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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chocolates from Gallito

Gallito is a Costa Rican chocolate maker.  They reminded me of Garoto, from Brazil.  Which reminded me of Hershey.  Basically, a big national chocolate maker, not particularly good.
  • Guayabitas: “Chocolates filled with the best national guava jelly.”  Tasting notes: Milk chocolate shell, sweet jelly filling.  Chocolate is very mediocre and doesn’t go with jelly at all.  Jelly is tasty though, and firm consistency.
  • Tapitas: “chocolate with sweet peanut bits.”  Tasting notes: Milk chocolate that isn't creamy and has weird bitterness, tons of crunchy things that I guess are peanuts but don't taste like it.
  • Dulce de Leche Tapitas: Tasting notes: same not good chocolate, just sweet filling that is almost caramel like, but not quite.
  • Milan: "Pure chocolate bar".  Tasting notes: Solid milk chocolate log.  Not creamy.  Not good.