Tag Archives: reviews

Primal Kitchen Beef & Mushroom Bowl – Review

I found these frozen bowls at Grocery Outlet, I think for $4. I was impressed by the simple ingredients and “grass fed” beef so I figured I’d give them a try. It was fine, about the quality you expect from frozen food. The beef consists of “patty crumbles”, the mushrooms are limp and the sauce is basic a tomato sauce, a little bit spicy and a little bit undersalted. The dish is in need of a starch, some bread, rice or cornbread would probably compliment it nicely. Of course, they are sold to cater to the “paleo” market, thus their lack of carbs.

I did like that it came in what seems to be a compostable bowl and is covered with wax paper – but I have curve side composting. And the portion was large enough for a light lunch. I just wasn’t sold on the flavor.

Primal Kitchen, which started as a small company but was later acquired by Kraft, sells 3 frozen bowls – the other two are panang curry and chicken pesto. It’s not clear to me if the bowls are in the process of being discontinued, however. The only place I can find that sells them, other than Grocery Outlet, is Thrive Market, where they retail for $9. They used to be $8 at Safeway, but they’re no longer available.

Tapsilog Express in San Leandro offers tasty, quick Filipino silogs

Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

I’m a big fan of Filipino food, a very successful fusion of Asian and Spanish/Latin American cuisine, but we seldom get it because Filipino restaurants don’t really cater to vegetarians or vegans, and one of my daughters is one. So when we were kidless a few nights ago, it was a great opportunity to try one of the local Filipino restaurants. It was a wonderful night, so we figured we’d get take out and eat it in the patio, and Tapsilog Express seemed best suited for an easy take out experience. It was.

Tapsilog Express has some indoor seating, in a pleasant though not particularly alluring room, but it’s mostly a take out place. They have a simplified menu of meat mains served with rice and a fried egg, as well as some appetizers, drinks and a couple of desserts. We got two orders of lumpia, the tosilog and the chorizosilog . I also got the pineapple cooler and flan for dessert. The food came out very quickly, about 10 minutes after ordering.

The lumpia ($7.50 per order) were small, 1 1/2″ pieces, but there was a good amount of them per order (the picture shows two). They were tasty by themselves, which is a good thing as the sweet and sour sauce they came with was overwhelmingly sour and not very tasty. I’d only get these again if I had sauce at home.

Tosilog ($11) is described as Filipino bacon, but it’s more like pork strips marinated in a sweet sauce. It lacks the crispiness of bacon. It was pretty good, though I felt it lacked “umph”. Still, I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed mixing the egg yolk with the rice.

My husband similarly enjoyed his chorizo ($11). It was slightly sweet and very tasty. He’d get it again.

The flan itself was pretty standard, but the caramel sauce was tastier than usual – probably because it was cooked to perfection. I’m a big flan fan and I’d have it again.
I seldom get juices/fountain drinks at restaurants (other than soda), but their pineapple cooler ($3) had good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It was actually very good, a great proportion of pineapple juice to water, so that it had a nice pineapple taste but it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet or heavy. I’d have it again.
Tapsilog Express
14843 Washington Ave.
San Leandro, California
(510) 878-1232
M-Su 11:30 am – 07:30 pm

Pasquier Macarons – Ooh La la

I’ve finally found a brand of macarons worth the hype

My oldest daughter loves macarons – which really the only reason I ever buy them, or eat them. I’ve tried a few here and there: frozen and fresh ones from the supermarket or specialty stores, gourmet ones from French bakeries, both in the US and in Paris, and I’ve even made them myself – but I never have really gotten the point of them. They usually consist of a too-dry-cookie with an underwhelming filling. I’ve never been impressed, until now.

I’m pleased to say that Pasquier makes the best macarons that I’ve ever had and that they are easily available and not too expensive (as far as macarons go, these are very expensive pastries to begin with). The cookies are moist while still having a bit of crunch, and the flavors of both the cookie and the filling are explosive. They are just delicious.

The macarons come in six flavors: vanilla, pistachio, caramel, raspberry, lemon and chocolate, and I can’t say I have a favorite (OK, maybe pistachio, but maybe lemon). They all hit the right spot, albeit with a tiny bit too much sweetness. They are tiny, I’d say the size of a silver dollar if I remembered just how big those were. But if you can resist not emptying the box, you do get a lot of flavor for your buck. They are made in France, they are refrigerated and you must consume them within 2 days of opening the box. I don’t think you’ll have trouble.


