Friday, June 29, 2018

Quaker Granola Bars

Original Review, 2018

Quaker is not exactly an unknown brand to me.  I grew up with their instant oatmeal (maple and brown sugar, with extra maple syrup added, FTW!).  Their granola bars were probably the first granola bars I ever had.

I recently tried some of their breakfast bar products.  They make two varieties, harder style "Breakfast Flats" (like Belvita perhaps?) and softer "Breakfast Squares" (like Nutri-Grain).  I tried the later.

Breakfast Squares

"Your morning just became more satisfying with Quaker® Breakfast Squares. Available in Strawberry, Baked Apple Cinnamon and Peanut Butter flavors, these filled soft baked bars are an easy way to fill up and help start your day. Not to mention, each square is made with whole grain oats and other delicious ingredients to make this one fulfilling square."
Breakfast Squares seem to be their version of something like a Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Bar, just, square shaped.  Your basic soft baked oatmeal based bar in a few flavors, handy grab-n-go breakfast.

I tried two varieties, strawberry and apple cinnamon.  The fruit fillings weren't really winners, but I did like the oatmeal bar itself.
The bars come individually packaged, in a plastic wrapper with a clear section showing through to the bar within.

The packaging is interestingly *not* a square, so I assumed that inside would also actually just be a oblong bar.
Strawberry: Top View.
"The sweet taste of strawberries is always refreshing. That’s why Quaker® Strawberry Breakfast Squares are a great way to help start your day. Whole grain oats, whole wheat, strawberry puree and other tasty ingredients create the satisfying breakfast snack you’ll love to enjoy. "

But, they are actual squares.

From the top, it looks just like a fairly standard oat based soft-ish bar.

I did like the oatmeal based bar.  It wasn't quite as soft as I was hoping, but it had good texture from the oats, and a nice sweetness level from brown sugar.  Basically, yup, oatmeal in bar form.
Strawberry: Side View.
From the side you can see the generous strawberry filling layer that runs through the center.

The strawberry I didn't really like.  It was fruity, but, not in a "yay, fresh strawberries!" sense.  No worse than any other bar of this nature, just, not something I like.  It really was generously stuffed though, so if I had liked it, I would have been pretty thrilled.

I just peeled off the oatmeal bar bits and enjoyed it that way, but kept finding myself wishing I had some of my mom's strawberry jam handy to slather on.  So yes, if that strawberry filling had delivered, this would be a great choice.
Baked Apple Cinnamon.
"Apple & cinnamon, the classically delicious duo that blends sweet and spice. We love this combination in our Baked Apple Cinnamon Quaker® Breakfast Squares, the surprisingly satisfying breakfast snack. Enjoy 23 grams of whole grains, cinnamon, sweet apple puree and other tasty ingredients in a square that may become your new favorite apple cinnamon snack!"

Next I tried the baked apple cinnamon.

My review is basically the same.  The oatmeal bar was actually pretty good, nice sweetness and texture.  The filling though?  Mush, that was like low end apple sauce, spiced in ways I didn't like.

I again just peeled off the oatmeal bar, and ate that part (uh, dunked in whipped cream).

Original Review, 2013

If you read my blog on Fridays, you know that I've been on an epic quest to find some granola.  I've kinda failed, concluding that the granola from Target is my favorite so far, even when compared to all sorts of expensive, artisan granolas, but its not like I'm running out to get more of the Target stuff.

So now, I turn my attention towards granola in a slightly different form: granola bars.  Like with granola, the variance is high.  What percentage is oats? Is it chewy or crispy?  Loaded with fruit and nuts?  Loaded with sugar? Weird protein powders?  They can be 100 calorie light snacks or 500 calorie sugar bombs.  The choice is yours.

I've reviewed a few granola bars in the past, but I'm going to dive in for the next few weeks, doing a different brand every Friday. To start this series, I'll begin with a classic: Quaker.  Yes, the oatmeal people.

