Friday, July 29, 2016

Mr. Cheese O's

Sonoma Creamery is a cheese maker, located in Sonoma County.  They specialize in jack cheese, and have been making it since the 1930s.  They make wedges, nuggets, and party platters with pre-sliced cheese, all under the Sonoma Jack name.  The best I can tell, they don't actually make standard blocks of cheese.

But don't worry, I'm not about to start just randomly reviewing cheeses.  Sonoma Creamery also makes cheese snacks, and, you know me, I'm always out to find fun new snacks to munch on.  One of their product lines is Parmesan crisps, basically, cheesy crackers made with quinoa to amp up the protein.  Like your cheese and crackers, in one.  I didn't try these.

Instead I went for the far more fun sounding product: Mr. Cheese O's.

"Mr. Cheese O's puts the goodness of Sonoma Cheese into a portable, crunchy snack you can enjoy everywhere! Made with 100% real cheese and organic quinoa, this protein packed snack is sure to please the whole family!"

While I don't actually care for quinoa that much, this sounded promising, and I welcomed the idea of having a cheesy munchy, that also packed in some protein.  The Cheese O's come in a slew of flavors too: ranging from basic parmesan or cheddar, to tuscan herb, french onion, zesty bbq, and sweet chili.  When I saw the sweet chili, I was sold.  I love sweet chili flavor.

But, I didn't love these.

Oh, and if it matters to you, yes they are gluten-free (and corn free), and non-GMO, and low carb.
Sweet Chili.
"Sweet Chili combines real parmesan and other cheeses with chili peppers, quinoa and a hint of sweetness in a light, crunchy, totally awesome snack."

It turns out, Mr. Cheese O's are indeed O's.  Little rings.  I eagerly opened my bag, ready to like these.  Crunchy cheese snacks, with sweet chili flavor?  So much potential here, and, if I could snag some protein along the way, I could justify eating them anytime.  I really wanted to like them.

The form factor was cute.  I liked the texture and crunch.  But ... they were just strange.  I didn't taste cheese really.  I didn't taste quinoa either.  But, I also didn't taste sweet chili.  They were spicy, but, not sweet, and not the signature sweet chili sauce flavor I was looking for.

Along with the quinoa, there was also oat bran and brown rice in the rings.  They really were fairly healthy.  But, alas, I didn't like them.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hood Ice Cream

As you know, when I travel to other offices, one thing I love is trying the assorted ice cream novelties from our office ice cream freezers.  Partially, this is just because I love ice cream.  But it is also a fun way to learn about some unique cultural aspects of other areas, since their frozen treats generally reflect something about the place, like Golden Gaytimes and Pine-Lime Splices in Australia, the higher quality Nestlé items in Canada compared to Nestlé in the US, the high quality Mövenpick in Zurich, and many, many more.
Ice Cream Freezer in Cambridge.
But on one recent trip, I was visiting Cambridge, MA.  Not exactly a different country, and I expected the ice cream to be standard Nestlé or Good Humor products, which I've not been impressed with.  Instead, they had products from Hood, a New England based company.  A careful reader might remember that the two soft serve ice cream places in my hometown that I raved about, Dairy Twirl and Ice Cream Fore-U, both use Hood as their ice cream base.  So, I'm familiar with the company, just not their frozen novelties.

Their frozen novelties are all the same sort of items that other manufacturers make: eclairs, sundae cones, chocolate wafer ice cream sandwiches, etc.  I didn't care for them, which is sad, given how amazing the soft serve base is.
Chocolate Eclair Bar.
"Crunch coated vanilla flavored ice cream & chocolate flavored center".

This wasn't good.  The ice cream was icy, not creamy, and not really vanilla flavored.  The coating wasn't really crunchy, more like a mushy crumb on the outside.  It didn't have any flavor either.  Even as this warmed up and got more melty, and a *bit* more creamy, it still wasn't good.  Meh.

Update Review: I didn't take my own advice and re-read my past review.  I just had a memory of a decent ice cream in the past, and thought it was this.  It wasn't.  Just like last time, I felt the ice cream wasn't remotely creamy enough.  The coating was just mushy.  And I didn't like the chocolate ice cream at all.  Ojan had one and enjoyed it though, but for me, really, no point in trying more of these!
Strawberry Shortcake Bar.
"Crunch coated vanilla flavored ice cream & strawberry flavored center."

Next I tried the Strawberry Shortcake bar, basically the strawberry version of the chocolate eclair.

It was slightly better, or maybe I knew what to expect better this time around.  I really didn't like the "strawberry flavored center", it was sweet, fake tasting, and certainly not ice cream.  The vanilla ice cream around that wasn't great, not very creamy, but better than the strawberry.

I did like the pink and white crunchy coating.  Ok, it wasn't crunchy, but the crumb coating was tasty enough.

Overall, slightly better, I liked the coating, but, not something I want another of.

[ No Photo ]
Nutty Cone.

Their version of Drumstick, et al.  It was awful.

The vanilla ice cream was not creamy.  The nuts on top tasted kinda stale, and not like peanuts.  The cone was lined with chocolate the whole way, rather than just the tip, but, it didn't save it from being horribly soggy.  Oh, and the tip wasn't filled with chocolate.  One of the worst cones I've had.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Area Four, Cambridge, MA

Area Four is (mostly) a pizza place in Cambridge, MA.  They have won several "Best of Boston" awards, have been on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and are known for their commitment to sustainable sourcing, quality ingredients, and not taking shortcuts.

I said "mostly" a pizza place, because the space is really two establishments, one is a coffee shop with pastries and the like, the other, the pizza parlor.  The pizza place is open for lunch and dinner daily, and brunch on weekends, and features a big wood fired oven in the center.  I didn't get a chance to experience brunch, but those items are also baked in the oven, like an incredible sounding baked french toast with bourbon, fruit, and pecans and a bunch of dishes called "messes", which are eggs and other goodies cooked in skillets in the wood oven.

My visit was for dinner, with a group of 8, including children.  Which might start to explain why I was at a pizza place, as, well, pizza is never really at the top of my list of cuisines, particularly when I have a limited amount of time in a city (unless I'm waffling it of course!).  But, we needed somewhere that could seat 8, was child friendly, and near our office in Cambridge.  Area Four seemed like a natural fit, as it gets great reviews for the food, and the kids would like it too.

So, how was it?  Meh.

Service wasn't particularly good, and the pacing of the food was pretty bad.  We ordered two starters, two salads, and 4 pizzas for the group, all of which arrived within 5 minutes of each other.  The timing of the initial items was fine, pretty fast after we ordered, but it really would have been nice to enjoy the starters before the onslaught of pizzas arrived.  And then, after we ordered dessert, it took 30 minutes for the dessert to come.  I had honestly started to believe they had forgotten it, and, such a long wait wasn't exactly child-friendly.  30 minutes for dessert, at a casual joint, is just too much.

