Friday, April 20, 2018

We Bee Poppin Popcorn

Snack foodsPopcorn.  You know I'm crazy about these things.  I try every brand I can get my hands on.

Which lead me to We Bee Poppin, a family owned and operated popcorn manufacturer in central California, which, like many got their start as a food truck.  They now have a handful of locations around the area.

I was impressed with the creative flavor range, spicy (like elote!), savory (assorted cheeses), and of course, my favorites, sweet (with really unique offerings, keep reading!)
"Cheese is one of the greatest snacks combined with Ventura County’s Best Popcorn… This is the flavor you need to get into."

I first tried the savory cheddar flavor.

It was fine, but pretty generic fake dark orange cheddar popcorn.  It was however the only one where I detected a bit of the coconut oil flavor.
Movie Popcorn.
"Everyone recognizes the flavor of the most popular popcorn of all time… Movie Theater style has turned heads, sparked interest and woken up noses for the past 100 years and We Bee Poppin brings this fluffy and buttery treat to you in delicious handfuls."
Next, another savory, the basic "movie popcorn", that is, butter popcorn.

It was ... butter popcorn?  Not particularly interesting to me.
"This carnival treat is now available in popcorn form. Everyone remembers that smell of fresh churros as they walked the Ventura County Fair or walked the Barnum & Bailey Circus. This is honestly a flash back flavor worthy of the Sweet selection title!"

Next, churro! This was basically exactly what you'd expect.  Cinnamon and sugar coated corn.

Not my favorite, as I just don't find myself craving cinnamon popcorn.
Kaptain Krunch: Strawberry & Blue Raspberry.
"Kaptain Krunch is a unique flavor with a not so unique name. We’ve all grown up hearing this young naval man tell us about his beautifully shaped cereal. Well this popcorn is one that is truly hard to put down."

The last I tried was certainly the best.  Kaptain Krunch.

This was a unique one!  I've tried many flavors of popcorn over the years, er, per my obsession, but I haven't had many fruity ones.  And fruity this was.  Strawberry and blue raspberry!

The kernels that were well coated were, well, quite fruity.  Candied.  Sweet.  I liked them, although certainly different from my usual sweet popcorn.

My complain though, is that many weren't that well coated.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pokéworks, Irvine

The first night I was in Irvine, I ordered poke delivery from Cubed Poke.  It was crazy satisfying.

So, two nights later, when I again needed dinner and I was too worn out to drag myself out somewhere, poke delivery it was.

This time from Pokéworks, delivered via Door Dash.  Ordering online was easy, and I tried out the group order feature, as another co-worker wanted to order as well.  It arrived around the quoted time, mostly correct.

Pokéworks main concept is "Poke Your Way", although they do have several pre-designed bowls.  Besides poke though, they have little else, just miso soup and packaged roasted seaweed round out the menu.

But the poke menu is ... extensive to say the least.  I picked Pokéworks not only for the good reviews, but, for the mix-in and topping selection in particular.  I've never seen so many options.
Poke Your Way, Regular.  $10.95 + $1.
I went for a poke bowl, regular size.  It came packaged nicely, everything was still separate in the bowl, which surprised me, I expected a jumbled mess from delivery.

Of course I customized my own bowl.

First up, selecting the base.  Even just for the base, you have 6 options.  Standard sushi rice, or organic brown rice if you want healthier, or quinoa if you want healthier still.  Or mixed greens for a salad option.  Or ... a sushi burrito, with rice and seaweed wrap.  Or ... "kale noodles".

Next, protein, 7 choices.  Again, standard options (salmon, ahi, albacore), but also some more creative ones (sous vide shrimp, sous vide scallops), something for the vegetarians (tofu), and something for your non-seafood eating friends (chicken).  No octopus, but, really, quite the selection.

Next, mix-ins, to be mixed with the sauce and protein.  Here too, the options were extensive, 11 options in all, and again, including many options outside the standard cucumbers, edamame, and onions: diced mango and orange slices for a tropical feel.  Not one, but two different types of seaweed (hijiki, ogo).  All sorts of herbs.

Then of course, your sauce.  8 options, some light, some heavier creamy aiolis.

And then, finally, the parts that I really cared about: toppings and crunch.  Starting with toppings.  10 options, mostly the standard lineup: avocado, crab salad, seaweed salad, green onions, pickled ginger, wasabi, masago, tobiko, sesame seeds, furikake.

And lastly ... crunch!  7 more things to pick from.

A regular size is $10.95, large $13.50.  Regular bowls come with 2 proteins, large with 3.  And unlike many places, the mix-ins, toppings, and crunch are not limited.  No "4 included, additional $0.50" sort of setup, and only a few (quinoa, avocado, and macadamia nuts) have any surcharge.
My Custom Bowl.
Given all the options, you'd think that I would have decision making problems.  But actually, it was simple to assemble my bowl.

Base: Kale Noodle

1st Protein: Scallop (Sous Vide)
2nd Protein: Shrimp (Sous Vide)
Mix-Ins: Diced Mango, Hijiki Seaweed, Ogo Seaweed, Shiso Leaves
Sauce: Umami Shoyu, Sauce Level: Medium Sauce

Toppings: Crab Salad, Green Onion, Pickled Ginger, Seaweed Salad, Spicy Furikake, Wasabi
Crunch: Garlic Crisps, Lotus Chips, Onion Crisps, Roasted Macadamia Nuts, Sesame Seeds, Shredded Nori, Wonton Crisps

Yes, I really did order all the crunch toppings except the puffed rice.  It took a while to find the rest of my contents under the toppings.

But, as I expected, the toppings were the best part.

The shredded nori, sesame seeds, green onion, and furikake were pretty standard, sprinkled on top of everything, and all added good flavors.

I adored my crunch elements, particularly the lotus chips, followed closely by the wonton crisps.  I'm not entirely sure I found the garlic crisps and onion crisps in there, and gladly would have taken even more of the lotus chips.  I kinda wish they had them available as a side, or, a base option (like the taro chips at Cubed Poke, or the tortilla chips many places offer).  Anyway, as silly as my crunch lineup was, these were some of my favorite bits.

The seaweed salad was actually not my favorite, a bit bitter almost.  I added soy sauce to it, and it was better, but, somehow I didn't love the standard marinade it had (even though it looked like every generic seaweed salad out there).  The crab salad (surimi really), was fine, better than the version from Cubed actually, but a fairly small portion.  The pickled ginger was a ridiculously large portion.   I'm not sure what on earth happened there, as everything else was in proportion, but, the entire center of my bowl was a huge mass of pickled ginger.  It was fine, but, way too much.  The wasabi was a decent sized little pile that I was able to mix in with soy sauce and use as I desired without overwhelming other elements.

So overall, decent toppings, great crunch elements.  Underneath that all was the actual proteins, mixed with my mix-ins and sauce, and my base.
Kale Noodles, Sous Vide Shrimp, Sous Vide Scallops.
Since I haven't really been into raw seafood lately, and I don't like chicken or tofu, my protein choices were easy: sous vide shrimp and scallops.  (Side note: really, I want poke bowls with just crab salad, but alas, no where lets me pick that!)

The portion of both proteins was generous, but, I didn't quite care for either.  The scallops, mid-sized bay scallops, were a good texture, but fairly fishy.  The shrimp, again, decent enough texture, good sized, but they weren't deveined.  I didn't really taste much of the umami shoyu sauce I picked.  I did really like both seaweeds in the mix, far more than the seaweed salad, but, since it was mixed in here, it was hard to really get much of.

The mango bits were odd, they looked like egg yolk, brilliant orange color, but were indeed mango.  They went great with my macadamia nuts, and reminded me of my old favorite "Hawaiian #2" sushi roll from Sushi Zone in San Francisco.  Mango and macadamia, always a good combo.

And finally, my base.  Kale noodles.

Which turned out to be ... uh, green-ish soba noodles?  I'll admit, this is not what I expected at all.  I foolishly thought "kale noodles" was just a fancy term for shredded kale, kinda like "zucchini noodles" that are just spiralized zucchini.  That is, I thought I was getting a raw kale salad, more like the bowl from Cubed I had two nights prior.  Instead I had ... real noodles.  Doh.

I didn't really like the noodles, but, I don't really like soba noodles.  Kinda soft, but not mushy, not clumped together, but, uh, meh, soba noodles.  I guess they had some kind of kale element, as they were a bit green?  I wished I had selected the mixed greens. 
Included in the takeout bag was a bunch of sauces, 3 each of a brown one, 3 each of a red one.  I'm not really sure why, or what they were, but the red one was crazy spicy, and the brown one I think might have just been soy sauce?

