Friday, March 24, 2017

Ten Acre Popcorn, UK

Another Friday, another post about popcorn.  I know you are probably getting sick of all the popcorn reviews, but, the thing is, I love popcorn, and it is one of my favorite snacks.  I eat it near-daily.

Today's review is from a snack foods maker in the UK: Ten Acre.  Ten Acre makes "Hand Cooked Crisps" (chips, to Americans) in 10 varieties and "Hand Picked Popcorn" in 7.  They are all gluten-free, dairy free, MSG free, vegan, halal, kosher, etc.

The names of the popcorn are as unique as the flavors themselves, as they include the name of a fictional popcorn-related character, like, "Cousin Maisie’s Fennel and Lemon Popcorn".  Who is Cousin Maisie?  And, hmm, fennel and lemon on popcorn?  The full savory range includes a Wasabi flavor ("Ambrose Popperley"), Lime and Sea Salt ("Captain Theodore"), and Sour Cream and Chive ("Cornelius Popperley").  Sweeter options are Cappuccino ("Lucia Popperley") and Strawberry & Cream ("Cousin Penelope"), with a Sweet and Salty variety straddling the divide.

I only had the chance to try one variety while I was in London, but it wasn't noteworthy.
Aunty Winifred’s Sweet and Salty Popcorn.
"A perfect blend of sweet and salty. Tantalisingly tasty for those who like the best of both worlds in a packet of popcorn."

I opted for the kettle corn, nee, "Aunty Winifred’s Sweet and Salty Popcorn".  This variety has won an award, the "Great Taste Awards" (presumably a UK thing?)

It didn't really win any awards with me.  It was very plain, just a hint of sweet and salty.  Some pieces seemed entirely plain, but there were a few gems with a decent sugar coating.  Overall, a healthy snack I guess, but not a very satisfying one.

I froze it to see if that would improve it.  It did, resulting in crispier kernels at least, but still pretty boring. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Weeel Frozen Yogurt, Lisbon, Portugual

When in Lisbon ... get froyo?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I was supposed to be filling up on pastel de nata (which I did, at Pastéis de Belém), but, it was hot, and I wanted froyo.  What's a girl to do, particularly when she walks by a cute froyo stand in the mall food court?  I didn't even research Weeel before my visit, which is rare for me.  I'm glad I took the gamble, as it was excellent, and I returned every day I had left in Lisbon.

They offer only one flavor of yogurt (plain tart), with toppings, or made into shakes and parfaits.  At least, that is what I figured out from the menu and website.  The menu was very confusing, even though it had pictures.

The frozen yogurt comes in 3 sizes, always in a cup, no cones available, always with at least one topping.  That part was simple.

The other options, besides just froyo with toppings, are a "weeel shake" with frozen yogurt, fruit, and toppings, blended like a shake, or a "weeel fresh", which seemed to be some kind of fruit juice mix, or a "weeel up" which looked like a shake topped with more plain froyo and fruit, or a "weeel cool", which looked like a fruity ice mix topped with froyo and other toppings, and a "weeel done", a parfait, which I'll get more into below.

While the others shoppers weren't drawn to froyo and it was empty every time I walked by, the place does seem successful, as they have a few shops around the country, mostly in Lisbon, mostly in mall food courts.  They also have a few frozen yogurt trucks!  Lisbon is down with the trends, like serving milkshakes in mason jars at Ground Burger.

The yogurt and toppings were both high quality, and I really recommend Weel, if, you know, you wind up in Lisbon and want froyo.  It happens.
The toppings choices are extensive, ranging from liquids, to fruits, to candy, to cookies, to nuts.

Since they have only plain froyo, and all sizes come with at least one topping included, I guess this makes sense.

For liquids, there is dark chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, mango sauce, liquid nutella, and the fascinating looking "rafaweeel".  More on rafaweel soon.  Oh, and squeeze bottle of honey.

Next came fruits, including ripe mango chunks, watermelon (!), other melon, shredded coconut, fresh peaches, kiwi, apple compote, and a mixed berry compote.  Ojan lamented the lack of strawberries.

Candies included both milk and white chocolate pearls and mini M&Ms.

There were several types of cookie crumbs, including Oreos and caramelized biscuits.

And finally, nuts.  In addition to standard chopped nuts, there was also a caramelized nuts and seeds mix that I eyed, and granola crumbles.

Really, something for everyone here.  Most items were labelled in both English and Portuguese.
Pequeno with 2 toppings (mango, rafaweeel). 3.20€.
There is only one flavor of yogurt, plain tart.  On my first visit, I added "rafaweeel" and mango.

The yogurt was very good, it reminded me of Red Mango in the US, back when Red Mango was good.  Not too sweet, tart, decently creamy.  Clearly not trying to be ice cream, but very good frozen yogurt.

For my toppings, I was drawn in by nearly everything.  In the end, I decided to get one liquid and one fruit.  I really wanted a crunchy topping too, but, I was trying not to overdo it.

For fruit, I picked mango, as it looked really ripe and juicy.  It was indeed good, large chunks, although, only about 6 pieces were added to my froyo.  I wanted more!  Sadly, my camera did something crazy, and you can't actually see the vibrant, perfectly ripe, mango chunks on here.

For the sauce, I almost got the white chocolate, (or the nutella when I was considering a crunchy topping instead of mango), but last minute, I decided to try the rafaweeel.  I had no idea what it was, but it looked like white chocolate with stuffs in it.  Which ... it was.  I think.  Still not sure about the white chocolate part, it might have just been liquid yogurt coating?  Someone else thought it might be sweetened condensed milk?  Anyway, it was white and sweet.  Sure, it looked kinda odd against the white froyo, but it was tasty.  Inside was flakes of coconut, actually giving it a pretty good coconut flavor.  Coconut and mango were a great combination, so, I really lucked out.  There was also larger chunks of something, not sure of what, maybe waffle cone bits or something?  I appreciated the texture.

Overall, this was really quite good.  The froyo was good, the toppings were good, and the size was enough to be satisfied but not stuffed.  I immediately made a plan to return.

