Tuesday, October 08, 2019

JAL Sakura Lounge, Haneda Airport, Tokyo

Update Review, September 2019 Visit

It had a several year hiatus in visiting Tokyo, so this review is very past due!  For a more detailed overview, see my original 2014 review.

In the 5 years since my last visit, many aspects of the lounge and the offerings, remained unchanged.  The biggest update? More desserts!  Which, if you know me, is always a good thing. 


The savory spread at the JAL lounge is fair extensive, with options for whatever mood you are in, ranging from simple soup/sandwich/salad, to dim sum, to hearty italian comfort food.

The lounge menu changes quarterly, just like the flight menus, and is posted online in advance, so I knew what to expect.  The only thing different was the sushi ... there was none, which was disappointing as it was supposed to feature eel.
The lineup started with shumai, which I remembered from my previous visit.

I did again like the wrappers on the shumai, particularly the ones that were more dried out (I know, its strange, but I like them that way!).  The filling though was just a big hard ball of meat.

I appreciated the soy and vinegar on the side.
Lasagna Style Gratin.
Now this just made me laugh.

"Lasagna"?  It was rigatoni with tomato sauce and cheese melted on top.  I guess that is "lasagna style" ...

The sauce was not remarkable, the pasta was kinda mush, and the cheese was lackluster too.  Lower quality than most buffets.  Not a high point for Japan Airlines.
Meatball Mustard Flavor.
I didn't have the meatball, but I did try the sauce.

It was a mustard cream sauce, not bad.
Beef Curry.
I finally tried the famous JAL beef curry.  People seem to rave about it.  A feature of every JAL lounge.

And ... I'll admit, it has great flavor.  There wasn't much beef in it, but the beef that was there was tender and flaked apart nicely.
I topped it with the provided pickles, and with some tempura from the noodle station, and thought it was pretty nice that way.  I liked it more than I expected.
Undon Station.
I didn't try the miso or borscht-style soups, nor the udon, but I gladly at the toppings - tempura bits, fish cake, pickled things ....
Salad Wrap: Ham & Cheese.
Ok, yes I tried one of these.

No I don't like sandwiches or wraps but ... my office had grab and go wraps that looked exactly like these, same paper wrapper and all, and I kinda loved them, um, because they were like 70% mayo.  Sooo much mayo, delicious Japanese mayo, and I didn't really care what else was in them, as the lettuce/carrots/etc and mayo were delicious enough to carry any sandwich.

I thought this would be the same, and it did have mayo, but, it really was just a ham and cheese wrap, not the most exciting.
Salad Bar.
The salad bar had a couple different salad bases, grilled chicken, and fusilli pasta to add on, a couple dressings, plus shrimp summer rolls.

I didn't try anything from here.
Lounge Snack: Round 1.
For my first round, I opted for a bit of the curry (good!  Particularly with toppings!), a shumai (also good, at least the wrapper), and the aforementioned lackluster "lasagna", plus some of the snack mix (super flavorful rice cracker mix in assorted shapes and sizes, definitely like).

I had a glass of of not very good wine, and then moved on to sweets ....

Sweets & Baked Goods

The sweet lineup isn't really a high point for the lounge, but, it was better than last I was there.
"Apricot Fromage Danish / Macadamia Muffin / Plain Scone / Matcha Green Tea Scone / Madelines"

I love that the baked goods are not limited to the morning hours.  Available all day.  The lineup was entirely different from last I visited.
Maison Kayser Croissants / Baguettes.
Well, besides the basics, croissants and baguettes, which were unchanged.  I didn't try them again.
You know me and baked goods .  I had no choice to to try them all.  After all, I knew there were no breakfast carbs available on my flight (!), and the dessert options on the flight all had caffeine, so I needed to stock up.

I know this is technically against the rules, but I did save the muffin and scones for breakfast on my flight, and the danish and madeline for dessert after my meal, so its not like I was hoarding them to bring home ...
Apricot Fromage Danish,
The danish ... was really not good.  The pastry was incredibly dry and stale, although slightly crispy on the outside, in a dried out way, not a good flaky pastry way.  Really, worse pastry than even standard for airline lounges / hotel buffets / etc.

The filling was fine, kinda a custard that had a decent apricot flavor to it.

But yeah, not a good item.
Madelines are never something I'm excited about, and this was no exception.  A decently moist, but very plain, little cake.

For me, cake is a vessel for frosting or ice cream, and without either ... why?  At least, that is how I feel.  So I brought it on my flight, and added ice cream, which made it better, but this was still pretty boring to me.
Matcha Green Tea Scone.
The scones were biscuit style.

The plain one was ... well, plain, and there was no cream to go with, only butter and jam packets.  Slight tang to it, not awful, but not exciting.  I brought the rest of it on my flight, and had it a la mode with the excellent custard pudding ice cream, and that was quite a winner.

The matcha green tea one was better on its own, although it did have a strong bitter green tea taste.  I liked the little white chocolate chips in it.
Macadamia Muffin
This was the worst of the items.

Odd flavor, tasted very fake if that makes sense, certainly not fresh, and ... there weren't any bits of macadamia in it.
Almond Jelly.
The almond jelly hiding in the salad bar was ... fine.

It didn't actually taste like almond, and the different colors were indistinguishable from each other taste-wise, but it was pleasant enough.
I had seen photos of the taiyaki, and was thrilled to see that they were provided during my visit, in two varieties: custard and red bean.

They had instructions to heat in the provided toaster for a minute.

These clearly weren't fresh, but the toaster helped warm and crisp them up.  The exterior pancake was fine, but not amazing.

The custard really was decent - thick, slightly vanilla, pudding.  I'm a sucker for custard though.

The red bean filling was less exciting, just standard sweetened red bean, which I had a lot of on the trip, so I was kinda over.

So, mediocre taiyaki, tasty custard, standard red bean.  Uniquely Japanese, and I was glad to see it in the lounge.

Original Review, September 2014

As you've been reading on Tuesdays for weeks now, I went on a business trip to Tokyo.  It concluded with what I am sure will go down as history as one of the most memorable experiences of my life: a flight back, via Hong Kong, on Cathay Pacific, First Class.

The start of my epic journey began at the Haneda airport.  I was glad to fly out of Haneda, as it is much closer to Tokyo than Narita, and, much, much smaller.  While there wasn’t much to do once I got through security, I appreciated the fact that there were no lines to check in, no lines for security, and it was all a relatively calm experience.

After quickly poking around the very few shops, I headed to the the JAL Sakura Lounge. Unfortunately, the first class lounge was closed for renovation, and Cathay Pacific shares the JAL lounge.

My only other comparison point for JAL lounges is the one in SF, which is ridiculously unimpressive, so the Haneda one was a welcome surprise.  It still wasn’t really the calibre I’d expect from the lounge of the flagship operator of the airport, but like I said, Haneda is a small airport, and I’m not sure JAL even has First Class flights out of there.

I think there were showers, but I didn’t check them out.  Bathrooms were nice enough, but standard.
Window counter seating, table seating.
I was stuck by how large the lounge was, particularly for the small airport.  It wasn’t even remotely full.  There were many seating options.  Counters along the window with viewing areas of the runways, all with power jacks.  Tables, mostly for 2, with assorted types of seats.
Soft Seating Area.
Softer seating of armchairs and couches took up the rest of the main area, along with space for workstations, and a large section deemed the "quiet area", not that it was loud anywhere.

At the entrance was a bar, but there was an additional bar area with the food station, which I went to explore, even though I wasn't that hungry.

The food station was quite large, particularly compared with the SF one.  It had a rather strange assortment of food.  I was particularly surprised that it didn’t have onigiri, as the SF one did, and this seemed to be the most common snack food all over Tokyo.  I had been looking forward to having one final one!
Rice, toppings, sushi.
Starting at one end were steamers full of rice, with toppings like ume and pickles.  And sushi rolls … but beef sushi only.  Is this normal?  (Sorry for the blurry photo, I was trying to take photos quickly so as not to look like a wierdo ...)
Soups, noodles
There were also a couple soups, noodles, and ... cornflakes.  Odd items to have grouped together!  I guess they all go in bowls?
Hot Dishes.
Then there were strange hot dishes that I couldn’t identify at all.  Honestly, no idea what these were.
Steamed Veggies.
Next, cold steamed vegetables.

I tried the winter squash, since I love squash.  It was well cooked I guess, but just squash.
The next station was a bit more familiar to me, with salads and dressings.

Most impressive were the salads.  I had one with hijiki seaweed, beans, and some veggies.  It was fresh, well seasoned, and a great last taste of Japanese cuisine.  A bit fishy from bonito flakes, but in a good way.

I also had the lotus root, pumpkin, and apple salad.  Such a strange combo.  I love lotus, and this was fresh and crisp.  The pumpkin was mushy, a bit like a sauce.  I liked that too.  The apple was crisp, but I’m not really a fan of apple, and I don’t see how it fit in here.

My favorite station of the lineup.
More Hot Dishes.
Next were hot dishes, a beef curry and assorted dim sum.  All had ingredients I didn’t like, and I wasn’t hungry, so I skipped these.
There was also a bread selection, which I’d read about previously, since they feature selections from the Parisian bakery Maison Kayser.  Unfortunately, since it was afternoon, the lounge didn't have any of the pastries I’d read about, and just 3 types of bread instead: ciabatta, le delice blanc, and baguette monge.  Boo.  I skipped these.
Savory Baked Goods.
This area also contained tuna pizza.  What?  Beef in the sushi, tuna on the pizza ....

And a tuna bread thing.  The only thing I tried from this area was a blueberry pastry, but it was dried out, burnt, flavorless, and not good at all.  Presumably left over from breakfast?
Snacks, coffee, tea, soda.
On the final side were little snacks, like generic chocolate covered graham crackers, and snack mix.  I love snack mixes, but this wasn’t very good, mostly fairly plain rice crackers, with a few peanuts, and not particularly flavorful wasabi peas.

Overall, nothing that great here, but a far better selection than the SF lounge.

The drink selection was also better.
Juice, milk, beer.
There was beer on tap (I know this is what my co-workers must have gone for!), with cold beer glasses in the fridge.

Also in the fridge was juices, and pitchers of their famous Sky Time cocktail.  I had to try that, and it was good, not too sweet, refreshing.
Hard Alcohol, Wine, Sake.
 There were also a couple red wines, a small but decent hard alcohol selection, and sake.
Chilled  Sake.
And chilled sake.

I spent about an hour in the lounge, and it was comfortable enough, but not really notable.  An announcement was made that my flight was boarding, so I jumped up, and went to my gate.
Massage Chairs, in a Separate Room.
Right before boarding, I spent the last few minutes in the massage chair room.  Not as nice as other lounges that have real massage services, but a nice touch.  The chair was highly confusing however, even the attached manual didn't help much.  No food or drinks allowed in this area.

Monday, October 07, 2019

IHOP, 2019

Another year, another annual visit to IHOP, home of what were once my favorite pancakes.  If you'd like to catch up on past reviews, see 2012 and 2013 where I got combos with Harvest Grain N' Nut or Whole Wheat Pancakes, more Harvest Grain N' Nut pancakes in 2014, Raspberry White Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip in 2015, Red Velvet and Double Blueberry in 2016, Cinn-a-Stack and more Double Blueberry in 2017, and Mexican Tres Leches and MORE double blueberry in 2018.

This visit was to the only location left in San Francisco, on Beach Street, which has always been ... on the disaster side of the service spectrum, just given the seemingly poor efficiency, the staffing who really don't seem to care, and the vast number of guests.  This visit was no different, and I was ignored much of the time.
Decaf Coffee. $3.19.
For the first time, I tried IHOP's coffee, decaf, since I had already had my morning cup of regular.

It wasn't bad, actually.  I won't say it was amazing, not complex nor particularly interesting, but, it was good, not funky, and better than average decaf actually.

Coffee at IHOP is bottomless, and I was provided my own little carafe, which kept it warm and plentiful, which I really appreciated.

I'm glad I got it, although the $3.19 price is a bit steep for average drip coffee.
Italian Cannoli Pancakes (deconstructed). $11.99.
"Three buttermilk pancakes rolled and filled with sweet Ricotta cream and chocolate pieces topped with crunchy cannoli pieces, chocolate chips and creamy whipped topping."

After much agonizing, I decided on the latest addition to the "International" line up, the Italian pancakes ... cannoli pancakes!  They are normally served rolled up, and stuffed with the cannoli filling, and then topped with more of it, and sprinkled with cannoli shell bits and chocolate chips.

I asked for it deconstructed for 2 reasons: 1) easier to save the leftovers if not covered in stuff and 2) if I hated the filling, I didn't want it to ruin the pancakes ... learned my lesson from the year I ordered the Cinn-a-Stack and truly hated it.

My server looked slightly annoyed when I ordered the toppings on the side, but it was actually no problem.

The pancakes were good enough, average buttermilk IHOP pancakes, not undercooked like I've had before.  It did make me realize how spoiled I am at my office now though, we have great pancakes on campus now, which made these not quite as special.  Still, they were hot and fresh, and not bad.  I did want more buttermilk tang, and loftier cakes though.

The cannoli filling was ... kinda awful.  I expected to taste more ricotta, but it was very mild, and that is me being generous.  I couldn't really taste ricotta.  It had a few chocolate chips in it, but only ... maybe, honestly 4 (?) in the entire little bowl.  The real issue was the consistency, sorta like cannoli filling, rich, thick, but grainy and just odd.  The mouthfeel wasn't good.  I'm sure the texture would be better in a cannoli, but it still just wasn't very good, and had no real ricotta flavor.

The cannoli shell bits and chocolate chips were tasty though, although not particularly interesting.
As always, I wanted to try all the syrups, and went into my tasting knowing that I randomly seem to prefer a different one each time.

IHOP hasn't changed their syrups at all, and in addition to the standard four table syrups, I also asked for the SF syrup, since I sometimes love that, and butter, since my pancakes didn't come with it (cannoli pancakes certainly wouldn't need it).

I was pleased that none of the syrup containers were sticky like usual, and, they were all full.  This is honestly the first time I've ever dined at an IHOP and not had sticky syrup bottles.
Sampler Platter.
I took my sampling seriously, cutting off perfect little triangles, and trying each syrup plain and with butter.  

My preferences were clear.  I loved the Butter pecan most of all. Rich, buttery, sweet flavor, and the perfect compliment to the pancake.  Fine with butter, perhaps a bit better with butter, but it wasn't necessary.  Hands down favorite.

The regular Old Fashioned was fine, but not special, and did best with butter added, as it needed additional richness.  Surprisingly, or perhaps because they changed vendors again, I didn't care for the sugar free version at all, and sometimes I really do like that.  I'm not sure what brand it was this time, as they just brought me a little cup of it, not the bottle like normal.

The fruity syrups are the ones I sometimes love, and sometimes hate, and this visit was no exception.  I liked the strawberry syrup, although I know it isn't exactly real fruit.  It was nice to have as a different style than the butter pecan.  But the blueberry? I hated it this time.  Just, didn't care for it at all.

So, Butter Pecan a clear winner, Strawberry or Old Fashioned fine, and Blueberry and Sugar Free clear closers.

And the perfect little cannoli bite I assembled?  Fine too, but, given the lackluster cannoli filling it obviously couldn't shine, and, honestly, the texture and flavor weren't right for a pancake topping.

The one thing I was really missing though was whipped cream, not normally included with cannoli pancakes, and I really wanted it, particularly with the strawberry sauce bites.
So much food waste.
This was my neighbor's table ... after they left. 

I know IHOP portions are ridiculous, but the food waste kinda broke my heart.  The pair of diners did a decent job on their omelets, but literally didn't touch (!), like, literally, you can see they are entirely untouched, butter and all, the stack of 3 buttermilk pancakes.  I actually just can't imagine not even trying a single bite of them!!!

They at least tried the crepes, which, they got MY FAVORITE CREPES, the dish I used to get at IHOP in grad school all the time (but isn't eligible for my free birthday pancakes for this visit, since its just for pancakes not crepes), the Swedish pancakes.  It comes with 4 crepes - 2 are still sitting untouched on the big plate, and one of the two people actually served himself the others, but took only a bite and didn't eat more. They didn't even touch the thing of lingonbutter that comes with them (my favorite!), but the guy at least tried the lingonberry jam on his bite.  This made me very very sad, as I love those crepes and those toppings!!!!

A friend told me I should just switch tables and go take their pancakes, extra crepes, and lingonbutter, since I knew it wasn't actually touched, lol.   Don't worry, I didn't actually do this.