Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fast Food Showdown: Burger King Double Cheeseburger vs. McDonald's McDouble

It's possible that I'm just getting grumpier as I get older, but I don't ever remember there being more commercials on television that I hate. I loathe the Taco Bell commercial where the customer will only speak to the one employee because he thinks she gave him a deal on the 89 cent burrito. The Staples commercial with the weird-looking guy shouting "Wow, that's a low price!" at every item in the store makes me turn the channel every time. I'm trying to imagine the executive at Skittles who was pitched the idea of a commercial - of a guy with a tree full of Skittles growing out of his abdomen - and said "Sure, that sounds like a good idea."

But there is no commercial I hate more than the Burger King Double Cheeseburger commercial, with the grown man in a giant baby outfit playing in a sandbox. This is what passes for creativity and cleverness? I guess when your food is as lousy as Burger King's, you distract the viewers with anything but the food. (Remember the In-n-Out commercial that has run for years that shows nothing but a giant picture of a Double-Double? That's the kind of commercial you run when you're actually proud of your food.)

For years, McDonald's had a double cheeseburger on its "Dollar Menu." Last year they replaced it with the McDouble - basically the same thing, but with only one slice of cheese instead of two. Burger King, unveiling its own Dollar Menu, lowered the price of its double cheeseburger to $1. Burger King franchises, claiming that they lose a dime on every double cheeseburger they sell, filed a lawsuit against the corporation on the grounds that it does not have the right to set price ceilings on specific items.

I decided to try them side by side. I went to McDonald's first. Since I do not like Burger King, I figured it would only be fair to pick up their double cheeseburger second so it would be warmer; it was already at a disadvantage, I did not want to hurt its chances any further. (I also got a Diet Coke at BK, which cost almost two dollars. I'm pretty sure they made up that lost dime, and more, with that purchase.) 

The Burger King double cheeseburger is indeed larger than the McDouble, although nowhere near as big a discrepancy as the aforementioned commercial makes it seem. (In the commercial it towers over the McDouble and looks about 50% bigger. This is not the case.) The patties are definitely larger.

But this is not an advantage, because they are still Burger King patties, and those are not good. McDonald's meat isn't anything great, but it's not the dried out, freezer-burned taste of BK. And McDonald's buns are much better than the slightly stale, sesame seed buns that BK uses. The fact that the double cheeseburger has two slices of cheese to the McDouble's one is not a big deal, you can taste plenty of cheese on both. The only advantage the double cheeseburger had was the pickles. They were awesome, thick and fresh. The pickles on the McDouble were the same thin, not-very-flavorful pickles that McDonald's always uses. 

The double cheeseburger is higher in calories and fat than the McDouble, although neither are exactly healthy. Overall, I liked the McDouble much better, but that's no surprise, since I usually can't stand Burger King. Although both burgers cost just over a dollar, neither of them are a better value than a $2.99 animal-style Double-Double.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ix Tapa Cantina

Ix Tapa Cantina opened last month, a Mexican restaurant from the same owners of Bar Celona and Villa Sorriso. I was intrigued by the idea; more than a few times a year I miss the habanero salsa and fish tacos on the patio at the long-gone Sol y Azul. But I worried Ix Tapa would just be the Mexican version of Bar Celona and Villa Sorriso: average food, pathetic service, and the kind of crowds I've never been a part of. 

When I was a teenager, Moose McGillycuddy's was in this location, and it always looked fun. I came in shortly after I turned 21. It was horrible: high covers, obnoxious music, and often a line down the block. Of course, girls I knew always wanted to go there, so I frequently did. One night there was line of at least 100 people waiting to get in; my buddy walked up to the bouncer and told him we worked for Pricewaterhouse - which neither of us did - and he immediately let us in. (I could not make that up, not in a million years.)

"Did we just jump the whole line by lying about working for an accounting firm?" I asked him. 

"Yeah," he said, "it's a long story."

That's the kind of place it was, which is to say not mine, although I suppose in that story lies a harbinger of what Old Town would become.

A couple years back Moose's closed and became Fred's Mexican Cafe, an unremarkable but still likable place with large schooners of beer and appetizers that were much better than their entrees. I only ate full meals there twice but had snacks in the bar at least a half dozen times. I enjoyed it but was neither sad nor surprised when I heard it was closing.

Earlier this month, my friend Tracie and I were trying to come up with a dinner idea. After the requisite cursing of the fact that La Fornaretta no longer exists, we decided to try Ix Tapa. It was pretty empty. We started with a couple bottles of ice cold Pacifico and the usual chips and salsa. The chips were great, fresh out of the fryer. The salsa was lousy, that metallic-tasting salsa that many restaurants serve but I have yet to meet someone who enjoys. 

We decided to start with an order of queso fundido, with chorizo and chiles. It was very good, one of the best I have ever had... at a restaurant. I have a few friends who make queso fundido and they all do a much better job than this, but it was a good appetizer and I probably should have just gotten another order for my meal.

Tracie ordered the vegetarian fajitas. I was hoping for a sizzling platter to hit the table like at El Cholo (or, I guess, Chili's) but this one was not. It was served with beans and guacamole. I did not try any; it did not look very good. Tracie was not particularly effusive in her praise, but she said it was decent.

I ordered the carnitas tacos. "We ran out of those tonight," our server said. This seemed strange; it was only 8 PM. So I ordered the fish tacos appetizer and a cup of albondigas soup.

The fish tacos were grilled with red cabbage, mango, cucumber and cilantro. The red cabbage and the sauce were very nice flavors - tart and creamy. But the fish was just average. It wasn't bad, but it was inexpensive fish lacking any flavor at all. It would not surprise me if it was frozen only a short while earlier.

The albondigas soup was good. The meatballs were juicy and flavorful and the broth was tasty. I'm no expert on soups - I really didn't start eating them until just a couple years ago and this is probably only the third albondigas soup I have ever had in a restaurant - but I was pleased with it.

The service was very good. As I mentioned, the restaurant was pretty empty and it seemed like we had three different people waiting on us, but we were never lacking for anything.

I liked Ix Tapa more than Bar Celona or Sorriso, but that's not saying much. "Even though this was nothing special," Tracie said, "at least it's something independently owned and not another Cheesecake Factory or Buca di Beppo." And she's absolutely right, I'm glad this is not a chain and has at least a touch of uniqueness to it. (Though I wish we could have back Breadcrumbs or Kuala Lumpur or La Fornaretta, or another of the unique restaurants that were actually good.)

I doubted I would ever return for a meal, but decided I would try their happy hour one day. And, as you're about to see, that day was last weekend.

This past Saturday was our first day without rain in five days, so Elizabeth and I decided visit a couple stores in Old Town and go to happy hour somewhere. Ix Tapa has a happy hour seven days a week, so we decided to try it out. We sat by the window on Colorado Blvd. and ordered a couple beers - Dos Equis for me and Blue Moon for her. 

(It was our server's first day on the job, but he was doing more work than anyone else; these were the servers I am used to at Bar Celona and Sorriso - joking around with each other, playing with their cell phones, rubbing each other's shoulders, and paying almost no attention to the customers. I'm glad none of them were our server.) 

After one drink we ordered a couple of snacks: a cheese quesadilla with chicken, for $3.50, and some grilled shrimp for $3. Both of these were good. Nothing special, but well worth their happy hour price. The shredded chicken in the quesadillas was tasty, and the tequila lime cilantro sauce on the shrimp was very good.

Our friend Murph came by to hang out with us and he asked what we'd eaten. We told him and he ordered the same thing. He really liked them both (which did not surprise us; he usually says something is "unbelievable" when he tries it for the first time) so he ordered a second plate of each. After a couple bites of round two he said: "Why did I order these?" But we were able to help him finish them off while he finished off his second margarita.

Later on that evening I ran into my buddy Stewart. He said: "I was driving past and saw you at Ix Tapa. I had dinner there the other night; we've decided to call it Ix Crapa from now on." My feelings aren't that harsh about the place. The dinner I had there was very average, but I enjoyed the happy hour. I doubt I will ever return for the former, but I could see myself having beers and a quesadilla or some albondigas at happy hour again. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Last night our friend Tracie came over to watch the new episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (he was in Brittany.) I decided in advance to make sliders for dinner. Fresh & Easy now has packages of pre-formed mini patties with cracked black pepper, so I got some of those. The mini buns, however, were from Trader Joe's: those only have 80 calories per bun, while the ones at Fresh & Easy are, curiously, 220 calories per bun.

We started by all splitting a bag of Fresh Express salad. Elizabeth and I eat these salads frequently. There is nothing earth-shattering about them, but they are always reliable. (Every few weeks at least one of the supermarket chains has them on sale for half price, so we go to whatever store that is and buy a few.) I grilled the patties on my indoor grill, adding a hunk of Drunken Goat to each during the last minute of cooking so that the cheese could melt. I dropped a few handfuls of frozen crinkle-cut fries into hot oil, and they were done in a few minutes.

I had earlier fried some bacon (is there anything in the world better than the sound and smell of bacon while you're preparing dinner?) and added a little bit to each slider. They were good, but the buns were very dry. I had wanted to put some arugula on each one, but the expiration date of the bag, which I'd thought read the 27th, was actually the 17th. The rocket was all wilted. My bad.

So I added some chopped pickle and McDonald's hot mustard sauce to one of my sliders, which made it much better. I had poured a small dish of spicy barbecue sauce from The Salt Lick, intending to use it as a dip for the fries, but the girls just poured it right onto their sliders.  Tracie had brought over some Turbodog, which, if you've had it, you know goes perfectly with burgers. 

The episode of No Reservations was awesome. Our favorite part was Tony's massive seafood tower, which made us all hungry again. There was nothing in the kitchen that I wanted for dessert - in other words, no homemade ice cream or cotton candy - so I just made myself a little plate of salami with more Drunken Goat and a small dish of 18 year balsamic vinegar. It was the best dessert I have had in a long time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weekend Eats

Friday afternoon I headed out to do a couple errands. Driving up Fair Oaks, the snow level was as low as I remember seeing it in a long time.

I wrote the other day that I had plenty of leftover chicken. I have been using it for almost anything I can think of. For dinner Friday night, I made myself some nachos: chicken, mozzarella cheese, diced red onion, hot sauce, and sour cream. They were very good. I wish I'd had some cilantro or green onion, but it was cold and I didn't feel like going to the store. 

For lunch Saturday, I took a piece of flatbread and covered it with pizza sauce, goat cheese, peppers and onions, and - you guessed it - chicken. I baked it in the oven for about ten minutes. It was outstanding. I don't make flatbread pizzas nearly as much as I should. Years ago my buddy Zach and I used to make pita bread pizzas with an alarmingly diverse amount of toppings. I should really get back to that. (Although I think Zach's and my Magnum Opus was a gummy-bear-and-french-fry pizza; I probably won't be making one of those again.)  

For dinner Saturday night I cooked some vegetable samosas from Fresh & Easy. I have had samosas many times, but always fried. I have never tried them baked in the oven, and I was skeptical. But they actually baked up very nicely. We ate them with some tzatziki sauce and sweet chili sauce. 

Sunday morning I made myself a big breakfast to prepare for a full day of watching football. I scrambled some eggs with cheese and red pepper, then put it on a piece of flatbread, topping it with a couple pieces of crumbled bacon and some goat cheese. And, of course, hot sauce. It was good, although the flatbread is not as good as a thinner tortilla would be. 
Sunday evening I went down to the car to get my camera out. The sky was much nicer than it had been Friday. I was waiting until the second game was over to make dinner, although I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to turn out. (I sent my buddy Nick a text reading "Favre will throw a costly interception in the 4th quarter." For a while I didn't think he was going to pull it out, but sure enough, with nine seconds left he threw a ridiculously dumb pass that was intercepted.)

It was a good night for pizza. I had finally finished off the leftover chicken, so none of that made its way onto the pizza, but I still had plenty of red onions. Instead of pizza sauce, I sprinkled some of my Beyond the Olive olive oil (the Sevillano) onto the dough, topping it with the onions, some pepperoncini, and goat cheese. When I pulled it out of the oven, I drizzled some of the 18 year aged Balsamic vinegar over it. It was beautifully sweet and mellow. I took one piece of pizza and drizzled a lot of the vinegar on it, perhaps too much, but still tasty.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Perdue's BBQ

I've written about Perdue's before on the barbecue blog - it's my favorite barbecue in Pasadena - but on my most recent trip I decided to try their pastrami sandwich. I knew I was taking a chance straying from their barbecue; I have had it three times and all three it was awesome. But I had a hunch that if their pastrami was good it would be really good. Plus, their chopped beef sandwich is very inexpensive. If the pastrami was bad I could just get one of those. 

This was the first time I ever noticed the sign warning customers that service is slow. I can certainly vouch for that: I think my shortest wait here was more than twenty minutes. (I absolutely love the fact that the sign reads "Average wait is 10-15 minutes... maybe more." If I hadn't already known the owners are from the South, that would have been a giveaway.) Of course, this was my fourth meal at Perdue's, so you can probably guess whether or not I feel the food is worth the wait. 

I ordered a pastrami sandwich and a soda. Perdue's does not have an alcohol license, just a large, serve-yourself container full of ice and sodas. They were out of Coke so I chose a Hansen's cherry-vanilla soda. I was with my friend Carla and she got herself a brisket sandwich, and we ordered some cole slaw and fries to share. 

It took twenty-five minutes for our food to arrive, despite the fact that we were the only customers (except for one young guy, who had ordered his food one minute after we ordered ours, and still had not received it when we left, about fifty minutes after we arrived.) I had been asked if I wanted hot mustard or barbecue sauce on my sandwich. I requested both on the side, preferring to try it plain for at least one bite. 

It was awesome. The meat was fresh and juicy and there was very little fat on it. The roll was perfect: slightly crusty around the edges and soft everywhere else. After eating at least half of it, I decided to try some of it with the mustard (nothing special, just a basic spicy deli mustard) and some of it with the cole slaw (which was fantastic.) This sandwich was light years ahead of Tops' pastrami, and even better than The Hat.

The fries were really good: freshly cut potatoes, battered and then fried. They could have used a little more time in the frier, but they were still tasty and we finished the whole plate. 

I really like Perdue's and I am planning what to order for my next meal: either the chicken links or the fried catfish dinner that is available on Fridays.