A small normally comes with 1 topping, medium and large with 3.  I wanted a small, but I really wanted 3 toppings.  I compromised and ordered 2 toppings.  I was told that small only comes with 1.  I asked if I could pay more for another topping.  Yes, yes I could.  So, a normal small is 2.70€, I paid 0.50 extra for the second topping.
Pequeno with 2 toppings (caramelized seeds, white chocolate). 3.20€.
A few days later, after a large dinner at nearby Ground Burger, I wasn't really satisfied, and wanted something sweet to end on a good note.  Since we were only a block away, Weeel came to mind immediately.

Note: I was with a group of at least 40 people, and we had just finished devouring burgers, fries, onion rings, and milkshakes, and our next destination was a tiki bar.  Taking a "quick detour" to froyo was perhaps ridiculous, and I honestly didn't think everyone would follow me, I kinda assumed they'd continue to the tiki bar, and then a few folks would come with me and we could meet at the bar.  But instead, I lead a ridiculous entourage into the Il Corte Ingles mall, down to the food court, through the whole food court, and to the Weeel stand.  It really was quite comical, Julie leading a heard.

On this visit, I again asked for two toppings, which again required double confirmation that I was willing to pay extra.  Since I wanted the white chocolate last time and didn't get it, I got it this time, even though, I really wanted that rafaweeel again.  I decided to get my second choice from before of crunchy topping too, caramelized seeds, and skipped fruit, although, the mango looked excellent again.  So, basically, this was my second choice version of everything I got the day before.

And ... it was fine.  The froyo was again tart and creamy, and quite good.  The caramelized seeds were, well, crunchy, slightly sugar coated pumpkin seeds.  I liked the crunch, but otherwise they weren't actually amazing in any way.  The white chocolate was sweet and ok, but, no where near as amazing as rafaweeel.

Ojan was among the group I led there.  I told him how this place was like Red Mango from back when it was good, and assured him he would like it, but, he said he was too full and didn't want any.  He took one bite of mine, and then immediately got in line.  Lols.  He made a healthy version with mango and melon, and really liked it.  He wanted to retur as soon as possible, but we were out of days in Lisbon.

A few others in the group got the rafaweeel at my very strong encouragement.  They all gave it strong endorsements as well, even though they admitted that it looked scary.

So, overall, this froyo was only ok, but, that was my topping picks not being awesome.

If I had another day in Lisbon to get froyo, I'd definitely return.  I'd be pretty tempted to go back to mango and rafaweeel, and maybe add a third crunchy element like nuts.  Or, go for something with chocolate or nutella sauce.  So hard to get past that rafaweeel though ...
Weeel Done. 3.70€.
"Camadas de Iogurte Gelado com Toppings Crocantes, 3 Frutas e Topping Líquido Quente."

On my last visit, there was actually another customer, a lady, who ordered one of the items from the menu that wasn't just froyo with toppings.  It looked incredible.  I quickly asked what it was, and was pointed to the "Weeel Done".  On the menu display, it just showed froyo with some fruit.  Not really knowing what I was getting, I asked for one too.  It was my last visit to Weeel, and I wanted to go big!

It was a layered creation, starting with a little bit of froyo in the bottom.  Then my choice of crunchy topping (yes!).  Then my choice of not one, not two, but THREE fruits (!!!).  Then another crunchy topping (whee!).  Then more froyo.  And then a liquid topping.  Um, wow?  I could get ALL THE THINGS!

I didn't know I'd get all these choices, until it was being assembled.  My server added the froyo to the base, and then asked which crunchy topping I wanted.  I opted for the caramelized almonds, somewhat on a whim.  Then he asked me to pick a fruit, I said mango, since I liked that before.  And he said I got another fruit.  I said peaches, as they looked fresh.  And then he asked for another fruit, so I went with kiwi, mostly just totally randomly picking at that point.  He really loaded it up with fruit, far more per topping than on the regular froyo.

And then ... he asked for another crunchy topping.  I went with the caramelized biscuits, I don't even know why.  I wasn't expecting to get to pick so many things and was totally unprepared.  He returned to the froyo machine to add a ton of froyo on top, and then came back to ask my sauce choice.  That was no question.  Rafaweeel!  He handed over my creation, and I must say, I was pretty excited.  It was so much more than I was planning to get, just a simple small with perhaps two toppings!

The rafaweeel was again amazing, and this time I asked him what it was.  He said it is white chocolate, with coconut and biscuits, as I suspected.  I again loved it, sweet, coconuty, with a bit of fun texture.

The caramelized almond bits were also great, super sweet, nice crunch.  The caramelized biscuit though I didn't care for, as it was basically just cookie crumbs, which, it turns out, aren't very delicious when they get soggy in melty froyo.

The kiwi was hard and very lackluster, like all other kiwi I had on the trip.  I'm starting to think kiwi just isn't what to eat in Portugal.  The peaches were almost good, they had a nice flavor, but were still pretty hard, crisp to bite into.  Maybe that is how peaches are eaten here?  The mango was a mixed bag.  Some chunks were perfectly soft and ripe.  Others were kinda hard.

My parfait was a bit hard to eat, since I wanted to get to the mangos in the bottom, and had to dig through so much else to get there.  But besides that slight annoyance, it was pretty awesome.  Sure, the fruit wasn't all the ripest, and I wouldn't get the biscuit crumble again, but it was still really great, creamy, tart yogurt, a ridiculous amount of toppings, and, swoon, rafaweeel!

I would definitely get a Weeel Done again, if I was hungry enough, or if I had someone to split with, as this really is a bit of an undertaking.  Next time, I'd keep the rafaweeel (or maybe, maybe finally try the chocolate), I'd keep the caramelized almonds and perhaps try some of the chocolate candies, I'd keep the mango, possibly just double up on it, or pick something else that looked ripest.  If ... only there was another time!

I don't really understand the pricing at Weeel.  A small with 3 fruits, 2 crunchy toppings, and 1 liquid topping would be 5.70€.   When I ordered fruit toppings on my froyo, I got less of each on it than in here.  So this was more yogurt than a small, an equal amount of liquid topping, and 5 other toppings, all in more substantial amounts, for 2€ less?

Anyway, if you want a lot of toppings, clearly go this route, even if it is a bit hard to eat.
Weeel Frozen Yogurt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rich Table

Rich Table opened in 2012 to pretty much instant local acclaim.  A cute story, a husband and wife team of chef-owners, who opened their first restaurant together.  He makes their fancy cultured butter, she makes the homemade bread.  A casual, neighborhood environment, but with fairly refined food.  Seasonal market focused menu that is constantly changing, with a few unique signature dishes.  Reasonable pricing.

I've wanted to visit Rich Table for quite a while, but, reservations are notoriously hard to come by (although, they've never been awarded a Michelin star).  I was finally able to visit when invited by a VIP guest, who was able to secure us a table for 4 on a Sunday night, in the 5:45pm seating.

The Space

Rich Table is located in Hayes Valley, just a few blocks from the Van Ness station.  The space is casual but manicured, if that makes any sense, in that it is clearly designed, but designed to feel homey.  It is as comfortable as possible, but, the space is small, so the cramped nature does reduce some level of comfort.
Front Door - Curb Appeal!
The front entrance is very inviting, with a rather homey looking wooden red door.
Front Window.
The curbside appeal extends to the large window, stone work, and even a bench to sit on.  It is far more attractive than the surrounding area.
The casual but attractive decor extends inside as well, with whitewashed wooden bench seating complete with throw pillows, and walls made with large wooden slats.

Most tables are just small tables for two, with only a handful of 4-6 person tables.
Open (Tiny) Kitchen.
The kitchen is open, and absolutely tiny, positioned in the corner behind exposed wooden beans.
Place Setting.
Tables were set in advance of our arrival, with simple fork and knife, plate, and white linen napkin.  The napkin mirrored the homey feel that the throw pillows and casual wooden elements established.

Our plates and silverware were changed out between courses.


Everything at Rich Table is designed to be shared family style, so we were able to order a selection of menu items, some from all sections of the menu.  The pastas and desserts were the weakest dishes, the signature Bites were as unique as I expected, but, besides the steak, we didn't have anything particularly worth going back for.
Menu Board.
The food menu (top) at Rich Table is broken into several sections.  The three main sections are not labelled in any particular way, but if I had to make up names, I'd call them: "Larger Appetizers", "Pasta", and "Main Dishes".

Down the side of the menu ran labelled sections, with "Bites", "Bread & Butter", "Oysters", and the option to feast family style with the chefs picking your menu.

We ordered from all the major sections, skipping only the oysters and bread.

The bottom menu was cocktails, beer, and wine, plus house made soft drinks.


My hosts brought a bottle of wine, so I did not order any drinks, besides sparkling water, from the drink menu.

Ojan however ordered a house made soda, as they sounded interesting.  He has the choice of strawberry-verbena, douglas fir, lemon-lime, cherry-lavender, or mexican cola.
Cherry Lavender. $6
Ojan took one sip and declared, "Woah, that's weird."

Given that reaction, I had to try it.  It was very sweet, but the cherry flavor was good.  A unique drink, if nothing else.


I knew from my research that the Bites section of the menu is what first brought Rich Table acclaim.  The sardine chips and porchini mushroom doughnuts are hands down, the most talked about, blogged about, instagrammed about, etc dishes.  But the other Bites also sounded great, so, we ordered every single item from the Bites section (save the avocado since I'm allergic).

The Bites seemed strangely portioned to me.  The chips are sold individually.  The doughnuts come as an order of 5.  The fritters as 4.  The spring roll, only one per order, cut in half.  It seemed like no matter your group size, these portions would always be a bit awkward.  It was also a bit odd that the varied serving sizes weren't mentioned to us.  When we ordered the spring roll for example, the server could have asked if we were all planning to try it, and suggested doubling up on it.  Instead, we had two pieces of spring roll for 4 people.

The first 3 of our Bites came at once, with a steady trickle of the remaining dishes a few minutes later.  This was good pacing, as receiving them all at once would have just covered our table in dishes, been overwhelming, and the hot dishes would have gotten cold before we could try them all.  I appreciated the staggering.
Dried Porcini Doughnuts / Raclette. $9.
In the first wave of dishes, the very first dish I reached for was Rich Table's second-most-famous dish: dried porcini doughnuts with raclette dipping sauce.

Yes, take a moment for that one to settle in.  Hot fresh savory doughnuts, with liquid cheese to dip them in?  No wonder people go nuts.

The doughnuts were piping hot and fresh from the fryer, not oily.  The texture was good, very doughy, in a way that I liked.  They didn't scream "MUSHROOMS!", but had slightly earthy tones from the porcini powder they were rolled in.  Good, savory doughnuts.

The raclette was actually really fluffy, cheesy, and, like the doughnuts themselves, it was served warm.  I'm glad I went for this dish first, while it was all hot.

We all liked this, but, no one loved it enough to go for the 5th extra.  I really wanted the molten raclette stuffed inside the doughnuts, rather than as a dipping sauce, like the ridiculous cheese foam injected donut "tanks" from Fill 'R Up Gastro Garaje in LA.
Sardine Chip / Horseradish Crème Fraiche. $2/each.
Next I went for the famous sardine chips.  Yes, a chip, with a sardine threaded through it.  Unique, for sure.

I actually wanted to reach for it first, but, since the doughnuts were hot and it was not, I had to prioritize.

The chip was crispy, but a bit oily, as you can see it glistening here.  The sardine was super salty, which was perfect with the chip, but rather chewy, in a way that made it a bit hard to eat.

The chips were served with horseradish crème fraiche, a fun play on chips and dip, although I didn't taste horseradish.  There was also a single leaf of ... baby kale?  It was at this point that I noticed that every dish came garnished with some kind of fresh seasonal green.

Overall, this was fine, and certainly unique.  I'm glad I finally got to try it, but I don't think I'd order it again, as the chewy nature of the sardine was a bit off-putting.
Fresh Spring Roll / Dungeness Crab / Fried Peanut. $11.
The third Bite that arrived at the start of our meal was the fresh spring roll, a light contrast to the fried carby items.

Inside the standard spring roll wrapper was crispy cucumber and a generous amount of fresh crab.  I got totally distracted talking about local Dungeness crab, and somewhat forgot to take real notes on this.  I couldn't stop thinking about crab night at Camino, in Oakland, which I was busy recommending to our fellow diners.

There were two sauces on the plate, a peanut sauce and a chile sauce, that you were supposed to mix together.  I somehow managed to just get a big spoonful of the chile sauce, and found it really hot, but, everyone else had them mixed and didn't think there was much spice.  Perhaps I got all the spice?  The peanut sauce was very chunky, a texture I liked, but made it hard to dip into.

The random green garnish here was a sprig of something.  Like I said, every dish had a random green garnish.  

The spring roll came as only two halves, which made sharing a bit awkward.  Luckily, our group of 4 was two couples, so each couple took one, and did the portioning.  In my case, this meant I got first dibs, and my partner took the second half after I was done.  The other couple tried to more politely cut their piece in half, but that just squished and mangled the whole thing.  The server really should have warned us about this portion size.

Anyway, this was good, a fresh, light, tasty dish, although not particularly novel.  It was the dish of the night for one diner.
Brandade Croquettes / Tikka Masala / Pickled Lime. $9.
Our next pile of Bites started with the brandade croquettes.  The order came with 4, one for each of us, but I decided to skip it.  We had way too much food coming, and they looked kinda burnt and dried out, and were less interesting to me than other things on our lineup.

The random green garnish here was a fresh pea tendril, which also showed up in the next dish.

The others didn't comment much on this dish, so I don't think it was particularly interesting to them either.
Corn Tempura / Aioli / Cotija Cheese. $9.
Our final Bite was corn tempura.

From reading reviews before my visit, I knew that this would be individually fried tempura corn kernels, but that is certainly not what I would have expected prior to seeing photos.  Everyone else seemed confused by it, expecting something more like a corn fritter.

Anyway.  I like fried things.  I like tempura.  I love aioli.  I like dipping fried things in aioli.  But ... that was hard to do with this form factor and plating.  The individual fried corn kernels meant that you couldn't pick them up.  This was not finger food.  The aioli was all on the bottom of the plate.  It made the tempura bits get soggy, and, I couldn't take a forkful of tempura corn and dunk it in the aioli.  I wanted more, separate aioli for optimal dunking.  And lastly, the corn tempura was too oily, it left an oily aftertaste in my mouth.

Sadly, I just didn't care for this dish, even though it sounded on paper like one I'd love.  Ojan even called it out, noticing that I wasn't polishing off the plate, asking what was wrong, because it was a dish that I should have loved.  And I would have, if it were less oily, and had more aioli ...

I'll give a shout out to the fresh pea tendrils on top though.  Crisp, peak season, and really delicious.


The Starters section (as opposed to just "Bites"), had 4 items, larger than the Bites.  Since we got so many Bites, I would have been fine skipping these, but, one other diner wanted the burrata, and, really, when will I ever turn down burrata?  We ordered just that one.  The dishes we passed up were grilled asparagus, beef tartar, and chicken liver mousse.  Asparagus and chicken liver mousse are dishes I would have ordered on any other day, so this really just a testament to how amazing the whole menu was, that I was able to not select dishes that sounded perfectly appealing.

Our starter came about 20 minutes after the last Bite, and 15 minutes before our entrees, again, good pacing.
Burrata / Strawberry Gazpacho / Country Ham. $10.
This dish was as fascinating as you might guess, given the description.

It was, indeed, a pool of strawberry gazpacho and big chunks of fresh burrata, topped with ham, greens, and furikaki spiced rice crispy rice.

One diner took a bite and said, "its like strawberry greek yogurt!"

The gazpacho was sweet and fruity, yet spicy too.  The burrata was creamy and delicious, as, well, it was burrata.  Hard to go wrong with fresh burrata.  The greens and finely sliced snap peas added freshness and color.  I think this was the same garnish as the spring roll?  The crumble on top was furikake spiced puffed rice, super crispy, and a fun touch.

It was a very intriguing combination of flavors and textures, and things you'd never expect to work well together, yet, somehow, it did.  Although, now that I think about it, fruit and cheese do make sense together, and obviously ham and cheese make sense, so, why not put it all together, and turn the fruit into a gazpacho?  The other diners summed it up when they said, "its just confusing".  I agree, it was confusing, but, I think I liked it.

I know the porchini doughnuts and the sardine chips get all the credit for being the unique offerings at Rich Table, but this one was far more fascinating to me.  Not necessarily more tasty, but, it kept me engaged.  It was the favorite dish of one diner.


Rich Table is known for their pastas, which I knew, and our server made sure to tell us as well.  The menu had four pasta choices, which could be coursed out as a mid or an entree.  We opted to order two pastas and one entree, and have them coursed together.

I would have been happy with any of the four pastas, but the carbonara was my first pick, and the lobster tagliatelle was another diner's top request, so, we went with those two, skipping the bucatini (with triple cream!) and the braised duck and cherry lasagna (which, I'll admit, sounds a bit odd, but looked delicious).

I wonder if we just made poor choices, as neither pasta was great, and the pastas are something Rich Table is really known for.
Chitarra / Ramp "Carbonara" / Aged Gouda / Egg Yolk. $18.
The chitarra carbonara was really quite disappointing.

Not that it was bad exactly, but it was really, really boring.  The pasta itself was cooked al dente.  The sauce was creamy.  But ... there was just no flavor.

On top, of course we had a random green garnish, here it was a few leaves of ... baby arugula?

This dish simply had nothing going on.  I certainly didn't taste ramps or even gouda.  This went unfinished.
Tagliatelle / Maine Lobster / Corn Bisque / Peach / Caraway. $23.
The tagliatelle fared better.

Again, nicely cooked pasta in a creamy sauce.  This time, the sauce, sweet corn bisque, had flavor.  I really liked the crunch from the caraway crumble on top.

The chunks of soft, cooked peach mixed in were a bit odd.  Peaches and lobster?  Peaches and pasta?  It didn't not work, but, it was certainly different, and very sweet.  Perhaps a bit too sweet as part of a main dish.  There was a not a lot of lobster, but I wouldn't expect there to be at this price point.  The lobster was nicely cooked, not rubbery.

Overall, better than the other pasta, and I did like the sauce, but, I probably wouldn't get it again.

Main Dishes

The menu had 4 different main dishes.  Since we were going so heavy in the other areas of the menu, we opted to only order a single main, which was served at the same time as our pastas.

I was tempted by the halibut, since I really love halibut (and it came with grits!), but, I eat both halibut and grits regularly, so, that didn't seem very special.  I was really intrigued by the vegetarian main, a corn cake with "seeded cream cheese", strawberries, and sprouts, but I also had no real idea what that would be like, and no one else in the group was drawn in by that one.  So this left the pork chop or the ribeye.  Our choice was made not by the protein itself, but by one of the elements: Dungeness Crab Butter.  Yes.

It was an excellent choice, and I wonder more why the main dishes don't get more accolades.
Grilled Ribeye, English Pea, Potato, Dungeness Crab Butter. $34.
Ok, a steak is perhaps not the most sharable dish, I know.  But, they did say everything on the menu is designed to be family style, and, it was a vary large steak.  Amusingly, it was served with a fork and a spoon (although they brought us each a steak knife for our individual place settings).

I can't say this dish looked like I expected it to.  I expected a more classic preparation, a steak, potatoes on the side, scoop of peas, pat of butter on top.  Where were the potatoes?  And, that promised Dungeness crab butter?  I also can't say that it looked ... very appealing.  But one bite in I stopped caring what it looked like.  It was delicious.

Ojan took one bite of this, and instantly declared, "This dish makes me realize why people like ribeye".  Neither Ojan nor I tend to like ribeye, and always opt for filet, as ribeye tends to be chewier, fattier than we like.

But the ribeye was ridiculously good.  It was really well prepared, tender and juicy, not chewy, the considerable fat perfectly rendered.  It was well seasoned, very salty, in a good way.

The peas came in two forms, a smooth english pea puree at the base of the plate and a chunky pea pistou (or was it a chimichurri?) on top.  The peas were fresh, flavorful, and delicious.  I really enjoyed both pea elements.  Hello, spring!

The potato was crispy fried potato strings perched on top.  I loved the crunch they added.  I'm not sure exactly where the butter was, I think the steak must have been basted with it, as it was glistening and there was no obvious butter on the plate.  I didn't actually taste anything craby at all, but, I didn't care.  The dish was good anyway.

Everyone at the table liked this dish.  It was the dish of the night for both Ojan and I, although our dining companions happen to be serious steak connoisseurs, and said they can source, and cook themselves, a better steak.  We await our invitation, and, in the meantime, we'd gladly get this again.


Dessert menu.
The dessert menu featured 4 sweet desserts and a cheese.  The selection wasn't exciting to me, and seemed like it was aimed a bit too much to please the masses.  A cake, a pudding, a chocolate dish, and something frozen.

I avoid chocolate at night due to the caffeine, so we quickly ruled that out.  I love pudding, but the panna cotta was lemon, and I don't care for citrus desserts.  Still, you know me, I have a serious sweet tooth, and we needed dessert.

It seemed that nothing was jumping out at anyone else either.  No strong votes for any dishes, so, we opted to double up on the cake, and added the frozen dessert our server strongly recommended.

The desserts were fine, but, they weren't special nor memorable.

Alongside my dessert I ordered decaf coffee, as always.  I love having a bitter coffee to pair with a sweet dessert.  Unfortunately, the coffee didn't come until at least 5 minutes after dessert.  It was good (Sightglass, served in a french press), but, given that we had one warm dessert and one melting dessert, I couldn't wait for it to arrive, and had to drink it after.  Next time, I'd explicitly ask to have that timed differently.
Pistachio Coffee Cake / Strawberry / Buttermilk Ice Cream. $11.
The dessert I was mildly interested in was the coffee cake.

Now, I'm not really one for cake (its in the same category as cookies for me, generally just meh), but, I do have a soft spot for coffee cake.  Not generally for dessert, but, a good streusel topped coffee cake makes a wonderful compliment to a morning cuppa.

Anyway, this was ... not really a coffee cake.  We all had the same initial reaction of "um, this isn't coffee cake".  I mean, it was cake, and it was round, but ... no streusel?  No cinnamon?  One diner said it was more like a soft scone.  To me, it was just boring cake.

The cake was served warm, which I appreciated.  Warm dessert with cold ice cream is a winning combination (although, I prefer the warm element to be a crisp, cobbler, pie, etc).  One point for the warm dessert.

The strawberries were glazed and super sweet.  They reminded me almost of canned strawberries, the goo surrounding them was that thick.  I like sweet, but, I didn't really like these.  Ojan told me to think of them like the strawberries my mom uses for strawberry shortcake, macerated with tons of sugar.  I almost could see the strawberry shortcake aspect of this dish, as it was cake and sweetened berries, but, the glaze was just too much.

The buttermilk ice cream was tasty though, it had a nice tang to it.

If I composed a bite with all of the elements, warm soft cake, sweet fruit, crunchy pistachios, and tangy creamy ice cream, it was enjoyable, but, overall, this was fairly lackluster.  One other diner said it was "not a very desserty dessert", which perhaps explains why it wasn't for me.  I like serious desserts, and this almost seemed more like a breakfast item to me.  I wouldn't get it again.
Cherry Ice / Sorrel / Almond Milk Ice Cream. $11.
Our other pick was the cherry ice.

This was an odd pick, but, when I asked the server if he had a favorite, he got a dreamy look in his eye, and told me the cherry ice.  I think he realized how it was a strange pick, particularly when compared to something like dark chocolate ganache.  I also recalled a surprised positive review about it when I browsed Yelp too, so, putting the two recommendations together, we went for it.  Why not try something totally different?

And different it was.  Not bad, but, very different.

Cherries and almonds were the primary ingredients, each featured in multiple forms.  The namesake cherries made up the light refreshing granita on top, but there were also fresh, tart halves of cherries underneath.  The almond milk ice cream was quite good, I found the almond flavor to it lovely, and I was surprised by how well the almond and cherry flavors combined.  There was also roasted almond slices as a layer in the bowl, which added more almond flavor and some crunch.  On top was chiffonade sorrel, you know, green garnish.

Overall, I enjoyed eating this dish, largely because it was different.  I appreciated that they worked the fresh cherry and crunchy almonds in, to boost the flavor of the granita and the ice cream, but also to add some other textures.  But, would I get it again?  Nah.  Again, just not my style of dessert, but it was a really refreshing and light option, so if you are into granitas and fruit, then, I'd recommend.
Rich Table Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ground Burger, Lisbon, Portugal

I was recently in Lisbon for a conference.  Lisbon is not exactly known for being a culinary mecca (besides Pastéis de Belém, which was amazing!) and I had little time to do research before my trip.  Also I was basically looking for venues that could handle large groups with no notice.  On any given night, we had no idea if our group would be 5 people, 10 people, 30 people, or even 50.  Um, yeah.

This is no easy feat.  We managed to get a tables for 30 of us at Largo one night, where the food was pretty mediocre, but at least they had a good gin selection.  But the next night, we needed to be flexible and couldn't require people to RSVP.

I randomly stumbled upon Ground Burger when out for a walk one day, and decided to investigate.  Yes, a burger place, not not really authentic Portuguese cuisine, but, it would appeal to the masses.  Their tag line is "Burgers Fries Shakes Beer".  Pretty universal stuff there.

I did a bit more research.  The reviews were actually really, really good.  Not just for burgers in Lisbon, but, for burgers, anywhere.  People claimed the onion rings were the best they had ever had.  I pressed on.  I found out the beef is ground in-house daily.  They make their own buns, twice a day.  They make their own ice cream for the milkshakes.  Well, then.  This wasn't just any old burger place!

So, we went, a group of about 30 to start, and at least 15 more trickled in within 20 minutes of our seating.  The restaurant couldn't seat us all in one group, but we were able to take a bunch of tables, push some together, and take up about 80% of the restaurant.

So far so good.  But ... the staff just couldn't handle our group, even though we broke into multiple tables.  It was actually rather amazing how badly they dealt with us.  I understand getting a few orders wrong, but, I'm not sure anyone was actually delivered the right item.  Burgers were not cooked as specified.  It took 41 minutes after I ordered for my sparkling water to be delivered.  Other drinks took even longer.  The table next to us got their food before their drinks.  Our food was mostly stone cold.

The drinks and food were ready in a timely fashion, but, the staff just seemed entirely confused about what to do with them.  The bartender had all the drinks lined up on the counter, arranged by table, and a server would walk over, look at them, and turn away, walking in a random direction for a minute, going back, picking up one drink, wandering around, etc.  It was somewhat like watching a chicken with its head cut off.  I have no idea how they were so incapable of moving items from the counter to the tables.

So, anyway, I have a hard time evaluating Ground Burger, because maybe it really is wonderful, it sure sounded like it should be, but for us, it was highly mediocre and the experience was really not very enjoyable.


The restaurant is located up on a raised platform, with a huge patio outside.  The patio looked idea for seating, but, they had none.  Maybe zoning requirements?
Inside Seating.
Inside was a large bar area, with craft beer bottles on display.

Tables were simple, chairs were wooden, and we were provided paper placemats. 

The light fixtures were fairly interesting, exposed bulbs in cages.

It was ridiculously loud inside, and it got worse as the night went on.  All hard surfaces in a fully filled restaurant doesn't work very well.
On each table was a box with ketchup, mustard, and salt.  No pepper.  Next to it was a paper napkin dispenser.

There was no cutlery on the tables, and none ever provided, even when people ordered salads.  Those folks ended up going back to the kitchen (!) to ask for a fork after waiting at least 20 minutes post salads being delivered for anyone to pay attention to us again.


We ordered drinks soon after sitting.  It took 41 minutes for my sparkling water to arrive, and even then, it was brought to the person next to me, who ordered still water.  It took another 5 minutes for my cider to arrive, and it wasn't even brought to anyone, a server just walked around with it in her hand looking confused, saying nothing, until I realized it was mine and basically grabbed it from her.  The table next to us received their food before their drinks.  Emil's glass of wine was sitting up on the bar ready to be delivered to him for at least 20 minutes, and came long, long after mine, even though he was seated next to me.  They came by with a beer we didn't order at least 4 different times.  Yeah.
 Craft Beer Menu.
The first page of the menu, after the food, is entirely beer, featuring Sam Adams very prominently on top. They had a decent number of lagers, a few saisons, and tons of ales.  Given all the craft beers, I'm not entirely sure I understand the Samuel Adams thing?

Burgers and beers are a classic pairing, and the beer drinkers in my group were quite happy.

I'm very curious to know about this "Beer to go" ...
Beers, Part 2.
The next page?  More beer, tons of IPAs, and porters and stouts.

Again, very happy beer drinkers.
Wine and Cider.
And finally, wine, ciders, and ... Jack Daniel's.  Lols.  For wine, they had only two whites (only one by the glass) and 5 reds (again, only one by the glass).  Clearly, beer is the focus here, and wine was an afterthought.  Emil got a glass of red wine, and said it wasn't very good.

The cider menu was pretty good though, 5 different ciders by a Swedish brand, Kopparberg, all fruity varieties.
Kopparberg Morango Lima. 4.90€.
I went for the strawberry lime cider.  I may not like beer, but cider and burgers is a great pairing, and I was pretty happy to have choices.

This was not at all what I expected.  It was crazy sweet.  You could smell the strawberry aroma the moment I opened the can.  Sweet is good, and strawberry is good, but this was more like a malt beverage than a cider.  I would have loved it when I was in college and was into such things.

It really didn't have many cider qualities to it.  It was like ... carbonated strawberry juice with a hint of lime.  Sorta like a refreshing flavored iced tea.  Very drinkable, and likely would have been dangerous for that younger version of me.  I wasn't ever able to do too much damage with Zima, since, wow, too much sweet and you just can't pound those, but on a hot day, I think I'd find these way too easy to suck down.

But, um, with my burger and fries?  Not quite what I wanted.  Oops.  I didn't like it, but did not bother trying to order a second drink.


"All shakes are made with our daily housemade ice cream.  We use only fresh, 100% natural ingredients and vanilla beans from madagascar. The recipe? It's secret!"
Milkshakes are a strange thing for me.  I like them, for sure.  But, they aren't quite a dessert to me, even though, um, they should be.  So I never know when to have one.  But, to pair with burgers and fries?  Yes!  Classic.

Ground Burger has only 3 milkshakes on the menu: chocolate peanut butter, vanilla, and strawberry.  While I agree that chocolate peanut butter is strictly an improvement over chocolate, I thought it a bit strange that they didn't have plain chocolate.

Anyway, given the description and claims of greatness, we obviously needed milkshakes.  I can't say they were anything special, although, they did look pretty impressive.

All milkshakes were served in mason jars, apparently trendy in Lisbon too.  All are topped with an impressive mount of "chantilly cream" and come with the sauce of choice drizzled down the sides of the jar and on top.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake. 6.90€.
"Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate syrup, served with chantilly on top."

I went for the chocolate peanut butter, because I love peanut butter, and vanilla and strawberry were just a bit too boring.

The chocolate peanut butter milkshake had chocolate sauce drizzled around the perimeter of the jar, more on top, and obviously some integrated into the shake.  The mound of whip cream was impressive in stature.  It certainly *looked* impressive.

And, it was fine.  But, really, not remarkable.  It was decently thick, had decent peanut butter flavor, but the chocolate wasn't very strong.  The chocolate sauce was just generic, thin, kinda watery, likely Hershey, just, chocolate sauce.  The "chantilly" really seemed to be whipped cream from a can.

Again, fine, but certainly not special, and the handmade ice cream and other subtleties were lost on us.
Vanilla Milkshake. 6.90€.
"Vanilla ice cream, golden syrup, served with chantilly on top."

The person next to me got the vanilla milkshake, made with golden syrup.  It too had the syrup (in this case the golden syrup) drizzled down the sides of the mug and on top of the whipped cream.

I didn't take a sip of this as I didn't know my neighbor well enough to start demanding sips of his drink, but he said it was quite good.


Ground burger basically serves burgers.  And really, not much else.  The menu contains 9 different burgers, one of which is a veggie burger, but otherwise are all the same ground beef burgers with different toppings.  There are no other entrees available, nor other types of patty.

All burgers are served a la carte.  The sides offered are fries, onion rings, and a salad, plus, if you consider it a side, dipping sauces.

And that is it for savory food.  All of the savory food only filled the left hand column of the menu.

The right hand column had the milkshakes, desserts (ice cream or chocolate cake), and non-alcoholic drinks.
"Our burgers are housemade, certified 100% black angus beef, fresh ground daily in our kitchen, served on a toasted bun that we bake ourselves twice a day".
Like the milkshakes, these burgers certainly had a good pedigree, beef ground in house! Fresh baked buns!
Onion Rings. 4.90€.
"Crispy onion rings in Samuel Adams beer batter fried until golden served with GB Special Sauce."

The first food item to hit our table was one order of onion rings, long before the other food.  The basket contained 6 very large rings.

They were piping hot.  This turned out to be the only hot food we received, but that is mostly because the serving staff just really didn't do a good job of bringing food to the table.  I saw all our food sitting on the counter for a very long time before it was brought to us, and there was a 6 minute lag between this single order of rings and the next dish (fries) hitting the table, even though it was all ready at the same time.  Sigh.

Anyway, the ring.  These were pretty good.

The coating was thick and formed a very crispy shell.  They were oily, but not in a bad, greasy way, just in a clearly freshly fried way.  The slices of onion inside were white onion, not too slimy, and the batter didn't stick to them, nor did the onions slide out.  Very good execution of the rings.

The rings were served with the "GB Special Sauce", which I didn't actually love.  It was just a seasoned creamy sauce, and I really wished our side of 4 sauces arrived when these did, so I could try them with the rings.

Overall, good rings, and I'd get them again, but 2 of these was enough for me (they were massive though!)
French Fries. 2.90.
"Delicious homemade crispy fries deep fried with garlic and rosemary, served with garlic mayo."

The fries were ... ok.  They weren't warm when I got them, so I'm sure that added a bit to the downsides.  Some were crispier than others, and I liked those the best.  The fries themselves were pretty meh.

They were fairly unique though, as mixed in with the fries was slices of fried garlic that was absolutely delicious.  Mmm, fried, soft, garlic!  There was also fried rosemary, which somehow wasn't burnt, just was really crispy, and quite fun to munch on.  The garlic and rosemary really helped add a lot of flavor to the fries.

Perhaps if fresh and warm, these fries would have been great?  Our table also somehow wound up with about 3x the number of fries we ordered, so I ended up munching on far more than made sense, given how mediocre they were, but, we were surrounded by baskets of uneaten fries.

Well, there was another reason I couldn't stop eating fries: the aioli.  Er, garlic mayo.

Now this was good.  It was creamy, it was garlicy, it was really, really good.  I could kinda care less what I dunked into it.  I was also really glad we somehow wound up with so many fries, as each one came with its own pot of aioli, and most of my dining companions were using ketchup.  I consumed an unreasonable amount of aioli, but, I really enjoyed it.
Combo 4 Sauces.  3.90€.
"Garlic Mayo, Chipotle Sauce, GB Special, and smoked BBQ sauce, our special recipe with spices smoked with Jack Daniel's wood chips."

And ... all the sauces!  They finally arrived way after everything else.

The garlic mayo in back was more of the same that I had with the fries, and I eagerly took the extra off of this platter too.

BBQ was next, so fancy in description with Jack Daniel's wood chip smoked spices, but, it was just kinda thin BBQ sauce, a bit too sweet.

Next was the Chipotle Sauce, another creamy sauce that I didn't care for, but I don't tend to like chipotle.  It did have a little kick to it.

The GB Special Sauce in front was the same as the rings, meh.
Baconcheese, Rare. 10.90€.
"100% Black Angus beef patty, cheddar cheese, smoked crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, fried red onion, with smoked BBQ sauce."

Finally, burger time.  Daily ground beef, housemade buns, yadda yadda.

I believe that these burgers could be good.  And I've seen photos of ones that were nicely cooked.  But, none of ours were.

Let's start with the done-ness.  Now, I wanted medium-rare, but I had read reviews that said to order under, so asked for rare.  This also matched with our experience the night before at Largo, where the folks who ordered medium got well done.

So, what was rare like here?  Um, well done.  Far past medium.  All our burgers wound up well done, which was a bit amusing, as they made a point of saying the cook level as they handed them out, inevitably to the wrong people.  But it wasn't that they handed them out wrong, literally, all were well done.  Ok, so, that was a problem, and made the patty pretty dried out and not particularly juicy nor flavorful.

Next, temperature.  It was stone cold when it arrived.  This was the servers fault.  I saw it happening, just like with the fries, just like with the drinks.  They just really couldn't seem to figure out how to get food to the table.

There was a pretty seriously large thick slice of cheese, nice crispy bacon, fresh enough lettuce and tomato, but, these things couldn't make up for a cold overcooked burger.  The bun was soft, fluffy, and glossy.

Overall, disappointing, but I believe they are capable of doing this right, our group size just ruined it.
Ground Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 20, 2017

Takeout from Zero Zero

I remember when Zero Zero opened in San Francisco in 2010.  The chef/owner had already made a name for himself in the pizza work outside the city.  It was one of the first places in SF to boast about the type of pizza oven (something custom, bakes each pizza in only 90 seconds), to geek out about the type of flour they use (uh, the namesake "00"), and to bring a Californian twist to Neapolitan pizzas.  Oooh, and everyone went nuts for the soft serve ice cream, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.

I also remember because I lived across the street, and even though pizza may not be my favorite thing, I saw a lot of benefit in having a great place so close by.  I gave it a few tries when friends wanted to go (really, how could I say no to folks wanting to go do dinner as close to my house as possible?), but, it never really did it for me (besides the desserts of course).  Yet the place stayed very popular, and very successful.

I moved away, and never gave it another thought.

Until I visited a friend who now lives across the street, and we decided to order takeout from Zero Zero.  I was interested to see if much had changed in the few years since I had tried it.  It still seems busy (although as hard to get a reservation at as when it first opened), and Yelpers are generally positive, so I thought perhaps I was mis-remembering, or, that it had gotten better.

I did find my notes from 2010, a quick review I wrote to a friend who asked about it (this was before I started a blog of course):
  • Over-hyped.  Not worth the long waits/advance reservations.
  • Starters were all meh.  Nothing bad, but nothing memorable.
  • Pizza was meh.  Good, but again, not memorable nor worth the wait.
  • Dessert was pretty fantastic.  I had the vanilla soft serve with caramel, sea salt, and candied peanuts, and I loved every bite.  Another dinner had the ricotta donuts (with hot fudge for dipping!) and they were pretty good too.  One member of the group said, "The doughnuts were worth going back for. I'd go there just for dessert next time."
Summary: If I still lived across the street and could just walk in, I'd go back. But certainly not worth all the effort. Except for the dessert ... 
My 2017 opinion remains basically the same.  It isn't bad, but nothing was very interesting, and the price point is kinda high for what it is.


While Zero Zero is known for the pizza and soft serve ice cream, if you dig into reviews, the pasta dishes are what people actually seem to like the most.  Zero Zero has only 5 pasta dishes on the menu, all a different shape and style, interestingly, none vegetarian (interesting to me because you usually see a pasta dish as the random veggie option).

If I was picking I probably would have opted for the gnocchi just because I love gnocchi (and, it comes with pork belly ragù and ricotta!), but the fettuccini with local Dungeness crab certainly would have been my second choice, and that is what someone else in the group suggested, so I was happy to go along with it.
Fettuccini. $23.95.
"San Francisco Dungeness Crab, Fresno Chili, Tomalley Butter, Chive, Shallot, Garlic, Preserved Lemon."

I was pretty let down by this dish.  The noodles themselves were fine, decently cooked I suppose, but, I had really good fresh fettuccini earlier in the week, and this didn't live up to that at all.  Still, not overcooked or mushy, just, uninteresting.

I expected some interesting flavors from the tomalley butter, shallots, garlic, and preserved lemon, but the sauce fell very flat.  It wasn't even that buttery.

And finally, the crab.  I love local Dungeness crab.  But this was actually kinda fishy.  I tried another piece just to be sure, but, again, fishy.

I didn't like this at all, and the price seemed high for a simple dish.


Zero Zero is most known for the pizza though, and that is primarily what we ordered.  They make 9 different pizzas, all with the same style of crust.  3 are simple marinara / margherita / margherita di bufala, but the other 6 are fairly elaborate, and are all named after San Francisco neighborhoods.  There are a few things you can add on, like arugula, prosciutto, or olives, but mostly, the pizzas are designed as they are, no customizations really.

We picked three pizzas, and doubled up on the basic margherita for the kids.  The ones we picked, coincidentally, happened to be their most popular, and are also available frozen to go, although we ordered them fresh since we were literally across the street.
Fillmore. $19.95.
"Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Leeks, Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Pecorino, Fontina, Garlic, Thyme."

My pick was the Fillmore, because the Hen of the Woods mushrooms really called out to me (my second choice was the Turk, with sunchoke cream!).

I didn't like the crust, it was chewy in a strange way.  I don't really think this was the fault of getting the pizza to go, as we literally were across the street, and it didn't sit long at all.

This was a sauceless pizza, which made it a bit dry, particularly since the toppings didn't extend out very close to the edges.  It seemed like nearly half of each slice was just dry crust.  The flavors were good, particularly the cooked down leeks and garlic under all the cheeses, but, nothing really popped without a better delivery mechanism (aka, the crust).  I did like the mushrooms, but, alas, they were just mushrooms.

So overall, this wasn't great.  Given how essential the crust is to this style of pizza, it really detracted from everything else, and some flavorful leeks and mushrooms couldn't save it.
Castro. $19.95.
"Sopressata, House Made Sausage, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Basil." 

My third pick was the Castro, so I was glad others wanted to try that one too.

But again, chewy crust that I did not like.  The tomato sauce extended out towards the edges as you'd expect, but the cheese did not, again, leaving nearly half the slice fairly uninteresting.  The sausage may have been house made, but it wasn't flavorful at all.

So again, didn't like.
Zero Zero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato