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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Johnny Doughnuts

Johnny Doughnuts has been on my radar for a while.  Because, well, I love donuts and always have my eye on places with good reviews.  I also semi-regularly have the need to provide donuts for my group at work for special occasions, and need to find places that can handle fairly large size orders, which, your average donut shop does not.

I had wanted to try Johnny Doughnuts many times, but, it was never a possibility.  For one, they are located in San Rafael, so, I never had a chance to just go myself in person to their shop,  But second, for delivery orders to San Francisco, they have a 2 dozen minimum, at $34 per dozen, plus a $50 delivery fee.  I haven't ever been able to arrange for this, as I just couldn't justify the higher costs compared to local options.

But finally, finally, we were able to order from Johnny Doughnuts for a team-wide all hands.  I was so excited to try them.  For that first order, we stuck with raised and old fashioned donuts (plus some fritters, because, um, my favorites), but Johnny Doughnuts also makes bismarks (filled with jams and custards), cro-doughs (croissant + donuts), cinnamon rolls and twists, and even vegan or gluten-free donuts, most of which I tried at subsequent events (keep reading!).

I still haven't visited the donut shop in San Rafael, but, it turns out they are opening one in San Francisco (in Hayes Valley), so, you can bet I'll check it out once they do.  They also proved great at handling catering orders (so we ordered from them for our next large team event too), and have multiple donut trucks that they can bring to your food truck party.  You'll find them at Off the Grid and other events around town too.

At both events I hosted with Johnny Doughnuts, the donuts were the best rated by the group, and, at this point, we have ordered donuts from a lot of places.  They blew trendy places like Dynamo out of the water.  They blew SF institutions like Bob's out of the water (stay tuned for review).  These are very good donuts, and I've never seen so many of my teammates go back for seconds.

The donuts are also huge.  On every single occasion we ordered them, most people immediately commented that they were too big.  And I'll admit, they kinda are.  I just saved part for later, knowing I'd want more, but most people took to hacking them up with knives to cut off reasonable size chunks.  This is one area where I do appreciate how Donut Savant makes the perfect size donuts, smaller than average, where these were much larger than average.  Even the donut holes were about 2x the size of normal!  But I'm not really complaining, who complains about too much donut?  And, obviously, if life gives you leftover donuts, waffle them the next morning (trust me).

Encounter #1, July 2016

We ordered several dozen assorted full size donuts, which included a mix of old fashioned, raised, and fritters.  Each box was different, and none were boring plain donuts.

We also ordered donut holes, to satisfy those who wanted a smaller treat.  The assortment was perfect.
Box #1: Dozen Assorted Donuts.  $34.00.
This box contained:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Chocolate Salted Caramel (1 each, back row and second row from back)
  • Raised: Blueberry, Classic Glazed, Sprinkly Guys (vanilla dipped with rainbow sprinkles). (1 each, middle rows)
  • Apple Fritters (2, second row) 
  • Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (2, front row)
The raised donuts were good, the fritters were great, but, the old fashioned were absolutely insane.
Box #2: Dozen Assorted Donuts. $34.00.
The next box had a similar mix, but some differences:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Salted Caramel Chocolate (back row)
  • Raised: Classic Chocolate, Sprinkly Guys (chocolate dipped with sprinkles), Classic Glazed, Sugar Daddy, Lime Poppy Seed, Strawberry (middle rows).
  • Apple Fritter and Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (1 each, front row)
We had several other boxes, all filled with similar mixes.  Combined, we received all varieties of raised donuts that they make other than the Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle) and all old fashioned except the plain non-glazed.

I really appreciated the thoughtful assortment.

Raised Donuts

So, let's start with the raised donuts.
"Our take on a “light and fluffy” doughnut. A Southern recipe dating back to the 1920’s, using fresh potato to the dough to give more of a bite.  The yeast in the recipe requires the dough to rise before being fried to give it that airy feel, hence the name – raised. Mix that unique dough with our unbelievably tasty homemade glazes and it’s a win-win every time."
These are available in 9 varieties, plus seasonal specialties:
  • Classic Glazed
  • Classic Chocolate
  • Lime Poppy Seed
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle)
  • Sprinkly Guys (dipped in chocolate or vanilla and topped with sprinkles)
  • Sugar Daddy (rolled in sugar)
We had all but the Zebra.  They were all good, fluffy, raised donuts, massive in size.  The potato in the dough definitely gave them a little something extra.  The coatings were perfectly executed.

One co-worker had one of the dipped raised donuts, I forget which flavor, and said, "Well, I think that was honestly the best donut I've ever had!"  Victory!
Classic Glazed. $3.25.
I started with a classic glazed.  You can't judge the rest until you try a basic glazed donut, right?

It was a fine donut.  Very fluffy, massive.  Well coated in glaze on all sides.  Not too oily.  I think I sorta tasted the potato, not in a bad way though, just in a "hey, that dough has something a little more interesting about it" way, like if you ever have potato bread.  It was fresh tasting.  Not particularly earth shattering, but, unless it is hot and fresh out of the fryer, a classic glazed rarely is.
Sugar Daddy. $3.25.
On the basic side, I also tried the "Sugar Daddy", a sugar coated raised donut.  It was perfectly coated in sugar crystals, and tasty, but, sugar coated donuts always make me want them to be jelly filled (more on that soon).
I also tried the strawberry iced.  Like all the iced options, it was perfectly dipped in strawberry frosting, and the icing was  thick.  The donut was the same as all the other raised donuts, fluffy, raised, massive, but the glaze was incredible.  It tasted like fresh strawberries.  It tasted like summer.  It wasn't a fake strawberry taste at all.  Just ripe, juicy, perfect berries at their peak.  Incredible how much flavor was captured in that glaze.

I also tried the blueberry, equally fruity.
Lime Poppy Seed. $3.25.
The lime poppy seed caught me by surprise as I thought it was vanilla bean (with specs of vanilla bean, not poppy seeds), so it caught me off guard when it was tangy.  If you like lime though, by all means, this was likely a great thing.
Sprinkly Guys (Vanilla Version). $3.25.
Next I moved on to one that looked far more fun: the Sprinkly Guys.  These are available in two versions, chocolate or vanilla, referring to the flavor of glaze they are coated in.  I picked vanilla.

The base was the same huge, yeasty, fluffy donut.

I adore sprinkles, so, this was right up my alley.  It was ridiculously generously coated in colorful rainbow sprinkles.  They added a bit of crunch and more sweetness.  The vanilla glaze was more appealing to me than the standard glaze from the classic, as it was sweeter and thicker.  My favorite of the toppings.

Overall, a fun donut, but VERY sweet.  I can't imagine eating a full one in one sitting without being on a ridiculous sugar high.  This would be better served as a donut hole in my opinion (and then, all sides could have sprinkles!)

Update: I had another, months later.  I didn't love it quite as much this time.  The vanilla glaze and sprinkles weren't as overwhelmingly sweet, and I tasted a lot more of the plain doughnut.  It was still a fine doughnut, but, it wasn't as magic for me as the first encounter.
Classic Chocolate Glazed.  $3.25.
I also grabbed a chocolate glazed for another co-worker.  I didn't try it, but, included the photo just to show you how well dipped it was in the chocolate.  It was pretty remarkable that the donuts didn't get messed up all in a box together, and transported all the way to us.

Donut Holes

Next up were the donut holes, ordered to accommodate those who just want "a little something."
"Our raised dough in easy-to-eat rounds of goodness. Available in Vanilla Glazed or Cinnamon Sugar."
We ordered a big box of vanilla glazed.
Vanilla Glazed Holes. $0.50/each.
When I think of donut holes, I think of Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins.  They were a big part of my formative years.  So, donut holes should be bite sized, in my mind.

But that is because the whole thing with donut holes is that they fill in the hole of the donut.  If the donut is ridiculously large, well, then the hole is ridiculous large, so, these holes were actually likely scaled accordingly.  They seemed about two times as big as any other donut hole I've encountered.

The donut holes were very similar to the full sized raised donuts.  Fluffy, well glazed.  The vanilla glaze was the same as what I had on the vanilla Sprinkly Guys.  These were actually a nice size for just wanting a donut, and not feeling overwhelmed.  The members of my group who had restraint actually just had one of these each, and said they were satisfied.

Old Fashioned

Johnny Doughnuts doesn't make basic cake donuts, but they make Old Fashioned, aka, non-yeasted cake donuts with jaggy edges.  As in, more interesting cake donuts.  At least, that is how I think of them.  They say:
"Combining recipes from the 1930’s we’ve come up with an Old Fashioned unlike any other. 
With seasonings like nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon in the dough - it’s no wonder these doughnuts are nicknamed The Life Changers. This cake-like doughnut has just enough crunch on the outside and moistness in the middle to truly make you wonder how you had ever gone without it."
Old Fashioned are available at Johnny Doughnuts in 5 varieties:
  • Classic (no glaze)
  • Vanilla Glazed
  • Maple Glazed
  • Salted Chocolate Caramel
  • Chocolate Maple Glazed
I was excited to see old fashioned donuts taken so seriously.  Often, old fashioned are only plain.  Why wouldn't you want the crunchy exterior of a old fashioned, plus the sweet deliciousness of glaze? Why do I need to pick?

Anyway, our assorted boxes had all but the plain ones.  The old fashioned turned out to be the best of our assortment.
Maple Glazed.  $3.25.
This was an incredible donut.  Let me just lead with that.  Like the raised donuts, it was also massive.

I'm not normally very excited about old fashioned donuts, so I took a chunk of one of these, just for purposes of reviewing really.  I was planning to gorge on fritters and raised donuts instead.  But, one bite into this, and I turned right back around and took more.

First, the texture was perfect.  Crunchy on the outside, dense and moist inside.  They also nailed the nooks and crannies and jaggy bits.

But that isn't what set this apart.  No, it was the flavor that set it apart.  The base dough was unlike anything I'd ever had before, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Which, honestly, doesn't seem appealing to me.  I thought it would just taste like Pumpkin Spice Season, Christmas, or something, trendy but not great.  But here, the spices were strong enough to taste, for sure, but subtle enough to not scream spice cake.  I was fascinated by the flavor, and really enjoyed it.

The maple glaze was also phenomenal.  Sweet, maple-y, and crusty in all the right ways.  The sweetness complimented the slightly savory base nicely.

This donut was an absolute winner.  Sweet crusty glaze, crispy but not oily fried exterior, moist, dense flavorful interior.  Hands down the best old fashioned donut I've ever had.  I'd get another in a heartbeat, and I'd love to try some of the other flavor glazes too.
Chocolate Salted Caramel. $3.25.
I loved the maple glazed so much that I was excited to try the chocolate salted caramel version.  It sounded like a winner, and the visible caramel made me quite excited.

Interesting, I didn't like this.  The chocolate and caramel just really didn't go with the base flavor, at least to me.

I'd love to try the classic vanilla glazed old fashioned too, but I think the maple is likely the winner.


So, moving on.

Fritters tend to be my favorite donuts.  Does this surprise you in any way?  Take something already decadent, and make it even worse for you, and of course I'll want it.

Johnny Doughnuts makes a classic apple fritter, but they also make a blueberry caramel apple version (that I didn't get to try), and a "Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang", a gluten-free offering (although, they aren't a gluten-free facility, so, be careful if that matters to you).

Fritters are slightly more expensive than the regular donuts ($3.50 vs $3.25), and not included in the regular dozens, but, since I love fritters I asked that we order a few of those too.

The fritters were good, but, the old fashioned remained my favorite.
Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang. $3.50.
"The Fritter Thang is filled with chunks of fresh fruit, topped with vanilla glaze and heres the best part – it tastes like a doughnut should taste! With texture similar to our Old Fashioneds, this gem – a WHEAT FREE DOUGHNUT?! – is a rarity in the doughnut world, and loved by wheat-free and wheat-loving treatseekers alike."

I read many rave reviews about this, from gluten-free and non-gluten free folks.  It was actually the first thing I went for when our donuts arrived.  It was certainly the most unique.  It was also my least favorite.

It was a crazy looking thing, jagged and all over the place.  One of my co-workers said it looked like a chunk of coral.  It was coated in a thick layer of the tasty vanilla glaze.  I did like the crispy "legs" and the sweet glaze, but, I didn't really like the base flavor of the dough.  It tasted kinda like whole wheat to me (which is amusing given that it was wheat free).  Sorta too "healthy" tasting for me.  Inside the folds were juicy blueberries, a totally different sort of thing to put into a donut than the standard apple chunks.

My co-worker who really liked it said it was like a cross between a blueberry muffin and a fritter, which was a great description.  There is no reason not to combine these things, and I don't know why fritters are always apple.  Blueberries are better, and blueberry muffins are so standard, so, why not blueberries in donuts?

Anyway, I appreciated this for its uniqueness, but I wasn't really sold on the wheat-free base.  I would have happily consumed it, but, luckily, we had many other choices around, and I passed this off to someone else after I cut off a big chunk.
Apple Fritter. $3.50.
"Caramelized apple chunks folded into our raised dough in this rustic fritter."

And finally, the classic fritter.  The donut I always describe as "the king of donuts".  In a box of donuts, unless I'm in a really strange mood, it is the one I nearly always go for.

This was a very good, totally classic execution of a fritter.  It had plentiful chunks of soft, sweet apple, caramelized and nicely spiced.  The care put into the apple was unlike most fritters, as I don't think they are normally caramelized and spiced like this.  It was crazy moist inside, yet crispy outside.  It was a bit oily, but, that is true of most fritters.  It was big and dense, like a big ol' fritter should be.  While the other donuts all seemed super sized, this one seemed normal, but, that is because fritters are always freakishly huge.  It was perfectly coated in plenty of sweet glaze.

There was nothing unexpected here, but every aspect of it was spot on.  A very good fritter.  I'd gladly have another.

Encounter #2, October 2016

My office can be a wonderful place.  Like, when I get in on a Friday morning and there is an e-mail saying, "Whoops, we mis-ordered donuts, and have several extra dozen donuts today, from Johnny Donuts.  Come and get them."  Let's just say, I went running.

This group also ordered an assortment, including many of the raised and old fashioned donuts I had before, but also, they had a few new items: cinnamon rolls, cinnamon twists, and bismarks!

I was thrilled to get to try more items, but, my favorite this time around was the super sweet vanilla iced Sprinkly Guys.  I think I was just in a sweet mood.


"Cinnamon lovers rejoice!  With cinnamon wrapped, rolled and twisted into the abyss of this specialty raised dough, you’ll get the perfect cinnamon flavor in every bite. Not to mention, with their twists and turns they are really like doughnut art."
Cinnamon creations are available in 4 varieties: vanilla glazed or chocolate maple glazed cinnamon rolls, or cinnamon sugar or glazed cinnamon twists.
Vanilla Glazed Cinnamon Roll.
I opted to try a vanilla glazed cinnamon roll.  Like all the donuts, these were massive.

The cinnamon roll itself was fairly unremarkable, just in that it didn't break the mold in quite the same way as some of the other Johnny Doughnuts do.  The dough was moist, there was ample cinnamon between the folds, and it was good, and I liked the sweet vanilla glaze, slightly crusty, but not in a bad way.  But overall, it was just a good donut-style cinnamon roll, not a game changer.


And finally ... the ones I had been waiting for: bismarks!
"What is a bismark you say? To put it simply, they are the Holy Grail of filled doughnuts. With homemade jams and custards oozing out of them, they are what we call ‘serious doughnuts.’ We suggest having a napkin and a friend nearby, because you will feel compelled to share these beauties with the rest of the world."
Bismarks are available with fruit fillings (wild berry jam, strawberry peach jam, raspberry jam) or custards (lime mascarpone, chocolate glazed with vanilla cream).
Wild Berry Jam .
The fruit filled bismarks are all coated in sugar.

The dough was the same nice yeasty dough as the other raised donuts, as expected.
Wild Berry Jam: inside.
The filling was quite generous, no skimping here.  It was a sweet berry goo.  I have no real reason why, but I didn't like it.  It was just ... berry goo.

I had kinda over-done it with donuts by the time I tried this one though, so I think this was my own fault.  I'd like to try it again when I wasn't overwhelmed with donuts.

Encounter #3, November 2016

Another month, another donut party.  We again ordered dozens.
Dozen and dozens of donuts.
This time the person making the order went more traditional, picking 2 raised (classic glazed and sugar daddy), 2 old fashioned (maple glazed and chocolate salted caramel), and 2 bismarks (wild berry jam and lime mascarpone), rather than the assortments, ordering by the dozen each.

Over the course of the day, I tried almost all of the donuts.
Sugar Daddy Raised Dozen.
The raised donuts were as I remembered - large, puffy, fluffy, moist, not oily, decent raised donuts.  The sugar daddy and classic glazed were perhaps boring choices, but likely the crowd pleasers.  They are classics for a reason.

