Friday, October 28, 2016

Andechser Natur, Germany

Andechser Natur is a dairy product producer in Germany, all organic and natural, hence the "natur" part of the name.  They make milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and desserts (puddings!).  I discovered the products while visiting our Munich office, much like the delicious soy based Alrpo puddings I reviewed last week.

I didn't get a chance to try the desserts, only the yogurt.  My hotel had the plain yogurt in glass jars, which I thought was a cute packaging, but the yogurt was just fairly plain tart yogurt, and I didn't really pay attention to it.  I didn't take a photo, I didn't write a review.

And then I found the flavored yogurt at my office.  It was not just any old flavored yogurt.
"Organic yoghurt mild with stracciatella preparation with 3.7% at the minimum in milk content, 2% chocolate chips in the end product."

I love a piece of chocolate with my coffee.  And, in the US, you can sometimes find chocolate in breakfast items, like chocolate croissants or chocolate glazed donuts.  But, for some reason, you don't see much chocolate at breakfast in general.

The same isn't true in Germany.  My hotel had muesli with chocolate in it that I totally fell in love with.  It left you with a bowl of chocolate milk at the end!  Even McDonald's has a chocolate filled breakfast sandwich (the McToast Choco).  So when I saw chocolate chip yogurt, I can't say I was totally surprised.  Intrigued, but, not surprised.
Bio-Stracciatella: Inside.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from chocolate chip yogurt.  Chocolate chips with frozen yogurt, sure.  But, chocolate chips in ... yogurt?

Some yogurt is tart, and chocolate with that would be strange.  Lots of low fat yogurt is crazy sweet, but, I still had a hard time imagining chocolate making sense in a sweet yogurt.

So, I took a tentative spoonful.  And ... hmm, it kinda worked.  The yogurt was smooth and creamy, almost like a pudding, but, not quite as rich, and not as sweet.  It somehow wasn't really tart nor sweet.  It was, actually, a remarkably good base for chocolate.

The chocolate came in the form of chocolate flecks, just enough of them to keep you satisfied and hunting for more, not overwhelming the fact that you were actually eating yogurt and not dessert.

I'll admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this, and would gladly have another.  It does make me wonder about putting chocolate on my yogurt parfaits in the future ...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Breakfast @ Le Potager, Le Meridien, Munich

You might have noticed a theme the past few weeks.  I've been posting a lot about Germany.  Why?  Because I was in Munich for a conference for a week.  I spent my time in Munich staying at Le Meridien, my first time at a Le Meridien property.

As always, I was excited to check out what this hotel's breakfast buffet options would be, served in Le Potager restaurant.  I sure love my breakfast buffets, but, by now, I not know to go into them with too high of expectations.

I've experienced many breakfast buffets by this point, many quite good, but Le Meridien's blew me away.  I know that people say the selection is extensive, but, doesn't everywhere say that?  I can honestly say I've never seen a buffet with as many options as at Le Potager.  There is something for ... everyone.  Classic German and European, Asian, or American hot items.  Fresh baked breads, cheese and charcuterie, cereal/muesli/yogurt, made to order eggs and omelettes.  Healthy fruits and a juice bar, or decadent pastries.  A multitude of jams, an entire array of honeys.  Seriously, everything.

Over the course of the week, I sampled most of it.  And, well, it was nearly all excellent.  I discovered that I love Bavarian Meatloaf, although, I'd prefer it not at breakfast.

Serving hours are also more extensive than I've seen before, 6:30am-10:30am during the week, which is already generous, but until 1pm on weekends!  Yes, you can actually sleep in, and go have a brunch feast, complete with sparkling wine, as part of the included breakfast buffet.  Given my serious jetlag, the later hours were very, very welcome.  (Side note: if you are also experiencing crazy jetlag, and feel like eating chicken nuggets for breakfast ... that is totally an option.  I'm not joking!)


Le Portager is actually a fairly nice restaurant, it just happens to be where they serve the breakfast, which is set up in a separate room at the back, self-service buffet style.  The buffet occupies, literally, the entire room.

