Friday, August 15, 2014

Zapp's Potato Chips

It wasn't until I moved to California that I encountered Zapp's potato chips, although they originate from New Orleans.

They make kettle chips, fried in peanut oil rather than standard vegetable oil, and don't wash off the starch, which they say gives them a more unique potato flavor.  All their chips do not use preservatives or MSG, and are gluten-free.  The company started out independent, but is now owned by the same parent company as Utz and Dirty Chips, both of which seem more standard "kettle" style to me than Zapp's.

Anyway, you know I like to try a lot of chips.  Zapp's stands out from the pack, primarily because their flavors are all ... interesting, mostly Cajun inspired.  Their top seller is "Spicy Cajun Crawtators" and the very first flavor I tried is called "Voodoo".  They go a bit overboard with making special Limited Edition flavors, that always sound intriguing, but I think are limited for a reason.  You don't generally want to try them more than once, but how do you NOT give Smoked Bacon and Cheddar chips at least one try?
This flavor has some history, or so they say.  "Voodoo flavor is a result of an accident.  An employee was moving a pallet of spices off the top shelf and dropped it.  While cleaning up, someone stuck their finger into the mixture of about 5 flavors and pronounced it great."

They were a good kettle style, but the flavor really didn't do it for me.  Sorta sweet.  And a bit onion-y.  Definitely not my thing.
Bar-B-Que Ranch Chips.
These sounded awful ... bar-b-que and ranch in one?  But, I liked them more than I expected.  It was like a ranch, but more flavorful.  My favorite of all of their chips, and I easily finished this bag.

Limited Edition Flavors

Creole Onion Kettle Chips.
Again, decent kettle style chip, but the flavor wasn't that interesting.  Didn't get any "creole" spicing, it certainly wasn't spicy.  It did have slight onion flavor.  But overall, not interesting at all.
Limited Edition Honey Mustard.
I like honey mustard.  I like kettle chips.  But, it turns out, I don't like honey mustard kettle chips.

They were good, thin, crisp chips. And they did truly taste like honey mustard.  Which ... just totally didn't work for me.
Limited Edition Cheddar & Smoked Bacon Chips.
And again, same classic kettle style.  Nice and crispy.

But, that is expected for Zapp's.  What I didn't know what to expect was what cheddar and bacon chip would actually taste like.  I bought these solely based on how ridiculous the flavor idea sounded to me.  The answer ... well, they taste like bacon.  For real.  Ojan took one bite, and proclaimed, "it really does taste like bacon! I'm surprised!".  The bacon flavor was intense, especially on the finish.  You were left with a very strong bacon flavor, lingering long after the chip was gone.  And, quite honestly, long after you wanted the flavor to be gone.

I didn't pick up on much cheddar flavor, although, honestly, I'm not really sure I wanted to taste bacon and cheese.  I know they go together as hamburger toppings, but somehow, they don't sound great together in a chip.

These reminded me of chicarrones, in the crispy, porky, sort of way.  Very similar flavor, although obviously more subtle in the chips due to the potato aspect.  I thought they were interesting, but only in a research sort of way, not because I wanted more.

Ojan however liked them, saying they were "kinda addictive".  He had been craving bacon only a few hours prior to eating these, and declared that the chips had indeed satisfied his bacon craving.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

House Of Bagels

House of Bagels is a Jewish deli and bakery located in the Inner Richmond.  They've been around since 1962!  As you can guess from the name, they make bagels, but they also make assorted bread (challah, rye, pumpernickel), plus cookies, tarts, muffins, scones, and other baked goods.  The deli area features bagel sandwiches (with cream cheese and lox of course), plus all your classic sandwiches, including pastrami and a slew of different reuben's.  You can also get latkes, kugel, or matzo ball soup, to round out the proper Jewish deli experience.  But bagels are where they shine, and they offer 27 different varieties.  The bagels are true NY style, boiled.

But ... I haven't ever actually been to their retail store, although I've had their bagels a zillion times.  They are one of the major bagel suppliers for all the cafes in San Francisco, so chances are, you've had their bagels too, even if you don't know it.

The bagels I've had have all been pretty good.  Soft, shiny exterior, good chew, and they toast up better than any other bagels I've ever encountered.
Plain Bagel.
I actually never tried this one.  See, I like bagels, but, I don't like plain ones.  I consider even sesame, poppy, etc generally too plain as well, unless I'm turning them into pizza bagels or perhaps egg and cheese sandwiches.  If I'm having a bagel with cream cheese, I need either the bagel, or the cream cheese, to be more interesting.

