Saturday, May 19, 2018

85°C Bakery Cafe, Pasadena

Travelin' Tues, Bakery Review Thurs, Chain Review Mon ... I could pick any of these categories to publish about 85°C Bakery Cafe, a chain of bakery cafes not found in San Francisco.  But chain review day it is.

85°C is a Taiwanese based chain of bakery cafes, with 1,000+ locations worldwide, including a slew of locations around the Los Angeles area (the first US location opened in Irvine).  It is a fairly impressive company, founded only in 2003, first US location in 2008, and now seemingly everywhere around there.

This is no American style bakery and cafe though, they feature predominantly Japanese and Taiwanese items, and everything is shockingly inexpensive.  The focus is on quality, freshness, and affordability.  Nearly every time I visit LA, I seem to wind up walking by one.  

I've previously looked in, drooled, but needed to move on to my other plans.  On my recent visit to Pasadena however, I sought out 85°C explicitly, so I could finally try the goodies that so often beckoned to me.
ZOMG, #allTheBakedGoods
It was just one visit, by myself, so I had to narrow down my choices, which was ridiculously difficult.  I wanted it all.

I loved what I did select though, and will return again in a heartbeat.

If only they'd open one in San Francisco ...

Setting

This particular visit was to the location in Old Town Pasadena, but they have locations throughout the Los Angeles region, Texas, and, worldwide obviously.
Corner Location.
I don't know if intentional or not, but I swear every location I have seen is located on a corner.  Maximum windows, double store front, why not?

The locations are also all huge.  And, if you go in the afternoon or evening, always quite busy.
Front Seating.
A small seating section is adjacent to the cake display cases, with very basic metal chairs/tables, but most seating is in back.
Back Seating.
A spacious area with a long communal table and fancier tables fills the other side adjacent to the drink area.

That said, most people seem to be getting big boxes of goodies to go, and it was relatively empty when I visited (granted, it was 9am on a Saturday!)  Every other time I've ever walked by one, it has been packed.

Drinks

Along with the bakery, the other section of the establishment is drinks, ranging from milk teas and slushes to hot and iced espressos and teas.  In Taiwan, apearantly this is what they are known for, where Taiwanese style bakeries are far more common, and the coffee sets them apart.  In the US ... things are reversed.

Coffee is actually where the name 85°C comes from:
"We believe that coffee holds its flavor best at a steady temperature of 85 degrees Celsius. To us, the name 85°C symbolizes our devotion to provide coffee of the highest quality. We hope to give our customers the best drink possible."
They take the coffee in particular seriously, offering no drip coffee, only espresso based beverages.
Drink Prep Area
Drinks are made in side portion of the space, ordered when you pay for baked goods, but made to order, so your number gets called out when ready and you fetch from the counter.

This area has a classic joint bubble tea and espresso bar setup, which I’ll admit looked pretty crazy to see side-by-side.

Again, if I wanted more, there were many great things here (included taro based lattes and frozen smoothies), but, I skipped it.  This time.   I was also drawn in by the ones topped with sea salt cream ... again, next time.

Self-Serve

One full side of the very large space is filled with self-service items, mostly breads, pastries, sponge cakes, and tarts that you must grab with tongs and place on a tray, plus some packaged items like cookies.

These items are all mixed throughout the displays, with the exception of a few chilled items, so I'll do my best to break down the categories and still provide photos.

85°C make it a point that items are all baked on-site.  Not frozen and reheated, baked fresh.  And not just daily.  They claim to produce 50 varieties of pastries baked fresh ... hourly.

I do believe it, actually.  While I was there, I saw a constant stream of fresh items being brought out.  All of my selections were indeed warm, even though not kept under heat lamps.  And they clearly rotate through many items, you might not always be able to find something you had last time.
Cashier.
You take your tray of goodies up to a cashier in the front (e.g. the long line), where you can also order cakes and drinks.
My Goodies: Squid Ink Bacon, Marble Taro, Taro Puff.
I settled, finally, on one savory item (to have alongside lunch later), and two sweet taro items.  I was so drawn in by the taro!

My items were each placed into individual plastic bags, since I was getting them togo.

Packaged Chilled Items

Chilled Packaged Items.
The first display case of self-serve items I believe is chilled, packaged items.  Here you could find a fairly random assortment of things, "shells" filled with taro or custard, "coconut snow cubes", cheesecake bites, cream puffs, red bean panna cotta cups, and a packaged "honey cake".

Basically, it seemed to be all the things that could be packaged up individually for easy self-service, but required refrigeration?
Half Moon Cakes.
On top of this area was large half moon cakes, almond or pork sun (labelled backwards, lol).  These are vanilla sponge cake with cream, and toppings I think just on the outside edges.

Sponge Cakes

Next, moving into the main self-serve section is tons and tons of trays of goodies, starting mostly with sponge cakes.
Tarts, Sponge Cakes, Danishes.
This section had 3 types of rolled sponge cake (coconut custard, chocolate cream, matcha red bean), and egg custard tarts on the top row, and assorted pastries on the bottom (coconut twist, taro danish, spinach kale danish, ham & cheese.

No real rhyme or reason to this lineup the best I could tell, sponge cakes, tarts, and both sweet and savory danishes all together?

On top was package nougat candy, pineapple cakes, and a really fascinating "sun pastry" that I impulse grabbed, but did put back.  It was like a soft pastry-cookie, and strangely flat like a pancake?  I read later that this is a traditional Taiwanese item, filled with a chewy sweet filling.  I wish I"d kept it!

I came *so* close to grabbing the taro danish too.  Flaky pastry.  Taro.  Yes!  But I moved on.
Tarts, Danishes.
This section continued with different tarts (Mixed Berry, Hokkaido Cheese, Coconut Raisin), and one more danish style (Apple Almond).

The offerings on top, packaged up, were cookies (chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia, fudge nut brownie), and mini lemon cakes.  I'm curious who visits and gets cookies here, given the other selections!

Breads

85* makes 4 main styles of breads: Taiwanese style, Japanese style, European style, Toast style (e.g. loaves), plus some danishes and other pastries.

The bread menu is further broken up into 7 categories: Puff Pastry. Savory Bread. Sweet Bread. Toast. Danish. Multigrain. Yudane. I wanted nearly everything.

Since I was just getting treats for one day (and actually, only planning for breakfast and maybe something to have alongside lunch … ) I had to limit my selections, particularly as things are HUGE. I picked a savory, a sweet, and a puff pastry.

Toast

The "Toast" category is certainly the most boring, just loaves of bread (white, multigrain, milk).

European Style

European Style & Yudane.
The second least exciting section of the bread menu for me, European breads, although if I really just wanted some hearty bread, the berry multigrain looked appealing.

This area featured large loaves of plain, walnut raisin, and berry multigrain on the top row, walnut sesame on the second.

The second row was still bread forward, but more interesting options, like cream cheese stuffed chocolate or cranberry bread, known as Yudane.

"Yudane" was a concept I wasn't familiar with, but seemed to just be cream cheese stuffed buns?  I'd gladly try one (probably the chocolate cream cheese?), but, with one day of snacks only, this category also was low priority for me.

On the bottom, a few more savory breads, garlic cheese and salted butter.

Danish

Danishes and other pastries.
The final category I didn't get anything from was danishes, although this was a hard call, and they seemed scattered across most of the display cases.

I love my pastries, and this one had a slew of heavy hitters: the "Boroh", with or without cream filling, seen on the top row here, alongside Portuguese style egg tarts .

The second row had puff pastry items, considered a separate menu category than the danishes a distinction I didn't quite understand.  Here there was a "Jumbo" guava cheese strudel, potato cheese turnover, and chocolate croissant.  I laughed that the strudel was the only item named "jumbo" and was less ridiculously oversized than many other things.

The bottom was more puff pastry based items, another "Jumbo" strudel (coconut), their play on a kouign amann, and cinnamon twists.

Puff Pastry

The puff pastry category was too hard to look past.  Some were more standard (like the cinnamon twists and turnovers), and those pearl sugar topped strudels (guava cheese, coconut), but then there were puffs filled with great sounding options (milk butter? taro!).
Taro Puff Pastry. $2.15.
 "This puff pastry is light, flaky, and layered with delicious taro filling inside."

I went for the taro puff pastry as the last item I picked up. I was planning to get just one taro item, and I had sooo many choices (the aforementioned danish, several different sweet breads, cakes, and more), but … it was an impulse move, I’ll admit it.

And it was the best move, it turns out.

It was fantastic!

Incredible, really. Still hot. Basically kinda like a sweet buttery croisstant, very, very generously stuffed with taro. The bread was not quite as flaky as a European style croissant, but, a bit flaky still. I loved it. Warm, soft, sweet.
Taro Puff Pastry: Inside.
And inside? Yes, that taro filling I was after.

So generously stuffed, a lovely taro mash. Sweetened, but not too much. Amazing real taro flavor. Loved it.

The creamy taro filling and the puff pastry were magic together. I’d have one of these for breakfast, or a afernoon treat, anyday. At 480 calories, it wasn't light, but also was not worse than a scone or any other breakfast pastry from a bakery or chain, and it only had 6 grams of sugar (unlike what you see at Starbucks, Panera, etc), although 22 grams of fat.

Truly incredible, and I’d get another in a heartbeat.

Sweet Bread

And then we get to the sweet breads.  From this category ... I'll be honest.   I wanted it all.

The standard items of glazed cinnamon rolls, fascinating twists, and fruity breads were easy enough to look past.  But other options include a HUGE brioche loaf that everyone adores. "Berrytales" and "Mangotales" that are also signature items, stuffed with fruit and cream cheese.

Chocolate fans have sooo man options, from simple chocolate buns, to a huge chocolate chip "bowl", to a chocolate cookie bread with a cookie crumble topping, to cream cheese stuffed chocolate buns. Coffee lovers? Yup, they have coffee breads, coffee breads filled with milk butter, and mocha bread.

Want creamy pudding filling?  Many options there too. "Milk Pudding" filled, "Premium Milk", "raisin milk butter", and more. You could go for red bean filled, a fascinating looking sugared cream cheese brioche, or, my other strong choice ... the taro swirl.

Picking one was nearly impossible, but, I did it.
Sweet Breads.
The top row here was all large sweet breads, some of their most popular items: the brioche, mocha bread, and marble taro.  My understanding is that the brioche and marble taro are literally brought out every 2-5 minutes, as they disappear that fast, and they often keep some near the register just in case the racks are empty. Or something like that.  Both high on my list, as simple as the brioche looked, and sounded.

The next row, more sweet options, starting with two coffee breads - one filled with milk butter and topped with chocolate chips, the other filled with red bean and mochi, and a chocolate cookie bread covered in oreo crumbs.

And finally, the bottom row, another chocolate option (a small chocolate yudane bun), the premium milk, and a coconut twist.

The "Premium Milk" was very high on my list, a soft sweet milk bread, filled with white chocolate.  But I couldn't move past the marble taro.
Marble Taro.  $2.40.
“Our top seller Marble Taro is a sweet bread made with mixed grains and filled with signature taro filling.”

Yes, I went for another taro option, the huge, huge, huge Marble Taro.  It was a beast!  But it promised taro in the bread, and taro inside, AND is the top seller?  Also, it was a beautiful purple color.

I had to get it, even though it was insanely large. Much heavier (physically too!), than the puff, 640 calories, far more sugar (33 grams), but hey, less fat (only 16 grams since not puff pastry I guess). I had read many testimonies that it keeps fine for a day, and you can heat it up later successfully.  So I had plans for this.

But of course I had to try it fresh! It too was hot.

The bread was entirely different from the taro puff pastry. A sweet bread, slightly taro flavored, more hearty, since it uses mixed grains (rye flakes, rolled oats, rolled wheat, flax seeds, millet seeds, sesame seeds, and whole wheat flour), in addition to the regular flour and cake flour base, yet still very soft and fluffy.

It was fine, but wasn't that taro-forward, at least in the bread ...
Marble Taro: Inside.
From the cross section you can see better why it wasn't very taro-y in the bread itself, there really was just a marbling on the outside, the bread was the plain multigrain.  But inside the taro delivered, plenty of the taro mash.  Creamy, smooth, but with bits of real taro, great flavor.  Given the huge size of the bread, sooo much taro filling.  I love that filling.

A very different item from the taro puff though, and it was good.  It really is just a question of what you are in the mood for, a flakier puff pastry, or a more bread-like item.  I really liked the filling again, but I'd like to try the taro danish and swirl before I'd go back to this.
Sweet and Savory Breads.
The top row here was savory, with a s spicy sausage bread, and the space for more cheese dogs, but that section was empty (no fear, the other one had plenty),.

Row two started savory with garlic cheese bread and ham and cheese, but moved sweet with the berrytale.

The bottom was all sweet, with the raisin milk butter, taro swirl, and mangotale.

I had read so many things about the taro swirl, it looked like puff pastry (but isn't made from it), topped with powdered sugar, and filled with the taro.  But since I picked the taro puff already, I didn’t want both.  Doubling up on taro was fine, but I wanted to try to do more diverse bread type. I think it would have been similar, just more flaky

The taro swirl really is next on my "To Try" list.

Savory Bread

The savory line up at 85* is fascinating, in the way that Asian bakeries are.  Bacon, hot dogs, sausages, corn, squid ink, pork floss, galore. Lots of mayo and cheese.
Savories.
The back side of the chilled section had some savories, including the super random ham, tuna, & corn sandwich, even more egg tarts, an espresso bun, and a bacon & cheese roll.

I wanted bacon, so this was on my list of savories to try, but not high enough.
Puff Pastry & Savories.
More savories were mixed into the next section.

The top row here was a milk pudding filled roll and the taro puff pastry I adored.

Below that, a pork sung bun, a milk butter puff pastry (what is milk butter anyway?), and ... the cheese dog!

On the bottom, more savories: cheese bread (cream cheese stuffed and cheese topped, a crazy sounding combo to me), Hawaiian chicken (with tomato sauce? A la pizza?), and a butterhorn.

I was drawn in many directions.  I wanted the cheesy dog.  I wanted the pork floss.  But there were many more savories that also called out.
Assorted Sweet and Savory Breads.
The top row was non-savory: chocolate croissants, MORE egg tarts, and mango bread.

Next, a huge chocolate chip 'bowl', alongside the start of the squid ink line-up, with corn, chicken, and cheese. Then, a giant whole wheat roll topped with mushroom and cheese.

On bottom, more squid ink, a version with cheese and bacon, one just called a "calmari stick", and, a sugar and cream cheese topped round brioche.

Squid ink was the fascinating, so I picked one of these to be my savory choice, passing up the hotdogs.
Squid Ink Bacon.  $1.80.
Once I decided to go for squid ink, I still had a slew of options. A cheesy “calamari stick”, one topped with corn and chicken, and, one with bacon. Well, that choice was easy. If there is bacon, pick bacon.

This I planned for later on, as part of my lunch. Cheesy, meaty, savory, seemed appropriate alongside some salad right?

But it was hot, so I needed to try it fresh too!

The bread was much different from the others, chewy, not as fluffy as I associate with Asian bakeries, yet still quite soft.  It had a complex flavor, but didn't actually taste particularly squid-y.  The ink certainly colored it, but, the fishy flavor was quite mild.

The bacon and cheese though were quite detectable. On top was two lines of melted cheese (Swiss), plus breadcrumbs, which both gave it some nice visual appeal.
Squid Ink Bacon: Inside.
Inside was like a filled croissant, like a standard ham and cheese croissant, with melted Swiss cheese and chunks of bacon.  When I heated it up later, the cheese melted nicely.

The Swiss was a great match for the bacon, very flavorful.  The bacon pieces were a flabby style though, not quite my thing.

I describe this as interesting, and much better than a ham and cheese croissant, but, not particularly awesome.  Next time? CHEESY DOG!

Displayed Cakes

Most of the cakes are separate from the other baked goods, not self-serve.  They clearly don't trust us to serve these beauties ourselves.  Or maybe because they require refrigeration?

Instead, you order at the cashier, and on every transaction, without fail, they ask, "And would you like any cakes or drinks?"

"Cakes" is not quite accurate to describe this area, as it contains far more than just cakes, but that is what they call it.  Broken into full size cakes, medium sized bars cakes, slices, rolls, cups, and more.  All are very complex, not just sheet cakes, mostly all layer cakes, and all beautifully decorated.

And yes, taro options here too.  So many options.
Cakes.
The top row was 8" full size cakes: Taro Snow, Royal Chocolate Strawberry, Mango Creme Brulee, Black Forest, Fruit Cheesecake,  and something chocolately and square Deluxe Chocolate Mousse.

Next individual slices: Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake, Taro Snow, Classic Tiramisu, Deluxe Chocolate Mousse, Deluxe Strawberry, Cream Cheesecake.

Below that, bar shaped cakes, called "Full Month Cakes", which looked to serve 4-5 people: Fruit Topped Cream Cheesecake, Black Forest, Chocolate Cookie Crumble, a randomly packaged honey cake, and more slices (Mount Formage, Red Velvet).

These names don't really do the items justice.  The item called "Mango Creme Brulee" is actually "Vanilla sponge cake layered with vanilla brulee and mango mousse. Decorated with fresh mango, strawberries, chocolate, and mango cream."

So many great things.

Taro Snow.  I resisted the urge to *also* get cakes, but that was at the top of the list.
More Cakes.
That was only half the cakes.

The next section again had whole cakes on top: Deluxe Chocolate Mousse, Deluxe Strawberry, Mango Creme Brulee, Sea Salt Coffee Brulee, Red Velvet, Strawberry Chocolate Mousse.

Next, cups and slices.  Mango Panna Cotta Cup, slicesof Strawberry Chocolate Mousse, Sea Salt Coffee Brulee, Red Velvet, Black Forest, Mango Creme Brulee.

The bottom row had individuals: Chocolate Delight, Mango Delight, Coffee Cream Brulee Cup, Fruit Jelly Cup, White Chocolate Strawberry Cup, and a Fresh Fruit Tart.
85 C Bakery Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Biena Snacks

Biena is ... another snack food company trying to change what Americans grab for an afternoon snack, aiming for healthier, higher protein, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, etc, etc.
"Biena prides itself on creating a delicious protein-packed, high-fiber flavored line of chickpeas sourced right here in the USA! Did we mention they are also gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO verified? We must be doing something right, because we've sold over 1 billion chickpeas to date (humble brag 😉 )."
Well, ok then.  Not that I'm one to just reach for a bag of chips, and I do love crunchy snacks, I was highly skeptical of these as I don't tend to like chickpeas.

The basic chickpea snacks come in 7 flavors, from simple sea salt, to spicy habanero, to "classic chip flavors" like sour cream and onion or bbq, to sweet honey roasted or cinnamon crunch.  And then they make chocolate coated ones, milk, dark, Girl Scouts Thin Mints branded ... which I was even more skeptical of.  Chocolate covered chickpeas?  Those just didn't sound good ...at all.
Packaging.
The snacks come portion controlled into packages that were actually decently sized, more than enough for a snack.
Rockin' Ranch.
They ... were ok.

They were really crispy, crunchy, satisfying in that way, just like corn nuts.  Nice to munch on, would be great as a salad topper.

And the ranch seasoning (tomato, garlic, onion powders, salt, sugar, etc) was flavorful, each piece well coated.  It sorta helped mask the chickpea nature, but, at the end of the day, they were indeed still just chickpeas.  Flavorful, crunchy, but, chickpeas.

I liked trying something different, and it was nice to have a savory snack, but, I'm not going to go for chickpeas of my own accord.
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Muriel's Donuts, Lebanon, NH

I'll just start with this: I know this review is going to make people sad.  It made *me* sad to write it.

Muriel's is an institution in the Lebanon area.  A donut shop, as ridiculously old school as it gets, helmed by a woman named Muriel, who has been in business since 1967.  She runs it alone, even though she is nearly 80 years old.  It is impressive, really.

I grew up having a Muriel's donut once a month, when my church had them after mass.  I remember being partial to the sugar donuts.  But it had been years since I had one.  And since then, I've had a lot of donuts.  I generally have at least one a week.  (Shh!)
The Muriel's Donuts Experience.
I went to Muriel's on a mission, despite the bad weather, despite it being closed even when supposed to be open, causing me to go back again.  I met Muriel, who is amazing.  I experienced the charm.  I got donuts.

But ... I didn't want another one.  I didn't want to finish one.  I'm sorry.

Setting

Muriel's is not located alongside any other business.  No, it is on a side street, next to houses.  It is located in a house, for that matter.  If you didn't know to be looking for it, you'd certainly never find it.

But find it people do.  When I was there, there was a steady stream of visitors, which honestly, puzzled me.  Where did all these people come from?  Its such a small town!
Storefront.
The only marking that tells you that you are at a business, rather than a home, is the sign painted above the window, and the posting of the hours.

Open every day but Sunday, 10am-1pm only.

The hours are ... well, a bit annoying, to be honest.  I wanted a donut for breakfast, but she didn't open until 10am, and I was up much earlier.  Or I've wanted a donut as an afternoon snack, but, alas, closed by then.  But worse, I arrived at 10:05am, and ... there was no one there.  I waited until 10:15am, determined to get a donut, hot and fresh, but, when there was no sign of anyone being there, I decided they must not be opening due to the weather (it was sleet and freezing rain, with a winter advisory in affect.  Like I said ... I really wanted my donut!), and finally gave up.  Other patrons also hesitated in their cars out front, and eventually drove away.

If these hours are not possible for you, you can also purchase her donuts at some gas stations around town, but, only later in the day, and clearly never as fresh.

I went back another time to find her open, but I recommend calling ahead, as the posted hours may not always mean she is open.
Donut Making Area.
But once inside, I was charmed.  It really is just a small front room where you enter and order through a window that looks into the back room, where the donuts are made.

It is there that Muriel is located, making donuts and taking orders.  She greeted me, and others who entered, immediately, pausing her work to take our orders, hand over our goodies, and then went right back to work.  As it was near the holidays, she even took the time to wish me happy holidays.

Off to the left, out of the photo is her board on one side with the dough laid out where she was working, which I didn't photo just to be respectful of her.  Next to that is the fryer ... with a big tub of lard under it.
Jelly Station.
The other side is the jellying station, and cooling racks.

Donuts

Muriel's offers the classics.  But even fewer than you are probably imagining.
Plain Donuts.
One style only, cake donuts.  No raised donuts.

Donuts are available in rings or twisted crullers, all just plain, although you can get them rolled in sugar or cinnamon sugar.  That is it.  She also makes a jelly stick.

But no other toppings, no other fillings.  Just simple donuts.

Very fresh donuts, on cooling racks right in front of you.  Chances are high they'll still be warm, as she makes very small batches.

They cost $0.75 each, or are sold by the half or full dozen for a discount.
Donut Bag!
Even if you get a dozen, your donuts do not come in a pink box.  Nope, paper bags are the serving choice at Muriels.

I could feel how hot and fresh my donuts were even just holding the bag, the warmth coming through immediately.  And the grease.  This was taken within moments of receiving my donuts, by the time I drove 5 minutes to my grandmother's house to deliver her one, the bag was ... drenched.
Jelly Stick. $0.75.
This was a very fresh donut.  That I knew.

I loved the crunch to the exterior, caused by the cooling racks imprinting a pattern on the exterior.