Their bars claim to be decent healthy choices, made with whole grains and no high fructose corn syrup.  About 100 calories each.  I haven't liked any, and think they taste incredibly sweet, fake, and generic.  My tasting notes are not very extensive, as I just haven't really wanted anything to do with these. Meh.
  • Low Fat Oatmeal Raisin Chewy: Sweet, meh.  Not tasty.
  • Maple and Brown Sugar Chewy: Standard granola bar, ok maple flavor [ Pretty good when crumbled up on top of fruit and whipped cream, but very sweet, too sweet to just eat as a bar. ]
  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Chewy: Made with a base of oats and crispy rice, with little tiny chocolate and peanut butter chips.  This was a pretty standard chewy granola bar, very sweet, and not anything special.  I love peanut butter and chocolate together, but neither was very strong in this product, both sets of chips seemed to be more waxy than flavorful.  I don't think there was actually any peanuts in here. [ Very sweet, kinda gooey. ]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

SaltiSweet Ice Cream

Ice cream. On a stick.  A pretzel stick.
"All of the best foods are on a stick, but we’re the only stick you can chomp. We start with Real Ice Cream, wrap it around a pretzel or Pirouline® Cookie for easy eating, and dunk it in a creamy chocolatey coating. We’ll even top it off with a little something extra, if it suits your fancy." 
I gotta say, SaltiSweet kinda won me from the start.  I like salty and sweet combos.  I like ice cream.   I don't necessarily think the *best* foods are on a stick, but, sticks are certainly fun and can enhance the eating experience.  I was drawn in.

SaltiSweet makes one product line: pretzel rods, wrapped in ice cream, dunked in chocolate (the Pirouline version is coming soon).  From there, you can mix things up a bit with different coatings (nuts or sprinkles in addition to the chocolate), or different flavors of ice cream (mint, cookies & cream, salted caramel, black raspberry, etc).  Each one is named after somewhere in Colorado, where they are from.

And ... that's it.  Hand held ice cream novelties, on a stick you can eat.

The concept however was better than the practice.
Each item comes packaged in an individual box, with the treat bagged inside it.
Vail Valley Vanilla with Nuts.
I started with a simple vanilla ice cream, chocolate coating, and nuts (peanuts).

It looked exactly as expected.  Basically, like a more traditional ice cream novelty bar, but, with a stick that I could eat.  Who needs popsicle sticks?

I ... kinda liked it.  I had mixed feelings.

The ice cream was clearly much higher quality than you get in average ice cream novelties, no question.  Not a flavored milk product, actual ice cream.

The shell was great, snappy milk chocolate coating, generously and evenly coated in nuts.

The pretzel rod is the part I wasn't entirely sure of.  I wanted it for the salty component, and the crunch, but ... the rod inside the ice cream was not crisp.  How could it be?  It was just like when Ben & Jerry's puts waffle cone pieces into their ice cream like in Americone Dream or the potato chips in Late Night Snack.  Great concept, but, I don't like soggy things in my ice cream!

So the rod?  I didn't want it.  Which kinda defeats the purpose.

Still, a quality product, and if these kinds of textures don't bother you, I'm sure a good one.
Vail Valley Vanilla.
Next I had the most simple, the Vail Valley Vanilla, no additional coating (besides the chocolate shell present on all of them.

This time, the novelty had worn off a bit.  And I was frustrated with it.  It also turned out that the chocolate without nuts just wasn't as tasty.
Vail Valley Vanilla: Inside.
This one also, uh, wasn't as well manufactured.

The rod was not in the center of the item, not that it really mattered, but, it was what it was.

I again really did not like the pretzel rod.  Soft, not crunchy, and, although it was consumable, I didn't want to consume it, so, it wasn't really that much different from a popsicle stick for me.

My other problem?  I love melty ice cream, and its impossible to get these to the proper melty state.  For the ice cream to get melty enough, the chocolate shell needs to totally melt, it seemed.  Otherwise it just held in the cold too well, and it didn't soften nicely.

So, just not the right item for me, but, if you don't mind soggy pretzels, uh, maybe for you?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel Concierge Lounge

On my recent stay in New York, I split my time between two hotels, once which was amazing (The Chatwal, a Luxury Collection hotel, with Geoffrey Zakarian's The Lamb's Club restaurant on site, where I had delicious breakfasts, stay tuned!), and, The Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel, my first experience at a Marriott owned property, which, my Starwood alliance is now part of.

The property was a different class of hotel entirely, so I don't want to compare.  And this is Julie's dining club anyway, you just care about ... the food!

The Renaissance did feature a Concierge Lounge, which I had access to given my status.  Its food serving hours were not great (seriously, who ends breakfast at 9am?)!, nor was the food itself, but, the space was nice to spend time in in the evenings.
For food, I visited only for breakfast, three times, one time only to grab coffee.

The coffee was horrible, the offerings meager, but, they try.


The lounge, like the entire hotel, is modern and new, only 2 years old.

The lounge serves breakfast Mon - Fri, only until 9am.  They also serve some kind of evening snacks, but only Mon - Thurs, and only 6pm-7pm, so I wasn't ever able to check that out.  The rest of the time though, the lounge is accessible by key card, for guests with access to use as they please.
Main Area.
The main area is wide open when not a meal service, but the entire breakfast spread (and I assume evening) are laid out on the bar during service, with drinks along the back side.
There are several types of seating, including one L shaped couch.

The couch is actually really quite comfortable, and given that my room furniture was not, I took to hanging out there in the evening.  I was generally the only one there, but the TV was blaring, and no remote (nor on-screen controls) were available, which greatly decreased the enjoyability.
Counter Seating.
Most seats are bar height counters along the window.  This is where I usually perched to quickly scarf some breakfast.
Drinks & Yogurt.
The other nice thing about the lounge is the drinks, available 24 hours a day.  Not that fancy, just basic Coke products, bottled water (still or sparkling), a few flavors of Peligrino, grapefruit, apple, and orange juice, milk (including chocolate), but also a few flavors of yogurt.

While no one else hung out in the lounge, people did come in and out all night long grabbing drinks, this was clearly a very welcome amenity (and likely easier on the staff than providing even just water bottles in the rooms).


Breakfast is continental.  And like I said, served only Mon - Fri, and only until 9am, which, honestly, is just stingy.  And wow, when they say 9am, they mean it.  EVERYTHING was cleared away at 9am On. The. Dot.
Breakfast Setup.
Breakfast was lackluster in looks, and in variety (only 1 item changed every day), but, the quality level was higher than immediately obvious at least.
The only coffee available is from the brewed carafes. No espresso beverages, not even a robot machine.

The coffee was *also* removed right at 9am.  This area also had hot water for tea and oatmeal.  No kettles are available in room, so if you want hot water/tea after 9am, no luck.

The coffee was awful.  The regular was not good, but the decaf was truly the worst hotel coffee I've ever had.  And I've had a lot of bad coffee.  It was incredibly sour.  Every single day.

Really truly horrible.  Undrinkable.
The fruit lineup didn't inspire me to try it, just apples and oranges, and a mixed fruit salad.
Also uninspiring was the cereal, all served from those annoying dispensers, and only 3 kinds: raisin bran, cheerios, and lucky charms.
Oatmeal & Toppings.
Bags of flavored Quaker oatmeal were available for hot cereal, using the water from the carafes.  Some decent enough toppings (sliced almonds, granola, honey) on the side.
Pastries, Bagels.
The bagel and pastry line up was ... yeah.  Equally uninspired, but actually, uh, better than expected.

The top row had generic looking bagels (although points for blueberry bagels!), and there was a toaster nearby.  No bread for regular toast.  The bagels actually turned out to be pretty good.  I was in New York after all?  I went for the blueberry, and was pretty thrilled by how perfectly it toasted up, nice shine and snap to the exterior, and it was loaded with berries.  Not stale, I think actually fresh from somewhere local?  Great with butter and sugar, or cream cheese.

The middle row was what looked like mini lemon poppy muffins.  I didn't try them.

The bottom was croissants and danishes, all mini size.  I normally wouldn't have tried those either, but ... I recognized one.
Pecan Braid.
Yes, this little danish looked just as sad as the others.  But it also looked like one I deemed the "pecan pie danish" when I had it at the Hyatt Regency in Buffalo, NY, which I adored.  I grabbed one at last minute.

It was indeed the same.  I love it.  Even though its awful, I know.

The pastry isn't fresh, it isn't flaky yet it is crisp, and it is ridiculously buttery, in a fake sense.  That I like.  And the filling?  Oh, man.  Its pecan pie in all its glory: that is, corn syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup.  Sweet and sticky.  And on top?  A few token bits of nut so you believe it is pecan.

Go ahead and judge, but I like these.
Raisin Danish.
The next morning I was excited to snag another pecan braid, but alas, there were none.  I settled for the raisin danish.

It wasn't nearly as good, but had a couple essential elements the same, that is, sweet gooey filling, fake buttery pastry, and a strange softness and crispiness that made you wonder how it was possible, but also, kinda like.  If that makes any sense.

Low brow as can be, I know loaded with preservatives, but hey, I like these.
Bagel Toppings.
For the bagels, there was butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, and jam.

While I've been critical of the quality, of the breakfast in general, I will give them credit for the Bonne Maman rather than Smucker's jam, and I do love Skippy peanut butter, it is what I grew up wtih.
Thursday: "Waffles".
Every day there was one rotating item. On Wednesday morning, nothing was in this slot when I visited  But on Thursday, waffles!  On Friday, breakfast burritos.

Ok, I hesitate to really call these waffles.  They weren't.  They also wren't warm, but were under a heat lamp, kinda?  They came 4 mini waffles to a piece, all stuck together as one, like the size of a large piece of bread.

They seemed to be whole grain, kinda hearty.  Crispy.  Very ... different.  "Waffles".

But big points for the sides, which I didn't notice originally: little bowls that had whipped cream, fruit compote, and syrup.  At first glance, I thought the bowls were the cream cheese and jam for bagels, and the syrup honey for oatmeal.  But then I realized that there was the packages of cream cheese and jam, and that these bowls were for the waffles, so I tried them all.

The fruit compote was mediocre, no clear fruit to it.  The pancake syrup was clearly fake, but I like that.  And the whipped cream just standard, but, come on, whipped cream!
"Waffles" with Toppings.
I'll admit, that slathered with enough syrup, and topped with whipped cream and crispy bacon, these "waffles" weren't half bad.
Bacon & Eggs.
They also technically had bacon and eggs.

The eggs were hard boiled, room temp.  Many were strangely missing their yolks.
They did also bacon most days  It wasn't warm, but it was nice and crispy.  Really not bad.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Poki Time

Poke, poke, poke.  Yup, I'm on board the trend, as you've been reading in all my poke reviews.

Poke has become my staple of business travel, when I really don't want to go out to another restaurant meal, and just want takeout or delivery to my hotel room.  I pick it generally because it is something that does work well for takeout/delivery, in that it isn't hot food that turns lukewarm, and it isn't particularly heavy, but can be full of flavor and texture.

But this time, I had poke in my home city, from Poki Time.  Poki Time is a small poke chain in the Bay Area, with only 3 locations, two in SF, one in Daly City.

We ordered delivery as we had some co-workers visiting from out of town, and they had just landed, and wanted a simple, fast dinner so they could get to their hotels and sleep.

I knew just what would fit the bill: poke!

Delivery was via Caviar, which was easy to use as always.  I especially liked being able to create a group order, and let everyone customize their bowls and place their own orders.  Delivery was on time, tracking was reliable, proper notice provided as delivery neared us, the currier friendly.  No issues at all with the ordering/delivery experience.

Our food came with folks and napkins, but no chopsticks.  I'm not sure if they don't offer them in general, but we all did say, "Minus one point!" for the lack of chopsticks.
*Very* Custom Bowl. Lol.
Ok, the concept of Poki Time is standard DIY Poke Bowls, with a few on-trend options (kale base of course!) and a few nice upgrades (real crab!).  Our bowls came nicely labelled, with each person's name, and full order details.

The options:

First: two sizes, regular (2 scoop) or large (3 scoop).

Then, base: White Rice, Brown rice, Mixed Greens, Kale (or any mix of two).

Then, protein: Salmon, Tuna, Yellowtail, Crab (Wild Blue Crab), Spicy Tuna, Shrimp, Tofu.

And ... sauce: Original (Sesame Shoyu), Spicy Mayo, Ponzu, Wasabi, Spicy Seoul (Korean-Pepper Sauce). You may select up to 5 of these.

Finally, toppings: Green Onions, Red Onions, Cucumber, Corn, Edamame, Seaweed Salad, Masago, Carrot, JalapeƱo, Sesame Seeds, Furikake, Ginger, Wasabi.

And premium toppings: Avocado ($1.00), Mango ($0.50)

I was sad to not see that many crunchy toppings, but otherwise, the lineup looked decent.

I went for a regular bowl (2 scoop) but added a third scoop (more crab!), so, basically a large bowl.  I wanted to try all the sauces, but was limited to 5, so I picked 5, and asked for them on the side, with a note about wanting to try the sauces.  They threw in the 6th one too!  I also asked for lots of crunchy topping, noting that fried onions weren't available on the delivery menu, but I thought they had them.  They included them.

My creation:
  • Kale base.
  • Salmon, Crab, Extra Scoop of Crab.
  • Green Onions, Seaweed Salad, Masago, Carrot, Mango
  • Wasabi, Ginger, Furikake, Sesame Seeds.
  • All the sauces (on the side).
Custom Bowl. $15.45.
The bowls were all really nicely assembled, each ingredient in its section.  Quantities of each ingredient though were not consistent.

Overall ... it was ... ok.  Some positive points, some negative.

The kale base was a strong point, very fresh, crisp, and nice size chunks.  I laughed at myself for ordering the kale, but, I did like it.

The carrots were just shredded and a bit dry.  The green onion, pickled ginger, wasabi, and masago were all very standard, nothing interesting to say about them.  Not much green onion, but everything else was a good amount, not too much, not too little.

The mango was a big surprise, there was TONS of it.  And it was really fresh, juicy, ripe, sweet.  Mango in the US is usually so lackluster, this was a very pleasant surprise, and, even though a $0.50 extra charge, my portion of mango was a bit insane.

The seaweed salad was also a surprise for me, as I've lately been skipping seaweed salad, or, more often, ordering it, and not liking it, and being sad, because I used to love it.  This version I really did enjoy.  I think it didn't have the standard marinade/sesame seeds/etc to it, and I just found the flavor and texture much nicer.  The portion was normal, but I wished for more!

Speaking of wishing for more there was barely any sesame seeds or furikake.  It was clearly a tiny little shaker, with a single dash applied.  Basically non-existent.  I was glad I had a container of sesame seeds/furikake/crispy onions/nori at my desk (this is normal, right?) to jazz it up.  I offered more to my co-workers who all eagerly added some, and said that their bowls too were lacking.

And finally, the seafood.  I was thrilled to see crab treated as a protein and not just a side, and, it was real crab (snow crab).  The seafood came in HUGE scoops.  Seriously massive portions.

The problem?  I didn't like it.  At all.

The salmon was chewy, very chewy, and didn't taste fresh.  I discarded it quickly.

The crab I tried sooo hard to like.  Real crab.  Lump crab chunks in there even, along with lots of shredded crab.  But ... it was just too mushy, too fishy, and just not good.  I really didn't like it.  It reminded me of bad tuna salad.  Its particularly sad because there was sooo much of it.

So, the kale base, the mango, the seaweed salad, all great, above average even.  Many other elements, average.  But the seafood ... not so good.
All the sauces.
Like I said, I asked for my sauces on the side, and I'm glad I did.  I love trying all the sauces.  They even threw in the 6th one for me, even though they normally limit you to 5 sauces.  Thank you, Poki Time!

The sauces weren't labelled, but most were easy to figure out, once I tasted them.

Top to bottom:
  • Spicy Seoul (Korean-Pepper Sauce): This was the one I didn't order, because I could only pick 5, but they added in for me.  No question which this was once I took a bite, this stuff was clearly the spicy one!  It packed some serious punch, gochujang / sriracha like spice.  Great for adding some kick, if you wanted it.
  • Original (Sesame Shoyu)  [ I think ]: The shoyu and ponzu were hard to distinguish.  I think I detected a slight amount of sesame flavor in one, so, I deem it the Original.  Light, mild, soy based.  Simple, likely a good marinade.
  • Wasabi: I had no idea what to expect from a sauce simply called "wasabi", but, it seemed to be just soy sauce ... with wasabi added?  No different really from what I could achieve from the original sauce and my wad of wasabi in my bowl.  But, normally you use this as a sauce the fish is tossed with, so that would be more interesting than just the original sauce.
  • Ponzu [ I think ]: Like I said, the ponzu and shoyu were hard to distinguish, this one also just a light soy-like sauce, but I think I detected a hint of citrus.
  • Spicy Mayo: The only creamy sauce on offer, spicy mayo.  Fairly standard, creamy, spicy (sriracha? or maybe the korean pepper?).
  • Sweet Soy (Unagi Sauce): This one was the most unique, a thicker sauce, sweet, sticky.  I think best used as a drizzle, I wouldn't have necessarily wanted my fish tossed with it.
Overall, I'm glad I got to try all the sauces, but none were really standouts for me.  I saved my sauces and used them many ways over the next few days, but, I didn't ever really find a favorite, or one I felt compelled to find pairings for.