Monday, December 30, 2013

Muffins from Munchery

The past few Mondays, I've reviewed meals from Munchery, a meal delivery service in San Francisco.  Since they only deliver in the evenings,  I've generally ordered from Munchery for dinner, but they also make great desserts, and we even got our Thanksgiving feast from Munchery.  But they also have muffins.  And you know how much I love baked goods.

I've had my eyes on these muffins since they first appeared on the menu.  They are one of the highest rated dishes on Munchery, averaging 5 stars!  Everyone raves about them.  And Ojan loves blueberry muffins, so they sounded perfect.  But, I didn't want to order *just* muffins for delivery, as that feels a little silly.  So, the moment I saw that they were on the menu the same day we ordered our Thanksgiving feast, I quickly added them.

Since I've reviewed Munchery many times before, I'll skip all of the general details, but if you haven't checked it out already, I highly recommend it - perfect for weeknight easy meals, and so, so much better than standard delivery.  If you use my invite link, you'll even get $20 off your first order.

While I wouldn't order from Munchery just to get muffins, they are perfect for adding to a dinner order and enjoying for breakfast the next day!
Blueberry Bran Muffin.  $2.95.
The muffins are made by Chef Emily Guzzardi.

I was amazed when I pulled the muffin out of the box - it was a hefty muffin!  Not only was large in size, particularly in diameter (although fairly short), but it was also incredibly dense.

I planned to save it for breakfast, but I couldn't resist trying a bite (ok, perhaps two) the night I received it.  It was very moist, almost a bit gummy on top however.  The slight chew from the whole grains and wheat bran made it texturally interesting to eat.  It wasn't overly sweet, not one of those cakes masquerading as a muffin.  There was sweetness, but it stayed on the healthier, not-unreasonable-for-breakfast side of the spectrum.  My very first tasting note is that I tasted molasses, which I confirmed when I later read the description.  The molasses flavor was strong, and such a more interesting sweetness than standard sugar.  And of course, there were blueberries.  The berries were plump berries, large size, generously distributed.  Very good.

The next morning I had the rest, and warmed it up in the toaster oven.  I liked it even more warm, and even more once I slathered on some butter.  I again loved how it wasn't too sweet, it was hearty tasting, and really did the blueberries justice.  A healthy but satisfying start to my day, it left me filled up easily until lunch.

I shared some bites with Ojan, who loves blueberry muffins, but dislikes bran, and he enjoyed it as well.  He didn't care for it cold, but exclaimed several times how much better it was once warm.

Price was about standard for getting a bakery, so I see this as a great add-on whenever ordering from Munchery.  I think they'd freeze well too, so could be worth ordering a few at a time to pull out whenever the muffin mood strikes!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bissinger's Chocolate

Bissinger’s is a chocolate maker with quite the history, as in, they have their roots in 17th Century France.  They make an assortment of bars, chocolate, caramels, etc, however my exposure is quite limited, as I just received a small box of plain dark chocolate for Christmas.  It was quite good, so I look forward to sometime trying more of their selections.
Dark Chocolate.
This was fairly complex, bitter yet with some fruit notes.  Very solid, thick chunk, making it a bit hard to bite into.  But overall, quite good.

Subsequent tasting: Really complex, smooth, nice dark chocolate.  I'd gladly eat more of these!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cracker Jacks

A while ago I reviewed the latest line from Cracker Jacks, Cracker Jack'd.  You may recall that I thought they were all awful.  But Cracker Jacks seems ubiquitous, I figured their classic offering might still be tasty.  Not bad, but ... meh.

After the fairly disappointing caramel corn from Say Hey! at the ballpark, I wanted some real caramel corn.  Not knowing where to turn, I went for what I knew was a classic: Cracker Jacks.  I'm not really sure that I've ever had Cracker Jacks before.  I see why.  It isn't bad, but it surely isn't very good.

The pieces of popcorn were crunchy, and nicely coated with caramel, but the caramel had a bit of a burnt, not very good, flavor.  There weren't many peanuts.  Overall, very unremarkable at room temperature.

So then I tried freezing some.  I liked it more this way.  A bit crunchier, so more fun to eat.  But I still wasn't a fan of the burnt taste.  I ended up using chopped up Cracker Jacks as a topping for butterscotch pudding, and found that worked well.  I also mixed up a batch of half kettle corn, half cracker jacks, and liked the sweet and salty components together.  But ... overall, I still didn't find myself wanting to just devour it by the handful.  I kept wanting to like it more, since I do like caramel corn, but ... yeah, not my thing.  I did find that I liked the caramel coated peanuts more than the actual popcorn.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Silk Shortbread

Silk shortbreads are made in Arizona of all places.  The company was founded by a woman who spent time in England, and missed the amazingness of pure butter shortbreads when she returned to the US.  So, she started a company making shortbreads, with the simple recipe of flour, sugar, and quality butter.  No preservatives, etc.  She makes several varieties.
Classic Shortbread, aka, Butter Cookie.
I tried several varieties.

I started with the Classic Shortbread.  It was a bit boring for me, just a shortbread.  The texture was ok, but a bit chalky.  I don't really know what it would take for a plain shortbread to wow me.  It was fine, but ... just a shortbread.  My favorite shortbreads are chocolate dipped with little chopped nuts, so if I had more of these, I'd need to spruce them up somehow.

I moved on to the Lemon Zest.  I could see bits of lemon zest, but didn't taste it.  It was again kinda chalky, and I didn't like this one.

I saved the best for last: Mango Coconut!  I really liked it.  It had tiny bits of dried mango, which gave it a bit of chew.  It had a strong coconut flavor.  The shortbread base seemed even more buttery.  I enjoyed this very much with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Dining Aboard Virgin America

This post has been consolidated in my other Main Cabin Dining on Virgin America post.  Please go read it there!


Monday, December 09, 2013

Housemade Desserts from Munchery

Last Monday, I reviewed the Thanksgiving feast we ordered on Munchery.  But I skipped my favorite subject: the desserts!

Why?  Because one was so spectacular, it deserved its own review.  Since you've read all about Munchery many times by now, I'll let you just browse those past reviews for the general details, and I'll talk only about the desserts here.

For our Thanksgiving meal, we obviously needed dessert.  My family is very traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving desserts - we always have pies: pumpkin, pecan, apple, and butterscotch at a minimum.  But I'd already had pumpkin, pecan, and apple pie (and lots of leftovers) the week before when we did a Thanksgiving feast at work.  And I'd had a bunch of other pumpkin desserts recently, since it was "pumpkin spice" season.  Still, desserts were needed.  When I saw a bread pudding offered on the Thanksgiving menu, I jumped on it.  Something different to end my feast!  And I threw on a cheesecake too, you know, "just in case" ...

I continue to recommend Munchery, and if you want $20 off your first order, I encourage you to sign up with my invite link.

Cranberry Croissant Bread Pudding: White Chocolate, Creamsicle Chantilly Cream.  $4.95.
"Croissant soaked in rich spiced custard and baked with whole cranberries and white chocolate chips. This bread pudding is served with a delish orange scented whipped cream."
You may know that I adore bread pudding.  Seriously, one of my absolute favorites.  Sweet or savory. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Anytime.  Love it.  So I obviously ordered a bread pudding, from Chef Matthew Urban.

