Friday, January 05, 2018

Bobo's Oat Bars

Update Review, January 2018

I've reviewed Bobo's Bars before (original, update), but I tried a few new flavors, and a new branding.  It seems the "Bites" are now called "Minis"?
Coconut Mini.
"Our Coconut bar combines our hearty oats with sweet organic coconut flakes, transporting every eater to a tropical paradise. While we recommend consuming this bar on an island, it may also be enjoyed at every other moment in life."

This one was only ok.  The bar still had the same dense quality, the hearty taste that I enjoyed, it wasn't too sweet, and the brown rice syrup as a sweetener worked well to compliment the oats.  The coconut added additional texture and a bit of chew.

But I just wasn't into the coconut flavor, and it seemed harder than others I had in the past.
Chocolate Chip Mini.
"No offense to Chocolate Chip cookies, but our Chocolate Chip bar is kind of a big deal. This tasty treat feels more like dessert than breakfast, but without the guilt. The slow-burning oats leave you feeling satiated beyond measure, satisfying your hunger and your sweet tooth. "

As always, I liked the hearty, dense base, even though it makes no sense to like a hard oatmeal puck.  But for some reason, it just really hits the spot for me, the sweetness is just spot on.
"Chocolate Chip": Inside.
But ... after two bites, I was confused.  Where were the promised chocolate chips?

I think I had a dud, as it literally did not contain a single chocolate chip.  I still liked the base flavor, but, chocolate chip it was not.

Update Review, March 2016

A few months ago, I reviewed several flavors of Bobo's bars, which you can read about in my original review below.  They really shocked me, as I'm not generally a huge lover of bars, and these were quite great.  I describe them as oatmeal, but, in bar form.  Which doesn't sound like it should be good, but it is.  Oh, and some are gluten-free too.

So, I tried more varities (including some more fun ones!), this time, I went for the smaller "Bobo's Bites".

Bobo's Bites

"The perfect size for school lunches or a quick snack on the go. Enjoy a tasty Bobo’s Bite any time you want a small snack to keep you going!"
Bobo's recently introduced a new product line: "Bites".  These are smaller, 1.3 ounce bars,  ~180 calories, rather than 3 ounce, nearly 400 calorie "bars" I tried before.  This size makes more sense to me, as I found it odd that the larger size one had a serving size listed of 2, because who would really eat half a bar?

The Bites are all gluten-free, and offered in only three varieties: original, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly.  I thought it was interesting that they only make gluten-free versions of the Bites, whereas the bars are available in both gluten-free and regular.  My guess is that they are more successful in the gluten-free market, and these are their most popular varieties?

Anyway.  I continue to think Bobo's bars/bites are awesome.  I don't entirely understand why, but, they are.  Get them.
Original Gluten-Free Bobo's Bite.
"Bobo’s Bites Original Flavor has all the great flavor of our Original Bar in a smaller snack size Bite!"

If you step back, this does not sound exciting, in any way.  Gluten-free and vegan.  A little packaged bar.  When do I ever like this sort of thing?  And, just in a plain, "original", flavor?  Please.  How good can some gluten-free rolled oats, sweetened with brown rice syrup and sugar, possibly be?  The only other ingredient in the entire bar is what seems like the components of Earth Balance (oil, water, annatto extract).

I realize, as I describe this, that it doesn't sound good.  I don't know how to convince you otherwise though.  These things are awesome.  Yes, even the plain flavor.  Oats, brown rice syrup, and Earth Balance ... nothing more.

Unlike most "bars", these are soft, even though made of oats.  Think of them like a dense ball of oatmeal.  Almost doughy inside ... but not really.  Sigh.  I can't do better than this at describing these.  You'll just have to try one.

Dense, perfectly sweetened, nice chew.  The "bite" will be gone before you know it.

Even the totally plain flavor is great on its own.  Just plain.  Room temperature.  No alterations.  For real.

One day, I was at home, and decided I'd try to get more creative, so I threw it in the toaster oven at low temperature for a few minutes to warm it up.  I pulled out honey butter and my mom's homemade jam to slather it with, as if it were a muffin or scone.  But first I took a bite warm.  I realized I didn't want anything else on it.  It really is just perfect as is, cold or warm.  I did like it warm, perhaps slightly more than at room temp, but warming it is really not necessary.

These are perfect for grab-n-go breakfast, or afternoon snack, but of course, I love desserts, and can also imagine crumbling one over some fruit to make a crisp.  Or just dunking it in whipped cream.  But ... again, not necessary.
Peanut Butter & Jelly.
"Bobo’s Bites Peanut Butter & Jelly Flavor packs the perfection of a PB&J into a perfect snack size Bite!"

Ok, now this one sounded GOOD!  Given that even the basic plain variety is amazing, I couldn't wait to try the PB & J flavor.  Again, made from the same base of gluten-free oats, sweetened with brown rice syrup and sugar, with the bonus ingredients of organic peanut butter and raspberry jam.  (Ok, slight strike against them, I prefer strawberry jam!).
Peanut Butter & Jelly: Inside.
I eagerly took my first bite.  Just like the others, I enjoyed the dense, oatmeal patty nature of it.  Slightly crumbly, slightly sweet.

The peanut flavor was subtle, but present, and I think there were little chunks of peanut inside.  The jam too was subtle, but provided a sweetness and slightly fruity quality.

But I'll be honest: I expected more.  Bigger bits of peanut, maybe some swirls of jam.  You can see the inside here, and, there isn't any visible peanut butter or jelly.  The flavors were there, subtle but there, but I really wanted to think "PB & J!", and, I didn't.

It was still good, still a bit better than the basic flavor, but not quite what I was hoping for.
Apple Pie.
"Bobo’s Bites Apple Pie Flavor tastes like home made apple pie in a perfect snack size bite."

As you can expect, this is made with the same base of gluten-free oats, sweetened with brown rice syrup and sugar.  To get the "apple pie" flavor, it also has dried apples and "natural apple pie flavor".  Yes, for real.  Where do I buy that?

Anyway, this sounded like dessert, in a bar, for breakfast.  Yes!

It was ... ok.  Basically, apple-y oatmeal.  Which, it turns out, just isn't really my thing.  It wasn't bad, and I still liked the oatmeal aspect, but, apple just isn't really for me.  The spicing was nice.  Turns out, the original is my favorite flavor.

Original Review, August 2015

You know I can't resist trying assorted bars, particularly when they are most soft, almost more like baked goods than granola bars.  And particularly not when they are delivered to my desk by a co-worker to try out.

I was pretty excited about the Bobo's Oat Bars once I saw them.  Cute packaging, but also, they pretty much looked like square muffins.  These are the types of bars I like most often, like the SuniBrite muesli bars from Australia that I recently reviewed, or the Nature Valley's Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares.

Bobo's Bars look very small scale production, so I assumed they were locally made.  It turns out, they are made in Boulder, and available nationwide.  They are more mainstream than I realized, sold at REI and Whole Foods in San Francisco, and, I even saw them at the grocery store in my hometown in New Hampshire.

The bars all have the same simple base of rolled oats and Earth Balance, and are sweetened with brown rice syrup and sucanat.  All are wheat free, non-GOM, and vegan, although only the specifically gluten-free bars use gluten-free oats.

The regular flavors start with the basic "original", and then expand to include just one or two other ingredients: coconut, almond, chocolate, banana, strawberry, apricot, peanut butter, cinnamon raisin, and cranberry orange.  The gluten-free options are peach, maple pecan, lemon poppy, chocolate almond, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly.

Honestly, the GF flavors sounded the best.  Maple pecan! Apple pie!  PB & J!  Um, yes?  My selection was given to me by coworker to sample, so I didn't pick the flavors, and I think she (rightly so) picked the appealing flavors for herself.

Now that I know how delicious even the less exciting flavors are though, and how easy they are to find around San Francisco, I may need to seek out some of the more tempting sounding flavors sometime, you know, when my never-ending supply of products to review somehow runs out.

The bars are heavy and dense, a whopping 3 oz, which means the serving size listed on them is actually 2 servings.  I kinda hate that, who really only eats half?  What am I supposed do with the other half? And really, FDA, why do you think that 1.5 oz is the appropriate serving size?  (Side note: Bobo's also has a newer product, Bobo's Bites, that are only 1.3 oz.)

Anyway.  The bars.

Regular flavors

"Bobo’s Almond Flavor has pieces of roasted almond in every bite."

I started with the basic sounding almond bar.

Almond shows up as both dry roasted almonds and almond extract.  The almonds were tiny little bits distributed throughout; they didn't really add much crunch, but you could see them.  The almond extract however was quite powerful, it flavored the entire bar in a really pleasant way.

The bar reminded me of a solid chunk of oatmeal, which, I realize doesn't sound good, but, it was.  The oats were soft, not hard like a typical bar.  The sweetness level was perfect.  It was a treat, but definitely not too sweet.  It really was as comforting and satisfying as a bowl of oatmeal, but in a convenient form, perfect for a grab and go breakfast alongside my coffee.  I was pleasantly surprised by this, and would gladly add it into my regular breakfast bar lineup.


Peach (GF).
"Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Flavor has pieces of delicious peach in every bite."

The peach bar I tried was gluten-free, so the regular oats were subbed out with gluten-free ones, but besides that, the ingredients were exactly the same, mostly just oats and Earth Balance.  Of course, it had bits of dried peach in place of the almond components.

I didn't notice any texture difference between the gluten-free and regular bar.  It again was basically just a dense chunk of oatmeal.  Which again, I realize doesn't sound good, but really was pleasing.

Grab-and-go oatmeal, who knew they made such a thing? The peach flavor was subtle and delicate, quite nice.  I'd get one of these again too, but I'd really like to try some of the other flavors.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Friendly's Ice Cream

I grew up in a town with few restaurants, but we had a Friendly's.  We didn't go out to eat that often, but when we did, and particularly when we were going for a treat, Friendly's was on the list.

Why?  For the ice cream sundaes.  I honestly don't remember the food at all.  I know we got meals, but, I have zero recollection of what I ever had there.  What I do remember?  The peg games on the table, and, the ice cream sundaes.  While many of my friends always talked about the Fribbles (milkshakes), I had eyes only for the sundaes.  But not the one that all the other kids went for, the signature "Cone Head" sundae with a sugar cone upside down on top like a hat and a face, no, I went for the Reese's® Peanut Butter Cup Sundae.  Every single time.  It just used vanilla ice cream as a base (although I often swapped that out), but it was smothered in warm peanut butter sauce and hot fudge, topped with a mount of whipped cream, and garnished with sprinkles, a cherry, and of course, a peanut butter cup.  On really rare occasions I'd mix it up and get the Reese's Pieces version instead, with, well, pieces instead of pb cups, but this was my constant goto.  I just loved the chocolate and peanut butter.  The sundaes are huge, but, you could add a reasonably size "Happy Ending" one on to any meal, which was always my move.

Friendly's has long been in the ice cream business, a featured part of their menu for 80+ years.  Sadly for me, the restaurant shut down in the town long ago, and no where I have lived since has one.  Since then I know they expanded, offering soft serve, Friend-z (mix-in versions),   But they do make ice cream (gallons and novelties) sold in grocery stores everywhere, so, I finally got inspired to try them out, and see if they measured up.

Sundae Cups

I see this in grocery stores everywhere in New England.  The stores sell them 10 for $10, as in, literally, $1 each, which is a bit mind blowing to me.
"Our Sundae Cups come in a perfect personal size for when you just need a sundae all to yourself."
Friendy's individual sized sundae cups come in basically every variety of sundae they serve at the restaurants, and then some.  Which means, they do have a peanut butter cup sundae.  One really unique offering they make is an ice cream cake sundae cup, literally the layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream they use in the ice cream cakes, layered with the same chocolate crunchies, and topped with the whipped topping and confetti sprinkles.  If you like their ice cream cake, but don't have an occasion to celebrate, just get the sundae!

But back to the peanut butter cup sundae.  The sundae cup version uses peanut butter ice cream, and the fudge and peanut butter sauces on top are obviously not warm.  And no whipped cream.  Same with the Reese's pieces version.  This just didn't feel right to me, so I went for something different.
Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup.
 "Enjoy an ice cream masterpiece of green vanilla flavored ice cream topped with a layer of yellow vanilla flavored ice cream, topped with blue marshmallow, whipped topping and primary colored sprinkles—all in a perfectly personal size sundae cup!"

So yeah.  I went for the ridiculous Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup, clearly designed for kids.  The reason was fairly simple, I was having it in the evening, and so I had to rule out all the chocolate based ones.  Every single option, besides a strawberry one, had chocolate, either in the fudge sauce on top, or chips in the ice cream.  So, this was it.  It sounded a lot like the ice cream cake, just minus the chocolate layers.

I did laugh when I opened the lid.  They weren't joking about the colors.

Bright blue marshmallow topping.  Colorful sprinkles.  Yellow ice cream poking out.

I dug in.

The whipped cream was pretty standard, as were the sprinkles.  The blue marshmallow topping was sweet and fluffy, just like on their ice cream cakes.  I liked it.
Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup: Inside.
Under that all was, well, yellow and green ice cream.

It was a bit confusing to the brain to eat yellow and green ice cream, and have them taste like vanilla.  They didn't taste distinct.  They really were vanilla.  They just looked like Playdoh.

Overall, this was clearly fairly simple, but, I liked it.  The ice cream was decent, the marshmallow topping and whipped cream exactly what I remembered from their ice cream cakes.

I don't think I'd get this again, as it was a bit too simple, but, I enjoyed it.  Next time, I'd get the ice cream cake one, or maybe try the peanut butter one, knowing it is nothing like the beloved version served in restaurants.

Ice Cream Cake

I grew up in an ice cream cake family.  Every birthday.  Every year.  Without fail.  However, Friendly's was not our ice cream cake maker.  It was Carvel.  Always.

When I was younger, Carvel had a store in the town, and we had custom made cakes.  It closed when I was probably 8 or 10 years old, forever ago, but luckily, grocery stores still carry Carvel cakes.  Until one year, when my Mom couldn't find them anywhere.  I think she looked in nearly every store to no avail.  She sent my dad on a last minute job to try a final store, and he came back with something that sure looked like a Carvel cake, except ... it was Friendly's.

It wasn't the same.  But, that doesn't mean it was bad.
Celebration Ice Cream Cake.
"Friendly's ice cream cakes are lovingly handmade to transform any occasion into a happy occasion!"

Friendly's ice cream cakes are much like the Carvel ones - layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate crunchies in-between, fluffier whipped forsting on the outside. Available in different shapes and sizes.with the classic one having blue frosting border and some confetti sprinkles. They also make a Oreo version (Oreo ice cream layers, crushed Oreos in the center, fudge and Oreo topping), a Reese's version (peanut butter ice cream layers, chopped pb cups in the center, chocolate truffle frosting), and now, a trendy Salted Caramel Truffle one (salted caramel ice cream, caramel chocolate truffles, caramel sauce, fudge, etc).

But we had the classic.
Leftover Celebration Cake.
"Every big (and little) celebration deserves ice cream cake! Lovingly handmade layers of premium chocolate and vanilla ice cream, separated by chocolaty crunchies, are topped with freshly whipped ice cream and decorations. "

Of course, we all immediately compared this to Carvel.  Most of the family refused to even consider that it might be better in some ways.  But it was.

The ice cream was higher quality.  Sorry, Carvel.  It was creamier, less icy.  Just, better.  The ice cream was in reverse order: chocolate on top, vanilla on bottom.

The crispies weren't as good though, they were softer, not as crunchy, not quite the same magic.

The whipped topping was sweet, fluffy, and good.

Overall, it was a fine replacement for a Carvel cake, and, if you actually care about the ice cream, a better choice.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Waffling Leftovers: Agadashi Tofu

Another day, another adventure waffling my leftovers.

This one started with an item I can imagine most people have never considered putting into their waffle irons: leftover agadashi tofu.  Yup, really.
Transforming Agadashi Tofu.
The burning question: leftover agadashi tofu: Will it Waffle? Absolutely.

Waffled fried tofu needs to become a thing.
The Original: Agadashi Tofu.
The original was agadashi tofu, assemble-your-own style.

Fried cubes of silken tofu, coated in potato starch.  Perfectly crispy exterior, soft pudding-like interior.  Excellent stuff, and really, I don't like tofu, but this I not only tolerate, I genuinely love.

The broth was a flavorful, salty mix of mirin, sake, tamari, kombu, and shiitake, delightful and comforting.

I enjoyed the tofu both just as fried nuggets, and assembled with the broth and green onions.
Leftover Cold Agadashi Tofu.
We had tons leftover, so I saved some, with one thing in mind: my waffle iron.

I did try a piece cold from the fridge, just curious, but it wasn't good at all.  The perfectly crispy crust from the night before was now soggy, and it lost all its luster.

I could have just roasted it in the oven to crisp it back up, but of course I had other plans.
Waffling, step 1.
Since it was already crusted, this was easy to throw into the waffle iron without modification.

I knew I wanted a good sear on it, so I put it in at 400 degrees, a bit higher than my standard 350.
Getting Crispy.
It waffled like a charm, crisping up quite nicely.  It also extracted easily, always a bonus, since it had the nice shell on the outside already.  Super easy.

I loved the results.  It was super crispy on the outside but still soft inside.  A perfect appetizer of crispy fried tofu to dunk into various sauces.  Or, when I did it the next day, crispy fried tofu bits to throw on top of a salad, like croutons-ish!

Absolutely a success.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Travelin' Tuesdays: Tokyo!

Update Reviews, 2017 Visit

As you've been reading for the past few months, I took a trip to Tokyo in 2017 that featured a very different style of dining than my previous visit.  Far fewer Michelin stars.  More focus on unique, niche experiences.  Lots of dining at convenience stores (yes, really!).  And a whole ton of soft serve ice cream.

This is just a master reference, to provide easy access to the slew of reviews, and, share some highlights.

Convenience Stores

  • 7-Eleven, for salads in pouches that I really did like
  • Tasty egg sandwiches, not so tasty fried chicken, from Lawson Station ... another convenience store
  • Even convenience stores have soft serve ice cream machines, like Ministop
  • Yes, Family Mart convenience stores have good desserts


Other Restaurants

  • An interesting concept, pairing food to wine (rather than the other way around), with a fantastic foie gras ice cream sandwich, at Cork
  • Longrain, one of my Sydney thai favorites, just opened a legit Tokyo outpost

Ice Cream & Desserts

  • TOP PICK: Fascinating ice cream parfait creations, with the second best soft serve we had in Tokyo, at Mother Farm Milk Bar (top pick because it was more interesting overall)
  • TOP PICK: The actual best soft serve, Cremia, from Silkream (10 years of development paid off ... the richest, creamiest soft serve I've ever had)
  • Mediocre ice cream stuffed melonpan, from Sekai de Niban-me ni Oishii Melonpan
  • Really good packaged vanilla ice cream, from Dean & Deluca (only in Japan)
  • Good soft serve covered in crispy bits, at Zaku Zaku (along with pastry cream stuffed crispy pastry sticks)
  • Wendy's First Kitchen (yes, the same Wendy's you know) has a great lineup of Japanese ice cream desserts, like mochi, red bean, and jelly topped soft serve
  • Packaged puddings are everywhere, like Kobe cheese pudding

Hotels / Flights / Airports

Original Reviews, 2014 Visit

Dear readers, it is time to travel again!

As you know, I normally focus my reviews on establishments in San Francisco, but after my successful Travelin' Tuesdays series on Boston and New Hampshire, I've decided to do it again.  But this time, we are going somewhere far more interesting: Tokyo!

Epic does not even begin to describe my recent trip to Tokyo.  You'll just have to read all about it.  It was a business trip, with a few days of vacation thrown in.

Next Tuesday, I'll start with the actual travel, not something I normally review, but in this case, it too was epic.  I spent 7 hours in SFO, so I got to experience all the cuisine the assorted airline lounges have to offer.  And then, I flew on Cathay Pacific for the first time, to Hong Kong, and then to Tokyo.  No, neither the Cathay flight, nor the time in SFO were planned, but, I turned them into culinary adventures.

The adventures continued once I reached Tokyo, the land of sushi and Michelin stars, both things I clearly enjoy.  Let's just say that in my 3 days of free time, I consumed 8 Michelin stars.  I went to two of Joël Robuchon's restaurants, sadly, not the flagship 3 star, but settled for two star La Table de Joël Robuchon and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and netted another two star, Tateru Yoshino Shiba, along the way.  However, we were in Japan, and couldn't exclusively eat French food, so we also went to Michelin starred sushi at Sushi Kanesaka, and Michelin starred tepanyaki at Ukai-Tai Omotasando.

When we weren't busy eating stars, we went to more casual establishments with our co-workers, all Japanese cuisine, like Sushi Seizan for more sushi, President Chibo for okonomiyaki, and Beehive for ramen.  And of course, because I am me, a few pastry shops were also visited, like La Maison du Chocolat and La Boutique de Joël Robuchon.

And, for ridiculous factor, we may or may not have visited the Ganpachi, aka, "The Kill Bill Restaurant" and ... a robot restaurant.  Let's just say there was a pretty large mix of experiences on this trip.

It all concluded with what I am sure will go down as history as one of the most memorable experiences of my life: a flight back, via Hong Kong, on Cathay Pacific, First Class.  I literally spent the entire flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong dining in a ridiculously long, drawn out zillion course kaiseki meal.  Even the time spent in the airline lounges in Hong Kong was mind blowing (they have cabanas!) and sooo many food options ... but not so much the Haneda lounge in Tokyo.  But the truly amazing part was the flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco involved caviar.  I'm ruined for all future travel.

So stay tuned, over the next few months, every Tuesday will feature a new installment of Travelin' Tuesdays: Tokyo.  I'll update this master post with links to the individual posts.  Enjoy!