But Ojan eats these all the time.  They are soft, have a good shine on the outside, and I guess are good for plain bagels.
Whole Wheat Bagel.
I also don't tend to go for whole wheat, as they are also a bit too plain for me, but Ojan gets these all the time too, and after having a really enjoyable whole grain bagel from Panera, I decided to give one a shot.

I liked it far more than I expected.  Like all of their bagels, it was soft, had a nice shine, and toasted up nicely.  I know that all bagels should toast about the same, but they don't.  House of Bagels bagels get a nice crust on the exterior but stay soft inside.  Pretty much perfect every time.  Not sure what they do differently!

It had a heartiness to it from the whole wheat that I appreciated.  I paired it with some Noah's blueberry cream cheese I had leftover, and that combo worked really well.  I'd definitely have another, if I had flavored cream cheese to go with.  Or perhaps butter and honey?

Since I liked this before, I tried another one on another occasion, when I had some leftover whipped raspberry vanilla cream cheese.  Again, it toasted up nicely, I loved the heartiness, and it made the very sweet decadent cream cheese feel almost healthy.  A nice combination.
Pumpernickel Bagel.
Classic pumpernickel rye bagel.  Like all the bagels, it had a nice shine on it, was fairly moist, toasted up nicely.  Good with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and accompaniments.

Previous notes:  I really love how their bagels toast up.  I feel like a broken record, but they get this amazing slight crust on them, yet stay perfectly fluffy inside.  The pumpernickel isn't my favorite flavor, it is a bit strong for me, but if you like pumpernickel, this is surely a winner.  Currently Ojan's favorite.
Sesame Bagel.
Another decent, although slightly boring, bagel.  Good chew, toasts nicely.

Previous reviews:  Solid bagel.  Soft, good chew, toasts up well.  Sesame seeds have good flavor and crunch. A fairly boring bagel variety, but well done.  Goes nicely with smoked salmon and herb cream cheese. [ I think this is my favorite.  Always soft, and toasts really nicely. Also good with blueberry cream cheese. ]
Poppy Seed Bagel.
Very decent!  Good chew, nice amount of poppy seeds.  Good with egg and cheese.
Everything Seed Bagel.
I think would have been good but I over-toasted it.  It had poppy seeds inside the bagel too, which was a fun touch, then poppy, sesame, onion?, garlic? on the outside.  I need to try again when I watch my toaster oven better!
Pumpkin Bagel (seasonal).
One time, I was faced with a large assortment of bagels.  I knew somewhere in the mix were pumpkin, but I wasn't quite sure which were the pumpkin bagels.  None were orange-ish.  This one was darker than the whole wheat, but lighter than the pumpernickel, so I couldn't figure out which kind it was, thus I guessed it was pumpkin.

The moment I smelt it, I knew I was correct.  The "pumpkin spice" aroma was strong.  Made with pumpkin puree and spices (nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon).  Sadly, it smelt better than it tasted.  I didn't get any pumpkin flavor at all, just the spices, which were quite strong.  I wanted to taste pumpkin though, so this wasn't a winner for me.
Blueberry Bagel.
Blueberry is one flavor of bagel that I always think can sand on its own, with plain cream cheese, simple butter, or, as I often do, butter and sugar.

This was a fairly standard blueberry bagel.  It had a nice blue color, some pieces of blueberry throughout.  The bagel was like their others, decent chew, crust toasted nicely.  It didn't have a ton of flavor though, which left me a bit disappointed, as I do really love blueberry bagels!

I liked it best toasted with butter and sugar on top, but I wouldn't really pick this flavor again.
Cranberry Bagel (seasonal).
Another seasonal offering, cranberry.  Made with dried cranberries, but unlike the blueberry or cinnamon raisin, the dried fruit was not in bits, but rather was incorporated into the mix, making it a lovely pink color.  The cranberry flavor was decent, but I felt myself wishing for something more.  I think I also just wasn't in the mood for a bagel, at all.

On another day, I went for the cranberry again.  The color just drew me in.  Like all of their bagels, it toasted up just perfectly, but I didn't taste tons of cranberry, which was fine, because I had a lovely whipped berry cream cheese to pair with it.
Cinnamon Raisin.
Like the blueberry, this one surprised me in how much it disappointed, as I expected it to be one of the best. Didn't have good flavor, and wouldn't get again.
House of Bagels on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chile Pies (Sweet & Savory): The Savory

I've been to the various Chile Pies establishments a few different times, but somehow, the signature dessert pies have never really done it for me.  I swung in one hot afternoon, not to get pie, but instead intending to get ice cream, since they also offer Three Twins ice cream.  Imagine my surprise when I entered to find that the ice cream bar had been replaced by a mini tacqueria, offering tacos, enchiladas, chips and salsa ... certainly not ice cream.  I knew that Chile Pies is a sister establishment to Green Chile Kitchen, a regular Mexican restaurant, but I had no idea they had expanded into a tacqueria too (called, Green Chilette, how cute).

Anyway, rather than leaving empty handed, I decided to grab a savory hand pie to bring home for later.  Even though I hadn't liked the regular dessert pies, savory options are an entirely different thing, so I wanted to give them another chance.  They also had larger pot pies, but the cute little hand pies looked far more interesting.
Red Chile Con Carne Tamale Hand Pie.  $4.00.
Hand pies were available in 3 varieties: red chile with chicken, red chile con carne, or green chile with pork.  Since I dislike pork and chicken, there was only one option.

The hand pie didn't look great, as it was kinda falling apart and its insides were showing, even when I first received it.  I was asked if I wanted it warmed up, but since I was taking it home, I opted to heat it myself.

I tried one bite cold first, but that was clearly not how it was meant to be eaten, so I heated it up in my toaster oven.  As it warmed up, it fell apart even more.

The crust I really liked, it was a hearty cornmeal base, which I think is why they call it a "tamale hand pie".  Inside was beans, ground beef, and cheese, along with red chile sauce.  I dislike beans, so I really wished they weren't there, although Ojan liked them.  The ground beef was well spiced.  The cheese melted perfectly.  There was some sauce inside, with onions and chiles.

Nothing was wrong with this exactly, but I didn't really like it much, as it just isn't my style of food.  I'd want no beans, and some veggies instead, perhaps corn.  And, I'd want some sour cream or something on top.

If they made a vegetarian version I'd try it, but since I don't like chicken or pork, I don't see myself trying another one of these.  The $4 price was fine for the size.
Chile Pies on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

La Boutique de Joël Robuchon

As you know, I recently spent time in Tokyo on a business trip.  It was there that I first experienced the greatness of Joël Robuchon.  It turns out, there is a reason he has more Michelin stars than any other chef!  Our dinners at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and La Table de Joël Robuchon, both 2 stars, were the highlights of my trip.

But, before I went to either of the restaurants for dinner, I stumbled into La Boutique de Joël Robuchon, a simple pâtisserie & boulangerie, located in the mall attached to the hotel I was staying at in Roppongi Hills.  There are other La Boutiques in Marunouchi Brick Square and Yebisu Garden Place as well, but I didn't visit them.  I knew nothing about the pâtisserie, but I figured that since it was attached to Joël Robuchon's name, it was worth a try, and somehow wound up there within just a few hours of my arrival, seeking treats.
Petit canelé. ¥231.
I had my first canelé a couple years ago at Keiko a Nob Hill.  It was the perfect end to a downright phenomenal meal.  Since then, I haven't really been able to get canelés out of my mind.  When done properly, they can be a wondrous treat.  Few places even dare to try making them.  It had been ages since I had one.

So, when I saw it on the menu at La Boutique de Joël Robuchon, I had to try it.  It didn't matter that I did not have coffee, or a after dinner drink, to pair with it.  There were canelés, at a fancy bakery, and I had to try one, right then and there!

Unfortunately, I didn't like it.  The crust was very crispy, as desired, but it tasted more burnt than caramelized.  I know that is a hard line to walk, but I think they went too far in the burnt direction.  The inside, moist, custardy, but too eggy for me.  And the whole thing was a bit soggy.  It missed the mark on pretty much all the essential aspects of the pastry.

They were offered in two sizes, the petit size for ¥231 or full size for ¥336.  Since I wanted to try several treats, I went for the petit version.  The price for either was totally reasonable, but since I didn't like it, I wouldn't get another.
Chausson au Marron. ¥378.
The selection of treats was fairly picked over since I arrived near closing time.  But I couldn't settle on just one item.  I needed to get adventurous.

I had no idea what a "chausson au marron" was.  But almost everything else looked savory, and I wanted a sweet.  It seemed to have powdered sugar on top, so I figured it must be sweet.

It turned out to be a chestnut based pastry.  The pastry dough was flaky, with a decent butter content, but was a bit more doughy than expected.  Inside was a chestnut paste and a full, soft, roasted chestnut.  The whole thing was lightly sweetened, but more savory than I was hoping for.

I don't dislike chestnut, but it is certainly not something I'd ever pick.  I was intrigued by it the whole time, as it was unlike anything else I've ever had, but I wouldn't get another.  I could imagine it being a decent breakfast item perhaps?  But it wasn't quite the dessert I was looking for.

 ¥378 was a fine price for a fresh baked good.
“Croc” foie gras et pomme. ¥598.
On my first visit, I spied a thing of wonder.  I was just minutes off a plane from California, the land of banned foie gras, and this little bakery had foie gras sandwiches!

I did not get it that first night, since I was just stopping in for a dessert, but I couldn't get it off my mind.  So, a few nights later, I stopped in to get one for a snack.

I didn't quite know what to expect, besides that it seemed to be topped with potato strings, and promised to have foie inside.  The two slices of bread were clearly brioche.

I first took a bite of it, at room temperature, as served.  I bit into it like a sandwich, since it was a sandwich, but that was quite awkward, and the toppings came sliding off.  The bread was a bit soggy, and made a mess of my hands.  The potatoes on top were a bit mushy, like hashbrowns.  But, I could taste foie.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but I was determined to do better.

It seemed to be a play on a croque monsieur, which is normally served warm, so I carried it up to my office toaster oven, and heated it up.  And, I got silverware.

This improved things a bit.  The hashbrowns on top crisped up. The bread slices did as well, the bottom slice a little too much.  Whoops.  I'm not quite sure how you were supposed to heat this, if you were supposed to at all.

Along with the potato sticks on top were whole and cracked pink peppercorns.  More mild than black pepper, but intensely flavorful, a bit floral.  They dominated everything else, but I did like them.

The top slice was soggy at room temperature, and was still just too buttery and moist when heated up.  I love decadent brioche with my foie, but this was too much, particularly as it made it all mushy.
Interior Shot.
As I took my next couple bites, my happiness with tasting foie was replaced by something else.  I thought the inside filling was going to be all foie, a pate, a mousse, I wasn't sure what, but I wasn't expecting other meat.  And, what I found instead, seemed to be pulled pork.  It might have been shredded duck meat, which could make sense, but I'm pretty sure it was pulled pork.  Pork does play along with the croque monsieur idea somewhat.  But I don't like pork, or duck, really.  I tried a few more bites, but it was all I could taste.  Undeterred, I removed the offending meat, and continued on my way.

The remainder of the filling was indeed a foie mousse.  It was creamy, flavorful, and plentiful.  There was also some sort of fruit component providing a sweetness.  I originally thought they were grapes, but by the end I decided them must be chunks of stewed apple.  When I tried to look this creation up, I saw that "pomme" means apple, so, I think I was right there.  I had assumed that "pomme" was referring to the potato sticks on top, since one of the very few French terms I know is of course "pomme frites", aka, "fried potatoes" or "french fries".  Does "pomme" mean both?

Overall, this was certainly interesting, but it failed to come together for me.  I still don't know if it was supposed to be warm, it seems like not, since they didn't heat anything up there, but it seemed far too soggy to serve cold.  The brioche, foie, and fruit all went together well, but the pork (?) and peppercorn overtook everything else, and masked the more delicate flavors.  And, the ratio of bread to everything else was off, far too much bread.  I think it would work better open-faced, and the sandwich form factor certainly wasn't useful for picking up like a sandwich, due to the potato on top, and the sogginess.

All criticisms aside, I'm glad I tried it, and ¥598 for a foie gras based sandwich was beyond reasonable, but I won't be getting another.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

David's Chocolate

David's is a Belgian confection maker, specializing in assorted types of chocolate confections.  For the holidays, they make chocolate bunnies and eggs for Easter, a large assortment of goodies for Christmas, and of course, assorted filled hearts for Valentine's.  During the rest of the year, they make assorted truffles, chocolate bars, and barks, along with chocolate covered ... everything: dried fruit, cookies, pretzels, popcorn, sponge toffee, even potato chips.  Oh, and peanut butter & jam bites that sound totally amazing.  They also make licorice, the only non-chocolate offering.

I wish I had a chance to try some of the chocolate covered offerings, but so far, I've only managed to find their products once around town, and I don't remember where it was.  Doh!
Mélange à Trois
I had the Mélange à Trois bar: "a delightful blending of our fabulous sponge toffee and pretzel bits with Belgian dark chocolate."

It was a very firm, thick, sturdy bar, hard to break off just a piece.  Rich, quality dark chocolate.  The pretzel and toffee both provided a nice crunch, although the toffee was a spongy style, like sugar honeycomb, so it was a bit tacky, and got stuck easily in my teeth, making the experience of eating it a bit odd.  The pretzel gave a bit of additional salt, which is always nice in a chocolate bar, and the toffee gave a little sweetness to balance out the darker chocolate.  Well thought out ingredients, even if I didn't care for the toffee texture.

Overall, it was quite tasty, and I didn't share it with my sampling club ... sorry!