Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chanoma Cafe, Sydney

When I was in Sydney, I was on a quest to try different foods from what I'm accustomed.  Sydney is full of Asian influence, and thus most of the places I choose to visit were Thai, or Vietnamese like Ms. G's, or uh, bubble tea.  On a slightly different asian front, I read about Chanoma Cafe,  a Japanese cafe, and self-proclaimed "Japanese Matcha Master".

As you'd expect given that tagline, their main item is obviously matcha, available in just about every form imaginable: regular matcha hot tea, or with steamed milk as a latte or cappucino, or iced as tea, or iced lattes.  Or, more interesting, it can be served as a float with matcha ice cream swirled into it, or even as a float garnished with mochi balls.  Or ... as a blended frappe, with Oreo if you want, topped with whipped cream of course, and mochi balls.  The menu is all pictorial, and there were some fairly crazy looking creations 

Chanoma Cafe also offers an fairly extensive non-matcha drink menu, including black sesame lattes, red bean lattes, and all sorts of floats.  Ojan ordered a yuzu lemonade, which was totally delicious.  It was sweet, flavorful, and really quite tasty.  By far the best thing we had!

The next biggest section of the menu is Japadogs, aka, Japanese style hotdogs, with totally ridiculous toppings, served with fries (wasabi or seaweed coated).  Ojan and another friend went for lunch, and ordered hot dogs before I arrived.  They both really enjoyed the toppings, but said that the hot dogs themselves were really, really low quality and they didn't like them.  And the hot dog buns were somewhat stale and chewy, hard to bite through, and there was too much bun to go with the dog.  Doh, sounds like I didn't miss much.
Storefront.
Chanoma Cafa is located inside the Regent Place dining area, alongside several other casual establishments.  It isn't a food court exactly, as each facility has its own contained doors.

You order at the register, and are given a buzzer to bring back to your table, and then pick the food up inside.  In my case, my buzzer went off literally within a minute, which seemed a bit ridiculous.  Why give me the buzzer in the first place?

The people working seemed fairly traditional Japanese, for example, handing everything over with two hands.
"Outdoor Seating"
There is seating inside, but also "outside" the shop too, basically, in the hallway of the mall.  Each little shop seems to have their own small seating area out here, and patrons were generally respectful of consuming only goods purchased at the proper establishment.

Seating was not very comfortable, just hard stools and wooden tables.  It is here that I found Ojan and our other friend, finishing off their Japadogs.

I joined them after the Japadogs, because I had my sights set on something else: dessert of course, and not just any dessert: soft serve ice cream.  You know I eat a lot of ice cream, but soft serve in particular I adore.  They serve only one flavor, you guessed it, matcha.  Available simply in a cone, or in totally ridiculous creations as parfaits, loaded up with red bean, mochi, fruit, whipped cream, pocky, waffle sticks ... the list goes on and on.
Matcha Anmitsu. $6.50. Plus whipped cream. $0.50.
As I said, I was there for the ice cream.  I decided not to just get a simple soft serve, and was really tempted by the aforementioned crazy parfaits, but I wasn't actually interested in having pocky, waffle sticks, or cornflakes in my sundae.  But I wanted whipped cream, and the other ice cream based choice, anmitsu, did not come with whipped cream.

I was stumped only momentarily, and came up with an easy solution?  Order the ammitsu, but with whipped cream!  Now I could have exactly what I wanted, and the person taking my order didn't bat an eye when I asked to add whip.

There were a slew of components to the creation, that you can't quite see in the photo above, because they are hidden beneath.

On the bottom was cubes of jelly.  They were absolutely flavorless.  A decent texture, and maybe I'd want them in bubble tea, but they made no sense in my ice cream.  Just sweet, sugar and agar, nothing else.  Least interesting component, by far.

On the side was a scoop of sweet red bean paste.  I really like red bean, but didn't like this.  I did like the mushy part, and the sweetness level was just right, not too sweet, just enough to be pleasant.  But then there were whole beans, which is good, except that they seemed almost raw and uncooked.  I like a crunchy element to my desserts, but ... I don't think this was intentional crunch.

The main attraction, the matcha soft serve ice cream, had a strong matcha flavor, clearly made with a serious amount of matcha.  It wasn't very sweet, actually, more bitter than sweet.  But it wasn't creamy at all, and even as it melted it didn't get creamy, and just stayed unpleasantly icy.  For the star ingredient, it was really disappointing.  The flavor was there, but the consistency was just all wrong.

Drizzled over the ice cream was an optional brown sugar syrup, which I opted for.  Since the ice cream was so bitter, it was a pleasant contrast.

On the side was a stick of shiratama, 3 little balls.  The mochi were soft, but not really flavorful.  I could see how these would be nice dunked in a hot matcha though.

And finally, my edition, the whipped cream.  It was sweetened, fluffy, basic whipped cream, but they did provide way too much.  I guess I got my $0.50 worth, but I think I had more whipped cream than any other component, and the balance was all off.  This is my fault for adding it though.

Overall, there were a bunch of ingredients here that I was interested in, but they just didn't execute it well.  I like matcha flavor, but the ice cream was too icy.  I like red bean, but there were too many undercooked beans.  I like mochi, but these were flavorless.  Sadness, as there was a lot of potential.

$7 was pricy for a small dessert.
Chanoma Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Qantas Business Class, QF17, SYD to LAX

After our amazing time in the Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney, it was sadly time to return to San Francisco, aboard QF17, business class.  Just like our flight to Sydney, it was a 747, except this time, we were seated on the upper deck, so the experience was slightly different.
14K, Upper Deck, 747.
It was my first time on the upper deck, but my frequent flyer friends all swear by the upper deck.  They like having the storage bin beside the seat, which I must admit, was quite the perk and very convenient, since I like to have many things by my side throughout a flight.

I was also advised to go for the exit row, so that we’d have way more space in front of the seat, and so the person in the window seat (me) would not need to climb over the sleeping person on the aisle (Ojan).  

Indeed we had tons of space, but, it meant we didn’t have a seat in front of us to stow anything, including even just a cubby for shoes, which I missed.  Our side also had the flight attendant's jump seats during takeoff and landing, so I'd probably choose the other side next time.

The cabin had a single bathroom in the front, which wasn’t quite sufficient, even given our less than full cabin with only 12 occupants.  For the morning rush, several of us went downstairs where they had 3 bathrooms.

The pilots also sit up on this level, so it was interesting to see how often they came and went from the cockpit, getting snacks, drinks, using the bathroom, and taking breaks.  They have their own reserved little lounge space behind a curtain in the cabin too.

Everything else about the seat was the same as my previous flight, so, I’ll skip that, and you can read all about it there.

The service was much better on this flight than the previous one, with drink refills constantly being offered, and the staff just generally seeming to care more.  It was amongst the best business class service I've experienced.

I did like the feel of the upper deck cabin, and I adored the storage space, but ... the whole cabin shook whenever someone walked by.  During meal service and whatnot this was just annoying, but once I was trying to sleep, it became more of an issue.  Ojan said he never wanted to fly up there again, but I'm still on the fence.
Menu.
And now, for the reason you are reading this, given that this is Julie’s Dining Club after all: the food!  Our flight to Sydney was a late departure, near midnight, so we had the abbreviated “Supper” service, but this flight had a full dinner, since take off was at 5:30pm.

The menu is divided into small plates and main plates, but you don't need to necessarily follow that format.  I generally like to make a meal out of several small plates, rather than a small and a main.

The small plate selection was: 
  • Smoked tomato soup with thyme ricotta.
  • Blue cheese, walnuts, baby beans and tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Steamed duck buns with hoisin and pickled cucumbers.
  • Slow roasted Blackmore's Wagyu salad with oyster mushrooms, zucchini, and nuoc cham dressing. 
For mains, we could select from: 
  • Short soup with chicken and chive wontons, ginger, shallots and sesame oil.
  • Roasted eggplant and silverbeet lasagne with cucumber, tomato and feta salad.
  • Prawn and lemon mayonnaise roll.
  • Pan fried black cobia with roasted red capsicum, artichokes, kipfler potatoes and olive tapenade.
  • Murraylands lamb rack with roast tomato, white beans, sugar snaps, anchovy and rosemary vinaigrette.
  • Spice Temple inspired salad of tingling prawns, tofu and Sichuan pepper. (this was an online exclusive)
And finally, desserts:
  • Coconut and lime curd Madeline cake with fresh pineapple salad.
  • Maggie Beer ice cream.
  • Selection of cheese served with accompaniments.
  • Seasonal Fruit.
Shortly after takeoff, our orders were taken, but Ojan and I had already pre-ordered online through QEats.  My order went through, but there was confusion with his, as they didn’t know that he wanted a small plate as a starter, or which main he had actually ordered.  Since we had feasted in the lounge, we mostly opted for small plates, and planned to just share everything.

