Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Waffling Leftovers: Salad

By now, you know that I like to waffle random leftovers.  I've found it to be a remarkable way to actually reheat leftovers, often transforming unappealing items into something totally salvageable.  Plus, obviously, I have fun with it.

Sometimes, I'll admit, I throw something into the waffle iron mostly for the novelty aspect.  Like, when I waffled pudding.  I didn't exactly expect that to work.  Or this time, when, uh, I waffled leftover salad.

Bear with me for a minute.

Have you ever seen a caesar salad with grilled romaine?  It shows up on menus from time to time.  The waffle iron is mostly like a grill.  I wasn't expecting it to magically turn lettuce into a waffle, obviously, but, I thought it would grill it.

The other reason I did it though?  I had some extremely wilted, soggy, unappealing, leftover salad, that there was just no way I could eat as it was.  I could throw it out, or I could have some fun.  I sorta thought that perhaps it would be a bit like making kale chips too, and the moisture would get sucked out of the soggy leftover lettuce.

It didn't transform into lettuce chips, but, honestly, it was a breakthrough.

Put simply, Leftover Salad: Will it waffle?  Yes, yes, yes!

I encourage you to consider it when you have leftover salad too.  Don't just toss it.  It also really makes me wonder why grilled salads aren't more a thing (I understand that waffling salads isn't, but, why don't we see more grilled salads?).  This not only transformed items destined for the trash, it was really legitimately good.
Waffled Salad Transformation, v1.0.
In the first version of this (yes, spoiler, I innovated further), I only waffled the lettuce, leaving the other ingredients out.
The Original: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cucumber and Pickled Onions.
The original was a very tasty salad, huge leaves of assorted lettuces (red leaf, little gem, etc), slices of fresh cucumber, totally delicious heirloom cherry tomatoes, and tart pickled onions.  The dressing was even more amazing, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, thai basil.
Soggy Leftover Salad.
We had a ton of leftover, so I saved it.  The salad was undressed, so, I thought it would keep fine for a day, but unfortunately, the moisture from the tomatoes and onions did it in.

By the next day, the lettuce was limp, wilted, soggy, and really not good at all.  No matter how tasty the dressing was, or how amazing the heirloom tomatoes still were, there was just nothing appealing about this salad.

But I didn't have anymore fresh lettuce.

A normal person would just extract the tomatoes and onions, mix them with some tasty dressing, and have a little tomato salad.  But I am not a normal person.

When I have lackluster leftovers, only one thing comes to mind.  My waffle iron.
Lettuce: Into the Waffle Iron ...
So yes, into the waffle iron the lettuce went.  I did keep the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions out of it (at least, this time).

I literally just spread the wilted soggy leaves into the iron, 350 degrees, and let it go.
Waffled Lettuce?
I pulled it out after it started looking "done".  It was not waffled exactly, more like grilled, but, it worked, really.

It was warm, slightly wilted, slightly grilled lettuce.  The moisture was sucked out, as I hoped.  It reminded me of roasted escarole actually.

I failed to take a photo of the final creation, but, I topped it with the tomatoes, pickled onions, and tasty dressing.  It didn't have the crispness nor freshness that regular raw lettuce salad has, but, it totally worked, and I enjoyed it, and was inspired.
Waffled Salad Transformation, v2.0.
Inspired for round 2.  I knew I could do better.  And I had a lot more salad to play with.

The lettuce alone was good, but, why not just waffle the whole thing?  It would be just like grilling, right?  Grilled onions and blistered tomatoes are delicious.  So, why not?  Waffling would be just about the same as grilling, right?
Entire Salad: Into the Waffle Iron ...
This time, I put the whole salad in.  Super soggy greens, halves of tomatoes, onions, and all.

I mean, why not?

I closed the lid, pressed down, and walked away, a bit giddy with myself.
Salad: Cooking Away ...
And, as expected, everything started looking grilled after a few minutes.

The tomatoes got beautiful char marks, turned blistered, just like they had been slow cooked.  The onions started looking grilled.  The aroma was lovely.
"Waffled" Salad Success!
I plated it all up, drizzled the dressing over it after.  I loved it.

Was it a waffle?  Of course not.  But does a waffle iron work perfectly well as a grill?  Absolutely.

Just like in the first batch, the waffle iron saved that wilty, soggy, totally gross lettuce.  It was warm, slightly charred, and actually good like this.  The tomatoes got a bit of char, split open, and acted like they had been slow roasted for hours.  I don't think I need to convince you that grilled onions are a great thing.

This was a remarkable transformation, and I'll clearly do it again.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Lakehouse, Bellevue

I recently stayed at The W in Bellevue (a brand new property, opened in July 2017).  It was absolutely glorious, in every way imaginable (incredible rooms, the best fitness center I've ever seen in a hotel, remarkable staff, etc).  The hotel has a partnership with a brand new restaurant as well, The Lakehouse, located adjacent to it inside the same mall complex (Lincoln Square).

