Friday, September 15, 2017

Quinn Popcorn

I've reviewed a lot of popcorn by now.  You know it is my favorite snack food.  You know I have ... a problem.

But I also have a new discovery.  A real innovation in microwave popcorn.  Yes, really.  They have changed things.

Let me introduce Quinn Popcorn.  Their tag line is that they are reimagining food.  I don't entirely disagree.  They make bagged, popped popcorn, microwave popcorn,  and pretzels (gluten-free).

I know that doesn't sound very interesting, but, Quinn took the concept of microwave popcorn, and made it ... more work for you.  More work, but, more payoff.

You have to add the oil.  You have to add the seasonings.  You have to shake.  A lot.  They don't have make crazy flavors, and you likely have all the ingredients in your own pantry to do this without their popcorn kits.  You could just pop plain popcorn and add oil and seasonings from your own pantry at a fraction of the cost.  But they do combine it all together in one pretty box, and use quality ingredients.  I'm not entirely sure it is worth the rather high cost (I paid $5.99 for 2 bags of popcorn ... nearly movie theater prices!), but, it is clearly a high quality product.  I also tried their more mainstream popped bagged popcorn.

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave Popcorn is available in 5 varieties, 4 savory (Just Sea Salt, Real Butter & Sea Salt, Real White Cheddar, and Parmesan & Rosemary) and 1 sweet (Vermont Maple Kettle Corn).  I tried one of each category.
Packaging.
The boxes are all cardboard, which I guess all popcorn boxes are, but these felt ... nicer?  They weren't covered in glossy writing and bright colors.

The packaging really matches the product.
Descriptions: Aged Parmesan & Rosemary.
Inside each box is two bags of popcorn, two pouches of oil, and and two seasoning packets.

On the back side of each is info on what's inside, down to the details such as "rosemary: grown and dried in peru and spain"  and "sea salt: harvested in brazil".
Clearly Labelled Packages: Aged Parmesan & Rosemary.
On the front,  the packets are clearly labelled as steps #1 and #2.

So, how easy to make was this?

Well, the popcorn step was like any other microwave popcorn.  Put in microwave on high for 3 minutes, stay close by, listen for popping to slow, grab it before it burns.  Elevate if you have convection oven.  Easy enough.

The bag itself seemed to just be paper.  It even said it was compostable on it.  It wasn't coated in plastic inside.

The popcorn comes out entirely plain, very unlike any other microwave popcorn I've made.  Not only did the bag not have a plastic lining, it didn't seem to have anything but popcorn in it.  No "butter", "oil", or other chemicals in there.  Just a paper bag.  And out of it?  Just, plain popcorn.  Good plain popcorn.  So far, not very interesting.

Now, to transform it.  Pouch #1, for both varieties I tried, was sunflower oil.  I easily opened the pouch with one hand, given the little slit in the packaging.  Points to them for that.  And I poured in some oil.  I'll admit, the first time, it felt a bit weird pouring in so much oil.  I poured on about a third, and started shaking it.  I actually thought I wouldn't use it all, and could go a bit lighter.  But ... it really does all soak in.  So I added more.  Shook again.  And more.  It felt a bit gross adding so much oil, when you can see how much you are adding, but, it was the right amount, and I used it all.

Finally, step 3, the seasoning.  It was a bit harder to get evenly throughout.  I dumped some in, shook, and then went to add more, and saw most of it still on top.  So I shook even more, but still, it didn't distribute very well.  I started creatively adding more, down the sides, and then shook, and it all worked out, but, it wasn't quite as easy as they make it seem.

This popcorn does take effort.

The second time, I did it kinda in batches.  I did probably 60% of pouch #1 (oil) in a few batches, and again, felt crazy adding so much oil, but every taste test I did, tasted better the more oil I added.  I set the rest aside, to see if I really needed it, and got to work on pouch #2 (seasoning), again, in little pours with intermixed shakes.  I taste tested as I went.  Then, I poured out the top half off the bag, and got back to work on the bottom half of the bag.  Sure, it had some of the oil and seasoning already, but, I added the rest to the second half of the bag, and again, taste tested as I went.  The more oil and seasoning you add, the better it gets, so, yeah, just use it all.