Drinks and Snacks

Meal service began with the drink cart coming down the aisle, offering up wines (a selection of two each of white and red), soft drinks, and juices.

It was notable how different the meal service was on this flight, as downstairs at supper time, we didn’t have a beverage cart.  I’m not sure if this is an upstairs vs downstairs thing, or a supper vs dinner.
Shriaz, Snacks.
For wine, I went for one of the reds, an Australian Shiraz (the other red was a Cabernet).  It had a bit of bite to it, was highly acidic, and I didn’t really like it much.  The pour was generous.

We were also given bags of walnuts and pretzels.  This was a bit shocking.  Even US domestic flights give you warm, mixed nuts in little bowls in business.  Packaged snacks?  Unexpected.  I hoped it wasn’t going to set the tone for what was to come, and, luckily, it didn't.

Dinner 

Starter: Salad.
Dinner began with an offering of basic salad greens with either balsamic vinegar or palm sugar dressing, along with a choice of sliced bread, sourdough or wholemeal.  I skipped the salad, since we were getting two others salads as small plates, but Ojan had the salad.  It was just greens.  We both skipped the bread, because, when have you ever had a good piece of bread on a plane?

I also moved on to the other red wine, a Cabernet, since I really didn’t like the Shiraz, and it was better, but still not remarkable.
Small Plate: Blue cheese, walnuts, baby beans and tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette. 
“A flavoursome salad of green beans, tomato, walnuts, pickled onion and blue cheese. This blue cheese is made from sheep's milk and has a creamy texture. This salad is combined with crisp salad leaves and dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.”

The first small place we selected sounded quite good, even though it was just a salad, with tasty additions like blue cheese, walnuts, and pickled onions.

There wasn’t much in the way of greens, so Ojan was glad he opted to get the starter salad as well.  The ingredients were all quite basic: green beans, cherry tomatoes, and the greens were all fresh enough, but not particularly great.  The walnuts were just walnuts.  The blue cheese wasn’t very good.  I did love the pickled pearl onions though, and Ojan didn’t get a chance to eat those, because I stole both.
Small Plate: Slow roasted Blackmore's Wagyu salad with oyster mushrooms, zucchini, and nuoc cham dressing
“Tender slices of cold roast Wagyu beef are served with oyster mushrooms, roast zucchini and finished with a flavourful nuoc cham dressing of lemongrass, coriander, tamarind, fish sauce and lime juice. The Wagyu beef used for this dish is produced by David Blackmore, an Australian farmer renowned for supplying highest grade of Wagyu to top restaurants around the country. This salad is accompanied by crispy rice cakes”

We also picked the other salad, featuring Wagyu (really, Wagyu on a plane?!) and oyster mushrooms, since I adore oyster mushrooms.  I also was very curious about the “crispy rice cakes”.

This sounded great, but I liked it less than the previous.  The “crispy rice cakes” that I was so looking forward to were crazy soggy.  I like oyster mushrooms quite a bit, but cold, and without any seasoning or dressing, they just weren’t very good.  The Wagyu was thin sliced and just tasted a bit strange, I think it was a cut that I just don’t enjoy.

I think if this actually had some dressing, it would have been better.  It was supposed to have nuoc cham dressing, but I didn’t taste any, anywhere, and I looked.  Maybe it was forgotten?  Meh, meh, meh.
Small Plate: Steamed Duck Buns with Hoisin and Pickled Cucumbers.
“These Chinese style buns are steamed to give the bread a soft, fluffy texture. Our buns have a duck filling flavoured with ginger, garlic, soy and a chilli bean paste. Duck buns are accompanied by hoisin sauce and pickled cucumber”

For my main, I opted for another small plate, since I knew I didn’t want a really heavy meal given our lounge feast, and, I was sharing everything with Ojan.

These were a strange order for me, since I don’t like duck.  But, the Sheraton Executive Lounge  served some tasty pork steamed buns, and I’d been craving more steamed buns ever since.

The steamed buns were far more successful than I expected on an airplane.  The dough was light and fluffy, a bit moist, warm.  The filling was ducky and sweet, which I wish I realized BEFORE I slathered it in the accompyming hoisin sauce.  The result was that it was way, way too sweet, particularly as the hoisin was thick and strong, but I guess this was my own fault.

