Friday, May 10, 2013


Often, when you are out and about, you need a snack.  It can be a good excuse to stop and check out a new place, but sometimes, you just want to finish up your errands, or get to your destination, and just don't feel like stopping somewhere.  For such situations, I always have some kind of bar, or stash of nuts, in my purse.  Over the past few years, I've tried all sorts of these things, ranging from classic granola bars, to chocolate covered dessert-like bars, to meal replacement bars, to nutrition bars, and everything in between.  It seems I'm not alone in my need for a quick snack, as the market for these things is huge.

Of sports/nutrition bars, CLIF is probably the most famous.  The founders of CLIF also made a spin-off, designed just for women: LUNA.  I think it means they have some special vitamins added, for women's unique needs?  Or, they at least have prettier packaging.

The brand is made up of three product lines: the classic LUNA bars, high protein bars, and new fiber based bars.  The names make them all sounds delicious.  But ... they aren't.

Classic LUNA Bars

This is the base product line, the originals.

"LUNA® Whole Nutrition Bars are crafted to help keep you nourished throughout your busy day and give you the energy to break through. Each bar is a delicious, gluten-free snack that’s perfect between meals."
Available in a slew of tempting flavors, many of which I have tried.  All use their "Protein Grain Blend" as a base, with soy protein isolate, oats, rice flour, soy beans, soy flour, and flaxseed, with brown rice syrup as a sweetener, and a slew of other flavors, oils, and syrups.  Ingredient lists are ... long.
Chocolate Dipped Coconut.
"A deliciously decadent combination of toasted coconut and chocolate."

This wasn't horrible.  The bottom was a fairly thick layer of chocolate, the base was oats and LunaPro balls with coconut, and the top was drizzled with more chocolate.  It still had some funk from the LunaPro mix, but it didn't overwhelm like happens in most bars.  The coconut flavor was there, but I'd like more of it.  The chocolate was mediocre.

I almost liked this, since I do like coconut and chocolate, but, at the end of the day, it was still a nutrition bar.  I didn't really want to finish it.
White Chocolate Macadamia.
"Naturally sweet macadamias meet white chocolate creaminess." 

The base of this was the standard LUNA soy crisps, sorta like rice crispies, but with a strange aftertaste.  I like the flavor of soy, but I really didn't like this flavor.  I didn't really detect the macadamia, I think they were chopped up and mixed with the crispies.  The entire thing was drenched in white chocolate that was flavorless.  Meh!

Update review: And then I had another, and liked it more.  It, much like the chocolate dipped coconut, was *almost* good. The macadamia flavor was there, little bits of nuts were great.  The white chocolate coating was creamy and sweet.

But.  And the big but, and thing that ruins all these bars for me, is the underlying base of strange protein isolates, the taste, and texture, just ruin them for me, no matter how good of other flavors are peaking in.

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  • Caramel Nut Brownie: “Rich chocolate brownie drizzled with creamy caramel”. Tasting notes: Very chocolatey, subtle caramel, but sorta strange consistency from the soy crisps.
  • Lemon Zest: "Luscious zing of lemon and zest with a smooth, creamy coating".  Tasting notes: Very sweet, strong lemon flavor. Not bad, would be good with some tea perhaps? [ Sweet and fake, but not that bad. ]
  • Peanut Butter Cookie: "Peanut Buttery delight with hints of creaminess and a light peanut crunch."  Tasting notes: Nasty aftertaste.  Just dates and peanuts?  Meh.
  • S'mores: "Marshmallow nuggets swirled with graham crackers, topped with dark chocolate."  Tasting notes: it was slightly expired, so that may have effected it.   This was mostly just like a stale/not very good rice crispy with some chocolate on top. MEH!

LUNA fiber

LUNA's latest line is fiber bars.
LUNA fiber, Chocolate Raspberry.
"Raspberries wrapped in a soft baked chocolate crumble, strewn with decadent chocolate chips."

The description made it sound great.  Spoiler: it wasn't.

It was also coated on the bottom in some fiber flakes and on top with sea salt.

I would not have known it was raspberry flavor.  I'm not sure where the raspberry was, but I did detect some grittiness that could have been raspberry seeds. [ Note: I looked it up online after, and found the secret.  The "raspberry filling" had a fun ingredient listed: strawberry seeds! Not strawberry puree or flavor, just the seeds.  I have no idea why they added those, as I thought the seeds were really off putting, but they did make you think there might be real fruit in there.  The filling also had apple, which I did think I tasted, and red cabbage extract for color.  Lols.  Natural ingredients yes, but not exactly what you'd expect! ]  There were chocolate chips that were very mediocre, I wouldn't call them "decadent", but as I only found a couple, I guess they were "strewn" throughout as promised.  The cake was subtle chocolate flavored, and reminded me of a dried out brownie.  The salt on top was a nice touch, as I love the contrast of salt and chocolate.

I would not get again.
LUNA fiber, Peanut Butter Strawberry.
Another one of the new fiber bars.  Even though I didn't like the first fiber bar I tried, I gave this one a chance.  Who doesn't love peanut butter and jelly?  Or, as they say, "Peanut Butter smoothes the way for Strawberry in this delicious ode to a classic."

It was sprinkled on top with some appealing sugar crystals, and on the bottom with fiber flakes.  Both added a bit of texture.  The cake part was pretty similar to the first one, kinda dry, fairly flavorless.  I think the peanut butter may have been in there?  The filling was mildly strawberry flavored, but there wasn't much of it.  It again had strawberry seeds in it, giving it a slight grittiness.  If you just gave me this, I'm not sure I could have identified that it was supposed to be peanut butter strawberry.

Better than the chocolate raspberry, but certainly not worth getting again.

Update: Except, I had another.  I was at a fitness class, and they handed them out at the end.  I remembered trying the bars before, but I didn't remember what I thought of them, so I went into trying it without any judgement.  I liked it more.  The cake part was soft, a bit hearty tasting, better than a Nutrigrain.  I liked the bran (?) flakes on the bottom and the slightly sweet sugar crystals on top.  Unlike my previous try, this one was more generously filled with the strawberry ... goo.  It wasn't really strawberry jam, and it included all sorts of other ingredients like date paste.  The filling was a bit too sweet for me.  And again, I never found the peanut butter.  The ingredients listed peanut butter "chips" way near the end of the list, so I guess they are in there somewhere, but I never found them.  Anyway, I didn't hate it, and I enjoyed it even more once I threw it in the toaster oven for a few minutes.  The exterior got a bit toasty, the whole thing nice and warm ... but still, overall to sweet, and no peanut butter.  Not worth seeking out.

LUNA Protein Bars

The latest line, jumping on the high protein trend.

"The power of protein keeps you feeling satisfied, so go ahead—indulge in the decadent, nougaty goodness of LUNA® Protein. Delicious and sustaining with 170-190 gluten-free calories."
These ditch the classic Luna base, but still use soy protein isolate, whey protein, and other "wholesome" ingredients, to deliver up higher protein numbers.
Lemon Vanilla.
"Zesty lemon with a creamy finish, our first non-chocolate protein bar."

I laughed when I opened this.  Big wrapper, little bar.

I had no expectation to like this, but, it was given to me at a fitness class, so I figured I'd try it out.  The aroma coming off it as I opened the wrapper was unmistakable: lemon.

The texture of the bar was really strange, sorta like a nougat.  The coating was sweet and very lemony, with a hint of fake vanilla.  I shouldn't have liked this, but it really grew on me.

Made from soy protein isolate for the 12 grams of protein, I really thought it would taste nasty, but the sweet coating and overwhelming lemon ensured that the soy flavor was masked.

I won't seek another out, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Chocolate Coconut Almond.
"Toasted coconut and chopped almonds wrapped in chocolate."

It looks like a candy bar.  It sounds like a candy bar.  Although, like all the protein bars, it boasts 12 grams of protein and 4 core nutrients.

Like all products made from soy protein isolate, I was ready to hate it.
Chocolate Coconut Almond: Inside.
As I bit in, I still expected to hate it.  The consistency inside was odd, just like the Lemon Vanilla one.  Sort of like a soft nougat.  Yet ... I didn't hate it.  There was a slight coconut flavor to it, perhaps an even slighter almond flavor.  Decent chocolate layer on the outside.

Yes, it did somewhat seem like a candy bar.  A candy bar that I could eat totally guilt free?

Again, I wouldn't seek another out, and it wasn't amazing, but far better than most products in this space, and I'd probably eat more if they appeared.
Chocolate Peanut Butter.
“Peanut butter meets soft nougat and adds a delicate crunch.”

This was not very peanut buttery. The bar had a strange consistency,  clearly fake processed protein.  Unlike the lemon vanilla and chocolate coconut almond, the peanut butter and chocolate couldn't make up for that. Meh.

Update review: I tried another, drawn in by the promise of chocolate and peanut butter.  I again hated it.  The texture, the soy protein isolate, are just so unappealing.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

El Toyonese

A few months ago, you may recall, I went on a bit of a taco kick.  I was really into the spicy flavors of mexican food, the tactile experience of eating with my hands, and eating in casual environments.  I think it was a response to way too much fine dining and foie gras eating.  Plus, tacos usually come with crunchy chips!

I tried out a number of taquerias and fast casual Mexican restaurants around town, but one taco venue I never visited was ... a taco truck!  How could I have left out this classic slinger of tacos?  I've been to plenty of other food trucks.  It was time to fix that.

So, when El Toyonese was parked nearby, I joined the ridiculously slow moving line to get myself a taco.  The line had probably only 8 or so people in front of me, but it moved at a snail's pace.  It made me really, really appreciate the pace of Pancho Villa that much more!  Seriously, I have no idea what took so long, as it wasn't like they were actually cooking anything there.

