Category: Cafes, Bakeries, Ice Cream… (Page 1 of 6)

A foodie in San Francisco: Juniper

Is this award-winnning San Francisco bakery worth the hype?

Juniper is a relatively new bakery and café in San Francisco which gained fame a couple of weeks ago when it won a croissant competition. It made the papers and my husband, a croissant lover, decided he had to cross the Bay and try them himself. When he first went, the day after the newspaper article came out, he had to wait 45 minutes in line before getting the goodies – he just went back yesterday, early on a Saturday morning, and the wait was gone. The stuff was just as good, however.

Order with chocolate croissants, butter croissants, Cubano croissant, chocolate brownie and black sesame kouign amann

Butter croissant.

These are large, airy but still very buttery croissants. The outside is flaky – too flaky, really, they’re a mess to eat – and the inside soft and buttery, and rather insubstantial. It didn’t need any extra butter. We enjoyed the croissants very much.

Butter Croissant Loaf

We got this our first time. It’s basically a loaf of very airy/light croissant dough topped with either crystalized sugar butter or black sesame. We got the former and I also enjoyed it a lot – I loved the sugar. I prefer it to the croissants themselves.

Chocolate croissant.

These were also great, made with high quality dark chocolate and not too much of it. Specially after reheating it, it just melts in your mouth. And a little croissant goes a long way.

Black Sesame Kouign Amann

This is similar to a cinnamon roll but with a black sesame paste instead of cinnamon (or in addition to?). I loved the butteriness and caramelized sugar, both in flavor and texture, and the black sesame paste was pretty good too. The pastry wasn’t as sweet as I feared. I’d definitely get it again.

Chocolate Brownie

In my old age, I’ve lost much of my taste for chocolate so I no longer gravitates to brownies. Still, this one was pretty good. It was lighter/airier than ordinary brownies without sacrificing the chocolate flavor. For that reason, it was also less sweet. I would have preferred some nuts or something else to add to the smooth texture, however. I probably wouldn’t get it again for myself, but that’s just because I’m no longer a chocolate fiend.

Hazelnut Florentine Choux

This was basically a cream puff with a crust atop the cream. This one had “rum diplomat creme, hazelnut toffee crisp” and it was good but not great. The flavor was more sweet than anything else and I didn’t like the crust. We wouldn’t get it again.

Juniper Lemon Choux 

This one had “lemon curd, juniper berry, meringue, mint”. It was better than the hazelnut, as you could actually taste the lemon flavor, but also not compelling. It really felt like a generic dessert. I also wouldn’t order it again.

Cubano Croissant  

One of the awards Juniper won was for their Cubano croissant, which comes with “mojo pork, ham, pickle, whole grain mustard.” We enjoyed this very much. The light, airy croissant worked well as a base for the fillings. The mojo pork in itself was very tasty and had a melt-in-your-mouth texture I enjoyed. However, I actually preferred the croissant without it. The flavor and mouthfeel of the ham and cheese was too perfect and did not need the pork. The mustard could be a little overwhelming in some bites, they should use less. Still, I’d definitely order this again.

1401 Polk St,
San Francisco, CA
Daily 7:30am to 3pm

Oakland Eats: 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen

An Argentine opines!

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen could be described as the epitome of cultural appropriation. This Oakland restaurant is named after the Avenida 9 de Julio, the main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires and the widest avenue in the world, and serves Latin American styled empanadas. Owned by an American couple who fell in love with empanadas while studying in Costa Rica, the restaurant feels more like an ode than a theft. Plus, as someone who loves to cook all sorts of cuisines, I’m not a believer in cultural appropriation in the first place.

Empanadas seem to be having a moment in the US right now. They are basically round pastries filled with savory or sweet filling, folded in half and either fried or baked. They are a cousin to South Asian samosas, Central Asian samsas, Middle Eastern/East African sambusas and a sibling to Levantine fatay. Andalusians introduced them to Latin America and the rest of the Spanish empire, and you now can find them as far away as Guam. No country, however, is as fond of empanadas as Argentina, and most Argentinians would consider them – along with asado and milanesas – to be our national dish. You can find them at practically every bakery in Argentina – and there are bakeries in almost every block – and in specialty empanada stores. The latter are also showing up in the US. The Bay Area has long had several Argentine empanada shops.

9 Julio, however, is going for more of a fusion concept. They use the wheat flour, saucer-sized empanada shells most common in Argentina but with fillings inspired by the cuisines of the other Latin American countries. Their selection of empanadas is rather limited – they had six savory and two sweet when we visited -, but they do have a couple of other entrees as well. The empanadas are baked, rather than fry, and you can buy them uncooked and bake them yourself. If you do, I recommend that you brush them with egg wash and sprinkle some sugar on them. Empanadas are $4 each, $2 for the small dessert ones. I think 3 empanadas make a meal, but my friends all ordered just 2 each.

9 Julio is a smallish, very casual place. You order at the counter, get your sodas from a machine and wait for your name to be called. Most people seem to get their empanadas to go, so it’s easy to find seating, at least for dinner. Counter service was very friendly, and the owner checked on us at some point. Of note: 9 Julio doesn’t accept cash – you must pay with a credit or debit card. I’m personally bothered by businesses that don’t take cash, as I feel they discriminate against people who don’t have credit or debit cards , a group that includes younger people, low income people, immigrants and the unhoused. Given that they sell a rather low-priced product that would likely be popular with those of lower income, I can only think that they are purposely trying to limit who shops at their shop.

The shells

9 Julio has pretty standard white flour empanada shells, which they say the make in house. The shells are fine, but I think they need a tad more salt. I found them to not be as flavorful as I prefer them. Consistency wise they are pretty typical; I personally prefer the more phyllo dough one which La Salteña introduced now decades ago.

It tried the following empanadas – in addition to the ones I ate at the restaurant, I got a few to take home. Empanada shells lose their flakiness when microwaved, but these ones held up pretty well.

Cuban Picadillo

Cuban picadillo is very similar to the traditional Argentine ground beef empanada filling but is more flavorful. It’s indeed very similar to the filling I use myself for empanadas. 9 Julio’s Cuban picadillo empanadas were described as having “ground beef, tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, green olives, golden raisins, & capers.” They were quite good – even if not as good as mine. I felt the filling was missing some umami, perhaps they need more tomatoes? Still, they’re perfectly acceptable empanadas – which is quite a lot for me to say as an Argentine.

Jamaican Beef

This empanada had “ground beef, onions, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, & yellow curry.” I didn’t feel it was very different to the Cuban one, but it was spicier. My husband particularly liked it as he dislikes both olives and raisins and appreciates spice. He thought it was very tasty.

Chicken Rojo

This was described as having “braised chicken, onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, & guajillo chili sauce.” I was quite good but I also felt the filling was missing something, perhaps as simple as more time to rest or a bit more reduction time. Or who knows? Maybe just a tad more salt. The umami component was almost there, I could feel it on the back of my tongue but not quite making it to the forefront. Still, it was perfectly acceptable.

Mushroom & Onion

I liked this “wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, & fresh herbs” empanada, but I felt it needed more caramelized onions. The mushrooms were quite good and only a little rubbery. It’s a great option for vegetarians.

Apples & Dulce de Leche

The sweet empanadas are about half the size of regular empanadas and cost half as much. I didn’t have much hopes for the apples and dulce de leche empanada, but it was recommended by the cashier. Alas, I was right. Apples and dulce de leche don’t work well together. The flavors don’t combine at all. To make it worse, the apples had cinnamon in them, a flavor that definitely doesn’t work with dulce de leche.

Pineapple Rum

I liked this empanada better. The pineapple wasn’t too sweet and it was overall a tasty bite. Still, I didn’t like it enough to order it again.

Most of us just had water or soda with dinner, but my friend Elektra ordered the Guava Beer and she liked it. I thought it tasted like beer mixed with guava juice, and it definitely wasn’t my thing.

