Friday, April 11, 2014

Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares

Last week, I reviewed Nature Valley's granola bar product line, including both chewy and crunchy granola bars, protein bars, and granola thins.  None were real winners.

So why did I try more products from Nature Valley?  Because I discovered their soft baked oatmeal squares.  I loved the sound of the soft baked oatmeal squares, basically like oatmeal cookies in a slightly different form factor, with a name that makes it seem totally acceptable for breakfast.  Cookies for breakfast?  Yes!  They even have a drizzle on top.  Come on, how could you not want to try them?

But, I still went in with fairly low expectations since I don't tend to really like bar-type snacks, which may be surprising given how many reviews of them I do.  Luckily for me, these are certainly not like granola bars, or sports bars.  They are their own thing.

The soft-baked squares are available in 4 varieties: banana bread and dark chocolate, cinnamon brown sugar, blueberry, and peanut butter.

And ... they are good!  Just as advertised, they are very soft.  I was most shocked by how much flavor each variety I tried had.  The heartiness of a nice bowl of oatmeal is there, just in a more convenient form.  While sweet, the sugar content isn't that high, making them totally reasonable choices for a quick grab and go breakfast.  (For real, I'm not just making up excuses for cookies for breakfast!)  If I need a breakfast on the run again, I'd certainly consider these.

Nature Valley also makes regular oatmeal in two forms: one where you add water to a traditional vessel and then top it was extra granola, and "Bistro Cups" that go with a Keurig.  I'm not exactly sure what it is you brew in the Keurig exactly, but this sounds potentially fascinating.  They aren't really just marketing this to have you warm the water in your Keurig, right?
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Square.
The peanut butter version is made from whole grain oats and peanut butter flavored chips with a peanut butter flavored drizzle on top.  Mmm, drizzle.

The peanut butter flavor was incredibly strong.  They weren't messing around here.  I really appreciated that.  The bar itself tasted like peanut butter, but it was the extra drizzle that pushed it over the top.  I let mine get a bit warm in the sun, and the drizzle turned sorta into a glaze.  You could almost say it was like an adult version of a toaster strudel :)

My favorite of the varieties I tried.
Cinnamon Brown Sugar.
I also tried the other variety, cinnamon brown sugar.  This one is made with the same oat base, with brown sugar and cinnamon mixed in, and topped with a molasses drizzle.

This one was also pretty good.  Again, nice and soft.  And very flavorful, just in a different way.

It tasted like a traditional bowl of oatmeal.  Or at least, how I always have my oatmeal, as I always add both brown sugar and cinnamon.   Those flavors came through loud and clear.  The molasses drizzle added a little extra touch of sweetness, and precisely mirrored the drizzle of maple syrup that I always put on top of my oatmeal.  Seriously, if you could transform my oatmeal into a bar, this would be it (although, I'd probably have some chopped up nuts and raisins too).

I preferred the peanut butter version, but I wouldn't say no to eating another one of these.

Update:  I got another.  The cinnamon flavor was good again, and I liked the sweetness from the brown sugar.  So, flavor-wise, it was a winner.  But it wasn't really "soft" this time.  Sure, it was softer than a standard granola bar, but it was very dry and crumbly.  I wanted it to be more like a muffin, or more like the soft-baked Belvita.  I did like the heartiness from the oats.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Taro Milk Tea from Cocoa Cafe

Yesterday, I reviewed my mediocre horchata from Toma, and mentioned that sometimes I get a bit obsessed with certain items of food, or particular drinks.  I start craving them all the time, and need to try as many different versions of the item as possible.  Horchata has been a recent obsession, but taro milk tea, has been my other, for much longer.  If I see it on a menu, I am incapable of resisting.  If the weather gets remotely nice out, I start craving taro milk tea, even more than ice cream.

So when the weather recently got nice, I started seeking out new sources of taro milk tea.  Sure, I've tried a number of different options in the city, but I feel silly having Quickly as my favorite thus far, so I wanted to try to find a more respectable option.  Cocoa Cafe is a recent addition to the city, so I decided to check it out.

I ordered through eat24, via the mobile Paypal app, when I was two blocks away.  My drink was just being finished off right as I walked in the door.  Perfect timing.  Ordering through the app was easy, as was the pickup.  Technology wins at this one.

The shop is tiny, with a single table and a few stools along a bar in the window.  Along with assorted milk teas/slushies/smoothies, they also sell sandwiches during the day, and bagels in the morning.  They also have an impressive line up of packaged beverages (including tons from VitaSoy) and a slew of different chips, which, I guess makes sense given that they are largely a sandwich shop.

But, I had eyes for only one thing: the taro milk tea, with tapioca of course!
Taro Milk Tea with Tapioca. $3.50.
Milk teas were available in a host of flavors, but of course, I went for the taro, always my favorite.  One size only, $3, but you could add tapioca or jellies for an additional $0.50, which of course I did. I'm pretty predictable with my milk tea order, and add tapioca every time (although I did veer off and order the slush at Quickly once, and added taro pudding instead of tapioca another time at Quickly).

The tapioca were large and black, really well executed, not too firm, not too soft, and they didn't clump up at all.  Much better than the far too soft ones from Little Garden.  Perhaps the best tapioca I've encountered so far.  The amount also seemed just right, enough to get one in most sips, but not overwhelming.  Again, well done!

The milk tea itself was sweet, but not too sweet.  Ojan took one sip and said it was too sweet, but I enjoyed it.  It was creamy, but not too creamy.  Much better in both of these elements than the one from Quickly that was both too creamy and too sweet, although every other time I've gotten it from Quickly, it has been perfect.  However, the taro flavor just wasn't there.  Yes, it was a lovely shade of purple, but I didn't taste taro.  Clearly made with flavored powder, not real taro like the one from Miss Saigon.   And given how my stomach felt after, clearly authentic, made with non dairy substitute.  Whoops.

It wasn't served in a classic bubble tea cup with the plastic wrap over the top, but rather with a regular lid, but it of course did come with a large straw to suck up my boba.

Price was higher than Quickly, but about on par from any restaurant, perhaps a tiny bit high for the location and casual nature of the shop.

Overall, decently done, and I'd get another if I were in the area, and I'd probably try out some of their other add-in options too.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Horchata from Toma

I know I said after my last visit that I wouldn't return to Toma.  But ... I've been on a horchata kick lately.  Sometimes, I get really into a particular item of food, or drink in this case, and must try it in as many places as possible.  My other recent similar obsession has been with bubble tea.  I think I get really into refreshing drinks once the weather warms up!

So I went back to Toma, and this time, I skipped the food entirely.  The horchata was better than the tacos, the chips, and the salsa.
Horchata.  $3.26.
This was ... ok.  I actually drank it all.  But it wasn't great.

A bit watery and thin, not much spicing.  I question if it actually had cinnamon in it.  As I walked, I kept passing by coffee shops, and I wanted to sneak in and add cinnamon.  But it did at least taste like rice, and was slightly sweet.  Far better than the Horchata from Nick's.

The $3.26 price was high for a drink like this, compared to the $2 version at Nick's.  I would not get again, and honestly, I won't go back to Toma, for real this time.
Toma on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Chuao Chocolatier

I know I've had chocolate from Chuao before.  But, I absolutely can't find my tasting notes anywhere.  So sadly, I have just one review here, but it is a fun one.

Chuao describes themselves as "pioneering 'fusion chocolate' through a commitment to creating unusual, unexpected and delicious flavors using their secret blend of premium chocolate and fresh natural ingredients."

They make bon bons, chocolate bars, and mini-bars, in really intriguing varieties.  They nailed the "unusual" and "unexpected"bit of their tagline.  Sure, they do make ones with fairly standard fillings like nuts, caramels, or the ever trendy bacon.  But they get far more interesting than that.  For example, the crunch in the "Salted Chocolate Crunch Bon Bon" comes from toasted panko breadcrumbs, and the filling is an olive oil ganache.  It is finished with a sprinkle of sea salt.  To spice things up, the "Firecracker Truffle" doesn't just have a chipotle caramel fudge filling, it also has popping candy.  There is another one with goat cheese, pears, and a black peppercorn buttercream.  The one I really want to try is the "Pop corn pop bar", with puffed whole grains, toasted corn chips, and popping candy.  How ridiculous does that sound?

Booze also seems to be an theme, providing the inspiration for flavors like one with Napa Valley Cabernet, a margarita flavor complete with tequila, or a mojito.   They also offer chocolate pairing suggestions, based on your beverage of choice: red wine, white white, sparkling, or even whisky.

The product line is rounded out by drinking chocolates, chocolate barks, and chocolate covered orange or ginger slices, or, if you are in the San Diego area, they also operate a couple cafes with gelato and pastries too.

The name comes from Chuao, the chocolate producing region in Venezuela, where the founders are from, but the company is actually located in Southern California, hence the cafes there.

As I said, I know I've tried their chocolate in the past, and found it memorable, but I can't find the notes from other tastings.  I'll gladly try it again another time though!
Potato Chip Choco Pod.
In addition to full size chocolate bars, Chuao also makes mini-bars, dubbed choco pods.  These are really the perfect size.  Bigger than a bite, very satisfying, but not guilt inducing.

The potato chip bar is described by "crisp kettle cooked potato chips and a hint of sea salt, mix and mingle in milk chocolate."

I somewhat expected this to be a chocolate covered potato chip.  I'm not sure why, I guess due to the shape when I felt it inside the wrapper?  So I was surprised when I bit in to find a chocolate bar with little bits of potato chip inside instead.  Once I knew what to expect, I continued on in my tasting.

The milk chocolate was smooth and creamy, high quality.  The chip bits provided a nice crunch.  It reminded me of the Krackle bars I used to love when I was younger.  But I'm not sure I would have known it was potato chip.  The best part was the finish, very salty.  In exactly the same way that you don't want to put down a bag of potato chips, you don't want to put this down.  It is a good thing it came in choco pod size, not a full bar :)

They nailed the creamy quality milk chocolate base, and satisfying crunch, and the salt level in this one.  I enjoyed it, and I'd love to try more of their varieties.