The Lakehouse was an exciting opening for the area, helmed by James Beard Award-winning Chef Jason Wilson.  The cuisine is inspired by the Northwest, and is fairly farm-to-table driven, with local relationships with farmers.  They make their own pasta and larder items too.

My Lakehouse experiences were mostly for breakfast, although I did order a takeout dessert one night when I got back to the hotel late at night and really wanted something sweet.  Lunch and dinner seems to be when it becomes a destination restaurant, and they only recently added weekend brunch (which I also tried).

For breakfast, I used every option available: I ate in the restaurant, I ordered takeout, and I ordered in-room dining.  The prices are a bit high, as you'd expect for the area and level of cuisine, and the food was pretty varied in quality.  I think they are still figuring things out.

The Setting

The space is fairly stunning, very very large though, which felt a bit empty at breakfast.
The restaurant is located inside a mall complex, on the second floor, so the entrance isn't quite a real exterior, although they worked to make it look like one.

There is also an entrance directly through the hotel.
Accent Wall.
The space is very clearly designed, with accent faux wall dividing up the front entry area from the rest of the restaurant.  It was made of dark wooden stained boards, and decorated with pottery and vegetables on the upper levels, and used to store service items (like napkins) down lower.
This is the front area where the hostess stand is, again, decorated with some fruit, dark wood, back-lit.  But the large island seemed a bit oddly placed there, I'm not quite sure what they use it for.

Flooring is also wooden, natural planks, very rustic looking, although, brand new obviously.
Various seating styles are available, ranging from regular wooden tables to high seats along the walls.
Counter Seating, Open Kitchen.
The kitchen is all very open, in the center of the restaurant, with counter seating around it too.

This area also featured a living wall.
Padded Benches.
I opted for seating along the edge, on a padded white bench, comfortable enough.

In Room Dining

For breakfast my first day, I knew I didn’t have time to visit the full service restaurant, as I had an early morning conference at my office to get to.  But, I had the option of taking breakfast in my room via room service, which I’ve never done before.  Most of the restaurant menu was available through the in-room dining menu on demand, and a reduced menu was available via a little ordering card to hang on my door the night before to pre-order.
Rise & Shine Pre-Order Card.
I opted for the advance ordering so that it would be delivered when I needed, since I was in a rush.  It was kinda fun to fill out the order card, much like flying on an airplane, and specifying my delivery window for morning.  It came right when requested, no problems.
Bowl of Coffee Flour Granola with Fresh Berries ($12), Fresh Fruit & Berries ($10), Honey Vanilla Greek Yogurt ($7), Decaf Coffee Pot ($6.50).
Since I was getting room service, I didn’t want hot items as I didn’t think they’d hold up very well.  Also, um, my conference was having donuts from a famous donut shop during our first morning break, so I didn’t want to go crazy.  Thus, I was inspired to go healthy: granola, yogurt, and fruit.  Not my normal order, at all.

I ordered one entree ("bowl of coffee flour granola with fresh berries"), plus two additional sides (yogurt, fresh fruit & berries).  I knew the granola came with yogurt and fruit, but I still added on the additional sides to boost my breakfast a bit.

It was actually all quite good, and made me realize that sometimes healthy can be good.  Maybe I *don’t* need baked goods every single morning …

"Bowl of Coffee Flour Granola with Fresh Berries: Greek yogurt, cocoa, coconut & honey."

The yogurt side, and the yogurt in the granola bowl were the same, described as "honey vanilla greek yogurt".  It was ... fine?  Creamy, but not very Greek style, not thick and rich like I prefer.  It was very sweet though, with the honey and vanilla addition.  Visible bits of vanilla bean flecks were in it though, a nice touch.

The fruit side dish was also the same as what was perched around the exterior of the granola/yogurt bowl.  I was impressed with the fruit selection.  I expected things like grapes, pineapple, melons, apples ... standard filler type fruit.  Instead, the fruit mix was fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and figs! 

The raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries were all good, juicy and fresh.  The strawberries were a bit sad, not so ripe.  The figs though?  AMAZING.  I was so thrilled to have them included, both brown and green figs, perfectly ripe.  Overall, a great fruit mix, and I liked how they kept them separate around the edges of the bowl.

The coffee, decaf, was not very good.  Very acidic, not smooth.  I didn't care for it.  I also ordered a pot of regular, but alas, it didn't come.
Coffee Flour Granola Close-Up. 
And now, the granola.  Not actually visible in the bowl, but there was a generous amount of granola under all the fruit and yogurt.

I was a bit skeptical to order this because I read so many reviews where people mention that it was burnt.

I see why reviews all say it is burnt, although, it wasn't.  If you didn't realize it was made with coffee flour and cocoa, it certainly was quite dark, and looked a bit burnt I guess.  It was also very bitter.  But it really wasn't burnt.

The granola was the level of crispness that I like, very toasted, and well formed into some little clusters.  It was a mix of oats, some kind of seeds, coconut flakes, and blanched almonds.  The almonds added even more crunch.

