Friday, August 17, 2018

Graze, UK

I first tried Graze snacks a few years ago, when they attempted to make an inroads in the US, offering customized subscription snack boxes.  I found the concept fascinating, as I'm an avid snacker, but I quickly forgot about it.

But in the UK, Graze is unavoidable.  Not just the subscription boxes, but they are in every convenience store, every grocery store, just ... everywhere.  Sweet snacks, savory snacks, spicy snacks, nuts, seeds, veggies, gluten-free, high protein, high fiber, breakfast snacks, post-workout protein bites ... they have it all.  And the product line is constantly evolving.

I tried an assortment of snack boxes, and I must say, I see why they are successful.  Some of them were really, really good!

Dips & Dippers

I'm a big fan of dipping things.  Ok, I'm a fan of sauces in general.  And of crunchy chip-like things in general.  So, the Graze Dippers line seriously appeals.

They use all sorts of things for the dipping element, like soy rice crackers, flavored crackers, pretzels, shortbreads, even jerky.  Dips run the spectrum from savory onion marmalade to sweet white chocolate or toffee sauces.  Some sound incredible, like cinnamon pretzels with cookie butter dip!
Protein peanut butter dipper with baked hemp sticks.
"Wholesome pure peanut butter dip, served with lightly salted hemp pretzel sticks."

"Our thick and creamy peanut butter is made from whole peanuts and nothing else. It’s the ideal pairing for these baked hemp pretzel sticks, and each serving packs a whopping 5.9g of protein!"

I selected this for one of the components, and I assure you, it didn't have "hemp" in the name.

And yet ... the part I liked?  Yup, the hemp pretzel sticks.  They were crispy, slightly salty, and had a slightly hearty flavor from the hemp.  Perfectly tasty just to munch on, actually.

But the peanut butter.  That should be the star right?  I love peanut butter!  But ... this peanut butter I did not love.  And I'm not sure why.  It was creamy.  It was pure peanuts (no additives).  The flavor just wasn't great for me though.

Overall, I liked the dippers, discarded the peanut butter.

Savory

I'm usually one to rave about sweets, but, in the crunchy munchy snack department, savory certainly has its place.  And wow, graze has an amazing lineup.  They, uh, even have one called "smoky hotdog", which is supposed to recreate the flavors of a hotdog, through hickory smoked almonds, mustard breadsticks, and cheese croutons.
Seriously Spicy Thai Sriracha with chili and garlic:
Thai sriracha flavored peas / half popped corn / jumbo salted corn.
"We can't get enough of the deliciously satisfying spicy crunch in our spicy Thai sriracha peas. We've coated half-popped corn kernels and green peas in a Thai classic; sriracha sauce. Our sriracha is a perfect balance of medium heat from the chilli, garlic to round out the flavour, and sweetness to leave you wanting more."

Ok, this was awesome.

A mix of three different crunchy elements: coated peas, large corn kernels, and "kern pops", half-popped exploded kernels of corn.  Each was good, and I appreciated different aspects of each of them.  The jumbo corn was the crunchiest and saltiest, the kern pops the most jaggy and lightest, and the peas had the best coating.

The flavoring though is what set this apart, besides just being well selected crunchy munchies.  It tasted like ... well, Thai sriracha.  I laughed when I read the description and thought, "What does that even mean", and then realized that I had no better way to describe it either.  I found it fascinating how the spicy sriracha came through, but didn't overpower the chili and garlic.  And there was even a slight sweetness.

It was addicting.  It was satisfying.  It was spicy without overpowering.  It would make a great bar snack ... with nearly every bite, I kept thinking how good a cocktail or glass of red wine would be alongside.

It is a good thing this was portion controlled.

Sweet

Of course, I also tried some sweet ones.  Here too, there are fun concepts like "jam doughnut", recreated through raspberry fruit strings and vanilla sponge drops.
White Chocolate & Raspberry: white chocolate buttons / blanched almonds / whole hazelnuts / raspberry fruit strings.
"There’s nothing quite like the summer flavours of white chocolate and raspberry. This clever creation fuses the sweet taste of Belgian white chocolate with juicy raspberry fruit strings, mixed with the crunch of almonds and hazelnuts. This is a delicious dessert-flavoured snack you can feel good about enjoying!"

Graze is right, white chocolate and raspberry are a great combination, as are, it turns out, white chocolate and hazelnut.  This was actually a fairly enjoyable mix.

The almonds were the most boring, just plain, white, blanched almonds.  They were also the component with the largest quantity, although the raspberry fruit strings were close behind.   The strings were like little tiny chewy fruity chews, like a fruit roll up, made into strings.  Fine, but not super exciting.

What I really liked were the large white chocolate drops.  Creamy, smooth, sweet white chocolate.  And the hazelnuts, just standard hazelnuts, but crunchy and flavorful, great with the white chocolate.

Overall, enjoyable, and a nice balanced mix of sweet, crunchy, creamy, and, some protein from the nuts.

Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel: Pecans / Belgian milk chocolate and salted caramel buttons / pumpkin seeds / amaretti drops.
"We love our salted caramel buttons! Especially when they're combined with crisp pecans, amaretti drops and crunchy pumpkin seeds. This mixture perfectly satisfies any salted caramel craving, with the added bonus of vitamins, minerals and fibre!"

This was very good.

The pecans and pumpkin seeds were basic but good.  I liked the texture of the slightly chewy amaretti drops, basically like ity bity macaroons, good almond flavor.  The milk chocolate buttons were a surprise, filled with gooey caramel.  I thought they were just big chocolate drops, and that the salted caramel would show up elsewhere.  The chocolate was smooth and good too.

Overall, I liked every single component, and I liked them even more when all combined.  A satisfying snack, could very easily feel a bit like dessert (particularly with some whipped cream?), and was good alongside a cup of coffee.  Wining mix!

Flapjacks

"Our flapjacks come from family bakers in the Cotswolds, who make these oaty delights from a trusted 30 year old family recipe that’s been handed down through a discerning generation or two! They’re handmade from the very best rustic rolled British oats and baked in small batches so each one is crafted to our deliciously high standards."
Back in 2014 I had my first ever British style flapjack, and it happened to be from Graze, the US version.  I wasn't that excited by it, mostly because the flavor was so plain.  Since then, I've tried other brands of flapjacks, but not the real ones from the UK Graze.

Graze makes a slew of flapjacks, as they are their signature, and most popular, product.  They even make high protein varieties, or bite sized offerings.
Full On Fruity Flapjack.
"Whole British oats, juicy apricot, vine fruits & seeds."

"Our original fruity flapjack was our first foray into flapjacks. We wanted to develop a flapjack that packed a fruity punch with classic country flavours. We’ve squeezed 5 fruits into the recipe combined with seeds to give it a great texture."

I tried the "Full On Fruity" version, as it was shared with me, not because I would pick that variety.

Well, it wasn't boring like the previous kind I had tried.  It was indeed loaded with all the things - raisins, sultanas, and currants, bits of chopped dates and apricots, and sunflower seeds.  I guess, it was "full on fruity".  Which, I didn't care for.

The base soft sweetened oats were fine, but, this was just all about the dried fruit, and I am not a dried fruit lover.  The sunflower seeds were bitter.
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

New Flavors from Ben & Jerry's - 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018

It is no secret that I love ice cream.  I grew up eating it pretty much every night after dinner.  Sometimes just a simple scoop, or uh, two, but more often than not, we made sundaes.  Or topped our homemade pie with it.  Yes, I was spoiled.

I grew up in New Hampshire, not far from the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont.  To me, the generic brand of ice cream was Ben & Jerry's.  Even the farm stand where I worked sold Ben & Jerry's, it was that commonplace.  Pints were 2 for $5.

I moved a bit further away for college, to upstate New York.  But Ben & Jerry's was prevalent even there.  Our little on campus diner stocked pints, and we had the option of redeeming our meals for grab and go items from the diner instead.  I will not admit how many pints I got over the years, and how many I may or may not have consumed in a single sitting.

It amazed me once I left my nest to learn that Ben & Jerry's is a bit of a novelty to people elsewhere.  For many years, I didn't have any in San Francisco.  Why would I pick that, over our local, artisanal choices?  But eventually, the craving for that experience of just digging shamelessly into a pint of Ben & Jerry's returned, and, so I did.

I've reviewed the flavors I've had over the past few years before, so I'll spare you a repeat, and this time, focus on the brand new flavors that they added in the past few years.  Ben & Jerry's always adds a few new flavors every year (and of course, sends some to the "flavor graveyard" to make way for them).  Many don't last long.  Flavors that are removed are often mourned.

2014

This year, the new Salted Caramel Blondie is quite a winner.  I hope it sticks around!
Salted Caramel Blondie, single, 2014.
"Sweet Cream Ice Cream with Blonde Brownies & a Salted Caramel Swirl"

This is an excellent new addition.  Basically a blondie sundae, turned into an ice cream.  The only thing it was missing was whipped cream.

The ice cream base apparently was sweet cream, although I assumed it was just basic vanilla.  Creamy, rich, good base.  Standard Ben & Jerry's.

The caramel swirl was exactly what caramel should be.  Buttery, sweet, delicious.  I didn't actually taste much salt, which would have been better perhaps, but it was pretty delicious as it was.  If they just removed "salted" from the product name, I wouldn't have minded the lack of salt.  The caramel was particularly fascinating because it didn't get hard, even inside the cold ice cream, it still stayed pleasantly runny, like caramel that had just been poured over an ice cream sundae.  My only complaint, which is a bit silly, is that there was too much caramel.  It was very sweet, and at one point, I wished to have a little more ice cream to balance out the plentiful caramel.  Perhaps that was just my scoop.

And finally, the blondies.  Chunks of just the right size, big enough to know you got a goodie, but not too big to be annoying to eat.  Sweet, classic blondies.  And again, like the caramel, I was impressed with how they didn't get hard.  They somehow stayed perfectly soft inside the cold ice cream.  Ben & Jerry's knows how to work magic here.

So overall, definitely a winner, and one I'd gladly get again.  Salted Caramel Brownie is only available in Scoop Shops, although a similar offering, Salted Caramel Brownie Core, is available in pints.  That one is the same sweet cream ice cream with blondie bits, with a caramel core down the center of the pint.  It seems like the amount of caramel you get in a scoop could be more easily controlled with the core version, although I did like it being all mixed in.

I also had the chance to sample the other new flavor, Cotton Candy: "Cotton candy ice cream loaded with cotton candy pieces."  It tasted, you guessed it, like cotton candy.  Super sweet.  I'm sure this is a huge hit with children, but for me, not quite something I'd want a full bowl of.

2015

The Tonight Dough™, Single, 2015.
"Caramel & Chocolate Ice Creams with Chocolate Cookie Swirls & Gobs of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Peanut Butter Cookie Dough".

Wow, this had a lot going on, almost giving Everything But The ... a run for its money.

Let’s start with the base.  I didn’t realize that the caramel ice cream was actually caramel, I assumed it was vanilla, or perhaps sweet cream.  So, it was there, but it certainly wasn’t overly sweet, which is good, as a flavor with so many components easily could have been overwhelmed by too sweet ice cream.  The other ice cream was classic chocolate.  I don’t tend to care for chocolate ice cream, and probably would have preferred this to be all just the caramel flavor, but, the ice cream base is really not the interesting part of this flavor.

The interesting part, as is common with Ben & Jerry's, was the mix-ins.  First, the big shocker for me: "chocolate cookie swirls".  Now, I didn't really know what a "cookie swirl" was going to be, but I somehow thought something like chunks of a cookie.  Nope. Instead, the cookie was crumbs, integrated throughout as, well, a swirl.  It does match the description quite well, now that I think about it ... anyway, I really liked it!  It was almost like bits of brownie, but easier to bite through since it was loose, if that makes any sense.  Really a great texture.

Next, the cookie doughs.  I was seriously impressed with the amount of cookie dough in here.  Tons of chunks, all large sized.  Ben & Jerry's really nails the eating experience of this one, with the chunks large enough that you really, really get to enjoy your cookie dough, and don't need to struggle to build up a few little chunks in order to build your own ball (you do that too right?).  The chocolate chip cookie dough was standard Ben & Jerry's cookie dough, presumably the same as from their regular cookie dough ice cream, which I've reviewed before.  The peanut butter cookie dough was actually the reason I picked this flavor, I was very interested to see what that would be like.  Similar to the chocolate chip dough chunks, just, sans chips.  I actually didn't taste that much peanut butter to it, and would have preferred more.

Anyway, this was a good flavor.  I was worried that so many add ins would make it a disaster, but, it worked.  Not my favorite flavor, and probably not one I'd order again, but if someone had some, I'd certainly dig in.
Two Wild & Crazy Pies™.
"Coconut cream & chocolate cream pie ice creams with a chocolate cookie swirl."

I was inspired to get this one solely due to the chocolate cookie swirl.  I loved the chocolate cookie swirl in Ben & Jerry's Milk & Cookies flavor, and really just wanted more of it.

But this ... wasn't great.  I actually blame my scoop shop, as I think something was wrong with their freezers.  The ice cream was all crystalized.  That is NOT normal for Ben & Jerry's!

I love creamy chocolate ice cream, and instead, this was just icy.  I didn't taste much coconut, which is fine, I didn't really want to, it doesn't seem like chocolate and coconut would make that great of a mix anyway.  But the cookie swirl that I was soooo looking forward to?  Without creamy ice cream to go with it, it was just additional icy bits.

This made me really sad.  The texture was just sooo wrong.  If it wasn't my birthday free scoop(s), I certainly would have gone back to say something.  I blame the freezers.

Also tried:
  • Spectacular Speculoos™: "Dark caramel & vanilla ice creams with speculoos cookies & a speculoos cookie butter swirl".  Tasting Notes: I wanted to love this, but it was icy, and the texture was all strange.  I'm glad I asked to try it first.
  • The Tonight Dough ™: "Caramel & Chocolate Ice Creams with Chocolate Cookie Swirls & Gobs of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Peanut Butter Cookie Dough."  Tasting Notes: This is a case of too many good things don't add up to great result.  Every ingredient was individually great, but, together they became too much, and I couldn't taste anything in particular.

2016

Spectacular Speculoos™ on top, Empower Mint on bottom. April 2016.
Two scoops this time, because you know how hard decisions are!  Starting from the top:

"Dark caramel & vanilla ice creams with speculoos cookies & a speculoos cookie butter swirl."

I picked Spectacular Speculoos to give it another try, because on my previous try, I disliked it because it was strangely icy.  I assumed that was a problem with ice cream storage, not inherent to the flavor, so, I wanted to give it another chance.  Plus, I have a co-worker who loves Speculoos, and I think his mentality is rubbing off.

It was ... ok.  I really didn't taste dark caramel ice cream, it just seemed like vanilla to me.  There were chunks in it, but I couldn't distinguish between cookie chunks and the cookie butter swirl.  Also ... I guess I just don't love Speculoos.

Overall, fine, not icy this time, but, not for me.  I won't get this one again.

"Peppermint ice cream with fudge brownies and fudge swirl".

I was pretty excited about the Empower Mint though, a brand new flavor, not even on their website yet.  I love mint and chocolate.

The ice cream was clearly not just vanilla, but, it wasn't as minty as I would have liked.  I didn't find a distinct fudge swirl, just, some vaguely chocolately bits.  There were decent size chunks of brownie though, soft, rich, good brownies, but, somehow, not really what I wanted in my mint ice cream.

So, overall, I wanted more mint, and, I wanted the chocolate in a different form.  I think I wanted mint chocolate chip with real hot fudge on top.  Or some kind of crunchy chocolate mixed in.

2017

Another year, another birthday free scoop, and chance to try some new flavors (including the trendy cereal milk flavors).  No real winners this year.
Milk & Cookies. Small. (August). $5.25.
"Vanilla Ice Cream with a Chocolate Cookie Swirl, Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies."

On this visit, I tried a few new flavors, and decided to settle on my old stand-by, Milk & Cookies.

I didn't love it this time around though.  It seemed to have a lot more chocolate components than I remembered, and, the signature chocolate chip cookie bits, that were more like a swirl before, were fairly non-existent.

Time to try some new flavors ...
Pistachio Pistachio. (July).
"Pistachio Ice Cream with Lightly Roasted Pistachios."

For National Ice Cream Day, the Whole Foods that I stopped into happened to have free samples from Ben & Jerry's.  I used the opportunity to try a flavor I had never had before: Pistachio Pistachio.

I didn't really care for it.  I liked the chunks of pistachio, but, the base ice cream flavor wasn't great.  It was standard Ben & Jerry's rich, quality product however.

Others:
Totally Baked:
"Chocolate & vanilla ice creams with fudge brownies & chocolate chip cookies."

I tried this one for the chocolate chip cookies that I knew from Milk & Cookies, and the brownies from chocolate fudge brownie (both of which I've liked and reviewed both before).

This was ... fine.  But boring.  Chocolate and vanilla, brownie and cookie, but, it didn't really add up to anything particularly amazing.

Truffle Kerfuffle™:
"Vanilla ice cream with roasted pecans, fudge flakes and salted chocolate."

I like pecans.  I like fudge.  I like salt.  And chocolate.  This basically sounded like an ice cream sundae, jammed into a single flavor.  Much potential.

But it fell a bit flat for me.  The texture seemed harder than most other flavors, and, my scooper actually told me he doesn't like this flavor, as it is always too hard (which he said after I said I didn't like it).  Not really sure why this was a miss, but, it was.

Frozen Flakes™
"Cereal milk ice cream with crisp cereal swirls."

Ben & Jerry's jumped on the cereal milk fad big time.  This summer, they introduced not one, not two, but three different cereal bases flavors: Frozen Flakes (e.g. frosted flakes), Frozen Fruities (e.g. Fruit Loops), and Cocoa Loco (e.g. Cocoa Puffs).

I tried Frozen Flakes, pretty excited.  I adore the Cereal Milk soft serve from Momofuku Milk Bar, and fully support this trend.

But, I didn't like the Ben & Jerry's version.  The "crisp cereal swirls" were not crisp.  Just like the waffle cone pieces in Americone Dream, and the potato chips in Late Night Snack, they were kinda soggy and really unappealing.  The base was also just far too sweet.

This was not for me, and the server told me he really didn't like it either.

2018

Limited Batch: Gimme S'more. Small.
"Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream with Chocolate Cookie Swirls, Graham Cracker Swirls & Fudge Flakes."

I don't really care for s'mores.  Graham crackers are a useless item entirely in my world.  I don't like to munch on them, I don't like them for s'mores, and I hate them for pie crusts.  So, picking a s'mores flavor, even if new and limited edition, was a bit of an odd move for me.

But, I had hope for this, as it has chocolate cookie swirls, and I've found those so successful in other ice cream, like the Milk & Cookies I enjoyed before.  Add in an interesting sounding base (toasted marshmallow!), and a promise of fudge flakes, and I could overlook the graham cracker swirls.

Or so I thought.

While the graham cracker didn't necessarily dominate, it was very prominent, and added a strange thickness and grit.  I didn't like it.

Meanwhile, the base ice cream, while an interesting marshmallow-y flavor, was far too sweet.

The chocolate cookie swirl and bits of fudge chips were good, but overall, this was just too sweet, not balanced, and too gritty.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Single.
"Vanilla Ice Cream with Gobs of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough."
"We knew we were onto something big when we made the world's first Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream in 1984. It took us a while to iron out the details, but in 1991 we finally rolled the world's first Dough - in pints - out the door & into ice cream history. Today it still reigns among our all time most popular flavors."
My scoop shop really didn't have any new exciting flavors that were appealing to me, and, after sampling 4 (!), I felt bad and decided to just go with an old reliable.  Cookie dough.  About as classic as Ben & Jerry's gets!  And yes, they really do claim to have invented cookie dough, and really have perfected it.

Rich creamy ice cream base, studded with chocolate chips, and plentiful large chunks of good flavored cookie dough.  The texture of it all is spot on (creamy ice cream, crunch from chocolate chips, soft cookie dough), and this is a classic, reliable option for a reason.  I was happy enough with it.

Other flavors sampled:
MooPhoria Light Caramel Cookie Fix:
"Vanilla Light Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Swirls & Shortbread Cookie Swirls."

Well, ok, I didn't expect light ice to be amazing, but, this was awful to the point that I think my scoop shop must not have stored it properly.  It was so, so icy.  Really just ice.  And the shortbread cookie was really dry.  So dry and icy?  Yeah, not ok.

I'd be curious to try it again somewhere though, as it does have promise, it is real ice cream, just lighter, 140 cal per scoop, and the salted caramel and shortbread cookie swirls do sound good.

Cinndoughrella™ (New 2018 Flavor)
"Cinnamon & Caramel Ice Creams with Cinnamon Bun Dough, Shortbread Cookies & Oatmeal Cinnamon Cookie Swirls."

This one falls in the "almost awesome" category for me.  I loved the cinnamon and caramel bases, I loved the cinnamon bun dough chunks, the shortbread cookie chunks, and the oatmeal cinnamon cookie swirls.  All the components were great, and they worked well together.

So, the problem?  It was just too sweet.  Too much.

I would have gladly gotten this as a mixed scoop, and in the past, my local Ben & Jerry's has allowed split scoop for a single cup (not for a Kiddie size, but a single is actually two scoops but, the very new scooper I had wasn't up for it, and I didn't really care enough to press more).  But balanced with another flavor, or perhaps even whipped cream actually, I think this would be great.

Chocolate Therapy®
"Chocolate Ice Cream with Chocolate Cookies & Swirls of Chocolate Pudding Ice Cream."

Chocolate ice cream is rarely what I like, but, my scoop shop didn't have many flavors I was interested in, and I do love the Ben & Jerry's cookie swirl, so, I gave this one a try, also interested in "chocolate pudding ice cream" swirls.

This was however an ice cream for chocolate ice cream lovers, very much chocolate ice cream and even more intense chocolate ice cream in the chocolate pudding ice cream swirls.  Not for me.

Chocolate Shake It™
"Chocolate Malt Milkshake Ice Cream with Chocolate Cookie-Covered Fudge Truffles & Marshmallow Swirls."

It has been a while since I've had Phish Food, again, since I'm not a big chocolate ice cream fan, but this really reminded me of Phish Food as both have chocolate ice cream base, marshmallow swirl, and chocolate covered items inside.  And I almost like Phish Food, cuz the marshmallow goo is so tasty.

It really was just like an enhanced version of Phish Food for me.  I liked the chocolate malt milkshake ice cream more than standard chocolate, but it was still chocolate ice cream.  I loved the gooey marshmallow swirl, and thought it provided great balance to the marshmallow that I don't care for.  The "chocolate cookie-covered fudge truffles" didn't really seem that different from other chocolate covered things in Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and I didn't see what was "chocolate cookie" about them, but they were a nice component.

Phish Food lovers might want to try this just to mix it up, but, it wasn't the one for me.
Ben & Jerry's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Honey Stinger Waffles

Honey Stinger makes a variety of snacks for athletes (cyclists in particular), designed to be used either before, during, or after sports.  Most are not interesting to me: energy chews, protein bars, energy bars, energy gels, and the like.
"Utilizing an ingredient engineered by nature as opposed to in a laboratory has its benefits, like higher quality and no additional flavoring or coloring. We use honey, a natural form of energy and antioxidants, as the main carbohydrate source for all products. Research in endurance athletes has proven that a mixture of carbohydrates is better tolerated by the body, prevents fatigue and enhances performance more than a single carbohydrate form."
But one product is ... waffles.

Depending on what aspects of Honey Stinger Waffles you consider, these could be something I'd love, or, they could just as well be something I hate.

Waffles?  Excellent.  You know I have a thing for waffles.

Excuses to eat dessert at times other than after a meal, because, they are for sports?  Awesome.

But ... honey is rarely a draw for me.  And I've never found stroopwafel that I actually like, even though I've tried quite a few, like Lady Walton's or Bay Area favorites Rip Van Wafel.

Of course I still tried them though.  The results were surprising, to say the least.
Individual Packaging.
"For years, similar waffles have been sold on street corners throughout Europe and eaten by professional cyclists, so we decided to create our own by sandwiching honey between two thin waffles. Honey Stinger Organic Waffles are easy to digest, certified organic and available in a single-serving wrapper."

The waffles are packaged individually, in colors to match the flavor (here, pink for strawberry).
Waffle: Top.
Each waffle is a round disk, standard stroopwafel shape.  Standard hard yet slightly soft form, designed to be placed over your coffee cup to soften it.

I, uh, of course took a bite first.

Regular Waffles

The regular waffles come in 7 flavors: honey, caramel, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, lemon, and gingersnap.  I tried several.

The waffles are .. well, dry hardish cookie-like things that I didn't care for at all.  I didn't like the honey flavor present in all of them.

I basically hated them all.
Strawberry Waffle: Side.
"A thin layer of our classic honey with natural strawberry flavor sandwiched between two thin waffles. Sure to satisfy your taste buds and keep you going as an afternoon snack, during your favorite activity or go great with your cup of coffee or tea."

I expected it to have more strawberry filling, but actually, there was very little, as you can see from the cross section, and what was there was mixed with the aforementioned honey.

It did taste strawberry however.  Which I didn't like at all.  A softish, crumblyish, staleish strawberry tasting thing?  Serious meh for me.

For me, this was just the opposite of what I'd ever want, not the form, flavor, nor texture I like.  And certainly not a waffle.

I disliked the strawberry so much that I didn't bother trying the warmed up version over my cup, and just tossed it.
Chocolate.
"A thin layer of honey infused with natural cocoa flavor and sandwiched between two thin waffles. The delicious taste of chocolate and honey will satisfy your taste buds and keep you going as an afternoon snack, during your favorite activity or go great with your cup of coffee or tea."

A friend gave me several flavors to try, so, even though I wasn't excited for it, I also tried the chocolate.

It was marginally better, in that chocolate made more sense as a waffle, but I still did not like the honey notes, and just don't care for the stroopwafel concept in general.

Gluten-Free Waffles

And then, because I truly am insane, I tried the gluten-free one.  Because, if the regular one isn't good, try the gluten-free?  Ha.

Gluten-free waffles are available in 5, different, flavors: vanilla & chocolate, chocolate mint, salted caramel, cinnamon, and of course, honey.  Their flavors at least sounded better.

But the real shocker?  I liked this one.
Gluten-Free Cinnamon.
"A thin layer of honey infused with delicious cinnamon sandwiched between two thin waffles. The gluten free all-time classic flavor of cinnamon combined with honey will satisfy your taste buds and keep you going as an afternoon snack, during your favorite activity or go great with your cup of coffee or tea."

The one I was given was the not very exciting sounding cinnamon variety.  I had zero hopes of liking this, given my history with stroopwafel in general, with the brand, with gluten free, and with the flavor choice (so boring!).

It looked just like all the others.  I felt guilty, honestly, even bothering trying it, as I thought it would be headed into the trash.

But ... um, I liked it?

The honey flavor wasn't nearly as strong as in the others, nearly nonexistent actually, and since that was an element I didn't care for, this was a great improvement for me.  So, first taste, it didn't have the honey forward nature I was expecting.

The texture was basically the same as the regular, and although it definitely had the distinctive taste of gluten free flour blends, it actually worked here, creating a slightly hearty taste.  I think the honey and other sweeteners balanced it out nicely.

And the cinnamon, while boring, also worked.

Overall, um, it all worked.  I still don't really just think of these as an item I want alongside (on top of) a coffee, but I like the idea of dunking them in whipped cream, or using as a garnish on ice cream.  Or, making ice cream sandwiches with these thin crispy waffles as the cookies, as they really are like sweeter, chewier waffle cones!
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

United Polaris Lounge, SFO

I don't fly United.  Full stop.

But I do fly with their partner, Air New Zealand.  Which gave me the chance to check out the brand new United Polaris Lounge at SFO. It was quite the upgrade from the United Club, but that is not a very high bar.
It Looked Good at Least?
This is the flagship, premium product from United.  And ... well, it matches my feels on United in general.  The staff do seem to care, and try, but, I don't really have anything else positive to say, besides that the space is lovely.

The Space

The lounge is huge.  2 floors.  Gorgeous.  Tranquil.  Well designed.  Oddly empty.

They really restrict access, and that is nice, I guess, but it felt really desolate and quite strange.

My visit was on a Tuesday evening, 6:45pm-9pm.
Entrance.
The lounge is easy to find, right past security, inviting sign to come in.
Ground Floor: Library.
You enter in the bottom floor, which was quite literally entirely empty when I arrived.

This section had a lovely library, with book shelves and pretty chairs.
Ground Floor: Arm Desks.
The next section had these individual cubby desks, each with power (yes, USB too), and little lamps.  This seating style is also available upstairs.
Ground Floor: Window Seats.
More seating is alongside the windows, another style, more lamps, more power.
Ground Floor: Drinks.
At the back of this area was a small drink station, with coffee and hot water for tea, plus water.  Given the level of non-occupancy, I can guess this was not particularly fresh.
Ground Floor: Snack Station.
Self-serve basic soft drinks, oranges, and wasabi mix rounded out the food and drink offerings for this floor.

Shower suites and bathrooms are also on this floor, I failed to take photos, but they were large and looked nice.
Upper Floor: Hallway.
The escalator leads to the upper floor, where most of the interesting space is.  This area at least had some people.

First up though?  A long hallway, with nothing really in it.  It added to the cavernous desolate felling quite a bit.
Upper Floor: Seating.
I ventured down that hall, but it was clear no one else did.  It had more seating similar to downstairs.  And no people.  Literally.  No people.
Upper Floor: Snack Station.
At the very back was another sad looking snack station, again with wasabi peas and water, and this time, honey mustard pretzels.  None of this was labelled, but I could tell the pretzels had a powder on them, and tried one just to see.  The salty coating was nice.
Upper Floor: Seating towards Bar & Dining.
In the other direction, the hallway eventually leads to a bar, buffet, and dining room, with various types of seating found along the way.
Upper Floor: Bar.
The bar was easy to spot, illuminated by blue, and clearly a focal point.  It had bar seating with high stools, and yes, power.  And a special cocktail menu.  No food or snacks.
Upper Floor: Buffet Dining Tables.
Next comes tables for eating at, if you choose to dine at the buffet.  More on that soon.

The Food: Buffet

The simple option for dining is the buffet.  The ... very sad buffet.  Particularly for vegetarians, who had no hot main, no sandwich, and seemingly only a few salad choices.
Bulgogi Style Beef and Rice.
First up, "hot" foods.  I say "hot" because they are certainly items one would expect hot, but they weren't on warmers, or under heat lamps, or replenished often as no one was there, so, I doubt they were?

But to be fair, I didn't try this horrible looking beef, with some clearly neglected rice on the side.
Lemon chicken scallopini. 
The other hot option?  Chicken, coated in some kind of crust.  It said "lemon chicken scallopini".  I most certainly did not try this.

Warning vegetarians: No vegetarian hot main available.
Noodle Bar.
Things get slightly more interesting with a DIY Noodle Bar.  Bowls of noodles were available for you to add toppings and broth to.  I did not try the noodles.
Noodle Bar: Toppings.
The toppings were at least interesting: crispy wontons, green onion, kimchee, tea leaf eggs, cilantro, and fried garlic.  These were even labelled!  On the side, asian sauces and sesame seeds.

I tried the crispy wontons and crispy garlic, along with sambal.  They were standard, fine.  Something to munch on.
Noodle Bar: Broth.
The final step for DIY noodles is to add the broth.  I didn't try it.

And that ended the warm offerings.
Salads.
The other side of the buffet is the cold items, starting with pre-made salads.

Only one of these items was labelled, and it just said "pasta salad" anyway.

The others seemed to be a grain based salad, a mayo based pea salad, and tomato and mozzarella.

I tried the pasta salad.  It was mushy.  It was oily.  The veggies were nothing special inside.

I also tried the pea salad.  It had bits of ham, egg, and roasted pearl onions.  And obviously mayo.  The peas were cooked fine, and I did like the pearl onion, but this was nothing special.

Nothing worth eating here.  And to be fair, I do like deli salads quite a bit, and often find them the highlight of lounges, like the Qantas Business lounge in Sydney .
Green Salad.
And then, the salad bar, to assemble your own.

One type of base (mixed greens), and only 6 toppings: carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, croutons, and red peppers.  How ... extensive.
Chicken Salad Sandwiches.
Next up? Sandwiches.

The sign said "chicken salad sandwiches", so I think these were all the same.  On croissants.  I didn't try.
Salami and Cheese (?) Sandwiches.
The second sandwiches were not labelled, but, I could see salami, cheese, and a creamy spread.

Warning vegetarians: no vegetarian sandwich available.

I skipped all this originally, but after a disappointing snack in the a la carte Dining Room, I came back and grabbed one, hoping the spread, cheese, and charcuterie inside would be good.

They weren't.

The bread was hard and stale, the spread flavorless, and the salami and cheese quite generic.
Desserts.
Ok, now we were talking!  Dessert time! 

This section had a pudding, cookies, two types of brownies, and cannoli.  The cookies, and second type of brownies, were not labelled.
Coconut rice pudding and pineapple brulee.
Ok, I was excited for this.  So excited I failed to take a reasonable photo it appears.  Blame the lighting?

I love pudding!

This .. wasn't great.  It wasn't bad, but, it wasn't actually good either.

Fairly creamy rice pudding, but quite flavorless.  The caramelized pineapple on top was ... fine?  Again, not that great.  And then, coconut.  Fine.

So, all fine, but nothing particularly good.
Matcha Green Tea Cannoli.
I don't eat caffeine in the evening, and this had both matcha and chocolate chips, but, I still wanted to try it.  I wasn't thrilled with the other options.

The cannoli shell was horrible.  It was soft and kinda soggy.

The filling, also not good.  Gritty and strange.

I moved on to a cookie.  I didn't take a photo.  Because really, when do I like cookies?

I wouldn't say I *liked* this cookie, but it was the best of the trio of desserts.  It was ... a fig cookie?  It had exactly one tiny bit of fig in it.  Otherwise, just a sugar cookie.  It had tons of sugar on top.  It was sweet and buttery.  Like I said, best of the bunch, but, that wasn't a high bar.

The Food: The Dining Room

The dining room is a full service, a la carte restaurant.  I've been to several similar concepts, like the Qantas First lounge in Sydney (which, is incredible, and honestly features some of the best food I've had in Sydney).  The Qantas First lounge in Los Angeles (good, but not quite the same level as Sydney).  The Cathay Pacific Wing in Hong Kong.  A bunch of British Airways lounges in London, like the Galleries First Lounge, and of course, the Concorde Room (for breakfast, for lunch - eh, nicely plated but mediocre).

Those dining rooms impress.  This one ... did not.
Dining Room Entrance.
"Wait to be seated" sums it up.  I waited.  And waited.  The staff acknowledged me, but, they seemed kinda overwhelmed with basic service, like, clearing empty tables and seating new guests.  Or, um, providing silverware and napkins to seated diners who repeatedly asked for them (my neighbor).  Or, dealing with loud obnoxious people screaming at their kids across the dining room (??)
Menu.
The menu lists both the lunch and breakfast options, so I got a preview of it all.  I wished I was there for breakfast - mango pudding! Hot cinnamon rolls! Brulee oats!  Although, chances any of it would be good?

The breakfast menu:

LIGHT BITES
  • Tropical mango pudding with fruit and coconut granola
  • Fresh hot cinnamon roll with pecan streusel and berries
  • Steel-cut brulee oats with a caramelized layer and fresh berries
  • Deconstructed lox and bagel with cream cheese. smoked salmon, capers, red onions and cucumbers
ENTREES
  • Traditional Chinese congee with tea egg. dried shrimp, green onions, cilantro, wonton, soy sauce and sambal
  • Three-egg omelet with choice of tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, onions, peppers, ham, bacon, cheddar and Swiss
  • Silver dollar pancakes Plain or blueberry – served with Vermont maple syrup
But I was there for dinner, which is the same menu as lunch:

SMALL PLATES
  • Crispy shrimp cake with sweet’n sour sauce
  • Wedge Cobb salad with bacon, blue cheese and herbed dressing
  • Chef’s daily soup seasonally inspired, classically prepared
ENTREES
  • Chicken katsu bento box vegetable egg roll, jasmine rice and a sunomono salad
  • Hand-cut pappardelle pasta with mushroom ragout and shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Cioppino with traditional seafood
  • United Polaris Burger with cheddar. lettuce. tomato, pickled vegetables, garlic aioli, bacon. fried egg and house-made chips
DESSERT
  • Tiramisu espresso cup made with illy coffee
  • Cheese plate with grapes and crackers
  • Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and Ghirardelli Chocolate sauce
I went for just a small plate, since I wanted to also check out the buffet, and would be having a full meal on the flight anyway. Nothing from the entrees particularly called out at me anyway (meh, chicken, eh pasta, and how good would their cioppino or burger really be?).  I'm glad I skipped all this after seeing the quality of everything else.

The desserts all had caffeine, which I avoid in the evenings, so I also skipped those, and opted for buffet selections for dessert.
Sparkling Water and Smoky Negroni.
"Smokey Negroni, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Carnpari house made vermouth and orange bitters with a dehydrated orange garnish."

There were many cocktails on the menu that sounded great (the Polaris Old Fashioned, the Paper Plane, and the Cloud Cover were all top contenders!), but I went for the negroni.  It is my kinda standard pre-flight drink.

I didn't like it.

It was decently smoky.  But ... besides that, not balanced at all.  Harsh.  Meh.  I heard others complaining about the bloody mary, asking for more tabasco, and finding out nothing could be adjusted as it was a mix.

The full cocktail menu, for the curious:

Signatures of the Sky
  • United Polaris Star: Star anise-infused vodka, Dolin Blanc and Dolin Dry garnished with a single star anise
  • The Paper Plane: Oolong-steeped bourbon, jasmine honey Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, Aperol, chamomile honey arid lemon garnished with a paper plane
  • Cloud Cover: Aviation Gin, grapefruit liqueur and fresh lime juice with lemon twist
  • United Polaris Old Fashioned: Rieger’ss Kansas City Whiskey, house simple syrup. San Francisco Bitters, Company Reception Bitters with a fresh orange wheel and Luxardo cherry
Traveler's Favorites
  • High Altitude Bloody Mary: Star anise-infused and house made bloody mary mix with fresh pepper, sea salt, olive and celery garnish
  • Ginger Scotsman: This playful version of the classic Penicillin combines Balvenie DoubleWood, ginger beer, chamomile honey, lemon and a mist of Ardbeg 10 Year
  • Lavender Lift: Riondo Blu Prosecco, Belvedere Vodka, lavender and lemon essence with a lavender garnish
  • Smokey Negroni: Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Carnpari house made vermouth and orange bitters with a dehydrated orange garnish
  • Mai Tai: Cana White Rum. Crusoe Spiced Rum, fresh orange and pineapple juice, and Amaro Nonino with a dehydrated orange wheel and a cherry
  • Pisco Punch: Pisco Porton, pineapple juice and lime garnished with a pineapple spear.
Migration by Duckhorn, Pinot Noir, Russian River, California 2014.
"Complex aromas of rich earth and rose petals with abundant cherry pie, strawberry and a touch of sweet oak."

I moved on to wine.  I asked for just a taste to start.  I'm glad I did.

This I did not like.  I'm glad I asked for a small small glass.  Very very tannic.  Not for me.  I decided to just wait until I boarded my flight, as Air New Zealand usually has decent wine.
Small Plate: Crispy shrimp cake with sweet’n sour sauce.
 I was blown away when I saw the dish.  It looked great!  The table next to me even commented on it.

Sadly, it didn't live up to the looks.

The shrimp cake was oily, soggy, not crisp.  The texture was really quite firm.  Not because it had large chunks of shrimp though.  It was just ... firm.  It had bits of onion and pepper inside.  It wasn't anything special, and again, kinda oily and soggy.

On top was a ton of slightly pickled cucumber and carrot.  Meh.

The sauce, while nicely plated, was not great either.  It looked like sweet chili sauce somewhat, and said sweet and sour, but, it wasn't any distinguishable flavor besides sweet.  Meh.

Overall, it certainly looked good, but I didn't enjoy it.
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Monday, August 13, 2018

Vejoes Vegetarian Food Truck, Sydney

I discovered an amazing food truck.  A vegetarian food truck.  In Sydney.

Vejoes is a food truck run by Joe.  (Actually, the truck is named Sofia.  Vejoes is the business.  Ve-joes, as in, vegetarian Joes.  Get it?)  Per Joe:
"Everything I serve has been prepared by me (with love), with many of the fresh ingredients sourced directly from my garden. If it didn't grow in my backyard, I've chosen the best quality, freshest ingredients available."
I can't say I had any expectations going into this, but I was blow away by how much I enjoyed my meal.  If only Vejoes was a bit more accessible to me regularly!  Not only is it on the other side of the world from where I live (Sydney), it also doesn't have a brick and mortar location, available only for catering, events, food festivals, and pop-ups around town.  Doh.

I found Vejoes at a winter festival in July (since, that is winter in the southern hemisphere ...).  It was my second food truck stop of the day, after disappointing yum cha from Let's Do Yum Cha that left me wanting something before I moved on to the waffle truck for dessert, and, uh, the chocolate fountain.  I didn't expect to have such an amazing meal from Vejoes, and wished I had skipped the first truck entirely!

I highly recommend, if you ever have the opportunity.
The Menu (and Joe!)
The menu was handwritten on a chalkboard, with only three options, all vegetarian obviously, one vegan.
Three Cheese Quesadilla: The classic Mexican dish, Vejoes style.Cajun black beans, grilled corn, caramelised onion, melted feta, cheddar, smoked haloumi w/ sour cream & el curtido salad.
The Haloumi Burger: The crowd pleaser.Grilled haloumi, smoked mushrooms, home-made green chilli & pumpkin jam, caramelised onion, mayo and mixed salad leaves.
Grilled Eggplant Burger (Vegan).Eggplant steak, smoked mushrooms, veganaise, chili BBQ sauce, onions, mixed leaves, pickles.
I'm not normally one to head for the vegetarian truck, particularly given so many other options, particularly given the wait times Vejoes was giving.  But.  Haloumi.

We just don't get enough haloumi in the US, and when we do, its always just mediocre.  In Australia, they know how to haloumi.  I had high hopes.

Orders did take a while, which we were warned when we ordered.  Joe worked alone in the kitchen, making each dish to order, all of which used his single grill top.  He worked in batches somewhat, doing 2-3 at a time almost, but never more than that.

Patience was rewarded however.
The Haloumi Burger (Salad option).
"Grilled haloumi, smoked mushrooms, home-made green chilli & pumpkin jam, caramelised onion, mayo and mixed salad leaves."

I ordered the haloumi burger, and asked to have it bunless.  I am not gluten-free nor carb adverse, but, I had my eyes on the waffle truck for dessert, and had yum cha / dim sum already from the first truck I stopped at, so, I really didn't want to fill up on bread.  I was offered to do it as a salad, which I accepted, although really, I would have been happy with just no bun and nothing else changed.  I was assured that the yummy toppings would all be included, which, to be honest, drew me in as much, if not more, than the haloumi itself.

So, what did I have?  A base of mixed greens.  Simple mixed greens, but super fresh.  They soaked up all the flavors from above amazingly well.  I ended up absolutely loving my salad base, particularly the spinach and rocket, mixed with those toppings.

So yeah, those toppings.  Wowzer.

The smoked mushrooms were just button mushrooms, and didn't really seem smoked, and thus were the only component I wasn't happy with.

The caramelized onion was amazing, you can't see it here because it is under the haloumi, but there was tons and tons of this, chopped onions, super caramelized, super flavorful, and I think with balsamic? Crazy good, and the juices ran out of it into the greens.

The green chili & pumpkin jam was mixed with the caramelised onion, again, great flavor, awesomeness that just infused the salad and haloumi.  The whole thing was drizzled *very* generously with mayo, which when I saw it my eyes went wide, but it was really good, again, it just combined perfectly with those other sauces and leaves.

So, even without the haloumi, this was insanely delicious and satisfying.  I kinda couldn't believe it.

And then there was the massive slices of fresh grilled haloumi.  Grilled to order, served to me moments after it came off the grill.  Talk about delicious.  No squeaky cheese here.  The slices were thick too, as designed to be a burger.  There were no knives, so it was actually a bit comical to eat, as I couldn't cut it with my plastic fork, and it was covered in sauces and so was quite messy.  But it was kinda perfect, well seasoned, well cooked.  I suspect the burger normally comes with only one of these massive haloumi patties, and I was given two for the salad?

Not pictured is the extra sauces I also added.  Vejoes had condiments on the side, one was a watermelon hot sauce (! danger! Julie allergic!), but another was mandarin orange, and the third was berry hot sauce, and I added some of that too.  I can't say it was needed given all the other flavorful wonderful components, but, I liked it too.

Overall, a total winner, I'd get this again in a heartbeat.  Even just the salad with toppings was insanely good, which is such a crazy thing for me to say.
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