Monday, September 18, 2017

Papa John's Pizza

Update Review, September 2017

Another year, another free Papa John's pizza as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays.

While I wasn't super excited about Papa John's the first year, this year, I was looking forward to it, since I was pleasantly surprised by the tasty crust and amazing garlic dipping sauce last time.  Plus, I had ideas on how to refine my pizza, and knew exactly what I wanted to order.

Last year, I was impressed with the speed and friendly service.  This year ... not so much.  Same location, different staff member, entirely different experience.  It took forever for my pizza to be ready, and in the end, it was actually sitting there for quite a while before it was handed over.  Also ... I'm pretty sure most of the flaws with my pizza were entirely his fault.  And to be fair, it was not busy, and I was the only customer.  If this was my first Papa John's pizza, I assure you, tasty garlic sauce or not, I would never return.
Medium, Original Crust, Regular Bake, Square Cut, 1/2 Pineapple, 1/2 Onion, BBQ sauce, light cheese. $16.49.
I changed a few elements from my previous order, taking my own advice.

Since I liked the soft, fluffy, original crust last year, I stuck with it (plus, I knew I didn't like the thin crust, and I have bad associations with pan crust from Pizza Hut ...).  I also stuck with the "regular" (instead of "well done") bake, and went for the less standard square cut, that I found so useful.

Unfortunately, this pizza, while those components were ordered the same was as before, was not at all the same.  Where was the puffy, soft, lightly golden, tasty crust from my previous pizza?  This crust didn't puff up, was dark brown, and was quite hard.  Overcooked for sure, but also, it seemed overworked and like it had not risen properly.  Since I was most looking forward to the crusts to dip in the sauce, this was quite sad.

I didn't like the regular pizza sauce last time (too sweet and tangy), so this time, I decided to try the bbq sauce.  The bbq sauce was also sweet, which comes as no surprise, given that the second ingredient (after water) is sugar.  Third ingredient?  Brown sugar.  Both before tomato paste and vinegar are two sugars.  Sweetness like this is more normal in bbq sauce than tomato sauce though, so it seemed more fitting.  It had a light taste of tomato and tang of vinegar, and seasoning from cumin, chili peppers, oregano, and garlic.  But, overwhelmingly, mostly just sweet, so not really possible to taste nor appreciate the other aspects of it.  I wouldn't go for BBQ sauce again.  The final sauce option is ranch, which perhaps I'd try, but honestly, I think I'd rather leave the sauce off entirely, and just have it more like cheesy bread.
Speaking of cheese, we decided to go for "light" cheese rather than regular, which doesn't actually change the type of cheese, only the quantity.  This was a mistake.  Well, it was probably worse due to the skill of my pizza maker, but many edge pieces had no cheese at all.  Only the center slices had cheese.  We ended up adding our own cheese at home, as it was really just lacking.  The cheese that was there was pretty standard, part skim mozzarella (with modified food starch, sugarcane fiber, whey protein concentrate, sodium citrate, and sodium propionate in there for good measure).

For toppings, I went for pineapple (since it goes great with bbq on a classic Hawaiian) and onion (to hedge my bets).

The pineapple bits, er, "tidbits" per the menu, were certainly the canned variety, sweet, and made even sweeter by the addition of sugar.  Yes, the ingredients list pineapple, water, sugar, and some bonus citric acid too.  There wasn't anything wrong with it, but it was very sweet, and with the sweet bbq and no cheese to balance it out, it was just too much.

The onion was actually good.  Onion and bbq were a great combo.  I wish there was more of it though, most slices had 1-2 pieces at most.  These did seem to be real vegetables, "fresh US #1 yellow onions" are the only ingredient listed.

Overall, this was a flop.  The hard crust just ruined it.  The bbq sauce was too sweet.  The toppings were eh.

Future Julie: stick with original crust, regular bake, square cut.  Consider ranch, but probably go sauceless.  Go for onions again, or maybe pepperoni for Ojan.

I got this for free, but normally it would be $16.49, which is way too pricey for such a low quality pizza.

Special Garlic Sauce. $0.65.
But let's talk about that garlic sauce.

Yes, this stuff is a horrible blend of chemicals.  Yes, it tastes just like amazing butter sauce yet contains no butter.  It is terrifying.  And it is delicious.  Liquid delicious.

Soybean oil and water are the base, mixed with some spices that make sense (garlic, salt, "natural flavors"), and then, a slew of additives: vegetable mono & diglycerides and soy lecithin are the magic that makes it to perfect smooth runny melted butter consistency,  lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA, and citric acid add "freshness", natural beta carotene gives it the color, and vitamin A palmitate  is used to "enhance flavor".  Uh, yeah.  Better to not look.

And don't look at the nutrition stats, 150 calories in the little container, all 150 from fat.  

A single container is included with every Papa John's order (no idea why, really, and there is no way to opt-out, or ask for a different dipping sauce instead, but there is no reason you should possibly want to do that anyway).  If you want more, it, like all dipping sauces, are available for $0.65 each.

This was the saving grace of our order.  It makes anything you dunk in it tasty, overcooked or not.
All the free seasonings: Crushed Red Pepper, Parmesan Cheese, Special Seasoning.
I also asked for all the seasoning packets, just to experiment.

The crushed red pepper was totally standard, "dried cut ripe chili peppers", nice for a bit of kick, and something I grew up adding to pizza.

Papa John's can't seem to stop adding sugar to things.  Yup, the parmesan cheese includes sugar of sorts, sugar cane fiber, to prevent caking?   And they add some natamycin to prevent mold.  Lots of additives everywhere.

Finally, the "special seasoning".  This really was basically just spices, I'm not sure what exactly besides salt, garlic, and dried onion though, as the ingredients just say "spices" and "natural flavor" (plus fun things like wheat starch and soybean oil).  I was surprised by how finely ground it was though, it made it hard to really taste much of anything  besides salt and vague spiceness, even when I tried it plain.

Overall, nothing to really note about these, good to add a bit to your pizza, and nice that they include them for free if you ask.

Original Review, 2016

I rarely order pizza.  Sure, I had plenty of pizza growing up, takeout pizza at birthday parties, personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut for Book It, my dad's homemade pizza when my mom worked nights.  When I was in college, I had way more than my fair share of monster slices (with blue cheese to dip my crust in!) delivered late at night to my dorm room.  I went through a phase where I loved making bagel pizzas in my toaster oven.  I discovered deep dish pizza (no, not Pizzaria Uno, I'm talking the good stuff like Little Star), and couldn't get enough.  I went through an artisanal thin crust 900 degree wood fired trendy pizza phase (like Tony's Pizza Napoletana).  My office had a pizza oven for a while, and we had pizza every day.  I've certainly eaten, and enjoyed, plenty of pizza.

And I like carbs.  I love cheese.  I adore toppings.  But, for some reason, pizza has fallen off my list of preferred foods as of late, and I'm really not sure why.  I keep trying to like pizza, and just ... don't.  The only exception is when I transform it via my waffle iron, of course.

But Ojan loves pizza, and one day I had a coupon for a free large 1-topping carryout pizza from Papa John's (thanks, T-Mobile Tuesdays!).  Not one to pass up a freebie, I of course used it as a chance to try Papa John's again for the first time in years.

Do you need me to tell you about Papa John's?  It is a pizza franchise, the 3rd largest in the world (behind Dominos and Pizza Hut, with ~5,000 locations worldwide.  Fairly impressive, given that it was only started in 1983, yes, by a guy named John.

Ordering from Papa John's website was actually kinda fun.  They let me customize far more than I was expecting, and, illustrated it the whole way.

First, the crust.  I could choose my style (original, thin, pan), and then my size (medium, large, extra-large for original, large only for thin, or 12" for pan), and then how it was cut (normal, square), and finally, how it was baked (normal, well done).  There was so much I found novel at just this crust selection step.

For example, sizes.  If the pizza comes in medium, large, and extra-large ... how is that not just small, medium, large?  Have they inflated the sizes so much small no longer exists?  And why does thin crust only come in one size (large)?  And why is pan crust specified in inches, a real metric, rather than these arbitrary sizes?  How does a 12" compare to a large? (If you care, the internet implies that they did used to make a 10" small, but now only have the 12"/14"/16" sizes, the thin crust comes only in large because it isn't made in-store, and the pan pizza comes only in 12" which is a medium in original crust).

Then, cut.  Normal or square?  I had no idea that I had options like this.  I clicked on "square", and watched my pizza illustration change from "normal", 8 triangle slices, to 4 crustless squares in the center, 8 square-ish slices with crust, and 4 rounded corners that were more than 50% crust.  Well, huh.  When getting a large pizza, I immediately saw the appeal.  8 same size slices never really is ideal, is it?  Someone always wants more, but not a full slice more.  Someone always discards the crust.  Someone else always wants the crust for dipping.  With square cut, you can take a small piece more.  You can opt for crust or not.  You can go for the little corners with all the crust.  So much better for groups.  Why is this not an option at more places?  Or is it, and you just have to ask normally?