Of the raised donuts though, I still prefer the sprinkly guys, as I'm a sucker for icing and sprinkles.
Lime Mascarpone Bismark, Dozen.
I wasn't into the wild berry bismark before, so this time I tried the lime mascarpone.  I was excited for a cream filled donut, and for mascarpone in particular, but, I don't care for lime, so I was a bit hesitant.

And ... yeah, while the donut itself was the expected fluffy raised donut, the lime mascarpone was too eggy and limey for my taste.
Maple Glazed Old Fashioned Dozen.
The maple glazed old fashioned remained my absolute favorite, and I managed to consume an entire one in one sitting, which, if you saw how big these were, you would realize actually is a bit of an accomplishment.

I just love the texture of the cake donut inside, and the spicing that makes it taste almost hearty or even healthy.  The slightly crispy exterior is great too, and the insanely generous amount of very sweet, crusty, maple glaze is to die for.  The glaze is very sweet, but the base donut isn't, so it just combines perfectly.

I tried the chocolate salted caramel old fashioned again too, to give it another chance, and this time, I tried it first, before I had any possible donut fatigue.  But ... yeah, I didn't like it, that flavor combination just does't work for me.

Encounter #4, December 2016: The Truck!

One very chilly day in December, I was walking down the street, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... a Johnny Doughnut truck.  I was excited to see it in person, but it was closed up, and not open for business.  I assume it was just out doing deliveries, ducked into a store to check out a sale rack, and didn't give it another though (ok, that's a lie, I did wonder who the lucky recipient of the donuts was).  To my amazement, when I emerged from the store a mere 10 minutes later, the truck was set up and opening for business.  The better part?  Um, they were giving free donuts to customers of the store I had just left.  My morning was suddenly looking *much* better!
"The Newb"
Johnny Doughnuts actually has 3 different trucks, "The Original", a serious truck used for large events like Off the Grid, "The Butler", a van with an amazing doughnut display bolted on the outside, and, "The Newb", which is the one I encountered.
Doughnut Display.
As you can see, the side of the truck raises up to form an awning, and behind it, a doughnut display!  This truck has some serious curb appeal.

The window revealed an assortment of raised doughnuts (Lime Poppy Seed, Zebra, Strawberry, Blueberry, Classic Glazed, both types of Sprinkly Guys, and Classic Chocolate), plus the Wheat-Free Fritter Thangs and Crodoughs (my first sighting!).

Not pictured here, because he was still doing it after I took the photo, is the names of all the doughnuts, written onto the glass.
Ordering Area.
The ordering window next to the display had another display, with even more options: Assorted Old Fashioned (classic glazed, salted caramel chocolate), Caramel Apple Fritters, Maple Glazed Bars, Bismarks (Wild Berry Jam, Lime Mascarpone, and a seasonally decorated Chocolate Vanilla Cream., and Cinnamon Rolls.


When I encountered the truck, I had already tried nearly every doughnut they had on board.  I knew the raised doughnuts were solid, as were the fritters and cinnamon rolls, but that I really liked the Old Fashioned.  I knew the bismarks and fritter thangs were my least favorites.  But I also hadn't tried the crodough.  I didn't really have a choice, did I?

For the unfamiliar, the crodough is Johnny Doughnut's version of a Cronut, the trademarked famed croissant + doughnut hybrid of 2013 fame.  In the past 3 years, these sorts of items have been popping up everywhere, including the last place I ordered team donuts from, Donut Savant, where the cronut didn't impress, and even across the world in Sydney, where I had an ok version at Bécasse, and even at Dunkin' Donuts, where, yes, it is just as mediocre as you'd expect.

Johnny Doughnuts describes theirs as:
"This flaky piece of heaven! Our Crodough has laminated layers, just like a croissant. We let these unique doughnut-wanna-bes rise before gently placing them into the frier to become the doughnuts they so desperately want to be. Sometimes rolled in Cinnamon Sugar, or perhaps topped with Chocolate glaze, we make sure the custard is filled through every. Single. Layer."
I was very curious to see how a doughnut-croissant hybrid from a good place would be.  Spoiler: amazing, and my favorite Johnny Doughnut item so far (and it really isn't just because it is a hyped item, believe me, I've had a lot of mediocre cronuts!)
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough.  $3.50.
Like all the Johnny Doughnuts, this thing was not for wimps.  While the other doughnuts are all massive in their diameter, this one is massive in its height!  Look at the thing!

