Friday, June 16, 2017


"Whole Food Protein Bars with Real Ingredients."
Yup, another day, another type of snack bar to review.  RXBAR is a line of high protein bars made with real ingredients, gluten-free, soy free, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I often roll my eyes at these sorts of things, but these truly are made with real ingredients, or, as they say, "like eating 3 egg whites, 2 dates, and 6 almonds. With no B.S."

RXBAR currently comes in 8 varieties, all with egg whites, different nuts, and dates as the base.  The flavors sound pretty good, like peanut butter, coconut chocolate, maple sea salt, mint chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, and more.
Coffee Chocolate.
"Our Coffee Chocolate protein bar brings two favorites together in one delicious bar. Four core whole food ingredients, infused with 100% real chocolate and the perfect balance of coffee make this bar an instant favorite of both coffee and chocolate lovers. With no added sweeteners and only a hint of caffeine (5mg.), this is your anytime, chocolate and coffee break."

I tried the (now discontinued) coffee chocolate flavor.

The ingredients in this bar really are real ingredients, as promised: egg whites, almonds, and cashews for protein, dates for sweetener, cacao and coffee for the flavor, and a hint of salt.  That is it.  No random protein isolates, no scary ingredients.

But, as you can imagine, what do you get when you combine just those things?  Yup, you get a very strange texture and flavor, like the original Clif bars (or, at least how I remember them).  Dense, gummy, just ... odd.

There was a bit of crunch from bits of nuts, and some decent flavor from the coffee and chocolate, but, yeah, this was not for me.

On the plus side, it did have 12 grams of protein with no crazy ingredients, and was a decent 210 calories, but I didn't want another.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Batter Bakery

Batter Bakery is a local San Francisco bakery that I desperately want to like more than I do.   Batter Bakery makes a number of breakfast baked goods, including scones, muffins, quickbreads, coffee cake, and "morning bars".  They also make dessert items, such as cookies, brownies, shortbreads, and cupcakes.

They care about sourcing, with ingredients coming from local farmers, and selections varying with the seasons.  They try to take a slightly healthier focus on baked goods, with whole grain flours used in many items.  They sell at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market, and through Good Eggs, along with at their retail locations, including a cute little kiosk.

But ... I've been turned off by a few things.  The first is actually the service, at their now-closed Polk Street store.  I visited many times, and the staff were always very unfriendly.  This ranged from being visibly annoyed answering any questions, to barely offering up a "hi" when customers enter the store.  Second, the prices.  They seem higher than comparable places around town.  And third, the most important: the goods just aren't very ... good.  Everything seems dry and over cooked, and ingredients aren't well distributed inside.

Scones ($3.85)

"Think you don't like scones? Try one of these. Crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Filled with flavor, these scones are a Batter favorite! " 
Scones come in 4 standard flavors, plus a rotating seasonal special fruit and savory variety.

The scones are all large size, very dense, crumbly style, square shaped.  I've tried many, and agree that they are crisp on the outside, although, they really generally seemed burnt to me.  I never liked any, and found the ingredient distributions were often off.
    Buckwheat Walnut Fig. 
The first time I tried the Buckwheat Walnut Fig scone, I did not like it.  My tasting notes were simple: "Not very good.  No real flavor in the scone body, dry."

Yet, I didn't consult my notes before visiting another time, and picking the same scone.  Whoops.  I think the nuts and figs just kept calling out to me. 

My notes the second time were much improved: "I enjoyed this.  It wasn't the best scone I'd ever had, but it was pretty good.  Good heartiness from the buckwheat, slight tang, well spiced.  I liked the sweetness and slight chew from the bits of fig, and the crunch from the nuts.  Worked well as a standalone scone, no jam required, and didn't need to be warmed up."
Weekly Savory: Mushroom, Ricotta, Pancetta.
This was the weekly seasonal savory special.  I stopped in at Batter Bakery around lunchtime, and thus, a savory scone jumped out at me, rather than my standard pick of sweets.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from such a savory scone, but I thought it might be like a biscuit?  It wasn't.  Sure, the scone base wasn't sweetened, but it was still very much a scone.  Like their others, very dry and crumbly.

The outside was very, very dry, and a bit burnt.  Inside was moist at least, but the outside was just way overdone.

The balance of ingredients was also totally off.  In my entire scone, I found one little glob of ricotta.  There was no cheesy aspect to the scone at all.  Also lacking? The pancetta.  There were just a few tiny little bits of pancetta.  The pancetta that was there was absolutely delicious, super crispy little nuggets of salty goodness.  But not nearly enough.  The mushrooms were earthy and actually were in the correct quantity for the scone, but unfortunately for me, I didn't actually like them much.

But where everything went wrong, well, besides being overcooked and not having the right balance of any of the tasty ingredients, was with the herbs.  I'm not sure what herbs were in here exactly, but there was way too much of them.  The herbs overwhelmed everything.  And what is worse, is that some came in giant sprigs.  So not only did they ruin the taste, but biting into little sticks inside your scone is not enjoyable.

For some reason, I kept trying with the scone, even once I realized I really didn't like it.  I bought it home and heated it up.  It was better that way actually, but still, I wouldn't ever get another one of these.
Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Plum Spice.
My scone came in a plastic bag.  I think the bag is partially responsible for the texture, as the top seemed a bit gummy.

Inside was moist, almost doughy, which I actually liked, but isn't really ideal for a scone.  The scone didn't really have any crumb to it as a result, although the bottom was dried out and almost burnt, and did crumble.  Inside was a layer that contained slices of plum, very moist, very tart, lots of them.

I'm not entirely sure what all of the spices were that made up the "spice" component of "plum spice", but there was at least nutmeg, as it had a vaguely soapy taste.  The spicing existed mostly on top.

Overall, I didn't really like this, mostly because I didn't care for the plum, or the bottom of the scone.
Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Apple, cinnamon, cheddar.  $3.
Ok, I need to learn to stop trying their scones.  They just really aren’t very good.

The scone base was very plain, no tang.  That is not to say that it was flavorless, as the cinnamon was very, very strong.  Too strong.  The texture was also not great, no crumb to it.  But it also wasn’t a moist cakey style scone.  It seemed rather overcooked, although not burnt, just dried out.

Inside were chunks of apple.  They were a perfect size, and well cooked, not too mushy, not too crisp.  Decently distributed throughout.  That part was done well.

I never found any cheddar.  I didn’t taste it, I didn’t find any melted anywhere.

I’d clearly never get this again.

[ No Photos ]
  • Meyer Lemon Currant: Very large, dense, crumbly scone.  It weighed a ton!  Pretty strong citrus flavors, a nice buttermilk sour component as well, but nothing really special.  Didn’t reheat very well.  Got a really heavy buttery mouthfeel.  Still worked well as a conduit for tasty jam though! [ Frozen and reheated: Did not work well, was very crumbly and just too buttery, with a strange mouthfeel. ]
  • Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Raspberry Ginger: Just dry, no real flavor, serious meh.
  • Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Strawberry Poppyseed Scone: Nice crunch from the poppyseeds, good flavor and moistness from the strawberry.  My favorite of their products.

Muffins ($3.45)

Muffins come in three varieties, I only tried one.

[ No Photo ]
Cherry Bran.

This was a little on the dry side.  It had a nice hearty flavor from the bran, but was not very flavorful, and was pretty boring tasting.  The cherries were inconsistently distributed throughout, some in big clumps, and other areas missing cherries completely.

It was not a bad muffin exactly, but certainly not worth going out of your way for it.  Didn’t reheat very well the next day.

Coffee Cake ($3.85/slice.)

Coffee cake comes in 2 varieties (sour cream rhubarb or pecan buttermilk), available by the slice or round.  Since I don't like rhubarb, I only tried one.
Pecan Buttermilk Coffee Cake.  $3.85.
I went in one morning, really in the mood for a muffin.  It was 9am, and the store opened at 8:30.  Yet, no muffins.  Could they really run out that fast?  They are a bakery!  I inquired, and was told that they didn't bake any muffins that day.  Boo.  The other breakfast offerings were quick breads and scones.

