Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A mini-food truck visit

My poor co-worker and friend, Kerry, got stuck with jury duty, which has turned into 4+ week affair.  Being away from work that long is bad enough, but she also missed spring break!  She said the best part of losing all that time was the hour-long lunch break everyday to walk around the city and sample new restaurants and try food trucks!  Well, of course we wanted to join her on her quest.  Being on spring break gave us the opportunity to go into the city mid-week, so we hopped on Twitter and figured out the best menu & location.  We came up with Sauca, which is one of the "oldest" food trucks in DC.  They're so popular, they actually have 4 trucks.  The menu features hand-held wrap-type sandwiches that come from various regions around the world. 

We tried the Butter Chicken and the Beef Shwarma (pictured here) and BJ also tried the Fish Tacos. 

The Shwarma was BJ's favorite.  He felt it was juicy and flavorful, while it was a tad salty for me.  I thought the Butter Chicken was fantastic, great flavor and it has cilantro rice, which is always a plus in my book.  He thought the tacos were good but not outstanding.  Kerry also had the shwarma and enjoyed it.  We also loved sitting on the steps of the Portrait Museum on a sunny day, people-watching.  8/10.

And, what jaunt into DC is complete without a cupcake?  We walked a few blocks to Crumbs and got a vanilla vanilla, carrot cake, and a chocolate peanut butter. 

Crumbs has enormous cupcakes, twice the size of anywhere else, and for me they tend to be a little on the dry side because of that.  You can get mini-cupcakes in a sampler pack though, and they are a better texture.  The icing is really great though, just the right sweetness.  They also have a ton of interesting flavors, and even had some flourless ones for Passover, and Peeps flavor for Easter.  AND their packaging is good!  8/10 for Crumbs. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alexandria Cupcake

Rarely do we have a bad cupcake experience.  We can typically find at least one redeeming flavor, aspect, etc.  Our recent trip to Alexandria Cupcake was pretty sad though.  We got 6 cupcakes:  almond, lemon, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla with chocolate icing and 2 Guinness & chocolate left from St. Patty's day/March flavors.  The vanilla based cupcakes (almond, lemon, vanilla/chocolate) were dry and had fake, from-a-bottle tasting flavors.  The chocolate base for the other 2 flavors was good thankfully, and certainly more moist.  The icing on the Guinness cupcake was Irish Cream & cream cheese.  Frankly, it was disgusting.  Blech.  Inedible.  The peanut butter icing was very good, but by the time we got to it we were so annoyed by the other ones, it was hard to enjoy it.  3/10  for the cupcakes.

This trip warrants a review of the packaging.  Most of these places have gotten smart and will give you a box with individual holders/dividers for each cupcake to 1. keep them stable and 2.  keep them separate.  The one at Alexandria Cupcake is extremely flimsy.  A 10 minute walk to the car, with the box upright in a bag with handles, yielded this mess:

Actually it was worse than that, but I put them back in their little holes for the car ride home.  They were still okay to eat but what if we were to be giving them as gifts or taking them to a party or something?  Fail.  We were really disappointed.  0/10 for the holder.
I don't think we'll be going back to this shop.  What they do well, others do even better, so it isn't really worth the time and effort.

Customer Service

I am a little obsessed with daily deals.  I don't necessarily buy them all the time, but I love to get them in my inbox every morning and then check out the other ones nearby.  We've bought a fair number of vouchers when they are relevant to us and have had a lot of positive experiences so far.  For example, we have gotten discounts on local restaurants and services, including cupcakes! and never had an issue.  This week, though, I've had reason to call customer service for 2 daily deal websites, so here are my thoughts.

Groupon:  The first deal site I signed up for, and probably the first one you did too.  One of the best deals they ever offered was $25 for $50 to The Gap last fall.  I bought 3 deals and used 2 of them, but didn't keep track of which ID numbers had been used.  Since I have an 8 month old and the days of just quickly running to the mall are long gone, I ended up letting the 3rd deal expire sadly.  But, you can take the expired deal to any store and get a gift card for $25, so I didn't really lose anything.  Which deal to present at the counter is now the question and rather than look like an idiot by handing the cashier 3 pieces of paper, I wanted to figure out which one was correct.  I called Groupon's toll-free number and got to an agent very quickly with their user-friendly menu of options.  He told me that the vendor actually keeps track of the used ID numbers and said I'd need to call The Gap.  He was very pleasant and apologetic that he couldn't help me himself.  I called The Gap, was taken care of quickly and figured out which voucher had not been used.  The following weekend, I redeemed my voucher for the gift card, as listed in the fine print, and went on my merry way.  Painless and pleasant.  10/10.

Living Social:  My dad generously bought us a photography package a couple of months ago and we contacted the photog a month or so before the deal expired.  She was a pain and a half to get a hold of and was very vague when I asked about times and locations.  We came to the week before our agreed upon date and she had not let us know a time or where to meet her, even though I emailed her a week ahead of time, and I was getting really frustrated.  Again, having a baby makes planning a necessity.  I looked at her reviews on Yelp.com and they were terrible, with many citing poor scheduling communication, which just confirmed my suspicions.  So I called Living Social and they were very nice on the phone and said that the account holder would have to call, but that they could issue a credit, not a refund, since the deal had expired.  My dad called and had this done very quickly.  Then I emailed the photog and told her we would not need her services and lo and behold, she emails an hour later, apologizes and said she's still available if we want to shoot.  Uh, no, but good try.  10/10 for Living Social, 0/10 for the photog who shall remain nameless.

I will continue to buy deals from these sites when they are relevant and am happy to know that concerns get cleared up easily.

Friday, April 01, 2011

New Book Review!

Anyone who knows me knows I love Jodi Picoult novels.  Is it great literature?  Definitely not.  It is fluff, but somewhat educated fluff and she's written about some really interesting and sometimes controversial issues, which I enjoy.  She has become somewhat of a machine, in that she cranks these things out for publication exactly once a year in March, so I wonder how that has affected the quality of her process.  The previous book from 2010, House Rules, I guessed the ending of way in the beginning and was kind of disappointed with the story.  Note to Jodi:  please do not attempt to write a first person account from the mind of a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome ever again. 

The current book, Sing You Home, was better, thankfully.

This is the story of a woman who has struggled with infertility and infant loss.  She gets divorced from her husband and ends up in a new relationship with a woman, who she marries and wishes to start a family with, using her own frozen embryos.  The ex-husband, who has since become a born-again Christian, is opposed to letting his children grow up in an "immoral family" and takes her to court.  A fantastical story perhaps, but not 100% unrealistic these days.  NOTE:  If you have dealt with infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, etc. this could be a difficult book to get through.

Some thoughts:

1 - I like that she got back to writing mostly from the female POV.  They always say "write what you know" and obviously this what she knows.  I did not, however, think she wrote accurately as a lesbian.  I'd be curious to hear a lesbian's opinion, but for me it didn't seem realistic.  A good effort, but fell a little short.
2 - I thought the issues she raised were timely.  I hear on the news that Gay Rights are our generation's Civil Rights, so this story put a lot of the struggled of gay couples into perspective.
3 - some of the reviews on Amazon criticize that Jodi portrayed Christians in a very negative light.  I disagree.  I think she happened to make her villains members of a small group of Christians that exist in this country because it was necessary for making the court battle realistic and pointed.  She did, however, show how all people can change and ask for forgiveness and learn to do the right thing, which is, you know, kind of important to the whole Christianity thing. 
4 - I liked almost all of the characters, even the very flawed ones.  For me, I will not be invested in a book unless I like who I'm reading about.
5 - Jodi is known for her twisty endings, even down to the last page or last sentence sometimes.  I didn't find the ending to be a big twist, though I thought she could have put one in to take it in a different direction.  This was a satisfying ending overall.
6 - If you are a fan of Jodi in general and enjoy her books about issue and involving trials, you should enjoy this one.  It isn't quite as strong as say.....The Pact or My Sister's Keeper.....but solid.  7/10.