The hostess stand is at the front of the restaurant, where you are greeted with their signature item, or, one of their signature items: "Eye Openers", or, juice shooters before you are even lead to a table.

Seating options include a beautiful outside patio.
Eye Openers: Apple/Carrot/Yuzu and Mango/Melon/Elder.
As promised, at the entrance, I was indeed greeted by a juice shooter every day, an "Eye Opener".  There were always two choices.  The first day, since one had melon, I avoided both, not wanting to deal with allergy concerns in another language.  The next day, neither had melon so I tried one, but I forget what kind it was.  It was ... just juice.  I tried them a few more times on other days, mostly as a courtesy to the very friendly hostess offering them, but, I didn't quite understand why I needed a shooter moments before settling into my table and choosing my own selections.  Still a nice touch I guess?

All items, here and at the buffet, were labeled in both German and English.  Staff were also fluent and comfortable in both, plus other languages as well (I heard one server transition between English, Spanish, and German all with ease.  It was quite impressive, actually.)
Place setting.
Tables were all set and waiting, and a server quickly came to offer tea or coffee.  While the food and other drinks are all self-serve, coffee and tea were the exception.

The first few days, I opted for decaf coffee and it was quite horrible (a trend I quickly discovered in Munich).  I'm sure it was instant.

I quickly changed my order to a decaf americano the subsequent days.  This was much better, Illy, brewed from a Nespresso.  Protip: when in doubt of decaf coffee quality, order an Americano!

Cold Drinks

Le Meridien proclaims that they have a juice bar, and, well, they kinda do, although not being freshly juiced to order, the juice line up was far more extensive than what I have seen anywhere else.
Juice and Water Tap!
This was fairly amazing.  Juices and water ... on tap!

Orange, apple, grapefruit, and "Multi vitamin" were the juice choices, the four taps on the left.  On the right were still and sparkling water taps.  It was cute that on top of each juice tap was a jar with the fruits that would come out of it, so, I guess "Multi vitamin" was apple, orange, banana?

I didn't actually care about the juice, but I thought this was great, and was so happy to be able to easily help myself to more and more sparkling water.  I drink a lot of sparkling water, and it is so annoying, particularly at places with limited table service, to get refills normally.
Other Juices.
They also had a few juices in pitchers (kiwi, carrot, tomato) and in a bubbler (I think more orange?)  Not sure why these weren't all on tap.

I tried the carrot a few days into my trip when I realized I was seriously missing vegetables.  It wasn't very carroty.  I don't think these were fresh juices.
On weekends only, a bucket of sparkling wine was also set out, and you could make your own mimosa of choice.

Cheese and Charcuterie

I worked my way around the room, starting with the cold selections next to the juices: continental meats and cheeses.  These were extremely high quality items, not your standard buffet meats and cheeses.
Cold  Cuts, Pâtés.
The first station was all cold cuts - ham, salami, bologna, turkey, etc, along with assorted pots of pâté.

I tried a cold cut that seemed to be some kind of bologna or mortadella.  It had nuts or something in it, and was really quite good.  Not what I normally want for breakfast, but, I really liked it.

The plants were a bit strange, but helped make the space feel less like a big back room, which, is what it was.
Brussels Pâté.
Next I tried a pâté, labelled "Brussels".  I didn't quite know what this meant, but my other options were "mushroom" or "green pepper".  The pâtés were all Mr. M brand.

I'm going to assume this was pork liver pâté.  It was smooth, creamy, well seasoned.  Pretty basic pâté, but, good.  I wasn't quite sure what to do with it though, perhaps I should have spread it on bread?

Again, a nice meat selection, but, not quite what I wanted so early in the morning.
Smoked Salmon.
Next came two types of smoked salmon, one with dill.

The salmon was fine, although not particularly smoky, so a bit boring.  The dill was a nice touch.

To go with the salmon was horseradish cream, lemon wedges, red onions, and a sauce labeled "honey mustard" that most certainly had a mayo base.  All were good to mix in with the salmon.
Cheeses, Pickles, Veggies.
And next, the cheese board and some salad fixings.