I love scones, but I haven't ever been impressed with Batter's scones, and I don't like quick breads very often, so that left one choice: coffee cake.

Coffee cake is also not something I ever normally order, but it looked a bit better than the quick breads.

Batter got the "cake" aspect of this right.  It was seriously sweet.  It was good cake, very moist, and, I think would be perfectly good as a cake.  But for breakfast?  It was a bit much, even for me, and I eat pie for breakfast.  I did like the topping, a crumble top with pecans, but it too was sweet, so it didn't help cut the overall sweetness.  Inside the coffee cake were a few pieces of fruit, I think apricot?  Peach?  They were just little slivers in the very center, and added additional moisture.

Overall, this was better than I expected, but really not what I had in mind for breakfast.  I'd recommend it as a mid-afternoon treat with a cup of coffee perhaps.  Or, if you like cake for breakfast, by all means, go for it.  $3.85 price for a large slice of coffee cake, like most of their other prices, seemed a bit high.

Bars ($3.75-$4.25)

Batter Bakery makes a lot of assorted bars, including several types of brownies, and even a gluten-free and a vegan option, plus a couple fascinating sounding "morning bars".

On one visit, I saw that they had these two types of morning bars, a standard nut and seed granola bar (crispy hard style, vegan, gluten-free) and one called a "breakfast bar".  It looked softer, more like a cookie, but in bar shape, and, given the name, it claimed to be acceptable for breakfast.  I grabbed one to eat the next day, even though I don't generally find granola bars to be all that interesting.  I've also tried several of the brownies.  I haven't liked any.
Breakfast Bar.   $3.75.
"A hearty, chewy snack bar filled with oats, oat bran, dried fruit & nuts."

The base was oats, with raisins, dried cranberries, and dried apricot bits.  It wasn't dry exactly, but it also wasn't very moist.  Basically, yes, just a soft granola bar.  I'm not sure why I expected it to be more than that.  It was nicely spiced, but besides that, why would I want this?

It would have been better with nuts for some crunch and some other dried fruit.  Oh, and chocolate chunks.  Or ... something.  Just too boring as it was.

[ No Photo ]
Carmelita. $3.95.
"An oat brown sugar crust filled with caramel, chocolate, and pecans. Decadent and delicious!" 

This was a many layer bar with nuts, chocolate, coconut, caramel ... basically everything.  It sounded great.  But, it wasn’t particularly interesting. 

I tried one again a few months later, as it sounded so good.  But, again, it just wasn't great.  I love all of the ingredients, not sure why it doesn’t come together for me.

[ No Photo ]
Devil’s Food Brownie. $3.95.

"Dense, fudgy and packing a serious chocolate punch, these brownies will make any chocolate lover drool." 

Meh.   It was very rich, very chocolatey, but just a brownie, and, like many of their items, a bit dry.


Batter makes an assortment of cookies, including gluten-free ones, and a large range of shortbreads.

I never seek out cookies, since they are my least favorite category of dessert (or, I argue, aren't *really* desserts), but cookies are what people bring in all the time to my office, so I have been able to try many from Batter that way, including their signature Sand Angel.  They are all hard style cookies, and I haven't really cared for them.
Decorated Shortbread Cookie.  $3.25.
I was really craving a sugar cookie with icing, which is funny, because cookies are very rarely the sort of treat I crave.  But I'd just depleted the supply from my freezer of iced sugar cookies from Suzie Cakes that I actually liked, and I just couldn't get the idea of iced cookies out of my head.

Batter Bakery didn't have sugar cookies, but they did have iced shortbreads, which seemed close enough.  Again, cookies are rarely the treat I choose, and of cookies, shortbreads are near the bottom of the list for me.  I love the butteriness, but, they are kinda boring.  This was certainly a strange pick for me.  But they had royal icing as decoration on top, so I hoped that they would meet my craving needs.

And, they did.  Was it a remarkable cookie?  Not really.  But it was exactly what I wanted.  The shortbread was buttery and sweet, a lot sweeter than I'm accustomed to for a shortbread actually, but since I wanted a sugar cookie, this was a good thing.  The icing was just basic royal icing, but again, it is what I wanted.

Buttery, sweet, fresh enough.  The price seemed crazy high at $3.25 for a single cookie however.  It wasn't particularly large.  I know the decorating takes extra effort, but if I wasn't really craving this, I would have never paid that much for a single cookie.

[ No Photos ]
Assorted Cookies.  $3.25.
Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread
Not very buttery, good flavor from hazelnut, crispy shortbread, not really my thing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
"Chocolate cookie with peanut butter swirls and chunks of peanut butter cup".  

I love chocolate and peanut butter, but I didn’t love this cookie.  It was hard and crisp, and I prefer softer cookies.  The bites with chunks of peanut butter cup or peanut butter swirls were good, but these things were fairly sparse and inconsistent in the cookie, there just wasn't nearly enough peanut butter flavor to it.

Coconut Macaroon
Decently moist, decently sweet, but fairly generic.
Sand Angel
"Batter's signature, secret recipe cookie. A chewy, cinnamon-y cookie similar to a cross between a snickerdoodle & a molasses cookie. " 

Again, a huge hard crunchy cookie.  If it was softer, this could be a great cookie!  The cinnamon flavor was really strong, yet there was a great molasses undertone, with bright ginger backing it all.  Much better when heated up in the toaster oven to soften it up some.  If they just cooked it less, I would absolutely love this thing! 

Cupcakes ($3.25)

Batter's final offerings are cakes and cupcakes.  I've never had a full size cake, but I've tried several of the cupcakes.  I didn't really like them either.

Devil's Food
"Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream."
The chocolate cake was fairly moist, but again, like many of their products, not that intense of a chocolate flavor.  Chocolate buttercream was light and fluffy and a pretty good chocolate flavor.

German Chocolate 
"with Coconut Pecan Frosting."
Another dense chocolate cupcake that wasn’t very flavorful, but was nicely moist.  The frosting was a caramel base, but included mushy pecan and coconut flakes.  The frosting didn’t have any real flavor, not even a nice sweetness, and the mush level of the coconut and pecan were really unappealing.

Red Velvet
"with Cream Cheese Frosting"
My favorite of the cupcakes.  Cake itself was kinda flavorless but decently moist.  Frosting had a nice cream cheese flavor.

Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream 
The cake was very dry and plain tasting.  Frosting had a nice chocolate flavor and was light and fluffy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Davigel Liège Waffles

Davigel is a wholesale French distributor for hotels, restaurants, and catering.  Their product line is astounding.  They carry fully cooked entrees ranging from chicken curry, to lasagna, to moussaka, to boeuf bourguignon, and everything in-between.  They have raw seafood and meats of all types.  They have cheese, vegetables, and even chopped herbs.  They have a slew of appetizers and side dishes.  They have savory pastries and desserts of all types.

I haven't been able to find out much about Davigel online, as the website is entirely in French (or Italian), but they distribute through the wholesale company my office purchases from, which is how I got my hands on some when I was running a catered event.

I picked Davigel for the liège waffles, given, well, my obsession with waffles.  I'm not sure if they actually produce the items, or only distribute, as the country of origin is listed as Belgium.   Catering waffles might not sound appealing, but I'm not talking about frozen Eggo waffles.  I know liège waffles can be really good, even when not fresh (my office in Sydney has some they use for catering that I adore, and they are always a highlight at the Sheraton on the Park executive lounge when they show up).

The Davigel waffles are distributed frozen, with instructions to simply thaw for 30 minutes.  They can be served cold, and heated in the microwave or oven.  I tried some warmed, and at room temperature.
Gaufre de Liège (Liège Waffle).
"Particulary moist waffle, which does not dry. Ideal for buffets, brunch, or create your own dessert."

Our catering team served them warm, and I grabbed one right when they came out, so I was able to try one warmed up first, although I really don't generally think liège waffles need to be served warm.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Just like I knew was possible, these waffles were quite enjoyable, even though not a fresh baked waffle.  They were crispy, dense, and had a great level of sugar and caramelization (aka, the hallmarks of a liège style waffle).
With Nutella!
They were fine plain, but I asked to have Nutella served on the side (this is how my Sydney office serves them at catering events, as little liège waffle sandwiches with Nutella and chopped nuts inside, and I always love that combo).  The Nutella was a huge hit, although you could tell people felt a bit guilty at breakfast.  They would also be good dusted with powdered sugar.