I found them at Grocery Outlet for $5 for a box of 12 (5.6 oz total), but they also seem to be available at Sprouts and Good Eggs for $7-8 and at Target for $11.

Malabar Restaurant Review – Santa Cruz

My first visit to a Sri Lankan restaurant.

We were in Santa Cruz visiting our college-student, and I decided to check out Malabar for the simple reason that I couldn’t ever recall having had Sri Lankan food. That turned out to not be true, I did cook Ceylonese food a couple of decades ago as part of my international food project, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an actual Sri Lankan restaurant.

Malabar’s menu is pretty short – though that may be as a result of the COVID pandemic and the current labor shortage (they’re hiring, btw) -, and features a few dishes from India and Malaysia/Singapore, in addition to Sri Lankan ones. Mains tend to average about $20. The restaurant seems to have a nice, if generic, dining room but also has a couple of tables on the sidewalk, and that’s where we ate.

We started by sharing an appetizer of vegetable roti ($9.50). This was similar to a stuffed dosa, with a filling made from leeks, potatoes and cabbage. It was pretty tasty, even if the curry sauce it came with was not as delicious as the yellow curries you often get with rotis at Thai restaurants. It also came with a spicy tomato sauce that carried a lot of heat.

For our mains, my daughter had the mixed vegetable curry (“Mixed vegetables in a Sri Lankan style coconut curry”, $17.50) and I had the Sri Lankan Yellow Curry ($19.50). Both dishes turned out to be the same yellow curry. While my daughter’s was served with large pieces of broccoli, carrots, peppers, cabbage and kale, mine had a snapper filet as the base (you can substitute for chicken or salmon at an extra cost). Unlike other curries I’ve had in the US, the filet was served whole, rather than in chunks. The curry itself was very thin (a feature it shared with the Ceylonese curry I made myself), with a pretty mild flavor. It was tasty but it lacked both the consistency and layers of flavor you get in a Thai curry, for example. Perhaps it’s best to see it as a curry soup. I’m not 100% sure that it worked that well with the snapper, but it was a pleasant enough dish to eat, even if not one I’d rush to order again. My daughter felt pretty much the same. Both dishes were served with rice, which seemed like a medium grain type, a little on the sticky side. I don’t know that I loved it.

My husband ordered the Devil Lanka with snapper ($21.50), a dish consisting of fish cooked with “cardamom, cinnamon, clove, Anaheim papers, cucumber, pineapple, curry leaves, carrots, tomato, red onion” and “served in a sweet sour and spicy tomato sauce”. He was quite happy with his dish. It wasn’t like anything he’d had before, and he liked the flavors.

Service was very good, our servers were very attentive and friendly. They do ask you to use your phone to scan a QR code to look at the menu (which is also posted outside), but when I mentioned that I didn’t have a smart phone, they brought us a paper menu. My daughter who did have a smart phone with her felt looking at the menu on the small phone screen was very difficult, so she used the paper one instead.

In all we had a very nice time, the street wasn’t very busy (though there was a fair amount of people coming in and out of the restaurant, it’s obviously popular for take out) and we felt safe eating there.

I didn't take any pictures, however (that lack of smart phone and all).

Malabar Restaurant
514 Front St
Santa Cruz, CA
(831) 201 4438
T-Th 5pm - 9:00 pm, F 5pm - 9:30 pm, Sa-Su 12 pm - 2:30 pm and  5pm - 9:30 pm



Safeway Sub Sandwich Review

It’s a great deal when it’s on sale

The Safeway sub, with a bread knife and fork for size comparison.

Every Friday, Safeway supermarket has a bunch of items on sale for $5. Usually this includes a couple of items from their deli, and more often than not, it includes their “Signature Cafe All American Sub,” which is normally $10. This 14″+, 2lb sandwich includes ham, cured turkey, white American cheese and romaine lettuce. The ingredient list says it also has beef, mayo and mustard, but these never seem to make an appearance in my sandwiches. Adding the latter two improves the experience. The sandwich could probably also used more cheese, there really isn’t enough to cover all the meat.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s a damn good sandwich. For $5, it’s an excellent sandwich. It provides enough food for easily 3-4 meals and it actually keeps fairly well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

The bread is usually on the hard side, but the sub I got today was in a soft roll, which I prefer.

All in all, this is one of the best deals at Safeway. Look for it on Fridays.

Tacos Los Amigos – Oakland

I finally get the taco obsession

Carne Asada Tacos

I’ve eaten tacos for years, decades really. Not too many tacos, though, because I never quite got the point of them. Often, I wasn’t fond of the toppings, or the taco sauce and the tortilla-to-meat ratio never seemed to make sense to me. Plus I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas in the first place. So, for me, it’s been all about burritos. Until a few nights ago, that is, when my daughter had a taco hankering herself and decided to drive to Tacos Los Amigos in East Oakland to get some. I asked her to bring a single beef taco and boy!, it was love at first bite. I finally get tacos.

I can’t tell you what it actually is, but the combination of beef, diced onion, cilantro and whatever else was on those tiny tortillas just did it for me. I don’think it was the sauce because when I got them again, they had a white sauce (it was a more orange one that first night). But both sauces worked. The tacos just tasted fresh and authentic (though I think I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten tacos in Mexico, my travel adventures there are limited to the Yucatan, the land of salbutes and panuchos, which are delicious, but not really tacos). I actually appreciated, for once, the flavor of the corn tortilla. They were tiny, mind you, but they were gooood.

Al Pastor Tacos

I was just as happy with the two al pastor tacos I got during my second visit (or rather, the second time I sent my daughter to get them). The slightly sweet pork was tasty and went very well with the other standard toppings. I might have even liked them more than the carne asada ones.

There are several problems with Los Amigos, however. One is that as it’s located in East Oakland, I don’t feel very safe sending my teen daughter to get me some (though she does), plus the truck is not really close to my house. Second, they are not cheap – at around $3.50 for pretty small tacos (think 4 tacos for a normal dinner). Third, Los Amigos seems to have eclectic hours – they weren’t there last Sunday evening when I sent my daughter to get more tacos (but they were Monday night). But the biggest problem is that I’ve been left wanting more tacos now.

Los Amigos Taco Truck
5401 International Blvd
Oakland, CA
(510) 379-0846
Uncertain hours

Kirkland Signature Chicken Street Tacos Review

Surprisingly tasty dinner is not the best deal in town

In the last couple of years, I’ve tried a few of Costco’s ready-to-heat meals and I have generally been pleased enough with them. I don’t remember exactly what tempted me to get this particular kit, but it got fairly good reviews online, it wasn’t as carb-heavy as Costco’s pastas and I probably had no other plans for dinner that night. In all, I was fairly happy with it but I found it to be overpriced at the $19 instacart price, so unless I’m actually at Costco and it’s significantly cheaper, I don’t think I’d get it again.

The kit consists of moderately spiced cooked chicken, shredded cabbage, shredded Mexican cheese, a quartered lime, pots of salsa and cilantro lime crema and 12 small flour tortillas. The chicken had a pretty good flavor and it was fairly moist. To warm it up I simply heated up some oil on a skillet and cooked it, stirring often, for a few minutes. It didn’t dry out but it did acquire a nice charred flavor on some parts. The salsa was pretty standard and also a tad spicy – I would have preferred pico de gallo myself, but then again, I often do. The cilantro lime crema was OK, but I also would have preferred plain old sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Now, I understand the difficulty of including cilantro in a kit like this, but the crema was really not a good substitute. Finally, I did miss the kit not including guacamole.

Altogether, the ingredients put together on a tortilla made very tasty tacos. Perhaps not as good as those from my corner’s Mexican restaurant, but still tastier than I had expected.

The main problem with the kit is that it’s just not very large. I’d say it feed 2 hungry people or 3 if you use up all the cabbage and tortillas. Now, that’s not bad for $19, but not great either, in particular when compared to the just-cooked and ready-to-eat fiesta packs from El Torito – which cost twice as much but give you more than twice the food, plus which you don’t need to heat up.

Finca Helechal Ibérico Sampler: Review

Expensive but Delicious

I wouldn’t have paid $20 for 4 oz of Ibérico cold cuts if it wasn’t my birthday. But it was, so when I saw this tapas sampler at Cost Plus I threw caution to the wind and put it in my cart. I’m glad I did. While ridiculously expensive (but, Ibérico ham is ridiculously expensive in Spain too – though a sampler like this would cost about half to a third as much), it was absolutely delicious. As good as any pork product I’ve had in Spain, at stores or restaurants. Even as good as the Ibérico ham my friend’s mother – a butcher – would send from Extremadura to her house in Madrid.

The sampler comes with one ounce (28g) each of jamón ibérico, ibérico pork loin, ibérico salchichón and ibérico chorizo. I had meant to eat these with bread or crackers, but I ended up eating them all on their own. The paper thin slices of each were so good that I couldn’t bear to add other flavors to it. I really can’t say which was my favorite,

“Finca Helechal” is a brand of Ibérico pork products producer “Embutidos Fermín“, a small family company based on La Alberca, Salamanca. They have different levels of products, the top ones made from pigs fed acorns. These ones are made from grain-fed free range pigs that are only 50% Iberian. Unless you are tasting the two products side by side, I don’t think you’ll notice.

I’ll definitely buy this again. And maybe next time, I’ll share it.

As Kneaded Bakery: I don’t know what all the fuss is about

Review of the San Leandro Bakery

I had long heard great things about the As Kneaded Bakery in San Leandro. Located on Victoria Court, in a space where many restaurants tried their luck unsuccessfully, it has gotten a buzz both on the press and on social media. I had long wanted to try it and my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) seemed like a perfect time to do so. So I sent Mike one Saturday morning to get some stuff so we could see what all the fuzz was about. And boy did he do it! He brought a wide variety of the noshes they had available so we got a good idea of what As Kneaded can do.

It is very clear that As Kneaded puts a lot of effort and high quality ingredients on their pastries, which they call “noshes”. Most are very substantial (and yet we managed to eat them all over a couple of days) and well made. However, all in all, we weren’t a huge fan of them and I wouldn’t go back to As Kneaded for pastries. I did like the loaf of bread we got, and I’m curious about trying others – so I probably will in the future.

The first pastry we tried was the large round thing. It’s not listed on their website right now, but based on what is listed, it seems to be some sort of danish. It had a custardy filling and slices of some red fruit (I couldn’t tell what) and we all really enjoyed it, it wasn’t too heavy and we love the filling. Unfortunately, it went down hell from there.

Our second try was the cardamom twist (“a brioche twist containing a cardamom poppy filling and topped with sugar pearls”). This was light enough and I appreciated the poppy seed/cardamon filling, but those are flavors that I like. They are less popular in my household so I’m the one who finished this one of.

The chocolate chip brioche (top left) competed with the banana tahini muffin (top right) for the biggest waste of calories and carbs. They were both dry and had very little flavor. The latter is vegan, but that really is no excuse. The former is directed to toddlers, so perhaps the point is not trying to please adult palates. In either case, we would not bother eating these again.

Finally, the chocolate croissant (top middle) was unremarkable. The chocolate was good quality, but the croissant itself lacked the flakiness and buttery taste of the best exponents. I fell in love with chocolate croissants during college, where I’d treat myself with one from Le Petit Boulangerie, a now defunct bakery chain, and this one was inferior to those.

The saving grace for both the blueberry maple walnut bostock and the raspberry bostock were the crumble topping. These were both thick pieces of challah , one topped with sugar, apricot jam, walnuts, butter, blueberries and maple syrup and the other dipped in simple syrup and then topped with raspberry jam, almond cream and sliced almonds. They were both very heavy (literally) and dense, a little bit dry but otherwise quite tasty. But neither were worth what are likely to be an astronomical number of calories and carbs. They tasted far healthier than the ingredient list suggested they are. Again, I wouldn’t turn my nose away from them, but I wouldn’t seek them out.

Finally, the ham & cheese danish was also a disappointment. It was tasty enough, don’t get me wrong, and the ham and gruyere were obviously good quality – but the flavor was diluted by a completely unnecessary bechamel sauce. In all, this pastry did not compare favorably to the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagels, which no one would accuse of being high brow

I didn’t actually take a photo of the bread but found one of it in the background of another picture I took that day.

In addition to the pastries, Mike brought home a loaf of sesa miche, a whole wheat rye sourdough bread baked with sesame seeds. This was a very dense, heavy bread but it was also quite tasty. I wasn’t completely blown away by it, but I liked it and I’d have it again if I was a big bread eater. As it is, none of us are, and the loaf went hard in a couple of days (my fault, as I didn’t refrigerate it or tried to preserve it.

Now, I don’t really want to throw shade on As Kneaded Bakery. Lots of people love it and more power to them. At this point, I’m writing my food blog more to remind myself of what I thought of a place in case I’m thinking of going back than for anyone else. What As Kneaded offers is basically rustic breads and pastries, and I have to admit that we are just not big fond of this style of baked goods. But you might be. So give it a try.

As Kneaded Bakery
585 Victoria Court
San Leandro, CA
(650) 503-9285
W-Su 10 AM - 3 PM

Plank is a Fun & Relaxing Place for a Weekend Lunch

Review of the Jack London Sq restaurant in Oakland

For the third day of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) I decided to go shopping at Cost Plus and then grab lunch somewhere in Jack London Sq. We came across Plank and it seemed like the perfect place for a relaxed and yet fun lunch. I’m happy to say it was. Indeed, I wish the place had been around (or I had known about it) when the kids were younger, as it seems like the perfect place for a family day. In addition to an outdoor bar with food and an indoor restaurant, Plank offers bowling, boche and an arcade. Alas, not my thing now that the kids are grown, so we didn’t check them out.

The outdoor patio/deck at Plank overlooks a little bit of the marina as well as Jack London Sq in general. There is a roofed area with a large bar, tables and chairs and then a larger patio with more tables/chairs/umbrellas and some sofa-height seats with coffee tables. They have music blasting – but not loud enough that you can’t talk to each other, at least from the further away tables -, there are birds visiting the nearby water fountain and it feels convivial but still relaxing. This is an informal space, as you’d expect.

You seat yourself in the patio and hope a server sees you – it happened pretty immediately for us. It doesn’t seem like they have paper menus – at least we didn’t see any – so you need to pull it out on your smart phone. You might as well do that as you wait for the server to come by. You then place your order with the server who brings you the food. Our server asked us for a credit card when we placed the order, but as my husband was taking it out he told her he would rather pay cash and she then brought the bill at the end of the meal without requiring pre-payment (it might have helped that the cash was visible in his wallet). I hope they haven’t had to implement this practice because they have too many eat-and-flee people, with an open space as that it certainly would be easy to do.

The menu is standard pub fare at pretty standard prices – what passes for low/affordable now that inflation has hit us so hard (I finally know what it means to be an old woman, shocked at the price of everything). They have burgers and sandwiches, pizzas and salads, some appetizers and a few others things. I decided on the baby back ribs ($21 half slab/$27 full slab), and given how little more a full slab is than half, I convinced Mike to share a full slab with me. They come with 3 sides, but they only have 4 to chose from (fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots and salad).

The ribs were perfectly fine, perfectly acceptable it not something to write home about. They were tender and meaty without being falling-off-the-bone (a good thing when you are eating in public), and they were pretty tasty. We enjoyed them both there and as left overs. The sides were also fine but unremarkable. I actually enjoyed the tater tots, I don’t think I’d had them in decades (I don’t remember them being something I served my kids) and as I’ve lost my taste for French fries, these were a good substitution. The sweet potato fries were on the thin side and therefore also on the dry side, but they were nicely spiced. The Caesar salad was also unremarkably good. All the sides were a really good size, plenty to share.

My daughter had the veggie burger ($17) which came with a beyond burger patty, pepperjack, baby arugula, tomatoes, grilled onions and pesto aioli in a whole wheat bun and French fries on the side.

Service was competent, but in such a loud environment it’s hard to ask for more.

In all, I’d return to Plank for lunch if I was in the area.

Plank
98 Broadway
Oakland, CA
510-817-0980
M-Th 11:30 AM - 10 PM, F-Sa 11:30 AM - 11 PM, Su 10 AM - 9 PM
Capacity limited, 21+ after 8 PM