Calling all amateur chefs, exhausted nine-to-fivers, and lazy gourmands: the road to a wholesome, homecooked meal is now much shorter than your average afterwork line at the grocery check-out stand.
With the onslaught of meal-kit home delivery services in the Bay Area, there’s really no excuse not to eat well during the week. Granted, these meals can’t compete with the convenience factor of a bowl of cold cereal for dinner, but with a little effort (you don’t even have to compile a grocery list or fight for parking at Whole Foods!), your tastebuds can be infinitely more satisfied. And beyond that, you can build a reputation as an epicure among your cohorts. After all, who needs to know that it all came from a box? Our editors road-tested four services, all with impressive results. Read on for their rankings (5 is the best) and raw commentary.
Tester: Sarah Lee, assistant marketing editor
Dish: “Fainting Iman” Stuffed Eggplant
Cost: $18 (serves 2)
I appreciated the cute little insulated Tomato Sherpa tote bag for ease of transport. I found the items clearly organized when I opened the package, and I loved how the shallots and garlic were pre-peeled (thank god). It chopped the prep time in half. Bonus points for giving me the exact amount of the fresh herbs needed! I did feel guilty about all the little plastic bags that the ingredients came in. I’d prefer reusable containers, especially since the Tomato Sherpa tote bags need to be returned after the order.
The instructions were broken down into straightforward steps that allowed me to multi-task while the eggplant was roasting and the rice was cooking. The recipe was fairly simple, and I felt confident following each of the steps. A newer cook would benefit from more clear instructions, especially when using more semi-obscure cheffy terms like “chiffonade.”
Eggplant is one of the only vegetables that’s constantly eluded my decent cooking skills. The diced eggplant in the savory tomato sauce was fantastic and lived up to the insanely delicious smell that permeated my kitchen during cooking. The texture of the eggplant was pleasantly soft on the inside with a lightly crisp coating. The toppings took the dish to the next level, especially the yogurt sauce with pomegranate molasses, which I would happily eat for breakfast.
Tester: Jessica Do, art director
Dish: Cod & Pattypan Squash En Papillote with Garlic Butter & Fresh Herb Salad
Cost: $19.98 (serves 2)
The powers of refrigerated packaging were certainly tested with this meal. I was skeptical because there were some issues with the delivery, so god knows how long the fish had been sitting out, but it was still fresh by the time I started cooking.
I'm a very visual person, so the photos helped immensely in illustrating the steps. In particular, the "assembling packets" step called for precise folding and alignment of the parchment sheets to properly cook the cod. If it weren't for the photo, I probably would have ended up with some non-sensical origami piece.
The cod came out perfectly flakey. The butter, lemon, and garlic were able to fully encapsulate all the ingredients within the steamer, giving the meal a punch of flavor with every bite. The squash provided a pillow for the fish, inhibiting the quinoa from getting too soggy. Despite the large quantity of butter used, the dish still felt light and guilt-free. The end result created a cloud of heavenly aromas. I mean, who doesn't love the smell of butter-infused fish?
Tester: Sarah Medina, assistant editor
Dish: Southwest rubbed pork with romano bean salad and Mexican corn
Cost: $25 (serves 2)
The ingredients were well packaged, and I like that they’ll come pick up, and reuse, the freezer packaging. I also like that everything that needs to be refrigerated comes together in an insulated package, so you can just pop that parcel in the fridge and leave the rest in the box until you’re ready to cook. Since I was carrying the box from my Oakland home from my SF office, I wish it came in an easier-to-carry insulated bag with handles.
I enjoyed the colloquial tone of the instructions, and they were very easy to follow. They didn’t use fancy kitchen terms and added a small explanation to everything that wasn’t common sense (for example: “salt the water until it tastes like the ocean"). Because they came in paragraph form, however, it was easy to lose your place in the process and hard to find it again. Bullet points might have been better.
The pork chops were pre-seasoned to perfection and very easy to cook. The romano bean salad sounded like it was going to be fancier than it was—although still tasty, it was just roasted veggies. But let’s talk about the corn, which was the real star in this meal. The “Mexican” corn was roasted, slathered in garlic aioli, and then rolled in queso and cilantro. TDF.
Tester: Timothy Wudarski, director of production
Dish: Tuscan Fish Stew
Cost: $15/plate ($60 minimum; non-member price; each plate generously serves one)
Ingredients arrived (mostly) well packaged, attractive looking and unblemished. Dinging them one star because some of the most fragile ingredients—the herbs—were packed in a thin plastic envelopes, and some were pretty bruised when I opened the delivery box. I was able to rescue enough to finish the meal.
The instructions come on a letter sized sheet, but the type is large enough to read while cooking, and the photos they chose to include were of key moments in the recipe, which helped the process keep rolling without needing to stop and reread.
I loved it, and my wife did too (sometimes cooking for her is like cooking for a very picky five-year-old). The dish was delicious—bright and acidic. I might have included more ciabatta, as the stew itself was perfect for dunking the crusty bread in.
At these prices, you’re not saving much money going to the grocery store yourself. But I signed up for another meal anyway, which will be arriving this week.