The cheeses really impressed me.  I somewhat expected standard hotel buffet cheeses, like thin slices of limp, mediocre cheddar.  Instead there was quite a variety, all large wedges to cut from ourselves.  There were fresh cheeses (feta, mozzarella), plus flavorful gouda, several triple creams (one even with a washed rind!), and a soft cheese with nuts.  The washed rind one was quite good, complex flavor, good ripeness.  The triple cream had a very tasty rind, nicely bloomed.  Really excellent quality cheeses.

Honestly, I would have been happy making a sandwich with just some of the cold cuts and cheeses, they were really excellent.  Again, not what I normally eat for breakfast, but, really high quality.

Next to the cheese platter was some pickled veggies and other makings for salad.  A bit random really, with cooked corn, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, olives, pickled giardiniera with carrots, cauliflower, and red peppers, pickled gherkins, pickled peppers, and more.

This was all fine, and, for some reason, I randomly did grab a bunch of these items, but, I still didn't really understand their place in the buffet.  Mid-way through our stay, I saw a co-worker loading up his plate with tomatoes, and I laughed at him, and he said it was because he realized he'd had no vegetables (besides potatoes) on the entire trip.  I had just been telling Ojan the night before that I really wanted salad and was missing vegetables, so, clearly I wasn't alone.  Inspired by him, I tried a tomato, but they weren't great.  I went for carrot juice and seaweed salad instead.


On the other side of the room was the bakery.  You know me and baked goods.  This is clearly the first place I headed.  It turned out to be the most disappointing, but did include an impressive jam station.
The lineup of pastries looked good, croissants in several varieties (including chocolate filled), open danishes, apple turnovers, sugar donuts, and pistachio swirls.

The first item I grabbed was a pistachio swirl, as it looked the most interesting.  The dough was supposed to be croissant/danish dough, but it was kinda spongy and not buttery or flaky.  It had little bits of pistachio in between the layers, which reminded me of bit of baklava, but, they weren't really sweetened or tasty.  Overall, just not very good.  Ojan also grabbed one of these, took a single bite, and said, "Eww, that is not good.  I'm not having any more pastries."  Basically, it was exactly the sort of hotel buffet pastry you expect.  Mass produced, baked from frozen, meh.

The next day, I opted for a sugar donut hole, as those had been pretty good at previous Starwood hotels.  It was ... mediocre at best.  Clearly not fresh, but, I appreciated the generous amount of sugar on the outside.  I added a ton of jam from the jam bar, and turned it into a jelly donut, and enjoyed it enough that way, but, still, not a very good donut.
I was lamenting the baked goods lineup, and then ... waffles happened!  It wasn't until my third morning that waffles were available in the pastry area.  Yes!  It also happened to be Wednesday.  Waffle Wed!

These were pretty familiar waffles, likely the same as the ones I enjoyed at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney.

I know these aren't fresh made waffles.  Pretty sure they are frozen.  And, they weren't even served warm at Le Potager.  I shouldn't like them.

But ... they are still liège waffles, and, in my opinion, much like a kouign amann, even a mediocre liège waffle is still a great waffle.  The dough was dense and sweet, the outside slightly caramelized.  They were sprinkled with powdered sugar.

There was no maple syrup anywhere in the buffet, which is fine, as I don't usually want maple syrup on this style of waffle, but what I did want was whipped cream, which, there wasn't any of.  I had to make due with slathering it with Nutella, which was fine, but, I've never been a huge Nutella fan.  Halfway through my waffle I remembered the amazing jam station, and opted to switch for the delicious sour cherry jam as a topping, and I was much happier.

So, yes, I'd prefer it warm, and I'd prefer it with whipped cream.  And do they compare to the fresh liège waffles from b. street waffles, hot off the iron?  Obviously not, but, for hotel waffles, I was quite happy to see these, and did enjoy one very much.  Sadly, they didn't come back again.
Rolls, Pretzels, Breads.
I didn't try any of the assorted rolls and breads, except for the pretzels of course.  Because, I was in Germany after all!