Anyway, meh.
Tacos (top to bottom, clockwise): Vegetarian, Carne Asada, Pollo Asado.  $1.75 each.
I have been on a taco kick, but my favorite tacos are grilled shrimp or fried fish.  El Toyonese had neither.  In fact, no seafood was available, just a slew of chicken, beef, and pork options.  None jumped out at me, so I decided to try 3 different ones, to cut my losses and hopefully find something I liked.

Each taco came double shelled, in a totally unremarkable, gummy, corn tortilla.  They got really mushy, really fast, as the liquid from the filling saturated them.  Two shells wasn't enough to protect them.  They weren't good.

Each taco also came loaded with raw white onion and cilantro.  The onion was harsh, sharp, and in huge chunks.  It ruined many bites, and my palate, for the rest of the night.

I started with a "safe" one, the vegetarian.  The sign gave no description as to what would be in it, but I was hoping for grilled veggies or something.  Instead it was just rice, beans, a little salsa, and a lot of the raw onion.  The rice was flavorless and dry.  The beans were plain and also flavorless.  Nothing good here.

Then I moved onto the carne asada.  I would have never known it was beef if I hadn't ordered it.  Not from inspection, nor from taste.  It tasted like ... nothing.  Except more sharp raw onion.

Finally, I went for the pollo asado.  I had basically no hope for this one, as I don't really like chicken, but I wanted to try a variety.  Surprisingly, it was the best.  I finished it in about two bites!  The chicken had a great smokey, grilled flavor.  The salsa added a tiny bit of kick.  There was still way too much of the raw onion though.

The chips, pico de gallo, and sour cream were not actually part of their offerings, I added them on in attempt to spruce up the plate.

At $1.75 each, the price was on par with those of happy hour tacos most places, but there were certainly no frills, no chips or salsa bar included.  I wouldn't ever get more of these.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Valrhona Chocolate

Valrhona is one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world.  They make consumer products like basic chocolate bars (including not just single origin bars, but single origin vintage bars!), but also supply the chocolate for many chocolatiers and the bulk chocolate and couverture for chefs worldwide.  Thus, Valrhona chocolate shows up just about everywhere, and I've reviewed it before when used by pastry chefs (like Terri Wu from Farallon), by other chocolatiers (like Chocolat Modern), and even by ice cream shops (like Scream sorbet).  I'm sure you've had it, even if you haven't purchased a bar directly.

Although they operate a huge scale, the chocolate is high quality.

Grand Crus Tasting Bars

This is a line "made from the harmonious blending of cocoa beans from plantations with exceptional terroirs and chosen for their particular flavor characteristics."

The Grand Crus selection ranges from 33% milk chocolate to 72% dark chocolate.  I've tried a number of the different blends.

Milk Chocolates

Jivara 40% Tasting Square.
Jivara 40%. "Creamy and Chocolatey"

Milk chocolate is rarely what I pick, but, I was given this little square, so I tried it.  It was a smooth, creamy, high quality milk chocolate.  If I liked milk chocolate in general, I'm sure I would have really enjoyed it.  Even not being a milk chocolate lover I was able to appreciate it for its creamy, delicate nature.

Dark Chocolates

Noir Caraibe, 66%.

Manjari, 64%, Madegascar.  "Fresh and Tangy Single Origin Madagascar".

I moved on to a darker chocolate.  This was creamy for dark chocolate, but not very complex, a bit sweet.  Which makes sense, given that it was only a 64% bar.

Tainori 64%, Dominican Republic.

Next, another 64%.  I liked this one a lot more.  It was very smooth, but with a remarkably fudgy finish.  I'm used to chocolate with a strong fudgy nature like this having a thicker mouthfeel, but it had a nice snap to it and was really clean.  Definitely quality chocolate!

Noir Caribe, 66%. "Balanced and Velvety"
Moving up slightly to a 66%.  This was also incredibly smooth, great snap to it.  Slightly sweet, no bitterness.  A very clean flavor.

Guanaja, 70%, South African. "Bittersweet and Elegant".

Moving up another notch to a 70%.  It too was very smooth, and had a great flavor.  It is clear that Valrhona is a quality chocolate maker!

Single Origin Vintage Bars

Valrhona also produces a number of Single Estate Chocolates Bars, and of course, I've tried many of those as well.  They are all 64% cocoa.
2010 Palmira Vintage Bar.
    • Ampamakia, 64%, 2012 Vintage, Madagascar. Had a nice bitterness with sweet cherry finish. I liked how you first got hit by the bitterness you expect from a dark chocolate, but then it had the nice sweet finish too it, making it a fairly complex tasting experience.
    • Gran Couva, 64%, 2012 Vintage, Trinidad. This one was very smooth and refined, but too much so, resulting in a bar that wasn't very complex or interesting. Sorta like a house wine or coffee, totally drinkable, but boring.  I know that sounds horrible given its status, but, that is how I felt!
    • Palmira, 64%, 2010 Vintage, Venezuela. We all liked this.  It had a pleasant bitterness and nice mouthfeel.
    • Porcelana, 64%, 2012 Vintage, Venezuela. Apparently made from some of the rarest cocoa beans in the world. Was fairly sweet, with blueberry or plum notes.