In all, we had a really nice experience. The empanadas are not mind blowing, but they are competent and I’d have them again. That said, 9 Julio’s anti-cash policy lives a very bitter taste in my mouth and that alone might prevent me from returning.

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen
5239 Claremont Ave, Suite A
Oakland, CA

L.A. Chow: Erewhon Tonic Bar

We tried the Hailey Bieber smoothie. Is it worth the hype?

If you are not on TikTok, you might never have heard about Erewhon, the pricy “health food” store in Southern California, which has gone viral for its smoothies. That’s where my daughter heard the super-expensive Hailey Bieber smoothie, which she sort-of-but-it’s-too-expensive-but-if-you-pay-for-it wanted to try. I was game. Sure, the 20-oz smoothie was nineteen-dollars-plus-tax-and-tip, but I figured we weren’t paying for the smoothie, we were paying for the experience. And really, an experience for three people for a fifteen minute drive and a bit over $20 is not bad.

The Erewhon in Calabazas was buzzing at mid-morning in a Wednesday. Apparently, everyone who wasn’t stuffing themselves at Porto’s, was getting some pretend healthy food and expensive smoothies here. Or, really, being seen. While middle age women shopped inside, the outside patio was filled with the young-enough-to-be-carded crowd. Beautiful people, because everyone is beautiful when they’re young.

I only had a quick look at the Erewhon market itself as my too-ashamed-to-be-with-mom daughter rushed us into the Tonic Bar at the far side of the market. The market looked like a smaller version of Sprouts. The Tonic Bar, like your typical cafe counter at any supermarket. I didn’t get a chance to look at prices, but looking at them online, they seem in line with Whole Foods or even the organic produce at Safeway.

Even the smoothie, which seemed outrageously expensive at $19, didn’t end up being so. Or rather, it turns out that all smoothies everywhere are outrageously expensive. Smoothies at Jamba Juice are $10 each – which is the same price as the 20-oz basic smoothies at Erewhon. The Haley Bieber smoothie is so much more because it has a lot of very weird ingredients, plus a famous name attached to it.

Ingredient wise, the Haley Bieber smoothie has “Malk almond milk, organic bananas, organic strawberries, organic avocado, organic dates, organic maple syrup, Vital Proteins vanilla collagen, vanilla stevia, sea moss, organic coconut creme, Driscoll’s Organic Strawberry Glaze”. The smoothie was originally released in conjunction with Haley Bieber’s skin product line and it’s suppose to help you achieve better skin – I’m guessing through its minute quantities of collagen and sea moss. Erewhon seems to keep the nutritional information of its smoothies a secret, but this one seems to have about 700 calories. With sugar from the maple syrup and the strawberry glaze in addition to that naturally occurring in the fruits, it’s also not fit for those in a low-sugar diet. It’s an unhealthy treat, and that’s how it should be seen.

But ultimately, it’s all about the taste and this smoothie is… not bad. Actually, I enjoyed it. It tastes like very light, not too sweet strawberries and cream ice cream with a ‘green’ undertone – I’m guessing from the sea moss. I liked how smooth and not-icy it was. It made me realize that what I dislike about smoothies is how icy they are, and what I dislike about shakes, is that they are too thick and not cold enough. This one had a thin, cold, smooth mouthfeel I really enjoyed. I also liked the strawberries and cream flavor and the fact that despite it having lots of sugar, it didn’t taste too sweet. Now, the colder something is, the less sweet it tastes, so that makes sense. And I liked the green flavor in the background. It wasn’t too forward but it gave it an ‘adult’ bitterness that made it feel more refreshing. I don’t make smoothies myself, but I was thinking about trying to make one by combining ice cream, milk (or almond milk), ice and some matcha powder and blending it very, very well.

Would I get it again? Not for $19 and 700-calories, but I’m glad I tried it once – and shared it with two other people.

L.A. Chow: Porto’s Bakery & Café

This Cuban Bakery is All the Rage in Southern California

Judge by the hype Porto’s has been getting in recent years, you would never guess that Porto’s Bakery has been around at its original location in Echo Park since 1976. Perhaps its expansion into six locations hit the Southern California zeitgeist at just the right time. Affordable prices at a time of high food inflation is certainly a draw. All I can say, is that when the co-founder died a couple of weeks ago this was news worthy of a “have you heard?”.

This was my second time at Porto’s. The first time I was less than impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved their prices but the baked goods? Not so much. Camila got a cinnamon coffee cake ($10.25 a small ring cake) that was quite good, mostly because of its cinnamon pecan streusel, and I’d had high hopes for the guava strudel ($1.25), but it turned out to be no better than what I could make myself with some puff pastry and guava jam. Later, my sister got the refugiados ($1.35) for her baby shower, which are guava strudels with the addition of cream cheese, and these were marginally better. Still, this is the one place my mother will go out for breakfast to, and I was happy to oblige her.

We hit the Porto’s in Northridge mid-morning on a Tuesday. I thought this would allowed us to beat both the breakfast and lunch crowds, but apparently everyone else thought the same, as the place was packed – just as packed as when I went for the first time earlier in a weekend morning a couple of months before. It is, fortunately, quite a large locale, so we were able to find a table to accommodate the four of us (+ newborn baby) fairly easily. This was also my opportunity to learn how Porto’s actually works.

You see, Porto’s has four different counters, and you have to go to the correct one to order what you want. At the Cafecito counter, which is located to the far left of the entrance, just next to the dining room, you can order coffee drinks, smoothies and juices – they do have fresh orange juice. They also have a small selection of baked goods. After you order, you need to hang around as they will call your name when your drink is ready.

I ordered a dulce de leche latte ($5 for a small), and I liked it quite a bit. For me, it had the perfect amount of sweetness and coffee flavor. It tasted as caramel rather than dulce de leche, however. My daughter also had one and she didn’t like at all – she thought it was too strong and not sweet enough; adding more sugar didn’t help. She is not a coffee drinker, however. My sister had the passion colada smoothie ($5.5), “mango and passion fruit ice-blended with a touch of coconut cream” and it was quite good, it did taste strongly of passion fruit.

At the Café counter, along the main wall facing the front door, you can order food, pastries and drinks. They have a breakfast menu, salads, sandwiches and main dishes as well as cold drinks. If you order a food dish you can also order any drink from the Cafecito offerings. If you just order a pastry, you’ll have to go to the Cafecito for your drinks (except for the beverages in the Cafe’s menu). The line here was quite longer than at the other counters, but they will bring your food to your table (as well as any Cafecito drink you order here). They give you an electronic device which allows them to locate you.

If you are only interested in getting pastries, then just head to the Bakery counter. The lines are shorter here and they go faster. You will be able to eat your goodies in the dining room, or any of the tables along the wall or in the patio outside.

Finally, at the end of that counter, you’ll find the Cakes counter, where you can pick up their cakes. They have some coffee cakes, loaf cakes and portioned caked desserts at the other counters, but round, decorated cakes are the Cake counter.

I wasn’t extremely hopeful about Porto’s, after my experience last time we visited, but I was willing to give it another college try. As it was mid-morning, neither breakfast nor lunch time, I decided to hit both at the same and get a little from each menu. Thus I ordered a croissant chocolate twist ($2.75) as it sort of reminded me of the wonderful torsades-aux-pepites-de-chocolat we used to breakfast with in Paris a whole lifetime ago. I won’t say it was that good, it lacked the wonderful pastry cream for one, but they were better than I expected. I appreciated the small chocolate pepites, much smaller than chocolate chips, and the dark chocolate flavor – which contrasted nicely with the mildly sweet pastry. It’s served cold, so it was better when I microwaved it later. I’ll definitely get this again.

I also got a baked ham & cheese croissant ($3.25), which I left for breakfast the next day as I wasn’t hungry enough for that and the rest. It’s also served cold so it does need to be microwaved, but it stood very nicely to the microwave and the pastry didn’t get too chewy, as often happens. I liked it even more than the ham & cheese croissant I get at my local bagel shop, and those are $6. This illustrates why Porto’s is so popular.

Finally, I got a ropa vieja sandwich ($8.7), which comes with crispy fried plantain slices. I was a little afraid when I ordered it. Ropa vieja – shredded beef cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with onions and bell peppers -, is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s a pain to make (well, to shred the beef), but it’s absolutely delicious. I got my recipe from a Frugal Gourmet cookbook ions ago, and I was a bit afraid about just how it would compare to the “real thing” – assuming that the ropa vieja at Porto’s would be that. And I was also afraid that Porto’s ropa vieja would just not be that good. I needn’t had worried. Porto’s ropa vieja was almost exactly like mine. It had a subtly bitter element – perhaps a different choice of wine? -, but it could have fooled me. So the ropa vieja sandwich was absolutely delicious. The soft bun had the right amount of filling and was a bit hard to maneuver, but I managed not to spill any on myself (a huge accomplishment). For less than $9, this was also wonderfully priced and oh, so delicious. I had the other half the next day for lunch, and it held up very well to the microwave. I’ll certainly be ordering this again. They also serve it as a plate, and I might do that instead.

Camila, had a chicken milanesa sandwich ($9.6), which comes with mozzarella cheese, tomato, smashed avocado, and spicy jalapeño spread, all in a Medianoche roll. She was quite happy with it, strange given everything the sandwich had inside it. But then again, this girl just loves milanesas.

My mother tried the Napoleon slice ($4.45), a cake consisting of layers of puff pastry covered with vanilla pudding and topped with puff pastry crumbs and powdered sugar. This is a pretty mild tasting dessert, which somehow manages to be more than the sum of its two parts. I think it’s because it’s comparably light and not too sweet, thus appealing to both the very young and the middle aged or older. Now, it won’t win any bakery awards, but it was pleasant enough.

My sister ordered the fresh fruit tartlet ($4.45), which was a little unwieldy and broke when she tried to take it out of the box, but she otherwise liked. It has a lot of fresh fruit, including apple slices. This is a good bet for people who are pretending to be healthier.

Given that Porto’s is the one place my mom will go ut to for breakfast, I will no doubt be returning. But I would return anyway after this experience.

Porto's Bakery & Café
19467 Nordhoff St
(818) 534-5210
Daily 6:30 AM - 8 PM
Part of a Southern California chain

San Leandro Bites: KoolFi Ice Cream @ the Cherry Festival

KoolFi Ice Cream is a local favorite, but does it live up to the hype?

Saturday was the Cherry Festival in San Leandro. Now that my children are gone, I don’t feel the need to join the crowds in watching a parade and listening to music, so I happily stayed home. My husband, however, is a huge fan of festivals and local activities, so not only did he go, but he brought me some ice cream from KoolFi Creamery, the Indian ice cream shop that all my friends rave about. KoolFi was having a special cherry flavor for the festival, and though Mike doesn’t like cherries, he had to try it.

This was not our first time trying KoolFi ice cream. My wonderful friend Elektra had gotten me a sampler for my birthday (I think) last year, which I’d much appreciated, even if I hadn’t been a huge fan of any of the flavors – I guess Indian flavors are not my thing.

The ice cream was, as you can expect, somewhat melted by the time Mike got it home, but I don’t think that affected it much. He had the cherry with chocolate flakes and was quite happy with it. I tried it, and frankly the chocolate flavor predominated. It was good. I had the mango lassi flavor, and I enjoyed it as well. I particularly liked the smoothness, even silkiness of the ice cream. I didn’t think, however, that it was so much better than other ice creams as to justify the steep price – I think it was $7 for a rather small scoop. The ice cream is organic, however.

KoolFi Creamery
599 MacArthur Blvd
San Leandro, CA
W - Su 3 PM - 9 PM

Dining in Cambria: Linn’s Easy As Pie Café

Pies and Simple Fair in Very Cute Surroundings

Linn’s Easy As Pie Café is one of what are now half a dozen Linn family ventures which originated from their “pick your own berry outfit” back in the ’70’s. They have a farm store at the actual farm and a full fledged pricy restaurant, a gourmet food store, a boutiques & books store and this café in Cambria. We decided to stop at the Café for a quick bite and, of course, a slice of their famous olallieberry pie.

Linn’s Café is very small and very cute. Inside it has a counter where you order, a small gift shop – very cute stuff – and a quaint dining room. There is a small patio outside, with trees, plants and decorations. A nice, informal place for lunch.

Their menu is rather limited, however. They had a few soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as a daily special. In addition, they have their pies – which you can get whole or by the slice – as well other baked goods.

My daughter got the Caesar Salad. She thought it was average good, though she disliked that it came with tomatoes – she’s not a fan.

I got a slice of the olallieberry pie with ice cream. Olallieberries are a hybrid of blackberries, raspberries and dew berries, and he pie mostly reminded me of the boysenberry pie at Knott’s Berry Farm. As boysenberries are also a similar hybrid, this should not be surprising. The pie, warmed up, was quite good – not as overwhelmingly sweet as some berry pies can be. The vanilla ice cream was also very tasty and helped cut down the sweetness even further. We took a whole pie home with us, and my husband liked it quite a bit.

This simple lunch plus 2 sodas came out to about $27 before the tip – so not what you’d call cheap, but the Central Coast is expensive. Still, it was so cute, I’d stop by again.

Linn's Easy As Pie Café
4251 Bridge St
Cambria, CA
(805) 924-3050
Daily 11 AM - 5:30 PM

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Panera has gotten worse

This chain sandwich store seems to have downgraded the quality of its sandwiches.

I discovered Panera during the pandemic, when I was looking for restaurants that offered family meals. I had heard, of course, of Panera before, but never felt compelled to try it. We had it several times during the pandemic, and I became a fan of their tomato soup and their steak and horseradish sandwiches. Still, after a while I forgot about it altogether until last week, when I got an e-mail with a free birthday pastry offer from them, and then saw them in the news for their literally killer drinks. So I got a craving and, after three years, I decided to order another family deal.

Panera has changed a bit since I last ordered. It still serves sandwiches, pastries, salads and soups, but the sandwiches themselves have changed. The prices have sort of increased as well, but it’s the quality going down that is the real problem.

Like in the past, I ordered a family deal. It’s now $36, up 24% from what it cost in 2021. It comes with 4 half-sandwiches, a salad, a quart of soup and a baguette. Pannera no longer has my favorite steak with horseradish sandwich, and instead they now sell a ciabatta cheesesteak ($15) that comes in a ciabatta roll and is served with Provolone cheese, caramelized onions, peppadew peppers and garlic aioli. Ciabatta is a very substantial roll which calls for a lot of filling for balance. This sandwich lacked it, which meant that the overall result was just too bready. Both the onions and the peppadews are served chopped and there were so many of the latter that they overwhelmed the sandwich, I could barely taste anything else. In all, I don’t think I’d order this sandwich again.

I liked the bacon avocado melt ($11) more, and it was probably my favorite of the four sandwiches I tried. It was also the one with the thinnest bread. The sandwich was very simple, but very tasty. It had bacon bits, melted cheddar and sliced avocado. It comes in sliced sourdough bread with chipotle aioli. It needed more avocado, but it was actually quite tasty.

The smokehouse BBQ chicken ($12) was just OK. The chicken itself had no flavor, so the sandwich tasted only of red onions and BBQ sauce. I liked the sauce well enough, but not enough to order it again. this sandwich also came in a ciabatta roll, and there wasn’t enough filling to balance all that bread.

Finally, we had the chicken bacon rancher ($14), which comes with pulled chicken, bacon bits, white cheddar and ranch sauce in a black pepper focaccia roll. The focaccia was good, but it really overwhelmed the filling. The chicken, again, was under-seasoned and while the bacon was able to carry the sandwich through, it wasn’t that exciting. I also wouldn’t order it again.

The tomato soup ($9.50 bowl/$26 quart) was just as good as I remember – but really not significantly better than the packaged Panera soup that you can get at the supermarket. Given that it’s just $10-12 for the 32-oz package at Safeway, it doesn’t seem worth it to get it at the restaurant (unless it’s part of a family deal as in this case). The baguette ($2.20) with a crunchy, hard exterior and a very chewy middle, is quite good.

Finally, both my husband and daughter really liked the Caesar Salad ($10.40). The vegetables are fresh and crisp and there is enough dressing to cover them all. In the past, the family meal included the more expensive chicken Caesar salad, but as my daughter prefers it without chicken, we are actually happy that they’ve removed it.

I might try the family deal again, but I’d probably try other sandwiches to see if any are substantially better.

I also got a cinnamon roll ($4.60) as dessert, given that I had a free pastry coupon. It was the end of the day, so it was hard, but after microwaving it, it loosened. It was quite tasty.


A couple of days after this meal, Panera got me again by sending me a couple of big “rewards”. One gave me 50% off a single entree and the other gave me a free drink, treat or cup of soup with a $10 purchase. Of course, the two could not be combined – only one reward per purchase. But Panera still had its “get 15% off gift cards” promo, so I got that as an additional discount. In all, I spent $21 to get 2 sandwiches and a cup of food, which isn’t bad but not super great either.

For my sandwich, I started with the bacon avocado melt ($11) but I got it in focaccia bread, and added tomatoes and caramelized onions. The results were great. I liked it better than the original.

For my freebie, I got a cup of the French onion soup ($7.60), which comes with a piece of bread, a bag of chips or an apple – though they gave me both the bread and the chips. The soup was actually pretty good, it had a nice caramelized onion flavor which was deep but not too bitter. It did need more cheese. I would have added more, but I then would have had to warm the soup – which was barely warm by the time it got home. Still, it was quite satisfactory. In all, half a sandwich plus the soup was a satisfactory meal and left me stuffed, and considering that I have the other half of the sandwich for later, it was a great deal – but only because of the promo. I did read that promos become much more stingy the more you go to Panera, so this will probably be my last time.

I also use the 50% off promo (in a separate purchase) to get a ciabatta cheesesteak for my daughter and her boyfriend. I doubled the meat (and should have doubled the extra lettuce) and half a sandwich was sufficient for each one of them for a mid-afternoon snack. The discount didn’t apply to the extra meat, only to the original price of the sandwich.

While you can make up to five customizations on sandwiches you order by themselves, you can’t customize them in the family meal. So I think I will order Panera again if I get good coupons, but not otherwise.

24133 Southland Dr
Hayward, CA
(510) 732-0279
M-SU 7 AM - 8 PM

New Orleans Food Tour: Cafe du Monde

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Wherein we confirm that beignets are just not our thing.

The Cafe du Monde is one of the America’s oldest – and most famous – cafes, serving chicory coffee and beignets since 1862. This open air cafe is located at one end of the French market in the French quarter and attracts endless lines of tourists. While our visit to Cafe Beignet had pretty much convinced us that we didn’t like beignets, any visit to New Orleans demands a visit to Cafe du Monde. Alas, rather than face the crowds myself, I sent Mike to get us beignets. I didn’t burden him with getting chicory coffee, as I was pretty sure I would not like it. Chicory has been used as a coffee extender for ages, and while it has become quite popular in New Orleans, there is a reason why that popularity hasn’t travelled (I guess this is just as true for beignets). Plus our hotel had normal coffee available for guests.

The beignets come in paper bags, three to an order ($3.85)

They had irregular shapes, they were probably rectangular to being with but they deformed in the hot oil. I liked them better than those at Cafe Beignet because they were slightly lighter and less dense, but only slightly. These were still heavy, chewy and just not that tasty. Again, regular doughnuts are far superior.

Still, I’m glad we tried them.

Besides its location at the French Market, Café du Monde has several locations throughout New Orleans, including one at the airport. So, if unlike us, you do like beignets, you can pick some up right before you fly back home.

Cafe du Monde
800 Decatur St
New Orleans, LA
(504) 587-0833
Su-Th: 7:15AM-11PM
F-Sa: 7:15AM-12AM

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Pralines @ New Orleans School of Cooking

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Wherein we find out that we don’t love pralines

The New Orleans School of Cooking is just across the street from Johnny’s Po-Boys, so after lunch at Johnny’s we headed there to get some pralines. While the New Orleans School of Cooking is an actual school that offers demonstration and hands-on cooking classes, our mule-carriage tour guide had pointed it out to us as a place where to get pralines, another New Orleans specialty.

Pralines are sweet confections of nuts in a caramelized sugar base. In France, these are rather hard, closer to brittle and typically based on almonds. In America, pralines are made with a combination of sugar, butter and cream, milk or half and half and typically pecan based. They are closer to a nutty fudge than a candy.

The New Orleans School of Cooking makes their pralines on site, and they generously offer you samples. They have both plain and a chocolate kind. I preferred the plain but they were too sweet for my taste. I also didn’t really like how soft they were. We bought a couple, but I never actually felt tempted to eat them. Still, if you like fudge and pecans, you’ll probably like them.

New Orleans School of Cooking
524 St. Louis Street
New Orleans, LA
Daily 9am - 5pm

New Orleans Food Tour

New Orleans Food Tour: Café Beignet

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

It turns out beignets are not for us.

New Orleans is famous many dishes, with savory and sweet, but among the latter beignets reign supreme – at least, among tourists. I can only imagine that it’s the fun of eating a pastry that is guaranteed to cover you and everything around you with powdered sugar that makes them so appealing. And fun they are, even if they otherwise were rather disappointing.

Among the establishments serving beignets in the French Quarter, the two most prominent ones are Cafe du Monde, which has been selling beignets since 1862, and Café Beignet, a mere 30 year old restaurant which makes up for its youth by having actually four different branches in the city. We visited the one on Decatur St. for breakfast our first morning in New Orleans, though we twice stopped at the one on Bourbon Street to rest our feet and listen to some live Jazz. The garden at the latter site is glorious.

The Café Beignet branch on Decatur Street has a fun dining room, somewhat evocative of la Belle  Époque. The wooden bar is beautiful. Outdoors, there are only a couple of tables on the sidewalk by the restaurant. It’s not particularly picturesque, but it allows you to people watch as you eat.

You order at the counter, and food is brought to your table. The menu consists of omelettes, sandwiches, breakfast items and Creole specialties like jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. And, of course, beignets and other pastries. They have a bunch of coffee dishes, but not fresh orange juice.

I’m not a breakfast eater myself, so I ordered the beignets ($4.50 for 3). These were relatively large squares of fried dough covered with powdered sugar. As the powdered sugar is the same everywhere, it was all about the fried dough. And this fried dough was not great. It was dense and chewy and not particularly flavorful on its own (thus the need for powdered sugar). Basically, they were heavy – and the last thing you want in the morning is a heavy piece of fried dough. I ate a beignet and sort of nibbled on the second one. Mike took a bite, and was done.

Apparently, the problem with New Orleans beignets is that they are made from a leavened dough instead of the choux pastry used in France. The latter makes them far lighter and enjoyable.

Mike ordered the Andouille sausage omelette ($12), which came with grits and a slice of French bread. Miked liked it. The sausage was very tasty, spicy and flavorful, and it was well mixed with the omelette. The omelette was on the small side, but it wasn’t very expensive. The grits and herbed toasted bread was a disconcerting choice – Mike would have preferred a biscuit.

Café Beignet
600 Decatur Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
M-Th 8am-6pm
F-Su 8am-8pm

New Orleans Food Tour

« Older posts

© 2024 Marga's Food Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Follow by Email