Friday, April 12, 2019

Spudnik's Kettle Chips, Canada

I know, you are probably sick of reading more and more reviews were I talk about how much I love snacks, and chips, and then dub yet another brand as just "meh", and say I'm over potato chips.

But ... this one will be different.  I promise.

Spudniks is a snack food maker based in Toronto, Canada.  I don't think they have a very big distribution network, but they were available in my office there, and I was immediately drawn in by the flavors.  And, well, the desire to have "local" things.

My office only had the kettle chips (in various flavors), but Spudnicks also makes flavored popcorn, that I'd love to get my hands on.
Kettle Chips.
Kettle chips come in single serving or large family style bags, in a variety of flavors such as standard sea salt or salt & malt vinegar, but also the fascinating ones: kool ketcup, thai chili, buffalo bbq, blue cheese & chicken wings, and these, delicious dill pickle.

Now do you understand why I gave them a try?
Delicious Dill Pickle
"Craving Pickles? If so, you will love our mouth watering Delirious Dill Pickle Flavour. The taste of baby dills with a sweet tang."

I liked these more than any other chips in recent memory.

Fried, crunchy, crispy, like the "deli chips" I remember eating as a child.  I loved how very fried they were.

And then the flavor?  Awesome.  Yes dill.  Yes herb.  Yes, so good!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Guschlbauer, Toronto

When in Toronto, go to ... an Austrian Bakery?
Delivery Goodies: Mango and Durian Cheese Buns.
Yes, do it.  Now.  Or don't even go, just get it delivered.  As I did.  Because ... #amazing.

Ok, now I'll back up.

Guschlbauer is ... an Austrian bakery, started in 1919 in Austria, with locations around in Europe, Hong Kong, and Korea.  And, uh, Canada.  Known for the cheese buns.  But not cheese buns like you are thinking.  These are sweet baked goods.

I still can't decide which was my favorite.  The mango was wonderful, in a sweet fruity way, but the durian one delivered something else entirely.  I'd get them both again in an instant.
Delivery Packaging.
My delivery came in a branded bag, with the items nicely packaged.
Info Card.
In my bag was an insert with details on their most well known it:: the "Signature" Austrian Cheese Bun.

I'll be honest, they lost some cred as I saw this.  Did they really need to sell me on it at this point?
Full Menu.
A full menu was included as well, with the whole lineup of buns, cream puffs, and drinks, beautifully illustrated, not that I needed it at this point.

The drinks aren't available for delivery, otherwise I may have ordered one, all kinds of slush drinks topped with cheese foam.  The coconut redbean called out somewhat, as did the chocolate garden, and the butterfly lychee on was just downright beautiful ...

And, if I didn't have such a distaste in general for cream puffs (I just don't like choux pastry!), a lychee puff certainly would have found its way onto my order.

But I stuck with the buns.

Signature Austrian Cheese Quarter Buns 

The most famous of the buns is the Original, with "5 layers of cream cheese and bun covered with whole milk powder," but there are many others to pick from as well.  All are huge, "quarter buns", in that they are basically the size of 1/4 of a cake.  The are somehow light (from the bread) and rich (from the cream) all at once.  You probably really *should* share them, but I most certainly did not.

Most feature the original bread and cream in some form, just with additional ingredients, like fruity mango or mango passionfruit, the last of which has cranberries on top too (why?! Otherwise I would have gotten it!), but others mix up the bread too, the strawberry bun has a strawberry bread and filling, there is a slightly savory version with charcoal base bread and purple sweet potato cheese (so pretty!), and a chocolately creation too.

I was temped by the Original, really I was, but ...  I decided to skip that, and move right on to even more incredible sounding flavors.  I kinda wanted them all.  Including the durian.  

Spoiler: OMG THESE ARE AMAZING.  I'm so glad I ordered two, even thought that was way too much for one person, and I'm so glad I didn't share them.
Mango Cheese Bun. $6.20.
"Filled with two layer of mango cream cheese and mango chunks."

I opted for the mango flavor, since I love mango, and I figured this was a good safe option, in case my durian pick was not a winner.

I expected this to just have the plain original bread, the same original cheese filling, and chunks of mango, but the filling is actually mango cream cheese (which the description said, I just didn't read it carefully).

But, starting with the base, the bread.  It is a light, fluffy, sweet bread, much the style of Asian breads, and really quite soft and fresh.  Honestly, better than what I have at most of those Asian-style bakeries ...

And then, the filling.  It only took one bite before I was immediately impressed.  The cheesy filling is just downright delicious.  Quite fruity, mango forward, creamy, rich, thick.  Sweet from the mango, but also slightly savory, there really is a cheese flavor to it.  I loved it.  There were chunks of mango inside too, sweet and juicy.

Overall, this was just a joy to eat.  Soft, sweet quality fresh bread, delicious creamy rich filling, and I just couldn't stop eating it.  Literally.  I was slightly horrified when I saw how quickly it disappeared, when I planed to just have half of each of the two I ordered, and somehow nearly finished both, saving just a bite of each for my companion.

I think this is my second pick, but honestly, it is tied for first.  I'd gladly get it again, or even try the passionfruit mango one, cranberries and all.

Durian Cheese Bun. $7.80.
"The combination of durian and signature cream cheese makes Durian Cheese Bun extra Creamy and Tasty."

And then there was the durian version.  Durian is my recent obsession, and it seems I've really acquired a taste for it.  I still get a little scared ordering a durian item tough, as I brace myself expecting to hate it.

I opened the bag, clearly labelled "Durian", and, well, there was no question this was durian.  The smell was real.  Yes, durian.  I was excited and scared at the same time.

The bread is the same sweet fluffy fresh white bread, and I again liked it.  A great base for the filling.

And ... the filling!  This had the signature cream cheese filling, again, rich, thick, savory, cheesy, and just downright delicious.  I'm convinced now that the plain signature bun would be fantastic.

Integrated into the cream filling layers was the chunks of durian.  Decent sized chunks.  Soft.  Funky.  Yes, durian.

And much like the mango bun, I just couldn't stop eating this.  The durian was addictive in its own way.

This bun gets the *slight* edge over the mango, just because durian is more unique I think, but I really loved them both, just in totally different ways.  I'd get it again in an instant.
Guschlbauer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Gong Cha, Sunnyvale

I did not grow up with bubble tea, milk tea, or anything with taro.  But at some point a few years ago I had my first taro milk tea (I think at Quickly ), and got a little obsessed for a few months.  And then promptly forgot about it and moved on to something else.  I probably had one or two milk teas total in the next 4 years.

And then, on a recent visit to Sydney, where bubble tea shops are nearly as prevalent as coffee shops, and where quality, creative mix-ins, and fun toppings are what make the competitive advantage, I got re-hooked.  Turns out, if you see every other person walking by with a milk tea in hand, the marketing basically works, and you finally decide that you too need one!

I returned from Sydney, and missed my milk teas immediately (like the incredible Bubble Nini Tea!).  One cold, rainy night, I was in a very grumpy mood, and decided I needed a taro tea, right then and there.  But it was raining, and I was exhausted, so ... I did something very unlike me.  I ordered delivery.  Delivery milk tea.  Yup.   And since it was cold, I didn't even want a regular milk tea, I wanted a warm one, which I knew wouldn't be warm by the time it made it to me anyway.  I was just too grumpy to care, really.

I ordered from Gong Cha, a chain I discovered in Sydney, one I never ended up making it to, but had wanted to try.  Gong Cha is originally from Taiwan, started only in 2006, but has locations internationally now.

Milk Tea

Tea is certainly the main attraction at Gong Cha, available iced or hot, as milk tea or fruity fresh brewed tea, usually with black tea as the base, very customizable by ice level, sweetness, and additions (most commonly with boba but plenty of other "toppings" as options as well).

I didn't get a very common drink though, no tea involved, even though called a "milk tea" ...
Taro Milk Tea, 30% Sweet, Medium, Hot. With pudding, milk foam. $6.
I really wanted a warm beverage, as it was a cold rainy night, and I wanted something comforting.  And, uh, taro flavored.  So taro milk tea it was, with one mix-in (pudding) and one topping (milk foam).  I opted for the lowest level of sweet (besides no sweet), 30%.

The drink was about what I expected, a lukewarm, purple milk, with mild taro flavor.  It was still quite sweet though, sweeter than I wanted, and clearly used taro powder, as it had no chunks or residue.  Maybe 0% sweet next time?
Milk Foam + matcha?
On top was the lovely milk foam, slightly savory, slightly salty, fluffy.  I loved it, but I think much of it had melted into the drink already, something I was fearful of with a hot drink, but I couldn't resist anyway.  Love that topping.

Also on top was ... green powder.  Matcha?  Why?  Taro milk tea doesn't have matcha, and this was listed as a caffeine free, kid-friendly option even.  I was slightly worried they used the matcha milk foam instead of the regular, but the foam didn't taste of matcha.
Egg Pudding.
And inside, my mix-in, egg pudding.  I always want some kind of mix-in, and I struggled to think what would work well with the warm drink.  Pudding seemed like a wise choice, since warm pudding is a thing.

The pudding was just one huge scoop, quite rich, quite sweet.  Since the drink trended a bit too sweet for me this wasn't awesome, but I did like having something with a bit of texture.  Still, it was kinda a lot, and not quite what I was looking for.  Still not sure what a good mix-in for a warm taro drink would be.

The taro milk tea base is $5, each topping was $0.50, making this $6.

Overall, it was fine, but not a particularly unique nor notable item, as it seemed to be taro powder.  I'd likely try somewhere else next time.

Yogurt Smoothie Fab Five

"Gong Cha USA California is excited to introduce a series of fruit smoothies for the summer! There are five fabulous fruit smoothies to choose from: Lemon, Lychee, Passionfruit, Mango, and Peach. 
Refreshing and delicious, our fruit yogurt smoothies are a fabulous summer companion!"
I wanted to order one more item just in case I didn't like my milk tea, and also, to justify the delivery, so I threw on a random smoothie at least minute.  These seem to be a California item only, introduced last summer (but, clearly they stayed on menu long after summer ended).

They didn't have taro as an option, and the only non-yogurt versions were mango or matcha, neither of which I was really feeling, so I went for the lychee yogurt one.  No idea why, really.
Lychee Yogurt Smoothie, 30% Sweet. With Herbal Jelly + Rainbow Jelly + Macha Milk Foam. $7.50.
To this I added both herbal and rainbow jelly since I wanted them both in my taro tea, but thought they'd melt in my hot drink, and the matcha foam, because I really wanted to try that too.

Such .... a random creation, I know.  And to be honest, I had no idea what a yogurt smoothie was anyway.  It was a pretty layered creation, with the rainbow jellies in the bottom, then a ton of herbal jelly, and then I guess the lychee yogurt smoothie finally, which occupied less than half the cup since the toppings filled the bottom 35%, and the matcha foam the top 25%.

I didn't even have a clue how to tackle this thing.  Did I remove the lid and try to mix it? Just drink and get "perfect sips" by controlling my straw depth?  I really had no idea.

So I just grabbed a straw, and gave it a try.  Which, turns out, totally worked, and I could adjust my sips based on straw depth with no problem.

The rainbow jellies and herbal jelly were exactly what I expected.  Sweet, fruity, colorful, slimy, firm rainbow jellies that I appreciated for texture and fun.  Big pieces of herbal jelly, less sweet, but again, just fun to have in there.

The base smoothie was the part that wasn't as I expected.  I know lychee is sweet, but at 30% sweet, I wasn't expecting it to be as sweet as it was.  Next time ... 0%?  I also expected the yogurt nature to balance out the sweet, but I honestly didn't taste anything yogurt about this.  No tang at all.  It really seemed much like a lychee milk tea, just, icier.  I ended up opening it up to add soy milk to mellow it out a bit.

The matcha milk foam was just as great as the regular, just, slightly green and matcha flavored.  They do a great foam, light and fluffy.

Overall, I am glad I tried this smoothie, but I think next time I'd get mango perhaps, and definitely bring the sweetness down to 0%.

The base smoothie was $5.75, $0.75 more than a milk tea, and the standard add-ins were $0.50 for this as well, with the matcha milk foam extra, $0.75, making this a $7.50 creation.
Gong Cha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, April 09, 2019


Flight Details:

  • Date: April 7, 2019
  • Departure: 10:25am (scheduled) 10:45 (actual)
  • Arrival: 6:25pm (scheduled) 6:10pm (actual)
  • Aircraft: A320
  • Seat: 3E


This was my only my second time flying United in the past ... 15 years, and the longest United flight I've ever taken.  I ... tend to avoid at all costs.  But my options for flying to Toronto were extremely limited after the Boeing 737Max grounding, and Air Canada cancelled many flights.

Thus, United it was.  At least I was in first class.

The cabin layout is only 3 rows, 2-2.  I was in the last row adjacent to economy, separated by a curtain.  Single FA for our cabin, reasonably friendly, service took time though, and we were last.

The seats were ... ok.  Ridiculously uncomfortable if you recline, no foot rest, and tray tables that were annoying to pull out, as they hit the drink table on the way.
There was in-seat power (not USB), easy storage for magazines or laptop, and little other storage space.  Wifi was available for a fee, and was slow and spotty. Entertainment required downloading their app on your device, which was not available for Chromebooks.

Food & Drink

The meal service was lunch, and began a while after departure.  We were presented with hot towels to begin.

Meal choices were described to us, no menu available.  Options were ... chicken or chicken.  No vegetarian option, no ability to order, in advance, a special meal.  Enjoy your chicken. 

The choices were cold cobb salad with chicken on the side, or hot chicken with a ginger sauce.  Both served with a pretzel bun, butter, and chocolate cheesecake.  My dining companion and I opted to split both.  We also ... had backup with us.
Warm Nuts.
Drink orders were taken row by row, delivered with a bowl of mixed nuts (almonds, cashews).

The nuts were served warm, which was a nice touch.  Not salted though, and almonds and cashews aren't particularly exciting.  Still, points for warm nuts.

I was also pleased that they have sparkling lime water, slightly more exciting than regular plain sparkling water, although they recently discontinued Sprite Zero, which I usually like to mix with my sparkling water.
Two wine choices were available, a 2017 Californian chardonnay for white, and a Bordeaux for red.

I opted to try the chardonnay.  It was actually quite fine, not too acidic nor harsh, slightly buttery on the finish.  I was pleased.
Hot Chicken Option.
The hot option was only described as "chicken with ginger sauce", but it turned out to be chicken curry over pad thai style noodles.  On the side was a slaw with edamame, and the "sesame sauce" was just a container of sesame dressing to go with it.

The slaw was moderately fresh, but the dressing *way* too sweet.  The curry sauce was uninteresting, the noodles one big clump.  I didn't try the chicken itself since I dislike chicken anyway.

The pretzel roll was better than expected, served warm, and it had a nice salt level to it.  Packet of butter on the side.
Cold Chicken Option.
Next we had the cold option, a salad, with cold chicken on the side.  Described as Cobb salad, but ... it wasn't really.

The salad had reasonably fresh chunks of romaine, black beans (uh, what, not in Cobb salad?), mealy tomatoes (boo), and small slices of hardboiled egg.  No avocado, nor bacon, both of which I'd expect in a Cobb salad.  On the side was lackluster ranch dressing.  I didn't try the chicken.

Dessert was a chocolate cheesecake, with chocolate ganache on top.

The texture was ok, creamy, but I just don't like chocolate cheesecake.  The flavor combo just doesn't work for me. I did like the thick rich ganache on top.

Overall, this was not exactly an exciting meal.  The pretzel roll and chocolate ganache, and the wine, were all I actually really consumed, opting for the food I brought on board instead.  Which, um, I recommend you do.