Friday, December 14, 2012

Plantain Chips from Turbana

I'm sitting on an airplane right now, snacking away.  What else is there to do?  Thus it seems fitting to post about one of my more recent snack food finds these days, plantain chips, from Turbana.

I think this is the only product they make, available in a slew of flavors.  They are all fairly starchy like a potato chip, but have a slightly more interesting texture and flavor.

  • Chili Lime: The lime flavor is interesting, but I don’t particularly like it.  I don’t really get much chili flavor, and I wonder how they compare to the plain lime or plain chili flavors they also make.  I want to like these, but don’t due to the strange lime.  Perhaps I needed a margarita or guac with these …
  • Lightly salted: Salty, starchy.  Not particularly great, but an interesting cross between a potato chip and a banana chip. ] [ More interesting than a standard potato chip, good when craving some salt. ] [ Not that salty, not that interesting, good dipped in stuff … like salsa or peanut butter ] [ I really like these dipped in peanut butter, sorta like the classic combo of bananas and peanut butter, in an easy snackable format ]
  • Sweet: Definitely sweet.  Almost too sweet.  You can taste the plantain though. [ Sweetness definitely strange, not a huge fan ] [ Very sweet, also good with peanut butter, but the salty ones were a better match with that ] [ Very sweet, seems strange to think of them as a chip since they are so sweet,  but I enjoy them more as a dessert. ]


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Donuts from Henry's Cafe and Deli

Whenever GoPago runs a promotion, I tend to wind up with ~$1 in remaining credits after my main purchase.  I have a new favorite way to spend them: donuts!

You may recall that I indulged in these a few months ago when Ojan had some leftover credits, and I got a donut from Rolling Pin.  I wasn't very satisfied with that donut, but mostly because I picked a kind I didn't want, due to limited availability.  I was determined to set out earlier in the day this time, for better selection.  Unfortunately, I didn't go early enough.  What time do you donut-eaters get up, anyway?

This time I went to Henry's Cafe and Deli, as their donuts get very good reviews.  I'm not sure where they source them from, I asked, but the woman did not know.  I had only three choices: a cruller, which after the Rolling Pin cruller didn't sound all that appealing, a chocolate covered donut, and a glazed donut.  Hmm, still not really my top choices.

Again, I loved using GoPago.  I walked in the door and was greeted by a friendly smile and by name.  I can't get over how great it feels to be warmly welcomed like this at a business I've never been to before.    So personal, and I got to feel like a regular!  I'll definitely go back another time, hopefully when the selection is larger.
Glazed Donut.  $1.
This was a pretty classic glazed donut.  It was big, puffy, fairly light.  It was perfectly glazed, a ridiculous sugar bomb.  Basically, exactly what you'd expect for a decent simple glazed donut.  It tasted too much like oil for my taste though.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lahore Karahi

I've been on a quest to find some indian food I like in San Francisco.  I've been to plenty of places that have been mediocre, but no where that I really find myself wanting to go back to.  So when I recently got some more GoPago credits, I decided to use them to gamble and try out another Indian place.

I decided on Lahore Karahi, a place with fantastic Yelp reviews ... until a few months ago.  I read that it was sold recently, and people are very unhappy with the new ownership.  But I still gave it a try, since I figured that some of the negativity was just people not dealing well with change.

It is a very small place in the Tenderloin, with a somewhat strange model.  Normally, you order at the register, but they bring the food out to you when it is ready.  They seemed to mostly do take-out, and have several online ordering systems, like GoPago, which I used.  I liked that they had a dine-in option available through GoPago.

This is not somewhere you go for decor or ambiance.  The tablecloths were all dirty, stained, and wrinkled.  They then had a plastic layer on top of them, so it seemed really strange that they were so dirty, given the protectors on top.

The staff weren't unfriendly exactly, but said very few words.  On one side of the room was an area with water and unlabeled carafes, with a big sign saying "Self Service".  Luckily, I'd read about this beforehand, so I knew that I could help myself to some hot chai, but I got the impression that no one would have told me about this otherwise.

Overall, it wasn't really good nor bad, just fairly unremarkable.  But, it was definitely the cheapest indian food I've had, and was a fantastic value for the money.  I'd consider going back, but wouldn't go out of my way for it, and will continue my quest to find somewhere I like more!
Chai.  Complimentary.
As I mentioned, there were some unlabeled carafes over on the side, with paper cups next to them.  They were filled with piping hot chai.  It was unsweetened, but there was also sugar you could add in to taste.  It wasn't really remarkable, very milky and barely tea flavored, and almost soapy tasting, but I liked having a nice hot drink, and the price sure was right!
Shahi Paneer.: Lightly fried cheese cooked with nuts in tomato sauce.  $7.99.
My shahi paneer arrived piping hot, within just a few minutes of my ordering.  It stayed incredibly hot the entire time I was eating, with steam continuing to rise from it, even when I was finished.

The sauce was very creamy, clearly made with a lot of heavy cream.  It was also glistening with oil.  A little too heavy for my taste, but I somewhat expected that.  It was pretty flavorful, with decent spicing, and large chunks of spices throughout, including whole leaves.

The paneer was a bit of a disappointment   It was mushy, kinda rubbery, and not really fried on the edges.  It did have a nice flavor however.

The portion size was generous, with a lot of paneer, far more than anywhere else I've been.  And for only $7.99 this was a really good value.  I'd consider getting this again, but it wasn't particularly remarkable.
Naan.  $1.
The naan was freshly made to order.  I saw it being kneaded out after I ordered.  It was actually a really nice size, smaller than many places, which I liked.  Slathered with some oil, and cut into quarters.

It was decent naan.  I wouldn't rave about it, but it was better than most.  Hot, fresh, fluffy, with a good char in a few places.  And only $1?  Very good value, and I'd love to try some of the other flavored/filled naan next time.
Kheer: Special rice cooked with milk and sugar, served cold with pistachios.  $2. 
And, time for dessert! The rice pudding wasn't anything special.  Tiny bits of rice, sweet milky base, some spicing, a few sliced nuts, and a total of 2 raisins in my entire portion.  I added cinnamon and blueberries to it when I got home, and enjoyed it much more.

This was a small little container, but just the right amount for one person, and not bad for $2.  I wish all restaurants offered up small little desserts like this!

Anyway, this wasn't bad, but it wasn't good.  I wouldn't get again.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


A few weeks ago, I went to an event at Tres, a casual "Tequila Lounge & Mexican Kitchen" in SOMA.  We sat in the bar area, and ordered off the bar menu for food and drinks (and, of course, since I was there, some desserts!).  I haven't been to many casual bars lately, so I don't have a lot of comparison points, but this was not a good experience.  My opinion may be also slightly skewed by the fact that they served me watermelon, which I'm deathly allergic to, and when questioned, told me it was persimmon.  Yikes! We weren't provided with any serving utensils, nor an adequate number of small plates.  The food was pretty bad, had no flavor, and was all very oily and fried.  On the upside, the bathroom was nice.  I see no reason to ever return.

I was there as part of a large group, and didn't feel like I could hold everyone back in order to take photos, so I apologize in advance for the poor photos.

Chips and salsa,  complimentary.
We were provided with a continuous stream of chips and salsa.  The chips were very generic, thin style, not warm, not salted.

