Friday, March 23, 2018

Honeybuns Gluten-Free Baked Goods, UK

Honeybuns is a wholesale bakery in the UK, with products mostly served in cafes, but are also available at Waitrose (a major grocery store there).  You can order online for delivery within the country too.  And then, they also offer two other unique venues ... a pop-up bee shack and a "Ark" where you can make a booking for "glamping".

Uh yeah.  I found them at a cafe.

The products are all gluten-free.  They make cookies, flapjacks, and assorted types of bars, ranging from brownies to the "squillionaire" (a polenta and date shortbread topped with date caramel and chocolate).  And they also making baking mixes for cornbread and sponge cake.

The items all have a impressive shelf life, from 10 days for some of the bars, up to 35 days for the flapjacks.  They are also all meant for freezing.

I wish I had been able to find the flapjacks, as I really do like them in general, but I only found a cookie.  I'd gladly try more of their products if I came across them.
Amondi Cookie.
"Our gluten and dairy free version of the Italian amaretti... but soft rather than crunchy in the centre."

I guess I see the "amaretti" inspiration here, but these are really nothing like amaretti, besides that they have almonds, sugar, and egg white in them.  As they say in the description, there is no crunch to it, it is a soft item.

I had a hard time classifying it as a cookie exactly, as it was very soft, almost more like a biscuit or cake.  Let's just say ... a very moist cookie?  The outside had a tiny bit of give and chew to it, and inside was very soft and moist.

Overall, it was quite sweet, and went nicely with my tea, but it would go even better with black coffee.  It didn't taste too much like almond, as in, it didn't seem like you were just eating almonds, but you could certainly tell it was an almond treat.  It also had fairly strong orange flavors, along with a few bits of orange zest throughout.  In the center was a whole almond.

I was fairly fascinated by this item.  The ingredients were simple: ground almonds, ground hazelnut, sugar (regular and powdered), egg whites, orange (zest and oil).  Yet, it was like a cake, or, a very moist cookie.  How was this possible?  I still don't entirely understand what held it together.  Just egg whites, sugar, and ground nuts?

I enjoyed my cookie, but, this is not a light item.  It was dense, and clocked in at 70 grams.  With 48% of the cookie made from almonds, it has nutrition stats about to match, nearly 350 calories (although, 9 grams of protein!), for a small cookie.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cheryl's Cookies

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet.

Cheryl's makes cookies for mail order gift baskets.

"Since 1981 Cheryl's has delivered only the best! Whether you need a gift or dessert our gourmet cookies and brownies are the perfect choice. Enjoy classic flavors like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin or sugar along with new and exciting additions like salty caramel and honey roasted peanut chocolate chip."

"These shiny gift boxes arrive with the perfect combination of cookies and brownies. We’ve included individually wrapped buttercream frosted cut-out cookies along with cranberry orange, cocoa sugar, oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies along with pecan pie bars and our delicious buttercream frosted mint chocolate brownies. "

One of my co-workers received such a gift basket, and shared the bounty.
Buttercream Frosted Cut-Out Cookie.
"For over 30 years Cheryl's buttercream frosted cookies and brownies have become customer favorites. Our seasonal cut-out cookies change with each season and arrive individually wrapped for easy sharing."

I went for the frosted, sprinkled cookie, of course.

It was a holiday cookie, and I think it was supposed to be a Christmas tree, although one corner had broken off in the basket.

It was ... ok.

A very soft cookie, which is a style I prefer.  Very sweet and buttery base.  Even sweeter green (not flavored) buttercream frosting. Crispy little candy balls.

All quite ok, but not remarkable in any way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will it Waffle: Bagels

You've read about me waffling all sorts of things by now.  I really get joy out of using my waffle iron to reheat leftovers in particular (ranging from pizza to cheesy grits), when "normal" people would use an oven, toaster oven, or perhaps microwave.  I generally limit my waffling to leftovers, but, sometimes I do actually try to "cook" in the waffle iron, like when I made quesadillas that way.

