Friday, April 10, 2015

Be Natural Bars, Australia

Last week, I wrote about my discovery of tasty breakfast bars, er, "muesli slices", from SuniBrite.  SuniBrite's parent company is Mother's Nature Ltd, the same as Be Natural Bars, so I was excited to try the Be Natural line up.  Spoiler: it turns out, these folk make really good bars, just when I was starting to think no such things existed! 

Be Natural makes two lines of product, basic Nut Bars, or Premium Macadamia Nut Bars.  The macadamia bars, particularly the honey and carob coated ones, sound interesting, but I didn't run into them anywhere in Sydney.  Instead, I only found the standard nut bars, described as "a delicious combination of Top Quality Nuts (including Almonds, Brazils, and Walnuts), they have the finest of fruits and a hint of honey - an irresistible snack with a delectable flavour."

The nut bars are available in a slew of flavors, such as "Nut Delight", with peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts, and walnuts, "Fruit & Nut", with peanuts, almonds, walnuts and a bunch of dried fruit (sultanas, apricots, dates, and apples), "Almond Apricot", with, you guessed it, almonds and dried apricots (plus coconut!), "Sunflower & Pepita", which also has sesame seeds, and "Sesame Nut Split", with peanuts, sesame seeds, and ... chocolate.  But I went for the yogurt coated bars, available only in almond apricot or fruit & nut.

I only got to try one variety, but I can't wait to try more on my next visit to Australia.
Almond Apricot Yoghurt Coated.
"Be Natural Almond Apricot Yoghurt Coated bar combines together almonds, apricots and coconut, covered in a smooth yoghurt flavoured coating."

This was shockingly good.  Not a granola bar, as it has no oats in it, rather, the base is mainly almonds and dried apricots, joined by peanuts, coconut, and puffed rice.  It was slightly soft, and absolutely loaded up with coconut, nuts, and apricot bits.  No other fillers.

It was pleasantly sweet from both the natural sweetness in the apricot and the coating.  The nuts added a great crunch.  The coating, nutritionally questionable "yoghurt flavoured coating" made primarily from sugar and palm kernal oil, was actually pretty pleasant, and the bar was well coated.

I enjoyed this more than any other bar in recent memory.  I'd love to try more of their products.

Update: A few months later, I visited Australia again, I had another bar.  This time ... I didn't like it at all.  I thought the bits of apricot had a nice chew, but tasted like raisins, and the entire thing seemed like a boring granola bar to me.  I'm so fickle ...

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Home Thai, Sydney

When I was recently in Sydney, I ate a lot of thai food.  I love thai cuisine, but, San Francisco has never really impressed me in this area.  But Sydney?  Now, that is another story.  While Sydney surely isn't the place to go fine dining, proximity to Thailand serves it well, and there are many choices of thai restaurants.  We were determined to try as many as possible.

When you ask Sydneysiders to recommend thai restaurants, two names come up over and over: Home Thai, and Chat Thai, which I reviewed a few days ago.  The two restaurants are shockingly similar, although completely unrelated.  They are located only a few blocks apart.  They are both crazy popular, and always have lines out front.  The servers at both take orders on ipods/ipads.  The menus are fairly similar, although Home Thai has a more extensive savory menu, Chat Thai a more extensive sweet menu.

The food was fine, but I definitely do not recommend the dumplings (which, makes sense, as this is a Thai restaurant).  Prices are good, service is fast, but I don't really see a reason to return here, when there are so many other great thai choices in Sydney (stay tuned!).
Queues outside.
Just like Chat Thai, Home Thai is known for the lines.  Even arriving on the earlier side at 6pm we had to wait.  The system is very efficient, identical to Chat Thai - you put your name on the list, take a number, and wait on the sidewalk.  Good thing the weather is nice in Sydney!
Open Kitchen.
I didn't mind the wait, since I loved watching the chefs.  Chat Thai has just the dessert kitchen in front, and the main kitchen is in the back, but at Home Thai, the whole kitchen is in front, and is open, so you can watch all the fun.

It was crazy busy.  Watching the staff here was incredibly impressive.  They were constantly moving.  When they had a moment of downtime, they started drying dishware.  Seriously, no one ever stopped moving.

Service was fine, efficient beyond belief, but no extra attention was given.  Order taken, food delivered, and that was that.
Inside is rather small, with basic wooden tables and chairs.  Crammed in as close together as possible, since they clearly always have a wait.

On the table was a bottle of tap water, so we could help ourselves to water throughout, and staff weren't ever needed to serve us.

Our order was taken quickly, on an ipad.
Longan Juice. $4.
Ojan decided to be adventurous and order a longan juice.  We weren't really sure what longan was.  When he received it, we thought "wait, is longan just another word for lychee?"  Floating in the drink were certainly things that looked like lychee.

But, the taste wasn't sweet like lychee.  It was slightly smoky even.  It turns out, lychee and longan are in the same family of fruits, but no, longan is not lychee.