I ordered with one other co-worker, so we had two bowls, which came with two sets of chopsticks and utensils, but we had 3 each of these sauces, so, it wasn't like we were each supposed to get one.

I did also order a wasabi aioli on the side, but, alas, it did not come.  I did appreciate the soy-like sauce, as I used it on my seaweed salad and my crab salad.
Pokeworks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, April 16, 2018

Din Tai Fung, Costa Mesa, CA

Din Tai Fung.  The famous chain, known for the dumplings (particularly the xiaolongbao), for the fact that some of the locations have Michelin stars, and, uh, for epic waits.

My only actual experience with Din Tai Fung so far was in Sydney, a few years ago, when I visited a streamlined food court version, and wasn't very impressed.  My hotel in Seattle was right next to a Din Tai Fung, and I planned to go while I was there, yet never found the time (I was too busy eating poke and attending team events.

My time in Costa Mesa almost went the same way.  I had lots of poke (delivered to me from Cubed Poke), and went to a couple team dinners (where we had some incredible desserts), but on my final afternoon, I was determined.  The problem?  I had a huge feast for breakfast my hotel restaurant, Silver Trumpet.  

Thus, I opted for just a snack at Din Tai Fung, rather than a full meal, but I'm glad I did.  It inspired me to go for a real meal ... next time I am near a Din Tai Fung location.
Takeout Snack!
My order was fairly simple, since I was alone, and just wanted a snack: one noodle dish, one dessert bun.  It was hard to pick just one of each, but, I went for the most recommended item I could find (besides the XLB) for my savory, and the type of sweet dessert bun I wanted most.
This entrance was the exterior one, not as used as the one from inside the mall.  It looks so peaceful here right?

Ha.  The other entrance was a madhouse, with lines everywhere (a line to put your name down, a line for if you had been called back, a line for takeout orders, a second line for once you had been called back and verified ...), and a 3 hour quoted wait time, even for a single diner.  I opted for takeout, which was basically my plan anyway.
Watching the dumpling action.
A signature element of Din Tai Fung is the dumpling kitchen, and this location was no different from others, big windows overlooking the dumpling making, filled with kids and bored waiting customers.
Nicely Bagged!
No generic takeout bags at Din Tai Fung, no, I got to walk away with a very distinctive, really quite nice bag.

It did feel wasteful tossing it in the trash so soon after though.
Vegetable & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce.
The wontons with spicy sauce top everyone's list of recommended dishes, even though not the signature dishes.  Available in shrimp & pork or vegetable & pork, I went with veggie & pork, mostly just a random pick.

I didn't take a photo since I wanted to devour while still hot, but the wontons actually came packaged separately from the sauce, a nice touch.  I immediately just poured the sauce on and dug in.

This was very good.  I'm sure it suffered a bit from takeout, but, really, it was good.

The order was 8 wontons, all large size, loaded with ground pork and minced veggies.  Plump, moist, flavorful filling.  The wrappers were also good, not too think, not too thin, fresh pasta.  The wontons did clump together a bit since packaged on their own, but still, clearly very well made.

The sauce was interesting.  It was spicy, for sure, but not fire-y spicy, just a bit ... well, spicy.  I think was soy based and had some chili oil perhaps?  It was very flavorful, without being overpowering.  I really liked the complex flavor, and lapped it all up, even once the wontons were gone.

I see why people recommend this dish.
Taro Bun Packaging.
I couldn't resist getting a dessert too.

For dessert buns, I could pick taro, sesame, or red bean filled, all sold individually.  Or, I could have opted for sweet xiaolongbao, also filled with red bean or taro, but since I wanted just a little something, a bun it was, as they came in orders of 12.

My bun came in its own box, clearly marked that it was taro.
Taro Bun.
The bun was nice and warm, and the box did a decent job of keeping it warm, while allowing steam to escape and not make it soggy.

But one bite and I was instantly reminded of the savory bun I had before from Din Tai Fung.  The dough just doesn't do it for me, it is very plain, no sweetness.  Just, not for me.

The taro filling however was great.  Mashed taro, generous amount, and, clearly real taro.  I did like the taro quite a bit.

Next time, taro XLB it is!