Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Corn Cheese

Yes, I use my waffle iron as my preferred method of reheating leftovers, whenever I can.  It often leads to great discoveries (I no longer want to eat pizza any other way!), and sometimes leads to, uh, less successful results.

You can read all about my waffling leftovers adventures here.

Today's question: "Corn Cheese" - Will it waffle?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.  But it doesn't mean the results weren't delicious!

The Original

First, I probably need to back up.  What is ... "corn cheese"?  It is a Korean dish, made from, I'm not joking, the following ingredients: corn, butter, mayo (Japanese Kewpie mayo if you have it), cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and miso.  Corn, butter, and miso are relatively tame, but, then add in mayo and two types of cheese?  Behold, corn cheese (Lucky Peach recipe here).
Corn Cheese Casserole.
The original form of corn cheese is a thing of wonder.  A very thick layer of cheese on top.  Mayo and liquid cheesiness spilling out the sides.  Do you see any vegetables in here? Nah.  This dish is not really about the corn.

Corn cheese is delicious fresh from the oven in this form.  Hot, creamy, bubbling, comfort food.  The miso adds a touch of interesting flavor, and the mayo and cream cheese combine to create a very creamy sauce.  I love the top crust of cheese too.  And the corn?  Yup, its there, adding some texture and sweetness, but, really, this is about the cheese/mayo combo.

Waffling

But of course, as with most leftovers I have, I decided to test out the idea of waffling my leftover corn cheese.  My hypothesis is that it would turn into something like a thai corn cake.
Leftover Corn Cheese.
If you have leftovers, which, you should, as this dish requires some restraint, it reheats pretty well in a toaster oven too, although some separation is expected.

I've found that I actually enjoy corn cheese nearly as much just straight from the fridge, cold, but it loses the creaminess and becomes more of a pasta salad, but, uh, with corn in place of the pasta.  Still tasty, but quite different.
Not Looking Good ...
I took the simple approach to waffling, and inserted a slab of corn cheese at 350 degrees.  I seemed to have forgotten all the lessons I learned when waffling mac and cheese though, namely, that I needed to crust it.

When I checked on it, I could tell things weren't going great.  It separated, which often happens, but, as I waited patiently, the situation didn't improve.  I could see it burning.  This was not going to be a case where just giving it more time magically fixes it.
Corn Cheese Rubble.
The corn cheese, sans crusting, most certainly did not form a waffle that held together.  Extracting it was quite the process, even with my nonstick waffle plates.  I ended up using a chopstick to scrape it all out, and then removing the plates to dump the rubble onto my plate.

It looked burnt.  It looked like a fail. I instantly turned on the toaster oven to just heat some more up normally.  I thought this was headed for the trash.  But I still tried a bite.

And, well, I liked it.

Was it a waffle?  Of course not.  But it was crispy corn with crispy bits of cheese.  It didn't actually taste burnt.  A waffle disaster, yes, but, still really tasty.

This was a transformation of the original dish for sure, the creaminess that I love so much from the regular hot version nonexistent here.  But, I really enjoyed it.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Club Europe, BA 307, CDG-LHR

The flight: BA 307, CDG-LHR
Travel class: Club Europe
Departure time: 10:30 AM,
Meal served: Breakfast? Brunch?

For the first leg of my journey back to San Francisco from Paris, we boarded BA 307, an A321.  This was the same aircraft as our last flight, from Heathrow to Paris, again in Club Europe.  Not much to say here, comfortable enough seats, with the middle seat reserved between Ojan and I.

Meal service began as fast as humanly possible, which is necessary given the only 45 minute flight time.
"Brunch".
No option for the meal, just a continental meat and cheese platter and passed bread basket with assorted rolls.  No danishes, croissants, or anything breakfasty, even though it was a morning departure.

Our platters had what was I think ham, salami, and perhaps prosciutto for meat options. I couldn't identify the single type of cheese, inoffensive cheddar I guess?  Also on the platter were two black olives and a cherry tomato, 2 chunks of hard boiled egg, and a dollop of a white cream.  We couldn’t figure out what it was.  It wasn’t sour cream. It wasn’t cream cheese.  Ojan thought it was Greek yogurt perhaps, but that makes no sense with everything else on the dish.

I didn’t like anything on this platter.  The charcuterie was flabby, the salami greasy, and the cheese flavorless.

I opted for the seeded roll, which was decent, served warm.

On the tray was butter, whole milk, salt and pepper, sugar, and a hand wipe.

It took a VERY long time for drinks to reach me in row 3.  I had my tray for a full 10 minutes, then the captain came on to announce that we were descending, and economy already had their drink service completed before a drink was offered to me.  I was parched, absolutely parched, and this was excruciating.  I eventually got my crappy instant decaf (that always tastes strangely chocolatey) and sparkling water.

Anyway, very lackluster “meal”, not that I needed it because I had breakfast in both the American Airline’s Admiral’s Club AND the Cathay Pacific lounge at the CDG airport, AND had breakfast at my hotel before that, and of course I was looking forward to more dining in the assorted lounges at Heathrow in just a few minutes ….
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Monday, January 16, 2017

New and Seasonal Beverages from Starbucks

Update Review, December 2016 / January 2017

I generally stay away from the seasonal beverages at Starbucks (although I have had some successes before), mostly because I don't generally want a very sugary dessert-in-a-cup style latte.  If I'm getting coffee, I want it black.  I want to taste the  bitter.  The exception of course is if I want a sweet blended icy drink, but, I don't consider that coffee.  And, to be clear, this isn't that I don't like sugar, fat, and delicious things, it is just that I usually pick a "real" dessert, a piece of pie or an ice cream sundae over a sweet warm liquid beverage.

But, at the end of December, Starbucks drew me in with their 10 days of Cheer Celebration, where they offered free tall beverages from 1-2pm at 100 locations around the country every day, for 10 days.  I missed out on most of the days of the promotion since I was in New Hampshire where they didn't have any Starbucks stores, but I was able to make it for a few days once I returned t San Francisco.  I used it as an opportunity to get something crazy and different, and try the seasonal drinks, because, why not?  They were free!

Of the three drinks I tried, one was quite good, one was awful, and the other was decent.  I'd say my trials were a success.
Chestnut Praline Latte, Soy, Decaf.  Tall.  $5.05.
"Quintessentially festive flavors like caramelized chestnuts and subtle holiday spices mingle with our signature espresso and rich steamed milk. Topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of spiced praline crumbs."

The first day, I went for the seasonal chestnut praline latte, because I do like chestnuts and praline, and, uh, it comes with whipped cream.  Since it was 1pm when I ordered, I opted for decaf, and since it was free, I went for soy milk (I love the flavor of soy, but usually don't splurge for the extra charge).

The flavor of the latte was ... sweet and spiced.  I'm not sure I'd say I tasted "caramelized chestnut" or "praline" or "subtle holiday spices", but it was sweet and spiced in an interesting way.  You couldn't taste the espresso at all, as it was drowned out by sweet syrup and milk.  

The toppings were great.  My barista originally didn't add the whipped cream on mine since I got soy, but I assured him I did indeed want it.  The whipped cream wasn't anything special, but it melted in nicely, and provided a surface for all the delicious praline crunch topping to set on top of.  That stuff was crunchy, sweet, and totally delicious.  To be honest, the latte was basically just sweet spiced milk, but the whipped cream and topping were tasty dessert.

So, I'll admit ... this was very delicious, particularly comforting on a fairly cold San Francisco day.  Was it a coffee?  Well, no.  But for a warm liquid-dessert-in-a-cup, it was very tasty, and I gulped it down way too quickly.

The cost is normally $5.05, even for the smallest size ($0.50 extra for soy).  I wouldn't ever pay that myself, but for a freebie, who is complaining?
Chile Mocha, Soy, Extra Foamy, Whip, Decaf, Tall.  $5.05.
"Cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla satisfy your sweet tooth while ancho and cayenne chile spices answer the call for something warmer ... for those mornings that need an extra kick."

The next day the San Francisco popup location was 3 blocks from my house.  I couldn't resist swinging by, and trying another seasonal beverage, this time the Chile Mocha, as I recently discovered that I like putting a little cayenne in my coffee for some extra kick from time to time.  I again opted for decaf and soy, and this time asked for extra foam, since I like a foamier beverage.

The chile mocha is quite different from most Starbucks chocolately beverages, in that it does not use mocha sauce.  Instead, it uses cinnamon (and sugar of course) infused cocoa powder (I'm pretty sure no other beverages use cocoa powder).  The chocolate flavor isn't quite as pronounced as in a mocha, but it is a deeper, richer chocolate flavor.  Real cocoa seems better than whatever goes in the sauce?  The cinnamon adds a "Mexican chocolate" element to it that I liked.

On top is whipped cream and the magic spiced mocha topping with chile pepper, more cinnamon, and paprika.  (I kinda think the paprika is just for color?)

This drink was one of the better flavored espresso drinks that I have ever had from Starbucks.  It wasn't overboard on the sweet.  The cinnamon and chile added a lot more complexity to the flavor than syrupy ingredients like caramel, flan, dolce, and the other more commonly used additives.   Was it spicy?  Not really, but it was spiced, and that was nice.  I'd get it again.
Holiday Spice Flat White, Soy, Decaf, with Whip.
"Smooth ristretto shots of Christmas Blend Espresso Roast and perfectly steamed micro-foam are infused with warm holiday spices to create a festive version of an espresso classic."

On the final day, I went even more rogue, and got the holiday version of the flat white.  As always, I opted for soy and decaf.  This drink does not normally include whipped cream, but I asked for it added, because, well, whipped cream.

This was the least successful of the holiday drinks that I tried, by far.  On the plus side, it wasn't too sweet.  But it also just wasn't good.  It doesn't use a a sauce or syrup like most Starbucks drinks, but uses a "Holiday Spice Blend", a mix including seasonal favorites like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, plus sugar (of course), and, uh, rice concentrate and citric acid?

It was just kinda gritty from all the spices (2 big scoops go into a tall), and the bottom of my drink was just all spices, like sludge.  The flavors all seemed muddled.  I certainly wouldn't get this again.

Original Review, January 2014

When I last posted about Starbucks, I hadn't tried many items.  Since I've had a bunch more since, it seemed only fitting that I post a new review.

I still haven't found a coffee drink there that I'm all that excited about, but I keep trying, as everyone else seems to love it, so I figure, I must just need to find "my" drink.  In addition to trying the basic drinks, I've tried pretty much every seasonal drink that I've seen.  The Eggnog Latte was the best I've found so far, but sadly is only available for a very short time, so I'll have to continue my quest, perhaps moving back to their standard drinks, particularly the iced or blended ones, once it becomes warm out.

In general, I must say, the staff at Starbucks are always surprisingly friendly and helpful, no matter which location I visit.  When I've asked about the different drinks, they've seemed happy to explain them, and always add in a line about how if I'm not happy with it, they'll just make me something else.  This clearly seems part of the corporate mantra, as I've been told that every single time I've asked anything about a drink, like "is that one very sweet?".  I haven't ever taken them up on this offer, but it is kinda nice to hear.  It makes me brave enough to order these ridiculous things!
Tall Eggnog Latte, Decaf.  $3.75.
I've probably only had a glass of eggnog ... once in my life?  Maybe twice?  But for some reason, this holiday season, I was seriously craving it.  I had pretty much every eggnog flavored thing I came across (cakes with eggnog drizzle, almonds in eggnog chocolate coating, eggnog crème brûlée, etc, etc).  So when I saw the eggnog latte listed, I took a serious leap of faith and went for it.

Unlike most of the flavored drinks at Starbucks, this is not just a latte with eggnog flavored syrup in it, it is actually made with eggnog in place of the steamed milk.  It is then topped with some ground nutmeg.  This is uh, not a light drink.

I liked this far more than I was expecting.  I think I really just was in the mood for it.  It was warm, it was sweet but not overpowering, and it was really pleasantly spiced.  Was it earth shattering?  No.  But a nice warm beverage filled with holiday flavors for sure.  I'd even consider another if I was strangely craving eggnog again.  Sadly only available around Christmas.
Tall Vanilla Spice Latte, Soy, Whip.  $4.35.
Another seasonal offering, and I felt like something kinda dessert-y.  Desserty it was.  Described as "Starbucks signature espresso combined with freshly steamed milk, rich vanilla, and subtle hints of cardamom and spice. Topped with whipped cream, crushed vanilla bean and a touch of sugar."

I asked the girl taking my order about it, asking if it was sweet.  She said it wasn't too sweet, and that the spicing was really nice, like horchata.  I do sometimes like horchata, so this sounded good.  I asked what the "spice" was, and she got really excited, proclaiming "carmadon!"  Then she looked puzzled. And tried again, "carmadom!"  And again.  Finally she was just like "its that spice that ends in 'dom'!  It is really good!".  Sigh.

I still got it, and went for soy since I love the flavor of soy milk.  I totally forgot to specify decaf in all the 'carmadon' excitement.  Whoops.

Anyway.  This drink was crazy sweet.  All I tasted was sweet.  I could not identify the sweetness as vanilla at all.  I did not taste any espresso.  I did not taste any soy, which I paid a whopping $0.60 extra for.  I know soy milk is more expensive, but for a tall size beverage, I really don't see how that soy milk costs $0.60.

Anyway.  There was some spicing, and I did taste the cardamom.   That part was pleasant, and reminded me slightly of a chai.  I'm not really sure I'd say it tasted like a horchata, but I can see where she was coming from.  The whipped cream on top was their standard whip, not that great, but it added an additional creaminess.  The only really interesting thing about this drink was the crushed vanilla bean and sugar on top of the whipped cream.  They added a nice little crunch.

Overall, this was not a good drink.  Way too sweet, no good flavor, and very expensive for a small drink.  Would not get again.
Tall Caramel Flan Latte, Skim, Decaf.
And yet another new seasonal treat, promising to taste like dessert.  And in this case, a particular dessert: flan.  Fully described as "espresso with steamed milk and caramel flavors of creamy flan. Topped with caramel-infused whipped cream and caramel flan drizzle."

Since I haven't ever loved Starbucks drinks in general, and I don't even love flan that much, I wouldn't normally get this.  But, to help get people trying them, Starbucks offered one for free, and you know I can't resist freebies ...

It was basically what I'd expect.  Creamy, sweet.  It didn't matter that I don't like Starbucks decaf coffee, because I couldn't taste any coffee in here.  The caramel whipped cream and caramel drizzle were tasty, but please, this is not a coffee.

I wouldn't get another, but I gladly finished the one I had.
Tall Hazelnut Macchiato, Skim, Decaf.  $3.55.
Not a seasonal offering, but a new menu item: the Hazelnut Macchiato.  Basically the Starbuck's classic Caramel Macchiato, but with hazelnut finish instead of caramel: "freshly steamed milk with vanilla syrup, marked with espresso and finished with hazelnut drizzle."  I'd say it is just a vanilla latte with some additional syrup on top, but they seem to think these things are "macchiatos".  Whatevs.

Anyway.  It has been years since I had one, but when I first was learning to drink coffee drinks, I did go for the caramel macchiatos.  I recall them as being very sweet and milky.  I expected this to be about the same.

It actually wasn't as cloyingly sweet as I was expecting.  The base seemed to have very little of the vanilla syrup, and in fact, if I hadn't read the description, I wouldn't have known it was there.  The layer of foam on top was very thick, far better than I am used to at Starbucks.  Then on top was drizzled a ton of the hazelnut syrup.  This is different from the hazelnut flavor syrup they use to just make flavored beverages, as it was far thicker, more like a hazelnut flavored caramel.  It actually tasted pretty good.

This drink surprised me.  It wasn't bad.  It wasn't too sweet, although I'd probably ask for half sweet next time.  The hazelnut flavor was really good.  I'd also probably go for soy next time, as I prefer it, and I think the hazelnut and soy combination would be a good one.

[ I had this a second time, when they were running a promotion and giving them free to Starbuck's reward members.  It again was pretty good.  I got the exact same drink, but at a different Starbuck's location.  It wasn't too sweet, and again, I didn't really notice the vanilla.  The foam was well done.  And that hazelnut caramel stuff was delicious! It really isn't what I normally go for in an espresso drink, but it is much better than any of the other cloyingly sweet warm Starbuck's drinks I've tried! ]

[ And I had it a third time, this time, with soy milk.  It was much, much sweeter, presumably because the soy milk they use is vanilla flavored and sweetened?  I did like the soy flavor much more though, I'd just be sure to get it only half-sweet if getting soy in the future.  I'm loving this hazelnut caramel sauce! ]
Tall Iced Hazelnut Macchiato, Skim, Decaf.  $3.55.
On another visit, inspired by my surprising liking of the hot version of the hazelnut macchiato, I went for the iced one, since it was a warm day.

It was fairly disappointing.  I think at some level I just don't appreciate iced espresso drinks.  It is just ice, milk poured straight out of the pitcher, a shot of espresso, and some syrup.  Not exciting.

But anyway.  Starbuck's decaf espresso just isn't very good, hot or cold.  And you could really taste it in here, before I mixed it up.  It is bitter, tastes burnt, and is just ... bad.  It doesn't seem to matter which Starbucks I visit, the decaf is just never good.  And milk is milk.  Like the hot version, it also had some vanilla syrup in it, but I didn't really taste it, and it actually wasn't very sweet.

The only part of this that I liked was that hazelnut caramel syrup.  There was a bunch that settled in the bottom of the cup, and a bunch sitting on the ice on top, and it was delicious.  The flavor is just really good.  I may or may not have licked the inside of my lid since it was covered in it.  Noms.

But overall, not a good drink, and I wouldn't get again.  Or maybe I would, I'd just ask them to "hold the milk, espresso, and ice ... just give me the hazelnut caramel!" :)
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Go Pure Vegetable Chips

GoPure makes a variety of chips.  Their largest product line is "classic chips", standard thin sliced potato chips, available in fairly simple flavors, crinkle cut or not.  They also make some "natural crunch" chips, still just potato chips, only, organic and one variety of tortilla chips.

I didn't try any of those things.  Instead, while visiting one of my European offices (I think Paris, but, these aren't actually made in France, they are from the Netherlands), I tried the vegetable chips.  They didn't leave me wanting to try others.
Vegetable Chips.
"GoPure organic vegetable chips have everything: the perfect crunch, refined flavours and different textures. No wonder: each bag of GoPure vegetable chips contains a rich arsenal of carrots, beetroot, the 'forgotten' parsnip and sweet potato. It also goes without saying that these organic vegetables are all batch cooked in 100% organic sunflower oil. The only thing we add is a pinch of sea salt."

Go Pure makes three varieties of vegetable chips, "Sweet Potato" with tomato & rosemary seasoning, "Mixed Varieties" with chioggia beetroot, blue potato, & red potato, and their original vegetable chips, a mix of parsnip, carrot, beetroot, and sweet potato.  It was the later that I tried.
Sweet Potato, Parsnip, Beetroot.
My package said that it contained 64% vegetables in "variable proportions".  I laughed when I read it, until I realized that really gave them free reign to include as much or little of any variety as they wanted.  Which, they did.  My bag didn't seem to include any carrots.  Well, ok then.

The vegetables were all vibrant, the beetroot in particular.  The chips came in decent sized pieces, some curled up in the way I like (extra crispy!).  They certainly looked good.

But ... I didn't care for them.  They were too fried tasting, a bit too oily and greasy.  The salt level was nice, but, I really just couldn't taste any distinct vegetable flavors.  If you blindfolded me I would have not noticed that these were not all the same vegetable.  If you buy veggie chips, don't you generally want to taste the actual vegetables?
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boulangerie Julien, Paris

While in Paris, I ate plenty of pastries.  Some for dessert, some for mid-day treats, some for breakfast.  At one point, I decided I wanted an amazing almond croissant, so I did research into the "best almond croissants in Paris".  I found a blog post that painstakingly reviewed a bunch of almond croissants, comparing and contrasting.  I was eager to seek the top ones out, but alas, the weather failed me (so much rain!), so I opted to stay nearby the hotel and settled for things like mediocre croissants from Liberté, rather than venturing further to the top choices.

But finally, the same came out, and although fairly cool, I headed towards one of the top places: Boulanger Julien.

The distinguishing characteristic of this almond croissant was supposed to be that it wasn't the style where they use a day-old, slice it in half, fill it with frangiane, and re-bake.  Instead it is fresh made, light and fluffy, and still very flaky and risen like a fresh croissant, rather than mushed down like a traditional re-baked almond croissant.  Or so I read.

I was pretty confused when I arrived what I saw didn't match what I read about and anticipated.

It turns out, the blog post I read talked about "Boulanger Julien", which is what I looked for on Google Maps.  Where I ended up was "Boulangerie Julien".  They are not the same.  But it turns out that Google Maps wasn't quite wrong here.  The real name of the place I was supposed to visit is Nelly Julian.  Yes, a boulanger, but called Nelly Julian, not Boulanger Julien as the article said, so Google Maps found me the closest match, Boulangerie Julien.  Doh.

It was made even more confusing because I did actually browse Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews for the place I wound up (not the one I was supposed to be going to), and people mentioned the service, the awards they have won, and the chocolate almond croissant.  The awards were displayed.  Service was what I expected.  People raving in reviews about a chocolate almond croissant at a place with a great almond croissant seemed fitting.  SO almost everything matched up ... except my croissant itself.  Still, I pushed forward and ordered it on that first visit.

At least I didn't wind up somewhere totally random, this place had its own accolades..  They were awarded "Best crescent Paris" by Le Figaro in 2005.  And an award for "Best chocolate bread" in 2007."   I visited several times.

They have 3 locations (although I think one has transferred ownership), but I always visited the same one, closest to my hotel.

The Space

Boulangerie Julien is clearly a local's place.  No one but me stopped to look around at all.  Everyone else rushed in, went straight to register, ordered, and was out within less than a minute.  The line always moves lightening fast.  Oh, and not a single word of English has ever been spoken when I've visited.

I knew to expect this, since I had actually read reviews of the correct place, and everyone mentions how efficient they are.  Once I made up my mind, I stepped into line and ordered my croissant the best I could, and tried to smile and be nice, and was quickly delivered my prize before I could even blink an eye.

I did appreciate the experience of going to a real locals place, stepping outside the more comfortable tourist-ville.  And the prices were incredibly cheap.
Storefront.
Like many Parisian boulangeries, the storefront was adorable to me, just a big sign that said "Boulangerie" an an awning.  No seating.
Ordering Counter, Register, Bread.
Inside was narrow, with glass display cases along the side with cakes, tarts, and savory items.

The bread and pastry line up was behind the register at the front, where everyone orders and pays.

Packaging

As with several other boulangeries and patiseries, I was intrigued in the packaging mechanisms.
Wrapper.
Most impressive was the packaging.  Not because it was fancy like many patiseries I visited, but because the worker did it in one swift motion in literally less than a second.  She grabbed a paper, used it to pick up the croissant, folded it around it, and twisted it up, I think even with one hand, as she rang me up at the same time.  Woah.

The paper was totally saturated in oil by the time I got back to the hotel, less than 20 minutes away, even though this was just an almond croissant.

On another visit I ordered a cheesy savory treat, and that paper actually became translucent, quickly turning into an oily mess.  Um, this paper doesn't exactly do its job.

Sweets

Macarons, Verines, Cakes.
On my first visit, since it was breakfast time, I looked past the decadent line up at the first counter, beautiful small cakes, verines, and macarons.
Cakes, Eclairs, Tarts, Flan.
And I had to skip past the next section, with even more cakes, eclairs in more flavors than I could imagine (including a speculoos one!), and assorted fruit tarts.  Oh, and flan (in 3 flavors) with a flaky pastry crust.  OMG.  These items looked amazing.

Moving past these goodies was really quite hard, and I vowed to return at a time more fitting for flan (sadly, I never did).

Savories

The next section contained savory items (pizza, sandwiches, salads, quiche).  I'm not normally one to pay attention to the savory lineup at boulangeries or patiseries, but at Julien, the goods really did look tempting, and on one visit, I got a savory to take for later.
Pizza, Sandwiches, Salads.
Nearly everything in the savory area did look appealing.

The pizzas had great toppings, and, since from a boulangerie, the crust must be amazing right?

Even the quiches really drew me in, and I don't usually like quiche because I don't like eggy things, but the flaky pastry crusts looked fantastic.  The leek one in particular looked great, with giant slices of leeks perched on top.

Oh, and what about the cheesy stuffed breads?  Or the cheesy hot dog in their housemade rolls?  I really wished that we had visited sometime for lunch, since they (optionally) warm all these items up.  
The only savory items I wasn't tempted by was the sandwiches, although I'm sure those were quite good on their obviously awesome bread.
Tarte Feuilletée: lardons, reblochon, pomme de terre.
One afternoon, I swung by to get something to bring back to hotel with us for later that evening.  I really wanted the pizzas, but I wasn't really sure I would want cold pizza (not that cold pizza is bad, obviously, but I wanted something more likely to be better cold).

So I went for a savory tart, not that different from pizza.  I'd still get cheesy, and I'd also get amazing pastry crust.  Even better than pizza!

Narrowing in on which tart to order was a hard choice.  The simple Provençal was tempting.  As was the one with onions, bacon, and Emmental cheese.  But I settled on the most unique one, Tarte Feuilletée, with Reblochon cheese.  Reblochon is a soft triple cream from France, banned in the US, so this was truly an experience I would not get in the US.  (Yes, I knew that this too would be better hot, but I thought it might still be good cold).

It was good, but I'm positive it would have been better warm.

The crust was everything I wanted it to be.  Flaky and rich.

The crust was covered in a layer of cream fraiche.  Because, Paris.  I'm not one to say no to pastry covered in cream!  So far, so good.

Next came a layer of potatoes.  Now these I could do without.  Maybe the potato would have been better warm?  But cold, soft, potato slices were not appealing.

And then ... the cheese.  I'm sure this is a cheese that is great when melty, but even cold like this, it was pretty good.  I liked the crispy nature to it, and the rinds, still included, were flavorful.

Next, lardons.  The bits of bacon were obviously nice, not fatty, crispy bits.

Overall, I'm glad I tried a savory item.  Without the potatoes, I really would have loved it.  Even so, it was flaky pastry, awesome cheese, and bacon.  Who says no to that?

Next time I'm in Paris, I need to carve out a lunch visit, so I can get something warm.

Viennoiseries

Most of my visits focused on the viennoiseries, located at the front register.  Many of these items came in two sizes, regular or mini.  The minis were 0.65€ each, and included croissants, pain au chocolate, pain aux raisins, and chocolate brioche.  I loved that they offered these, a perfect way to try a bunch of things, or to just have a little treat.
Cookies, Viennoiseries.
The viennoiseries took up two entire cases.

The top row held super caramelized palmiers, meringues, and huge cookies.  Below them was muffins, canneles, crepes, and sable.  The bottom row held sweet breads, beignets, apple turnovers, croissants, pain au chocolat, croissant aux amandes, and pain au chocolate aux amandes (the aforementioned chocolate almond croissants that everyone loves).

I almost grabbed a mini cannele, since I could obviously squeeze in a mini cannele, no matter what other treats lay ahead of me that day, right?
Viennoiseries.
The other side of the display held even more tempting creations, any of which I could totally pretend were breakfast, right?  Chocolate brioche, bostock, brownies, and more.

It is no wonder I was overwhelmed by decision, and just ordered the almond croissant, even though it didn't look anything like I was expecting.
Croissant aux Almandes. 1.90€.
As as I said, this wasn't what I was expecting.  It was clearly the style of a day-old croissant, split in half, filled with frangipane.  It didn't look great, flat like a pancake.

And it wasn't great.

It was loaded with frangipane.  As in, way too much actually.  You couldn't even see the original croissant shape in the final product, as so much frangipane spilled out that it turned it into a near rectangle.  The inside was also still loaded with frangipane.

Inside was moist from the filling, but the frangipane that was outside the croissant was crazy crispy.  This was actually kinda interesting, like an almond cookie/macaroon/etc.  Not what I wanted, but, interesting.

As for the croissant, due to the re-baking, it was basically burnt.  There were some bits on the bottom that really were black, burnt, very off putting.  I like crispy, but, the burnt taste was just too much.  It didn’t have any lightness to it, no airy, flaky croissant layers, it was dense, dense, dense and mushed down.

The top was absolutely coated in powdered sugar and there were tons of sliced almonds on top adding more crispiness.

Also, it was massive.  It weighed a ton.

So did I like it?  Well, sorta.   It was really was too heavy, too large, and didn’t exactly leave me filling great afterwards.  And it wasn't what I was seeking in the first place.  But, it was sweet and crispy, and interesting at least.

This monster was only 1.90€.  I wouldn't get this again, but, if I had even more time in Paris, I'd certainly consider returning, to try the chocolate almond bread that everyone raved about.
Mini Croissant. 0.65€.
On my next visit, I went simple, a croissant.  And, since I wanted to try a couple things, I opted for the mini.

In full size, Boulangerie Julien offers two types of plain croissants: croissants ordinaires (the more curved, softer looking croissants made with margarine), and croissants au beurre (less shaped, pure butter, usually flakier and crispy).  But I just wanted a mini-treat, and the minis only appeared to be in one, unlabelled, form (in addition to chocolate version of course).

Which were these?  I couldn't be sure.  From the looks, they didn't look as crispy as the croissants au beurre, but their shape was less curved than the croissants ordinaires ... but if I had to guess, I'd say it was an ordinaire?

Also, in full disclosure, I picked this up late in the day, which is never when you are supposed to get a croissant.  Croissants are for morning only, and have a shelf-life of like 20 minutes right?  But I wanted just a little something one evening, and wanted something more exciting than just bread.  So, a mini-croissant it was.

It was fine.  The exterior wasn't crispy, it wasn't flaky, and didn't make a mess as I broke off pieces, so it certainly wasn't what some people have in mind as the perfect, flaky croissant.  Instead, it was softer, although obviously still a croissant, with laminated dough in layers.  I actually kinda prefer this style, as strange as that seems.  It had a decent chew to it, not spongy, not too dense.

Overall, actually, decent, but yes, just a basic croissant.  The mini size was just right too, bigger than traditional mini croissants, and plenty satisfying.  The 0.65€ price was fine, although a full size was only 1€.
Mini Chocolate Brioche. 0.65€.
A few days after my first visit, I found myself wandering by, just after consuming a giant pastry, but couldn't resist stopping back in.  I knew Boulangerie Julien sold minis, and I could eat a mini later, right?

The chocolate brioche looked more interesting than a simple croissant, but less sweet than a raisin snail, exactly what I wanted at that point in the day.  Rather than attempt to order it by name, I pointed, smiled, paid, and said "merci", and went on my way within just a few seconds.  I was getting the hang of things!

Sadly, I didn't like it.  The bread was a fairly eggy brioche, sorta like a choux pastry, which I'm really finicky about.  Too much egg.  And only a little chocolate.  Just not very exciting.

The 0.65€ price was in line with mini viennoiseries at other pastry shops.
Chocolate Brioche. 1.80€.
A few days later, I went back for another breakfast treat.  I wasn't in the mood for a croissant, and almost got a filled beignet (they had fresh, huge beignets filled with raspberry, or chocolate, or cream!), but I decided to get the more unique choice.  I could get a great donut in San Francisco.  But I hadn't ever really seen a bread like this chocolate chip one before, so I pointed, ordered, and went on my way.

It turned out to be the large size of the mini I had a few days prior, even though it really didn't look it.  Had I realized that, I obviously wouldn't have gotten it.

But what it looked like was a shiny, fluffy brioche, stuffed with a gooey custard, and chocolate chips.  Doesn't that sound great for breakfast?

And that is what it was, except, well, it was overwhelmingly eggy.  The bread was soft, but, eggy.  And the custard, which is really what drew me in, was really, really eggy.  There was tons of it, and if you liked the custard I'm sure it was great, but alas, this was not for me.  I did like the chocolate chips.

I also wish I had thought to ask for it warmed up (not that I had the language skills to do so).  I think the chocolate when a bit melty would have been awesome.

But alas, I did not.  I won't get this again.

Bread

Of course, this is a boulangerie, and thus they also have bread.  They have won awards for their baguette.
Breads.
The breads are located in baskets behind the displays at the front register.
Tradition, Demi.
One night, Ojan wanted to "be Parisian", and have baguettes with cheese (and butter!) for dinner.  I'm not a fan of just simple bread, but, I was happy for an excuse to swing back by Boulangerie Julien to get him a baguette (and me a little something else ...).

Of course, he didn't want a whole baguette himself (he's not *that* Parisian), so I was happy to see that they also offer half-sizes.  Or at least, it seemed like they did, as I saw full baguettes and half-baguettes behind the counter.  But it almost looked like those were just ones that had broken off?  I really had no idea, and didn't know how to ask for what I wanted.  I browsed the bread list, but couldn't even find "baguette" on it, so I was at a loss.

I observed as local after local came in, asked for "un tradition", and walked away with what I thought was a baguette.  Aha.  So, I don't order baguette, I order tradition.  And then I saw on the list a "demi", and all of a sudden my ancient ballet training came rushing back.  A demi plie is a half plie, right?  So a half-tradition, would be a demi tradition, and a tradition seemed to be a baguette.  So very uh, confidently, I finally approached, and asked for a demi tradition.  The correct item was handed over, and I was quite proud of myself!

That bread was fine, nice crust, good chew, soft interior.  But I'm just really not one to have strong opinions on bread, so, subtleties of how good it really was were lost on me.  Ojan enjoyed it loaded up with cheese, a nice simple meal in the hotel room.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Le Glacier Jeff de Bruges, Paris

Jeff de Bruges is a chain of chocolate shops that started in France in 1986.  I remember walking by several the first time I was in Paris and taking very little notice.  Chocolate shops are fairly common, and this one didn't look particularly special.  Plus, a chain?  Meh.  They are now worldwide with nearly 500 shops.  You too can own a franchise if you want.  I guess they've been pretty successful?

But like I said, just a chain chocolate shop, whatever.  I paid no attention last time I was in Paris.  But on my second visit, something strange happened.

I arrived late in the afternoon, plopped my stuff down in the hotel, and eventually went out for a walk to stretch my legs after a day of travel.  I had no real destination in mind, and it was Sunday evening, so many places were closed.   You'd think I'd make a beeline for the nearest patisserie, if I could find one open, but, I had just spent the week in Lisbon and really over done it on Portuguese pastries and baked goods (including on my flight over from Lisbon, where of course I brought a bag of baked goods to tide myself over for the arduous 2 hour flight).  Foolish on my part, no doubt, knowing I was coming to Paris, but, alas, it was what it was.

As I strolled along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, watching street performers, and just kinda taking it all in, I randomly decided I wanted McDonald's, to try the Le P'tit Hotdog (yes, I know, I was in Paris, and that is what I wanted?  What?  But I love hot dogs, and I love trying McDonald's items in other countries, and had liked the croque McDo last time).  But a block away from McDonald's I got sidetracked by the Jeff de Bruges shop.

I'm so glad I did.
Line Out Front.
There was a line extending out onto the sidewalk.  There were people milling around with really fabulous looking ice cream cones.  I suddenly *needed* ice cream.  Can you tell what kind of state I was in?  I had many great ideas for places to eat in Paris, and treats to seek out, yet here I was veering off my McDonald's path for random ice cream I knew nothing about, from a chain chocolate shop?  I had travel brain fog.

But I was also really missing my daily soft serve.  Back in San Francisco, my office has a froyo machine, and it is an essential part of my daily life Mon-Fri.  I'd been traveling for a week without this normal source of frozen delight, and I was feeling it (although, to be fair, on the first day of my trip, the previous Sunday, I got Ben & Jerry's out of the vending machine at the airport, and on Tues, Wed, and Friday I got amazing frozen yogurt at Weeel in Lisbon (more on that soon), and on Saturday I tried the crazy "soft serve" Cornetto from a convenience store in Cascais (more on that too).  So, uh, actually ... I only had two days without ice cream or frozen yogurt?  Yet I felt very deprived.

Or something.  I don't know.  All I knew is that the cones looked good, the ice cream was fairly brilliant colors, and, well, there was a line.  It didn't matter than it was fairly cold (particularly after being in Lisbon) and I had a jacket on.  It didn't matter that it was nearly 8pm and I should be getting some "real" food.  I needed ice cream.

So I joined the line.  They actually seem to often have lines, and have signs up to form separate lines for ice cream and chocolate, so as to not overwhelm the chocolate shop.  While I was there though, I literally saw no one go through the line for chocolates.  We all wanted one thing: ice cream.
The options.
Signs were in both English and French, making this very easy for me (although I like to think the language of ice cream is universal).

The shop had 4 dispensers, each with 2 flavors, which could of course be swirled if on the same machine.  One machine was frozen yogurt (2%) and had original tart and pomegranate frozen yogurt.  The rest were ice cream, with the choices of Madagascar Vanilla + Super Strawberry, Raspberry + Citrus, and Chocolate + Caramel.  I have no idea why the strawberry was "super".  Many reviews I read later mention pistachio flavor, but, alas, not offered on my visit.

Options were cups or cones in 3 sizes without toppings, or sundaes with unlimited toppings for 3€ more for each size.  There didn't seem to be anything in-between, aka, no way to get say a small cup with just one topping.  I was momentarily at a loss.  When I get soft serve ice cream in the US, I always just get a baby cone with sprinkles or flavored dip.  I just love licking soft serve ice cream from a cone, and think sprinkles are so fun.

I've basically never had soft serve ice cream in a cup, or as a sundae, besides at McDonald's.  But when I get froyo, I always get it in a cup, and I always load on the toppings.  This total contradiction has never occurred to me before.  I also basically never get soft serve ice cream unless it is a warm summer day, and I eat my cone out in the sun, frantically licking it as it melts way too fast.  

So here I was, getting soft serve ice cream, on a cold evening, and considering adding toppings, and, apparently a full sundae.  I was really stepping out of my mold.

I didn't see sample cups, nor anyone asking for samples, so, I realized I had to make my decision without trying any flavors, again, not my usual mode of operation.  I quickly ruled out the froyo, I didn't want chocolate at night, and I don't like citrus, so I was left with caramel, vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry.  Caramel sounded great, but I feared it might be too sweet, and without being able to taste it first, that was just too much of a risk.  I also don't really tend to like strawberry ice cream.  Ok, down to vanilla and raspberry.  Black raspberry is usually my favorite soft serve ice cream, so I hoped the raspberry might be like that.  Still .... risky.  But vanilla is so boring.  I wanted both.  So I asked if it was possible to get two flavors, even if they weren't on the same machine.  I was told yes, but, only in the large size.  I didn't want a large, even the small here looked pretty large, and no baby size was available.  I asked again, a bit differently, "I don't mean swirled or fancy, just, a little of one kind, a little of another?"  The server smiled and told me that the rule was only one unless a large, but, that didn't mean he *couldn't* do it.  He then pointed out that his manager was not there.  Lols.  So, I suggested to him the two flavors I wanted, and, well, I got them.  +1 point for customer service!
Crunchy Toppings.
Then it was time to pick my unlimited toppings.

The first set of toppings was the dry, crunchy ones, including bits of roasted pistachio, speculoos cookie crumble, bits of caramelized macadamia nut, waffle cone chunks, meringue pieces, and dark chocolate cookie chunks.

For my sundae, I opted for some of the caramelized macadamia, since I wanted nuts, and I like macadamias.

Interestingly, the standard nut choices I'm used to, like walnuts and almonds, were not options.  Not that I minded, pistachios and macadamia seem much more exciting to me.
Sauces, Crunchy Toppings on Right, Fruit on Left.
The final two crunchy toppings were "fine crepe pieces" and dark chocolate sprinkles.  I added the dark chocolate sprinkles, and found it pretty interesting that they were different than sprinkles in the US, in that they were much shorter.

Next came the sauces, all in squeeze bottles, which was a bit odd.  Here they had fruity options (raspberry, strawberry, cherry) and sweet ones (hazelnut crunch, speculoos, coconut), but, notably, no chocolate sauce?  At a chocolate shop?  Isn't chocolate sauce the number one ice cream sauce topping?  Also no caramel, but, that is less odd.

From here I selected two sauces, the hazelnut crunch and coconut.  Actually, I asked for hazelnut crunch, and the server accidentally picked up the coconut, and squeezed it on before realizing.  He was ready to start over, but I told him it wasn't a problem, and just got both.  Since he adds the toppings, but they are unlimited, it is a bit odd, as he sits there squeezing the bottle until you stay stop, and he chooses how to distribute things around.  Not ideal, but, it is what it is.

I'm not sure where they kept the cans, but the signs also listed that you could add whipped cream for 1€, strange to not be included in the unlimited toppings set.
Fruit Toppings.
Next came fresh cut fruits and berries: blackberry, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiki, roasted banana, and uh, grapes?

They were all mislabeled ... the blackberries said "strawberry", the kiwi said "mango", and the grapes said "pineapple".  Lols.  It was not just a lost in translation thing either, as the signs were wrongly laid out in both English and French.

I opted for blueberries (whole) and kiwi (cut).
Candy!
And last, candy toppings, assorted gummy candies and jelly beans.  I decided against any of these, although I'm not really sure why.
Small Sundae. 7€.
Here was my final creation, with both Madegascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Raspberry Ice Cream, topped with coconut sauce and hazelnut crunch sauce, kiwi chunks and blueberries, candied macadamia pieces and chocolate sprinkles, assembled as my server desired.

The ice cream was rather amazing.  It was creamier and richer, yet fluffier and more airy than I've ever had in soft serve before.  The thing that kept coming to mind is that this is what soft serve gelato must be like, but I don't even know what I meant by that.  It melted faster than I expected given that it wasn't hot out, but it even melted differently.  I think it really must have used a different (likely higher) fat percentage than soft serve in the US?  I was incredibly fascinated by the texture.

I'm glad I went for two flavors.  The Madagascar vanilla was wonderful, an off-white color, with real true vanilla flavor.  The raspberry though I didn't quite care for, it was too sweet, and too fruity.  Just not what I was in the mood for I guess.  I was relieved I didn't get one all of that flavor.

The fruits were both ripe, fresh, and flavorful.  The fruit was refreshing and a good contrast with the fairly rich ice cream.

The caramelized macadamias were a great pick, they were super crunchy, and I liked the extra sweetness from the caramelization.  Probably my favorite topping.  The chocolate sprinkles, besides being an unfamiliar short and stout shape, were basically just little sprinkles, otherwise lost among the other toppings.

Both sauces were pretty thick, not really "sauces", but were sweet and tasty, and I enjoyed them both.  Far more interesting than standard caramel or butterscotch sauce, although, not nearly as fun as the "rafaweeel" I discovered in Lisbon (again, stay tuned).

Overall, this was a success.  If I had even more time in Paris, I actually would go back.  I'd try the vanilla and caramel next.  I'd keep the same two sauces.  I'd probably go for roasted bananas and strawberries just to mix it up.  I'd maybe try the pistachios, or another crunchy topping.  I'd definitely add in the waffle cone pieces, I actually meant to this time, just somehow forgot.  And .... maybe even go crazy and add whipped cream?

But, alas, only 4 days in Paris, and while I enjoyed this quite a bit, it didn't seem worth one of the very few dessert slots I had remaining.

The 7€ price is certainly more than I usually pay for ice cream, and even just a small with no toppings is 4€, far more than the huge parfait creation I got at Weeel in Lisbon just the day before.  Yup, Paris is an expensive city.  But, delicious.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cathay Pacific Lounge, CDG Airport, Paris

To return to San Francisco from Paris, I flew with British Airways.  Since they don't have a lounge in Charles de Gaulle airport, I had the choice of using American Airline's Admirals club or the Cathay Pacific's lounge.  Or ... both.

I visited the American Airline's Admiral's Club first, which I reviewed last week, since everyone said it had the better food.  They also said Cathay had the nicer space, so that is where I'd want to wind up to spend my time, hence, it made sense to eat at AA, and then go hang at Cathay.

I couldn't help but compare the two lounges.  The space was mostly the same.  American had more extensive food options, but not necessarily better.  Cathay had better drink (alcoholic and not) selections.  Cathay's seating looked nicer, but American's was more functional.  It is a tossup which lounge is best, pick based on your own priorities, or, just visit both, as they are located next to each other.

The Space

The Cathay Lounge looks much nicer than the American one, but, the space wasn't actually quite as usable.  If you care about what the furniture and decor look like, go to Cathay, but if you want comfortable seats and more abundant power, go to American.
Entrance.
The entrance to the Cathay Lounge is directly next to the American one.  Lounge hoping is made easy here!
Cafe Seating.
The layout was nearly identical to the American lounge, with cafe seating (small tables for two), at the entrance, adjacent to the food selection.
High Bar Seating.
And just like the AA lounge, there was a higher bar for seating as well.  However it was far less comfortable, no backs on the seats, and, no power ports.
Lounge Seating.
Soft furniture filled out the rest of the lounge, all the way to the windows, where you could watch aircraft take off.  There were power ports in this area, but not many.

Food & Drinks, 9am

While everyone told me the American Airline's lounge had better food, I think it was a toss up.  Cathay clearly won on the drinks front though.

Drinks

The Cathay drink lineup was impressive, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Cold Drinks.
Coolers held a really fun assortment of canned drinks.  Yes, Sprite and Coke, tonic and iced tea, but also some soy drinks, Fanta, purple ... Orangina, and a fruity something called "Tropical Oasis" that I kinda enjoyed.  Beer was also in here.
Hard Alcohol, Cereal.
The liquor lineup included everything you'd expect, and was laid out with ... the cereal.  They go hand and hand, right?  Cereal was Kellogg's brand, individual boxes/packets, which I appreciated.  I hate cereal dispensers as they always get clogged, dump too much product, or, are full of stale cereal.
Water, Juice, Wine.
Next was a mix of water (still or sparkling), with lemon slices, juices, white wine, red wine, and bubbles.

I appreciated the lemon slices, and the larger bottles of water.
Coffee, Tea.
And finally, coffee and tea.  Ojan was sad that there was no rooibos, or even mint tea, only fruity decaf teas.

I opted for a decaf coffee, ground to order, but not particularly notable.

Food

Unlike the American Airline's Admiral's Club, which had a large lineup of breakfast, savory foods, snacks, and desserts, Cathay only had regular breakfast options.
Noodle Window: Closed :(
Sadly, the signature noodle window wasn't open yet, since it was only 9am.  I can't have noodles for breakfast?
Toast, Jam, Fruit.
The fruit selection was just apples and oranges.  Next to that was simple sliced bread and baguettes, just like American.  But the jam was little pots of Bonne Maman, much higher quality than what AA had.  I enjoyed the apricot jam.
Pastries.
The pastry selection was nearly identical to American: croissants, chocolate croissants, raisin snails, apple turnovers.  I tried a croissant, it was pretty mediocre.  The AA one was slightly better, but neither were particularly good.  Greasy, not really fresh.
Charcuterie, Cheese, Yogurts.
A couple different yogurts, cheeses, and what looked like ham and perhaps turkey bologna came next, plus generic butter, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pickles.  Olive oil and balsamic were available to make a dressing of sorts.

American clearly won here, with real salads, much better looking cheeses and meats, and, well, labelled items.
Hot Foods: Scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, roasted mushrooms.
The hot food lineup was also far less extensive.  No pancakes or quiche here!  Just basic scrambled eggs, baked beans, sausages, and roasted mushrooms.
Congee, Toppings.
But they did have one more item: congee!

It sounds silly, but sometimes, I really like congee.  Warm, comforting, basically pudding right?  It was fine, except that it wasn't really warm.  Fairly cold.

Garnishes included chives, parsley(?), and peanuts, plus soy sauce.

I enjoyed it, but it would have obviously been better if hot, or even warm.
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