Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lakeview Bistro Breakfast Buffet @ Westin Bonaventure, Los Angeles

I was in Los Angeles for a quick recruiting trip, and stayed at The Westin Bonaventure.  My schedule was jam packed, and, I quickly learned that downtown LA was not somewhere I'd want to walk around to find options anyway, so, I just had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, the "Lakeview Bistro".
Breakfast: Day 1.
Sadly, it was inconsistent.  It was great one day, but, alas, not the next.


Indoor Entrance.
The Lakeview Bistro is located in the center of huge Westin Bonaventure complex, in the inside atrium, with the 4 towers raising on each side.

I'm not sure where the name of this, uh, "bistro" comes from.  It isn't a bistro really.  And it certainly doesn't have a view of any lake.  Unless you count the interior water features as a "lake"
View Up.
The view might not have been a "lakeview", but I loved looking up from my seat, up into the many story atrium.  A really cool perspective.
Place Setting.
Tables were nicely set with cloth napkins, large mugs, and cute little plants.
The main focus is a buffet, set up in the back of the room, with two hot stations (American and Asian), two cold wells (fruit and continental), and a small section of pastries.  More details on this all below.


Once you are seated, a server pretty quickly approaches to offer orange juice and coffee.  Both are included if you are getting the buffet.

The first day I asked if sparkling water was an included, and was told yes.  I was brought a small bottle of Peligrino.  The second day, my server said, "from the soda machine? Or do they give you a bottle?" I told him bottle, and he seemed satisfied with that response, so, I think the policy here isn't quite well known.

If you go a la carte, flat and sparkling water are $7, Starbucks coffee is $6. Freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice are $7.75, apple, tomato , or cranberry juice (presumably not fresh), are $7.00.

Tea and espresso beverages were also available, not sure if they would also be included in buffet.
Coffee is ordered from your server when you sit.  

I started with regular and it was ... awful?  Very harsh, it tasted like it had been brewed hours before and left sitting and intensifying.  I did not like this at all.  The same was true the second day.

I moved on to decaf and it was much better.  Still a darker roast than I prefer, but, it wasn't as acidic.  It was nice and hot.

I did appreciate the large mug.

Creamer was brought with the coffee, and standard choice of sweeteners were on the table.


Breakfast prices are high, particularly with a la carte.  I'll lead with that.  But this is pretty standard for a hotel.

There are two buffet options (continental or hot as well), plus a decent a la carte menu.  I only had the buffet (the extended option), but I was impressed with the quality.  The selection was average, and things *looked* average, but it was better than most hotel buffets in actual quality.

Superfood Continental Buffet $23.75.

"Browse our SuperFoods cold buffet and choose from seasonal cut and whole fresh fruits, cold cereal, low-fat and greek plain and flavored yogurts, vegetables, olives, hardboiled eggs and feta cheese. Enjoy a toast station with a large selection of breads, gluten free options, bagels, and pastries. Served with freshly brewed Starbucks Coffee and Tazo Teas, and fresh juices."
Assorted Cereals.
The cereal lineup was Kellogg's, individual boxes, with Special K, All Bran, Raisin Bran,  Frosted Flakes, Rice Crispies.

No super sugary cereals (e.g. Fruit Loops) and no granola.

I thought it was nice that they served these in boxes rather than the standard, hard to use, messy, cereal dispensers with stale cereal, but I wonder if it leads to people snagging extra boxes to stash away and not purchase breakfast the next day?

If you order any of the cereal a la carte, it is a whopping $7.50!  Yes, just for the box of cereal.  And then you could add bananas or strawberries for $4.00!
Speaking of milk, it was ripe for the plucking from the buffet as well, in individual cartons.

Vanilla soy milk, whole milk, lowfat milk, and nonfat milk.  I grabbed a vanilla soy milk to chug after the gym, so I appreciated this.

And if you wanted a la carte for this ... $6.  Ouch!
The yogurt was all Oikos, available in plain or lowfat, Greek strawberry, or Greek Honey Vanilla.

Again, ripe for the plucking as they were individuals, and sealed.

The a la carte price? $7!
Honey, Walnuts.
Honey pots and walnuts were available, perhaps as yogurt toppings, since there was no granola nor stewed fruit?
Whole Fruit.
The whole fruit lineup was ... meager.  Oranges or apples.
Cut Fruit.
The cut fruit selection was fairly sad, melons, pineapple, and strawberries.
Smoked Salmon, Red Onion, Capers, Tomatoes.
I didn't try the smoked salmon, as it didn't look particularly good, nor did the tomatoes on the side.
Olives, Cucumbers, Lemons, Hard Boiled Eggs, Feta.
I also didn't try any of this, and it seemed like a strange selection.  Without lettuce, or dressing, isn't cucumbers, olives, and feta just a very, very sad Greek salad?
Cream Cheese, Butter.
Cream cheese came in plain or strawberry, and butter and non-butter were both offered, individual packages.

Strangely, I did not see bread, english muffins, or bagels.  Which was very strange given the cream cheese.  Maybe plain cream cheese goes with smoked salmon, but what were you supposed to do with the strawberry cream cheese?

The a la carte menu did have toast (choice of white, whole wheat, sourdough or raisin) and english muffins for $6.25 and bagels with cream cheese for $9.95!
Breakfast Pastries.
You know me, the baked goods were my first stop.

The top row held pecan sticky buns, chocolate croissant-like things, and assorted danishes.   On bottom were two types of muffins and plain croissants.

These were all available for $6.25 a la carte. 
I tried ... many of them.
The pastries I tried were not fancy bakery quality, but were certainly better than most hotel buffets.
Pecan Apricot Danish.
I selected this mostly just to try a pastry.  I expected it would be lackluster, and I'd move on quickly.

And at some level, I was correct.  The pastry itself wasn't great.  It wasn't flaky, laminated, nice croissant dough.  It was kinda spongy.  So, not a quality pastry itself.

But I really liked the filling, which is usually just a touch of some generic jam.  This was apricot, really fresh and fruity, quite flavorful.  And there was tons of it.  I also liked the crunch from the pecans on top.

While the pastry wasn't great, the filling certainly was, and I gladly scooped it out and eat it by the spoonfuls.  I bet it would be great on my pancakes too!
Lemon Cheese Danish.
After the success of the filling of the apricot pecan danish, the second day I tried the custard filled one.  It seemed to be lemon cheese.  Very lemon.  I don't care for lemon.

The pastry was again lackluster.

Blueberry Crumb Muffin.
Again for completeness, I went for a muffin, opting for the crumb topped blueberry over the poppyseed, even though it looked very generic.

It ... was not very good.  It tasted like one that had come from a bag, if you know what I mean?  Kinda ... stale, gummy, and no real flavor to the base.  It had only a couple blueberries in the whole thing, and, as you can see, very meager crumb on top.
Pecan Sticky Bun.
Oh man, pecan sticky buns?!  Yes!

I grabbed one of these immediately, and they looked much better than average.

It was a decent pastry, crispy exterior, moist inside, totally coated in sticky (that seemed honey based?), and generously loaded with pecans.

Better than average buffet pastry, and I would have been happy with this as my sweet carb item of choice, but, actually, the hot foods buffet had even better options.
Chocolate Croissant Like Thing.
This was not a chocolate croissant, even if it sorta looked like one.  I don't think it was trying to be one.

The top was coated in a sticky glaze, which made my fingers a mess immediately.  Each layer was rolled with a small amount of chocolate filling.  The pastry itself was somewhat crispy on the exterior, in a nice way.  But it was more like a soft sweet bread than a flaky croissant.

Again, another item that I actually would have been totally pleased with, but, the hot foods had more to offer.
Chocolate Bear Claw.
The final day, I went for the almond sliced topped creation, expecting it to have almond paste inside.

Surprise!  It didn't.  Inside was a very mild chocolate paste.  Huh.  

This was not good.  Spongy pastry, strangely sticky, and the chocolate paste was flavorless.

Ultimate Superfood Breakfast Buffet $29.75

"The ultimate SuperFoods buffet provides all of the selections from the continental as well as a variety of hot items. Enjoy favorites such as smoked salmon, a SuperFoods hot entrée and a SuperFoods eggs dish (items rotate daily) scrambled eggs and eggs benedict, fresh hash brown potatoes, Applewood smoked bacon, pork sausage, freshly made pancakes or French toast with caramelized bananas. Additionally we feature congee, miso soup, assorted pickles and noodles. Served with freshly brewed Starbucks Coffee and Tazo Teas, and fresh juices. *Your server will assist you with your choice of toast, omelets (three items maximum), and eggs or egg whites cooked to order."
Aha!  The missing toast.  Only included in the extended buffet option, and the server was supposed to offer it?  I was offered drinks, but there was NO mention of toast or cooked to order eggs.  I didn't hear them give these options to anyone else around me, nor did I ever see toast or eggs delivered to my neighbors who were dining from the buffet.