Ojan enjoyed the drink, and found it to be quite refreshing, particularly alongside spicy Thai food.
Kui Chay (Garlic Chive Dumplings). $6.90.
"Steamed dumpling stuffed with garlic chive."

Our first dish arrived within what seemed like at most 3 minutes of placing our order.  Like I said, these folks were busy and efficient!  It also seems like having the ordering system on ipads allows orders to go to the kitchen immediately, so there is no delay in having a server bring the order to the kitchen before it starts getting prepared.

Dumplings seemed a bit strange for us to order at a Thai restaurant, but the menu had many different types of dumplings, so I figured they might be good.  Plus, I was just really craving dumplings for some reason.

The wrappers of these dumplings were not very good.  They were pasty, and somewhat disintegrated.  There were four dumplings, two slightly darker than the other two, but the taste wasn't distinct.

The filling was generous, garlic chives, which were crazy garlicky.  The sauce was a sweet sauce.

I wanted to love these, but between the pasty wrapper and the too strong garlic flavor, I just didn't.  Price of $6.90 was fine for 4 dumplings.
Kao Kreab Pak Mhor, Vegetarian. $6.90.
"Steamed rice flour with sweet peanuts, palm sugar and pork minced."

Our second type of dumpling arrived about 30 seconds later.

Since we had a vegetarian dining with us, we ordered these vegetarian, so in place of the minced pork was tofu.

The wrappers were really slimy, but not chalky and pasty like the previous ones.  The flavor of the filling was really quite strange.  I can't describe it.  I really disliked it.  There were a few crushed nuts on top, and a very sweet sauce underneath.

The textures were bad, the flavors were bad, and I pretty much hated this dish.

The only thing I liked was the fact that there were two different colored wrappers, the purple ones were quite pretty.

No one really liked these, but the others found them better once wrapped with some lettuce.  Again, price was good, this time for 6 dumplings.
Pad Thai Woon Sen (Glass Noodle Pad Thai), Vegetarian.  $11.50.
"Wok tossed glass noodles with tofu, egg, pickled radish, garlic chives, bean sprouts, chilli powder,
tamarind sauce, palm sugar and fish sauce."

Next up, more of a classic Thai noodle dish: pad thai.

Our vegetarian diner selected this.  I'm quite familiar with pad thai, but had never actually had glass noodle pad thai before (Home That has regular pad thai, and a wonton noodle pad thai, on the menu as well).  The flavors were all similar to what I'm used to with pad thai, but it used smaller, thinner glass noodles instead.  Not what I'd pick, but, it was interesting to try something new.  Loaded up with lots of assorted veggies, including mushrooms, snow peas, and baby corn, garnished with all the traditional accompaniments of fresh bean sprouts, chives, and chopped peanuts.

Overall, this was fine, and the $11.50 was good for the large portion.
Gang Dang Ped (Red Curry With Duck), Medium.  $14.90.
"Roast duck in red curry paste with coconut milk, cherry eggplant, apple eggplant, basil, lime
leaves, long red chilli, pineapple and lychee."

Ojan and another diner selected the red curry with duck.  I tried a few bites, stealing their token lychee and a crunchy cherry eggplant.  While I don't like duck, I loved the sauce.  It was definitely a bit spicy, just the right amount to really feel it and feel alive, but not kill you or make the experience unpleasant.  It was balanced by coconut milk and a sweetness from the fruit in the mix.  I gladly finished off all of their sauce, eating it by the spoonful like a soup.

The priciest dish we got, but still reasonable.
Mango and Sticky Rice.
Well, you know me and dessert.  We obviously needed desserts.  Home Thai only had 6 desserts on the menu, a stark contrast to the extensive selection of 32 at Chat Thai, but totally normal for a regular restaurant.

We started with the classic thai dessert: mango and sticky rice.  While perhaps a bit boring, mango in Australia is just so much better than in the US.  We really wanted to get as much mango in while we were in Sydney as possible, and ate it at least once a day (including as part of the stunning breakfast buffet at the Sheraton on the Park).

The mango was ripe and clearly sliced to order.  A generous serving, a full half of a large mango.

Home Thai really seems to like serving multiple colors of things, just like the wrappers of the dumplings, this time the color came in the rice.  There were three types of rice: one was green and I think pandan infused, one was just regular white sticky rice, and the other was purple, I think taro?  The purple one was my favorite, but all were just basic sticky rice.

Everything was drizzled with coconut cream, sweet, good, and I thought at first that there was too much, but it somehow ran out.  We would have preferred to just have this on the side.

We all tasted a few crunchy bites.  I think the orange things on top might have been the crunch?  Or maybe some rice was just crispy?  Not sure.

