Thursday, October 03, 2019

Moku Moku, Tokyo

I spent my recent trip to Tokyo seeking out incredible soft serve ice cream.  And I did have some incredible soft serve, mostly from places I researched in advance.

And then I had some "eh" soft serve, the result of impulse buys, when I was too worn out to seek out something I really wanted.

Which is what lead me to Moku Moku a shop in the Midtown mall, attached to my hotel.  I had walked by several times, saw that they offered soft serve, and on a rainy night, when I was grumpy and wanted a treat, I wound up there out of convenience.
Soft Serve Signs.
I was drawn in by the signs.

Moku Moku clearly had soft serve, in a cone, or as a sundae.  The translate app on my phone confirmed that the choices were strawberry, caramel, or lemon.  I wasn't sure if this meant parfaits, or just a sauce, but, I was willing to gamble.  I had some fabulous soft serve parfaits in Tokyo, and I hoped this would measure up.
Cute Store.
The place really was cute, with a setup much like a country farm store, selling assorted goods like jam and breads.
They also sold bento boxes, um, pizza, and deli items.  It was a bit confusing, actually.

I was able to order easily, just pointing at the caramel soft serve.
Caramel Soft Serve. 420jpy.
My sundae was made quickly and handed over.  It looked ... ok.

I was a bit sad to see that it looked like just some caramel from a bottle squirted on top, but the cone-dish looked appealing.  I didn't care for either.

The cone-dish was extremely boring - no flavor, no sweetness.  But it looked nice.  The caramel with thick, cloying, and clearly not housemade, as I feared.  I wanted to scrape it off.

The soft serve was fine.  It wasn't nearly as good as the soft serve I had at Ciosof the day before, nor as good as the soft serve I had from Milk Cream Craft Cafe two days before that, but those were both exemplary in their creaminess.  It was smoother than Ministop at least, not icy.  The flavor was decent, milk flavor.

I salvaged this by not eating the bowl, removing as much caramel as I could, and adding my own toppings, but it was still highly lackluster, and not worth the 420 yen price.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Panini'ing Leftovers: Chocolate Filled Churros

As you may know, I utilize my waffle iron for reheating nearly everything.   It is my most common way to prepare food.  You can read all about my adventures waffling all sorts of items in my master post.

My waffle iron is a Cuisinart Griddler (highly recommended!), which is actually a grill and panini press, that has additional, removable, waffle plates. I always leave the waffle plates in it, and thus call it "my waffle iron". I basically forget about the other 5 functions it has.

But sometimes I am lazy, and fail to clean my waffle plates in a timely manner, or they are in the dishwasher (did I mention, best kitchen appliance ever, they go in the dishwasher!), so, I need to resort to using the panini plates instead.

Which is what happened in this case, when I had a leftover batch of churros to heat up.  For this adventure, I suspected panini plates would be just fine.  I knew that  donuts worked well like this, so, why not a churro?
Leftover Cocoa Cream Churro Transformation.
This one was an easy success, which I expected.

Simple re-heating, no mess, perfect result.
The Original: Mini Cocoa Cream Churros.
"Mini churros filled with chocolate imported from Spain. Pre-fried."
The original was a churro, mini size, stuffed with a chocolate filling, from a vendor called White Toque.  They are a frozen product, for food services, and baked off by the purchaser.

I had them at an event.  They were ... fine.  Not really as crispy as I wanted, no "fresh fried" feeling to them.
Leftover Cocoa Cream Churro.
I wasn't really into my cup of churros at the event, so I saved them, thinking mostly that the method of serving was the issue.

I heated one up in the toaster oven later, and it was *considerably* better that way, hot, melty chocolate inside, crispy exterior.  I dunked it in whipped cream.

But, I knew I could do better.
Leftover Cocoa Cream Churro: in the panini press.
I planned to waffle it, but alas, my waffle plates were dirty, and I was lazy.

So, panini plates would need to do.

325* grills, and in it went.
Cocoa Cream Churro: Getting Crispy!
I checked after a few minutes, and I could tell my plan would be an easy success.  The exterior was getting nicely crispy, and I could see the chocolate filling getting molten.

After a few more minutes, it was time to extract ... and, turn into a creation of course.

The reheating process was one of the easiest I've ever done, and, no cleanup at all, just a quite whip down of the plates.
Panini Pressed Cocoa Cream Churro a la mode, plus whipped cream, toffee bits, sprinkles.

As I expected, it worked great.

The exterior was crispy.  The chocolate inside was hot and melty.  Definitely better than the original, and, I thought slightly better than simple oven reheating too, as I liked the even crispier nature of it.  And of course, the toppings were perfect.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Roasted Coffee Laboratory, Tokyo

Coffee culture is pretty legit in Tokyo.  And no, I'm not referring to the prevalence of vending machines with canned and bottled coffee, nor to the fun drink lineup at Starbucks or other chains.  And no, not even to the slew of San Francisco bay area companies who now have establishments there (yes, Blue Bottle, Verve, and more, all with a presence in Tokyo ... its ... odd, really).  I just mean in general, coffee seems to be taken fairly seriously, and it is clear that some care is going into sourcing and roasting.
Roppongi Storefront.
Like a Roasted Coffee Laboratory, a local roaster in Shibuya, with shop locations around town, including the one I visited in Roppongi inside the mall.  The location is not alongside other food vendors on the lower levels or level 6, but rather, on one of the middle levels, alongside clothing stores.

I would have never found it, if I hadn't been seeking it out.
But why was I even seeking it out?

Not because I knew anything about the company.  I'd like to pretend that I know anything about the company, but alas, I don't.  And I wasn't even there for the coffee.

I was there because of this sign.

See that image on top?  Yeah, that is soft serve ice cream.  Presumably coffee soft serve ice cream.  With toppings.
Ice Cream!
And I was on a 2-a-day minimum of ice cream eating in Tokyo, and my jetlag was causing some energy lags, so ... yeah, coffee ice cream sounded worth following signs for, even without knowing anything about the place.

I knew I was in the right place when I saw the oversized plastic ice cream cone on the counter.
 I did quickly look at the menu, full of all your standard coffee and espresso drinks, teas and lemonade, plus some rather ... interesting items, including grass-fed butter coffee (eh, that's a trend, not totally novel) and tapioca milk coffee (ok, also kinda a trend?), but also ... a lemon olive oil latte?

And then there was  the food menu, which had exactly 5 items: a hot dog, a cheese dog, a triple cheese sandwich, a burger, and ... french toast.  An amusing lineup, really.
Aww, Sweets!
The sweets menu did look pretty good, in addition to the soft cream, there were shakes, the french toast, cakes ...
Grab n Go Cakes.
Additional, already packaged, cakes were waiting in a display case, and I'll admit, I was pretty tempted to grab one of these "for later" as well.
Baked Goods.
And don't get me started on the maple nut bread and glazed cinnamon rolls, again, I almost grabbed, for later ...

But I didn't, I stuck with my plan, and ordered just my ice cream.
The location has a small amount of exclusive seating, a few stools along a counter on one side, and two small tables on the other.  Back out in the mall though there is plenty of other seating nearby.
Coffee Soft Cream. 420 yen.
The soft cream comes in one size, one style only.  No cone option, no different toppings option, not even a description of the toppings that do come with it are provided.  The menu simply says "Coffee soft cream", and if I hadn't seen the other image, I wouldn't have known it was actually a sundae.

It looked picture perfect.

The soft cream was intensely coffee flavored, and I quickly worried about how much caffeine I was consuming.  The style was basically no different from soft serve I get in the US, which was a bit disappointing, as I was expecting the creamier, richer, and milk forward flavors I have come to love in Tokyo.  It was slightly icy, but still fairly smooth.  The flavor was good intense, but, it was just coffee soft serve.

Drizzled over it was coffee syrup, totally unnecessary given how intense the coffee flavor was already, but it sure made it look even more lovely.

Then, one side is coated with cocoa nibs, which added the perfect crunch, and another bitter compliment to the already intense soft serve.  The nibs really did make a nice difference.

The other side though is where the magic was.  This view sadly doesn't capture it well, but, coated cereal flakes.  They seemed to be coated in perhaps a light layer of milk chocolate? They were extremely crisp, extremely flavorful, and I really loved what they added.  As the soft serve melted, I had visions of the best breakfast ever, with that totally inappropriate cereal and coffee milk rather than regular milk ... oh man.

Overall, this was a nice little coffee sundae, fine quality everything, and intensely coffee flavored.  The toppings definitely made it standout.  I likely would not get it again, as I was really hoping for something with a different type of flavor and texture, but, still recommended, just with the correct expectations.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Soft Serve from Ministop, Tokyo

Update Review, September 2019

I said that when I went back to Tokyo, I'd return to Ministop, and I'd get the plain vanilla soft serve cone.

So I did.  My first full day in Tokyo, when it was sticky hot after lunch, and I wanted a soft serve cone.

Although, I'll admit, I was drawn in by the summer specials, several versions of halo halo.  But I stayed true to my recommendation to myself.

It was served quickly, as it was just a simple cone, unlike the elaborate mont blanc I had before.  I wished they had sprinkles or toppings, but, they do not (of course I had my own sprinkles, so, not really a big deal).

My ice cream was handed over without napkins, and there were none available.  I sadly had emptied my bag out to travel, and didn't have any myself.  This, um, became a sticky problem fairly fast.  Note to self: always have napkins, and a little trash bag, with you in Tokyo!
Vanilla Soft Cream.
The creation was better than the mont blanc, but, it wasn't actually very good.  It was about ... what you'd expect from a convenience store?

The texture of the ice cream was pretty icy.  Not very smooth, not creamy.  In a country filled with incredible soft serve, it seemed like such a waste to use one of my limited soft serve outings on this.

The flavor of the ice cream was good though, a vanilla-like flavor.

I did like the style of the cone, it looked pretty, and seemed practical at first glance, almost like it would catch falling things (like, the sprinkles I was adding).  But it actually didn't work well at all, ice cream ran right out the pockets, and thus, the aforementioned mess.  I think it was far messier than a normal cone, AND the base didn't hold integrity and broke through, leaking everywhere, before I finished.

I was a fairly disappointed sticky mess after eating this.  I probably wouldn't bother trying more of their creations.  But hey, points for having easily accessible soft serve, for ~$1.50.

Original Review, December 2017

Tokyo is a land of many wonders.

One of which is incredible soft serve ice cream.  Seriously, Japan is obsessed with "Soft Cream", crazy high quality, and I'm not complaining.  I had some truly fantastic soft cream during my visit, like the Cremia, made with 25% whipped cream (!) at Silkream, the creative Mont Blanc parfait (with jellies and cocoa crispies in it!) at Mother Farm Milk Bar, and a very creamy version coated in praline from Zaku Zaku.

Another of which is convenience stores.  These are nothing like convenience stores in the United States.  The food quality is high.  There is often seating.  There is serious competition in this space.  People actually seek them out as a place to eat lunch or pick up dinner.  Which of course, I did.  I visited 7-Eleven for tasty salads and onigiri, Lawson for the famed egg salad sandwich and fried chicken, and Family Mart for great pudding.

But on my last evening, I discovered a wondrous place that combined soft cream and convenience stores: Ministop.  A smaller chain of convenience stores, with a huge soft serve sign out front.  The sign drew me in.  Ministop can be found in Japan, but also in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Phillippines, and South Korea.

After a few quick moments of internet research, I found out that Ministop is known for the soft serve.  How was this never on my radar before??!
"Soft-serve ice cream is one of MINISTOP's flagship products. 
We use raw milk produced in Hokkaido for the ingredients, and are confident in their high quality. 
Vanilla is the classic flavor, but you can also enjoy limited-time flavors or soft-serve mixed with vanilla."
What's a girl to do, when walking back to her hotel at night, feeling like she needs "just one more treat"?  Yup, I had no choice.  I had to get soft serve.  From Ministop.

I found out later that Ministop uses 20% fat in their soft serve, not as high as the Cremia at 25%, but, much higher than the 3-6% found in most US based soft serve (sometimes it goes up to 10%, but I've never seen higher).  Vanilla is Ministop's signature offering, but they always have a seasonal flavor as well.  When I was there ... yup, like everywhere else, it was chestnut.  Well, not just chestnut, Mont Blanc.

Unfortunately, I didn't like my pick, but, if I were in Tokyo longer, I'd actually try again, as I think I just poorly ordered.
Ministop Cafe Menu.
The picture menu made it fairly easy to see the offerings.  Vanilla soft cream in a cake style cone.  What looked like a mont blanc creation in a huge chocolate (?) waffle cone.  A mix of the two.  There were also assorted fruit parfaits with soft serve layered with dragonfruit, mango, and more, shakes, floats, potatoes in every form (that really did look good), corn dogs (!), and more.

The hot items were all displayed near the register, and really looked better than the ones from the competition.  Again, why hadn't I found Ministop before?

But I was a bit stumped by the soft serve.  Did they really have a soft serve machine?  Some of the other convenience stores also sorta had soft serve ... it was packaged ice cream in the freezer that somehow was quasi soft.
Soft Serve Machine!
I almost walked out, but there was so much signage about the soft serve, I just couldn't give up.

And then I spotted it!  In the back corner, behind the register.  There *was* a soft serve machine!
Packaged up To Go.
When I ordered, I was asked a question I didn't quite understand.  And then my cashier disappeared for a long time to make my soft serve.

From the picture, I knew it wasn't going to just be soft serve in a cone, but I didn't quite expect it to take quite so long to prepare.  Then again, the last time I ordered a Mont Blanc soft serve (at Mother Farm Milk Bar), it ended up being a many layered creation with jelly and rice crispies in the bottom, so, I really had no idea what I was getting.

The answer in this case?  I think I said I wanted it packaged to go, rather than to eat there.  And, um, wow.  They package soft serve to go!!!!  In seriously elaborate packaging.

My cone was placed into a cardboard holder, which did indeed hold it upright.  It had a protective dome over the top.  And then it was carefully set into a bag.

I've never seen something like this before.  Which, I guess, is true for many things in Japan, but wow, they've innovated on soft serve packaging too.
Premium Wakuri Mont Blanc Soft Cream: Top View.
So, under that dome, what did I have?

Chestnut flavored soft serve, with some kind of chestnut gel layered around it sorta like a Mont Blanc.  The obsession with chestnut, and the Mont Blanc form, just doesn't cease to amaze me.

The dome lid ruined the presentation slightly, but it wasn't a big deal, I was still quite impressed with the whole thing.

That said, I didn't actually like it.

In particular, I hated the chestnut gel stuff.  It had a bad flavor, and a worse consistency.  I tried to scrape this off, but then I just wound up with tons of it on my spoon.

The soft serve itself was quite creamy, a great texture, light brown color.  But ... I didn't like the chestnut flavor.

My companion said, "you don't like chestnut, why do you keep ordering chestnut?", but I reminded him that I do like chestnut.  I really liked the one at Milk Bar, and I had been eating the candied chestnuts off danishes at breakfast every morning.  (Side note: The next day, I'd also make a chestnut based impulse order, and it too would go similarly poorly).
Premium Wakuri Mont Blanc Soft Cream: Side View. ¥330.
The cone was a waffle cone, a dark color.  I thought at first it might be chocolate, but I think it too was chestnut?  A different cone than the one they use for the other ice cream, this one specially branded for the Mont Blanc soft cream.  (Side note: There regular cones actually say "Ministop" in the cone itself ... no standard Joy cups here!).

It was crispy, not stale, and decent enough I guess.

Also, this was a massive creation, served with a spoon like other soft serve sundaes in cones we saw on the trip.

Overall, I didn't like this.  But, I could tell the soft serve quality was high, I was amazed by the packaging, and I'm thrilled to see offerings like this in the first place.  We need more soft serve, and more soft serve sundaes-in-cones!