Hot Foods - American

The hot foods selection was about what you'd expect, with a few Superfoods thrown in, since, Westin Wellness.  There were some hits here, but it really depended on how fresh you caught batches, as is standard with buffets, hot foods, and steam trays.
McCann's Irish Oatmeal.
A small oatmeal station with cinnamon and brown sugar started the buffet.

From a la carte menu they jazz it up with golden raisins as well, for $11.
Roasted Pumpkin.
Roasted pumpkin?  Hmm.  I like pumpkin!

But this I didn't like.  It was soft, nicely cooked I guess, but it had a strange flavor to it.  It reminded me of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, which I do like, but, I just didn't want for breakfast.
Egg whites and broccolini.
Westin's healthy focus shows up here, with scrambled whites only with broccolini.

Scrambled Eggs.
And the requisite sad looking scrambled eggs.

Remember, the hot buffet also *should* have included eggs cooked to order too, so omelets, poached, etc *should* have been available to everyone.
Eggs Florentine.
When I first cruised through the buffet line, there was a single egg florentine remaining, and I quickly moved on.  But after I did my circuit taking photos, it was replenished with fresh ones.

Now, I'm not into eggs, or english muffins, and really not for buffet eggs, but I've had some really, really good buffet benedicts/florentines at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, so when a fresh batch was brought out, I had to try it.

As expected though, I didn't care for it.  Soggy english muffin on the bottom, way too bitter and chewy steamed spinach, soggy slice of tomato, decent enough poached egg, and rather congealed hollendaise that had no real flavor to it.

My server told me that this is benedict some days, and her favorite of the buffet items.  She was happy to tell me about how they make the sauce fresh every morning.  I do think the standard of quality for this buffet was unusually high, even if I didn't like this.

This was basically the poached eggs, steamed spinach, grilled tomato, on toasted english muffin on the a la carte menu, just, with hollendaise.  That one is served with roasted baby white rose potatoes for $24.95.
Applewood smoked bacon.
I like crispy bacon, so I tried this my second morning.  It was crispy indeed ... as in, I couldn't chew it.  At all.  Almost like jerky.

$7 a la carte.
Country pork sausage.
I also didn't try the sausage, also $7.00 a la carte.
Grilled Fresh Housemade Hashbrowns.
I took this photo when I first cruised through, and there was a moderate amount of hash browns left in the serving vessel.

But while I was collecting my platter, a fresh batch was brought out.  And I knew that they take pride in these hash browns.  But buffet hash browns?  I usually skip them, and most potato products, as they are usually the frozen variety, lukewarm, soggy, and lackluster.

These however, were amazing.  They were grilled, and super crispy on the outside.  Moist shredded potato inside.  Well seasoned (salt!).  

I loved these.  Like, really, really loved them, more than any potato product of any kind that I've had in recent ... years?  They showed up every diner I've visited.

They were even better when drizzled with maple syrup.  But, I think they were my second favorite item.  Although that is a toss-up, really.

The second day, the batch was old and soggy.  Watery even, as condensation collected in the steam tray.  But no fear, I kept an eye out, hung around, and waited to snag a fresh batch.  They were again great, nicely crispy, and delicious slathered with syrup and salt.

You can get these from the a la carte menu for $7.00, and, you totally should.
Buttermilk Pancakes: Day 1.
The other amazing item?  The pancakes.  Yes, the buffet pancakes.

Again, I benefited from the fact that the pancakes were empty on my first circuit, but were replenished while I was there.  Fresh pancakes.

They didn't look like much, but, as the only hot carb item (besides potato I guess, but no french toast, bread pudding, etc), I decided to try them.

They were a thin style, not super fluffy or anything, but ... the flavor was great.  Buttermilk.  Great tang.  I think I'm just a sucker for buttermilk pancakes?  They reminded me of more reasonable sized IHOP pancakes (and you know how much I love those!)

I clearly lucked out with getting fresh ones though.  When I told my server how much I liked them, she was surprised, and told me she never hears that.  And, that her own experience is that the edges are usually dried out.  Mine were not dry in any way.

I really enjoyed these, and the hash browns, both when drizzled with syrup.

From the regular menu you could order blueberry pancakes with blueberry compote, Vermont pure maple syrup, lightly dusted with powdered sugar for $20.75 or Belgian waffles with berries and whipped cream for $20.75, no french toast was in sight actually.
Buttermilk Pancakes: Day 2.
Pretty sure this is going to be predictable, but, uh, on day 2 the pancakes were ... not good.