While I still didn’t care for duck, and the hoisin was totally unnecessary (which is sad, because I love hoisin!), the buns themselves were nice, and the pickled cucumbers were an interesting touch on the side, served warm, but tasty enough.  I probably would’t get this again though.
Main: Prawn and Lemon Mayonnaise Roll.
“A soft brioche roll is filled with a mixture of prawn bound in a lemon mayonnaise.  This dish is complimented with a crisp salad of mixed leaves and a white balsamic vinaigrette.”

We also went for one main dish, the prawn and lemon mayonnaise roll.  This was the clear winner.

The brioche was warm and buttery.  Not super fresh, but not as bad as most bread on planes.  It was very decadent however, and didn’t really need all the additional butter.  The filling was decently cooked prawn, not flavorful on its own, but the texture was good, not too chewy, rubbery, or strange.  The lemon mayo was awesome, which you might expect to hear from me, since, well, I love mayo.

The theme of my meals this day seemed to be seafood and mayo.  We had the crispy fried calamari with aioli and the crumbed fish burger with horseradish mayo in the lounge, and now this.  Mmm, seafood and mayo.  A combination I always like.  I’d even get this again, not that it was awesome, but better than anything else we ordered.

Dessert

Unlike my previous supper flight, dinner included full dessert service, with a dessert cart that came down the aisle after everyone had finished their mains, offering up a selection of desserts, coffee, and after-dinner drinks.

Now, I was pretty sad when I saw the dessert menu.  Cheese, fruit, ice cream, or coconut and lime curd Madeline cake with fresh pineapple salad.  Nothing I really wanted, so, we had to just get them all, because, when do I ever skip dessert?
Coconut and lime curd Madeline cake with fresh pineapple salad.
I don’t care for lemon nor lime desserts in general.  I actually dislike madelines.  Sigh.  But, I wanted dessert, so, I gave it a go.

It was about as expected.  The cake was dry and flavorless, two layers.  In the middle was the lime curd, which was tangy and limey, and as I anticipated, I didn’t really like.  The top was a bit hard, which I don’t think was intended, it was likely stale, or perhaps just cold still, and that is where the coconut was. It was the best part, and I ate the whole top, mostly because I desperately wanted dessert.  The bottom layer was soggy from juice from the pineapple, which, actually did make it a bit better.

The “pineapple salad” was thinly shaved pineapple, not particularly interesting.  It was topped with a little cream, which of course I liked.

I didn’t like this much, but I ate most of it, because, dessert.  But quite honestly, this was one of the weakest desserts I’ve had on a plane.
Cheese Platter, Fruit Platter.
Ojan knew he wouldn’t like the cake, so he just went for the other options.  Sadly neither of us could order the ice cream, because it was chocolate, and we didn’t want to affect our sleep.

I didn’t try the fruit plate since it contained melon, but it also had pineapple, grapes, and jackfruit.  Credit for including at least one interesting fruit.

The cheese platter I shared, and it was decent.  Several types of crackers, all thin style, and filled with different things.  The blue cheese was better than the blue from the salad, and the triple cream was a basic version, but good enough.  Because, cream.

On the side was the most interesting components.  One was a slice of a date and walnut loaf, sweet, crunchy, but I don’t like dates, so, meh.  I have no idea what the other was, but I loved it.  It was almost like a brittle, loaded with different types of nuts, and some spicing that seemed pumpkin-spice-esque.  I quite liked it, and still have no idea what it was.
Dessert Wines.
I also opted for liquid dessert!  Along with cognac and Bailey’s, two dessert wines were offered.  When I enquired about them, my friendly flight attended just poured one of each.  Perfect.

I’m still not sure what they each were, although one was a tokaji.  They were both sweet and delicious.  The darker one was more caramely and syrupy, the lighter one more sweet.  But I enjoyed them both, more than the dessert even.  I should have just pulled an Emil and stuck with liquid dessert.

Breakfast

Just as my previous flight, breakfast cards were provided when we boarded, and collected before takeoff, so we could maximize our sleep and have our breakfast magically appear about 2 hours outside of LAX.
Pre-order Breakfast Menu.
We had the same choices for the continental cold dishes as before:
  • Fruit salad with yogurt
  • Brookfarm toasted muesli with milk
  • Toast or croissant with berry jam, marmalade, honey, or vegemite.
  • Rhubarb and brown sugar danish
Identical to our previous flight, except the pear danish was replaced by a rhubarb and brown sugar danish, which sounded slightly better.

And as before, there was a selection of 3 different hot dishes:
  • Free range scrambled eggs on toasted brioche with Merguez sausage, sautéed mushrooms, capsicum and onion relish
  • Gruyere and pasrami “monsieur”
  • Buttermilk pancakes with spelt and almond granola, grilled peaches and honey yogurt.
The options were slightly different here, with the side for the eggs swapped out, a different savory bready option, and different toppings on the pancakes, but Qantas obviously follows the same formula for all flights.

There was also juice, coffee, and tea available.
Breakfast Platter.
Just like my previous flight, breakfast was served all in one go, my tray brought out with everything, drinks included, already laid out.  However this time, the FA came by a few minutes before to ask if I was ready for breakfast, so I could set up my area, and, gasp, he included water with the meal.  Like I said, much, much better service.

I went for the muesli and pancakes again on this flight, plus the danish, because, well, I love baked goods, and I was a bit worried I might not like the other food.  My friendly flight attendant also made me a custom fruit salad of pineapple and grapes, since he knew I was allergic to melon, which is normally included in the fruit platter.  Such a thoughtful touch, and really indicative of the service we had throughout the flight, it really was top notch.
Brookfarm Toasted Muesli with Milk.
I took my own protip from my previous flight, and ordered the muesli with the milk on the side.  Even though I didn’t love the muesli last time, that was mostly because it was a soggy mess, so I hoped putting it on the side would prevent that.

It was better this way, but still not my favorite muesli.  Loaded up with all sorts of seeds, hard dried cranberries and little tiny berries.  Hearty, satisfying enough, but not the style I normally go for.
Rhubarb and Brown Sugar Danish.
I also went for the danish, sort of as a backup option if everything else failed to please, since I don’t love rhubarb, but I do love my baked goods.  I had zero expectations for this, since baked goods on planes are normally awful.

It far exceeded expectations, and was the best part of my breakfast.  To start, it was served warm, a welcome surprise.  Warming it somehow didn’t make it soggy, the bottom and top remained crisp.  The pastry was decent, far better than any of the danishes from either the Westin or the Sheraton executive lounges.  Second, it was filled with sweetened cream cheese!  Not mentioned on the menu, but another welcome surprise.  The rhubarb was just a small amount on top, soft and tart.

Overall, this was quite enjoyable.  Had I ordered it from a local bakery or cafe I wouldn’t be raving about it, but for a plane, it was awesome.  The best bite was a bit of crunchy top, doughy center, plenty of sweetened cream cheese, and … a bite of grilled peaches from the pancakes …
Buttermilk Pancakes with Spelt and Almond Granola, Grilled Peaches and Honey Yogurt.
And finally, the pancakes.  I had fairly low expectations, except that I’ve actually had some really good breakfast bread dishes on flights.  I still can’t get over how tasty the waffles were on my BA flight, and the pancakes with mascarpone on my previous Qantas flight would have been good if served warm.

But these … these were nothing like the previous pancakes.  On the upside, they were warm.  But that is the only positive thing I have to say about them.  They were … crispy.  Rock solid.  I realized this the moment I tried to cut into them.  Not that I expected light, fluffy pancakes, but they had clearly been cooked for way, way too long.  The base flavor was plain and boring.

On top was a scattering of granola, which might have been nice to add some crunch, but given the rock-pancakes, more crunch was not needed.  There was a bit of yogurt on the side, tart and warm from being with the pancakes.  Warm yogurt?  Not at all what I wanted, although yes, granola and yogurt is far more healthy than most things I top my pancakes with, but the mascarpone from the previous flight was far more successful.  I want decadence in my pancakes!

There was also no syrup.  No syrup on my pancakes!  Butter was provided on the side, but, rock-pancakes with tart toppings and no syrup were just totally not what I was after.  If properly reheated however, I’m sure they would have been fine if you wanted a healthier option.

And finally, the grilled peaches.  These were the best part.  Not “grilled” exactly, but served warm, and caramelized on the outside.  Crazy sweet and flavorful.  While I had no syrup, I had these for sweetness.  As I mentioned, I loved taking a bite of the peach and adding it to my danish.

I also opted for a coffee, caffeinated.  I knew I’d need the caffeine.  It was fine.
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