Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

Search This Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trader Joe's True Thai Pad See Ew

Back in March 2011, we reviewed Trader Joe's relatively unsuccessful, unappetizing Vegetable Pad Thai. Curiously, three months later, we noticed a sudden uptick in clicks on that particular post. We couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Our analytics weren't showing any new traffic sources. But after a bit of searching, we noticed people were Googling "Trader Joe's Vegetable Pad Thai" in huge numbers. So we Googled that phrase ourselves. Apparently the entire New York metro area had been enraptured by a court case involving an opera singer and a prestigious women's health doctor and a violent disagreement over the last box of veggie pad thai at an Upper West Side Trader Joe's. Of course, the biggest mystery in all of this is: of all the delicious TJ's products you might get into a cat fight over, why ever would it be that forgettable pad thai?

But anyway, the point is that the comments section on the aforementioned pad thai review turned into a mini-discussion about this product: Trader Joe's True Thai Pad See Ew. Comments from readers in regards to this product: "truly disgusting," "put the 'Ew' in 'Pad See 'Ew'," "I wouldn't wish this dish on anyone," and "one of the worst things I've ever picked up from TJ's." We've even had negative comments about it on our Facebook page. In fact, I've never heard anything good about it. Which is why we finally had to try it.

Although I don't disagree with the people who find this dish revolting, it's not SO bad, in my opinion, that I ever considered NOT clearing my plate. At no point did I seriously think about taking the unused portion back to TJ's and getting a refund, although, this will never be purchased in our home again, unless TJ's manages to repackage it, rename it, and trick us into thinking it's a new product entirely—which I certainly wouldn't put past them. Sonia described the vegetables as "slimy and chewy." The Chinese broccoli, in particular, was stringy. The noodles were way too soft—almost gelatinous. The tofu didn't blend in with the rest of the product, and the carrots seemed too firm.

In its defense, the product's flavor wasn't a complete failure. The tofu by itself tasted fine. The vegetables were fairly neutral, flavor-wise. The sauce might have been the best part. It was mildly garlicky and salty—but ultimately, it wasn't flavorful enough. It tried valiantly to rescue this doomed dish, but still failed in the end. I doubt even General Tsao's Stir Fry Sauce could have pulled this mess together. And even if the flavor had been pleasant, the troublesome texture of this pad see ew was most definitely its Achilles' heel.

2 stars from me. 1.5 stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 3.5 out of 10.
--------------------------------------------

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza

You readers are so smart. S-m-r-t. No, seriously. I'm going to pick up just a recent example: The one who pointed out that the "enzymes" in Trader Joe's Super Burrito! probably included L-Cysteine, which is from animal sources and -gulp- can be derived from human hair -ewwww - therefore not making the burrito a vegetarian or vegan product, despite it going out of the way to include vegan mayo. That's an unsettling sentence for me to type. Yuck. Now every time I see the word "enzymes" on an ingredient list I'm going to think of the first half of this Family Guy scene.

Here's a cheerier example: A couple weeks back I reviewed those Thai Shrimp Gyoza, thinking there were some new hot item, and being pretty disappointed in their lack of taste and flair. Another one of you was pretty quick to point out that I probably really had these Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza  in mind, and a quick consultation of the "What's New" shelf and display at the store and even quicker comparison of package colors (green vs. yellow) showed that yes, once again, you all are right. Thanks as always!

And these gyoza are absolutely what I wanted when I got those other ones. Like Cher, if I could turn back time...These are the real deal. There's very little to not like about these crispy dumplin's. First, the wrapper. Even though we just baked these (as is even the preferred prep method, you can also microwave, but why?), the wonton wrapper got very crispy despite its thinness, while still holding the innards and stuffing all together with very few leakages. It was rather impressive, actually, and although my waistline likes the fact we didn't deep fry them, well, my tongue would have loved to tried. Must be that palm oil they're pre-cooked in...ohh..I'll let that slide, yet again. I know, I know. 

It's not just the outside that lived up to the "crispy" billing. The insides were too. Oh, no, it wasn't the shrimp - that was yet another example of superior TJ firm, fresh, nongritty, nonsalty, yummy shrimp. Didn't even notice the "shrimp paste" unlike previous times. Nope, it was the veggies in there too, which were predominantly carrots and kale. Those too were fresh and firm, with a little crunch, offering a great mouthfeel-y counterbalance. And then there were all the great flavors that Thai food can offer, especially in curries - the sweet coconut, the bite of some lime, the heat off some spices. They may err slightly on the spicy side, so if you prefer milder, these may be a little strong.

The only real complaint that either Sandy or I had was we would have loved an included packet of dipping sauce. Just a little extra somethin'-somethin' to dunk these gyoza in would have been an absolute killer, and given that my choices on hand were Frank's Red Hot or my new favorite BBQ sauce, I think we might the right decision to forgo any condiments. Something like a currylicious dipping sauce, though? Man, my mouth waters. In our minds, this is a tremendous pick-up for the roughly four bucks for a spicy seafood pick-me-up that approaches restaurant quality for a fraction of the price. Matching fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Coconut Strips

In their tradition of excellent coconut products like PancakesCreamer, and Cooking Spray, Trader Joe's has offered us an inexpensive bag of snackable little sticks...er, strips. They're very similar to the "Coconut Chips" we checked out long ago, and they taste about the same too, except these puppies are thicker, firmer, and a tad more chewy. In fact, they're surprisingly tough in my opinion, and for that reason, I think the chips were a superior product. 

Sonia disagrees, stating that these slivers remind her a lot of sugar candy, but slightly more healthy. There are only three ingredients, the first two being coconut and cane sugar. So far, so good. But that third and final ingredient, sulfur dioxide, prompted a little Google research. I found statements ranging from "It's harmless" to "It will kill you" and everything in between. The general consensus, though, seemed to be "It depends on the dosage," which isn't particularly comforting, considering we don't really know the exact dosage we're getting in a small bag of coconut strips. I'm going to go ahead and assume there are only trace amounts of it present, because (A) I'm an optimist and (B) I'm still alive. Apparently, they need this delicious-sounding sulfur dioxide to keep the product fresh, as it is shipped all the way from Thailand. Not exactly "going local," but that's a whole 'nother can of worms... Just think of it like this: you're getting a sweet, exotic snack from half way around the world for less than $2. There's that characteristic optimism of mine again.

In summary, if sweet, firm, French fry-shaped coconut meat sounds tasty to you, check these out. Here's a little run-and-gun video review so you can see the product up close. Not sure why we even did one for this, other than it was an excuse to capture the beautiful snow, or maybe that "video whiz" comment from Russ went straight to my head—although I'm pretty sure the Shelly fam would do at least as well on camera as we do.

4.5 stars from Sonia. 3.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.