I actually really liked the granola, and realized I would prefer to just have the granola and fruit without yogurt.  And uh, maybe with some whipped cream?  Which I might have done a few days later.

I saved some of this with a bit of yogurt mixed in in the fridge, to kinda make my own "overnight oats" to eat the next morning.  It actually worked well, softened nicely, and was kinda chocolately and satisfying the next morning.
Breakfast: Hot Ancient Grain, Various Baked Goods, Coffee.
Another day, I got a bit more ambitious.  I opted for a hot dish, but a porridge, so I hoped it would hold its heat well (it didn't, and definitely inspired me not to order any other hot items for in-room dining).  I also got the baked goods, but, um, I'm me.

The regular coffee was again pretty awful though.  So harsh and acidic.  The decaf was better, but needed sweetener.
Hot Ancient Grain. $12.
"Hot Ancient Grain: Almond Milk Porridge." - Rise & Shine Menu.

"Ancient grain porridge, chia, & flax bowl: almond milk, berries, and stone fruits." - Restaurant Breakfast menu

I shockingly liked this.  The menu description from the Rise & Shine menu (e.g. the order ahead menu), didn't have many details about what the dish was - not what type of grains, not toppings.  Luckily, I had taken a photo of the restaurant menu when I was there, and thus I knew the grain types (although the toppings didn't match the description).

The flax and chia both added great crunch.  The quinoa gave it body. There was lots of texture and hearty flavor.    The almond milk complimented the grains well, providing additional nuttiness and deeper flavor.

The berries on top (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry) were all ripe and good.

The brown sugar provided on the side did help sweeten it a bit to better suite my tastes.

I think I would have liked it a bit richer and creamier (maybe some steamed milk on top?), but overall, this was good and healthy.  The only complaint?  It wasn't hot.  It was barely lukewarm actually.  Not sure who's fault that was, but, it certainly degraded the eating experience.
Various Baked Goods. $10.
"Grilled Toasts & Pastries, Butter, & Jam."

So, what did we have here?  The menu didn't give much of a hint.

"Grilled toasts" ... there was a slice of coffee flour toast.  Toast, not toasts.  Good hearty toast, I'm digging the coffee flour thing, particularly with the oats and seeds mix-ins.  Nicely toasted, not burnt.

The butter on the side was standard butter (hard), and I still can't quite figure out what kind the jam was.  It looked like strawberry, but, uh, it had peppercorns (!) in it.  A really fascinating sweet (and spicy?) flavor.

"Pastries"? I guess the banana bread, coffee cake, and scone count here?

The scone was savory, I believe cheddar based, with some greens (chives?), and bits of what I think were bacon?  Vegetarians, beware.

I like savory scones, I like cheese, bacon, etc, but this I didn't care for.  It was hard and dense, didn't have a good crumb to it, and was greasy.

The banana bread was pretty classic banana bread, a thick slice, nicely moist.  It had a high sugar content for sure, sweeter than moist, a bit caramelized.  I'm not really a huge fan of banana bread though, unless toasted and served with whipped cream cheese.  Still, for banana bread, this was quite good.

And finally, coffee cake, streusel topped.  The star of the plate.  Again decently moist, cinnamon flavored throughout.  I liked the sweet crumble crumble topping with its of pecan for extra crunch, and ... it had figs in it!  Juicy, moist figs.

Overall though, this wasn't quite what I was looking for.  I wanted, uh, muffins and pastries?  The coffee cake was the only piece I finished.

Breakfast - In Restaurant

I also at at the restaurant a few mornings.

The restaurant is huge and hip, and it does feel a bit deserted in the morning, when I think it is mostly hotel guests dining.  Breakfast isn't really a destination meal.

The staff were very attentive, but still learning.  I heard one server tell people false information (e.g. that coffee flour is highly caffeinated, which lead a guest to not order the coffee flour granola he wanted.  It does have caffeine, but only as much as dark chocolate and she told him it was like espresso).

I asked a couple questions about the menu, like, "What is ice box cheese?"  My server told me she didn't know.  That perhaps it was more salty than other cheese.  She didn't offer to find out.  She did return much later, long after I had picked something else and eaten, to tell me that it was "whatever was in the ice box that day", which on that day, was Beecher's.

I also asked about the preparation of the egg in the "field-hand" breakfast, since it didn't say how it was cooked, and this seemed like a cold platter of food.  I asked if it was hard boiled.  She said that it was less cooked than a hard boiled egg.  It was poached maybe.  So I asked if it was warm or cold.  And she didn't know.

So, definitely still learning, but very friendly.

The food did take a shockingly long time though on all visits, particularly for a mostly empty restaurant.  Again, perhaps, still learning in the kitchen too?  
Breakfast Menu.
The breakfast menu isn't super extensive, but it hits every major category of expected breakfast items: healthy granola or porridge, carby waffles or french toast, classic eggs with breakfast meats and potatoes, and the ever trendy avocado toast.

