Friday, August 11, 2017

Marini's at the Beach, Santa Cruz

Marini's is a Santa Cruz based candy store, specializing in salt water taffy, caramel corn, and candied apples, that has been around since the mid 1900's.  They've expanded into chocolate making, including caramels, toffee, fudge, dipped fruit, and, uh, chocolate covered bacon.  They expanded to several stores around Santa Cruz, including multiple locations on the boardwalk, which is where I encountered them.

While candy is something I enjoy, the candy looked fairly generic.  I'm not one for taffy or candied applies.  But ... caramel corn.  I love my popcorn.  So after a disappointing funnel cake on the boardwalk, I headed straight there to grab a bag to take home.
Peanut Caramel Corn. $6.
"Marini’s gourmet peanut caramel corn is made with the finest ingredients available. Direct from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to your door. What a delight!

Marini's makes two varieties of caramel corn, regular, or, peanut.  I went for peanut, because, why not?  Adding peanuts surely wouldn't hurt!  Thick: upscale Cracker Jacks.

The caramel corn was good.  Very good.  Crunchy kernels, well coated.  The caramel was dark and intensely flavorful.  There was an equal distribution of little clusters of several pieces, and single kernels.

The peanuts were actually really good peanuts, small size roasted Spanish peanuts.  Some were raw, others were coated in caramel.  They were a bit lost though, and mostly sunk to the bottom of the bag, as they didn't seem to have been added while the caramel was still hot to make them stick to the popcorn.  Minus a point for that, but, otherwise, this was good caramel corn.

I was a bit horrified by the nutrition stats for the small bag.  They think this is 12 servings, and I easily polished it off in two.  Uh, the bag had 180 grams of SUGAR alone.  1440 calories.  Uh, oops?

But, I really enjoyed it, both fresh, and frozen (how I generally eat my popcorn).  I'd gladly get another bag.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Plantains

Update Review, August 2017

More leftover plantains.  And this time, I did something incredible.
Dessert Sundae Waffle Plantain Success!
Waffling plantains worked before, but waffling plantains, and turning them into a ridiculous sundae, worked even better.

One of my best creations yet!  Dulce de leche coated waffled plantains, topped with rum caramel, milk & honey ice cream, whipped cream, and rainbow crunchy kettle corn.

Oh yes it waffles.
The Original: Leftover Roasted Plantains.
I started with basic slices of roasted plantain.

Fairly thin, and fully roasted this time (last time they were thicker, and slightly undercooked).
Into the Waffle Iron ...
Simple technique at first, just into the iron at 350 degrees.

I coated a few with dulce de leche to caramelize a bit as they grilled up, just to experiment.  It worked fine, but wasn't really necessary.
Looking Good ...
They looked good when I checked on them midway through cooking.  Getting crispy dents from the grills, as I hoped.
They grilled, er, waffled, perfectly.
Waffled Plantain Sundae with Milk & Honey Ice Cream, Whipped Cream, Rum Caramel.
I turned them into a sundae, topped with warm rum caramel sauce, Milk & Honey Three Twins ice cream, and whipped cream.

It wasn't pretty, but it was AMAZING.

Hot, fresh, slightly crispy, plantains.  Melty sweet ice cream, with a beautiful honey flavor that worked well with the plantains.  Fluffy whipped cream.  Sweet rum caramel sauce that paired perfectly with the plantains.

It was awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.

I loved the play of warm plantain and cool ice cream, it was sweet but not as sweet as it might sound, and, the textures worked nicely.

But it needed something crunchy.  I wanted to add pecans, but alas, I didn't have any.  So I got creative.
And More Toppings: Rainbow Kettle Corn!
I sprinkled rainbow candied kettle corn on top.

It was exactly what I needed, even though it made it look ridiculous.

I adored this, and there is nothing I would change.

I also made a small version with warm peanut butter sauce and whipped cream, which was tasty too, but, didn't compare to this one.  So good!

Original Review, May 2016

Continuing my Wed series of waffling leftovers, this one is a bit random: plantains.

Yup, I had leftover roasted plantains, and, of course I decided to put them into the waffle iron as my reheating technique the next day.

Leftover plantains: will it waffle?  Sure, but, don't expect anything mind blowing.
Mexican Roasted Plantains.
The original dish was roasted plantains, coated with cumin, paprika, and chili powder.  They weren't really cooked enough for my taste, more just like warm, mushy, bananas.

Instead of throwing out my portion however, I saved them, thinking that they'd be great if I just cooked them a bit more.  And of course, I didn't just roast them more.  I waffled them.
Waffled Plantains!
I didn't do anything to the plantains, just dropped them into the waffle iron (at 350°), and let them go for a bit.

When I returned, they looked like, well, squished plantains with waffle marks on them.  I suppose that is to be expected.

Nothing extraordinary happened here.  They did finish cooking so I liked them more, and I did like the crispy bits where the iron made contact with the plantain.

I dunked them in honey and sour cream (I know, it sounds weird, but totally works), and enjoyed my little creation.

So, I guess, if you wind up with slightly under-roasted plantains (a common problem, I know), go ahead and waffle them?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Air New Zealand, SYD-AKL, NZ104, Business Class

I generally fly with One World airlines when I fly from Sydney to San Francisco, but for this trip, I decided to go with Air New Zealand.  I had 3 main reasons (and none were the price).

One: I no longer have One World status, and I couldn't quite imagine going to the Sydney airport and not getting to experience the ridiculous {Qantas First Class Lounge}.

Two: The Qantas and American flights from Sydney to San Francisco are day flights, departing around noon, and that makes sleep nearly impossible.  But you need to sleep, because the flight arrives in the morning.  It is miserable, and I know it.

Three:  I just don't like the seats on Qantas or American that much.

Thus, I opted for Air New Zealand, which I'd flown on only once before {LINK}.  The flight times worked out better: 11:50am departure from Sydney, 2.5 hour layover in Aukland, and then early evening departure from Aukland.  It made me have *some* hope of getting some sleep, particularly because I know the beds are quite comfortable.

The first step in my journey was checking out the brand new Air New Zealand lounge, which I enjoyed particularly as I was able to catch the tail end of breakfast service AND lunch service (not that I needed either, as I'd just feasted on "one last" hotel breakfast too).

The Experience

My flight was NZ104, Sydney to Auckland, with a departure time of 11:50am.  It was a full international business class, even though a fairly short flight, just like I'd flown on before on my SFO-AKL and AKL-SFO flights a few years ago, rather than the "Works Deluxe" service I had on the shorter AKL-SYD and SYD-AKL a few years ago.
Business Cabin.
I didn't utilize the sleeping mode of the seat since it was just a 3 hour hop over to New Zealand, mid-day, but the seat was comfortable enough for sitting, had convenient storage (under the ottoman in front for my laptop bag, huge overhead bin for my roller bag, and cubbies for my water bottle and even my laptop.  USB and power plugs were easily accessible.  I listened to music on the entertainment unit, and tried to browse movies, but I found the laggy, janky, horrible touch screen to be too annoying to be worth it.

The service was incredible, and we were very well looked after.

Standard drinks were offered as we boarded (sparkling wine, water, orange juice), and I opted for sparkling water.  I was happy when I provided a glass and a full bottle.  I drink a lot of sparkling water, and I was glad to have some during the lull between takeoff and drink service.
Sparkling Water, Spiced Almonds.
However, I wouldn't have needed to wait long anyway.  Before we even took off, we were asked what we'd like our post-takeoff drink to be.  As soon as we were underway, the drinks were delivered.  I was boring and opted for just sparkling water, as it was still before noon, and I had nearly 24 hours of travel time lined up and wanted to take it easy on the alcohol.

Our drinks came with a little bowl of spiced almonds.  I found them strangely satisfying, even though I wasn't hungry at the time.
The menu was available at our seats when we sat, a choice of 2 starters, 3 mains, and 3 desserts.

To Begin:
  • Smoked salmon with wasabi mayonnaise, tomato jelly, tobiko roe, and micro herbs
  • Prosciutto with grilled artichockes, Fiddler's Hill goat's cheese, Kalamata olives, and paprika walnut tarator
From the Bakery:
Oatmeal honey rolls, garlic bread, spelt seeded, and traditional bread

  • Horseradish crumbed beef filet, crushed potatoes, sage carrots, and minted pea puree
  • Malabar prawn curry with steamed basmati rice, pineapple butterbean, and coconut sauce
  • Roasted chicken breast salad with bulgur wheat, feta cheese, and minted cucumber with pistachio dressing
To Finish:
  • Gourmet dessert of triple chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and salty sweet popcorn
  • Lemon brulee tart with brown sugar pastry, mascarpone cream, and caramelized oranges
  • Fine New Zealand cheese served with quince paste and cracker selection
Once underway, meal service began promptly.

The first course was served from a trolley, chilled appetizers and assorted breads, plus a selection of two white (chardonnay or savignon blanc) and two red (pinot noir and syrah) wines.

It was barely 12pm, and I was stuffed from having one last Eggs Benedict at my hotel lounge, and then a huge second breakfast in the lounge.  I was simply not hungry, although the salmon appetizer really did sound interesting (and it looked pretty good when I spied on my neighbor's selection).

Instead, I opted for just a little wine.  Again, the service impressed.  I was offered a taste or a full pour, and even shown the bottles when I asked what wine was available, rather than just a simple "pinot or syrah".

The wine was actually really quite good, not heavy on the tanin, but quite flavorful.

The main dish was served after appetizers were cleared, and each customer was approached and asked what they would like.  They were delivered moments later, so, clearly they just heat up a ton of meals, rather than only heating what people order.  An interesting approach, unlike other airlines.

The staff continued to circulate during the meal service with a bread basket, offering refills regularly.  Same with wine.  Really, amazingly attentive.
"Gourmet dessert of triple chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and salty sweet popcorn."

I did however still opt for dessert (I mean really, you must know me by now), and was torn between the choices.  It was daytime, so my no chocolate rule didn't rule out the ice cream, although chocolate ice cream isn't ever my top pick.  But sweet popcorn?  I adore that.  And I know they serve decent ice cream on board.  The other non-cheese dessert also sounded good, as I love mascarpone and brown sugar pastry, but ... I don't really like lemon desserts.

Thus, the ice cream it was.

The ice cream was ... ok.  It wasn't particularly creamy and was a bit icy.  I'm not sure what the "triple chocolate" was, the base was chocolate, and there were a few chocolate chunks, but that is only two chocolates.  What was the third?  It was also overly sweet, a bit strange for chocolate ice cream.

The chocolate sauce on top was just that, chocolate sauce, not a thick fudge as I hoped.  It too was crazy sweet.

The popcorn was great though, I'm a sucker for kettle corn.  A bit strange on ice cream, but I actually liked dunking it in the chocolate sauce.
Decaf Coffee.
To go with my dessert, I also had decaf coffee, served in a nice big mug.

It was fine, not remarkable, but I think not instant.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Slider Shack

Update Review, July 2017

It has been years since I visited slider shack.  I recalled not liking the signature tator tots, but loving the kalua pork.  So when I was invited to an event catered by the truck, I gladly accepted.
Mini Feast!
Our hosts provided full meals, 2 sliders and a side, from a reduced menu.  Food was made to order, served from the truck like normal service.

I didn't really like anything I had this time around though, besides the bbq sauce.
Since this was for an event, they served from a reduced catering menu.

Our options were 3 types of slider combos (each with 2 set sliders, a choice between 2 sides, and a drink) or a Bento Box served over rice instead of slider buns.  The combos were the "Carnivore", with the original beef slider and moa-fried chicken slider, the "Imu" with one of each of the pork options, or veggie, which was just two of the same portobello sliders.  Absolutely no mixing allowed, e.g. you could not order a beef slider and a pork slider.

I easily ruled out the veggie option and the bento, but was a bit torn between the others.  I liked the Kalua pork when I had it before, and I did want to try the bbq pork, but even though I don't like chicken, the panko fried cutlet did sound potentially tasty, and for some reason, a simple cheeseburger (with pickle!) did also sound tempting.

I was equally torn with the sides.  I thought the tots were not good when I had them before, but I know the tots get rave reviews, and, the slaw was vinegar style, not mayo, so it didn't sound great.  I didn't quite want either, but my combo came with one, so I had to pick.
Imu Slider Combo with Shaka Slaw. $11.50.
In the end, I opted for the Imu combo, with one of each of the pulled pork sliders, and the Shaka Slaw (ok, yes, I asked to try the tots too).

The slider rolls were soft and fluffy, but very plain, just mini burger buns.  I wanted them to be King’s Hawaiian rolls, and have some added sweetness.

Both sliders were stuffed full, to the point where it was impossible to pick them up.  Fork required.  Not a complaint, but certainly not quite finger food.

The pork was … fine.  It seemed the same in both sliders, just with different sauce.  It would have been better if cooked with the sauces, particularly the BBQ.  I did get a little bit of nice fat, but mostly it was fairly bland pulled dark meat pork.
Kalua Pork Slider. $4.50.
"Slow cooked a minimum of 15 hours with Hawaiian Alaea salt for a distinctively smoky Hawaiian imu flavor, dressed with Slider Shack’s spicy Polynesian green sauce and topped with pickled red onions."

The green polynesian sauce was good, and did have some kick to it. Not quite as memorable as the first time I had it, but still, lots of flavor.
BBQ Pulled Pork Slider. $4.50.
"Slow cooked for 10 hours until the meat falls apart at the mere appearance of a fork. Slathered in Slider Shack’s homemade BBQ sauce, it’s Honolulu meets Memphis. Topped with even more BBQ sauce if you like."

The bbq sauce was awesome, but my slider had barely any on it.  I mostly had a plain pork slider, which was quite sad, as I did like the flavor from the bbq quite a bit.
Shaka Slaw (Side). $3 + Tots!
"We shred our coleslaw ingredients every morning to provide the freshest possible taste. You won’t find any mayo in this slaw either. The slaw is dressed with our unique vinegar based marinade and sprinkled with Slider Shack seasoning. Bon app├ętit!"

The slaw was unfortunately vinegar style, rather than mayo, so just not my thing.  I couldn't really taste the special seasoning, although it was clearly sprinkled on top.  Boring, and I wouldn't get this again.

"An overwhelming crowd favorite. Tots seasoned with Slider Shacks special blend of spices. They’re fried potato puffs of goodness. Tater-tots + Lava Sauce (our house ketchup) = Magical. Voted best tots in 2014 by SFist!"

Although I picked slaw as my side, I also asked if I could try a tot, and the server was nice enough to give me a handful (I ate the others before snapping the photo).

The tots were, well, tots.  Not too oily this time, but fairly boring as well.

I wouldn't really recommend, nor want, either side again.

Original Review, March 2013

It has been a while since I've reviewed a food truck.  I just haven't been visiting them much lately.

But a few weeks ago, we were strolling along Sunday Streets, and the unmistakable smell of fried potato wafted through the air.  Ojan stopped dead in his tracks.  He looked around frantically.  I saw the Slider Shack truck parked off on the side, and immediately knew that it was where the smell was coming from.  I hadn't even been there before, but I know people always rave about their tots.

So, we rushed to the truck, an adorable thing with a serious beach shack vibe going on.  I noticed the LevelUp sign on the truck, and made our purchase that way, even though they were one of very few businesses I've ever seen that doesn't add any initial LevelUp credits to your account.  No freebies here, but still easier to pay than dealing with cash!  LevelUp worked with no problems, and we quickly received our order.
Tator Tots.  $3.
The famous tots, with dipping sauce.

We were all pretty disappointed with them.  They were very, very greasy.  We expected oily, greasy, street food, but it was a bit much.  They were also heavily salted.  But my biggest complaint is that they were barely lukewarm.  I've heard such good things about these tots that I can't help but think perhaps we just got the end of a batch or something?  Not only were these not special, they just weren't very good at all.

The sauce that came with them was hard to identify.  It seemed like a cross between ketchup and cocktail sauce maybe?  I love sauces, it this just didn't do it for me.  I also asked for a side of BBQ sauce to try something different, but found it to be too intense for the tots.  I'm sure it went better with the pulled pork slider which it was designed for.

$3 got us this fairly small serving of tots, and I wouldn't get again.

[ No Photo ]
Kalua Pork Slider. $4.  

"Slow cooked a minimum of 15 hours with Hawaiian Alaea salt for a distinctively smoky Hawaiian imu flavor, dressed with Slider Shack's spicy Polynesian green sauce and topped with pickled red onions.”

Given the name of their truck, "Slider Shack", you can kinda guess what they are primarily known for: the sliders.  They offer several varieties, including classic beef, chicken, or veggie burgers.  They also have two pork varieties.  The person taking my order said the Kalua Pork was the best one, hands down, so I went for it.

The pork was incredibly tender and fell apart easily.  It had a smoky flavor, and was really delicious.  And I don’t usually like pork.  The sauce was out of this world, incredibly flavorful and went perfectly with the pork.  I was really surprised, but this was downright delicious.  Would totally get again.