Dry.  Soggy.  Lukewarm.  Overcooked.  Broken to pieces.

I even waited for a fresh batch, and those too were just soggy and lacked buttermilk tang.  Disappointing.
Mixed Berries Syrup, Maple Syrup.
I coated my first pancake half in mixed berry syrup, half in maple syrup, since there were no little bowls on the side to keep it separate.

I did not like the berry syrup.  Not sure why, but just not an enjoyable flavor.

The maple syrup though was great.  I'm not certain it was real syrup (it was on the a la carte offering), as it tasted a bit too buttery, but, uh, even though I was raised on real syrup (produced by family members), I have a soft spot for pancake syrup.  And sometimes prefer it.  Don't tell my family, I think they will disown me, really.

The syrup certainly helped make the pancakes and hash browns into the glorious things they were.

Hot Foods - Asian

The other side of the hot foods bar is "Asian".  I wonder if they get a lot of Asian guests?  My visit was a week after returning from Tokyo where I was obsessed with the pickles, so I was excited to see this lineup.  Sadly, I didn't care for any of it.
Congee, Miso Soup.
 Both congee and miso soup were available to form the base of your creation.
This was the first place I stopped, given my love of these stations in the Tokyo hotels.

Sadly, none of this was very good.

The lineup had pickled cucumber, plum, and daikon radish, kim chee, and pork fu (aka, pork floss!).  They all looked fine, but didn't really taste fresh or quality.
Soft Noodles, Sauces.
You could also add soft noodles, chili sauce, and soy sauce to your creations.
"Soft Noodles".
The second day, I opened the lid of the "soft noodles" and was surprised.  I thought these were just noodles to add to your soup!  But nope, they were stir fried with assorted veggies.

I eagerly tried some, loaded them up with toppings, but, they were still somehow flavorless and soggy.  Oh well.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cinnabon @ Home

Cinnabon.  Yes, if you've ever been to a mall, you know it.

But strangely, um, I didn't really.  I didn't grow up in an area with malls.  We went once a year to the big city a few hours a way for back to school shopping, but that mall didn't have a Cinnabon.  I literally never encountered one until I was in my late 20s, and there was one in an airport, and the friends I was traveling with were all excited.  I think I had a bite then, but, it was not memorable.

Fast forward a few years.  I randomly tried some truly awful Cinnabon popcorn (seriously, so revolting).  Fast forward a few more years.

I finally tried Cinnabon.  But, still, not actually fresh, not actually in a mall.
CinnaPack ... with Cream Cheese Frosting Cups.
My office is a wonderful place, where people bring in treats all the time.

And this time, it was a "CinnaPack", from Cinnabon.  A big box of Classic Cinnabon rolls, with extra cream cheese frosting.
Classic MiniBon.
"The perfect fun-sized craving.

For the past 25 years, Cinnabon bakeries have allowed guests to indulge in moderation with the Minibon cinnamon roll, a smaller version of its signature Cinnabon® classic roll.

The Minibon offers all the Ooey Gooey™, Disturbingly Delicious™ decadence of the Cinnabon classic cinnamon roll in a smaller-portioned treat. It is oven-fresh with Cinnabon Makara® Cinnamon and signature cream cheese frosting."

I opened the box to find one left.  Score!

I *think* this was a Minibon, not a full size roll.  Otherwise, it was 900 calories (!), and I prefer to think this one was a more reasonable 350 ... plus all the extra frosting of course.

The box had instructions on how to warm it up in a microwave or oven.  I'm normally all about the (toaster) oven, but I was at the office, and had only a microwave to work with.

So, into the microwave it went, for just 30 seconds.  Within moments, it smelt amazing.
Classic Roll with a View!
"Warm dough, legendary Makara® Cinnamon, topped with rich cream cheese frosting."

The roll had cream cheese frosting on top, and it melted in beautifully.  But, there were three extra cups of icing, and I wasn't going to let them go to waste.

After an initial bite, and photo op, I slathered on tons more.  It too softened, melted, and dripped down the edges.  Oh yes.  Sorry, I didn't stop to take a photo of this glory, I was a bit busy stuffing my face.

The roll was good.  Soft, doughy, good cinnamon filling between the folds.  The microwave was both a good and bad thing.  Good, in that the roll was delightful warm, and quite soft.  Bad, in that it was also tough on the edges.  I know I can't judge Cinnabon based on the fact that I had to use a microwave.

The frosting was great, very cream cheese forward, very sweet, exactly what you want.

Overall, a solid cinnamon roll, but, I actually really preferred the one from 7-Eleven.