Friday, May 20, 2016

Garrett's Popcorn

Garrett's Popcorn is THE famous popcorn from Chicago.  Whenever I mention my popcorn obsession to others, they always ask, "Oh, have you had Garrett's?"  Given that I have never been to Chicago my answer thus far has been no.

But, this past year, one of my co-workers went to Chicago and came back with ... yup, a giant tub of Garrett's Popcorn!

Garrett's has been making popcorn since 1949.  The signature creation is Garrett Mix®, their version of Chicago Mix (which used to be marketed as such, until, lawsuit).  In addition to "CheeseCorn" and "CaramelCrisp", the two components of Garrett Mix, they also offer up plain and butter, plus some nutty variations on CaramelCrisp: Macadamia, Pecan, Almond, and Cashew.

My co-worker of course brought the Garrett Mix.  I was glad to try it, but, well, I don't see any reason to hop on a plane to Chicago for it.
Garrett Mix®
"Our handcrafted recipe is often imitated, but never duplicated. First created by our loyal fans, the Garrett Mix® combines the sophisticated sweetness of CaramelCrisp® with the savory goodness of CheeseCorn. The original Chicago style Popcorn, from THE original gourmet Popcorn Shop."

Breaking this down into its mixed components:

CheeseCorn: "Freshly-melted, sharp cheddar cheese is stirred into each and every batch. Fans proudly display their "Cheesy-Fingers!"

Ok, wow, yes, this gave me cheesy fingers.  Each piece was absolutely coated in orange goodness.  It tasted like fake cheddar, but I really liked it.  It required consumption by the handful.  And, yes, of course I liked it better frozen.

CaramelCrisp: "Deep butter notes, sweet brown sugar and a crème brûlée crunch combine for a rich taste sensation."

Caramel corn can go so many ways.  This one was ... mediocre for me.  It was sweet and they get great credit for perfectly coating the kernels, but, the caramel itself was just a bit too deep of a flavor.  I still did enjoy it, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't my favorite.

The interesting thing to me is that I didn't really like these when mixed together.  I love mixing sweet and savory.  I should have loved this mix.  But, I didn't.  I had the same experience last time I had Chicago Mix, from G.H. Cretors.

So, I froze a bunch, gleefully ate all the cheese corn, and eventually ate the caramel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Waffle Iron Cooking: French Toast

As you may have guessed, I love to eat.  But it is no secret that I don't really "cook".  I was going through a phase where I didn't like going out to eat, which left me with a bit of a problem, as I'm also a total snob and don't generally like takeout.

But I also I hate wasting food.  Whenever I have any leftovers, I stash them in my freezer.  People laugh when they see the size of my freezer, and then their eyes bulge when they see that at all times, it is totally and completely full.  I don't usually have a plan for what I'll do with little bits of this or that.  I just can't ever throw food out.

Random Aside #1: Julie has too much ice cream (yes, this can happen)

A while ago, I won 32 pints of Three Twins Ice Cream.  Yes, this was totally awesome, but it did lead to a bit of a problem: what do you do with that much ice cream, when you live with someone who doesn't really eat ice cream, and you work somewhere with a froyo machine that you visit multiple times a day normally already?  How do you actually consume all that ice cream before it gets freezer burned?

Well, first I methodically made my way through every pint, getting one of each flavor available, learning my favorite flavors.  It was awesome, really.  You can read all about that soon.  But after a while, even I got sick of ice cream.  It can happen.

I started bringing ice cream to every party I was invited to.  Dinner party?  I'd quickly claim dessert, and bring ice cream to go with a fruit crisp.  Housewarming?  New homeowners would find a pint of ice cream hidden in their freezer the next morning.  Brunch?  Ice cream for affogatos is legit, right?  But after a few months of this, I could tell my ice cream welcome was wearing thin.  I had to get creative.

One day, it dawned on me that ice cream is just a frozen custard base.  If I melted the ice cream down, I'd be back to a custard base.  Suddenly, I had so many possibilities.

The next night, when I served pie for dessert, instead of offering ice cream to pair with it, I suggested a little vanilla bean crème anglaise to Ojan.  He never wants ice cream with his pie.  Little did Ojan know that this was my vanilla bean ice cream (which he usually rejects), warmed up.  He eagerly accepted.  Success!

A few days later, I was making a cup of coffee, and it turned out too bitter.  I generally drink my coffee black, but when the coffee isn't very good, I opt for a little creamer and sweetener.  But, since I don't really cook at home, I never have any milk or other creamer.  But I did have ice cream ... A tiny scoop of ice cream, stirred into coffee?  Perfect.  I quickly discovered that chocolate flavors work best here, turning my coffee into a quasi-mocha.

Speaking of the chocolate flavors, one day, I decided to reduce a pint of chocolate ice cream down on the stovetop, turning it into a rich chocolate pudding.  It was thick.  It was rich.  Amazing.  Another success.

My stories go on and on.  Many bread puddings were created (salted caramel flavor works great here!).  Some failed attempts at making flan.  If you ever find yourself in the situation of having an insane amount of ice cream, or if you lose power and your ice cream melts, or if you wind up with a pint of freezer burned ice cream, consider the possibilities.  Melted ice cream is NOT a loss!

Random Aside #2: Waffling

You've been reading about my waffling experiments on Wednesdays for weeks now, so, I won't rehash any of that here.  You know the drill: I have leftovers, I reheat them in the waffle iron, it is usually awesome.

This week however, I bring you something a bit different.  All of my previous waffling posts were about taking leftovers, and placing them basically unmodified into the waffle iron.  I didn't really create anything from scratch.

But this time, I did.  I made french toast, and cooked it in the waffle iron, rather than on a griddle.  But of course, you know me, there has to be a twist.  And the twist?  I used ice cream as the custard base, rather than making my own.  Because, who has eggs?

Random Aside #3: Dave's Killer Bread

Final aside, I promise.  I got sent some Dave's Killer Bread to review for my blog (coming soon).  So, not only did I have tons of ice cream, I also had tons of bread.

Connecting the Dots: French Toast

At all times, in the back of my head, is the thought "will it waffle?"  Also in the back of my head is the knowledge that I have a custard base that can be ready at a moment's notice.  Inspired by the success of the bread puddings made with my ice cream, I decided to tackle another format: french toast.  I knew that the ice cream base wasn't quite as eggy as you'd normally use for french toast, but honestly, I don't like it when I can taste the egg in french toast, so I wasn't too concerned.

Unsatisfied to simply griddle my french toast like a normal person, I busted out the waffle iron.

The Ingredients

Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream + Dave's Killer Bread Seeded Honey Wheat.
Per slice:
  • 1 slice of bread (any kind. Fresh or frozen.)
  • 1 small scoop of ice cream
  • Cinnamon (pinch, to taste)
  • Vanilla (few drops, to taste)
  • Any other spices you want
Normally, I'd make french toast using a thick cut, more interesting bread like brioche, but what I had was a freezer full of an assortment Dave's Killer Bread.  I picked the Seeded Honey Wheat, as it was the sweetest of the bunch.

I opted for simple Madagascar Vanilla as my ice cream base, but you can obviously get creative here.

Not pictured were my additions: King Arthur Flour Vietnamese Cinnamon, Bourbon Vanilla, Bourbon Sugar.   Once I melted the ice ceam down, I added cinnamon and more vanilla extract to taste.  (Protip: additional benefit of using ice cream, rather than raw ingredients: you can taste your french toast liquid and not be worried about eating raw eggs!)


  1. Pull ingredients out of freezer/spice rack.
  2. Heat up waffle iron (I used 400 degrees, the recommended temp for waffles, but more on that below).
  3. Melt down ice cream however you want: leave it on the counter. Microwave it. Melt it on a stove top.  I usually just put it in a 300-ish degree toaster oven while I prep other ingredients.
  4. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and any other seasonings to taste.
  5. Dunk bread in melted ice cream mixture.  Let it soak in a few minutes.
  6. Plop into waffle iron, cook for a few minutes.  It will probably take longer than a regular waffle.  Just watch it.


Mixed Success.
On my first attempt, I set the waffle iron to 400 degrees, the temperature recommended for waffles.  After a few minutes, my waffle-french toast seemed hot, and was getting a bit crispy on the edges, but it was way too soggy on the inside.  I might have used too much ice cream base, but it was too late to fix that.  So I turned the heat up.  And sprinkled it with sugar, hoping that would caramelize and crust up a bit.

Instead ... it just started burning.  Whoops.  The places where the iron touched were definitely burnt, but I liked how the waffling created crispy bits and moist bits.  There is potential here.

The bread choice was ok, although fairly healthy tasting.  Yes, I realize I am saying that eating a scoop of ice cream and a bunch of syrup tasted "healthy", but the bread really was hearty and wheaty, so it didn't seem decadent at all.

It was still pretty tasty, and once drizzled with sufficient warm maple syrup, I didn't care too much, but next time I'd try starting with a higher temp, or reduce the amount of ice cream.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney

Update Review, Feb 2016

After another wonderful trip to Sydney this past February, it was sadly time to head home.  Luckily for us, our journey home from Sydney to San Francisco began in the Qantas First Class lounge.  While I was sad to be leaving my favorite city, I was actually looking forward to the airport part of our journey home.

Our flight was scheduled for 3pm, but we arrived at noon, because we wanted to maximize time in the lounge.  (Side note: Qantas has made “all day checkin” a permanent feature in the Sydney lounge only, so, you can actually check in anytime.  I’ve said it before, but I really mean it this time … next time, I really should arrive far earlier, have breakfast there too, and just hang out even longer in the lounge.  Such a nicer place to kill time than my hotel room!).

Anyway, since I’ve reviewed the lounge before, I’ll skip the basics, and get right to the details of this visit.  Very little changed since our last visit, the staff were friendly and welcoming, the food wonderful, and really, I can’t express just how much I love visiting this lounge!

The Space

Massage Room.
Both Ojan and I were able to book massages, and amazingly, were able to easily schedule conveniently for our planned break between lunch and dessert.  The spa treatments (massages, facials, etc) may only be 20 minutes, but, they really do an impressive job, far better than the massages in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow, where they are just chair massages behind a little curtain.

In the Qantas lounge, treatments are done in private treatment rooms, with candles burning, calm music playing, and plants galore.  It really creates a serene environment, and I was able to instantly forget where I was, or that I had a very long flight coming up.  Again, unlike the BA lounge where you hear everything going on around you.

I picked a back massage, and even in the 20 minute slot it was done with oils.  It was really quite relaxing, although not a very deep massage given the time constraints.

I left the treatment room completely relaxed and unconcerned with any of the toils that may lay ahead in my day of travels.  Highly recommended.


 Gin Spriz, House Lemonade.
“Qantas Rockpool Four Pillas Gin, Aperol, and Sparkling Wine”
I started with the Gin Spritz, which was a wonderful choice.  It was bitter in a good way, and really quite enjoyable.  There were a few other signature cocktails, designed by the “Qantas Rockpool Mixologists”, but, I moved on to wine when I saw a bottle being decanted up at the bar.

The regular wine menu was tempting, with 3 different choices for shiraz and a pinot noir, my top two wines of choice, but, I know that when the bartender decants something up front, it is usually a better wine than those from the standard menu, so, I opted for that.

It was a lovely wine, unfortunately I didn’t record the name or even varietal (I planned to go back later to take notes, but, doh, time ran out!), but I can say it was really balanced, and both myself and another lady I met at the bar quite enjoyed it (yes, within a few minutes, a random stranger and I were cheers-ing each other at the bar, both loving the wine.  She had also just gotten a massage, and was in a great mood.  When are people this happy in an airport?)

Also up at the bar were salted cashews, which sound simple, but were really quite delicious.

Ojan opted for the house lemonade, “from Spicy Temple Sydney & Melbourne”.  It was fine lemonade.  The other non-alcoholic cocktails listed on the menu sounded even better to me, like the Passion Club with lychee puree, grapefruit juice, passionfruit, and lime juice, or the Ginger Soda with pineapple, lime, soda water, and mint, but, alas, we didn’t wind up with enough time to move on to yet another round of cocktails.


Massages aside, you are here because this is a dining blog, and, well, that is really what I was excited about too.

As always, the menu has many enticing options, ranging from small plates, to sandwiches, to entrees, to sides, to desserts.  Some items never change, like the signature salt and pepper squid and the minute steak, but others change out slightly every few moths, such as the pasta dish, always an option, but served with different seasonal ingredients.  On this visit, they also featured American dishes, a nod towards the new partnership between American Airlines and Qantas ,and their new routes from LAX and SFO.
The menu, in full:
All Day Dining:
  • Buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar
  • Avocado and quinoa salad with summer corn and pepitas
  • Ocean trout with daikon, sesame togarashi and organic soy
  • Salt and pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli
  • Five spice duck salad with green mango, beansprouts and rau ram
  • Minestrone Soup (Market Inspiration)
  • Spiced chicken wings with ranch dressing (American Airlines Partnership Celebration Dish)
  • Club sandwich with chicken, slow roasted tomatoes, bacon and aioli
  • Crumbed fish burger with Japanese pickles and horseradish mayonnaise
  • American burger with fries (American Airlines Partnership Celebration Dish)
  • Spaghettini with asparagus, cauliflower pangrattato, basil and a poached egg
  • Snapper with warm zucchini, heirloom tomatoes and white bean salad
  • Stir fried chicken breast with yellow bean sauce and fresh rice noodles
  • Mirrool Creek Lamb with tamarind, chickpeas, tomato and coriander yoghurt
  • Grass fed beef minute steak with tarragon, shallot butter and chips
  • Thai chilli basil beef with free range egg and jasmine rice (Market Inspiration)
  • Bowl of chips
  • Mixed leaves with palm sugar vinaigrette
  • Wild rocket and parmesan salad
  • Steamed seasonal greens with Colonna lemon oil
  • Seasonal fruit plate
  • Hazelnut meringue with chocolate ganache and cocoa sorbet
  • Nectarine ‘trifle’ with gingerbread and lychee granita
  • Pavlova in a glass with mango and passionfruit
  • Gelatomassi gelato and sorbet selection
    • Caramel, Belgian chocolate or roasted almond gelato
    • Raspberry or Passionfruit sorbet
  • Cheese plate with accompaniments
  • Sundae with chocolate sauce and “Oreo” crumbs (American Airlines Partnership Celebration Dish)
Ocean trout with daikon, sesame togarashi, and organic soy.
I unfortunately wasn’t very hungry when we first sat down (I know, I know, i should know better!  But, it was also my last day at my hotel breakfast, and I wanted everything there too!), so I was planning to skip the small plates.  Ojan recalled liking the sashimi before though, so, he wanted it again.  It was ocean trout this time.

The sashimi was good, clearly quality fish, light, fresh.  It had grated daikon on top, and was dressed with soy sauce.  Ojan commented that it was decent, but, needed wasabi.

It was also strange to eat sashimi with a fork.  Last time, he was provided chopsticks.

If I had been hungrier, I would have ordered the salt and pepper squid, as it really always is quite good in Sydney (not so much in LA), or the buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, as that looked quite good too, and I was headed back to winter in California, so it was my last chance at fresh tomatoes.  But, we only got this one appetizer and moved on.
Crumbed fish burger with Japanese pickles and horseradish mayonnaise.
Yes, I Julie, girl who doesn't like sandwiches, ordered something from the sandwich section.  Why?  Because this is seriously the best fish burger ever.  I discovered it on my last visit, and was thrilled to see that it remained, unchanged, on the menu a year later.

To be fair, I didn’t love it quite as much this time, but I think I went into it with crazy high expectations this time around, since I had adored it so last time.  That said, it was still very, very good.

The bun looks like a generic bun, and, it kinda is, but it is soft and fluffy, really quite fresh, and goes great with the burger.  The fish is crumbed and crispy, and was the only part I didn’t love this time, as it was a bit fishy.  It is slathered, very generously, in mayo.  So much mayo.  But, that is what makes it really good.  The menu says “horseradish mayonnaise”, which it said last time too, but we didn’t taste any horseradish.  The lettuce was fresh and crisp, and also went great with the mayo and fish.  Add in some flavorful slices of Japanese pickles, and, well, you have a killer fish burger.

There aren’t a lot of frills here, but, it is really, really good.  The components of the burger just come together so well.  I’d get it again, any day, and hope it is less fishy next time.
Spaghettini with asparagus, cauliflower pangrattato, basil, and a poached egg.

We also opted for the spaghettini, mostly because Ojan wanted it, and I had read good things about the poached egg on top.  Our previous pasta experience in the lounge was fairly lackluster, as the lemon butter sauce overwhelmed the Morton Bay bugs, so I wasn’t particularly excited for this.

It was actually pretty good.  The pasta was nicely cooked, not mushy, not too al dente.  The asparagus was still a bit crunchy, in a good way, and very fresh, and so welcome as I was about to head back to winter.  The cauliflower was lightly fried, and was almost awesome, except that it was a bit soggy.  It would have been much better crispy, like breadcrumbs on top.  The large shreds of Parmesan were great with the asparagus and the cauliflower.

The poached egg was the only disappointment.  In the photos and descriptions I had read, everyone talks about how you cut it open and the yolk oozes all over the pasta, coating it, creating a luxurious sauce.  This sounded great.  Unfortunately, our egg didn’t ooze.  If I were having it for breakfast, I’d actually say it was nicely poached, but, I wanted the ooze for my pasta.  Without it, the sauce was a bit bland, mostly just seasoned oil.

So, overall, this was, as Ojan put it, “fine but boring”.  I really did like the cheese, asparagus, and cauliflower though!
Dessert: Pavlova in a glass with mango and passionfruit (First Class Lounge).
I don’t generally like pavlova.  So, why would I order pavlova, even if it is their signature dessert?  It is always on the menu, although it changes out fruits and sauces seasonally.  Well, because I knew this was deconstructed, not a traditional pavlova that is just too much meringue so it had that going for it.  But also, the fruits were mango and passionfruit, such treats while in season in Australia.  That said, if I hadn’t just had cheesecake and gelato in the business lounge (review coming soon!), I definitely would have ordered the special sundae that was part of the American Airlines celebration, with hot fudge and Oreo crumbles.  Or maybe one of the gelato from this lounge, as they offered a fancier brand (Gelatomassi) and better flavors (caramel and roasted almond!).  But, I knew that this pavlova was something special, so, I finally went for it.

And … it was really good!  Definitely the best pavlova I’ve ever had.

In the bottom was chunks of mango and passionfruit.  There was also a red sauce, but we weren’t quite sure what it was.  Layered in the glass were soft meringues and cream.  And on top … fairy floss (cotton candy to us Americans).  Why the fairy floss?  I have no idea.  Can you eat it with a spoon along with the pavlova?  Not easily.  But is it delicious, and a great way to start the dessert.  Yes!

This was a very sweet dish.  The mango and passionfruit were very sweet naturally, fresh, and wonderful.  The meringues were also sweetened, fluffy, and because they didn’t dominate the dish, I actually welcomed them.  They added just a bit of chewy texture to each spoonful.  The cream was thick and rich, needed to contrast the sweet fruit.

Overall, delightful, and I’d get it again.  I'm glad I was rewarded for trying something I don't normally like.

Original Review, February 2014

Four years ago, Ojan and I visited the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney, courtesy of our friend Emil.  It was an experience I'll never forget; my first time in a premium lounge, and wow, what a premium lounge it is.  Now that I have more comparison points, like the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong, the Britsh Airways Concorde Room in Heathrow, and the Qantas First Class lounge in LAX, I can still say this lounge is top notch.  The others all have their special touches, particularly the cabanas at Cathay's Wing Lounge, but the Qantas First Class lounge is a wonderful experience.  Yes, it has a spa with free treatments and an amazing full service restaurant.  The food far exceeds any other lounge I've visited.

So when I was recently in Sydney, you can guess I was quite excited to visit again once it was time to depart.

Normally, you can only check in at an airport a few hours before your flight.  We learned this the hard way last time, when we over-zealously arrived early, planning to get a fabulous breakfast in the lounge, hang around and get spa treatments, and then have lunch, only to find out that we weren't able to check in, so we instead spent our time sitting at the First Class check-in area out in the terminal.  Doh (although, they did have nice comfortable seating!).  And honestly, normally, you don't WANT to be at the airport any longer than necessary right?  But, Qantas is running a trial that allows check-in anytime the day of the flight, so even though our flight was scheduled for 5pm, we were able to arrive at noon to get the full lounge experience.  This time, we breezed through check-in, and eagerly made our way to the lounge.

You may laugh, but next time, I'd honestly come even earlier.  I'd get a fabulous breakfast (I still have fond memories of the bircher muesli and porridge and eggs benny!), then I'd get a spa treatment, and I could spend the afternoon working on my laptop in the lounge.  The seating is comfortable, the wifi is fast, why not?  It sure beats being at the hotel.

Anyway, as before, we loved our time in the lounge.  The hours flew by.  I couldn't believe when it was time to board.  And as before, the food wowed us.  Honestly, the food served in here is top notch, and better than most meals we had in Sydney, even though we dined at top establishments.  If I could pay to get into this restaurant, I would.

The staff were all very friendly and quite lovely.  I chatted with nearly everyone, from the reception staff, to the snack station attendant, to the barista, and I honestly enjoyed interacting with each and every one of them.
Living Plant Wall
The moment you enter the First Class lounge, you know you are in for something special.  The entrance hallway features a stunning wall of living plants, which sets the tranquil mood immediately.

Speaking of tranquil, protip, the first thing to do, upon entering, is book a spa treatment (unless of course you are flying in First, which allows you to book in advance).  Treatment options include several types of massage ("Bliss back massage", "De-stress back massage", or "Reviving neck, shoulder & scalp massage"), several types of facials (one just for men), or foot or hand therapy.  Not that we were particularly stressed, but we opted for the "De-stressing back massage", aka, a basic back massage. My understanding is that the "bliss" version uses less pressure?

De-stressing massages booked, we were off to explore.
Comfortable Seating.
The main area is filled with comfortable seating, mostly facing the runways and overlooking downtown Sydney.  Many chairs are recliners.  The view really is amazing, the space comfortable, so bright and airy.

With actual decent working wifi, it is not a bad place to spend the afternoon, and just work away on our laptops.  The wifi was far superior to any we found in hotels in Sydney.
Flight Board.
Departing flights are listed on an old-school train board, a cute touch.
Snack Station.
There is a small snack station, self-service.
Self-Service Soft Drinks and Juices.
Adjacent to the snacks is self-serve cold bottled beverages, including ginger beer and assorted juices, which made Ojan quite happy.
Self-Service Wine, Beer.
And of course, wine and beer.  I really appreciated the self-service areas, even in a First Class lounge.  Many do not have this option, and it just feels more relaxed and comfortable to just be able to get something for myself when I want it, rather than needing to get a server's attention.
Self-Service Coffee and Tea.
Of course there are hot drinks too, with a coffee machine that actually has decaf that it grinds to order, and a good lineup of T2 tea (our favorite tea in Australia!).  Excellent selection.
I tried a few assorted nibbles, like the massive olives and the spiced macadamias.  They were fine, but not remarkable.  I didn't try any of the charcuterie or crackers, because, why eat this when there is a full service restaurant, a really, really good one at that?

But of course, you know me and desserts.  I had to try the desserts, even if I wanted to order ALL THE DESSERTS from the restaurant too.  How could I pass up trying more dessert?

The first was a "lemon delicious" cake, that I didn't really care for, which isn't surprising, given that I don't really like lemon.  I should have resisted this, but, alas, I just couldn't.

Next, a passionfruit tart.  It looked similar to the one I'd been enjoying in my hotel executive lounge the past few days, so I was eager to try it.  The base was really tasty, a buttery crumble.  The next layer was a thick cream, not quite cheesecake, not quite mousse.  It was fine, but not outstanding.  The top was a thicker passionfruit gel, sweet and tart, not bad, but again, not outstanding.

These desserts were fine, but did I mention, I wanted everything on the restaurant dessert menu?  It was time to move on.
Bar Area.
Adjacent to the restaurant is a bar area, outfitted in gorgeous white marble.  You can have a full meal there at the bar, or move into the more formal dining space, which we did.

The far end of the bar also has a barista with espresso machine, and jars of fresh baked cookies.
Dining Area.
Tables are set elegantly, with placemats and wine glasses.  We choose a seat right along the window, and really enjoyed the view.

Service in the restaurant was perhaps the only downfall of the lounge; water glasses often went empty, no offer of tomato sauce (ketchup) was made with the chips (fries), a crumbed veal entree was delivered instead of a crumbed fish sandwich, and my coffee never came, even after I waited 30 minutes.  The food more than made up for service falters though.
Summer Menu, Feb 2015.
The restaurant serves breakfast until mid-day and then a "All Day" menu after.  The menu rotates seasonally, and is broken into starters, mains, sides, and desserts, plus Signature Sandwiches and a special "Market Inspiration" section that changes more frequently.

The menu for Summer was:

  • Buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil
  • Zucchini and squash salad with Meredith feta, white beans, lemon and thyme
  • Salt & pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli
  • Smoked salmon with kipfler potato salad and shallot dressing
  • Spaghettini with Moreton Bay bug, peas, asparagus, lemon and mint
  • Grilled blue eye cod with tandoori roasted carrots, coriander and fresh coconut sambol
  • Chicken stir fried with hot bean paste, snow peas and jasmine rice
  • Crumbed veal with garlic, capers, spinach and agrodolce
  • Black angus minute steak with tarragon butter and chips
Signature Sandwiches
  • Club sandwich with chicken, slow roasted tomatoes, bacon & aioli
  • Beef burger with bacon, Gruyère, Zuni pickle & tomato chilli relish
  • Crumbed fish burger with Japanese pickles & horseradish mayonnaise
Side Dishes
  • Bowl of chips
  • Mixed leaves with palm sugar vinaigrette
  • Wild rocket & parmesan salad
  • Steamed seasonal greens with Colonna lemon oil
Market Inspiration
  • Zucchini & parmesan soup
  • Black cobia sashimi with horseradish, chives & organic soy
  • Thai basil chilli beef with organic egg & steamed rice
  • Summer snow pea risotto with shaved pecorino
Dessert and Cheese
  • Seasonal fruit plate
  • Nectarines with croissant slice, verjus, vanilla ice cream and toasted almonds
  • Buttermilk panna cotta with piel de sapo melon, Noble One and pistachios
  • Pavlova in a glass with yoghurt gelato, strawberry and passionfruit
  • Gelatomassi gelato & sorbet selection: White chocolate, Belgian chocolate or Strawberry gelato, Pink lady apple or Lemon sorbet
  • Cheese by Calendar Cheese Company: Comté la Couronne, St Agur & Brillat Savarin, served with Accompaniments
We wanted basically everything, but decided to order one starter and two mains to start, and vowed to come back for dessert and another round of appetizers after we digested a bit.

The wine list is always impressive as well, and I started with the server's recommendation of the Kilikanoon ‘Mort’s Block’ Riesling 2013, Claire Valley, South Australia, which was one of the better white wines I had on the entire trip.  They don't skimp on the alcohol selection at all.
Starter: Salt & pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli.
Basically all the starters that sounded temping, including buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil, smoked salmon with kipler potato salad and shallot dressing, and black cobia sashimi from the special market inspiration section.  Ojan decided we could come back for the sashimi later in the afternoon, a move I fully supported.

We narrowed in on one selection, the signature dish: salt and pepper squid.  It is a menu staple, and although most of the menu rotates seasonally, this one always remains, and has been on the menu for years.  We had the salt and pepper squid when we first visited the Qantas First Class lounge 4 years ago, and we loved it then, so I had rather high expectations.  I somehow wound up eating squid or calamari on a near daily basis during my time in Sydney, and was feeling rather addicted to it.  They do it well in Australia.  I had great expectations.  But then again, we had the salt & pepper squid at the Qantas First Lounge in LA on our way to Sydney, and it was fairly disappointing then.  This helped ease my expectations slightly.

I need not have worried.  It was wonderful!  It was delivered piping hot, clearly fresh out of the fryer.  I actually had to wait a moment for it to cool.  We intended to order one dish to share, but, we were each brought a full serving.  Doh.  This was foiling our plans to order more later!

The crust provided a perfectly crispy exterior, the squid was perfectly cooked and moist inside, tender and not chewy.  I appreciated the assortment of pieces, some wider, some thicker, all offering up their own slightly unique texture.  My favorites were the smaller, thinner pieces that had curled up, they had a bit more of a meaty character to them.

The sliced red chilies packed a punch, and were perfect to add a kick to a bite or two.

Just like in LAX, I didn't care for the green chilli dipping sauce, but I did enjoy the aioli, creamy and slightly garlicky, perfect for dunking.

This was probably the best version of salt and pepper squid I've ever had, and I'd gladly pay money for it in a restaurant.  I still can't believe that this airline lounge serves something this good.  However, it was my second favorite dish of the meal, the best was yet to come ...
Main: Spaghettini with Morton Bay bugs, peas, asparagus, lemon and mint.
Next we moved on to a main dish, spaghettini.  We both recalled enjoying a pasta dish on our previous visit, and given that it is not summer in San Francisco, it had been ages since I'd had asparagus or peas, and this sounded fabulous.

It wasn't.  My one word review: butter.  All butter.

The pasta was fine, but, not particularly exciting.  The peas however weren't cooked all the way, a bit too hard.  I did of course love the fresh, tender asparagus.  Wow, I miss asparagus, and it was really quite nice dunked in the sauce.

But the sauce is where the problem was.  It was very rich, a butter sauce, slightly lemony.  It was good, but really too much, the dish was just too rich from it.  The lemon accent was quite nice though, particularly with the veggies and light seafood.  A piece of asparagus dunked in the sauce was quite good, but otherwise, it overwhelmed the entire dish.

And finally, the seafood: Morton Bay bugs!  Ojan and I first encountered these on our first visit to Australia, when we stayed on an island, and we really didn't like them in that preparation.  Ojan has long said he never wanted to try them again, but I kept insisting that perhaps we just had the wrong preparation.  It turns out I was right, these bugs were not offensive at all!  Tender, mild, moist, like little bits of prawn basically.  But sadly, the delicate flavor was lost in the sauce.

Overall, I didn't love this dish, as I don't really care for pasta dishes of this style, and the sauce was just too much, but, I did appreciate the asparagus and am glad to know that I do indeed like Morton Bay bugs.  We can remove them from the banned list.
Signature Sandwiches: Crumbed fish burger with Japanese pickles & horseradish mayonnaise.
Next up, a "Signature Sandwich".  Yes, not what I normally ever order.  I never, ever order sandwiches.  Particularly when there were other main dish options that sounded good.  On our previous visit, we also had a fantastic seafood dish, so I was quite tempted by the grilled blue eye cod with tandoori roasted carrots, corriander, and fresh coconut sambal.  But, for some reason, I was lured in by the fish burger.  Yes, the sandwich.

I don't know what got into me, but I'm seriously glad it did.  This was crazy delicious.  The bun was light, fluffy, and toasted.  It was absolutely smothered in mayo.  I didn't taste any horseradish in the mayo as described, but I didn't actually care.  Sure, there was too much mayo.  It was excessive.  But it was really creamy and, just like the aioli with the fried squid, it went perfectly with the fried fish.

The fish was moist, mild white fish, probably barramundi.  The crust was excellent, crunchy and perfectly crisp.  I loved the fish and the mayo!  It totally made up for my very mediocre fish and chips at Watsons Beach Club, and beat the pants off the fried breaded seafood that I thought was quite good at the Sheraton Executive Lounge.

If that wasn't enough, the Japanese pickles added more crunch, a hit of flavor, and vibrant color  .The lettuce freshened the dish up a bit, making you momentarily forget that you were eating fried food and vats of mayo.

This was the best fish sandwich I've ever had.  Granted, I never order fish sandwiches, and I haven't had that many, but it was incredible.  The crispy fish and mayo alone would have been perfectly satisfying, but combined with the bread and veggies, it really turned into the perfect comfort food, and is one of the most satisfying things I've consumed in a long time.

I still can't get over how much I enjoyed it, and it was certainly my favorite dish in the lounge, and one of the most memorable food items I've had in a long time.  And yes, I realize that I'm saying this about a FISH SANDWICH.  It makes me quite sad that I can't return to order again, without flying out of Sydney's international airport, in First Class, or with high OneWorld status.  I still don't understand how this lounge restaurant manages to trump pretty much every regular restaurant in Sydney!
Spa Treatment Room.
After our meal, we ventured over to the business class lounge to check it out, and then returned for our spa treatments.

As I mentioned, I booked a de-stressing massage, which was a basic back massage.  The last time I visited the Qantas lounge, treatments were a full 30 or 60 minutes, but they have now been reduced to only 20 minutes, to allow more people to book them.  More fair I guess, but I'd prefer a full hour :)

Even with such a short time, it was a real massage, not just a chair massage.  It was a full private room, and was done fully unclothed on top, with oils and everything.  It is amazing how relaxing just a 20 minute massage can be!  The products used smelt great, there was soothing music playing.  Far better than the massage experience in the British Airways lounge in Heathrow, where it was done fully clothed, and just behind a little curtain.
Shower with Bathroom.
I also peeked into the shower areas, private rooms complete with sinks and mirrors, toilets, and rainfall showers, and nice toiletries.

After our treatments and tour of the business lounge, we were running out of time to eat more, so it was time to indulge again.  My plan was for just dessert, but Ojan wanted more real food.
Starter: Black cobia sashimi with horseradish, chives, and organic soy.
When we dined the first time, Ojan said he was coming back for the sashimi.  He made good on his claim.

I of course had to try a bite.  It was delicate, lovely sashimi, obviously very fresh, and quite honestly, far better than what we had at fancy, expensive Sokyo a few days earlier.

Just like with the fish burger, I didn't taste the horseradish that the menu claimed existed, and Ojan felt it was a bit over-soy sauced and would have preferred to have a dipping sauce on the side, but overall, this was a lovely light dish.  They also included chopsticks, a nice touch.
Main: Black angus minute steak with tarragon butter and chips.
Ojan also decided to order the steak!  Why?  Because he ordered it on our previous visit, and remembered how much he loved it.  And obviously, this was going to be much, much better than anything served on board the flight, so he figured he'd basically eat dinner here, and just snack on the flight.

