Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Egg Tarts from Ovo Cafe

One day, I was walking down 2nd Street, and someone offered me a sample of a milk tea.  Taking random beverages from strangers?  Hey, no problem!

I eagerly took my drink, and enjoyed it.  It was sweet, but not too sweet, and pretty good.  Hmm.  I like milk tea.  So I checked out Ovo.  Yes, their ploy worked.

The concept at Ovo is Hong Kong fusion, serving beverages, rice dishes, and pastries.  The beverage selection is extensive, spanning Hong Kong style coffees and teas, plus espresso drinks, and specialties like Ovaltine, all hot or iced.  The savories meals are your choice of protein (chicken, pork chop, beef brisket, fish cutlet, pork cutlet, or veggie curry), served with rice (fried, white, or brown) or salad or noodles, in your choice of sauce (with fun names like "Curryous George" and "Dreamy Creamy"), all about $9.  They also have some snacks like fried chicken bites, fish fries, and fish balls.

Besides the milk teas though, none of that was really interesting.  I was drawn in by the pastry selection, since, well, I love desserts.   The bakery section is exclusively tarts, lots of tarts, in a slew of flavors.  They have egg tarts in two varieties ("signature flaky" or "butter"), plus fruit filled tarts (apple, mango, lychee, strawberry, blueberry), asian tarts (red bean, taro, green tea), and classic crowd favorites like chocolate and pecan.

I was excited to get a taro tart (I adore taro), but alas, they were out.  So I was going to go boring american and get pecan.  But they were out of that too.  Sigh.  I still got a tart, but, I didn't really like my selection.
Signature Flaky Egg Tart.  $1.25.
Since they did not have my first pick (taro), nor my second (pecan), I decided to get the "signature" flaky egg tart, since, well, it must be signature for a reason, right?

The tarts are prominently displayed at the register to temp you to add one on to your meal.  They are kept under an effective heat source, as I could feel the heat radiating through my bag as I picked it up.  If I didn't know better, I might have believed it was freshly baked.  It was hot.  Almost too hot.  It is hard to burn yourself on a egg tart exactly, but, I almost did.

The signature flaky crust wasn't really flaky in a good way.  It didn't have a nice buttery flavor to it,  and it just kinda crumbled.  It did make a mess though, which you somewhat expect from a "flaky" item?  It also seemed kinda soggy, I think due to the way it was kept warm?

The filling was very, very eggy.  I know it is an egg tart, but, it was just too eggy for me.

Also, the entire thing was really oily.  You can sorta see on the bag that it became translucent just from barely touching the edge of the crust.

I did not like this, but, I'd still consider going back in hopes of finally getting a taro or pecan one.

$1.25 for a single tart was a great price, and, it was the perfect size treat.
Ovo Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Catered Breakfast @ The Hyatt Regency, Buffalo

I recently attended a wedding in Buffalo, NY.  The reception and ceremony itself were held at Asbury Hall on a Saturday night, where we enjoyed a lovely reception with ... gasp, actual tasty food by Exquisite Catering.  No, seriously, the swordfish was mind-blowingly good, I would have been happy with it at a restaurant, let alone a catered event.  The next morning, the bride and groom hosted a brunch at the hotel where they had a hotel block, the Hyatt Regency.

Ojan and I stayed at the hotel for 2 nights.  It was a basic Hyatt Regency.  Rooms were large, but the carpet was stained, the bathroom cramped, the AC didn't really work, and it smelt pretty bad.  That is about all I have to say about the hotel.

I didn't exactly have high expectations for their catered breakfast - a large conference hotel wasn't really going to have anything good, right?  I was wrong.  I expected to nibble my way through the buffet, and go out to lunch right after.  Instead, I basically needed to be rolled out of there.  I ate ... uh, way too much.  And it was good.

I believe my hosts opted for the "Hyatt Signature Continental" package, with fruit, cereal, and baked goods, for $18.95 per guest.  It also included coffee, tea, and juices.  They upgraded with a hot food package, the "Country Breakfast", for an additional $9.95 per person.

We had a dedicated room in the Grand Ballroom, with formal set tables (cloth tablecloths and napkins, ice water on the tables, etc).  The setup was a buffet, replenished very frequently by the busy staff.  Coffee was done as a table service, which was a bit confusing, since everything else, including juices, were part of the buffet.  And the staff didn't really do a great job of offering coffee.  I spent a lot of time tracking them down for more (not that I should have, the coffee, decaf at least, was really not good).  It would have been easier to just have a coffee station, and I'm not sure why they went for table service for that part.  The staff also were quick to whisk away your plate and cutlery, the moment you put your fork down.  A bit annoying if you were like me and planning return visits to the buffet.  I was constantly seeking out fresh silverware.

But, complaints about the actual setup and staffing aside, it really was a successful brunch, and, as I said, I ate way, way too much.  Major shout out to the incredible scrambled eggs (yes, really) and the danishes!

Continental Breakfast

Local and Seasonally Inspired Fruit Platter.
The buffet started with fruit platters.  None of the fruit was particularly ripe or flavorful, but it was a nice assortment including melons, pineapple, and multiple types of berries.  It seemed generic grocery store quality, which, for someone from the Bay Area used to amazing farmer's market produce, would clearly never measure up.

The hot selections came next in line, but I'll finish reviewing the continental selections first.
Cereal, dried fruit, milk.
Yes, photographer fail.  Who thought I'd be reviewing this anyway?

The buffet concluded with a selection of Kellogg/s cereals, like many hotel breakfasts.  There was also rather randomly a dried fruit selection (raisins, cranberries, pineapple, banana).  I guess they were to add to cereal?  Individual pints of milk (skim, 2%, whole) completed the lineup.

I would never normally opt for cereal, but, I was really uninspired by the previous items in the buffet (before tasting the food, that is, I was judging based on looks alone), so I grabbed one as backup.  I really wish I hadn't, as it turned out some of the other food was delicious, and I should have never wasted precious stomach space on generic cereal that I could get anywhere.

I opted for the Cinnamon Chex.  It was, well, Cinnamon Chex.  A mix of cinnamon flavored and regular Chex.  The plain ones were really boring, but the cinnamon ones at least had a bit of flavor.  I didn't care for the cereal itself, but it did leave my milk a lovely cinnamon flavor.  I drank the sweet cinnamon milk, and it reminded me a little bit of horchata.  I also added some of the sweet cinnamon milk to my otherwise nasty coffee, and it definitely helped there as well.

The bits of dried fruit were fine, but just fruit, and I'm not sure what you were supposed to do with them.  There was no hot cereal, yogurt, or granola to add them on to, and just eating bits of dried fruit chopped into cubes with your fingers didn't quite make sense.  Were you supposed to top the Lucky Charms with these?
Baked Goods: Assorted Sweet Loafs, Cinnamon Rolls, Croissants.
The final continental selection was sad looking baked goods.  My heart rather sank when I saw these.  I was expecting to indulge in baked goods, as I love them.  Where were the scones? Muffins? Danishes?  Filled croissants?  Boo.  This lineup, along with the lackluster looking hot items, is why I opted to pick up a cereal.

On my first visit to the buffet, I went right past the croissants.  They didn't look very good, and why ever pick a plain croissant?  They didn't have any filled ones.

I never really want a sweet loaf cake, so I rolled right past those too.  So, a cinnamon roll it was.  The cinnamon roll at least looked decent.

It wasn't.  The cinnamon roll was really dried out.  It did have a lot of cinnamon between the layers, a sweet crumble topping, and lots of sweet icing, all good things.  This should have been decent, but really it was just way too dry and the dough was flavorless.  I picked at it, eating the crumble top, trying so hard to like it, but it just wasn't good ... at all.  Even the center was no good, not moist in any way.  Usually the center of a cinnamon roll can be its saving grace, with a bit of moisture in there.  It was the worst baked good I tried.

So I went back for the loaf cakes, again, not something I ever want, but, I was pretty sad at this point.  There was only one kind left when I returned, orange cranberry.  I never want loaf cake, and if I were to pick a loaf cake, it would never be this kind, as I don't like cranberry nor orange flavors in my sweets.  I regretted not grabbing a different slice earlier.  That said, it was decent, really moist, quite flavorful.  If I liked orange flavor, I would have really liked it, but given the flavor, it was my second to least favorite item, although certainly not bad.

When I returned to the buffet bit later (I know, I know, who goes back this many times? ME!), there were slices of blueberry cake in addition to the orange cranberry.  Inspired by the moisture of the orange cranberry, and the beautiful streusel topping on the blueberry loaf, I went for it.  It was quite good, again, really moist, and with a great streusel topping.  Basically, like a muffin.  I quickly pointed Ojan at it, and he enjoyed a slice too.  My third favorite item.

Things were looking up, so I circled back (yes really) to try a croissant, really just wanting some final satisfaction.  The croissant didn't look like anything special, unlike the cinnamon roll, which had at least *looked* promising.  I was shocked at how good the croissant was.  The exterior was crispy, flaky.  It was very moist inside.  The dough was buttery and slightly sweet.  It needed nothing added to it, which I would never normally say about a plain croissant.  There were assorted jams and butter available if you wanted.  I thought I'd share the croissant with Ojan, but I didn't give him a single bite.  I polished it off in seconds, literally.  That said, it was my second favorite overall.  The best was yet to come.

At this point, I was overly full.  I had a fair amount of hot savory food (more on that soon), perhaps half that lackluster cinnamon roll, a full slice of bluberry loaf cake (and half a slice of orange cranberry), some cinnamon Chex, a little fruit, plus the full croissant, a large size.  I was more than satisfied, and content to be done with brunch.

And then one of my tablemates returned with a danish.  A danish!  Where did that come from?  I couldn't resist. I didn't need more food.  I didn't get a photo of the new selections, I was too excited.

Yes, the awful cinnamon rolls had finally been replaced, this time with assorted danishes.  None were labelled, and they were all large, and, unlike everything else, looked great.  I thought that if that plain croissant was any indication of how well they'd make danishes, I was in luck.  Caution to the wind,  I selected two, fairly randomly, since I wasn't sure what varieties they were.

I thought I'd share with Ojan.  Clearly, I didn't need 2 more danishes.  I thought that perhaps I'd be a horrible hoarder, and take them back with me to enjoy on my flight in a few hours (don't judge!).  Spoiler: I begrudgingly let Ojan try a few bites, at his insistence.  They most certainly did not last more than a few minutes longer.  Whoops.

Starting with the first one.  It looked like a cream cheese danish, always a favorite.  Who can resist cream cheese?  Even the cream cheese danish from Starbucks can satisfy me sometimes, and they aren't exactly fresh, quality items.

It turned out to be lemon cream cheese.  Just like orange (I guess I don't like citrus?) I don't really like lemon flavors in my pastries or desserts, so this was a downer.  But the pastry was flaky, and the filling so creamy, and there was plenty of it, no skimping here.  It was good, but not the right variety for me, and I wouldn't have picked it if I knew about the lemon.  My forth pick.

But my other selection ... now it was mind blowing.  Realize for a moment how full I was at this point.  Realize how actually satisfied I was.  I didn't need anything, for hunger or emotional reasons!  Again, I thought I'd try it, share it, perhaps take it with me.  But ... it was way, way too tasty to not devour on the spot.  I gave Ojan a single bite, out of kindness, because I thought he'd love it too.

So what was it?  I call it, a "pecan pie danish".  It was, basically, everything delicious inside a pecan pie, just inside a croissant dough instead.  It was a very large size danish, bar shaped with lattice work on top.  Drizzled with a bit of glaze and topped with chopped pecans.  OMG.  Like both the croissant and other danish, the pastry dough was quite good, really flaky, crispy exterior, moist inside, buttery.  The perfect foundation.  But it was the filling that blew my mind.  Sweet, gooey, pecan pie filling.  So gooey.  So sweet.  So, so delicious.  Clearly, my top selection of the brunch.  If I had known these were coming, and how good they were, I clearly would have made other choices throughout my meal.  Alas, I did not, but you my dear reader, now have this knowledge.  Plan accordingly.  Stuff your pockets.

Hot Breakfast

The hot selections were in chafing dishes, constantly refilled.  The staff did a great job of bringing out fresh batches pretty rapidly, which was good because no one was shutting them, and I didn't think they retained heat very well.
Cage Free Scrambled Eggs.
The first item?  Scrambled eggs.  I walked right past on my first survey of the buffet.  Buffet eggs?  Yeah right.  I don't generally even like fresh scrambled eggs, so, why would I want these?  On my second pass, I took a tiny portion, mostly out of curiosity, because they looked so creamy,  and the rest of the options really didn't look good.  I needed to eat ... something.

I was shocked by how good they turned out.  Seriously.  Hot and seemingly fresh tasting.  And oh so creamy.  I can't even describe the consistency of these.  Amazing.

Another person at my table commented, "I wonder what kind of cheese they used in these cheesy eggs?".  I laughed, because I knew there was no cheese.  That was all cream and butter.  Mmm, mmm, good!

When I returned to the buffet for another round, I loaded up on these eggs.  I stuffed some inside the croissant to make an egg sandwich, and it was really quite enjoyable.  Sure, the croissant was actually perfectly good on its own, as were the eggs, but they combined quite nicely as well.

Everyone at my table absolutely adored these eggs, and we all went back for seconds (and some, thirds).  My favorite of the savory items, and the only savory really worth eating.
Skillet Breakfast Potatoes tossed with Caramelized Onions.
Every good brunch has a potato option, and here we had cubes of "skillet breakfast potatoes".  They looked kinda shriveled and lackluster, so I didn't bother, although I snagged some of the caramelized onions.  They were tasty enough, soft, fairly flavorful.
Crisp All Natural Bacon and Maple Sausage Links.
The final hot items were breakfast meats, sausage and bacon.  I didn't try the bacon, as it didn't look great.  Kudos to the serving dish though, it had a metal mesh on the bottom, so the bacon wasn't sitting on a solid surface getting soggy, so it stayed fairly crisp.

The sausage wasn't bad, classic links.  It was pretty overcooked, a bit dry, and really charred, but I liked the char.  I really wanted maple syrup to dip it in, but only ketchup and hot sauce were provided alongside, which makes sense, as we had no pancake or waffle option, and I guess most people aren't like me and want syrup with their sausage or bacon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Catering by Rebecca Jean Catering

Another year, another holiday party thrown at my apartment complex.  I've now attended at least 5 annual winter holiday parties, and each year has been quite different.  The first year was full cocktail attire, with extravagant food (it will take me a long time to forget that amazing carving station!) and live music (including a harpist!).  Every year since has been slightly less formal in all dimensions (dress, ambiance, cuisine, etc).  Last year I still wore a dress, and the catering included fairly decent passed appetizers and a serious (!!!) dessert station.

But this year, they told us it was going to be more casual, with a "Home for the Holidays" theme.  Given that I was on jury duty that day, and Ojan came right from the office, this was welcome, as neither of us had the energy to go home and get fancied up.  The food matched the far less formal attire.

There was no harp player, nor live music of any sort.  There were no passed appetizers, nor even a cold apps buffet.  Nearly every person I talked to said something about the lack of even a cheese and charcuterie station.  Most significantly to me, there was no dessert table, just a cake!

But, it was an opportunity to try a new caterer, Rebecca Jean Catering (previous catering was done by Peninsula Catering, JJardine, and Delessio.
Buffet Dinner Menu.
Dinner was served at a buffet, which the staff kept very well stocked.  In same ways, it seemed they were over-eager to take the serving vessels away, and had to kept interrupting the flow of the buffet to change out items, when, many times, they tray was still more than 50% full, and the lines were getting quite long.  I didn't really understand, and it wasn't that the food was getting cold, on the contrary, I actually burnt myself on one item.

Anyway, the theme of the menu seemed to be "generic and inoffensive"?

I went into it with standard expectations for a catering buffet, that is, probably mostly luke-warm, soggy, not very good.  As I mentioned above, food being luke-warm was certainly not a problem.  While most of it was lackluster, I did really enjoy one dish ...


Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Toasted Walnuts & Pomegranate Seeds (vegetarian).
I heard several tables mentioning how tasty the brussels sprouts were as I walked by, so, I took a big scoop.

The sprouts were a cold dish, which I wasn't entirely expecting, but, I do like brussels sprouts salads, so I didn't mind.  The brussels were decently roasted, and mixed with bits of walnut and pomegranate seeds.  I don't like pomegranate, and the seeds didn't seem particularly ripe, but I did like the festive touch they added.

The parts of this dish I liked the most was some pieces of the sprouts where the leaves separated, and they were just super crispy, and well seasoned.  Perhaps a touch too salty of a dish, but I enjoyed at least the crispy bits.

Overall, a fine dish, and the only slightly original dish on the menu.
Prosciutto & Tarragon Mashed Potatoes.
The photo pretty much describes the potatoes.  They tasted exactly how they looked ... meh.

Kinda mushy, but creamy, but in a too-thinned-out-with-milk way, not an indulgent, rich way.  I didn't taste nor find any prosciutto, and it was only after when I re-read the menu to type this up that I realized the potatoes were supposed to have prosciutto in there somewhere.  I'm all for tasty meat bits, but, it seemed a bit sad for the vegetarians (if they noticed).  I'd never expect mashed potatoes to not be vegetarian, so I'd kinda imagine many didn't even notice.

Anyway, they weren't inedible or anything, just not very good.  Oh, and I totally burnt myself on my first spoonful.  I have no idea how they were so hot!

[ No Photo ]
Baby Spinach Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pickled Onions, Apples & Toasted Pecans. Served with a choice of Balsamic Vinaigrette or Roasted Garlic Buttermilk Dressing.

I somehow missed a photo of the salad, but it was decent, baby spinach, tart pickled onions, slices of apples, and pecans.  I went for the buttermilk dressing, which was creamy but not particularly flavorful.  Again, fine, but nothing special.


Rosemary Roasted Mary's Chicken.
I don't like chicken, so I moved right past the chicken main dish.
Grilled Bavette with Caper Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde.
The grilled bavette didn't look remotely tempting.  The meat was obviously well done, almost grey in color, and looked pretty tough.  I easily skipped it too.
Baked Rigatoni with Winter Squash, Kale, & Roasted Tomato Béchamel (vegetarian).
The final dish was the real winner, baked rigatoni.

It was cheesy comfort food at its finest.  The top was a generous, crispy layer of cheese that held the heat in.  Inside was well cooked pasta, in a very rich, creamy béchamel.  The béchamel infused the whole thing, filling the tubes of rigatoni, so it squirted out as you bit in.  I loved the béchamel.

There was also some small pieces of kale (greens! not totally unhealthy!), and medium sized chunks of zucchini (not the "winter squash" I was expecting given the menu description).  There was very small chunks of roasted tomato as well for a little additional flavor.  I appreciated the kale and tomatoes, but the zucchini definitely felt out of place.

This was my favorite dish of the night, no question.  Sometimes, I'm a sucker for classic comfort food, and this certainly fit the bill.  Was it amazing, worth seeking out, etc?  Obviously not.  But, I went back for seconds, and, at the very end of the night, for "one more bite", er, plateful.


Vanilla Chiffon Cake with Eggnog Buttercream.
As I mentioned, this year, there was no elaborate dessert table, instead, just a cake.  One kind of cake, vanilla chiffon, with eggnog buttercream.

It wasn't very good.  The cake was dry and plain.  The buttercream did have a slight eggnog flavor, but it mostly tasted like, and had the consistency of, Crisco.  I'm never a huge fan of cake, but this was particularly not very good, and even the frosting couldn't save it.


Aged White Cheddar & Cayenne Shortbread Crackers.
In a side room with drinks, they did have a snack table.  So when I said there was no appetizers, maybe this counts?  There were only two items though, one savory, one sweet, so, not really.

The savory was cheesy shortbreads, sorta a cross between a cracker and a cookie.  A bit crumbly, thick like a cookie rather than a cracker, slightly sweet, and, cheesy.  I didn't taste the cayenne at all.

An interesting item, and maybe a winner if you wanted a little something to end the night that wasn't really sweet?
Whiskey Caramel Popcorn.
Also on the table was ... whiskey caramel popcorn!

ZOMG.  So, I have an obsession with popcorn, sweet or savory.  Yes, my blog has a label for it.

There is a vendor at the farmer's market in my hometown that makes the most ridiculously good kettle corn imaginable.  My mother sends me bags of it via next day mail sometimes when she is feeling particularly generous.  I know how ridiculous this is, as it is huge in volume, but light, and costs a ton to ship like this, but, well, it is incredible, and I can't get it in San Francisco, so I don't give her too much crap when such a shipment arrives.  I'm also known for bringing entire suitcases of it back to San Francisco with me every time I visit, and my mom knows to always have a freezer full of it waiting for me (yes, a freezer.  My real obsession, is not just popcorn, but, frozen popcorn.  Try it sometime.  It gets crunchier.  I never want it hot and fresh, I always want it frozen!).

At my office, the catering team often makes popcorn for events.  Their savory version with parmesan and truffle is particularly addicting, as is the sweet brown butter version.  Whenever an event has leftover popcorn, you know who is there immediately, scooping it all up, and whisking it away to her freezer.

And then there is caramel corn.  Whenever I order from Munchery, I try to add on extra caramel corn, just to throw into my freezer, as the version they sell from time to time from Chef Allison Tom is also pretty great.  When I visit the ball park, I stock up on the warm, gooey version from Say Hey!.  I'll even stoop so low as to just eat Cracker Jacks (but only when I freeze them of course).

So to say I was excited about caramel popcorn is a bit of an understatement.  And, this was good.  I didn't taste whiskey, and it clearly wasn't frozen, but, it was good.  Sweet, a bit gooey, crunchy.  Some little chunks, some big balls.  I wanted nuts or something in it, but, for classic caramel popcorn, it surely was good.  I may or may not have gone back for a few more cups full throughout the evening, and perhaps I walked out the door at the end of the night with a final cup full in hand.  I mean, who would do something like that?