The red salsa had a slight amount of heat to it, but not much.  The green was watery and not very flavorful.  This was all very unremarkable, but at least better than Nick's Crispy Tacos.
Calamares: Chile jalapeño, crispy onions, roasted jalapeño aioli.  $10.
Fried, battered calamari, red onion, and jalapeño, served in a iceberg lettuce leaf.  The calamari was mostly rings, with a few tentacles   It was pretty tender, and not fishy.  Better than most.  I liked the addition of the onion and jalapeño as well, basicallly fried onion strings and a tiny bit spicy jalapeños.  The best part was of course the jalapeño aioli.  Creamy, slightly spicy, pretty good.  My best bites of the night were the crispy onions dunked in the aioli.

No serving utensils were provided, which made for awkward grabbing of bits of calamari.  The serving vessel was an iceberg lettuce leaf.  For reals?  They still make that stuff?  I kinda doubt we were expected to eat it.

This was by far my favorite of the dishes of the night, and the only one I remotely enjoyed.  I'm not sure I'd order it again, and $10 seemed a tiny bit pricy given the portion size, but it wasn't bad.
Taquitoes Vegetarianos: Potato-filled & topped with chile poblano crema, lettuce & queso fresco.  $6.
Fried shells filled with mushy potato.  The filling had no flavor, and the shells were overly oily.

Also on the plate was some forgettable shredded iceberg lettuce, mild flavorless queso fresco, and the chile poblano creme, that was completely flavorless.  No idea where the chile poblano was!  The pico de gallo, not listed on the menu, was the best part.  Fairly fresh tasting tomato, with a bit of flavor.  And again, more iceberg.

I like fried, and I love mashed potatoes, but this just did nothing for me.  Meh.  My least favorite of the dishes.

I only got a photo of the edge of the dish, but I think there were 5? on the plate originally.  $6 was a good price for so many tacquitoes.
Papas Rellanas: potato croquettes filled with house chorizo, criolla salsa.  $8.50.
These were fried mashed potato balls, filled with chorizo.  The outside was crispy, but like the tacquitoes, overly oily, in a way that took over the flavor.  The potato, again like the tacquitoes, was just mushy and flavorless.  Even the chorizo was really lacking any flavor.  And what was with all the red onion on the plate?  Would anyone really just eat that much raw red onion?

Of the 5 savory dishes, this one ranked third for me.  I would not get it again.

There were two of these on the plate, but someone grabbed one before I could snap a photo.  $8.50 for two of these seemed pretty pricy.
Empanadas: epazote & cheese. $8.50.
These were perhaps the least flavorful dish of the night.  The dough was flavorless, at least this time, it didn't taste like oil like the rest of the shells.  The filling seemed to just be generic cheese, I didn't find any epazote.  There was seriously just nothing going on with these.  And again, a bunch more red onion garnish.

They also don't win any presentation points, although they were clearly trying.  The sauce was in the middle, the empanadas faned out, but they were totally off center.  If you are going to try to make things look good, please follow through!

Second to least favorite, would not get again.  $8.50 price for 3 seemed about fitting.
Queso fundido: red chorizo, chile anaheim, roasted corn.  $13.
Cheese with some slices of anaheim chile and corn kernels embedded in it.  There is normally chorizo, but I didn't find any, and I think we might have ordered this vegetarian to accomodate some vegetarians in the group.

It was hot and fresh, the cheese was enjoyable in the way that molton cheese is.  I found the very small amount of corn and chili annoying, and wished there was more of those components.  Maybe when it has chorizo in it that completes it better?

It was served with a side of tortillas, which I didn't get a photo of.  There were only a few tortillas, not nearly enough for all of the queso.  This was ok, as we had chips we could dip in it instead, but the ratio was definitely off.  The tortillas was warm, but unremarkable.

This was my second favorite dish, and was almost decent, but I would not get again. $13 seemed pretty pricy.
Churros con Chocolate: homemade churros, calle 23 reposado caramel sauce, mexican hot chocolate.  $7.
The churros were hot and fresh, but very doughy inside.  Coated with a decent amount of cinnamon and sugar.  The caramel dipping sauce was entirely flavorless.  It didn't taste like tequila or caramel or anything.  Maybe a little bit sweet.

On the side was a mug of mexican hot chocolate.  It had some slight cinnamon flavor, but was very watery, and not very chocolately.

$7 was a fine price for a dessert, but this wasn't very good, and I wouldn't get again.
Flan de Elote: caramel, blackberry, mexican wedding cookie.  $7.
You may notice that the description said "blackberry", as that is what the menu said, but there is no blackberry in this photo.  Instead, there is WATERMELON.  You may recall that I have a severe watermelon allergy.  Epi pen carrying severe.

Whenever I go to a restaurant, I always read the menus online first, to make sure there is no watermelon.  If there is any, I let them know when I make my reservations, and again when I'm seated, about my allergy.  I also scan the entire menu when I arrive to double check, and usually mention my allergy even if I don't see watermelon on the menu.  My allergy is severe to the point where using the same knife and cutting board would send me into anaphylaxis.

As always, I read the online menus.  I read the menus at the restaurant.  No watermelon.  And since it was a big group event, and in a bar area, I decided not to bother them with telling them about my allergy, it didn't seem worth the complication.

When this arrived, I had forgotten what the description said came on the side with the flan, besides the cookie.  I took a bite of the flan, and then skewered a piece of the fruit with my fork.  I couldn't quite tell what it was, as it was dark in the room, but it seemed very melon like.  Sirens went off in my head.  I pulled out the menu, and saw "blackberry" listed.  Clearly this was not blackberry.  More sirens went off.  I quickly called over our server, and she said "oh, yeah, they were out of berries, I think it is persimmon".  Persimmon would make sense, as it is peak persimmon season right now.  And it almost looked like persimmon, but even in the dim lighting, the color seemed off.  I told her about my allergy, and asked her to double check.  She came rushing back out a few minutes later, telling me that yes, it was watermelon.

AHHH!  This is the closest encounter I have had in years.  I even had a bite of flan off of this plate.  My throat did feel funny, but it never closed up.  I blame myself for not mentioning my allergy, but I was also pretty annoyed that they made that substitution, and that she told me it was persimmon when I asked.  I understand running out of ingredients and switching something else in, so I don't really blame the restaurant, but this was pretty scary.  She brought out a replacement without the melon.

The cookie was dry and flavorless.  The flan was pretty unremarkable, the caramel not very strong.  Meh.  Definitely not worth an ER visit.  $7 price was again decent for a dessert.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


It is no secret that I like frozen treats.  Ice cream, frozen yogurt, I enjoy them all.  A few weeks ago, I was shopping at Whole Foods, and ran into a station sampling Genuto, a local vegan gelato line.  It is nut based, has no dairy, and is loaded with probiotics.  The ingredient lists are impressively short.  The "Simply Pistachio" flavor lives up to its name, containing only water, pistachios, sugar, and salt.  That is it.  The other flavors are all made from cashews, almonds, water, sugar, and a few spices.