I had one later cold as well.  It was fine then too, and they held up throughout the day (well, as long as they lasted!)

The individual waffles aren't particularly large, and somehow manage to clock in nearly 500 calories, and 25 grams of both sugar and fat each ... without any toppings.  Oooph.  I guess that is the margarine kicking in ...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chat Thai, Sydney

Update Review, December 2016 Visits

Blogger ate my update post.

Yes, for real.  I came to publish this update review, with a lovely post I wrote in December when I visited Chat Thai several times, and ... my laptop crashed.  When it restarted, I discovered that Blogger lost my draft update to my published post, because, that is how it works for published posts ... there is no saving until you publish again.

I don't still have my notes from December, and there is no way to recover the content.  I'm a grumpy girl, but I do at least have the photos, and some vague memories.

As you know, when I visit Sydney, I love to indulge in Thai desserts, and Chat Thai is one of my common destinations, due to the multiple locations, ease of takeout, and multitude of dessert options.  You can read my previous posts to learn more.

When I visited in December, I visited the Thaitown and the Westfield locations each once.  I think the magic of Chat Thai is finally wearing off though, either that, or I just picked the wrong items.
Coconut Ice Cream. $8.
"Young coconut ice-cream with sweet sticky rice topped with candied palm seeds and roasted peanuts."

One hot, sticky night, I headed to Chat Thai (to the Thaitown location) seeking out a cold, icy, unique thai dessert.  And somehow I ended up leaving with ice cream.  I mean, yes, I love ice cream, but I definitely meant to get something more interesting.  I don't really recall what made me pick this instead.

The ice cream itself was unremarkable.  Yes, coconut flavored, but it was icy and not very creamy.  As it melted, it seemed too rich, like a pile of coconut cream, with a unsettling mouthfeel.  The serving was generous, two large scoops, but, since I didn't care for it, this was not a selling point.

The sticky rice was fine, I loved the candied palm seeds (although there were only two), and the roasted peanut crumble was a nice topping, but, given that the ice cream was the main component, and it was lackluster, this didn't turn out to be a very satisfying option.  I regretted my choice.
Khao Nieaw Daam Bieak. $6.90.
"A sweet and slightly salty black sticky rice and coconut cream pudding with taro and young coconut flesh."

My last night in Sydney I swung by the Westfield location after I finished packing my bags.  My plan was to reward myself for getting my packing done with a thai dessert.  I went back to the Khao Nieaw Daam Bieak, which I had had before, since I knew I liked it, and I didn't want to take a risk this time.

It wasn't as successful this time.  The majority of the container was rice.  There was only a thin layer of coconut cream on top.  I really remembered the coconut cream layer as more substantial before.  The cream also wasn't nearly as salty this time, which was something I was actually looking forward to, now that I knew to expect it.

I did still love all the mix-ins, but, overall, this left me a bit disappointed.  I still finished the entire (large) container in < 5 minutes, all by myself though, so, clearly, I didn't dislike it *that* much!

Update Review, May 2015 Visit

If you didn't read my original Chat Thai post, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background on Chat Thai this time around.  See "Original Review, January/February 2015 visit" below.

On my recent visit to Sydney, I only managed to swing by Chat Thai once for dessert!  This was a big contrast to my previous trip, where I managed to visit a couple times each week.  Mostly this was due to the fact that I was there a much shorter time, but, also, the magic of Chat Thai desserts had finally worn off.  I was still fascinated by them of course, but, as I made my way down the list of crazy options, they were less and less delicious.
khao dtom nahm woon. $6.10.
"Steamed triangles of pandan infused glutinous rice, herbal jelly and jackfruit in syrup with rice."

Well, this was yet another Chat Thai dish that totally confused me.

First, I expected the foundation to be sticky rice.  Since it said pandan infused, I thought it might be perhaps green.  I also expected it to come in, well, triangles.  I most certainly wasn't expecting a soup based dessert!

Once I dug in, I did indeed discover two triangles of sticky rice, hiding under all the other components.  The rice triangles looked like regular white rice to me, and I didn't taste any pandan.  The rice triangles weren't particularly interesting, besides that they were, well, triangles.

Following along the description is herbal jelly, which I think was the black cubes.  These had a nice texture, very, uh, jelly like, but not a ton of flavor.

The final element listed in the description is jackfruit.  I think the orange flesh pieces were the jackfruit, which I did actually like quite a bit.

My favorite items however were the white cubes, and I honestly have no idea what they were.  Sweet, but not as sweet as a lychee, so perhaps it was longan?  I really have no idea.

The syrup was really sweet.  Ojan described it perfectly when he said it was like the syrup that comes in the little containers of canned fruit.  Kinda sickly sweet.

And ... that was it.  Where was the promised "with rice" anyway?

Overall, this was fascinating in that it was all new items , but, I didn't actually like it very much.  I extracted the jackfruit and the white cubes, but, the jelly, the glutinous rice triangles, and the sweet syrup just weren't for me.  One of my least favorite desserts from Chat Thai.

Original Review, January/February 2015 Visits

You've heard me mention this several times already, but I recently went on a trip to Sydney.  This was my forth visit to Sydney, totaling almost 6 months, so, I've sorta learned the ropes by now.  And the one thing I've really learned: don't bother with fine dining, and focus instead on the cuisine Sydney does best.  Thai food ranks highly on that list, which is particularly great, as I've still yet to find thai cuisine in San Francisco that I really like.

Chat Thai is a small chain in Sydney, with a main location in thai town, a full sit down location inside the Westfield mall, and a small quick casual version in the Galeries.  They also have locations in Manly and Randwick.  Chat Thai is a rather cute success story, family run, started in 1989.  They are a Sydney institution with staying power.  25 years in the restaurant industry is no joke, and all locations are well rated.

Chat Thai was on my radar from the start of this trip, as I had somehow never visited on previous trips, and I knew it was supposed to be amazing.  I made up for it this trip, visiting the main thai town location once for a full meal, once to pick up dessert, and stopping by the Westfield location more times than I can count.

Why?  Well, uh, they have an insane dessert menu.  You know me and dessert, and, in particular, I love to explore new and unique desserts.  Chat Thai offers that in spades.  The dessert menu at the thai town location has no fewer than 32 options!  The Westfield food court one has a more reasonable 11 options, and I was determined to try almost every single one.  Plus, as I mentioned, I stayed a the Westin and the Sheraton on the Park, so I was always only a block or two away.

Takeaway Desserts @ Westfield Location

My first visit was prompted by a very unsatisfying meal in the Westfield food court at Din Tai Fung.  The food court has some great options, like Snag Stand with its incredible fries and Bécasse bakery, but as you read in my review, Din Tai Fung was not a great option.  I was grumpy, and wanted something tasty, and remembered the Chat Thai location upstairs, not actually part of the food court.
Dessert Station at Westfield.
The Westfield location features an open dessert kitchen right in front.  I loved watching the preparation here.  Past this area is the full restaurant, with sit down table service.  Quite literally on every visit there was a long line of folks waiting to be seated.  I guess having a full service dining option, particularly one open late, is valued in the mall.  I can't comment on that though, as I never dined in.

I choose to always get my food as takeaway, which was very easy, a register to order takeaway is located right at the front.  I wasn't alone, the takeaway business seemed nearly as bustling as the table service.  Since I was always ordering only desserts, they were ready in just a couple minutes, super fast and efficient.  They made my habit far too easy.

