Friday, March 04, 2016

HoneyBar, Canada

As you know, when I travel and visit other offices, I love trying out their assorted snack foods.  On my trip to Canada this past summer, I tried the Jimmybars (which I really didn't like), and their versions of Nestle ice creams (which were awesome!).  And of course, I did go get some poutine at the aptly named Crazy Canuck.

I also tried the HoneyBars, snack bars made with, you guessed it, honey.

HoneyBars are a bit different from your traditional snack bar, as they take their inspiration from Greece, from sweets made with sesame seeds, honey, and sugar.  The very first honey bar was basically that, just sans the sugar (aka, sesame and honey).  Honey remains the strong focus of the product line now, and is the dominant flavor in every variety I tried.

Honey Bars are all natural, and actually don't contain any strange ingredients.  No whey protein isolate, no soy this or that.   All identifiable ingredients.  You could make them in your kitchen.

They are available in 8 flavors, ranging from Trail Mix (with raisins, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts), Granola (with oats, peanuts, raisins, almonds, crispy rice), and Mixed Sesame, to fruity flavors like Apple & Cinnamon, Cranberry Delite, and Nutty Apricot, to the more exciting sounding Chocolatey Peanut Butter and Sweet & Salty.  I tried several.

I appreciate the real ingredients, and the use of honey, but, these didn't do it for me.
Chocolaty Peanut Butter.
"Peanut buttery cocoa that will make you go loco!"

The ingredients to the chocolate peanut butter bar are simply honey, peanuts, rolled oats, peanut butter, crisp brown rice, and chocolate liquor.

The first thing I tasted was ... honey, which isn't what I expected.  Where was my chocolate and peanut butter?  But then again, the product is called a "HoneyBar".  

Once I got past the honey strangeness, I tried to appreciate the bar.  Yes, there were whole peanuts, rice crispies, and oats.  But ... I still didn't taste any chocolate and barely any peanut butter, just the whole peanuts.

So, given that I wanted chocolate and peanut butter, this was a let down.  But, for a bar with real ingredients, it wasn't bad.
Sweet & Salty.
"The yin and yang of the snack bar gang!"

Like the chocolately peanut butter, the ingredient list here was simple: the same peanuts, honey, peanut butter, and crisp brown rice, plus almonds, almond butter, and salt.

I almost liked this.  It was mostly just sweet peanuts stuck together.  Hard to go wrong there.  It was actually a bit strange to me that they even bothered include almonds, as the bar had only 3 in the entire thing.

But .. again, just like the previous bar, it just wasn't very exciting.  Sweet peanuts stuck together, no more, no less.
Trail Mix.
"On the trail to a healthy lifestyle!"

Here we had peanuts, almonds, and honey again of course, plus raisins and sunflower and pumpkin seeds, aka, trail mix.

I again almost liked it, as I like most of the ingredients, but, the honey just doesn't do it for me.  I'm not sure why, as I like honey, just not in these bars.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Waffling Leftovers: Chorizo Wrapped Pesta Pasta.

Hopefully by now you know what to expect from my Waffling Leftovers series.  I take random leftovers, and heat them up using the waffle iron.  Simple.  So far, I've shown how the italian basics work: pieces of pizza, chunks of lasagna, and even a slice of eggplant parmesan.  All successes, but, they didn't require any manipulation of the leftovers in order to perform the waffling.  They all just went into the waffle iron, whole, straight from the fridge.  No skill or thought required.

This week, I decided to get slightly more complicated.  I added a step.

The answer to "Will it waffle?" is also more complicated.  Sorta?
The Original: Pesto Bucatini + Sliced Chorizo.
I started with leftover bucatini with pesto.  Unlike the lasagna or eggplant parm, it was clear that the pasta wouldn't hold together without some kind of crust.

I was stumped briefly, and discovered sliced chorizo in my fridge.  Could I wrap it with slices of chorizo, to help it hold form?

Seemed worth a try ...

So, I added slices of chorizo on top.  And then went to move it.  Doh.
In the iron!
Getting it into the waffle iron was rather difficult, as it had no structural integrity.  This should have been a warning sign, but I pushed on, re-assembling it in the iron, patiently covering the top with the slices of meat again.

I left the bottom as it was, no crust, just pasta.
Almost done ...
Like everything I've stuck into the waffle maker, it went through many phases of cooking, including several minutes where it seemed like it definitely wasn't going to work, falling apart as I'd open the lid.

But I know better by now, and just let it do its thing, and, sure enough, soon it reached a state with the top crisping up exactly as I envisioned.  Look at how beautiful that top crust is!
Chorizo wrapped pesto bucatini!
But ... remember how I didn't put a meat layer on the bottom?  Yeah, this was a pretty big flaw, as getting it out of the waffle iron was a bit of a disaster.

Why didn't I?  Well, I was experimenting.  I was worried the meat layer would burn, so I wanted to hedge my bets and only wrap one side.  Plus, I was interested to see if the pasta itself would crisp up on the other side, with direct contact with the grill, since I love crispy bits of pasta.  And maybe the top could hold it all together?  Like I said, experimenting.

The top did form a perfect, crispy, meaty crust.  It was rather awesome actually.  It didn't burnt at all.  Excellent idea (luck?) on my part.

But ... the rest lost all structure.  I was impressed I managed to extract it as well as I did, using a couple of chopsticks slid under it to attempt to maintain the form.  The pasta didn't crisp up at all, which was a bit surprising.

So half success, half fail.  Will it waffle?  Yes, but, next time definitely wrap both sides in meat.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Westin Martin Place, Sydney, Executive Lounge

Update Review #2, February 2016

Last week, you read my update on the incredible executive lounge at the Sheraton on the Park.  During my visit in January/February 2016, I also returned to the Westin, to spend a week there.  As I said last time, I can't ever pick between the two properties, as each have their strengths, so, I often split my time, and stay at both.  I know I'm ridiculous.

I won't cover the basics of the Westin Lounge again, as you can read about those in my original review.

Just like the Sheraton on the Park, a few things were re-arranged in the Westin Executive Lounge since my previous visit.  The breads and toaster were moved from the end of the hot bar to the cold area, which allowed for a few more hot dishes to be added.  The cereal and pastries were moved from the end of the cold bar to the front counter, to make room for the toast.  But besides that, things were basically the same.

Coffee drinks are made by a Nespresso machine, a big step up from the instant decaf at the Sheraton Executive Lounge.  Nespresso decaf is actually fairly good, and, depending on who is working the lounge, some of the staff allow you to make it yourself, which I always prefer, as I have a kinda custom drink I make: a long Americano, topped with a tiny bit of foam.

I'm not sure what other beverages are available besides the tap water and basic juice at the end of the buffet; I always ask for sparkling water, and Pellegrino is brought to me, but, I'm not sure what other options there are.  Unlike the Sheraton, I am not able to just grab my own sparkling water, which is a bit annoying, given how much sparkling water I drink, and how slow the service can be.

The Westin lounge is far less busy than the Sheraton, which does make it more relaxed, it sorta feels a bit like a living room.  It is also much smaller, more intimate.  But, it is just a small room, with no private balconies overlooking the park, like I enjoyed so much at the Sheraton.

So, great coffee, mediocre space.  But, we are here to talk about the food.  And the food doesn't even begin to compare.  At breakfast, although there is hot food, there are no pancakes, nor waffles.  Although there is cereal, there is no delicious house made granola.  The pastries are quite bad.  In the evening, the canapes are more of what you'd expect, rather than a full meal you could get at the Sheraton.  The wine is lackluster.  So, food-wise, it doesn't even come close to the Sheraton.  But you remember that from my last review, right?


Congee and Toppings.
The newly expanded hot food section was set up for Chinese New Year.  Every day had a pot of congee, with toppings such as chilies, scallions, fried onions, little eggs or tofu, soy sauce, and hot sauce (no fried doughnuts!)

I tried the congee, and it was ok I guess, but, very plain, as expected.  I like congee when I turn it into hot breakfast cereal, with cinnamon and maple syrup, but those sorts of toppings were not available.  I could have added honey I guess?  Anyway, watery, plain congee.  Not exciting.
Pork Dumplings.
The second Chinese New Year selection rotated daily.  It was just steamed white rice and veggies the first day, but pork dumplings the next.  Dumplings can do ok in steam trays (well, steamed dumplings), so I tried one.  The wrapper was ok, but I didn't care for the fairly flavorless lump of indistinguishable pork in the middle.  I kinda think they just got these from a frozen supplier, and no real heart went into making them, but I give them credit for trying to celebrate the New Year.
Scallop Dumplings.
The next day, the serving vessel was empty, but labelled "scallop dumplings".  Since I love scallops, this sounded good to me, so I asked if more were coming.  I was assured that a fresh batch was coming right up.

So I made up my sauce mix of soy and chili sauce, and eagerly awaited my dumplings.  They were delivered to me at my table, such service!
"Scallop" Dumpling Inside.
But, what was inside the dumpling left much to be desired.  Good thing I don't have a shrimp allergy!  Yes, there was a tiny chunk of scallop, but, it was mostly shrimp.  The scallop was rubbery and very, very fishy.

The dumpling dough fell right off, was too thick, and was also rubbery.  These really weren't good, but, again, I give them credit for putting up some Chinese New Year offerings, it was thoughtful if nothing else.
BBQ Pork Buns.
The pork dim sum on my final day was ok, better than the ones we had at the Sheraton actually, but not particularly great.  Fluffy dough, decently sweet bbq pork.
Cold Well.
The cold well was basically the same, with assorted sliced deli meats, cheese, and smoked salmon, and lots of fruit, yogurt, and muesli.

The bircher muesli was in a big bowl, rather than served in individual pots as before, which I actually preferred so I could take as much or little as I wanted.  It was loaded up with all sorts of goodies, including nuts (whole walnut halves, that were too bitter) and some dried fruit.  It wasn't quite as good as I remembered, but I like it more than the version at the Sheraton on the Park, particularly when I add some fruit to it.

Speaking of the fruit, the Westin does a nice job with fruit.  There was lots of assorted cut fresh fruit (pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, different melons, passionfruit, and kiwi), plus stewed fruit (plums, prunes, etc), and a lovely fruit salad with dragonfruit, starfruit, peaches, mango, and more.  I really loved the passionfruit.  I'm not sure if it was particularly high quality or fresh, but, we just never have passionfruit in the US and it was a real treat to have it every morning.

My go-to breakfast, as last time, was bircher muesli or yogurt, topped with some of the goo from the stewed fruit, and some exotic fruit from the fruit salad.  Not particularly exciting, but, it did the job and was tasty enough.

The yogurt options were individual plain Chobani greek yogurt containers (boring, can get this anywhere!), individual Queensland Yoghurt Company pots (Australian company), and glass jars of natural yogurt topped with a tiny bit of fruit and granola.

I remembered loving the yogurt in glass jars before, but this time, I wasn't very impressed.  The yogurt was a thin runny style, the granola on top was soggy, and there was only a sprinkle of it, and the fruit was a single raspberry.
Queensland Yoghurt Company Blueberry Yogurt.
The Queensland Yoghurt Company offerings were new though, and decent.  Super thick, creamy, full fat yogurt.
Most days the lounge had just plain yogurt, but I was able to snag a blueberry flavor one day, and passionfruit another.  Queensland Yoghurt Company actually makes a slew of flavors like Mixed Berry, Mango, Rhubarb, Apple & Cinnamon, Raspberry, Lemon Myrtle, and even Coffee, but I never saw those in the lounge.

I laughed at the "flavors" though; in the blueberry, I'm not exaggerating, there wasn't even a half a teaspoon of blue stuff in it.  The passionfruit was marginally better, but, again, not much fruit actually mixed in.
Passionfruit Yoghurt.
"Feeling like a zesty pick-me-up? We use only real passionfruit pulp lovingly extracted from the vine to create an irresistible combination. The sharpness of the passion awakens the tastebuds to absorb the creamy decadence of the yoghurt, somehow delivering a fresh and exhilarating - yet slightly nutty - award-winning pureness."

The same went for the passionfruit.

I liked the creamy yogurt, but it also didn't have nearly enough passionfruit.  There really, really wasn't much fruit to mix in.  I didn't really mind though, as we had the full fruit selection on the side in the breakfast buffet and I could add fresher fruit anyway, but it was a bit comical.

Anyway, I liked the Queensland Yoghurt, it reminded me somewhat of Noosa, my favorite creamy thick yogurt in the US.
Cereal, Fruit, Toppings.
The cereal moved locations, but was the same, Kellogg's options, no house made granola nor muesli.  Whole fruit included apples, bananas, and peaches.  The peaches were fine.
You probably recall that I had nothing good to say about the pastries in either the lounge or Mosiac restaurant downstairs last time but, I really did enjoy some pastries at the Sheraton on the Park, so, I tried again.

I started with the sliced almond topped blueberry muffin, far left bottom row.  Even the almond slices on top were soggy!  How is that possible?  The muffin was moist and gummy, and really not good at all.  I did not try any more muffins.

I also tried a plain croissant, remembering that they were the only decent item downstairs before.  I think downstairs they had bigger ones?  These seemed smaller.  Anyway, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't a flaky, fresh, buttery croissant by any means.

The custard and chocolate chip swirl (middle, top shelf) was a nice surprise.  The custard was creamy, and I thought the chocolate chips were raisins, so I was quite happy to discover that they were chocolate chips instead.  Overall, not a quality item by any means, but, it did the trick.
Plum (?) Danish, Chocolate Croissant.
After a few days, I got really sick of just having yogurt and fruit, and lackluster dim sum, so I started getting crazy and trying all the pastries.

I gave up on the muffins quickly, and didn't go near the raisin swirls or turnovers since I actually hated them last time, but, I did try a few more selections.

Starting with the lattice topped danish.  I still am not sure what the filling was, but, I think it was plum.  The pastry was kinda soggy, it wasn't crispy, and it was glazed on top, making it even soggier.  I did like the large pearl sugar on top.  It wasn't good exactly, but, I needed something sweet, and it did the trick.

The chocolate croissant however was a shocker.  Loaded up with chocolate, two bars.  The chocolate was deep and rich.  The croissant had layers.  It wasn't flaky exactly, and it was actually hard and crispy, but, not in bad way ... it almost reminded me of a kouign amann.  I was actually quite happy with this treat.

So of course, I got the chocolate croissant again a few days later.  It was awful!  Not crispy, soggy.  Not much chocolate.  Meh, meh, meh.

Evening Canapes

The evening snack selection was largely unchanged from my last visit.  Nothing very exciting, and, nothing of the calibre of the Sheraton on the Park.
Cheeses, Dried Fruit, Figs.
First, cheese and dried fruit.

The brie was decent enough, particularly when combined with fresh sliced figs.  It ran out very quickly every night though, and the wedge was never replenished.  One was all we got each night.  This was a stark constrast to the Sheraton, where everything was replenished all evening.  I didn't have the boring looking cheddar or gorgonzola.

I still liked the dried fruit bits and macadamias, nice to munch on.
Dips, Dried Beef, Antipasti.
The dried beef was again fairly tasty, basically, like non-chewy beef jerky.

I really liked the "green dip" and the "orange dip", although I have no idea what they actually were, creamy, likely cream cheese based?  The white dip was more like tzatziki, tangy, and I wasn't into that.  And, like last time, I still wasn't sure what to put these dips on.  I used crackers, but, I really wanted some raw veggies, or perhaps chips like at the Sheraton on the Park.

Speaking of veggies, the antipasti platter had marinated grilled veggies, including zucchini, red peppers, and onions, plus artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and caperberries.  All fine, but, without bread or salad ingredients, I wasn't really into them.
Plated Canapes: Sweet Corn Soup, Pork, Veggie Frittata, Sushi, Chocolate.
I wasn't planning to order the plated canapes since they were so bad on our previous visits, but, Ojan ordered for both of us when I was up getting other food.  As before, the canapes changed nightly, and they didn't tell you what the tray would contain, but, there is usually a soup shooter to start and a chocolate to finish, with some random items in between.

Starting at the top, with the hot soup, progressing to the chocolate finale:

The soup was a sweet corn soup, served warmish.  It had a congealed cap on top that was a bit off putting, but the flavor was ok.

Next was pork something, with very oily bacon bits on top.  I had pork belly nearly every day for a good week and a half prior, and was totally sick of pork belly by this point.  Ojan took a bite of his canape and made a horrible face, telling me not to try it.  I tried the greasy bacon bits, and heeded his warning.

Next came veggie fritatta.  I don't like frittata ever, and, again, Ojan took one bite of his and didn't take a second bite, again telling me not to bother trying.

Next we each had a piece of sushi.  Each person had a different type of sushi.  Ojan got a shrimp nigiri, the women next to me had salmon nigiri, and I got a random roll with avocado, cucumber, and shrimp.  Since it had avocado, which I'm allergic to, I gave it to Ojan.  No soy sauce, no wasabi, no ginger provided.

Finally, a chocolate.  The shell was dark chocolate and was pretty nice, but the filling was orange flavored, which I don't really care for.

So, these were just about the same as on my previous visit, and I don't recommend.

Update Review #1, May 2015

In May, I returned to my favorite city, Syndey, and again stayed at the Westin Martin Place.  Much was the same as on my previous visit, except that the evening canapé selection, which I really thought were quite bad during my first stay, was much improved.  Please go read the original review for details about the lounge in general, my breakfast reviews, and the previous canapé experiences.
Mint Tea.
I normally drink coffee when in the lounge in the morning, and wine or a cocktail at night, but one evening I was feeling really sleepy, and just wanted mint tea.

I felt a bit lame ordering mint tea when surrounded by folks drinking alcohol, but, it is what I wanted.  I was thrilled when an entire pot of loose leaf tea was brought over, with a clear glass cup.  The tea service here is quite nice, and I imagine would be lovely in the afternoon as well.
Evening Canapés.
As I've said before, the canapé platter is different every night, but always follows the same format: soup, vegetarian bite, meat bite, seafood bite, chocolate.  An entirely vegetarian option is also available.

(From right, since that was the order in which they should be consumed):
  • Creamy potato soup: This was actually good.  It was thick, creamy, warm, potato soup.  Basically like slightly liquidy, really creamy, mashed potatoes.  Decently seasoned.  Far better than any of the soups I had before.
  • Cream cheese filled wonton moneybag with sweet chili sauce: This was also actually good.  The wonton was crispy.  It was hot.  Inside was cream cheese that was, well, creamy.  I liked the contrast of the crispy exterior and creamy inside.  Served over sweet chili sauce.  I always like wontons in sweet chili sauce, and it turns out that sweet chili and cream cheese combine nicely.  I quite enjoyed this bite.
  • Pork neck on bread: This was not good.  The square cube was described as pork neck I think.  It was tough and tasted like catfood.  The little round of bread it was served on was dried out and stale.
  • Kingfish over avocado puree with salsa on top:  This looked like sushi from a distance, particularly since I was told it was kingfish, but I think it was a pressed fish sausage perhaps that had been sliced into a disk?  It certainly wasn't raw fish.  It was really fishy and I didn't care for the taste at all.  Served over avocado puree, which I had to avoid since I'm allergic to avocado.  The salsa on top was fine.
  • Chocolate: Definitely the best chocolate we ever had in the lounge.  Dark chocolate shell, good quality chocolate.  Inside was a softer chocolate, also quite good.
Overall, I liked three of the five items quite a bit, and would have eaten more of them.  It was shocking how much better this was than previous visits.  Good on ya Westin!

I also ventured back to the buffet.  It was mostly the same, with some slight changes.

This time, the nuts were macadamias instead of hazelnuts, and the dried fruit was apricots rather than pears.  The crackers, cheese, meats, olives, antipasti, and dips all seemed the same.  I liked the smoky gouda cheese the most.  The brie didn't seem ripe enough.  I really liked the dried beef.  I'm not sure what it is about it ... it is just dried beef, super thinly sliced, and I'm sure not that high of quality.  But I like the flavor and the chew to it.  I also enjoyed the cream cheese based spreads, but again thought it was strange that crackers were the only thing available to spread them on.

So, nothing amazing, not nearly the calibre of the Sheraton on the Park, but decent for a nibble of cheese/spreads/crackers.

Original Review, January 2015 Visit

During my recent trip to Sydney, I stayed at the Westin for the first part of my trip.  We ended up moving hotels for several reasons, to the Sheraton on the Park down the street (stay tuned for that lounge review next!), but for the first 8 days, the Westin was home.

The Westin is a lovely hotel, located in Martin Place, inside the historic General Post Office.  They offer two styles of rooms, historic rooms inside the GPO, and more modern rooms in the newer tower building.  We had a suite in the tower building, and as always at a Westin property, we greatly appreciated the Signature Westin Heavenly Bead and Shower.

But this isn't Julie's Hotel Review Club, is it?  You are here to read about food.  Perhaps not normally what you focus on when staying in a hotel, but, for me, it matters!

Our suite came with access to the Executive Lounge, which served breakfast and evening canapés daily, and which we obviously had to check out.

I failed to take any general photos, but the lounge was pretty small, although it was never crowded.  They also didn't have the standard security on the doors requiring a keycard, so anyone could just walk in.  I quickly understood why, it really wasn't that great of a destination, and not up to par with most other executive lounges I've visited.


Breakfast is served Monday - Friday 6:30am - 10:30am, and Saturday - Sunday 7:00am - 10:30am.  I appreciated that they served until 10:30am, since it meant that those of us having trouble adapting to the time zone could still get breakfast, or, it was possible to eat a little, get in a workout, and then go back for more.  Most hotel lounges only serve until 10am during the week, so this was most welcome.

Breakfast is mostly continental, with a few hot buffet items.  There is a coffee machine that makes espresso drinks, but every time I approached it, I was intercepted by staff who wanted to make the drinks and carry them back to tables.  They did this to everyone.  Given that the machine is just a robot machine, this was unnecessary, and honestly, a bit annoying.  I wanted to just be able to push the button and get my drink.  I appreciated that they did have real decaf coffee however, not just instant.  They did not have any togo cups though, so coffee was only for consumption while inside the lounge.  Sparkling water came in glass bottles, which were also only for consumption inside the lounge, even though they were small individual sized bottles.  If you tried to walk out with one, you were chased down, as no glass was allowed outside the lounge.

Overall, service was fine, but not particularly friendly, and in general, was more invasive and took away from my experience than added to it.
Hot Food Buffet.
The hot foods buffet always had scrambled eggs, plus two other items that rotated between hard boiled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, and green beans.  I mostly avoided this stuff, but Ojan said it wasn't horrible.  There was also toast, a toaster, and an assortment of jams (Hank's brand) and butter.

At one point I got desperate after trying everything else in the lounge and not really liking anything, and tried the scrambled eggs.  They were a fresh batch, and didn't look that bad ...

The eggs were really, really strange.  Watery and moist in a strange way.  I honestly wouldn't have known they were eggs.  I'm not sure how Ojan managed to eat these every day.  I certainly didn't try them again.
Cereal, Baked Goods.
Moving on to the safer, continental zone.  There were little boxes of Kellog's cereal (Coco Pops, Sultana Bran, Just Right, Weet-Bix, Nutri-Grain, Special K, and Cornflakes).  I never had any cereal, as I'm really not a cereal fan.

And then, the area I always look forward to in breakfast buffets: baked goods!  You know how much I love my baked goods, particularly for breakfast.

The baked goods didn't look good.  And they weren't good.  They didn't seem remotely fresh.  But I kept trying them, day by day, assuming I'd find at least one that was ok.  They were all awful.
Blueberry Muffin.
The first morning I wanted to just grab a muffin and coffee to bring back to my room, as I was really jetlagged and didn't want to be around people, so I went for a blueberry muffin, as it looked the best.  The danishes and croissants looked horrible.

The muffin was moist on top, but in a damp way, not in a good, moist, fresh muffin way.  It was dry inside.  The flakes of oats on top made it even more dry.  The base didn't have an interesting flavor.  The blueberries were fine I guess.  This was not a very good muffin, and certainly didn't seem remotely fresh.

A few days later I tried the almond raspberry muffin.  It had the same gummy top as the blueberry, with bits of raspberry inside.  The base flavor was even worse, my notes just say "nasty flavor'.  The only thing I liked was the almond slivers on top.

I never tried the third option, chocolate.

I guess I give them credit for almond slivers on top of the raspberry almond, and oats on top of the blueberry, a little touch of flair?  But wow, not good muffins.
After giving up on the muffins, I tried several assorted danishes.  Some were this style with a crust on top, others were round open ones you can see in the earlier photo.

They all had really horrible pastry.  It was stale and dry.  It wasn't buttery.  It was even somewhat ... spongy?

I never figured out what kind this one was.  Nor did I figure out the type of the round one I tried, with a center filled with a reddish paste (jam?) and a single blueberry.  I thought it might be quince?  But I really have no idea.  Again, the pastry was horrible, just really not good.  The sweet filling was ok, and I actually extracted it to add to my muesli, but I wouldn't get another of these.

I never tried the plain croissants, since the basic pastry wasn't good.
Jelly Donut.
On my very last visit, they had a new baked good: jelly donuts!  Even though I had sworn off the pastries, I eagerly dug in.

Like all the baked goods, the donut was clearly not fresh.  The dough had a staleness to it, and the top was all crispy, perhaps due to the powdered sugar coating, but more likely due to not being fresh.  But it wasn't entirely unpleasant, and it wasn't too oily.

Inside was a nice jam.  I'm a sucker for jelly donuts.  What can I say?

Was this a good jelly donut?  No way.  But, it was certainly the best of the baked goods, and I did somewhat enjoy it with my coffee.  If I had stayed at the Westin longer, I probably would have tried another donut, if they ever showed up again.
Bircher muesli, greek yogurt, assorted yogurts.
Moving along to the more palatable options, the chilled items.

First, packaged yogurts: Chiobani Greek yogurt, Yoplait and Nestle flavored yogurts.  Like the Kellog's cereals, all were just regular yogurts you could buy in a grocery store.

The bircher muesli was the item I was most looking forward to. On my first visit to Australia, I absolutely fell in love with bircher muesli.   I loved it everywhere I went - hotel breakfast buffets, fancy restaurants, even on flights.  I got addicted.

This muesli came in individual little jars, topped with dried fruit.  But ... it wasn't great.  It was just cold soggy oatmeal, with some raisins and dried fruit sprinkled on top.  I added fresh fruit as well, but it still was never quite right.  I observed others around me also adding fruit, or jam, or anything after a few bites, so I clearly wasn't alone in finding it too plain.

I also tried the "natural unsweetened yogurt" jars.  These were much better, and the winning thing from the entire buffet.  The yogurt was rich and creamy, and they were topped with a little sweet compote and a few bits of granola.  I really wished there was more granola available to add, but none of the boxed cereals seemed quite right.  The yogurt jars were not great as presented, but I added a lot more fruit and actually somewhat enjoyed it.  It became my go-to breakfast, but I wouldn't rave about it.
Fresh Fruit, Meat.
And finally, the fruit I keep mentioning.  Besides the yogurt, the fruit was perhaps the best part of the buffet, although it also wasn't great.

I was initially quite excited to see halves of kiwi and passion fruit, since tropical fruits are more rare where I was coming from.  But the kiwi was mushy.  The passion fruit was a bit dried out and fairly mediocre, but for someone who doesn't have easy access to passion fruit normally, it was nice.

The fruit salad had a lot of great ingredients, including mango, strawberries, figs, and blueberries, but again, none of the fruit was particularly good.  The mango was probably the best, usually ripe, but not all that flavorful.

On another visit the fruit salad was jazzed up a bit with dragonfruit and starfruit.  I give them credit for including interesting fruits in the mix, but besides the mango, it was never that great.

The stewed apricots were just sweet and mushy, but I liked to add them to my yogurt.

Evening Canapés

Canapés are served every night from 6pm - 8pm.  While I appreciated the breakfast hours, I didn't feel the same for canapés.  I wanted them as a little snack in the evening, before heading out to dinner.  But not starting until 6pm made that a bit hard.  Were these really supposed to be pre-dinner snacks?

Anyway, on paper, the canapé service sounded better than most lounges.  There was a basic buffet of cheese/crackers/dried fruit, but then each night a set of 5 made to order bites was brought to you at your table once you settled in.  In practice, these plated canapés were some of the worst food I've ever tasted.  After trying it on two separate occasions I decided to never ever return in the evening.  No wonder the lounge was always empty!
Crackers, dried fruit, nuts.
The buffet started off a bit boring, with basic crackers, one type of nuts (hazelnuts), one type of dried fruit (pears), and a few soft drinks.  On the other side was a small selection of wine.
Cheese, meat, dips, antipasti.
Next was an antipasti platter, with marinated peppers, artichokes, eggplant, and olives, which I didn't try, as they aren't really my thing and didn't look very good.

Next were dips.  I was excited for the trio of dips, until I realized I had nothing to dip in them.  No crudite nor chips to be found, were we supposed to use the crackers?  I tried to awkwardly put dips on my cheese, and then eventually just ate some by the spoonful.  The taziki style one was my favorite, but none were very good.

The cheese platter had several cheeses, including a rather flavorless gouda, a blue cheese that was a bit too stinky for my liking, and a decent triple cream.  There were also nuts and dried fruit cubes.

Ojan went for the "dried beef", but didn't take more than a bite or two before declaring that we needed to just go elsewhere.
Canapés, night one.
The first night, I was thrilled to see this platter arrive.  Look at the plating! And delivered to our table!  No buffet canapés here!  But wow, this was really not good.  And clearly not made to order, they were just hiding around the corner somewhere, as nothing was hot.

From right:
  • Consume: I never like consume.  It was too rich for me, with an oil smear on top.
  • Fried barramuni ball with sweet chili sauce: Now we were talking! I love fish, I love sweet chili sauce.  But this was horrible.  Lukewarm, fishy, and super oily.  Spongy-oily.  Not good at all.
  • Tomato and mozzarella: I tried this before Ojan, and didn't get to warn him how bad it was.  His facial expression as he bit in revealed that he agreed with me completely, and that he wished I had stopped him from even trying.  How could a little tomato and mozzarella bite be that bad?  Well, the little piece of bread on the bottom was soaked in olive oil, the tomato was mealy, and I honestly couldn't identity the mozzarella as cheese, let alone mozzarella.
  • Grilled beef over mixed vegetables: Ojan tried this before me, and told me to not even bother.  Normally I *still* try everything, but given how awful everything else was, I took his advice for once, and just skipped it. 
  • Chocolate petit four: I'm still not sure what was inside here.  Ojan first thought it was nougat, and then he declared it was marzipan.  I'm not convinced it was either.  But there was something creamy, and something cake-like.  I never eat chocolate in the evening, but since everything else was such a disappointment, I finished this bite, even though it wasn't anything special.
Canapés, night two.
I never intended to try the canapés again.  But another night I visited the lounge, just for a drink.  I forgot to say that I didn't want any awful canapés, and the next thing I knew, this platter showed up.  I tried them out of morbid curiosity, and wow, they were just as bad as the first night.

From top left:
  • Salmon mousse on a cucumber slice.  The cucumber was soggy, and the mousse was awful.  It had a nasty fishy taste, and the mouthfeel of pure Crisco.  I think it probably was cream cheese based?
  • Carrot (?) soup.  It was thick, it was warm, and that was about all I can say about this.  I guess better than the consume from the prior night.
  • Mixed shredded veggies with soy gelée.  These were mushy, and awful.  Why were they even trying with gelées?
  • Lamb over pumpkin puree.  I don't like even good lamb, so I didn't try this, but the pumpkin puree had a nice flavor.
  • Chocolate: A thin chocolate shell, with strawberry cream filling.  Something sweet to cleanse the pallet from the rest of it, but, again, not good.

Monday, February 29, 2016

SpoonRocket Meal Delivery

Update Review, 2016

Over a year ago, I reviewed my meal from Spoonrocket, one of the many meal delivery startups in San Francisco.  I wasn't impressed.  The food wasn't good, you couldn't order in advance nor see the menu beforehand, and they didn't even have dessert.

Some of that has gotten better.  The service is still on-demand only, so, no advance ordering, but they do now have a dessert rotation.  But the major thing that has changed since my last review is they started serving breakfast.  Imagine biscuits and gravy, brought to your door?  Now THAT has potential.  I watched the daily menus for a few weeks, often toying with the idea of ordering breakfast, but never quite going through with it.  And then ... a menu item appeared that I couldn't resist: a pecan sticky bun.

So, even though my previous experience was far, far from stellar, I decided to give SpoonRocket another try.

The basic experience was much the same as before, it was easy to order online, it was fast, and I could track the vehicle making its way in real time.  It was still pretty annoying that I was expected to meet the driver curbside, but the system calls you when they are close, and you head out.  It does allow them to keep their delivery times fast, so, I am not actually opposed to the meet-the-driver-curbside thing, except that they charge a delivery fee and ask you to tip.  So, my mini-rant, I find it a bit crazy that they want me to pay for delivery, add a tip, and do the leg work myself.  Just eliminate any one of those things, and I'd be happy.

But back to my review.  Let's just say that at least on the baked goods front, SpoonRocket has more than redeemed themselves.  It was crazy-good!

If you'd like to try SpoonRocket out, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (clearly, I recommend it for breakfast!), you can use my referral link to get $5 off, which entirely covers most breakfast items, desserts, or, makes a dent in a lunch or dinner entree.
Compostable Packaging.
The packaging hasn't changed, still cardboard compostable.

I was a little surprised by the box size, given that I just ordered a small little baked good.  Or ... so I thought!
Sticky Bun. $4.95.
“Decadent, sweet & gooey cinnamon pecan sticky bun for your morning snack.”

I opened my box to quite a surprise.  Yes, it was a sticky bun, that was expected.  But it looked nothing like the online photo.  Now, it is normal for items to not match their photos, the glamor shots online always are beautifully plated, etc and the actual item you get rarely lives up.  But in this case, the real product blew away the photo.  Not because it necessarily looked better, but because it was easily 2-3 times larger.

As you can see, it came in a full size entree box, and the sticky bun took up more than half the box.  And, although you can't see in this photo, it was quite thick too.  It was a monster.

I'm not complaining.
SpoonRocket Photo.
In comparison, the photo provided by SpoonRocket, shows a much, much smaller, reasonable size mid-morning snack, listed at ~380 calories.

I assure you, the one I had was NOT 380 calories.

But again, I'm not complaining.
Close up of bottom side.
Now, going back to that first photo, you might be wondering, "uh, where are the pecans?"  What kind of "sticky" bun is this?  You might be thinking, "Julie, that really doesn't look that great".  And, I agree.

From the top, and at first inspection, it didn't really look like it had many pecans, perhaps just a few tucked into the folds.  And it didn't look very saucy or sticky (more on that soon).  I'll be honest, my first impression was not positive, besides, obviously, the massive size.  But what good is a massive sticky bun if it isn't actually good?

And then I realized the glory was on the underside.  The bottom is where all the sticky goodness was, along with the pecans.

I dug in.

Wow, ok, this thing was good.  Really, really good.

It was warm.  I wasn't necessarily expecting that (although I intended to warm it up myself if necessary).  Bonus points for warmth, and it certainly made a difference.

The dough, although it looked quite plain and boring, was really awesome.  I can't quite describe it.  It wasn't flaky and buttery like a croissant, but was more like a sweet brioche bun.  I really liked the fluffyness.  It was a tiny bit crispy on the outside, and actually delicious on its own.  Or dunked into the extra sauce (more on that soon).

Between all the layers of the bun, and coating the bottom, was the signature brown sugar/butter/cinnamon mixture that makes sticky buns awesome.  There was a generous amount of it.  Sweet, well seasoned, perfectly buttery.  So tasty.  And of course, chopped pecans, inside the roll and underneath.

The very center is always my favorite part of a sticky bun/cinnamon roll/morning bun.  This one did not disappoint.  It was moist, doughy, sweet, and pretty much perfect.
Extra Sticky Sauce.
I was surprised by the massive nature of the sticky bun, but I was also surprised to see a little extra container of sauce on the side.  I realize that the stock photo does show sauce on the side too, I had just missed that.  Here you can see the remains, after I had used up most of it.  The container did come full.

The sauce was really delicious, thicker than maple syrup, full of buttery flavor, sweet, with slight pecan notes to it.  I enjoyed pouring some over my sticky bun, or dunking chunks in it, but actually, the sticky bun was totally delicious as it was, and the sauce wasn't actually necessary.  Although very welcome.

I think that next time I would save the sauce, and use it over ice cream later.  I think it would be insanely delicious warmed up and poured over vanilla ice cream with some nuts.  Or drizzled on pancakes.  Or, who am I kidding, just by the spoonful!

So the sauce?  Like the bun, definitely a winner, although each could stand on their own with no problem.

Savor that sauce, add it to the sticky bun if you wanna go all out, or, save it for any other purpose.  I guarantee you'll find something awesome to do with it.  And if not, just send it my way.
The Damage.
So uh ... that happened.

I never expected to devour the whole thing in one sitting.  I sent Ojan a photo a few bites in, telling him how great it was, and intending to bring him half (or, at least a big chunk).  Once I realized how insanely good it was, I pulled back on that idea, and planned to save the rest for myself, to have after lunch.  It was just ridiculously huge, way bigger than I needed for breakfast, and I knew it.  I didn't plan to eat it all in one go.

And, I did take a break, about halfway through.  I went back for "just one more bite".  You can see what happened.  I couldn't resist.  I only barely stopped short of drinking the remaining sauce as a shot.

The roll, simply put, came together pretty much perfectly.  Tasty dough. Delicious filling.  Warm.  I appreciated the plain outside layer when I wanted a moment away from the super sweet (this was breakfast after all), but I also could easily have poured extra sauce all over it, or dunked these pieces into the sauce (which I did).

It was an absolute winner, and I'd order one again, in a heartbeat.  I wouldn't even complain about the delivery fees next time.

Original Review, August 2014

Every once in a while I order food for delivery.  But, I'm a complete snob when it comes to takeout, and I generally hate it ... the food is never hot and fresh!  Munchery has been my solution, as their meals arrive intentionally cold, and I heat them up myself.  It works quite well, as you know, I've reviewed them many times.

But, in the interest of trying new things, I decided to try out another meal delivery service: SpoonRocket.  Their model is completely different.

Unlike Munchery, you order on-demand only, there is no advance ordering.  They are open for lunch and dinner, M-F.  The same menu is offered all day, and is not available in advance.  Each day there are 3 entrees, one vegetarian, one meat or seafood, and one seems to generally be a salad.  They also have a daily smoothie.  The listings for each dish includes a picture, a description, and a calorie count.  There are no desserts on the menu. All dishes are $8, which includes delivery (although you can tip on top of that).

Once you order, the food arrives within 10 minutes.  They call you 2 minutes before arriving, and you are expected to meet them curbside, so they can just hand it over and go.  Inside the cars, the food is kept in a hot bag to stay warm.  They just cruise around the city, ready to drop off at a moment's notice.

That part all worked as expected.  I would have liked to see a menu in advance so I could plan, but one day, I was looking, and saw a tasty looking mac and cheese, so I went for it.  Ordering online was easy, and I got an automated call a few minutes later, saying it would be there within 2 minutes.  I went down to the street and ... waited.  And ... waited.  After about 7 minutes, I got a call from my driver, who said he was there.  So was I.  After some confusion, I realized he was down the block.

He handed over my meal, and I looked down to see ... baby back ribs.  Not exactly what I ordered!  Luckily I caught the error before he drove away, and he fetched the right one from the bag.

The process was smooth enough, but I definitely prefer to be able to see a menu in advance, and I like having far more selection.  It took me a while to order from SpoonRocket in the first place, since the menus often didn't have an option I wanted.  It is an interesting idea, to have the food hot and driving around the city, but ... it didn't really work for me.

I'll be sticking with Munchery.
Homestyle Mac & Cheese.  $8.
The description read "homestyle macaroni & cheese with penne pasta, creamy four cheese sauce, steamed zucchini, & roma tomato gratinee (~700 cal)".

It arrived reasonably hot.  Their heat bags do seem effective.

The mac and cheese was very lackluster.  It had some breadcrumbs on top, and was very cheesy, in a stringy cheesy sort of way.  It wasn't remotely creamy.  The pasta was well cooked I guess, not mushy.  Ojan seemed to like it well enough.

The zucchini were loaded up with seasoning and herbs, very overpowering.  But decently cooked.

And the tomato ... just a warm tomato with more breadcrumb stuff on top.

There wasn't a single element of this dish that I enjoyed.