingly to me, about half the table had never had labane before, so I was glad to introduce them to something they enjoyed!
Schnitzel de Noir. $13.95.
"Breaded chicken breast, mashed sweet potatoes, and garlic green beans".

Our final dish came from the Israeli Favorites section of the menu (which also included shakshuka, couscous, and a rice bowl).  This was the pick of one diner, who I think was concerned by the random hodgepodge of items I was ordering, without a real entree.  We had no choice of sides for this, and interestingly, the sides it was served with are not available as regular sides.

I didn't try the schnitzel, but the others did, and seemed to appreciate having some chicken.  I did try the sauce, and it was just standard Dijon mustard.  No one ate the green beans.

I tried the sweet potato mash, but, it was not very good.  No one ate that either.
Oren's Hummus Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Restaurante Largo, Lisbon

Lisbon.  Not exactly known for food (besides Pastéis de Belém, which, is actually totally worth the hype).  Group dining.  Also not generally known for the food.  But I was in Lisbon, and with a big group for a conference, so I did my research, and generated a list of places worth trying, ready to be consulted as needed.

My first night in Lisbon I was stuck in conference calls from my hotel room, and wasn't able to venture out, but the second day, I was asked to help find a place for ~20 people.  That night.  Challenge accepted.

My options were obviously limited due to group size and last minute booking, but we settled on Largo, mostly on my list for the very large gin menu, the fact that they had a website in English, and a decent number of menu items that sounded up my alley.

It was ... about as expected.  Mediocre.

Setting

Beautiful Views (en route).
While I did not find much of Lisbon scenic, the walk to Largo included one lookout, and the timing was such that the lighting really did make it almost look pretty.
Entrance.
The entrance wasn't particularly inviting, concrete with a small sign.
Arches!
The interior was really unique, with lots of arches, high ceilings, and crazy lighting.  The glowing thing in the middle of the room here was the bar.
Tables.
White, green, and black.  Those were the colors throughout the restaurant.

Tables, and the bar, were gleaming white.  Chairs and walls were green.  Placemats were black.

Place settings came with two knives and forks, plus an extra bread knife.  Cutlery was removed that we didn't need.
Bathroom.
The color scheme continued into the bathroom.  The green theme continued with the walls and counters, and the sink, and, uh, the toilet paper, were black.  Yes, black toilet paper!

Also a bit notable was the real washcloths.

Drinks

As I mentioned, Largo is known for the gin selection, so that is where we focused our attention.
Magellan + Tonic.
I went for the Magellan and tonic, per Emil's recommendation.  It was a bit strange that it came with strawberries in it.

It was also massive. I don't remember much else about it though.  I think it was fine?

Food

The menu was fairly large, with 15 starters, 7 meat and 7 seafood mains, and two vegetarian items.  The mains all came as composed dishes with several sides.  The menu was in both Portuguese and English, making it easy for us to navigate.  I was amused by the children's menu, it consisted of exactly one thing: a set meal, a hamburger and chocolate mousse.
Bread and Dips.
The bread service was the highlight of the meal.

We each had individual bread plates, onto which 3 different types (sourdough, wheat, seeded) of sliced bread were placed by servers.  All were a bit ... soggy?  The bread really was not good at all.  The slices were replenished constantly if you finished, a hazard particularly if you didn't like it.  We were each also given our own bowls of butter.  It was ... butter.

So far, not particularly exciting.

But in the middle of each group of people they brought a bowl of crisps and a little bowl of herb spread.  The crisps were actually pretty tasty, super crispy, salty, buttery.  Good enough on their own, but magic with the herb spread.  It was a fresh, small curd cheese, that reminded me a bit of ricotta.  It was creamy and loaded with herbs.  Really tasty.

Unlike the sliced bread, our crisps were never replenished, and the bowl, once it went empty, was simply removed.  Same with our way-too-small ration of the herb dip.  I was glad the others didn't originally realize how delicious this stuff was, and I got my fill, although, once he tried it, Ojan declared, "I'll just eat this for dinner", which inspired some others to finally try it.  Everyone agreed the crisps, and dip, were delicious.

The crisps and herb dip were by far the tastiest part of the meal.
Starter: Terrina de Foie-Gras com Pera bêbada, nozes e redução de vinho do Porto. €14.
"Foie Gras Terrine with ‘drunk’ pear, nuts and port wine."

For my starter, I went straight for the foie gras.  It had been a while since I had foie gras.

The plating of this was probably the best of the night, a bit artful.

The foie had a good enough flavor, but, it was strangely spongy, if that makes any sense.  Emil said it had too much iron in it.  The nuts were a crumble on top, crunchy, decent texture, but a bit gritty with the smooth terrine.

Pears were cubes arranged in a few piles, and I think part of the port sauce, as it seemed kinda like apple sauce, just, slightly port flavored, and I imagine that was actually pear, not apple.

And that was the dish.  It was not served with any bread or crostini, just the chunk of terrine.  I used the crisps from the bread course, and was happy enough, but if I hadn't saved those, I would have been a bit annoyed without something to spread the foie on.

It also was really missing a sweet element.  The pear cubes and pear sauce weren't really sweet, and foie really needs something sweet to cut it.

So overall, meh.  Strange texture, incomplete pairing.
Starter:Vieiras com creme de milho e pimenta rosa. €13.50.
"Scallops with corn cream and rose pepper."

The scallops were listed as a starter, but, I wanted a lighter meal and still three courses like everyone else, so I opted to have a second starter as my main.  Others ordered this as their real starters, so, I got to scope it out before receiving my own, although they gave it mixed reviews.

This dish certainly had my name all over it.  I adore scallops, and creamed corn is perfect comfort food.  The bacon bits on top were unexpected, but, crunchy, salty, bacon is never a bad thing.

I took a bite, and immediately understood the mixed reviews.  This dish was ... highly mediocre.  The scallops were very small, and had absolutely no sear on them.  They weren't overcooked necessarily (although not mid-rare as I'd prefer), and they weren't rubbery, but, they were lackluster.

The corn cream was ... cold.  It had a decent flavor, but wasn't really as creamy as anticipated, more like corn puree.

The dish was very salty.  Not in a bad way, but, salty it was.

So, overall, just mediocre.  Not awful, but not good.
Main: Bochechas de porco confitadas, pure de batata e misto de legumes salteadaos. €19.
"Confit pork cheeks, mashed potatoes, and sauteed vegetables."

Well, they don't win any plating awards here.  A jumble on the plate.

This was Ojan's main dish, and he liked his choice.  He took a few bites, and said, "This is pretty good".  A few minutes later he followed up with "I actually really like this."  So of course I had to try it too.  I wasn't as thrilled.

The mashed potato was ok.  Nothing particularly good nor bad about it.  The pork cheeks were a bit too fatty for me.  I really didn't like the gravy, it had a strange flavor, but, Ojan did like it.

The veggies were a mix of cubed zucchini and chestnuts.  Kinda random.  Tons of chestnuts.  Since I like chestnuts, I was excited by that part.

Several others ordered steak.  They were all unhappy, as every single order was overcooked.  One diner exclaimed, "That is not a medium rare steak!", while another said, "I'd be chastising myself if I cooked this."
Dessert: Pudim do Abade de Priscos. €6.00.
" 'Abade de Priscos' Caramel Pudding"

For dessert, I picked the 'Abade de Priscos' , or, caramel pudding.

It was not what I was expecting, more like a slice of flan than what I think of as a pudding.  But I like flan, so I was still excited about it.  Plating-wise, there was nothing here, just, a slice of pudding-flan.  No garnish at all.

It was sweet and firm, but very, very eggy.  Far too eggy for my taste.  I didn't like this.

I also tried a bite of the apple crumble with vanilla sauce, it was much better.  Nice crumble, lots of tasty cream sauce.  I'd even classify that one as good!
Largo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Monday, March 06, 2017

Kin Khao

I've often lamented that San Francisco does not have very good Thai cuisine.  There is plenty of "ok" Thai food, but I have never found a place that I actually would be excited to go back to.  I have felt that way since I first moved to the city, but, after spending time in Sydney with excellent Thai food, that feeling has grown even stronger.  I've kinda given up on That food in San Francisco.

And then I heard about Kin Khao.  It opened in 2014, to great local acclaim that quickly spread.  That year, it was nominated for the top 50 new restaurants by Bon Appetit.  GQ rated it in the 25 most outstanding restaurants of 2015.  By October, it had earned a Michelin star for the upcoming 2016 guide.  The star was renewed the next year.  The list of accolades goes on and on.

So while I had kinda given up on Thai cuisine in San Francisco, Kin Khao held some serious promise.  You don't get a Michelin star in the first year of operation, and hold it for multiple years, on a fluke, right?

It took me several years to visit, but finally, I did, with a group of 5, for lunch on a Saturday.  The restaurant is open daily for both lunch and dinner, with some common menu items at both meals, but a larger menu at dinner.

I was able to make a reservation online, just a day in advance.  In San Francisco, the land of waiting for brunch on weekends ('āina, I'm looking at you), this was most welcome, even though I knew it wasn't brunch food.  Our booking was for 11:45am, earlier than I really wanted, because I couldn't get one between 12-12:45 with only one day notice.  When we arrived, the restaurant had only a couple other diners, but, within the next 40 minutes, it entirely filled up.  By the time we left, there wasn't an empty seat in the house.
Lunch!
Our group ordered family style, and sampled a range of items from the menu, including sides, appetizers, mains, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverages.

Overall, the food was certainly good.  Flavors were bold, execution was strong.  Prices were quite reasonable, as were portion sizes.  The decor and style were comfortable, not anything like you'd expect from a Michelin star establishment.

But.  The service, and overall experience, were absolutely not Michelin star worthy.  The food was not paced out appropriately, with all of our side dishes and mains arriving while we still had a table filled with appetizers.  Service was awkward, with one server who came by and gave us a really strangely enthusiastic comment about how we were devouring everything (which, we actually weren't ... we had leftovers).  Water was not replenished.  It took absolutely forever to pay our bill after the check was brought.  As in, at least 30 minutes, even though we had it sitting there with a credit card on it.  The table next to us was brought food they didn't order.  Etc, etc.  None of these were that big of a deal, but, for a Michelin rated place, I certainly expected a slightly more flawless service.

Setting

Kin Khao is located inside the Parc 55 Hotel.  While it is a Michelin starred restaurant, it is definitely not fancy.  It is nice, not a hole in the wall, but certainly not fancy, and not somewhere you need to dress up.  
Exterior (from sidewalk)
Kin Khao is a bit hard to find if you just use Google Maps, as Google Maps doesn't know where in the hotel complex it is located.  You can actually get there through the main hotel entrance if you know where you are going once inside, but there is also a clearly marked entrance on one side, just, not the side where the address is.
Entrance (from inside hotel).
You actually enter the restaurant from inside the Parc 55 Hotel space, where it looks like an outside storefront with menus posted on the window.
Interior.
The interior was an interesting style, casual for sure, but, clearly intentionally designed.  Wooden table tops with black legs, black and red wooden chairs, gleaming black floors, artwork on the walls and on ledges, and semi-open kitchen with counter seating on the other side.

It wasn't fancy, but it also was clearly quality decor.
Bench Seating.
Tables were set with oblong plates and real napkins, plus water glasses.  The presence of these plates were a good signal that we should order family style, which I expected.

We were seated at a large wooden table along the windows, with comfortable padded benches on one side.
Chopsticks, Cutlery, Hot Oil.
Tables all had mugs with chopsticks which we could help ourselves to, or forks and spoons if you preferred.  Very casual, and it made it easy for them to not need to bring serving spoons, etc.

The little white ceramic pot held some kind of hot oil, that some of us used to jazz up the more bland dishes.

Drinks

Kin Khao has a really amazing cocktail list, but, since I visited at lunch time, cocktails weren't really on the agenda.  The cocktails sound great though, and I'd love to return just for cocktails, snacks, and dessert some time.
Still and Sparkling Water.
Once we were seated, a server was immediately by our sides, pouring water into glasses.  I stopped him before he reached me, saying, "no thank you, I'll have sparkling water".  You could tell he realized that perhaps he should have asked before just pouring us all still water.  Michelin star service?  He then confirmed who wanted still, poured them still, and went to go get sparkling for the rest of us.

He returned with two carafes of sparkling water, poured glasses for those of us remaining, and then left a carafe on the table of each type of water.  The sparkling had a red band on it so we could distinguish.

I appreciated having water left on the table (definitely not normal at a Michelin star place), so we could just refill as needed, although, when our carafe ran out, no one noticed, and I had to flag someone down eventually to get a refill.

Water, both still and sparkling, was house filtered, and free of charge, making the lack of asking what we wanted at the start even more puzzling.
Blue Flower Limeade. $6.
Even though I'm not usually into lemonade (or limeade), I really wanted someone to order this, mostly for the novelty.  I knew that the drink arrives with the blue flower (whatever that is?) syrup (?) in the base, and the clearer top, and ... the server brings a little pitcher of lime juice that is then poured in table side.  When the acidic juice hits the darker purple syrup, it changes color, and it is fun.  Hmm, that really didn't sound exciting.  I think I need to get out more.

Anyway, it was a colorful drink, and when mixed together, was really a refreshing blend of slightly sweet and acidic.  I thought it was quite good, perfectly refreshing alongside our flavorful food, and wished I had ordered it.  If you like limeade, I recommend, and the two members of my party who ordered it seemed to enjoy.
Turmeric Lime Soda. $6.
Since our visit was at lunch, I didn't want a cocktail, but I wanted something more exciting than just water.  And I didn't want caffeine, so the thai iced coffee and thai iced tea were out.  I took a gamble and went for the turmeric lime soda, even though I don't particularly like turmeric.  My hope was that it would be a refreshing beverage, which I'd hopefully need alongside some spicy thai cuisine.

Like the blue drink, it arrived un-mixed, and I was instructed to mix it up.  However, unlike the blue drink, it didn't have a magic lime juice poured in, and didn't change colors besides to just dilute.

Anyway, it was ... well, turmeric flavored.  Which, yeah, I didn't care for.  It wasn't too sweet, which is what I was aiming for, but, I didn't finish this and clearly wouldn't get again.

Food

The lunch menu is broken into appetizers (6 choices), mains (7 choices), and sides (7 choices, 5 sides, 2 snacky bites).  A mid-sized selection, and it was easy enough to find things we wanted without being overwhelmed by choice.  Vegetarian and vegan items (or optional modifications) were well marked.  The protein options weren't extensive (chicken, duck, pork, rabbit, shrimp, tofu), and in particular, I noticed that there was no fish nor beef choices, but the larger dinner menu does have braised beef cheeks, crab noodles, whole roasted fish, and grilled squid.

Our group of 5 wasn't particularly hungry since this was an early lunch and we'd all had breakfast that morning, so I thought we ordered reasonably light with 3 appetizers, 2 mains, and 2 bites (and of course dessert), but it turned out to be more than we needed.  Portion sizes were actually great - not giant restaurant sized portions, but also not the dainty portions more standard for highly rated places.  It was very easy for us to share everything.

I asked to have the meal coursed out, and the server acted like I shouldn't have needed to say anything like that, saying he'd separate it into a few rounds, starting with apps.  Which did happen ... kinda.  Our first two apps hit the table at 12:07, followed by the final app at 12:09.  That was all fine.  But, 5 minutes later, everything else arrived, before we had even come close to finishing the apps.  Our table became a disaster as servers kept showing up with more to pile on.  I expect better pacing from most restaurants, let alone a Michelin starred establishment.

Apps

The appetizers were the section of the menu I was most excited for.  6 items, of which we ordered half, but honestly, I would have gladly tried any of them.  We skipped the stir-fried baby bok choy because it sounded ordinary, the nam tok beans because I was worried they might be too spicy for the group, and the khao kan jin because no one was excited about blood sausage.

Appetizers arrived all at once, one minute after our drinks.
Som Tum Papaya Salad. $10. 
"Spicy chili+lime+fish sauce dressing, green beans, cherry tomatoes, dried shrimp, peanuts."

To make sure we had some vegetables, and something fresh, I ordered the papaya salad.  I was amused that the menu read: "Som Tum Papaya Salad".  Other items were either listed with the thai names, or a silly english name (like "pretty hot wings"), but this went for both thai and english, and is probably the item least in need of translation.

Anyway.  This was very good papaya salad, and not a boring one.

The papaya was fresh and crisp, clearly shredded to order.  The dressing had some serious kick to it and a very high fish sauce level, which I thought was perfect.  Very intense flavors, balanced sweet and spicy, and a great way to start off the meal.

The portion was larger than it looks, in a very deep bowl.  We didn't finish it, and all liked it and had our fill.  The $10 price for a portion of this size was quite reasonable.  My second favorite savory dish.
Mushroom Hor Mok Terrine. $14.
"Curry mousse in-a-jar with mushrooms, crisp rice cakes."

The dish that Kin Khao is most known for is certainly the Mushroom Hor Mok Terrine.  I knew we had to order it, but, I was skeptical, assuming it was just famous because it is unique.  It is unique, but it is also very tasty, and worth the designation as a signature dish.

It comes as a jar of the mushroom curry mousse, with 6 rectangular rice cakes on the side to spread it on, with a tiny little spoon to serve.

The mousse is warm (temperature wise) and fluffy, with lots of chunks of mushroom inside, and a very interesting mix of curry spices, and even some kind of leaves.  So many flavors going on, I think some lemongrass, and certainly some heat, but all nicely balanced and pleasing.  I'm not sure what the white substance was on top, I think it was coconut cream, but, it didn't actually have a distinct flavor.

The rice cakes were super crispy, and a great vessel for the spread.  I appreciated their large size, making it easy to spread on plenty of mousse.

This was the crowd pleaser, favorite dish of everyone, including myself.  Recommended for sure.
Pretty Hot Wings. $12.
"Nam Pla fish sauce+garlic marinade, tamarind+Sriracha glaze."

For the others, I ordered the wings.  The order came with 4, and there were 5 of us, so our server thoughtfully asked if we wanted an extra added.  Since I didn't want one, I declined his offer, but appreciate it.

The others said the wings were good, but not particularly unique.  They all mentioned that they have had better wings elsewhere, but they were still the second favorite dish for two diners.

After the wings were brought out, we were provided with wet towels to clean our hands.  Those who ate the wings appreciated this, but, our table was totally full, and no one came to clear away the dirty towels.  Again, not quite Michelin star service here.

Sides

The sides section of the menu has three types of rice (white, sticky, brown), salted duck egg, chicken broth, and two dishes found on the "Bites" section of the dinner menu.  It is those items that I was eyeing, and ordered for the group.  All bites were reasonably priced at $4.
Spiced Peanuts. $4.
"Puya chili, arbol chili, kaffir lime leaves."

I'm a sucker for spiced nuts, and I knew these were on the menu, and planned to order to snack on while we waited for our other food.  The nuts ended up arriving with our mains though, which was an odd time to want to nibble on spiced nuts.  In fact ... lunch was probably a strange time to order them, but I think they'd be perfect with those aforementioned cocktails.

I did like the nuts, and the spicing was interesting.  My notes say, "crazy spices on here".   I couldn't quite pinpoint the spices, there was familiar flavors there, but I couldn't quite make sense of them.  The kafir lime leaves mixed in also added a lot of flavor.

I liked these, but, wished they were served earlier, wished they were served warm, and, uh, wished I had a cocktail to pair with them.  Not recommended as an order alongside your food.
House Pickles. $4.
I also expected the pickles to arrive earlier, but they too came with the mains.

The pickles were highly vinegary.  Too vinegary for my taste.  Our assortment had mostly onions and turnips, but also a few carrots, and one lone chunk of cauliflower.  No one seemed particularly thrilled by these, and all questioned why I ordered them.  Doh.  I like pickles normally, and whenever I eat at home, I always have a few of my mom's homemade pickles alongside my meal.

As a fellow diner summed it up, "they are just pickled vegetables".  We wouldn't get these again.

Mains

For mains, we had 7 choices, and opted to order only 2, because we went heavier on the apps and sides, and weren't extremely hungry.  We skipped the khao soi and five-spice duck noodle soup since soups didn't seem very shareable, and the crispy chicken sandwich for the same reason.  We also eliminated the Pinto Market Lunch because it contains rabbit meatballs, and I do not eat rabbit due to my past pets.  The final dish we eliminated was the posh salad, which actually sounded good with a peanut and coconut based dressing and crispy shallots and crunchy rice cakes, and it was definitely my next choice, if we needed one more dish.

The mains arrived right with the sides, while we still had a table full of appetizers.  Minus one point, certainly not Michelin star pacing.
Yaowaraj Noodle. $19.
"Bangkok Chinatown stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp, XO sauce (dried scallop + dried shrimp + dried ham), egg, green onions, cilantro."

This noodle dish reminded me of pad se ew.  Thick rice noodles, decently stir fried, in a dark-ish sauce, with bits of egg.  The shrimp were really nicely prepared, not rubbery.  Overall, this was fine, good, but not noteworthy.  I'm not sure what more I was expecting, maybe a bit more flavor, particularly given the very flavorful appetizers.

I did not like the clear sauce on the side, I found it too tart.  I'm not sure what it was, I think vinegar based?  I lamented my decision to pour it on before trying it, rookie mistake.

One diner was not impressed, saying, it "could be quite a bit better".  I can't point at anything in particular that would be better, besides a bit more flavor I guess.  My third favorite savory dish.

A vegan version of this dish is also available, with tofu instead of shrimp, and a shiitake XO sauce.
Khao Mun Gai. $17.
"Chicken fat rice (yes, that’s what we said), ginger-poached chicken, Pim’s secret sauce, served with a cup of chicken broth."

Chicken fat rice sounds exciting, but, this dish was not.  Which ... is exactly what all Yelp reviewers had said.  Everyone said it was bland.  Everyone said not to get it.  But I did anyway.

The rice was glistening, in an oily way, so we concluded that there must be some chicken fat in there, but, it just tasted like plain white rice.

The chicken itself was just poached chicken, very boring.  I can't evaluate the chicken broth, nor the role it should play in the dish, because one diner picked it up, and promptly dropped it, as it was crazy hot and didn't have a handle or anything.  I know how hot it was, because it landed all over me.  No servers seemed to notice that our table, and I, were covered in chicken broth, but at least we still had the wet cloths from the wings at the table to use to kinda mop stuff up.

As for the secret sauce, that was quite tasty, and I wanted to coat many things with it.  It seemed to be peanut sauce based perhaps?  We all enjoyed the sauce, but the others felt that even it wasn't enough to add enough interest to the boring chicken and rice.

This dish was universally disliked, and noted as not just the least favorite, but, an actual flop.  For once dear Yelpers, we completely agreed.

Dessert

And finally, my favorite part of the meal: dessert!

At lunch, they have only one dessert, put it is a pudding, which happens to be one of my favorite things, so I didn't mind (to be fair, at dinner, they only have two, the same one we had at lunch, and buttermilk soft serve ... which, obviously, I really wanted to try too!)

They do not offer American style coffee, only Thai iced coffee, and only caffeinated, which made me sad.
Black Rice Pudding.
"Warm coconut+black rice pudding, served with burnt coconut sugar caramel, salty coconut cream, puffed rice+peanut+sesame praline, all on the side. Think of it as a make-it-yourself Thai Sundae."

So, the one dessert? A DIY black rice pudding sundae kit!  I was so excited for this, as I love puddings, and I love mixing up "perfect" bites.  This had my name written all over it.

The black rice pudding was served hot.  It had a good consistency, the rice was well cooked, but it was very bland on its own.  Of course, that is intentional, as the sides were there for you to make it as sweet or salty as you preferred.  For those who don't like sweet desserts, but like to share with those who do, this is a great compromise.

On the side was a sweet coconut caramel, which I used plenty of, and added the perfect sweetness I was looking for.  The salty coconut cream was my favorite, after getting accustomed to salty thai desserts in Sydney at Chat Thai, this didn't scare me away at all, and I loaded mine up.  Sweet and salty? Check!

The final topping is the crispy element I appreciated, a mix of crispy puffed rice, sesame seeds, and bits of nut praline.  I also used tons of this, and loved the sweetness, flavors, and crunch it provided.

Overall, I thought this was a very fun, very creative dessert.  I did find myself wanting just one more element to it though.  It had all the flavors I wanted, sweet and salty, and nearly all the textures I wanted with the crunchy topping, but I wanted one other element inside the pudding, perhaps corn or palm kernels?  One other diner suggested it should have some tapioca.  Really, I wanted it to be like the desserts from Chat Thai, as odd as those were to me at first, I've grown to love strange Thai desserts.  This walks an approachable line for most diners though, so, perhaps pushing it further would not be successful.

We ordered two of the puddings for the table, and were provided individual bowls and spoons to consume it.  We had a tiny bit left over, which I brought home, and consumed later cold.  It was also tasty cold.  Which brings me to my last "not quite Michelin service" story.  When I asked to have a bowl/box to take it home in, I was provided a cardboard bowl with lid for the rice pudding (great!), a paper bag to carry it out in (thanks!), and ... 5 small plastic containers for the toppings.  Separate containers for the toppings is great so the crunchy element doesn't get soggy, but, why 5 when I had 3 toppings?  But more amusingly, I was provided only one plastic lid, so, even if I wanted to use more than 1 of the plastic containers, I couldn't.  I tried to get the attention of someone, but, after seeing how frantic all the staff were, I realized it wasn't worth it, and just added the liquid toppings in with the rice, and left the crispy topping separate.
Kin Khao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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