Most of the baked items are made with "coffee flour", as the chef has a partnership with the coffee flour manufacturer, and it seems that no regular bread is available.
Fonte Coffee. $3.
As I sat, I was immediately offered coffee, which I accepted.

The regular coffee was fine.  Not particularly good nor bad - not harsh nor acidic, but not particularly complex.  It was served piping hot, in a genorous sized mug, which I really appreciated.

For my second cup, I moved on to decaf.  It was not as warm, but was also a fine coffee.

I saw my server ask others if they wanted more coffee to-go as they finished up, which seemed really thoughtful.  She didn't ask me directly, but I asked for more to-go, and was provided a to-go cup full, no problem.  I really appreciated that.

Also appreciated?  I had brought my own sweetener, because I often find that these sorts of fancy restaurants only have regular sugar.  She noticed, and when she brought my second cup, said, "and you take one pink sugar?"  I appreciated this too.

Interestingly, on my next visit, the decaf was piping hot, and they only had Stevia in the raw for sweetener.  It was only three days later!
Complimentary Sparkling Water.
Sparkling water is house sparkled, complimentary.  I was given a full bottle to pour at my leisure.

Since I drink an insane amount of sparkling water, I really appreciated both that it wasn't crazy $$, and that I was able to refill as I needed.  These little touches matter a lot to me.
Brioche French Toast. $16. 
"Whipped cream, fresh fruit, & walnuts."

The french toast was a large serving, 2 very big thick slices of brioche.

The description of this wasn't quite accurate.  "Fresh fruit" was actually a berry compote/sauce.  "Whipped cream" had quite the tang, I think it was whipped creme fraiche?  The "walnuts" were candied.  None of these things mattered to me, but, noted.

The french toast was fine.  Very thick slices, brioche as promised, not too eggy, lightly grilled, dusted with powdered sugar.  Pretty standard.  Nothing really remarkable.

The fruit element was blackberries and blueberries, in a sauce, cooked down.  Soft and sweet, again, fine.  Not remarkable.

The whipped cream, as I said, was more like whipped creme fraiche, it had a bit of a tang, but also had flecks of vanilla bean.  I liked the flavor, but if you look at the photo, you can see it really melted in, and wasn't very attractive.  I also, uh, wanted more?

The walnuts were my favorite part, candied walnuts!  Great with the whipped cream.

Overall, pretty standard execution of french toast, nothing notable.  I liked the fruit, cream, and nuts, but I wouldn't get this again.

Brunch - In Restaurant

On weekends, the restaurant offers brunch, with an expanded menu.  It is served until 4pm, really quite amazing brunch hours.
Brunch Menu.
The brunch menu has most of the regular breakfast menu, plus additional carby breakfast-y items (including pancakes and a savory waffle), additional brunch classics (like a spin on a benedict with crab served in an avocado and shrimp & grits), plus tons of lunch items (like a burger or chicken club), and then items from the dinner menu (like pasta and steak).

We visited at 11am, so opted for more traditional breakfast items, although I was *really* tempted by the grilled octopus that everyone raves about.
Cocoa Coffee Flour Pancakes. $16.
"Blueberries, yogurt, walnuts, sticky toffee."

Since I sampled so much of the breakfast menu during my other visits, I opted for one of the items unique to the brunch menu.  And, I had seen it on Instagram, so I knew it would be quite the looker.

My dining companion laughed when my order arrived, "that looks like dessert!"

Indeed, it did.  And, of course I had asked for whipped cream instead of the yogurt, which certainly didn't help things.

So, what did I have here?

A huge snack of pancakes.  This photo makes it look like there were only 3, but actually, there were 5.  The pancakes were all different sizes, with the lower ones actually larger, which I guess made for a more stable tower.  The pancakes were ... fine?  I expected the coffee flour to add something interesting to them, and alas, it did not.  The flavor was fairly plain, slightly chocolatey.

They were drizzled with a bit more very mild chocolate sauce, and I guess a little "sticky toffee"?  To be honest, I really didn't identify anything I'd consider sticky toffee, just a tiny bit of mild caramel.  Not nearly enough sauce-y toppings to really make this a dessert, looks aside.

The pancakes also came with blueberries, fresh enough, but not the best pairing with cocoa pancakes.  Or maybe that is just me, but cocoa and blueberries wasn't quite a match.

The walnuts were the same slightly candied walnuts I had on the french toast.

This normally comes with the greek yogurt that I had with the granola, but I knew I didn't want that tangy savory yogurt, and asked for whipped cream instead.  Much like with the french toast though, it totally melted in.  I asked for more on the side, and it was brought to me after a while, with the explanation that it was whipped to order, sorry!

When I was able to compose a bite that I dragged through the little bit of caramel and chocolate sauce, and covered in whipped cream, it was good enough, but otherwise, this was all just a bit dry and plain for me.  Maybe the yogurt would have helped.

Restaurant Takeout

Most mornings though, I opted for takeout, so I didn't need to pre-order at a specified time, wait for delivery to my room, or spend time sitting in the restaurant. I wasn't there for leisure, after all.