But it just tasted fried.  I know donuts are fried, and I like fried things, but this was just too much fried taste for me.  Maybe I just don't like the taste of lard?  I don't know when I last had something actually fried in lard.  It kinda tasted like bad bacon.  But I know the lard helped make it so crispy.

The jelly filling was good, sweet and tasty, likely homemade.

I just didn't like it, nor the way it left my stomach feeling after.

I also had the simple sugared ring donut, which had the same awesome crispy exterior, but it too tasted too fried.  The generous sugar coating helped mask the fried taste a bit, but, I still just didn't care for the fried-ness.

Sadness, as I really wanted to love these donuts, and I know my family members all do, and found the entire experience quite charming, but ... I didn't even want to finish my donutdonut.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wild Roots, Vermont

Before I get into my review of Wild Roots, I need to give some backstory.

In 2012, I discovered a new reason to visit my family in New Hampshire.  That reason was Home Hill Inn, quite literally, the first restaurant I dined at near my hometown that made me excited to return.  It was a small, adorable place, actually a bed and breakfast, with a restaurant open to the public.  My first meal there was mindblowing  - complete with foie gras, scallops, and skate wing that remains one of the best seafood preparations I've ever had.

My second visit, that following summer, was an epic tasting menu in the private room, again, with an amazing seafood prep (this time, halibut).  On that same trip home, I also checked out the Tavern, a more casual pub environment, which, sadly, was not very good.  And I took my entire family, grandmother included, to brunch on the weekend, where they totally redeemed themselves, with creative options like savory breakfast popovers.  The next year, I went again, and it wasn't quite as good, but I was still eager to return on my next visit.

And then Home Hill Inn closed.

I was very disappointed to say the least.  I dined all over town, tried to find somewhere else that I'd like, but, I wasn't ever all that successful (full list is here, if you want to read a lot of reviews!).

Flash forward several years.  The chef left the area, and moved out to Napa.  He learned a lot from the chefs there, working closely with local products, really learning to elevate produce in particular.  He refined his techniques.  And then moved to Denver for a while, again, continuing to focus on working with what is fresh and seasonal.  And then ... after 4 years, he returned back to New England, to found a new restaurant in Vermont, as the Executive Chef, with two other young owners.

That restaurant, is Wild Roots.  It opened only a month or so before my most recent visit to see my family, and, the moment I found out about it.  I immediately made a reservation for myself and my mother, who I knew would appreciate the meal.

And we did.
Lovely Meal.
The cuisine is hyper local, either done in house, or nearby.  This extends far beyond just the produce (which of course does come from nearby farms).  Dairy is from the farm nearby, beer is produced in-state, cheeses are local, bread is baked in house, and even the cured meat and fish is done in house.

Dishes are creative spins on familiar dishes, catering to diners who are adventurous for the rural area, but not totally outside their comfort zones.  The cuisine, and the setting, are comfortable yet refined.

I saw elements and inspiration from Home Hill Inn throughout the experience, but it clearly is the evolution of everything that the chef was doing there, and has learned since, combined with the vision of the other owners.

We had a wonderful meal, and I'll gladly return.

The Experience

Service was good, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, all casually dressed, but not sloppy.
Historic Building.
Wild Roots is located inside what I think is a historic building, located along route 14.  The building was renovated, but retained the old feel.

The curb appeal is legit, a large well tended to brick building, mowed lawns, flowers growing alongside.

A sign out front marks the spot, with directions to park across the street, in a medium size lot.
Entryway.
The entryway is even more inviting, with a host stand inside the front foyer.  Everything is wood, from the floors, to the stairs, to the walls, to the stand itself.

From the stand, you will be lead into several different adjacent rooms for seating, or, if you prefer, outside on the back porch.  I believe there were 3 inside rooms, plus the outside area.  The kitchen is also off this main hallway.

I'm not sure what is upstairs (do people live there?), but the basement also seemed used by restaurant staff.
Bar Area in 2nd Side Room.
The largest room, to the right of the host stand, also includes a bar, with counter seating for 4, plus the actual bar and espresso station.  The rest of the room is filled with small tables, I think mostly for two.

The room is bright any sunny, full of warm tones like the wide blond wood planked floor, light blue walls, white orb lights, and white accent work.  It featured a lovely landscape paining on the walls, a fireplace with light colored birch log, and fresh flowers on the mantel and along the windowsills.

I loved the decor, as it felt so warm, welcoming, and really like stepping into someone's home, albeit one with lots of dining tables.
Small Side Room.
My mom and I were seated in the room across the hall.  This room was smaller, with only 5 tables, but these tables mostly for groups of 5.  There was only one other party seated in this room with us, which lead to a really intimate setting, perfect for catching up on my first night in town.

The decor in this room was similar, but with slightly more darker, bolder tones.  Thinner planked wood floors, dark green wainscoting and picture rail, larger, darker light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

We also had a non-functioning fireplace, mirrors, and artwork on the walls.
Back Patio.
Out back is a (yes, wooden) patio, overlooking the river, with metal tables and chairs, little lights, and red umbrellas to match the doorways.

Folks out here seemed mostly to be having drinks, but we were offered a place out here for our full meal, if we had wanted.
Table and Place Settings.
Our table was natural wood, complete with knots.

Tables were set with cloth napkins, water glasses, and each had a vase with fresh flowers (unique on each table).

Chairs were also wood, darker.  I thought they were fine, but my mom really wanted padding.
Bathroom.
I don't normally include photos or bathroom reviews, but I found even the bathroom charming, again, it felt like I was in someone's house, with a old style mirror, and real hand towels.
Bill.
The charm extended even to the bill, delivered on a wooden (yup, more wood!) clipboard, with a smile and message from our server.
Leftovers!
I'm pretty sure I've NEVER included a review of the leftovers before, but, I couldn't get over the fact that each of our boxes came labelled with the restaurant name, date, and contents.

Of course, for completeness, I'll say that the contents weren't actually packaged up very well, e.g. the pesto dipping sauce was just in the box right along with the veggies, rather than separated out into a little container, etc.  And I did transfer everything to proper storage as soon as we got home, so the labels were entirely unnecessary, but, I thought it was a nice touch.

Drinks

Water was house still or sparkling, both complimentary.  This is something I really appreciate at any restaurant, not just for the cost, but also, so much waste from plastic bottles!

No carafe was left on our table, and my water glass frequently ran out.  I rationed as best I could, but still went empty, and needed to ask for refills more than once.
Wine List.
The wine list is limited.

3 whites available by the glass (one on tap), and 3 by the bottle (two of which are the same as glass offerings).  One rose.  4 reds by the glass (again, one on tap), and 5 by the bottle.

There were strangely no years given on any of the listings.

I was pretty surprised by the list given that one of the owners is a Level II Sommelier, and is passionate about wine.  Perhaps this is just the offerings as they get started, and will expand when they are able?  Or maybe it is highly curated?
Beer, Cocktails, Mocktails.
The beer and cider list was similarly small (4 beer, all local) and two ciders.

The bar program was no slouch though, 6 house cocktails, all with fun names, and interesting ingredients (e.g. Beet Shrub in the "Beeting Heart", local honey in the "Mint to Bee", and more).

Most impressive though was the "Hold the Booze" section.  I'm always appreciative of having non-alcoholic offerings that aren't just Pepsi products.  Here they had "Sodas made with magic", housemade mocktails, iced tea, and some high end bottled sodas (maple soda, Maine root beer).
Montsable Chardonnay, Languedoc, France. $8.
The cocktails sounded fun, but, I wanted only one drink for the night, and opted to go for wine as I thought it would be better to sip alongside my meal.

I asked my server for more information about the white wines, wanting something not too dry, but also not too sweet (my mom wanted sweet though).

Our server wasn't really sure how to answer us, and sent over the Sommelier, who gave us a description, and then just offered to bring us tastes of each, one in each glass, which we shared.  once we picked our selections, she came to just fill those glasses, rather than bringing fresh ones, which I saw as sensible, but I'm sure others might not.

My mom went for the sweet option, from Argentina, and enjoyed it.  I opted for the Chardonnay.

Neither were very good, and I wouldn't want either again.

The Food

The reason we were there, of course, was the for food.  I couldn't wait to experience Chef Peter's food again!

The menu is seasonal, local, and constantly evolving, as you'd expect from a farm to table place.

The savory food menu is broken into 4 sections: Cheese + Meat (basically, a build-your-own charcuterie platter section), To Share (appetizers portioned such that they should be shared), Supper (regular dinner entrees), and Daily Requirements (extra sides of vegetables).

My mom and I agreed to just share everything, and knew we wanted dessert too, so we got just one appetizer (which we were warned was really quite big for only two diners), one main, and one side.  Portions were all quite generous, we were both more than full, and we went home with plenty of leftovers.

Our server asked if we'd like it coursed out as the To Share dish first, and the Daily Requirements with the Supper, which is what we did.  Pacing was good.
Menu.
For a starter, I was drawn in by a few items.  The smoked tomato salmorejo sounded unique, and I was interested to see how it compares to gazpacho.  The cheese and meat lineup was also quite temping, high quality locally produced cheeses, and, house cured meats?  Yes!  In particular, I was eyeing the duck liver pate, particularly once the table next to us got it.   My mom of course put in a vote for the roasted beets (her favorites, but, sorry, just not my thing), or the tuna poke (since she had her first poke with me {at Pine, on my last visit}).  But we opted for the signature dish (or, at least it seems signature to me!), the Farm Share.

Picking a side dish was a no brainer.  We had no need for the tender green salad or baby zucchini + roasted turnip salad, given our giant platter of veggies as a starter.  The heirloom tomatoes, from the local farm down the street, were appealing, except, we literally had plans to go pick strawberries in the morning from that very farm, and to stop at their farm stand after to buy heirloom tomatoes.  We'd be having those at home the next day.  Which left one item: fried garlic scapes.  Which sounded awesome anyway, even if they weren't the only real option for us.

Selecting a Supper was nearly as easy as picking the side, even though there were substantially more options, 7 total, one for each major category: two vegetarian items (one pasta, one bean based), two seafood (one shellfish, one fish), one beef, one chicken, one pork.  The protein options were all fairly classic, nothing too out there, although the creativity of the kitchen shined in the accompaniments and prep.  The beef sirloin doesn't just come with a side of mashed potatoes and uninspired daily veg, but, rather, kale + garlic scape salad, and horseradish aioli.  The fish is tuna steak, served grilled, with charred scallions and smoked chilis.  Oh, and the token veggie pasta dish?  That would be house made stinging nettle dumplings, with brown butter, sage blossoms, and ricotta.  Oh yes.  I nearly ordered that.  But how could I order pasta, no matter how interesting it sounded, when there are scallops on the menu?   Luckily for me, when I proposed this choice to my mom, she immediately said, "oh good, if you said anything else, I was going to say we were sharing".
House Sourdough & Butter.
Soon after we ordered, a bread presentation arrived.  I was going to say "bread basket", but it wasn't a basket.  A ... box?  A wooden tray, with cloth napkin, and warm, house made bread.

And ... it was sourdough.  Doh.  I just don't like sourdough, so I didn't try it.

My mother however loved it.  She wanted to devour the entire bread box on the spot, and I warned her she should save space for the great food that lay ahead.  She still opted for a second slice, and, loved it.  She said it had a great chew, great crust, amazing flavor.  All I could smell was sourdough, and even the smell I dislike.  I'm glad she enjoyed it though, and I give Wild Roots points for serving house made bread, and serving it warm.

The butter I did try, and it was fantastic.  Local whipped butter, perfectly soft and spreadable, and it melted nicely into the warm bread.  It was sprinkled with generous amounts of sea salt, which amped up the flavor.  Seriously quality butter, and, when my mom asked to have the final slice of bread boxed up, she also asked for the rest of the butter.  I don't blame her.
To Share: Farm Share. $14.
"Abundant vegetables, herb dip, bagna cauda."

We went for the Farm Share, mostly because I'd seen photos of it, and, because I was excited to celebrate local vegetables.  Yup, I ordered a giant plate of vegetables, not quite the decadence I normally opt for!

I think my mom was a bit skeptical about this order, as the menu didn't say much.  Our server did describe it, and some of the veggies that would be on it, and let us know that the herb dip of the day was basil salsa verde, and educated us about bagna cauda (I didn't bother cut her off, I'm familiar with it), but still, if you hadn't seen a photo, this might not make sense.

Our server also warned us that it was quite large, particularly for only two people.  "But, don't worry, we have togo boxes!", she chirped.  She also warned the party of 4 next to us that it was large, and it was then that I got concerned that maybe we were crazy for still ordering it as only two people.

When it arrived, we barely knew what to do.  We just had to take it in.  What on earth was in front of us, besides an overwhelmingly large platter of seemingly grilled veggies?  The server who brought it out just said, "here is your farm share", without describing anything, or, giving us a chance to ask.  I wanted to know what was on it!

And so we began our adventure in discovering this dish.  What exactly did we have?

Strawberries.  Zucchini.  Carrots.  Broccoli.  Cucumbers.  Those were all easily identifiable, and grouped together in little piles.

A little harder to spot was the basil, just because sprigs of grilled basil was a bit unexpected.  Pea pods were easy to pick out, once we found them.  Unlike other items that were grouped into sections, the whole pea pods seemed to be scattered about, underneath other things.

I finally saw the purple bell pepper our server had mentioned, there was only one chunk, but it was large.

Garlic scapes.  A green succulent, that I later confirmed was purslane.  All sorts of edible flowers, including editable chive flowers.

So many colors, sizes, and more.  Everything was grilled, except some of the flower petal garnish.  Everything was beautifully seasoned with large chunks of salt.  I loved the salt level.

I'll admit that I wasn't actually excited by most of the vegetables on this platter.  I don't really care for zucchini, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or bell peppers.  Doh.  They were all fine, nicely cooked, with beautiful char marks and grilled flavor, but, just not veggies I was hoping for.  I appreciated that the mini zucchini still had zucchini flowers attached.  I like strawberries, but they did seem a bit out of place on the platter, pickled green strawberries would make more sense perhaps?  They did add a nice pop of color though.

The garlic scapes were a good flavor, but a bit chewy, as expected, much like when my mom had them in her salad at Worthy Kitchen (which, was excellent by the way).

What I ended up enjoying was the more random stuff, like the basil.  Just, simple, grilled basil.  Who knew it could be so tasty?  I really liked the grilled chive flowers.  They were super charred, and I just thought they were awesome and unique.

But the best element for me?  The purslane.  I couldn't get enough of it.  Juicy and crispy, and something I'd love to throw into more salads.  I wasn't quite sure what it was, and asked someone who came to check on us, and he said it was a succulent, but he didn't know what.  I said I thought it might be purslane, but he really didn't know.  I later confirmed that it was.

"You have to dig around a bit", said my mom, as she found a pea pod, "it's just like being in the garden!"  I think really summed this the dish up well.  It really connected you to the garden, to the farm, and to looking a bit deeper to find the goodies you wanted.

The veggies honestly didn't need the dips, as they were so well seasoned, but, I'm a sauces and dips girl, so of course I tried them, particularly as my mom couldn't stop talking about how much she loved the salsa verde.  I'll admit, it was quite flavorful, and I loved the garlic in it.  She didn't care for the bagna cauda, "that doesn't excite me at all", she said, going right back for the salsa verde.

Overall, this was a unique dish, and I'm glad we tried it.  It felt good to eat veggies, and not just a salad, and I'd love to see how this evolves as the seasons change.  We made what barely seemed like a dent in it, and thus went home with a big pile of grilled veggies, which my mom threw onto a bed of mixed greens for lunch the next day, mixing the leftover basil salsa verde with a bit of olive oil to make a vinaigrette that matched perfectly with it.  This meal just kept on giving!
Daily Requirements: Fried Garlic Scapes. $7.
"Lemon mayo, arugula." 

From lovely grilled veggies to fried ones, served with mayo sauce.  Now this was starting to look more like a Julie meal.

This was an incredibly fun dish.

First, lets just talk about the execution of the frying.  They were perfectly crispy.  But moreover, this was some of the best fried batter I've ever had.  It was expertly seasoned, incredibly flavorful, with a bit of kick.  It stuck to the scapes well.  I don't even like chicken, but this made me want fried chicken.  (Side note: honestly, this chef could open a fried chicken place and be crazy successful).  Seriously, amazing fried job.  I hope he keeps a seasonal fried side on the menu always.

I can safely say this is the first time I've ever had fried garlic scapes.  And, it totally worked.  The thin pieces reminded me of onion straws.  The bigger curled chunks were juicer, and more like an onion ring.  I liked them both, equally, and for different reasons.

But, I forgot to mention one thing.  This was more than just fried garlic scapes.  It was ... fried *pickled* garlic scapes.  Another dimension thrown in, transforming this not just into a play on fried onions, but also a play of fried pickles, which seem way more common around New Hampshire and Vermont than I'm accustomed (seriously, on menus everywhere, like Millstone at 74 Main, where I had them for perhaps the first time).

Now, for a bit of critique.  When I get a fried appetizer, it usually has a dipping sauce.  And this did come with lemon mayo, except that it was a thin layer in the bottom of the dish, not a sauce on the side.  I realize that this was a side dish and not an app, and that the fried scapes were actually so delicious that I didn't *need* to drench them in aioli, but, I found it a bit hard to get to the mayo and slide my scapes through it when I wanted to.  The mayo itself was fine, very lemon forward and herbaceous, more interesting than just plain mayo.  I think a garlic scape aioli would be more fun ...

And finally, the menu said the dish had arugula in it.  Ours had no visible arugula leaves, so I'm not sure where that was.  It did however have some lightly charred flowers.  Which I loved.  I wonder if those were arugula flowers?  They very well might have been.  Again, since our dish was presented without description, I wasn't able to find out.

Overall, this was quite fun, and quite successful.  A play on fried onion strings, onion rings, and pickles, all at once, made with seriously the best fried chicken batter I've ever had.  Hard to stop eating, but actually, my second favorite dish, because our entree, which arrived alongside, was even better ...
Supper: Cape Cod Sea Scallops. $29.
"Kohlrabi salad, smoked bluefish, mustard seeds."

 It had been far too long since I had a New England sea scallop (these were indeed from Cape Cod).

The serving was 5 seared scallops, plated over the kohlrabi salad (which turned out to have lots of cucumber in it), with more purslane (yes!), a light cream sauce with the promised mustard seed in it, and, two large chunks of house smoked bluefish hiding under the greens (not visible at all in this photo).

The scallops were very good.  Large size, clearly fresh, very flavorful.  I loved that they had a bit of a meaty character to them, if that makes sense, mixed with a subtle sweetness.  The sear, on only the top side, was a good hard sear.  They were properly seasoned.  Cooked through, but not rubbery.  Overall, obviously a good quality product, well prepared, although, I do prefer my scallops mid-rare.

The kohlrabi salad I didn't care for though.  I like kohlrabi, and was looking forward to the refreshing crunch, but, the cubes of kohlrabi just didn't do it for me.  They were soft rather than crunchy as I was hoping, and the salad was equal parts sliced cucumber, of which I'm not a huge fan.  Maybe I was just sick of veggies at this point?

But ... I again adored the purslane, so maybe not.  It was so fresh, so flavorful, so crispy.  With the very light sauce, which had a bit of kick to it, this was a fantastic mini salad on its own.  A bite of scallop, with some purslane dragged through the sauce, made me quite happy.

But this dish kept on giving.  Smokiness was brought in through the chunks of house smoked bluefish.  Lovely smoky flavor, mild fish.  Add a bit of that to the aforementioned bite, and then it was even more perfect.  I loved the smoky element.

Overall, a wonderful dish, even if I didn't personally want the cucumber and kohlrabi salad.
Dessert, Cheese, After Dinner Drinks Menu.
I was already quite satisfied with my meal, but, I don't ever skip dessert.  Ok, not quite true, but it is extremely rare.  While I appreciate my local seasonal veggies, and the quality seafood, I'm a sweet tooth at heart.

I asked to see the dessert menu in advance, when we ordered our mains, so I knew how much "space" to save, as if that is even really a question with me.

The dessert menu included coffee drinks (including pour over), tea, and some cheese selections, plus 5 sweet options.

Sweet options were house made ice cream in a few flavors (not really something I ever order at a restaurant, ice cream has its place, obviously, I eat it near daily, but restaurant dessert is not it for me), 3 types of cake, and a seasonal fruit crisp.

If you've read my blog much, you probably know which I went for.  I'm just not really a cake girl.  I don't eat chocolate (caffeine) at night, so the chocolate molten cake was out, although the table next to us loved theirs.  My mom likes olive oil cakes, but for me, that is about as boring as a dessert can be, and didn't ever register on my radar.  The final cake was a grilled pound cake, served with grilled strawberries and lemon cream.  This also didn't cross my radar, meh to pound cake in general, except the table next to us did get it, and I'll admit, it sounded fantastic.  Grilling pound cake, and serving it with sides like that, might just elevate it enough for me!

But, we went for the fruit crisp, strawberry rhubarb, even though my mom correctly noted, "uh, you don't really like rhubarb?"  She is right, but I tolerate it, particularly when mixed with strawberry, and, well, I love fruit crisp and ice cream!
Something Sweet: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. $8.
"Molten wheat crumble + brown butter ice cream." 

Our crisp was delivered piping hot, in a crock.  Yes.  Points for this.  Seriously, why bother serve a cold crisp?

The ice cream clearly was just added before serving, as it wasn't melted at all, a perfect little scoop.  It did quickly melt in, and, we wished we had a second scoop.   I didn't taste brown butter necessarily, but it was a smooth, creamy ice cream, not too sweet, and complimented the sweet crisp filling well.

The crisp filling was ... mostly rhubarb.  My mom commented on it immediately.  We had trouble finding much strawberry.  Mostly little chunks of rhubarb, clearly stewed in sweet syrup though, as it was very sweet overall, not much tartness.  It really needed the aforementioned ice cream to cut the sweetness.  A bite of the fruit filling on its own was pretty intense.

And finally, uh, my favorite part of a crisp: the topping!  It was described as "molten wheat crumble", which, I'll be honest, I don't know what that means.  Did it just mean ... molten, as in, hot?  If so, why was that modifier on the "wheat crumble" and not the "crisp", like the molten cake?  Or did it, more likely, refer to the type of wheat, and was a misspelling of "moulton wheat"?  I dunno.  Whatever it was, it was more whole wheaty, and just totally delicious, large chunks on top.

The only problem?  There wasn't much of it at all.  The surface area of the crisp wasn't huge, and, as you can see, the topping didn't extend to the edges.  My mom's comment, as she had a bite of the crisp topping, "Wow, that's really good crumble ... when you get it."  Both my mom and I loved the crumble, but only had about 2 bites each.

My mom appreciated the size of the dessert.  We shared it easily, and it left us both satisfied, but not too full.  She acknowledged that sharing probably wasn't necessary.  It is nice to have dessert portions that aren't monsters, since, often, no one else wants desserts but me, and restaurant desserts are usually too big for just one person.

Overall, this was a fine dessert.  We left satisfied, but, it wasn't a dessert I'll rave about.  A bit too sweet, not enough crumble, and a fruit I don't love.   Lots of promise here though.
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