I'm not sure what this waffling experiment counts as.  A fresh bagel isn't really a "leftover", so, it isn't working with a leftover.  And heating up a bagel isn't cooking, so, not cooking.  But I'm pretty sure most people opt for a toaster or toaster oven, not a waffle iron, when encountering a fresh bagel.

But not me.  I ask the question, "A fresh bagel: will it waffle?"  Of course it will.
The Original: Cinnamon Crunch Bagel.
I've actually "toasted" many bagels this way over the years since discovering my waffle iron, but I hadn't taken photos of them, for some reason.  Any type of bagel works, but I've had better success with the more decadent types of bagels, as a waffled (or toasted for that matter) plain bagels are just a bit boring.  But if you start with a bagel that has some sugary coating, then the magic happens, just like if you waffle leftover glazed donuts.

Luckily, Panera makes tons of these types of bagels, which I've reviewed before.  The sugar topped pumpkin pie bagel from Panera was the first that I waffled.  The bagel I've found to waffle the best is the cinnamon crunch, as it is coated very generously in cinnamon and sugar on top, again, just like a glazed donut.
Waffled Cinnamon Crunch Bagel.
The side that isn't crusted in sugar isn't the most exciting visually, but, this is basically what you'd expect.  It looks like a waffle, but, it is just a bagel.  The contact points with the waffle plates get crispy, just like when nicely toasted.  The other wide, with all the cinnamon sugar goodness (which I foolishly did not photograph!), gets caramelized, as the sugar coating melts off a bit, and then re-caramelizes onto the bagel ... like I said, just like a waffled glazed donut.

The result isn't radically different from eating a regular toasted bagel, the transformation certainly isn't nearly as profound as a donut or slice of pizza, but, it is a fun way to "toast" a bagel.

The best part?  When you add butter (or, uh, syrup), it pools up in the pockets as it melts, which, as you know from eating waffles, makes for some excellent bites.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Otium, Los Angeles

I was recently in Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles, for a business trip.  Not exactly an area I want to hang out, but, luckily (?), my days and nights were incredibly full (I was there for work after all!), so it didn't really matter where I was anyway.

I sadly had only one meal that I got to arrange for myself, the night of my arrival.  My choice was a no brainer - I was going to Otium. 

Otium is the restaurant of Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of French Laundry fame (he was chef de cuisine, worked his way up in the restaurant over 12 years, competed in the Bocuse d’Or, etc, etc).  But Otium is his concept, not anything like The French Laundry.

I might have picked which hotel to stay at partially based on proximity to Otium, so I could easily have dinner there my first night.
Satisfying Meal for One.
The concept at Otium is all about being "social".  You see this in the wide open floor plan, including the kitchen and raw bar integrated into the space, in a way that goes far beyond the standard trendy "open kitchen".  You notice it in the menu, every dish designed as share plates.  You hear it in club/lounge like pumping music.  The entire place has a "we are all in this together" vibe to it.  They succeeded at the theme.

They also succeeded at creating a place that isn't too formal, although the food served is of high caliber, with a matching price point.

The service was excellent.  My main server was friendly and extremely knowledgeable.  She had actually tried every dish on the menu herself, which really helps.  And her excitement over some dishes (and drinks!) was genuine.  My dishes were promptly cleared by another staff member once I stopped eating.  The server who brought out each dish described them in detail.  Great service.

It was a great meal all around, although I dined solo, which was not ideal.  I'd gladly return with a group, as it clearly was meant to be a shared experience.


The restaurant is stunning.  Let's just get that out there.  They clearly worked with an interior designer, and clearly went big budget.

And it worked.  The environment captures everything I think they were going for: elegant yet comfortable.  Just like the cuisine.
Back Garden.
This was the back entrance, but it is where I accidentally entered.

Not a problem really, it meant that I got to see the outdoor seating, surrounded by landscaping, with ample heat lights for the "chilly" Los Angeles evenings.

The outdoor garden vibe continues through the interior as well.
Side Bar.
Continuing my journey of entering backwards, I walked through the side bar area, with counter seating along the bar, and several small tables.  This area is all reserved for walk-ins.

You can see some of the stunning interior design, with shades of black and gray hexagon tiled flooring, a back wall with a hidden phrase that invokes the garden feel, and gorgeous cabinetry housing the liquor.
Raw Bar, Coffee Prep.
The bar continues around the corner, with additional stool seating.  This area however is the raw bar, with seafood on display on ice, and the coffee station.

If you were seated in this area, you could easily watch all the cold app prep action (or the coffee making I suppose, but that is far less exciting!).

More fascinating decor elements like the yellow tiled backdrop, and light figures made from pipes.
Open Kitchen.
And finally, the large open kitchen.  On one side is the wood fired oven, in the back, many prep stations.  I love an open kitchen, and, particularly as a solo diner, this was a great opportunity to just watch some of the action.  Right near the man in the middle is an ice cream machine, but I never saw it go into action while I was there.
Place Setting.
The place settings were very appealing as well, with what looked like custom ceramics, little candles, fresh flowers in a little vase, on lovely wooden tables.

Food & Drink

Otium is open for lunch and dinner during the week (closed Monday), but also open for brunch on weekends.  I wish I could have visited for brunch, as the menu sounded fantastic, but alas, my visit was on a Sunday evening, for dinner.

Still, there were plenty of menu items I was excited about.  It wasn't just the chef's background that drew me in initially.  It was the menu.  Well, in particular, it was two menu items.

On a menu full of heavy hitters, there were two I just couldn't get past: foie gras funnel cake and uni over tofu sorbet.  Um, seriously?  I adore foie gras and uni (hence the labels on my blog for these items alone), I equally adore funnel cake/fried dough/donuts/etc and frozen desserts.  Although, to be clear, these weren't desserts - these are savory main dishes.  And I knew they wouldn't be gimmicks, coming out of a kitchen of this caliber.

The hard part for me however is that the menu is designed entirely as share plates.  Some are smaller than others, but, everything is meant to be shared.  It is a social restaurant after all.  And I was a solo diner.

I knew this wasn't ideal, and decided I couldn't really take down the foie gras funnel cake all by myself (as much as I was tempted ...), but I still wanted to try the restaurant so badly I ignored this fact and went alone.

It worked out ... ok.  But really, you want to come here with others.  Which I will.  Next time.
Ancho. $16.
"Lola Mezcal, Pineapple, Sal De Gusano, Lime." 

This was an excellent cocktail.  I could tell as it was presented that they take the cocktails seriously; a huge perfect square ice cube in the center and colored salt rim let me know they mean business.

I loved the salt on the rim.  I loved it slightly less once I looked it up afterward ... do you know what Sal de Gusano is?  I thought it was just seasoned salt, but, uh, it is sea salt, and it does have dried peppers, but, this key component?  Dried mezcal worms.  Slightly not appetizing.  Yet I licked every bit off.

The drink itself was a perfectly balanced mix of boozy, sweet, and spicy.  It had moments of sweet from the pineapple, but the ancho chiles always countered it back.

Overall, great, and I was glad to pick it.
Dinner Menu.
The diner menu is arranged into sections that aren't quite self-explanatory.  The top section contained only a single item: their signature bread.  Next was what turned out to be mostly raw seafood items (although the shrimp was poached).  Next up?  Uh, "other" smaller plates, some cooked, some cold, mostly non-seafood.  Next, pasta.  And finally, the much larger main proteins, a mix of seafood, white meat, and red meat.