I was a little surprised when I got the package, as it was packed up in a full size meal box, yet occupied a tiny fraction of it.  The portion actually looked pretty small to me, but maybe that was just because of the box size?  I think it was smaller than what you'd get in a restaurant, and was clearly sized for a single person, not for sharing.

Now, I know white chocolate doesn't have the best reputation.  I think that is just because of the name.  No, it isn't chocolate.  But it is sweet and can be tasty.  I expected it to be strewn through the bread pudding, but there were just 2 chips on top.  Sadness.  I wanted more pops of sweet throughout.

I'm not super into cranberries, but this was seasonally appropriate.  I really liked that they were provided whole, as they maintained a lot of moisture, and nicely popped in your mouth, giving a burst of tartness.

The base was croissants, which clearly is a great choice for bread pudding.  It crisped up nicely in the toaster oven, but was fairly standard.  I eat a lot of bread puddings, since I order them whenever I find them, and this was just average.  Nothing wowed me.

The creamsicle chantilly cream was fluffy and flavorful, and Ojan liked it.  I don't love citrus in dessert, but I do think it paired well with the cranberry.  Since I love hot desserts with cold ice cream, so I paired mine with vanilla ice cream.

Overall, good, but not spectacular, and actually a kinda small portion for $4.95.  I appreciated that they provided a flavored whipped cream with it!
Pumpkin Pie Cheeescake with organic roasted pumpkin pie swirls.  $5.50.

"A very traditional creamy cheesecake with Philly cream cheese, organic sugar, cage free eggs and Madagascar vanilla beans, then make pumpkin pie filling using organic pumpkin, spices and cage free eggs, then swirl them together. You get a nice strong bite of cheesecake, then a nice strong bite of perfect pumpkin pie. This is all on a buttery and sweet ginger-nutmeg graham cracker crust."

Since I'm a serious dessert girl, I couldn't settle for just ordering one dessert.  What if it wasn't good?  What if I needed more?

So, we also went for the pumpkin pie cheesecake from Chef Jennifer Bratko.  First, I had to laugh as I read the ingredients.  Organic sugar, cage free eggs, Madagascar vanilla ... all quality ingredients.  And then, Philly cream cheese?  But, it is a classic for a reason!

I also need to admit that I had a pumpkin pie cheesecake just two days prior, so I was actually not that excited for this.  The one I had a few days earlier was a graham cracker crust, topped with cheesecake, topped with a thin layer of pumpkin pie, topped with whipped cream, finished with a candied pecan.  That one was all out of balance ... there was far too much crust, which overwhelmed everything, the pumpkin layer was too thin to taste, and the whipped cream on top was excessive.  I really didn't care for it, and it left me less than excited about this one.

But, Chef Bratko delivered!  This was nothing like the one I had a few days prior.

The graham cracker crust was thin, just added some texture and was not overwhelming, and I loved the additional flavor from the nutmeg in it.  The cheesecake was super creamy and had that classic Philly cream cheese flavor.  But what I really loved was the pumpkin filling.  Even creamier than the cheesecake, super flavorful, just perfect.  It really was a cheesecake and a pumpkin pie all in one.  Every bite did indeed have a perfect mix of cheesecake and pumpkin pie, just as promised.  Chef Bratko absolutely nailed this.

The only negative things I have to say is that I didn't care for the packaging.  It came in a cardboard takeout-style box.  I know they have all sorts of other packaging available, since all my other meals have arrived in different packaging.  I'm not sure what it was exactly that I didn't like about the box, but it was ugly!  The cheesecake was also fairly small for the $5.50 price.  Again, it was a great size for one person, and I think I'm just used to restaurants serving huge portions of desserts that are sized for two.  Now that I know Munchery dessert sizes, I'm happy to adjust my expectations.  It also didn't have any additional topping; I think I wanted a little whipped cream, or perhaps candied pumpkin seeds or something to top.  Not a big deal, but I wanted that finishing touch.

But I'm just being picky, I loved this, it was not only the highlight of my meal, but the tastiest thing I've gotten from Munchery so far.  I'd totally order another.  Right now!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Taro Milk Teas from Chai-Yo

We all get random cravings.  I eat a wide variety of foods, snacks, and drinks and any given day, so really strong random desires for things are not actually very common for me.  But when they hit, they hit hard.

And today, I woke up desperately needing a taro milk tea.  I wanted it cold and iced, and I wanted boba.  The closest option, Out The Door, was a definite no, given how much I really disliked the last one I had there.  I considered going back to Miss Saigon, for their taro boba smoothie, that I claimed was even better than regular milk tea, since it was like a taro-boba-milkshake.  But I decided I wanted the classic.  I certainly could have returned to Quickly, as I've always enjoyed my taro teas from there.

But instead, I decided to be adventurous, and seek out a new location.  I also decided to play with more new technology.  Paypal and Eat24 have partnered to allow you to order online through Eat24, embedded in a Paypal app, and the payment obviously goes through Paypal.  I gave it a try.

It worked ... ok.  The Paypal app crashed several times while I was trying to complete more order, but luckily it saved most of my state.  In the special comments section, it converted all of my words to starting With Capital Letters, Which Made Me Feel Very Obnoxious.  But besides that, it was easy to browse the menu and order in advance.  It did make me miss GoPago though, as that app worked much better (unfortunately, shut down in San Francisco for some legal reasons).

I enjoyed my drink the first time, and returned a second time.  Since I just got my drinks togo, I didn't stay in the restaurant, but it was small and the food looked good.  I'd like to return sometime for an actual meal.
Taro Milk Tea, Iced, with Jelly.  $3.50.
They offer milk tea, aka, "flavored tea with non-dairy creamer", in a variety of flavors.  I obviously went for taro.  It is available hot or cold. Since I had a very specific craving on my first visit, I got it cold.  But those were all of the options.  Flavor, temperature.  No mention of boba.  Uh oh!

So I did what any good researcher does, and pulled up the full menu on the Eat24 website, rather than the Eat24-in-Paypal app.  There it said,  "Add Free Jelly, in any drink for free. Request it, in the special instructions!"

Phew.  It wasn't boba, but jelly would do the trick!

I arrived before the drink was ready, so I got to see her mix it up.  Made with a taro flavored powder, which I expected.  Well mixed, delivered to me nice and frothy.  It only had a few tiny ice cubes however, so I did ask to have more added.

The drink was good, milky with taro flavor, but I wanted to taste the taro even more.  It was the perfect level of sweet, which for me, at that moment, was not that sweet.  I wasn't in a super sweet mood, so I'm glad it delivered.

I actually loved the jellies.  I thought that tapioca was my favorite thing to add, and I thought the taro puddings I tried at Quickly didn't add enough chew, but the jellies were a perfect middle ground.  They added more chew than the puddings, but less than boba.  I sometimes get a little too sick of the boba by the end, and these, even though plentiful, never got old.  I'm not sure what they were made of, but the jellies were small cubes in assorted colors and flavors.

Overall, this was good, and I enjoyed it, but I think I'd go back to Quickly next time ... and switch to jellies there.  At $3.50 it was a bit more expensive than others, and the taro flavor wasn't as strong as I wanted.  But if I was in the area and craving a taro tea, I wouldn't say no to returning ...