As I mentioned, the Westfield location had the more modest dessert menu featuring 11 choices, which totally overwhelmed me on the first visit.  I honestly wanted them all, and watching the dessert kitchen prep made it even harder.  Everything looked, and sounded, amazing.  Luckily, I was staying nearby, and just made it a point to stop in for more dessert nearly every night.  Uh, I did it for you.  For "research".
Khao Nieaw Daam Bieak. $6.90.
 "A sweet and slightly salty black sticky rice and coconut cream pudding with taro and young coconut flesh"

As I mentioned, I was totally overwhelmed with choices.  I wasn't familiar with most of the desserts, besides simple mango and sticky rice, but I knew that I loved all the ingredients listed.  For my first adventure, I finally just picked one that included a bunch of components I knew I liked: black sticky rice.  Coconut cream.  Taro.  Young coconut.  I had no idea what I was ordering really .... "sweet and slightly salty"?  That sounded good.  And I obviously love puddings.

It was, hands down, the strangest dessert I've ever consumed.  Certainly the strangest food I consumed on this trip, or even in recent memory.  I was fascinated by it.  And I think I really did enjoy it.  But a spoonful of this was like a treasure hunt.  So unexpected!

To start, yes, there was black sticky rice.  It had a tiny bit of chew to it and was what I expected, although, I can't say I've ever had sticky rice inside a pudding before, normally it is served as a little mound.  On top was a layer of coconut cream that was, well, as promised, sweet and salty.  I love the mix of sweet and salty in desserts, a la salted caramel or fleur de sel on my chocolate, but this was certainly a bit odd.  Not bad, but odd.  The fascinating flavor combination kept me going back for more and more.

But that is far from all.  Inside the rice ... now that is where things got interesting.
Beans? Young Coconut Flesh?
First, there were shiny brown oval shapes that looked a lot like beans, but they didn't taste like beans, and beans weren't included in the description.  I think these must have been the young coconut flesh?
Young Coconut Flesh?
But then there were also some thin strips that seemed more likely to be the coconut.  I honestly don't know what these were.

I don't have a photo, but there were also cubes of taro, a bit softer than the other two shapes I've described so far.  I love taro, so this was a hit.
And then ... there was an unmistakable taste of corn.  After a few bites, I was certain.  Yes, there was corn in here, although the description certainly didn't mention corn!

My suspicions were confirmed when I looked at the Haymarket location menu, where there is a dish called saaku bieak, "a sweet and slightly salty sago and coconut cream pudding with taro, corn and strips of fresh young coconut flesh".  This sounded very similar to my dish, except with sago instead of rice, and obviously, the addition of corn.  They seemed to have combined these dishes?

So yes, sweet and salty, rice and cream, taro, coconut, unidentified fruits, and corn.  So.  Strange.

I think I really liked it.  There were many textures at play: chewy rice, soft taro, firm young coconut, firmer corn, creamy coconut milk.  There were many flavors, some sweet, some salty.  Every moment I was eating this was a surprise.  That alone was worth something!

Update Review, 2016: I order this again, and, having my expectations set better, I enjoyed it even more.  It wasn't insanely sweet like many Thai desserts due to the salt, and I really did love all the textures at play.  I'd certainly get it again.
Lodt Chong Nahm Kati. $7.
"Pandan and palm sugar noodles, black glutinous rice, and taro in coconut milk with ice."

After the success of my first dessert at Chat Thai, I returned again, this time with Ojan.  I told him I'd try basically anything on the menu, and let him pick.  I have no idea why he went for this one, as it didn't sound like something he'd like, but then again, neither of us had any clue what to expect.  How do noodles, rice, milk, and ice go together?  I think he was just curious about the pandan.

I'll admit, I think we were both very surprised by what was handed over.

The top layer was shaved ice.  The base was coconut milk.  But just like the previous dish, it is what lay inside that was the most interesting ...
Pandan Noodles.
This time, what I discovered inside did indeed match the description.  One corner held the same black sticky rice that I had in the previous dessert, which I again enjoyed.  Another had cubes of taro, not too mushy, but for some reason I didn't really like them in here.  And I love taro, and liked it in the previous dessert.

The majority of the container was filled with the green pandan noodles, all clumped together.  They were soft, and had an interesting flavor, which I guess was pandan.  I know pandan mostly as a color, not a distinct flavor.

Just like the previous dessert, I found this fascinating.  I liked the sweet soupy coconut milk..  I liked the sticky rice.  I almost liked the pandan noodles.  But the ice ... I really wasn't into that.  If it was a hot summer day I could see it being very refreshing, but sitting inside a mall food court, it wasn't quite what I wanted.

Overall, I'm glad I tried it, but it isn't something I'd get again.

The $7 price was fine.
Tup Tim Grob. $8.
"Tapioca coated water chestnuts in an aromatic syrup with fresh coconut milk and young coconut flesh."

Another day, another adventure trying a dessert at Chat Thai!  This time, I almost went for the mango and sticky rice, but I wanted to be more adventurous.  I certainly had never had a "tapioca coated water chestnut", so that sounded interesting.  Plus, a soup-like item sounded very comforting and fit my mood well.

Like most of the other desserts from Chat Thai, there were components inside that were not listed on the menu.  In this case, I believe it was a few slices of jackfruit.  I don't know jackfruit well enough to say for sure, but since other items on the menu include jackfruit, I'm going to make a reasonable guess.  There weren't many, but I enjoyed the fruit, a bit firm, and pleasantly sweet.  I wished there were more.

But everything else ... I didn't care for.  The young coconut flesh wasn't very tasty.  And the tapioca coated water chestnuts ... quite strange.  I mean, I expected strange, and ate quite a few of them hoping they would grow on me, but they didn't.  There was something nice about having a crispy crunchy thing in the middle of a soft ball, and I like water chestnuts, but this just didn't quite work.

The sweet coconut milk syrup was tasty, although a bit sweet to just eat on its own, not that that stopped me.  I eagerly drank up all the syrup.

This was my least favorite dessert, but, I'm still glad I tried it.

Dinner @ Thai Town Location

I also visited the main location in thai town with Ojan for dinner once, and swung by several other times to just grab more desserts.

The thai town restaurant has long lines, at all times of day, which, I remembered when we got there, is exactly why I hadn't ever actually visited on previous trips to Sydney.

They have a fairly efficient system in place though.  A paper sign up sheet is located at the front, with numbers next to each slot, that you rip off once you've added your name.  Number in hand, you join the massive crowds on the sidewalk, and wait.   I used this time to browse the extensive menu, and plan what we were going to order.  I mentioned that the dessert menu had 32 items, but that is a drop in the bucket compared with the main menu, with about 20 appetizers, 12 salads, and 50 main dishes, ranging from curries, to stir fries, to noodles, to rice.  Just reading through the menu was time consuming, let alone deciding what to order.
Dessert Kitchen.
Even once I'd poured over the menu, I didn't mind the continued wait for a table, as I was enthralled watching the dessert kitchen, located at the front of the restaurant, in full view of the sidewalk.  It was a full sized kitchen, with two cooks, working constantly to pump out assorted desserts.  The dessert menu has nearly 40 items, and it is obvious that they are all ordered frequently.  I saw many people swing through just to pick up desserts to go, just like I had done at the Westfield location.
The restaurant is actually fairly small inside.  It is two stories, but neither story has many tables.   In  the far back is the main kitchen, before that is a drink station, and, as I mentioned in front is a dedicated dessert kitchen.

The whole place is just constantly busy.

Service was not the most attentive, but it got the job done.  It really was just too crowded and bustling for them to care much about you, but they did deliver dishes hot and fresh immediately when they were ready, and took our order promptly.
Dtum Taardt (small). $13.90.
"Family style som dtum with condiments."

After several days in a row of really heavy food, and fried food that day at lunch, I just wanted something light, and papaya salad sounded perfect.  The menu had 6 varieties of classic papaya salad on it, including a sweeter version with peanuts and dried shrimp, a sweet one with pickled crab, a spicy one with pickled crab, and even one with fermented fish.  We had settled on one from the main menu, but when we were seated, a specials menu was presented, that had an additional, really fun looking papaya salad on it.  At last minute, I decided we should get that instead, even though I had no idea what the "condiments" would be, or what "family style" really meant.  At some level, I still don't.  I have no idea if this is an authentic dish or serving style.

The salad came in two sizes, large or small.  The small said it served 1-2 people, the large ($24.90), 2 - 4 people.  Since there were only 2 of us, and we were planning to get other things, we ordered the small.  I thought a mistake had been made when this platter arrived.  This serves 1-2 people?  Who are these people?  Perhaps 2 people could finish this if they ordered nothing else, but a single person certainly couldn't hope to put a dent in it.

Anyway.  Once we got over our shock, and wondered how on earth we'd finish this salad, our appetizer, our noodle dish, and planned dessert, we dug in.

In the center was the basic som dtum, with shredded green papaya, green beans, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, dried shrimp, and chili.

Around the edges were the "condiments", and this is where things got interesting.  Some I could identify, like bean sprouts, hard boiled egg, rice noodles, raw green cabbage, and blanched choy sum.  Then there was something pickled, or perhaps fermented?  And a meat substance, perhaps sausage? And strips of ... chicken? Tofu?  I honestly had no idea.  And roasted peanuts, which seemed like overkill since the salad in the middle already had plentiful peanuts.  And finally, some kind of chips.  Shrimp chips?

Anyway, yes, it was fun to try all the components and mix them together, but neither Ojan nor I really cared for it.  The base papaya salad was fine, but not particularly interesting in any way, other than the fact that I hated the tiny dried shrimps.

As for the mix-ins, some made sense to me, and the cabbage and bean sprouts were fresh and crisp enough.  The blanched choy sum was really plain on its own, but added an interesting juicy component to the salad.  I know some versions of papaya salad have noodles, so I understand how the rice noodles might be good to some people, but I didn't really want them in my salad.

The hard boiled egg just seemed strange.  You couldn't "mix" it in, as it was served in halves.  It was fine, but just an egg.  I really didn't like the yellowish pickled thing I couldn't identify, the taste was too strong for me.  I described it as fermented, but Ojan thought it was just pickled.  Neither of us had any clue what it actually was though.

The mystery meats were the real strange bits.  I think the redder one was a fresh pork sausage?  It was kinda fleshy and not very cooked.  We both decided it must be ground meat of some sort, although it clearly had other things mixed in.  The other looked like firm tofu at first, but I think it might have been a chicken loaf?  The chips we weren't ever able to identify, I thought I tasted something a bit fishy.

Anyway, interesting? Sure. Overwhelming, definitely.  A good value, as a regular papaya salad is $13, and this ridiculous platter was $13.90.  But not a winner, and I certainly wouldn't get it again.
Fresh Spring Rolls. $11.
"Fresh spring rolls of smoked fish sausages, chicken and crab with caramelised tamarind relish."

Next to arrive was our starter, fresh spring rolls.  These weren't quite what we were expecting either.

The wrapper of the rolls I didn't really like, it was a bit tough.  I dislike chicken, so I obviously didn't like that, but, I didn't expect to like the chicken.  They also had tofu, which I don't like, and wasn't listed on the menu.  If the menu had included both chicken and tofu, I probably would have selected something else.  The crab I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be crab stick, a disappointment for sure.  The only thing I quasi-liked was the fish sausage, but mostly only in comparison to everything else that I actively disliked.

On top of the slices of the roll was a bunch of omelet, which I also didn't want and wasn't listed on the menu.  The rolls were drenched in the tamarind sauce, which just didn't taste good.

Ojan had about one bite of this and stopped.  He didn't like it, and he knew we had way too much food still coming.  I tried more than Ojan as I was trying to see if I could pick out some bits that I'd enjoy, but failed.  I guess just not our thing?  Although honestly, if we knew it had chicken, tofu, crab stick, and omelet, we certainly wouldn't have ordered it.

$11 price was fine for yet another giant serving.  At this point, our table was full, and so were we, and we still had a noodle dish yet to arrive.  Whoops.
Thau gai noodles. $13.
"Stir fried flat rice noodles with chicken, eggs, and shallots served with sweet chili sauce."

Ojan really wanted a noodle dish, and planed to order classic pad thai.  And then, that specials menu that led us to the crazy papaya salad had a noodle dish too.  It sounded like something he'd really like, since I know he likes sweet chili sauce, and who doesn't like shallots?

So again, even though we thought we knew what we were ordering in advance, we changed our order once seated.  And ... it was another case where we were led astray.

First, we didn't quite understand the sweet chili sauce on the side, we thought the noodles would be stir fried with it.  It turns out to be good that they weren't, because the sauce was seriously spicy.  I didn't detect any "sweet" in the "sweet chili", and it was far too spicy for Ojan.

Unfortunately, that meant that he didn't use any, and the dish was quite bland without it.  Not Chat Thai's fault, as it is clearly intended to be mixed with noodles.  The noodles seemed hand cut, as they were completely inconsistent in their widths.  They were decently cooked, but I always prefer to have some crispy bits.  Delivered hot and fresh to our table, once we let them know that we were done with the other dishes.  We were a bit confused why the noodles were taking so long to arrive, when everything else had come so quickly.  The staff was being nice, trying to wait for us to finish the mound of salad and rolls still in front of us, before piling more on us.  Again, whoops.

Anyway, again, I don't know if this is an authentic dish.  Maybe I just don't like "real" thai cuisine?  The sauce on the side seemed strange.  The dish reminded me a bit of a cross between pad se ew, with the thick noodles, and pad thai, with the egg and chicken, but lacked the sauce from either dish, and lacked the add-ins like chinese broccoli from pad se ew or peanuts from pad thai, so it was just fairly boring.  I felt bad for leading Ojan astray and suggesting this.

$13 price was fine for a large portion of fresh noodles, but we wouldn't get this again.
Sticky Rice Durian. $8.
"Sticky rice steamed with sweet coconut cream and palm sugar accompanied with a durian custard and pieces of fresh durian."

And of course, the reason I love Chat Thai: Dessert!  It didn't matter that we were stuffed, and had tons of food leftover.  We didn't really like any of the savory dishes, and the dessert menu at this location is insane, with nearly 40 items on the dinner menu, plus some available only at lunch or late night.

I decided to take this opportunity to finally try durian.  I've known of durian for years, but it hasn't really been served anywhere I've been.  The durian dessert is only on the menu at the thai town location, so I knew I couldn't just pick it up easily at the closer Westfield location.  It was now or never.

I didn't quite know what to expect, besides something that many people consider foul, both in taste and smell.  I somewhat expected it to be served like classic mango with sticky rice, with a pile of sticky rice, coconut cream drizzled over, and sliced durian alongside, so I was a little surprised when a big bowl of soupy sauce arrived.

But I didn't smell anything horrible, so I dug in.

The verdict?  Well, durian is unique.  I'll say that.  I dove right in, creating a big bite with sticky rice, a large chunk of durian, and some sauce.  At first I thought it was fine.  And then the funk hit me.  Was it rotten? Sewage?  Such a strange taste.  Undeterred, I tried again, and this time, I took only a bite of fresh durian, no sauce, no rice to mask it.  I wanted to understand the durian itself better.

The texture is so strange.  Somewhat slimy.  A bit stringy.  So strange.  But it is the taste that I just don't really have words for.  It wasn't the worst thing I'd ever tasted, and I did keep trying bites of it, but I certainly have no desire to seek out durian ever again.

As for the rest of the dish, I really liked the sticky rice, and the sweet sauce of coconut cream and palm sugar.  I actually finished every single morsel of the rice, and every drop of the sauce, even though that meant getting some durian accidentally several times.  I'm just a sucker for sticky rice and sweet sauces.

I'm really glad I tried this, but I have no intention of getting it again.  Rotten-dirty-sewage-feet is just not a taste a I enjoy!
Bua Loy Kai Warn.  $5.50.
"Silky little dumplings of taro, japanese pumpkin and pandan jus, in sweet warm coconut broth with/without a poached egg."

A few days later, I was walking by in the evening, and decided I needed to pop in.  One of the most interesting sounding desserts was only available at the thai town location, and only during dinner service.  It must be something special, right?

It was a rainy night, and I was rather grumpy.  A comforting dessert was exactly what I needed.  And as I've said, I love taro and sweet sauces, and I'm fascinated by pandan.  This sounded promising.  I had no idea why I'd want a poached egg in it though, and opted for the version without.

The dessert came warm, indeed a warm comforting soup, perfect for the rainy evening.  But ... it took the cake as my least favorite dessert from Chat Thai.

The coconut broth was just overwhelmingly sweet.  I loved it in other dishes, when there was more to cut the sweetness, namely, sticky rice.  Here, there just wasn't much else, and spoonfuls of the broth really were too much on their own, even for me.
Taro, pumpkin, and pandan dumplings.
Inside the very sweet broth were little colorful dumplings.  The color was lovely, and they were soft, but they were all equally flavorless.  I wanted to taste the taro, the pumpkin, the pandan.  I tasted nothing, besides the overwhelming sweet soup of course.

There were also slices of young coconut mixed in with the dumplings.

This was the first dessert from Chat Thai that I didn't bother finish, and, we all know I'm a dessert finisher to the core.  I just couldn't find anything to like in here.
Candied Taro Chips.  $5.40.
I also grabbed a bag of taro chips near the register, since, well, taro.  I figured they'd make a great snack for later on.  I didn't realize they were candied until I went to eat one.  I was very shocked to say the least.

Even though they were candied, I expected some saltiness, but there was none.  If they were salty, I think they could have been really successful, a slightly sweet, slightly salty combination.  But instead, they were just sweet, sugar crusted chips.  Strange.  I ate a bunch, but I didn't particularly care for them, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get other friends to finish the rest.
Chat Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, June 12, 2017

Roam Artisan Burgers

"From pasture to plate, Roam Artisan Burgers offers delicious burgers, sides, shakes and sodas crafted from fresh quality ingredients that have been carefully sourced from a select group of purveyors."
Roam Artisan Burgers opened in 2010, in the Marina district of San Francisco, to great acclaim.  I was eager to check out Roam, but, not for the reasons that everyone else was.  Yes, the idea of a burger place that serves quality ingredients, offers a slew of proteins, and had some of the first real Instagram-worthy shakes in the city was certainly appealing, don't get me wrong, but I was also excited because Roam was founded by someone I knew.  Not someone I knew well, nor someone I was even in touch with at that point, but he had been a very close friend of my first roommate when I moved to San Francisco, and I was amazed to learn that he had followed through on leaving his job behind, opening up exactly the sort of place he wanted to exist, in his favorite neighborhood.

I didn't visit immediately, but by 2011 I did eventually visit, and dragged a bunch of my burger loving friends with me for one of our "B nights" (generally, Burger nights, but, occasionally Burrito nights, or even, just Beer nights).  It was a huge success, one of my attendees writing to our list the very next day, "For future reference, this place was awesome.  I think we generally agreed it is the best casual burger we've yet had.  I'd go here again anytime."

Which, is saying something, given that it was in the Marina, totally not where we choose to spend our time normally.  We loved it so much we returned just a few weeks later.  We raved again.  I didn't write a blog at the time, but I did write down some notes for friends who did not attend.

And then ... I don't know what happened, I didn't return.  For years.

In the meantime, Roam did just fine without me.  The Marina location gained a sibling in Pac Heights, and another in Lafayette.  I just read that a 4th location is coming to Bay Meadows.  Bon Appetit rated their burger the #2 burger in the entire country.

The commitment to quality has not wavered as they have expanded, nor has the menu changed very much.  They still focus on healthy options ("better for you burgers"), sustainable practices (even the cooking oil is reused for bio fuel), house made ingredients like pickles and sodas, locally sourced buns, and always provide the details on the purveyors and treatment of the animals.

Roam is always a crowd pleaser, with great food and great service, and I'm glad I finally remembered it.
My Feast! Fries, Milkshake, Burger, Housemade Soda.
My recent visit in May 2017 was at lunch, at the Pacific Heights location, with two other people.  We shared the trio of fried stuffs, and each got our own burgers, sodas, and shakes.  Everyone was happy with their selections.

The Space

This visit focuses on the newer location on Fillmore Street in Pac Heights, but my prior visits were to the original Marina location.  I didn't taste notes on the interior then, but I believe they are similar style, very casual, incorporating nature everywhere.

If you dine in, everything is served on Heath Ceramics stoneware.
The interior is open, light filled, and natural looking.  Beautiful wooden plank floors, wooden tables and simple chairs, large windows letting in as much sunlight as possible.
Menu & Ordering.
Ordering is done at a register, midway through the room, alongside the near side to the door.  There is usually a line, but it moves quickly.  The menu is written up on the wall alongside, and paper menus are available to peruse as well.

Once you order, you are given a number, and seat yourself.  Food is delivered to you when ready.
Communal Table.
The majority of the room is filled with a large, wooden, communal table.  I loved all the wood tones throughout, here you can see the knots in the blond wooden table, the dark wide floor planks, and the wood panel walls.

We were seated on one end of this table, as the small handful of other tables were already occupied.
Bar Seating.
For singles or pairs, there are also some rather uncomfortable looking red bar stools along the bar.
Self-Serve Area.
Along the other wall is a self-serve area with a regular water tap, ketchup, napkins, cutlery, and a few other sauces.


When you order, you are given two numbers, one for drinks and one for food, as they come from separate kitchens.  Drinks are prepared behind the bar, and are delivered to the table as soon as they are ready.

Drink options include wine and kombucha on tap, craft beers, a few bottled sodas, a large selection of housemade sodas, and, milkshakes.  Since I consider the milkshakes more dessert than drinks, I'll review those last.

Sodas are another item that embrace the "better for you" mantra, most are made in-house, with agave to sweeten.  They come in fun flavors like Ginger Lime and Prickley Pear, and always have a rotating seasonal flavor as well.
Meyer Lemon House-made Soda. $3.49.
I opted for meyer lemon, basically a not-too-sweet sparkling lemonade, garnished with a lemon slice on top.  It was perfectly enjoyable, although not particularly memorable.

Artisanal sodas come at a price though, $3.49 is a bit high for a soda in my world ($1.49 for the smaller kids size).
Caramelized Pineapple House-made Soda. $3.49.
I also got to try the caramelized pineapple that my colleague ordered, garnished with a slice of lime.

This one was absolutely fascinating.  It tasted ... like pineapple.  Sparkling pineapple soda.  Sooo interesting.

I don't think I'd want a full pineapple soda, but, I enjoyed taking a few sips.
House Sparkling Water.
The menu does not list sparkling water anywhere, but I really wanted regular sparkling water too, so asked when I was ordering if they had any.  "Of course, and it is free!", was the cheery reply.  It arrived with our other beverages, and even included a lemon slice and straw.

Major, major kudos for house sparkling water and for its $0 price tag, but it seems like a line on the menu, after the sodas, along the lines of "house sparkling water is available free of charge" or something would be helpful ...

Still water was available in the self-serve condiments area.


Roam offers a handful of sides, starting with classic fries.  You can select russet fries, sweet potato fries, a "zucchini onion haystack", or, all three ("the fry-fecta").  To any you can add additional seasonings for $0.75 (truffle parmesan or chipotle maple).

The other side dishes are a bit healthier, a farmer's market salad, available in two sizes, and optionally topped with a trio of mini burgers of your choice on a skewer if you want to make it a meal.  The final side is a rotating hot seasonal veggie dish, which on our visit was asparagus with lemon, garlic, manchego, and crispy shallots.  The seasonal veggies always get serious accolades, and I know some people opt to just top those with fried eggs and call it a meal.

On my visits though, we've always stuck with fried things, shared amongst the group.  
The Fry-Fecta $6.75.
On this visit, we went for the fry-fecta, since I wanted to re-try everything.

Russet Fries:
When the fries arrived, Ojan took one, and told us all that they were hot and fresh and we should dive in immediately.  I commented that everything was hot and fresh, and I was busy trying other things, but, he was right, these were clearly direct from the fryer to our table.  Very, very fresh, crispy fries.  I liked the generous amount of herbs.  My previous notes were a bit lackluster, saying "meh, generic, not worth it, but nice that they aren't greasy" and "nothing standout, but not bad. Had some herbs on them.  Decent, but fairly generic.  Not worth going out of way for, but well executed for what they were.  Not too greasy."  My overall opinion is about the same, yup, good fries, but nothing mind-blowing here.  Just good fries.