I tried a pretzel roll to start, a torpedo shaped roll made with pretzel bread.  It was light and fluffy inside, with a decent crust, and nice salt level.  Nothing mind blowing, but not bad.

I struggled with what to do with it though.  I slathered on jam, which was good, but, it felt like a waste of the pretzel.  I tried the "honey mustard" from the salmon station, but since that wasn't really mustard, that was also a bit strange.  I found a pesto-like spread one day, and that sorta worked, but again, I felt like I was missing something, like, uh, standard mustard.  Maybe that just isn't what you do for breakfast with a pretzel?

Later, I realized I should have made a pretzel sandwich with the pretzel bun, amazing cheeses, and meats.  Or had a fried egg and cheese in one.  Lost opportunity.  Next time.
Sweet Bread.
My final morning, alongside the standard breads and rolls, there was a sliced sweet bread, studded with a few raisins, and topped with powdered sugar and slivered almonds.  

It was light, fluffy, and slightly sweet, and quite good toasted with some butter (and honey) added on top.  I could imagine making a monte cristo sorta sandwich with this, some of the Bavarian meatloaf, and some jam ...
The jam/jelly/preserves section was the highlight of the bakery area.

Every day had six different varieties that rotated daily between strawberry, raspberry, wildberry, sour cherry, apricot, bilberry, and orange jams, in glass jars, with cute little bowls to put your portion into.

I really liked the sour cherry jam, particularly when I served it either inside a sugar donut, or, with the meatloaf (more on that soon).  I imagine you were supposed to use these for the breads, but, hey, I needed to add some Julie flair to my items.

Cereal, Yogurt, Fruit

Next to the bakery was the standard lineup of cold items like cereal, yogurt, and fruit, with many options for each.  All were fairly standard, although the honey station was pretty unique.
The cereal line up had basics like cornflakes, rice crispies, and mini wheats, plus kids favorites like smacks and choco pops, and three types of muesli.  Yes, three types of muesli, because, choices.

For milk, they had regular and soy.

The crunchy muesli and fruit muesli were fine, and I used them top my yogurt a la granola, but, neither were particularly notable.

The choco muesli on the other hand ... now that was excellent, particularly with soy milk.  It had oats, some flakes of some kind, and bits of chocolate.  I really loved the chocolately flavor, and it also left me with delicious chocolate soy milk to drink after the cereal was all gone.  This was my absolute favorite of the sweet and standard breakfast items in the buffet, and quickly became my "breakfast dessert".
Yogurts, Muesli.
In the cold well was an assortment of yogurt, including plain and flavors that changed out daily (strawberry, cherry yogurt, peach and passion fruit), quark, and bircher muesli.

I went for the bircher muesli on the first day, as I love some types of bircher muesli, and I was disappointed by the bircher muesli on my BA flight the previous day.  This was better than the BA muesli, it had a good ratio of yogurt to grains, and some mix-ins like nuts and seeds, but, it didn't really wow me.  I'm not sure why.  I tried it a few days later to make sure I wasn't just in a weird mood, but, again didn't care for it.  Oh well.

I also tried the quark, because, I do think quark can be pretty awesome.  It was just ok, not particularly thick, rich, and luxurious like I was hoping.  The cold well didn't really keep it cold enough, and the quasi luke-warm yogurt was just a bit off putting to me.

Finally, I tried some yogurts, cherry and peach-passionfruit.  They were both smooth, runny style yogurt, not very interesting, and not anything different from what I get in the US.
Honey Station.
And, the highlight of this section?  The honey station!

How amazing is this?  A honey dispenser, with three types of honey.  No sticky honey bottles or dirty honey spoons laying around.  It worked great, and I used the honey in my yogurt.  I'm not entirely sure what others used it for, maybe on toast?
Mix-ins for yogurt or cereal included different seeds, nuts, and dried fruits, and, uh, Nutella.
The fruit offerings included fresh sliced fruits (kiwi, melons), fruit salad, numerous stewed fruits, and a big bowl of assorted whole fruit (peaches, plums, grapes, and more).

I normally like to put stewed fruit on my muesli or yogurt, but, given the watermelon, I stayed away from this area.  I grabbed a few grapes one day, but they weren't very good.

Ojan said the fruit he tried wasn't great anyway, not exactly what Germany is known for.

Hot Foods

And finally, getting into the hot foods areas, of which there were several.  I'm going to dub them "Asian", "German", and "American".  It was here that I discovered Bavarian Meatloaf.
Asian Station: Rice, Soup, Congee, Toppings.
Should you desire Asian food, there was a station for that.

It had rice, "Asian soup", and congee, plus assorted toppings (pickled daikon, nori, sauces, and more), and seaweed salad.

I had a little congee one morning when I wanted something warm and comforting.  It was pretty standard congee, not too runny, not too gloopy, not bad.  I do like to sweeten my congee and have it more like sweet oatmeal though, and, alas, no maple syrup (although I guess I could have used honey?).  It was good with the asian mix-ins, just not quite what I wanted.

The pickled daikon didn't seem very fresh, if that makes sense.  It had a bit of a funk to it.  The seaweed salad was decent, the same as you'd get from a grocery store, but, decent.  When I really wanted some greens one morning, I went for it.  But, like many items in this buffet, it was a bit hard for me to wrap my head around for breakfast.
German Station: White Sausage, Bavarian Meatloaf, Nuremberg Sausage, Kielbasa Sausage.
The blue earthenware vessel with the lid had the white sausages.  Are these always served this way?  I admit, I don't know much about traditional Bavarian sausages.  I didn't try these.

Next, Bavarian Meatloaf.  I'd never heard of such a thing.  And I certainly don't eat meatloaf for breakfast.  But ... it looked fascinating, particularly as you could carve it to order with a huge knife.  So, I carved off a slice.

It looked gross.  The outside was some kind of crust or rind, which I think you were supposed to eat.  At least, I did.  It added a crunch.  The "meat" looked like bologna, a very processed product.  I couldn't identify if it was pork, veal, chicken, who knows.  But ... um, I loved it.  I can't explain this one.  Definitely not what I'd want for breakfast.  Really, it was like a big thing of bologna warmed up and designed to look like a roast.  But, uh, I like bologna.  Even more strangely, I decided it was delicious with sour cherry jam on it.  Yes, I know, what?  I had sour cherry jam on my fork when I had a bite, and, I loved the combination, so, I decided to just do it, coating slices in sour cherry jam.  When you think of it, is it really different than a slice of Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  See, totally normal.  Also, the jam made it seem more like breakfast!

(I researched the meatloaf once I was home, known as Bayrischer Leberkäs, or, Bavarian Liver Cheese.  No, it does not contain liver, nor cheese.  And, I was basically right that it was like bologna, and that it had a strange edible crust.  It turns out that it is made from corned beef, pork, bacon, and onions, all ground up very fine.  Then it is baked in a bread pan, like a loaf, which is what gives it the crunchy crust, which, yes you do eat.  It can be sliced very thin and served cold on a sandwich, just like bologna.  Or cut into slices and served on a roll while still hot.  Or pan fried, sorta like spam.  An even more fascinating preparation is done with ham and cheese in the middle, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, and then fried.  But most traditional seems to be just sliced and served with mustard and pretzels.)

The first day, I also opted for a Kielbasa.  The casing had a good snap to it, and it was a decent sausage, well seasoned, but, it was clearly a buffet sausage, kinda lukewarm.
Mid-week, the Kielbasa was swapped out for meatballs.

The meatballs were nicely browned, but rather lukewarm from their buffet tray.  I think they were pork?  I wasn't really a fan, but mostly I think because I wanted a sauce, or, maybe I just didn't want meatballs for breakfast.

In retrospect, I think they would have been great with the sour cherry jam, sorta like Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce.  (And yes, if you are noticing a theme, I loved that sour cherry jam, and wanted to add it to everything!)
English/American Station: Hashbrowns, Chicken Nuggets, Baked Beans, Fried Mushrooms. 
Next came a station that might have been British? Or American?  Or a hybrid?