The woman giving the samples, one of the founders, was really friendly, and truly believed in her product.  If I needed to avoid dairy, I'd certainly consider these, as they were fairly creamy and flavorful.
  • Crystallized Ginger: Tasting notes: nice chunks of crystalized ginger throughout, fairly refreshing and light. [ Really good ginger flavor, large chunks of ginger, fairly refreshing.  Not very creamy though. ]
  • Madagascar Vanilla: Tasting notes: subtle vanilla flavor, decently creamy for nut based product.  I wish the vanilla flavor was stronger.
  • Chai Latte: Tasting notes: Chai flavor too subtle, meh.  Least favorite.
  • Chocolate Cardamon: Tasting notes: Good cardamon flavor, chocolate not very intense, fairly creamy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crab Night @ Camino!

[ Originally posted January 16, 2012.  Moving to blog in anticipation of crab season! ]

Every Monday night in January, Camino in Oakland does a special crab night.  For $34, you get a starter, half a roast crab, sides, and dessert.  $12 more gets you a full crab.   The starter, sides, and desserts change weekly, but the roast crab is always the star.  We went last year, and couldn't wait to return this year.  With so many fantastic restaurants in San Francisco, there are few reasons to cross the bridge into Oakland, but this is one of them!

The restaurant features an open kitchen with a huge fireplace in the center.  Most everything is cooked on the fireplace, and it is really fun to walk back there and watch.  The restaurant is mostly all giant communal tables, but they do put space between people, so it isn't like you are bumping into your neighbors.  The entire space is open and comfortable.  Eating there was a really relaxing experience, almost like being in a friend's home.  Service was sufficient and unobtrusive.  They provide complimentary house filtered sparkling or still water, which is always nice.  The cocktails and champagne my dining companions ordered were all tasty.

Tonight's dinner review is pretty much exactly the same as it was a year ago: appetizers are forgettable, crab and the salad it comes with are amazing, and dessert is bad.  But the crab, oh the crab.  Amazing.

This is probably my favorite of all Monday night specials I've ever had.  It certainly does not fall in the category of places running specials in order to get people in on Monday nights when they are using subpar ingredients or staff.  This is just ... special.  I'd go back again, any night!
Pickled carrots, celery.
Complimentary starter.  Just random pickled stuff.  Fairly uninteresting to me, but I eat pickled stuff pretty much daily, so I think I'm kinda spoiled and it takes a lot for me to find pickled veggies particularly interesting.  They are never/rarely as good as the "famous" ones my great aunt makes!
Epi, slabs of butter.
Complimentary bread, but you have to ask for it.  Served cold (boo) with giant slabs of hard butter (double boo) that was hard to spread on the bread.

That said, I enjoyed dipping it in sauces later on in the meal, so I'm glad we had it.
Wood oven-roasted local oysters with absinthe, breadcrumbs and yacón salad.  $13.
Not part of the Monday night special, we added this on.

The oysters were pretty forgettable.  No interesting flavors at all, lots of breadcrumb.  I'd definitely skip this in the future.

The yacon salad that came with it was delicious!  Crisp and the dressing on it was addictive.  I don't really understand why it was served as an accompaniment to the oysters though.
Spicy crab broth with leeks, parsley root and wild nettles.
First course of the Monday crab special.

I'm not really a soup person, so this wasn't all that interesting to me.  The veggies were cooked well (not too mushy, not too crisp), and it was impressive how much crab flavor they were able to impart into the soup, but I found it a little too salty.

The aforementioned bread dipped in the broth was nice.

Full Dungeness crab grilled in the fireplace with farro, chicory salad and mint.
And finally, what we were there for!  Grilled crab!

The crab itself was seasoned wonderfully and the fireplace gives it an amazing smokey flavor.  So, so flavorful!  There is a hollandaise sauce hiding on the plate as well, that wasn't really needed because the crab had so much flavor on its own (particularly when still warm), but as the crab cooled, having some bites with the hollendaise worked really well too, the flavors from the crab seasoning mixed nicely with it.

Hiding under the crab was a really nice farro, the grains perfectly cooked with a nice crunch to them, and very flavorful and well seasoned.  The chicory salad was a mix of both bitter chicory and other greens.  This combined well with the farro and with the hollendaise.

I managed to make up a few "perfect bites" that included farro, greens, crab meat, and hollandaise   A bite with all of that in it was pretty much amazing and had such great flavors that worked together sensationally!

The leftover bread dipped in the hollendaise was also quite nice (yes, I'm a sauce person ... I love everything with sauces!)
The aftermath!
After all that hard work, here is the leftover carnage.  Not a drop of crab meat remaining, I promise.
Cara cara orange sorbet with pomegranate granita and citrus.
This was the included dessert, not something I'd ever order.  It was incredibly meh to me.

The citrus was fine, but I have better citrus at the farmer's market 3 times a week.  The sorbet was fine, but sorbet is just kinda boring, and I have better sorbet at the farmer's market (Scream) every week.  The pomegrante was a nice tart component.  I guess if you like fruity, light desserts this was good.
Rice pudding with mastika and cardamom.  $9.
Since I wasn't satisfied with the previous dessert, I added on one of my favorites: rice pudding.

It came with some almonds, topped with whipped cream.  It was not particularly flavorful, very goopey, the rice cooked inconsistently, and served cold.  Disappointing.

I can really enjoy rice pudding, but I like it to have some defining characteristic: nice flavors, warm, custardy ... something. This was really just sorta there and not very good at all.  I should have just had another crab for dessert :)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crab and Dessert @ Absinthe

[ Originally posted January 8, 2012.  Moving to blog now in honor of crab season! ]

Trying to make up for a crappy meal at Destino, we headed to the lounge at Absinthe, for dessert.  Adding to our night of failures, they were out of our #1 dessert choice.  So, we somehow ended up getting a whole crab instead (and a dessert of course).  It was crab season after all!

Overall it was all good, but nothing special.  But keep in mind that I'm spoiled because I've been feasting on crab every weekend at home with pretty much this same preparation for a fraction of the cost.  And the desserts I eat daily at work are better than this, particularly the chocolate mousses and German chocolate cakes.  So ... this just didn't strike me as worth it.

The lounge area was a nice mix of formal but comfortable, lively but quiet enough to hold a conversation, and offered the bar menu, the full menu, and dessert menu, so we could easily create our ridiculous "dessert" courses.  A nice mix, but as it is out of the way from places I normally frequent, I'm not sure when I'd really find myself back there.
Chilled Whole Dungeness Crab.  $30.
So we went for dessert.  And then when they were out of what we wanted, we had to improvise.  So ... we started with a whole crab, served with some delicious butter sauces and lemon wedges.

The crab was good, but at the end of the day, it was just a plain cooked crab, not really any different than what I get for 1/3 the price at the farmer's market every week. The warm butter sauce was fine, but again, I can have that at home. The other sauce (some kind of Béarnaise perhaps?) was pretty delicious and definitely a value add.

My favorite was the body meat, nice and sweet and delicious even without the sauce.  Mmm, crab!
German chocolate cake: milk chocolate mousse, pressed coconut, coconut whipped cream, candied pecans, caramel sauce.  $10.
This was listed on the menu as "German Chocolate Cake", but was totally not what we expected.  Sorry for the poor photo, we were too eager to dig into it for me to slow down and take a proper photo!

The white stuff is coconut whipped cream, and it was delicious.  The candied pecans were a nice touch,  as I'm a sucker for pecans.  And it is hard to see, but there is a delicious caramel sauce drizzled over it.

The main dessert was a layer of sweetened, pressed coconut, topped with a layer of chocolate cake, all generously enrobed in chocolate mousse.  The cake itself was forgettable, but the mousse was pretty awesome.

A very different take on German chocolate cake for sure, but all of the key flavors were still highlighted, and this was enjoyable.  But as I said, I'm spoiled, and get better chocolate cake and chocolate mousse at work pretty regularly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Langostino Lobster @ Rubio's

Yes, I've got a thing for Rubio's.  Yes, it is out of character, as it is cheap, casual, Mexican food.  But not entirely out of character, as what I love is the sauces and the seafood.

Anyway, around this time of year every year, they have a limited time special: the Langostino Lobster taco (or burrito).  Since only discovered Rubio's a few months ago, I hadn't ever experienced it before, but had heard about it.  So when it came back on the menu, I had to try it out.

The first thing I noticed was the branding.  Everywhere it clearly said "Langostino Lobster".  I just figured it was a special type of lobster, but looked it up online to be sure.  Turns out ... not lobster at all.  They are tiny little crustaceans more closely related to hermit crabs.  And, Rubio's had a class action lawsuit filed against them a few years ago for marketing them as "lobster", hence, the excessive labeling now.

I didn't really care if it was real lobster or not, as I actually don't love lobster.  I greatly prefer local crab.  Or even shrimp or prawns if well prepared.  But ... it wasn't that great.

Since I've reviewed Rubio's so many times before, I'm skipping all the details on the establishment, and just reviewing this single dish.
Langostino Lobster Taco, Chips, "No Fried" Pinto Beans.  $4.29.
The langostino lobster taco is described as "Tender Langostino Lobster served with handmade guacamole, creamy chipotle sauce, salsa fresca, red and green cabbage, and a cilantro/onion mix.  Served on a warm stone-ground corn torilla and garnished with a slice of lime."

Of course, since I am allergic to avocado, I had to leave a major component out: the guacamole   When I asked to have it left out, the woman taking my order asked what I'd like instead.  She suggested cheese or sour cream.  I didn't really want to add cheese to my lobster (seafood and cheese don't seem to be a great pairing most of the time), and since there was already the creamy chipotle sauce I didn't want to add the sour cream.  So I said that it was fine to just leave it out and not substitute anything.  She then suggested rice.  I said sure.  In retrospect  this was not a good idea, since I don't really like rice, but I was caught off guard and just went along with it.  When she brought me my order, she also added on a side of the beans and chips, since they felt bad that I didn't have the guacamole, which is normally an expensive component (apparently, you can always add rice in for free).

Anyway.  The tortilla was the same corn tortilla shell I've had on previous visits, but this time, it was much crispier.  It had the same great corn flavor, and at first I didn't like the crispness as I thought it was stale, but it grew on me, and I ended up liking this crunchier version.  Not really sure why it was so different this time, normally it is soft and moist, seemingly steamed rather than grilled.  I enjoyed the tortilla, and used the extra pieces to dunk into salsa.

The "lobster" came in little pieces.  They were tender, well cooked, with a slightly grilled flavor. One or two of them seemed a little fishy.  Of all of the proteins I've tried at Rubio's, this was the least remarkable.  I greatly preferred the shrimp, the talapia, the mahi, even the fried pollock.  I think part of the problem was that the lobster was lost in all of the rice.  The rice was moist, flavorful, but there was a lot of it, and it doesn't normally belong in a taco.  It turned it more into a burrito.  But even without the rice, the lobster just wasn't anything special.

The creamy chipotle sauce, like every other time I've tried it, was amazing.  Creamy, with a nice kick.  It again made the entire thing delicious.  The salsa fresca was not as good as in past visits, the tomato cubes seemed less ripe, less flavorful.  This makes sense, as it is no longer tomato season.  The cabbages, cilantro, and onion filled out the taco, were fresh and crisp, but not remarkable.  I've been spoiled from trying some of their other tacos that have the serrano slaw instead, which is far more flavorful.

It was garnished with a juicy lime, which added a nice acidity and citrus note.  Additional limes were available in the condiments bar.  This time, I also tried some of the pickled carrots from the bar.  They were crunchy and insanely spicy.  I'd definitely add these in again.

This is their most expensive taco, at $4.29.  I'm assuming this is due to the guacamole and the lobster.  It didn't really seem worth that, but again, I didn't have the guac.  It was my least favorite of all of the tacos I've tried so far, and I wouldn't get it again.

As I mentioned, I also received a side of beans.  Not something I'd normally order, and I'd tried them on my first visit and wasn't all that impressed, but I tried them again.  Described as "made fresh daily from scratch, seasoned with a dash of garlic and black pepper, and topped with cotija cheese."  They were creamy, mostly mushy beans, with a few whole beans remaining.  There just wasn't much flavor to them, I didn't taste garlic at all.  Like before, I liked the cheese on top.

I also received some chips.  I hadn't yet tried these out, and I was excited to, mostly because I really like their chipotle salsa, and wanted something to dip into it.  The chips are also prepared fresh daily.  They were a thin style, slightly salty, not really remarkable.  Better than store bought chips, but not as good as  Tropisueño.
Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tava Indian Kitchen

Tava is a fast casual Indian restaurant, opening in SOMA on Wednesday.  They already have a location down in Palo Alto, opened 9 months ago, that has received very good reviews.  I was invited to a preview dinner tonight, a test run of the new restaurant.  I was excited, as I do love Indian food, and haven't found a place in the city that I've liked all that much.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was an entire wall decorated with spice jars.  I hoped that this implied that they use fresh and plentiful spices.  And indeed they do!

The concept behind Tava is to be a "gateway to Indian food", making it more accessible and familiar to Americans.  To achieve this, the menu is very simple, using form factors familiar to most.  They offer something for everyone, with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.  To start, you choose either a rice bowl, a salad, or an Indian burrito, dubbed a "burroti".

The ordering process is completely customizable, and is done assembly line style.  You next select the hot components, a protein and sauce.  Then you move down to the cold chutneys and fresh vegetables.  They make it simple and not intimidating, but do not sacrifice on the core part of what makes Indian food so great, the amazing spicing.

Another of their core concepts is using fresh, quality ingredients, which you can see the moment you order, as your roti starts as a ball of dough, cooked and pressed fresh to order.  When you select a protein, the lamb is grass fed.

They also care about offering a healthy meal, using yogurt in place of cream and ghee.  You don't feel all weighed down and heavy after eating there.

The food was good, and did live up to the promises of fast, fresh, and flavorful.  Ojan really enjoyed his burroti.  I haven't seen him this excited about a meal in ages.  I think he made better selections than I.

One area that the menu was lacking is one of my favorites - desserts.  There were none available.  I'd like to put in a plug to add some, particularly rice pudding.  Some of us just aren't satisfied without ending on a sweet note :)

The other area that fell short was the beverage offerings.  The menu does have chai and mango lassi, although they were not available at the test run, but mostly they just have soda and far-too-sweet Minute Maid Lemonade.  This doesn't seem to fit in with their general themes of fresh and healthy, and really doesn't seem to match the clientele right either.  It was honestly the first time I've come across fountain beverages in years!

I'm very excited to see a quality, fast casual restaurant opening in the area.  I expect that they will be very successful, and the focus on fresh and healthy ingredients is a good match for the neighborhood.   I hope they are able to be open on nights and weekends, as this neighborhood has so few options for easy dinners.  They will likely be very popular with the lunch crowd, much like nearby Sushirito and The Melt.

I hope to return soon now that I've tried the basics, and really customize the meal to better suit my style!
Burroti. $7.49 + $2 for paneer add on.
I choose the burroti.  A burroti is basically a burrito, made with fresh roti as the wrapper.  When you order, they actually take a ball of dough, press and grill it to order.  Then you pick your fillings, and it is assembled for you.

I was only the second customer of the test day, and it was clear that they were still getting the roti making technique down.  Mine was very doughy, barely cooked.  I really loved that they made it fresh, starting with a ball of dough, but it wasn't very good.  Since it wasn't fully cooked, it was really hard to take bites out of.  I ended up just unwrapping it and eating it with a fork.  When we mentioned this to the owner, he brought us over a new batch, and it was like an entirely different product.  Immediately upon seeing it, you could tell they were far more cooked, nicely golden brown on the outside.  I ended up eating a bunch of the extra roti dipped in some chutney and really enjoyed it.  Had my roti originally been more cooked, it certainly would have been more successful.

To start, you select white basmati or brown rice, both with some parsley mixed in.  The rice was fluffy and not buttery.  Fairly generic, not bad.  I went for the brown rice, which had a slight heartiness to it.

Then, you pick your "protein".  The options were chicken, lamb, or vegetables.  None of these options were all that appealing to me, as I hate lamb, usually don't like chicken, and vegetables are kinda boring (and aren't really a protein).  I asked to try the chicken first.  It was marinated and grilled, with a nice smoky flavor.  Pretty good, but I didn't want chicken.  Ojan had the pulled, grass fed lamb.  He said it was moist and not at all grisly.  Every few bites he happily commented on how high quality the lamb was.  I decided to get the vegetables, a mix of cauliflower, onions, and peppers.  This isn't a mix I was excited for, but since I didn't want the other options, I went for it.  The vegetables weren't very good, kinda mushy.  I wouldn't get them again.  I would have preferred eggplant or peas perhaps.  Or, even better, paneer, but I like that they were trying to have a vegan option.

Next up, you choose your sauce.  The options were daal or tikka.  As I dont like lentils, I went for the tikka.  It fell in line with their entire philosophy of being healthier, using yogurt instead of cream.  Unfortunately, I couldn't taste much of it in my burroti, so I can't really evaluate it.

Then, you choose your chutneys.  Even though I like spicy, I went for the mild tamarind date, it somehow just caught my attention.  Later on in my meal, I was able to sample all of the chutneys, see below for my more complete review of them.  I also added some cooling raita.

Finally, you pick fresh vegetables.  They offer lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, and red onion, all chopped up in a small dice.  I added all but the red onion, as it seemed like it would just be too harsh.  The lettuce and cucumber were fresh enough, added a good crunch, but were fairly unremarkable.  The tomato was under-ripe and not that great.  Ojan didn't order it upon sight, but I still gave it a try.  He made the better move.

Lastly, I discovered paneer, available as an add-in option for $2 more.  Since paneer is what I'd originally wanted, I added it.  It was small cubes, with good grill marks.  Unfortunately, it was cold (by design, it wasn't in the hot section).  I wish it was warmed.

I didn't love my burroti, but I'd really like to try another one, and make different choices.  Next time, I'd either get the chicken or really, what I want, is just paneer.  I wonder if I could do that?  I'd also ask for extra tikka sauce.  And I think I'd leave out all of the fresh vegetables.  They were all fine, but took things far more in the Mexican direction than I wanted.

The $7.49 price point was good, these were quality, fresh ingredients.
Garlic naan chips.
As a side, you can get garlic naan chips.  I expected them to be thicker, more like pita chips, but instead they were thin like tortilla chips.  They weren't at all oily or fried tasting.  Like the rest of the food, it was lighter, healthier, fresher than you expect.  Subtle garlic flavor.  A nice side to dip into the assorted chutneys.
Assorted Chutneys.
All of the chutneys were really impressive, bursting with flavor.  They were incredibly fresh tasting, clearly made with fresh ingredients and plentiful spices.

Clockwise, from top left.
  • Tava Lava: This was the spiciest one, although not in a traditional way.  The heat didn't hit at first, instead, you tasted the vegetables, the peppers and tomato that go into it.  But the heat came through in the finish.  It combined nicely with the cooling raita.  I really liked how strong the vegetable flavors were in this one.
  • Spicy Mint: This one actually seemed the spiciest to me, but it was a complex spiciness, as it was balanced by the cooling mint in it.  Very minty, very good.
  • Medium Cilantro Lime: When Ojan tasted this, he exclaimed "I don't know how they make it taste so cilantro-y!" It was so clearly cilantro.  Not my favorite flavor, but very fresh.
  • Mild Tamarind Date: I loved this one.  Ojan thought it was a little too sweet.  The sweetness came from dates, so it wasn't just sweet, it was flavorful.  Delicious as a dipping sauce.  When the owner saw me savoring every last bit of this, he offered me some naan chips and some of this to take home.  Such a tasty snack later on.
  • Raita: Nice cooling yogurt based dip, with some cucumber in it.  Combined nicely with all of the other sauces.
Hot Chai. $3.25.
While walking by one afternoon, it was cold out, and I saw that they had hot chai.  I didn't want food, but I really wanted a warm, comforting beverage.

Warm it was.  The chai was incredibly hot, too hot to drink at first, but I appreciated how long it stayed hot, keeping me warm for the rest of my journey.

The chai however was very, very sweet.  I love sweets, but this was a bit too much for me.  Nicely spiced, but overwhelmed by sweetness and milkiness.

Speaking of spices, they weren't strained out, so when I got near the end of the cup, I got a giant swig of ground up spices.  That was very unpleasant, but perhaps my own fault?

I didn't love this, but it was a nice change from a standard coffee beverage, and fun to try something different.

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Iced Chai.  $3.

And on other day, it was crazy hot out, and the idea of an iced chai sounded very appealing.

Like the hot chai, this was very sweet.  Again, too sweet for me.  It was also strangely served cold but without any ice in it, and the cup was filled to the brim, so I couldn't add ice at the ice machine.  And topped with a hot beverage lid, not a cold beverage lid, although I could easily add a straw and poke it through the sip hole.

Anyway, it didn't meet my desire for a refreshing cool beverage, since it wasn't actually iced, and it was far too sweet to be refreshing.  I wouldn't get this again.
Tava Indian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 08, 2012

More Froyo from Pinkberry


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Evolution Fresh

Evolution Fresh is a subsidy of Starbucks, originally started by the same guy who founded Naked Juice.  Their main product is juices (fruit, veggie, combo, or even things like coconut water), sold bottled in stores, but they also have two shops in the Seattle area, and now one in San Francisco.  The focus is all on very healthy, fresh food.  In addition to the juices (on tap of course), the shops also offer smoothies, some healthy bowls you can create using kale, buckwheat noodles, quinoa, or lentils as the base, pre-made sandwiches (using multigrain bread or collard green wrappers) and a few sweets.  And of course, Starbucks coffee and Tazo teas.  Everything is very clearly labelled gluten-free, vegan, etc.

I attended the opening event in San Francisco, and tried out a few items.  The service was all very friendly and excited, as it was opening day.  For the most part, this just isn't the sort of food that I crave or would go out for, so I'm not sure when I'd go back.  Their juices and smoothies were really quite good, so if I was ever in the mood for one, I'd definitely think of Evolution Fresh.  I think it will do well, located right on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, and when I was there, it was completely filled with yoga pants wearing women, eager for a healthy snack.

Smoothie Granola Bowl.  $7.95.
They have a large variety of smoothies, which you can get as a classic smoothie, or turn into a granola bowl with granola and sliced banana.  I was originally just getting a smoothie, but changed my mind when I saw one of these come out, as it looked far more exciting.

For the smoothie, I picked the Smooth Blue, made with pineapple juice, mangoes, blueberries, and pineapple.  It was sweet, it was tart, it was super flavorful.  Icy, with some big chunks of blueberries, pineapple, and mango remaining.  I'm pretty sure that was intentional.  I really liked the smoothie.

Mixed into it was some granola, that got soggy fairly fast.  I didn't like that part, and had expected it to just come topped with the granola, like the açaí bowls I tried at Blue Hawaii.  There was also a bunch of ripe sliced banana.

This was very similar to an açaí bowl, but I liked it more.  However, I would have most likely just preferred a smoothie, and will unlikely get one of these again.

$7.95 seemed pretty pricy for the size, even if it was made with quality ingredients.
Mel Bar.  $2.
From the "small bites" section of the menu, supposed to be a healthy treat, made with almond butter, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, crisp puffed millet, and rolled in coconut flakes.

I had a hard time identifying what exactly was in here.  There were bits of crunchy nuts, chopped up so tiny that I couldn't tell what type they were.  There were some tart dried cranberries, and I think some pepitas.  And obviously the coconut flakes on the outside.

I couldn't really tell how I felt about this.  It was a little sweet, but not really a dessert.  I believe it was a raw product.  There was a time when I went through a health foods kick, and I think that back then I would have really enjoyed it.  If you are a looking for a healthy treat, this could be it, but it isn't something that really has a place in my life right now.

$2 was a surprisingly good price, particularly compared to the other pricing.
Turkey and Caramelized Onion Sandwich.  $7.95.
They also have a fridge full of grab and go items, including sandwiches.  "Caramelized onions" jumped out at me, so I tried it.  It was turkey breast, with gruyere, baby spinach, dijon mustard, and of course, the caramelized onions, on seeded multigrain bread.

It wasn't very good.  It didn't taste all that fresh, which I guess is expected as it was pre-made.  The bread was kinda dry.  There wasn't much turkey.  I didn't taste any dijon.  The caramelized onions were flavorful, but besides them, it had nothing going for it.

Would not get again.

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  • Organic V: Carrot, apple, celery, lemon, beet, spinach, lime, parsley, ginger.  Tasting notes; I didn't like this, but I don't tend to like vegetable juices.  It was kinda thick and just ... vegetably.
  • Pineapple Coconut Water: One of the better coconut waters I have tasted, very refreshing, but with a pretty strong pineapple flavor.
  • Belgium Chocolate Granola Bar: Nice dark chocolate, good crunch, pretty tasty.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

More Nick's Crispy Tacos

Yes, I went back to Nick's Crispy Tacos.  Even though after my first visit, I said I wouldn't go back.

Why?  I've still heard good things about the place, and I was really craving fried fish, which I didn't try on my first visit.  This wasn't quite enough to make me return but then .... they ran a new LevelUp promotion, $10!  I could get the fried fish taco I wanted, for free.  I couldn't resist using my LevelUp credits!

My entire experience was pretty much the same as the first time.  The bathroom wasn't very clean, the salsa bottles were sticky, but the staff were friendly, LevelUp was welcomed and worked with no problems, and the food arrived quickly.  But, it wasn't very good.  This time, I swear, I'm not going back ...

By the way, if you want some LevelUp credits, you can join with my code (V47MSA) and get $5 to use anywhere, in addition to the venue credits they offer.
Small Horchata.  $2.
A few years ago, I had an office mate who loved horchata.  Whenever it was offered anywhere, he always talked about it.  Somehow, this got it in my head that I might also like horchata.  Since then, I often order it, wherever I see it.  But ... I rarely like it.  It always just seems too ricey, and not refreshing.  That said, there have been a few occasions when I have liked it, either because it was more aqua fresca like and thinner, or because the spicing was particularly good.

This was not one of those cases.  It tasted ... like rice.  Kinda thick.  Some cinnamon flavor, but not much.  Some sweetness, but not much.  Just pretty unremarkable, but since I'm not really much of a horchata drinker, I don't claim any expertise here.  I wouldn't get it again.
Pescado Taco.  $4.95.
The first time I went to Nick's, I went for $2 Taco Tuesday, and the seafood tacos were not an option.  This time, I was able to pick my first choice, the Pescado Taco.  Described as "baja style fried fish in a corn tortilla with salsa, lime mayonnaise, cilantro, cabbage & onions".

I was excited for this, as I've had a thing for fried fish since I visited the east coast over the summer and had some amazing fish and chips.  I haven't really found fried fish in the Bay Area that has even come close to comparing, although I tried pretty hard for a while.

Within a few minutes, it arrived on my table, in the same plastic red basket as my first taco.  I was again struck by the size.  They make seriously large tacos!  Like the pollo asado taco I had on my first visit, it came wrapped up with two corn tortillas.  They were exactly the same, soft, slight corn flavor, pretty unremarkable.

The filling of this was completely different however, as the non-seafood tacos are filled with beans and pico de gallo, neither of which were very good in my previous taco.  This one instead came with some cabbage, cilantro, and red onion as the main filling.  The cabbage and cilantro were pretty much lost, but the red onion ... it stuck out, and not in a good way.  There was a lot of it, and the slices were large. It was very sharp red onion.  I felt like one of the judges on Top Chef or Chopped, I forget which, who always freaks out when people use too much raw red onion.  It just ruined the entire slaw mix for me, it was all I tasted.

There was also some mayo, which I could see, but didn't really taste.  Apparently it was lime flavored, which I didn't detect.  I also squeezed the lime garnish on top, which gave a bit of flavor.  It also said there was salsa in the taco, which I didn't taste, but given how flavorless their salsas were before, this didn't surprise me.  I also tried adding more of the sticky squeeze bottle salsas to my taco, to give it some kick, but they again were pretty flavorless.  Even Taco Bell had better tasting salsa!

The fish was two fairly large chunks.  They were incredibly fried.  The batter was very thick, and very oily.  It didn't have a great flavor, but was pretty crispy.  There was way too much of the batter however, and it seemed like far too many of my bites contained only batter, no fish.  What fish I did have was just generic white fish, with no flavor that I could taste.  Not fishy or anything bad, but also not buttery or good either.  Really unremarkable.

This just wasn't very good.  The fish and the cabbage mix in the one from Rubio's was much better, and theirs is only $2.99, rather than $4.95.  And Rubio's includes it in their Taco Tuesday, for only $1.50!  My favorite fried fish taco is still from Tropisueño, which blows this one away with its incredible slaw.  And that one is $1 cheaper, and comes with chips and the huge salsa and condiments bar.

Basically, this one was the most expensive, not a single component of it was better than anywhere else I've tried, and it was pretty flavorless.  I wouldn't get it again.
Black Bean & Grilled Corn Taco Salad, with Carne Asada.   $7.95.
Ojan asked me to bring him home a taco salad, and of course, I snuck a few bites.  I don't think he noticed, as this was a massive salad.  They offer a base taco salad of "romaine lettuce, corn, black beans, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, cabbage & guacamole tossed in a tomatillo/rojo vinaigrette", and then you can top it with any of the different taco fillings.  He went for carne asada.

The lettuce, cilantro, onion, cabbage mix was pretty boring.  It got soggy very quickly from the large amount of dressing.  Definitely over-dressed.  There were generic black beans, the same ones I'd not liked in my taco, and a few kernels of unremarkable corn.  I didn't try the guacamole since I'm allergic to avocado.

The description didn't mention it, but it was also topped with a ton of fried tortilla strips.  They added a nice crunch, but there were far too many of them.  They also lacked any seasoning, I'd have liked them to have had more salt.

The carne asada was actually pretty good.  Flavorful, moist, decent quality meat.  The best of the proteins I've tried so far.

The base salad was $6.50, which seems way too pricy for not the highest quality salad ingredients, even if it was large.  The carne asada added $1.45 to the price, which seemed ok as the meat was quality Niman Ranch, but overall, this was just kinda expensive and not very good.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Muffins from Panera Bread

Thinking of Panera makes me realize how much times have changed.

The first time I encountered Panera, I was in grad school.  At the time, most cafes did not have wifi, but Panera did.  So sometimes, when I really needed a change of pace, someplace to work other than my apartment or depressing, communal, dark graduate student office, I'd go to Panera.  But going there was a big deal.  It was expensive.  Even if I only got a latte, it was far more expensive than anywhere else I could pick up a coffee drink.  And their food?  Way too pricy.  Going to Panera was a serious splurge, and I probably only did it a handful of times.

I remember loving their shortbread cookies, finding them buttery sweet, and large enough to last me a few treats.  I also remember thinking that some of their bagels, like the french toast or cinnamon crunch versions, particularly when slathered with the honey walnut cream cheese, were pretty awesome.  I don't think I was ever that impressed with their soups or sandwiches, although my parents adorably go to Panera for "date night" and get them.  Ah, life in a small town!

Anyway, it had been ages since I'd "splurged" on Panera, but back in August you may recall that I went on a bit of a birthday crusade, getting all my free birthday treats all over town.  And Panera, unlike many of the others, gave a fair amount of flex time to use the birthday reward.  They also give a free treat when you sign up for their MyPanera card.  So, I got to enjoy not one, but two free baked goods!

Panera is obviously a chain, with the same menu and decor everywhere.  I think the quality and service are pretty standard at all places, as my experiences in San Francisco seemed pretty identical to those I had in Virginia and New Hampshire.  You order at a register, and receive a pager to be notified when your food is ready, which you pick up at the counter.  They have wifi, and assorted seating, ranging from little tables to booths, seating around fireplaces, and outdoor seating.  However, the SF location does also have some local specials, like Giants cookies, so I guess they have some freedom to stray from the generic menu.

The main cafe menu features many sandwiches, salads, and soups, including the popular "You Pick Two" option for the indecisive amongst us, which is what I always got that when I dined there before.  They also make a bunch of coffee drinks, although with one of those push button machines that is somewhere in between a real barista and a totally magic gas station style machine.  Then they have a slew of bagel flavors and cream cheeses, but I wasn't allowed to pick from them for my free treats, which is too bad, since they are what I recall liking.  However, I did get to explore the insanely large selection of baked goods.  They have muffins, scones, danishes, cookies, brownies, etc.  Apparently they also make oatmeal, egg sandwiches, souffles, and all sorts of things I've never seen anyone order.

Anyway, I no longer consider Panera a splurge, nor do I see a reason to ever pick it over anywhere else.  The quality of the ingredients is better than McDonald's obviously, but most local cafes, bakeries, and coffee shops are better, and not more expensive.  I wouldn't be opposed to stopping in if someone else wanted to, and I'll likely wind up at Panera sometime when I visit my parents, but I won't be going out of my way to visit the one in San Francisco.
Wild BlueberryMuffin.  $2.19.
The muffins all looked pretty good, but I was struck by the vibrant blue color of the blueberry muffin.  It also said "made with real wild blueberries", so I thought it would have a chance.  Plus, blueberry is Ojan's favorite muffin, so I knew if I didn't care for it, he might enjoy it.

This muffin was totally and completely mediocre.  Not very moist.  No real flavor.  And the blueberries were tiny little flecks, not whole, juicy berries like I was hoping.  I have no idea where the blue color came from, as it certainly wasn't from blueberry juice.  I even looked up the ingredients online afterwards, expecting to find "blue #2" or something.

I didn't like this at all, and would never get again.  Ok price for a large muffin.
Cobblestone Sweet Roll.  $2.49.
After my failure with the first standard muffin, for my second freebie, I decided to go all out.  This thing looked amazing.  Was it a muffin?  There was far too much icing on it to possibly convince myself it was breakfast.  I decided to treat it as dessert.

They describe it as "Our Cinnamon Raisin bread dough mixed with chunks of apples and spices, topped with streusel and white icing." It sounded great.  It looked great.  But, with every bite I took, I just wanted it to be something more.

The top was fairly crisp, almost like it was dried out and stale, but I got it and had it at 11am, and they say they are baked fresh daily.  It was loaded up with sweet icing, which didn't have much flavor besides sweet, but was fairly tasty.

The inside was more moist, loaded with raisins, and plentiful cinnamon flavor.  I thought the raisins tasted just sweet and generic.  I know that raisins are raisins, but there was something about these that I just didn't care for.  There wasn't much apple, I think I only found a single chunk in the entire thing.

I kept eating it, really really wanting to like it, because it sounded like something I should like, but it just fell short. Meh.

Update: I attended a brunch, and someone brought a bunch of these.  They again looked amazing, so, even though I knew I really didn't like it before, I tried part of another.  Conclusion?  Yup, still not good.  The flavor just isn't there, as there is not much cinnamon flavor, and the icing is just super sweet.  But the biggest issue is that it isn't moist, the entire thing is really dried out.  Looks good, sounds good, but, just isn't.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I grew up in a town with zero asian influence.  I didn't even know that there were asian desserts besides fortune cookies until I moved to San Francisco.  And boba tea?  Definitely not something I'd heard of.  I've only had it a few times in my life, but for some reason, I really started craving one the other day when it was hot out.  Milk tea sounded refreshing, and just so much more fun than an ice tea or lemonade.  I think it had been in the back of my mind since I saw that several of the Quickly locations use GoPago, even though I'd never been to a Quickly before.

I pulled up the menus, and was quickly overwhelmed.  So many flavors, so many add ons, ahh!  There are a slew of Quicklys in the city, but only 3 of them are on GoPago.  One was only a few blocks away, and it had a few specials, a handful of hot and cold drinks.  Being frugal, and totally indecisive, I went for one of them, since it helped narrow down my possibilities considerably.

The service was friendly and efficient.  This location had a small amount of seating downstairs, a ton upstairs, and free wifi, although I didn't stick around to really check any of it out.  I'd definitely go back, as I want to try some of the other creations, like a "snow" and a "slush"!
Taro Milk Tea with Small Boba.  $1.99.
You can't see from this photo, but the drink was a lovely purple color.  It was milky, sweet but not too sweet, and had a good taro flavor.  It was the perfect temperature, not too cold, not too hot, with just a few small chunks of ice cube remaining in it.

Taro milk tea is a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn't contain tea.

I also added in small tapioca, since that is half the fun.  They were also well executed, soft but not mushy, a tiny bit chewy.

Overall, I was really impressed.  A simple drink, but every aspect of it was nicely done.

This was one of the specials, at $1.49 for the drink, plus $0.50 for the add in of the boba, normally $2.75 plus the boba.  An excellent price.  I'd get again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Taco Bell

As part of the world series, Taco Bell decided to offer up a crazy promotion: if anyone stole a base during the series, they'd give away free Doritos Locos Tacos one afternoon.  Of course, it happened, so the deal was on.  I've never been to a Taco Bell, and had absolutely no intention of taking them up on this lovely offer, no matter how much I love freebies.  I was pretty sure there was no way I'd possibly like it, and I certainly wasn't about to go stand in a ridiculous line for a <$2 free taco.

While I was out running errands, I saw numerous people walking past me chopping on their free tacos.  I still had no intention of stopping in.  I glanced at the Taco Bell as I passed it, ready to (silently of course) mock the people standing in the line.  But, much to my surprise, there was absolutely no line.  At 5pm.  So strange! Of course, now my curiosity peaked.  No line, and a free taco, and it was Taco Tuesday after all, and I was a little hungry ...

So I went in.  It was easy to see why there was no line, they were churning them out constantly.  People basically walked in, nodded at the cashier, and she handed over a taco.  They weren't fake ringing them up or anything, so there was nothing to slow down the process.

I got my taco, grabbed some of the "salsas" to try out, and went on my merry way.  However, I'm pretty sure I received a regular taco, not a Doritos Locos taco.  The shell was supposed to be nacho cheese Doritos flavor, and it most certainly didn't taste anything like a Dorito.  And when I looked at photos online later, those shells were orange colored, and mine wasn't.  Strange.  I wonder if they had run out of the Doritos shells, and she just wasn't telling anyone?
Crunchy Taco.  $1.89.
Described as "A crunchy, corn taco shell filled with seasoned ground beef, crisp shredded lettuce, and real cheddar cheese."

The taco shell was an incredibly generic corn taco shell.  Crunchy.  Basically the same as what you can buy in those taco kits at the grocery store.  I wish I'd gotten the actual Doritos one, as it would at least be somewhat novel!

The lettuce was shredded iceberg, not really crisp, not really ... anything.  I forgot how banal iceberg lettuce is.

Then there was some "real cheddar cheese", just shredded cheese, totally generic, no real flavor, just tasted like processed cheese.  Since it was the last component on the taco, it didn't melt into the meat or anything.  Meh.

The meat was seasoned ground beef, inoffensive enough, but, uh, I kinda wonder how beefy it really was.  It did have some seasoning.  It was only lukewarm, but I'm guessing that is because these were being made en masse.

Basically the most generic taco you could possible get.  It reminded me of the taco kits we used to make when I was a kid.  Absolutely no reason in the world to ever get one of these again.
Assorted Salsas.
  • Verde: Watery green sauce.  Slightly more flavor than the verde from Nick's Crispy Tacos, but not a whole lot going on here.
  • Hot: Very, very watery red sauce.  Not remotely hot, no real flavor, tasted like watery tomato paste.
  • Fire: Thicker than the hot sauce, but entirely smooth, no traces of any vegetables in here.  A tiny amount of flavor.  Best of the bunch, but that isn't saying much.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Catering by La Boulange

Last week, I attended a special event "Under the Dome" at the Westfield, catered by La Boulange de Dome, an outpost of La Boulange that is located in that space.  They had the area sectioned off for the event, and the regular cafe was closed, with food being prepared somewhere in back, and then brought in, which seemed a little strange, but I think that may be how they operate normally for the cooked items anyway, since there isn't a kitchen in the main cafe.

I was excited to see that the event catered by La Boulange, even though I haven't loved many of their offerings, because I love baked goods, and I always want to like them more than I do.  Plus, discovering their yogurt and granola is still one of my fondest food memories.

I am glad I got to try even more of their goods, but I can't say I have any interest in getting any of it again, which is basically how I feel about everything I've ever tried from there (except the granola of course!)
Mini French Hot Dog. $2.
This was pretty good.  A decent quality hot dog wrapped in puff pastry.  Not amazing, but decent for finger food catering.  I would have liked it more with some ketchup or mustard.  They said it had mustard inside, but I didn't taste any.

Available in full size at the bakery for $4.25, minis are $2 each for catering.  My favorite of the savory items.
Petite Quiche: Vegetable. $2.33.
Small little quiche in a tart shell.  The vegetables were a mix of mushrooms, tomato, and leeks.  There was a plentiful amount of veggies, but they were somehow not very flavorful.  The shell was very disappointing, kinda mushy, and not buttery nor flavorful either.  They were served warmed up, but almost seemed microwaved or something, as they were a little soggy.

They also sell larger versions of these at the bakeries, which they'll warm up for you, for $4.25.
Petite Quiche: Salmon and Dill. $2.33.
After disliking the veggie quiche, I tried the salmon and dill version.  Same size, same crappy shell, but the filling in this was much better.  The dill and salmon flavors were both strong and complimentary.  There was also some greens, spinach I think.  The distribution of the ingredients was strange however, with salmon only on one half.  Second favorite of the savories, but not something I'd get again.  They also have these in larger sizes at the bakery, again $4.25.

[ Not Pictured ]
Goat Cheese and Butternut Squash Crostini

Whoops, this was the first item I tried, and I dove in before taking a photo.

I really did not like this.  The bread was soggy.  I don't like goat cheese.  The little cubes of butternut squash were ok, but not remarkable.  Least favorite of the savory items.
Choux Choux.  $0.75.
The Dome location of La Boulange has several special desserts, offered only at that location, where they have a pastry team.  One such special is the Choux Choux, or what I'd just call a cream puff.  They had three varieties at the event, and of course, I had to try them all.

The choux pastry was decent, fairly light and airy, although a little more eggy than I'd like.  The fillings were all very creamy, and squirted out all over the place when you bit into them, no matter how careful you were.

The vanilla filling was my favorite.  It had a really strong vanilla bean flavor.  I'd happily consume a bowl full of that as pudding!  The mixed berry was my second pick.  It again had a strong flavor, this time of assorted berries, and it had some seeds in it too, leading me to believe it was made with real fruit.  My last pick was the chocolate, which was also good, but not quite as flavorful as the others.

Of all the items offerred, these were certainly my favorites, but I don't think I'd ever go buy them.  $0.75 was a very good price.