On a previous visit, I added the truffle parmesan flavor, and thought the fries were much better with it, and noted how generous they were with the seasoning.  I lobbied for it on this visit, but, neither of the other diners wanted it, so, I was overruled.

Sweet Potato Fries:
The sweet potato fries were what I was eying, as they are usually my favorite.  I asked for the chipotle maple seasoning, but none of us tasted chipotle nor maple, so, even though the server said they had it, I don't think they did.  They weren't quite as hot and fresh as the regular fries, but were still hot.  They were nicely crispy.  Good sweet potato flavor.  But, nothing made them pop.  My first visit, I noted they were "pretty decent, nice sweet potato flavor.  Again, fairly generic, not worth going out of way for, but well executed, not too greasy.  Would like to try with maple/chipotle seasoning."  My second visit, I got that seasoning, and liked the sweetness it added, but couldn't taste the chipotle.  I again noted that they weren't greasy.  I think I really had a thing against greasy fries back then!

Zucchini Onion Haystack:
And finally, the haystack, made up of thin shreds of crispy fried onions and zucchini.  The onion bits were much smaller than the zucchini ribbons, but both were fairly small.  This was hard to eat, not really finger food, unless you grabbed a big handful, but that was awkward.  Even more awkward was dunking these into the dips.  Still, they were flavorful, well seasoned, and crunchy, so I kinda liked them.  One other diner noted they were "reasonably tasty" and the other said they were "oil held together by zucchini and onions".  I really wanted to add them on top of a salad, I think that would be amazing.  My previous notes said "haystack kinda forgettable, flavors not very strong and kinda hard to eat" and "thin, not very flavorful, kinda hard to eat. Would skip these next time."  I disagree with the lack of flavor, but the overall sense of them not being quite awesome, and annoying to actually consume, was still there.

So, overall, solid fried items, sweet potato fries are best with the maple seasoning, and the crispy haystack I think would be a fun addition to a salad or burger, but isn't that great alone.  (I really think I might get a side salad with some haystack on top next time, or finally try one of the seasonal sides).

I appreciate the fry-fecta so I can try all three items and not need to make a choice, or get the entire group to agree on just one item.
Sauces: House Sauce, Herb Mayo, Herb Ranch.
I'm a sauce girl.  I'm always a sauce girl.  And Roam is awesome when it comes to sauces.  They have a dozen different sauces, and, they are all free.  Free on the burgers, free with the fries.  As many as you want.  The person taking my order really did tell me, "just tell me all the sauces you want, they are all included".  I <3 you for this, Roam.

To go with our fries, I selected the three most aioli-like: house sauce, herb mayo, and herb ranch.

House Sauce: The house sauce was kinda just thousand island.  Not particularly exciting, which is exactly what I thought the previous time, according to my notes.

Herb Mayo: This was thick, slightly herby, and my top pick, but actually, I didn't find the sauces as necessary as I expected, since the fries were so well seasoned.  My previous note was that it "wasn't very herby, but nice to dip sweet potato fries in".

Herb Ranch: Good creamy ranch, I'm sure great on the salad, but actually too flavorful for the fries, it masked the sweetness I like from sweet potato fries.  Of course, my earlier visit said I liked dipping my sweet potato fries in it, so, who knows.

Other options include the basics (mayo, yellow mustard, whole grain mustard, organic Heinz ketchup), grilling sauces (BBQ, steak), and more interesting choices of Jalapeño Relish, Sweet Chili Sauce, and Piquant Sauce, some of which I tried on previous visits.  The sweet chili didn't impress ("more like chili ketchup, didn't like this much"), and the BBQ really failed ("did not like the flavor of this at all"), and the ketchup was, well, regular Heinz.  Ketchup is available self-serve.

Overall, I really appreciate the unlimited free sauces, but I think they are best suited for the burgers, rather than the fries, a fact which surprises me.


The main attraction is of course the burgers.  Besides entree salads, burgers are the only main dish, but, "burger" can mean many things here.

You can build your own, or select from their fairly fascinating pre-made "style" options.  But first, you need to pick your bun.  Four options, a traditional sesame seed bun, a healthier whole grain bun, a no-carb lettuce wrap, or, for those who need it, a gluten-free bun. 

 That decision out of the way, it is time to pick your protein.  You can pick from:
  • Beef: Pacific Pastures 100% Grass-Fed
  • Turkey: Diestel Family Free-Range
  • Bison: Great Range All-Natural (+$2.99)
  • Veggie: House-Made Organic
  • (Special) Wild Boar: Durham Ranch All-Natural (+$1.99)
As you can see, the selection is more than standard beef, chicken, and generic veggie burger.  The final burger type is a rotating special, wild boar on this visit, but it was elk on a previous.  Interestingly, for the cook level, you only have the option of "pink" or "no pink", not full customization as you would expect.  

As you can see, Roam is a place that a gluten-free vegan, a no-carb paleo carnivore, a health conscious salad seeker, and a classic burger fan can all dine in harmony.  The variety isn't just there to check off some boxes either, each one really is the top of its class.  Each option is grass-fed, free-range, all-natural, or organic, as appropriate.  The farms are listed dominantly on the menu.  

From here, you can take the "easy" option of selecting a pre-defined style, of which there are 9 to choose from.  These range from "The Classic" (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, house sauce) to "French and Fries" (truffle parmesan fries, gruyere, avocado, caramelized onions, watercress, mustard, piquant sauce ... yes, all *inside* the burger) to a seasonal special, such as "Springtime" (chimichurri, fresh mozzerella, tomato, herb mayo, arugula).

Or go crazy and create your own, selecting from free toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, house-made pickles), 6 types of cheese (aged white cheddar, swiss, gruyere, fontina, blue, pepper jack, all $1), extra veggies (oil & vinegar slaw, caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms, watercress, all $1), and premium toppings (avocado, truffle parmesan fries, organic free-range fried egg, applewood smoked bacon), plus a dozen sauces (all free).  Pricing on the pre-defined styles is significantly cheaper than designing your own, where topping add up pretty quickly.

If this is enough to make your head spin, well, I can relate.  Making decisions was really, really hard.

One member of my group picked a simple classic burger, his standard first time order everywhere, so he could judge Roam on the basics.  I was hoping to split with Ojan, and was leaning towards bison given my previous notes, but, he decided to go for the owner's top pick, a turkey burger, Tejano style (pepper jack, jalapeño relish, avocado, tomato, white corn chips, herb ranch), which I wasn't interested in at all, given that I'm allergic to avocado and dislike turkey.  I didn't even ask for a bite, but he said it was fine, good for turkey, but still a bit dry.
Create Your Own: Lettuce Wrap Veggie Burger, with pickles, Swiss cheese, watercress, caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms, and herb mayo. $12.49.
I made my own.  A totally crazy, rogue, not-really-sure-what-I-was-thinking creation.

I went for a lettuce wrap, my first time ever getting a lettuce wrap, anywhere.  I realized that in general I get annoyed with buns about halfway through, and I was really craving salad, so, this seemed more in line with what I actually wanted.  The wrap was huge leaves of butter lettuce, perfectly crispy, but I can't say that eating a lettuce wrap worked particularly well, it was hard to pick up, and in the end, I ended up basically just eating it like a salad anyway.  My previous notes don't say much about the bun, except that I was happy it wasn't slathered in butter.

For a patty, I went veggie.  I'm still not entirely sure why, as I kinda wanted the bison, but, I just wasn't craving red meat.  Plus, I had read a lot about how this was a pretty awesome house made veggie burger (in 2010, 7x7 rated it the best veggie burger), and my earlier notes said it was good ("nice and earthy") when I tried a bite from a fried.  It is made from brown rice, quinoa, and black beans, plus beets (the color!), dates (a touch of sweet!), jalapeños (heat!), and spices.  It was ... fine.  Certainly nothing like a commercial veggie burger, but, it really was fairly mushy, and I wasn't entirely into the quinoa/bean texture.  I give Roam credit for a unique offering though, and I particularly like how the beet made it actually look like ground beef.

