Friday, January 11, 2019

Estrellita's Snacks

Estrellita's is a San Francisco based Salvadoran food producer, one of many success stories born out of the La Cocina kitchen.  They do not have a brick and mortar, with the main business as a catering company.
"Estrellita's Snacks is a Latin American catering company. We have Pupusas, Tamales, and Arepas. The company was born in San Francisco's Mission District where Maria del Carmen began selling her freshly fried plantain and yucca chips to local business owners and families that missed the taste and crunch of tostadas from El Salvador. "
Estrellita's specializes in just three hot items: pupusas, tamales, and arepas, each in multiple varieties.  However, this is not how I encountered Estrellita's.  My encounters with Estrellita's were of a different variety, one closer to my heart.  Snacks!
"Estrellita's Snacks sells packaged chips to retail establishments throughout the Bay Area. For information on how to carry our plantain and yucca chips in your store, please contact Estrellita's. "
Yes, Estrellita's makes two of my absolute favorite snack foods: yucca and plantain chips!  They are sold at specialty markets around town, and at the Civic Center Farmer's Market where they run a stand.  I tried the yucca chips, and can't wait to have more.
Yucca Chips.  $3/bag.
Simply put, I loved these.  And I tend to actually dislike most snacks, as I just have too strong of opinions.  I adore plantain chips, but, actually dislike probably 80% of the brands I try.  Same with root veggie chips.  I always want to love these types of items, but alas, generally do not.  Just because I love yucca, and love snacks, does *not* mean I'll love a product!

These, however, I did love.  The chips were large size pieces.  They were not too thin, so I could really taste the yucca.  Perfectly crispy.  Not oily.

Crispy, crunchy, and well, just really nicely made.  I adored them plain, I adored them dunked in dip, I devoured my bag in ... less than 5 minutes?   <3
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christie Cookie Company

Have you ever stayed at a DoubleTree hotel?  Well, I haven't in many years, and I don't remember anything about my stay except ... the cookies.  ZOMG, the cookies.  When you check in, you get served a glorious, glorious warm cookie (chocolate chunk with walnuts in it).  Its ... amazing.  Or, so says my memory of literally ... 20 years ago?

But I didn't forget those cookies, and when I found out the company that produces the cookies, The Christie Cookie Company, supplied a box of cookies someone brought in to the office this holiday season, I was first in line to snag a cookie.
"Our assortments tell our story. The chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies represent our zero added preservatives, gourmet ingredients, no-compromise pledge to quality’s reign over quantity. We humbly and with great pride invite you to explore the classics… and prepare to have your socks blown clean off!"
The first cookie I tried was the oatmeal raisin.

Now, this is a good point to laugh at me.  I tell you all the time that I don't really like cookies.  And please, oatmeal raisin?  But, I liked it, so it inspired me to try their entire product line.  Our assortment did not have the Doubletree cookie, although, yes you can order them yourself online, but it did have 3 options: oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia, and chocolate chip.  I tried them all.  All had one unexpected ingredient: Heath toffee bits.  Random, but, kinda awesome.
Oatmeal Raisin.
"Or as our bakers call it, chocolate chip’s rowdy cousin. Delicious whole plump California raisins, buttery oats and Heath® toffee."

You might think that going for the oatmeal raisin first was an odd move on my part, until I admit that it was 7:30am, and, uh, I had it for breakfast.  Er, as part of my very balanced breakfast.  Oatmeal raisin *did* seem the most breakfast appropriate!  Oats! Raisins! Right?

Anyway, I liked it.  It was a soft, sweet, buttery cookie.  Slightly hearty from the oats, little pops of chew from the raisins, and sweetness from the unexpected toffee bits.  A sweet soft cookie.  Not breakfast, but, enjoyable.
Chocolate Chip.
"The classic you always want in the cookie jar, brimming with the finest premium semi-sweet chocolates and Heath toffee."

The chocolate chip cookie was also good, close to the classic Doubletree chocolate chip cookie, although those have walnut bits.  The chocolate came in large chunks, and was decent quality  This too had a little bit of toffee hiding in there for additional sweetness.

Again, a soft, sweet cookie, quite enjoyable.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut.
"Never underestimate the power of a well-placed macadamia nut. This cookie has many of them, cozied up with delectable real white chocolate and Heath® toffee."

I saved the best for last though.  I adored the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.  Big chunks of sweet white chocolate, big crunchy macadamias, and ... yup, hidden toffee as well.

And again, a soft, sweet base. Hands down my favorite.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

PINE Restaurant, Hanover, NH

Update Review, May 2017 Visit, Main Dining Room

I grew up in New Hampshire, in a very non-foodie family, in a town the limited options.  Besides "Mexican" (Del Taco) and "Italian" (Papa Ginos), I had zero exposure to cuisine from other countries (I literally had never had even thai or indian before college, let alone anything more "exotic").

That isn't to say I didn't have an appreciation for good food. My mother loves to bake, so I grew up with fantastic baked goods, and was horrified at the thought that someone would serve a cake at a party that was purchased at a grocery store (Carvel ice cream cake was an exception of course).  My great aunt has a huge farm and makes the most amazing pickles, and I honestly didn't know you could buy "pickles" in stores that were any different.  My godfather has his own maple syrup farm, and I'll never forget the first time I had "pancake syrup", aka, flavored corn syrup, as an adult.  The list goes on and on.  But, exposure to fine dining was not something I had growing up, nor in college (because, college), and certainly not in graduate school.  It wasn't until I moved to California that I stopped being a quasi-vegetarian, learned that seafood is more than canned albacore tuna, and truly began to love, love, love food.

So when I go to visit my family now, it is a bit difficult.  My mother actually would love to try more things, but my father is pretty limited in his dietary preferences, and has zero desire to try something unknown.  I've taken them to many places over the years, and they've taken me to their favorite places, which you can read about in my master post from the northeast, but for the most part, we've had little success in finding common ground.  In addition, places are never even remotely near the level of quality I have come to expect (brunches and ice cream shops are major exceptions, small towns totally win at those!).

Several years ago, The Hanover Inn, adjacent to the Dartmouth College campus, underwent renovations, which included their restaurant.  They brought in a new chef, and the menus since always sound amazing to me, but, alas, not for my family.  We went once, just to the lounge, just for a quick bite, where we had some chips and dip, a salad, and a burger, and it was all fine, but, I knew that wasn't where the restaurant would shine.  I've wanted to go back ever since, but struggled to convince anyone to go with me.

Finally, in May 2017, after months (years?) of drooling over the online menus and Instagram photos, I was able to bring my parents back to Pine, to eat in the main dining room.  To be honest, we sorta dragged my father there, as he looked at the menu, saw that there was literally nothing he wanted, and only one item he'd tolerate (a burger), so he told my mom and I to go without him.  In the end, fairly last minute, he came, but, I suspect it was largely out of guilt that I was only in town a few days, and he should be spending time with me!
(Part of) Our Feast!
We had an incredible feast.  Between the 3 of us, we ordered 3 appetizers to share, but were rewarded with 2 additional ones from the chef.  We all had our own entrees.  And split 2 desserts.  My mom and I enjoyed excellent cocktails.

I can safely say that I've now sampled a wide range of the menu, and I'd gladly return, particularly as the menu is constantly changing with the seasons.  It is clear that this is a legit establishment, with quality sourcing, a very "Julie friendly" menu, and team of chefs who really care.  The love that goes into each dish was obvious (and is even moreso if you follow them on social media).

Setting

Since I've reviewed Pine before, I'll keep this a bit brief, but this time we were seated in the main dining room, with a reservation, rather than in the walk-in lounge area near a fireplace.

Pine is located in the Hanover Inn hotel, adjacent to the Dartmouth College green.  It is a destination for parents visiting the college obviously, but also one of the nicest restaurants in the surrounding area, so, a destination for others as well.
Interior.
The interior is classy rustic, with natural elements like wood (tables, beams), and stone (flooring, posts), but a polished appearance.  It is light filled and open, very inviting.  We were seated in what I'd consider the best seat, a sunny window seat, with views of the entire dining room, but also the street outside.

Waitstaff wear classic black pants, white long sleeve shirts, and black vests.  The service was extremely friendly, and they were happy to engage once they realized I was a bit chatty.

I think anything more formal would be inappropriate for the area, so they did a nice job of making it classy, yet not uncomfortable for the locals.
Place Setting.
Our blond wooden table was set with cloth napkins, bread plates, and our first set of silverware.  Silverware was swapped out between courses.

There were a few minor hiccups, like share plates and serving utensils not offered with our first set of appetizers, even though I had indicated that we'd be sharing, the 4th place setting not being removed until after we had sat for a while, and drink refills never offered (but when we asked, these things were all provided).  One other thing I noted is that when we asked for our leftovers boxed up from the first course, they were brought to us immediately, rather than being held somewhere refrigerated, or at least, not cluttering our table.  Food safety wise, I was worried about them sitting at room temperature for the remaining 2 hours of our dining experience, and then our ride home ...

There were no tablecloths, but again, they walked the right line of formal and approachable.

Drinks

Pine takes the drink menu very seriously.  That is to say, they do indeed actually have a cocktail program.  Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but, someone clearly cares here about the drinks.  To say the lineup is impressive is an understatement, not just for a place in New Hampshire, but, really, for anywhere.

I was able to skip past the beer and wine fairly easily, but, the cocktails all sounded incredible.  There are three whole pages of them.  The cocktail menu is broken into several categories: Sparkling & Apertif, Heart Starting Citrus, Stirred & Straight-Forward, Reserve Cocktails, and Pine classics.  I literally wanted at least one from each category.  

Our server was more than happy to talk through the different cocktails, and I found myself drawn into nearly every drink he described.  He too, clearly had a passion, and luckily for me it centered around the same drinks I was drawn to, those based on bourbon and gin.  So many choices, but I realized, I didn't need to agonize, chances were that whatever I picked would be great.
Sparkling Water.
Tap water was offered once our server first came over (which, to be honest, did take a little while), but I opted for sparkling.  My water glass was swapped out, and the bottle of Pelligrino was brought over, and put into a fancy holder (presumably used for wine too?).  A little bowl of limes was offered on the side.  Nice touches all around.
Empire Hours. $10.
"Bitter & Botanical Funkiness Under a Layer of Potent Grapefruit. Tanqueray, Grapefruit-Infused Punt e Mes, Caffo Vecchio Amaro, up."

I finally decided on the Empire Hours, although there were several bourbon based drinks I almost went for instead.  I decided something gin based might be slightly more meal appropriate, but, since this was described as a spin on a negroni, I knew it wouldn't exactly be a "light" sipping beverage.

It was great, a very complex cocktail, bitter but balanced.  I really enjoyed my cocktail, and I'd gladly get it again.  I'll admit it wasn't really designed for food pairing, but, I didn't care.

My mother wanted something a bit more fun, and opted for the "Different Light" from the sparkling section, made from a house aperitif, cranberry shrub, and sparkling wine, served in a playful flute.  It was exactly what she was looking for, light, refreshing, and a great way to begin the meal.  She took one sip and exclaimed, "Oh, that's fun! It's got a lot going on.  Sparkles, sweet, citrus!"  Sadly, I was too busy pondering my drink to remember to take a photo.

Food

Solid drink in hand, it was time to get there for the main attraction: the food.

I had been following the menu leading up to the days before my visit, and was very excited about many dishes, both from the descriptions and ingredients (sooo many of my favorites!  Scallops! Foie gras! Octopus!), but also from the chef's Instagram photos ... everything looked like the plating I'd expect in San Francisco.

The menu is broken up into "Snacks" (little bites like deviled eggs - truffled of course, or chips and dip - house made kimchi chips with yuzu lime dip), a "Raw Bar" (crudo, tartare, poke, etc), "Appetizers" (sooo many great things in here), "Entrees" (something for everyone - seafood, steak, duck, chicken, veggie pastas, classic burger), "Sides" (like truffled mushrooms, slow-roasted heirloom carrots with harissa and honey), and, "Desserts".

We skipped the snacks (and raw bar, sorta, more on that soon), and opted for appetizers and entrees, and of course, saved room for desserts.

Appetizers

The appetizer menu full of items I really wanted.  There was a tempting sounding burrata salad with grilled apricots and a maple gastrique that I thought even my father might try.  Foie gras with strawberry and rhubarb relish and walnuts that I certainly wanted, but, alas, I've never managed to convince my family to eat foie gras.  And then there was gnocchi, which I really wanted my father to try, as I think he'd like it.  We had made a decision on what to order when our server told us there was also an appetizer special featuring local foraged mushrooms, and as a wild mushroom lover, I had no choice but to order it.

In addition to the mushroom special, which I didn't care if no one else was excited by, we decided on the Buffalo Cauliflower for my mom and I to share (and my dad to try, since he does eat cauliflower and he likes spicy things), my dad ordered the salad, and I ordered the General Tso's Octopus for my main (since I adore octopus and no one else would try it).  But ... the chef sent us a few extras too, including the gnocchi (!) so I was able to share that with my father after all.

I didn't get a photo of the appetizer salad my dad ordered, and he didn't comment on in any way.  I guess it was fine?
King Arthur Flour Baguette / Whipped McNamara Dairy Butter.
After we ordered, we were offered bread, a baguette proudly sourced from local King Arthur Flour.  It wasn't served hot, and was otherwise just a baguette, but a fine one.  The butter was also locally sourced, from McNamara Dairy.  It was great, light and fluffy, whipped butter.
Special: Warm Mushroom Salad / Whipped ricotta, heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs, frico, truffle balsamic reduction.
The special of the night was described as a wild mushroom salad, but, I'll be honest, when it first showed up, it took me a minute to find the mushrooms.  Yes, there were wild mushrooms in here, but, tomatoes were more of the main component.

Anyway, this was a nicely plated dish, filled with unexpected ingredients, lots of color, flavor, and textures.

At the base were a few piles of whipped ricotta, soft and creamy.  The plentiful tomatoes came in several forms, halves of cherry tomatoes and chunks of larger ones, all raw.  The tomatoes weren't actually all that tasty, clearly not in season yet, and it was a bit of a shame that they were so dominant in the salad.  I know, I'm spoiled by amazing tomatoes in the Bay Area during summer, and generally chose to just avoid tomatoes at other times now, they just don't compare!

The green beans (blanched?) were good, tender but still a bit crispy, just how I like them.  Young and fresh.  I loved the fresh pea tendrils on top, they were crazy fresh, succulent, and just screamed out "SPRING!"

The frica added a good crunchy element, and I enjoyed teaching my parents about what it was.  Other garnish included a few petals of edible flavors, providing nice pops of color.

And finally, the mushrooms.  An assortment of kinds, grilled, mostly cut into strips, and they seemed to have been marinated, perhaps in the balsamic reduction too?  I enjoyed trying the different types of mushrooms, and they were all fine, but none really stood out to me.  My mom didn't like the chewy mushrooms, but I think she is just not used to mushrooms other than standard white button mushrooms, or perhaps portabellas.

Overall, this was appealing, it was creative, the ingredients were well prepared, flavors were complimentary, but it didn't really wow me, and I wouldn't get it again.  My least favorite dish of the night.
Buffalo Cauliflower / Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese. $11.
The other appetizer I ordered was the buffalo cauliflower, a dish I thought everyone in the family could enjoy.  It is cauliflower, treated in the manner of wings, sorta.  My chefs at work make a similar dish frequently that I adore, so I was curious to see how a potentially more upscale version would compare.

My father doesn't eat chicken, and didn't actually even know what buffalo wings really are, but he likes spicy, so I wanted him to get to try the hot sauce.

The cauliflower had a nice heat to it.  I really do love this style of hot sauce, and since I don't like wings either, I appreciate getting to taste it in other contexts.  The cauliflower was pretty soft though, I like it more when it is either charred as my office makes it, or fried as I've seen in bars.  Still, nicely cooked, just not the style I like.  My dad tried a bite, but wasn't interested in more.



The blue cheese components were more interesting, there were chunks of blue cheese mixed in with the cauliflower, plus a drizzle on top.  My dad liked the chunks of blue cheese, and actually stole all the remaining bits.  The chive garnish was a bit different.  I usually see some kind of celery component with buffalo cauliflower.  It worked fine though, and blue cheese and chive are a good combo.

Overall, this was well prepared, flavorful, and fine, but I prefer my cauliflower cooked a different way.  I saved the leftovers, and ... waffled them, quite successfully!
Homemade Gnocchi / Leeks, pancetta, parmesan. $13.
After the appetizers were cleared away, our server brought us all share plates.  Then he put serving utensils in the middle of the table.  I looked at him a bit quizzically, as I was expecting our individual mains next, and he explained that the chef wanted to send us a few more of their most popular dishes to enjoy.

We had already ordered one more appetizer than we intended (since I wanted that mushroom salad once I heard about it), and as I've said, my father doesn't try many new foods, so, I was a bit worried what was going to happen, but, eager to try more dishes, and really appreciated the gesture.

First up was the gnocchi, which was an awesome choice.  I'm pretty sure this is literally the only other item on the appetizer menu that my father would actually try, and was what I was advocating for us to order anyway, because I really wanted him to experience gnocchi.  He likes pasta, he likes potatoes, and it seems like a natural progression in opening up his culinary world.

This gnocchi was actually egg based rather than potato, so my long explanation at the start of the meal about gnocchi being like "pasta made from mashed potatoes" got more confusing, but, in some ways, I think this was more familiar.  The gnocchi were incredibly light and pillow-y, if that makes any sense.  Perfect texture.  I see why this is a popular dish.

The leek and parmesan based sauce was very light, and allowed the gnocchi itself to shine.  I somehow didn't grab one of the chunks of pork product (the menu said pancetta, but it looked like guanciale to me ...).

And finally, the garnish here was the same chives we saw on the buffalo cauliflower, but I adored it in this dish.  It really amped up the flavor considerably.

Even though we had already consumed our other appetizers, and had mains coming, this dish somehow vanished in record time (as I said, before I even got a chance to snag a chunk of the pancetta!).  Everyone enjoyed it, including my father, so I consider this a big success.
General Tso's Octopus / Crispy broccolini, peanuts, chilies. $14. 
For my main dish, I actually opted for an appetizer.  This was intentional for several reasons.  I really wanted to try the dish, and no one else in the family would eat it, so if I wanted it, in addition to the shared apps, in addition to a main, that would just be too much.  So I either needed to not try as many things, or, just do this as my main, which suited me fine, I like trying lots of small plates anyway.

I love octopus.  Ok, I love well prepared octopus.  Grilled octopus in particular.  Not rubbery octopus.

I also love the flavor of General Tso's, but, as someone who doesn't like chicken (or tofu), I don't often get to enjoy it.  So this dish sounded like a dream to me - general tso's made with a protein I like?  Yes!

The octopus was well prepared.  It wasn't grilled and charred as I like, but it was tender, not at all rubbery.  I did have my mom try a bite and she was amazed, and didn't realize that octopus could be non-chewy.

But I wasn't really able to taste and enjoy the octopus as much as I wanted due to the sauce.  There was lots of sauce, and it was very sweet.  It overpowered everything really.  It was good, don't get me wrong, but, I actually wanted to taste my octopus.  The sprinkling of sesame seeds and chopped peanuts gave a bit of crunch, and went well with the sauce.

The broccolini soaked up some sauce too, and was a very familiar Chinese cuisine paring.

Overall, this was a very approachable octopus dish, but, not as octopus forward as I was hoping.  A fun concept, and I think an amazing "starter" octopus dish if you are looking to try octopus for the first time.

Raw Bar

Separated out from the other appetizers is the raw bar section, with light raw seafood options of crudo, tartare, oysters, and poke.

We skipped this section of the menu when ordering, but, the other complimentary item that arrived alongside the gnocchi was from the raw bar, the tuna poke.
Spicy Tuna Poke / lotus root, avocado, radish, togarashi. $14.
My heart sank a tiny bit when the poke arrived.  Our server had asked about allergies when we first sat down, and of course I informed him of my severe watermelon allergy, but I didn't mention avocado.  My avocado allergy isn't nearly as extreme, as in, I just can't eat avocado, but I don't need to be terrified of cross-contamination like I do with watermelon.  I wasn't planning to order anything with avocado, I knew they didn't do amuse bouches or anything like that at Pine, so, I didn't see a reason to mention it.

The poke had dollops of avocado mousse all over it, and thus, I couldn't have any.  My father doesn't eat seafood, so, he clearly wasn't going to try it either.  Which meant, this dish was left all for my mother.

She lucked out.  One bite in, she was just like, "Wow!  Wow!  There is so much flavor going on!"  She absolutely loved it, and I could tell she stopped caring about saving room for her main dish after she took a single bite.  I don't think she had ever had anything like it before, as she doesn't eat much seafood in general since my dad doesn't, and in particular she doesn't eat much raw seafood, and certainly not seafood with so much Japanese flavoring going on.  I enjoyed telling my parents about poke in general, and how poke bowl shops are totally a new trend, which they'll get to see in ... 5-10 years when it finally reaches their town.  (Pine actually serves a larger poke bowl on the lunch menu, if you want to go participate in the poke bowl trend before it really arrives ...)

The presentation of this dish was really quite awesome.  Poke is such a fad these days that I've seen a lot of ways to serve it, but the dollops of avocado mousse with the fried lotus chips sticking out were unique.  Speaking of those chips, my dad actually asked me what they were, and I explained what lotus was, why it had holes, etc, and he shocked me by reaching out and grabbing one.  And then another.  He liked them!

Overall, this was a huge success in that I got to introduce my mom to poke which she loved, and my dad to lotus root which he enjoyed, but sadly, I didn't actually get to enjoy this dish myself.

Mains

Scallops / Corn, morels, leeks, bacon, spinach. $32.
My mom agonized over her entree choice, debating between the salmon, halibut, and scallops.  Scallops won.

It came on a beautiful blue piece of stoneware.  My mom really, really loved the plate.  The plating was funny to my parents, as the food occupied only half the dish, but, this style of plating wasn't particularly novel to me.  I appreciated the variety of well thought out plating techniques used at pine.

The serving was four large scallops, all of which had color on one side, although not a hard sear, and were cooked an even medium-well, just as my mom likes them.  She was happy with the cook on them, noted that they weren't rubbery, but I like mid-rare, and a hard sear, so I would have been a bit disappointed had I ordered this.  She did comment that sadly they were cold when they arrived.

The leeks, corn, bacon, and morels were all part of spinach mixture, topped with a sorta cream sauce that she really liked.  There were only a few tiny chunks of bacon and morels though, easily lost amongst all the spinach. I was hoping for larger chunks of morels so I could steal some.

Overall, my mom was quite pleased with her choice - she loved the plate, the scallops were cooked how she likes them, and she liked the sauce.  Minus a point for cold scallops though, and I was glad I didn't order it, since I would have wanted more morels and cooked differently.
Hanover Burger / Bacon, Vermont cheddar, crispy onions, chipotle aioli & fries. $16.
There was no entree my dad wanted.  He doesn't eat seafood, chicken, duck, or lamb. The only meat entree besides the burger was steak, and although he eats beef, he doesn't actually like steak.  This left the veggie tortellini, but it had artichokes (he doesn't eat), spring asparagus (he doesn't eat), and ramps (another green thing he doesn't know), so, that was out.  Or the veggie grain dish, with a base of freekeh (unknown, but he eats rice, I might have been able to convince him to try this), except it had zucchini and broccoli in it (yup, no green veggies), so, it was out too.

So he ordered the burger, which our server said was "The best burger in Hanover".  He picked it because it was the thing he disliked the least.  He ordered it well done.  I didn't try it, but he said it was "better than McDonald's".  Uh-huh.

I did steal a fry, it was skin-on, well seasoned, but not otherwise notable.

Dessert

The dessert menu is not posted online, so I was not able to scheme about the dessert options in advance.  Our choices were fairly limited: vanilla bean crème brûlée, seasonal fruit crisp, maple bacon profiteroles, or a chocolate chip cookie sundae.

I assumed we'd order a few to share, and was pretty shocked when my parents both were not interested in any desserts.  We are a dessert loving family!  This is where I got my dessert sweet tooth.  To be fair, I was stuffed too, and they had eaten more than me.  I tried to advocate for sharing just one thing, but even that didn't go over very well.

I do love crème brûlée (hence the dedicated label on my blog), but I wasn't in the mood for it really, and certainly not if no one else would split it with me.  I suggested the maple bacon profiteroles, filled with housemade maple ice cream and candied bacon, but, uh, I think my mom literally turned up her nose at this suggestion.  Bacon in desserts is clearly still considered crazy around these parts.

The chocolate chip cookie sundae actually sounded quasi-awesome, in that it had peanut butter sauce (yes!), candied peanuts (double yes!), and housemade whipped cream, but I'm not really into chocolate chip cookies, and it also featured chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, and I try not to have chocolate in the evenings.  Which left the fruit crisp, normally something I'm very excited about, except that the seasonal fruit was strawberry rhubarb.  And I'm rather anti-rhubarb.  Still, it was the best option, so I went for it.

No after dinner drinks were offered.
Warm Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crisp / Strawberry sauce, house-made whipped cream. $8.
The dessert arrived shockingly quickly.  Appreciated, but, it made me wonder how the crisp could be warmed up so fast.

The answer?  It wasn't really.  Had I not been expecting "warm" crisp as listed on the menu, I wouldn't have thought it was heated at all.  It was lukewarm at best.  Minus one point.

It also ... wasn't really a crisp.  The presentation was cute, served in a small mason jar, but this left very little surface area for the topping, and the topping that was there seemed to mostly be a few bits of sliced almond and a little granola.  It wasn't really crispy, and it really didn't satisfy my desire for a crisp.

The rest of the jar was strewed strawberries and rhubarb.  They were soft, sweet, fine, but, not particularly noteworthy.

Drizzled on the plate was a fairly tasty strawberry sauce, but there wasn't really any way to eat it with the crisp.

I did really like the housemade whipped cream, and was happy to have a large mound of it.  The garnish of a white chocolate with flower printed on it was visually nice, and it was sweet and tasty.

Overall, this was really not a success for me.  It wasn't warm, the topping wasn't great, it was hard to eat the elements together given the plating (although the plating did *look* really nice).   That whipped cream though ...
Chocolate ice cream (single) $2.
My mom was pretty adamant: she just wanted a scoop of chocolate ice cream.  It wasn't on the menu in this way, but, since they did have chocolate ice cream to go with the sundae, she was able to order just her scoop.  She just wanted one.  A little something to seal the deal.

It came with two full sized cookies on the side, one was a chocolate chip cookie with coconut flakes, and the other was a chocolate base with I think macadamia nuts.  I don't really like cookies but tried a bite of each anyway.  They were quasi-soft, but not very buttery or remarkable.  My cookie-loving father also tried just a single bite, as did my mom, and no one wanted more, so, yeah, a nice gesture to fill up the plate, but fairly lackluster.

My mom was really disappointed by the ice cream.  She said the flavor was good, but it was really grainy.  Sometimes, house made isn't the best.

The price of only $2 for the scoop was remarkable though, even if they hadn't thrown in the cookies too.

Original Review, August 2016, Bar Area

The Hanover Inn is a fancy inn located in Hanover, the town next to where I grew up, right adjacent to the Dartmouth campus.  Given that my family lives nearby, I've never stayed at the inn, and, prior to a few years ago, wouldn't have considered eating at the hotel either.  But a couple years ago they did a full remodel of the restaurant, brought in a new chef, and even gave the restaurant a new name: PINE.  It started to get great reviews, so I took notice.

As a hotel restaurant, PINE serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends, and is open every day.  It consists of a formal dining room, plus a bar and lounge with casual seating.

The restaurant menu sounds good every time I take a peak (plenty of seafood, lots of local products), but normally when I visit the area I'm not really looking for fine dining, and, we always have other places to check out for breakfast (like Lou's, the Hartland Diner, and 4 Aces Diner).  Finally though, one night my parents and I wanted a small casual meal, and I suggested we go to PINE ... to sit in the lounge and just have some small bites and cocktails.

The atmosphere in the lounge was casual yet refined, and we were able to get one of the few tables, near the gas fireplace (yes, fireplace burning even in the summer).  It was a comfortable, nice place to have a good cocktail and a snack.  Service was fine.

We had a nice time and it was a good pick for what we were looking for that night, and I'd like to return sometime to the full restaurant to further evaluate.

Tequila Cocktail.
A few months prior, I travelled with a co-worker who had us do tequila shots one night (long story).  It was the first time I'd had tequila in ages, yet, I strangely got hooked.  Since then, I've been ordering tequila drinks whenever I see an interesting one, and, PINE actually had a pretty amazing sounding cocktail menu.  House made cordials, fancy smoked salts, creative recipes.  I picked one of the few tequila drinks, I don't recall the name.

The drink itself was fine, although it had way too many ice cubes in it.  My dad commented, "it looks like a cup of ice with a little water in it".

The interesting thing was the salt.  Hard to see here, but it was not just applied to the rim, it was somewhat artfully used around about half the glass.  My dad said he thought it looked like dirt.  Sigh.  Most of the salt was standard white salt, but there were also 3 large smoked salt crystals too.  The salt treatment was different at least, but I felt a bit strange licking the salt from the side of my cup, rather than just the rim.

I enjoyed my drink, and I'd have another, although I'd prefer to explore more of the cocktail menu.
Bread & Butter.
After we ordered, we were brought a basket of bread and butter.

The bread was not warm, and it was sourdough, which I don't like.  It was soft and crusty, but otherwise, not remarkable.

The butter however was crazy fluffy, and tasted intensely of cream.  I really liked the butter, and just wished I had something I wanted to put it on.
Homemade sour cream potato chips with truffle, chive & onion dip.
I think my parents thought I was a bit crazy for going to a nice restaurant, and wanting to order chips and dip.  But I actually really love chips & dip (yes, even classic Lays with generic sour cream and Lipton onion soup mix).  I prefer nicer of course, but, sometimes, basic chips and dip will do.  So I was interested to see what spin PINE would put on chips and dip.

The chips were quite flavorful on their own, and didn't need a dip.  The menu said just sour cream, but I swear I tasted some onion on the chips too.  They were crispy, but over-fried for my liking, a bit too oily, and were a bit burnt.  But, the flavor was good.

The dip was super thick, I think made from crème fraîche rather than sour cream, and garnished with bits of chopped up onion and chives.  The truffle was clearly truffle oil, and was very strong.  Anyone remotely truffle adverse would not care for this at all.

My dad didn't like the dip, but tolerated the chips.  My mom thought it was all tasty.  I appreciated the flavors and the sophisticated play on chips & dip, but I wouldn't get this again.
Baby kale with caesar dressing, brioche croutons & shaved parmigiano.
A few weeks prior to my visit at PINE, I had a kale salad (in an airport lounge of all places) that blew my mind.  I'd tell you about it, but it was at the Centurion Lounge in Vegas, and, well, what happens in Vegas ...

I had been craving another one ever since.  And, after a few days of a horrible diet on the east coast consisting of far too many ice cream cones from Dairy Twirl and Fore-U, and uh,  Dunkin' Donuts, I was really feeling the desire to have some greens.  Thus, I ordered a salad, something I pretty much never do.

The kale was baby kale, fresh, crisp, a bit bitter, not really that interesting.  The dressing was classic caesar, fairly garlicky.  I liked the big flakes of shaved parmigiano on top.

Overall, it was all fine, not notable, not bad.  The only part that was subpar was the croutons, they were just generic tiny little cubes, not sure what was supposed to be "brioche" about them.  I probably wouldn't get it again.
Read More...

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

JetBlue Mint, Flight 633, BOS-SFO (December 2018)

December 2018 Flight

Flight Details:

Departure: BOS, 3:29pm (scheduled), 4:51p (actual).
Arrival: SFO, 7:30 pm 7:46pm (actual)
Duration: 6h, 44m
Seat:  4A(single suite)
Class: Mint

Sigh, flight delays.  Not what you want around the holidays.  Particularly ones that were obvious (e.g. inbound aircraft delayed), but without a delay issued until after boarding time, so you couldn't really plan around it.  Extra time in the airport to ... explore I guess.

Anyway, I still do love JetBlue Mint, which I've reviewed many times before.  The most interesting part of this trip is that I have had most of the dishes before, in prior years, and yet they have evolved significantly.

Amenities

Holiday Hayward Amenity Kit.
For the holidays, the standard Hopper amenity kits were sparkly gold.  They were filled with the same amenities as always: shockingly nice socks, my favorite earplugs, much necessary hand lotion and lip balm, plus a pen, toothbrush, low end eye mask, and refreshing spray.

Food & Drink

December Westbound Lunch / Dinner.
The food and drink lineup was the same as all my other recent flights: welcome taste of a crunchy thing with dip, choice of 3 small plates out of 5 (2 chilled, 3 warm), ice cream from the city of departure, cookie as parting gift, nice selection of wines.

The highlights of my meal were certainly the wine and ice cream.

Menu

Westbound Lunch / Dinner Menu: December.
The menu was as follows:

WELCOME TASTE
  • BEET ROOT HUMMUS WITH PITA CHIPS
DELISH DISHES
Choose three. Please note: The first two dishes listed below are chilled
  • CHICKEN & SAFFRON POTATO SALAD / watercress, mustard vinaigrette
  • ROASTED CAULIFLOWER / pickled carrots & onions, sumac yogurt, tahini-cashew dressing
  • BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI / butternut squash, sage sauce, parmesan, pecans
  • PAN-SEARED SEABASS / fregola sarda, squash, cherry tomatoes, saffron cream sauce
  • MEATBALLS / marinara sauce, provolone, basil feta pesto
SWEET BITES
Enjoy both.
  • ICE CREAM: Toscaninni's, Boston, MA
  • FRESH FRUIT: Oranges, Strawberries, Blackberries.
WHEN YOU RE-TREAT
  • COOKIE, milk bar, NYC and beyond
From this menu, I had actually had three of the dishes before (the roasted cauliflower salad and the seabass on my Westbound December flight the previous year, and the butternut squash ravioli on the Eastbound), and two were such winners that I knew I needed to order them again.  For my final dish, I decided to try the potato salad, as I like potato salad, and was curious about this version with watercress and mustard vinaigrette.  I was tempted to just double up on that on ravioli, as it was just sooooo good last time.

My travel companion opted to dine later (on San Francisco time rather than Boston), which was easily accommodated, and after trying my dishes, he selected the others, so I was able to try those as well.

Drinks

JetBlue has good wine on board.  There are obviously ones I like more than others, but they tend to go for mid-tier wines, more pricey than I expect for a domestic carrier.  They always are bottles with real corks, if that matters to you ...
Drink Menu.
The drink lineup as always featured a sparkling, two red, and two white wines, plus cider, beer, liquor, soft drinks, tea, and coffee, and was exactly the same as my flight to Boston the previous week.
  • SPARKLING:  RAVENTOS I BLANC DE NIT BRUT ROSÉ, 2016, Penedès, Spain
  • WHITE: MATTHIASSON LINDA VISTA VINEYARD CHARDONNAY, 2017, Napa Valley
  • WHITE: BENITO SANTOS SAIAR ALBARIÑO, 2016, Rias Baixas, Spain
  • RED: EVENING LAND SEVEN SPRINGS ESTATE PINOT NOIR, 2014, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
  • RED: TURLEY, JUVENILE ZINFANDEL, 2016, California
I absolutely adored the Zinfandel on my flight the week before, so I knew I wanted that again, but decided to also try the chardonnay just to get a bit of variety, and to start with a white wine (and I disliked the other white on that flight).
My Mix.
I also asked for both seltzer and Sprite Zero, as I like to mix them - just sparkling water is boring, Sprite Zero is too sweet on its own.

My FA obliged my request to just have cans of each and one glass so I could mix myself (ideal ratio isn't just 50/50!)
MATTHIASSON LINDA VISTA VINEYARD CHARDONNAY, 2017, Napa Valley.
"A classic California Chardonnay from acclaimed winemakers Steve and Jill Matthiasson, grown in a vineyard right behind their house in southern Napa Valley. Lemon and ripe peach fruit flavors, rather than oak, define this irresistible example of a much-loved wine."

Since I knew I really wanted the Zin, I asked for just a small pour of the chardonnay to start out.

It was ... fine?  Not too harsh, not too acidic, slightly sweet, slightly buttery ... but, eh.  I knew the Zin was so good I quickly moved on.
TURLEY, JUVENILE ZINFANDEL, 2016, California.
"Our favorite Zinfandel is back on board! Turley remains California’s benchmark for this grape, and the Juvenile is produced from younger vines in their top sites. It’s complex but approachable, full of vibrant berry fruit and the spiciness of black pepper and licorice."

I loved this on my flight to Boston.  Like, really loved it.

I felt the same way when I had it this time.  Its really good wine!  Complex, not too tanic ...  might need to actually purchase this myself sometime, except, it is only available to their wine club members, and in their tasting room.  It sells for $49.97 per bottle, again, higher quality than I expected!

Food

The food lineup I thought I knew what to expect, since I had seen so much of it before, but, it turns out, I had no idea what I was in for.  I also got to try the entire menu, since my traveling companion shared his picks.
Welcome Taste: BEET ROOT HUMMUS WITH PITA CHIPS.
Hummus.  Pita.  Boo, hiss.  As I said when reviewing my flight to Boston the week before, the pita chips and hummus Welcome Tastes are my least favorites.  I want my yucca chips and caramelized onion dip that I adore!

The hummus was at least different, this time beet root, sprinkled with sesame seeds and ... breadcrumbs?

I tried a bite.  I hated it.  It was still hummus, but strangely grainy, and the breadcrumbs really dried it all out.  Meh.
My Dinner: Roasted Cauliflower / Chicken & Saffron Potato Salad / Butternut Squash Ravioli.
Well, huh.

I was surprised when I saw my platter, as I had ordered these items before, but they looked nothing the same!  And ... sadly, not nearly as good.

I also forgot to say that I didn't want the roll, even though served warm.
My Companion's Dinner: Pan-Seared Seabass / Meatballs / Butternut Squash Ravioli.
My companion ordered later in the flight, and after trying my dishes, decided to only keep the ravioli, and order the other two hot options, the seabass and the meatballs.  I of course tried them all.

Spoiler: his choices were better.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER.
"Pickled carrots & onions, sumac yogurt, tahini-cashew dressing."

When I had this before, I was shocked by how much I liked the carrots, onions, and the sauce.   But, um, it was ... entirely different?  Then, it was roasted cauliflower, large chunks, and it had slices of pickled red onion on top, and a sumac yogurt and tahini-cashew dressing at the base.  Decently balanced, and better than I expected.

This time, it was ... really a big soupy bowl of what I guess was the yogurt and dressing?  I didn't like the flavor this time, and I was really confused by how it seemed to be a chilled soup, with those sauces as the majority element, rather than accompaniment.

The onions this time were two halves of pearl onion, quite tart, as was the shredded carrot, as they were pickled.  The cauliflower though, the *name* of the dish ... was basically nonexistant.  I was so confused.  And what was there was tiny pieces of hard cauliflower ... not roasted.  

I really did not like this.  Not the strange soupy yogurt and dressing, not the veggies ... nothing.  My dining companion opted to dine later in the flight, and he tried a bite of this and quickly changed his order from this to the seabass, even though we didn't anticipate that would be good.

Least favorite dish for both of us.
CHICKEN & SAFFRON POTATO SALAD.
"Watercress, mustard vinaigrette."

The potato salad was marginally better.  Not what I think of as potato salad though.  It was just cooked fingerling potatoes that were yellow (from saffron I guess), with a slice of chicken breast on top, and some acidic thick dressing.  The potatoes were fine, but, I didn't care for the dressing, and I really wanted this to be more like a mayo based potato salad.

Was the one little sprig of green on top all the watercress I got?  Overall, this was fine, but quite boring, and the dressing ... meh.

My second to last favorite dish, and I didn't finish it.  My companion also choose to switch his order of this to the ravioli after trying mine.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI.
"Butternut squash, sage sauce, parmesan, pecans."

When I had this a year ago, I *loved* it, so I went into this order knowing my expectations were likely far too high.  I had claimed that "I'd call it a success *at a nice italian resturant*!"  I advised myself to order multiple if I ever saw it again.

This time, it was fine, but not nearly as good, and entirely different.  You can read that full review from before, but, basically, last time it was large format ravioli, three huge ravioli, red colored with stripes, perfectly al dente, stuffed with butternut squash, and coated in a really delicious creamy sage sauce and large shreds of parmesan.

This time, it was again three ravioli, but they were standard size, and standard white pasta.  Not too mushy, but also not al dente as before.  The filling as a strange dark color, I think it was still squash, but, it was brown.  It didn't really have any flavor to it.  Meh.

There was a tiny amount of shredded parmesan on top, but not much, and it was easily lost.  My companion received far more than me.  The nuts were just little bits of pecan, rather than full halves like last time.  These elements really enhanced the dish last time, and this time ... meh.
Butternut Squash Ravioli: Underneath.
Another big change this time is that the dish came with mashed butternut squash at the base, a vibrant orange color.  It was fine, mashed squash.  It made me question the filling since the colors and flavors were so dramatically different.

The cream sauce was good, I mean, it is cream sauce after all, but I didn't taste sage, and there was not nearly enough of it.

So ... yeah.  My favorite of the dishes, but this wasn't really anything special.  Decent for airplane food, but, it definitely needed more sauce at a minimum.
PAN-SEARED SEABASS.
"Fregola sarda, squash, cherry tomatoes, saffron cream sauce."

Moving on to my companion's dishes, I tried a few bites of each ... for research!

The fregola sarda was fine, not mushy nor too hard, but really needed some sauce, as it was quite dry.  As was the fish, very, very dried out, as I find most fish is served on flight.  Meh.  I didn't try the few pieces of summer squash, but I did steal one of his two coveted tomatoes, it was slightly cooked, and burst in m mouth nicely with flavor.

The saffron cream sauce was really the only reason I was interested in this dish, and the sauce was fine, but quite negligible!  With a more generous serving it might have helped coat the grains into a creamy base, or coat the dried out fish, but like this, it was just a tease.

My third pick, middle of the road, not worth getting.
MEATBALLS.
"Marinara sauce, provolone, basil feta pesto."

Next up, the meatballs.  These were decent, 4 large meatballs, moist, good texture.  The marinara was standard marinara sauce, and there was a generous amount of provolone melted on top, nicely gooey.

Just the meatballs, sauce, and cheese would be a decent dish, and would have ranked this second place anyway, but the pesto was really fantastic.  I loved the flavor, and wished I had ordered this dish so I could put the pesto with my ravioli.  I think that would be fantastic.
Fruit: Oranges, Strawberries, Blackberries.
The fruit was fairly lackluster.

The strawberry (singular) was not very ripe, and rather tart (it was December after all).  The blackberries were also tart.  I didn't try the oranges as I don't care for citrus, but kudos for multiple types of orange? 

I handed this off to my companion who enjoyed it as a pre-meal snack (because he was dining later).
Toscanini's Salted Caramel & Vanilla Ice Cream.
JetBlue's always features ice cream from a fairly notable shop in the port of departure, and in Boston, that means Toscanini's.  It is certainly my favorite of the JetBlue ice creams, and I've raved about nearly every flavor that I have tried.

This was my first time having Salted Caramel on board, although I had it, and loved it, at Area Four in Cambridge as part of my dessert there.

As always, it came served with a scoop of plain vanilla too.

It was fine, served much softer than usual, ready to eat as soon as it was served, but I think that is because I was in the last row and it just took a long time to serve me.  The flavor was sweet, as it was caramel, but I didn't taste much salt.

Not as good as other Toscanini's flavors that I have tried, like the Vienna Finger flavor that I really liked!
Sundae.
But of course I came prepared, and quickly transformed it into a sundae with assorted sprinkles and toppings, and a little lackluster fruit (which, is why I ordered the fruit in the first place).  

It really needed hot fudge and whipped cream, but those are a bit more difficult for me to fly with ...
Read More...

Monday, January 07, 2019

Scones from Panera Bread

Update Review, January 2019

I was pretty excited to see most of the changes Panera made to their pastry lineup this year, mostly removing sooo many items I always found lackluster, and adding a few that look much better.

But ... they also touched the scone section.  They did away with the mixed berry (meh, whatevs, it was fine), they revamped the cinnamon crunch (great, I never liked that one anyway).  They also changed my precious blueberry scone.

Gone is the triangle shaped "wild blueberry" scone, and in its place is a round simple "blueberry" version.  I was nervous.  I loved that old version.

The Panera FAQ page even has a section devoted to it.  I clearly wasn't the only one concerned.
"It's true - we've said goodbye to the Wild Blueberry Scone on our menu and have replaced it with our new Blueberry Scone. It is now a cream-based scone made with fresh blueberries. If you liked it before, you'll love it now!"
It turns out, they changed very little. 
Blueberry Scone (December 2018). $2.99.
"A freshly baked, cream-based scone overfilled with plump, fresh blueberries." 

The description now reads one word different: "fresh blueberries" instead of "wild blueberries".  Besides the type of berries used, I think they really did keep the same recipe.

The scone is still more like a biscuit to me, a shortcake biscuit, and now it is appropriately shaped to be a biscuit.  It has a touch of tang.  A good crumb.  Moist inside, crisp outside.  Exactly as before.

And now ... loaded with bigger, juicier full size blueberries, not little wild berries.  This is even better.  Remember my original review?  I said ... "They are tiny wild blueberries though, not big, bursting with flavor berries, which I'd prefer."

Well, thank you Panera.  It turns out, you took my favorite item, and improved it.  Kudos.

I still prefer to treat this as a dessert item though, serving it warm, ideally with a fruit sauce (I used leftover blueberry compote from IHOP that I love), and with plenty of whipped cream, basically, making a fruit shortcake.  They also made it a bit smaller, about 100 calories less, which means ... more whipped cream? :)

I'll gladly get this again and again.

Update Review, September 2018

I've now tried every variety of Panera's scones.

My conclusion?  The awesome sounding (and looking!) cinnamon crunch always disappoints, the orange one is always strangely *almost* something I want, and the the Triple Berry is similar enough to the Wild Blueberry that it will do in a pinch.  But the wild blueberry scone remains my sole "go to" item at Panera, (but never for a breakfast treat, rather, to bring home and shortcake it!).
Triple Berry Scone. $2.99. (August 2018).
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone made with dried strawberries and blueberries and raspberry flavored chips, then finished with a light glaze of white icing and half & half cream." 

Since the wild blueberry one has been such a hit, I finally decided to try the triple berry, a very similar sounding scone, same cream base, just with dried strawberries and blueberries (and raspberry chips?) rather than what I think are just dried blueberries (although maybe they use fresh for the blueberry scone?), and, the addition of a glaze on top (bonus!).

I was pretty disappointed when I picked up my scone.  Had I ordered it in person rather than mobile, I likely would have asked for a different one, although the entire pan looked like this.  It was really over-baked, dry, and burnt around the edges and on bottom.  The cinnamon scones in the next baking rack looked like they had been decorated by a 4 year old in the kitchen, with glaze all over the place.  I think the baker was ... struggling this day.

I still tried it, but, as I could tell just from looking at it, it was really dry, and the burnt edges and bottom tasted horrible.  I salvaged it the best I could, and could tell that I did like the flavor of the base, very much the same as the blueberry, but it was also obvious that the little dried fruits inside were hard style, and not really what I like.  Eh.

The icing was nice of course.  Overall, this was fine, and if cooked properly would be my second choice of scone at Panera, but the blueberry is just far superior.

It was clearly different from the wild blueberry in other ways, coming in at only 390 calories vs 460 in the blueberry, which was a bit surprising.  I'm really not sure what is different about them, but it is higher sugar and lower protein as well?
Triple Berry Scone. $2.99. (September 2018).
I decided to give the Triple Berry another try, when I saw it was properly baked.

It was nicely cooked this time, no burnt edges, consistently baked.  Well coated with sweet glaze.  I liked the glaze, wished the blueberry one had the glaze.

The base seems less sweet than the blueberry version, which I never really consider "breakfast", but rather, more like a biscuit to have with fruit and whipped cream as shortcake.  This one could standalone as a breakfast scone.  That said, the base wasn't particularly interesting, no real tang.  Decent crumb in that it wasn't hard or too soft, but also, not great, like most of Panera scones, more on the cake-like side of things.
Triple Berry Scone: Inside.
Here you can see the insides of the scone, generously loaded with dried blueberries, little tiny dried blueberries, and bits of red.  The red bits I guess were the raspberry "chips" and the "dried strawberries", but I didn't really find what I'd identify as dried strawberries.

That said, the fruity bits were all enjoyable enough, lots of pops of flavor, bits of chewy texture, and I enjoyed it.

My second favorite scone, and if the blueberry is ever run out, its worth getting, but, the blueberry is still my first pick.
Wild Blueberry Scone. $2.99. (August 2018)
I've had this one many times.  It truly is my favorite of Panera's scones, really something I enjoy, although, as always, fairly sweet for breakfast.  To me, this is dessert, if you warm it and top with whipped cream or ice cream.  Even better if you add macerated fruit for a shortcake.

This one however was a bit over baked as well.  Not sure what is going on with my local Panera!

Update Review, December 2017

Another year, more Panera scones.  This time, I stuck with wild blueberry on most visits, and didn't bother write reviews, as I've covered them before.  But I did try a new flavor: orange.
Orange Scone.  $2.99.
"Freshly baked scone made with flour, butter, brown sugar and orange peel and topped with orange icing."

After exhausting all other scone choices, I finally gave in to try the orange scone.  Sometimes I can be surprised by liking something unexpected, after all.

I took one bite, and the taste was very familiar.  Fruit Loops.  It tasted like fruit loops.  Besides that though, it was just a Panera scone, a bit dried out on the edges, very cakey inside, with lots of sweet icing on top.  I didn't care for it, but the Fruit Loop flavor was uncanny.
Orange Scone. $2.99 (July 2017).
A few months later, I tried another.  I had ordered a cinnamon crunch bagel through Rapid Pickup, and ... they were out when I arrived.  I was offered a pastry instead, and the offerings were limited.  So, another orange scone it was.

And, it was exactly as I remembered.  It was soft and cakey.  The glaze tasted exactly like Fruit Loops.  It was not bad, but it was not very good either.  I don't see a reason to get another at this point.

Update Review, September 2016

Another year, more Panera scones.  I still like the wild blueberry.  You can start with my earlier reviews for more context.
Wild Blueberry Scone. $2.69.
This year, I played it safe, and got the some scone as I did last year: Wild Blueberry.  I actually went to Panera intending to try the Triple Berry scone, with its dried strawberries and raspberry chips in addition to blueberries, plus an icing glaze, but, alas, it was discontinued, so, the single berry, no glaze option was all I had.

It was pretty much exactly what I remembered.  More like a shortcake biscuit than a breakfast scone, kinda sweet, a tiny bit of tang.  It crumbled nicely, like a bread or cake, not making a mess.  The little wild blueberries were good, but, I really wished they were bigger.

Overall, it was again good, for a shortcake biscuit, but not quite right for breakfast.  I'd get it again if I was in the mood for this kind of item.

Update Review, October 2015

If you didn't read my original Panera scones review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around. See "Original Review, September 2014" below.

The short version: I've never loved their scones, but finally found one that is decent enough.
Wild Blueberry Scone.  $2.59.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone overfilled with plump, wild blueberries."

This is a hard-style scone, but somewhat cakey, more like a shortcake biscuit. It had a decent tang to it, not as much as I wanted, but at least there was some flavor in the base.  Studded with little blueberries, which provided decent pops of flavor.  They are tiny wild blueberries though, not big, bursting with flavor berries, which I'd prefer.

It isn't quite what I want in a breakfast scone, but actually would be quite good with whipped cream and some fruit, turned into a shortcake.  Or perhaps just with clotted cream and jam, for tea time?  But on its own, it falls a bit short.

Original Review, September 2014

Panera likely isn't novel to you.  As a chain, their stores exist all over the country.  I've reviewed them before, for their drinks (not bad!), bagels (I love their cream cheese!), and muffins (not good) .

I'm skipping all the generic details in this review, and only commenting on the specifics of their scones.  Because, even though I didn't like the muffins, I love my baked goods!
Strawberries & Cream Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone made with dried infused strawberries and white chocolate chips."

After failing to be impressed with the muffins at Panera, I decided to try my luck with a scone instead.  They had several varieties, but the strawberry & cream caught my eye.

The description didn't really seem accurate.  I didn't find any white chocolate chips in it, anywhere.  Nor any consistency changes that it could have been a melted chip.  I'm very puzzled by the description.

The strawberries also didn't seem dried.  They came as decently sized, moist, chunks.  They were quite flavorful and good.

The scone base was crumbly but moist.  It was clearly cream based.  Pretty good flavor.

On top was a lot of glaze.  It didn't seem to have any particular flavor other than sweet.  Perhaps lemon?

Overall, this was a very sweet product.  I would have liked a black coffee with it, rather than the tea I was drinking.  I thought tea was the right pairing for a scone, but in this case, it was just too sweet and needed something bitter to balance it.

Not a mind blowing scone, but it was enjoyable.  Not sure if I'd get one again, but it wasn't bad.  A decent price for an insanely large scone.
Cinnamon Crunch Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, soft and tender cream-based scone flavored with cinnamon chips and finished with a cinnamon crunch and white icing glaze."

The next time I wound up at Panera, I decided to try another scone, since the previous scone had been far better than the muffins I'd tried, and I wanted a sweet, bready breakfast item.  This time, a new seasonal option jumped out, the cinnamon crunch scone.  It sounded like a cross between a scone and a cinnamon roll.  I've been on a cinnamon roll kick lately, so it sounded intriguing.

Unfortunately, the scone sounded much better than it actually was.  The texture was right, with a good crumbliness to it, not dried out. But the base didn't really have much flavor.  I always love a bit of a tang to my scone.  There were plenty of little tiny cinnamon chips throughout, which I thought would give it a ton of flavor, but really didn't.  The cinnamon aroma was stronger than the taste.  On top was an unremarkable sweet glaze.  I appreciated that part, as I was really in the mood for sweet.

I also really wanted it warmed up, and wish Panera offered their goods that way (besides just using the microwave).  Warm muffins, scones, etc are always just soo much better!  I brought home the part I didn't finish and heated it up in the toaster oven, and indeed it was better that way.

Overall, it was quite unremarkable.  No bad, but not good.  I wouldn't get another.  Perhaps my problem is that I went into it wanting it to be more like a cinnamon roll, I wanted more cinnamon flavor, more icing, more ... something.  (Panera does make a cinnamon roll, but it really didn't look great).

Like most of Panera's food, the nutrition stats shock me.  Yes, it was a large scone, but 550 calories? 23g fat?  And, I guess due to the glaze, 41g sugar?  Wow.  I don't care that much about nutrition stats these days, and only noticed it because the signs in Panera all prominently display these details, but certainly not worth it.

The price of $2.49 however was fine for a huge scone.
Caramel Apple Scone.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, cream-based scone with dried cinnamon apples and caramel chips, topped with a thumbprint of apple filling and caramel icing."

And finally, another visit to Panera, another scone.

As I stared at the rows of pastries, a helpful employee came bouncing up.  "Do you like apple pie?", she asked.  Now, this is a hard question.  In the realm of pies, apple is pretty low on my list.  But, a nice, flaky double crust apple pie, served hot, with melted cheese (don't ask, its a New England thing) and a scoop of ice cream can be pretty good.  But a generic apple pie?  Meh.  Although, still a pie.  With all these thoughts running through my head, I simply said "Sure?" And she eagerly went on to tell me all about the latest seasonal offering, the caramel apple scone.  She said it was the absolute best item they had, and, just like an apple pie.

Since I was being indecisive anyway, I went for it.

The scone base had a slight tang to it, but it was minimal.  There was a slight taste of cinnamon, but again, minimal.  It seemed dry and almost stale.  The bottom was a bit burnt.  So far, not much of a foundation to build on.

Throughout the scone were little bits of caramelized apple.  They were chewy and sweet, which was kinda nice.  I never discovered the promised caramel chips, which reminded me of the strawberry and cream scone, where I never found any promised white chocolate chips.  On top was a sweet glaze, not particularly interesting, but, it was sweet, and did give a bit of flavor.  I guess this was the "caramel icing".

In the center was apple filling, the part that was supposed to make it amazing, and, "exactly like an apple pie".  The filling was awful.  It was just goo.  Mushy little bits of apple, in a very, very thick goo.  A spiced goo, but the spicing, particularly the nutmeg, was just too strong.  Also, why on earth did the scone have a bunch of goo in it?  Doesn't this sort of filling belong in a danish, not a scone?

Anyway, the helpful employee also told me that it was best to stick it in the microwave to warm it up first.  Now, you know me.  I don't use microwaves for anything but popcorn.  And certainly not for baked goods.  I wasn't intending to take her suggestion, but after not really caring for it at room temperature, I figured it wouldn't hurt.  So, I did it (also, yes, every Panera has a microwave, which I've always thought was really strange.  They really seem to be there just so customers can heat up their baked goods.  Shutter.)

It was worse warmed up.  Yes, it was more moist and not dried out at least.  And yes, it was more like a pie I guess.  But the icing just melted away.  And the almost-pleasant chewy bits were now soft.  I certainly preferred it at room temperature.  Warm like this, it reminded me of airplane food.

It wasn't the worst scone I've ever encountered, but it certainly wasn't good, not a good way to spend 450 calories, or $2.49, and I won't be getting another.
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