Next time,  might just dump it into a big bowl for easier mixing?
Final Product: Aged Parmesan and Rosemary.
"Parmesan & popcorn, we totally stole your idea."

The end result?

Pretty good popcorn.  The base popcorn was actually really quite good, nicely crunchy, kinda light.  The oil wasn't too oily.  And the coating?  Really tasty.  Slightly cheesy, hint of rosemary, slightly salty.  The seasoning for this really was just parmesan cheese, sea salt, and dried rosemary.

Overall, really quite good, and, yes, different from regular microwave popcorn.

Ojan came out when he heard me shaking and shaking and shaking some more, and asked to try it.  He also loved it, and asked for his own portion.

Of course, there is nothing about this that required that you buy Quinn popcorn.  You could pop any good quality plain popcorn (they do sell the kernals too), add a high quality oil, and dump in parmesan cheese, salt, and dried rosemary from your own spice rack.  I'm sure you could achieve the same quality level.  At a fraction of the price.  But, Quinn does make it easier, if you want quality popcorn.
Final Product: Vermont Maple Kettle Corn.
"Like a fresh stack of flapjacks that you can eat with your hands."

I love kettle corn.  There is a stand at the farmer's market in my hometown that makes the most amazing kettle corn ever.  No other kettle corn ever compares, but, of course, I try it everywhere I see it.

More context: I grew up in New Hampshire, on the border of Vermont, with a family that makes their own maple syrup.  And somehow, maple kettle corn was entirely new to me.  I not only had never had it, I honestly just never even thought of it.

The popcorn and the sunflower oil for this were the same as the parmesan and rosemary flavor, the only difference is the seasoning packet, this time filled with just two things: maple sugar and salt.

Given my sugaring upbringing, maple sugar is not new to me (I have a shaker in my pantry, alongside my other sugars).  Putting sugar and salt on popcorn is the classic recipe for kettle corn.  Why it never occurred to me to put maple sugar I don't know.  But I'm glad I have now.

As with the other flavor, the popcorn itself was light and fluffy, quality stuff.  As with the other, I felt crazy adding so much oil, but, it was necessary to make it even tastier.  The maple sugar and salt was a nice combination, not super maple-y, but sweet, a bit more fun than regular kettle corn.

It still wasn't as amazing as the farmer's market kettle corn, but I liked the maple flair, and would get it again.

Packaged Popcorn

Quinn also sells bagged, popped popcorn, in 3 plain (olive oil, coconut oil, or sea salt), 1 quasi interesting flavor (white cheddar), and 1 .. strange one (super kale and sea salt).  I went for the later.
Super Kale Popcorn.
"Organic kale + popcorn = snackable superfood."

I obviously like popcorn.  I obviously like it both sweet and savory.  I don't mind kale.  

But kale popcorn?

This did not work for me.

It was green.  Very green.  That was fun.  It was a healthy option, only 43 calories per cup, compared to the standard oh, 240 calories per cup of caramel corn I usually go for.  But.  That didn't matter.

It tasted like kale.  Too much like kale.  It also had carrot, onion, and garlic, but I just tasted kale.  When eating popcorn, it turns out, I don't want to taste kale.
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Panini'ing Leftovers: Donuts!

I utilize my waffle iron for ... everything.  It is my most common way to prepare food.  You can read all about my adventures waffling all sorts of items in my master post.

My waffle iron is a Cuisinart Griddler, which is actually a grill and panini press, that has additional, removable, waffle plates.  I always leave the waffle plates in it, and thus call it "my waffle iron".  I basically forget about the other 5 functions it has.

Except one day I had friends over for a hot dog party , and I thought I needed a second grill (in addition to my trusty George Foreman) to prepare all the hot dogs.  I swapped out the regular plates into the Griddler, and turned it into a grill.  Life went on, and I forgot to swap out the plates and turn it back into a waffle iron.
Jelly Donut Transformation.
The next weekend, it was time to waffle leftover donuts, like I do most weekends.  I turned on the Griddler, made my coffee, and returned to insert the donut once the plates were hot.  But ... oops, panini plates.  Not waffle plates.

I considered trying to swap out the hot plates, and wait for the waffle plates to heat up, but decided to just try using the panini plates instead.  Turns out, leftover donuts "panini" nearly as well, er, perhaps even better, than they waffle!
Day-Old Jelly Donut.
I started with a day old jelly donut from The Jelly Donut .  I had taken a bite or two when it was fresh to evaluate it fairly, and then I took another bite before grilling it to see if it really needed grilling (yes, it did, it was kinda stale), so, really, I had about 80% of a donut to stick into the grill.

The donut was glazed, but, only the top had glaze.  I stuck it into the grill glaze side down, to better collect the run-off.
In-Progress.
After a few minutes, I could hear some interesting bubbling sounds.  I opened the grill up to check on the donut.  Uh, oops?

Since a big chunk was missing from the side, the jelly came spilling out onto the grill plates.  It didn't seem to be burning though, so I didn't really bother mess with it.

The bottom side of the donut had the glaze, and that side got very caramelized just how I like it.  Crispy and caramelized, almost like a kouign amann.  The top, glaze-free, didn't get quite as caramelized, but it still crisped up nicely.

It was at this point, when checking on it, that I realized the grill might actually be superior to the waffle iron.  It seemed to have more contact points with the donut surface.  Hmm.

I let it go another couple minutes, just to crisp up a bit more.
Panini'ed!
The jelly than had run out was easy to scoop off the grill and put back on top of the donut.  It was warm and gloopy and totally delicious.  There actually was still quite a bit that remained inside the donut as well, pressed between the dough, and soaked into the donut.  It was good too, but I almost preferred the jelly that had escaped, as I got to distribute it how I pleased, and, I think it got a bit thicker as it cooked, and I actually liked that.

The donut itself was great panini'ed.  As expected, I liked the bottom where it was caramelized more than the top, and made a mental note to consider sugar coating a non-glazed side in the future.  The ridges from the grill plates made it easy to cut into strips, and I liked how it was crispier in places where it touched the grill.  I think this worked better than the waffle iron, to be honest.

I topped it with coconut whipped cream, which I actually didn't like, hence, pushing it off to the side in this photo.  (Yes, I dared try a bite before taking a photo).

Overall, certainly a success, and honestly it made me want to have more leftover donuts, just so I could waffle or panini them.  Just like pizza, I'm pretty convinced that I prefer donuts waffled/panini'ed to fresh.
Cinnamon Roll Donut: Original, Waffled, Panini'ed!
The next weekend, I put the waffle vs panini theory to the test, with a leftover cinnamon roll donut.  This donut was enormous, so, I decided to eat it 4 ways, and compare them all.

For breakfast, I had a chunk at room temperature (fine, although a bit stale as expected), a chunk wrapped in foil and warmed in the toaster oven (moist, warm, very good), and, I waffled a chunk.  After lunch, I panini'ed the final chunk.
Panini'ed Cinnamon Roll Donut a la Mode.
The verdict?  The waffled version lost to the panini pressed version.  Yup, I said it.  Something is better than waffling.

The waffled version was good, but, the generous amount of glaze mostly melted off.  This is expected, and some of it helped caramelized the outside (great!) but much of it remained in the waffle plates, trapped.  I wanted to soak it up with the waffle, but, alas, I couldn't get to it.  Sometimes I am able to extract caramelized glaze from the plates with a chopstick, but this was too liquid, and thus, was lost.

The panini pressed version on the other hand, also had glaze melt off, but, I was able to easily dunk the panini'd donut in the warm liquid glaze as I removed it.  I also really liked the increased contact points with the grill plates that made for crispy bits  I topped it with some snickerdoodle ice cream (cinnamon roll + cinnamon ice cream + snickerdoodle cookie dough) and it was a perfect combination.
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Virgin Australia Business Class, LAX-SYD

Flight Details:
  • Flight #: Virgin Australia, VA 2
  • Depart: Los Angeles, 9:55pm scheduled (10:29pm actual)
  • Arrive: Sydney, Australia, 7:40am
  • Class: The Business
  • Seat: 4k
Another day, another international flight.  Since I lost my One World status, and I've never actually loved the business class seats on Qantas or American, I decided to mix it up, and try Virgin Australia for the first time.

Overall, it was a fine experience, and I'm glad I tried something new.  Life is about trade-offs, right?  The bed was far superior to the Qantas/AA versions, the seat had some nice features ... but lacked anywhere to store my laptop (!), the pajamas sucked, and the staff were pleasant enough.  I'm honestly not sure what my top choice is anymore for getting to Sydney, I think it might be Air New Zealand (previous reviews).

The Seat

The cabin is arranged with all aisle access.  Window seats face slightly towards the windows, while middle seats face straight forward.

I was in 4k, a window seat, mid-cabin.  A great seat in that I wasn't too close to the lavatory and galley in front, nor the bar behind.
Seat.
The seat is very private and has a decent amount of small storage spaces around it.  I did have my own full size, very large, storage bin above.

The seat was relatively comfortable in the seated position, much better than others I have flown.  Seat controls were a modern digital pad on the side.
Bed.
I was instructed to let the FA know when I wanted turndown service, as it doesn't simply recline, they also come add a thick mattress pad.

As a bed, it was also fairly successful.  Certainly long enough, fully flat, very stable and solid (I'm looking at you BA sloping bed!)  The mattress pad was decently thick and truly did provide a lump free, soft surface.  It was a bit too narrow when I lay in one direction, but not too bad.

My real qualm is that the way the tray table doesn't actually fold up and out of the way made it impossible to do any stretches in my seat in the morning (y'all do this, right?).  But overall, a good bed, and I got about as much sleep as I'd expect.

My seat position, 4k, turned out to be quite ideal for noise isolation.  I had no noise from the active galley and bathrooms in front, nor the bar in the back.  The only noise I had was from my fellow passengers as they opened bins and whatnot, but it was quite minimal.
Side Ledge.
Along the window was a ledge where I could place things during the flight.  The storage compartments located here however were far less useful than their deep counterparts on British Airways or Qantas flights.
Power and storage.
Under the side ledge was the main storage.  It was a shallow, awkward shaped compartment that also had a power jack, usb port, headphone jack, and the remote control for the seat.

The lid could not close while power was being used, which made it a bit awkward, since I couldn't leave my laptop charging easily.  I also couldn't open it when the tray table was extended, as it blocked the latch.  And my laptop could not fit inside.
Shallow Compartment.
The second compartment next to the compartment with power was also very shallow.  I used it to keep my menus, cell phone, and gum, but it really was too shallow to be very useful, and quite a strange shape.
Tablet and magazine holder.
On the side was a place for magazines, with a side door that fit a tablet.  It did not fit my 13" MacBook Air though.
TV Screen, Tray Table.
The tv screen was quite large and vivid, clearly a modern product.

The tray table was a different design than I've seen elsewhere.  It did not tuck away entirely, instead, it was always in a half-out position like this, which was great for setting drinks and other small items on.

It extended easily into a full tray table, which you could then pull closer.
Armrest.
The arm rest adjacent to the aisle needed to be down for takeoff and landing, but I could raise it later.  I'm glad my FA showed me that my headphones and a full size bottle of water were hiding in here, as I never would have found them myself.

Amenities

Bar.
If you have read any other reviews of Virgin Australia's new aircraft, you certainly know about the bar.  I've been on other planes with bars (but I haven't reviewed them yet, stay tuned!), but this one was the most useful that I've seen so far.  A full bar, with 3 bar stools along the front, and several on the side.
More Bar Area.
There was also comfortable couch seating off to the side.

The bar was used for the crew to stage meal service at the start of the flight, but after that, it was available for use.  You could order snacks, go have a drink, or just sit there rather than your seat.  They also had chocolates and other nibbles laid out.

By mid-morning, a continental breakfast was laid out, for those who got peckish before main breakfast service.  I saw a basket with croissants and muffins, butter, jams, yogurts, fruit plates, and juices.  I actually wasn't at all hungry early this time, likely because I ate in 2 lounges and some on the flight too, but I usually do get hungry before the breakfast, so I appreciated that they did this.  For next time.
Amenity Kit.
Amenity kits were mostly standard, with a crappy eye mask and ear plugs, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and socks. The unique item was the vanity kit with q-tips.
Ren Skincare.
The skincare box contained hand and body cream, lip balm, and day cream.  This same brand was in the bathrooms.
Pajamas.
Pajamas were distributed before we took off.  Long pants and a long sleeve shirt, in a drawstring cloth bag of the same material as the pajamas.  The material was strange, kinda scratchy, and it reminded me of long underwear.  Heavier weight than most airline pajamas.  No pockets in the pants.

I often save airline pajamas and wear them in "real" life (the Cathay Pacific First Class pajamas are my favorite!) but even the lightweight basic Qantas ones have their use.  This pair though ... pretty sure I'll be discarding immediately.

Dining & Drinks

Now, onto the food, as this is a food blog after all!
Menu.
As I settled into my seat, a menu was provided.  It had two inserts, one for the dinner service, and one for breakfast, along with several pages of beverages and snacks.  I'm guessing those change less often?

Dinner

Since the flight departed at 9:55pm, there were several dining options available.  You could go for a full 3 course dining experience if you wished.  Or, if you had eaten in the lounge or terminal, you could opt for an "Express" meal, which was the same menu, just eliminating the main dish.  Of course, you could skip meal service entirely, and go for snacks later on, available at the bar after meal service was over.
Dinner Menu.
The dinner menu was:

Bakery: Your choice of warmed artisan bread

Starter:
  • Sweetcorn and smoked paprika soup with chives 
  • Green leaf salad with fennel, almonds, broad beans, goats feta and tahini 
  • Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing
Main:
  • Salmon fillet on romesco sauce with beans and lemon 
  • Herb-crumbed pork schnitzel on asparagus with carrot and sesame slaw 
  • Lamb cutlets with barbeque spice on braised cabbage with oregano potatoes and olive dressing 
  • Eggplant, sweet potato and chickpea curry with basmati rice and coriander
Cheese or Dessert
  • Chaumes, France,  Camembert, America, Gorgonzola, Italy, accompanied by pecans, apricots, and crackers
  • Dark chocolate, hazelnut, and orange mascarpone mousse cake with creme anglaise and blueberries
  • Espresso gelato
  • Salted caramel gelato
Nespresso: Ristretto, espresso, macchiato, long black, cappuccino
Madame Flavour Tea: special breakfast blend, grey de luxe, green tea with jasmine and pear, mint and lavendar tisane, lemongrass, lime, and ginger tisane
Other hot beverages: filter coffee, hot chocolate

Our dinner orders were taken once underway, including all drinks.  I appreciated that they covered all bases at once, but it did seem to take a while to be offered my initial drink.  They took the time to ask if you wanted still or sparkling water with your meal, a wine to pair with the main, and any tea/coffee/dessert wines to pair with dessert.
Express Dinner Menu.
The express menu just eliminated the main, and since I had already eaten in the lounge, this is what I went for, particularly as it was midnight when the meal was served, and I don't like cooked salmon, pork, lamb, or chickpeas anyway.

It didn't seem particularly "express" though, served no sooner than the regular meals, and not until 2 hours into the flight.  Our welcome drinks came at 11:23pm, my starter at 12:06pm.
Kir Royale.
The drink menu had champagne, 3 red wines, 3 whites, dessert wine, spirits, beer, soft drinks, and juices, plus a section with cocktails (mimosa, peach bellini, and kir royale).

I went for a kir royale, taking after my favorite drink on British Airways.  While not served in quite as nice of a way, aka, no twist of orange, it was fizzy and enjoyable.
Salted nuts, edamame, olives.
Our welcome drinks also came with a trio of snacks: salted nuts (cashews and almonds, with one token pistachio), edamame (with a nice spice rub), and mixed olives.  These were all fine, but I wasn't particularly in the mood for them, not that I care for these items generally anyway.  I did wish the nuts were warm.
Dinner Place Setting.
A while later, my place was set for dinner, with a white tablecloth, two forks and two knives (even though I wasn't having a main ...), a white cloth napkin, a bowl with butter, a bread plate and knife, and salt and pepper shakers that look like the Sydney opera house.
Garlic Bread.
A basket was brought by with bread, a choice of a roll or garlic bread.  I generally skip the bread, but for some reason, I decided to get the garlic bread, I think remembering being jealous when Ojan has gotten good garlic bread on flights in the past.

The bread wasn't good.  It was spongy.  The crust was very ... crusty.  The garlic flavor was good I guess, but otherwise, not good.
Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing.
The prawns looked rubbery and not very well cleaned, so I didn't bother with them.  I had my krab in the lounge already anyway.  I got this mostly just to get something, and because I do like papaya and macadamia.

The shredded green papaya was relatively flavorless but not dried out.  There wasn't much dressing, just a little on the prawns, which I tried to rub off onto the papaya the best I could.  There was a decent amount of chopped macadamia, but it was kinda soft and strange.  I love macadamia, but I didn't love this.
Salted Caramel Gelato.
I had a hard time picking my dessert, because I knew the gelato would just be gelato, no toppings, but besides the cheese and gelato, the "real" dessert was a cake that sounded like it would be fairly chocolately, and I try to avoid chocolate at night, particularly when trying to sleep in less than ideal environment.  (But ... mascarpone! creme anglaise! berries!)

The gelato however was very good.  It was served at the perfect temperature, I didn't need to wait for it to soften.

It was light and fluffy, sweet, and slightly salty.  Really a decent gelato, and they have perfected the serving temperature.  Still, I'd like toppings with it.

With the dessert, I opted for the dessert wine.  I didn't really like it.

"Pantry"

The menu also included a section on the "Pantry", broken down into "nibbles" and "lite bites".  These are items that I could ask for at my seat later on in the flight, or have at the bar.

Nibbles
  • Nuts: roasted mixed nuts
  • Chocolate: valrhona milk and dark chocolate
  • Chips: gourmet potato crisps with sea salt
  • Olives: marinated green olives
Lite Bites
  • Chicken and tarragon finger sandwiches
  • Roast capsicum with white anchovies on toast
  • Guacamole with corn chips
  • Artisan cheese plate with grapes and fig paste
I was hoping that some of the lite bites would be appealing, as they are often the tastiest things on flights, but, alas, none of these called out to me.

Breakfast

Breakfast cards were part of our menu, and we were asked to fill them out before we took off.  You also had the option of not being woken, or, to have a continental breakfast at the bar earlier.

The menu was extensive and fairly awesome sounding.  I again appreciated the thoroughness, making sure you could specify pretty much everything up front.
Breakfast Card.
The menu read:

Juice: fresh orange juice or seasonal juice blend
Fruit: seasonal fruit blend with natural or fruit yogurt
Cereal: corn flakes or sultana bran with full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk
Bakery: whole wheat roll, croissant, blueberry muffin with strawberry jam, orange marmalade, honey, vegemite
Main: 
  • Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries
  • Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger
  • Mushroom, capsicum, and feta omelette served with your choice of smoked salmon, bacon, wilted spinach, tomato relish, onion jam, chorizo
Tea (same selection as dinner), with option to ask for a mug and slice of lemon
Nespresso, coffee, and hot chocolate (same as dinner)
Milk & Sugar: their own section of the menu, full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk, sugar or sweetener.

I skipped the juices and fruit because of my melon allergy, and the cereal and yogurt because, well, boring.  Instead ... I ordered 2 main dishes and a bakery item.

If I had been ordering at actual breakfast time, rather than the night before, I probably would have only ordered one main dish.  I wasn't particularly hungry.  But I just couldn't decide between the muesli and pancakes!  I do love bircher muesli in Australia (except I'm picky, and don't like it if its too sour, too acidic, too much apple, etc).  And, um, how do I resist pancakes?  I was even tempted by the sides that come with the omelette, and pondered ordering a croissant with all the sides, to make some kind of savory croissant sandwich.

But in the end, I checked off two mains and a muffin.
Blueberry Muffin, Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries.
My tray arrived with the muffin, a pat of butter, and the muesli.  The FA told me to let her know when I wanted the pancakes, and she'd get those going.

The muffin was served quasi-warm, but much like the garlic bread, it was spongy.  If it wasn't for the sponginess, I actually would have quite liked it, in the same way that I like Costco muffins.  Sure, it wasn't a nice fresh baked good, but, these sorts of muffins do have their place.  It was loaded with plump berries.

The muesli was ... interesting.  Honestly, it seemed just like cold porridge.  It had no bits of apple or any other fruit.  No nuts, no seeds.  So sweetener.  Just cold oats, in a milky-yogurt base.  That meant that it wasn't too acidic at least, but, it was incredibly boring.

The fruit on top was mediocre at best.  The strawberries weren't even remotely ripe, and I didn't bother try them.  The blueberries and raspberries had no flavor.

I wanted to ask for honey to drizzle on top, but I was too lazy.  I think honey would have at least sweetened it nicely.

Overall, lackluster, and really needed some mix ins.
Main #2: Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger.
My pancakes arrived soon after I asked for them, a stack of two mid-size pancakes.

They looked better than they tasted.  They were fairly fluffy, and weren't rubbery or gummy, but ... like the garlic bread, like the muffin, they were soggy and spongy.  Clearly, something about the way Virgin Austrlia heat up their baked goods just doesn't work well.

The pancakes were also a really strange texture, as they were loaded with shredded coconut.  It made them really not pleasant to eat.  The ginger flavor and coconut flavor were both quite strong, and I can't say I cared for either.  I'm not sure what the green stuff on top was, it tasted sorta like lemongrass?

I also never found the maple syrup.  It certainly wasn't on the side to pour on.  Perhaps that is what made them so soggy?  I didn't taste any maple whatsoever though.

The pineapple was soaked in something, I think a ginger syrup, and was I think somewhat stewed?  It was strangely soggy too.

So ... good concept with bold flavors (ginger! coconut! pineapple!) but, these just didn't appeal to me.
Long Black.
To go along with my meal, I ordered a long black, and for once, not decaf.  It was a standard Nspresso beverage, good enough.  I swapped to decaf after this, and they weren't as good, but, a little sweetener fixed that up.
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Monday, September 11, 2017

Corner Bakery Cafe

Corner Bakery Cafe is a chain of fast casual "bakeries", the sort of place that you are pretty sure doesn't actually bake anything there (or, if they do, it is from frozen).  As a "Bakery Cafe", they serve breakfast dishes, sandwiches/soups/salads, and a handful of baked goods.  They don't serve things like, well, loaves of bread.  So like Panera, but, even less legit bakery.
Storefront.
 I've walked by the San Francisco location most weekends (yes, it is kinda on a corner).  I've never given it a second look.  I don't really do sandwiches/soups/salads, and, I doubted the baked goods would be very good.  But, when I was browsing around reading up on birthday freebies, I saw that they give a baked good for your birthday.  And, a bonus one for signing up for the birthday club in the first place.

I couldn't pass up the chance to try two free baked goods, even if I had no expectation of them being good.

Setting

Ordering Line.
Corner Bakery Cafe is a casual place, where you order at a register up front, near display cases filled with the baked goods.  Food is prepared in a kitchen out of sight, and brought out when ready.

I visited about 5 times before writing this review, first to scope it out, twice to successfully get my treats, and 2 other times to fail to get what I wanted as they were sold out.  It was never busy.  Every.  Yet the restaurant has a very long hallway in the middle where you are supposed to queue up.  If there was ever a queue.
Barista Station.
Espresso drinks come from a welcoming looking barista station, but one that lacks an actual quality espresso machine.   You still order all drinks at the main cashier however.
Coffee.
Self serve drip coffee and standard condiments make up a side bar.
Cold Drinks.
Opposite the coffee station is the cold drinks (soda, tea, lemonade), also self-serve, and the rest of the condiments are here as well.
Seating Area.
Seating is a mix of standard height tables for 4, and higher tables for 2.  Seat yourself.  I think they bus the tables, but, on all visits, again never busy, tables always had dirty dishes on them.

Bakery Sweets

The only part of the menu at Corner Bakery that I cared about was the baked goods.  Partially because I'm a baked goods lover, but also, because my freebies were only good for them.
Cookies. $2.19.
First up for baked goods is large size cookies, all of which looked crispy style and not very good, but then again, I don't like cookies.  They had a good selection though, chocolate chip, monster, oatmeal raisin, sugar, and even english toffee.
Fudge Brownie, Maple Pecan Bar.
The maple pecan bar did catch my eye, as I love pecan pie, but closer inspection revealed that it looked like mostly shortbread, not much gooey filling.

I found it strange that on all visits they only ever had 1-2 of each bar item on display.  It made the case look empty, and made me wonder if they really sell that few?  Are they frozen in back and they just defrost a few when needed?
Lemon Bar, Cream Cheese Brownie. $2.79.
The other two bars were a lemon bar and cream cheese brownie, again, very sparsely populated.  Again, not very good looking.
Cinnamon Creme Cake. $2.19.
The coffee cake, er, cinnamon creme cake, is available whole or by the slice. It did not look very moist, and certainly did not have enough streusel for me.
Hand Pies: Blueberry, Twisted Lemon. $2.79.
The hand pies looked like fancy Pop-Tarts to me, and looked decent, probably the best looking offering.  I was sad that both involved lemon though (the blueberry one was topped with lemon glaze), and the "Twisted Lemon" clearly involved lemon ... somewhere.

Again, only 1-2 of each item was set out.  Still, I tried one.
Blueberry Hand Pie with Lemon Glaze. $2.79.
The "Hand Pie" was actually substantially larger than Pop-Tarts, which I realized when it was handed over to me, and the pastry bag weighed far more than I was expecting.  "Oooph!", I though.  It was easily the size, and weight, of 3-4 Pop-Tarts.  The 520 calories (!), 31 grams of sugar, and 23 grams of fat suddenly made more sense (compared to compared to 200 calories, 16 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of fat in a frosted blueberry Pop-Tarts).

It was ... ok.  The pastry wasn't flaky though, it was kinda soft.  It wasn't layered.  Not really pie crust or what I expected.

The lemon glaze was substantial, very sweet, and lemon-y.

At room temperature, as served, the hand pie was just ok.  I brought my second half home and warmed it up in the toaster oven, pretending it was a Pop-Tarts after all, and that was much better.  It crisped up, and I liked the warm pastry.  Still, quality fresh pastry it was not.
Blueberry Hand Pie: Inside.
Here you can see a cross-section of the hand pie.

The filling is a blueberry compote, with little berries in it, and lots of goo.  It was very sweet.  It reminded me of the blueberry topping at IHOP - not a bad thing exactly, but not exactly high quality.

If I had my hand pie warm, with ice cream or whipped cream, the sweet filling would have worked.  But just with the pastry and also sweet glaze, it was too much sweet on sweet for me.  And I like sweets.  But more than two bites without something to cut it was too much.
Rugalach: Cinnamon Pecan and Apricot Walnut. $1.49.
Corner Bakery makes two varieties of rugalach, apricot walnut or cinnamon pecan.

These seem to be one of the most popular items, not only was there a pile of them in the display case, they are also the only item I read consistent good reviews for.

Even though I'm not a rugalach aficionado, it seemed like worth a try, even though the cheapest of all the baked goods, and thus, the lowest value for my freebie.
Cinnamon Pecan Rugalach. $1.49.
Given that I prefer pecans, and don't really care for apricot, it was an easy choice to go for the cinnamon pecan.

I did not like it.  On top was plenty of pearl sugar.  That was fine.  But the pastry itself was dried out and tasted stale.  The filling had a couple tiny bits of chopped pecan, and yes, some cinnamon, but barely any flavor, no moisture, and, ugh, currants (better than raisins, but expected, and not welcome).

I didn't even want a second bite of this two bite item.
Cinnamon Roll. $2.99.
Ok, I lied.  Actually, the best looking thing was the cinnamon rolls.  But they were not eligible for either the new member reward, nor the birthday reward.  The $2.99 price was $0.20 more than the others, so I guess that is why?

If I were actually *purchasing* an item, this is what I would have tried.
Corner Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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