Besides just the poor timing, we also weren't really well taken care of.  After our dessert order went in, our table was only half-cleared.  Some of the pizza stands were left behind, bits of food and wrappers were left behind, it was just a mess.  The napkins were all removed and replacements never brought.  At least we had water jugs on the table so we didn't need someone to fill our glasses.

Overall, it was a fine choice for the occasion, but I don't think I'd return.  If I did, it would be for basically just one thing: dessert.  The pizza was fairly lackluster, but, the dessert quite delicious.

The Setting

Area Four is located near Kendall Square in Cambridge, just a few blocks down from our office, alongside a park (in an area I think known as technology park).
Outside Seating.
During the pleasant time of year, Area Four has substantial seating out front and along the side.  It was a beautiful evening when we visited, and I wished we were able to sit outside, but, our group was too large for those tables, they were mostly groups of two or four.
High Table.
The space inside was a mix of standard tables and high tables.  Groups ranged from pairs to large groups of 8 or 10.  We were a group of 8 and had a collection of smaller tables pushed together.

Tables were pretty basic, casual, wooden tops, with noisy metal chairs.

The walls were decorated with permanent chalkboards noting their principles of good ingredients, sustainability, etc.

There was also a bar area and the main focal point was the pizza ovens in the middle of the room.  It is a fairly big space, and, a loud one.  Perhaps it was just due to our group size, but I couldn't hear anyone at the other end of the table, and spent the whole night unable to really participate in conversation.  I don't think the concrete floors and metal chairs helped with sound dampening.
Dry Goods: Not the bathroom.
Our place settings were white plates, cloth napkins with a fork and huge knife, and water glass.  Water carafes were brought to the table so we could serve ourselves more water as we wanted.  I thought the knives were crazy, until we got the pizza, and I realized they were necessary.

There were a lot of doors leading out of the main dining area.  Clearly, people often assume they lead to bathrooms, as they are all marked that they are explicitly NOT the bathroom.

The first door I saw said "Dry Goods (not the bathroom...)"  I thought it was mildly funny, until I saw more doors.
Office: Also not the bathroom.
The next one was better, the office, marked as "... also not the bathroom".  I laughed out loud when I saw that one.
Emergency Exit: Definitely not the bathroom
But the best was the the emergency exit to the outside, or, "definitely not the bathroom."

I thought these were all a cute, fun touch.
Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes.
On each table was a selection of condiments: salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, all in cute little jars.  I expected oregano or parmesan cheese shakers too, but, this was it.  I don't think any of us used the seasonings, but, I appreciated the cute jars.

Savory Food

Simple Menu.
The menu is not large, consisting of "Not Pizza" and "Pizza".  Besides pizza, there was exactly one type of salad, one soup, a few appetizers (ribs, spreads and pita, garlic knots), sides (roasted zucchini, papas bravas, or mushrooms), and a few random entrees (chicken, arctic char, mac and cheese).  The pizza selection was 10 pizzas, along with a special of the day.  And that was it.

Pizza is clearly the focus, and every table ordered it.  Area Four does one thing different with their pizza than most ... they use sourdough as the base.  This might raise alarm bells for you if you've been a reader of my blog for a while.  You might realize how I feel about sourdough.  Yup, I hate it.  So when I saw the proclamation "12-year-old starter + flour + water + salt. No oil or sugar. Ever. Over 30 hours of fermentation. Handcrafted cheese. 1 wood-fire oven. Simplicity at it’s best.", let's just say my heart kinda sunk.  How did I not pick up on that fact when reading the reviews?

Still, I pressed on.  We ordered a few salads since I knew the others value their greens, some garlic knots as they are the items people rave about (even more than the pizzas), and of course,  pizzas.  Our server told us that each small pizza serves one person, which turned out to be totally misleading.  We had way too much pizza, and wound up with 1.5 full pizzas extra at the end of the night that nobody wanted.  And sadly, I was traveling, so I couldn't bring it home to waffle!
City Grower's Mixed Greens.  $12.
"Fennel, Radish, Apple, Carrot, Almonds, Manchego & Lemon Vinaigrette."

We started with salad, because I had read good reviews about the salads and I knew the others like to eat healthier.

I can't say I understand the reviews at all.  It was just a salad.  Generic mixed greens, sliced fennel, shredded carrots and apple, chunks of radish, shaved manchego cheese, and chunks of almond.  I guess the different cuts were kinda interesting, and I appreciated the crunch from the almond, but, really, there was nothing remarkable about this salad, and it is the only kind on the menu.

The dressing was a very tangy lemon vinaigrette, too tangy, and too lemony for my tastes.  I didn't really like anything about this salad, and wouldn't get it again.
Garlic Knots (3). $6.
"Red Sauce, Pecorino, Crispy Garlic & Gremolata."

Next came an order of garlic knots, the item I had read the most rave reviews about.  Even more than the pizza really.  Garlic knots are available plain, with red sauce on the side as pictured here, or smothered with cheese sauce.  Both get great reviews, and seemed really different, so, we opted for an order of each.

They were served in a basket on a piece of parchment paper, with the tomato sauce on the side.  The knots were fresh from the oven and warm, with some cheese, garlic, and herbs on top.  I liked how they had a toasted exterior.  They were pleasantly doughy inside.

But ... I could taste the sourdough.  Yup, the knots were also made from the same dough as the pizza, and thus, sourdough.

I dunked mine in the sauce to try to mask the sourdough, which helped a little.  The sauce was tangy, good tomato sauce, served warm.

Overall, these were fine, but fairly boring, and, well, too sourdoughy.  Like the salad, I didn't see anything particularly noteworthy about them.

The plain garlic knots came 3 to an order, a reasonable portion for $6, and easy enough for us to share.
Supreme Knots (5). $13.
"5 Knots in Red Sauce, Covered in Melted Cheese."

I really had my eyes on the supreme knots though.  These were served in a skillet, a huge mound of 5 of the knots, covered in the tangy tomato sauce, and then absolutely smothered in cheese.  I mean, seriously, look at that mountain of garlic knots!

I eagerly dove into this, expecting it to be the item of the night for me.  It was really hard to serve, as the cheese was really thick, stringy, and hard to get through.  Undeterred, I cut off a chunk of a knot, severed the strings of cheese going everywhere, and dug in, leaving the others to deal with extracting chunks themselves.

I liked this MUCH more than the plain knots.  The red sauce soaked into the knots since it was put on before the cheese and then it was all baked together, so it kinda made the bread soggy, like a bread pudding, where it touched.  This might not sound like a good thing, but, I did like how it really soaked up the sauce, and it created a textural difference where the soggy saucy bits were versus the crispy bits without sauce.

Like the plain knots, the garlic flavor was strong, and I apreciated all the extra herbs.  Very good flavors.

But the star of the show here was the cheese.  I think it was mozzarella.  It was melty, it was stringy, and it was a perfect combo with the tangy red sauce.

This was basically pizza, just, in a more fun form.  I suspect it is the same dough, the same red sauce, the same cheese.  Just here, the bread component is more doughy, and there is tons of garlic and herbs.

Overall, this was pretty tasty, and a bit more of a unique dish.  It was my favorite savory item of the night, and I'd get it again, but, I really wish it wasn't sourdough.  I could still taste way too much sourdough, even through all the other great flavors.

The portion of 5 knots for this was a bit odd compared to the 3 for the regular knots.  With all the cheese on this, it was not a light item, and I really don't think anyone would want more than one full knot out of here, so, you needed a large party to split this with.  Why not offer as only 3 like the plain knots?
Small Hawaiian (front) $16.50.  Small Margherita (back). $13.
Moments after the garlic knots were delivered, so were the first pizzas.  Our table was full within seconds.  And it was all hot food, quickly getting cold.  This made me pretty upset, as I wanted to have the time to enjoy the garlic knots without rushing to eat the rapidly cooling pizzas.

I didn't pick any of the pizza, since I knew they had sourdough crust, and I was mostly planning to fill up on garlic knots and dessert.  The others picked 4 pizzas: Hawaiian, clam and bacon, the special of the day, plus a simple pizza for the kids.  None of these are the pizzas I would have picked, and I almost spoke up, suggesting the ones I thought sounded better, like the "Not Pepperoni" with sopressata and pecorino, or the sausage and banana pepper, or even the white anchovy.  I was also tempted by the caramelized onion with onion sauce, candied walnuts, and green onions.  But, since I wasn't planning to eat much pizza, I let them make all the decisions.

None of the pizzas were well cut, and everyone struggled removing slices.  No wonder they provided us with the massive knives?

"A4 Mozzarella, Tomato, Ham, Cilantro & Scallions, Roasted Pineapple Salsa."

Of the pizzas we ordered, the Hawaiian sounded the best, so I took a small slice.  I was not impressed.  The crust was soggy, perhaps from all the moisture from the pineapple chunks.  It was hard to pick up a slice without it flopping all over the place.

The pineapple "salsa" just seemed to be chunks of I guess roasted pineapple, soft, and sweet.  The ham was slices, a bit salty, a nice contrast to the sweet fruit.  Tangy red sauce was under this all and there was way too much cilantro on top.

Overall, pretty lackluster.  Only 2 slices total of this were eaten, as no one wanted it.  I'm not sure why they ordered it.

"A4 Mozzarella, Tomato, Pecorino & Basil."

The margherita was for the kids, just a basic cheese pizza.  The little girl, who I've never really seen interested in food, single handedly took down a couple slices of it.  She asked for more and more, again, something I had never seen from her.  It must have been good for a kid's palette!

"Clam Sauce, Pecorino, Hot Pepper & Parsley."

Not pictured is the clam and bacon, the top pick of one diner.  Others also raved about it, so I tried a bite, even though I really don't tend to like clams and this sounded, and looked, totally unappetizing to me.  And ... yeah, super chewy clams, in a fishy white sauce.  I wanted to spit it out.  They all liked it though and it was the only pizza to get finished, so, clearly I was the outlier.
Small Special. $16.
The final pizza was the daily special.  I did not hear the description of it, it was not on the menu, and I didn't even realize we were ordering it until someone threw it onto our order at last minute, so I can't tell you what it was exactly.  I think it was topped with a garlic white sauce, slices of zucchini, spinach, pecorino, and lemon wedges (presumably to drizzle over it?)

Again, I didn't like the crust, but, the zucchini was nicely cooked and I liked how crispy the spinach was on top.  There was some interesting flavor at least to this.  The lemon wedges were super random.

The Sweet Stuff

The dessert menu, titled "The Sweet Stuff" was very small.  It had two items on it: a seasonal crisp or fresh baked cookies.  Of course, I had done my research, and knew that these "cookies" were not really cookies in the traditional sense.  They are skillet cookies, aka, cookie dough baked in a cast iron skillet in the wood oven, served piping hot and ooey gooey.  While I don't like cookies, these don't really count as cookies in my book.  And what's better, each "cookie" comes with a sauce, but, you can also opt to add a scoop of daily ice cream from Toscanini's, arguably the best ice cream in Boston.  Oh, and they are huge.

So, yes, cookies, but warm, and with quality ice cream?  I had my eyes on these before we even arrived.  Of course I saved room for dessert.
Sweet Stuff Menu.
Our choices for "cookies" were chocolate macadamia nut with chocolate sauce, peanut butter oat with caramel, and butterscotch chocolate chip with caramel.  The daily ice cream choices were vanilla, strawberry, or salty caramel.  The crisp was rhubarb.  Since we knew the desserts were large, we opted to double up, two people per dessert

One child and adult pair went for the chocolate macadamia.  I was too far away to snap a photo, but it looked like a chocolatey delight, topped with chocolate sauce, and they added on vanilla ice cream.  It was devoured quickly.

My partner's first instinct was the peanut butter oat, which I would have gladly gone for, but I also suggested the butterscotch chocolate chip, so we went for that instead.  I opted for salted caramel ice cream, because I really love having cold ice cream with warm desserts, although my fellow diner was inclined to get it without.

Finally, a few others wanted the rhubarb crisp.  I adore fruit crisps, particularly hot and fresh ones, but, I loathe rhubarb, so I was pretty sad it was the seasonal crisp on offer.

As I mentioned earlier, desserts took a very, very long time to arrive.  During the wait, our table was only half cleared, we still had pizza stands and lots of chunks of food laying around.  At one point, someone came and took away all the napkins and replacements were never brought.  I thought our dessert was forgotten, until a while later, when someone brought out a plate with 9 spoons on it (there was 8 of us).  Finally, literally, 35 minutes later, our desserts arrived.

They were worth it.  Incredible.  Highlight of the meal, by far.
Fresh Baked Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookie with Caramel Sauce. $7.  Salty Caramel Ice Cream. $2.
"Fresh Wood Fired Cookie."

OMG, OMG, OMG.  That is basically all I have to say about this.  Ok, if I have to pick three other words, they would be: gooey, hot, yum.

The "cookies" are served in round cast iron skillets with handles, still super hot, fresh out of the oven.

It was as ooey-gooey as I hoped it would be.  It was sweet and buttery.  I didn't actually taste butterscotch, but I didn't mind.  It did have plentiful chocolate chips.

The caramel sauce on top was almost too much sweet for me, and I sorta wished it wasn't there.  The cookie was sweet, the ice cream was sweet, and the sauce just pushed it over the top.

The ice cream was great, it had a touch of saltiness to it, but otherwise was sweet caramel.  It was smooth and creamy.  I see why people love Toscaninis.

I thought the ice cream was necessary to compliment the warm goo and the sweetness, but my fellow diner said it was fine without.  I think the cookie and just the caramel would have been a bit much, I would have at least wanted whipped cream, if I wasn't getting the ice cream.  But really, the ice cream was perfect.

I really liked this, and we easily devoured it.  It was hard for me to share bites with the others who wanted to try it.  It was all I could do to stop myself from saying "no", and meaning it.  It was all I could do to stop myself from not even letting my companion have his portion (I'm pretty certain he didn't get close to half anyway).

I'd clearly get this again, and would also like to try that peanut butter one.
Rhubarb Crisp. $7.
"Almond oat crumble, topped with whipped sweet cream and salted caramel sauce."

As I said, I hate rhubarb, but I love fruit crisps.  And, I'll be honest, this looked pretty good.  Seriously, look at that mound of whipped cream!

When it was clear that this dessert wasn't going to get finished by the others, I tried a bite.  And ... it was even worse than I expected.  Not only was it rhubarb, it had tons of orange flavor.  I hate orange in desserts!

I can't really judge this fairly since I dislike the main flavors, but, it was a hot fresh crisp, and the topping was crispy and generous.
Area Four Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Breakfast at Zephyr on The Charles, Hyatt Regency, Cambridge

Zephyr on the Charles is the restaurant located at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MA.  As a Hyatt Diamond member, I had breakfast included in my rate, so, I checked it out.

I had a lot of hope for Zephyr on the Charles.  At some level, I should know better, as it is a hotel restaurant.  Hotel guests tend to be rather captive audiences.  But, on another, I've had some incredible hotel breakfasts.  The SLS Beverley Hills makes the most incredible dessert-like yogurt parfaits I'eve ever had, with excellent pastries to boot.  The executive lounge at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney has some pretty amazing selections (swoon, the waffles).  Le Meridien in Munich has a crazy extensive, high quality buffet (stay tuned).  Of course, I've had plenty of low points too.

Zephyr on the Charles *sounds* like it should be good too, right?  Or maybe it just sounds pretentious?  Take your pick.  The menu says thing that also lead one to believe that the food will be excellent:
"At Zephyr on The Charles the quality of our food is second to none. We pride ourselves on using the freshest ingredients sourced from local suppliers, and capitalizing on all that New England’s bounty has to offer. Whether it’s our sustainably fished seafood from Foley’s, fished right off of our coasts, or the exciting produce grown right here in Massachusetts by Jansal Valley Farms, we are committed to providing you with the best product available. We work closely with our suppliers and they too share our passion for local, sustainable foods."
The verdict? It was ... a mixed bag.  Certainly not worth raving about, or going to if you aren't a hotel guest, but, I did find a few hits.


Tables overlooking the Charles.
The setting, if you are able to sit inside the restaurant, is lovely, overlooking the Charles river.  There are also tables in the interior hotel atrium, a bit dark, dreary, and noisy, but also closer to the buffet.

I was given the choice of a nice view or closer access to the buffet, and, contrary to what you may have guessed, I went for the view.

Tables were set with cloth napkins, a coffee mug and juice cup, and silverware.  The juice cups regularly had fingerprints all over them.

Service was fairly prompt, but I didn't really need anything, so I can't comment much on that.
Jams, Honey.
An assortment of sugars, honey, and jam were on the tables.

The selection varied per table.  On my first day, I had only honey and one type of jam.  The next day, I had all unique jams, including strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, and apricot rose.  Another day, I couldn't find the cherry jam on any tables.  Very inconsistent stocking.


Coffee.  $2. (Or included with buffet).
The first day I tried the regular coffee.  It was crazy strong, and not particularly good.

The next day, I opted for decaf.  It tasted just the same as the regular.  Strong, not very good, although not offensive in a way I could pinpoint.

I was offered milk or cream alongside, but, I turned them down.  Standard sweeteners were available on the tables.
Orange Juice. $3. (Included in buffet).
Ojan asked for orange juice one morning when I got our buffets to go.  So I tried it.  It was ... generic orange juice, not fresh squeezed.


As a Diamond member, I had the choice of an a la carte entree or buffet.  On the first morning, unable to make decisions, I just went for the buffet.  I ate in the restaurant, and of course took several trips back and forth to the buffet.  The second morning, I ordered a la carte, again dining in the restaurant.  The third day, I opted for the full buffet again, but that time, I took it to go, after observing others do so.  I had a big suite upstairs, complete with dining table, so, why sit less comfortably in the restaurant?
Takeaway Full Buffet Feast (for 2).  $21.95 each.
I really appreciated the to go option for the buffet.  I was provided a large cardboard box with multiple compartments, a small plastic box, and my choice of drinks, plus a bag and silverware.  They had to-go items all ready up at the bar, so I think this was a fairly common request, and one they easily handled.

The buffet includes coffee (Torrefazione Italia) or tea (Tazo) and juice as well.

The buffet was fairly extensive, but not really the highest quality.  The full buffet does include a few standouts however: the egg chef (Roe), the whipped cream, and the scones.  More on all this soon.  Besides the eggs/whip/scone though, this was not a high quality buffet, and the eggs shown only because of the amazing personality and care of the egg chef.

Continental Buffet

You can opt for just the continental buffet for $14.95, or, the continental is included with the full buffet.
Fruit, Charcuterie, Cheese.
The buffet starts with fruit, sliced strawberries, pineapple, and melon.  None of it looked that great, so, I skipped it.  Ojan said the strawberries were good though.

Next was some equally mediocre looking charcuterie and cheese, all fairly standard sliced deli meats and cheeses that got limp and soft from sitting out too long.  No smoked salmon.  I tried what looked like brie, or some other triple cream, and it was highly unremarkable.

Definitely meager offerings compared to many of the fruit, charcuterie, and cheese offerings I've had at other buffets, like the amazing mango and lychee at the Sheraton on the Park, or the ridiculous selection of cheeses at Le Meridien Munich.

Fruit, Pastries.
Next was more fruit, whole bananas and apples, and the pastries.

Of course, the baked goods were of the most interest to me.

On the top row was what looked like apple filled turnovers and raisin braids.  Next came raspberry and lemon danishes, and iced cinnamon rolls. On the bottom were muffins.

None of this actually looked good, but, you know I can't resist my breakfast pastries.  I skipped the apple turnovers, raisin braids, and lemon danishes, as I don't generally like those things.

I started with the raspberry danish.  It tasted about as good as it looked.  As in, not.  The croissant dough was not flaky, it was not buttery, it was not laminated.  The raspberry filling was just goo.  Meh.  Definitely not worth a second bite.

The cinnamon roll had slightly more potential, as it had icing on top at least, and the center of any cinnamon roll is usually pretty delicious.  The outside layer was dried out as I expected, and the inside was slightly softer, but, not ooey-gooey.  It did have cinnamon between the layers, but, the cinnamon filling wasn't very flavorful.  The icing was sweet, but, it couldn't really do much to save this cinnamon roll.  Overall, highly mediocre.

I think all the muffins were the same kind.  At least, I couldn't tell from inspection any difference between them.  They looked dried out and even burnt on top.  One morning, I tried the muffin, which I think was banana nut (ok, I got one for Ojan, and he discarded it after one bite, so, I of course tried it).  It was as bad as it seemed, hard and dry on top, not moist inside, and without any particular good flavor.

I did not try the items from the top row.  (See, sometimes even I don't try all the pastries when they are so obviously bad!)
Cinnamon Scone.
The final morning however, the pastry display had a new item: scones!  Now, the scones didn't necessarily look that much better than the other items that I had already deemed not worth a second glance.  I still grabbed one.  I'm not sure why, except that I was getting the buffet to go, and figured I should hedge my bets in case I didn't like the other items I selected.  And, worse case, I figured I'd save it for my flight later in the day.

It turned out to be really good.  Not just better than the other items (low bar), but, actually good.  Even though I had a full meal, I still devoured more than half of it with my breakfast.  I forced myself to save the rest for the flight.

The scone turned out to be a cinnamon scone, studded with little cinnamon bits, flavorful little pops.  The top was coated in sugar and cinnamon, and formed a slightly caramelized layer.  The texture of the entire thing was good, not exactly crumbly, certainly not dry.  The base had a nice tang to it too.

It was quite good just on its own.  It was even better when I dunked it in the whipped cream that I loved.  The chunk I saved for my later flight held up fine.

Really, this was quite good, the highlight of all my trips to the buffet and restaurant.  I really wish they had them earlier in the week.  I'd clearly get one again.
Cereal and Yogurt.
Next came the cereal and yogurt.  Raisin bran, cheerios, fruit loops, and corn flakes for cereal, plain, nonfat, and strawberry for yogurt.

I moved right on.
After that was the bread selection, with sliced breads, bagels (including cinnamon raisin), and croissants, along with packaged cream cheese and peanut butter.

I pondered getting a croissant to make a breakfast sandwich, but, decided not to given the quality of the other baked goods.
Toasters, Toppings.
The final section of the continental buffet had toasters and some toppings.  The toppings included assorted nuts (sliced almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios) and dried fruits (apples, raisins, cranberries), along with brown sugar and granola.  You could use this with oatmeal or yogurt as you wished.

I got some granola to make a fruit crumble on the side, and it was fine, not remarkable, mostly kinda crushed and powdery.

Hot Buffet

The hot buffet is fairly extensive, with multiple hot sides and entrees, waffles, and eggs cooked to order for $21.95.  Still pricey, but, actually, more reasonable than most hotel breakfast buffets.
Hot Line, Part One.
The hot buffet began with some goopy looking oatmeal, chicken sausage and regular sausage, bacon, and flabby thin buttermilk pancakes.  The next day, the pancakes turned into equally poor looking french toast.

The only notable element was the warm maple syrup, which I tried, but I don't think was real maple syrup anyway.
Apple Crisp.
On my third morning, the pancake/french toast slot was replaced with apple crisp.  Oh, be still my heart.  Dessert for breakfast?  Yes!  (I mean really though, how different is apple crisp than a decadent danish, french toast slathered in toppings, etc?)

Anyway, it actually wasn't great.  It was mostly just chunks of apple, with a little mushy crisp topping.  There were a few plump golden raisins and cranberries in the mix too, but, that was about it.  Not much spicing.  Not much flavor.  Since the topping was mushy, nothing for crunch or contrast either.  It needed nuts, or thicker, crispier topping.

They do get points for having fruit crisp in the buffet in the first place, and for serving it warm, and with plenty of whipped cream on the side, but, alas, not a winner.
Hot Line, Part Two.
The final chafing dishes held uninspired scrambled eggs and decent looking breakfast potatoes, cubed, with onions and peppers.

But after that, things got interesting.  Waffles!  There was a cook next to the waffle maker, with a bowl of batter.  I really wanted to just ask for a fresh waffle, but, it was clear I was supposed to take one from the pile sitting under the heat lamp.

The waffle was ... ok.  It was light and crispy.  But lukewarm.  Really, mediocre quality, not really better than a frozen waffle.

But, the waffle toppings?  Fantastic!

On the side was a bowl of mixed fruit, mostly strawberries and blueberries, but I found some blackberries in there too.  The fruit was soft and covered in goo, likely sweetened.  Was it fresh, perfectly ripe, amazing fruit?  Nah.  But, it satisfied my sweet tooth.  The fruit was the same the second morning, and I again enjoyed the sweet gooey fruit with whipped cream (stolen from Ojan's buffet, since I actually ordered a la carte that day).  The third morning however, the fruit turned into a bowl of fresh berries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries.  While I missed the super sweet ooey-gooey mixed berries, I'll admit, it was nice to have fresh fruit.

Particularly when I combined it with ... WHIPPED CREAM!  Next to the fruit was a huge, huge bowl of fluffy whipped cream, topped with fresh blueberries.  It was not from a can.  It was really incredible whipped cream.  The whipped cream is what made my every meal.  I put it on the fruit, on the scones, on the crisp, on the waffles ... even in my coffee.  I ate it by the spoonful.  I know I sound ridiculous, but really, it was shockingly good whipped cream.

While I didn't care for the waffles, nor most of the baked goods, a large pile of the stewed berries, topped with way too much whipped cream, and some granola on top made for a wonderful treat.  Yes, dessert, but, quite tasty, and I balanced it by the next station ...
Egg Station.
The last area was a made-to-order egg station, offering eggs any way you wanted.  The cook had a big bowl of eggs in front of her, plus omelet base, and a slew of toppings to mix in.

She also had an incredible personality and really, really cared about her job.  I've never seen a buffet egg chef do such a fantastic job.  She was personable, and greeted everyone.  She asked your name, and called you by name, and also introduced herself.  If you wanted to go sit, she'd come find you with your order.

But she didn't just have personality.  She also cared about the product she was creating.  I watched her make an omelet, making sure to keep tilting the skillet to allow more egg to run under it, cooking it all properly.

After watching her make some other dishes, I decided to get eggs, even though I'm not really an egg person.  I don't like omelets or scrambles.  I do like fried eggs, but only over medium (I don't like totally runny yolks and I don't like cooked yolks).  But I think fried eggs are boring, and do want some veggies and cheese.  So, I tried my order, the one I do whenever I do get eggs to order, and rarely get anything successful.
Eggs Over Medium, with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Cheese.
My order?   Eggs over medium (aka, yolk not runny, but not totally hard), plus spinach and mushroom, plus cheese of course.

Usually when I order this, egg chefs look at me and don't quite know what to do.  They'll cook a fried egg, maybe flip it over once, and then throw some raw spinach, mushroom, and cheese on top and hand it over.  The egg is rarely actually done medium, the veggies usually not cooked, and the cheese unmelted.

But Roe delivered.  Perfect execution of every component, even though it looked like a crazy mess.

First, she cooked the spinach and mushrooms, wilting the spinach, cooking the mushrooms.  She asked if I wanted seasoning, and added the salt and pepper with a flourish, and, I think I even heard a "bam!", Emeril-style.  Next, the eggs.  She kept a watchful eye on them, making sure they cooked perfectly.  And finally, cheese.  A VERY generous sprinkle of cheese on top, made with a comment about "You can't ever have too little cheese".  After the cheese was added, she covered the skillet with a plate to melt it.  After a few moments, she slid the whole thing onto a plate with a "Boo-yah!" and handed it over.

Honestly, I think that even if I didn't like the eggs, I would have liked the experience of ordering them enough to be happy.  But the result, as un-pretty as it was, was delicious.

I actually ordered "one egg over medium", but, she made two.  Given that I was planning only one day at the buffet, and had a second plate with multiple baked goods, a waffle, a pile of whipped cream, and fruit, I really didn't want two.  But then I tasted the creation, and, well, it was too good not to finish.

The eggs were exactly as I wanted.  The whites didn't get too rubbery, but were just a bit crispy on the edges.  The yolks had some ooze to them, but were certainly set.  Excellent.  (Egg-cellent?) The veggies were also perfectly cooked, and well seasoned.  And the cheese, although slightly under-melted when handed over to me, was fully melted by the time I got to my table.

The eggs were really egg-cellent, and were the first time in recent memory that I've actually enjoyed eggs.  But, this was certainly not a healthy item, even though I did have the veggies.  She used a very generous amount of oil on the veggies and eggs, and, there was a LOT of cheese.  It felt very heavy, although, delicious.
Eggs Over Medium, Mushrooms, Spinach, Caramelized Onions. (Missing CHEESE!)
After my egg success on the first day, on my final day, I ordered nearly the same thing as I did on the first, only this time, I added caramelized onions too.  And I got it to go.

Clearly, takeaway presentation isn't anything to write home about, but, wow, it looked really bad.  Also, um, seriously oily.  Do you see the pools of oil in here?  I'm not sure what went wrong, because it was my same wonderful egg cook as the first day.

The veggies were just too oily to really enjoy.  Spinach absolutely soaked in oil is not enjoyable.  The onions were super flavorful though, and sweet.  I'd certainly go for the spinach, onion, mushroom combo again.

The eggs were nicely done, perfectly over-medium as I requested.  I liked the egg parts, when I could extract them from the oily puddle.

Besides the oil though, there was another problem.  Where was my cheese?  Doh.  She forgot my cheese, which really made a difference last time.

So, nicely cooked eggs, but the veggies were ruined by oil, and the cheese was missing.  Sadness.

A La Carte

A La Carte Menu - July 2016.
The a la carte breakfast menu is broken into three rather strange categories: Regional, Comfort, and Alternatives.   Those names all sound fairly normal, but, they didn't seem quite accurate to describe what was on the sections.

For example, "Regional" included Cranberry Pecan French Toast, which I guess highlights Cape Cod Cranberries, and a Maine Lobster Benedict, featuring well, Maine lobster, but what about the Classic Eggs Benedict?  Nothing really regional about that.  This section also seemed like it hadn't been updated with the seasons.  The aforementioned french toast was cranberry french toast, with apple chutney on top.  Doesn't that scream fall or even winter to you?  The waffle was a pumpkin waffle, with cranberry chutney.  Again, fall flavors.  I also found the "New England Breakfast Wrap" rather amusing, as it was filled with eggs, potatoes, Portuguese sausage, avocado, sweet onion, and Vermont cheddar.  Besides the cheddar, uh, what is New England about that?  Certainly not the Portuguese sausage or the likely-California-grown avocado.

Anyway.  The "Comfort" section really was just a bunch of classics, not really comfort foods.  If anything, the "Regional" section had more comfort items, as it had pancakes, french toast, and waffles.  The "Comfort" section had basics like eggs any style, corned beef hash, steak and eggs, omelets, a healthy frittata, and oatmeal.  Nearly all these items were available at the buffet as well and seemed highly uninspired.

Finally, the "Alternatives" were even more basic, and really should have just been labelled as sides: sausage, bacon, corned beef hash, granola, cereal, yogurt, and smoothies.

A la carte beverages (coffee, tea, espresso, juice) rounded out the menu.

Ordering a la carte took ... forever.  Nearly 30 minutes from the time I placed my order until my french toast arrived.
Cranberry Pecan French Toast. $14.
"Locally baked cranberry pecan bread, apple chutney, maple syrup, butter."

I'll admit that I was rather disappointed when my order finally arrived.  It didn't look particularly good.  Thin slices of bread.  Regular dried cranberries on top.  Some very uninspired apple "chutney".  And why serve butter on the side?

Sure, it basically matched the description, and I realize that what I'd actually want is french toast with summer berries, as it was July after all, and uh, some whipped cream on the side.  I quickly asked for the whipped cream.

And then I tried the french toast.  The toppings were as horrible as I suspected.  The cranberries were just cranberries, something I never like.  The apple stuff was just chunks of apple, slightly spiced, both mushy and firm at the same time, and just totally not what I wanted in July.  Maybe in the fall?  I didn't use the butter.  Do people really use butter on french toast?

The french toast itself was actually pretty good.  The bread wasn't at all what I expected though.  "Locally baked cranberry pecan bread" made me expect thick slices of artisanal bread or something.  This was thin slices, but at least they weren't standard sandwich bread.  I also, uh, expected pecans?  There were certainly no pecans in here.  The bread did have a few chunks of dried cranberry in it (although, really, I kinda think they were raisins ... without the menu description, I would have called this cinnamon raisin bread, not cranberry pecan bread).  But the bread was really well soaked, had nice cinnamon flavor, and was well cooked.  It was perfectly moist, but not too eggy, and the edges were a bit crisp.  The little bit of powdered sugar on top was really complimentary.

Without the topping though, it was still a bit plain.  However, dunked in maple syrup , it was quite enjoyable.  The whipped cream I asked for came quickly, but, it was a bowl of whipped cream clearly from a can.  This was really surprising to me, as the buffet had such high quality fresh whipped cream, and that is really what I wanted.

In the end, I pushed the toppings aside, and kinda devoured the french toast, slathered with plenty of syrup.  I enjoyed it.  If I was staying in the hotel longer, I'd probably get it another day (leaving out the cranberries and apple chutney, and asking for fruit instead) but, it wasn't something I wanted two days in a row, and I tried it on my second of three days.  The portion was crazy huge for $14.
Zephyr on the Charles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, July 25, 2016

Taj-E-India, White River Junction, Vermont

As you've been reading for a few weeks now, I often visit my family in the north east.  Since moving away, and becoming more of a "foodie", I've had a progression of experiences in dining every time I return.  For a while, I wanted to visit all the places I remembered loving, except, well, I realized that, for the most part, they really weren't very good (except, Sabo's Subs, iceberg lettuce and all!).  Then, my family members went through a phase where they wanted me to try all their favorite places, telling me constantly that a place was amazing and dragging me there (Dear sister, I'm sorry, The Flying Goose is awful).  Then I did a bunch of research, and sought out new destinations (like the amazing, but now shuttered, Home Hill Inn).  Eventually I gave up,  and stopped going out to eat there (except to get my daily ice cream at my favorite place, Dairy Twirl, or to diners for breakfast).

This worked fine, until my family members actually wanted restaurant food, and my mom didn't want to cook.  I was cramping their style.  So I went back to the drawing board.  I knew that I didn't want something that I get a better version of in San Francisco.  At some point, the idea of indian cuisine struck me.  I love Indian food, but, San Francisco really doesn't have Indian food that I like.  My parent's town doesn't have any Indian restaurants of course, but, a few towns over, there is a place that serves Indian food.  It isn't exactly a restaurant, but, more on that in a minute.  Now, I realize, that if San Francisco doesn't have Indian food I like, a little town in Vermont is even less likely to.  But ... local Yelpers love it.

So I tried to convince my family that we should get Indian food, which is when I hit a hurdle.  My parents had never eaten Indian food before.  They had no idea if they would like it and no real idea what to expect.  My mom was worried it would be spicy.  My dad really doesn't like trying new things and has a pretty limited set of foods he eats.  I was pretty sure that it would appeal to both of them, as long as they could get over the fact that it was an unknown.

In the end, I was able to convince them, and then began the process of figuring out what we should order, taking their preferences into account, and trying to describe the different dishes.  Like ... paneer.  Imagine trying to explain paneer to someone who has never encountered anything like it before.  "You don't understand, the cheese IS the main ingredient, just like chicken in that other dish ..." or "no, no, it isn't cheese like pizza cheese, it doesn't melt."  Yeah, it was kinda funny actually.

Anyway, the Indian establishment in question was Taj-E-India, a couple towns over, in White River Junction, Vermont.  I say establishment, not restaurant, as, it isn't a restaurant.  They don't have any seating.  It is take-out only, and sorta seems to operate out of someone's house.  Oh, and they don't just serve Indian cuisine, they also have Chinese food.  The menu has 92 items on it (!!!)

Yup, a Chinese-Indian combination takeout shop, with far too large of a menu, in Vermont.  I was in for an adventure.

Overall, it actually wasn't *bad*, but it was pretty unremarkable and was seriously lacking spicing.  If it was in San Francisco, I certainly wouldn't return a second time.  But given the lack of options in the Lebanon area though, after my first visit in summer 2014, I decided to return again in the summer of 2015.  I liked it even less that time, so, I doubt I'll return a third time.


Taj-E-India is a takeout only establishment, with absolutely no seating.

Everyone picks up food and drives away with it (or, if they are like me, perhaps sneak a bite in the car).  The food was ridiculously hot and fresh.  I actually burnt myself when I took a bite immediately, and it was still all reasonably warm when I got to my parent's house, 20 minutes away.

Since it is a takeout only shop, they know how to package the food well.  Curries come in plastic containers, rice in Chinese takeout style boxes, breads wrapped in foil, and the whole thing inside a paper bag, inside a plastic bag with handles.  You do need to ask for plates and silverware if you want them.
Picnic Table.
Ok, they do however have one lone picnic table in the parking lot, so if it happens to be a nice day, and you manage to be the only one with the thought, you can dine there.  Don't count on it.

Counter to order, pickup, and pay.
Once you venture inside the house, there is a counter where you pick up your food and pay.  Behind the counter was a TV playing Bollywood videos.  It was staffed only when an order was ready.
Waiting area.
The waiting area was literally just this one little sofa.  On my second visit, there were about 8 of us waiting to pick up food, and we couldn't all fit inside.  Four people seems to be about the max.  I told you it was tiny!


The first time I ordered from Taj-E-India, I stuck to the curries, rice, and bread, as I thought they would be the most familiar items to my family.

The second time though, I got more adventurous and decided to introduce my family to Indian food appetizers.  The menu had several types of pakora, samosas, and chaat.  They also had Chinese food appetizers, like deep fried spring rolls, if you wanted to try the Chinese food, either in combination with your Indian or not.
Vegetable Pakora.  $2.49.
"Deep fried assorted vegetable fritters."

I went for the veggie pakora, hoping it would be the most friendly option.

My mom thought it was interesting to have the bits of different vegetables all stuck together, but no one really seemed excited by these.  No one took a second one.

I tried them right when they were hot and fresh when I picked up the food, and even then, I thought they weren't great .  Kinda soggy, kinda oily, meh.  None of us would get these again.

$2.49 price for the portion was good though.


The bread section of the menu is impressive, featuring both leavened and unleavened varieties, including roti, poori, and multiple types of paratha, naan, and kulcha.  I tried different breads on each visit, but was never quite happy with any of them.  Pretty sure they do not have a tandoori oven.

Like everything, I tried the breads immediately upon receiving my orders, since I wanted to be able to fairly evaluate them, and I knew that waiting the 20 minute drive home would likely compromise the quality.  While Indian food generally holds up well to a little time, bread is the exception.  However, the breads were all pretty soggy and never crisp, even when fresh.  This is a case where leftovers were better than fresh, as I was able to crisp the breads up a bit in the toaster oven when I got home.
Garlic Naan. $2.49.
"Naan stuffed with fresh garlic and herbs."

I started with the bread I figured would be the most friendly to those unfamiliar with Indian food: naan.  And garlic naan, because garlic naan is clearly the superior naan.

Unfortunately, it was disappointing.  It was thin, too moist, and not at all crispy or charred.  The garlic flavor was nice though, and my parents and Ojan all quite liked it.

$2.49 for a single naan was a little high, particularly given how small it was.  You can't tell from the photo, but this is the smallest piece of naan I've ever seen.  And it was thin, not cut, and didn't actually seem to have been cooked in a tandoor.  Meh.
Roti. $1.99. 
"Whole Wheat Bread."

Alongside the naan, I also got roti to show my family an unleavened style in comparison.

The roti was thin, and a bit gummy, and again, not crisp.  The whole wheat flavor was nice, but otherwise, it really failed to impress.

$1.99 price for a small size single roti was ok, but perhaps a bit higher than I'd expect.
Onion Kulcha.  $2.49.
"Fine flour bread stuffed with onion and herbs."

The second time, I moved on to a stuffed bread, onion kulcha (in addition to another order of garlic naan, since my mom had liked it on the first visit.  I remained unimpressed.).

Again, I figured the leavened bread would be more comfortable for them, and knew onions are generally crowd pleasers.

The kulcha, like the previous breads, wasn't crispy, and was a bit flimsy.  It was studded with plentiful chunks of red onion and herbs, making it probably my favorite of the breads, just because it had some flavor.

The others weren't too impressed.  The $2.49 price was in line with the other stuffed bread pricing.
Paratha. $2.49.
"Whole wheat bread with butter."

And finally, paratha, again just to show another type of whole wheat bread.

It was thin and oily, quite dense.  It didn't have any noticeable layers and didn't seem much different from the roti.  I did like the whole wheat flavor though.

Flavorwise, it was my second favorite, but, the bread itself just wasn't very good.


Like most Indian restaurants, the majority of the menu is curries, vegetable, chicken, lamb, or seafood.  Since my family doesn't eat seafood or lamb, and my dad and I don't like chicken, we mostly went for vegetarian options, although Ojan and my mom split a chicken curry.

The rest of the menu is rounded out by tandori meats and biryanis, none of which we tried.
Saag Paneer.  $9.99.
"Chunks of homemade cheese in creamed spinach and fresh spices."

I'll admit it, much of the reason I like Indian food is because of paneer.  I just adore it.  I'm certainly not a vegetarian, but when eating Indian food, I go for paneer whenever possible.  I also gravitate towards cream/butter style sauces, but I actually wanted one dish that wasn't quite as heavy, so, the first time I ordered, I went for the saag, to throw in some token veggies.

The style of the saag was very creamy, sort of the opposite of what I was intending.  I actually prefer less cream, more spices, and larger bits of spinach, but I know this is just a preference thing.  For this style of saag, it was fine.  But I wanted to actually taste spinach more than cream.  The spicing was ok.

There was a reasonable amount of paneer, in batons, but the cheese was pretty unremarkable.  Not seared or crusted in any way, but not too rubbery either.  Just kinda there.  It didn't make me want to try more of their paneer dishes.

Overall, this was fine, but pretty mediocre.  My mother really liked it.  My dad said he could tolerate it, but it was "eh", and he only had a single bite.  I tried some leftover the next day, and liked it even less.

$9.99 price was fine for the portion size.
Malai Kofta Kashmiri.  $9.99.
"Garden vegetables & homemade cheeseballs cooked in a rich sauce with nuts & cream."

Since I didn't want just two dishes of paneer, and I dislike chickpeas and lentils, I had pretty much only one choice for a second dish the first time we ordered, the malai kofta.

There were I think three large balls.  I never really know what veggies go into kofta, but in these, the veggies seemed a bit more obvious than usual, and there was clearly spinach and potato.  I didn't taste the cheese, but I know there was ground up paneer in there too.

The balls didn't seem really fried, which was nice, but I do like to have a bit of a crust on the kofta.  These fell apart the moment a fork approached them, and broke down into mush.  Flavorful mush, but still, mush.

The sauce was unremarkable.  Besides my love for paneer, the other reason I love Indian food is for the sauces.  I'm such a sauce girl, and Indian cuisine is often filled with amazing complex sauces.  This wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly well spiced, so, it fell a bit flat.  I enjoyed combining it with some saag and chutney, but, it was a bit lacking on its own.  My mom didn't like it.  Also in the sauce was slivered almonds and plump raisins.

I had some of this for leftovers the next day, cold.  I think I actually liked it better this way.  My favorite of anything I tried.

$9.99 price was again fine for the portion.
Channa Masala. $8.99.
"Flavored chickpeas with tempered ginger."

Finding a dish for my father was hard.  He doesn't eat chicken, lamb, or any seafood, so I had to go vegetarian.  But he also doesn't eat eggplant, cauliflower, or peas.  And he was scared of paneer.

This left very few options, even given how extensive Taj-E-India's menu was.

He does like beans though, so even though I hate beans, and particularly chickpeas, I figured this would please him.

He did like it, and when we ordered food the second time, I asked him if he'd like it again, and he said yes.  That is success in my book.

I tried it, but, well, it was chickpeas, so there really was nothing here for me.  I guess I can say that they were nicely cooked, not too mushy, not too hard?  It was Ojan's favorite dish.
Paneer Shahi Korma. $9.99.
"Tender chunks of homemade cheese, cooked with nuts & cream in fresh herbs and spices."

On my second visit, I still went for paneer dish, even though I wasn't thrilled with it the first time.  Since I didn't want the spinach again, and my dad vetoed peas, that left tikka masala or shahi korma.  I flipped a coin and went for the shahi korma.

Like before, the paneer was just there.  I really wish it was seared slightly.

The sauce was pretty boring.  I even ordered it medium-hot, and there just wasn't much flavor to it at all.  One of the key things I like about Indian food is the spicing, but it was lost here.  It was creamy, and I liked having sauce for the bread, but ... no.

I didn't even want more of this when I had extra bread to use up.
Chicken Tikka Masala. $10.99.
"Tandoori chicken tikka in a tomato and butter sauce."

For Ojan and my mom, the chicken eaters, we got the chicken tikka masala.  I knew I wouldn't want the chicken, but I would gladly use the sauce for my bread.  The chunks of chicken looked good though, moist, and large.

Like the other dishes, it really just lacked flavor.  It was creamy, it was saucy, but there was just no spicing.  And again, I ordered it medium-hot.  The only real flavor was tomato, and it seemed not cooked down well enough, a bit too acidic.

Again, I didn't even want more of this to use up my bread, but my mom and Ojan both had seconds.
Dalmakhani. $8.99.
"Black lentils and beans, cooked in onions with tomatoes and cream."

And finally, on my second visit, I threw in another dish for my dad to try.  He hadn't ever had lentils before, but I described them as "little beans" and he was amenable to trying it.

I loathe lentils, but I tried a bit out of curiosity.  Again, no real spicing, again I ordered medium-hot.  The lentils were ... lentils.  My mom said she doesn't like lentils generally, but she liked this more than expected, so I guess it was a hit in some sense.


All curries and tandoori items are served with rice and chutneys on the side, which I really appreciated (well, not the rice, I don't ever eat rice with Indian food, I'm all about using the breads to soak up sauces), but having chutneys included was much appreciated.

Boiled basmati rice.
Since I don't like rice, I didn't try the basmati rice.  It nice that they included rice, but I always like to use naan instead of rice.  We had far more rice than we needed on both visits, but, at least they weren't stingy.
Chutneys: onion, mint, tamarind.
All dishes come with a trio of chutneys, which I really appreciated.  I'm such a sauce girl, and I always want to add chutneys to Indian food.  I just get grumpy that I usually have to add them on as an extra charge.

The mint and tamarind were both a bit sweet, a good to compliment the food.  The onion one on the other hand was quite spicy, which my dad liked, since he was able to use it to amp up the spice level in his dish.  On my second visit, when I didn't really like my curries, I ended up loading my bread up with the onion chutney, to at least have some flavor.

Overall, there was nothing notable about the chutney, besides the fact that they were included, which I do give major bonus points for.


Ah, yes, dessert.  Of course this is the part I was excited for.  The dessert menu had kulfee, gulab jamun, ice cream, and kheer.
Kheer. $1.99.
"Traditional Indian rice pudding flavored with cardamom and raisins."

Since I love puddings, this was a no brainer.

The kheer was included inside my bag of food, alongside all the hot foods.  Minus a point for that, as it made it strangely warm.

The pudding was ... fine.  Pretty boring.  A bit thin and watery, the rice cooked ok but not remarkable, a sprinkle of pistachio just on top.  Not much flavor.

It wasn't bad, but I see no reason to get it again.

$1.99 price was great for a decent size container.
Taj E India Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato