Friday, May 10, 2019

Paleo Ranch

"Our Paleo friendly, protein snacks are delicious, nutritious options for athletes, runners, yogis, CrossFitters, Paleo followers, parents, kids, anyone on the go, and everyone in-between."
I ... am not the target audience here, at all.  I fully acknowledge that.  But, I'm always interested in trying new products, particularly bars I can throw in my bag for when I'm out and about, particularly when they have protein but *not* whey protein (my body doesn't seem to care for it).  So Paleo Ranch was quasi interesting to me.

If you care about the Paleo part, yes, all the products are paleo.  And as for the Ranch, the beef is from free range cattle, the eggs from free range chickens, etc and of course there are no antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones used.

Paleo Ranch makes two main products: jerky (bacon and beef) and bars ("skinny" or "mega"), all in a variety of flavors.  The Skinny bars are <200 calories, with 10 grams of protein, the Mega are not really that mega, but come in at ~300 calories, 15 grams of protein.  I tried a skinny bar, drawn in by the fact that they boast a decent amount of protein, from egg protein, rather than whey.

I have no interest in trying more.
Cherry Apple Walnut Skinny Bar.
"Apple pie or Cherry pie? Why not both! This protein-packed Skinny bar has apples, cherries – and pecans for good measure – keeping your taste buds percolating with pleasure and your body a finely tuned machine. OK, that last bit was a bit much…"
Ok, I had hope for this.

Cherry pie? Apple pie? Pecans?  NOT whey protein isolate?  Hope, I had hope.  And the bar really was a reasonable 190 calories, with 10 grams of protein.  If I could like this, it could be a fabulous thing to throw in my bag for a satisfying snack.

Once I opened it though, my hope started quickly dissipating.  It looked shiny and odd.  Like the kind of bar I don't like.  But I still gave it a try.

The texture was unpleasant.  Kinda chewy, but firm.  Like a really thick fruit bar.  Which is what it tasted like too, very fruity, not cherry as expected though given the name.  The strong flavor was dates and apple, which makes sense, as dates are the first ingredient.  I didn't taste any pecans, nor the namesake walnuts, nor the sunflower seeds, although there was a bit of texture from what was likely ground nuts and seeds, and a bit of bitterness. At least the egg white protein didn't taste funky?

Overall, this was clearly not for me - it was a healthy nutrition bar, just one with a description and ingredient lineup that sounds a bit better than most.
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Thursday, May 09, 2019

Polly Ann Ice Cream

The Outer Sunset.  A neighborhood of San Francisco I ... very rarely visit.  Same with the Inner Sunset really (except for dry fried chicken at San Tung!) or the Richmond (good dim sum but ...), or anywhere that far away.  Honestly, its like being in another city.  So, although I've known about Polly Ann Ice Cream for a few years (it gets such amazing reviews!), and I've had it bookmarked to try out, its taken me this long to get to it, since Polly Ann has only one location, and it is there.  Still, the unique flavor lineup, and my undying love of ice cream, finally drew me in.

I will now admit that I didn't actually travel "all the way" to the Outer Sunset to enjoy my treats.  I discovered that you can get the pints delivered via Caviar.  A few caveats though - you obviously can't sample the ice cream first, only pints are available (e.g. no scoops, no cones, no toppings), but, the worst part: the flavor list is not accurate.  It contains less than half the options, and ... doesn't reflect what they have in reality anyway (I think because Polly Ann changes flavors often, so only list the most common ones on Caviar?)  If you want a particular flavor, I'd recommend calling first to see if it is there, and including this in your notes.  And definitely add in fallback options.

I can't say that getting ice cream delivered from the other side of the city is, um, an economical choice: the delivery charge all the way across the city is $6.99, so if you were just going to get a single scoop ($3.75) at the shop, you've clearly exceeded your ice cream budget.  But if you get a couple pints ($8.99 each), and consider the pint holds say 4 scoops, that would price at $10.50 (2 doubles) or $15 (4 singles) for a pint's worth of ice cream ... it isn't as crazy, really.

But still why would you order pints, or venture to that far side of the city, in the first place?  Yes, there is quality ice cream elsewhere in San Francisco.  And there are unique flavors elsewhere (e.g. Humphrey Slocombe).  But Polly Ann nails not only the quality and unique (ridiculously extensive, really) flavor list, they have flavors I really, really wanted to try.

On any given day, Polly Ann offers about 50 flavors.  With this many flavors, there really, truly is something for everyone who eats ice cream - all the classics but also, the ones that drew me in, the more asian inspired flavors: durian. Taro. Black Sesame. Red Bean. Lychee.  Meanwhile, your child can have Gummi Bear, Oreo Cookie, or Star Wars if they wish.  Your tea loving friend can pick from Green Tea, Jasmine Tea, or Thai Thea.  Etc, etc.  They have a couple yogurts, and sherbet, but, the non-dairy options are not really there.

We ordered two pints, durian and taro, but sadly, the durian was not available.  Luckily I had the foresight to specify a fallback (black sesame), and it was subbed instead.  Both flavors were amazing, and I'd gladly try many more (and really do want to try that durian sometime!).
Pint!  $8.99.
The moment I stuck a spoon into the ice cream pints I could tell we were in for a treat.  It was so smooth and creamy, and perfectly slightly soft yet not too melty.  Good job, delivery man.

All flavors I tried were extremely highly quality, just absolute perfect texture and consistency, and they *nailed* the flavors.
Black Sesame. 
I fell in love with black sesame soft serve in Sydney (where, you can get a $2 cone at Rice Workshop in the mall that is fantastic!).  Besides Rice Workshop, and other places in Sydney though, I haven't had much black sesame ice cream.  It isn't exactly super common.

But even with my limited experience, I can tell you, this was fantastic black sesame ice cream.  The flavor was quite intense, nutty, and clearly a dessert, sweet, but not too sweet at all.  I ... loved it.  It would be great made into any kind of creation with a little drizzle of coconut milk perhaps, but honestly, it didn't need anything.  Perfect as it.

I'd gladly get this again.
Taro.
As much as I loved, truly loved, the black sesame, I might have loved the taro even more.

It had a slight purple hue, more lavender than purple, and I was thrilled when I saw tiny bits of real taro in it.  This was legit taro ice cream.

Taro ice cream is another flavor I discovered in Sydney, in soft serve form.  I've had some fabulous taro soft serve there over the years, like the incredibly creamy but not super intense version from Aqua S, or the downright amazing taro milk tea sundae from Devon Cafe (review coming soon).  I've also had regular hard serve taro ice cream in Southern California, like in bingsu with Fosselman's taro ice cream at Milke & Snowie in Pasadena, or in a sundae at Confetti Italian Ice Cream in Costa Mesa, both of which were quite fabulous.

But this ... may have been the best.  Obviously without having them side-by-side I can't be 100% sure, but, this was pretty fabulous.  Again, not even taking the high quality ice cream base into account, with amazing consistency, it was the taro flavor that just shined.  Clearly real taro, so clearly an expertly crafted recipe, not too sweet.

This one too could easily pair with some toppings, but it didn't need them.  It also did go great side by side with the black sesame. I'd gladly get this again too.
Polly Ann Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Trailblazer Tavern

Michael Mina is chef who I learned about early on in my time exploring San Francisco's dining scene, when I went to his flagship restaurant (back when it was on Union Square), and loved it.  Sadly, the newer location let me down in 2012, as did the Farewell to Foie Gras dinner we attended there later that year.

Still, I've kept an eye on Micheal Mina as he's opened a slew of different concepts around town, including a wine bar, RN74, which has since closed and changed concepts, but I really was impressed when I attended several special events there (swoon, that butterscotch pudding, still memorable!).  I've also attended a number of food festivals with goodies from Pabu and Ramen Bar, his Japanese concepts, and loved the addicting spin on spicy soy cured deviled eggs, topped with crispy ramen, and some classic hand rolls and bubble tea.

His restaurant portfolio is fairly huge at this point, with 10 in the Bay Area alone, plus locations in Hawaii, Seattle, Boston, Pheonix, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Diego ... and then internationally in Dubai.

Anyway.  Why do I tell you all this?  Because Micheal Mina is the restauranteur behind Trailblazer Tavern, newly opened in San Francisco this year, and honestly the most exciting sounding concept of his so far: Hawaiian!  He teamed up with two James Beard nominated Hawaiian chefs to open a high concept Hawaiian restaurant, nearby my office.

I've wanted to go basically since I saw the first menus published, not only for the desserts (which, ZOMG, sound amazing, such as a haupia tapioa pudding with dragonfruit that I want to try *right now*), but also for the savory (think: maitake mushroom tempura with yuzu mousseline, dungeness crab lumpia, miso glazed butterfish ...   So when a co-worker came to me asking for a lunch recommendation for a team lunch, I put Trailblazer at the top of my recommendations list, of course with the caveat that I hadn't yet been myself.  I may have secretly planned to change teams before their lunch date arrived, but, alas, that plan didn't work out.

However, I didn't miss out entirely.  Because ...
#leftovers
Yup, they brought me their leftovers!

Now, of course this isn't what I would have ordered exactly, and it wasn't fresh food.  I can't pretend otherwise.  I won't pretend otherwise.  But I will tell you, that even the *leftovers* were delicious, and everyone who attended the lunch raved about it.

They brought me poke (which, sadly had avocado on it so I couldn't try it), fries, and spam, and I was thrilled with everything I had.  I absolutely cannot wait to go myself.
S.P.A.M. MUSUBI. $15.
"Mochi-Crusted Smoked Pork Arabiki Meatloaf."

Fanciest spam musubi ever!

I was pleased that they brought me a bunch of what is basically the signature dish, or at least the most Instagrammed: the SPAM Musubi.

Of course the "spam" is homemade pork sausage loaf.  That you'd expect given the chefs involved.  But rather than being served on a block of rice, it ... is coated in mochi tempura.  And a little fried quail egg is perched on top for good measure (and Instagram worthiness).

As one who doesn't really eat rice generally (besides rice pudding), this was a glorious innovation.  And I love tempura, so, this was all awesome to me.  I loved the crunch and the glutinous texture from the mochi crust.

The "spam" was great too, a thin grilled slice of clearly high quality processed pork product, super juicy.  I love things like bologna, breakfast sausage, and mortadella, so this was right up my alley.

I didn't need the quail egg, or want it really, but I see how it made the dish even more novel.

The best part, besides the novelty and quality components, was the seasoning and spices.  It was drizzled with a flavorful sauce, and definitely had my favorite condiment of all time (furikake) all over it.

A very fun item, worth a try, and they all loved it.
TOGARASHI-GARLIC FRIES. $6.
They also brought me their leftover fries.

I wanted to try one right away, even though they were cold and likely soggy.  And ... they were even delicious this way!  The togarashi coating was spicy, the fries were actually fairly crispy.  I could tell that these would be amazing fresh.

I reheated some in the toaster oven, dunked them in my own sauce, and loved them.  Really loved them.  Leftover fries.

These are served on the side with sandwiches at lunch, or are available during Happy Hour as a small plate with furikake aioli to dunk them in (!).  I wish I had that aioli, but I made due with leftover mustard sauce from Wahlburgers, actually.
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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Original Royaltea, Sydney

Sydney has a lot of bubble tea shops.  Seriously, bubble tea has ... exploded, everywhere.  Some neighborhoods have a bubble tea shop literally ever other storefront.  The competition is real, and the shops just keep getting trendier and trendier, innovating in all different ways.

And then ... there is Original Royaltea.  It isn't one that is heavily Instagramed.   It doesn't seem to have any particular notable thing.  It doesn't have a stunning storefront.  And it certainly doesn't have lines.  It barely even has any reviews.

But it is one of the oldest shops, started in 2011.  And seems to have an entirely different following than the other shops.  I was curious, very curious, so I went far off the highly rated beaten path to try it out.

Setting

Original Royaltea is located deep in bubble tea central, Haymarket.
Street Entrance
Unlike most of the bubble tea shops in the neighborhood, Original Royaltea is not located on street level, rather, you must go up a flight of stairs.

I can't say it has any curb appeal, with tacky red "Final Sale" signs advertising the specials.
Ordering Counter.
Once you step inside, the appeal doesn't really grow, just an ordering counter, with some digital screens, and lots more signs.  There are few seats, and charging stations.

Every single customer inside was of Asian descent, and I felt the very real feeling of looking entirely out of place.  I also took this as a very good sign perhaps?
Sticky Notes.
I'm ... not sure what this wall is about, covered in multi-colored sticky notes?  People write messages and leave them?

Drinks / Food

Original Royaltea is obviously a bubble tea shop, although they offer a few small snacks as well (fishballs, cuttlefish balls, fried beancurd, and lotus).  

The rest of the menu is drinks, both hot and cold.
Menu.
The menu had both english and Chinese, and had lots of funny additions, added on with extensions off the edges, or on top with small pieces of paper taped on, and had things removed as well.

The categories had names but no explanation, and there were many: Super Fruit Tea (cold only, I think just regular fruity infusions), Fresh Fruit Juice (just juice?), Royal Fruit Drink (cold only, just tea-less fruity drinks?  These actually had some interesting flavors, like dragonfruit, but I'm not really sure what they were, or if they used real fruit), Royal Cheese Milk Tea (hot or cold, fairly standard milk tea lineup, with cheese as the default, although you can opt for "pure drink" instead),), Royal Dirty Cup (no idea, cold only), Royal Cheese Tea (hot or cold, standard list of teas, with cheese as the default, although you can opt for "pure drink" instead), Royal Cheese Foam Special Drinks (hot or cold, cheese default, more interesting flavors like Oreo, uji matcha, red bean), and Royal Cheese Tea I'm New (uh, just more types of Royal Cheese Tea?  More interesting flavors, like Tofu Black Sesame Milk, Passion Fruit Yogurt, and Purple Sky Soda).

The topping list is the part I was most excited for, a large range of offerings, including of course standard pearls, red bean, and pudding, but also new black sesame pearls, a bunch of types of jellies (including ones I haven't seen other places like grapefruit), random things like Oreo, interesting things like aloe, and as I was excited for, taro paste.

Original Royaltea is known for the cheese topping, and is why I sought it out, as I discovered the joy of cheese topping at Chatime a few visits to Sydney ago, and I've been loving it ever since.   As you can maybe tell given that nearly ever drink defaults to having cheese, they really are all in on the cheese, offering up 4 varieties: original, baked, mango, and durian, although, when I visited, they didnt have the durian one, and I really was going to try it!
Moar Signs.
Additional signs advertised new offerings, many with badges that say "Limited 50 cups per day", which ... I'm skeptical about.  Did they really count them? Do they run out? Are they trying to create scarcity and hype?

One of the new "Series" is the Yogurt Series, on special with half off the second one if you get two.  These all feature yogurt instead of milk as the base, and I was told it was a thick Greek yogurt.  There are two other well known shops around the corner that are offering, to much hype, yogurt and rice based drinks, so Original Royaltea clearly has jumped on board.  I am interested in trying these sometime, but yogurt is never the thing I think I crave ... but if I ever do decide to try it, the taro purple rice yogurt is what I'd try ... with cheese of course.

A sign here also shows how to customize your drink, with desired ice, sweetness (the menu offers 1/3 sugar, 2/3 sugar, no sugar, more sugar), toppings, and size options, although I realized later I was never asked about these.
Royal Sesame Taro Milk + Red Rice with Cheese. $8.50.
I selected one of the new, limited to 50 cups per day, special drinks, the "Royal Sesame Taro Milk", featuring their brand new black sesame pearls and taro milk, available plain or with cheese.  I certainly wanted the cheese foam, since that is kinda what I was craving.  I added red rice, because I wanted more substance and texture, and was worried I wouldn't really like the sesame pearls, because I haven't been into pearls lately, but I wasn't ready to go for the yogurt rice drink.

I liked this, and easily finished it, but it was actually a mixed success.  It also lacked a bit in the taro and sesame departments ...

Starting at the top, I did love the cheese topping, it was thick, rich, slightly salty.  I liked the texture and flavor, and appreciated that it was more savory than sweet.

At the bottom, the sesame pearls.  These were actually pretty good, soft, decent enough sesame flavor.  However, there weren't that many, and this was the only sesame element in the "Royal Sesame Taro Milk".  I'll admit that I expected more sesame, a paste, something.

I felt the same about the taro.  I thought this drink had taro paste in it (I was told it did!), but I never found any, and I was hoping for some fresh taro chunks or something too, but, alas, it was just taro powder used to make the taro milk.  I think it was non-dairy powder for the milk base as well.  So, the taro aspect was a kinda low-end, too sugary sweet, not very intense taro flavored milk.  A few days later though I had the highest quality taro milk ever, all fresh taro and high quality full cream milk, from Bubble Nini Tea (seriously, so good).

There was also no ice (good, it wasn't watered down like some places get), but, it was also not very cold, a kinda strange lukewarm temperature actually.  I really wanted it more chilled, considered not drinking much more until I got back to the hotel and could add ice, but, alas, I had it in my hand, opened, at that point, so ... I kept drinking.

The purple rice I loved though, it added tons of texture, and went well with the slight sesame and taro flavors.  Like the pearls though, I wanted more.  It made me interested in actually trying one of the rice drinks that have more recently become popular, e.g. the ones from The Moment.

I wasn't asked about my ice or sweetness levels, I realized later, and I normally would have gone for less sweet, and, since it wound up lukewarm, I certainly would have wanted some ice.

So yes, this was a mixed bag.  It didn't deliver in the taro and sesame flavors as much as I wanted, it was low end milk tea, but, I really did like the add-ins, and loved their cheese topping.  The biggest issue was the temperature of the drink.  Maybe I should try the taro yogurt rice next time?
Original RoyalTea 原始皇茶 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Monday, May 06, 2019

Lapats Thai Noodles Bar

Lapats is a fairly new Thai restaurant in San Francisco, in the Tenderloin, open daily for lunch and dinner.

The menu is extensive, with a full range of appetizers, salads, soups, noodles, curries, entrees ... and of course, desserts.  They have all the classics, plus many more unique items.  It gets great reviews (4 stars on Yelp), which sounded promising in general for Thai cuisine in SF, which I've always found a bit disappointing after spending time in Sydney where it is amazing.  But none of that alone was enough to draw me in.  Nope, there was one thing that brought me to seek out Lapats.  Durian.

Yes, durian.  I had durian my first time in Sydney years ago, durian sticky rice, at Chat Thai.  I ... was not a fan, and said I'd never seek it out again.  I had it a year later, in martabak form, also in Sydney, at Martabak cafe, and ... disliked it then too.  But somewhere along the way something changed, and I decided I liked durian.  I just needed to acquire the taste?

Sadly, durian is still fairly rare to find in San Francisco.  I've had it when visiting the south bay (an awesome durian shake from Bambu, review coming soon!), and then recently in an epically good durian cream bun from an Austrian bakery, Guschlbauer, in Toronto, and let's just say I've been craving it ever since.

So one day, I pulled up every delivery app available, Door Dash, Caviar, Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub ... and I searched for durian.  I was shocked at how limited my options were, but pleased to discover Lapats offered a durian sticky rice, and people seemed to like it.

I was further pleased when I saw they had really unique appetizers, including one with taro, another love of mine.

I was sold.  Delivery order placed (via Door Dash), right around lunchtime but the delivery was fairly fast, no issues.

And the durian?  Mixed success.  The taro fries however were amazing, the quality of everything was high, and I'll certainly order from Lapats, or visit in person, again to try more menu items.
Thoughtful Packaging: Vent!
I was really pleased when I opened my delivery bag to find that the taro fries were packed in a container, with an intentional hole in the lid, for venting the steam!  I already had my toaster oven ready to warm and toast up the taro fries as necessary, but I was pleased that they had done this to try to maintain the crispy nature of the fries.
Taro Fried. $10.95.
"Deep Fried Fresh, Served With Sweet Chili Sauce And Peanut."

I was only somewhat aware of what to expect with these.  I *love* taro, and I had seen some photos that looked sorta like tempura battered taro, which seemed pretty awesome to me.  What I got wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, but, was certainly delicious.

The taro was cut into french fry like strips, battered in a sesame seed filled batter, that coated, but didn't fully cover, the taro.  The result was crunchy and crispy, but not as heavy as something fully battered, and still really allowed the flavor and texture of the taro to shine through.  The taro inside was really just that, taro, nicely cooked, not too soft, not too firm, and if you like to taste taro, this delivered.  They were clearly deep fried, but not too greasy, and I liked the pairing of sesame and taro flavors (and it made me definitely think about doing a taro-sesame bubble tea sometime ...).

The sauce however just totally completed the dish.  I wasn't expecting to be too excited by sweet chili sauce, I mean, I love sweet chili sauce, but I thought it would be generic sweet chili sauce, and I had other, creamy sauces, ready to go.  But this sauce was awesome - a thiner style than a standard sweet chili, sweet but not too sweet, with vinegar and acid to balance.  And ... bits of peanut!  If I thought the taro + sesame combo was a winner, the taro + sesame + peanut combo was even better.  I loved it.

I'd gladly get these again, and really enjoyed a new preparation of an ingredient I already always love.
Thoughtful Packaging: Sealed Up!
The careful packaging continued with the durian sticky rice.  This time, it came wrapped in plastic wrap, no spilling at all.  And ... it did help mask a little of the durian .. aroma.

I was again impressed with the thoughtful touch and care of packaging for delivery.
Sweet Sticky Rice With Durian. $6.95.
Once I unwrapped it though, the smell of the durian was unmistakable.  Yup, hello durian!

At first glance, I was surprised by how much coconut sauce there was, I could barely see any sticky rice.  I was expecting sticky rice with some fresh durian and a drizzle, maybe a small side container of coconut milk based sweet sauce.  This was ... swimming in it.

As a result, sadly, it was way, way, way too sweet.  Even when I just tried to get some sticky rice, it was impossible.  So sweet.  Cloying.

But, the durian was lovely.  Soft, fresh tasting (as much as durian ever tastes "fresh").  It had a funk, a good funk.  Good texture, good durian flavor, and I really enjoyed it.  It needed a little coconut milk but not nearly this much.

The sticky rice was very good, just the right level of sticky and glutenous.  I loved the sticky rice, but it is what made me sad, as it was totally drenched in the sauce.  So hard to enjoy it when so very sweet.
Hence, my early comment that this was not a total winner.  The sticky rice, totally a hit.  The durian, great.  But the sauce made it hard to enjoy.  I made some good bites, limiting the sauce, and adding whipped cream to cut the sweetness, and that was good, but it certainly would be far better with less sauce.

I'd still get this again, but be sure to request less.  And I do wonder if they just got the portions odd when doing delivery?
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