Regular Iced Coffee.  $3.
Since I did not really like the regular coffee, I decided to try iced coffee one morning (also, I was coming from the gym, and I was very warm!)

The iced coffee was just as bad as the hot.  Really acidic and harsh.  I guess this is just the style they go for?
Lemon Ginger Soda. $6.
The next time I wanted a refreshing iced drink, I went for a "House-made Refresher".  They had 4 different interesting sounding options, any of which I would have been happy to try.

I selected the lemon ginger though, the most boring, but the one that sounded the most refreshing.  It came with lemon slices in it.

It was pretty good, sweeter than I expected though.  I guess I thought it would be ... more refreshing, more like sparkling soda water with lemon and ginger, and a touch of subtle sweetness.  This was full-on sweet, like lemonade.

Good, but not quite what I had in mind.
Grapefruit Russian Tarragon Soda. $6. 
The next time, I got more creative, and went for the Grapefruit Russian Tarragon version.  It came with grapefruit peel in it.

This one was excellent.  Nicely tart from the grapefruit.  The herbal element wasn't as strong as I hoped, but, still, this was great.  Still a bit more fruity and sweet than I really wanted, but I'm sure I could ask for it watered down?


I opted for takeout several mornings when I was in a rush, but didn't want to commit to ordering ahead the night before for a set time.  I obviously could have also ordered on demand In-Room Dining, but it seemed easier (and faster) to just get it myself.
Field-Hand Breakfast. $17.
"Lazy b ranch egg, potted ham, icebox cheese, quarter pickles, grilled toasts." 

This isn't what I'd normally ever order obviously, but, I needed something I could munch on later, and the cold "field hand" breakfast seemed like it would fit the bill.

It came packaged up in a box, with the potted ham in a separate container.  The menu description, much like the dishes from the restaurant, was full of inaccuracies.
Potted Ham.
The potted ham was interesting, shredded ham, presumably preserved.  The flavor was ok, and it was creamy, but in a oily preserved way.  Salty too.  I kinda liked it, but it was hard to have more than a bite or two given the greasy nature.
"Grilled Toasts."
The "grilled toasts" was only a single piece of toast, coffee flour toast. 

I liked it, it was crispy but not burnt, and smothered with butter (on the bottom side), which soaked in perfectly.  Quite flavorful and for toast, well, enjoyable.
"Icebox cheese, quarter pickles."
I was told the cheese was Beecher's (a local Seattle cheese), but not what type it was.  It seemed to be cheddar-like?  Flavorful sharp cheese, nice enough to much on.

The pickles were a fascinating mix, baby squashes, baby carrots, celery, zucchini, and some other root veggies I couldn't identify.  All crisp and a bit tart.  Decent to munch on, some better than others.  I really did like the baby squashes, but the celery was too hard and stringy.

And then there was salami and some kind of other pork product, neither which were mentioned on the menu.  The salami was fine but pretty greasy, thin slices of a large diameter log.  I really didn't care for the other one, thinly sliced something that was just way too porky for my taste.

I found it very surprising that they left the later two items off the menu entirely.
Lazy b ranch egg.
And finally, the egg.

At first glance, the egg looked hard boiled, but the moment I touched it, I knew that wasn't the case.  It was very soft.  I found it interesting than they didn't include the preparation method on the menu, and as I mentioned earlier, when I asked my server about it a previous day, she said it was "less cooked than a hard boiled egg" and "maybe poached?"
Lazy b ranch egg: inside.
I think this is known as a coddled egg.

The white was fully cooked, much like a hard boiled egg.

If you like runny egg yolk, egg porn, etc the yolk was a thing of beauty.  The inside was pure liquid.

I'm not really one for eggs, but even I had to appreciate this.  Beautiful.
Side of Bacon. $9.
The next time I ordered takeout, I had something very specific in mind.  I was creating my ideal dream dish, based on components I knew they had.  The restaurant menu doesn't mention sides, but I knew the In-Room Dining menu had a side of bacon on it, and the two eggs breakfast came with bacon, so, I knew bacon was available.

I got it to add something uh, savory and a bit of protein to my creation.

The order was three strips, all fairly crispy, but really greasy.  It smelt like bacon fat really strongly.  It was ... fine, but really far greasier than I wanted.
Coffee Flour Granola with Fresh Berries, Sub Whipped Cream for Yogurt. $12.
To go with my bacon, I opted for the granola bowl again, because I really did like the granola quite a bit.  Crunchy, hearty, savory, sweet ... it was good.  The fruit was good (particularly the figs!)  But I really didn't care for the yogurt.

So what's a girl to do?  Ask for whipped cream instead of yogurt (which I knew they have for the french toast).  Yes, I've done this sort of thing before, at Plum & Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel in London (which I'll review soon).

The friendly staff member taking my order didn't bat an eye, but I did hear her have to repeat the order several times to different people.  "Yes, whipped cream instead of yogurt".  I swear, this is totally reasonable!

My order came packaged up with the granola and fruit in a cup, and three small dressing size containers of whipped cream.  Hard to actually do anything with in this form, but I was heading back to my room anyway ...
My Creation: Fresh Berries with Whipped Cream, Coffee Flour Granola, Bacon.
When I got back to my room, I created the perfect dish I had in mind: fresh berries topped with plenty of whipped cream and sprinkled with granola.  Oh, and, uh, garnished with bacon.  Because bacon dipped in whipped cream is better than plain bacon.  Served in a martini glass.  Because I could!

I loved it.  The fruit was fresh and delicious (and healthy!), the whipped cream light, fluffy, and sweet (vanilla flavored too), and I again adored the bitter nature of the crunchy granola.  I ate a bunch more granola on the side as finger food.

This was indeed exactly what I wanted, an I was quite satisfied.  Certainly my favorite meal from the restaurant.


One night I got back to the hotel fairly late, and just wasn't satisfied.  I wanted dessert, but I didn't want to go far.  So I walked down to The Lakehouse to check out the menu.
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu sounded good, with butterscotch pudding (always a favorite of mine, particularly because it came topped with walnut brittle), cheesecake (with persimmon!), and, sweet potato pie.

Sweet potato pie sounded comforting and perfect, but the ambiance was way too hoping at night for my exhausted mood.  I asked the hostess how it was, and she told me very excitedly that it was new on the menu, and her favorite, adding, "I don't even like sweet potato normally!".  This should have been a warning sign.
Boxed Up To Go.
So I asked if I could get it to go, which was no problem.  It came in a box with a LH seal.

I realized later I probably could have ordered it via room service, but, the room service menu didn't have it listed (I think it just wasn't updated), and, well, I'd pay a service fee.
Sweet Potato Pie. $12.
"Chai spiced marshmallow, sage-salted caramel sauce, puffed farro grains."

I wanted something comforting.  Sweet potato pie sounded like basically pumpkin pie, which seemed perfectly comforting to me.  Plus, marshmallow and salted caramel?  Yes!

It looked really good.  An individual tart, not too big.  Filled with sweet potato filling, drizzled with caramel, sprinkled with puffed farro, and, uh, with a bruleed marshmallow on top.  Even better!

However ... I didn't care for it.  At all.

First, the crust was a tart shell.  I hate tarts.  Hard, dry, boring.  The menu said "pie", and pie this was not.  I would not have ordered it if I had known it was a tart.  Strike one.

The filling was ... just sweet potato mush.  It wasn't much of a custard at all.  And the layer was very thin, so it didn't have any of the comfort element of taking a bite of creamy pumpkin pie.  

The caramel was fine.  The brulee marshmallow was a nice touch, although I didn't taste the chai.  I didn't like the farro puffs.  I think little bits of nut would have worked better.

Overall, well, I just didn't like it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Auntie Anne's Pretzels

Update Review, January 2018

Remember how much I raved about the sour cream & onion pretzel from Auntie Anne's last time I wrote an update review?  Yeah, I loved the thing.  I had to get another.

Sadly, it turns out the experience varies greatly based on how fresh the pretzel is, and, who makes it.
Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel. $3.99.
My previous pretzel was clearly much fresher.  It was warm for one thing.  It was soft.  It was buttery.  And it was perfectly coated in the sour cream and onion crack powder.

This one ... calling it lukewarm would be generous.  It was kinda hard and chewy.  It wasn't very buttery, to the point where I think she might have used an unbuttered one?  Either than, or the butter had soaked in long ago.

The coating was still totally addicting and delicious, but, uh, it wasn't so expertly applied.  Clumps here or there, and big chunks with none.

Sadness, as this really was amazing when fresher and made with care!

Update Review, October 2017

I didn't grow up with mall food court pretzels (well, mostly, I didn't grow up with malls, as I was in a small town in New Hampshire).  But once I discovered them, late in life, I'll admit, I was pretty addicted.  Not go-out-of-my-way-for-them addicted, but, I'm fairly incapable of walking past somewhere like Auntie Anne's Pretzels and getting one.  Soft, buttery, warm, I just love them!
Pretzel Glory.
I've reviewed Auntie Anne's before, back when they did a sampling program I was part of, but this review focused on one of Oprah's favorite things: the pretzel dog, and my recent discovery of the glorious savory pretzels.
Classic Anne's.
Like most Auntie Anne's location, the one I visited was in a mall (the Westfield in San Francisco), and had large windows where you can watch the constant pretzel production.  And smell the pretzels, glorious, glorious pretzels.
The warming area next to the register was filled with everything that was ready to go, including multiple types of pretzels, nuggets, and of course, the dogs.

If you want something that isn't there at the ready, they'll make it for you, and I heard them quote times of about 15 minutes for the folks who wanted items not already ready.
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog Packaging.
Luckily for me, on my pretzel dog craving visit, I wanted a pretzel dog, and all varieties were ready for me.  Auntie Anne's makes two sizes of pretzel dogs (regular and jumbo), all available in "original", cheese, or jalapeño & cheese.  The hot dog inside each is a Nathan's all beef frank.