It was absolutely coated in cinnamon and sugar, and the coating went perfectly with the crispy fried dough exterior.  I loved how it was slightly crisp on the outside from being fried.

It was a bit hard to just bite into as it was so tall, but I didn't mind ripping (and later, once I slowed down a bit, cutting) it into pieces.
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough: Inside.
But the crodough isn't just a well fried hunk of doughnut dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  It was remarkable just in that way, like any good fried dough from a state fair, or a churro on the street, but this had more to give.

The dough was layered like a croissant, but, not flaky like one, as it is fried rather than baked.  It was dense, slightly sweet, and I liked the taste and texture of this dough more than the regular doughnuts event.

But it still had more to go.  Inside, was custard filling, a decent amount, all along the middle layer.  The cream distribution was pretty good, although you can see in this cross-section that the left-hand side didn't have any cream in this part.  The pastry cream inside was rich, creamy, vanilla custard, tasty on its own, and likely the same filling that goes into the chocolate glazed vanilla cream filled bismarks.

This was a winner all around.  I liked the crispy exterior and the dense interior.  I loved the cinnamon sugar coating.  The cream filling was quality.  If you like churros, state fair fried dough, boston cream doughnuts, or really, just tasty fried things, sugar, and cream, go for one of these, highly recommended.

Encounter #5, July 2017

Another day, another, "Hey, leftover donuts!" email at my office.  I know, hard life.  And, another one that offered up the vendor: Johnny Donuts.  I went running.  Only quasi figuratively.

The selection remaining was great, and I was able to snag not only a whole donut for myself (recall that these are MASSSIVE donuts!), but also cut off chunks of a few favorites that others had already broken into.

I again got to try the cakey maple old fashioned, still really well seasoned and flavorful, dense and moist inside, and crispy outside and perfectly crusted with glaze.  I also tried a chunk of a raised blueberry glazed donut, again, crazy lofted, yeasted, moist, and more interesting than your standard donut due to the potato base, with flavorful fruity glaze.  I was happy with both of those, but, I opted to take a full size cinnamon roll, try give that another chance.
Vanilla Glazed Cinnamon Roll.
I was again unimpressed with the cinnamon roll.

It was a fine cinnamon roll, don't get me wrong.  Fluffy, well risen dough, good cinnamon between the folds, totally covered in crusty sweet vanilla glaze.  The inner most ring was super moist, the outer layers more crisp, giving some contrast.  There were also some little raisins in there that I could do without, but, I guess added a bit more interest.

But it was just a cinnamon roll.  I again felt like it was a waste of a Johnny Donut opportunity, as their other offerings are far more unique than standard donuts, and this was just barely a step above a normal roll.  It was also much better when warmed up.

Now I know to go back to my favorites though, and not try another cinnamon roll.

Encounter #6, February 2018

Yup, another day, another "hey, extra Johnny Donuts!" email at my office.  After no one else claimed the rest, I ended up having ... uh, a few more ...
Maple Glazed Old Fashioned.
The maple glazed old fashioned is the one I first grabbed, and it continues to be my favorite.

I really love the texture and flavor of the base, and this one came even more generously coated in maple glaze than normal.  Score.
Sugar Daddy.
Doesn't the Sugar Daddy look smaller?  I am pretty sure it got smaller, at least in diameter.  It also didn't look that exciting I guess, as no one claimed it.  I put it out of its misery later in the day.

A nice, fluffy, raised donut, decent sugar coating, but yes, not particularly exciting.
Remember how my assorted box before didn't have the Zebra?  Well, now I had a chance to try it.  So when it was still there after a few calls to eat the donuts, you know I had to take it.

It was as I expected, the same fluffy raised potato base, the same sweet vanilla glaze, this time, just complimented by a bit of chocolate glaze.

I liked the glaze more than before, nicely sweet, and the chocolate helped balance it.
Wheat Free Fritter Thang.
Finally, I tried a chunk of the wheat free fritter thang.

I still don't really care for the flavor of these, but, they really are ridiculous looking creations.
Johnny Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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!