Update: I returned, only the next time, I tried the hot version.  Of course, I ordered through the app again.  However, what was handed over to me was a cold drink.  It was very cold out, and I was really desperately wanting a hot drink, so I pushed back on this.  The person who had made the drink said, "oh, but I made it cold."  I pointed out how on the paperwork it even said hot.  She then followed up with, "ok, so you want a new one?"  I felt obnoxious, but yes, I wanted a warm drink.

I'd never seen warm taro milk tea before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  It came in the same type of cup as the cold one, which was strange for a hot beverage.  However, it wasn't that hot, so it wasn't a problem temperature-wise to hold.

I think there is a reason why we don't see hot milk teas more commonly.  It was just a bit strange.  You want to sip a warm drink, not suck it up through a straw.  And of course, I added the jellies, and that is really strange in a hot drink.

I'm not sure if they follow a standard recipe that is different for hot vs cold teas, but this one was also way too sweet.  The sweet jellies made it even worse.

The hot drink really did not work for me.  I kept trying, but alas, it was a lost cause.  I had an empty travel mug with me however, so I dumped it into there, and served it over ice when I got home.  Much better.  The way it should be.   Guess I should have gladly accepted her original cold version instead.  At least I know now, get these iced, always :)
Chai Yo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"Dining" at the American Airline's Admiral's Club, Boston

As I mentioned last week, I'm kicking off a series of traveling reviews, departing my from standard SF Bay Area based reviews.

And where does any travel start?  The Admiral's Club of course!

I've reviewed the SF Admiral's Club before, so I'll skip the basics here, and just jump right into the fine "dining" I experienced at this location.


Admiral's Clubs aren't exactly known for their extensive complimentary food options (usually limited to cheese and crackers, snack mixes, veggies and dip, and soup), but the breakfast spread was decent, at least as far as Admiral's Club locations go.  No hot food, no pastries, but, still, better than I expected.
Bagels, Quickbreads.
One station had bagels (plain or cinnamon raisin), with butter, cream cheese, and jam, plus a toaster. 

No regular bread for toast, but there were two types of sweet breads, which I tried.  One was fairly plain, perhaps orange or lemon, and not very interesting. The other was chocolate, and, after taking a quick trip through the toaster to warm up, was actually not bad.  It satisfied my desire for a muffin, and was a bit indulgent.

The sweet breads were taken away promptly at 10am, FYI.
Oatmeal, Yogurt, Fruit.
The other food station had hot oatmeal with mix-ins (brown sugar, raisins, pecans), which was a nice offering, to have something warm and comforting, and I appreciated the mix-ins, but the oatmeal was really watery and boring.

The yogurt was assorted flavors of decent quality Greek yogurt (Chobani), and I liked the grapefruit segments.  Nothing amazing, but, decent.
Next came cereal, an assortment of 3 varieties (granola, raisin bran, rice chex), plus milk.  The granola was basic, no nuts, no dried fruit, but I guess I could have added some from the oatmeal station.  Again, not exciting, but if I was hungry, Greek yogurt, fruit, and granola would have been fairly satisfying, and far better than what I'd expect from an Admiral's Club.


I'm always drawn to snack mixes.  There is something about having something to munch on that I just can't resist.  The Admiral's Club snack mix is never that good though.  Yet I find myself eating tons of it every time.  Is it because it is so salty?  Is it because I just WANT to like it more than I do?  I'm not sure.

Mixes change out all the time, but generally rotate between 3 common savory versions, plus sometimes some sweet little yogurt pretzels.
Honey Mustard Mix.
 The wasn't labelled, but, I believe this is known as the Honey Mustard mix.  It has way too many boring pretzels in assorted shapes and sizes (short rods, full size rods, twists), corn nuts (never that great), orange sticks (ok), and sesame sticks (ok), all with some very mild seasoning, which I guess they think is honey mustard.  As always, I want to like it more than I do, but, it at least gives me something to munch on, and I do like the saltyness.
Mardi Gras Mix.
For once, one of the snack mixes was labelled!  This one is apparently "Mardi Gras Mix", with pretzels (meh), corn nuts (never as good as I want them to be), sesame sticks (decent), and the spicy little cheesy sticks (the best part).  As always, I want to like this mix more than I actually do, but the sesame sticks and spicy sticks satisfy any salty cravings I have.
Snack Mix.
The mix in the Boston (and DFW during my connection) was actually different from the one I had over the summer in San Francisco.  While still loaded up with way too many pretzels, that I totally didn't like, this one had wasabi peas instead of the corn kernels.  This was exciting to me since I do like wasabi peas, however, they mostly just tasted like ... peas.  Not much wasabi zing to them.  There were also almost as many rice cracker snacks as pretzels, and they were completely flavorless.  And a few of the token sesame sticks, something I always want to like, but always fail to impress.  Overall, this was a very bland mix.

Instead of the larger plastic cups the San Francisco club offered, the Boston location had tiny little ramekins. I guess they were a reasonable size for people with restraint when it comes to snack mixes, but for me, they were too small.  It took many refills to get enough of the mix (minus the pretzels), to fill me up!  Luckily, during my layover at DFW, the big plastic cups made a re-appearance.

[ No Photo ]
Yogurt Pretzels.

Over in the other snack station were the mini yogurt pretzels.  Like last time, they weren't great, but I appreciated having something slightly sweet to go along with my coffee.  Speaking of the coffee, it was the standard Nescafe automatic machine.  Not particularly good, but they did have flavored creamers available, which helped jazz it up a little.


Otis Spunkmeyer® Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
When I travelled over the summer, the new snack offerings were just being rolled out.  I had read that they would have new "upgraded" cookies, so I was met with disappointment then when the same old stale, hard, cookies were available.  This time, the new cookies made an appearance.

I always love the warm cookies served onboard American Airlines flights, so I was hoping these would be similar.  I knew they wouldn't be hot, but they did look the same - large size, soft.  So much better than the old ones.

And they were better than the old ones. But, since they weren't warm, they wound up just being fairly unremarkable soft style cookies.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thanksgiving From Munchery

You've heard me rave about Munchery before.  I've described the service many times.  I'll skip all those details now, but if you aren't aware of what Munchery offers, go read those reviews first :)

This time, I wasn't just ordering any old dinner from Munchery.  I was ordering Thanksgiving!  This year, for Thanksgiving, they had a slew of options.  If you just didn't want to deal with the turkey, they offered whole turkeys seasoned and brined, ready to pop into the oven on Thanksgiving morning.  Or, it could come already roasted.  Or you could get a full feast, designed for a group, or just an individual meal.  Or you could just order sides, designed for groups of four.   And of course, some stunning looking desserts!

I went for the individual meal, plus an additional starter, and desserts.  I'll cover the desserts in my next review, as they were certainly the highlight.  The main meal was ok, but the least successful of all Munchery orders I have made.  Overall, this was a very easy way to get all of my Thanksgiving cravings met with minimal effort, but nothing can really compare to a Thanksgiving feast cooked by Mom.

Anyway, I still recommend Munchery, and if you want $20 off your first order, just sign up with my invite link.
Roasted Chestnut Soup: chive crème fraîche, crisp shallots, sage.  $6.50.
Not part of the Thanksgiving package, but I decided to add on an additional soup as a starter.  This was a creation from Chef Steven Levine, whom I had ordered from once before.

