Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bakery Review: Victoria Pastry Company

Victoria Pastry Company - visited March 16, 2019
Last year, I bought season tickets to San Francisco’s musical theater season. I’ve never bought season tickets before as usually, if there’s a particular show I wanted to see, I’d just buy tickets to that individual show and skip the others. But this particular season had several shows I was interested in: Miss Saigon, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Anastasia. Buying season tickets also offered first access for a return performance of Hamilton which I’d already seen but wouldn’t have minded seeing again. So it seemed worth it to splurge on a season ticket.

That is, until I moved out of state after watching only two shows. Oops. Fortunately, I was still working and commuting back to the Bay Area often enough that I could time my return trips to coincide with a couple of the shows I had tickets for. This particular weekend was for Hello, Dolly.

Victoria Pastry was on my list, not only because it was highly rated on “must try” bakery lists published about SF, but because it was walkable from the Powell St BART station. On paper, aka google maps, it’s a 1.2 mile walk. Which isn’t bad; I’ve walked farther in quest of baked goods. There’s just a slight wrinkle that 1.2 miles in San Francisco more than likely means hills. Which it did in this case. But still doable.

It did turn out to be a nice walk with the added bonus of a quad burn going up and down the hills. The bakery itself was small but nicely laid out with its display cases providing a nice selection of individual servings of various cakes, cupcakes, cookies and pastries. 

My standard SOP in trying out a new bakery is to get 2-3 items. It may not be enough to give a fair rating to a bakery but past experience says I can’t load up like I’d like because I’d never finish them in enough time while they were fresh and I don’t want to rate day old stuff, much less consume them. That wouldn’t be fair either.

So for this trip, I went with a red velvet cupcake and a multi-layer slice of chocolate fudge cake. There were several choices for chocolate cake but I went for the straight chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Best to keep things simple.

Both were simple, straightforward desserts which is what I prefer. As usual, I scraped off most of the frosting on the cupcake. If only more bakeries were like Sibby’s and just did a thin covering of frosting but alas, the norm seems to be the puffy frosting tower. No matter, it’s not a big deal to scrape aside. I feel bad for wasting it but I genuinely don’t like (or eat) that much frosting. The cupcake itself was good. Not super red velvet-chocolaty flavor but the texture is better than most of the cupcakes I bake from scratch. 

The chocolate cake slice was rich, moist and definitely very chocolaty. The mousse filling and chocolate ganache topping did me in. The flavors were good but I think I would’ve preferred more cake, less mousse and less topping. It makes for a really rich dessert and moderation is key for maximum enjoyment so I recommend sharing with a friend or three or spacing it out over several sittings.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Restaurant Review: Manila Bakery & Cafe

Manila Bakery & Cafe - lunch on February 23, 2019
My parents also newly moved to Reno and I was driving them around to get the lay of their new land, so to speak. Back in their old stomping grounds, we were all familiar with the restaurants they liked to go to and where everything is. To try something new, trusty Yelp pointed us to the Manila Bakery & Café for Filipino food.

I’ve blogged before that, as a rule, we don’t eat out at Filipino restaurants very often. They’re not as prevalent as Chinese or Thai places, they tend to be a little more expensive than most Asian restaurants (except for Japanese cuisine) and, honestly, my mom is such a good cook that we almost never find anything as good at Filipino restaurants as what my mom makes in her own kitchen. 

However, we do try them when we find them and we found Manila Bakery & Café. Thanks to yelp, I discovered they have a lunch buffet on Saturdays so that’s when we went. When you think “buffet”, you probably imagine the long stretches of food like the buffet at a casino with its wide variety of dishes. This buffet was a lot smaller and only contained several dishes: chicken adobo, fried chicken, sinigang (tamarind soup), beef stew, a vegetable dish called pinakbet, pancit bihon (a noodle dish) and, of course, really good rice.

The dining space was really small. You lined up at the counter to pay for the buffet lunch ($12.99 per person) then waited for a table to clear. The counter had display cases offering a variety of baked goods, including Filipino baked goods like ube crinkle cookies, ensaimada, leche flan (Filipino version of a crème caramel) and siopao (Filipino steamed pork buns) and not-so-Filipino offerings like bear claws and cupcakes.
I didn’t get pictures of the buffet stand as, once we got a table and lined up for food, I didn’t want to hold up the line trying to take pictures of the dishes. The place was crowded, partly because it was so small, but also because it seemed like there were people wanting buffet. The waitstaff was kept busy replenishing the buffet dishes and clearing tables.
I’m quite fond of sinigang and the only thing about it is to really appreciate the broth, it’s best with rice. When you’re trying to cut back on rice, that’s not such a good thing. But the sinigang broth was delicious. The chicken adobo was also good. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the fried chicken as the breading was a bit tough and some parts had more breading than chicken. It was also a little greasy (deep fried, so, yeah). The rice was perfect though. I don’t like dry rice; this was moist and perfect.
This is a good place to go if you want quick Filipino food but I don’t recommend coming as a large party since the seating space is so limited.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bakery Review: Isabel's Bakery

Isabel's Bakery - visited February 2, 2019
I still have so many posts to catch up on. And hopefully I will now be able to as I wrap up my last days at my full-time job. Did I mention I was retiring? Or trying to. Or semi-retiring. It’s a bit muddled right now. But I will have several glorious weeks of full-time do-nothing-ness coming up. Not that I’ll do nothing, of course. But I won’t be working! 
So I’m hoping that means I’ll have time to be able to do something more with my blog. What exactly, I don’t know. I’m losing interest in blogging about the same ol’ same ol’ and I’m sure people are losing interest in reading about it as well. Problem is, I’m not sure what direction to take next. Truthfully, I need/want to lose 20 pounds. I’ve lost 8 already. But to turn this into a weightloss blog seems like a hard 180-degree turn, not left or right but rather upside down and inside out. I mean, hello, the past 9 and a half years of blogging about sugar, butter and flour but now let’s talk about working out 4 hours a day and drinking Skinnyfit tea? Okay, maybe I won’t go quite that drastic.

For now, let’s talk about Isabel’s Bakery, a local bakery in Sparks, NV that I visited about 8 pounds ago.  I was still in my phase of ferreting out local bakeries to try in my neighborhood (have car, will drive to any yelp-rated bakery). I visited on a Saturday afternoon. Like many places in Reno, I could easily find parking and while the bakery had a fair number of customers, there were no ridiculous crowds like they have in the Bay Area. I got in line and, while I waited for my turn, snapped pictures of every showcased dessert I could see, which is par for my course.

A couple was seated at one of the café tables with one of the bakery workers, perhaps even the owner. They were doing a wedding cake tasting so now I know Isabel’s does wedding cakes. As I perused the display cases, I noticed a yummy-looking slice of layered marble cake individually packaged that had a sign saying it was 50% off as a “Saturday special”. I’m always up for a bargain so that was one of my purchases.

My other splurge was a mini red velvet cake that wasn’t quite so mini but wasn’t so huge that I couldn’t finish it in a sitting or three. They had mini lemon cakes in the same size and I waffled a bit between the two but ended up choosing the red velvet.

I tried both cakes when I got home. That day’s lesson: when a bakery offers something 50% off, it’s typically because it’s “day old”. I should’ve remembered that. Not that there’s anything wrong with day old (most of the time) but if I’m trying a place for the first time and only make two purchases, I shouldn’t have one of those purchases be a day-old piece of cake as it’s unlikely that’ll be the bakery’s best offering on which to base a first impression. 

If properly packaged, day-old cakes can be just as good as freshly made. But proper packaging means tightly wrapping all exposed areas of the cake with plastic wrap and, if the climate is cool enough, not putting it in the refrigerator. Air and refrigeration are a cake’s enemy (wrapped in the freezer is fine but not the fridge). They dry the cake out easily so even a well-made, freshly-baked cake can dry out the same day it's made if left exposed to air. Which is what happened to this cake. And that was a shame because the few bites I could find that hadn’t been exposed to air (meaning I scraped aside the outer parts of the cake slice to find the unexposed bits) were quite good, tasty and moist. But the slice wasn’t large enough to yield that much unexposed cake so I didn’t get more than a few bites before I had to toss the rest. Penny-wise of 50% off became pound-foolish of wasted cake. Lesson learned.

I did better with the red velvet cake. The main downside is it was covered in so much frosting that I had to peel away most of it to get to the cake. At least it was “so much frosting” to me because I’m not a frosting person. The upside is once the frosting was pushed aside, the actual cake itself was much smaller and I didn’t feel as piggish eating it in two sittings. Winner. The red velvet was also good and had a great cakey texture. I could probably bake something like it myself, however immodest that sounds, but I may not be able to make a better one and I’ve certainly made worse ones.

Overall, I’d like to go back to Isabel’s Bakery and try more of the delicious-looking offerings. And I’d stay away from 50% off bargains. Spend for full-price. It’s worth it.