Overall, this was fine, and we appreciated the fresh mango, but, it wasn't particularly interesting.
Par Tuhng Go (Fried Bread Sticks) with Pandan Coconut Sauce. $5.
Since we couldn't possibly be satisfied with just one dessert, we also got the fried dough.  Because, um, fried dough!  This is only available in the evening, although Home Thai is open for lunch as well.

The dough was clearly fried fresh to order, delivered piping hot.  There were 4 pieces, but each was made up of two sticks attached in the center.  The dough was basic fried dough, although Ojan thought it was more like a donut, since it wasn't as greasy as fried dough.  Others said it was like funnel cake.  I still thought it was like state fair fried dough.  Anyway, hot and fresh, with a crispy exterior, doughy interior.  I really wanted it to be sugar coated though!

The sauce on the side was a creamy pandan sauce, plus some coconut milk.  It was super sweet, it reminded me of icing actually.  I like icing, so this wasn't a bad thing exactly, but a bit strange to put on my fried dough.

Overall, nothing was wrong here, but the components didn't go together exactly as I was hoping.  Fried dough is good, but I wanted a different topping.  The pandan cream sauce was good, but I wanted it on something else.
Home Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 05, 2015

L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Part II

Last year for Halloween, you may remember that my mother upped the ante in the Halloween box she sent me.  No mediocre Hershey, Mars, or NestlĂ© from her, which, from all my previous reviews, you probably realize I don't even really consider these brands "chocolate.  No, she sent me a box with handmade chocolates from L.A. Burdick, an east coast chocolatier with 3 locations: Boston, New York City, and, randomly, Walpole, NH.  Walpole is actually their main production facility, and also houses a restaurant.  The other locations all are just chocolate shops with "tea rooms", that serve their incredible "drinking chocolate".

This year, for Easter, I was also in for a treat.  Cadbury creme eggs?  Nope!  Another arrival from L.A. Burdick.  Just like selections she sent for Halloween, I appreciated the worksmanship that went into them, but I found them to be too pricey for what they were.  I'm a frugal gal, and can't quite justify these prices ...
Impressive Packaging!
Just like last time, I was impressed with the packaging, "packed in our Signature Wooden Box with a gold wax seal and tied with a beautiful seasonal ribbon."

It is clearly overkill, but there is something quite fun about untying the ribbon.  The wax seal is for looks though, you don't actually get to break it!
Signature Bunny Box. $26.
Inside lay my treasures: 6 Marzipan Eggs, 4 Chocolate Truffles, and 5 White Chocolate Bunnies.
Burdick's signature product is their hand painted little figures.  You may recall that for Halloween, my mom sent me some of the mice.  They also make seasonal varieties, such as snowmen & penguins for Christmas, ghosts & coffins for Halloween, and turkeys for Thanksgiving.  I have to admit, they are all pretty cute.  So I had to start with the White Chocolate Bunnies.

Just like the mice, the bunnies had almond slivers for ears, and I really appreciated the crunch.  The white chocolate mice I didn't love last time, as I thought the white chocolate was waxy, but it didn't bother me this time around.  The filling was a orange and hazelnut chocolate ganache, unlike the cinnamon chocolate ganache from the white mice.  It was more like the filling from the dark chocolate mice, that sadly I didn't like since I don't actually like orange and chocolate together.  But it was smooth and fluffy, almost like a mousse.

Bunnies are $4 when not part of a collection, which, while I respect the hand piped nature of them, seems a bit high for a two-bite chocolate.

The truffles looked like they were just solid chocolate, so I bit one in half, expecting just chocolate.  Caramel immediately oozed out everywhere.  It wasn't thin liquid, but it certainly had motion.  The filling was crazy sweet, too sweet for me.  But I did really like the chocolate shell.

I hesitantly bit into the next one.  It was slightly rounder, so I thought it might be a different type of truffle.  Turns out, I was correct.  This one had the same awesome slightly crunchy outer shell, but inside was a deep chocolate ganache.  Bitter, intense, very satisfying.  Certainly the winner of the box, and I'd gladly consume more of these.

The Marzipan Eggs I'll get to in a moment.
Marzipan Eggs.
Before we opened the wooden box, we opened the unlabeled little bag of treats.  They looked like soft gummy candies, covered in sugar, which I assumed would be tart, like Sour Patch Kids.

I was met with surprise and confusion.  They were soft, but slightly crumbly, certainly not gummy candy.  The coating was just sugar.  But ... what were they?  As I rolled one around in my mouth for a minute, I decided it must be marzipan (almond meal and sugar paste).  Very, very unexpected.  I couldn't figure out if I liked them or not.

Once I opened the bunny box, it had a card identifying the contents, and, as you saw, that included more marzipan eggs.  I figured it out!

The eggs came in three colors, green (pistachio), purple (lavender), and pink (cherry).  I'm somewhat guessing on these flavors.  The lavender was a bit too floral for me.  I was fascinated by these, but never really liked any of them.  A strange treat, for sure, but not one I'd like more of.
L A Burdick Chocolates on Urbanspoon