Friday, August 02, 2019

Meat & Veggie Bars, from Wild Zora

Update Review: June 2019

I've reviewed Wild Zora before, when I was able to try one of their 7 bars (the fascinating BBQ Beef with Kale, Tomato, Red Bell Pepper), but I did note that the flavor wasn't really what I wanted.  I was excited when I found them again, and this time, in a different flavor: Parmesan Beef with Kale, Tomato, Basil.

These really are an interesting product.
PARMESAN BEEF BARS WITH KALE, TOMATO & BASIL.
"Parmesan Cheese and Beef Wild Zora Bars are our most very savory recipe – highest in protein, this gluten-free snack for kids features a familiar combination of 100% free range, grass-fed beef sweet red bell peppers, kale, and dried apricots; mixed with parmesan cheese, dried tomatoes, and a hint of fresh basil. Our Italian friends call this, “the pizza flavor!”"

Like the previous flavor I tried, the base of this is beef ... with fruits & veggies (red bell peppers, apricots, dates, kale, tomato, celery), basically the same base, just differently seasoned.

This seasoning in this is much more bold, which helped temper the fruits in particular, I didn't taste the apricot or date this time.  It also was a far better match for the other veggies, tomato, basil, and parmesan makes sense with bell peppers and greens, as they say, kinda akin to pizza.

So, how was it though?  I think I like these.  They really do fascinate me, in a good way.  The texture is chewy like beef jerky, but not as chewy.  You do taste beef.  And, if you are in the mood for pizza-jerky, then I think these deliver.

Again, I'm fascinated, and will certainly be happy to try more varieties.

Original Review: April 2019

I review a lot of snacks, but definitely not many of the, er, healthier variety.  So for once, a snack that actually is better for you, and even filled with protein.

Wild Zora makes 3 very different product line: snack bars, soups, and freeze-dried Paleo meals.  I guess the common thread is that they are full of protein and good for camping?  Not exactly my world, but I somehow wound up with a bar to try, and it was different enough that I decided to learn more, and review.

Meat & Veggie Bars

"Looking for Paleo snack bars, low-carb gluten-free snacks, or just a healthy snack the whole family will love?"
The bars are made from meat, veggies, and fruits.  The protein options are fairly varied (beef, turkey, lamb, pork), all treat the spicing as a key element, and most have a surprising ingredients or two (apricot? kale?).  They come in 7 varieties:
  • BBQ Beef with Kale, Tomato, Red Bell Pepper
  • Chili Beef with Kale, Apricot, Cayenne Pepper
  • Curry Turkey with Spinach, Dates, Cardamom
  • Mediterranean Lamb with Spinach & Turmeric
  • Parmesan Beef with Kale, Tomato, Basil
  • Apple Pork with Kale, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
  • Taco Pork with Cilantro, Lime & Jalapeño 
All are gluten-free, grain-free, nut/peanut/tree nut-free, soy-free, MSG-free, and contain no added sugar, hormones, antibiotics, or chemical additives.

I tried one, but, I'm not rushing back to try more.
Packaging.
The bars come packaged with two mini bars (really, more like slices), in a pouch.  I liked the see-through window so I could see that it did really look like beef jerky.
BBQ BEEF BARS WITH KALE, TOMATO & RED BELL PEPPER.
"BBQ Beef Wild Zora Bars are our first and most traditional recipe with a zesty combination of 100% grass-fed beef, sweet red bell peppers, tomatoes and kale; mixed with dried apricots and a hint of chipotle and ancho chili peppers — but not so much that you'd call it, "spicy" (for that, see our Chili recipe)!"

Ok, this tasted as strange as it sounded.  Yes, it was sorta beef jerky, but ... it had so many savory vegetable tastes mixed in (red bell pepper, tomato, kale, celery), and aggressive spicing from ancho chili pepper, chipotle, and garlic, then the unmistakable texture and sweetness from dates and apricots.  It was just so strange.

The flavors, at least the savory ones, were good ... but not in this application.  The texture was not bad exactly, but if you wanted chewy beef jerky, this was certainly not that.  If you thought of it as a savory veggie bar, it kinda worked, until you tasted the beef.

Just, odd.  So odd.

I didn't like, but, I give credit for a healthy wholesome snack ... if that is your thing.

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

I-CE NY, Boston

Rolled ice cream.  It has even reached Boston now.  Amusingly, it has basically left Sydney, the first city I saw rolled ice cream in.  They have moved on.

Anyway, my first encounter with rolled ice cream was at Icicles in SF, and I was impressed by the texture of the ice cream, very different from what I imagined.  So when in Boston, and I saw rolled ice cream, I decided to check it out.
"Our ice cream has a uniquely smooth and fun texture. Because of our distinctive freezing technique, we are able to create ice cream that is creamy and smooth by balancing the size of ice crystals and air in the ice cream. Customizing your order with mix-in ingredients, such as fresh fruits or your favorite candy bar, enhances your experience, giving you a texture you’ll keep coming back for."
I went to I-CE NY, a chain that started outside the US, but when they expanded to the US adopted the "NY" part of the name, even though they now have 20 locations in the US (and 250 in Asia).

The setup was similar to Icicles in San Francisco except ... well, they got many things wrong.  The in-store experience was not pleasant.  I blame this franchise though, not the brand.

To go through a few of the ... issues:
  • Credit card reader broken.
  • Bathroom door had no lock.
  • Bathroom had no paper towels (and no hand dryer).
  • Napkin dispenser empty.
  • Floor of entire place *very* sticky.
  • Staff wearing plastic food service gloves, touching food and doing prep, and then using same gloves to touch computer screen, handle money.
  • Out of several items.
And ... the biggest offender ... it took me 45 minutes to get my ice cream, even though there was only 1, yes 1, person in line in front of me to order when I arrived.
Cute Location.
The location in Boston is on Newbury Street, like many of the ice cream shops, it occupies a lower floor space.  It had a cute courtyard with seating outside.  Newbury Street really does have some charm.
Interior Seating.
Inside is more tables, round tables, or counter seating.

The space is fairly large, and although full, didn't feel crowded.  Maybe because we were all just standing or sitting around ... waiting ...
Action Station.
Step number one in waiting?  Ordering.  