The soup was described as: "a rich sweet puree of roasted chestnuts, parsnips, leeks, celery and sage. Made with a vegetable stock and finished with a little cream. Topped with a chive crème fraîche, crisp shallots and fried sage leaves."

This was a restaurant quality dish!

I'm not a huge fan of soups in general, but I love chestnuts, and I don't see them on menus very often.  So, when I saw the soup, I thought it would be a great starter course for our Thanksgiving dinner.  When meal time came around, we decided that we had too much food already, and decided to save the soup, so I enjoyed it separately.

The soup itself was a puree, again, not something I tend to like.  The flavor was good, but I probably wouldn't have guessed it was chestnut.  I'm not sure what I would have guessed actually.  I was fairly disappointed that the chestnut, the component I was most excited about, wasn't more prevalent.  I did taste the parsnip, leek, and celery.

But, what made this shine was the accompaniments.  The chive crème fraîche had plentiful chopped chives, which added a lot of flavor.  I loved the contrast of the hot soup with the cold crème fraîche.  It also made it even creamier, not that it wasn't creamy to begin with.

The fried shallots and sage were supposed to be crispy toppings to add on top as well, but I touched them, and they were flimsy.  I was sad, until I realized I could just pop them in the toaster oven for a few minutes to crisp them up.  They transformed right back into the crispy components they were meant to be.  Crispy fried shallots are just about one of the most delicious things on the planet, so it was hard to go wrong here.  I really loved the additional textures from the crispy components, and both of these were very flavorful.

The toppings really completed the dish, and transformed it from just a simple soup you could get anywhere, into a stunning restaurant quality dish.

Overall, I enjoyed this, although again, I'm not a soup girl, so I probably wouldn't order it again.  High quality, well thought out dish however, so if you are a soup fan, I recommend.  $6.50 for a bowl of soup seemed high to me at first, but again, this was restaurant quality, and you'd easily pay that at a restaurant.  My favorite (savory) dish of the meal.
Individual Thanksgiving Dinner: Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Winter Greens Gratin, Cornbread, Apple and Fennel-Sausage Stuffing, Cranberry Apple Chutney Sauce, Giblet Gravy. $14.95 ($13.95 Early Bird)
The Munchery chefs all teamed up for this feast, traditional turkey with sides.

First, the main course, the turkey.  "Brined, roasted and sliced Diestel Farms turkey white and dark meat", also by Chef Steven Levine.  The portion of this was insanely generous.  3 large slices of white meat on top, with many smaller chunks of white and dark meat underneath.  I don't like turkey, at all, so I gave this all to Ojan.  He said it was decent, and appreciated the crispy skin.  He happily ate the leftovers the next day as well.

Next came the stuffing, from Chef Michelle Harrison.  It was described as a cornbread, apple, and fennel-sausage stuffing,  "completely made from scratch, this stuffing is packed with flavor. Freshly baked cornbread is blended with chicken stock, a variety of seasonal aromatics, apples and house-made fennel-sausage."

Sounded fantastic, as I love cornbread.  And stuffing is one of my absolute favorite things, so I asked for a little extra.  Unfortunately, this just wasn't very good.  First, the bread didn't actually seem to be cornbread.  It didn't have any corn-y grit to it.  And it was soggy.  Even when I heated it in the toaster oven for far longer than they said, it still didn't crisp up.  Flavor-wise, it was also lacking.  There were visible additions to it, like celery, but the aromatics didn't deliver on flavor.  I was also sadden by the sausage component, as I only found a few tiny bits, all too small to really taste.  I expected this to be the highlight of the meal for me, but it was my second to last favorite.

Next up was the vegetables, a winter greens gratin with rainbow chard, collard greens, and gruyere by Chef Allison Jones.  Described as "rainbow chard, collard greens, and dino kale are blanched, creamed with nutmeg and thyme, then baked with gruyere and breadcrumbs on top. "

This sounded good enough, but I eat greens like this all the time, and didn't expect to care much about it.  But I've been really into nutmeg this holiday season, and who doesn't love gruyere?  Plus, I should have SOME vegetables with my feast right?

It was better than I expected.  Well cooked greens, creamy sauce, and crispy breadcrumbs on top.  It reheated very well.  Ojan's favorite dish from the meal, my second favorite.

It can't be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes right?  Chef Jeremy Goldfarb provided these, classic mashed potatoes with chives, described as "whipped together with some cream, a touch of butter and some fresh chives".

The potatoes came in a mound that was clearly scooped with an ice cream scoop.  Visually, it reminded me of grade-school cafeteria food, which I think is the last time I encountered mashed potatoes served with a scoop.  But, you can't judge potatoes by their looks right?  Unfortunately, they didn't taste good either.  They seemed really, really starchy.  Neither Ojan nor I even wanted to finish the scoop.  Least favorite dish for both of us.

For accompaniments, there was also cranberry sauce, but it was fairly non-traditional, a cranberry apple chutney.  Described as cranberry sauce, with "pears, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, and the essence of orange", made by Chef Raymond Rayes.

I liked this quite a bit, it was my favorite component.  Sadly there was just a small little container of it, I would have easily enjoyed more!  I used it on top of everything to jazz it up.  I really liked how it wasn't cloying sweet like cranberry sauce can be, and the additional ingredients made it far more interesting.  Very well spiced.  I'm not sure if it had apples or pears, one description called it "cranberry apple chutney sauce" but the other said "pears".  Either way, quite tasty, and my favorite part of the Thanksgiving offering.

And of course, there was gravy, also by chef Levine, "a rich turkey broth thickened with flour and butter, confit giblets and black pepper."

It was pretty classic gravy, but I mean that in a good way.  It was flavorful, not lumpy, and a good addition to everything.

Overall, I was glad to get a Thanksgiving meal delivered to me, but I wouldn't do this again.  The price was quite reasonable for a full Thanksgiving feast like this.  I would never order turkey normally anyway, but I certainly would not get this stuffing or mashed potatoes again, since they were quite disappointing.  The gratin has inspired me to check out more of Chef Jone's dishes, since I hadn't tried any of her offerings before.  And the cranberry sauce makes me want to try more from Chef Rayes, as he clearly knows how to work with flavors.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Taro Bubble Tea from Little Garden

When I was recently visiting New Hampshire, I had a taro bubble tea for the first time in ages.  I forgot how much I loved them!  Since returning to SF, I've been on a quest to find a good one.

This time I headed to Little Garden, in Chinatown.  It was pretty legit, with the menu in Chinese, and I was the only non-Asian in the entire place.  I ordered it online through my phone, intending to just run in and grab it and go, but it wasn't ready yet when I arrived.  The staff was incredible friendly, offering me a place to sit while I waited, even filling a water glass for me.  They also randomly had free wifi, even though it was certainly a restaurant, not a cafe.

I didn't try the food, but it did look good.  Unfortunately, I didn't love my bubble tea.  It wasn't as bad as the one from Out the Door, but my favorite may still just be from Quickly, although the taro smoothie from Miss Saigon was also memorable.

Taro Tapioca.  $4.40.
This wasn't great. The decent: the taro flavor was good enough, it was creamy. The mediocre: I disliked the use of crushed ice rather than ice cubes, as it got sucked up too easily in the straw, getting confused with the boba. The bad: my real issue was the tapioca. It was way too soft. Not good at all.

