Monday, December 04, 2023

Panera: The Cookies

Update Review, August 2023

I no longer live near a Panera (pandemic casualty in SF), so I don't frequently encounter their goods.  However, I recently attended an event in New York with Panera catering, and got the opportunity to re-try a few cookies, even though I had never loved them before.  The verdict?  Yup, still don't love these.
Candy Cookie. $2.99.
"Freshly baked sugar cookie topped with semi-sweet chocolate candies."

Big meh to this cookie.  Not as soft as I'd like, not a great chew, pretty boring base (not really buttery as I'd like), and even the off brand M&Ms weren't particularly good.  Not my style of cookie at all. *+.
Oatmeal Raisin with Berries. $2.99.
"A chewy oatmeal raisin cookie with sweetened, dried cranberries and infused, dried strawberries and blueberries."

I've had this cookie before, and didn't find it all that compelling, but, my appreciation of cookies has grown in the past few years, so I gave it another try.  I again appreciated that it was nicely soft, and that it used more interesting dried fruit than just raisins (cranberries, strawberries, blueberries), but, it wasn't actually a particularly good cookie.  Sure, it had a nice chew to it, and was well baked, but, it wasn't as buttery nor sugary as I'd like, and although it had oats, it certainly isn't actually a healthy cookie.  Eh.  ***.  
Petite Chocolate Chipper. $6.69/12.
"12 mini versions of our Chocolate Chipper cookie, freshly baked and made with semi-sweet chocolate chunks & milk chocolate flakes."

Well, this is not a good cookie.  Yes, fairly soft, and yes, nice chunks in it, but, the base flavor wasn't particularly buttery or sweet, or notable in any way.  It tasted highly processed, and not particularly fresh.  Meh. **.

Update Review, January 2018

I've reviewed nearly all the Panera cookies before, but there was one more left to try.
Coconut Macaroon. $1.09.
"A coconut, chocolatey craving satisfied in two bites. A traditional small coconut macaroon with the bottom dipped in chocolate."

One day, I used Panera's Rapid Pickup option to make an order from my phone earlier in the day, with a pickup time set to when I'd be nearby and could just swing in to grab my bagel thin, intended to be used to make melts for dinner.  But when I arrived ... no bagel thins.  In fact, they were entirely sold out of bagels.  Doh.  It turns out that when you pre-order, it doesn't actually pull it from inventory.

To make up for this, Panera offered me any pastry item I wanted.  No pastry item was going to be a substitute for my dinner melts, so I used it as an opportunity to just try something new.  The one type of cookie we had never tried before: coconut macaroons.

The macaron was ... pretty much a standard macaroon.  Soft, shredded sweet coconut.  Nothing particularly notable about it.  The dark chocolate it was dipped in however was quite good, really dark, smooth, flavorful chocolate.  I was impressed with the chocolate.

The macaroons turn out to be one of the cheapest items sold at Panera ($1.09 at my store), and, one of the lowest calorie.  By a shocking amount.  A single macaroon is only 140 calories, compared to Panera standard fare of the 440 calorie lemon drop cookie (or even worse, the 800 calorie Kitchen Sink cookie!), the 720 calorie pecan rolls, 550 calorie cinnamon crunch scones, 580 calorie pumpkin muffins, 540 calorie bear claws, etc.

So, if you like coconut, and want a little sweet treat, this one is not a bad idea.

Original Review, March 2017

As I've said many times, I don't really like cookies.  But, Panera often adds freebies to my account in the form of pastries, and I've never liked most of the baked goods there (aka, the muffinsthe coffee cake and danishes, and most of the scones), so, I finally ventured out to try most of their cookies over the past year or so.

The cookie lineup changes every so often, but always features their signature Chocolate Chipper (available in a petite size as well), a classic shortbread, and some seasonal version of an iced and decorated shortbread.  Other than those, they seem to introduce new cookies a few times a year, trying to find some crowd pleasers.  I'd like to note, they don't ever have peanut butter cookies, which would be my top choices!

Anyway, for the most part, I expected to try the cookies, take some notes, and hand over to a cookie-loving friend.  I was pleasantly surprised that I genuinely liked a couple of them.
Oatmeal Raisin with Berries Cookie. $2.39.
"A chewy oatmeal raisin cookie with sweetened, dried cranberries and infused, dried strawberries and blueberries."

Every once in a while, I actually like oatmeal cookies, particularly soft ones, and particularly when they miraculously aren't oatmeal raisin.  I hate raisins, and I'm so grumpy they have taken over the oatmeal cookie market!  Why!

Anyway, this looked like a big, soft, butter cookie, with oatmeal, and NOT raisins!  Score.

The verdict?  It was ... fine.  It was actually quite soft, which I appreciated.  And it did have a decent distribution of bits of dried cranberries, strawberries, and blueberries, decidedly NOT raisins.  But it wasn't particularly buttery or interesting in any way.  I gladly handed it off, and wouldn't want another.
Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookie. $2.19.
"Almonds and a fruity hint of raspberry jam and powdered sugar. A perfect little treat. An almond butter cookie with a thumbprint of raspberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar."

I really liked this.  It was buttery and crumbly, with little bits of almond inside.  The powdered sugar added a nice touch of sweetness, and the raspberry jam in the center tasted fresh and wasn't too gooey or sweet.

A shockingly good cookie, and I'd gladly eat another.
Giant Cookie Box.
On one visit, there was a huge, I mean, huge, cookie on the shelf, unlabelled.  I asked what it was, and the worker told me it is the "kitchen sink" cookie.  It seemed to have everything in it, and sounded interesting, but it wasn't eligible for my freebie.  I didn't get it then, but I couldn't help but notice it every time I visited.  I had to finally get it, as ridiculous as it was.

It was too big for any of the normal pastry bags, so, he put it into a giant box.
Kitchen Sink Cookie. $4.39.
"A salty, chocolatey, caramel confection big enough to share. A large cookie with semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel pieces, pretzels & finished with flake salt."

They aren't kidding when they say this is "big enough to share".

I looked it up later online, and, I kid you not, it has 800 calories (and 43 grams of fat!).  In a cookie.  Yes, compare that to their "petite chocolate chippers" with 100 calories, or even the regular chocolate chipper with 380 calories, and you'll realize the scale I'm talking about here.  This is a monster.

And he wasn't kidding when he said it had everything in it.  While chocolate (both semi-sweet and milk) flakes were certainly the dominant visual item, the caramel actually dominated the flavor, super sweet, and plentiful, infused into nearly every bite.  The chocolate helped balance the sweet though, and the large flakes of salt on top complimented it nicely.

It was a crispy cookie, but mostly in a caramelized way from the toffee bits, rather than a cooked too long way.  I don't normally like crispy cookies, but it worked here, since it was so caramelized.

I didn't find any bits of pretzel in mine, which was a bit disappointing.  Perhaps they were chopped finely and I just didn't notice?  Another ingredient would be nice, but, I don't think was actually necessary given everything else in it, so I didn't mind too much.

The cost of $4.39 sounds a bit insane, for a cookie, at a place like Panera.  This isn't a fancy bakery, this is Panera, selling a nearly $5 cookie.  It is twice the price of any other cookie they sell, because, well, it is more than twice the size.  There is a reason it isn't eligible for the free pastry award!

I'm glad I tried it, but I probably wouldn't get another, just because, well, still a cookie.
Jack-O-Lantern Cookie.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, pumpkin-shaped shortbread cookie decorated with icing to look like a jack-o-lantern."

I have a memory of really liking Panera shortbreads years ago.  And what is better than a shortbread?  A decorated shortbread!  Panera seems to always have a seasonal shortbread, I recall seeing Easter Eggs around Easter, tulips and daises in the Spring, flip flops in the summer, mittens in the winter, etc.

The astute reader will realize that this is called a Jack-O-Lantern cookie, and the website shows a cookie with a face on it.  Mine had no such face.  I guess the decorators were lazy that day?  All cookies in the store were faceless.  Pumpkin, yes, Jack-O-Lantern, no.

I wasn't very good.  The icing layer was too thick and just sweet, the cookie itself was crumbly, too soft, sugary, and didn't really seem that buttery, the defining characteristic of a shortbread.  And ... this was the shocking part, it was 450 calories!  In a SINGLE COOKIE!  Besides their plain shortbread (only 380), all the other cookies are also over 400 calories.  I know Panera certainly isn't a healthy place, but it is a bit hard to believe that a cookie can rack up those stats.  Definitely not worth it.

$2.49 price for a large cookie I guess was fine, and they are only 99 cents if you get a meal.
Chocolate Chipper Cookie. $2.19.
"A traditional favorite, freshly baked and made with semisweet chocolate chips."

I got this for Ojan, who does actually like cookies.  It looked like exactly the sort of cookie I wouldn't like.  On the rare cases where I like a cookie, it is soft and gooey.  This looked hard and crispy.  Not my style.

Of course though, I tried a bite.  It was actually loaded up with tiny chocolate chips, far more than it looked like.  The bottom view would have revealed just how loaded it was.  The chips were tiny though, so, you didn't really get a deep chocolate flavor.

And it was indeed crispy, and quite thin.  Highly unremarkable.  It also tasted very unhealthy, but not in a good buttery way.  Believe me, I'm all for a decadent dessert, the more butter and cream the better, but this just tasted ... unhealthy.  Highly processed.  I don't know how else to better describe it.

I was curious, so I looked it up when I got home, and saw that this cookie, the single, thin, not actually large cookie, was 440 calories.  I don't really understand.  I wouldn't get this again, obviously.
Candy Cookie. $2.49.
"Freshly baked sugar cookie topped with colorful milk chocolate candies."

Another giant, hard, crispy cookie, another Ojan request.  And ... yup, a hard, crisp cookie, not particularly good, just a plain cookie.  He described it as "halfway between a shortbread and a sugar cookie".  The little tiny milk chocolate candies were basically just small M&Ms in spring colors, very milky milk chocolate.  Ojan liked the candy bits, but wasn't really into the cookie itself.  I didn't like anything about it.

[ No Photo ]
Gluten-Conscious Triple Chocolate Cookie with Walnuts. $2.69.

"A freshly baked flourless chocolate cookie with a soft, brownie-like texture, made with chocolate chunks, white chocolate chunks and walnuts."

This seems like a crazy choice for me.  I don't like cookies.  I'm not a chocolate lover.  And gluten-free baked goods are rarely impressive.  But, literally every time I visited Panera, I couldn't look past these.  They looked so good.

So finally, I got one.  And failed to photo.  Sigh.

It was a deep, dark chocolate cookie, with generous size chunks of both white and milk chocolate and walnuts.  The texture was soft, as they described, kinda brownie-like, except it was a cookie, and still had a crisp exterior.  A bit hard to explain really.  I liked that.

The flavor was also good, chocolately, fudgy.  I loved the sweetness from the big white chocolate chunks (I know, I know, but I like white chocolate!) and the crunch from the walnuts.

It is described as "gluten-conscious" which I think is because it is not baked in a gluten-free environment.  It does not contain wheat flour, nor, any flour.  I'm still a bit confused by that part honestly.  The first ingredient is ... powdered sugar?  I'm still not entirely sure how it holds together, but, it works out just fine.

For a cookie, this was really quite enjoyable and I'd get it again.
Panera Bread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Short Stop Donuts, Sydney

Donuts.  Glorious donuts.  I eat a lot of donuts.  Usually at least once a week.  Fueled by the fact that my work group has a donut rotation, where someone brings in donuts every week.  Even when I travel for work, my donut eating tends to continue, as most of my other offices have the same kind of donut rotation.  Let's just say, we take our donuts seriously, and I have a lot of comparison points.

When I was recently in Sydney, my donut eating ways continued.  This time, I got a check out a donut shop there that had been on my list for a while: Short Stop Donuts.  They have two locations in Sydney, and one in Melbourne.  

"Countless hours of research, experimentation and refinement have gone into every mouthful and we think you’ll love what we have to share."

Short Stop sells coffee and donuts, and nothing else.  They do not make any gluten-free nor vegan donuts.  That does not mean their donuts are plain or boring.  The flavor lineup is generally quite interesting, e.g. for cake donuts there is the earl grey & rose or triple matcha, raised options are maple walnut brown butter or a seasonal eggnog and candied pecan star shaped, and decadent filled options include dark chocolate glazed and peanut butter filled, passion fruit filled and brulee topped or Fluffernutter filled (!!!), and even ones with torched meringue on top.  

Thanksgiving Flavors.
In addition to their regular, already interesting donut lineup, for one day only, on Thanksgiving, Short Stop offered Thanksgiving 5 pie inspired flavors: lemon meringue, apple, and pumpkin of course, plus sweet potato pie and chocolate cherry pudding pie, and, to round out the seasonal offerings, a standard donut just coated in pumpkin spice.

I really wanted to try all the pie ones, but also tried to have good manners and let others get their fill, so I only tried 3.  I give Short Stop major kudos for celebrating an American holiday in this way.
Lemon Meringue. $7.
"A light & fluffy ball of fried dough is filled with a tangy lemon curd, topped with a coconut meringue and freshly torched."

I didn't try the lemon meringue as it is my least favorite of the pie lineup.  The torched meringue on top was pretty stunning though.  This is actually on their regular menu, available on Sundays only.
Apple Pie.
I also skipped the apple pie, topped with caramel and crumble.  My co-worker gave it a rave review, and I tried to go back to get a hunk, but alas, they were all gone.
Chocolate Cherry Pudding Pie.
The first one I tried was the chocolate cherry pudding pie.  Not the most traditional Thanksgiving pie, but, I was drawn in by the chocolate pudding.

The donut itself was fairly unremarkable.  Raised, a touch greasy, not particularly lofty nor otherwise notable.  Inside was mild chocolate pudding filling, and whole stewed cherries.  Fluffy whipped cream on top.  The chocolate glaze was a bit cloying sweet, more sugar than deep chocolate flavor, even though it looked deep.

Overall, a fairly boring base, tasty enough pudding, cherries, and whipped cream, but not something I'd get again.  ***.
Pumpkin Pie.
Next up, classic pumpkin pie.  Which clearly others were excited for as well, as there was only two hunks left when I got to it.  

It had a caramel glaze, pumpkin-ish filling, and bits of pecan on top for crunch.  The donut base itself was also mildly pumpkin spiced, a light orange raised donut.  The caramel was sweet and tasty, and I like pecans, but besides the mild pumpkin spicing in the donut base, I didn't get a very strong pumpkin pie vibe from this.  I still am not entirely sure what the filling was, it wasn't pumpkin cream, but it also wasn't a pumpkin custard like you'd find in a pie.  It was also a bit too orange to be natural.  The donut base was also a touch greasy.

So overall, mostly a let down.  Even the mild pumpkin spice to the base wasn't appealing to me, the filing I wanted more from, and the donut itself was ho-hum.  At least I liked the toppings?  ***.
Sweet Potato Pie.
And lastly, the one I was most excited for, the sweet potato pie.  Far less common than pumpkin, but one I adore.  It came topped with a bit of meringue, not a full covering like the lemon meringue.

The donut base wasn't orange hued like the pumpkin one, but it did seem to have a bit of seasonal spicing.  I again didn't really love the base.  But the other bits of this were a major hit for me.

The filling was sweet potato mash pudding.  It was creamy, smooth, lightly sweet, far more flavorful than the pumpkin pie one.  It got even better from there, with the glaze, that reminded me to the core of my grandmother's butterscotch pie.  With the creamy sweet potato filling and this glaze together, the two combined to really, really remind me of her butterscotch pie filling.  And then .... the meringue, which, incidentally, is how my grandmother finished her butterscotch pie too.  This was a very sweet style of fluffy meringue, and much like the lemon meringue pie donut, it was beautifully torched.  

The fillings/toppings to this donut ate very very sweet.  The meringue was extremely sweet, as was the glaze, and even the filling.  I adored the flavors and textures, but, wow, it was sweet.  I wanted fresh blackberries, or a tart style froyo, to pair with it to cut the sweet a touch.  

My favorite of the donuts, no question, but, I would have been happier with just a bowl of the pudding filling with the toppings.  ***+.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Citroën, Brooklyn

This summer, I had the opportunity to live in Brooklyn for a month.  I enjoyed many elements of the experience; the weather was certainly a high point for me, but so was the food.  New York has no shortage of restaurants to pick from, all cuisines, all styles, all price points, obviously, but I also enjoyed checking out local places near where I was staying in Greenpoint too.  Which lead me to Citroën.

"We are a neighborhood French Bistro created and run by Hospitality Veterans. We are driven by fresh, seasonal market ingredients and a passion for Hospitality."

Citroën isn't a big flashy place helmed by a famous chef, but it is clearly a local darling, and I see why.  I really enjoyed both my food and drinks, and would return again in a heartbeat.


Citroën is located on a fairly lively section of Manhattan Ave in Brooklyn.  They have both indoor and abundant outdoor seating.  I didn't actually dine in, but I did walk by to check it out later.  It looked adorable. 
Outdoor Seating.
Unlike most simple parklets, Citroën really went all out with their outside seating.  Elaborate wooden structures, abundant plants, real furniture.  It looks incredibly welcoming.
Private Tents!
For a more rustic setting, you can opt for a private tent.

I think I love the idea of the little tents.  Presumably nice in the evening to shut the screens and prevent mosquitoes, while still allowing air flow?  Seems potentially very annoying for servers however if they need to zip/unzip while carrying food and plates ...


Citroën has an impressive cocktail lineup, choices with all types of spirits, some trendy like the "Disco Nap" with butterfly pea tea-infused gin, or the kinda fun sounding "Moral Standing is Lying Down" with brulee banana-infused bourbon, rum, salted maple, and tiki bitters, with spins on classics, slushy drinks, and more.  They also have interesting sounding mocktails, and a decent size wine by the glass menu.  And, best of all, all are available for takeout.

I had both wine and a cocktail, and was quite pleased wtih the quality, and packaging, of both.
Glass of Les Jamelles Malbec, $11.
First up, I tried the cheapest red wine on the menu, a malbec.

This was a nice wine.  Not too much acid nor tanin.  Generous pour for the price, well packaged in a sealed bottle, and bonus points for including a plastic cup to drink it from. ***+.

I could also opt for a 2 person serving for $10 more.
Rye, Rye My Darlin. $14.
"Our spin on an old fashioned served on draft rye, Montenegro, demerara, and orange."

I also ordered a cocktail, and was even more impressed with the takeout experience.  Again, well packaged, and they included a cup on the side, with large ice cubes, and all the garnishes, even the skull topped skewer.  Bonus points for this.

The cocktail was very good - strongly boozy, which I was looking for.  A nice old fashioned.  The $14 price was completely reasonable for a quality cocktail.  ****.


Citroën is a relatively classic French restaurant, with some local and seasonal elements.  The menu is broken down into Starters & Salads, Entrees (which all come with specific sides), a la carte sides, and of course dessert.  I went only for a starter and side, although the entrees did sound good, as I had some proteins left to finish up at home. If I had been dining in, I certainly would have opted for dessert. 


The starters lineup at Citroën contains all the French classics you'd expect: french onion soup, escargot, steak tartare, foie gras, etc, along with local items like East coast oysters, and some basics like crudite, charcuterie, a cheese plate.  I zeroed in on the foie gras, as we see it rarely in California these days.  I was also drawn by the grilled octopus, having had excellent grilled octopus from The Rusty Face (also in Brooklyn) a few days prior.  Salads, baked artichokes, and risotto round out the lineup.
Foie Gras Mousse. $21.
"Blackberry Jam, Crostini."

Ah, foie gras.  In mousse form.  Swoon.

Well, this was very good.  The mousse was full of flavor, lots of liver flavor but no funk.  It was perfectly creamy, so smooth, not a grainy bit to be found.  Really, about as good of a foie gras mousse as I've 'ever had.  ****+.

The blackberry compote on top was a nice pairing.  Lightly sweet and fruity, a touch more sophisticated than more standard pairings.  Deep rich flavor that complimented the mousse well, and balanced it out beautifully.  ****+.

It came with a very generous serving of crostini (only a handful are pictured here, it was a fairly full bag).  They too were above average - nicely toasted, but not so crisp it hurt the inside of your mouth to bite into them.  Notable for me, NOT sourdough.  Sure, I'd prefer something a touch more interesting than plain crostini, but, these were executed well  ***+,

Overall, this dish delivered in every element, and went together quite well.  I added some fresh blackberries to a few bites since I had some in my fridge, and that was lovely too.  The portion was quite generous (great to share as an appetizer really), and solid value at $21.  I'd get this again in a heartbeat.


All of the entrees include 1-2 specific sides each, but you can also order from a selection a la carte.  Sides include your usual carby suspects: mashed potatoes/potato puree, fries/pomme frites, mac and cheese (with or without shrimp), and some vegetables: sauteed spinach or mushrooms, "spring vegetables", ratatouille, or their very well regarded cauliflower gratin (that normally comes with the grilled branzino entree). 

After reading so many raving reviews of the cauliflower gratin, I had to get it.
Cauliflower Gratin. $14.
When you read reviews of Citroën, nearly every person who ordered the branzino mentions how glorious the cauliflower gratin is.  They like the fish of course, but, they rave about the gratin that is served alongside.  It was hard to ignore the accolades, literally, not a single mention of it being "meh".  I was already thinking of it, when a few days after I had started researching Citroën, my office served cauliflower gratin as part of a French themed menu.  It was not particularly good.  It left me craving a good version.   And thus, I ordered from Citroën.

Well, this was very good too.  It did not necessarily look great: a big block, and looked a bit greasy from being takeout and having sorta cooled, but it was still delicious.  It was delicious lukewarm, it was delicious once I heated it back up in the toaster oven to make it crispy again on top, and it was even delicious cold as leftovers the next day.  The cauliflower was a mix of pieces sliced like potatoes would be in a gratin, and chopped bits, rather than big hunks as I had expected.  The cauliflower was layered with plenty of cream and cheese, making it delightfully rich and decadent, but the fact that it was actually cauliflower kept it from being way too heavy (although, clearly not a light dish!).  The cauliflower was well cooked, not too soggy, not too firm.  It was incredibly flavorful with the cheese, and well seasoned.  Very very good, probably the best cauliflower gratin I've ever had, not that I've had all that many.  ****+.

The portion looked a bit small at first but, it could easily be shared with two people, or, as I had it, have one portion warm with dinner, and one cold the next day sorta like potato salad, but, cauliflower.  I'd gladly get it again if craving this.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

United Polaris Lounge, SFO

Update Review, November 2023

It had been a few months since I last visited the SFO Polaris lounge.  For the most part, the experience was unchanged - the main dining area and bar was insanely crowded, the sit down dining room had a wait > 1 hour for a table, and the back room and downstairs were peaceful and fairly empty.

The food lineup actually looked much better than previous visits, in terms of being fairly fresh and frequently replenished, and being things that I actually kinda wanted.  Sadly, the quality was low, and everything tasted remarkably ... well, basic.
Snack Jars.
When I arrived, I made a beeline for the back "secret" area, where I knew they kept jars of snacks and candy.  The lineup changes frequently, but always includes savory things and sweets, and generally is reasonable quality.

The lineup this visit was gummy bears, apricots, wasabi peas, and chocolate covered animal crackers.  I was sad to see no decadent drizzled popcorn this time.

The gummy bears were average, I didn't try the apricots.  Wasabi peas were decent, nice level of coating on them, good crunch, not stale.  The chocolate covered animal crackers were fine I guess, but I'm never that excited for animal crackers.  I would have greatly preferred the chocolate drizzled caramel corn they had my last visit, or even chocolate covered pretzels.  ***+ all around.
More snacks.
They also had gummy peach rings and watermelon, both coated in sugar.  Both had a good chew, weren't dried out or hard.  Regular candy store quality.  ***+.  
Chips & Salsa.
This area also had a fairly sad looking chips & salsa station, more limited than even the regular United Club version.
Chocolate Chip Cookies.
And some token chocolate chip cookies.
Shrimp & Cod Ciopinno
I made my way out to the main hot bar next, and was pleasantly surprised to see a seafood option.  A very SF option, ciopinno.   Now, I don't really care for tomato based seafood dishes, but, I like shrimp and cod, so I gave it a try.

The shrimp were a good size, fairly juicy, properly cleaned.  The fish was very firm and dried out.  But I really didn't care for the extremely basic tomato based sauce, it truly tasted like it came from a can. **+.
"Chicken Pie".
"Mushroom, leek, potato, parsley."

Even though I don't care for chicken, I was very excited to see the fresh pot pie brought out.  Even if I didn't want the chicken, I surely wanted the pastry, the cream sauce, and the other things inside.

But ... this was really not good.  The pastry top was soft and soggy.  The chicken was dark meat, fatty, and scrawny.  The menu mentioned the mushroom, which was minimal, and mentioned leek that I never found.  The bits of potato were tiny cubes, and there was also peas that weren't listed.  Not sure about the listed parsley either, seems like probably they were supposed to sprinkle that on top as a garnish?  As for the cream sauce I was hoping for, alas, it was thin, greasy, and watery.

Sadly, nothing about this was decent.  *.
Roasted Fall Squash.
"Cinnamon, honey, pepitas."

I also was fairly drawn in by the roasted fall squash.  It was a fresh batch too, and looked quite vibrant, a variety of winter squashes.  But ... it was lukewarm, too soft, and just not very good.  I didn't taste the honey or cinnamon listed, but I didn't mind that fact.  The pepitas added some crunch at least.  **.
Farro Mushroom Pilaf.
I did not try the farro pilaf.
Ramen Station.
Nor the ramen station.
Salad bar.
The salad bar was fine, with mixed greens or spinach for a base, and a variety of toppings, including more pepitas.
Salad bar.
I tried the premade salad too, which was a kale ceasar with pretty out of season poor quality tomatoes. It was nicely dressed though, crisp, and otherwise good.  The squash here was equally not very good, like the hot version.  I did like the mushrooms.

Overall, you could make a decent salad, and I enjoyed the kale ceasar with added mushrooms.  ***.
I did not try either of the sandwiches, hoisin ginger chicken or vegetarian roasted zucchini.
Olives, Pickles, Charcuterie.
The cheese platter was never refilled, and just had some dried fruit left behind on it.  No fresh fruit, which I was hoping for, because I knew I wouldn't be able to eat the fruit on the flight, and hoped to snag some here.  They usually at least have grapes.

I did have a pickle spear, it was generic and fine.  I skipped the pepperoni and salami meats.  I did really like the savory crackers, they have a nice seasoning and salt level.  There was also graham crackers, which seemed a bit odd.
And finally, the desserts, something I always try, even though they are generally never any good.  

Apple Oatmeal Crisp:
Ok, so, this looked mildly promising.  It had whipped cream after all, right?  It actually was reasonably ok.  Small cubes of slightly too soft apples, raisins, light spicing.  Some kinda mushy oatmeal crisp topping.  Overall, not offensive, although it was very sweet.  The whipped cream was good. ***.

I'd seen the donuts on previous visits, but never tried them.  Two varieties, both cake style, one with white icing, one with chocolate.  I didn't try last time, but this time, I grabbed one to have alongside my breakfast, as I knew my United flight breakfast would let me down.

I really, really did not like it.  Yes, it was kinda a cake style donut, but, well, it just didn't taste like a donut?  I don't think they were fried.  Certainly not fresh.  The white glaze was just cloying sweet.  Did not like. *.

Chocolate Pudding:
Ok, so years ago I swore off the puddings in the Polaris lounge because they were always so bad, but, I really love pudding, and they didn't have them for several years, so I hoped there would be an improvement.  Well, there wasn't.  The consistency was fine, but, it tasted like generic packaged plastic-y pudding.  At least it had a little whipped cream on top, and a small wafer cookie that was better suited for banana pudding.  This was so remarkably elementary school lunch or hospital cafeteria quality it was surprising really.  **.

When these ran out, they were replaced with pound cake later on.

Update Review, Feb 2023

I recently flew to Sydney, and had nearly 2.5 hours before my flight at SFO (traffic was light, bag drop had no lines, TSA Pre-check was fast, etc).  I was planning to have enough time to actually dine at the sit-down full service dining room within the lounge, and have a less stressful dash to the airport.  This plan worked until I arrived in the lounge.  It was packed, and without a seat anywhere, even in the main buffet area.  And the wait for the dining room was, well, ridiculous.
Dining Room Menu.
The Polaris lounge is always crowded these days.  Everyone seems to know that.  The dining room is woefully understaffed.  Everyone seems to know that too.  But I still tried.  I arrived at 5:20pm and was told it was a 1.5 hour wait to be seated, and they required 45 minutes before boarding time to dine.  I still put my name down, since I was there that ridiculously early, and they texted me about an hour later when a table was ready.

I was still around, with plenty of time, so I went to be seated.  I was seated after a few minutes of waiting for anyone to notice me at the stand.  And then ... I waited.  And waited.  It took nearly 15 minutes before a server acknowledged me.  There seemed to be one server only for the whole dining room.  She came over, took out a notepad, and asked what I'd like.  I ordered the spring roll, and was told ... they were out of it.  It was the only thing I actually wanted, sigh, so I left.
Seared Pork Loin.
The hot buffet had several protein options, the pork loin didn't look that bad actually, but I didn't try it.
Dakjjim Chicken.
Token chicken dish.
Aloo Gobi.
Vegetarian main was aloo gobi.  The aloo gobi seemed to be 95% cauliflower.
Corn Chowder.
I did try the corn chowder, and it wasn't bad.  Cubes of potatoes, other small veg, corn.  Very creamy, reasonably well seasoned.  Sered at a good temperature, actually warm.  Not amazing, but not bad.  ***.
Salad Bar.
Same salad bar bases as previous visits.
Salad Bar.
I did try the roast "winter squash" and it was fine, not particularly interesting.

This area also had two kinds of pre-made sandwiches, that I failed to get a photo of.
Cheese, Dried Fruit, Pickles, Olives.
I liked the herb crackers (not pictured) to go with the cheeses.  I didn't try the cheeses.  These were a touch nicer than the versions in the regular United Club.

The pickle was a fairly boring generic grocery store quality spear (sorry, I grew up in a pickling family, so these things are just ... well, not my thing).
Salami, Pepperoni.
Only sliced hard salami and pepperoni were available for cold cuts.
Pound Cake & Sauces.
The boring pound cake was not interesting to me, but I did appreciate that they had a trio of sauces to jazz it up: caramel, chocolate, or berry compote.
Donuts, Cannoli, Lemon Squares.
The rest of the dessert lineup was donuts, cannoli, and lemon squares.  No cookies nor brownies here, those seem to be just on offer in the United Club instead.

I tried the cannoli.  The shell was soft and not crisp, and it was poorly filled.  The filling was not particularly good.  Not a good cannoli.  **.
The real excitement for me was ... the snack and candy jars were back!  Way in the back quiet room, jars and jars of goodies.  Dried fruit (apricots, pineapple rings, mango slices), candy (Swedish fish, M&Ms), savory snacks (flavored chickpeas, Gardettos), and ... CHOCOLATE COVERED CARAMEL CORN!

I was pretty thrilled.

The Garnettos mix was pretty average, mostly pretzels (twists and sticks), with a few rye chips and breadstick things.  The lemon pepper chickpeas were nicely crunchy, and something different from nuts, and a nice protein choice. M&Ms were M&Ms.  The Swedish fish were sadly rock hard ... which I could tell as soon as I tried to use the tongs to pick them up.  They were like Jolly Ranchers.

And then, the popcorn!  If you've read my blog on a Friday ever, you know how much I love popcorn of all kinds.  I was beyond thrilled to see this.  It was not particularly amazing, but it was still sweet caramel corn with chocolate drizzle, and that made me a happy girl.

Overall, nothing actually high quality or amazing, but this assortment did make me pretty happy.  ***.
Two kinds of scones (cinnamon, blueberry) were also randomly in the area with the snacks.

I tried a cinnamon scone.  It was fine.  A sorta soft style, but good amount of cinnamon and kinda crumbly, did not taste stale.  Probably much better warm, and/or with whipped cream. ***.

Update Reviews - 2022

In May 2022, I cruised through the Polaris lounge for the first time post-pandemic, while en route to Munich, and although I was glad to see it open again, it was a big let down.  Gone were the candy jars, the snack mixes, and really anything I wanted from the dining room menu.  The space was still nice, but, otherwise, it offered me nothing (hmm, does this sum up United Polaris entirely?).

I thought the lineup would be the same just a few months later in August, but much was different - the buffet had entirely new hot dishes, the dining room menu had a few updates, and at least one snack mix came back.  I didn't find anything to actually be good though, and definitely don't recommend planning on this to be a tasty meal (eat at home, or on your flight, or out in the terminal, and you'll be happier).

Salad Bar Bases.
I planned to eat a salad in the lounge, but the greens were very wilted and sad.  
Salad Bar Veggies.
The veggies to add to salads looked more interesting than average, but, the shredded carrots were dried out, the tomatoes were mealy, and the roast mushrooms, a nice mix of assorted wild mushrooms, didn't really have any flavor.

Salad, sadly, **.
I didn't try a pre-made sandwich, but they did look slightly more premium than those found in the United Club.
Cheese / Crackers / Charcuterie.
The cheese/charcuterie/fruit/crackers station is also a touch nicer than in the United Club, with slices of each instead of little cubes, but nothing was particularly high quality.

I tried the grapes, they were refreshing, and I appreciated having them.  The strawberries were extremely sour and under ripe.  The pickle spears were generic and fine.

This section also had 4 kinds of crackers, wasabi peas, and Chex mix.
I made my own custom snack mix with wasabi peas and the Chex mix.  Both were fairly average quality, but, I love snack mixes, so I appreciated that these were back (earlier in post-Covid reopening they did away with all the snacks).  I still wish the snack jars would come back though, with honey mustard pretzels, and tons of candy!

Desserts: Chocolate Olive Oil Cake / Pound Cake with Berries.
On the dessert front, the awful little pudding pots are gone, but, in their place is just pound cakes.  I didn't try either.  I'll give them a point for the berry sauce drizzled on the pound cake, although really I wished there was some on the side I could use with other things.
Lobster Corn Bisque.
From the hot buffet, the bisque actually called out to me.  I've had some pretty decent clam chowder in airline lounges, and somehow, I hoped the lobster bisque would be decent.

I should have known better.

This was very thick, rich, but not particularly tasty.  No seasoning.  Not really sure where the corn was, and I didn't really taste seafood either.

Basically ... thick and rich, but no real flavor to it.  **.
Lemon Garlic Pork Tenderloin.
I didn't try the pork.
Asian chicken stew - lemongrass, turmeric, coconut.
But did take a sample of the chicken stew.

The flavor of this wasn't bad, basically a Thai curry, but, I don't like chicken, so I only took the sauce. **+.
Cavatappi Pasta.
I tried a bite of pasta.  It had a cream sauce, artichoke, peas.

It was not particularly flavorful.  The previous tubes with garlic sauce were better. **.
Rice / Green Beans.
The green beans were labelled as bok choy.  The rice looked dried out.  I avoid both.
Dining Room Menu.
The dining room menu finally changed!  

Since the Polaris lounge re-opened after Covid, they have had the same menu.  No changes from reopening through Aug 1.  

I was tempted to get the shrimp cake, but my memory of the previous, greasy, oily version kept me away.  The pea soup also sounded interesting, with creme fraiche and crispy shallots, but, the lobster bisque in the buffet was so meh I decided to pass.

I did however want a dessert.  The warm skillet cookie was out (sadly, chocolate chip and this was a late departure so I was avoiding caffeine), and the budino was still citrus (lemon now, but not my thing), but I was eager to order the final choice: egg custard.

However, the dining room was full (or, full of dirty tables not being bussed), the wait list was long, and they let me know they wouldn't be able to seat me before they closed in an hour.  The space was definitely short staffed.  When I mentioned "Oh, I just wanted dessert", the host actually took pity on me, asked what I wanted, and put in my order.  He told me to stick around, so he could hand it off to me, and said it really wasn't allowed.  Thank you, kind sir!
Egg custard / whipped cream, coconut shavings.
I wish I could say it was worth his trouble.

The egg custard turned out to be a tart.  I was expecting something more like a pudding, a creme brulee, or something, given the dish title "egg custard".  Ok, that is fine ... but, the tart shell was burnt, definitely very over cooked.  The custard was kinda curdled, the texture horrible.  The whipped cream was from a can and was fine I guess?  I scraped it off and ate it with the sour strawberries from the buffet.

Such a letdown.  *.

Update Reviews - January, October, November 2019 Visits

I've reviewed it before.  You know how I feel about it.  The space is lovely.  It is spacious.  It is not over crowded.  It is well designed.  It really is a fantastic space.

But "Julie's Space Club" this is not, and the food ... yeah, that is not where the United Polaris SFO lounge shines.  In any way.

January 2019 Visit

Yeah, lovely place to hang out, but the actual dining, from snacks to buffets to a la carte, and even the drinks, just really do not do it for me.

It really is a lovely space though.
Since I found the cocktails quite unbalanced last time, this time I went simple, opting for wine.  I have randomly been kinda into chardonnay, particularly buttery chardonnay, so I selected this.

I didn't like it.  Harsh, acidic.  

Since I knew I'd be drinking on my upcoming Air New Zealand flight, and I do actually like their wines usually, I didn't bother trying something else.
Snacks: Jelly Beans, M&M, Honey Mustard Pretzels, Pretzel Sticks
Dried Fruit/Nuts/Seeds (lower floor). 
The downstairs snack station had a selection of jars of snacks, both sweet and savory.

I had no interest in the plain pretzel sticks or M&Ms, but tried the others.

The honey mustard pretzels were ok, I liked the coating, but, they are thin style pretzel twists, not particularly thrilling.

The gummy bears, also ok, but a chewer style than I like.   

The dried fruit/nut/seed mix had ... everything in it.  I appreciated the brazil nuts, but everything else was fairly standard, and there were far too many raisins, cranberries, and sunflower seeds for my taste.
Sweet Snacks: Jelly Beans / Skittles / Hard Candies
(upper floor - Studio).
Upstairs, in the far back room (The Studio), was more snack jars.  Here the candy selection included Jelly Belly jelly beans in assorted varieties, Skittles, and assorted hard candies.
Savory Snacks: Mixed Nuts, Dried Fruit & Nuts, Pub Mix,
 Honey Mustard Pretzels, Pretzel Sticks. (upper floor - Studio)
This section had savories as well, including the same pretzels and mixed nuts/fruit/seeds as downstairs, plus an additional nut mix (just salted mixed nuts) and a pub mix with all sorts of goodies, including rice crackers and sesame sticks.
Roasted Vegetable Salad / English pea and ham salad.
"Butternut squash, pepita seeds, frisee, cranberry-Champagne vinaigrette."

Composed salads are actually my favorite part of salad bars, and they had some that looked decent.  Key word: "looked".

The "roasted vegetable salad" included exactly one type of roast vegetable: butternut squash, which I love, except, it was severely under cooked.  Hard still.  The dressing was sweet, and the entire thing was over dressed and soggy.  Too bad, as it sounded quite good, I like frisee, and the pepita seeds should add a nice crunch.

I disliked the pea salad last time, but I liked the pearl onions, so I snagged some of them again.  Alas, this time they were flavorless, not well roasted.
Orzo Salad / Panzanella Salad.
"Wild mushrooms, herb dressing."

I tried the orzo salad, mostly because I like wild mushrooms, but they were lost among the way, way, way overcooked mushy orzo.  Not good.
Cheese Platter?
This area is supposed to have cheese, and it even had a sign advertising the cheeses of the day (brie, etc), but alas, it had crackers, pickled onions and spreads, and some salami and pepperoni instead.  The lounge really did not do a good job of keeping things stocked.
Bistro Turkey Sandwich / Provolone, Cranberry Aioli, Rosemary Loaf.
I call it boredom, or perhaps sight of flavored aioli (which I love!), that made me try this.

Soggy stale bread.  Aioli that literally tasted like mayo and nothing else.  Why oh why did I bother try this?  Not sure what was "bistro" about it.
Mediterranean Spinach Wrap.
At least I had enough sense not to try the wrap too.
Penne / Garlic Bread.
Moving on to the hot foods.

The pasta looked horrible, dried out, and just penne in a beef tomato sauce.  I'll give them points for the grated parmesan, herbs, and peppers on the side.

I did not try this.

The other entree choice, usually fried chicken I think, was missing, the sign flipped over, and it was never replenished during my hour stay.
Roasted Vegetables.
"Parsnips, potato, carrot, eggplant, squash, zucchini, fennel."

The hot side dishes were cous cous and roasted veggies.  Neither looked good.
Egg Drop Soup.
The noodle bar that was there on my previous visit was replaced with just egg drop soup, never a favorite of mine, but I tried a bite, mostly because I wanted to add toppings.  It was ... egg drop soup.
Soup Toppings: Straw mushrooms / Cabbage.
At least soup toppings were still available.  This station also had chives and crispy wontons, which were missing when I took the photo, but were replenished.

I tried the toppings, they were fine, but without a soup base I wanted, not particularly useful.
Turtle Brownie Bites / Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies.
The dessert lineup had changed from my prior visit. 

I skipped the brownies and cookies.  I believe both plates of brownies were the same, even though one was labelled as blueberry triffle, which it clearly was not.
I love puddings, but since I was not thrilled with the coconut rice pudding last time I was in the lounge, I approached these with a bit of apprehension.  Still, I was glad to see two options, and either were repeats from before.

I tried both, and hated, really, truly hated, them both.
Tapioca Pudding.
First, the tapioca pudding, topped with completely unripe, unappealing strawberries.  Minus one point.

The pudding had a strange flavor, bland yet offensive at the same time.  I guess it was creamy, but the tapioca were kinda too soft and mushy.

Moving on.
Deconstructed Vanilla Cheesecake / Berry compote, graham cracker crust.
This. Was. Horrible.

I honestly didn't understand how they made this taste so bad.  Every. Single.  Element. Horrible.  Truly, horrible.

The base was just a huge, huge pile of graham cracker crumb.  Way too thick . It tasted like cardboard, just, sand like.  Horrible.

But the cheesecake itself was the worst part.  Thick, gloopy.  It tasted like cream cheese ... and nothing else.  Horrible texture, and who wants to eat a mouth full of cream cheese>

The berry compote did not help anything, as it somehow too was no good, seemingly frozen berries, just brought back to room temp.

I tried a few bites of this, not really believing that it could possibly taste as bad as it did, but, alas, it was awful.

October 2019 Visit

After many months, I returned to the Polaris lounge.  I'd like to say that my opinion has changed, but ... it hasn't.

The space really is fabulous.  It is huge, and never crowded.  The bathrooms clean, spacious, and stocked with quality products.

The menus for both the buffet and the a la carte, and the snacks, changed since my previous visits, but ... again, opinion remains the same: the buffet food is fairly awful, the restaurant food *looks* good but is mediocre, and the desserts and drinks are horrible.
The snack stations are in the same place, the back, totally deserted rooms on both floors.

Trail mix, wasabi peas, and a snack mix with rice crackers/nuts/sesame sticks, along with plain pretzels, were all the lower floor had to offer.  Upstairs, the same trail mix, wasabi peas, and snack mix, but at least the pretzels there were honey mustard.  No candy as before.

I took some nuts and dried fruit from the snack mix to add to my ice cream sundae on board.  None were very good though, even though as I always I was drawn in by what looked like a good line up: brazil nuts! Papaya!  Oh well.

The snack mix was my favorite of the items, decent stuff, lots of goodies in it, lots of textures.  Nothing I'd ever purchase, but it wasn't awful.  

The honey mustard pretzels were rather stale and ... sticky?
Hot and Cold Buffets.
On one side of the buffet is the cold lineup: still the same basic salad bar (*very* basic, even the United Club has more to offer for ingredients), cheese, salami, and crackers, pre-made sandwiches, and a trio of salads.

I tried two of the salads, a flavorless Asian style one with way too much edamame, and a broccoli bacon slaw that was mediocre, at least it had mayo and bacon.

I tried all three cheeses - swiss, gouda, and what I imagine was cheddar.  All were fairly flavorless.

Nothing interesting here.

On the hot side, all new items, and ... they certainly didn't look good.

"Garden vegetable penne pasta" that honestly looked worse than elementary school cafeteria food, short rib beef bourguignon swimming in oil, unlabeled roasted chunks of what looked like carrots and potatoes, breaded sesame teriyaki chicken that looked actually decent, but the veggies were soft and the sauce flavorless, and unlabeled wild rice.  The soup was onion.
Dessert: Tangerine Cheesecake Cups.
And finally, the desserts, now only one item to offer, another deconstructed cheesecake, this time dubbed "Tangerine cheesecake cups".  Not that I liked the cannoli, rice pudding, cookies, or anything else they ever had, but a single offering was kinda lame.

Um .... yeah.  These were as bad as all the previous desserts.  And the ratio was totally out of whack, the little cup was >50% graham cracker crumb!

The graham cracker crumb layer was just very fine crumb.  No binder, no chunks, not a crumble, just, pulverized graham cracker, and tons of it.  I used it as a topping on ice cream later, which was fine, but really, this was a lot of crumb.

And the cheesecake?  Just a thick layer of ... slightly sweetened cream cheese.  Definitely not cheesecake.  No consistency of note.  Bo-ring.  It had no tangerine flavor either, the "tangerine" seemed to just the slice on top.  Meh.
Dining Room Menu.
And with that, I went into the main dining room to try my luck there, where they had a all new menu, launched Oct 1 (my visit was just 8 days into the menu being offered, so the staff were fairly unfamiliar with it).

Besides the burger, everything seemed different from previous menus.

I usually go for the small plates, but nothing there called out: chicken wings (I don't like chicken), shrimp skewers (meh, shrimp is so often rubbery or poorly cleaned), polenta cakes (yay! oh, but goat cheese - boo), and caprese bruschetta (on sourdough, another thing I loath).  Really, not the menu for me.

Luckily the mains fared better.  I've still never had the signature Polaris burger and fries, and was tempted by the pesto cheese tortellini (with asparagus!), but the entree salad is where my attention fairly quickly gravitated: Cobb salad, with blue crab!  I love crab! {LINK}.

The dessert lineup sounded *fabulous* ... if I wanted caffeine.  Both non-cheese options were chocolate.  Doh.  But I did love the sound of the dark and white chocolate mousse trifle, and the chocolate chip skillet cookie, served warm, with ice cream ... swoon.
Blue Crab Cobb Salad (no avocado, dressing on the side, add side aioli).
Since I'm allergic to avocado, and I assumed the Cobb salad would have it, I asked to have that left off, which was accommodated.  I also asked for the dressing on the side in case it was not my style, or, over dressed.  And since the dressing was an herb vinaigrette, and I'm all about creamy dressing, I asked to have some aioli from the burger on the side.  My server definitely questioned this, but it was done with no problem.

The other toppings were crumbled bacon, sliced of hard boiled egg, and halves of little tomatoes.  The bacon was good, not greasy really, and a size much bigger than bits, but smaller than chopped up pieces.  I wasn't in the mood for bacon really, but, this was good bacon.  I didn't try the hard boiled egg.  The tomato was not good, not flavorful, not really ripe.

The salad base was just shredded iceberg, but, I like iceberg, it was juicy and fresh enough, and a fine base, although I'd prefer larger chunks.

And finally, the crab.  This was the SFO lounge, so I was surprised to see blue crab, rather than Dungeness offered.  The portion was reasonable, and it was decent.  Not fishy, no shells, nothing negative about it.  Not amazing or anything, but not bad.

The dressing, as I expected, wasn't particularly interesting.  Just an herb vinaigrette.  But the aioli?  It was fantastic!  I wasn't expecting it to be garlic aioli, but it was, and the garlic was quite strong.  I loved it.  I bet it would be a great dip for fries too, even if I didn't get the burger, I'm sure I could get the fries and aioli only.

I composed my perfect little salad out of this - the iceberg base, some bacon (but not all of it), all the crab, some wasabi peas and sesame sticks from the snack mix for more crunch, and a mix of herb viniagrette and garlic aioli, and truly enjoyed my salad.  I'd do this again, but I think that Napa Farms Market out in the terminal likely has some better options (see reviews).
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream / Orange Blossom White Chocolate Sauce.
For dessert, I didn't get the warm skillet cookie, since it was double chocolate, and that would have caffeine, but, I still wanted something other than the awful "cheesecake" from the buffet.  So I asked just for the ice cream and sauce, which was delivered with no problem.

The ice cream was ... fine?  It was just vanilla ice cream, not special really.  Slightly melty.  It was fine.  That is about all there is to say about it.

But the little ramekin of orange blossom white chocolate sauce?  Highlight of the meal!  Really.  It was thick, not really a "sauce", but I think that with the warm skillet cookie it likely melts in?  And I didn't care that it was thick, it was delicious.  I didn't taste orange blossom necessarily, but it was creamy, had a lovely sweet white chocolate flavor, and a subtlety to it that enhanced it greatly.  It was wonderful, really.

I made my own ice cream creation out of the vanilla ice cream, the white chocolate sauce, and the graham crumble from the buffet "cheesecake cups", plus the rainbow sprinkles and whipped cream I came prepared with, and really did enjoy it ...

November 2019 Visit

Just a month later, I was back, this time before a Singapore Airlines flight.

A few things actually *had* changed, but overall?  My impression was still the same.  Great space, horrible food, yay jars of goodies.
New Candy Lineup.
Many of the jars now had new items.  Gone was the snack mix.  Gone was ... anything healthy, really.  

The wasabi peas were not a style I liked, too harsh.  The yogurt pretzels were fine but boring.  I didn't try the M&Ms, Skittles, or what looked like chocolate covered raisins.

The star though?  Gummy raspberries and blackberries!  I love these things, and although these were a bit dried out, a bit hard, I still loved them.
Boston Cream Pie Puddings.
The pudding cup of the day was Boston Cream Pie.

I had a tiny bit of hope, but I'm not sure why.  They never make good puddings.

And this was the same.  Soft soggy crumble top.  Gloopy, really not tasty, "cream" layer that tasted like it came from a can.  Thick chocolate pudding base, that somehow had no flavor.

I don't understand why all the pudding cups are just not ... good.
Mini Cheesecakes.
A new addition to the menu, little mini cheesecakes, assorted flavors.
Toppings included one with a white topping (I think it was supposed to be some kind of cream top? But it had no distinct flavor), one with chocolate chips, one with a chocolate blob, one with almonds, and one with ... dried fruit?

I tried a few, and they were actually fine.  Not amazing or anything, but creamy and rich enough.  Better than any other desserts offered.
Also a new addition, that I didn't try, mini macaroons, assorted flavors.  I hate macaroons though, so I didn't bother try.
And the final new offering, baklava.

This I had real hope for, as baklava has a good self life, and I figured this really might be ok, likely purchased frozen.

It was fairly meh though, the walnuts inside quite bitter.  It would do if I really needed something, but it certainly wasn't very good.

Original Review, August 2018

I don't fly United.  Full stop.

But I do fly with their partner, Air New Zealand.  Which gave me the chance to check out the brand new United Polaris Lounge at SFO. It was quite the upgrade from the United Club, but that is not a very high bar.
It Looked Good at Least?
This is the flagship, premium product from United.  And ... well, it matches my feels on United in general.  The staff do seem to care, and try, but, I don't really have anything else positive to say, besides that the space is lovely.

The Space

The lounge is huge.  2 floors.  Gorgeous.  Tranquil.  Well designed.  Oddly empty.

They really restrict access, and that is nice, I guess, but it felt really desolate and quite strange.

My visit was on a Tuesday evening, 6:45pm-9pm.
The lounge is easy to find, right past security, inviting sign to come in.
Ground Floor: Library.
You enter in the bottom floor, which was quite literally entirely empty when I arrived.

This section had a lovely library, with book shelves and pretty chairs.
Ground Floor: Arm Desks.
The next section had these individual cubby desks, each with power (yes, USB too), and little lamps.  This seating style is also available upstairs.
Ground Floor: Window Seats.
More seating is alongside the windows, another style, more lamps, more power.
Ground Floor: Drinks.
At the back of this area was a small drink station, with coffee and hot water for tea, plus water.  Given the level of non-occupancy, I can guess this was not particularly fresh.
Ground Floor: Snack Station.
Self-serve basic soft drinks, oranges, and wasabi mix rounded out the food and drink offerings for this floor.

Shower suites and bathrooms are also on this floor, I failed to take photos, but they were large and looked nice.
Upper Floor: Hallway.
The escalator leads to the upper floor, where most of the interesting space is.  This area at least had some people.

First up though?  A long hallway, with nothing really in it.  It added to the cavernous desolate felling quite a bit.
Upper Floor: Seating.
I ventured down that hall, but it was clear no one else did.  It had more seating similar to downstairs.  And no people.  Literally.  No people.
Upper Floor: Snack Station.
At the very back was another sad looking snack station, again with wasabi peas and water, and this time, honey mustard pretzels.  None of this was labelled, but I could tell the pretzels had a powder on them, and tried one just to see.  The salty coating was nice.
Upper Floor: Seating towards Bar & Dining.
In the other direction, the hallway eventually leads to a bar, buffet, and dining room, with various types of seating found along the way.
Upper Floor: Bar.
The bar was easy to spot, illuminated by blue, and clearly a focal point.  It had bar seating with high stools, and yes, power.  And a special cocktail menu.  No food or snacks.
Upper Floor: Buffet Dining Tables.
Next comes tables for eating at, if you choose to dine at the buffet.  More on that soon.

The Food: Buffet

The simple option for dining is the buffet.  The ... very sad buffet.  Particularly for vegetarians, who had no hot main, no sandwich, and seemingly only a few salad choices.
Bulgogi Style Beef and Rice.
First up, "hot" foods.  I say "hot" because they are certainly items one would expect hot, but they weren't on warmers, or under heat lamps, or replenished often as no one was there, so, I doubt they were?

But to be fair, I didn't try this horrible looking beef, with some clearly neglected rice on the side.
Lemon chicken scallopini. 
The other hot option?  Chicken, coated in some kind of crust.  It said "lemon chicken scallopini".  I most certainly did not try this.

Warning vegetarians: No vegetarian hot main available.
Noodle Bar.
Things get slightly more interesting with a DIY Noodle Bar.  Bowls of noodles were available for you to add toppings and broth to.  I did not try the noodles.
Noodle Bar: Toppings.
The toppings were at least interesting: crispy wontons, green onion, kimchee, tea leaf eggs, cilantro, and fried garlic.  These were even labelled!  On the side, asian sauces and sesame seeds.

I tried the crispy wontons and crispy garlic, along with sambal.  They were standard, fine.  Something to munch on.
Noodle Bar: Broth.
The final step for DIY noodles is to add the broth.  I didn't try it.

And that ended the warm offerings.
The other side of the buffet is the cold items, starting with pre-made salads.

Only one of these items was labelled, and it just said "pasta salad" anyway.

The others seemed to be a grain based salad, a mayo based pea salad, and tomato and mozzarella.

I tried the pasta salad.  It was mushy.  It was oily.  The veggies were nothing special inside.

I also tried the pea salad.  It had bits of ham, egg, and roasted pearl onions.  And obviously mayo.  The peas were cooked fine, and I did like the pearl onion, but this was nothing special.

Nothing worth eating here.  And to be fair, I do like deli salads quite a bit, and often find them the highlight of lounges, like the Qantas Business lounge in Sydney .
Green Salad.
And then, the salad bar, to assemble your own.

One type of base (mixed greens), and only 6 toppings: carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, croutons, and red peppers.  How ... extensive.
Chicken Salad Sandwiches.
Next up? Sandwiches.

The sign said "chicken salad sandwiches", so I think these were all the same.  On croissants.  I didn't try.
Salami and Cheese (?) Sandwiches.
The second sandwiches were not labelled, but, I could see salami, cheese, and a creamy spread.

Warning vegetarians: no vegetarian sandwich available.

I skipped all this originally, but after a disappointing snack in the a la carte Dining Room, I came back and grabbed one, hoping the spread, cheese, and charcuterie inside would be good.

They weren't.

The bread was hard and stale, the spread flavorless, and the salami and cheese quite generic.
Ok, now we were talking!  Dessert time! 

This section had a pudding, cookies, two types of brownies, and cannoli.  The cookies, and second type of brownies, were not labelled.
Coconut rice pudding and pineapple brulee.
Ok, I was excited for this.  So excited I failed to take a reasonable photo it appears.  Blame the lighting?

I love pudding!

This .. wasn't great.  It wasn't bad, but, it wasn't actually good either.

Fairly creamy rice pudding, but quite flavorless.  The caramelized pineapple on top was ... fine?  Again, not that great.  And then, coconut.  Fine.

So, all fine, but nothing particularly good.
Matcha Green Tea Cannoli.
I don't eat caffeine in the evening, and this had both matcha and chocolate chips, but, I still wanted to try it.  I wasn't thrilled with the other options.

The cannoli shell was horrible.  It was soft and kinda soggy.

The filling, also not good.  Gritty and strange.

I moved on to a cookie.  I didn't take a photo.  Because really, when do I like cookies?

I wouldn't say I *liked* this cookie, but it was the best of the trio of desserts.  It was ... a fig cookie?  It had exactly one tiny bit of fig in it.  Otherwise, just a sugar cookie.  It had tons of sugar on top.  It was sweet and buttery.  Like I said, best of the bunch, but, that wasn't a high bar.

The Food: The Dining Room

The dining room is a full service, a la carte restaurant.  I've been to several similar concepts, like the Qantas First lounge in Sydney (which, is incredible, and honestly features some of the best food I've had in Sydney).  The Qantas First lounge in Los Angeles (good, but not quite the same level as Sydney).  The Cathay Pacific Wing in Hong Kong.  A bunch of British Airways lounges in London, like the Galleries First Lounge, and of course, the Concorde Room (for breakfast, for lunch - eh, nicely plated but mediocre).

Those dining rooms impress.  This one ... did not.
Dining Room Entrance.
"Wait to be seated" sums it up.  I waited.  And waited.  The staff acknowledged me, but, they seemed kinda overwhelmed with basic service, like, clearing empty tables and seating new guests.  Or, um, providing silverware and napkins to seated diners who repeatedly asked for them (my neighbor).  Or, dealing with loud obnoxious people screaming at their kids across the dining room (??)
The menu lists both the lunch and breakfast options, so I got a preview of it all.  I wished I was there for breakfast - mango pudding! Hot cinnamon rolls! Brulee oats!  Although, chances any of it would be good?

The breakfast menu:

  • Tropical mango pudding with fruit and coconut granola
  • Fresh hot cinnamon roll with pecan streusel and berries
  • Steel-cut brulee oats with a caramelized layer and fresh berries
  • Deconstructed lox and bagel with cream cheese. smoked salmon, capers, red onions and cucumbers
  • Traditional Chinese congee with tea egg. dried shrimp, green onions, cilantro, wonton, soy sauce and sambal
  • Three-egg omelet with choice of tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, onions, peppers, ham, bacon, cheddar and Swiss
  • Silver dollar pancakes Plain or blueberry – served with Vermont maple syrup
But I was there for dinner, which is the same menu as lunch:

  • Crispy shrimp cake with sweet’n sour sauce
  • Wedge Cobb salad with bacon, blue cheese and herbed dressing
  • Chef’s daily soup seasonally inspired, classically prepared
  • Chicken katsu bento box vegetable egg roll, jasmine rice and a sunomono salad
  • Hand-cut pappardelle pasta with mushroom ragout and shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Cioppino with traditional seafood
  • United Polaris Burger with cheddar. lettuce. tomato, pickled vegetables, garlic aioli, bacon. fried egg and house-made chips
  • Tiramisu espresso cup made with illy coffee
  • Cheese plate with grapes and crackers
  • Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and Ghirardelli Chocolate sauce
I went for just a small plate, since I wanted to also check out the buffet, and would be having a full meal on the flight anyway. Nothing from the entrees particularly called out at me anyway (meh, chicken, eh pasta, and how good would their cioppino or burger really be?).  I'm glad I skipped all this after seeing the quality of everything else.

The desserts all had caffeine, which I avoid in the evenings, so I also skipped those, and opted for buffet selections for dessert.
Sparkling Water and Smoky Negroni.
"Smokey Negroni, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Carnpari house made vermouth and orange bitters with a dehydrated orange garnish."

There were many cocktails on the menu that sounded great (the Polaris Old Fashioned, the Paper Plane, and the Cloud Cover were all top contenders!), but I went for the negroni.  It is my kinda standard pre-flight drink.

I didn't like it.

It was decently smoky.  But ... besides that, not balanced at all.  Harsh.  Meh.  I heard others complaining about the bloody mary, asking for more tabasco, and finding out nothing could be adjusted as it was a mix.

The full cocktail menu, for the curious:

Signatures of the Sky
  • United Polaris Star: Star anise-infused vodka, Dolin Blanc and Dolin Dry garnished with a single star anise
  • The Paper Plane: Oolong-steeped bourbon, jasmine honey Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, Aperol, chamomile honey arid lemon garnished with a paper plane
  • Cloud Cover: Aviation Gin, grapefruit liqueur and fresh lime juice with lemon twist
  • United Polaris Old Fashioned: Rieger’ss Kansas City Whiskey, house simple syrup. San Francisco Bitters, Company Reception Bitters with a fresh orange wheel and Luxardo cherry
Traveler's Favorites
  • High Altitude Bloody Mary: Star anise-infused and house made bloody mary mix with fresh pepper, sea salt, olive and celery garnish
  • Ginger Scotsman: This playful version of the classic Penicillin combines Balvenie DoubleWood, ginger beer, chamomile honey, lemon and a mist of Ardbeg 10 Year
  • Lavender Lift: Riondo Blu Prosecco, Belvedere Vodka, lavender and lemon essence with a lavender garnish
  • Smokey Negroni: Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Carnpari house made vermouth and orange bitters with a dehydrated orange garnish
  • Mai Tai: Cana White Rum. Crusoe Spiced Rum, fresh orange and pineapple juice, and Amaro Nonino with a dehydrated orange wheel and a cherry
  • Pisco Punch: Pisco Porton, pineapple juice and lime garnished with a pineapple spear.
Migration by Duckhorn, Pinot Noir, Russian River, California 2014.
"Complex aromas of rich earth and rose petals with abundant cherry pie, strawberry and a touch of sweet oak."

I moved on to wine.  I asked for just a taste to start.  I'm glad I did.

This I did not like.  I'm glad I asked for a small small glass.  Very very tannic.  Not for me.  I decided to just wait until I boarded my flight, as Air New Zealand usually has decent wine.
Small Plate: Crispy shrimp cake with sweet’n sour sauce.
 I was blown away when I saw the dish.  It looked great!  The table next to me even commented on it.

Sadly, it didn't live up to the looks.

The shrimp cake was oily, soggy, not crisp.  The texture was really quite firm.  Not because it had large chunks of shrimp though.  It was just ... firm.  It had bits of onion and pepper inside.  It wasn't anything special, and again, kinda oily and soggy.

On top was a ton of slightly pickled cucumber and carrot.  Meh.

The sauce, while nicely plated, was not great either.  It looked like sweet chili sauce somewhat, and said sweet and sour, but, it wasn't any distinguishable flavor besides sweet.  Meh.

Overall, it certainly looked good, but I didn't enjoy it.