I walked in and there was 1 person in line in front of me.  Her order was not taken for nearly 20 minutes.  No one even acknowledged us.  Eventually, we were able to order at the register in front (but not pay with credit card, since the machine was broken).

It was then time to wait again.

I got my ice cream ... 45 minutes after entering.  I would have NEVER waited if I knew it was going to be that long.  It was ... extremely frustrating.

The store was staffed with only two people.  One was making the ice creams, one at a time.  He clearly had a big backlog.  Each one takes about 3+ minutes.  He worked steadily, but, there were many to make.

The other person was stocking some items, and then disappeared for 20 minutes, and then came back to take orders, and then left again ...  this was a rare moment with them both in the room, but, it was short lived, as he scraped the other mixing surface clean, and then took over being the one making ice cream on that plate, while the original ice cream maker wandered off.

The kids did love watching it, but the shop filled with a bunch of cranky kids pretty quickly.

Anyway.

Behind the action station is the menu of their recommended creations, full of fun things like the "Mango Sticky RI-CE", with toppings not available on the create your own menu, as in, literally topped with coconut sticky rice and coconut sauce.  Nearly everyone in line around me ordered pre-made ones, which surprised me a bit.
Create Your Own Menu.
"If you prefer to use your creativity, you can mix and match our flavor, mix-in, topping and sauce. We will make the ice cream base of your choice with your favorite ingredients right in front of you within minutes. With this customization, every cup will be unique and perfectly matched with your liking.

7 ice cream base flavors + 20 mix-in ingredients + more than 32 toppings = endless opportunities to challenge your creativity. "

First, pick your base.  Out of 9 options (not the 7 quoted in their marketing ...)

Ice Cream Base:
  • Sweet Cream (Vanilla)
  • Chocolate
  • Coconut Milk
  • Green Tea
  • Taro
  • Thai Tea
  • Mango
  • Milk Tea
  • Vietnamese Coffee
Then, only one mix-in.  No you cannot add more for another fee.  The mix-in lineup includes fewer options than the toppings, but all mix-ins are available as toppings as well.  Clearly, they have identified these as the ones that actually work to chop up and mix-in.
  • Fruits: Banana, Blueberry, Lychee, Mango, Raspberry, Strawberry
  • Cookies: Biscoff Cookie, Graham Cracker, Mint Chocolate Cookie, Nilla Water, Oreo
  • Cereals: Cookie Crisp, Corn Flakes, Fruity Pebbles
  • Other: Coconut Flakes, Cheesecake, Coconut Jelly, Red Bean, Sprinkles
Next, toppings.  Only 3.  No you cannot add more for a fee.  All of the mix-ins are available, plus:
  • Chocolate candy: Hershey's Bar, Kit Kat, M&M's
  • Soft candy: Gummy Bears, Mochi
  • Garnish: Cookie straws, marshmallows
And then, an optional drizzle:
  • Caramel
  • Chocolate
  • Condensed Milk
  • Strawberry
And finally, optional whipped cream.

It is a lot of decisions.  No matter most people go for pre-made ones.  But not me!
Smashing in the Mix-In.
"The process starts by pouring our premium ice cream base with your choice of mix-in ingredients on our custom designed metal plate that can get as cold as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. We then use metal paddles to quickly chop and smash the ingredients together and spread it into a thin layer."

As with all shops like this, the process starts with dumping the ice cream base and the mix-in onto the cold plate, and chopping it all up.
Ready to Roll.
"In just two minutes, the ice cream firms up and it’s scraped into chubby rolls, ready to serve."

After a bit of chopping and mixing, it is smoothed out, and then, scraped up into rolls.
Into the Dish.
Once the rolls are formed, they are plucked up one by one and moved into your dish.

Finally, the server adds your toppings, and hands over your creation.

Yes, it is a bit fun to watch ... the first time.
Taro base with lychee mix-in,
topped with red bean, mochi, coconut jelly,
with condensed milk drizzle, and whipped cream. $7.
I of course made a custom creation.

The choice of base was a no brainer.  Obviously, I wanted taro.  I love taro.

My mix-in and toppings took a bit of thinking.  I had a slew of options, but finally decided the 4 things I wanted most as mix-ins/toppings: mochi, red bean, lychee, and coconut jelly (with mango as a nice thought, but I wasn't sure about the taro/mango combo, and rainbow sprinkles were hard to look past ...).  From there, I couldn't do mochi as a mix-in (not allowed), and I didn't want red bean throughout in case I didn't like it (and I worried it would take away from the taro flavor), so that was out.  So, coconut jelly or lychee it was, and, when I thought about which one I'd prefer as a topping, that was clear, I wanted the coconut jellies on top, not just a whole lychee.  So, the lychee went as my mix-in, the others on top.

My drizzle choice was easy, since caramel and chocolate would clash with taro, and I don't really like strawberry syrup.  Sweet condensed milk goes great with taro, and I knew it.  

And of course I opted for whipped cream.

The result?  Well, it was pretty great.  I was fairly grumpy after my 45 minute wait (I'm not exaggerating), and was ready to *hate* it, but ...

The ice cream base was smooth.  The taro flavor was strong.  The bits of lychee were a fantastic mix-in, just little pops of a really pleasant complimentary sweetness.  The texture remained great as it melted.  Everything about this base just ... worked.  Go me.

My toppings were all fine choices too.  The mochi were soft, the coconut jellies more fruity bursts and a bit of texture.  The red bean I'd probably leave off in the future, just because it was a bit too strong of a flavor, and I wanted to taste everything else more.  I'd consider mango or lychee (or jackfruit if they'd let me, since I know they have it for a pre-made one), or perhaps a toasted marshmallow in the future instead.  Or just more coconut jellies.

The condensed milk was my only losing selection.  It was fine, standard condensed milk, but ... it made the whole thing sweeter than I wanted.  The taro base was already fairly sweet, and with the lychee in there too, it was just a bit more than I wanted.

Whipped cream was standard from a can.

Overall though, this was lovely, and I would get another but ... sigh, the wait.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

11 Howard, NYC, Dining

I have never really been happy with any hotel I've stayed at in Manhattan.  No, my complaints are not the standard "ZOMG the rooms are so small, I can't even open my suitcase in here!", nor are they "WTF is this 'destination fee'".  I've really just had a slew of things go pretty wrong at NYC hotels, and, none have left me eager to stay at a property again (although the Westin near Times Square is where I often wind up, always half-heartedly).

Anyway, during my July 2019 visit to New York, I took a tip from a friend, and tried a new property, 11 Howard, located in Soho, an area I haven't spent much time in, but I was eager to get way from Times Square, even if it meant a longer morning commute to the office.

I ... was quite pleased with the experience.  The location was far more interesting, right on the edge of Chinatown, right in the middle of more things, and, NOT slammed with tourists.  Major benefits.

The rooms *were* small, and they do not have suites, but, the rooms were modern, comfortable for sleep and leisure, well appointed, really, quite lovely.  And quiet.  No idea how, but my room was silent.  The gym was amusingly small (really, two tiny rooms, one for "Run" with a single treadmill and single elliptical" and one for "Lift" with the bare minimum of weights, but they give you gym access nearby).  There is no real lobby, no extra frills.  The staff were friendly, and responsive over e-mail in advance, and over the tablet system in the rooms.  Really, I have nothing negative to say about the property, even though I did have mishaps (like, um, my minibar coming with an opened bottle of alcohol in it, expired items, and more fun), but they handled it all quite well.  I'll definitely return.

But this is Julie's Dining Club, and if you are still reading, you likely want to know about the food program, not the hotel itself.  So I'll stop rambling.

Breakfast

The hotel offers breakfast, but they do not have a real restaurant, and so there are several options: you can go for in-room dining, made *super* easy by a tablet based ordering system in your room (available for on-demand or advance schedule), or you can go sit and dine in "The Library", or you can pick up takeout from the Library.  I tried the in-room dining (both pre-order and on demand), and the takeout.  I didn't ever really feel like sitting in The Library, although many people did, and it was a lovely space.

I appreciated that breakfast was available from 7am to 11am, much later than most places.
Breakfast Offerings.
While I appreciated the ease of ordering, the nice packaging for takeout, and the interesting drink partnerships, I can't say I was generally impressed with the food itself.

Tablet Ordering

Tablet Ordering.
Ordering from the room was crazy easy, all available on a tablet provided in the room.  Every menu item was illustrated, and had options to provide customizations, preferred style (e.g. for in-room dining or if you wanted it to go, etc).  I liked that you could pre-schedule, or order on demand, and it gave you a time estimate.

Really, quite easy.

The Library

"11 Howard has reinvented social spaces, making them multifunctional and moving them to the second floor, as true extensions of the guest rooms. With plentiful tables and chairs, The Library is an ideal place to work, meet, sip tea in the afternoon, or unwind with a cocktail in the evening. The Library features wide-plank wood floors, plaster walls, plush area rugs, and furniture collected from around the world. Images by renowned Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto grace the walls."
The Library is not a restaurant, but they have a kitchen in back somewhere.

The library is a kinda common space, available all day to guests to work, hang out, and get a drink in the evening.  For breakfast, they do have table service if you choose (or takeout, as I did), and they have coffee available for free in the morning as well.
Couches, Chairs.
By day it is bright and light filled, really a lovely space.

The layout of The Library included many, many different types of seating.  I don't think any two tables were the same.

Prefer a couch? A arm chair?  Yup, options.
Dining Table.
If you wanted a traditional dining table, that was an option, like this.
Small Tables.
Smaller, lower, not as easy to dine at tables were also available, with chairs that looked interesting, but weren't actually comfortable.
Lounge.
Lounge spaces were there too, not really what I was looking for at 8am, but I could imagine are nice in the evening.

Beverages

The beverage lineup available was fairly fascinating.
Beverage Menu (page one).
In addition to the complimentary brewed coffee for everyone, there is an a la carte beverage lineup as well.

Standard coffee and espresso drinks (La Colombe), tea (Palais Des Thés), and classic juices, but they also partner with quality vendors, like Substance Vitality in midtown to feature a few fancy cold pressed juice blends, and with Dirty Lemon for some trendy detoxifying beverages.

I wouldn't normally opt for those kinds of drinks, but, I decided to have a little fun and mix it up on this trip (also, the brewed coffee was horrible!), so I tried a few.  I was pleasantly surprised, but they didn't convince me to become a juicer.
Complimentary Brewed Coffee.
This was not good coffee.  Not good at all.

It was harsh.  It was acidic.  I tried to water it down with hot water (provided for tea) and that took the edge off, but it was still really horrible.

Even in my jetlagged state, I couldn't bring myself to have more than a few sips of this.
Decaf Ameriano. $7.
This. Was. Not. Good.

It was scalding hot.  Too hot.  As in, I think it was likely bad extraction it was so hot.  It took forever for it to be drinkable.

And the flavor was stale.  Muted.  Old tasting.  Just not good.  Although, compared to the regular coffee? Um, slightly better?
Decaf Coffee. $6.
The next day, I just ordered for decaf coffee, assuming it would be equally bad, but really wanting a second cup.

I was thrilled to find that it actually was half-decent.  No idea why it was so much better than the Americano, but it had no funk to it.  Not that it was amazing or anything, but, it certainly wasn't awful.

I ordered it again the next day, and yup, surprise, it really was pretty good.  And the second day, it came labelled "decaf", which reassured me greatly.
La Colombe Cold Brew. $7.
I prefer warm coffee in the morning, but the brewed coffee and espresso based drinks were so bad, I gave them one more try and went for the cold brew instead.

I was pleased to see it was just a can (served with a cup, straw, and large ice cubes), and served black.  

I really liked this.  Really liked it.  Smooth.  Lovely complexity.  Not acidic. 

A fabulous cold brew.  La Colombe makes several types of cold brew, and I have had some of the others before (my office carries the Draft Lattes, but those have milk, sugar, and come in several flavors like vanilla and chocolate, and just aren't how I like my coffee).

I stuck to this every morning after, and did not regret.
DIRTY LEMON +CHROMIUM / guarana and blue spirulina. $10.
I really wanted the +CHARCOAL, featuring lemon and ginger and activated charcoal, but, alas, it was sold out.

So I went for the other option, +CHROMIUM instead.

The bottle alone was worth $10 right?

This was ... well, intense.  It had many different fruits in it, but I didn't taste them.  Just lemon, and lots of ... I don't know.  I didn't care for it.
DIRTY LEMON +CHARCOAL / lemon, ginger, himalayan sea salt. $10.
Finally, my last morning, the +Charcoal was available!

But ... you guessed it, I didn't like this either.  It was quite bitter, in a way I wasn't expecting, way to ginger forward (like a hit in the face!), and, well, very strong lemon.  Not for me.
Substance Cold Pressed Juice: Heart Beet. $13.
"Beet, Carrot, Orange, Pineapple, Ginger."

I'm ... not a juice girl.  Not at all.  Not fruit juice with breakfast, and certainly not a post-workout juice chugger (this is designed for "post workout recovery", according to Substance).  And I certainly don't pay $13 for a juice.

But ... I was eating heavy and unhealthy the entire time I was in NY, and the idea of a lighter start to my day was appealing (alongside other things of course ...).

I liked it.  I loved the slight hit of ginger.  I was surprised by how refreshing and very balanced it was - not to vegetable forward, not too fruity, just, refreshing and strangely satisfying.

Yes I had it after a workout.  Yes I feel like a cliche.  But I liked it.  I think my favorite.
Substance Cold Pressed Juice: Knock Out. $13.
 "Grapefruit, orange, ginger, turmeric, cayenne."

The next day, I couldn't resist.  Yup, another juice. Another good juice!  This one was designed with the intention of "Vitamin C and cayenne to Knock Out your cold", which, I didn't have, but found it made for a far more interesting version of a standard breakfast orange or grapefruit juice.

Again, it was all about balance.  Not too sweet, not too acidic, just, balanced.  And again, I liked the kick from the ginger (and cayenne!).  Refreshing and quite drinkable.  This I really could imagine wanting with my breakfast! I think my second favorite, but nearly a tie.
Substance Cold Pressed Juice: Fresh Cut. $13.
 "Cucumber, Apple, Kale, Spinach, Ginger, Parsley, Lemon."

My final morning, I selected the one I was least excited for, a green juice (Substance makes many, but the hotel only offered one).  It was, as I expected, my last favorite.  But not why I thought it would be.

This one is intended to be "sweet greens for digestion aid."  I was thinking it would be vegetablely and refreshing, somehow missing the "sweet" part.  It was very sweet.  And very ... fruity?  The apple juice was dominant, unlike the others, this one just didn't seem nearly as balanced.

I shook it up, and tried it a few more times, but always found it to be just too sweet and apple-y for me.  Least favorite, obviously.

Breakfast - Mains

The options for Mains included the egg classics (Eggs Benedict, an omelette, a breakfast sandwich, a scrambled egg plate), plus some very trendy items (yup, avocado toast and acai bowls), a healthy choice (granola bowl), and a single hot carb (french toast).  All had unique components though, like spiced cashews, lemon & lime zest, and mint on the french toast (that used marble rye as the base), or the avocado toast that came served on sunflower batard and topped with chilis.
Mains (one page).
It was a menu I'd like to explore more, but, I was mostly getting smaller breakfasts, as I had huge lunch (and dinner ... and dessert) feasts lined up.
Housemade Granola / Thai Coconut Milk / Add Berries. $13 + $5.
Granola.  Not the most exciting item perhaps, but one that I've found to be shockingly good at some hotels (I'm looking at you Sheraton on the Park in Sydney!), or the fascinating coffee flour granola at the Lakehouse at the W in Bellevue.  So when I saw it was housemade, it seemed worth trying.

The granola comes with two options: yogurt, or thai coconut milk.  No regular milk (to eat like cereal), option.  I'm not a big fan of most yogurt in the US (but the full fat creamy stuff in Australia ... now that's another story!), and the thai coconut milk seemed really unique, so this was an easy choice.

I asked to have it packaged separately so as not to get mushy before I was ready to eat it, since I picked it up to go on my way to the gym.

For an additional $5, you can add on berries, which I did.  The berries were just blueberries and sliced strawberries, both fine, but not particularly notable - not bursting with flavor, but not too sad either.  Not really worth $5, but it was nice to have the fresh fruit with the coconut milk in particular.

Now, that coconut milk.  The portion here was amusing.  A huge container filled with the coconut milk, which was thick, rich coconut milk more like a coconut cream, really.  It seemed like it belonged in a dessert.  Which of course, did not make me sad!  It was nice to drizzle over the fruit and granola, and I found many fun uses for the generous amount I had left over, but I can't really imagine having a bowl of this like cereal milk, and they certainly provided ...  well, way too much really.

And finally, the granola.  The portion of this was the opposite: the container was not even half full.  Which, given that granola is actually usually very high calorie and high fat, made it a very reasonable portion, actually.  But it did not match the milk, certainly.  More on the granola soon.
House Made Granola / Yogurt. $13.
The next morning I gave the granola another try, opting for the yogurt.  I was hoping it would be as unique as the coconut milk option.

It wasn't.  Instead, the yogurt was about as boring as yogurt gets.  Not thick Greek style.  Not too watery, but really nothing special at all.  Bo-Ring.
Granola: Close Up.
The granola was above average, certainly better than store bought.  It was loaded with all sorts of goodies: pecans, walnuts, almonds for nuts, dried cranberries and raisins for fruit, sesame seeds ... and an oat base.

The first day, it was ... a bit moist though, which was odd.  This was not true the next.

Overall, it was good granola, crunchy, sweet, satisfying.  I wasn't into the cranberries or raisins (they were the hard style), but other than this, this was a winner.

Breakfast - a la carte

Some a la carte options.
The rest of the menu is a la carte, with standard breakfast meats (sausage, bacon, smoked salmon), fruit and veggies, toast, and chocolate croissants.  I was a bit surprised that a single type of croissant was the only pastries available.
Housemade Sausage $7. (plus maple syrup)
I ... have a thing for sausage.  Breakfast sausage that is.  Breakfast sausage *patties* that is.  Yes, I'm this specific, because I don't like breakfast links, and I don't like normal big lunch or dinner sausages (for the most part.  Um, I sometimes love hot dogs if those count, and sometimes a Brat does it for me, but, yes, usually, not a sausage girl).

But breakfast sausage patties?  Love them.

The menu didn't say if it was a sausage patty or a link.  It didn't say what protein was used.  But I still took a gamble and ordered it.  I was thrilled to see that it was indeed a patty.  I still don't know what the protein was, but I think likely pork?

The patty was fairly unique.  No thin wimpy patty here.  It was thick, it was irregular, it, well, had character?  I guess it really was house made.

It certainly was greasy, and the paper it was presented on quickly became translucent with oil.  I can't say that was appealing, but, the sausage was still good.  Nice sear on the outside, well seasoned.  The protein was ground, but had chunks still, resulting in a almost crumbly texture, which was better than it sounds.

I asked for a side of maple syrup, because, just like hashbrowns, breakfast sausages require syrup (in my world).  I loved the sweet, savory, and salty combination.

I was pleased with this order, and I'd get it again.
Housemade Sausage. $7.
I ordered it again my final morning, and ... it was fairly different.

First of all, I got two patties?  Why didn't I last time? Did they decide to give me one because I added syrup?

Second, they were more pale, not nearly as crispy, and slightly less oily (only slightly).  Still, good, with syrup of course.
Sautéed Vegetables. $7.
I *never* order veggies for breakfast, but, as I said, I was eating soooo heavy all week, that the idea of some vegetables was really appealing.  That said, I had no idea which veggies these would be.  The answer?  Spinach, mushrooms, and onions.

Of course, being me, I requested a side of hollandaise to drizzle over it all.  The hollandaise did not come.

The veggies, like the sausage, were very oily.  Very, very, very oily. I assumed the sausage was so greasy to get a sear and some of the fat came from the sausage itself, but, the veggies made it clear that whoever is running the kitchen has a heavy hand with the oil.

The veggies were fine, the spinach wilty, mushrooms not too soft, and I did like the onions.  But the seasoning was odd, salty, but seemingly no pepper.

I can’t say this was good.  Seemed like it belonged inside scrambled eggs or smothered in hollandaise on a benedict (if only they accommodated that request!).  I saved it and gave it to my mom, who enjoyed it in a dinner bowl she made cleaning out the fridge.
Home-Fried Potatoes. $6. (ketchup, hollandaise).
The next day, I was craving greasy carbs, so I opted for the home-fried potatoes, not knowing which style they would be.  I was hoping for crispy shredded hashbrowns, but, alas, they were chunks of potato, fairly crispy, well seasoned with some kind of red rub, and a few bits of onion.

They were fine, but not really the style of potatoes I was hoping for.

They came served with ketchup (never what I want with breakfast potatoes of any style), and this time, my request for a side of hollandaise was honored.  The hollandaise was ... very very odd.  Thick.  It looked like cream cheese.  But it did taste buttery.  Very very odd.  Also, not warm.

I decided to dunk them in syrup (which I had with me), which was better, but, overall, these were just average and not exciting.
Chocolate Croissant. $5.
The only baked good on the menu was a chocolate croissant.  No muffins.  No scones.  Not even plain croissants.  Just this.  Never my top pick of baked good, but baked goods are how I normally start my day, so I gave it a shot.

It was average hotel quality, about as expected.  Crispy but not flaky exterior, very oily moist layers, and a single bar of chocolate in each (but hey, surprise, it came with two?), that wasn’t particularly deep nor good.

Not served warm.  Not worth getting (nor even finishing).
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Monday, July 29, 2019

Sushirrito

Update Review July 2019

As you know from my previous reviews, I like Sushiritto, home of the original (at least the in Bay Area) sushi burrito fad.  However, I've been stuck in a serious rut when I go to Sushiritto, as I love one of their creations so much (the Sumo Crunch), and I've just found it impossible to consider ordering anything else.

So I was thrilled on my recent trip when I went with a group of 3, and they agreed to share things, which doesn't normally make sense with a burrito, but, we (er, I), also really wanted to try some newer items on the Sushiritto menu that were more shareable.

Our visit was on a Saturday afternoon, around noon, to the Kearny Street location.  Ordering was quick and easy, and we were able to get one of the few seats inside.
Feast for 3.
We opted to split just one sushi burrito (regular size, although I considered ordering 2 minis, another newer item on the Sushiritto menu), plus two other dishes, from the "Side Kicks" menu, although, it is a bit hard to consider these as sides, I can't imagine ordering one alongside a full size sushi burrito.

We enjoyed trying new items, and, I do have a new, or maybe additional, favorite item.

Side Kicks

The "Side Kicks" menu at Sushiritto is a bit funny.  It contains 2 sauces (not really sides ...), simple edamame, a fusion nacho dish that is as big as an entree, and, the new shrimp tempura standalone side.  The later two are what grabbed our attention.
Crispy Shrimp Tempura / Gochujang agave sauce. $5.97.
Sushiritto has long had shrimp tempura ... but only as a component in the Sumo Crunch, not as something you could order separately.  But if you recall my reviews of the Sumo Crunch, I always *adored* the shrimp tempura, so I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to see these now as an option I could order separately.

The shrimp tempura were the first item ready, and we dug in immediately.  They were hot and fresh, clearly made to order.

The shrimp tempura were fabulous.  Super crispy, flavorful batter, well coated, not too greasy.  Everyone really enjoyed these, and all wanted the extra one (as we had 3 people, and 4 tempura).  I claimed it, but the others, after finishing everything else, declared the shrimp tempura so good that they decided we needed another batch, and ordered more.

The dipping sauce was gochujang agave sauce, which I found interesting, as I expected they'd re-use a sauce from one of the burritos, but this is offered just with the tempura.  It was slightly sweet and slightly spicy, kinda fascinating.  I liked it, although I’m usually more into aioli or creamy sauces, but this was good, more like a more complex, interesting sweet chili sauce.  I gladly saved the extra.

I also ordered a side of the wasabi mayo, to have a creamy option too.  It had decent kick, but didn’t work as well for dipping tempura because of the wasabi flavor for some reason.  It was good, but, I used it later on other things, but I wouldn't recommend for the tempura.

This was a major hit, and I'd gladly get it again, although clearly one you need to consume immediately, not really as good for delivery.
Lava Nachos. $8.68.
"Tuna picante, brown rice chips, melted pepper jack cheese, ginger guac, green onions, nori strips, and sriracha aioli. Contains raw fish. Nut-free."

The lava nachos have been on the menu for a while, I was pretty skeptical of them, but they get such great reviews that I wanted to try.  I still didn't really expect I'd like them, as I am not really into raw tuna, I don't like jack cheese, and brown rice chips sounded boring.  Plus, I'm allergic to avocado, but I knew the ginger guac would be on the side.

The nachos took longer than our other food, but when they arrived, they didn't seem as fresh, which was confusing.

The nachos are an interesting concept, but cheese was rather congealed (and we ate it right away, it came this way), I wasn’t into the brown rice chips as expected, the spicy tuna was just mush, and the aioli was kinda lost amongst everything else.

Basically ... just not my thing.  The others said it was interesting to try, but wouldn’t get again either.

“We don’t have to finish it, and can just get more tempura instead” was uttered, and, the plan that we executed on.  I would not get this again, but I'd love to see an option with taro chips as the base, and option to turn any burrito filling into the toppings instead ... e.g. taro chip base with the Sumo Crunch crab, aioli, cucumbers, crunchies, etc instead?  That sounds fabulous!

Sushi Burritos

For our burrito, we were determined to branch out.  I *always* get the crab and shrimp tempura based Sumo Crunch.  The other local had tried, and enjoyed, all the raw fish options (Geisha's Kiss, Satori, and Latin Ninja), and would gladly get any of those again.  The other guest, who was visiting from out of town, had the cooked beef Cowboy last time we took him to Sushiritto.  If we wanted something new for all of us, that gave us only two options: the Fiery Chicken, or, the vegetarian Buddah Belly.   Given my loathing of chicken, that meant ... vegetarian?  An odd decision, but, we had a friend who got it once before and raved, so, we went for it.
Buddah Belly. $11.
"Japanese eggplant, mochiko mushrooms, julienne carrots, shaved cabbage, kale, ginger guac, and roasted garlic tofu sauce. Dairy-free and nut-free."

To be fair, this isn't a boring vegetarian option.  It includes crispy battered and fried mushrooms (which was a big draw for me), an interesting sounding sauce (roasted garlic tofu?), and other veggies.

I ... really didn't like it.  I had a bite, and didn't want another.  I took another, just for research purposes.  But I really didn't care for it.

No flavors popped, the crispy looking elements weren't crunchy, it was just .... eh.  We all agreed it was boring, not as flavorful as any other Sushiritto burritos, and somehow just quite uninteresting.  We wouldn't get again.

Now I know: stick with my Sumo Crunch!

Update Review, Kearny Street Location, Delivery 2018

I've long liked Sushiritto, and have reviewed it several times before.  But I've always visited in person.

This time, I ordered online, via Caviar, for delivery.  Everything about the experience was, well, flawless.
(L-R, Clockwise): Caballero / Satori / Sumo Crunch. $14.65 / $16.50 / $11.94.
My group of three ordered in advance earlier in the day online on Caviar, with a set delivery time between 5-5:30pm, earlier than we actually wanted to eat, but, we assumed if we set it early, it would have more of a chance of actually reaching us when we wanted it.  We didn't set it too early though, because we didn't want it made hours and hours in advance, and thus soggy.

Caviar does a wonderful job of keeping you informed throughout the process, if you wish.  You can opt in to notifications of when the restaurant receives the order, when the courier arrives to pick it up, and when they are on their way.  You can track the delivery in real-ish time.

We were a few blocks away when I got the message that our courier was on the way.  He pulled up literally as we were walking in, and we were able to just get the food from him before he even got off his bike.  Perfect timing.  And, at 5:09pm, right in our delivery window.  Excellent.

I also made modifications, via special notes in Caviar, asking for a few things, even though it pretty clearly said "no modifications", and, they were accommodated.  Yes!

My companions ordered and split the Caballero (beef) and Satori (yellowtail), but since they had guacamole (like all Sushiritto creations), I didn't try them, as I'm allergic.  They enjoyed them, but the diner who has experienced Sushiritto many times before said he liked them less than his standbys, the tuna based Geisha's Kiss or crab Sumo Crunch.
Sumo Crunch. $11.94.
"Shrimp Tempura, Surimi Crab, Cucumber, Ginger Guac, Red Tempura Flakes, Sriracha Aioli."

I went for the one I always do, the "Sumo Crunch".  There are a few others I want to try (salmon belly!), and I tried to get someone else to split with me (sans guac), but, they preferred to split with each other so they could have the creations unmodified (literally every one comes with it normally).

This one is supposed to have shrimp tempura and surimi crab, which I kept as fillings, but also cucumber and the signature ginger guac.

Sushiritto is pretty clear that they don't do modifications, besides no guac (thank goodness) and "light sauce", but I also tried to have some other changes.  And, they did them!   I was able to eliminate the cucumber (just because I don't really like it), and add additional crunch.

I wanted even more crunch, as it is the "Sumo Crunch" after all, so I asked for lotus chips or Okinawan chips or plantain chips inside, knowing they had these for use in other creations.  I had no idea if they would do this or not, since we ordered online, and I was thrilled that mine showed up with both lotus chips and Okinawan chips inside.  Thank you!

Unlike the ones the others had with the traditional seaweed wrapper on the outside, then rice, and then fillings, mine had the seaweed wrapper on the inside adjacent to the fillings, then rice, and then it was rolled in red tempura flakes for extra crunch and flavor.   Very unique, and it looks a bit like a roll that is coated in roe, except, with tempura bits, which I'm sure is no accident.  The roll was well assembled, didn't fall apart, well cooked sushi rice.

So, my creation was filled with TONS of crab meat, big huge tempura prawns, and fried chips, plus very flavorful spicy sriracha aioli for extra creaminess.

The tempura coating on the prawns was a bit soggy, but I liked the extra crunch from all my extra crispies.  The Okinawan chips were a big oily though, I't stick with just lotus next time.  The sriracha aioli was tasty and flavorful, but there wasn't enough for my tastes.  This was not a problem though, as I ordered more sauces.

I liked this, but I didn't love it nearly as much as past visits.
Diablo Sauce / Teri-Mayonesa / Wasabi Mayo. $1.00 / $0.50. / $0.50.
Sushiritto has two sauces available as sides: Diablo Sauce and the Sriracha Aioli.  I don't know why they don't offer the other sauces as sides, as they clearly have them.  And I wanted to try more sauces!

So, again, not knowing if they would honor it, I put in a request to get two other sauces instead of sriracha aioli, since I already had that in my sushiritto: teri-mayonesa and wasabi mayo.

The top one is "Diablo Sauce", "Sushirrito’s Secret Hot Salsa".  This sauce actually isn't used in any of their creations, but I wanted to try it.   It didn't go with mine, but one diner used it with the beef one.  Very spicy, beware!

On the right is "Teri-Mayonesa", e.g. teriyaki mayonaise.  I loved this one, flavorful and creamy.  I extracted my tempura prawns and dunked them in it for even more mayo goodness.  I'd certainly get a side of this again.

The wasabi mayo was basically what it sounded like.  Fine but very wasabi flavored, which didn't quite go with my ingredients as well.

Update Review, Kearny Street Location, August 2017

It has been years since I last visited Sushirito.  The concept, as a refresher, is simple: sushi, in burrito form.  Perfectly trendy:
"We infuse multi-cultural flavors into every sushi burrito. By blending the premium flavors and healthiness of sushi with the form factor and convenience of burritos, we serve fresh, convenient, large, hand-held sushi burritos."
Since then, Sushirito has flourished.  They have 4 locations in San Francisco now, plus down in Palo Alto and San Jose, but have also recently expanded to New York.  The San Francisco locations are still primarily mid-week lunch places, and the lunchtime lines are still crazy long.

Our visit this time was to the newer (but still several years old) location on Kearny St near Union Square, the only location open on Saturdays, and, at dinner.  We arrived at 6:30pm on a Saturday.  There were only a few other customers dining, and a few who came while we were there, but otherwise it was fairly quiet.

No issues with ordering, staff were pleasant enough, and our sushiritos were quickly assembled to order.

And they were excellent.  Better than I remembered.  I'll gladly return, hopefully, without waiting several years ago next time.
Limited Seating.
There is very little seating at the Kearny Location.  4 small tables with high seating are pushed together (seating for 8 total, we broke them apart into two tables for 4), and a couple small low tables around the perimeter of the room.  Most people get their food to go.

The rolls all come boxed to go, even if you are dining in.  There is no option for a plate.  The boxes do unfold into kinda cool "plates" though, but I failed to get a photo.
Cold Fillings: Veggies, Tamago, Raw Seafood, Herbs, Sauces.
Sushiritos are made to order, Subway/Chipotle style, with a cold well set up with all the pre-cut veggies, raw fish, herbs, dry crunchy ingredients, and sauces.
Hot Fillings: Crispy Chicken Katsu| Oven-baked agave-soy salmon (covered) | Tempura Asparagus | Shrimp Tempura.
Hot items come from a steam tray, which somehow manages to keep the tempura items and fried items crispy.
Sumo Crunch (no guac). $11.
"Shrimp tempura, surimi crab, shaved cabbage, cucumber, ginger guac, red tempura flakes, and sriracha aioli."

I have a confession.  I haven't really been into sushi lately.  Raw fish just hasn't done it for me, for years now.  I wish it did.  I really wish it did.  And I don't understand why I stopped liking sushi.  But, sometime in the past few years, I stopped liking sushi.  So, all the raw seafood rolls featuring yellowtail, tuna, or salmon belly, just weren't appealing.  I also quickly ruled out the beef and crispy chicken katsu options.  Which left me with 4 options, all radically different: Salmon Samba (with oven-baked soy glazed salmon and tempura asparagus), Porkivore (pork belly and chicharrons!), Buddha Belly (vegetarian, with eggplant and mushroom fries), and the Sumo Crunch (tempura shrimp and crab).  I opted for the later, a play on a California roll.

Like all rolls, it was served wrapped in paper, sliced in half.  This form factor, as silly as it sounds, really is remarkably easy to eat.  Like a burrito.  Like a sandwich.  It makes sense, really.

The rolls are also huge.  I guess, like a San Francisco burrito in that way.  And not because they load them up with tons of rice.  Because they are stuffed full of quality ingredients.

Most (maybe all other?) sushirito rolls come with the seaweed on the outside, rice inside, but this one is inside out, with rice on the outside, seaweed under that.  It was coated in red tempura flakes, which I loved.  They were crispy, salty, and looked like roe at first, until I realized what they were.  They made the roll a bit more fun, and I appreciated the crunch.

The insides were even better.  The roll was absolutely stuffed with shredded "crab" (yes, it was surimi).  Soooo much "crab".  It was not seasoned itself, but when combined with the sriracha aioli it was very satisfying, although of course I would prefer real crab.  I did wish my roll had more aioli though, I wanted a bit more creamy goodness.

The tempura shrimp was even better.  The batter was very flavorful, it wasn't oily, the shrimp well coated, and it was somehow still crisp.  Remarkable, really.  Each roll had 3 large tempura shrimp in it, an incredibly generous portion.  I also liked the shrimp with the aioli, again, wishing there was a bit more aioli.  I loved the crunchy texture from the tempura shell, and the chew from the shrimp, they added to the satisfaction of eating the roll.

The cabbage provided a bit of freshness, and, like everything else, went great with the aioli, basically forming slaw.  If Sushirito wanted to carry side dishes, I think a slaw like this would be fantastic.

The only thing I didn't like in my roll was the slices of cucumber.  They were fine, thin slices, but, I don't really care for cucumber.

I had to leave the guacamole out, because I'm allergic to avocado.  Perhaps it would have added the additional creaminess, such that more aioli isn't normally needed?  Luckily for me, this is one of their very few allowed changes.  The menu is very clear: "No substitutions, additions, or modifications other than the listed options allowed."  They mean it.  I couldn't have the guac on the side to give to someone else.  I couldn't add anything in its place.  You certainly couldn't try to make up a roll mixing items from other rolls.  I know they have good reason for this, but, some flexibility would be nice.

Overall, this was wonderful.  The crab, tempura shrimp, cabbage, and aioli combined together beautifully.  The roll was full of textures and flavors.  It was extremely satisfying to eat.  As another dinner put it, "That was just a really complete package".  I agree.

The $11 price was also extremely reasonable for such a large roll (we actually split one, and were both satisfied), even if it has crab stick rather than real crab.

Original Review, March 2013

I have a list of places that I want to check out for lunch, but they are only open M-F, and only during lunch time, so they I rarely get the chance to go, as I'm a spoiled employee who gets served delicious meals at work, and it is hard to justify the time and cost of leaving the office.  However, today there were a bunch of extra people in the office, making for long lines in the cafe, so we decided to venture away and (gasp!) pay for lunch.

We went to Sushirrito, a place that I've had on my radar for quite a while.  Described as the lovechild of sushi and a burrito.  So perfectly San Franciscan!  This sounds gimmicky, for sure, but reviews were decent, and the website claimed they used quality ingredients.  So, we decided to take our chances.

We rounded the corner and immediately saw the line, even though we tried to go slightly off peak, at 1pm.  Uh-oh.  The line was sizable.  And really slow.  It gave us plenty of time to consider our options: two rolls with raw fish (hiramasa or yellowfin tuna), one with cooked salmon, one with cooked crab, or the more ridiculous ones with pork and bacon, chicken kastsu, or soy puffs.  All of the rolls also contained rice, assorted veggies, and fun things like fried cream cheese, lotus chips, or tempura veggies.  And they all had crazy custom sauces, usually creamy.  Wrapped in rice and nori, rolled up like a burrito, and served sliced in half. These things were massive.  They looked like burritos for sure, but, with sushi ingredients.  Exactly as promised.

A lot of Yelpers complained about the prices, $8.50 - 11.50.  I guess compared to a burrito this is pricey, but I thought the price was completely justified.  The rolls, as I mentioned, were huge, and had substantial amounts of fish in them.  If you were to just extract the raw fish, you'd easily have a $10 sashimi platter, so I really don't understand the price complaints.  It isn't a burrito folks, it is sushi!

The rolls were made to order, sorta Subway style, with the workers going assembly line style, starting with one person who prepared the outer nori wrapper and rice, the next who added the protein layer, the next who added the veggies, then next wrapped and sliced, and then finally the cashier rang you up.  Very efficient, with the bottleneck definitely being the cashier.  The ingredients were being sliced up in back and very quickly replenished, so even though the fish and veggies were not sliced immediately to order, they really hadn't been sitting long at all.

Overall, it beat expectations.  It was by no means fantastic sushi.  And it probably wasn't worth the 30 minute wait.  But, the fish was certainly reasonable quality and the flavor combinations were pretty interesting.  And, more amazingly, the concept did work.  While I appreciate the simplicity of sashimi or nigiri, and really enjoy tasting raw, unmodified fish in those forms, I also do love sushi rolls.  I like a simple salmon and scallion roll, but I also love a spicy tuna with mango slices covered in macadamia nuts roll.  These aren't the same thing, and they serve totally different purposes, and this falls into the same category.  If you want to really taste the fish, and you want super high quality fish, this isn't it.  But if you want something fun, portable, easy to eat, and pretty tasty, this isn't a bad choice!

The biggest thing I missed out on from traditional sushi was the soy and wasabi.  There were many flavors built into the rolls given their plethora of ingredients, and particularly with the sauces, but I did want some soy sauce and wasabi to add on.  They also suffered from the same issues that all but the very best burritos have: distribution of ingredients.  Anyone who eats with me regularly knows how obsessed I am with "the perfect bite".  I love nothing more than finding that bite that contains all the right ingredients, in the right balance, to just achieve perfection.  And with most food, you can make these perfect bites.  But burritos/sandwiches/etc are special, and you have to just consume things as presented, which, if the maker is rushed/doesn't care, leads to inconsistent bites.  And these definitely had that issue.

Anyway, I'd go back regularly if it were closer, open better hours, and didn't have such long lines.  But for now, I'll be putting it back on the list, to try again some other day, but I'm not in any rush to do so.

Geisha’s Kiss: Yellowfin Tuna (Hand-Caught), Tamago, Piquillo Peppers, Yuzu Tobiko, Lotus Chips, Cucumber, Avocado, Green Onions, Sesame Seeds, White Soya Sauce.  $10.50.
There was a very generous amount of tuna in the roll.  I was somewhat shocked at how much there was, particularly given all the Yelp complaints on pricing.  And it was all pretty decent.  No strange textures, no stringy fatty bits, just decent cuts of decent fish.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The rice was pretty standard sushi rice, nothing notable, and the nori was crispy and slightly salty.  I absolutely loved the crunch from the lotus chips, but I felt that there weren't enough in the roll.  In the future, I'd ask for more!  The avocado and the sauce added a delightful creaminess and richness.  Sadly, there was barely any tamago, which was a big part of why I chose the roll, as I love tamago (although, I'm not quite sure how good that would have been with the tuna anyway).  The bits that were there were tiny little chunks.  Again, I'd ask for more in the future.  I know, I'm crazy, wanting more of the cheap ingredients and less of the tuna :)  There was also barely any of the other ingredients, which was dissapointing, since I was looking forward to a spicy kick from the piquillo peppers.  It was really quite fun to eat, certainly the easiest sushi I've ever had!

I also had a bite of "The Yakuza": Hiramasa Sashimi (Australian White Fish), Spicy Jicama, Cucumber, Lola Rosa Lettuce, Red Tobiko, Avocado, Green Onions, with Citrus Mojo sauce.  I thought it was a lot better.  The fish wasn't as flavorful as it was just a simple white fish rather than a more intense tuna, but the rest of the flavors, and particularly the sauce, were much more pronounced.  And it tasted a lot fresher and lighter due to the higher percentage of refreshing veggies, like the lettuce, cucumber, and jicama.  I loved the kick from the spicy jicama!
Sushirrito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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