So far, not that successful, but, most of my toppings were great.

Let's start with the sliced pickles.  They were such good pickles.  I loved the pickles  They make them in-house, and honestly, if I could buy a jar, I would.  The best pickles I've had anywhere besides homemade by my great aunt.  I'd ask for extra next time, and this matches my prior notes ("house pickles were great!!!").

I liked the watercress, again, I wanted salad, and this was crispy, fresh, and far more interesting than lettuce.  My notes from before say the same.

The cremini mushrooms weren't particularly exciting, just mushrooms after all, but they were good size chunks to add a bit of meaty texture to bite into, were sauteed with some seasoning, and were well cooked.

The swiss cheese was great, absolutely perfectly melted and very strong flavor, clearly quality swiss.  My notes from other visits also mention how perfectly melty my gruyere and cheddar were.  Roam's kitchen has clearly perfected cheese meltiness.

The caramelized onions I didn't like though.  They were really mushy, and there was just way too much of them.  Interestingly, this matches my previous notes, where I noted "way too many caramelized onions, made the bun super soggy really fast, was dripping from the onion".  Since I had no bun, I didn't have that problem exactly, but I really felt there were far too many.

Finally, the herb mayo was the same as I had to dip my fries, and worked well here.  I liked the creaminess.

So, was this creation a success?  Kinda?  I wouldn't get it again, but I did enjoy eating the melty cheese and all the toppings, like a salad, slathered with herby mayo.

It also ended up being a rather pricey creation, $8.49 for the base, plus $1 each for swiss, watercress, onions, and mushrooms, $12.49 total.

My first visit, I got the standard beef.  I noted "the beef flavor wasn't very strong since the burger patty was fairly thin, but it was well cooked and juicy".  The next time however, I took a risk and went for bison, which I greatly preferred, "I’d definitely get this over beef again!", my notes say.

The second time I went to Roam, I choose the BBQ style (Aged White Cheddar, BBQ Sauce, Caramelized Onions, Jalapeño Relish, Oil & Vinegar Slaw), with the bison burger.  I didn't like the BBQ style, given the caramelized onion situation noted above.  I dubbed it "overall pretty healthy/fresh tasting from the slaw and lean meat, the only heaviness was from cheese and onions".  Still, I concluded that I wouldn't get the BBQ style again, and really should have read my notes in advance and not gotten the caramelized onions this time.

I do know what I'd get in the future though.  Either a bison burger on regular bun, if I was wanting red meat, or, actually, a salad, but I'd add burger toppings.  I'd add the cress, mushrooms, pickles, and, uh, zucchini onion haystack.  I think it would be a crazy satisfying salad of fresh veggies, flavorful toppings, and lots of textures.  I'd get it with the herb ranch, although their vinaigrette could be tasty.  Guess I'd get both, on the side ...


And finally, "dessert".  Roam offers no actual desserts, but, I consider the milkshakes basically dessert, although they are served before the food, alongside other drinks.  I always find it odd when places offer shakes and not ice cream though.  You have the supplies, why not offer up a scoop?

The shakes are made with organic Straus Family Creamery dairy.  They come in 8 flavors, including the expected basics of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla (Tahitian vanilla bean, technicall), and coffee (made with local Blue Bottle of course), plus trendy salted caramel, mint chip, and coconut, along with a seasonal choice (Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip on this recent visit, Pumpkin Spice previously).  You can also mix any you'd like, like coconut strawberry.

On the regular menu, shakes are available in two sizes, 12oz ($5.49) or 16oz ($6.99).  While I love shakes, consuming a 12oz or 16oz shake alongside a burger and fries is ... a bit much.  Often times I'll find someone to split one with, but at some point I realized that adults can order off the kids menu, where they offer a more practical sized shake for $4.49.  Given how many adults I saw on my recent visit with kid's size shakes, this is not a secret, and it makes me wonder why Roam doesn't just add the smaller size to the regular menu.

Shakes are not served with whipped cream, however they have the option to add a bruléed marshmallow on top for $1.  I assure you, it is one of the best $1 you can spend, perhaps the tastiest thing at Roam ...
Coconut Shake + Bruléed Marshmallow, Kid's Size. $4.49 + $1.
Shakes are served in plastic cups with domed lids, and, if you go for the marshmallow, it is bruléed so it sticks onto a chunk of cone, which then pokes out the top of the lid.

The shakes are very thick, and when they first arrive, are far too thick to drink with the regular straw that comes alongside. Which is fine with me, as I always want it to be dessert, or, at least to have alongside my fries, rather than while I wait for my meal.  No willpower to wait needed, as, you literally can't suck it up.

The coconut shake was ... fine.  The coconut flavor wasn't as strong as I was hoping though, and it was kinda hard to distinguish from plain vanilla.  The quality of the dairy was apparent though, and as it got melty I enjoyed it, although, to be honest, I think I would have liked it more just as soft serve ice cream rather than a shake.
Adorable Cup.
I found the cup rather adorable, and liked that they educate you in a cute way to compost the cup, rather than toss it in the trash.
Bruléed Marshmallow. $1 extra.
The marshmallow though is a thing of glory, perched on a triangular chunk of sugar wafer, and bruléed so it sticks on.  Of course it is bruléed to order, and honestly, done perfectly.  I can safely say I've never had a better toasted marshmallow in my life.

The wafer reminded me of a crispy sugar cone chunk, but a fresh one.  It is very tasty, and makes me really wish they would just offer a sugar cone filled with ice cream.

The marshmallow is super sweet, soft and a bit gooey, and just a bit burnt caramel tasting.  It is totally delicious, and, like the sodas, not made with corn syrup.

I don't really understand why it is on the milkshake, as you need to remove the lid of the shake to get to it, but I don't really care.  This thing is delicious.  I usually just dunk it into the shake.

My notes from other visits agree: "I loved this.  Just like the top of a crème brûlée, had lovely flavor.  I don’t really see how it goes on top of a shake though.  I ate it separately.  Delicious!" and "Really good, but very sweet.  I loved the flavor of the caramelized marshmallow."

Always worth the $1 extra, and, honestly, I'm tempted to get multiple next time.  I wonder if they'd even just let you buy a marshmallow, no shake?
Pumpkin Spice Shake with Bruléed Marshmallow, 16 ounces. (Nov 2011). $6.99 + $1.
The best I can tell, I only took one photo from my first visit to Roam in 2011.  The shake.  Lols.  I guess I know where my priorities were back then.  It is funny to me that I took notes on everything, but, didn't bother with photos to go along with.

I picked the seasonal special at the time, Pumpkin Spice, and went for a large, which I split with someone.  I was also able to try assorted flavors from other friends.  My notes from then:

Pumpkin Spice shake was a little too sweet for me and it didn’t go well with a burger.  But, it was nicely spiced and definitely a very good shake, like pumpkin pie in shake form.  Would have probably been much better to just have as a dessert than alongside burger.  

As with my recent visit, I adored the waffle cone/bruléed marshmallow on top.

I also tried a sip of Emil's vanilla ("just a standard vanilla shake"), a sip of the coffee ("good coffee flavor, but not really standout"), and a few sips of another friend's salted caramel shake ("delicious! Would get myself next time!").

The next visit, I took my own advice, and opted for the salted caramel.  However, I found it too sweet when having more than just a few sips ("Really sweet.  Too sweet.  But I did finish the whole thing, so it must have grown on me.").

Cooking Demo, November 2015

In November 2015, the chef from Roam did a cooking demo at the Ferry Building during the farmer's market.  I attended, and we were treated to a meyer lemon soda as we sat, and a tasty seasonal salad.
Meyer Lemon Soda.
According to my happy tweet at the time, I found the meyer lemon soda "refreshing and delicious".  Which is how I felt when I ordered it this time around too.
Red Kabocha Squash and Red Russian Kale with Tahini, Za'Atar, and Roasted Hazelnuts.
I did not take any notes on the salad, because I was just attending a demo, but I remember really enjoying it, and being impressed that a burger place had such an amazing seasonal salad.  Reading Yelp reviews of Roam leads me to believe this is the norm.
Roam Artisan Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato