Friday, August 09, 2019

Raw Rev Vegan Bars

Update Review 2019

I was pleasantly surprised (ok, shocked) when I tried my first Glo bar from Raw Rev, the Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate, & Sea Salt version, as I wrote about in my first review of the brand.  These are healthy bars, no question, not decadent, not what I normally go for, and certainly still not anything I'd ever crave.  But the pockets of chocolate were good, and the very healthy base did make me feel like a good person eating it.

So I tried another, more simple kind of Glo bar.  And one from their other product line.  I'm still inspired by them, so next, I want to get my hands on a cookie dough one ...

Glo Bars

"Glo bars are high in protein with lots of fiber and only 2-5 g of sugar per bar! Glo and look your best with plant based, health supportive ingredients! Always 100% vegan, gluten free, non-GMO and kosher and free from preservatives, soy protein isolates, whey, grains, and sugar alcohols."
Glo bars are certainly the more fun sounding product line, the one that drew me in to the brand, with flavors like Cookie Dough, and those featuring chocolate, mint, and caramel.  They all have a fairly simple ingredient list with a base of the "Raw Rev Superfood Blend" of peanuts, pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp proteindidn' virgin coconut oil, chia seeds, sprouted flax seeds, most raw and organic.  I am pleased they don't have whey protein, as that causes me issues.
Crunchy Peanut Butter & Sea Salt.
"Clean wholesome peanut butter with that whole peanut crunch. A moist and delicious treat loaded with protein, fiber and only 2 g of sugar per bar!"

This bar looked as awful as the first kind I tried, but I pressed on, not deterred by the strange mushy texture, the shiny exterior, or the fact that it was half the size of its wrapper.

It was essentially the exact same bar, just, minus the dark chocolate.  Same "Superfood Blend" base.  The chia and flax seeds added a bit of crunch, as did the actual chunks of peanuts, which I appreciated.  And besides that, the only other ingredients?  Sea salt and ... "Isomalto-Oligosaccharides".  Not so sure about that last one, but otherwise quite simple.

It didn't have a strange bitter taste, it didn't have a bad taste, and it was vaguely peanut buttery.  It was also boring, and I needed to pair it with chocolate.  And the texture is strange, mushy, and shiny.  It still isn't appealing, it isn't something I want, but, it doesn't taste bad, and, it really is a good option for post-workout, with 11 grams of protein, only 2 grams of sugar, and 190 calories.  Not a meal replacement, but plenty of protein without the junk.  So if that is what your life needs, try these.

Organic Bars

"Enjoy Organic decadence with our fruit, nut, and seed bars that are moist and chewy with a crunch. Ohh so tasty, hard to believe it’s good for you! Always vegan and free from preservatives, soy protein isolates, whey, grains, and sugar alcohols."
Inspired by the near success of Glo Bars, I decided to try the other product line from Raw Rev, organic bars.  This line is far less fun sounding, in both flavors available and ingredients.  It doesn't use the Superfood Blend base, rather, just nuts, seeds, and dates.  Meh.
Organic Spirulina Dream.
"Spirulina never disappoints with its high nutrition profile and sweet taste. Be a green goddess! An organic raw nutty nutrient packed bar that is moist and delicious with a crunch of almonds and cashews. Spirulina has so many scientific researched health benefits such as: loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients and B vitamins, protein and trace minerals. No wonder so many people and cultures have hailed spirulina for being a true superfood!"

This base of the bar is just nuts and seeds (cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, flax seeds), and it is sweetened with dates and agave.  Besides the namesake spirulina powder, there aren't any other ingredients.

And, well, it tastes exactly as the ingredients read.

Way, way too strong on the cashew for me.  And I hate dates.  So, not for me, not at all.

Original Review May 2017

I'm going to admit something from the start.  I had no intention of liking these bars.  I went into trying one assuming I'd hate it.  Yet of course I still tried it, because someone gave me one, and I figured if nothing else it would make a good review, and my blog regularly features assorted nutrition bars.

Raw Rev is another maker of healthy nutrition bars, gluten-free, non-GMO.  But their products go even further, in that they are raw and they are vegan.  Not that I have anything against raw and vegan, but, the results aren't usually very tasty to me.  Oh, and some of the bars are high protein too.  They just didn't sound possibly good.

Let me back up and talk about Raw Rev a bit though.  The company was started by a nurse who cared about nutrition.  She makes two product lines: organic bars and Glo bars.

Organic bars are available in 6 flavors (Chocolate Crave, Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate, Chocolate Coconut Bliss, Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, Golden Cashew, and Spirulina Dream).  These are standard size bars, made up of fruits, nuts, and seeds, dubbed "superfood bars".  They have a moderate amount of protein (4-7grams) and moderate amount of calories (~230).  The ingredients are things like peanuts and cashews, chia, flax, and sunflower seeds, plus dates and agave for sweetness.   Nothing really scary in the ingredients list.

Glo bars are available in 7, far more tempting, flavors: Dark Chocolate Espresso Crunch, Mixed Nuts, Caramel & Sea Salt, Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Cashew & Mint, Crunchy Peanut Butter & Sea Salt, Creamy Peanut Butter & Sea Salt, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.  The bars are a bit smaller, and are also the protein packed bars, ranging from 10-15 grams.  Of course, this means the ingredients list is a bit less pure, and the base of each is the "Raw Rev Basic Superfood Blend", made of cashews, pea protein, brown rice protein, hemp protein, coconut oil, chia seeds, and flax seeds.  Yes, still raw vegan ingredients, but not quite as wholesome.  They tend to be high fiber and low sugar.

My biggest issue with most nutrition bars, particularly protein bars, is that they usually use soy or whey protein isolate.  Not only do I think whey protein isolate tastes gross, but it also always makes my stomach feel bad.  Like, really bad.  I no longer eat products with it, and I was happy to see that Raw Rev does not use whey protein.

So I tried a Glo bar, and, uh, I liked it?
Glo Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate, & Sea Salt.
"A creamy, delicious taste with rich dark chocolate includes nutritious raw ingredients with omega-rich superfoods to keep you glowing from the inside out!"

Sure, the name of this product sounded great:  Peanut Butter!  Dark Chocolate!  Sea Salt!  I like those things.  But, how many nutrition bars ever live up to the promise their dessert-worthy names imply? (Yes, I'm looking at you Clif and LUNA bars!)  Very, very few.

I opened the wrapper, and extracted the bar.  It looked just as awful as I assumed it would.  Yup, strange looking texture, no chocolate coating.  Strangely shiny.  Broken in half (ok, that was probably my fault).  I took my requisite bite.  And then I was confused.

I tasted lots of peanut butter, and a creamy pocket of chocolate.  I almost tasted a peanut butter cup.  I immediately took another bite.  This was not awful.  I turned the wrapper over to read the ingredients: yup, rice protein, hemp protein, chia seeds, flax seeds ... all things I don't usually like.  Where were they?  Honestly, I didn't taste the bitterness nor the funk usually associated with those ingredients.  I did taste the peanuts, and, it really was decent peanut butter flavor.  The strange texture of the bar kinda worked if you think about it as eating slightly firmer peanut butter.  Peanut butter, with pockets of chocolate that is.  I was really shocked by the chocolate, it wasn't chocolate chips as I assumed it would be, but instead, creamy, soft, areas of "organic Italian dark chocolate".  The chocolate was good, and, um, chocolate and peanut butter is always a good combination.  I did taste the pea protein, but I actually like pea protein (I know, a bit odd, but it really is tasty.  Have you tried Ripple Milk?  I really like it!)

So, yes, this was actually pretty good.  Was it as good as a peanut butter cup?  Obviously not.  As good as a fresh baked good?  Obviously not.  But far better than your average nutrition bar.  Strange texture, but, good flavor.  And really, quite amazing for the protein content, and in particular, one without whey protein isolate.  I'd have another.
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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Icicles

Update Review, July 2019

Last year, I had a friend in town and wanted to do something novel, so we ventured to Icicles, and I had my first experience with rolled ice cream.  As you read about, I was impressed with the texture, the flavors, and, um, the unlimited toppings.  Yet I never returned, mostly because San Francisco just doesn't really inspire ice cream eating for me - I like to eat ice cream outside in the sun, in warm weather, and, well, yeah, San Francisco.

But in July, after nearly 2.5 weeks on the east coast, where I enjoyed the glorious days of summer, and eating ice cream every day (literally), ranging from simple ice cream stands to soft serve filled taiyaki waffle cones (go to Taiyaki in Boston or New York! to, yes, other rolled ice cream (if you are ever in Boston or New York, I-CE NY was fabulous!), I really couldn't get rolled ice cream out of my head when I returned.

My first Saturday back, I hosted a visiting co-worker, and we went to lunch at Sushiritto (cuz, you know gotta educate visitors from small towns on trendy things like sushi burritos!).  Afterwards, I decided to continue the Instagram-worthy adventure, and brought him, and other local, to Icicles.  It was his first time having rolled ice cream too.

I'm glad I returned, it was good to have again, but, not quite as memorable as my previous experience.
Ube Everywhere (No Coconut), with Condensed Milk Drizzle, Rainbow & Lychee Jellies, Rainbow Mochi, Chocolate Covered Waffle Cone Bits, Rainbow Sprinkles, Whipped Cream, and a Torched Marshmallow. (Split-Cup)
"Need a ride? Hop on and get a taste of Ube Everywhere. Mixed with ube, taro and coconut flakes."

For my creation this time, I mostly just followed my own notes and advice, opting to share with another person and each get our own split-cups with generous toppings, and swapping out a few topping choices from last time.

I wanted ube, but didn’t like the texture of the coconut in the "Ube Everywhere", so, I left that out this time. I considered asking for another mix-in but left it simple, just the ube.

The texture was again great, smooth, creamy, and it melted nicely, but the ube flavor was fairly muted.  I thought I remembered more flavor, or, maybe I just have the comparison point of other places, like I-CE NY, which had far deeper taro flavor .  I’d consider another flavor next time, or perhaps mixing something in with the ube to give it more oomph.

But of course, one big appeal of Icicles for me is the unlimited toppings.  UNLIMITED!!!

For my toppings, I kept the jellies and mochi that I liked before, and dropped the popping boba, as I felt they were too sweet last time.  I again liked the jellies and mochi, good textures, fresh enough, and complimented the ube.  I’d keep these again.

I considered adding fresh fruit, and almost wish I had, but, I couldn’t see the fruit in advance, and I was worried it wouldn’t be very fresh.  They also only have blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, no mango or lychee which is what I really wanted.

I added chocolate covered waffle cone bits as a random addition, and I’m glad I did.  I loved the crunch.  Chocolate didn’t necessarily go great with my creation, but, it worked well enough for me.

I swapped out the white chocolate drizzle I did last time for condensed milk, per my notes-to-self from last time, and I’m glad I did.  I think it was less sweet, but also, it was just a better compliment to the ube.

And finally, I kept the whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles as they are staples of mine, although, to be honest, neither added that much, and the whipped cream was just generic from a can, the sprinkles generic too.

And then I added a torched marshmallow, because my peers did, and it looked too fun.  The marshmallows were torched to order, and can perched on pretzel sticks.  Not necessarily in any way, but, fun.

Overall, I was happy enough with my creation, and I think my refinements were good ones.  However, I wasn’t quite as pleased with the ube base as other ube and taro flavors I’ve had recently, so I’d consider trying something else, or, going elsewhere in the future.
TIME FOR REECES
"A childhood classic and smooth flavor that tastes just like the Reece’s Pieces candy."

A companion went for the Time For Reece's, and he loaded it up appropriately chocolately: brownie bites, chocolate covered waffle cone, chocolate drizzle, and a torched marshmallow.

I had a bite of his, and it was pretty fabulous, as it is hard to go wrong with the peanut butter and chocolate goodness that is Reece's.

Original Review, October 2018

Rolled ice cream.  I've seen it for a few years now, particularly in Sydney, where the Asian dessert influence is strong.  But I'll admit it.  I thought it was all just hype.  Just for looks and show.  Why ... why would I want my ice cream, uh, rolled?

But I finally tried it, and I feel silly for judging it without trying before.
"Visit one of our many locations for the ultimate ice cream experience. Our handcrafted ice cream is made daily using nothing but the freshest fruits and ingredients around.
Each bowl is made right in front of you. All you have to do is select one of our custom flavors from our menu and our ice cream baristas will roll up your ice cream bowl.
Join us with your friends and family for a light, refreshing and delicious frozen treat. Don’t forget, we have unlimited toppings for you to choose from!"
My introduction to rolled ice cream comes from Icicles, a Bay Area chain (up to 10 locations now), with a shop right next to the Westfield Mall (where there used to be a self-serve froyo place I frequented).  I've passed by it since it opened, but I always glared at it, angry it replaced my froyo shop, and thinking it was just a silly trend that would go away.

But it lasted.  And when I finally looked at reviews, they were all quite strong.  Really strong.  I still thought it was just trendy, written by silly Instagramers and those who were into the whole show (its made to order).  "Ice cream baristas", I scoffed.  And then I saw they had taro flavor.  And ... unlimited toppings included.  Those two things were enough to draw me in, as I adore taro, and I adore toppings.

The Process.
The ordering process is a bit involved, but the staff are friendly, signs are clear, and, when I visited, the place was entirely empty, so there was no rush.

From their Q&A:
Q: How does the process work? 
A: We start by pouring a liquid base cream onto our freezing ice pans and mix in fresh ingredients. Then you wait for it to freeze and then we roll up the ice cream. After, you get to add your choice of unlimited toppings and drizzles.
So, you pick your base and pay, watch the base get made to order, and then move on to toppings.  The entire process takes no more than 5 minutes end-to-end.

And then you enjoy.  And enjoy we did.
Menu.
"We have a wide variety of custom flavors that available. Each bowl is made to order to give your taste buds a mouth-watering experience."

Icicles has a menu of named suggestions, with a couple mix-ins that get added to make a flavored base, and then toppings to pair.  But you can also make up anything you want, adding any options available to form the base, and then of course, your unlimited toppings.

Vegan options also exist, called "fruit roll ups", and some seasonal flavors as well.

All creations are a single size.  No kids size.  No cones.  Just a bowl, for a whopping $9.25 (again though, unlimited toppings).  If you dine in, it is even more, as tax is added, making it $10.04. If you get togo, the tax isn't added.  Discounts are given during Happy Hour (M-F 12-6pm), or with student ID, military ID, or proof that you work within 1/2 mile.

However, they *do* allow you to split one between two bowls, each of which gets unlimited, unique toppings.  No extra charge.  This is not mentioned on the menu anywhere, but I had read the tip in advance, and I'm glad I went in with this knowledge.
Ube Everywhere Base.
"Need a ride? Hop on and get a taste of Ube Everywhere. Mixed with ube, taro and coconut flakes."

To get the process going, the person preparing your creation goes to fetch the base and mix-ins.

I selected the "Ube Everywhere" flavor, so he came back with a cup with the custard cream base plus purple ube milk, and a side of coconut flakes.

He set up the station, scraping the anti-griddle clean before starting, and got ready to craft my treat.  The shop is basically a line of these anti-griddles, with a glass viewing area.  Uh-huh, I was here for the "show".
Ube Everywhere: Step 1.
The liquid was poured onto the anti-griddle, and the coconut flakes added on top.

Since mine didn't have much for mix-ins, this was a pretty simple step, but others are far more elaborate.
Strawberry Fantasy: In Progress.
"Fresh strawberries mixed with graham crackers and our classic custard base mixed to form this wonderful fantasy  for your taste buds."

One companion selected the more involved base "strawberry fantasy", with fresh strawberries and graham crackers mixed in, so his was more interesting to watch.

The server started with the fresh berries and whole graham crackers, chopping those up first, before pouring on the liquid.
Mixing it Up.
Next, the mixing process, again, in my case, quite simple, just mixing the cream, ube milk, and coconut.  Other creations required chopping and more extensive mixing.
Chilling it Down.
 After it is mixed, it is then spread out into a thin layer on the anti-griddle.
Rolling!
Then comes the fun part, the mix is scraped into the signature rolls.

The mix made 7 rolls, and since we were getting a split cup, I laughed when he cut the smallest one in half, very deliberately, and made sure they were totally even.

The rolls are placed into the cup (or cups, if you split), and then you move down to the station I was most looking forward to.
Toppings Sign.
 "What makes us special is our vast selection of toppings to add on your ice cream. Customize your special dessert any way you please."

Yes, toppings!  Unlimited toppings!

All listed on a sign with pictures for easy browsing.
Some of the Toppings.
Dry toppings are easily visible at the station, while fruits and chilled items are in a refrigerated area.

The full line up was:
  • Fruit: Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Bananas, Cherries
  • Asian Things: Popping Boba, Lychee Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, Mochi
  • Cookies & Cakes: Brownie Bites, Cheesecake Bites, Oreos, Mint Oreos,
  • Candy: Chocolate Chips, Caramel Cups, Rainbow Sprinkles, Mini M&Ms
  • Crunchy Things: Pretzels,  Chocolate Waffle Bits, Roasted Almonds, 
  • Cereals: Captain Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Fluffy Things: Roasted Marshmallow, Whip Cream
  • Drizzles:Condensed Milk, White Chocolate, Raspberry, Caramel, Nutella, Chocolate
You really could have quite a bit of fun at this topping station.  Which of course, I did.

Major points to Icicles for being *not* stingy.  "What else?" asked the server after my companion had selected only 5 toppings.  "Anything more?" my server asked me, even when I thought I had added a ridiculous number of things.
Ube Everywhere, with Popping Boba, Lychee Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, Mochi, Blackberries, Condensed Milk Drizzle, Roasted Marshmallow. (Split Size).
My companion agreed to split with me so he wouldn't need to make decisions.  Little did he realize that he'd get to pick his own toppings.  We had to agree on a base, but he could do whatever he wanted on top.  And with a toppings line up as extensive as Icicles, that meant ... many decisions.

He asked what I was going to get, and I gave my suggestions.

He went first, selecting all the asian toppings that I had suggested (Popping Boba, Lychee Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, and Mochi) to start.  When the server prompted him for more stuff, he randomly added on blackberry.

For a drizzle, he went for condensed milk, again, my suggestion.

His last component was a toasted marshmallow, which was actually toasted to order right then.

The split portion is a really interesting offering from Icicles, particularly as they do not charge more.  Sure, the ice cream portion is the same, and they do unlimited toppings anyway, but we clearly had substantially more toppings than someone who didn't split, as we had the same size cup, with just half as much ice cream, and he loaded them up generously.  And the extra cup does cost ... something.  While I'm giving away points to Icicles, I give them points for this too.  

Anyway, I love the split portion, as it is a far more reasonable size (it was more than enough for each of us), and I like the customization it allows.  If I was there alone, without someone to split with, I think I'd get it split anyway, and just do different toppings.
Ube Everywhere with Popping Boba, Lychee Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, Mochi, White Chocolate Drizzle, Whipped Cream, Rainbow Sprinkles.
For my creation, I went for the same asian toppings I recommended to him (Popping Boba, Lychee Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, Mochi), plus whipped cream (why not?), rainbow sprinkles (I'm silly, but I love them), and at last minute decided on white chocolate drizzle instead of the condensed milk I was intending to get, since I wanted to be slightly different from my companion.

My bowl came even more loaded up than his, I'm not sure why, but I had a very very full bowl of assorted jellies, boba, and mochi, way too much whipped cream, and a very generous "drizzle" of white chocolate sauce.

I took my first bite of just the ice cream, a rather hard feat given all the toppings.

Oh.  Wow.

It was ... shockingly creamy.  The texture was just absolutely amazing.  I couldn't believe how creamy it was.  This was not what I was expecting, at all.  Not icy, just smooth creamy perfection ... rolled up.

The taro flavor was decent, strong enough to taste, even once I started having spoonfuls with toppings.  I'd probably leave out the coconut flakes from the base in the future, they gave a bit of texture, but aren't really something I enjoy that much.

The popping boba were standard pink fruit based popping boba, I think strawberry.  Juicy, sweet, bursting with flavor.  I often put these on my froyo and regret it, and felt about the same way here.  Just a touch too sweet, a touch ... too much.  Next time, I'd leave these off.

I did love the jellies, I opted for both the lychee and rainbow ones, and I'm glad I did.  Slimy, sweet, and really the perfect compliment to taro flavor.  He added tons of these, and although I had bites that were all just jellies, mochi, and whipped cream, I didn't exactly mind.

The mochi were also very good, rainbow colored which I wasn't expecting, but great for additional color to my already colorful creation.  They were soft and perfect texture, clearly not stale nor old.

The whipped cream was good, but he did apply too much, even for me.  It took over everything!

And finally, the white chocolate drizzle was sweet and quite tasty, it reminded me of marshmallow syrup.  That said, there was quite a bit of it, and with my other sweet toppings, and all that whipped cream, it was a bit too much.  It complimented the taro well, but I suspect I would have preferred the condensed milk.

Oh, and the rainbow sprinkles were of course fun, more color, a bit of texture, and ... even more sugar.

I realized as I finished it off that this was what I wanted taro milk teas to be.  I love taro flavor, I love the mix-ins, but ... milk tea is never *really* the format I want.  But this is.  Easily enjoyable by the spoonful.  I'll never go for milk tea again!

Overall, I was quite pleased with this creation.  The ice cream itself was far more enjoyable than I imagined it would be, in both texture and flavor.  The toppings were generous, and for the most part, I was very happy with what I picked.  The split size portion was perfect, honestly, splitting it into three rather than two would also likely be fine, but that isn't an option.

Next time, I'd certainly split again, and go for taro base again, but leave out the coconut from the base mix-in.  For toppings, jellies and mochi for sure, perhaps a bit of fruit rather than the boba, condensed milk drizzle ... and maybe not the whipped cream?  Or, at least, I'd ask for less.  I might even consider adding mochi or marshmallow to the base, just to give it a little texture?  Or, uh, sprinkles in the base?  Yeah, now I'm being crazy ...
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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Bao Bao Bakery, Boston

Asian bakeries are my weakness.

I can't resist them, particularly when I travel to a new city.  I somehow don't ever visit them in my own city (San Francisco), but they are always a thing for me when I'm in Sydney (Fujipan, Breadtop, etc), or Pasadena (85°C), etc.

And thus, when I was recently in Boston, and realized I was staying adjacent to Chinatown, of course I stumbled into several my first night there, starting with Bao Bao Bakery, one of the better reviewed places (also one of very few open later in the evening).
Storefront/
Bao Bao Bakery is owned by the same family as Double Chin, directly next door, and actually connected.

In fact, I stopped in to grab a treat after fetching takeout from Double Chin myself (zomg, the spam fries!).
Chilled Items.
 The refrigerated case contains a couple types of filled rolls and cakes, all wrapped up and grab-able.
Cakes.
 A few other mousse cakes and cheesecake round out this section.
Packaged Goodies.
Next comes bags of packaged cookies and snacks.
Soft Breads.
And then loaves of fluffy soft breads, including red bean paste, taro, and coconut, in addition to classic white.
Buns Galore.
And the, the fun stuff.  Assorted buns, soft buns or pineapple buns or crispy style "walzt buns', filled with red bean, taro, custard, coconut, matcha, and more.  They even make a trio bun with several fillings.

Savory selections include hot dogs in various forms (mini, full size, with corn, with cheese, etc), pork sung galore, curry beef, and fried bbq pork croquettes.

My first visit, I went later in the day (6pm) but the selection was still reasonable, but nothing compared to what they have earlier in the day (my later visits were in the morning or early afternoon).  Prices are ridiculously good, most items $1-2.
Tray of goodies.
After my first visit, I returned several times, more decisive each time.  

The format is to grab your own items on a tray, with your own set of tongs you pick up at the entrance, as with my bakeries of this type.

This time, I grabbed a tray immediately, and set about picking out one savory item, one sweet item, and one "for later" item.

Sweet

I preferred the sweet items I tried, and Bao Bao Bakery does have far more sweet (or slightly sweet) options than savory.

I only tried 4 items over my 3 visits though, and there are still so many more I'd like to try.
Taro Filled Pineapple Bun. $1.25.
I had a hard time narrowing down my choices on my first visit, as I wanted just one little treat, but, the taro pineapple bun was kinda a no brainer.

This. Was. Delicious.

The bun was ridiculously soft, fluffy, and sweet.  Perfect texture.  The pineapple top was slightly crisp, sweeter, and tasted of coconut. A nice compliment to the fluffy bread.  

The bun itself was tasty enough, and I would have been happy with the simple bun, but I did get a taro filled one.  The taro filling was generous, taro mash, sweet, flavorful.  As a taro lover, this was something I really wanted, but, it really wasn't needed here

They make these with several types of filling, including a custard filled one, which I actually think I might like even more.  I may or may not have also stuffed some soft serve ice cream into a chunk of mine, and made an ice cream sandwich, and *that* was incredible.
Pineapple Bun with Custard. $1.25.
On my next visit, I wanted to try another variety of pineapple bun, since I liked the taro one, but realized I wanted either plain, or, perhaps, stuffed with cream.

I somehow read "custard" and thought "cream", so I was a bit surprised when I actually broke into this one to find .... well, custard.

The bun itself was good, but, it wasn't as good as the taro bun had been.  Not quite as soft, not quite as fluffy, and the top wasn't really crisp.  It still had a great base flavor, and the topping was perfectly sweet, but, just not as good as the previous one.  Just from looks alone, you could see how different they were.  It was fine, but much more on the average side.
Custard Filling.
So yeah, inside the bun.  Oops, not cream.

It was a thick custard, an egg custard, sweetened.  There actually was a lot of it.  It was fine, but again, not exactly what I was aiming for.  Once I reset my expectations, I enjoyed it much more.

I ended up adding some taro ice cream inside, and made it into an ice cream sandwich, and enjoyed it even more that way.
HK Pineapple Bun. $1.10.
My last day, I decided to try the most simple expression of the pineapple bun, the simple HK bun, cheaper, at only $1.10.

Yes, I mushed it slightly in my bag before this photo.  And yes, I got this just to take with me for the next day in SF, knowing pineapple buns hold up decently for a day, and this would be the one most likely to be the best, since without filling.  Plus, I wanted to try the simple one!


It was ... fine?  Maybe after 3 days in a row of eating pineapple buns I just was less excited about it.  Maybe mushing it did effect it.  I'm not entirely sure.  But I didn't find myself loving it.  Maybe I really do want a filling?

The dough was still soft and slightly sweet, and I liked the sweeter crust, but it, much like with the custard bun, wasn't as substantial as the taro bun.
Wife Cake.
And finally, I wanted something to enjoy later.  I remembered reading a positive review of something called a "wife cake", which I knew nothing about, so, I decided to grab one, as they were packaged up and even sealed, and near the register.

Then, I did my research.  These things are also known as "Sweetheart cakes" or "marriage cakes" too.  According to the trusted resource Wikipedia, it is "a traditional Cantonese pastry with a thin crust of flaky pastry, and made with a filling of winter melon, almond paste, and sesame, and spiced with five spice powder."

I'm glad I read this, as, well, there is no way I would have identified what it was.
Wife Cake: Inside.
This was a unique item for me, not like anything I've had before.

The exterior was, as Wikipedia said it would be, a thin layer of pastry, far thinner than I expected.  It wasn't buttery, flaky croissant style though, nor was it crispy filo style, it was something different entirely.  Topped with sesame seeds.

And then, the filling.  Soft.  Sweet.  It sorta tasted, and had the texture of, mochi.  But ... it was winter melon, almond paste, and sesame?  I can't say I tasted any of those things.

I ... think I liked this.  I certainly liked trying something new.  For me though, it wasn't substantial enough, or sweet enough, to be a dessert item really.  I kinda wanted it as a snack with afternoon tea (or, I mean, I would, if I did afternoon tea), or as a breakfast item instead.

Savory

I also tried a couple savory items, drawn in by ingredients I love like pork floss, and, the excuse to consider a baked good a key component of a meal, not just a treat ...
Seaweed pork sung sandwich. $2.95.
For a savory option, I decided I wanted something with pork sung, but certainly struggled to pick just one.  Did I want the the soft fluffy pork sung bun, that I knew had mayo inside?  Or the crispy, pineapple bun like one?  Or the big roll with scallions and cream cheese?  I was debating all of these when I spied this.  Decision made, instantly.

I wasn't sure if the black bread was charcoal flavor, or squid ink, or what, but, I was excited for it.  

The thing was kind of crazy.  The exterior is actually nori, with the sandwich actually wrapped with seaweed.  Under the seaweed is a layer of mayo (more on that soon), and then the dark bread, then, um, more mayo, lettuce, cucumber, and pork sung.  And more mayo.

It was fascinating.  And I think I would have loved it if it was freshly made, but, even at 11am when I got it, it was suffering a bit from age.

The lettuce was crisp, a huge wedge, and was very much needed to provide freshness with the other items.  The cucumber slices were very very soggy, and I extracted them pretty quickly, as they somewhat ruined it.  The pork sung was sadly not very noticeable with all the other ingredients.  I did want to taste it more.
Mayo Overload.
What was noticeable?  Um, the mayo.

Now, I really enjoy mayo.  I have a heavy hand with it.  But this was overloaded, even for my tastes.  Mayo between every layer.  It oozed out everywhere.  I got mouthfuls of nothing but (warm) mayo.  This was not pleasant.  I had to scrape some out.

The mayo between the seaweed and bread also meant for soggy nori wrapper.  The soggy nori was hard to bite through.  I think if this was fresh, that crispy nori exterior would be fabulous.  But I did like the idea of the nori wrapper, i have never thought of wrapping a sandwich in nori ... 

And finally, the bread.  Soft, flavorful, although I'm still not entirely sure what kind it was.

Overall, this had some highlights.  I loved the concept.  But, I wanted to taste the pork sung, and I certainly wanted less mayo, and a fresher product.

I wouldn't get it again, and at a whopping $2.95, I think this is one of their most expensive items.
Deep fried pork croquette. $1.
I read many positive reviews of the deep fried pork croquette, and convinced myself it was totally acceptable to include as part of my dinner on the plane, since, it had pork, and thus protein, and thus I was being responsible.  Better than just munching on snack mix, right?

This was unlike anything I'd ever had before, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect actually.  I knew it would be fried, I knew it would have pork inside, and it looked mochi like.  All of these things were true, but it wasn't quite what I anticipated.

The $1 price tag was shockingly low for what was actually a large item, the size of 2-3 standard pieces of dim sum (which, really, this is just a dim sum item).  Since bought at the bakery directly, not served warm, but I imagine it would be great warm too.
Deep fried pork croquette: inside.
So, what was it?  

Well, the crust was actually about what I expected, soft and mochi-like, but, deep fried on the outside.  It was almost like a thicker version of the crust found on a red bean filled deep fried sesame ball, just, minus the sesame seeds of course.

The wrapper was good, but very, very, very greasy.  My fingers became oil slicks nearly immediately.  I know it was deep fried, but ... yeah, this was too much.

Inside was my issue.  I was expecting chunks of pork, bbq style.  Not sure why I expected that, besides that it is what I'm most familiar with for dim sum items (e.g. pork buns).  Instead, it was ground pork and ... bits of potato.  Doh.  Totally not my thing.  I didn't care for the filling at all.

So, overall, I'm glad I tried it, it was different for me, and I did like the wrapper, but, it really needed to be less greasy.  At $1 price though, I wasn't upset to dislike it.
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Monday, August 05, 2019

Proper Foods

"Proper Food is a fresh take on takeaway – offering delicious, wholesome grab-and-go fare. The made-from-scratch menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and Chef’s specials evolves with the seasons."
Proper Food is a chain targeting a very specific market, trying to offer healthier options in the fast convenience, takeout only space, to office workers.  Their locations are all grab-n-go, and, besides optionally heating up your items behind the counter, it is more of a convenience store model than take out restaurant even.  They are only open on weekdays, with breakfast and lunch options.
"We craft our fare by hand fresh every morning the only way we know how – with whole, seasonal ingredients sliced, chopped and seasoned with care. Nothing phony or factory-made. Just good, proper food that’s packed and ready to go."
But, the food is fairly fresh (packaged up that day), the menu changes seasonally, and the quality is higher than any US based convenience store.  Unsold items are donated to charity every night.

Proper Foods only has locations in San Francisco and New York, but they are expanding rapidly.  In SF alone, we have 9 locations, and I feel like I walk by a new one every few months.  The model seems to be working.

Layout

Spacious Interior.
Some locations are tiny, more like kiosks, but the location I visited was quite large and spacious.  They could have put in seating if they wanted, but, they didn't.  Just a huge open space with coolers along the walls, and a register at front.

The register is where you could order hot coffee (drip only), tea, and pastries only, everything else is grab-n-go.
Breakfast Sandwiches.
Most breakfast sandwiches are in the cooler, but two different croissant ones were also available at the register, presumably as they are the most popular in the morning, and usually people want them warmed up.  The croissants looked pretty good.
Muffins.
The only baked good, besides croissant sandwiches, is a single type of muffin, also available at teh counter.  No, you can't get just a plain croissant, which I found a bit odd.
Beverages, Snacks.
The beverage cooler contains a mix of higher end bottled drinks (Maine Roots, Boylan's, Gus's, etc) and their own housemade drinks (juices, lemonade, lassi, cold brew, ice tea).

In the morning, this section also includes chilled breakfast small snacks, like fruit cups, yogurt parfaits, overnight oats, and hardboiled eggs.
Entrees.
The larger section is entrees, breakfast sandwiches/egg bowls/frittatas at breakfast, sandwiches/burritos/salads at lunch, all packaged in clear packaging for easy viewing and selection, but, there is no menu posted so you do need to examine them to see what is available.

Food

Proper Energy Bar. $3.95. 2018.
"Goji berry, rolled oats, flax seed, coconut peanut butter, dark chocolate, dried cranberries."

This was an interesting bar.  Not a granola bar, not a breakfast bar, not a dessert, not a snack.  I don't know how to classify it really.  I guess, an "Energy Bar" is right, for post-workouts?  It is a firm but soft and mushy texture, and requires refrigeration.  If that helps give any context.  Its a rather high maintenance item.  And if it matters to you, also gluten-free.

There were things I loved about it.  It was very, very peanut butter forward.  So many bars promise peanut butter and don't deliver.  This one was undoubtedly peanut butter, and I loved that.  The oats were a good base, and the somewhat odd texture actually worked for me.  There was very minimal chocolate, just a few chunks here or there, and I of course would love more.

There was a fruitiness to it, from the cranberries and goji berries, that I didn't quite like though.  Peanut butter and fruit is a good thing (obs, pb & j).  But, this was just slightly not right to my taste buds.

Overall though, I think I liked it.  Good textures, particularly with the mix-ins, and nice peanut butter.

I had one for breakfast, and it kinda worked, but was clearly a bit of an odd choice.  I made one into dessert, topping it with whipped cream and crumble, which also kinda worked, but not quite as well.  And then I just had one as a post-workout bar, and that made more sense.   Finally, I had one kinda warmed up, I know these are a refrigerated item, but, I did let it get warm (oops), and I liked it more than way.  Particularly when paired with additional chocolate.
Proper Energy Bar. $3.95. (June 2019).
"Goji berry, rolled oats, flax seed, coconut, peanut butter, dark chocolate, dried cherries, sea salt."

I remembered liking these far more than I expected last time I tried one, more than a year prior, and I was again really pleasantly pleased.  So many things in it aren't things that really appealing to me (flax seeds, oats, dried fruit ...), but, somehow, these bars really are fairly delicious.

Most of the credit certainly goes to the peanut butter, a primary ingredient, no question.  The peanut butter flavor is strong, and I love it.  While I don't normally like dried fruit, the fruity dried cherries and goji berry coating bring out a PB&J aspect to the bar, and, well, that works great too.  Flavor-wise, its basically a PB&J, and that is not a bad thing at all.

Every other ingredient mostly adds texture, and, unlike nearly any other energy bar, this one has a great texture.  Soft, and does need to be kept in fridge or it would "melt" (word choice of cashier), but not mushy.  Crumbly, but not messy. It is pleasing to eat.
Proper Bran Muffin. $2.50. June 2019.
"Peace, Love, & Bran."

Yes, it really is called a "Proper Bran Muffin", not just a "Bran Muffin".  And yes, the description really did read only "peace, love, & bran", no actual mention of what was in it.

I really wanted a baked good, and the bran muffin was the only option, so, I went for it.  It was freshly baked and looked decent, although certainly didn't really look like a bran muffin ... it looked too blonde on top.  I also asked if it had any mix-ins (e.g. raisin, nuts) as bran muffins often do, and the staff didn't really know, but said they didn't think so (it didn't).

They offer to warm it up, which I accepted.  A nice touch.  It was handed over quasi-warm, certainly above room temperature, but only the very top seemed to have really gotten warm.

I don't have much very positive to say about the muffin though.  It looked far, far better than it was.  Perhaps this is why the staff didn't know anything about it, they don't bother eat it?

The muffin was a crispy top style, not too hard, although a bit dry.
Proper Bran Muffin: Inside.
As you can see, it really wasn't anything like a standard bran muffin inside either ... e.g. darker in color, hearty, grainy.

Inside it was kinda fluffy, not moist exactly, but fluffy, cake-like.  But not sweet like cake.  And not sweetened like most bran muffins, no molasses detected.  The base flavor actually sorta almost tasted like banana, although I didn't see any banana, I do think it might have been used for sweetness?

There were some slightly darker brown swirls, that I think were bran batter.  It had a hint of some kind of grain flavor.

Overall, this was just a shockingly boring muffin. No real flavor, and ... just not what I think of as a bran muffin.  Warming it up more, adding butter and jam, nothing really made it stand out.
Nutella Cookie. $1.95. (May 2019)
"Extra Dark Chocolate / Crunchy Hazelnuts"

I'm not really a cookie person, but I heard good things about Proper Food's cookies, they looked decently soft, and I wanted some form of dessert, so I also grabbed a cookie.  Cookies are made fresh daily, and come in 4 varieties: chocolate chip (regular or gluten-free), oatmeal walnut, and Nutella.  I selected the later as it sounded most interesting.
Calling this a "Nutella" cookie is a bit ... odd. I'm pretty sure it didn't have any Nutella in it, and, I imagine "Nutella" is trademarked?  Anyway, it was Nutella inspired at least, a chocolate base with whole toasted hazelnuts inside.

The cookie was decent, pretty intense chocolate flavor, reasonably soft, crispy around the edges but not burnt.  The base didn't seem to have any hazelnut flavor, just, deep chocolate, almost brownie-like in taste, but not in texture as it wasn't fudgey.  The hazelnuts added nice crunch and texture, but didn't give the "Nutella" feel really, since many bites came without a nut.

Overall, a fine cookie, perhaps even above average, but if you were expecting it to taste more like the integration of chocolate and hazelnut, e.g. Nutella, or to have any gooey components, it certainly did not.  I think a touch of sea salt on top would also go a long way in giving the flavor a bit more pop.
Oatmeal Cookie. $1.95. (June 2019)
"Cranberries / Walnuts / Hint of Orange."

I am not sure what struck me when I got this cookie, as I don't like dried fruit bits (although cranberries are a bit better than raisins ... maybe), and I certainly don't like citrus tones in my dessert.  And a healthy looking cookie?  I dunno.  It looked soft, and I guess I was in the mood.

It was a nicely made cookie.  It was soft.  It was loaded with cranberries, and truly did taste of orange.  If you wanted those things, they were certainly there.  I didn't really detect a lot of walnut, but I think there were little bits through, just hard to distinguish from the oats.  The base had a slight sweetness, but most of the sweetness came from the fruit.

Overall, it was fine for what it was, but, um, I needed to add buttercream, and quickly grew weary of all the cranberries.
And finally, the sea salt, the touch that sets it over the top, with a bit of ooph.  One note is that the dark chocolate kinda seems like a lie.  I haven't ever tasted, nor seen it, in my bar.

Now, I do taste some flax, and it does taste healthy overall, and it certainly isn't a dessert in my mind, but, for a healthy snack, or a mini meal post workout, honestly, it is tasty.

Proper Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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