Mine was handed over quickly inside a foil bag to keep it warm, and, make it easy to devour while standing.  Ketchup and mustard packets are available (standard ketchup and yellow mustard), or you can opt for one of the dips.
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog.
"A crispy three-cheese pretzel, topped with spicy jalapeño slices wrapped around a delicious Nathan’s Famous® hot dog, is a fresh look at the Pretzel Dog."

I decided to go all out, for the jalapeño & cheese version.  I've loved the plain one in the past, but, why not jazz it up?

It looked great, 4 slices of jalapeño on top, lovely cheese crusting.

The jalapeño slices were crazy spicy, so, be warned.  I guess I should have expected that, but they actually were too spicy for me, and I didn't think I was a wimp.

The cheesy top, something I thought I'd love, I ended up disliking.  The crispy crusty nature of it was nice, but, actually, I didn't want a cheesy pretzel.  I wanted to taste the buttery Auntie Anne's glorious pretzel!
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog: Side View.
But even the pretzel, once I uncovered it from under all the cheese, didn't really live up.  It seemed like just ... warm white bread?  I loved how golden it was, how soft it was, how nice the crust on it was, but, I thought they were always more ... pretzel-y before?  And ... buttery!  I missed the butter.

The hot dog inside was certainly a classic dog.  Juicy, moist, nicely cooked, a standard beef hot dog.  I actually prefer turkey dogs, but they only offer beef.

So overall ... I was actually pretty disappointed.  The beef only dog option was to be expected, but, I really lamented not getting to enjoy a buttery soft pretzel I so wanted!
Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel. $3.99.
"Our Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel is full of nothing but flavor!! A hint of sour cream and onion are freshly baked into a warm, soft pretzel for you to savor bite by bite."

So the next week I went back.  This time, I had my eye on one thing: regular pretzels.  No more beef hot dog, no more cheese to distract me.  Except, then I saw that you could get most of the flavored pretzels for the same price as a plain regular (buttered and salted of course) pretzel.

I was torn by indecision.  I quickly ruled out the jalapeño cheese one obviously, since I didn't like that in the pretzel dog, and the pepperoni (also cheesy), but the other savory options sounded fascinating: sour cream & onion? Roasted garlic & parmesan?  I like those flavors in general, I was curious how they would translate into a pretzel, and, adding the topping seemed like it would turn it into more of a "meal", right?  And of course, the sweet ones caught my eye too: perhaps not the raisin one, or the too trendy seasonal pumpkin spice, but cinnamon sugar is always classic, and I adore the crunchy sweet almond one.  But I was there for something savory, planning to get froyo right after.

I asked the person taking my order which he preferred between sour cream & onion and roasted garlic & parmesan, as there was no line, and I assumed he'd actually tried both before.  He said the sour cream & onion was his favorite, but quickly followed up that both were good.

That was enough for me.  Sour cream & onion it was.

I didn't see any sour cream & onion pretzels ready in the warmer, but next he asked me if I wanted it salted and if I wanted butter.  I said yes to both, thinking that those things are obviously what make pretzels delicious (although I expected the topping to be kinda salty too), and was surprised when he grabbed the regular buttered, salted pretzel from the warmer.  He disappeared around a corner, and quickly came back, sour cream & onion-ified pretzel in hand.

Aha!  For pretzels where the variety is just a coating, not a baked in/on topping (pepperoni, jalapeño, raisins, etc are obviously different pretzel bases), they just coat it after the fact.  And coat it they do.

Can you even see the pretzel under its newfound jacket of sour cream and onion coating?  I was a bit worried I made a horrible decision, as it looked impossible to scrape off or avoid if I didn't like it, and it certainly wasn't going to be mild, but my fears vanished as I took a bite.

Oh wow that was good.  Very, very good.

And salty.  The original pretzel has 400 mg of sodium just in the base pretzel, and if you get a standard one with salt that is 990 mg.  These beauties?  Yup, 1240 mg or, uh, 52% of your daily recommended intake.  Bring water.

Imagine the awesomeness that is sour cream and onion chips.  In particular, think about the build up on your fingers after eating a bag, that you know you want to lick.  This pretzel was coated in that.  Absolutely coated.  It was salty, it was vaguely onion-y (in a green onion sense), and perhaps a bit sour creamy (in a slightly tangy way).  That coating was magic.  So very good.  What it was made from?  I have no idea.  They don't provide ingredient info (and probably better to not know, if it is anything like the addicting garlic sauce from Papa John's!)

The pretzel itself was also exactly what I remembered from Auntie Anne's of past visits: it was soft, slightly dough inside, super buttery, and just a wonderful base for the flavorful coating.  Seriously, why eat flavored chips when you can eat flavored soft pretzels?

I thought I might want a dip, and brought fancy mustard with me, and although I did use some, it absolutely didn't need it.  This thing was glorious on its own.  I intended to share at least a few bites with a friend who was waiting for me in the food court downstairs, but, uh, I hoarded this.  Too good to share.

And yes, that coating got all over my fingers, in a far worse way than a bag of chips did.  And you know I licked every last bit off.  Did I mention, so very good?

I'd gladly get another, although I'd leave off the standard large rock salt, it is really not necessary with the sour cream & onion coating.

Original Review, November 2012

Mmm, soft pretzels.  Whenever I walk by Auntie Anne's inside the Westfield mall, the aroma of buttery pretzel is always so appealing.  Then I see the lines.  And then I remember that it was the dipping sauces that I always loved anyway.  And then I see Yoppi across the way, and beeline it for some froyo.

But, Auntie Anne's ran a promotion for the past 6 weeks, called "Sampling Saturdays", where they offered up samples of some signature item all day.  There was also a contest to win a trip, a code you could text message them to be entered in drawings, and scratch cards with instant winnings involved.  But the samples, that is clearly what I was there for!

The first few times, I went to the Westfield location, but it was too annoying to be worth it.  The lines were long, the staff weren't friendly, and they seemed to never actually be participating in Sampling Saturdays.  "Come back in 10 minutes" or "Not now" was the common response I got.  Then, I was in Macy's on a Saturday, and saw that there is a Auntie Anne's location there as well.  With no lines.  And pleasant staff.  On most times, they had the samples out and ready to go, and on the rare cases when they didn't, and I asked about Sampling Saturdays, they prepared them right there on the spot, super fresh and hot.  And when they didn't have any of the item available that they were supposed to be sampling, they offered me something else instead.  Such radically different service at both locations!

Anyway, for the most part, the pretzels were exactly what I remembered from the few times I had them as a child.  Warm, soft, buttery, and decent.  Not something you want to go out of your way for, but they can hit the spot.  If only they'd featured the dipping sauces for a Sampling Saturday!
Salted Pretzel Nugget.
This is the bite size version of their signature pretzel, served as a container full of little nuggets.  They are coated with butter and salt.  Soft, nice chew , lots of butter, nice big flakes of salt with good flavor.

Notes from previous tastings: Buttery, soft, salty, kinda delicious.
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Nugget.
And another version of the nuggets, these are rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and are slightly larger.  There was a serious amount of cinnamon and sugar coating on these, that was sweet and tasty, but totally overwhelming.  I had no idea I was eating a pretzel rather than a donut hole.  A sweet little treat, but not particularly good.  Would not order.

Notes from previous tastings: Not flavorful enough, buttery, meh  [ Not very good, lots of cinnamon and sugar though. ] [ Soft, buttery, tons of cinnamon and sugar. ]  [ Not very good.  Not buttery, not flavorful, and just tons of the cinnamon and sugar.  I love cinnamon and sugar rolled donut holes, so I thought this would be good, but it just wasn't. ]
Almond Pretzel.
This is a regular butter pretzel, which is then rolled in toasted almond pieces.  It was warm, soft, buttery, and quite delicious.  The almond pieces added a really nice crunch, and some good flavor.  It also seemed like there was some sugar on here, as the exterior seemed caramelized.  Maybe it was just tons of butter.  My favorite of the pretzels!

Notes from previous tastings: Buttery, almonds add a good crunch.  Would get again.  [ Nice crunchy almonds on outside, buttery, pretzel itself kinda meh though. ]
Pretzel Dog.
A Nathan's hot dog, wrapped in pretzel.  The full size version is a ridiculous long jumbo dog.  It was really quite good.  The hot dog was moist and juicy, the pretzel hot and buttery.  I'd like to have some ketchup and mustard with it, but the buttery pretzel added plenty of flavor.  I was pretty surprised by how tasty this was, and assumed that I might have enjoyed it only because I was hungry, but I had one another time, and liked it just as much.  Hmm.

Notes from other tastings: This was really surprisingly good!  The hot dog was juicy and plump.  The pretzel was warm, hot, puffy, and buttery.  It all went together well.  So strange that I like these, but I do!

I've also tried the mini pretzel dog bites, which have tiny little mini hots inside, basically, pigs-in-a-blanket, made with pretzel as the wrapper.  Easily snackable, and just as good as the full size with a juicy little hot dog bite inside, and fluffy, buttery, delicious pretzel outside.
Honey Whole Grain.
This is their newest offering, I think an attempt to be slightly healthier, with "whole grains".  It certainly looked different from the standard pretzels, with a darker color.  It also did indeed taste heartier.  I didn't get any sweetness from the "honey" but I did like the more developed flavor.  It was also nicely buttery and coated in large flakes of salt.  Warm, chewy, salty ... not bad!
Strawberry Lemonade Mixer.
This was fairly refreshing, tart and sweet.  Not bad for a strawberry lemonade.
Wild Cherry Lemonade Mixer.
Not very good, particularly compared with the strawberry.  It was just sweet.  No tartness.  Did not like.