The hashbrowns were wedge style, and weren't very good, just fried chunks of potato that had been sitting in a buffet for a while.  About what you'd expect.  Other days these were replaced with triangle shaped hashbrown patties.

I have no idea why, but I really wanted a chicken nugget when I saw them.  I don't like chicken, and I certainly haven't ever thought of having a chicken nugget for breakfast.  But ... I blame jetlag.  I don't know what got into me.  The nuggets were coated in a crunchy coating, and were kinda overcooked and dry.  Yet I kinda liked them.  Again, blame jetlag.  I didn't even smother these in sour cherry jam.

Mid-week, the chicken nuggets were replaced with chicken wings, which somehow struck me as even more odd as a breakfast item.

I didn't try the baked beans or mushrooms.
American Station: Gratin Tomatoes, Boiled Eggs, Scrambled Eggs, Bacon (clockwise from top left).
The final hot station seemed like a continuation of the American/British section, with gratin tomatoes, soft boiled eggs, greasy bacon, and scrambled eggs.

I skipped all this.
Eggs Made to Order.
In-between the two American-ish station was a cooktop, with a chef standing by to make eggs or omelets to order.  I didn't try anything from here as I don't really care for eggs, and I was too happy with my sour cherry topped meatloaf and chocolate muesli to really experiment more.

Monday, October 24, 2016

More Takeout from Roka Akor

I've reviewed Roka Akor before, back when I visited for the incredibly value Business Lunch deal, and again for the highest quality takeout sushi I've ever had, so I'll skip all the general restaurant details this time around.

This review is simple: more takeout.  I wanted good sushi to just eat at home, and since the catered sushi we had before from Roka was so amazing, I figured swinging by for takeout would be equally good.  I did mix it up this time and get a new dish, chirashi, rather than standard rolls and nigiri.
Chirashi. $19.50.
"Diced Assorted Sashimi over Sushi Rice."

Chirashi is available only for lunch, which is served Monday - Friday only.  Since I normally eat at work during the week, this has never been an option for me, but we had a rare public holiday when Roka Akor was still open, so I took advantage of it.

I went for chirashi because I couldn't make up my mind.  I sorta wanted the hamachi roll, I sorta wanted a tuna roll, I wanted a California roll ... or maybe I just wanted salmon sashimi.  Ok, yeah, I wanted sashimi.  Hmm, but no, I wanted rolls ... ahh!

I let indecision dictate my order.  I didn't want to decide, so I'd leave it up to the chefs.  My impression is that the chirashi changes depending on what they have available.  Plus, this way, I could eat some pieces just raw as if they were (very small) pieces of sashimi, and others I could mix with the rice, more like a roll.  Choose my own adventure.

My fish mix included salmon, tuna, and hamachi, nothing too out there.  I was really hoping for some crab, and dreamed of some uni, but I knew at this price point that was unlikely.  The portion of fish was generous.  There were also a couple scoops of ikura.

The fish was all cut into small cubes.  Most pieces were pretty fresh, but a few did rather seem like scrap pieces, a bit flimsy, or grainy.  Some had skin on.  The fish was all fine, but not particularly noteworthy.  I felt like eating the small cubes didn't really give me full experience of eating sashimi that I did want, and would have preferred larger slices.  Oops.

There were also a few pieces of asparagus (perhaps 4?) and a few cubes of avocado, which did help to compose some bites that were a bit more like rolls.  There were a few sprouts, which I actually really liked for the strong flavor, but I only got one bite with them.

The top was sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Oh, and two editable flowers for garnish!

Underneath it all was the rice, basic sushi rice, a bit sticky, a bit vinegary, as expected.

On the side I was provided soy sauce, but no wasabi or ginger.  I really wanted some kick from wasabi.

I really appreciated the plating, even for takeout.  What were the chances that it would survive even a short walk?  I was glad I stopped to take a look (and a photo!) right away.

But, overall, I didn't love this.  As I said, the fish was fine, but not remarkable.  The ratios of ingredients were just slightly off.  I wouldn't get it again, but I'm glad I tried it, and the $19.50 price makes it one of the better deals from Roka Akor.