Friday, March 22, 2019

Snyder's of Hanover

Update Review, March 2019

I've reviewed Snyder's many times before (read on below), always focusing on the crazy flavored, way too addicting, pretzel nibblers.  But did you know, they make other items too?  I didn't!    I was genuinely surprised when I saw their brand name on a package of "Wholey Cheese" crackers.

Wholey Cheeese

"Wholey Cheese! are light, crispy crackers that are baked with real cheese. Tasting these crackers is the only way to understand why we keep shouting “Wholey Cheese!”
This product was even more surprising once I tried it, but I'll get to that soon.  Wholey Cheese is unlike any other cheese snack I've ever had ... nothing like Cheez-Its, which, to be honest, is what I expected.  And not anything like a traditional "cracker".  They are baked, and actually quasi-healthy.  Oh, and gluten-free.

I quickly discovered why they are called "wholey", by the way: spoiler, they do indeed have holes!  And, yes, are quite cheese-y.  Wholey Cheese is available in a selection of flavors, ranging from basic mild cheddar, to a interesting sounding swiss & black pepper, to spicy pepper jack.

I tried only one variety, smoked gouda, but I'd gladly try others.  These are fascinating!
Smoked Gouda.
"Try Smoked Gouda Wholey Cheese! crackers. These things taste like a cheese sunrise baked into the cracker of our lifetime!"

I was so surprised when I opened the package.  I expected something that looked like a Cheez-It: a square, fake orange, solid, chip-cracker.  Instead, I found a square ... with holes like swiss cheese, a more natural color, and ... light and airy?

They were shockingly light, crispy, and intensely cheese-y.  In particular, I was impressed with the smoked quality that made it into the product.  This tasted like a really decent gouda, not like fake cheese in any way.

I'm not generally one for cheese crackers, but these are so very different, almost more like chips than crackers, but ... baked, not fried, but not in a way that detracts.  Really hard to describe.  I think you need to just try them!

Update Review, December 2018

This is just an update of some new "Limited Edition" flavors I tried in the past year.  Summary?  I still find Snyder's strangely addictive, and then often sickening, but my parent's always seem to have them in the house when I visit a couple times a year and I can't resist trying more flavors!

As always, I encourage you to start with my original review below first.
Limited Edition Flavor Spotlight: Buttermilk Ranch.
"Generous chunks of our Sourdough Hard Pretzels bursting with intense flavor combinations... like the creamy flavor of buttermilk with a subtle touch of herbs and spices in our Buttermilk Ranch Pretzel Pieces."

As with all the Pretzel Pieces, the mix is assorted fragments of pretzels, ranging from some actually quite large ones, to lots of little nibbles, and everything in-between.  The pieces were all well coated in the seasoning, the rough broken edges hold it particularly well.  My favorite chunks are the smaller ones that are just all well coated edges, as I don't actually like the pretzels much at all (sourdough eh!)

The seasoning was decent.  The flavor was more akin to sour cream and onion than what I think of as ranch, although I guess it did have an herby nature to it from the parsley.  They also have buttermilk powder, but it didn't quite add a buttermilk tang, just more of an almost fake-cheesy quality?

So overall fine, probably fun to pair with buffalo ones, a la buffalo wings and ranch dip, but not a flavor I'd get again.
Cheddar Cheese.
When I visited my parent's house I found a bag of these in the drawer, and, even though slightly expired, I still dug in.  I wanted to try the cheesy flavor again!

The pretzel chunks, as always, were crunchy and hard, sourdough flavored, so not my favorite.  The coating, as always, was well applied, particularly on the broken sides, and it coated my fingers as I ate them.

The flavor wasn't particularly cheesy though.  It was fine, but, not as strong of a cheddar as I hoped for.

Overall, fine, but not anything special, which is about how I felt last time
Limited Edition Flavor Spotlight: Cheddar Ale.
"The bold flavor of Cheddar Ale is a mix of rustic and sharp flavors that will leave you craving more delicious crunch! Devour them now before the spotlight dims."

Cheddar Ale really was just a more "grown up" version of the cheddar cheese.  The flavor didn't scream out "beer" or "ale", but I didn't really want it to anyway.  It was more like "Hey, these would go great with a pint!" (or, cider in my case).  It seemed like a more complex cheddar.

As always, assorted sized chunks, and very well coated.  And yes, #orangeFingers.  I liked it more than the plain cheddar, but I didn't want to purchase another bag.

Original Review, January 2018

As you know, I love snack foods.  Whenever I visit my family, my mother always has a variety of pretzels around, usually for use as part of Chex mix.  And she always buys Snyder's of Hanover brand.

Over the year's, I've sampled a large number of Snyder's of Hanover's offerings, although in looking at their website now, I realize they make far more products than I realized.  They are most known for pretzels, which come in assorted shapes and seasonings, but they also apparently make chips and salsa.

The pretzels are pretty much as generic as can be, standard bagged pretzels, although they do come up with some interesting flavors.  I won't ever seek them out on my own, but when I'm home, you know I can't resist ...

Traditional Pretzels

The most classic product made by Snyder's is traditional pretzels, offered in just about every shape and size, including mini pretzels, sticks, rods, snaps, and of course, holiday shapes.  Snaps are the checkerboard shaped ones, which are the best for use in Chex Mix in my opinion, since the waffle shape helps trap extra seasoning!

These pretzels are all about the same, not offensive, slightly buttery, nice and shiny, some salt.  Nothing remarkable, but not bad.

Seasoned Sourdough Nibblers

For interesting flavors, go for the Nibblers. These are chunks of their sourdough pretzels, coated with seasonings.

I only have notes on one variety that I've tried, the Honey Mustard & Onion: The flavor coating on these was awesome.  The pretzels were crunchy.  I was addicted.   But not because I loved them.  Rather, I was addicted because I wanted MORE of the coating.  The ratio of pretzel to coating was just off for me.  But then again, I did keep eating them, so perhaps they did create a good product.

Flavored Pretzel Pieces

"Give yourself a break with our pretzel pieces. Small bits of your favorite pretzel, delightfully coated with extraordinary flavor!"
Luckily for me, Snyder's seems to have realized that their coating is delicious, and figured out a way to expose more surface area of the pretzels.  They also offer flavored "Pretzel Pieces".  Just like the Nibblers, they are made from sourdough pretzel, but are just little twists and chunks, with lots of exposed edges to soak up the flavor.  By far my favorite of the products I've tried, as the pretzel: coating ratio is perfect!

The pieces come in a slew of flavors, ranging from savory cheddar cheese or spicy jalapeno, to sweet and salty salted caramel or s'mores, to "50% less fat" varieties, and finally, peanut butter filled.


Honey Mustard & Onion.
Just like the Nibblers, I liked the slightly sweet, flavorful, salty coating. Do they really taste like honey mustard or onion? Nah. But I get addicted, even more so with the the pieces than the nibblers. I do find that I always want them to be better than they are. As single pieces, they still just aren't that great. They are much better by the handful. Beware though, I've found that eating too many of these in one sitting really easily causes a stomach ache. And it is far, far too easy to eat too many of these!
Hot Buffalo Wing.
The hot buffalo wing are almost awesome.  The flavor is intense.  And I like it ... about half the time I try them.  The other half of the time, I find the flavor repulsive.  I really can't explain why I find them so nasty sometimes, when other times, I'm so close to loving them.

The flavor is ...  I guess buffalo hot wing.  There is some garlic and cayenne flavors that come out.  And of course, MSG.  They always leave my fingers bright orange.

Like the honey mustard & onion, they aren't great when you just eat one or two, but really require a big handful to get addicting.  And then they do get addicting.  The assorted sized pieces range from fairly large to tiny little bits.  The tiny bits are usually my favorites, as they are just absolutely coated in seasoning.

I always want to love these more than I do, but, like I said, so close to good.

They also come packaged as "Flavor Doubles" with Buttermilk Ranch.

These were quite interesting.  The Hot Buffalo Wing and Buttermilk Ranch flavors are also each sold separately, but they also mix them in a bag together, as "Flavor Doubles".  At first I didn't realize that there were two distinct flavors in the bag, I just thought each piece was supposed to be both ranch and buffalo, and that some were more or less coated than others.  After a few handfuls, I realize that the very orange ones were buffalo wing, and the duller ones were ranch.  The ranch really didn't taste much like anything else "ranch" flavored I've had.  It was a very muted flavor, probably due to being mixed in with the hot buffalo ones?  The buffalo were good, and addicting, but even more so than the Honey Mustard & Onion, you really had to be careful not to overdo it.  I can't even tell you how many times I ate too many handfuls of these and later regretted it.  I'm not sure what is in these things, but they really give a stomach ache!
Cheddar Cheese.
Not my favorite of the flavors, slightly cheesy, but decent.  I'd eat them again, but wouldn't pick if given a choice.

[ No Photo ]
Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper.

"These pretzels are made from wholesome ingredients, slow-baked to seal in all the flavor. Chunks of sourdough pretzels bursting with gourmet seasonings like a dash of sea salt and ground black peppercorns."

Well, these tasted like pepper.  Very strongly of pepper.  I didn't like them at all, but if you like the idea of peppery pretzels, check them out.


Sweet pretzels?  Why not.  Sweet and salty is always a good thing.
Salted Caramel.
"Imagine buttery caramel accented with flecks of salt on bite-sized, golden-brown sourdough pretzel pieces!  You’ll love this new, mouthwatering flavor combination with BIG pretzel crunch!"

Well, huh.

I didn't purchase these, since I am not particularly excited about pretzels, but, my mom bought them for me when I was visiting.

They were interesting.

They weren't a dessert item.  They didn't taste like caramel at all.  But ... they weren't bad.

Crunchy standard Snyder's pretzels, in assorted bits and pieces and sizes.  With a sorta sweet and sorta salty light dusting on them.  I really didn't taste "buttery caramel", but, sweet they were.  I like sweet and salty.  I like crunchy.  I like munchie snack foods.

So ... they worked for me.
"The sweet flavors of marshmallows & chocolate sprinkled onto perfectly salty sourdough Pretzel Pieces."

I thought I would like this, given the success of the previous sweet and salty variety.

But, I really, really didn't like it.

First, it tasted just like marshmallow, which makes sense given the S'mores nature, but it was a fake sweet taste that did not linger nicely.

Second, there just wasn't nearly enough of a chocolate aspect to it.  Yes, the pieces were brown, but, there was no taste of chocolate at all.

And finally ... it just didn't make sense.  I like chocolate covered pretzels, but those have real chocolate to them.  This was really just hard pretzels that tasted like fake marshmallow.

Did not like.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Flour & Stone Bakery, Sydney

I sought out a lamington.

I don't like lamingtons.  But I sought this one out.

Let's back up.  If you haven't been to Australia, you may not know what a lamington is. And there is good reason for that.  Unlike some fantastic Australia-only creations (fairy bread! wedges with sweet chili and sour cream!), lamingtons have no reason to spread further abroad.  Yet Australia celebrates "National Lamington Day" (not that I can really poke fun, the US has a slew of ridiculous food holidays).  They just aren't very good.

Ok, clearly just my opinion, but lamingtons are square cakes, usually just a fairly boring sponge or butter cake, with a very thin layer of chocolate on the outside, and coated in coconut.  Sometimes they have jam or cream spread between two layers of cake.  But usually, they are just dry cakes, with no frosting, made dryer by tons of dry coconut flakes covering the outside.  I really, truly dislike them.  Not that I tend to like cake in general, but at least most cake has frosting and toppings.  These ... just offer nothing to me.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about Flour & Stone, a bakery in Sydney.  Sure, I love baked goods, but in a city with sooo many wonderful treats, why would I seek out a bakery, known for its lamington, of all things?  And known they are.  Fairly universally known for having "the best lamington in Sydney".  And, a non-traditional one at that, which is the part that made me interested.  More on this soon.

Four & Stone is a bakery-cafe, with some breakfast and lunch offerings, coffee and tea, and a bunch of other baked goods, but, I was there on a mission for one and only one thing.  That lamington.  I was ready to find out if I could like a lamington.
Flour & Stone is located a bit off the main drag, down Riley St, on a reasonably quiet street.  There are a few small tables here on the sidewalk (photo taken above them, to respect the patrons dining).
That is, until you get inside.

The space is *tiny* with just a couple tables, and enough space for a line to form inside to order.  You cannot see the goodies at the counter until you reach the front, which I'm sure slows things down a bit.

It ... is busy.  Everything looks delicious.
Custom Box.
But I was there for one item: the lamington.

It came in a custom, "lamington" stamped box.  This actually turned me off a bit, almost like the strong branding around Dominique Ansel's cronut.

And note, the box is large because ... the lamington is large.  Quite large.  And as I said, non-traditional.

This lamington is actually known as "the panna cotta lamington".  So now you might understand my interest.  I like panna cotta, enough so that I have a label on my blog for it.  But ... isn't this *still* just a lamington?
Lamington. $8.50.
"Vanilla sponge soaked in pannacotta, berry compote centre, dark chocolate and flaked coconut. Nut free."

I opened the box, and, yup, it looked like a lamington, albeit a much larger than normal one, with larger flakes of coconut.  But still, that sure looked like a lamington.

I took a tiny bite off the edge.  Yup, just dry flaked coconut.  I love toasted coconut, but regular dried coconut is so ... dry?  Meh.  Under it was a little bit of chocolate, just a thin layer as always, not enough to really taste.

This still seemed like a lamington ...
Lamington: Inside.
And then, I hit the cake.

Ok, the cake was certainly *not* regular lamington cake!  It was moist, rich, and infused with custard.  Not a layer of custard inside, instead it was more like a bread pudding in that it had soaked it all up.  Imagine making a bread pudding with cake as the base?  Or, ok, fine, imagine infusing a cake with a panna cotta.  Because, that, really, is what it was.  It was so dense and heavy.  There was almost a caramelized nature to the edges as well, although it was masked by the chocolate.

And there was a layer of grown up berry jam, a fruity compote, which was needed to balance the heavy nature of this item.

I had really mixed feelings on this.  On one hand, yes, it was the best lamington I've ever had.  But I still really did not care for the coating.  I was happy to eat the cake, and the compote, and think that with a dollop of whipped cream, it would be fabulous.  And it was good.  I did finish it, over the course of two days (they keep refrigerated for up to 4 days, says the bakery).

But would I get another? Nah.  And was it pricey, at $8.50?  Absolutely.
Flour and Stone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

China Lane, Sydney

I was very excited to visit China Lane, a modern Chinese restaurant in Sydney, the sister restaurant of China Doll, a restaurant in Wooloomooloo I had visited years ago.  While China Doll wasn't particularly memorable, China Lane gets fantastic reviews, and the menu really called out.

So when I needed to organize dinner for a group of 8, it was right near the top of my list.
A highly underwhelming meal.
I don't have much positive to say about this meal.  The pacing was odd, the service worse than standard Sydney service (non attentive, empty water glasses all the time, needed to wave them over o get refills, etc), and the food highly mediocre.  The restaurant was not busy.

I have no desire to return.


China Lane, is, actually, located down a lane, Angel Place right in the CBD.  A convenient location at least.
As every post reviewing China Lane will note, you reach it by walking under an art installation of assorted bird cages, complete with bird sounds.

You can tell who is a tourist/new to the area and who is not by just watching them walk through here, looking either where they are going, or ... not so much.
Outdoor Seating.
As with many Sydney establishments, much of the seating spills out onto the laneway, with heaters if required.
Our group of 8 was seated inside however, at a long table along one wall.  A private room is also available, but we opted for main dining room seating given the fairly high minimum spend requirement for the room.

The restaurant was *very* empty that night, with only a handful of small tables occupied.  I was fairly surprised.  This did mean it was peaceful and quiet, and a private room was certainly not needed.


The cocktail menu had a series of drinks that were all almost appealing, but with one ingredient I wasn't excited about.  I still found a drink I was excited enough for, but alas, I didn't care for it.
Big Trouble in Little China.
"Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Rose, Raspberry & Soda."

The first, this wasn't bad.  It was pretty, and the garnish lovely.  I tasted the tequila, and I liked it.  It was fruity though, and I found myself wanting salt.

But by the second sip, it seemed ... more sweet.  By the third ... just too sweet.

I could taste the tequila at least, but, it was just too sweet for me.  After a few more sips, I gave my cocktail away to a dining companion.

Not trusting the bar to make a balanced drink, I moved on to wine.


We skipped everything from the "生 san - raw & nibbles" section, but ordered a few dishes from every other section of the menu.

We had one vegetarian in the group, but since everything is share plates, I created a menu that had a dish from each category, with one vegetarian and 1-2 not, paired together, e.g. a veggie dumpling and a seafood dumpling, veggie san choy bao and pork san choy bao, veggie fried rice and pork fried rice, a tofu main to go along with the beef and pork belly mains, etc.  I thought I had a great plan.

But the meal pacing was odd, with major delays between courses, and, in all cases, the vegetarian versions of dishes coming out long before the non-vegetarian, which defeated my purposes of ordering in the way I did.  I was hoping to have everyone eating ... together.

The pacing, and order of the dishes, was frustrating.

蒸 zheng - steamed 

The steamed section of the menu offered several types of dumplings, sui mai, bao, and duck pancakes.  I selected one pork & seafood and one vegetarian dumpling for the group, doubling up on the non-vegetarian.

I didn't get a photo, but the vegetarian dumplings were the first item to arrive, finally 45 minutes after we were seated.  The non-veggie ones however took another 15 minutes!  We instructed the vegetarian and those who wanted the veggie ones to eat before they got cold, but people clearly felt polite.  And the rest of us, having been there for a full hour (!) before our dumplings arrived, tried hard not to take the limited number of veggie dumplings.
 Pork, prawn & scallop sui mai w sichuan chilli oil. $20.
When they finally came, in steamer baskets, both orders were placed on one end of the table, rather than one for each side of the table.  Sigh, Sydney service.

The sui mai were .. ok.  The wrapper was good, had a nice chew.  Inside was a too chewy chunk of shrimp, a firm pork ball with good flavor, and a thin scallop perched on top, with a bit of roe.  I liked the mushroom bits inside as well. The chili oil on the side was nice, spicy.

Overall, this was fine, but not great, yet sadly my second favorite item.  I wouldn't really want it again.  I forgot that I had ordered these, and felt the same way, at China Doll.

炒 & 炸 chao & zha - wok & fried

Moving on to the "Wok and Fried" section, we went for an assortment of items, although honestly I would have been happy ordering exclusively from this section.  So many tempting things.

And again, pacing was way off, the vegetarian dish arriving long before the pork.
 Vegetarian san choy bao. $14.
I haven't ever had san choy bao before, but I know reviews favored it, and China Lane offered up three varieties: pork, shrimp, and vegetarian. 

I didn't try the vegetarian version, but it went unfinished.  Those who had it said, "eh, it was fine".
 Pork san choy bao. $18.
I skipped the pork version too, since it ran out before it reached me, and I didn't really care to try these.  No one said much about them.
 Tempura whiting with sichuan pepper, wasabi mayo and sesame salt. $32.
Now we were getting to the dishes I wanted.  Fried fish! Wasabi mayo!  We had also been there a full hour at this point, and I was hangry!

The fish was clearly freshly fried, so I'll give a point for that.  But it was extremely oily.  At least it had good crunch?  The fish inside was ... boring, mild, uninteresting.

The wasabi mayo was good, creamy, but, it didn't really deliver much in the way of the wasabi.  I liked the sesame salt though, as I really do like to amp up the salt level in my dishes.

Overall, this had promise, fresh, and I liked the idea that it came with lemon to drizzle for acidity, creamy mayo, and the sesame salt to dunk in, but ... it wasn't actually anything special.  My third pick, I wouldn't want it again.
 Togarashi cuttlefish with garlic & chilli vinegar. $18.
If I was excited for the tempura whiting, I was even more excited for the togarashi cuttlefish.  I like cuttlefish, and love that its a regular menu item around Sydney.  And yay to togarashi!  Not only was it visibly seasoned with it, more came on the side.

The texture of the cuttlefish was good, not rubbery nor chewy, and the flavor from the togarashi was nice, the salt level to my liking.

Again though, not really special. 4th pick.

配菜 pui choi – sides

To round out the meal, just like China Doll, we could select from a very limited number of sides, just steamed jasmine rice or fried rice, and a couple asian greens.    Not being a rice eater, I didn't really care about this section, but I ordered fried rice (both versions, including the vegetarian one), to fill the others up.

The rice came 20 minutes after the fried items, 10  minutes before the mains.  And yes the veggie one was 5 minutes before the other, and yes we actually wanted these *with* the mains.
Fried rice with char sui pork & prawn. $24..

The pork and prawn version didn't even look appealing to me, so I didn't bother try it.  The rice didn't look particularly seasoned, sauced, nor fried really, the shrimp were visibly not cleaned, the pork looked tough and dry, and there was way too much green onion just dumped on top.

辣 酸 lah & sup - spicy & wet 

Moving into the main attractions, the larger "spicy & wet" dishes.  Here I selected two for the group, a beef option per the request of one diner, and the pork belly, because it is one of their most known dishes.  This section had plenty of seafood options too, but since everything else I had picked was seafood, I went more for meat in this category.

These dishes did not arrive until the 1.5 hour mark.  Yes, really.  And yes, the vegetarian main came 8 minutes before the others.
 Soy braised crispy pork belly with chilli caramel. $34..
Pork belly.  Its ... everywhere in Sydney.  On my of my visits to Sydney, I'd say I eat pork belly 6 out of 7 days, at least once per day.  Seriously, everywhere.  So, although I love pork belly, I wasn't particularly craving it, but this is China Lane's most known dish, everyone raves about it, so, I had to get it, right?

Note that I had the same dish at China Doll, and found it underwhelming then, although I liked the caramel sauce.  

I liked it even less here.  It was crispy, yes, but, my chunk tasted burnt.  It was kinda chewy, and had no nicely rendered fat. I liked the fried shallots on top more than the pork belly.

My least favorite dish, although others thought this was ok.  Maybe I just got the worst pieces?
Wagyu beef massaman with sweet potato & thai cardamon. $36.

We had a request for a beef dish, and the options were a filet or the wagyu massaman curry, which won the vote.  Not really my thing, but the sauce was flavorful, and this dish had really a substantial portion of beef.

斋 jai – vegetarian

So, for the vegetarian, we had the aforementioned veggie dumplings that I failed to get a photo of, the lackluster vegetarian san choy bao, veggie fried rice, and a tofu main dish.  Other vegetarian main dishes included soba noodles, a hummus based dish, and one featuring mushrooms that actually sounded good to me, but, I had the vegetarian pick the main, and he opted for tofu.
Vegetable fried rice with green bean, indonesian soy and crispy eshallot. $15.
Out of boredom, and the fact that it was going uneaten, and it at least had tons of crispy shallots on top, I tried the veggie fried rice.
It ... was just rice with some mild soy sauce flavor.  Although I did like the crispy shallots, just like on the pork belly.  That doesn't mean the fried shallots were actually anything special though.
 Wok fried tofu with bamboo shoot, zucchini & confit garlic. $24.
And finally, the fried tofu, a dish I would have never ordered, as I don't care for tofu, or zucchini.

But, it also turned out to be the most delicious dish of the night.  As in, it was genuinely good, at least, the parts I had were.

I tried this too, out of boredom.  We were sitting there soooo long, and, besides the vegetarian, on one was going near this dish, as it looked like a fairly banal dish of tofu and veggies.  So, bored, feeling bad for the uneaten food, I took an onion.  I do like onions!  The onion was good, cooked just right, slightly crisp still, full of flavor from the sauce.

Feeling more bold, I took a chunk of bamboo shoot.  It was juicy, nourishing.  Not really my thing, but, not bad.

Still, I pressed on, skipping the tofu and zucchini, but going for the confit garlic.  Now ... now THAT was good.  Really good.  Soft, amazing mild flavor, again, it soaked up all the sauce.

After nearly 2 hours of lackluster, I finally had something that I liked.  The confit garlic in the veggie tofu dish.  Go figure.

I gleefully told the others how good it was, and slowly, others decided to try it.  They were worried about garlic breath, but I tried to explain that it was slow cooked, confit, and mellow, and eventually someone else tried it and agreed.  Those who had the garlic, onions, etc, agreed they were among the better bites.

So, thank you to the vegetarian for ordering this.  Not that I'd get it again, but it was my favorite dish, I guess.

甜品 tian pin - something sweet

After such an uninspiring meal, it was time for dessert, well, once we tracked someone down to get a menu.  I considered skipping dessert there, because, really, how long would *that* take, and since nothing else was very good, why would I expect dessert to be good?  But you know me, I *need* my dessert, and I had seen the menu in advance and wanted sooo many things.

So, dessert time it was.

I surveyed the group to find out their dessert desires. Many didn't want dessert.  And those who did all wanted different things, except for 2 people, who wanted the same, but didn't want to share (or, so they thought).  I asked the server for guidance on portions, asking if the desserts were large.  She told me they were small. 

Somehow, we ended up ordering 7 desserts for 8 people, even though 3 had declined dessert entirely, 2 were getting their own items, and even though there were only 5 desserts total anyway.

It turns out, our server's guidance that they were small and not for sharing was just crazytalk.  They were huge.  We had way too much.

And ... it was all just as lackluster as the rest of the menu, no matter how good the dishes sounded.  Sigh.
 Penfold’s grandfather rare tawny port. $20.
I paired my dessert with the port recommended on the menu.  I haven't had much port in my life, but recently discovered that I adore the port they serve on Air New Zealand flights, so I was excited to try another one.

It was ... fine?  Not nearly as smooth and caramely as the one on Air New Zealand.  I mostly drank it because I felt bad wasting, when I had given away my cocktail earlier too.
Mah-jong Chocolates. $16.
One person didn't really want dessert, but said he'd have a chocolate.

The menu did not tell us anything about these chocolates, but, they came in a group of 4, all shaped like mah-jong tiles.  They might have all been different? A few people, not myself, had them.  No one said much about them.
Hokey pokey parfait with charred nashi pear. $16.
Next, we have the dessert that the two people who didn't want to share wanted.  They are both from New Zealand, and were excited to see a hokey pokey dish.

I wasn't particularly excited for this one since honey isn't my thing, so I was planning to skip it entirely, but, um, when the two "individual" portions arrived, it was clear that these weren't really individual, and that there was plenty to share.  This ... was not a little parfait.

It also wasn't really much of a parfait, as it was in a large wide dish, and didn't really have any layers.  Is my understanding of what a parfait is just wrong?  Anyway, it was rich, thick, and sweet, with plenty of honey flavor.  The toppings were arranged nicely, some bits of pear, little pearls (honey?), a drizzle of honey, and some random herbs.

The folks who ordered this commented that it was far too big and rich to finish.  They both managed about half, but it was clear they were forcing it, taking frequent breaks.  I think it was just way too heavy to enjoy more than a few spoonfuls of.  It needed ... whipped cream, texture, and, well, layers?  Like a ... parfait perhaps?
Apple yuzu granita with roasted white chocolate ice cream & passionfruit curd. $16.
Next came another one that I didn't want, as granita is not my thing, nor are citrus flavors (yuzu), nor is passionfruit curd (I love fresh passionfruit, just, not curd, usually ...).

But again, since only one person wanted this, and he had already said he didn't want a full dessert, this had plenty left over, so I tried it.

The granita was refreshing, but, it was granita, bo-ring.  The white chocolate ice cream was ... fine.  But nothing special, just sweet ice cream, reasonably creamy.  The almond crumble was nice for a bit of texture, but I wanted more.  And no, basil leaves don't count as texture.

If you wanted a lighter style dessert, this might be nice, but for me, it was just incomplete.  It needed more texture, or some fruit, or ... something.  That said, I did avoid the passionfruit curd.
Vietnamese banoffee with 5 spice, sesame praline & Bailey's cream. $16.
Ok, now we were getting to interesting deserts, this was my third pick before trying the desserts, and since one other person said they'd try this, we ordered it.

This excited me for several reasons.  First, I do love banoffee.  It has a special place in my heart, since discovering it on my first trip to Sydney.  I was interested to see this Vietnamese spin on it.  And ... I love praline, sesame, and, Bailey's and cream ... so everything else certainly called out.

While I knew it wouldn't be traditional banoffee, I didn't quite expect ... this?  It looked like a dessert version of a trendy, artisinal toast.  The only "banoffee" element seemed to be bananas, sliced and cubed.

The base was not a caramelized biscuit crust, and there was no toffee.  Nope, instead, the base was ... cake.  Just ... cake.  Fairly dry cake.  I think the 5 spice was in here.  Boo, hiss to cake as a primary component.  I certainly wouldn't have been interested had I known that.

On top though was a thick, rich Bailey's cream.  I didn't necessarily taste Bailey's, nor understand what that had to do with banoffee nor Vietnamese flavors, but, the cream was good.  The sesame praline I also enjoyed.  And this one also had random herbs perched on top.  The pastry team really seems to like adding herbs.

But overall, since I disliked the cake, this isn't something I'd get again . My second pick of desserts though, just for the toppings.

Oh, and also, ridiculously large.  Easily shared by at least 3 people.  Our waitress was ... so wrong.
Black sticky rice with seasonal fruit / Coconut sago with seasonal fruit. $12 each.
And finally, the two I was looking forward to, the sticky rice and sago, both of which, it turns out, I had at China Doll too.  Both served warm, with coconut milk.  And yes, both in big bowls, and both portions that would be too much for a single person, really.

The black sticky rice scores points for being warm, and for the fine texture of the rice, but there was something about the flavor that I really did not enjoy.  I don't know what it was, but, I didn't care for it at all.  Ginger maybe?  It was strong, and took over the flavor profile.  The coconut on top was candied, and also tasted a bit odd.  The mango was uninteresting, and there wasn't much of it.  This went largely untouched, with myself and 1-2 others trying it, and not wanting any more. 

And finally, the one I had liked at China Doll, the sago (although there it came with different toppings).  It came topped with coconut, strawberry, coulis, and ... yup, herbs.

The sago was fine.  Again points for warm, points for texture.  Decently creamy, good coconut milk/cream flavor.  The shredded coconut on top here was fine, although there was too much for my taste.  The fruit made me sad, as it wasn't fresh strawberry, it really seemed like frozen berries, mushy.  Stewed fruit, compotes, those make sense, but this really seemed just like frozen soggy, not intentional soggy.  Really a shame.

My favorite of the desserts, but not something I'd get again either.  I did take the leftovers home (minus the berries and coconut), since we had so much untouched, and added passionfruit, kiwi, mango, and lychee, and ate it the next day, chilled.  It was better, but, this wasn't really good to begin with.
China Lane Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Airport Dining: Takeout from Samovar Tea Lounge @ SFO

Another day, another arrival at SFO after a very long international flight (27 hours in transit!), and, after finally getting my bags and clearing customs, all I wanted was 1) coffee and 2) salad.  It amuses me how often this happens, but it is clear that after all that flying drama, my body wants healthy greens.  Travel makes us crave the strangest things.

I finally decided to try Samovar, as I've exhausted most of the faster, grab-n-go options, like spring rolls and asian kale salad from Koi Palace Express, or an actually decent roast pear salad from Green Beans (review coming soon), and everything else was heavier, more fast-food style.  I also picked Samovar because I didn't just want salad ... I wanted coffee.  Good coffee.  The coffee served on my flight was awful, and I knew Samovar at least served Equator coffee.

I forgot to photo my coffee, but really, how exciting is a photo of a coffee cup anyway?  The menu listed it as a "French Press", but my coffee was fetched from a large carafe, and handed over immediately, before I even paid.  I questioned, "Oh, I thought it was french press?" and I was told that it was, that she had just made it.  Skeptical.  

But the coffee was good, strong, quality Equator coffee, and really what I wanted.  It immediately gave me a touch of pep in my step, and was much, much better than the coffee from Green Beans.
Landside Dining.
Samovar offers one thing many establishments at SFO do not: landside dining, so, you could actually just go to SFO to visit, if you really wanted.  Or, more appropriately, you can access it after coming through customs on international arrivals, or you can visit with non-travelers who are dropping you off or picking you up.

Not only is it landside, it has an appealing storefront, and interior.  They really do try to create a real Samovar lounge experience, at the airport.

I however got my food to go, so I can't comment on the in-house dining.

Ordering takeout is easy, there is a counter to order at, with pastries, coffees, teas, etc too, as I think many patrons just opt to get tea and a pastry to go.
Wasabi Caesar Salad. $18.50. 
"Organic hearts of romaine, shaved parmesan, garlic, croutons, Caesar dressing with a wasabi kick."

This is considered an entree salad, but I found it to be fairly small, more akin to a side salad.  The box wasn't even reasonably full.

It was ... a caesar salad.  Crunchy hearts of romaine, although many pieces were brown around the edges, even though fresh.  The parmesan was thin slivers rather than thick shreds as I prefer.  The croutons were good, tiny though, but packed some garlic punch, and were buttery/oily in a good way.  Very crispy, and there were tons of them.

The dressing was "wasabi caesar", which turned out to be a lighter style, not quite a vinaigrette, but not a thick creamy parmesan cheese laden style that I like.  It did have a bit of kick to it from wasabi.  I needed to add mayo to this to make it creamy though, this just isn't the type of caesar for me otherwise.

If you get this salad at another Samovar location, it comes with smoked salmon, for the same price.  But at SFO, to get that smoked salmon, you must pay another $7.   #airportPricing.  I choose to not add on, although the cashier really strongly encouraged it.

This was fine I guess, but you can find much better, and more reasonably priced, caesar in the terminal - both the Giant's Clubhouse, and Yankee Pier, offer far superior Caesar salads, and the later is literally half the price, and perhaps even larger!
Kale Salad ($14.50) + Smoked Duck ($7).
"Shredded beets and carrots, avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, yuzu, vinaigrette."

Since I'm allergic to avocado, I had to get this without avocado.  I added smoked duck to have some substance, and, because I have been a bit addicted to smoked duck lately.  This made it a $21 salad (!), and, although the base was a bit bigger than the Caesar, it wasn't exactly large.  At the main Samovar locations, this salad comes with duck by default.

This was a fairly standard (if that is a thing) kale salad.  Baby kale, fresh enough.  Shredded carrots, good for color but not much more.  Larger chunks of beets, added some crunch, freshness, and a touch of flavor.  And ... that was the salad.  It had some pumpkin seeds sprinkled on as well, for more crunch.  I'm sure the avocado adds something to this, but really, a very simple base.

The dressing I asked for on the side, because I was worried it would be over dressed, and because I don't tend to like vinaigrette anyway, and knew I might need to use my own creamy dressing.  As I expected, it was ... vinaigrette, tangy from yuzu, and totally not my thing at all.

Overall, a fine, simple salad, but $14.50?  No.

The duck was lovely, a good smoky flavor, quite tender.  I've realized that smoked duck reminds me a bit of turkey bacon, which I do like, just, a more grown up version?  I'm glad I added it, but the portion of duck was ... quite small.  You can see it all there, just a few thin slices, deli lunch meat style.  For $7.  It felt like a meager portion for the price, even though I enjoyed it.

If I really needed a salad and I was at SFO, I'd get this again, and use my own dressing, but, I see no reason to get it otherwise.  I'd certainly consider more duck items though.

Monday, March 18, 2019

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice, Sydney

I wasn't planning to visit CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice in Sydney.  I was planning to go to Meet Fresh, to get either a coconut mango sago dessert or perhaps a rice pudding.  But the Meet Fresh location I headed to ... closed (!) in the 3 weeks since my last visit.  Doh.  So I headed to the other, bigger Meet Fresh, determined to *finally* try the place.  And ... I even made an agonizing decision, ordered, and ... cash only.  My order was ~$10, and $10 cash I did not have.  So. Foiled.  Nor did I have an ATM card with me.  So. Dejected.

I wandered, somewhat pouting, perhaps even slightly stomping my feet like a grumpy little kid, back towards my hotel, no real plan in my mind.  A rare thing for very calculated me.

I opened my eyes, and saw nearly every person (or so it seemed) drinking bubble tea of some kind.  I guess my brain decided that is what *I* wanted too.  So, with zero reach, no actual plan of where to go, I stumbled into CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice.  My decision was based on the fact that they seemed to have lines, and, one chef who I follow on Instagram seems to be a regular.  Thus, CoCo it was.

CoCo is a bubble tea chain, with locations worldwide, and a slew in Sydney.  That is about all I know.  People seem to like it more than Chatime (which I've reviewed before).  The menu offers the standard hot and cold milk teas, fresh fruit teas, and slushes, with add-ons.

I don't feel quite fair evaluating my drink because ... I made some awful decisions in my impulsive blur.  More on that soon.
Bubble Tea Canvas Carrier?!!
But first ... CoCo has innovated.  And introduced me to something that I thought was ridiculous, and ended up loving.

Behold: the reusable, canvas, bubble tea carrier.  

I was confused when my server handed over a baggie with a canvas thing inside, along with my receipt.  I opened it up, saw that it was a CoCo branded ... something.  I looked around confused, and saw ... yes, people with their bubble tea cups through the sleeve, the strap either over their shoulders, or in their hands.

I rolled my eyes, scoffed internally ("what a fad!  Great marketing CoCo, sending out branded swag everywhere!"), and put my cup in, only to snap a 'gram.  Ok yeah, I bought into that part at least.

And then ... I realized how handy it was.  Did I need my hand for something?  No worries, strap over my shoulder for a second.  Did I want to slow my rate of gulping my beverage?  No worries! Once it isn't directly in your hand, its far easier to rate limit.

Ok CoCo, you won me over.  This carrier was I didn't realize I wanted in my life, but, turns out, truly do.
Taro Slush with Coconut Jellies & Cloud. $9.30.
Ok, so, um, I knew I wanted taro.  But I didn't want caffeine, and I actually wanted ice cream or a refreshing cold dessert, so a regular milk tea was out.  Thus, a taro slush it was.  So far, so good.

But I wanted mix-ins!   But ... I don't like bubble tea style pearls usually.  I was still craving smaller sago.  So I went for jellies, coconut, thinking I'd like the complimentary coconut flavor with the taro.

But ... I recently discovered the joy of 'cloud', that is, fluffy salty sweet rich topping, you can add to milk teas.  I wanted that too.  On my slush.

Usually when I get one of these type of items, I go for *far* less sweet than standard, 50% or even 25%.  My server didn't ask though, and I forgot to specify.  Strike #1.

I also usually get a small, given all my additions, these turn into monsters fast.  Server also didn't ask my size.

Thus ... I wound up with a Large, full sweet.  Oooph.  And ... sweet it was.  Far, far, far too sweet.

But breaking it down.

The base was the requested coconut jellies, swimming in syrup.  Look at all that syrup!!!  This really, really made it ridiculously sweet.  I still loved the texture of the jellies though, but, alas, they really compounded a problem with this drink.  I ended up saving them mostly and eating later, by the spoonful.  I still enjoyed that way!

Next, the taro slush.  It was really nicely blended, icy, not chunky, not separated.  Decent taro flavor, although not amazing.  But ... zomg, sweet.  I didn't want to water it down exactly, but I couldn't handle the sweetness.  Even if I sipped from the middle, void of jellies and their syrup, I couldn't really handle more than a sip or two.  It kinda broke my heart.  I salvaged it, adding milk and ice later, but that definitely watered it down, and took away the taro flavor.

And finally, the cloud.  I certainly got my $$ worth, with a generous portion.  It was fluffy, sweet and a bit salty, and I enjoyed it, although I think I liked Chatime's more, it was stronger salt level.

So overall, I failed.  A huge drink, ruined by sweetness.  And nearly $10!

I'd give CoCo another try, remembering to order smaller, and, um, not sweet.
Coco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato