Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ula Cafe

Americano Rating: 9/10
Espresso Rating: 8/10

There will be a special place in the acknowledgments section of the book I'm writing for Ula (Boston: Jamaica Plain). While I adore the food at Canto No. 6, they don't have much seating, whereas Ula has it in abundance. Despite how busy Ula often gets, I've never been unable to find a table at which to sit and write. It's a great place to meet someone for a coffee and a bite, parents with children are easily accommodated, students study, and business meetings (from graphic design job interviews to transgender Jewish lesbian activist organizing) commonly occur here. There's also a nice one person restroom as well as an additional larger restroom in the adjacent building. They have air conditioning, and the people who work there are generally friendly, some of them quite attractive (mostly lesbians).

Most of the time I wonder if they're somehow picking up the music off my computer: The Decemberists, Justin Timberlake, music I've never heard but love, Paul Simon, etc. The perfect music situation: tasteful, plenty eclectic without being pretentious or hipster elitist or obnoxiously, well, anything.



Double Espresso - 8/10

Coffee is simply my drug of choice. Much the way, while everyone else finds the odor unpleasantly pungent, potheads inhale the fumes of their greenery with delight; the way the slaves of painkillers actually chew their pills rather than, as those of us with a more casual relationship with the pills do, swallowing them; the way former heroin or meth addicts' eyes light up in tortured envy when they watch onscreen injections while the rest of us tightly shut out eyes during those movie scenes; much like those people, I enjoy the taste of thick, dark, unadulterated espresso. The only reason I ever get it americano-ed is to make the drinking of it last longer. And if you think that, like you might lick up the remaining specks of dust from a cut up pill or search the ground of your apartment for any leftover crystals of the drugs of more cash-flush days, if you think that in the same spirit I don't lick my drained espresso cup and then use my finger to scoop out any remaining foam, then you're mistaken.



I think their espresso actually performs best as an Americano: Rating: 9/10! With two shots of espresso you don't want more than 6 oz of water added. 

Pair this with something chocolately and you may as well be in Heaven.


Raspberry Nutella Bread Pudding - $2.50, delicious, moist, crumbly on top. They rotate through a number of flavors for the daily bread pudding, but this has got to be the most fun one they ever do. Try to make sure you share it with a friend.


The food at Ula is generally hit or miss though. I've tried just about everything they've ever made (at least in the past two years), so take a look at my guide to what to order. I'm not going to mention the things that aren't worthwhile.


Savory:


The best of their Permanent Sandwiches:



Sweet Potato (vegetarian) Sandwich:

"Roasted sweet potato with avocado, Monterey jack, red bell peppers, red onion, sprouts and yogurt-tahini-poppy seed spread on peasant white"

The first time I had it they were out of the white peasant bread and so I got this nice hearty bread.  Maybe I'll request it next time.

I love meat, but this is probably the tastiest thing in the cafe. I guess I could request that yogurt-tahini-poppy seed dressing on the Roasted Turkey Sandwich or the Black Forest Ham Sandwich.  Though I also love the sweet potato and sprouts.  Maybe I could just ask for bacon on the Sweet Potato Sandwich...

The sweet potato sandwich as a salad - another awesome option!


Sweet Potato Sandwich grilled! They now have a panini press and can grill any of their sandwiches. Just ask!

Black Forest Ham Sandwich:
"All-natural Black Forest ham with garlic and herb cream cheese, apricot chutney, cucumbers and romaine on peasant white"

The classic summery combo of cucumbers and cream cheese evoked some delicious childhood pleasantness for me. The sweet ham was yummy, as was the sweeter still apricot chutney.  Yeah, this was a good goddam sandwich.


The best of their Permanent Salads:


Curried Tofu Salad - The creamy, delicious, flavorful curry and the slivers of almonds do an excellent job of masking the boring tofu platform.It's not just that though, the texture of their tofu really is nice: fairly firm, a bit crumbly. The spring mix is wonderful, the light dressing, the sweet raisins, and the tomatoes adding great flavor.



The best of their Guest Sandwiches:


October 2012's Guest Sandwich - Pear fig chutney, fresh mozzarella, raw kale, and lemon garlic aioli, pressed. Full for $8.75 and half for $5.75

This is the best thing I've ever had at Ula, and it's one of the best things I've eaten in a while in general. The sweetness of the chutney mixed with the tart lemon and the, well, garlicky garlic and the oozing creaminess of the mozzarella and aioli (not to mention the slight crunch and feel-good-ness of the kale's presence) came together in the most harmonious, nay, ecstatic way so that I started to feel like I never wanted those ingredients again without the others.

I actually regretted not getting the whole thing this time, whereas I normally get a whole sandwich and regret how full I get, wishing I'd gotten just a half sandwich. I'm going back and getting a full one for lunch today (I'll just go up to Mike's Fitness and work it off afterwards anyway!). Anyone who knows me at all will know just how anomalous it is that I'm not only going to order something I've already ordered before (and not even modify it!) but I'm going to be doing this the next day. It's that good.

Oh yeah...



June 2012's Guest Sandwich: Grilled Black forest ham, swiss, pickles, honey-dijon mayo on rye. 

This Cuban-esque sandwich was great, in large part due to the fact that the Ula-nites just got themselves a panini press. Apparently you can ask for any of their sandwiches to be panini'd. I'm excited for an excuse to get the sweet potato sandwich again, this time hot and melty!


Soups (1-2 daily soups):



Chilled Zucchini, Basil and Thyme Soup - I can count the number of times on one hand when I've ordered something I've just been given a sample of since my greatest motivation is to try everything, and this was one of those three times. I always find it surprising and impressive when a chilled, non-spicy soup is rich and full of flavor, and my eyes lit up with wonder as I tried this one, "Yeah, gimme a bowl of that."

Sweet Potato Peanut Soup (vegan) Bowl for $5, Cup for $4.15

Yes, I know, I ordered another vegan soup, but, Sweet Potato and Peanut!  How fun!  I also saw that the bowl is 16 oz while the cup is 8 oz, so I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get a cup when just $.85 more will get me twice as much soup.

It had a nice texture with ground up peanuts and carrots, like croutons for people who don't want simple carbs.. but also don't subscribe to the anti-peanut (which are actually legumes and not nuts) position.. Or those of us who do but have decided to no longer live like a crazy person.

More cilantro please! Not bad on the creaminess for a vegan soup. It reminded me of one of my sister's creations, bringing me nostalgic feelings for yesterfall. But I wouldn't have minded a bit more of some kind of flavor. Maybe a lime.

Broccoli & Cheese Soup - Mmm... buttery homemade croutons, slightly al dente broccoli, not too thick or heavy but very flavorful, this has been my favorite soup yet. I really wasn't expecting their broccoli cheese soup to be this good. Shake a little Alex's Ugly Sauce from the dressing bar in there to heat it up and you're in business.

I suggest avoiding the tomato-based soups (including, sadly, their "tortilla soup") and most of the vegan ones.


Breakfast Foods:

On weekdays they have a daily strata.

They reserve a few specials for Saturdays and Sundays, sort of like a special brunch menu:

The newer breakfast option they've been having lately is this breakfast sandwich:

$5.75 - Bacon, Egg, Sharp Cheddar with Maple Rosemary Spread - When I bought it, the description hadn't mentioned the maple rosemary spread, and I was going to say it came drenched (in a good way) in a surprise creamy ginger dressing, but then they put a card out that said it was maple rosemary so.. huh. Perhaps this means I have an excuse to get it again. It was really good.

They also have a whole biscuits and gravy situation. For $3.50, you can get a biscuit and eggs. From there you can add various things for various prices:
+$3.00 for Sausage Gravy or Mushroom Gravy
+$1.40 for Avocado
+$? for Ham


$6.50 - Biscuit with Eggs and Sausage Gravy - This was so good, and, thankfully, more food than I thought it would be. When was the last time you allowed yourself biscuits and sausage gravy? It'd been way too long for me. Oh biscuits, how I love you.

Biscuit with eggs and mushroom gravy - $6.50 - It was nice 'n' mushroomy but not as rich and yummy as the sausage. I felt so heavy afterwards, so I'd only ever get this again if I were sharing breakfast (with a vegetarian).

I've had just about every combination of toppings possible, and I must say: whatever else you add, get the sausage gravy. I do love how much avocado you get with this (though, really, for $1.40 you ought to). Now I'm fantasizing about some ridiculously awesome day when I'll order a mega breakfast where I get a biscuit with eggs, avocado, sausage gravy and maybe bacon too while I'm at it.





Bakery:


Popover, for which they're sort of famous -  $1.95:


Accompanying options include Nutella, raspberry jam and peanut butter.
Fucking sweet and amazing with a tart finish and just so raspberry-y
Popover with Peanut Butter - Didn't find it to be a great match

Doesn't it make your head ache with the desire to stuff the fluffy, pillowy softness in your mouth right now?

Sweet pancakey goodness.  These are super popular for a reason, which means they're constantly coming out fresh out of the oven.

One day I came in and saw that at the table next to me someone had a popover with a side of Nutella and a side of six large pieces of bacon. I must have that breakfast myself soon. The table was empty with a jacket draped over the back of a chair, so I was waiting to see who would come for this wonderful meal. Turns out: a seven year old girl who'd just come from ballet practice. She ate every single bite and then, upon seeing my cookie, told her mom she wanted a cookie (she was denied this).



Large Cookies - $1.75 - Varied in quality, but none are truly great:


Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie - Good, peanut butter in batter and chunks


Also delicious.  Soft, fairly dense, great chocolate.


Vegan ginger chew - Beware the eggless vegan cookies as they're not as dense and soft.


Chocolate Mudslide Cookie - gooey
good gooey graciousness

Oatmeal Chocolate Walnut Cookie - Oatmeal chocolate walnut cookie ($1.75): Mmm soo much chocolate.


If you want a cookie but don't want one of those big ones, there's the chocolate coin ($.80):

Chocolate Coin closeup - It's a chocolatey, chocolate chip cookie, but, unless I'm crazy, there's a bit of anise in there, making it interesting and different too!

Macarons ($1.10):



Pumpkin and Honey Caramel

The pumpkin was a bit overpoweringly clovey and too sweet. I actually like Trader Joe's new pumpkin macarons (frozen section) better. The honey caramel was really nice, more honey than caramel, but I prefer it that way.

Lemon Ginger Macaron - Good flavors, but the marshmallowy texture in these doesn't do it for me
Chocolate Mint - The chocolate's a bit too subtle, but the mint seems to be made with fresh mint! How nice!



Stroopwafels - On the rare occasion these are available, they're a good option. Put one on your coffee to get the caramel melty. They're tasty and indulgent without being over the top.



Brownie ($2.25): Oooh.. dense fudginess.. soo rich... need.. milk... too rich.. for my blood.. sugar levels..


Crumb Cake $2.25: "A tender, buttery brioche dough, stuffed with a cream cheese, honey and vanilla bean filling, and baked with a cinnamon crumb topping"

This is tasty, to be sure, but it's also a little much, certainly for breakfast for one person.  The filling is just too sugary. Your kids and any adult sucrophiles will probably love it. I do enjoy its softness. I bet if there were bacon in it I'd be a real fan.

Tarts (seasonally changing varieties) - $4.25:

Peach Tart

Well, I hope finally learned my lesson for good this time that I should not have two pastries in one sitting (I had this after a popover one morning), much less for breakfast. Everything just starts to taste obnoxiously sweet, leaving me with a sugar headache and still craving "real" food, nutrition. That being said: yumm. The peaches, the creaminess, the peach raspberry flaky buttery goo in my mouth...



Quince Tart: "Vanilla bean-poached quince baked atop a layer of almond cream, surrounded by a flaky crust"

This has been my favorite of the tarts so far. The quince's texture was so smooth and pliable that its very sweet flavor gets to meld right into the pastry-chewing experience instead of having to chew apples and even peaches in a slightly different way that you chew pastry.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart

I think I'm finally ready to admit I just don't like tarts that much. But I did want to see if I could taste the rhubarb, and it looked so beautiful! I think I could finally taste the rhubarb is mostly very mildly flavored but imparting a bit of extra bitternes and some solid tartness. It makes sense to combine it with strawberries since you get a compatible tartness with some balancing sweetness. Just toss in more sugar and you're good to go. I just need to learn that I like fruit in scones, chocolate in croissants, nuts and seeds in breads, and that I don't really like sticky, sweet, tart tarts.


Chocolate Bun - $2.50

This was really good dipped in coffee (when it becomes mocha cream cheese!). The frosting was a little too sweet, and it's a little crazy for breakfast, but it was delicious. Pretty awesome really. Cream cheese and chocolate rocks, as any true fat kit can attest.




The best of the muffins (about $2):

Vegan mocha muffin:

Vegan Mocha Muffin - It's got a nice coating of frosting on top nice with big chocolate chips throughout.  Good for a vegan muffin with decent density and good flavor without being too sweet, my only complaint being that I didn't really get any coffee flavor from it.

Pear Pecan Muffin - Good! Sweet and satisfying, lots of pecans, delightful crumbling on top with only a small base since no one cares much for those anyways, like having a muffin top except you're not a wasteful asshole.



Raspberry-filled Corn Muffin: The outside may look a little boring, but..

MmmIt may as well have been a jelly-filled donut except you arguably don't have to feel as bad about eating one of these!



Blueberry Muffin - This was a great muffin. It wasn't too heavy but was full of flavor and plenty of blueberries, and the crumble on top is so yummy. I feel like a kid again on the rare occasion I allow myself to have a sweet blueberry muffin.


The best of the Bread Loaf Slices (all $2-$2.10):




Earl Gray Tea Bread - Those flaked are actually tea, according to the guy who took my order, but, according to my taste buds,  ]they're also poppy seed and pepper. All of that plus the sweetness of pound cake = yum. Apparently this is a winter only treat, so hurry in. 

They also sell small, wrapped loaves for $5 (pictured) and larger loaves that might be about four times as big for $16.


Zucchini Bread with Ginger, Poppy Seeds and Walnuts - The sweetness was in such perfect harmony with the ginger. It was soft, dense, poppy seed happiness. It gave me a nice madeleine moment of when I first discovered a love of poppy seeds as a kid. Zucchini and walnuts and ginger! Totally healthful!


Irish Soda Bread - March treat, obviously in honor of St. Patty's Day - They make theirs with whole wheat flour, caraway, currants, buttermilk and sour cream and serve each slice with two packets of butter. My piece was a little dry, but good, with a yummy sugary crumble situation on top. I had never tried Irish soda bread until last March, and I fell in love with it.  I'm kind of a sucker for anything with caraway in it. And any excuse to eat butter works for me! I took one of the packets home though. I mean, let's not get crazy.


Butternut Squash Bread - This was perfectly tasty and dense walnut and pecan-laced bread, but I couldn't taste butternut squash, other than some of the bread's general sweetness probably being fueled by it.

Rhubarb and Cardamom Cake 

Ever since a few years ago when I saw frozen rhubarb at a grocery store and tried it for the first time (it turned out not to be the greatest ingredient in smoothies, in case you were wondering), I've been hoping to encounter good rhubarb stuff, where I could really taste this mysterious plant and see why some people love it so.  My only reference point for rhubarb being movies where some tough man stops at a diner in a small towns and winds up telling the lady serving him, "Ma'am, this is some damn fine rhubarb pie."

Apparently it's rhubarb season since both Canto and Ula are selling rhubarbed pastries right now. I still don't really know what rhubarb tastes like (and in only one bite could I truly detect cardamom), so I think I need to actually seek out a rhubarb pie in order to have a saturated enough experience.  Don't get me wrong though, this cake was still a moist, dense and tasty breakfast.




The rich, irresistible Sticky Bun, a regular option at Ula - I've gotta say, it was way too sweet for me. Oh don't get me wrong, I still ate every single bite. But then I got that sugar headache. Warning: lots of sugar, don't eat by yourself! Bring three friends! Or at least don't eat it after you've already have a slice of zucchini bread.



If you want something a bit more on the healthful side, try out the Fruit and Nut Bar - $2.75:Sweet, crunchy, and wholesome, so much goin' on: buckwheat groats, quinoa, orange zest, almonds, canola oil.. the list goes on for quite a while


The best of the Scones ($2.10):



Lemon Ginger Scone

Oh yeah. I wouldn't mind waking up to one of these on Christmas morning. The tart sweet lemon glaze and the spicy sweet candied ginger sing together to create a beautiful harmony. Perhaps the shape they employee here makes me like their scones more that some others because it creates a higher surface area: cakey inside ratio. Or maybe there's enough ginger throughout or maybe the cakey-ness itself is nice and sweet. Either way, mmm. It pairs very well with coffee.


Apricot Almond Scone
This has been my favorite yet, and it's not just because I adore apricots. The bread was softer, sweeter, denser and moister than ever. Plus there were lots of apricot chunks and a nice, not heavy-handed almond flavor throughout.

Chocolate Scone

Or maybe this is my favorite because it's actually a double chocolate scone: chocolate throughout with chocolate chunks.


Savory Scones - They're often dry. I've only really appreciated one:

Bacon Cheddar Scone

This was a nice breakfast. Also, there was one stray piece of ginger. I loved it, but I have no idea if it was intentional.

I didn't realize it was going to be half cornmeal!  So it was almost like a bacon cheddar (ginger) cornbread.  Now if only there'd been jalapenos in there too.


The best of the Cakes slices ($2-$2.10):


Apple Streusel Cake - with pecans! Christmasy! Dense, moist, just the right level of sweet.

Sticky Toffee Pudding - $2.10 - (Orderable as a whole cake/pudding for your holiday needs) - The caramel topping is nice, and the cake is dense and moist and flavorful. It probably would've been a little too sweet, but I had it on the day of my period when blood sugar gets all crazy and one needs sugar. I heard this on one of my podcasts. Women on periods actually do need sugar. So there.


Almond Biscotti - $1.75 - Mmm so almondy, nice 'n' sweet. Don't try having a bite without dunking in in your coffee, you'll hurt yourself, but this is as it should be. Fill those air pockets in the nutty, granola-ish, crunchy yumstick up with coffee and join the cultural elite of the world in appreciation of this Italian tradition :P


Daily cupcakes = meh

Miscellaneous:


Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly Hand Pie - Tasty, great flaky crust, but peanut butter doesn't pair well with coffee. I can't way till they do more with their hand pies.
Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Hand Pie - Still waiting on savory, but their housemade raspberry jam is delicious!




Thoughts on their Iced Coffee Drinks:


I read a tweet from Ula Cafe announcing that they're now serving Thai Iced Coffee.  I was excited because I love both Vietnamese and Thai Iced Coffee. For them, I'll down a bunch of Lactaid and actually have coffee with some cream. This is because they consist of really strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk and, in the case of Thai Iced Coffee, cardamom.

"Thai Iced Coffee" - Large for $4 - All this was was their regular cold brewed iced coffee with whole milk, sugar and tons of cardamom. I wasted four Lactaid for nothing but a few sips of bitter disappointment. Who would want a large of this? In my crazy pre-coffee head I somehow assumed that they had two smaller sizes for the small and large options for this since, if they were making real Thai Iced Coffee, the 16 and 24 oz. small and large sizes would obviously be way too large.  Not that anyone should ever drink all of a large one of these either, ugh. Fortunately, my date made use of half of it before we threw it away. Oh well, I guess I didn't need Thai Iced Coffee around to tempt me anyway.

Iced Spicy Mocha - I used up a free drink card and what would normally be a way too expensive frou frou type drink. I had mine with soy milk, though the chocolate for their mocha is ganache (chocolate and cream), so I still had some minor digestive issues for the day (that was my choice, just warning other lactards). It was pretty good. The heat seemed to me to be all cayenne (that sneaky, biting the back of your throat heat), plus there was cinnamon and maybe other spices. I'll never get it again, but then I'm not much of an indulgent coffee drink drinker anymore.



The best of the ever-rotating non-coffee Iced beverages:


Ginger Lemonade - $2.65 for small, $3.15 for large: Plenty sweet without any bull shit added, wonderful ginger flavor. Very balanced, a true summer delight.



Strawberry Basil Soda - 3.75 for a small and $4.20 for a large

This was delicious and not too sweet, a puree of rea strawberries and basil with sparkling water, but the price seems high.

Teas:


I'd been meaning to try some of their interesting teas (which they get from MEM Tea in Somerville) for forever, but I never got around to doing so until the espresso machine needed a break one day, and I had to wait about forty-five minutes for my espresso. This gave me the opportunity to have some tea and read for a while.  I had to try the Pu-erh Tea first:


"Pu-Erh is a fermented tea historically pan-fired, rolled, and sun-dried; and then allowed to mature in warm, humid conditions for up to 50 years. More modern techniques developed a faster fermentation process using an ancient Pu-Erh bacteria culture. The flavor is earthy and woody, smooth and sweet. Pu-erh tea is reputed to have extraordinary health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and reducing body weight. Pu-Erh tea contains mild to moderate amounts of caffeine."

"This dark, red amber tea from the Yunnan province in China has been aged, and the result is much like a molded cheese, with a pungent camphor aroma and flavors of mushroom and cocoa."

"Mushrooms and cocoa huh? Sign me up!" I thought. Not to mention "earthy, woody, smooth and sweet." The only thing holding me back was the "mild to moderate amount of caffeine," which I assumed in tea-drinkers parlance really means "barely any caffeine" to coffee addicts.

Did it actually taste good, you ask?

It smelled like an aquarium tank. If it were possible to drink a butterfly center, this is what is would taste like. And maybe it's because I'm an asshole, maybe because it's just so damn weird, maybe because it brought me pleasant childhood nostalgia, maybe because it meant I got to read David Sedaris longer since I don't write until I've had my coffee, but I really enjoyed it.

Oh and it also tasted a lot like that time I ordered a shit load of kava kava off the Internet, hoping to have a Hawaiian people mystical legal drug experience (it didn't work). Anyhow, if you're into funky tea or funkiness in general, try it.

Then I tried the Genma Chai:

Japanese green tea with brown rice in it - fun! It really tastes like brown rice!




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