I snagged a chip, but they were very boring, no different from frozen.  I didn't try the steak, but it was thin and very juicy, and he devoured it.  The butter was a bit excessive, and he quickly removed it, to avoid it melting into the steak.  I also tried the butter, and it was quite tasty, infused with tarragon.
Tomato Sauce.
No offer of tomato sauce (ketchup, for you Americans) was made, but after a while, Ojan decided he wanted some, and asked.  It came back, plated so nicely!  No squirt bottles here.
Dessert: Nectarines with croissant slice, verjus, vanilla ice cream, and toasted almonds.
I of course had my sights firmly locked on dessert.  I kinda wanted them all: panna cotta! Gelato!  But since Ojan wasn't getting dessert, I picked only one, my first choice.  From my research, I knew that "croissant slice" meant bread pudding, something I always adore.

I also went for a glass of Heemskerk Pinot Noir 2011, Derwent Valley & Coal River Valley, Tasmania, which was beautiful and smooth, and I really enjoyed.  They serve some quality wines in this lounge.

The dessert however wasn't very good.  The "nectarines" was literally just a full nectarine, sliced in half, and put on the plate.  It was fresh, perfectly ripe and juicy, but, I sorta wanted something done with it.  I expected it to be cooked down or at least sliced up more.  Likewise, the almonds, just slivered almonds sprinkled on top.  Underneath was a sweet sauce, nectarine I'm assuming, or perhaps verjus, but it was just sweet and I didn't care for it either.

The scoop of ice cream on the side was fine, but it was just plain vanilla ice cream, not particularly exciting.

But the real issue was the croissant slice.  I was expecting amazing croissant bread pudding.  And this ... wasn't.  I though it would be served hot, and it was room temperature.  Strike one.  I always want warm dessert with cold ice cream.  I thought it would have a crispy top and moist, custardy interior, but it was just some bound together croissants, no real custard base. Strike two.  And it didn't really taste like much of anything.  Strike three.

There was just nothing exciting about it.  Plain nectarines, plain vanilla ice cream, dry croissant shaped like a cake.  I didn't want it.
Dessert: Buttermilk panna cotta, Noble One, and pistachios.
I couldn't end with that lackluster croissant slice, so I also ordered my second choice: panna cotta, a dish I love so much that my blog even has a label devoted to it.

The panna cotta is normally served with piel de sapo melon, but since I'm allergic to melons, I had to get it without.

The panna cotta was fine, it had a nice wiggle, was well set, but, it didn't actually have much flavor, certainly no buttermilk tang.  The sweet sauce was nice, and I liked the crunch from the pistachios.  I think I preferred the panna cotta in the Qantas lounge in LA though.

Perhaps I was just stuffed from our meal and my lounge hopping, but the desserts really didn't do it for me, the weakest part of our experience.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dinner at Cadence

Do you remember the time I went to an amazing meal at Chez TJ in Mountain View?  Well, I do.  It was my top meal of 2012, and one of the best meals of my life, and I don't just say that because I left with a parting gift of a deli container filled with foie gras mousse (!!!).  14 courses of flawless execution, from the front of house and the kitchen alike.  It blew my experience at the French Laundry out of the water.  It is no surprise to me that the chef, Joey Elentario, received a Michelin star for his work there.

So when the chef moved to San Francisco, and started working at Wayfare Tavern, I was intrigued.  I stalked the menus, but I didn't see much change in the ways I was hoping.  I grabbed some takeout once, but besides that, I never managed to visit while he was chef there.

And then I heard he was looking to start a new place, with an attached bar concept.  They started an  Indiegogo campaign for backers to get it going.  I made everyone I knew contribute.  I couldn't wait to see what this incredible chef would do with fairly free reign.

I finally visited in April, a couple of months after it opened, with a group of 6, on a Friday night.  We sampled basically the entire a la carte menu.  Overall, it was a good experience.  The service was the right level of attentive without being stuffy.  The space was actually perfect for a group of 6; we were given a table large enough to easily accommodate all our food (I hate big group dining where the plates never all fit!), yet we weren't so spread out that it was hard to all hear each other.  The food was good, with a high level of execution, detailed plating, excellent seasoning, and delicious sauces.

I admit that I wasn't blown away by any particular dish though, and I have the impression that they are still somewhat trying to find their exact concept, delivering beautiful, intricate dishes at a lower price point.  That said, it was certainly all good, and I'd love to return, particularly to try the chef's tasting menu rather than the a la carte.

The Space

As I said, I was stalking Cadence from the moment I heard about the project.  I contributed to the campaign, and waited.  Many, many months later, the vision all came together, in the form of Cadence and Mr. Tipple's Recording Studio.  Cadence is the restaurant, and Mr. Tipple's is the attached jazz bar and lounge.  They both use the same kitchen, but offer 3 distinct dining experiences.
Mr. Tipples Table Area.
Mr. Tipple's offers up bar snacks, where "bar snacks" means foie gras patty melts and bourbon ice cream drumsticks (yes, magic shell and all).  I went there with a large group and we were able to reserve the private lounge on the side (the "Opium Den", decked out with super comfy couches) and ordered the entire lounge menu, multiple times.

It was a lovely place to have cocktails, take in live jazz (yes, every night), and of course, eat the aforementioned amazing bar snacks.  I did take photos, but, the lighting was so dim that most look awful, and I was in a big group and did not take notes, so, I'm not going to write up that experience.  I do recommend it as a chill place to hang with friends, and Ojan will enthusiastically tell you to get multiple orders of the triple cooked cajun spiced crispy smashed potatoes (which, believe me, we did).  I was partial to the silky smooth chicken liver mousse with pickled green strawberries myself.

Anyway, our destination for this review was Cadence, the full restaurant.  The two spaces are attached via the kitchen and bathroom, so you can flow between them.
Main Dining Room.
Cadence offers up a variety of seating options, starting with fairly standard wooden tables (with soft bench seating around the walls) as you see here.  There are also three large 10 person communal tables and several bar seats available for walk-ins.  I appreciate that they hold so many seats (probably 40?) for walk-ins, which makes it much more approachable.

The lighting was dim at Cadence too, so, I apologize now for the poor photos throughout.  My little camera phone just couldn't quite handle the low light.  The seating along the wall had more illumination from the fascinating lighting that made up the wall coverings, but we were in the middle.
We were seated in one of two large booths.  Our party of 6 was able to fit easily, and I think we likely could have accommodated 8.

Our booth had a fuzzy fur seat, that my tablemates frequently got entirely distracted by, rubbing their backs up against it and looking a bit silly.  It also had curved spines extending up overhead, as you can sorta see here, like we were inside the belly of an upside down ship.

Table settings included red tea candles, white cloth napkins (no tableclothes), and cutlery that wasn't totally cookie-cutter.  Share plates were brought with each course without need to ask.
Round Booths.
The other booth option is round booths as you can see in the distance here, that reminded us of the teacup ride at Disney.  We sorta wished our group was small enough to fit in one.

The round booths had a row of led lighting along the edge that looked pretty cool once the sun went down.

The restaurant definitely had a lot of work put into the design.  I'm still not sure how I felt about it.  It was unique, and our table was quite comfortable, but, it somehow didn't quite match the warm and comfortable feeling I got from the staff and from the cuisine.  It wasn't that it was too formal, or too informal, it just felt a bit ... I don't know.  In particular, our booth faced Market Street, and half our party spent the night looking out into the harsh reality that is 10th and Market.  When one person switched sides of the table at dessert time, he mentioned on how much different it felt facing the other way.  So, something to be aware of if you are going for ambiance, perhaps on a date, ask to be seated away from Market Street.
Unisex Bathroom Stalls.
The bathroom, shared with Mr. Tipple's, is unisex, with individual bathroom stalls.  I'm so glad unisex bathrooms are finally becoming more normal.

The decor of the bathroom was also interesting.  It almost felt like a (very clean) subway.  The red doors reminded me of London phone booths.  Again, unique, designed, but, I wouldn't say I loved it.
I did love the red sink and wooden mirror frame though, although they felt like a bit of a mismatch.  The wooden frame was a bit rustic, the sink modern.  But I want that sink.
Quilting Club?
The swinging door to the kitchen was labelled "Quilting Club".  I feel like there must be a story here.  It also said "Please come in".  Was that a real invitation?  Does anyone just wander in?  I kinda wanted to ...

The Drinks

Mr. Tipple's and Cadence each have distinct cocktail menus, and cocktails are certainly a focus.  As a non-beer drinker I didn't really notice the lack of beers, but my tablemates mentioned that there was nothing on tap and only a small selection in bottles.  A wine list was available as well, but, we stuck with cocktails throughout both visits.

The cocktail menu is decidedly not boring.  I don't think any even used vodka or rum.  Instead, there was lots of the good stuff: gin, brandy, bourbon, scotch, even aquavit.  They also were happy to make off the menu drinks, just based on what we said we wanted, including a slew of mocktails for Ojan.

I only took photos of my drinks, but our group ordered a large assortment of drinks, most of which came in totally different glassware.  Somehow though, mine ended up looking the same.

Cadence also offers house still or sparkling water, brought in a carafe and left on the table so we could refill as needed.  Every time our carafe ran out, a new one was brought out.  I really, really appreciate house sparkling water, and, the ability to always keep my own water full.  I drink a lot of water, and always feel annoying asking for more.  Great touch here.
New Point. $13.
"Bank note scotch, punt e mes, genepy, absinthe garnish."

I'm a scotch girl, so I opted for the New Point, even though I didn't know what any ingredients besides the scotch and absinthe were.  The answers?  Punt e mes is just the brand of Italian vermouth I've had a zillion times, and genepy is a herbal liquor, related to absinthe. 

My cocktail turned out to be a slow sipper, if you know what I mean.  It wasn't the sort of cocktail you gulp down and then realize a moment too late how much alcohol it had.  Let's just say, you could taste the absinthe and overall, it was quite bitter.  The scotch was well represented.  I think Emil would like this drink.

But that doesn't mean I didn't like it.  I did like it.  I don't think it paired very well with the food though, but, if I were sitting over in the swanky jazz lounge at Mr. Tipple's, it would have been perfect.
High Regard. $13.
"Bourbon, meyer lemon foam, dry vermouth, cassis".

Where do you go from scotch?  To bourbon of course.  As this drink was placed in front of me, one tablemate said, "it looks just like your previous one, but, with foam!"

He was right, except, it really was a very different cocktail.

First, let's talk about that foam.  The only foamy cocktails I've had before use egg white  (Cadence does offer an egg white cocktail).  I'm really not sure what made this foam frothy, but, it wasn't egg white.  It tasted like a lemon cloud.  Which, I'll admit, is a bit strange when you are sipping on a cocktail.  But I kinda loved it.

I also really loved the sweetness and flavor from the cassis, which came forward in the finish.

Overall, another drink I really enjoyed, and a fascinating one.
Mocktail #1: Salted Grapefruit.
Ojan as always asked about mocktails, after being disappointed that they did not have any non-alcoholic beer.  He gave his standard preferences for something not too sweet, not just fruit juice.

This was described as a "salted grapefruit".  I didn't get a chance to even try it, as he sucked it right down.  His comment is that it wasn't too sweet, and wasn't just fruit juice, so, it seemed to be a winner.

He liked it, but asked for something different for his second drink (which, I failed to get a photo of).  The second one he liked even more.  It was made with bergamont tea and egg whites.  I also didn't get a chance to try that one, but mostly because it came along with the food, and there was just too much going on at that point.

The Food

Ok, enough about the space and the drinks, right?  This is Julie's Dining Club after all, and, I did tell you all about how this chef is amazing.
Chef's Menu.
Cadence offers two very distinct dining formats: a Chef's Four Course menu or a totally separate a la carte menu.

The Chef's Menu is available in two forms: "In the ground or from a stem", aka, vegetarian, or "Above ground or from the water", both priced at a very reasonable $55.  If I were not there with a big group, I certainly would have opted for this option, even though both menus are fixed, no choices, just, veggie or meat. The veggie chef's menu in particular sounded fairly amazing, featuring a slew of appealing ingredients like smoked asparagus, roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, and a white chocolate namelaka dessert.  This menu came presented in a card, signed by the chef.

But, we opted for the a la carte menu, broken down into sections of "snacks", "appetizers", "in betweens", and "entrees".  And, uh, we ordered all of it.  As in, we literally ordered all of it, to share.

Ok, we skipped one of the "in betweens" because it was a seafood based soup, and we knew that would be hard to share.  But in addition to the published menu, the chef offered a vegetarian entree from the tasting menu (the meyer lemon risotto with smoked asparagus and sausalito spring cress) since we had a vegetarian in the group and there weren't tons of options for main dishes for him.  But besides that one addition and one subtraction, we just said, "bring us everything".

We didn't decide to double up on anything, but, the kitchen knew better than we did, and doubled up a few items to better portion things (one app, one main, and two desserts).

The pacing felt a little bit off, mostly in that all the snacks and appetizers arrived all at once, and it was like our table was suddenly just bombarded with food.  I would have liked the snacks to come first, so we could have time to munch a little while sipping on cocktails and settling in, and then move on to the apps.  In the future, I'd ask for that.
Cauliflower Cappuccino: Complimentary.
Our meal started with a surprise.

Well, two surprises.  First, our server came and set the table with share plates.  And then, moments later, he took them away.  Surprise #1.

Surprise #2 was that in their place, we were each brought a tea cup on a saucer, filled with a special gift from the kitchen: cauliflower cappuccino.  I believe this is normally the start to the Chef's Menu.

It was awesome, unlike anything I'd ever had before.  There really is no better way to describe it than ... cauliflower cappuccino.  It wasn't a soup, it wasn't a puree, it wasn't a mousse.  It was super, super smooth, and, well, frothy on top, just like a cappuccino.  Very fascinating.

On top was a brown butter rice cracker crumble, pickled kumquat, and tarragon.  I loved the crunch from the crumble, and the pickled kumquat was quite fun.

This dish was a total success, warm, comforting, unique, playful.  We also all loved how we all had unique tea cups, no two were the same.  And further props for having a sizable portion; many times this sort of amuse is served in a shot glass, rather than a full tea cup.

Everybody enjoyed this dish, commenting, "tasty" and "really good".  It was about this time that I realized I wasn't going to get any good quotes from my dining companions, but, let's just say, they all liked it, and mentioned it afterwards as one of their favorite dishes.


Like I said, we ordered everything, starting with all 3 of the snacks (2 vegetarian).  Each snack was $7 each, and some are also available over at Mr. Tipple's.

The snacks were all exactly what I'd want alongside a cocktail, so definitely recommended as you settle in, or perhaps just to have with drinks at the bar.
Mr. Tipple's Nosh Mix.
"'Cool ranch', marcona almonds, pineapple, cashews, hazelnuts, rice chex."

I'm not going to lie.  This was actually one of the dishes I was most excited for, as silly as that sounds.  Yes, the snack mix.  I love snack mixes, of all kinds.  Homemade chex mixes, sweet or savory, are always a request when I visit my family.  Half the reason I fly with American Airlines is just to eat the snack mix in the lounges.  I'm really not joking.  I'm addicted to snack mixes, no matter how low brow they are.

So, I couldn't wait to see their spin on chex mix.

Except I somehow missed the whole "cool ranch" part of the description.  When I was growing up, my sister loved Cool Ranch Doritos and I thought they were the most foul things on earth.  I hated the taste, but even more, I loathed the smell.  We had rules about her being able to open a bag when I was around, it was that bad.  Shutter.

So, I gleefully took a big scoop of this, and started noshing, only to taste ... Doritos.  Cool ranch Doritos.  Doh.

I don't hate that taste as much as I did when younger, but it certainly isn't something I'd ever opt for, so, sadly, this snack mix wasn't magic to me.

That said, it had some strong points: I loved the soft chew, and pleasant sweetness, that the pineapple bits added.  Who puts pineapple bits in savory ranch snack mix?  The almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts were all crunchy as you'd expect.  And, if you liked the ranch taste, I'm sure you would have loved how well coated each piece was.  Even though I didn't love that flavor, I can appreciate a good coating job when I see one.

So, I wouldn't get this again because of the seasoning, but I'd love to see them come up with a new, more Julie-friendly snack mix ...
Kafir Lime Cured  Castelvetrano Olives.
"Togarashi, rice cracker."

So, funny story here.  When we were trying to pare down the menu and not be ridiculous and order everything, this dish was on the chopping block.  I mean, really, olives?  Not unique or exciting in my mind.

Our server heard us discussing and encouraged us to get them anyway.  He said they were actually really quite good olives.  He also pointed out that there were 6 of us, and an order of olives was a tiny bowl of olives, they weren't exactly going to push us over the edge.  And he even promised that if we somehow hated the olives, he'd not charge us for them.  Lols.  Ok, so, we ordered the olives.

The olives came in a cute little pot, with a second one for the pits.

I took a photo before anyone dug in, and then set about taking photos of everything else, as I mentioned, all our snacks and all our apps arrived at once, so, I had my work cut out for me to attempt to get photos before people dug in, without being totally annoying.  And the table was large, so things were spread out away from me.  And the lighting was dim.  Many cards stacked against me.

Anyway.  Long story short.  I couldn't tell you if these were good olives or not, as I didn't get one.  By the time I'd taken the photos, and selected some other food for myself first, they were gone.  Which, I guess means people liked them?
Gravlax Arancini.
"Steward sauce, rye bread, arborio rice."

After he took our order and walked away, our server came back to question us on the arancini.  They came 3 to an order, and we had 6 people (although one vegetarian), so he asked if we'd like to double up the order.  We said no, as several of us, myself included, said we'd be fine skipping out on this or splitting one, because, really when are arancini that exciting?

Our server however knew better, and brought us two orders anyway.  Um, seriously, thank you.  I'm so glad I didn't miss out on this dish!

So, what we had here was, well, gravlax arancini.  Fried, salmon-y rice balls.  They were perfectly executed.  I think the reason I don't generally find arancini that interesting is that they are often kinda soggy, or too oily, or dried out.  These suffered none of those problems.  The balls had a crispy exterior, and a creamy interior.  They were hot and fresh.  The flavor of the gravlox was prominent.

On top was a few sprigs of fresh dill and pickled onion.  The arancini were served on top of steward sauce that really completed the deal.  Honestly, the balls were fine on their own, but combined with the sauce were even better.  It was herby, creamy, and exactly what you'd like with some gravlox.  I appreciated how much sauce was provided, as I'm such a sauce girl, and I didn't need to worry that I was taking more than my share of the sauce.  I also appreciated that it was on the bottom, rather than drizzled on top, so we could each take as much (or little) as we wanted, and it didn't make the balls soggy.

This dish really had everything going on.  Texture-wise, it had crunch and creaminess.  It was familiar and approachable, yet unexpected and playful: we've all had gravlox, we've all had arancini, just never like this before.

This dish was the clear winner off the night.  Everybody (well, except our vegetarian) exclaimed at how good it was.  The 6th, extra, ball was rapidly claimed.  My favorite dish, and I could have easily eaten an entire order myself.  Thank goodness the kitchen knew how amazing these were, and sent us that second order!

At $7 for 3, the price is really reasonable too.


We also ordered all 3 of the appetizers, again, 2 were vegetarian.  They were double the price of the snacks, $14, and sized more accordingly.  The appetizers were the least exciting section of the menu.
Country Line Farms Baby Lettuces.
"Tangy buttermilk dressing, pickled walnuts, broccolini, candied kumquats."

I apologize for this awful photo.  It was dim in the room, and this was placed on the other end of the table from me.  If I were a real blogger, I'd have a real camera, or I'd at least get up and try to position the food so I could photo it, but, alas, I'm a lazy hoax, and I just snapped a quick pic from my seat.

As I mentioned, all the snacks and apps arrived at once, and were spread out across the table.  Since I went for the hot items first (and the nosh mix cuz I was excited for it),, like the olives, I missed this one.  Not that I was super excited for salad anyway, but the pickled walnuts and candied kumquats sounded like fun components (although, broccolini?  An odd choice).

Anyway, I only got a token slice of kumquat that somehow got left on the plate.  It was delicious, as you'd expect from a candied kumquat, but I can't really say much else about this salad.
Indian Fry Bread & Spread.
"Six-minute egg, whipped linguiça, & goat cheese."

Next up we had the signature Instagram dish for Cadence: the Indian Fry Bread.  I had seen many photos of this previously, so I attempted to prepare my table for what this would be, but, I don't think they really grasped it.

What shows up is a big, puffy, crispy, crazy looking dish, topped with herbs and dusted with spices.  It doesn't look like "bread" and you certainly don't see the egg, goat cheese, or spread that the description promises.
Indian Fry Bread & Spread: Inside.
You don't see the goodies that is, until you crack the "shell" of the fried bread, to find it all inside, including a whole egg.  Continuing the Instagram-worthy nature of the dish, then you cut into the egg, to let the yolk spill out all over the place, and you have achieved ultimate food porn.  The egg was a perfect specimen.

So, let's back up.  Was it fun to break open the fried shell?  Of course.  And I really loved the shell, it was super crispy, and ridiculously well seasoned.  I liked breaking off chunks and nibbling on them, and all my nibbling desires that were not met by the nosh mix were met by this.  Think of this more like a cracker than a bread though.

But, as you may know by now, I'm not a fan of goat cheese, so, I wasn't interested in the filling.  I tried a bite, just to be sure that somehow the linguiça didn't totally mask the goat flavor, but, alas, goat cheese.

So, not the filing for me, but really a fun dish, and, like the nosh mix, one I'd love to see a future version of, just sans goat cheese.  If others wanted to get this version again, I'd still go for it, as I liked the shell enough on its own.
Roasted Spicy Cauliflowers.
"Smoky harissa, watercress, slivered almonds, cauliflower yogurt."

The final app was just roasted cauliflower.  I would have left this one off if we were not ordering all the things, just because I'm kinda sick of cauliflower.  I love roasted (or fried!) cauliflower, but, after a long winter, I'm ready to move on to spring ingredients.

Anyway, the cauliflower was fine, seasoned with harissa, which also gave it a lovely color.  I'm a sauce girl, so you know I love to have something to drag my bites through.  Unfortunately, I'm not a huge yogurt fan, it was just too tangy for me, in the way that yogurt is.

The almonds were a nice surprise, they weren't just any slivered almonds, they were ... almond brittle!  A very fun element, and, being a textures person, I really liked the crunch they added.

I also felt this was a bit strange as an appetizer, it seemed more like a side dish.  I was expecting something a bit more exciting/breaded/fried for an appetizer, although I realize it said "roasted", and, really, why do I assume appetizers should be fried?  Anyway, my least favorite dish and one I'd skip in the future.


Moving along, the next section of the menu is dubbed "In-Betweens".  Only two items are in this section, one seafood, one vegetarian.  (Side note: Since every single other section of the menu contained three items, the OCD person in me really, really wanted a third choice here.  Just for balance).

Anyway, what are In-Betweens?  These are not small snacks, not normal sized appetizers, but also not full size entrees.  They are, in-between.  Priced accordingly, at $18 each.

This is the only area where we skipped a dish, the Mélange of Seafood, even though I quite wanted it.  But a bowl with fried catfish chunks and smoked sablefish in a light clam broth just didn't seem very shareable, so, we didn't get it.

Our single In-Between was delivered at the same time as our entrees.
Hand Rolled Potato Gnocchi.
"Charred cabbage, carrot butter, caraway, sarsaparilla"

Take a moment just to admire this one.  The chef's fine dining background is quite obvious in the plating of these larger dishes.

Our plate had several gnocchi, decently sized, soft, tender pillows of potato, with a slight sear on the outside.  I really loved the super charred cabbage as it was ridiculously smoky.   I'm a sucker for smoky flavors.

Carrot showed up in two forms, one was a pool of creamy carrot butter in the center of the plate, with an intense carrot flavor.  The second was shaved ribbons and a few coins of pickled, tart carrot arranged on top.  They added a hit of acidity I didn't even realize I wanted until I tasted it.

I'm not quite sure where the caraway or sarsaparilla were, perhaps in the powder on the plate, perhaps something was braised with them?  We didn't get much of a description of the dish when it was set down, and I was too busy writing down details of all the dishes arriving at the time to follow up.

Portion-wise, this actually could make a nice reasonably main dish, particularly if you order a snack and an app as well, or want room for dessert.  Or, if you wanted a longer meal you could course it out, and have as a mid-course before your entree.  Lots of flexibility with this menu.

It was a fine dish, but, not something I'd see a reason to get again.


Moving on to the final savory section, the entrees.  We ordered all three.  Here there were no vegetarian options, only one seafood, one red meat, and one poultry.  Our vegetarian considered just ordering his own order of the gnocchi, but, our server checked with the kitchen, and was able to offer the main dish from the tasting menu for him instead.  I didn't get a photo, nor a bite, but I did catch him saying, "Now that is some good risotto!"

Entrees are priced at $28, more than anything else on the menu, but ridiculously reasonable considering the size and execution.  You could easily pay $35+ for any of these elsewhere, for far smaller portions and less elaborate plating, and not blink an eye.  Portion-wise, they all seemed appropriate for sharing, I can't really imagine just polishing off one of these plates as an individual.

The entrees all showed off the plating skills of the kitchen, and the proteins were all executed well.  For me though, the star of each and every one of the entrees was the sauce.

Our entrees arrived at the same time as the gnocchi, and, even though we only ordered one of each, the kitchen went ahead and doubled up the chicken.
Charred Miso-Braised Short Rib.
"Toasted green onion, fried taro, forbidden rice."

Another poor photo, I'm sorry.  It was placed far away from me.

I'll be honest, short ribs aren't generally my thing.  So, I let the others all dig into this, and only went for it after I'd tried the other hot dishes, so, I didn't have it hot and fresh.  I wish I had.  It was delicious!

A generous portion of short ribs, smothered in a delicious sauce, served atop forbidden rice, garnished with some beautiful curls of spring onion and super thinly sliced fried taro disks.

The meat was very tender, fall off the bone.  I loved the fried taro disks on top, although, being a taro lover, I would have liked to see even more taro in this dish.  But the little disks did add a great crunch.

That was all good, but it was the sauce that made me go back for more and more of this dish.  It was insanely delicious.  It was salty, in a "chef's palette" sort of way, which I happen to enjoy, and went very nicely with my cocktail.

I polished off this plate, long after it had grown cold, because I just couldn't get enough of the sauce.  My favorite of the entrees, and my second favorite dish, after the arancini.  Although, in retrospect, it might actually have been my favorite, as, several days later, that sauce is the most memorable ...  I'd get this again obviously.
Air Dried Mary's Chicken Roulade.
"Sage & onion stuffing, asparagus salad, roasted chicken chicory gravy."

This was another looker, plating wise.  The kitchen doubled up on this one too, so we didn't have to carve it up into tiny portions.

On each plate were two square slices of the stuffing and two pieces of the chicken.  On top of all that was an asparagus salad, with long thin ribbons of shaved asparagus.  I started noticing a theme of thin vegetable ribbons in this meal.

I didn't actually try the chicken, as I don't care for chicken, and there were other dishes I wanted to try more.  But, I do love asparagus (yes, spring!) and, even more, I love stuffing and gravy, so I did opt for those components.

The stuffing was in a form unlike any I'd ever had before, an actually square slice, almost like a patty.  It was moist and flavorful, particularly from the sage.

I dredged my stuffing through the gravy, another stellar sauce, again, salty in all the right ways.

So, I'm not a chicken lover, but, I did find comfort in the stuffing and gravy, and enjoyed the freshness of the asparagus salad.  One of my tablemates said, "its like fancy chicken nuggets".  Again, I tell you, I wasn't counting on this crew for quotes.
Passmore Ranch Whole Trout: Before.
"Thai green curry, wild rice, 'pile of herbs'".

The trout was another dish where I knew what to expect given my research, and my tablemates did not.  I knew that we'd be presented with a whole fish, and it would be deboned at the table.  I also knew that the head would come back to us, and, that I should hold off on devouring all the fish, as a very tasty sauce would return alongside that head.

Our server did a decent job of deboning, but I'm sure that me sitting there watching critically and obviously taking notes was slightly unnerving.  Several of my tablemates did mention finding pinbones in their fish though.

The "pile of herbs" on top was, literally, a pile of herbs.  A rather strange way to plate it, as the fish was totally buried and the server had to move it all aside to debone it anyway, and the herbs were fresh, so they weren't used to infuse the fish while cooking.

As for the fish, it was good, moist, tender, delicate with a crispy sear.  The thai green curry flavors were fantastic, including plentiful lemongrass.  The wild rice was a bit crunchy, in a good way, as  can't stand mushy rice.

Overall, very good, and I really appreciated all the thai flavors, I wasn't expecting thai food at Cadence.
Passmore Ranch Whole Trout: The Head!
As I said, I knew the head and spine would be coming back to us, fried, and plated up quite nicely, along with delicious sauce.  I urged everyone to wait for the sauce to dip their fish into, but, most of them did not.

The sauce was fantastic, super spicy.  Are you noticing a theme?  Another great sauce.

I thought it was sad that no one else really got to enjoy the sauce though, and it seems like either the server should give a head's up that it is coming, or, the sauce should come with the fish.  It is a shame to miss out on the sauce!


The dessert menu, just like all sections besides the In-Betweens (ahem!), had three options, and, just like the mains, we ordered them all.  The kitchen choose to double up on not one, but two of these.  Clearly, they must have known that I was there.  You know me, I live for desserts.  Interestingly, each dessert option fell in the general "pudding" category: a custard, a panna cotta, and a pudding.  Given that this is my favorite class of desserts, I'm not complaining, but, it did seem less diverse than I'd expect.

The desserts were all far more complex than their simple names, and the price point of only $10 each, would indicate.  They also seemed more daring than the savory menu.  I can safely say that my family members for example wouldn't know what to do with these desserts, whereas they could probably figure out nosh mix, salad, and chicken with stuffing.

I welcomed the unique aspects, like the carrot sorbet with the pudding and the red miso sorbet with the custard, but, you certainly had to approach the desserts with an open mind.  They were composed of many components, and I could see where the pastry chef was going with each of them, but none of them quite came together for me.

Madeira was also consumed by my tablemates alongside dessert, but I still had a cocktail to finish, so didn't opt for any additional beverages myself.
Yogurt Panna Cotta.
"Winter citrus, jasmine rice mousse, green tea."

Although I love panna cotta, I wasn't particularly excited about this, so I was glad the kitchen didn't double up on this one.  As I mentioned earlier, yogurt isn't my favorite thing, I don't really care for citrus desserts, and, I didn't want the caffeine from the green tea.

The green tea came in the form of a crumble, which I didn't try.  I know I must have tried a bite of the panna cotta, but, I don't have notes, and I don't have a memory of trying it.  Did I really not try it?  That doesn't seem possible.  Maybe the others finished it before I got a chance?
Dark Chocolate Custard.
"Red velvet, red miso, chocolate wafers."

The chocolate dessert is the one that most people at the table were interested in, and although we only ordered one, we received two.  No one complained.

I normally do not eat chocolate desserts in the evening due to caffeine, but I decided to live on the edge and go for it.

The custard was excellent.  Perfectly creamy, rich, very good chocolate flavor.  Textbook, although served in a bar form, which is not what we expected.

Red velvet came in the form of torn pieces of red cake on top.  I can't say I really understood this element although the pop of color was nice.

Also on top was a scoop of red miso sorbet.  Yes, red miso sorbet.  It was crazy flavorful.  Miso is never really a subtle taste, so if you tried to just eat the sorbet, it was way too much.  Combined with the chocolate custard though it certainly was interesting.

I liked the custard itself, but I didn't quite enjoy this as a cohesive dessert.
White Chocolate Pudding.
"Carrot sorbet, puffed barley, rye."

The dessert I was most interested in was this one, the White Chocolate Pudding.  Pudding is always a favorite dessert of mine.  The carrot sorbet also caught my eye, as just a few days prior I had a really lovely carrot based cheese course at Keiko a Nob Hill, so the idea of a carrot dessert was quite appealing.  I was the only person interested in this dessert, but the kitchen doubled up on it, so, everyone else tried a bite, but no one else really cared for it, so, I had about 1.5 of these to myself.

I wasn't quite sure what to think of it.  First, I actually did kind of want a comforting pudding, not a beautiful dessert.  There was pudding here, but it wasn't something I could dip my spoon into and savor.  The pudding was very thick and rich, and did actually taste like white chocolate.  It actually was just a bit too rich for me, I couldn't really take more than a bite or two without a break, and certainly not without mixing other components in.  But maybe I wasn't supposed to just want spoonfuls of pudding?

The puffed barely turned out to be crispy cracker-like things stuck into the pudding.  I really liked these, since, as I've mentioned, I'm all about textures.  I liked actually slathering a crispy thing with some pudding, and eating it that way.  There was also a crumble that I believe was made from the barley and rye.  Interestingly, these components had salt to them.  I liked it.  Sweet and salty, always a good thing in my book.

Finally, the carrot sorbet.  It had an intense carrot flavor and was quite refreshing.  It was needed against the rich pudding.  The garnish was also carrot (greens).

Overall, this was certainly an interesting dessert, and I can see the care that went into crafting it, but, it still wasn't quite balanced for me.  Yes, it had creamy pudding, icy sorbet, and crunchy crispy things, and it had refreshing sorbet to balance the rich pudding, but ... it still wasn't quite right for me.  However, it was my favorite of the desserts.
Mignardises: Coconut Caramel, Coffee Marshmallow.
And, last but not least, after our desserts, we were delivered a little tray of candies, individually wrapped.  There were two types of treats - coffee marshmallows and coconut caramels, one of each for each of us.  I was pretty stuffed, and happily full of sweets, so I threw mine (and the unclaimed extras!) into my purse to enjoy the next morning.

As an aside, I really love it when I get to take something home, as it makes the next day special too.  And obviously, I don't just mean leftovers!  For example, there are places like The French Laundry that send you out the door with cookies and chocolates, or, as I prefer, places that send me with baked goods for the next morning like the kouign amann from Cyrus.  Since Cadence is not a zillion course tasting menu like those aforementioned places, I certainly wasn't expecting a take-home item, and these were just small tokens, but, still, I loved having them as a reminder of my meal, and a tasty treat, the next morning.

Both items went perfectly with my morning cup of coffee.  The coconut caramels were really fascinating, a perfect chewy texture, nice and smooth.  I loved the coconut flavor in them.

The marshmallow was just ok.  Maybe I'm just over the fancy marshmallow trend (like the plain ones from Bécasse Bakery in Sydney, the fruity ones from The Bazaar down in Los Angeles, the intense strawberry one from Biscuit Bender, and the really awesome root beer marshmallows from Tout Sweet) .  It had a slight coffee flavor, and was nicely soft and fresh, but, meh, just a marshmallow.