And finally, baked regular or well-done.  I guess that is for the folks who want really crispy pizza?

Next up was sauce.  I had choices: original (aka, tomato based pizza sauce), bbq, or ranch.  I could choose how much sauce (normal, light, extra, no).  Again, I guess you can ask any place to go light or heavy, but it was great having it built into the ordering process without feeling like asking for something special.  While there was only one choice for cheese, I again could pick if I wanted it light.

Finally, toppings.  For meats, I could add pepperoni, bacon, canadian bacon, grilled chicken, sausage, spicy sausage, beef, anchovy, and salami.  Veggies were pineapple, onion, black olive, roasted garlic, jalapeno peppers, roma tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, green peppers, and banana peppers.  Oh, and here was more cheese customization, extra cheese, 3-cheese blend, or parmesan romano.  You can opt for half toppings, and choose which half, again, nicely illustrated.

I had way too much fun playing with the online pizza maker, particularly the toppings.  It animated them dropping on!

Since my coupon was for a single topping large pizza only, I didn't spent too much time exploring the rest of the menu, but, Papa John's is basically just a pizza place, no other entrees, no token salads or pasta dishes.  They do have a few starters, a slew of different forms of breadsticks (original, cheese, Tuscan 6-cheese, garlic parmesan, Wisconsin cheese stuffed, bacon cheddar stuffed), garlic knots, wings (buffalo, bbq, honey chipotle, plain), and chicken poppers.  Oh, and dipping sauces.  All pizzas come with their magic garlic dipping sauce, but they also have bbq, ranch, buffalo, blue cheese, honey mustard, cheese, and pizza sauce dipping cups, $0.65 each.  As a dipper, this is a highlight for me, although I wish you could sub in another sauce for the garlic sauce from time to time, since they are all the same price.  I could have added on crushed red pepper or special seasoning packets (complimentary), but I totally forgot, as they weren't part of the pizza making flow.  Doh.

Of course I did glance at the dessert options, but alas, no dessert pizzas here.  They do have a huge family size chocolate chip brownie cut into 9 squares and a large format 8 slice chocolate chip cookie, both served warm, plus local It's It Ice Cream Sandwiches, and the only one that looked good, cinnamon pull aparts, sweet roll pieces covered in cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with cream cheese icing.  Alas, my freebie was not for dessert.

Anyway, I easily ordered my pizza from the San Francisco location online.  I could have specified a pick-up time in the future, but I opted to get it ASAP, worried that saying I wanted it at 5pm, could mean they'd make it early to prepare, and it would be less fresh.  Of course, this meant I didn't know exactly when it would be ready, and the online system just told me that I'd get an e-mail with more info.  The e-mail said ... 5-15 minutes!  Luckily, I was just a couple blocks away.

My pizza was ready when I arrived, and, my order was correct.  The sole guy running the place looked up when I entered, greeted me (even though he was in back making pizza), and hurried out to help me.  He double checked my order, handed it over with a smile, and was really quite pleasant.  Perhaps I lucked out, as I honestly was a bit worried about the whole thing, given Yelp reviews consistently saying that online orders were not received and that the staff are rude.

My entire experience was pleasant, from ordering, to pick up, to consumption.  Is Papa John's amazing pizza?  Nah.  But it was well made pizza, and the garlic sauce is really a thing of (awful) beauty.
Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza. $18.74.
I could say this was just a "Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza", but, if you want the real order, it was a Large, Original Crust, Square Cut, Regular Bake, Original Sauce, Normal Amount Sauce, Normal Amount Cheese, Sausage Pizza.  As with all Papa John's pizzas, it came with a single pepperoncini on the side and a single pot of garlic sauce, each of which you can order more of for $0.65.

The box was warm, and the pizza looked like any old standard takeout pizza.

The SF location does not have any seating, but, I wanted to try it hot, so I pulled out one small slice as I walked down the street, pizza box tucked under my arm.  Don't judge.  (Side note: this is part of the beauty of the square cut, I could pick just a small piece, easy to hold and munch on the go, rather than a full sized triangle slice).

It was indeed hot and fresh.  It was a well made pizza, for this style of pizza.  It had plenty of cheese, equal coverage to the edges.  Generic, shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, not too greasy.  The sauce was also well distributed, and in a proper proportion, although, I didn't quite care for the tangy, herby nature to it.  Maybe I'd get light sauce next time, or even switch in the bbq or ranch.  My topping pick, sausage, came in a good quantity, although the coverage wasn't quite even.  The sausage was fine, a bit spicer than I expected given that they also have a spicy sausage, but I didn't mind this at all.

But the sauce, cheese, and topping weren't particularly interesting to me.  It is those elements that have made me kinda sick of pizza.  What I cared about was the crust and the dipping sauce.

Again, the beauty of the square cut, is that I could opt for those tiny corner pieces that were 80% crust.  The loser piece to many, but for me, the prize.  The crust was fluffy and light, crispy on the bottom, puffy and doughy on the edges.  It had a good chew to it, as in, not chewy, and a subtle sweetness that I really liked.  Sure, still generic takeout pizza crust, but, I liked it.

Ok, maybe I just liked the garlic dipping sauce?  The Papa John's "Special Garlic Sauce".  A magical mix of scary ingredients, that tastes like liquid garlic butter (although, it, uh, has no butter).  The garlic is great.  The buttery nature is great.  It transforms crusts into what you always want a garlic breadstick to be.  If you read the ingredients however, you'll be scared: soybean oil, vegetable mono & diglycerides, soy lecithin,  lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA, citric acid ... Their online ingredient guide does tell you why they add each of these things (some help maintain the consistency, others for freshness, others for color).  But still.  I pretended it was just totally natural liquid garlic butter of perfect consistency at room temperature.

I enjoyed my crusts dipped in the garlic sauce.  I appreciated that, even though a generic pizza, it was made some decent care.  I can't imagine paying $18.74 for this though.

I found some notes later that I had actually tried the thin crust (with pineapple on top), before.  I didn't like the thin crust, noting that it was "very cardboard-like.  Thin and fairly useless.  Not sure why I ordered thin crust, I know generic pizza places are better at regular crust!"  So, original crust it is.  I also didn't like the sauce then, saying it was too sweet, and that there was far too much of it for a thin crust pizza.  The cheese then was well melted and in the proper amount too.  The pineapple was little chunks, good distribution, but just canned stuff.  And I loved the spice packet on the side for the zing.

Papa John's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Read More...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Quinn Popcorn

I've reviewed a lot of popcorn by now.  You know it is my favorite snack food.  You know I have ... a problem.

But I also have a new discovery.  A real innovation in microwave popcorn.  Yes, really.  They have changed things.

Let me introduce Quinn Popcorn.  Their tag line is that they are reimagining food.  I don't entirely disagree.  They make bagged, popped popcorn, microwave popcorn,  and pretzels (gluten-free).

I know that doesn't sound very interesting, but, Quinn took the concept of microwave popcorn, and made it ... more work for you.  More work, but, more payoff.

You have to add the oil.  You have to add the seasonings.  You have to shake.  A lot.  They don't have make crazy flavors, and you likely have all the ingredients in your own pantry to do this without their popcorn kits.  You could just pop plain popcorn and add oil and seasonings from your own pantry at a fraction of the cost.  But they do combine it all together in one pretty box, and use quality ingredients.  I'm not entirely sure it is worth the rather high cost (I paid $5.99 for 2 bags of popcorn ... nearly movie theater prices!), but, it is clearly a high quality product.  I also tried their more mainstream popped bagged popcorn.

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave Popcorn is available in 5 varieties, 4 savory (Just Sea Salt, Real Butter & Sea Salt, Real White Cheddar, and Parmesan & Rosemary) and 1 sweet (Vermont Maple Kettle Corn).  I tried one of each category.
Packaging.
The boxes are all cardboard, which I guess all popcorn boxes are, but these felt ... nicer?  They weren't covered in glossy writing and bright colors.

The packaging really matches the product.
Descriptions: Aged Parmesan & Rosemary.
Inside each box is two bags of popcorn, two pouches of oil, and and two seasoning packets.

On the back side of each is info on what's inside, down to the details such as "rosemary: grown and dried in peru and spain"  and "sea salt: harvested in brazil".
Clearly Labelled Packages: Aged Parmesan & Rosemary.
On the front,  the packets are clearly labelled as steps #1 and #2.

So, how easy to make was this?

Well, the popcorn step was like any other microwave popcorn.  Put in microwave on high for 3 minutes, stay close by, listen for popping to slow, grab it before it burns.  Elevate if you have convection oven.  Easy enough.

The bag itself seemed to just be paper.  It even said it was compostable on it.  It wasn't coated in plastic inside.

The popcorn comes out entirely plain, very unlike any other microwave popcorn I've made.  Not only did the bag not have a plastic lining, it didn't seem to have anything but popcorn in it.  No "butter", "oil", or other chemicals in there.  Just a paper bag.  And out of it?  Just, plain popcorn.  Good plain popcorn.  So far, not very interesting.

Now, to transform it.  Pouch #1, for both varieties I tried, was sunflower oil.  I easily opened the pouch with one hand, given the little slit in the packaging.  Points to them for that.  And I poured in some oil.  I'll admit, the first time, it felt a bit weird pouring in so much oil.  I poured on about a third, and started shaking it.  I actually thought I wouldn't use it all, and could go a bit lighter.  But ... it really does all soak in.  So I added more.  Shook again.  And more.  It felt a bit gross adding so much oil, when you can see how much you are adding, but, it was the right amount, and I used it all.

Finally, step 3, the seasoning.  It was a bit harder to get evenly throughout.  I dumped some in, shook, and then went to add more, and saw most of it still on top.  So I shook even more, but still, it didn't distribute very well.  I started creatively adding more, down the sides, and then shook, and it all worked out, but, it wasn't quite as easy as they make it seem.

This popcorn does take effort.

The second time, I did it kinda in batches.  I did probably 60% of pouch #1 (oil) in a few batches, and again, felt crazy adding so much oil, but every taste test I did, tasted better the more oil I added.  I set the rest aside, to see if I really needed it, and got to work on pouch #2 (seasoning), again, in little pours with intermixed shakes.  I taste tested as I went.  Then, I poured out the top half off the bag, and got back to work on the bottom half of the bag.  Sure, it had some of the oil and seasoning already, but, I added the rest to the second half of the bag, and again, taste tested as I went.  The more oil and seasoning you add, the better it gets, so, yeah, just use it all.

Next time,  might just dump it into a big bowl for easier mixing?
Final Product: Aged Parmesan and Rosemary.
"Parmesan & popcorn, we totally stole your idea."

The end result?

Pretty good popcorn.  The base popcorn was actually really quite good, nicely crunchy, kinda light.  The oil wasn't too oily.  And the coating?  Really tasty.  Slightly cheesy, hint of rosemary, slightly salty.  The seasoning for this really was just parmesan cheese, sea salt, and dried rosemary.

Overall, really quite good, and, yes, different from regular microwave popcorn.

Ojan came out when he heard me shaking and shaking and shaking some more, and asked to try it.  He also loved it, and asked for his own portion.

Of course, there is nothing about this that required that you buy Quinn popcorn.  You could pop any good quality plain popcorn (they do sell the kernals too), add a high quality oil, and dump in parmesan cheese, salt, and dried rosemary from your own spice rack.  I'm sure you could achieve the same quality level.  At a fraction of the price.  But, Quinn does make it easier, if you want quality popcorn.
Final Product: Vermont Maple Kettle Corn.
"Like a fresh stack of flapjacks that you can eat with your hands."

I love kettle corn.  There is a stand at the farmer's market in my hometown that makes the most amazing kettle corn ever.  No other kettle corn ever compares, but, of course, I try it everywhere I see it.

More context: I grew up in New Hampshire, on the border of Vermont, with a family that makes their own maple syrup.  And somehow, maple kettle corn was entirely new to me.  I not only had never had it, I honestly just never even thought of it.

The popcorn and the sunflower oil for this were the same as the parmesan and rosemary flavor, the only difference is the seasoning packet, this time filled with just two things: maple sugar and salt.

Given my sugaring upbringing, maple sugar is not new to me (I have a shaker in my pantry, alongside my other sugars).  Putting sugar and salt on popcorn is the classic recipe for kettle corn.  Why it never occurred to me to put maple sugar I don't know.  But I'm glad I have now.

As with the other flavor, the popcorn itself was light and fluffy, quality stuff.  As with the other, I felt crazy adding so much oil, but, it was necessary to make it even tastier.  The maple sugar and salt was a nice combination, not super maple-y, but sweet, a bit more fun than regular kettle corn.

It still wasn't as amazing as the farmer's market kettle corn, but I liked the maple flair, and would get it again.

Packaged Popcorn

Quinn also sells bagged, popped popcorn, in 3 plain (olive oil, coconut oil, or sea salt), 1 quasi interesting flavor (white cheddar), and 1 .. strange one (super kale and sea salt).  I went for the later.
Super Kale Popcorn.
"Organic kale + popcorn = snackable superfood."

I obviously like popcorn.  I obviously like it both sweet and savory.  I don't mind kale.  

But kale popcorn?

This did not work for me.

It was green.  Very green.  That was fun.  It was a healthy option, only 43 calories per cup, compared to the standard oh, 240 calories per cup of caramel corn I usually go for.  But.  That didn't matter.

It tasted like kale.  Too much like kale.  It also had carrot, onion, and garlic, but I just tasted kale.  When eating popcorn, it turns out, I don't want to taste kale.
Read More...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Frozen Yogurt at Pinkberry

Update Review #6: July & September 2017


My local Pinkberry has the lamest flavors. Always. They had peanut butter, and other good ones, back when they opened, but in the past few years, I've been really disappointed. Pinkberry makes good flavors, I just don't understand why my shop never has any of the sweet interesting flavors.

This year, I visited for my annual free birthday treat, and was met with yet another disappointing flavor lineup.  2 sweet, 2 tart, and 2 non-dairy: Tart Original and Pomegranate, sweetChocolate Hazelnut and Blueberry Muffin, and non-dairy Coconut Milk Coconut and Just Fruit Tropical Mango.

The first three they always have.  Original is just boring.  The pomegranate is always too tart.  The chocolate hazelnut always fails to impress.  Boo to those.

I tried the other three.  Meh to mango sorbet.  The "Blueberry Muffin" I had tried once before, but still gave it another try.  It did indeed taste somewhat like a muffin, but it was also too tart, and also icy.  The coconut milk based coconut flavor was ok, so I opted to do a side-by-side with the lackluster chocolate hazelnut.  They seemed like they would go together well.

My creation wasn't very good.
Chocolate Hazelnut & Coconut Side-by-Side. Almond Roca, Candied Pecans, Dark Chocolate Chips, Fresh Kiwi.  Small.  $5.25.
Chocolate Hazelnut
"Decadent and sweet chocolate with a hint of hazelnut from real Nutella"

I got the chocolate hazelnut mostly because I didn't like anything else.  This one at least is decently creamy, unlike every other flavor that is always icy.  But, I never really taste the hazelnut, and the chocolate isn't that intense.  Meh.

Coconut Milk Coconut
"Made with real coconut milk."

This was decent in a small sample cup, but, it was extremely overwhelming in a real portion.  Way too strong of coconut flavor.  I like coconut, but this I didn't like.  Even as it melted, even when combined with the chocolate, I just didn't like it.  Too intense, with a strange mouthfeel.  They do add "coconut flavor" to the coconut milk base, whatever that means ...

My toppings also weren't very successful.

On the chocolate side, I had almond roca and mini dark chocolate chips.  The crushed almond roca was even disappointing, and that is one I normally like.   It normally has bigger bits and this was kinda just powder.  The little dark chocolate chips weren't particularly flavorful, not nearly as deep a flavor as the dark chocolate curls they used to have a Pinkberry.

On the coconut side, I opted to try the candied pecans, which were sweet and crunchy, and actually good, and the fresh cut kiwi, which was the best part of my entire treat.  The kiwi really was ripe and tasty ... all 4.5 nibbles I had of it.

Note to self: just get the boring original and load it up with the fresh fruit.  The fruit really does seem to be the best thing at Pinkberry.

My treat was free as a birthday reward, but normally this is >$5, which seems crazy.

[ No Photo ]
Other Flavors

Blueberry Muffin Frozen Yogurt (Summer 2017 Seasonal)."Cool down without heating up the oven with our sweet new blueberry muffin favor."

For summer, Pinkberry introduced a new flavor, and new topping to go along with it, Blueberry Muffin froyo, with blueberry muffin crumbles.

I tried it, but, I wasn't impressed.  Why was it "Blueberry Muffin"?  It just tasted fruity and tart.  It was fine I guess, but not muffin-like, and not particularly interesting.

Just Fruit Tropical Mango (non-dairy).
"Real tropical mango and pineapple that tastes like sunshine."

I didn't taste the sunshine, sorry.  But it wasn't wasn't very mango-y, because of all the other tropical fruits mixed in.  It turned out to be a mix of mango, banana puree, white grape juice, pineapple juice, and pear juice, lots of fillers in addition to the mango.  I don't like sorbet, but tried it because I have liked the mango froyo before.  Sadly, no, this was just sorbet, very icy.

Review #5, August 2016

Pinkberry has expanded beyond basic tart and sweet frozen yogurt.  They now offer a number of dairy-free flavors, and, finally, soft serve ice cream.  For dairy free, you can pick from "Just Fruit" flavors (strawberry, peach passion, or tropical mango) or you can opt for a coconut milk base (available in regular coconut or salted caramel flavors).  Ice cream comes in only one flavor "milk", is low-fat, and not available in San Francisco.

In fact, the San Francisco shop flavors continue to disappoint me.  When I went to redeem my birthday freebie, I was again faced with no flavors I wanted.  My choices were the standard tart, pomegranate, blood orange, and chocolate hazelnut that they always have, plus peach and the plain coconut milk based one.  I tried 4 flavors before I settled on two, but, honestly, I didn't want any of these flavors.  Why does our store never carry the good ones anymore?
Pomegranate Froyo and Coconut Milk Coconut Side-By-Side, With Cookie Dough, Cheesecake, Almond Roca, and . Small.
Even though I didn't really like them, I opted for Pomegranate and Coconut Milk Coconut, because the others were just way too sweet.  The coconut milk flavor was dairy-free.  In retrospect, I really should have considered the Original flavor.  Oops.

The pomegranate was slightly fruity, and very sweet.  Rather icy and not very smooth.  I know people love Pinkberry, but, there is much creamier froyo out there (like Yoppi, or my favorite local Prima Cafe).  As it melted, it got even worse, it separated into liquid and ice.  Meh.

The coconut milk flavor was about the same consistency, but was very rich.  Extremely coconut flavored.  It was a bit much, really.  It was also sweet.  I had hoped this would tame the sweet pomegranate, but it didn't.  I don't think I'd get it again, as it as just too much coconut for me.

For toppings, I went a bit crazy.  I had to rule out all fruit toppings since they had watermelon, which was sad, since the mangos and blueberries looked great.  I couldn't risk it.

I decided to get a bunch of toppings that I'd never had before, just to really mix it up.  And since I was saddened by the froyo flavors themselves, I decided to go big on toppings, hoping they'd jazz up the lackluster flavors.

So, I started with the most decadent option: cheesecake cubes.  They were awful! Cubes of mushy warm cheesecake, coated in some graham crumbles.  I tried a few, and discarded the rest.  Would certainly never get again.

The cookie dough balls were better, but not remarkable.  At least they weren't gross like the Baskin-Robbins ones?

Next up came almond roca, standard chocolate toffee crumbles, sweet, crunchy, fine.

My final topping you can't see here, but it was little pink balls.  I honestly had no idea what it was, I think she said they were pomegranate blueberry crunch balls?  They added great crunch, but were otherwise flavorless.

So, overall, not really great.  My toppings, besides the cheesecake, were all fine, but I wouldn't really recommend any of them.  And I didn't really care for the froyo itself.

I also sampled a few others:
  • Blood Orange: "Exquisite and succulent tart citrus with a zing".  Just like last year when I tried a sample, it was crazy sweet.  I honestly don't understand how they take a tart thing like citrus and make it so sweet.  I did not like this at all.
  • Peach: "Everything Is Peachy! light and succulent taste of a fresh harvested peach".  This is a summer flavor, and, we'll, it too was too sweet.  The peach was lost in the sugar.
A few months prior, I was on the East Coast, and got to sample the ice milk ice cream, when Ojan's niece couldn't finish hers, and I couldn't let it go to waste.  It tasted … well, like milk.  I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not.  Better than the froyo, but, compared to other soft serve ice cream, not as good.

Review #4, August 2013 and 2014

Many businesses give out freebies for your birthday, but usually they are chain restaurants, or fast food joints, and aren't really things I want (although, I've of course checked out many of them!).  This year, when my birthday rolled around, there was one freebie I was really looking forward to: Pinkberry!

Since I've reviewed them several times already, I'll skip the general details, and focus only on my experience on this particular visit.

The staff was friendly enough, happy to let me sample a few flavors first (in fact, the first question I was asked wasn't "What would you like?", but instead, "Would you like to try any flavors?").  And the cashier even wished me a Happy Birthday (always a great touch!).  And it was a beautiful sunny day, and I enjoyed the fact that they had outside seating.

My froyo was great, and I'll certainly be back again.

August 2013

Peanut Butter Froyo topped with Dark Chocolate Curls and Almond Roca, Mango Froyo topped with Blueberries and Mochi.  Small.  $4.95.
For my flavors I decided on two that I have always loved: Peanut Butter and Mango.  Of course, those flavors do not go together at all, so I had them side by side rather than swirled, and ate them separately.  My last few bites did have a little bit of each in them, as they had melted somewhat at that point, and ... yeah, mango and peanut butter just do not go together :)  But, I honestly don't know how I'd pick just one, so side by side it is!  I love that Pinkberry lets you have any two flavors you want in this way.

Peanut butter is the most decadent of their flavors.  While some are low-fat or non-fat, the peanut butter is definitely not.  They use real peanuts, which, yup, contain fat.  I'm certain that using real nuts is what makes it so delicious.  It is creamy and just so peanut buttery.  Always one of my favorite peanut butter froyos anywhere.

I love a chocolate and peanut butter combo, so I wanted chocolate based toppings on that side.  I had many choices, including milk or dark chocolate shavings, chocolate crunch balls, brownie bites, crushed cookies, chocolate granola, mini chocolate chips, or almond roca.  I have gone with the almond roca on many other occasions, and liked it, so I went for it again.  This time however, I didn't love it.  It was ok, I mean, it is chocolate covered toffee and ground up almonds, totally delicious, but it actually just seemed a bit too sweet to me.  The real winner on my peanut butter froyo was the dark chocolate shavings.  I was shocked by how much I liked them.  The chocolate was actually really good, slightly bitter, and the size of the shavings made them really fun to eat, added a bit of a crunch, and were big enough to really taste against the peanut butter froyo.  I'd certainly get the chocolate shavings again.  Surprising how the most simple seeming topping can be the best!

Mango is another one of their froyo flavors that I've gotten many times, although I've usually paired it with something more appropriate, like lychee.  I knew it wouldn't go with the peanut butter, but I didn't care.   I wanted a fruity tart option too!  And it was.  Not as creamy as the peanut butter, but still fairly smooth, nicely tart, and with strong mango flavor.  It was a refreshing contrast to the richer peanut butter.

With the fruity froyo, I wanted a light, fruit topping.  I've had such mixed experiences with the Pinkberry fruit toppings, ranging from underripe mangos to amazingly delicious raspberries, but generally the fruit is good, although not remarkable.  It all looked ripe and fairly fresh, so I took a gamble and went for blueberries.  They were as expected - not mushy, ripe, but not extraordinary.  Good enough, and I'd get this again.

I was a bit stumped on what to pick for my final topping.  I could go for another fruit, as the strawberries and raspberries both looked good, and would pair nicely.  I could add something crunchy, as there were plentiful choices, ranging from all sorts of nuts (caramelized almonds, slivered almonds, mixed nuts) to several varieties of granola.  But instead my eyes were drawn to the mochi.  The last time I had mochi on my froyo, I said I wouldn't get it again.  But I really liked the flavor combination of the sliced fresh mango and mochi when I used them as toppings on the Greek yogurt, and since I was having mango froyo, I thought it would go well.  Like all other occasions, the mochi was good.  Soft, glutenous, a tiny bit sweet.  And like before, I liked the mango and rice flavors together, reminding me of mango sticky rice.  But ... I still don't think mochi is a very good froyo topping.  I'm not sure what it is about it, I just do not like the soft mochi with the soft froyo.  I mostly pushed the mochi aside, and ate them at the end, in a pool of mango flavored melty goodness.

I also sampled the green tea frozen yogurt.  It was very creamy, but didn't have a strong enough green tea taste for my liking.

I'm still always shocked by the price of Pinkberry.  With no toppings a small is $3.50; with toppings $4.95.  Their stuff is quality for sure, but it always seems steep.  Of course, this was my birthday freebie, so I'm not complaining.

August 2014

Another year, another free birthday froyo!  The very first warmish day in the month around my birthday I headed straight to Pinkberry to redeem my freebee.  I was really looking forward to this, and hoped to get peanut butter.  But alas, my choices were fairly lame: chocolate hazelnut, which I've never liked and pomegranate which I wasn't interested in, neither of which I even bothered to try.  The promising sounding Vanilla Latte had a decent coffee flavor, but was incredibly icy.  I'm glad I sampled it first, because I wouldn't have wanted a whole cup of it.  Strawberry Banana was another sweet and not tart option, and it had pretty good flavor ... except that I don't actually like strawberry froyo or ice cream.  Thus, I was left with only the two tart options: pineapple and original.  I considered coming back another day instead, but, it was sunny, and I wanted froyo!
Small Tart and Pineapple Tart Side By Side with Strawberries, Strawberry Popping Boba, White Chocolate Chips, Almonds.
The pineapple was tart yet sweet.  I liked the flavor, except that it was actually a bit too sweet.  Both the pineapple and the original froyo were fairly icy, not as bad as the vanilla latte one I sampled, but far icier and less creamy than I remembered.  The consistency was disappointing.

For a fruit topping, I went for strawberries.  I thought strawberries and pineapple sounded good together, and it looked like the most ripe option.  The berries were good, sweet, fresh, pretty good.  I decided to continue the strawberry theme and also added strawberry popping boba (the other option was mango flavored).  They were pretty standard, sweet.

I wanted some crunch, but didn't want granola, so my only choice was slivered almonds, the only nuts available.  They were unremarkable.  Still, good for a crunch.

The final topping I picked was white chocolate chips, mostly just to have something sweet and a bit creamy.  Which is exactly what they were.

Overall, this was fairly successful in terms of the ingredients I picked working well together, but it failed to impress.  I actually liked the plain tart better than the pineapple once I had the toppings involved, because the sweeter pineapple yogurt was too sweet with all the sweet toppings.  I wouldn't get this exact creation again.

Review #3, April 2014

You know I like frozen treats, particularly on a warm, sunny day.  And, although it is a chain, I do like Pinkberry.  Sure, it isn't my number one pick for froyo in San Francisco (that honor goes to Prima Cafe), but it is creamy, reliable, and they have a great selection of toppings.

Pinkberry always carries 6 flavors, and they rotate regularly.  I wasn't very excited when I saw the 6 flavor options of the day.  My absolute favorite, peanut butter, was not available.  For tart flavors, they had classic tart, pomegranate, key lime, and mango.  For sweet, only chocolate hazelnut and chocolate chip cookie.

Hmm.  I briefly considered not getting anything, but it was a beautiful day, and I really wanted froyo!

As always, the Pinkberry staff were more than happy to let me sample things.  Rather than asking what I'd like, the first thing I was asked was, "can I get some samples for you?"  I wasn't really in the mood for tart froyo, so I asked to try the chocolate chip cookie, and the key lime, just out of curiosity, even though I rarely like anything key lime.  As I pondered a moment, the helpful worker asked if I like Nutella.  I said, sure, who doesn't.  She eagerly brought me a sample of the chocolate hazelnut, saying it was much better than the chocolate chip in her opinion.  I'd had it before and didn't love it then, so I would have never asked to sample it, but humored her and tried it.

Both the chocolate chip cookie and the chocolate hazelnut are not fat free, and thus, are clearly creamier than the fat free counterparts.  The creaminess and consistency are perfect, but the chocolate hazelnut didn't have much flavor.  And the chocolate chip cookie I just really didn't like.  I can't say what it was exactly, but the flavor just wasn't good.  And reminded me nothing of a chocolate chip cookie.

So, even though I wasn't in the mood for it, I went tart flavors ... with toppings of course.
Small Key Lime and Mango Side By Side with Toppings.  $4.95.
Shockingly, after trying the sample, I decided to get key lime.  Definitely the first key lime thing I've enjoyed in a long time.  I also decided to get my old tart standby, mango.  The key lime and mango were on the same machine, so I was offered the choice of a swirl, or a side by side.  Just in case I decided that the key lime wasn't too my liking, or, if the mango turned out to not be delicious that day, I did them side by side, but I think they would be fine as a swirl too.

The mango was fruity and sweet, just a bit tart.  It actually was a bit too sweet for me, at least, given my topping choices (more on that in a minute).  The key lime however was really tart, and I liked it.

Neither of these were as creamy as the versions with fat, but they weren't icy, and are probably the creamiest of any fat free froyo I've tried.  Very good consistency.

And then, it was time for toppings.  Pinkberry has a rule that you can get as many toppings as fit in your container.  Always such an overwhelming offer for me!

Now, a reasonable adult would get their tart, fruity froyo topped with wholesome things like fresh fruit, granola, perhaps some sliced nuts.  And Pinkberry offers all of these things.  One can craft quite a healthy treat for themselves.  And the fruit did all look good, freshly sliced, and would pair perfectly with the tart yogurt.

But ... I didn't get for any of those things, and instead picked all the ridiculous ones.  I kinda laughed when I saw my completed froyo, as I'm sure it resembled one ordered more often by a child.

Toppings:
  • Fruity Bears: I remembered loving these once before , so I made them my first pick.  They are rather hidden in the photo, peeking out below the boba.  I only received four of them.  As before, I loved them.  The flavor is just so intense, very fruity, and they are the perfect level of chewiness.  I wish I knew what brand they were, because I'd really love to eat more of these, just as gummy bears, sans froyo.  I don't particularly like gummy candy in my froyo, so I always let them fall to the side, and eat at the end.  It is kinda perfect, you have that moment of "oh man, it is my dessert gone already?  I want more!" and you then get to enjoy a pile of gummy candy as a second treat.  Perfect!
  • Sugarpova Smitten Sour Mini: Speaking of gummy candy, Pinkberry just introduced several new types of gummy toppings, by Sugarpova.  The "Smitten Sour Mini" are little ribbons, which weren't nearly as sour as I wanted them to be.  I didn't get these on my froyo, but when I asked how sour they were, I was immediately given a sample.  I'm glad I didn't pick them.
  • Sugarpova Flirty Mini: I did get the other Sugarpova offering, the "Flirty Mini".  These were little lips, in assorted flavors, two layers, with a cream bottom.  I didn't try them before I added them, but if I had, I wouldn't have ordered them.  They were too chewy for my liking.  The lemon flavor I really didn't like.  The strawberry was a nice flavor, and the cream bottom complimented it well in the strawberries-n-cream sort of way.  Like the bears, I received four of them, which you can see, cream side up, right near my spoon.
  • Strawberry Popping Boba: For my "fruit" selection, I went for popping boba.  Sure, they aren't actually made with fruit, but they had sweet strawberry flavor, and were kinda fun to eat.  They were too sweet though, at least in the quantity given.  Unlike the gummy candies, my server was quite generous with the boba, and there was far more of it than I wanted. I probably wouldn't get these again.
  • Yogurt Chips: I have no idea why I added yogurt chips.  Last time I had them, I thought they were useless.  I thought the same this time.  They added no flavor.  They are the perfect size though, and provide a good textural component, but, meh, no flavor.  Maybe I should try the mini chocolate chips next time.  I really don't want to get these again.
  • Fruity Pebbles: And finally, I wanted something with crunch to it.  I mentioned this thought outloud, and the server making my creation helpfully suggested granola or sliced nuts.  Instead I got ... Fruity Pebbles.  Now, I've never had Fruity Pebbles in my life.  Not as cereal, certainly not as a froyo topping.  I think whenever I go to Pinkberry, I have a moment of total weirdness where I can't make up my mind, and just call out whichever topping I see next.  And in this case, it was Fruity Pebbles.  They did indeed add a great crunch.  And, the quantity given seemed right.  But ... soooooo sweet.  With the mango in particular, they were just too sweet.  I guess if I were really in the mood for sweet I'd get them again, as the crunch and size were perfect, but not really right for this creation.
So, I sorta failed on selecting my toppings.  I probably would have liked my froyo more with fresh fruit, like mango, strawberries, or blueberries.  Perhaps some mochi.  Coconut flakes would go well with the mango.  Nuts are always good.  And who doesn't want chocolate shavings?  But instead, I had a pile of candy and sugar.  I still liked it, don't get me wrong, but ... not ideal.  As always though, those fruity bears really impressed me.  Best gummy bears ever :)

Pinkberry does make incredibly creamy froyo, but their prices are what keep me away.  $4.95 for a small with toppings?  It wasn't THAT big.

Review #2, November 2012

A few weeks ago, I posted about Pinkberry, my second favorite froyo place in San Francisco.  I wasn't planning to go back so soon, but they just launched a new rewards app to replace their physical rewards cards, and to get everyone using it, they pre-load it with a free small with toppings!  You know I can't resist freebies, but particularly not at a place I know I like.  I also installed the Pinkberry app on Ojan's phone, and dragged him there with me a few days later to split another one.  So good.

It hadn't been that long since I'd last visited, but they already had several new flavors.  Of course I had to try them.  The staff were again very friendly, helpful, and eager.  Such a happy place to visit.

I still prefer self serve models, but I do appreciate that they let you pick two flavors even in a small, so you can be indecisive like me.  And the same with toppings, you can get 4-5 different ones, or as they say, "as many fit comfortably in the cup".
Lychee and Peanut Butter Yogurts with raspberries, mochi, chocolate covered pretzels, almond roca.  Small.  $4.95.
As always, I had a hard time making up my mind, so I went for my two favorite flavors, even though they totally didn't go together at all.  Which is fine, because they swirl them side by side.  I also wanted all the toppings, so narrowing down to four was hard.  They made it somewhat easier by not allowing any of the luxe toppings for the freebie.

Lychee was a new flavor for me, and I loved it.  It was sweet, but also quite tart, and just really tasty.  I'm not sure I would have known it was lychee, but I really liked the sweet and tart contrast.  On that side, I had mochi and raspberries.  The mochi was soft, not old or stale, but fairly unremarkable.  It was just plain mochi.  He gave a lot of it.  I probably wouldn't get it again.  The raspberries were the suggestion of the server, and seemed fresh, quality, and flavorful.  They were indeed a great pairing with the lychee.  But there were only 3 of them.  I would have certainly preferred more of them and less of the mochi!

The other flavor I picked was my old favorite: peanut butter.  Probably my all time favorite frozen yogurt flavor at most places, but Pinkberry does a particularly good job with making it creamy and flavorful.  On that side I had almond roca, which like before had a good crunch and went well with the peanut butter, and some tiny chocolate covered pretzels.  Like the raspberries, I only received 3 of them.  I guess that is the magic number for countable toppings.  They were a somewhat strange thing to put on frozen yogurt.  Tiny, but still a little big to eat comfortably.  And they did taste a little stale.  I liked the chocolate coating with the peanut butter yogurt though, and the salt and crunch from the pretzel were nice.  I probably wouldn't get them again though.

I certainly enjoyed my yogurt, but I couldn't help but think that $4.95 was a pretty hefty price for a fairly small yogurt.  Yes, it had toppings, but still.  I guess that is the going rate for froyo these days though.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mango and Lychee Swirl with Yogurt Chips, Raspberries, and a Waffle Cookie. 

This was a winning combination.  They were both very flavorful, tart yet sweet, and the two fruity flavors went together really well.  The lychee helped balance out the almost overwhelming mango.

Since I was impressed with the raspberries on my previous visit, I went for them again.  They were again fresh, slightly tart, and good, although ... one seemed frozen.  Do they actually use frozen fruit?

I also picked the yogurt chips, little tiny white chips that were a bit sweet, but mostly flavorless.  I would not get these again, as they added a little texture, but little else.

And at the last minute, I also had her add on a waffle cookie.  I think I got jealous when I saw the person next to me getting a waffle cone.  I'd had the waffle cookie on my first visit, and wasn't all that impressed with it, and felt the same way this time.  It really is just a little chunk of waffle cone, not stale exactly, but not fresh tasting.  I think I'd skip this in the future.

[ Not Pictured ]
Mango and Lychee Swirl with Raspberries, Organic Fruity Bears, and Chocolate Chips.

I again liked both of these flavors.  Tart, fruity, pretty good.  I think I would actually prefer to not have them swirled, as they are each very flavorful on their own, and swirling them somewhat cancelled out the flavors.

The raspberries were again about the same.  Better than you'd expect for out of season berries, but not particularly amazing.  The chocolate chips were semisweet chocolate, and added something good to crunch on.  The fruity bears were a big surprise, they were really good!  Perfectly chewy, really fruity and flavorful, quite good.  I don't actually like gummy candy in my froyo, and pushed them off to the side to enjoy at the end, and I'm glad I did.  I'd gladly just eat these on their own!

[ Not Pictured ]

  • Cookies and Cream: Delicious!  Really creamy, and almost tasted like soy milk (in a good way).
  • Gingerbread: Well, it tasted like gingerbread.  Which it turns out, I don't really want in my froyo.
  • Mango: Such a strong mango flavor.  Very tart.  Tons of flavor here, I think a full cup of it would be too much, but a small portion was delicious.
  • Pomegranate: This had a subtle pomegranate flavor, a good tartness.  I would consider getting it again, but I tend to like other flavors more.

Original Review, September 2012

I posted a few weeks ago about my favorite frozen yogurt in San Francisco: Prima Cafe.  They are a tiny, local place, not even known for their yogurt.  It seems strange, but my second favorite place falls on the far other side of the spectrum ... the nationwide chain, Pinkberry.

They only recently opened a Pinkberry in San Francisco, and I attended the big launch event, where they were sampling many flavors.  When I went back for a regular visit, the first thing they did was offer to let me try all of them (which I didn't do, I knew I wanted the peanut butter!).  They were still new at the time, perhaps that is why they were doing that?  It seemed very generous!  Again, perhaps because they are new, but the staff seem very friendly and enthusiastic.

Anyway, their frozen yogurt is particularly creamy, and they have a slew of interesting toppings.  I greatly prefer self-serve models where I can control the size of my creation and put the toppings on how I want them, but for a full serve place, they are my favorite.

As always, multiple tastings are denoted inside brackets.
Small peanut butter and original with peanut butter crunch, lemon cookie crunch, milk chocolate crunch, almond roca, and a waffle cookie.
Frozen Yogurt:
  • Chocolate: Very intense chocolate, but not a style I like.  [ Very rich, very chocolatey, but I don’t like it.]
  • Chocolate Hazelnut: Very creamy, nice hazelnut tones, tastes like nutella, pretty good.
  • Coconut: Nicely tart, great coconut flavor, nice consistency. [ Some coconut flavor, good consistency, ok ]
  • Hot Chocolate: Very creamy, not as intense in its chocolatey-ness.  Not sure what was hot chocolate about it, the picture had marshmallows?
  • Mango: Very nicely tart, creamy, good mango flavor.  [ Great tartness and creamyness, really good ] [ Tart but sweet, good mango flavor, very good ] [ Very tart, creamy, good flavor ]
  • Original: Nice tartness, fairly creamy, very good for this type of yogurt. [ Nice tart, nice creamy ] [ Nicely tart, pretty good for this type of flavor, slightly icy ]
  • Peanut butter: Creamy, soo much peanut butter flavor, awesome.  [ Soo much peanut butter flavor, really good. ] [ Creamy, rich, decandent, really good ] [ Creamy, rich, good flavor ]
  • Peppermint: Icy, decent flavor.
  • Strawberry: Kinda sweet, creamy, not my favorite.  [ Sweet and creamy, but not very distinctly strawberry, meh ] [ Tart, ok strawberry flavor, not great. ]
Toppings:
  • Lemon Cookie Crunch: One of the "luxe" toppings, a liquid with crunchy bits.  Very lemony, sweet, good with plain tart yogurt.
  • Milk Chocolate Crunch: Another "luxe" topping, basically chocolate sauce with crunchy bits.  Sweet, with a light chocolate flavor, great with peanut butter yogurt.  Crunch was nice texture, but I didn’t care for the crunchy stuff itself that much.
  • Peanut Butter Crunch: And another of the "luxe" toppings, a peanut butter sauce with crunchies.  It did not have much peanut butter flavor, but again had a nice crunch.
  • Almond Roca: Great crunch, yum, great with pb flavor yogurt.
  • Waffle Cookie.  Just a chunk of waffle cone, but kinda fun to dunk in the yogurt.
Read More...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Panini'ing Leftovers: Donuts!

I utilize my waffle iron for ... 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, 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.

Except one day I had friends over for a hot dog party , and I thought I needed a second grill (in addition to my trusty George Foreman) to prepare all the hot dogs.  I swapped out the regular plates into the Griddler, and turned it into a grill.  Life went on, and I forgot to swap out the plates and turn it back into a waffle iron.
Jelly Donut Transformation.
The next weekend, it was time to waffle leftover donuts, like I do most weekends.  I turned on the Griddler, made my coffee, and returned to insert the donut once the plates were hot.  But ... oops, panini plates.  Not waffle plates.

I considered trying to swap out the hot plates, and wait for the waffle plates to heat up, but decided to just try using the panini plates instead.  Turns out, leftover donuts "panini" nearly as well, er, perhaps even better, than they waffle!
Day-Old Jelly Donut.
I started with a day old jelly donut from The Jelly Donut .  I had taken a bite or two when it was fresh to evaluate it fairly, and then I took another bite before grilling it to see if it really needed grilling (yes, it did, it was kinda stale), so, really, I had about 80% of a donut to stick into the grill.

The donut was glazed, but, only the top had glaze.  I stuck it into the grill glaze side down, to better collect the run-off.
In-Progress.
After a few minutes, I could hear some interesting bubbling sounds.  I opened the grill up to check on the donut.  Uh, oops?

Since a big chunk was missing from the side, the jelly came spilling out onto the grill plates.  It didn't seem to be burning though, so I didn't really bother mess with it.

The bottom side of the donut had the glaze, and that side got very caramelized just how I like it.  Crispy and caramelized, almost like a kouign amann.  The top, glaze-free, didn't get quite as caramelized, but it still crisped up nicely.

It was at this point, when checking on it, that I realized the grill might actually be superior to the waffle iron.  It seemed to have more contact points with the donut surface.  Hmm.

I let it go another couple minutes, just to crisp up a bit more.
Panini'ed!
The jelly than had run out was easy to scoop off the grill and put back on top of the donut.  It was warm and gloopy and totally delicious.  There actually was still quite a bit that remained inside the donut as well, pressed between the dough, and soaked into the donut.  It was good too, but I almost preferred the jelly that had escaped, as I got to distribute it how I pleased, and, I think it got a bit thicker as it cooked, and I actually liked that.

The donut itself was great panini'ed.  As expected, I liked the bottom where it was caramelized more than the top, and made a mental note to consider sugar coating a non-glazed side in the future.  The ridges from the grill plates made it easy to cut into strips, and I liked how it was crispier in places where it touched the grill.  I think this worked better than the waffle iron, to be honest.

I topped it with coconut whipped cream, which I actually didn't like, hence, pushing it off to the side in this photo.  (Yes, I dared try a bite before taking a photo).

Overall, certainly a success, and honestly it made me want to have more leftover donuts, just so I could waffle or panini them.  Just like pizza, I'm pretty convinced that I prefer donuts waffled/panini'ed to fresh.
Cinnamon Roll Donut: Original, Waffled, Panini'ed!
The next weekend, I put the waffle vs panini theory to the test, with a leftover cinnamon roll donut.  This donut was enormous, so, I decided to eat it 4 ways, and compare them all.

For breakfast, I had a chunk at room temperature (fine, although a bit stale as expected), a chunk wrapped in foil and warmed in the toaster oven (moist, warm, very good), and, I waffled a chunk.  After lunch, I panini'ed the final chunk.
Panini'ed Cinnamon Roll Donut a la Mode.
The verdict?  The waffled version lost to the panini pressed version.  Yup, I said it.  Something is better than waffling.

The waffled version was good, but, the generous amount of glaze mostly melted off.  This is expected, and some of it helped caramelized the outside (great!) but much of it remained in the waffle plates, trapped.  I wanted to soak it up with the waffle, but, alas, I couldn't get to it.  Sometimes I am able to extract caramelized glaze from the plates with a chopstick, but this was too liquid, and thus, was lost.

The panini pressed version on the other hand, also had glaze melt off, but, I was able to easily dunk the panini'd donut in the warm liquid glaze as I removed it.  I also really liked the increased contact points with the grill plates that made for crispy bits  I topped it with some snickerdoodle ice cream (cinnamon roll + cinnamon ice cream + snickerdoodle cookie dough) and it was a perfect combination.
Read More...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Virgin Australia Business Class, LAX-SYD

Flight Details:
  • Flight #: Virgin Australia, VA 2
  • Depart: Los Angeles, 9:55pm scheduled (10:29pm actual)
  • Arrive: Sydney, Australia, 7:40am
  • Class: The Business
  • Seat: 4k
Another day, another international flight.  Since I lost my One World status, and I've never actually loved the business class seats on Qantas or American, I decided to mix it up, and try Virgin Australia for the first time.

Overall, it was a fine experience, and I'm glad I tried something new.  Life is about trade-offs, right?  The bed was far superior to the Qantas/AA versions, the seat had some nice features ... but lacked anywhere to store my laptop (!), the pajamas sucked, and the staff were pleasant enough.  I'm honestly not sure what my top choice is anymore for getting to Sydney, I think it might be Air New Zealand (previous reviews).

The Seat

The cabin is arranged with all aisle access.  Window seats face slightly towards the windows, while middle seats face straight forward.

I was in 4k, a window seat, mid-cabin.  A great seat in that I wasn't too close to the lavatory and galley in front, nor the bar behind.
Seat.
The seat is very private and has a decent amount of small storage spaces around it.  I did have my own full size, very large, storage bin above.

The seat was relatively comfortable in the seated position, much better than others I have flown.  Seat controls were a modern digital pad on the side.
Bed.
I was instructed to let the FA know when I wanted turndown service, as it doesn't simply recline, they also come add a thick mattress pad.

As a bed, it was also fairly successful.  Certainly long enough, fully flat, very stable and solid (I'm looking at you BA sloping bed!)  The mattress pad was decently thick and truly did provide a lump free, soft surface.  It was a bit too narrow when I lay in one direction, but not too bad.

My real qualm is that the way the tray table doesn't actually fold up and out of the way made it impossible to do any stretches in my seat in the morning (y'all do this, right?).  But overall, a good bed, and I got about as much sleep as I'd expect.

My seat position, 4k, turned out to be quite ideal for noise isolation.  I had no noise from the active galley and bathrooms in front, nor the bar in the back.  The only noise I had was from my fellow passengers as they opened bins and whatnot, but it was quite minimal.
Side Ledge.
Along the window was a ledge where I could place things during the flight.  The storage compartments located here however were far less useful than their deep counterparts on British Airways or Qantas flights.
Power and storage.
Under the side ledge was the main storage.  It was a shallow, awkward shaped compartment that also had a power jack, usb port, headphone jack, and the remote control for the seat.

The lid could not close while power was being used, which made it a bit awkward, since I couldn't leave my laptop charging easily.  I also couldn't open it when the tray table was extended, as it blocked the latch.  And my laptop could not fit inside.
Shallow Compartment.
The second compartment next to the compartment with power was also very shallow.  I used it to keep my menus, cell phone, and gum, but it really was too shallow to be very useful, and quite a strange shape.
Tablet and magazine holder.
On the side was a place for magazines, with a side door that fit a tablet.  It did not fit my 13" MacBook Air though.
TV Screen, Tray Table.
The tv screen was quite large and vivid, clearly a modern product.

The tray table was a different design than I've seen elsewhere.  It did not tuck away entirely, instead, it was always in a half-out position like this, which was great for setting drinks and other small items on.

It extended easily into a full tray table, which you could then pull closer.
Armrest.
The arm rest adjacent to the aisle needed to be down for takeoff and landing, but I could raise it later.  I'm glad my FA showed me that my headphones and a full size bottle of water were hiding in here, as I never would have found them myself.

Amenities

Bar.
If you have read any other reviews of Virgin Australia's new aircraft, you certainly know about the bar.  I've been on other planes with bars (but I haven't reviewed them yet, stay tuned!), but this one was the most useful that I've seen so far.  A full bar, with 3 bar stools along the front, and several on the side.
More Bar Area.
There was also comfortable couch seating off to the side.

The bar was used for the crew to stage meal service at the start of the flight, but after that, it was available for use.  You could order snacks, go have a drink, or just sit there rather than your seat.  They also had chocolates and other nibbles laid out.

By mid-morning, a continental breakfast was laid out, for those who got peckish before main breakfast service.  I saw a basket with croissants and muffins, butter, jams, yogurts, fruit plates, and juices.  I actually wasn't at all hungry early this time, likely because I ate in 2 lounges and some on the flight too, but I usually do get hungry before the breakfast, so I appreciated that they did this.  For next time.
Amenity Kit.
Amenity kits were mostly standard, with a crappy eye mask and ear plugs, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and socks. The unique item was the vanity kit with q-tips.
Ren Skincare.
The skincare box contained hand and body cream, lip balm, and day cream.  This same brand was in the bathrooms.
Pajamas.
Pajamas were distributed before we took off.  Long pants and a long sleeve shirt, in a drawstring cloth bag of the same material as the pajamas.  The material was strange, kinda scratchy, and it reminded me of long underwear.  Heavier weight than most airline pajamas.  No pockets in the pants.

I often save airline pajamas and wear them in "real" life (the Cathay Pacific First Class pajamas are my favorite!) but even the lightweight basic Qantas ones have their use.  This pair though ... pretty sure I'll be discarding immediately.

Dining & Drinks

Now, onto the food, as this is a food blog after all!
Menu.
As I settled into my seat, a menu was provided.  It had two inserts, one for the dinner service, and one for breakfast, along with several pages of beverages and snacks.  I'm guessing those change less often?

Dinner

Since the flight departed at 9:55pm, there were several dining options available.  You could go for a full 3 course dining experience if you wished.  Or, if you had eaten in the lounge or terminal, you could opt for an "Express" meal, which was the same menu, just eliminating the main dish.  Of course, you could skip meal service entirely, and go for snacks later on, available at the bar after meal service was over.
Dinner Menu.
The dinner menu was:

Bakery: Your choice of warmed artisan bread

Starter:
  • Sweetcorn and smoked paprika soup with chives 
  • Green leaf salad with fennel, almonds, broad beans, goats feta and tahini 
  • Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing
Main:
  • Salmon fillet on romesco sauce with beans and lemon 
  • Herb-crumbed pork schnitzel on asparagus with carrot and sesame slaw 
  • Lamb cutlets with barbeque spice on braised cabbage with oregano potatoes and olive dressing 
  • Eggplant, sweet potato and chickpea curry with basmati rice and coriander
Cheese or Dessert
  • Chaumes, France,  Camembert, America, Gorgonzola, Italy, accompanied by pecans, apricots, and crackers
  • Dark chocolate, hazelnut, and orange mascarpone mousse cake with creme anglaise and blueberries
  • Espresso gelato
  • Salted caramel gelato
Nespresso: Ristretto, espresso, macchiato, long black, cappuccino
Madame Flavour Tea: special breakfast blend, grey de luxe, green tea with jasmine and pear, mint and lavendar tisane, lemongrass, lime, and ginger tisane
Other hot beverages: filter coffee, hot chocolate

Our dinner orders were taken once underway, including all drinks.  I appreciated that they covered all bases at once, but it did seem to take a while to be offered my initial drink.  They took the time to ask if you wanted still or sparkling water with your meal, a wine to pair with the main, and any tea/coffee/dessert wines to pair with dessert.
Express Dinner Menu.
The express menu just eliminated the main, and since I had already eaten in the lounge, this is what I went for, particularly as it was midnight when the meal was served, and I don't like cooked salmon, pork, lamb, or chickpeas anyway.

It didn't seem particularly "express" though, served no sooner than the regular meals, and not until 2 hours into the flight.  Our welcome drinks came at 11:23pm, my starter at 12:06pm.
Kir Royale.
The drink menu had champagne, 3 red wines, 3 whites, dessert wine, spirits, beer, soft drinks, and juices, plus a section with cocktails (mimosa, peach bellini, and kir royale).

I went for a kir royale, taking after my favorite drink on British Airways.  While not served in quite as nice of a way, aka, no twist of orange, it was fizzy and enjoyable.
Salted nuts, edamame, olives.
Our welcome drinks also came with a trio of snacks: salted nuts (cashews and almonds, with one token pistachio), edamame (with a nice spice rub), and mixed olives.  These were all fine, but I wasn't particularly in the mood for them, not that I care for these items generally anyway.  I did wish the nuts were warm.
Dinner Place Setting.
A while later, my place was set for dinner, with a white tablecloth, two forks and two knives (even though I wasn't having a main ...), a white cloth napkin, a bowl with butter, a bread plate and knife, and salt and pepper shakers that look like the Sydney opera house.
Garlic Bread.
A basket was brought by with bread, a choice of a roll or garlic bread.  I generally skip the bread, but for some reason, I decided to get the garlic bread, I think remembering being jealous when Ojan has gotten good garlic bread on flights in the past.

The bread wasn't good.  It was spongy.  The crust was very ... crusty.  The garlic flavor was good I guess, but otherwise, not good.
Prawns with green papaya, macadamia, tomato and tamarind dressing.
The prawns looked rubbery and not very well cleaned, so I didn't bother with them.  I had my krab in the lounge already anyway.  I got this mostly just to get something, and because I do like papaya and macadamia.

The shredded green papaya was relatively flavorless but not dried out.  There wasn't much dressing, just a little on the prawns, which I tried to rub off onto the papaya the best I could.  There was a decent amount of chopped macadamia, but it was kinda soft and strange.  I love macadamia, but I didn't love this.
Salted Caramel Gelato.
I had a hard time picking my dessert, because I knew the gelato would just be gelato, no toppings, but besides the cheese and gelato, the "real" dessert was a cake that sounded like it would be fairly chocolately, and I try to avoid chocolate at night, particularly when trying to sleep in less than ideal environment.  (But ... mascarpone! creme anglaise! berries!)

The gelato however was very good.  It was served at the perfect temperature, I didn't need to wait for it to soften.

It was light and fluffy, sweet, and slightly salty.  Really a decent gelato, and they have perfected the serving temperature.  Still, I'd like toppings with it.

With the dessert, I opted for the dessert wine.  I didn't really like it.

"Pantry"

The menu also included a section on the "Pantry", broken down into "nibbles" and "lite bites".  These are items that I could ask for at my seat later on in the flight, or have at the bar.

Nibbles
  • Nuts: roasted mixed nuts
  • Chocolate: valrhona milk and dark chocolate
  • Chips: gourmet potato crisps with sea salt
  • Olives: marinated green olives
Lite Bites
  • Chicken and tarragon finger sandwiches
  • Roast capsicum with white anchovies on toast
  • Guacamole with corn chips
  • Artisan cheese plate with grapes and fig paste
I was hoping that some of the lite bites would be appealing, as they are often the tastiest things on flights, but, alas, none of these called out to me.

Breakfast

Breakfast cards were part of our menu, and we were asked to fill them out before we took off.  You also had the option of not being woken, or, to have a continental breakfast at the bar earlier.

The menu was extensive and fairly awesome sounding.  I again appreciated the thoroughness, making sure you could specify pretty much everything up front.
Breakfast Card.
The menu read:

Juice: fresh orange juice or seasonal juice blend
Fruit: seasonal fruit blend with natural or fruit yogurt
Cereal: corn flakes or sultana bran with full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk
Bakery: whole wheat roll, croissant, blueberry muffin with strawberry jam, orange marmalade, honey, vegemite
Main: 
  • Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries
  • Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger
  • Mushroom, capsicum, and feta omelette served with your choice of smoked salmon, bacon, wilted spinach, tomato relish, onion jam, chorizo
Tea (same selection as dinner), with option to ask for a mug and slice of lemon
Nespresso, coffee, and hot chocolate (same as dinner)
Milk & Sugar: their own section of the menu, full cream, reduced fat, or soy milk, sugar or sweetener.

I skipped the juices and fruit because of my melon allergy, and the cereal and yogurt because, well, boring.  Instead ... I ordered 2 main dishes and a bakery item.

If I had been ordering at actual breakfast time, rather than the night before, I probably would have only ordered one main dish.  I wasn't particularly hungry.  But I just couldn't decide between the muesli and pancakes!  I do love bircher muesli in Australia (except I'm picky, and don't like it if its too sour, too acidic, too much apple, etc).  And, um, how do I resist pancakes?  I was even tempted by the sides that come with the omelette, and pondered ordering a croissant with all the sides, to make some kind of savory croissant sandwich.

But in the end, I checked off two mains and a muffin.
Blueberry Muffin, Bircher muesli with strawberry, raspberry, and blueberries.
My tray arrived with the muffin, a pat of butter, and the muesli.  The FA told me to let her know when I wanted the pancakes, and she'd get those going.

The muffin was served quasi-warm, but much like the garlic bread, it was spongy.  If it wasn't for the sponginess, I actually would have quite liked it, in the same way that I like Costco muffins.  Sure, it wasn't a nice fresh baked good, but, these sorts of muffins do have their place.  It was loaded with plump berries.

The muesli was ... interesting.  Honestly, it seemed just like cold porridge.  It had no bits of apple or any other fruit.  No nuts, no seeds.  So sweetener.  Just cold oats, in a milky-yogurt base.  That meant that it wasn't too acidic at least, but, it was incredibly boring.

The fruit on top was mediocre at best.  The strawberries weren't even remotely ripe, and I didn't bother try them.  The blueberries and raspberries had no flavor.

I wanted to ask for honey to drizzle on top, but I was too lazy.  I think honey would have at least sweetened it nicely.

Overall, lackluster, and really needed some mix ins.
Main #2: Coconut pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup, and ginger.
My pancakes arrived soon after I asked for them, a stack of two mid-size pancakes.

They looked better than they tasted.  They were fairly fluffy, and weren't rubbery or gummy, but ... like the garlic bread, like the muffin, they were soggy and spongy.  Clearly, something about the way Virgin Austrlia heat up their baked goods just doesn't work well.

The pancakes were also a really strange texture, as they were loaded with shredded coconut.  It made them really not pleasant to eat.  The ginger flavor and coconut flavor were both quite strong, and I can't say I cared for either.  I'm not sure what the green stuff on top was, it tasted sorta like lemongrass?

I also never found the maple syrup.  It certainly wasn't on the side to pour on.  Perhaps that is what made them so soggy?  I didn't taste any maple whatsoever though.

The pineapple was soaked in something, I think a ginger syrup, and was I think somewhat stewed?  It was strangely soggy too.

So ... good concept with bold flavors (ginger! coconut! pineapple!) but, these just didn't appeal to me.
Long Black.
To go along with my meal, I ordered a long black, and for once, not decaf.  It was a standard Nspresso beverage, good enough.  I swapped to decaf after this, and they weren't as good, but, a little sweetener fixed that up.
Read More...