Friday, September 21, 2018

Eta Chips

Eta is a snack foods company based in New Zealand.  You know me and snacks, particularly when traveling and they have unique flavors.  I couldn't wait to try their goods.

They make a slew of different product lines, including different types of chips (Uppercuts - Deli Cut, Ripple Cut, Thick Cut, Uppercuts - Corn Tapas), specialty chips (Munchos, Cruncheese, Monster Munch, and Cheese Balls), crackers (known as Cravers), and nut mixes (both sweet and savory).  Some of the flavors are totally fascinating, like "Cheesy Bacon" or "Burger" Monster Munch, or Sweet Chili Relish Uppercuts Deli Cut.

Eta has a long history as a company, 80 years old, although the chips were only introduced in the 70s, the premium Uppercuts line not until 2004.

I tried only one item though, from the Ripple Cut line.
"ETA real decent chips since the 70's! Made with potatoes proudly grown locally in NZ. All we do is dig 'em up, scrub 'em, chop 'em and cook 'em, that's why our chips have a real, natural golden colour."
I loved them.  Next time I'm back in New Zealand, I must get my hands on more of their products!
Ripple Cut Chicken.
What makes up "chicken" flavor?  Well, "Chicken Flavour", duh?  Otherwise known as Sugar, Salt, Corn Maltodextrin, Onion Powder, Natural Flavours, Garlic Powder, Herbs, Hydrolysed Soy Protein, Milk Powder, Flavour Enhancer (635), Emulsifier (433).  Yum.

Except, they were actually yum.  Really yum.  I love these.

The ripple form factor was just right, they were thicker than traditional thin style non-ripple cut chips, full of good potato flavor, if that makes any sense.  Fried, not baked or trying to be healthy, and very satisfying.

And the flavor?  Ok, I didn't taste "chicken", but I really liked what I did taste.  Full of flavor.  So much flavor.  Great herb level.

I adored these, and downed the bag in an instant.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

La Diperie, Montreal

Soft serve ice cream.  It is what my summer dreams are made of.

Dreams, because in San Francisco, "summer" is a joke, and soft serve just isn't really a thing.  Hence why whenever I visit the east coast of the US, or Sydney, all I do is eat soft serve.  Such a rare treat for me.

I'm glad soft serve has continued to flourish there though, because the quality of soft serve shops just keeps going up.  My childhood haunts of Dairy Twirl and Ice Cream Fore-U just don't compare, not just to crazy Instagram sensational places (yes, I'm looking at you Aqua S and your cones with cotton candy wrapped around them), but even to traditional ice cream stands that have just really increased quality like King Kone, or ones with sourcing you can't beat, located on their own dairy farm with maple sugar shack, like Mac's Maple.

La Diperie isn't in my hometown, but rather, in Montreal, where I visited for a very quick 2 day business trip.  My list of desserts to try included 2 things: BeaverTails and soft serve dip.  Because, apparently, Montreal takes their soft serve dip very very seriously.  There are sections of town where every third store has soft serve with dips.  Seriously.  Most look fairly generic, but just my list of places with artisan dips and toppings was at least 10 long, in a few block radius of my hotel.

La Diperie is a chain in the area, started only in 2014, but already with 25 locations.  There were at least 4 within easy walking distance of my hotel.  I visited 2.  And returned to one of them within 10 minutes.  Uh, yeah.

I selected La Diperie for several reasons: large dip selection, full customization allowed (some places are pre-set combos of dips and toppings only), and a great range of sizes, including an adorable mini cone.
2 Visits ... in 10 Minutes.  Don't judge.
So I went.  Twice.  In one night.  Ok, twice in 10 minutes.  Please don't judge.  I recommend this move actually.

I went to walk around and eat my cone, and realized that the minis really were small enough I could get another.  I'm really glad I went with the mini actually, because 2 totally different ones was way more fun that 1 larger one.  My server told me this is actually really common, and they recommend it to people who can't make up their mind.

Both of my cones were quite successful, and so I decided to check out another location a day later.

Setting: Old Town

My first visit was to their location in Old Montreal, center of touristville, but, down a side street.
Store Front.
Curb appeal?  Yup!

This location was down a quiet side street, in a stone building with bright blue planters.
Inside is small though, no seating at all, just a place to order and pay and get out.  No bathroom facilities.
The menu was all in french. I struggled through it, but did ask a bunch of questions.

To start, you pick a cone or dish from 5 sizes: mini , petit, regular, grand, and waffle for a base price.  From there, you can add a dip for $1, from their extensive line up.  And then, toppings for $0.65, again, a decent line up.

I love the mini size because if you want just a snack, or a little treat after dinner, its a great size to feel like you had something, but not too much.  The next size up, "petite", is about the size of kiddie cone at most places, and then they have regular and large sizes too if you want a full treat.  I wish more places had something like this.

You can also opt for some pre-designed creations with specific dip and topping combos, build your own ice cream sandwiches (pick your cookies, pick your dip, pick your toppings), milkshakes, or, if you are vegan and got dragged here by someone, a vegan popsicle.

La Diperie has only vanilla soft serve, but it was perfectly creamy and rich, certainly good base soft serve.

Some locations also carry other desserts like lava cakes and profitteroles, and raw vegan cookie dough.
30 Types of Dip.
"More than 30 pure Belgian chocolate flavors to choose from.  Great classics such as milk, dark chocolate, caramel or surprising ones, like activated charcoal, ginger, lemonade, lavender, pistachios."
Now the hard part.  The dips.  Yes, literally, 30 of them.  Not made from wax and chemicals, but from white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or 70% dark chocolate, although none were labelled with what type of base they used, and I felt annoying asking.  Chocolats Favoris labels these nicely.

Flavors range from boozy bailey's, to classic dark chocolate with fleur de sel, to kid's favorite Oreo.  And yes, you can ask to try them first.

Since my visit was at night, I limited myself to the white chocolate based offerings.  I sampled a few before making my pick.  I was sad that they were sold out of the one I wanted though, a white chocolate based "Birthday Cake" flavor.
"More than 20 types of toppings. 20 original and classic toppings to put the finishing touch on your culinary creation!"

And then, toppings!  All types of nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc), candies (M&Ms, Skors, Kit Kat, etc), cereals (Rice Krispies, Lucky Charms, etc), cookies (Oreo, graham crackers, etc), and many many more.  They didn't actually have a full 20 toppings at this location though.

Setting:  St Catherine

My next visit was to their St Catherine location, 2 days later.  Don't worry, I had soft serve dip the next night too, I just decided to mix it up and go to Chocolats Favoris instead (review coming soon!).

The St. Catherine location was actually a very different experience, with a far bigger menu, dip, and topping selection.  This one did have the profiteroles, "Razzles", and other blended items.
Ordering Area.
This location has no interior, just a window on the walking plaza to order.   And a line, of course.
It does have seating, an outside area on the walking mall closed off with a few tables.
White Chocolate Dips.
And a far bigger dip selection.  And this dip selection was arranged starting with white chocolate, then milk, then dark, then 70% dark.  So much easier.

They had all the same ones the previous location had, plus more that I was particularly excited to see, like the birthday cake that was sold out at the other location.
Milk, Dark, 70% Dark Dips.
And then, even more milk, dark, and 70% dips.  Since this visit was daytime, I opened up to hte possibilities of chocolate, and there were some amazing sounding choices.  Popcorn!
Toppings: Set 1.
They also have far far more toppings, two different sets of jars.  This set was mostly the same as the other location.
Toppings: Set 2.
But the other side had more fun things, like some unlabeled blue candy things I decided to get.

Here you can also see the cone line up.  They actually use different size cones for each size, and it was nice to see them side by side.  The mini cone is sooo cute.  A waffle cone or chocolate waffle cone are also available.

My Cones

At the first location, I got a mini ... and then another mini 10 minutes later as I wasn't quite satisfied (I did want a full size dessert, and, I didn't love my first dip).  At the second location, I actually had a full dessert prior (oops), but still wanted one last cone, so got another mini.  I loved the size.

I sampled a few dips over my three visits, besides the ones I got, including:
  • White Chocolate Pistachio: a decent dip that I was worried would be "too much" after a while.
  • White Chocolate Maple: A great sweet maple one that I just wasn't in the mood for.
  • White Chocolate Anniversary Birthday Cake: Pretty color, but didn't taste like anything besides sweet.
  • White Chocolate Popcorn: Didn't taste any popcorn.  Was hoping for sweet and salty and that didn't happen.
  • Milk Chocolate Mint: This was good, minty, chocolately.  I would have gotten it but I wasn't quite in the mood for mint.
Dip Close Up.
A few things were consistent at all locations.

First, the base ice cream, only vanilla.  The ice cream was good, rich, creamy, and it melted nicely as I ate it.  Better than average soft serve really, and it isn't even the focus of the shop.

Second, the style of dip shell.  It isn't as thin as ice cream stands that use the commercial waxy chemical shells, but it isn't nearly as thick as other chocolate shops that feature dips.  Here you can see how thin the layer is.
White Chocolate Peanut Butter Dip, Peanuts, Rainbow Sprinkles. Mini. $1.50 + $1 + $0.65 + $0.65.
For my first cone, I opted for peanut butter in the end without trying it, since I do always love peanut butter.  I dipped it in crushed peanuts and rainbow sprinkles.  This one was the prettiest, look how perfect it was!

The peanut butter I didn't love.  It was good, but actually just too intense.  Thick, sooo much peanut butter.  I did like the crunch of the nuts and the sprinkles on the outside though.

I think a thinner layer of dip would have worked fine, maybe a larger size with less surface area outside and more ice cream perhaps, or even something like chocolate ice cream to combat the strong peanut butter.  It was good, don't get me wrong, but even in the small size, I grew sick of it.

I was glad I got the mini size, since I didn't love the peanut butter after a while.
White Chocolate Cookie Dough Dip, Skor, Rainbow Sprinkles. Mini. $1.50 + $1 + $0.65 + $0.65.
For my second cone that day, I went for the cookie dough (also white chocolate base), since it was clear I was craving sweet.  And I added crushed Skor bars (toffee candy) and rainbow sprinkles again because I loved them on the first cone.

This one was made by the same person, but came out a fairly different shape.  More like a Christmas tree than a perfect cone.

The cookie dough dip was a great choice, not that it tasted like cookie dough, but it was sweet and satisfying.  Creamy from the white chocolate, and thick, but not intense in the way the peanut butter was.  If I lived here and came regularly, I'd get it again, but with limited time during a short stay, I'd rather explore more options.

The Skor candy bits though were not good, somehow kinda soft, which was entirely wrong.  Every bite I took with them had a really unpleasant soft chew to it.  I'm sure that if they were fresher they would be great, as the toffee was good.

I loved the rainbow sprinkles again, not just for the looks, but also the crunch.
70% Dark Chocolate Black Coal Dip, Blue Things, Rainbow Sprinkles. Mini. $1.50 + $1 + $0.65 + $0.65.
My final visit was daytime, so I went all out and got not just chocolate, not milk chocolate, not dark chocolate, but the 70% dark chocolate.  And went for the charcoal flavor, without trying it.

This cone was thinner and taller, and not quite so straight.  Mine was much better made than the others in front of me though, they also all had minis, and theirs were all seriously slanting!

I added the rainbow sprinkles because they were so good on the other cones, and, uh, randomly, the blue things that I couldn't identify.  The crunch from both was great, but they really were just sweet things.

The dip was ... ok?  It just really wasn't very intense chocolate.  Far more chocolately than your average ice cream shop waxy dip obviously, but certainly not as intense of chocolate as you get at the other dip shops around town that truly are real chocolate shops.
La Diperie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

JetBlue Mint 1415, JFK-SFO

Flight Details

Departure: JFK, 8:07pm (scheduled), ~8:40pm (actual).
Arrival: 11:57 pm (scheduled), (actual)
Seat: 3D
Class: Mint
Date: June 2018

So this is a sad story.  I'll spare you all the details, but, I missed my actual flight.  I was booked on the previous flight, at a nice reasonable 3:55pm departure time, and ... let's just say, everything people say about getting to JFK from Manhattan is unfortunately very, very true.  I doubled the time I thought I needed, and still missed my flight.  On *that* flight, I had the single suite.  On this flight ... no so much.  Anyway.  At least I was able to fly out that day, just, many hours at JFK later :(


I've reviewed Mint extensively before, so, no full review this time around.  Not much has changed, as always, a wonderful experience, both hard product and soft.

I was seated in 3D, aisle seat at least, with a neighbor.  I'm always shocked by how different the experience is in the single suites vs having a neighbor.  It doesn't really matter how nice that person is, the lack of storage space really is just dramatically different.  Basically ... just the little pocket in seat in front of you, no place for bag during takeoff/landing, etc, compared to the huge cubbies in the suites.  Just a small shared place for drinks.  Etc.

But, it was still Mint, at least.


Dining on this flight was fine, but lacking any standouts.
Westbound Dinner, June 2018.
As always, menus were distributed as we settled into our seats, orders taken once underway.  The menu followed the familiar format - appetizer, choice of 3 of 5 small plates (2 chilled, 3 veggie, 1 seafood), and local ice cream.

Choose three. Please note: The first two dishes listed below are chilled
  • WHEATBERRY & SMOKED ALMOND COUSCOUS: cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives
  • HOT & COLD SMOKED SALMON: baby beets, oranges, watercress, crème fraîche
  • HEIRLOOM TOMATO GRATIN: fennel pollen, breadcrumbs
  • CHICKEN TAGINE: pasta fregola, green olives, almonds*
  • PORCHETTA: spicy peach ragout, arugula, radishes 
  • ICE CREAM: Blue Marble Ice Cream, New York, NY.
  • COOKIE, milk bar, NYC and beyond
This was a pretty unexciting menu for me, the first time I think I've ever *not* been excited about the lineup.  Not a single dish was one I really wanted, and, I knew I was allergic to the starter dip that went with the amazing taro chips, which made me pretty sad, as I adore their dips!
Drink Menu.
And of course, a drink list with the usual beer, liquor, coffee, tea, and wine, the exact same lineup I had on my flight to the east coast.
  • Sparkling: RAVENTOS I BLANC DE NIT BRUT ROSÉ, 2015, Penedès, Spain
  • White: SANDHI CHARDONNAY, 2015, Sta. Rita Hills, California
  • White: VON WINNING ESTATE DRY RIESLING, 2016, Pfalz, Germany
  • Red: COUNTY LINE PINOT NOIR, 2016, Sonoma Coast, California
  • Red: BROC VINE STARR ZINFANDEL, 2016, Sonoma County, California
Country Line Pinot Noir, 2016.
Pre-takeoff, as always, drinks were offered, and I decided to just move right to red wine.  It was one of those days.  The only red option on the ground was the pinot noir, which was fine with me, given that I had liked it before.

It was again fine, very drinkable.
Broc Vine Starr Zinfandel, 2016.
The pinto really was fine, but I decided to try the other red wine, a zin, just to mix it up.

It was a much bolder wine, a lot more bite, a lot more complex, but, not tanic, and I liked it.  The pinot was certainly more likely to be a crowd pleaser, light, drinkable, but this was much more interesting.
Our Welcome Taste was delivered once underway. Even though I'm allergic to avocado, I still wanted the taro chips, and, one little bit wouldn't hurt right?

I liked the taro chips as always, crunchy, satisfying.  As always, I found the serving way too small.  And, when I told my FA that I loved the taro chips, she offered without a beat to bring me more and more.

The dip was nicely plated up, topped with an artichoke heart and topped with some kind of spice.  I did try a bite of the dip, and it was creamy and flavorful, herby too, but, alas, I felt the effects of the avocado nearly immediately, so, I stopped.  And I didn't really want the artichoke heart anyway.


For my meal, I went for the two chilled dishes, and the hot vegetarian dish, ruling out the chicken and porchetta.  My neighbor selected the same dishes, so, I didn't get to spy on the ones I didn't order.
My tray arrived with all three of my small plates.  This time I finally remembered to say that I didn't need a roll. 
"Cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives."

First up, a chilled "salad"

If you like healthy grain based salads, this was a nicely done dish.

The wheatberries were cooked exactly as I prefer, still quite al dente, crispy, chewy.  Mixed in with the wheatberries was chopped almonds, more good texture and crunch.  Also in the mix was I think red peppers and feta cheese?  A little more color and pop, following the Mediterranean theme.  On top, slices of olives and cherry tomatoes, and mint and cilantro garnish.  It was very lightly dressed as well.

So, for what it was, a nicely done dish.  Good textures and flavors. Years ago, I would have loved this (I was on a healthy kick, and really into wheatberries in particular).  These days, it wasn't really what I wanted, but, I can recognize all the good aspects of it.  My second pick, but I wouldn't want it again.
"Baby beets, oranges, watercress, crème fraîche."

Next I had another cold dish, the smoked salmon.  It was really beautifully presented, with the watercress on top, globs of crème fraîche, and colorful oranges and beets.

The oranges were even supremed.  They were juicy and fresh.  But I wasn't really into the orange and salmon combination, so I saved them for last, and just ate them as a refreshing palette cleanser before dessert.

The beets were raw, thin slices, pretty things, fresh, crisp.  Again, not quite sure about them with the oranges and salmon, but, a good component.  The watercress too was fresh and nice.

I adored the crème fraîche.  Super creamy, and plenty of it.

But this *was* a salmon dish, so, where was the salmon?
The salmon was under all the other layers.

There was two styles, one hot smoked, one cold smoked.

The cold-smoked salmon was thinly sliced, oily, not fishy, slightly smoked, and kinda slimy.  Basically, kinda just like lox, exactly as expected, and the style that I don't generally care all that much for.

But the hot smoked was great, fully cooked, flaked, really smoky, not fishy, and in the very bottom of the dish.

So, overall, some components I didn't like, some elements that didn't combine great, but, some parts that I really did enjoy.  The smoky hot smoked salmon +  creamy crème fraîche + fresh crisp beet slices really were tasty.

My favorite dish, and I'd actually be happy to get again, just because the hot smoked salmon was so good!
"Fennel pollen, breadcrumbs."

My final choice was the hot vegetarian item, a tomato gratin.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this one, and I'm still not 100% certain I figured out everything that was in it.

I liked exactly one thing about it: gooey cheese!  Oh, and it was piping hot.  But otherwise ... it didn't do it for me.

So, what did we have?

Slices of colorful heirloom tomatoes, yellow, red, orange.  Soft but not mushy.  But also not very flavorful.  Within the layers was a bit of cheese, onions, and some kind of mild green pepper.  All ... fine but again, not very flavorful.

The real reason I wasn't into this though was the bread crumbs, generously topped, and within.  They weren't crisp, and just added a lot of mush to the dish.  So much mush.

As you can see, it also separated quite a bit, so, the gratin was sitting in a pool of oil, and the cheese was a bit congealed.  I never figured out what the cheese variety was (gruyere maybe?).

So ... flavorless tomatoes/onions, in oily congealed sauce, with lots of mushy crumbs?  Yeah.  Not great.  But the flavors of congealed cheese were good.

My least favorite dish.
Blue Marble Ice Cream: Raspberry Chip, Vanilla.
And ... dessert time!  As always, ice cream, served from a local ice cream maker from the port of departure.  For NY, this is Blue Marble.

Before takeoff, as customary (for me), I asked the FA what our flavor would be.  She laughed and noticeably perked up, telling me it was one of her favorites: raspberry chip!  Per JetBlue's standard, we received 2 scoops of the flavor of the day, and one scoop vanilla.

As always, I brought my own toppings.  I'm a pro!  This time, I cam prepared with white chocolate chips, graham cracker crumble, and rainbow sprinkles (from Milk Bar  no less).  I'm totally normal, really ...

It always, the ice cream was served way too hard, so I had to patiently wait for it to warm up.  It also didn't look great, a bit freezer burned looking.

But, once it did warm, it actually was fine.  The raspberry chip was indeed a hit, really fruity good raspberry flavor, large size dark chocolate chunks.  The vanilla was pretty boring, but, once I loaded on m toppings was fine.

Overall, an ok offering.  I would certainly prefer creamier ice cream, and other brands I've had on JetBlue have been better, but this flavor was a good one.
Parting Gift: Milk Confetti Cookie.
Our parting gift was again a cookie from Milk, this time, confetti.

Monday, September 17, 2018

IHOP, 2018

Another year, another round of free pancakes from IHOP.  Joining their e-club has its merits - a free meal for your IHOP-iversary AND a free stack for your birthday!
Pancakes: Devoured.
I was excited to go for my pancakes.  This year's coupons are for a full stack of any pancakes from the menu.  Every year, the coupon changes, although it has basically gotten more and more stingy.

The first few years it was a full combo meal with sides, like my first visits in 2012 and 2013 where I got combos with Harvest Grain N' Nut or Whole Wheat Pancakes.  The past few years it has specifically been for the Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity stack, or their equivalent value, which is always the route I went, getting more Harvest Grain N' Nut pancakes in 2014, before finally branching out to Raspberry White Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip in 2015, to Red Velvet and Double Blueberry in 2016, and Cinn-a-Stack and more Double Blueberry in 2017.

This year though, much more restrictive.  Just a stack of pancakes.  Any kind, but no option to use the equivalency for something else, and no option to split a stack.  4 pancakes of the same kind.  Nothing else.

August 2018 Visit - Beach Street Location

I've always compared the two San Francisco IHOP locations, as the differences are striking.  The Fisherman's Wharf location just ... amazes me in how inefficient it is.  You can read all about my past experiences there (like 2014 in particular), but, they always have crazy long lines of people, half the restaurant vacant and filled with dirty tables, servers who have zero time to pay any attention, food that sits in the window of the pass for way too long getting cold, and, highly inconsistent cooking.  The Lombard Street location on the other hand, has always been amazingly friendly and perfectly operated, although the waits are always longer for me, since they don't have a counter for single diners.  

I greatly prefer the Lombard Street location, due to the quality staff and food, but, alas, it closed two weeks before my IHOP-iversary.  I had to return to Beach Street.

I'd like to report back that things got better in the past few years, but, alas, they have not.  The waiting list, at 10am on Sunday, was 18 parties deep for a table, but luckily, I was able to sit at the counter with no wait since I was alone.  As always, I was basically entirely ignored by an overloaded server, my food was fairly cold, and, the entire experience was sub-par.
Silverware Wrapper.
Basically everything about IHOP is the same as previous visits, so, I'll skip all details, except one.

One new change at IHOP.  When you sit, you are brought your silverware in an individual paper bag.  I don't understand.  Isn't this incredibly wasteful?
New International Pancakes.
The pancake specials for the summer were "International" pancakes, very fitting for, well, the International House of Pancakes.  It is a bit funny that they haven't ever embraced that before.

So what nations were represented?

First, Belgium, with the Belgian Dark Chocolate Mousse pancakes, "Four luscious chocolate pancakes take a trip to Belgium where they are filled with chocolate chips & layered with a creamy Belgian dark chocolate mousse, then topped with more mousse & chocolate chips, dusted with cocoa powder and crowned with whipped topping."  The chocolate mousse sounded great, but, since I didn't care for chocolate pancakes in the past, I moved on (although, hmm, what if I got the regular pancakes in their place?).

Next, Mexico, with Mexican Tres Leches.  More on these soon.

And then ... Madagascar?! Named just the Vanilla Spice though, the country name is dropped.  These are "Four buttermilk pancakes inspired by the warm flavors of exotic Madagascar: vanilla mousse spiced with cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom."  The vanilla mousse here sounded good too, but, meh to clove and cardamom for me.

If I wanted to try something new, Tres Leches it was.

Last year, on my annual visit, I used my free coupon to get a split stack, 2 of one kind to try a new one, 2 of another to get something reliable, my favorite Double Blueberry.  This was a great move, since I ended up not loving the Cinn-A-Stack ones last time.  I tried to do that again, ordering Tres Leches and the coveted Double Blueberry, but I was denied.  I explained that I had done it in the past, and my server checked with manager, but, again, denied.  Boo.  So I went with just the Tres Leches.  I was anxious.  Spoiler: it turns out, I should have gotten the blueberry!
Mexican Tres Leches Pancakes. $11.39. (Toppings on the Side).
"Four world famous buttermilk pancakes become our version of 3 milks bread when they are layered & topped with creamy vanilla sauce, then topped with more vanilla sauce & a drizzle of dulce de leche caramel sauce." 

At least I asked for the toppings on the side.  It meant that I really don't have any good food porn here, these look just like boring pancakes and some strange plastic containers of sauce, but, it meant I could experiment, and I don't think I really was in the mood for the dessert-y creation that would have come assembled.

But ... the pancakes just were ... pancakes.  They weren't lofty and fluffy, they weren't tangy from buttermilk.  They were not crispy on top, or moist inside.  They were just highly mediocre, highly generic, no better than a random buffet, kinda soggy pancakes.

Would the blueberry have been better?  I'm not sure.  These were fairly heartbreaking, to be honest. What happened to the buttermilk tang that was present in the blueberry ones, I thought it was the same base?
All The Toppings.
My pancakes came with 3 toppings: vanilla sauce, dulce de leche, and whipped cream.

And of course, all tables are set with (extremely sticky) containers of the signature syrups: blueberry, raspberry, butter pecan, and Old Fashioned.  I also asked for butter and the sugar-free syrup (Cary's).

I'm glad I asked for my toppings on the side, so I could make the pancakes classic if I needed, and just have fun with the syrups.  The syrups are part of the experience for me, and mostly, I'm just amazed how much my preferences change every time.

Starting with the toppings for my pancakes though.  The vanilla sauce was actually quite good, basically vanilla creme anglaise.  Extremely sweet though.  Rather delightful, actually, but not really what I wanted on my pancakes so early in the morning.  It needed the whipped cream to balance it out.  If you want dessert pancakes though, go for it.  I gladly saved it for later.

The dulce de leche was of course even sweeter, a bit thinner than standard dulce de leche, which makes sense for the application.  Sweet, tasty.  Again, I didn't really want it right then, but, great for later use.

The whipped cream was from a can, but they use a nice sweet brand I like.

Bites I composed as designed, with the vanilla sauce, dulce, and whip were perfectly satisfying, but, very much dessert.

I reverted back to "breakfast" mode, and asked for butter and the sugar free syrup.  The butter soaked in and gave a bit of moisture and flavor to the pancakes, but I suppose wasn't really needed.  I always like the SF syrup better than their regular Old Fashioned for some reason.  Its ... stickier?

I moved on to the fun stuff though, the table syrups.  The blueberry was fine, and I tried to make bites that were like blueberry cobbler, topped with whipped cream, but, alas, I found myself just really wanting the blueberry compote that comes with the blueberry pancakes.  Nice for something fruity, but, I wanted more.  I did have ordering regret.

The raspberry I really didn't like, no idea why, but it really wasn't doing it for me.  The Old Fashioned, fine, but I preferred the SF version.

The Butter Pecan was the winner for me, just a more interesting sweet flavor.  I used that with plenty of butter, and whipped cream, and had some decent bites but ... the lackluster base pancakes, and my regret over pancake choice, just left me underwhelmed overall.

September 2018 Visit - Beach Street Location

For my IHOP-versary, I also had to visit the Beach Street location again.  I tried to go a bit earlier to avoid the crowds, which was successful.  For the first time, I was able to sit at a table rather than counter, although they wouldn't seat me in a booth (even a mini booth for 2) or at a side window table, saying my only option was the 4 person table in the middle of the room.  Yes, there were other tables free, there was no waiting list, and they sat vacant for a while.  They clearly wished I'd just sit at the counter.  But I was hoping for better service in the dining room.

Better service I did not get.  My server had a hard time understanding that I wanted toppings on the side.  She had an even harder time understanding that I wanted butter.  "They don't come with butter, too rich", is what she said several times.  I assured her I wanted butter on the side too.  But I was lucky, a lady at an adjacent table spent literally 5 minutes trying to order a 2 egg omelette with avocado on the side.  The standard offering at IHOP is a much bigger omelette (I'm not sure how many eggs, but certainly more than 2), served with a side of toast or hash browns or a stack of pancakes.  The IHOP way.  And this lady really wanted to be healthy, pointing at the "Build your own omelette" on the menu, saying she wanted a simple cheese omelette but with only 2 eggs, no carb side, add avocado on the side.  The server wanted nothing of it.  "It comes with toast, hash browns, or pancakes, you have to have one of those, no avocado."  The lady kindly said it was ok to charge her for those things, just please don't bring them, and add on the cost of an avocado side (this *is* on the menu as an extra side).  The server still kept insisting that she get a stack of pancakes or at least toast.  And she absolutely wouldn't allow a smaller omelette.  In the end, the server quite literally demanded that she just order 2 eggs scrambled with cheese, avocado on the side.  The poor lady looked in near tears by the end, saying she really wanted an omelette, just not as big, please, just charge her whatever, just don't bring her all the stuff.  What she got?  Yup, scrambled eggs, and ... a side of toast.  Sigh.

So, pretty standard bad service at this location, pretty standard long waits, and just really staff that could care less.  I miss the old location.
Paper Bag Utensils.
I thought that perhaps the paper bag utensils thing was a counter move only, but nope, also how I was served at the table.  It again struck me as so incredibly wasteful.  I guess efficient for them though?
Hazelnut Creamer.
My table was supplied with only hazelnut creamer.  The table next to me had only regular creamer.  Next to them, only regular, but a different brand.  Uh, what?
Double Blueberry Pancakes, Toppings on Side, Add Butter. $11.39.
"Double up on the blueberries! You’ll get a stack of four fluffy pancakes filled with blueberries, then topped with sweet, warm blueberry compote and creamy whipped topping."
I was fairly surprised when my order arrived actually as I wanted.  I guessed I had about a 80% chance of either no butter, the butter already added to the pancakes, or no blueberry topping and just the butter.

But I was provided with all the standard toppings plus the butter, all in separate containers, served on an extra plate.  And unlike the dulce de leche and vanilla sauce from my previous pancakes, they even came in big bowls.  I rather think I got extra, at least of the blueberry compote!
Blueberry Pancakes.
The pancakes restored my faith in IHOP in an instant.  I'll admit, I was feeling a bit like this might be my last time at an IHOP.  With such miserable service, and not great tasting pancakes my last few visits, I was almost ready to archive IHOP away into my past.

And then I had these.

They were perfect IHOP pancakes.  Four large, not thin and wimpy, pancakes.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.  Delivered to me hot and fresh. Great buttermilk tang in the base.  Juicy juicy blueberries for pops of flavor.

Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.
The pancakes were great enough on their own that I actually was fairly happy just eating them plain, but of course, I had to experiment with everything available: 4 types of syrup from the table as always, SF Cary's syrup, and then of course the blueberry compote, whip, and butter.

The extra plate the toppings came on was a nice touch, as I could use it to make a dipping sauce platter with all the syrups.  Which of course I did.

Simple butter was a fine option.  Since my pancakes were actually warm (!), it melted and soaked in, and the buttery richness was a nice compliment to the tangy flavorful pancake.  Adding Old Fashioned or SF Cary's syrup was even better, for classic pancake feels.  I liked both of those syrups quite a bit, not really sure which I preferred, as neither were actual real maple syrup, but both were sweet, "maple" flavored, and tasty.  With enough syrup, the butter wasn't really noticeable, so I guess not really necessary.

The other table syrups though I really didn't care for this time.  Sometimes I like the fruity strawberry or blueberry syrup, but on this visit, they just tasted fake and cloying.  Sometimes I adore the butter pecan syrup, but again, fake and cloying.  I gave them each a few tries, but, alas, not winners.

And then, the blueberry compote.  That stuff really is good.  I find it very sweet, and not what I actually want on my pancakes for breakfast, but it is served warm, it is gooey in a good way, and the berries are flavorful.  Its like what I want inside blueberry pie.  I generally save it to bring it home and warm it and spoon it over ice cream (a tip from an older gentleman dining next to me at the counter years ago!), or, I have it after my pancakes as "dessert" with the whipped cream, when I visit later in the morning and consider it brunch.  So always a component I am glad to have, just, not on my pancakes, hence my request for butter, and my use of syrup.

And then, the whipped cream.  Because, IHOP.  Of course you put whipped cream on pancakes right?  As always, I did actually really like their whipped cream.  It is from a can, and I'm sure its a cheap generic brand, but, it really is sweeter and creamier than most canned whipped cream.  It tastes almost ... marshmallow like even.  It does strangely get lumpy as it breaks down though, nothing something I've seen with canned whipped cream before.  But I still love the taste.