Friday, February 22, 2019

Wat-U-See Foods

Wat-U-See Foods is a manufacture that makes snacks.  Healthy snacks.  Not usually my thing, but, you know I like to try basically anything, and I am an avid snacker after all ...

Their product line is called "chickpeatos", which might give you an indication of what they are made from.

Chickpeatos

"Our Chickpeatos are tasty and powerful snacks to make everyday better. They crunch like a pretzel, snack like a potato chip, and fuel you like nothing else!"
Yes, I love snacks.  I love to munch on things.  But you know what I don't like?  Legumes.  Beans.  CHICKPEAS.

And yet I tried Chickpeatos.  Bear with me on this one.

Chickpeatos come in three forms: crispy (roasted in olive oil), popped, and, uh, as breadcrumbs.

The crispy style looked the least interesting, as they stayed true to chickpea form, but, they did have some interesting flavors (including ... "cinnamon toast"?)

Popped Chickpeatos

"Baked green peas and chickpeas come together to make a smart, craveable snack for everyone. These all natural puffs are packed with protein and popped full of so much bold flavor you'll almost forget that they're good for you!"
I however went with the popped variety.  They are available in three varieties: simple salted, zesty ranch, and sweet caramel sea salt.
Zesty Ranch.
"You'll want to savor the flavor of Zesty Ranch to keep your tastes buds dancing and the party going strong."

I went for the Zesty Range first, assuming the ranch would be most likely to mask the flavor of chickpea.  Shutter.

And it did.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The shape was a bit funny, not quite balls like cheese balls, but not long like cheese puffs either.  Somewhere in the middle.  But the texture?  Totally exactly like your favorite orange colored snack food.  Light, airy.  Very snackable, indeed.

The base, the chickpea and green pea, really didn't taste like peas or chickpeas.  At all.  It was just light and airy, just like a rice or wheat based snack.  You'd never know they were made from chickpeas.

The balls were all well coated too, in what was indeed zesty ranch flavor, herby, I think onion-y, and pretty tasty.  Very herb forward.

It appears that I found a fairly healthy snack that I kinda like ... that said, I didn't exactly crave more of these.
Caramel Sea Salt.
"Enjoy all of the sweet, sticky goodness of indulgent Caramel Sea Salt without any of the guilt."

Next I went for the sweet offering, caramel sea salt, although, again, I was skeptical about the chickpea qualities.

These had promise.  I have a serious caramel popcorn problem, and I'd be thrilled to find a healthier alternative.  And the Zesty Ranch weren't *that* bad ...

But ... a big no to these.  These were not successful.

Not only were they about as far from "sweet, sticky goodness" as you can get, in that, well, they weren't sticky, they weren't well coated, and they weren't even really that sweet, but they also tasted like chickpea/green peas this time around.  They were not only not indulgent, they were also just not tasty.

No, no, no.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Rice Workshop, Sydney

I eat a lot of ice cream in normal life, but, my ice cream consumption increases pretty dramatically, even for me, when I'm in Sydney.  My breakfast usually includes gelato (its not my fault its part of the buffet!), lunch concludes with ice cream novelties from the office ice cream freezer, and evenings are filled with adventures seeking out more ice cream.

The beautiful warm weather inspires it.  The high quality ice cream everywhere inspires it.  The unique flavors inspire it.  I have no choice.  So be it premium gelato from Messinanovelty ice creams from Streets  or the long slew of excellent soft serve ice cream places offering unique flavors (Aqua S, Oh Matcha/Chanoma Cafe, Good Times Artisan Ice Cream, etc), I find myself eating a lot of ice cream.

And sometimes it comes from unexpected places.  Like, the mall food court.

Rice Workshop is a Japanese fast casual chain with a location in the Westfield Mall, right near the hotel I frequently stay.  People seem to like the rice bowls, the curry bowls, the ramen.  The lineup of fried snacks looks pretty good too.
Cones.
But I was there for one thing only: soft serve ice cream, available in matcha or black sesame.  One size only.  Cup, cake cone, or waffle cone ($0.50 extra, matcha or black sesame flavors).  No toppings available.  Also, um, only $2.

So, yes, I sought out Rice Workshop, even though only a few blocks away are Aqua S and Oh Matcha, both known for their soft serve.  Why?  Well, I had Oh Matcha's black sesame soft serve my first day in Sydney, and although it was good, I found myself craving black sesame soft serve ever since.  And I happened to walk by Rice Workshop earlier in the week and see the sign that they offer soft serve ...
Black Sesame Soft Serve in Black Sesame Cone. $2.50.
For a $2 ice cream (+$0.50 for the black sesame cone), this was actually an impressive treat.

Only one size available, but it was a very reasonable size - big enough to enjoy, not feel like it was too small, but not a monster like the soft serve places where I grew up.  I liked the size.

The ice cream was rich, creamy, and intensely black sesame flavored.  Some nuttiness to it.  I think the flavor was better than that at Oh Matcha, although the Oh Matcha texture might have been slightly better, creamier.  I did also try a sample of the matcha, but didn't care for it, it was fairly grainy.

I'll give credit to the beautiful looking swirl as well.  My server looked like she could care less, and when I asked if the cones were just colored or actually flavored she had no idea and seemed like she'd never served an ice cream before, but, she clearly knew how to make a nice looking cone.

Speaking of the cone, I picked the black cone because I was worried the green one was matcha and might have caffeine.  I didn't really taste any distinct flavor, but, it was a fresh waffle cone, not too sweet.

Since Rice Workshop didn't have toppings, I brought my own sprinkles, which I applied using a lid from their ramen bowls, and rolling my cone in sprinkles on it.  It looked far less pretty after this, but, I loved having the crunch from sprinkles.

Overall, I was pleased.  For the price, it was incredible.  But even not considering the bargain price, the flavor was great, texture good, and very convenient.  I'd return again without hesitation, although I think the lack of flavor variety or toppings will keep it from being a regular for me.

Rice Workshop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Bar Pulpo by Movida, Melbourne Airport

Bar Pulpo by Movida.  It sounds fancy right?  And it might actually be, although it is a tapas bar in the Melbourne International Airport (Terminal 2, after security near gate 4 and 6), so, airport standards are in full effect.
Dine In Menu.
Bar Pulpo is mostly a dine-in establishment, with what looks like a legit line up of tapas, beer, and wine.
"Busy, bustling and popular for its rambling Spanish and Australian wine list and extraordinary tapas, Bar Pulpo is the ideal airport dining experience."
But, I didn't dine-in, nor have tapas.

Bar Pulpo also has a little cafe counter with grab and go baked goods and sandwiches.  I opted to just grab something to take on my flight, but, if I had more time in the Melbourne Airport, and I *didn't* have Qantas First Class lounge access (review coming soon! thank you random seatmate who granted me access!), I'd check it out.  Or maybe I'd just stop by for churros with dipping sauces?
Display Case.
The muffins actually looked decent.  They had four kinds - one savory, two sweet, one healthy-ish - and they all looked fairly good.  So, I got them all.  $5.20 each.  The cashier asked if I'd like them heated, which I declined.

I brought them on my flight to consume rather than the in-flight meals, as the timing of the meals was going to be odd, and I know that I often just crave baked goods.   I hoped these would be better than those served on board.
Savoury - Spinach & Feta.
I started with the savory muffin, spinach and feta.  It was dry.  Very dry.

The base had no flavor.  I didn't find much spinach.  Eh to huge chunks of feta, salty, and just not a flavor I enjoy.

This was not a good muffin.
Blueberry.
The blueberry was slightly better.  Big juicy berries to give a bit of flavor and moisture to the otherwise still pretty dry, hard topped muffin.

Eh.

Raspberry & White Chocolate.
Next, the raspberry and white chocolate.

It also was not a very good muffin.  Very, dry.

The berries were fine, very fruity, and gave it some flavor.  It was a bit sweet too, but mostly just pain "vanilla" cake.

Eh.  Not worth getting.
Apple & Muesli.
And finally, the "healthy" option, a muesli muffin.  This one I got mostly because at that point I wanted to round out the selection, and I suspected something slightly hearty and not too sweet would be nice in the "morning" on my flight, when I was supposed to be transitioning into afternoon or evening.

It was a decent muffin.  Again a fairly dry muffin, hard top.  The base had a bit of flavor to it, a slight heartiness.  It had some oats in it too.  I expected fruit and nuts inside, but, they seemed to mostly just be on top, a few little bits of dried apple and raisins.  That said, I did kinda like the flavor to it, and didn't really mind not having lots of mix-ins.

I think that warmed up, and with butter, this could actually be an very good muffin.  Still, I enjoyed it in the morning.
Bar Pulpo By Movida Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Monday, February 18, 2019

Bubbleteas from Sharetea

Sharetea is a bubble tea chain that originated in Taiwan in the early '90s.  Since then, they have expanded internationally, now with more than 450 stores.  In San Francisco, they have at least 3 locations that I know of (the Metreon, Westfield mall, and Geary).

My visits in person were all in 2017, to the Metreon location, where I tried two taro creations, since, I kinda have a thing for taro.   I liked them.

But I didn't go back, I'm not really sure why.  Then, in February 2018, I  attended an event with a selection of bubble teas catered by Sharetea.  This was exciting (yay, bubble tea!) but also meant that I did not select the items myself.  I've grown sick of standard black tapioca boba and prefer jellies, puddings, etc, and all the choices had boba in them.  And I also usually go for less sweet, and most were full sweet.

That said, of course I was excited to try these too, given the taro drink success.

The Menu

The menu at Sharetea, like most bubble tea shops, is broken down into Milk Tea, Ice Blended, Fresh Milk, Fruit Tea, Creama, and simple Brewed Tea.  They show their top 20 prominently around the space, to help guide you in decision making.

All the standard offerings are available, black, green, and oolong tea for the base, fruity flavors like mango, kiwi, passion fruit, strawberry, and more.  The toppings/mix-ins selection is extensive, with all the classics and then some: pearls (mini, large, mixed), jellies (ice, lychee, rainbow), aloe vera, pudding, taro chunks, red bean, and even ice cream.  They also have a few items more accessible to those who have never had bubble tea, like an Oreo or Coffee blended drink (which, to be fair, I actually really liked my Oreo smoothie at Home Plate Boba).  You can customize your level of sweetness and amount of ice.

My favorite menu item, just from the name, is the "QQ Happy Family Milk Tea", loaded with pearls, grass jelly, pudding, aloe, and red bean.  What is QQ?  Who is the Happy Family?  Don't ask me.

The Space

The Storefront.
The Sharetea I visited is located inside the Metreon, alongside several other establishments.

Every time I've walked by, the place is bustling.  The ordering setup is efficient though, with a clear space to line up, order at the register, pay, get your number, and then wait on the side.  Orders are called out on the far side, by number, with a display showing which order number they are on (just like at the deli!)

Behind the counter is the drink processing station, with staff working quite efficiently.  Everything is laid out and just quickly assembled to order.  The space isn't large, but, they use it well.

Sharetea is also on OrderAhead (or, was, until OrderAhead shut down), so I was able to skip the line and order from the app before I arrived.  However, the soonest "ASAP" option was 25 minutes, not quite what I was hoping for.  For OrderAhead, they call your name rather than number.

There is no seating dedicated to Sharetea, but there is general food court seating, along with plentiful outdoor space in Yerba Buena Gardens just outside the door.

Drinks - 2017

Taro Ice Blended with Pudding. $6.85.
For my first drink, I skipped past standard bubble tea, as it was a crazy hot day out, and I wanted something more like a milkshake.  This desire lead me to the "Ice Blended" section of the menu, where I had a few options.  For me though, the choice was clear: taro!  I'm a huge fan of taro (real and powdered), so this was a no brainer.  I was much like a "Slush" from Quickly, which of course I've had before, or the fantastic taro smoothie from Miss Saigon.

Interestingly, the drink comes pre-defined with pudding as the mix-in.  I could add on another mix-in, or perhaps sub it out (although that wasn't an option anywhere I saw), so, I stuck with that suggestion.  I was leaning towards red bean, but, hey, if they put this on the menu as a standard drink, why not?

I opted for 50% sweetness, knowing how crazy sweet these drinks tend to be.  Besides that, I stuck with the defaults.

I'm not entirely sure what was in this drink.  I assume it was taro powder, and non-dairy creamer, plus ice and the puddings?  Some of the ice blended drinks say they have ice cream in them, this one did not list it, so, I think it did not have ice cream?  But I'm not sure.

Anyway, my drink was good.  It was perfectly blended, no ice chunks, no separation.  The taro flavor was also good, although I'm pretty sure this drink uses the powder.  It was a lovely shade of fake purple.  50% sweet was definitely a good choice, as it was still pretty sweet, and I'd actually lean towards only 30% for next time.  I can't imagine this at 100%!

The puddings were interesting.  Basically, big chunks of ... custard pudding, like flan, crème brûlée, or any other custard pudding.  They added a very smooth texture and additional sweetness.  They sucked up easily in the straw.  You'd think I'd love these, as I love pudding, and I like having texture, but, I got pretty sick of the puddings.  Ojan however loved them.  Next time, I'd try something else, like the red bean I originally wanted ...

So, overall, definitely good and I'd get another.  I'd likely tone down the sweetness more and try a different mix in.  Also, the $6.85 price really does seem kinda high for powder and ice thrown into a blender.
Warm Fresh Taro Milk Tea with Red Bean. $5.00.
Next, I went for a hot beverage.  I've only had a hot beverage once before from a bubble tea place, when I got a hot taro milk tea at Chai-Yo, which wasn't very successful.

It was a cold day, and I wanted a hot drink to warm me up.  In the OrderAhead app, there was a section for "Hot Drinks".  It contained one item: fresh taro milk tea.  Since I love taro, this sounded good to me.

Side note: I later learned that many other drinks, listed in the other sections, are available warm too, that is just one of the customizations you can apply, just like sweetness level, ice level, etc.  For my selection however, I didn't have any customizations available, besides add-ins.  No way to specify sweetness, which concerned me slightly.  I did opt for an add in, and randomly went with red bean, since the others all seemed like they'd be strange in a warm drink and I was sorta trying to be responsible and add some protein instead of just sweet jellies.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what this drink was.  It isn't actually listed anywhere on the menu at Sharetea itself, which I found very strange.  "Taro pearl milk tea" is a drink, available warm or iced, but that is the style where you specify sweetness, and, I believe is made with black tea.  "Handmade taro with fresh milk" is also an option, iced only, but it too lets you specify sweetness, and costs $1 more.

So what was this?  Was it the warm version of the "taro pearl milk tea", sans pearls, and with default sweetness?  I'm really not sure.  It did kinda taste like it had black tea in it (whoops! I didn't want caffeine!), but, I also thought that the taro milk tea used powder, not real taro, and, this sure seemed to be real taro, aka, it wasn't bright purple and had big chunks of taro in it.  More on that soon.  Was it a warm version of the  'handmade taro with fresh milk", just, cheaper and without letting me say how sweet?  Maybe?

My drink came in a opaque paper cup, unlike the cold beverages that come in clear plastic, revealing their color and mix-ins.  And since the top was sealed like a bubble tea, I had no idea what was inside, which added to the mystery of what on earth I was getting.  It was also interesting in temperature.  The cup was sorta hot on top, but, cold on bottom?
Taro and red beans!
So, how was my mystery creation?

A mixed bag.

I think that the milk was warmed up, but, the mix-ins were cold, which cooled the whole thing down.  So, it was lukewarm from the moment I got it, and it got colder quickly, given that the base was cold to the touch.  Doh.  I wanted a hot beverage to warm me up!

Still, it was fascinating, particularly since I couldn't see inside, and I wasn't sure what I had ordered.  I put in a bubble tea straw, and took a big suck.  Up my straw came ... chunks of taro!  Yes!  It wasn't just powder.  And then ... whole little red beans.  The taro was kinda mashed, and was a bit strange to suck up through my straw.

The flavor of the milk itself was sorta taro-y and not too sweet.  Once I opened it up, I could see the color was more brownish-purple than bright purple like drinks made with powder, so, I do think it really was just taro steeped milk.  But, I'm confused why this was $1 less than the "Handmade Taro with Fresh Milk", and, why that one isn't available warm.  And why it sorta tasted like tea.  Hmm.  Again, I still have no idea what I had.  It wasn't too creamy, so, I think it used regular milk, not something heavier.

I also poured off the milk so I could see what else was in there.  As you can see here, little red beans, and, mashed up taro. 

Overall, it was ... ok.  The real issue was the lukewarm/cold nature of it.

The "warm fresh taro milk tea" is $4.50, I added red bean for $0.50 more, making this a $5 fascination.

Drinks - 2019

Matcha Fresh Milk Tea / Less Sweet / Tapioca Pearls. $6.75.
At the event, given my limited selections, I opted for the matcha fresh milk tea, with pearls (eh), and made less sweet.

It was a fairly standard matcha milk.  Creamy from generic milk, decent matcha flavor.  The pearls were made nicely enough, not clumped together, not too soft, not too hard, but, as expected, I wasn't quite into them.  This is easily fixed though - just use a standard straw, and sip from higher up.

I enjoyed it, but this isn't what I'd order, and the $6.75 regular price seems really high for what is just a cup of milk mixed with matcha powder and boba.
Classic Milk Tea / Black Tea / Normal Sweet / Tapioca Pearls. $6.00.
The event ended with piles of unclaimed, packaged milk teas, so I grabbed a classic milk tea for the next morning.  This one sadly also had tapioca pearls AND was normal sweet, so I was less excited for it, but, hey, can't waste!

It was a pretty standard milk tea.  Strong black tea flavor, sweet and creamy, same decent enough tapioca balls, if you like them.

Not what I'd get myself, since black milk tea is a bit boring to me, and sweeter than I go for, but, it was absolutely fine.
Sharetea Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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