Friday, May 17, 2013


As promised, I'm continuing my Friday series of reviewing assorted types of bars.  This week, I present Probar.  They are not intended to be quick little snack bars, but rather are aimed at athletes, or those needing a full meal replacement option.

Probar offers several product lines: Meal, Core, Fuel, Halo, Bolt.  The Meal line is their classic line of bars, a total meal replacement option.  High in calories, high in fat, balanced with carbs and protein, loaded up with fruits, nuts and seeds.  The Core line is protein bars, with at least 20 grams of protein, filled with strange soy products, flax, and chia seeds.  Fuel is a gluten-free line of fruit bars, enhanced with nuts and chia seeds.  Halo are my favorites, as they are basically just slightly better for you candy bars.  And Bolt are their newest products, fruit based energy chews.

The bars I tried were certainly not light options, but were fairly tasty.  I'm not really sure when I'd use them in my life, but if I was a serious outdoor athlete, I could certainly see their place.
Sweet & Savory: Maple Pecan.
The Sweet & Savory collection caught my eye (it has since been discontinued).  I love my sweets, but I appreciate ones that mix in some savory, or particularly, salt!  My old favorite granola bars are the Nature Valley Sweet N' Salty peanut butter bars.  I just love the mix of sweet and salt!

The first one I tried was maple pecan.  I adore pecan pie, and I grew up eating lots of maple syrup, so this sounded fantastic.  They describe it as "like sitting down to delectable real maple syrup pancakes."  OMG.

The ingredient list for this was rather extensive.  It seemed to contain ... everything!  The base was oats, rye flakes, rice crisps, and brown rice, along with flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, cashews, and peanut butter, all sweetened with brown rice syrup, dates, and maple syrup.  Apparently there were apples and raisins somewhere in there too.  Then there were chocolate chips and pecans.

So, there was obviously lots of stuff in it, but it came together pretty well.  It was sweet, but fairly balanced.   I did feel like it had a strange bitterness in the aftertaste, from the flax perhaps?  I liked the crunch from the nuts.  The peanut butter flavor was subtle, and the whole thing could have used some salt.  I was impressed with the quality dark chocolate chips.  I didn't taste tons of maple pecan flavor, and wouldn't really say it was like eating pancakes, but for a quick breakfast replacement, it was pretty good.  I probably wouldn't get another though.
Sweet & Savory: Cherry Pretzel.
Since the maple pecan was good, I went for another one from their Sweet & Savory line.  Like the maple pecan, the cherry pretzel bar had an insane number of ingredients, spanning all sorts of seeds, nuts, peanut butter, oats, dried fruits, etc.  It also contained chunks of salty pretzels and tart bing cherries.

It was pretty good, I liked all the crunchy textures, the salt level, and the unexpected tartness of the cherries.  Overall, quite flavorful.  Quite good for a bar!

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I then moved on to the Halo bars, designed to be between meal treats, but more healthy than a candy bar.  They all have the same base of oats, soy protein, hemp seed, flax seed, and brown rice syrup, and then different mixtures of a few extra ingredients: chocolate, peanuts, marshmallow, and graham.  Since the Sweet & Savory bars were good, and these were seemingly going to be more decadent, I expected to like them more, but didn't.
  • Rocky Road:  Contains chocolate, peanuts, and marshmallow.  Tasting notes: This was not very good, the ingredient distribution was super weird, with some areas having tons of marshmallow, some having peanuts, etc.  The flavors didn’t come together, the texture was strange, meh.  Sounded good in theory, but wasn't.
  • S’Mores: Contains chocolate, graham, marshmallow. Tasting notes: Decent, fairly sweet granola bar.  Chunks of flavorless chocolate.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baked Goods from Thorough Bread and Pastry

I was surprised when I first walked into Thorough Bread and Pastry, as I was expecting a classic bakery, and instead it felt like walking into a really cozy coffee shop ... except one with amazing display cases full of pastries, rather than generic, day old muffins and scones, baked off site somewhere.  I didn't actually try any of the coffee, so I can't comment on that part, but if it were in my neighborhood, it seems like exactly the sort of place I'd love to hang out at with friends.  They even have a backyard garden area with tables, that somehow gets an insane amount of sun in the afternoons, and is perfectly shielded from the wind.  What a find!

I was led there of course by LevelUp, since they give a $2 credit.  Prices were actually shockingly good for a real bakery, with large cookies for only 75 cents!  Sure, there were plenty of items that far exceeded my "budget", but overall I was really impressed with the prices.  Unfortunately, they stopped using LevelUp already.

The staff were very friendly, and happy to make recommendations when I was indecisive.  It isn't in my neighborhood, but if I am in the area, particularly on a warm sunny day, I'll swing in for a treat and to enjoy their backyard.
Large Chocolate Chip Cookie.  $0.75.
This was a big cookie.  Not as big as the monster from Quiznos, but bigger than most.  And only 75 cents!  I still can't get over that price.

It was fairly soft, although not as soft as the aforementioned one from Quiznos, nor the chocolate chip versions I've had recently from Back Yard Kitchen or FreshMarket.  It had mini chocolate chips, and tons of them.  I think there were actually too many, as they really were the dominant taste of the cookie.  The cookie dough itself wasn't remarkable, not like the amazing brown butter chocolate chip cookie from Back Yard Kitchen, where the brown butter just took the dough to a whole new level.

Not a cookie I'd get again, but the price was certainly right.
Large Peanut Butter Cookie.  $0.75.
Another large cookie for only 75 cents.  Another great deal.

This was a hard style cookie.  I just don't really like hard cookies.  It had ok peanut butter flavor.  I didn't really like it, and wouldn't get again.
Cinnamon Pecan Scone. $1.95.
This was very good!  Crumbly style, loaded up with tons of chopped pecans.  Slight tang to the scone base, (perhaps buttermilk?), that gave it a really enjoyable flavor.  I smelt more of the cinnamon than I tasted.

I'd get this again, but I want to try more things.  $1.95 was a good price, and the scone was large, but not a monster.  I appreciated the portion size.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Special Event at RN74

[ Originally posted Jan 18, 2012, moving to blog now ]

Last night, Emil and I attended an event hosted in the private space at RN74.  All in all, it was fabulous.

It was a nice, open, swanky space, with floor to ceiling windows.  They served a selection of cocktails, food in a buffet, passed hors d'oeuvres, and finished with insane dessert platters.

As you'd expect from a Micheal Mina establishment, the hors d'oeuvres weren't your standard crudite, cheese and crackers, or nuts. The classic deviled egg was topped with a marinated sardine. The "cheese and crackers" was a comte cheese mousse on a walnut shortbread. There were no vegetables in sight. The other apps included oysters, chicken liver mousse, braised pork, trout roe shooters, lamb sausages with burgundy onions, etc. The drinks were cocktails composed with a slew of ingredients, usually including fresh fruit.  It was delicious from start to finish.

I hadn't been to RN74 before (which is ridiculous, as it is just a few blocks from my house and has been on my list for ages), so this was a wonderful way to sample a bunch of their offerings (although very little of this appears on the restaurant menu).  I was impressed with the food.  For the most part it wasn't mind blowing, but for food served in volume and as a buffet/passed appetizers it was pretty great.

What I found over and over again, in both the savory and sweet dishes, is that the individual components weren't particularly standout, but when you got a bite composed of all of the pieces together, they worked really, really well. The flavors combined in fantastic ways that I'd never expect. Someone really thought out these flavor profiles. Dishes were very flavorful, and I'd certainly not describe any dish as boring. The most banal thing was the raw oysters, but then again, what can you really do with raw oysters? The execution of the cooking itself was also good, again, impressive for food being done in volume and served in this manner. In particular, the braised meats were incredibly tender and the grilled items had a nice char.

I enjoy events like this because it encourages me to try things I'd never normally order in a restaurant. Or, in a lot of cases, things I wouldn't really try if I had other options. But, I get somewhat irrational when it comes to buffets, (or samples), and I suddenly decide I must try EVERYTHING, even when the ingredients are things I have never liked in my life, or things I'm even allergic to. Like I said, irrational :) But in a lot of cases, this is how I discover new things, or grow to like things I've only had a handful of times. Tonight was no exception - under "normal" circumstances I would have skipped the trout roe, the chicken liver mousse, the lamb sausage, and the braised pork. I came away from this really appreciating liver flavor and not hating a pork dish. Big wins!

I somehow didn't get a picture of my favorite savory dish of the night - a comte cheese mousse on walnut shortbread. It was the first thing I had when I arrived, and I hadn't yet broken out my camera, and when I went for a second one, I was just too excited to eat it to slow down and take a photo. Whoops! Anyway, it was a fabulous creamy mouse on a buttery walnut shortbread. You could certainly get away with serving this for dessert rather than as an appetizer.

If you are looking somewhere to host an event, based on my experience attending one here, I'd certainly recommend RN74.  Not only was the food tasty and the space lovely, the staff were friendly and efficient, completely on top of everything, and never obtrusive.

So, in summary, great space, great cocktails, great food, AMAZING PUDDING DESSERT ZOMG. I can't wait to go actually eat at RN74 sometime!
Negroni - Bombay Saphire gin, sweet vermouth, Campari.
Campari was a sponsor of the event, so they were serving these right at the entrance.  Emil and I both liked this drink ... which is a total shocker, as we don't normally agree on cocktails. Sweet enough for me, bitter enough for him. I really enjoyed the complexity the bitterness added to this. A great way to start the night!
Assorted hors d'oeuvres from the buffet.
After getting our welcome drink, our next stop was the hors d'oeuvres buffet.  It featured a huge raw bar with oysters being shucked in front of us.  Not exactly your standard buffet.

(clockwise from top)
  • Trout roe, avocado, bergamot, pistachio shooter: the shooter didn't do much for me - essentially a creamy avocado based mousse with trout roe. This wasn't something I'd ever normally order, or even try for that matter, since it contains one ingredient I'm allergic to (avocado), but I was in "must try everything on the buffet" mode, so I tried it anyway.
  • 'oeufs mayonnaise' with marinated white anchovy: The deviled egg, er, oeuf mayonnaise was a standard deviled egg, but the white anchovy on top was a really nice touch. It added a saltiness and a lot more complexity to the flavors. One of my favorite savory dishes of the night (but I do love deviled eggs in general!)
  • Marin Miyagi oysters with horseradish and mignonette: The oysters were fine, with a nice brininess, served with horseradish, tabasco, lemon, mignonette, whatever you wanted to put on them. As Emil said, you can get raw oysters anywhere, these weren't anything special.  That said, they were being shucked on the spot though, fairly impressive for buffet food.
Braised beef short rib over horseradish mashed potatoes.
 Next, along came some passed appetizers.

I don't have a full description of this one since it was a passed appetizer and she didn't have a sign, but I think it was their play on beef bourguignon. The mashed potatoes were creamy and had horseradish in them, really perking up the flavor. And the gravy/jus was delicious. This would have been by far my favorite dish of the night, if it had been warmer when I received it, but it was fairly lukewarm. Alas, this is what happens with food at big events.
Braised pork shank, french green lentils, fallot mustard.
Another passed app.  This dish surprised me. I don't like lentils. And I very rarely like pork. Again, something I'd never normally order or try, but I was in try-everything mode.

The lentils on their own were just as nasty to me as lentils always are, but combined into a spoonful with the pork, the flavors really complimented each other nicely. The pork was incredibly tender, very well braised.
Chicken liver mousse, pain de champagne, french prune jam, tarragon.
On the first bite, I really didn't care for this. The pain de champagne was too crisp and made it hard to bite into. The mousse didn't have that great of flavor. But then I had a bite with both the mousse and the prune, and the flavors really combined fabulously. After finishing this, the flavors lingered in my mouth and it really grew on me. I'm starting to really appreciate the earthy, mineral flavors of liver!
Amelie - SKYY vodka, sauvignon blanc, yellow chartreuse, lemon, grapefruit, grapes, sugar.
It was time to take a brief food break, and move on to more cocktails.

This one was my pick.  Sweet, delicious, fruity. Really easy to drink too fast, it was almost like a lemonade!
Grilled merguez sausage, burgundy onions, whole wheat flatbread.
I went back up to the buffet for another round, as they had added heartier dishes.  This was probably my least favorite dish of the evening. The flatbread had a nice char on it and the whole wheat gave it a nice heartiness and flavor. The burgundy onions were also pretty tasty (mmm, onions!). But I didn't care for the sausage. Then again, I've still yet to really find lamb in any preparation that I like.
Masterson - Wild Turkey 101, lemon, rose, mint, sugar.
I told you that last drink was too drinkable.  Time for another cocktail!  (no, there actually were other savory bites in here, I just stopped taking photos at some point, as I just had far too much in my hands!).

This was even sweeter and fruitier than the last.  Delicious.  It inspired me for ... dessert, of which, there was an entire separate buffet!
Dessert platter #1! Passion fruit macaroons, walnut financier, assorted chocolates.
The first dessert platter was a letdown, but mostly just because the selection wasn't really things I like very much in general.

The passion fruit macaroon filling was overly sweet and just kinda blew out your tastebuds.  Or maybe it was the sweet cocktail I was drinking with it.  When they replaced this platter with a new version, it had green tea/sesame macaroons, which were much better, with very complex flavors.

The financier was just kinda buttery and there, the almond topping added a nice texture but was forgettable.  Then again, I'm not sure I've ever found a financier that I've really liked.

I'm not exactly sure what the chocolates were, but I've had a lot of chocolate lately, and these didn't measure up.
Pear tart with whipped cream and cookie.
After the lackluster platter, I moved on to a better looking dessert.  Sadly, it was the worst dessert of the evening.

Tart crust, some sort of filling, poached spiced pears, topped with whipped cream and some sort of cookie thing. The crust, filling, and cookie were all flavorless. The whipped cream didn't really add to it. The only redeeming factor was the pear, which was nicely cooked and spiced. I should have taken Emil's advice and stopping eating this, but I kept hoping it would get better. It didn't!
Vanilla pudding with pistachio streusel and huckleberry.
After the letdown desserts, I moved on to the little pudding shooters.  I love puddings so much my blog has a label for them.  I was excited!

But ... this was the second worse dessert of the evening. I think this was a vanilla (or maybe sesame?) pudding. It was pretty flavorless. The pistachio streusel and huckleberry added flavor, but couldn't really save it.
Chocolate pot de cream with cocoa nibs, salted toffee, and salted caramel whipped cream.
I didn't give up, and moved on to the next pudding.

It was a creamy chocolate pot de creme, with crunchy cocoa nibs, salted toffee candy, and salted caramel whipped cream.

It was just as tasty as it should be!  Chocolate! Salt! Whipped cream! The night was looking up again.
Butterscotch pudding with streusel and some kind of gelee.
And then, the final pudding: butterscotch!  This was amazing. Unfortunately, it wasn't labelled, so I don't know exactly what it was, but my best guess is a butterscotch pudding with a buttery almond streusel. I have absolutely no idea what the gelee was.

The gelee didn't add anything to the dish, but didn't detract either. The pudding was absolutely delicious and the streusel topping was perfection.

I was completely stuffed at this point, but could not resist going back for a second one of these. Even after all the other food, even after sooo much dessert, it was so incredibly good I just couldn't resist. ZOMG.  Dish of the night, hands down.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rococo Chocolate

Rococo is a British chocolate maker that I discovered of course at my local chocolate shop.  I was drawn in by their heavy and interesting use of spicing.  They use all sorts of flowers (rose, geranium, violet, jasmine), fruits (persian lime, orange, raspberry, cherry), spices (cardamon, cinnamon), and herbs (basil, mint), to create pretty powerful bars.

They have grown a lot over the years, and now even own a cocoa farm in Granada, which they use to source the cocoa for all of their organic bars (and use some of the beans for the house blends too).

The chocolates I tried were all fine, but tended to sound more interesting than they tasted.
Chilli Pepper Organic Dark Chocolate.
65% dark chocolate from Grenada with Ugandan Birds Eye Chillis.  Tasting notes: Very nice, smooth dark chocolate, but there wasn’t much chili flavor.  Some bites had it on the finish, but not much at all.
Arabic Spices Organic Dark Chocolate Artisan Bar.
Dark chocolate from Grenada, with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.  Tasting notes: Very fudgy, slightly strange mouth feel.  I felt like I was licking a wreath.  Emil says, “It takes like eating Christmas!”  It was intriguing, but these spices were just a bit too much.
Sea Salt Organic Milk Chocolate Artisan Bar.
37% milk chocolate with sea salt.  Tasting notes: This was an incredibly smooth, creamy milk chocolate.  Some caramel undertones, and nice salt level.  I would prefer a dark chocolate, but for a creamy milk, it was quite nice.

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  • Christmas Pudding: 65% dark chocolate with "christmas spices", plus raisins and Armagnac.  Tasting notes: Very strong clove flavor.  Chocolate not very smooth.
  • Rose Otto: “Rose scented organic milk chocolate with 37% cocoa solids. A luxury chocolate recipe which is intense, balanced, and long-lasting, with strong floral notes”.  Tasting notes: Fairly creamy milk chocolate, very rose flavored.
  • Plus Noir Que Noir 100%: “Dark chocolate bar with 100% cocoa solids.”  Tasting notes: obviously very dark, very bitter, smooth, fudgy.  Not my thing, but pretty nice for a 100%.