Friday, February 24, 2017

Nourish Snacks

By now, you know how much I love snacks, particularly the kind I can munch on.  I'm a bit of a snack food addict, really.

So when I visited my office in Cambridge and discovered that they had a brand of snacks I had never seen before, Nourish Snacks, I was super excited.  And once I saw the kind of snacks they were, I was even more excited.

Nourish Snacks makes a variety of snacks, all exactly the sort I like, sweet and savory, crunchy little nibbles.  While they are "healthy", designed with protein, fiber, and antioxidant needs in mind, they don't exactly scream health food - not just plain nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, no brown rice syrup or random protein isolates mixed in.  They are all gluten-free, dairy-free, non-gmo, etc, but I think the thing they have going for them is that they are portion controlled, all in little packs of 200 calories or less.  Oh, and they have fun names.

I've made a point to try a number of items every time I visit Cambridge. They make more then 20 different snacks, ranging from savory options like crunchy roasted corn kernels (salted, habanero, or citrus-chili), to roasted chickpeas (honey-roasted, or bbq chickpeas mixed with either roasted edamame and corn kernels or peanuts),  to fruit and nut mixes (cinnamon apples and almonds, cherries and roasted edamame), to granola or oat clusters (dark chocolate or coconut chia-oat clusters, mocha granola with cocoa almonds, coconut-vanilla, chocolate-banana, or blueberry-apple granola bites), to half-popped corn kernels (plain, mixed with peanuts, or mixed with dark chocolate), to a special edition chocolate puffs filled with cocoa-hazelnut cream mixed with dark chocolate covered peanuts.  So many interesting sounding mixed, and, did I mention, fun names to go along with them?

Overall though, I wanted to like these, and the ingredients sounded like things I should like, but, mostly, I didn't really care for them.

Corn Snacks

Mr. Popular: Half-popped corn kernels.
"Coming soon to a theater near you! (Of course, you'll need to sneak in your own bag.) These barely-popped, high-fiber corn kernels come with an addictive, crispy crunch that explains why they're so darn POPular."

Since popcorn is one of my favorite snack foods, I started with the Mr. Popular, one of their top sellers, salty half-popped corn kernels.

This wasn't the first time I had discovered such a snack, and I was immediately reminded of Halfpops.  I never liked Halfpops as much as I wanted to, given that they are basically halfway between crunchy corn kernels and popcorn, both things I love, so I *should* love this kind of snack.

And, just like Halfpops, I didn't love the Mr. Popular.  The kernels were more blown apart than Halfpops, kinda like they'd been smashed, so they had a bit more personality to them.  But ... they weren't really very crunchy, and left me pretty bored.
Hot & Popular: Spicy peanuts, half-popped corn kernels.
"Some like it hot— especially cool characters like Mr. Popular! If spicy-salty snacks are your style, you’ll go nuts for this hot ’n bothered blend of crispy, half-popped corn kernels and flavorful peanuts."

So I moved on to the Hot & Popular, a mix of the same half-popped corn kernels, but this time, with spicy peanuts mixed in.  This sounded even better.  And ... it was a bit better, but still, not really what I wanted.

The peanuts were well coated in seasoning, a mix of tomato, green bell pepper, onion, paprika, and salt, and were flavorful, but they weren't really spicy as advertised, and I actually wanted some kind of crunchy shell on them, rather than just the rub.  And again, I didn't love the half-popped corn kernels.
Chili'n in the Corn'r: Citrus-Chile Roasted Corn.
"We're obsessed with these chili-roasted corn kernels-- they're mild, yet flavorful and totally addictive. "

I wanted to love these.  They had the right crunch.  But, the spicing wasn't for me, a mix of paprika, chili pepper, red pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and ... citric acid.  It was just a strange combination, and I also didn't really care for the small corn kernals.  I couldn't get excited about this one.

They just renamed this product Just Chillin'.

Nut Based

Mind Your Ps & BBQs : Bbq-roasted chickpeas, Virginia peanuts.
"Our crispy BBQ chickpeas mixed with crunchy Virginia peanuts makes for a tangy, protein-packed party mix. Grab a tall glass of a cold splash and savor the flavor!"

So, I don't like chickpeas.  That is, I don't like regularly cooked chickpeas (or any other legumes really).  But if you roast them and make them crispy (better yet, fry them!), I'm all in, particularly if they have great spicing.  I'll eat them by the handful.  I'll add them to salad.

These chickpeas weren't quite as crispy as I like, since I do prefer that they be fried, and these still somewhat resembled chickpeas.  Still, crispy, and well seasoned with the "BBQ" flavor made from paprika, onion, tomato, garlic, red pepper, and even natural smoke.  I didn't love them, but I went back for a second handful, so, that is certainly saying something.

The peanuts were just fairly plain peanuts.  The BBQ flavor didn't really make it onto them.  They were fine, but, just peanuts.

So, overall, this really wasn't bad.  I thought the just peanuts and chickpeas was a bit boring though, so I added it to another snack mix (a chex and pretzel based one), to get more textures and some carbs in there too.
Cinn-sational: Cinnamon-spiced apples & almonds.
"Our chewy Fuji apples and cinnamon-sugar coated almonds pair perfectly in this blend. The result: a snack that's sweet, savory, and truly cinn-sational."

This one wasn't for me.

The apple chunks were assorted sizes, and, just dried apples, a bit too chewy for me.  The almonds were a bit bitter.

It was all coated in cinnamon, which I do like, but I really didn't detect the sugar element.

I guess I expected this to be sorta sweet and desserty, and, instead it was overall quite bitter.

Granola Bites

Coco'nilla Crunch: Coconut-vanilla granola bites.
"One taste of these crispy, crave-worthy gems and we guarantee you'll be in love at first bite. Their perfect blend of toasted coconut, dreamy vanilla flavor, and premium oats makes for an alluring, pop-in-your-mouth munchie."

These sounded like great little breakfast munchies.  Coconut.  Vanilla.  Crunchy and munchable.

I eagerly popped one in my mouth.

I hated it, instantly.  I didn't taste coconut, nor vanilla.  What I tasted was bitter.  It was then that I looked at the ingredients.  Chicory root.  Chia.  One, or both, was likely responsible.  Interestingly, they have removed chicory from the recipe, so maybe this was a concern?

Anyway, I really did not like how bitter these were, and handed them off to a friend quickly.
Berry'd Treasure: Blueberry-apple granola bites.
"Bursting with real blueberries, these chewy granola treats are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and bite-sized happiness. Warning: Kids love 'em too, so prepare to share or hide the loot."

Another breakfast munchie that sounded decent.  Another one I hated immediately.

These were not crunchy, but instead, mushy and chewy, I think from the dried apple?  I don't want to munch on mushy things.  Plus, I don't like apple bits anyway.  The blueberry was fine, but that couldn't save these.
Mocha-Mazing: cocoa-dusted almonds, mocha granola.
"This rich blend of crispy, mocha flavored granola, dark chocolate chips, and cocoa-dusted almonds guarantees an energizing jolt with sweet satisfaction. A guilt-free indulgence on its own, this snack can also be enjoyed as a yogurt topper."

After all the other failed granolas, I half-heartedly opened up this bag.  As with the others, the granola I was not a fan of.  Sorta chocolately, sure, but, also, mushy.  Who wants to chew on mushy granola clusters?

The cocoa dusted almonds were fine though, decent chocolate flavor, standard nuts.  I picked them all out of the package, and was happy enough.

Amusingly, this product has been discontinued, and it was the only one I even bothered to finish!
Monkey Love: Chocolate-banana granola bites.
"Sweet tooth driving you bananas? This gluten-free spin on the classic chocolate-banana dessert combo will definitely hit the spot-- and for 150 calories, say hello to your new favorite indulgence."
This one was not awful, but not particularly good either.  Oat and crispy brown rice base, sweetened with agave and cane sugar, tiny chocolate chips, banana flavored.  I liked the form factor of the bites, and they weren't as soft as some of the other varieties, but they weren't particularly crunchy either.  The chocolate was good, and the banana not too overwhelming.  But, overall, boring.
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Padaria Portuguesa, Lisbon

On my final day in Lisbon, I did something crazy.  Crazy for me at least.

I walked into a random padaria.

Yes, me.  The girl who researches everything before actually going.  Me, the girl who really loves her baked goods.  I felt ... careless.  Brazen.  How could I, gulp, just walk into any old pastelaria and pick out a random baked good?  Would the place be any good?  Would I pick the right thing?  I had no guidance.  It was crazy.

It happened because I ran out of time.  I had a plan to go pick up some items from the store, get another froyo from Weeel (so good, review coming soon), and then go to a highly rated bakery to get a few items to bring on the road, all before going back to the hotel to pack and check out.

The problem?  I got way too distracted in the store, totally lost track of time, and before I knew it, I had to skip my visit to the intended bakery, and rush back, fast.  Stopping into the random padaria that happened to be across the street seemed like the only option.  I had to sacrifice.

I didn't take outside photos.  I didn't take photos of the display cases.  Like I said, I had no time.  And, well, no expectations that I'd be writing this up.

And then I had one of my items.  And my world changed.

But let's back up.  Once I had time to research, I found out that I stepped into A Padaria Portuguesa.  What a name, yes, that translates to "The Portuguese Bakery".  A chain, with locations all over Lisbon and Portugal.  Yup, good job self, you found a chain.  It happens to be the first chain ever selling Portuguese baked goods, and has only been around for a few years.  Great, a new, not yet proven, chain.

It seemed to mostly be a place where folks stuck around, sitting at little tables to enjoy a baked good and coffee, but I was in a rush, and got mine to take away.  The glass front cases were loaded with all the items I had come to expect at bakeries around Lisbon: stuffed donuts, croissants, savory pastries, and of course, pastel de nata.

Ojan had suggested that I pick up some pastel de nata to warm up in the oven later (we were moving to a hotel with kitchenette), so, I did, again, not having any idea if the ones here were noteworthy.  He also wanted something savory, so, I picked out a random savory baked good, or, at least, what I thought was savory.  And, on a whim, I grabbed one more item for me.  More on that soon.

Most of what I got was kinda boring.  But, that one item? Amazing.
Pastel de Nata. 0.90€ each.
I needed to try their pastel de nata right?  They were not warm, so, immediately not nearly as exciting as they could be.

These were highly mediocre.  Perhaps a bit better than the ones from the Sheraton Lisboa Executive Lounge, which ins't a high bar, but, otherwise, nothing special.  Standard pastry shell, standard custard.  Fine, but nothing magical in any way.

Again, I was made aware of just how different the pasteis de belem version really is, with the perfectly flaky crust, the incredibly creamy center.  Drool.  But yeah, these weren't that.  Skip.
Pão com Chouriço. 1.30€.
Ojan wanted something savory that he could heat up later, and I really had no idea what to get.  So many of the items were not labelled, so, how was I supposed to know what they were?  There were little savory pies and empanadas of all kinds, but, again, I had no clue what anything was.  This was labelled, and I could kinda see a bit of what looked like ham or something sticking out, so, I decided it must be chorizo?

It was ... fine.  A sandwich on kinda hard bread, with slices of chorizo baked inside.  I hope it toasted up nicely when Ojan ate it later, I didn't try it.
Pão de Deus. 1.00€.
The item I randomly picked up was the Pão de Deus, or, "bread of god".

Why?  Well, I only had Pão de Deus once on this trip, from the Sheraton Lisboa Bistro breakfast buffet , and, well, it was horrible.  Yet I had read about it should be, and knew it should be amazing.  I needed a comparison point.

In many of the same ways that the egg tarts from Pasteis de Belem were unlike any other egg tarts I'd ever had, this was an entirely different thing from the stale, hard, boring version I had in the buffet.  It was exactly what I *thought* Portuguese breads were supposed to be like.

The bread was soft and sweet.  Even just that fluffy sweet bread was pretty tasty, I must say.  This is what I had always imagined when I thought of Portuguese sweet bread.  And on top, the coconut mix, sweetened, and more like a almond croissant filling, super soft and like a paste.

It was absolutely delicious.  Soft, fluffy, slightly sweet, pull apart bread with a delicious topping?  Maybe that doesn't sound amazing, but really, it was.  I could imagine it being great with a filling or spread on it too, like, uh, Nutella, but honestly it was pretty amazing just on its own.

I found out later that this is A Padaria Portuguesa's signature item, and, that it isn't the authentic way.  But I loved it.  My research says that the top should have been more like a macaroon, more crispy, and not nearly as thick.  But I liked it this way, with the coconut paste.  Wish I had a chance to get another!
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

August 1 Five

August 1 Five  is a new indian restaurant located near Civic Center, serving modern interpretations of home cooking and street foods from central and northern India, using local Californian ingredients, at a mid-high price point.  It just opened in November, and I visited in January, about 2 months after opening.  I usually give restaurants a little longer to work out kinks before visiting, particularly with a group, but, I had a group in town and wanted to do something a bit different.  So, modern Indian it was.

I was able to make a reservation about a week in advance online for our group of 6 on Saturday night for dinner, which, of course was another selling point for August 1 Five.  They are also open for lunch, with a menu more focused on wraps and sandwiches.
Feast for 6.
As expected, it was not your standard Indian cuisine. Overall, there was interesting ingredient combinations and attractive plating.   Elements were all cooked well, and the sauces were good. But flavors weren't as complex as I hoped, and nothing was particularly memorable.

Service was awkward and incomplete, and didn't quite match the decor and ambiance. It was odd throughout, with strange hovering at times, and complete neglect at others. Sometimes our server very awkwardly filled our water glasses, other times she just left us a big bottle on the table.

Pacing of dishes was off.  No dishes were described when they were placed before us.  Serving utensils were an afterthought.  They are clearly working out some kinks in service still.  I'd give the restaurant another few months before trying again.
Interior.
The setting inside August 1 Five is decidedly trendy.  It is huge, with a mix of bar seating, high tables, booths built into the walls, communal seating, and regular tables.  Lots of colors, textures, and materials used, like leather chairs and teal velvet booths.  Clearly, designer.

Drinks

The cocktail menu looked intriguing, and certainly stole the attention of most of us when we first sat down.  There was a "pk negroni" with coconut campari that I almost went for, except, um, it was made with rum instead of gin.  I liked the name of the "Dark and Foamy", but was amused when one of my fellow dinners ordered it, and it was ... not dark.  There was even an alcoholic lassi.

Every cocktail had some kind of interesting element to it, but, I think they were trying a bit too hard.  Not one got very good reviews by our group.

Our drinks came in a relatively timely manner, but, our first small plate did arrive about 5 minutes before the drinks.  Minus a point on the timing.
Moneypenny G & T. $13.
"Gin, yellow chartreuse, pineapple juice, lemon, combier rose, tonic."

To start, I ordered their special G&T.

It was not successful.  I was annoyed with it at the first sip, as the little roses floating on top made it hard to drink.  It reminded me a bit of the cocktail at Longrain in Sydney with the lemongrass sticking out of it, that made it impractical to drink.  That cocktail however was still delicious, and it was easy to remove the lemongrass, whereas this was not tasty, and picking floating flowers out didn't seem appropriate.

The main reason I didn't care for it, once I got over the annoying flowers, is that I couldn't taste the gin.  Nor the tonic.  I expected it to have more going on that a standard G&T obviously, but this just had too many elements taking over entirely.  I ordered it because I wanted to taste the gin at least, and here, it was just lost.

While there were other interesting cocktails on the menu, I was so put off by this one, and the lack of enthusiasm towards any others by my dining companions, I didn't bother with a second drink.
Mint Lemonade.  $4.
Non-alcoholic options included soft drinks, tea, mint lemonade, and mango lassi.  Another diner opted for the mint lemonade to start, and said it was fine.  It had a very generous amount of mint sticking out, which, looked sorta annoying to me too ...  He moved on to the mango lassi, but I forgot to ask how that was.

Food

The food at August 1 Five is all served family style, with a large focus on small plates (14 options), plus some large dishes (9 choices), and a few sides.

For our group of 6, we opted to order 4 small plates (one of which we doubled up on, so I guess 5 small plates), 3 patiala plates, one side, and 3 desserts (again, doubling up on one).  Some dishes arrived with serving utensils, others did not.  Timing was off throughout.

Small Plates

Small plates make up the largest segment of the menu and had considerable variety.  The options included a mix of expected Indian chaat, samosas, and kebabs, fusion-y dishes like panko coated fried bori shrimp with cranberry chutney, crowd pleasers like pork belly and ribs, a salad for good measure, and totally out-of-place seeming arancini.

We went for a mix of everything, opting for 4 different dishes, doubling up on one, and having one order increased so we could each have a piece.  Our server offered good advice on how many items came with each dish, so we could increase or double up as necessary.

The timing of our small plates arriving was off.  The first arrived 5 minutes before our drinks.   We all sorta hesitated, but, seeing no drinks in sight, decided to eat it while it was hot.  Then, the rest of the small plates didn't arrive for another 15 minutes.

The small plates were better than the larger ones.
Palak Chaat. $10.
"Baby spinach, garbanzo, tamarind, yogurt."

I love snacks and munching on things.  I knew the palak chaat was basically like a plate of crispy chips with sauces, which is so very appealing to me, so I ordered it, even without the support of the rest of the group.

And I'm glad I did.  I really liked the crispy fried baby spinach, and the complimentary slightly sweet tamarind and cooling creamy yogurt sauces.  I thought it was a really fun dish with great textures and flavors, but, the others were all pretty bored by it, and only took a bite or two.  Oh well, I gladly polished it off.

My favorite dish and a nice snack to get started.  I've heard it described as "indian nachos", which, really does sum it up nicely.
Bison Keema Pao. $18.
"Ground bison, caramelized onion, bacon, quail egg."

Probably the most famous dish at August 1 Five is the bison keema pao.  It has all the hallmarks of a signature, hyped dish: an approachable play on a familiar American comfort food (sloppy joe), egg porn (and a quail egg no less), hot ingredient (bacon), exotic meat (bison), and a DIY component.  Yelpers, Instagramers, and the link are very into this dish.  We ordered two servings, since each came with 4 buns.  Nearly every table around us ordered it too.

The presentation was nice, on a wooden cutting board, the keema in a hot stoneware bowl.

The pao weren't very good, and they weren't even served warm.  Really, quite boring and plain.  They could certainly stand to improve the quality of this essential element of the dish.

The keema was ... fine.  The ground bison meat was nicely spiced, and it was fairly juicy.  On top was two slices of bacon, one was flabby, and one was burnt.  Both not good, but in opposite ways.

So boring bread, decent meat, bad bacon.  Fairly lackluster overall.  The rest of the group liked the flavor of the meat, but did not like it with the rolls, and wanted it served over pasta instead (like a very thick, Indian spiced bolognese I guess?)  I think the rolls would have been fine, if they were just fresher and warm.

An interesting dish, but not really worth repeating.
Paneer Kebab. $12 for 4.
"Red chili, mustard dust, yogurt, mint."

I love paneer, so I wanted the paneer kebab.  There is also a paneer dish on the larger plate section, but, I had seen photos of the kebab, and I knew it would be just what I wanted: tandoori chunks of paneer with sauces on the side to dunk it in.

The presentation was pretty stunning, on a slate, each square of paneer topped with a square of red onion and a sprig of mint, with complimentary squares of peppers (red, green, and orange) opposite the slices of paneer, dots of the green puree, and sprinkled with what I guess was mustard dust.

This dish is normally served with 4 pieces, but we were able to have them add 2 more so we could each have one.

This was a decent dish.  The paneer was nicely cooked, soft, clearly fresh chunks of cheese.  The onions and peppers were fine.  The green sauce was very herby, I think perhaps yogurt and mint based?  Overall, it was fine, well executed, but, not flavors popped.

My second favorite dish, mostly because I really just appreciate good paneer, and I'd get it again.
Pork Spare Ribs.  $14.
"Ginger, garlic, jaggery, vinegar." 

I ordered the ribs for the others, looking to have a crowd pleaser in case some of my other selections were a bit too different.  I didn't try them, but the group seemed to like them, and commented on the good flavor.

We all found the accompaniments a bit odd though, why were they served with brussels sprouts and onions?  The onions were tasty, but, an odd pairing.  And why did the menu not mention these?

Patiala Plates

The next section of the menu is the larger plates, 9 choices.  Here, nothing really called out at me.  I actually considered just ordering all small plates, since there were other small plates that interested me, but, the rest of the group did want some of these dishes, even if I didn't.

This section had a paneer dish as well, two lamb options (shank or chop), seafood (lobster or sea bass), crowd pleasing filet mignon, two types of biryani (chicken or veggie), and a fascinating sounding soy kofta.  I opted for one biryani to have a filling dish, and the group picked one lamb option.  After we received these and no one seemed very satisfied, I added on the soy kofta, mostly out of curiosity.

Timing was a bit off here too.  These plates arrived all at once 6 minutes after our small plates, while we were still finishing those, and had a table full of food.
Chicken Biriyani. $22.
"Basmati rice, saffron, yogurt, aromatic spice blend."

I don't really like rice, or chicken, so I didn't try the biriyani, but, the group seemed to like it, and appreciated a ricey dish.
Lamb Shank. $29.
"Red chili, cloves, tomato, caramelized onion."

For the main meat option, lamb was really the only interesting one to the group.  Because I dislike lamb, I abstained from the decision making, but they asked the server to describe both options, and then settled on the shank.

I thought it was a bit odd to serve the big hunk of meat in a bowl like this, but it did make it look pretty impressive.  The others seemed to like this too, but, I didn't try it (besides a bite of the crispy sprouts on top and the flavorful sauce).
Soy Kofta. $21.
"Soy, monterey jack cheese, melon seeds, tomato, fenugreek."

I added the kofta to our order after the other dishes arrived and it was clear that we needed a bit more, and, I wanted something that I'd like, even though I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this dish.

It was an interesting dish, sorta like ... big falafel balls stuffed with cheese in a butter chicken sauce?  Which sounds like a very strange mix, and, was a bit odd.

The order came with two huge kofta, one of which was already cut in half, revealing its cheesy contents, which, actually, didn't look that appealing, as the cheese looked kinda congealed.

The balls were well fried and crunchy, made from chickpea batter (which explains why I thought they were falafel-like), but I didn't like the soy flavor to them.  The cheese inside the un-opened ball was super melty which was good, but monterey jack felt out of place in Indian cuisine.  Maybe that is just because I dislike it.

The sauce however was totally delicious.  Yes, this is why I like Indian food, I'm in it for the sauces.  I have a severe watermelon allergy, and didn't notice the "melon seeds" in the ingredient list until I went to write the review, but, I guess I'm not allergic to whatever melon seeds were used.

I liked the crunchy things (sweet potato threads?) on top.

I'm glad I ordered this, for the sauce alone, and I wanted to lick the bowl clean.

Sides

Side dishes were pretty simple: rice, daal, raita, and pao, plus plain or a trio of naan.  We opted for the trio.

With our sides, again, the timing was off.  We received the main dishes a full 7 minutes before our naan, the last item to arriev.  Members of my group kept asking me, "wait, didn't we order naan?"  I called over our server, assuming it was forgotten, but was assured that it was fine, it was coming.
Trio of Naans. $9.
"Cheese & basil, potato & sage and minced bison."

The naan arrived long after the main dishes.  “This is your trio of naan”, the server said, without saying which was which.  They all looked identical from the outside, but one was filled with cheese & basil, one with potato & sage, and one with bison.  Since they were all small, and we wouldn't all get a chance to try all three, we really wanted to know which was which.  I called over another server who was able to tell us.

I didn't get to try the bison one, but I did get a small edge of the potato & sage, although it was the edge and didn't have any potato.  The main chunk I selected was the cheese & basil.  It was good, flavorful, although not super cheesey.  The naan all had a good texture and were served warm.  Better than a lot of naan, although, really quite small.

On the side were two chutneys, which thrilled me.  The orange one was spicy and reminded me a bit of butter chicken sauce, which was perfect, as usually when we get Indian food, Ojan orders butter chicken because he likes it, and I support the move, not because I want the chicken, but because I intend to dunk my naan in the sauce.  The second one was mashed roasted eggplant, and was also good.

Of all the savory food, the naan and chutneys were my favorite.

Dessert

The dessert menu had 6 items, a mix of updated spins on classic Indian sweets (like kheer made with quinoa rather than rice and ghevar with milk "foam"), and Indian ingredients injected into crowd favorites (like saffron making its way into a seasonal fruit tart or greek yogurt served on the molten chocolate).  All desserts were priced at $8.

We almost just ordered one of each, but, decided we weren't actually interested in a few, so instead, ordered 3 different items, but doubled up on the one I was most interested in.  Desserts were a mixed success, containing my favorite dish of the night and the universal least favorite.
Decaf Coffee.  $4.
To go alongside my dessert, as usual, I ordered decaf coffee.  I was provided a plunger pot, but it was set down without any indication if it was ready to press, or if I should let it go a while longer.  I waited a minute, took a gamble, and pressed it a little, only to see very clearly that it was not ready yet.

Minus one point on the service here, but besides that, the coffee was fine.  Not particularly good nor bad.
Seasonal Kulfi (kumquat). $8.
"Seasonal fruit, milk."

I was planning to skip the kulfi, but several others wanted it, so, we ordered it for the table (and really, when do I turn down ice cream, even if it sounded like a boring option?).  When we asked what the seasonal flavor was, our server didn't know, and needed to go ask.  Again, still really working out some service kinks.

The flavor turned out to be kumquat.

It was creamy, sweet enough, but, kinda boring, just ice cream.  They did garnish it with a few slices of kumquat, 2 segments of a citrus, 4 blueberries, and a piece of chocolate, but together these things didn't really add up.  No sauce, no cream, no crunchy element.

And ... it was served in a mini cast iron skillet?  That sort of serving vessel would be cute if it were, well, a hot dish, but ice cream in a cast iron skillet?  It just didn't make much sense to me.

My second favorite dessert, but I see no reason to get it, unless you really just wanted some ice cream.
Kheer. $8.
"Quinoa, cardamom, coconut milk, jaggery."

I was fairly excited by the kheer.  I adore puddings of all kinds, and a comforting rice pudding can really hit the spot for me.  I was a little worried by the cardamom since I don't tend to like cardamom that much, but I wasn't scared off by the quinoa.

I should have been scared off, although I'm not sure by what.  It was not good.

The flavor was really strange.  No one liked it.  It was funny watching each person take a bite, think it wasn't good but not understand why others were saying it was so bad, and then wait for the aftertaste to hit them.  The aftertaste was just awful.  I can't explain what it was, but, it was not good.

The quinoa also gave it a crunchy texture, which no one really enjoyed inside the creamy base.

On top was a bunch of random fruits.  Two more segments of citrus (just like the kulfi), pomegranate seeds, a skewer with blueberries on it, and ... rose petals?  They really were trying with the garnishes, but, they again didn't really make sense.

Universal least favorite dessert, absolutely do not recommend.
Royal Mousse. $8.
"Bread, bavarian cream, pistachio."


And finally, the dessert I was excited by, and insisted we order two of.  This was the right move.  We probably could have taken down three or four.

Of course, I knew what to expect from this one as I had done my research, but the others hadn't.  "Bread" doesn't exactly sound exciting, does it?

I think they were a little surprised when this showed up, looking more like two fried doughnuts than a slice of bread.  It certainly didn't taste like it looked though, it was not a doughnut at all.  I think it may have been made with chickpea?  It was really crispy, really oily, very fried.  The others mentioned it was too crispy for their liking, or too oily, but I strangely liked it, even though I acknowledge it was oil soaked.  I particularly liked cutting off a chunk and dunking it in the mousse.

The mousse itself was rich, creamy, a good thick consistency.  It made for a fine pudding, but really was excellent with a bite of the "bread".

The menu said "pistachio" was an ingredient, but we didn't find any pistachio.  It came garnished with two crispy things, one I think was white chocolate, but I'm not sure what the other was.

Definitely the winning dessert, and probably my favorite dish of the night, mostly as it was more unique than I expected.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Club Lounge, Sheraton Lisboa

The Club Lounge at the Sheraton Lisboa is a fairly small lounge, offering typical Sheraton Lounge service: limited breakfast, snacks in the afternoon, evening canapes and drinks.  The food was not very good.  Like the Lobby Bistro downstairs, items weren't really labelled.

There is no business center, no board room, nothing extra.

It was also the least friendly lounge I've ever been to.  My key card did not work on the first day, nor did the cards for two others who were standing in the hall unable to get in.  They said that they tried to get in, and the Sheraton staff member just ignored them every time he walked by.  He finally made eye contact with me, and came out to tell us to go away, and go to reception.  We did, and the line there was crazy long with folks checking out.  The whole ordeal added at least 30 minutes to my getting breakfast the first day.

Once I finally got in, he did not offer coffee nor tea.  He really just stormed around the lounge the entire time, not speaking to anyone except to ask their room numbers as they entered, double checking that they were valid guests.

This is in stark contrast to say the Club Lounge at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, where the staff take the time to get to know you on day one, greet you by name, know your favorites by day two, and take care of any extra thing you need.

Setting

The Club Lounge at the Sheraton Lisboa is located on the 24th floor, with sweeping views over Lisbon.  The views are probably the highlight of the space.
Main Room.
The main room has a TV, espresso machine, tea station, and buffet along one side.

The room has small tables for 2-3, with comfortable padded chairs.

Little vases with fresh flowers adorn the tables.
Side Room.
The side room has a wall of mirrors with bench seating, with a row of tables for two with cloth arm chairs opposite.

This is also where a juicer is set up at breakfast, and a small tea station is located.

Breakfast

The breakfast spread is *much* smaller than what is in the buffet downstairs, but, the lounge is quiet and peaceful, so if you want a simple breakfast, it is a much nicer option, ambiance-wise.
Espresso Maker.
In the main room is a Nespresso machine.  The first day, I helped myself to it, as did other guests.  The next day, I was actually asked what I'd like to drink, and I said a decaf Americano, and pointed at the machine, saying I could do it.  Instead, I was escorted over to the machine to watch the guy make it, not as I like (I like a big, full coffee, so I want water in first, then the pod).  I'm not sure if we all broke the rules the first day?

But a few days later, I watched everyone making their own, and no one interfered.  I don't really understand the rules, and I've certainly been to lounges where they absolutely do not let you make your own, so I'm always cautious.
Juicer!
In the side room was a juicer, with apples, oranges, and carrots on the side.

On my last day, I finally decided to try it.  No one else was.

It was ... well, fresh juice.  I made a carrot juice.  It was what it was.
Pastries, Breads.
They had pastries, a much smaller selection than what is available in the restaurant.

Just plain croissants, chocolate croissants, apple strudel, and soft torpedo rolls in one basket, hard bread rolls in another, and bread to slice below.  A standard toaster and jams and butter were provided, no Nutella.
Smoked Salmon, Caviar and Blinis, Cut Fruit, Muesli.
They had slightly different fruit options, including some mediocre chunks of papaya.

The caviar from downstairs also made an appearance, with slightly fewer accompaniments.

No natural yogurt, but a few packaged yogurts were available in the drink fridge.
Meat, Cheese, Cereal.
And again, reduced selection.  Tomato and mozzarella salad that looked as bad as downstairs (seriously, those tomatoes!), a single type of sliced cheese, and single type of sliced meat.

Interestingly, the cereal choices were different.  Downstairs had bran sticks, corn flakes, and a chocolate cereal.  Here we had corn flakes and a raisin bran with coconut flakes

Only one type of (unlabeled) milk.

The raisin bran turned out to be basically my favorite thing out of both downstairs and upstairs breakfast.  Large flakes, good crunch.  I liked the addition of the coconut.  I had it with vanilla soy milk to sweeten it up.  Simple, but not awful.
Hot Food, Drinks.
A single chafing dish had some scrambled eggs and bacon, and was never replenished while I was there, as the lounge was not busy, and no one went for this.

For drinks there was basic orange juice, a red juice, champagne, and still water laid out, although other drinks were in the fridge.

Apples and oranges were in a bowl on the side.

Afternoon

In the afternoon, a few snacks are laid out.  Not sure when, not sure if they change, but I stopped in one afternoon to escape my crazy hot room, and was happy to find egg tarts.
Peanuts, Chips, Olives.
Plain peanuts, salty chips, and, uh, salty olives.

I had a few chips, just classic ripple potato chips.  This selection never changed.
Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers, Lemons, Melted Ice.
I wanted ice for my water since it was warm, but, this was a bucket of melted ice most days.

The little appetizer changed daily, tomato and mozzarella skewers one day, watermelon (!) skewers the next.
Pastel de Nata (Egg Tarts), Cookies.
I was pretty excited when I saw the egg tarts.  I had no expectations that they'd be good, except that I kno the hotel sells them in the restaurant for 7€, so I thought they might be decent.

And ... they were about on par with the breakfast baked goods.  The pastry crust wasn't flaky, the filling was just kinda meh.  I know the burnt top is how these tarts are supposed to be, but I really didn't care for the charred taste.  Just go to Pastéis de Belém and don't bother with anywhere else.
Apple Pastries, Cookies.
The next day featured different sweets - larger, hard cookies, and burnt apple strudel.
Assorted Fruit.
Whole fruit was available all day, for the healthy folks.  The grapes were mushy.

Happy Hour (5-7pm)

The evening brings a happy hour, with appetizers.
Canapes.
One station was spoons filled with ... stuff.  None are labelled.

From back row to front, they seemed to be:
White bread disk with ... cream cheese and a cherry on top?  It looked like egg salad at first as it was slightly yellow, but, it tasted like just cream cheese.  And, uh, a cherry?  Did not like.

Bacon wrapped date.  Crispy bacon, sweet date.  Hard to go wrong here.

Slice of a wrap, tortilla, cream cheese, carrots, cucumbers.  Mushy wrap, more cream cheese, meh.
Fruit Platter.
 The fruit platter was loaded with  melons, so I stayed away.
Tuna Sandwiches.
Finger sandwiches, with some kind of mayo based light meat product, I think tuna.  I didn't try them.
Hot Items: Meatballs, Salmon Skewers.
Around 5:15pm, hot food finally showed up.

Mini meatballs in a brown sauce (not tomato based?  I couldn't tell).  They tasted like frozen, boring mini meatballs.

The salmon skewers were very overcooked and fishy.  No glaze or sauce provided.  Did not like.
Cheese Platter.
4 types of mediocre cheese, walnuts, raisins, crackers, sliced baguette.

Not the most exciting cheese platter, no soft triple cream, no dried fruit besides raisins, no spiced nuts ... really just nothing very good.
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Monday, February 20, 2017

McDonalds, Portugal

Whenever we travel, Ojan and I like to stop by McDonald's or Burger King, to try out the local specialities (you do know that these places have special items in other countries, right?).  I really love seeing what local items fast food chains add to their menus to appeal to the locals.

Some have been quite good, like the Croque McDo at McDonald's in France, or, ZOMG, the Belgian waffles at Burger King in Germany.  So now, before I travel, I scope out the menus at the McDonald's and BK in the countries we are visiting.  Portuguese fast food didn't have much that appealed to me though, besides perhaps the "Pancakes n'ice", aka, pancakes with soft serve ice cream and sauce.  Ojan however wanted to try the local specialties, particularly after being pretty sick of highly mediocre Portuguese food the entire trip.  I was more than happy to go along to take a bite of everything ... and then stop by yet another bakery on the way back to the hotel and load up on goodies for myself.

The McCafe section of the McDonald's in Portugal actually was fairly interesting, as it even had pastel de nata, but, given how many pastries I was consuming on a daily basis, and the fact that I was going to just go to a bakery on the way back to the hotel, I didn't bother try any.  Next time, sorry.

Let's just say ... McDonald's in Portugal met my expectations.  Nothing really for me, but Ojan seemed to enjoy the experience.
Sopa à Lavrador.
"More than vegetables, a soup enriched with red beans, ham and pasta elbows. The right amount of garlic, onion and olive oil gives you the traditional taste, reminiscent of the soup grandmother. It combines well with ravenous appetites."  -- translated by Google translate.

Did you know that Portugal is one of the highest consumers of soup in the world?  I did not.  The McDonald's menu in Portugal has 4 soups total, including the national dish, caldo verdo (however they were sold out of it the day I was there).  So Ojan opted for another one, Lavrador, a bean soup with veggies and elbow macaroni.

Amusingly, this item caused his order to take quite a while.  "The soup is just being made now", we were told.  A few minutes later, a staff member came walking out with a huge pot of soup.  Ojan and I both laughed as we've never really seen a real pot of soup at McDonald's.  I guess they *do* take their soup seriously in Portugal!

Anyway, I tried a bite.  It was ridiculously hot, scalded my mouth, burnt my tongue.  Sue-worthy level of hotness, if we were in the US ...

It was also ridiculously bland.  It seemed to have decent ingredients though, plenty of kale (!), cabbage, and cubes of carrots and onions, decently cooked elbow macaroni, soft beans.  But the broth?  So flavorless.  I wrote, "flavorless broth", in my notes and moved on.

When Ojan tried it, he declared it, "The blandest soup I've ever put in my mouth."

So, impressively bland, which is even more impressive given that it seemed to have actual ingredients in it.
McBifana.
The other local item on the menu is the McBifana, the McDonald's version of the bifana, basically, "the national sandwich".

Apparently bifana is sold basically everywhere, including food trucks, mall food courts, cafes, and snack bars, generally as an item you grab and eat, not a sit down meal.  In the non-McDonald's world, it is a a soft Portuguese roll, with pork sauteed with garlic, and generally mustard or hot sauce on top.

We didn't ever have bifana in Portugal, so, I have no idea whatsoever if the version at McDonald's is remotely authentic.

It wasn't ... horrible.  The roll was soft, and better than a lot of the other bread I had on the trip.  It seemed many notches above normal McDonald's quality.  The pork was really strange though, it basically looked like a sausage patty, a thin cutlet, but tasted ... porkier.

On top was a creamy zesty sauce, some kind of special sauce that I didn't care for at all, but Ojan liked.

The menu had two versions of the sandwich on the menu, one with mustard, one without.  Ojan opted for with, which, it turned out, just meant that it came with a squeezable mustard packet on the side.

So, better than expected for sure, but totally not my thing.
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Just Pure Foods

I have a snacking problem.  I admit it.  I love snacks.  I love to munch on things.  Popcorn (savory or sweet) is a major weakness of mine.  And all varieties of (homemade) Chex mix.  Seriously, I'm a munchaholic.  And, sadly, most of the things I want to munch on are not necessarily the healthiest.  While basic chips have never been my vice, virtually any other crunchy finger food is.  I am always seeking out healthier alternatives.

Veggie chips are one item I love to try.  Of course, the ones I generally end up loving are even worse for me than regular potato chips, like the Creative Snack Co veggie chips I eat by the bucket when I visit my family.  Occasionally, I find some great kale chips that aren't totally unhealthy, but, in general, the healthier, dehydrated style of veggie chips rarely do it for me (like the dehydrated broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower snacks I tried from Dipperz or the strange zucchini puffs from Snapz).  But I keep trying.

Just Pure Foods is another maker of healthy snacks - minimally processed, raw, to preserve the nutrients.  They are certified organic.  They make kale chips, tomato chips, and zucchini chips, plus onion rings and kale-nola, most in several different flavors.  "Highly Nutritious & Insanely Delicious" is their trademark.

I was pleasantly surprised by the items I tried, and would like to try more of their products.
Seasoned Zucchini Strips.
"We didn’t want to call them fries to confuse y’all. Just dip in ketchup—‘nough said."

Most of the other veggie snacks produced by Just Pure Foods are standard round chips.  And they do make 3 varieties of zucchini (sesame dijon, pesto, and sour cream & onion), that way, but, also make these strips.  I picked them as they looked a bit more fun.

"Just like fries - dip in your favorite organic or raw ketchup!", the packaging proclaimed.  I can't say I was compelled to do that exactly (really, ketchup on zucchini?), but, they were a fun snack.

The strips came in different sizes, all thin strips of zucchini, still skin on.  They were crunchy in a good way.  The "seasoning" was a mix of herbs and spices (mesquite powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt), plus tamari, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.  They were a bit zesty, almost cheesy tasty, and fairly fascinating.  There was a slight bitterness that I didn't care for though, perhaps from the sprouted buckwheat that was also added?

Anyway, I easily polished off the bag, not sharing with Ojan.  Given the collection of various kale chips, tomato chips, cheesy quinoa chips, and more arranged on the counter (my rejects), this was the first bag I didn't hand over to him in a long time, so, that was saying something.

I wouldn't want another bag of these due to the bitterness, but, I'd try other items.
Spicy Jalapeno Tomato Chips.
"A perfect friend for you bowl of fresh guacamole or hummus!"

Tomato chips are offered in two varieties, pesto or spicy jalapeno.  I went spicy.

I almost liked these.  They were slices of roma tomatoes, dehydrated and crispy, with lots of seasoning (jalapenos, onion, carrots, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, bell pepper powder, and rock salt).  There was lots of flavor going on, and they were almost too zesty for me.  Like the zucchini sticks, they also had a bitterness, which I again attribute to the buckwheat.  Why was that added?

They were just too much to munch on plain, so I passed them off to Ojan, but he also didn't like them.
Spicy Tomato Chips: Salad Topping!
A few days later, I was making salad (to try out a new salad dressing for my blog, stay tuned!), and decided to try adding the spicy tomato chips on top.  I already had tomatoes, but I figured these would serve more like a crispy crouton, plus add some zing to the salad.

And ... they did.  Now my salad had crunch, more pops of color, and some kick to it.

So, while I didn't like eating them on their own as chips, they did work as a salad topping.  I imagine they could work inside a sandwich for some crunch too, or on a burger.
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