Price was higher than average, but it was a real restaurant, not just a bubble tea shop. I certainly wouldn't get again.
Little Garden Seafood on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Travelin' Tuesdays: Boston and New Hampshire!

As you may have noticed by now, this blog follows a format:

Monday: Reviews of chain restaurants, catering, or food trucks.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday, or other special Tuesday series.
Wednesday: Full service restaurant reviews.
Thursday: Reviews of bakeries or ice cream shops.
Friday: Packaged snack foods or drinks.
Saturday: Day off!
Sunday: Chocolate, or other candy.

When I review restaurants, they are almost entirely located in the San Francisco Bay Area, since that is where I live, and I assume most of my friends who read this do as well.  I never saw a point in reviewing places outside the region, since I didn't think they'd be valuable to any of my readers.

There have been a few exceptions, like when I've been blown away by meals, like my lunch at Republic Cafe in Manchester, New Hampshire, or an entire series I did on my favorite place in my home town, Home Hill Inn.

But I recently traveled to Boston, and had some absolutely extraordinary dining experiences.  Some of the best meals of my year.  I feel compelled to share them.  I also had some of the worst.  And, some fun airline food.

For the next few Tuesdays, I will begin a new "Travelin' Tuesdays" series.  We'll start with the snacks in the American Airlines Admiral's Club, and then move on to inflight dining: Main Cabin food aboard Virgin America, First Class food aboard American Airlines, and First Class on Virgin America.  We'll visit classic east coast establishments like Legal Seafood and Lou's Restaurant, hit some high points like Clio (top meal of the year!) and O Ya in Boston, and some lows like The Flying Goose in New Hampshire, and conclude with delicious airline meals.  And a few more fun ones along the way, like glazed cruller bread pudding with eggnog whipped cream at Lou's.

So stay tuned dear readers, it is time to travel!


Monday, November 25, 2013

Comfort Foods from Munchery

You've heard me rave about a local meal delivery service, Munchery, before, so I'll spare you the overall details again.  Check out my other Munchery reviews for the background.

Munchery just continues to improve!  A few things have changed since I last used Munchery.  The first is the packaging, not only does it look better, but the trays are compostable, microwaveable, and oven safe now.  And everything is made with recycled materials.  The meal offerings have expanded, with kid's meals (smaller portions, more kid friendly items) in addition to the adult's meals they always offered.  And for beverages, you can order beer, wine, cider, coffee beans, even fresh squeezed juices.  And, they've brought on some great new chefs.

Of course, there are a slew of other reasons to love the service as well, not just because the food is delicious and it is convenient, but the company is also socially responsible, donating a meal for every meal you order.  And they use high quality ingredients, organic and sustainable.

If you haven't checked it out already, I highly recommend, so perfect for weeknight easy meals, and so, so much better than standard delivery!  If you use my invite link, you'll even get $20 off your first order.
Crispy Snapper & Veggies. Kid's Meal. $6.50.
 "A children's portion of herb-breaded fresh snapper strips, served with steamed carrot and zucchini batons with a mild tartar sauce for dipping."

Since I've found Munchery's portions to be rather large in the past (2 adults can often split one, assuming they are of course having dessert as well).  Or maybe just adults like me that munch on snacks all afternoon :)

Anyway, I was delighted to see that Munchery now offers kids's meals!  Smaller portions, with more of a comfort foods slant.  But who doesn't love real fish sticks?

I took the chef's suggestion and reheated the sticks in a toaster oven, rotating every few minutes.  I heated them longer than his suggested time, in order to really make them crispy.  And ... it worked!  They really did crisp up nicely.  It was a bit hard to believe that they'd arrived already cooked and cold, and could transform so nicely.

The outside was crispy, and slightly flavored with mild herbs.  Inside was moist and flaky snapper.  It wasn't dried out, which I had feared might happen in the reheating process.  It wasn't fishy, which I had feared might happen since it wasn't "fresh".  In fact, it really was just good!  Quality fish, nice seasoning, and turns out, totally fine to reheat!

The tartar sauce was unremarkable.  As an adult, I think I wanted something with a bit more zing, some capers, something, but as a kid's meal, this makes sense.  There was also lemon wedges to squeeze over it.

The only disappointing part was the side of veggies.  Just some carrot and summer squash sticks that had been steamed.  They were limp, and didn't really liven back up when reheated.

But overall, certainly a winner, and I'd order it again.  I also thought the portion size was just right for me, and the price of only $6.50 was incredible.  I'd love to see Munchery offer smaller sized "adult" meals too.  I have no problem ordering a kid's meal, but if that does mean toned down flavors, I'd prefer just a smaller size of a meal designed for adults.
Individual Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, Roasted Tomato Sauce, Yukon Gold Smashed Potato.   $10.95.
"Individual bacon-wrapped Angus beef meatloaf with roasted tomato sauce, edamame soy bean, corn and blue lake bean succotash, and Yukon gold smashed potatoes."

I did not actually have this dish, but I snuck a few bites of the mashed potatoes.  I was really impressed with how creamy they were!  The person who was eating this dish liked the potatoes, but said he needed a sauce other than the tomato sauce to go with it.

Large portions of everything for the price.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Milka Chocolate

A few months ago, a friend returned from her travels with chocolate from Studentská to share.  I thought it was quite fun to try chocolate I couldn't otherwise get here in the US.  Well, she went traveling again, and of course brought back chocolate to share!  I'm liking this trend of friends traveling and always returning with chocolates for me to try :)

This time she came back with chocolate from Milka, distributed throughout Europe.  I was not familiar with the brand before, but it seems quite large.  The internet tells me that the name is "mil" from the German word "Milch" and "ka" from "Kakao", or, milk and cocoa.  Cute!

Milka Triolade, or "Triangle".
First we tried the "Milka Triolade".

A layered bar, with a milk chocolate base, a white chocolate center layer, and dark chocolate triangles, hence the name "triolade", or, "triangle".

This was a decent piece of chocolate.  Each layer had its unique properties.  Standard milk chocolate base, sweet creamy white chocolate on top, both of equal size and thickness.  And then a smaller, triangle shaped, dark chocolate.  The dark chocolate was the most remarkable, really a smooth, deep flavor.

Altogether, quite enjoyable, and the overall result was certainly better than any individual layer.
Milka Toffee Ganznuss, or "Toffee Wholenut".
Next we went for the "Toffee Ganzuss", descried as "Alpine milk chocolate with a caramel creme filling with added whole hazelnuts"

This was a VERY sweet chocolate.  The milk chocolate on both sides was incredibly smooth and creamy.  Inside is a white filling, very sweet, I am guessing this is the "caramel creme"?  Or at least the cream.  Then there is additional gooey caramel, super flavorful and sweet.  And, a whole hazelnuts in the center of each square.

A wonderful combination of flavors, and textures, but very sweet.  My favorite of the two bars we tried.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

More Cookies from Arizmendi Bakery

Merged into the master post.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Delivery from Little Star Pizza

A few weeks ago, I had the task of providing dinner for a group of co-workers.  This happens every few months or so when our regular catering is unable to provide our meals.  I've had fun with this task, finding decently suitable takeout food like cold Vietnamese salads and desserts from Miss Saigon and spring rolls from Freshroll.  Or going totally non-standard, and getting a delicious takeout meal from Zare at Fly Trap.  But this time around, I decided to be simple, and go for the most common type of delivery imaginable ... PIZZA!

Of course, I have strong opinions on pizza, like most things, and my favorite place in San Francisco is Little Star ... and they don't deliver.  And my last visit there wasn't that great.  But, if I was getting pizza, I wanted my favorite!

Thus, I was thrilled to discover a service called Caviar, that partners with just a handful of restaurants (generally better than your standard delivery options available through Seamless,, Eat24, etc), including Little Star!  The ordering process is much nicer than any other I've used, with a fully illustrated menu.  They also provide GPS tracking of your delivery and e-mail notifications.  Of course, it comes at a price, a flat rate of $9.99 per order.

The only negative thing I have to say about Caviar is that my pizza and cheesecake came together in the same insulated bag.  Given that pizza should be hot and cheesecake chilled, this wasn't ideal.  The pizza boxes were still hot to the touch, but I definitely wanted to stick my pizza in the toaster oven to warm it up further once it arrived.  The delivery guy was friendly.

Next time I actually get delivery, I'll definitely consider Caviar again, as I greatly prefer their more curated list of restaurants!
Little Star, Deep Dish, Large.  $28.25.
Whenever I go to Little Star, I can never decide which of the "Little Star" or the "Classic" I like best.  I like them both, but my favorite varies from visit to visit.  Tonight, my favorite varied from bite to bite!

I started with the Little Star, a vegetarian pizza of "spinach blended with ricotta and feta, mushrooms, onions, and garlic".

The crust wasn't nearly as crispy as I remember, but I'm guessing that this is due to the fact that it was delivery.  Even once I re-toaster oven warmed it, it still wasn't crisp.  It was hearty though, and I always really enjoy the cornmeal texture and flavor.

Like all of their deep dish pizzas, this is not a light pizza.  Not only is it very thick deep dish, and the slices are huge, but the amount of filling is considerable.  The pizzas all have a very thick layer of mozzarella, then the selected toppings, and then an insane layer of tomato sauce.  In this case, that meant a lot of cheese layers, since our toppings layer also included cheese, so we had the base mozzarella cheese layer, then ricotta/feta layer with the veggies, and then some parmesan sprinkled on top to finish it off.  Eating a few slices of this always causes pain.  But, I never learn.

Anyway, back to the pizza.  The mozzarella layer was fine, nicely melted cheese.  But the part of the Little Star that I always like is the ricotta/feta/spinach blend.  It reminds me of the filling my mom used to make for her stuffed shells.  The mushrooms and onions add a little something more, but for me, it is really all about those first ingredients.

The tomato sauce on top is slightly sweet, and has large chunks of tomato.  I always think the layer of tomato sauce is too thick, masking some of the other flavors in the pizza.  But, then I always want that sauce to sorta dunk/top my crust with.  So I scrape off a little of the tomato sauce (or, just let it fall off, which inevitably happens), and then use it to finish off my crusts.  I guess I'm not really upset about the amount of sauce, but ideally, there would be a little less, but I'd get some extra sauce on the side for dunking purposes :)

Anyway, this was a good pizza.  By the end of the meal, it was my favorite, and of course is one I'll order again.

The $28.25 price is higher than at the restaurant, where it is $24.50.  Still, for such a filling pizza, the price seems fine.
Classic, Deep Dish, Large.  $28.25.
My other favorite pizza at Little Star is the aptly named "Classic".  Made with "sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green bells".

Most elements were pretty much the same as the Little Star, in that the crust wasn't quite as crisp as I remembered, the mozzarella layer was a little too much but well melted, and the tomato sauce on top was again a little too much, but then wanted for my crusts.

What differed is the filling.  In this case, mushrooms, onions, green bell peppers, and sausage.  I was really impressed with the large amount of toppings, that were well distributed.  On my last visit to Little Star, I was unhappy with the fact that my slice only had 2 tiny pieces of sausage on it, this time, that was certainly not the case.  Every bite was loaded up with toppings, which is just how I remember it being back in the glory days.  I'm glad to see my last experience was a fluke!

This was my favorite when I started eating the pizzas, but by the end, I flip-flopped and decided I liked the Little Star more.  But again, a good pizza, and one I'd order again.  The mix of veggies and sausage is, well, classic.  You can't turn it down!

Price was the same as the Little Star, again, a decent price for such a substantial pizza.
Mama's Ricotta Cheesecake.  $6.75/slice.
If you read my previous review of Little Star, you know that I was devastated when they were out of cheesecake, because they made my absolute favorite cheesecake in the whole world.  Well, it gets more traumatic!  Little Star topped making their own cheesecake!!!

They now get their cheesecake from San Francisco Cheesecake Company.  Now, I like SF Cheesecake, and I've reviewed them before.  But, it isn't my darling Little Star cheesecake.  Yes, I like the pizza at Little Star, but I always liked the cheesecake even more than the pizza.  So, even though I like SF Cheesecake, this is still a bit of a tragedy to me.

Anyway.  The location I ordered from had only one kind of cheesecake available, the "Mama's Ricotta Cheesecake".  Apparently their other location has the Vanilla Sour Cream and the Cappuccino.

The "Mama's" is described as "our version of New York cheesecake with rich ricotta, sour cream and a hint of lemon over our graham cracker crust. "  I hadn't ever had this one before, as I tend to go for their more interesting flavors, but I eagerly dug in (ok, I dug in a while later, after I finished digesting all the pizza ... as excited as I was for the cheesecake, I was way, way too full to consider a slice right away!)

It was a good cheesecake, don't me wrong.  The crust wasn't too thick, slightly buttery crumble style.  The cheesecake itself was very creamy, and had a nice tang from the sour cream.  But if I was selecting a cheesecake from SF Cheesecake, I wouldn't pick this flavor, and would go for their amazing butterscotch version instead.  Or one of the fun seasonal ones.  Overall, this was good, and I'll get it again if at Little Star, but I'm still in mourning over the loss of the original Little Star cheesecake.

I had an extra slice and had it the next night.  Cheesecake normally keeps fine for a day, but I really wasn't into it on the second day.  I'm not quite sure why.  The consistency didn't seem quite right, it was too fluffy for me.  Maybe I was just sick of cheesecake?

Like the pizza, the price is higher via Caviar, $6.75 rather than $5.25.  While that price doesn't seem crazy for cheesecake served in a restaurant, it did seem a bit crazy once I realized how much we paid for our 7 slices of cheesecake.  And, in a restaurant, it would be garnished with some sauce and whipped cream.
Little Star Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Another Try at Nick's Crispy Tacos

I first went to Nick's Crispy Tacos a year ago, when I discovered them on LevelUp.  I wasn't impressed, and said I probably wouldn't return.  But a few months later they ran an even better LevelUp promotion, enabling me to get what I really wanted, for free!  Even then, I didn't like it, and said I wouldn't return.  Yet I did.

They keep drawing me in with freebies!  This time, it was a $5 credit for my birthday.  Aww, thanks Nick's!  I liked my food much more on this visit, but I think that is because I stopped trying the tacos.  Turns out, Nick's Crispy Tacos does a nice job, with non-tacos!
Elote.  $3.25.
Since the tacos really hadn't done it for me before, this time around I decided to go for the other thing the Yelpers all flip out about: the elote.  I grew up eating a lot of corn on the cob, and still love it.  Theirs is served Mexican style of course, slathered with queso fresco, chili powder, and the lime mayo that they use on the fish tacos.  Wrapped up in foil, it almost looked like a burrito when it was handed over to me.

It was decent corn.  Corn season just ended, so I wasn't expecting much of the corn itself, but it was nicely cooked.  Not too overcooked, not mushy, just nicely done.  I liked the heat from the generous amount of chili powder they added.  There was also a TON of cheese, I'm assuming queso fresco, on it.  I didn't care for it.  It added a salty component, and I always put salt on my corn, but I just wasn't a fan of the cheese itself.  There was also some lime mayo.  I didn't taste the lime, but I liked the creaminess.  Although, I'm not sure I really needed mayo on my corn.

I was also handed containers of each of the red and green salsa with this.  I'm really not sure what I would have done with that on my corn.

Overall, it was better than the tacos for sure, but I didn't really want another.  Maybe during corn season it is better?

I only ate half of it when I got it, and brought the other half home for Ojan.  However, he wasn't interested, so I ended up eating it, cold.  I actually really liked it that way.  I cut it off the cob, and it was basically like a mayo-y corn salad.  Not bad at all.  It really surprised me, and by this point, I changed my mind, and said I'd gladly get it again.  Only, I'd just bring it home, stick it in the fridge, and have it as corn salad :)

The price was $3.25, but I was charged $3.66.  I remembered that last time I was confused with the final price as well, as it always comes out higher than just standard tax.  Not sure what they are up to.  An ear of corn, even when covered in stuff, doesn't really seem worth that price.

Update:  And ... I went back to try out my corn salad idea again.  Of course I tried a bite when it was hot and fresh.  My ear of corn was much smaller this time, pale yellow, barely yellow at all.  It was again perfectly cooked though, not mushy.  I again didn't like the cheese, and thought the mayo was really off-putting.

But my plan was to bring it home, serve it cold, off the cob, as a salad.  I didn't like it that way either this time around.  Hmm.  I guess this is what I get for having corn in November :)
Churro.  $1.95.
On another visit, I decided to satisfy my sweet tooth, and ordered a churro to go along with the coffee I had just picked up.  I was basically craving a donut, and thought this would suffice.

I had no idea what to expect, I sorta assumed it would be lackluster since I hadn't liked any of the food there before, besides the corn.  I assumed it was going to be pre-made and just warmed up.  I figured I'd take a bite or two, and bring it to Ojan.

So I was a bit annoyed when it seemed to take forever.  Yes, Nick's was busy, but how long would my little churro take?  Finally, it was handed over, wrapped in foil.

I took a bite and quickly discovered why it took so long.  I'm pretty sure it was freshly fried to order!  It was piping hot.  As in, I actually burnt the interior of my mouth piping hot.

It was crispy on the outside.  Moist on the inside.  Nicely fried.  Great amount of cinnamon and sugar on it.  In short, it was good.  It was the best churro I've ever had.  It put the crappy one from Rubio's to shame.  They weren't even comparable.

Well Nick's, you've done it.  You finally made something I really, really liked :)

At $1.95, it was more expensive than the Rubio's one, but I think the price was very good for a freshly fried item.  Of course, it rang up as $2.20.  I'm convinced at this point that they must include tax + healthy SF fee?

Update: I went back for another, and this time, it was not nearly as good.  While it still took forever to prepare (longer than the burritos, etc from those who ordered after me), it wasn't piping hot.  It was more warm than hot.  It also seemed like it had been over-fried, very crispy, not doughy at all.  And it tasted like oil.  Not enough cinnamon nor sugar.  If this had been my first churro from Nick's I would have never returned.  Consistency does not seem to be their best attribute!

I also tried the horchata again, because I do sometimes love horchata, and was hoping that the previous batch I had was just a fluky bad batch.  Sadly, I still didn't like it.  Just too thick and ricey, although it was nicely seasoned and not too sweet.
Nick's Crispy Tacos on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cloverhill Bakery

I normally review traditional bakeries on Thursdays, but Cloverhill is called a "bakery", so I decided it counts.  They don't have a storefront though, rather they produce packaged goods, usually sold in vending machines.

Vending machine baked goods are not something I'd normally eat, but the really good one from 7-Eleven re-inspired me (although that one wasn't pre-packaged exactly, as they claimed they are baked fresh every morning).  Anyway, I learned my lesson.  No more packaged baked goods.  Meh.
Big Texas Cinnamon Roll.
This thing is an award winner: "The Big Texas is the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Automatic Merchandiser Readers' Choice Pastry of the Year". Potential?  No.

First, I tried it at room temperature. This cinnamon roll had absolutely nothing going for it.  It tasted like kinda stale bread, just with a bit of cinnamon swirled in and cheap icing on top.  Not worth even a second bite.

However, I was encouraged by the glazed bun from Walgreens, which was clearly a prepackaged item, was also not good at room temperature, but proclaimed I should warm it up, and when I did, it got much better.  The packaging for the Big Texas Cinnamon Roll said the same thing.  So, just like the Walgreens one, I put it in the toaster oven for a few minutes.

The icing melted. The whole thing got softer.  It was better, but ... that didn't really save it.  Definitely won't be trying another one of these, and I've been re-inspired to stop trying packaged baked goods :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cedar Hill: Kitchen + Smokehouse

I've visited Cedar Hill a few times, but alas, they closed a few months ago.  This review is a bit delayed.

My first visit was inspired by the fact that I had some chili at home and I wanted a side to go along with it.  So, doing what I do these days, I pulled out LevelUp, to find somewhere suitable.  I quickly found a BBQ place, that seeded LevelUp with a whole $4!  I could buy some corn bread with that, which would go perfectly with my chili!

Cedar Hill was a cute place, with a few tables outside, a bar area, and some tables inside.  It was casual and friendly feeling.  I ordered my cornbread togo, which you can do at the bar.  It seemed like many people get take out from here.  While I waited, I examined their large selection of house made sauces, mostly bbq based, with a huge variety of flavor profiles.  I'm not really a bbq person, but if I were, I'd go back to try out their sauces.  Perhaps I'd go back just for sides, as I do love all of the things that go along with bbq, like mac and cheese, potato salad, etc.  They also run a food truck, The Rib Whip, which I've seen around town but never stopped at.

When I went to pay, no one knew how to use LevelUp.  Like my snafu at Fresco Pizza and Shwarma, their phone was also unplugged and dead.  But, they plugged it in, turned it on, and asked around until they found a cook who knew how to use it.  And unlike Fresco Pizza, they apologized and didn't act like I was the worst person ever.

On my next visit, the setup had changed somewhat.  It appears that everyone now orders at a counter, where the LevelUp phone is nicely installed next to the register. It worked flawlessly on my second visit.  The staff were very friendly.  When I mentioned how hot out it was, she offered me a plastic cup to fill with water togo, since I was getting my food togo.  Very appreciated!
Cedar Hill Cornbread : Housemade skillet cornbread with jam & butter.  $3.50.
The cornbread was served in a big wedge, with butter and sweet pepper jam on the side.  The cornbread had a nice gritty consistency from the cornmeal, but no real chunks of corn.  It was fairly moist, with a crisper top layer, and a very crisp bottom from being cooked in a skillet.  It was good, but not remarkable.

The sweet pepper jam was a nice touch, but I really wished the butter was honey butter!

I enjoyed this with my chili, but I would not go out of my way for it otherwise.
Small Side of Coleslaw.  $4.
They offer two varieties of coleslaw, a mayo based version and a vinegar based version.  I'm definitely a mayo version gal, but I asked for a recommendation just in case.  The person taking my order very promptly said she liked the mayo one best.  Good!

The slaw was made up of both red and green cabbage, nice and crisp, in assorted size chunks.  The cabbage was nicely prepared.  There was also a ton of red and green peppers.  I've kinda been anti-bell peppers lately, so this was disappointing.  There was a lot of it!  There was also some red onion.

The slaw was only lightly dressed, not all that much mayo, but also, just not much flavor.  Incredibly unremarkable.  I tried out a couple of their house made bbq sauces, hoping to amp up the flavor a little, but, it still was pretty lacking.

A small size was $4, and really not worth it.  This was as unremarkable as any grocery store variety, and at least twice as expensive.  Would not get again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Langostino Lobster Burrito from Rubio's!

Since I've reviewed Rubio's so many times now, I'm going to spare you the intro.  It was the same as always friendly staff, fast efficient service.

My most recent visit to Rubio's to try the latest limited addition offering, the always exciting Langostino Lobster, available only for a short time every year starting in October.  It was also my first time having a burrito at Rubio's, as I'm normally more of a taco girl.

I liked my lobster burrito quite a bit, and after my last couple Rubio's experiences that were slightly disappointing, this helped me remember why I became such a fan in the first place.  I'll be going back!
Half a Langostino Lobster Burrito. Full size: $9.29.
"Tender Langostino Lobster, our new citrus rice, fresh guacamole, black beans, chipotle white sauce, crisp lettuce and salsa fresca drizzled with warm basil butter then wrapped in a warm flour tortilla and garnished with a slice of lime."

To start, I'm not normally a burrito person, since I don't tend to care for rice and beans.  But ... this was a very tasty burrito!

The flour tortilla was warm and fresh tasting.  Not gummy, not soggy, good.

The "new citrus rice" surprised me.  Again, I'm not normally a rice fan, but this was fluffy, moist, and flavorful.  It really didn't seem like it had been sitting around for ages.

The black beans were as I expected, just not my thing.  They were tender, well cooked, but I don't care for beans.  I would normally ask to have these left out, but I wanted to try their full recipe to give it a chance (well, except I had to leave out the guacamole, since I'm allergic).

The langostino lobster really surprised me.  First, there was tons of it.  Such a generous serving.  The pieces were tender, seemed almost grilled?  Slightly sweet, not fishy, good flavor and perfect texture, not too chewy.  Much better than when I had it last year in the taco.

The lettuce and salsa fresca were also very good.  Both were incredibly fresh.  The lettuce was indeed crisp, as described.  How often does lettuce inside a burrito stay crisp?  And the tomato was far, far better than any tomato I've had at a fast-casual restaurant (well, besides Rubio's!).  It also had some corn.  Amazingly fresh ingredients.

The star for me was the chipotle white sauce.  It had a bit of kick, and was really creamy.  It went perfectly with the lobster and the salsa fresca.  I didn't detect the warm basil butter as a distinct ingredient, but I'm guessing it was mostly mixed with the other sauce.

The burrito was well constructed.  Tightly wrapped, ingredients very evenly distributed throughout.  Far better than pretty much any burrito shop I've been to.

So, overall, I liked this.  I probably wouldn't get the burrito again though, just because I'm not a huge fan of burritos.  Or if I did, I'd leave out the beans.  I'd certainly go for the taco, or, I think what I'd really like is just a salad, topped with the langostino, salsa fresca, and the delicious sauce as a dressing.

This ranks up there as one of my favorite Rubio's dishes, and re-affirms why I first really started liking Rubio's: fresh, flavorful, and really well prepared.

The price is $9.29 for a full size burrito, which is one of the most expensive items you can buy at Rubio's, but it is because of the very generous amount of langostino.  I think the price is pretty justified.
Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 11, 2013

Seasonal Offerings from Jamba Juice

If you've read my blog for a while, you have probably heard me mention that I was on a medically necessary liquids-only diet for months a few years ago, and thus smoothies were a huge part of my life.  During that time, I had way more than my share of smoothies, including of course, Jamba Juice, which I've reviewed before.  I was totally sick of smoothies, and have pretty much avoided them since.  I sorta grew to hate them.  After several weeks of consuming only liquids, it really doesn't matter how good a smoothie is, you just don't want another.  Years later, and smoothies still aren't really appealing to me.

But then I saw that Jamba juice offered a matcha green tea smoothie.  I've been loving matcha lately, and it sounded more like a Peet's matcha freddo or a Starbuck's matcha frappuchino than a smoothie, listed in the "Creamy Treats" section of the menu, made with frozen yogurt and not any fruit or vegetables.  So, even though I thought I'd never set foot inside a Jamba Juice again ... I did.

The Jamba Juice near me allows for ordering through your phone via Paypal, so I made my order, and then walked the few blocks to pick it up.  When I entered however, I was met with disappointment.  Jamba Juice discontinued the matcha!  (Although, outcry was so loud over this, that they are bringing it back ... soon).

Since I'd already paid via the phone app, the worker said she'd make me whatever I wanted in its place.  As I said, I don't like smoothies really.  I didn't want a classic smoothie.  I didn't really want anything.  I sadly glanced over the menu, pausing at the rest of the milkshake-like "Creamy Treats" section of the menu.  These are the ones that even Jamba Juice isn't trying to claim are healthy.  They are made with frozen yogurt and more decadent ingredients.  I've tried several of them before, and although I liked them more than the smoothies, I didn't find one that I really wanted to repeat.  Having no real good choice, I went for the seasonal special, the pumpkin smash.  I wasn't really sure if I'd like it or not, but, there wasn't anything I wanted more.

It was good, but I still really want to try that matcha, when it makes its return!

Pumpkin Smash. Original Size. $5.59.
Since Jamba Juice didn't have the matcha, the friendly worker upgraded me from the 16 ounce size I ordered to the "original" size, aka, 24 ounces.  It was massive!  I honestly didn't think I'd even come close to finishing it, yet somehow ... I did.  107 grams of sugar later, I somewhat regretted that move.  So. Much. Sugar.

It was creamy, icy, well blended.  Basically a milkshake.  A very pumpkin-y milkshake.  The spicing was present, but not all that strong.  It was sweet, but not too sweet.  It wasn't bad.  It wasn't great.  Would I go back for another?  Probably not.  But, if I found myself needing to pick a random Jamba Juice creation to get again, I'd consider it.

At $5.59 for the gigantic size, it was priced right in line with all of their other drinks, but I still find them to be really expensive and not worth the price.  For the fruit ones, I can somewhat understand, as fruit is expensive, but this was froyo, dairy base, and "pumpkin spice base", not exactly premium ingredients.
Jamba Juice on Urbanspoon