All dishes are designed to be shared, which certainly made things interesting for me as a solo diner.  I was told that they normally encourage 1-2 dishes per person, so, I should do that, but, beware that some would be far too large (e.g. something like the whole fish, or, sadly, the foie gras funnel cakes).  My server was happy to talk through all the dishes I had questions about though, and volunteer which she thought made sense as a single person.

The menu had many dishes I would have picked if I was sharing with others, but, given the limitations of being alone, I ended up picking things that weren't actually near the top of my list.  In retrospect, maybe I should have just ordered what I wanted, and been ok with not finishing it?  That's just not my style though.

I selected one dish from each of the top two categories (well, not the bread category, because, as glorious as a cast iron skillet full of freshly baked rolls slathered in garlic and butter sounded, uh, I can't imagine me taking down a whole skillet of bread alone!), and skipped the pasta and main entree categories entirely, although I nearly went for the scallops with pork dumplings, mushroom, bok choy, and XO sauce from the mains, as that just sounds like such a Julie dish.
Ora King Salmon. $18.
"Yuzu Creme, Meyer Lemon, Pluot."

The raw seafood section was pointed out to me to be a good place to base my selections, as it contains the smaller, lighter dishes.  The only problem?  Well, I just havne't been into raw seafood lately.  I'm not sure why.  This is the section that *used* to have the uni with tofu sorbet dish, but alas, now had uni chawanmushi (which, when I asked about, my server confirmed that it was very egg forward, much like quiche, and, well, I'm just not an egg girl).

One seafood I still enjoy raw is salmon, and, particularly after my visit to Tokyo with incredible salmon, I was interested enough in this dish to order it.

It came with yuzu creme fraiche at the base of the plate, with 5 slices of salmon rolled up, drizzled with meyer lemon vinaigrette, and garnished with cubes of pluot and micro greens (including micro celery!)

The salmon was fine.  Fresh enough, well trimmed, but, it wasn't nearly as intensely flavorful as that which I had in Tokyo, and was a bit of a letdown.

The yuzu creme fraiche was creamy and tangy, a really creative way to give the standard salmon + cream cheese + lemon pairing a serious upgrade.  I really liked the flavor to the creme fraiche.

The meyer lemon vinaigrette was tangy as well, but also sweeter.  I enjoyed the flavor.  The dish overall had a good salt level, and I think it came from this element.

The little cubes of pluot added freshness and lightness, as did the garnish of what I think was micro celery.

Overall, while the salmon itself might have bored me, I did like the other components on the plate, and scooped up every last drop of creme fraiche, vinaigrette, and fruit.  It *almost* felt like I was getting my dessert first!  Fruit and cream?  Yes!
Octopus. $19.
"Tzatziki, Cucumber, Red Onion, Arugula."

My next dish came from the smaller plates section, a standard dish on the Otium menu, one my server said was one of her favorites.

I love octopus, but I almost didn't order this because I'm not fond of yogurt and cucumber, so the Greek treatment wasn't very appealing.  But after her rave endorsement, I decided to risk it.

I think I'm glad I did, although, it was a mixed success.

The dish came with tzatziki at the base, then a layer of thinly sliced cucumber (like zucchini noodles, but, uh, made from cucumber), pickled red onion, and then the octopus.  The menu said arugula, but, I didn't see any, and the server who brought it out didn't mention it either.

I ended up loving the tzatziki.  It was very garlicy, such a great flavor, and good thick consistency.  I did not like the cucumber noodles on top of it though, as expected as I'm not a fan of raw cucumber, and it was a bit hard to avoid them and get all the tzatziki.  The tzatziki was also a bit of an odd pairing for the octopus, at least, I wanted more of a lighter, sweeter sauce.  But that all said, I really liked the tzatziki.

The red onions were pickled, intensely vinegary, and added great acidity.  They were also crisp, and I liked the crunch they added.

So, the tzatziki and pickled red onions, both very Greek, actually were elements I liked.

Now for the octopus.  It is where the dish was really a mixed success.  I'm not quite sure how it was cooked. It almost seemed tempura'ed, or deep fried, except I know it wasn't.  The exterior was intensely crispy, particularly the thinner pieces and particular where the suckers were.  I really liked the crispy suckers, but the thinner pieces just seemed overcooked.  Which actually, was the problem.  About half of it, all the smaller pieces, just seemed overcooked.  They were very dry, and very chewy.  Not chewy like rubbery octopus (the usual problem), but chewy like leather.  But the thicker pieces were meaty, and although crazy crispy on the outside, weren't too dried out or chewy.  I liked those pieces. 

So ... I'm still not sure what I thought of this.  I enjoyed some things, and not others. The prep of the octopus, whatever it was, was certainly unique.  But, some bites were really not enjoyable.

The portion was larger than my first dish, but not overwhelming, so that was a good fit, although I did grow pretty sick of the octopus about halfway through.  Better for sharing I suspect.
Otium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 19, 2018

Drinks & Desserts at Roka Bar

I've reviewed Roka Akor, an upscale Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, several times before, including the high quality and reasonably priced business lunch, a crazy impressive sushi delivery, and a simple takeout lunch.

I'll skip the background, and leave you to read those previous reviews if you care.
Drinks & Desserts.
My visit this time was to Roka Bar, the downstairs lounge that serves light bites and drinks, along with the full restaurant menu.  We visited just for drinks and deserts.

The overall experience was pleasant, and matched what we were looking for, a quiet place to talk, sip cocktails, and eat dessert, but, I didn't particularly like anything I had.  The service was great though, very attentive and polite.


The upstairs restaurant is light filled, with huge windows.  It is a very open space, including an open kitchen.

But we went to Roka Bar for this visit, downstairs, a completely different atmosphere, with zero windows and thus no natural light, very, very dim interior. 
That isn't to say it wasn't a nice space.  It was beautifully designed, and much larger than I expected.

Lounge furniture makes up the majority of the seating, surrounding low tables.  There are little candles on every table.  Interesting artwork on the walls.  Rich color tones.

I visited with a group of 4, arriving at 7:30pm on a Saturday.  We were able to get a private area with couches and lounge chairs with no problem, and had our choice of several different seating areas.  I'm not sure when/if they get crowded, but it was only half-full the entire time we were there, which was perfect, quiet enough for easy conversation, but it certainly didn't feel awkwardly empty.

The space was really beautiful, but actually not very comfortable for sitting (or eating).  Every other group of patrons was seated at low tables like us, and they all had full meals, so I think they struggled even more than us, as we only had drinks and desserts.
A large bar occupies the center of the room, with a beautiful wooden overhang for dining.  This looks like it would actually be a great place to dine with just one other person, the only seating that has you seated at a table of normal height for dining.

A random side note: the bathroom smelt really great.  The attention to detail like this is what made the experience overall good, even if I didn't care for my food or drink.  Someone really did care about the space and the atmosphere.


We were mostly there for cocktails, although there is an impressive wine, whiskey, and sake selection as well.  Cocktails are broken into three categories: Roka Signatures, San Francisco Specialties and Classics, Old & New.
Roka Fashion / Boozy & Bitter.  $13
"Suntory Toki, Japanese Black Sugar, Citrus Oils, Bitters."

I opted for the "Roka Fashion", from the Roka Signatures menu.

I didn't really like it.

The flavor was complex, the citrus oils did add a slight fruitiness.  But, it was overall just too bitter for my taste, particularly on the finish, leaving me with a bitter taste that lingered.

I wouldn't get this again.
Roka Ginger Ale. $6.
"Fresh Ginger & Lemon, Simple Syrup, Soda Water."

My dining companion who wasn't drinking alcohol had two choices of drink, cucumber rose lemonade, or the Roka ginger ale.

He was really impressed with the drink, commenting several times on how good it was.  I tried a sip, and, yes, it was very good.  The ginger was quite strong, but fresh, and well balanced by the citrus.  Clearly made form fresh ginger.  More successful than my cocktail, for sure.


The dessert menu had 5 items, plus a daily ice cream or sorbet by the scoop, in addition to the signature Roka Akor dessert platter.  The dessert platter is a crazy feast that costs $18 per person, and I've seen photos of, so I knew it was far more than we needed, plus, uh, we didn't need to get a $72 dessert!

We ended up ordering 3 of the desserts, skipping the simple ice cream and sorbet, and the two other desserts that were both based around shaved ice and ice cream.  San Francisco cold summer weather just didn't inspire frozen desserts, although I was excited by the pandan ice cream that was part of one shaved ice creation, and the red bean and mochi with the other..
Baked Taro and Coconut Custard with Jackfruit Ice Cream. $12.
As soon as I saw the dessert menu, it was clear what I wanted.  This.  I didn't entirely know what it was, but I adore taro and would gladly consume it in any form.  Bonus points for "custard", as that sounds like "pudding", and I love puddings.  More bonus points for jackfruit, something I rarely (if ever?) have in the US.

When the dessert arrived, I was impressed, visually.  Served on a large earthenware piece.  Elaborate plating.  Which, makes sense, given that I know the restaurant serves well plated food.

But ... as good as it looked, and as much as it incorporated ingredients I like, it just wasn't very good.

The taro and coconut custard was a bar shape in the middle of the plate.  I couldn't taste any coconut (not in the custard, not anywhere).  It did taste of taro, but it also had a strong "fake sweet" taste, like artificial sweetener.  The texture was a bit odd, kinda just mush.  Slightly taro flavored mush.  Not a rich custard as I was expecting.  Not a highlight.

The custard was topped with thin slices of jackfruit, fruity, flavorful, and I loved these.  The crispy taro chips on top were also tasty, and I loved the crunch.

The jackfruit ice cream wasn't great though, fairly icy, not a smooth creamy texture.  It came on top of a few more pieces of jackfruit, which again stole the show.

The final element was the smear you can see here, that we weren't ever able to identify.

Overall, I just didn't like this.  At all.  Yes, the jackfruit and taro chips were tasty, but those were about two bites, and everything else was extremely disappointing.  No one else really bothered with a second bite of this one, but I kept trying.  Eventually, even I gave up, and we left this one unfinished. 
Warm Valhrona Chocolate Cake with Almond Caramel & Vanilla Ice Cream. $14.
One of my dining companions ordered the signature Roka Akor dessert, on the menu at every one of their locations, and a permanent item: the molten chocolate cake.  It came topped with custom printed Roka Akor chocolate.

I do not eat chocolate at night, so I just had a tiny bite.  It was pretty textbook molten chocolate cake.  It was warm, the cake shell wasn't too thick, and it burst with oozing warm chocolate when he cut into it.

The caramel was very tasty, thick, sweet caramel.  The almond elements were very strong, which was a bit surprising to me, and if you don't like almond, beware.

Overall, a very good molten chocolate cake, and one diner (the one who ordered it) ranked it his favorite.
Cherry Blossom Panna Cotta with Roasted Apricots & Honeycomb. $12.
Another dining companion opted for the panna cotta, which certainly would have been my pick if there wasn't a taro item on the menu, given my love of panna cotta.

Of course I tried a bite.

The seasonal accompaniments were three large segments of roasted apricot, a scoop of apricot sorbet, and pieces of honeycomb.  Under the sorbet scoop (bottom orange blob) was a buttery shortbread crumble that I really liked.

The panna cotta itself, much like the molton chocolate cake, was very textbook.  Good consistency and texture.  Nice wiggle.  It had a pleasant, sweet, delicate flavor from the cherry blossom.

Much like the molton chocolate cake, I thought this was a good solid execution of a classic dessert, with some slight twists, but not particularly exciting.  The person who ordered it did like it the most, and one other said the honey was his favorite item.