Friday, February 26, 2010

Fast Food Review: Wendy's Bacon & Blue Burger

Unlike most fast food places that recycle the same tired ingredients in endless variations, Wendy's actually comes out with some interesting items. I still have not met anyone who does not like the spicy chicken nuggets. The ephemeral "flavor dipped sandwich" was as good as any buffalo chicken sandwich I have ever eaten from a restaurant. Their fish fillet sandwich is the only fast food fish sandwich I have ever liked. 

So when they introduced the bacon & blue burger last week, I figured it was worth a try. Last night, after a brief stop at the South Pas farmers market - for the first time in months, there were actually a fair amount of people there during its last hour, a good sign that spring is on its way - we headed down to the Wendy's in Alhambra to grab some quick food and head home to watch Weeds

(I decided to check the order when the employee handed it to me, even though he assured me it was all there. Of course, it was not. Elizabeth's junior bacon cheeseburger was missing. Just a tip if you ever go to this Wendy's: they almost always neglect to give you your full order.)

The burger did not look too impressive when I opened it. I don't know why this surprised me. The famous square patty looked like its edges had been nibbled on by my cat for a few minutes; it only resembled a square in the loosest of definitions. I took a bite - it was pretty bland. The applewood-smoked bacon is better than most fast food bacon, but that's not saying much. 

The blue cheese - a cheese I usually love - was overpowering, and not in a good way. There is supposed to be a "steakhouse sauce" on this burger but all I could taste was the blue cheese. I wasn't expecting anything comparable to the Point Reyes Blue that I'd eaten the night before, but I was hoping for more than this, a chalky, almost-sour tasting cheese. 

I would not eat this burger again. But I will not hesitate to try the next promotion that Wendy's comes out with. Hopefully it will be better than this.  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quadrupel Brasserie

I first heard rumor of Quadrupel Brasserie last summer, the inevitable "coming soon" tag that is understood to mean - by anyone who has ever waited for a restaurant to open - "hopefully in the next few weeks but most likely sometime within the next year." I walked by it in December and the paper had come down from the windows. It looked beautiful inside: dark wood, gorgeous lamps, small tables, and an intimate bar tucked away in the back. It looked like a fantastic place to spend a cold evening just before Christmas. 

Then the next day the paper was back in the windows and weeks passed by. No one seemed to have any more information. Thankfully, a couple days ago I heard from a friend that it had finally opened. Last night, after having a few happy hour drinks with my friends Kevin, Carla, Tracie and Tim, we decided to stop by and have a drink and some snacks. 

The bar was full but we pulled a couple tables together and sat down. Quadrupel's specialty is Belgian beer - they have over 70 in bottles and four on tap. I have not been a drinker of Belgian beers in several years. There was a time when I loved trying new ones, but these days I stick mostly to Guinness. Alas, when in Rome. Or Brussels, I suppose. I ordered a large bottle of Delirium Nocturnum.

For food we ordered some pommes frites, a sampling of sausages, and the pork and pancetta meatballs. Tim picked out a selection of cheeses for us: Fog Lights, Mt. Tam, and Point Reyes Blue. I was most excited about the pommes frites; Belgian fries, when done properly, are as addictive as anything you will ever eat. These looked beautiful when they arrived, served with a trio of dipping sauces. And they were delicious, although a tad limper than they should have been. (I enjoyed them more than the Belgian fries at The Slaw Dogs, but they need be to crisper to compete with Green Street Tavern, my favorite fries in Pasadena.)

The sausages were excellent, served with two mustards, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables. (The carrots were so good I put them on a piece of bread with some cheese.) The meatballs were a bit disappointing, much drier than I expected. The bacon-tomato sauce that accompanied the meatballs was delicious, however, and we cleaned the bowl with the grilled slices of baguette. The cheeses were perfect; not surprisingly Tim did a superb job of selecting them.

We perused the dessert menu but did not order anything. The lavender creme brulee caught my eye but that will have to wait for another visit.

Despite the fact this was only Quadrupel's second night, they still did a great job. The service was excellent and I have no doubt the two disappoinments - the slightly undercooked fries and dry meatballs - will be corrected. (And neither of those were bad - they were still good and we ate them all.) I certainly will return; this is precisely the kind of restaurant that I hope succeeds in Old Town. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Langostino Lobster Rolls

I wrote about langostino lobster rolls over a year ago, but I'm making them slightly different (not to mention taking better pictures) so I'm doing it again. Lobster rolls are pretty close to my favorite food. If I had to choose between eating pulled pork sandwiches or lobster rolls for the rest of my life... I would still choose pulled pork, but I would have to think about it for a minute. 

But they're not the most affordable of meals on this side of the country. Less than seven years ago I used to buy one pound packages of frozen lobster at Whole Foods for $12.99; they're now over 20 bucks. Bristol Farms has very good lobster meat, unfortunately it's close to $60 per pound. (I only purchase that on the rarest of occasions, like Valentine's Day or UCLA basketball victories.) 

But Trader Joe's - which in the last few years has climbed more than a few rungs on the ladder of indispensable things in my life - sells bags of langostino for $8.99. Do they taste exactly the same as lobster? No. Do they taste good? Yes. Are they a good value? Hell yes. I can make about four "lobster rolls" out of one bag for less than the price of one lobster roll at a restaurant - which, in California, is most likely using langostino meat anyway.

The previous time I posted about these, I mixed the langostino with diced celery and mayonnaise. It was delicious (although I went a little too heavy on the mayo) but this time I wanted to try something a little different. I thought I had a shallot -  the first picture on my new camera is of one. But after looking for a couple minutes I realized the picture was taken at my friend Tracie's house. Luckily she only lives one hundred yards away, so I was able to steal borrow a shallot from her.

I chopped up the shallot and sauteed it in a small Le Creuset pot (also Tracie's, although she is the one who brought it over here and has just never taken it back, so that's not theft) with some butter. I stirred in some thyme and dill as well. After simmering for a few minutes I spooned it over the langostino. 

I toasted hot dog buns in the oven for just a minute, enough to get them slightly warm, then placed a couple pieces of butter lettuce in each and topped it with a big handful of langostino. They were great. I actually liked it more this way than with mayonnaise; the texture and flavor of the shallots were a nice contrast to the langostino. 

I may not make the rolls exactly this way from now on, but definitely some variation of it. I already have some ideas. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fast Food Review: Jack in the Box Grilled Sandwiches

My first real grilled sandwich - not grilled cheese my mom made me when I was a kid or the godawful smashed chicken sandwiches I sometimes ate from the junior high cafeteria - was a streetcart panini in Italy, a gorgeous, pressed sandwich, bread with symmetrical grill lines that inspired at least a minute of uninterrupted eye contact. It would have been longer but I had a hangover and needed food. The interior of the sandwich was a revelation: like fondue with pancetta and basil. The insides dripped onto the ground like a Jackson Pollock painting and stained the soccer jersey I'd bought the day before. 

A couple days later I ordered a similar looking panini in Rome and found it was full of tomatoes; I gave it to a kid and ate at the McDonald's by the Spanish Steps.  

In the years that followed, I made many sandwiches that were better-than-grilled-cheese-but-less-than-panini, thanks in no small part to my George Foreman Grill. Eventually my brother turned me on to the Santa Fe Turkey panini at Bristol Farms and I ate them frequently. A few years ago on Halloween I bought a panini press at Sur La Table, one of the best purchases I have ever made. Porta Via makes very nice panini, but by the time they opened I was already a bit of an expert and have not felt the need to pay someone else to make them for me.

When Jack in the Box announced earlier this month that they would be selling grilled sandwiches, I did not think much of it. This is, after all, Jack in the Box. While they have come out with some tasty items over the years, it's still fast food. But recently my friend Zach and I were cruising around on a nice day and decided to stop in and give the sandwiches a try. 

There are two varieties: the turkey, bacon and cheddar, and the deli trio. I ordered the latter. Zach requested the former with no cheese. (He is a lover of wine and good food but does not like cheese. I've never understood this.) It took at least ten minutes to get our sandwiches - the manager apologized - and we took them and sat in the back of Zach's truck. 

I did not try any of Zach's, but the ingredients in my deli trio - Genoa salami, roasted turkey and ham - were surprisingly good, as was the bread. Unfortunately, the "creamy Italian dressing" was disgusting: a sweet, oily mix of corn syrup and soybean oil that I think was supposed to contain a cheese flavor, although I can't be sure. It pretty much ruined the sandwich.

I am sure I will never get one of these again - I can't see any conceivable scenario in which I would - but, without the dressing, it would actually be a good sandwich. (I ate this several days ago; today, February 23rd, Jack in the Box is giving away a free grilled sandwich with the purchase of a large drink.) 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Buca di Beppo Pizza @ Home

I have a friend - I'm not writing his name but anyone who knows him will know exactly who I'm talking about in a few seconds - who gets completely bored being at home. He lives in a beautiful loft with high ceilings and a couple of big screen TVs, the kind of place most people would love to relax on a Sunday evening. But he was going out of his mind with boredom last night and eventually sent me a text asking if he could bring over some pizza and beer and hang out with me and Elizabeth.

"Sure," I said.

He lives very close to Buca di Beppo and asked if that was okay to get. I have said some very harsh things about Buca in the past, and I hope I don't ever have to eat there again, but pizza happens to be the only thing I have ever had from there that I did not think was terrible. Plus, if someone offers to buy you pizza and beer, you can't really complain about what kind, you know?

I cooked some Trader Joe's "feta cheese and caramelized onion bites" as an appetizer. I have always loved these, especially drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar. (I added the last drops of the 18 year balsamic that was part of the set my parents' gave us for Christmas.) The beer for the evening was Lagunitas IPA, an extremely hoppy IPA from Marin County. I have not had one of these in years - although I believe stashed in a drawer somewhere I have a t shirt with the old Lagunitas IPA logo on it - and I'd forgotten how good it is.

The pizza was pepperoni and bell pepper, at least two feet long. The three of us could only eat about two-thirds of it. The crust was insubstantial but the sauce was delicious. The toppings were neither better nor worse than any pizza chain would provide. At any rate, I had five slices and was happy.

Huell Howser turned out to be a fourteen-year old episode of him visiting Havana, Cuba (he asked a hotel employee who claimed to be a Lakers fan if the guy had heard that "Magic is back") so we only watched a few minutes of it and I spent most of the evening flipping channels.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Slaw Dogs II

I will keep this short. After the great trip to The Slaw Dogs on Monday, I had been craving another one of their hot dogs all week. Friday I stopped in with my mom - who is lucky enough to work 100 yards away - to try my second Slaw Dog. I opted for the Green Monster: roasted green chili, pepperjack cheese, grilled onions, chipotle mayo and garlic salsa. 

Instead of the Beligian fries with truffle oil and parmesan, this time we split an order of plain Belgian fries, with sides of chipotle mayo and roasted garlic mayo. I much preferred them this way. 

I liked the Green Monster more than the Picnic Dog I ate on Monday, but less than the #1 that both my mom and Elizabeth ate on their Slaw Dog adventures. 

I will post pictures with a brief description next time I eat there. I already have a hunch what my next dog is going to be. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spicy Sausage Panini

MLB Network has been showing, every Thursday night, an episode of Ken Burns's spectacular Baseball. I watch the 18 1/2 hour documentary every spring; it feels like a transfusion. Perhaps my favorite episode was on last night: "The National Pastime." It covers the 1940s: DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Ted Wiliams hitting .406 in 1941, baseball during World War II (including a beautiful, metaphoric photo of Japanese-Americans playing baseball at Manzanar), and Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. I couldn't think of a better reason to make dinner at home and hang out in front of the TV. (A new episode of Baseball, the "10th Inning," will premier this fall, 16 years after the original. There are very few things in my life that I have ever looked forward to as much as this.)

The other day at the butcher shop I noticed a new sausage called "Sierra Madre Caliente." I inquired about it and was told it contained both bell and jalapeno peppers. That sounded great to me so I got a couple. I was toying with the idea of making a pizza, but I've had pizza twice in the last four days. (Sunday night - Valentine's Day - I made three kinds of grilled pizza at my friends Dave and Min's house and it was great, along with several nice bottles of wine. I accidentally erased the pictures, which apparently is much easier to do with my new camera. It's going to take me a while to stop kicking myself for that.) So I opted to make panini instead. It's been a while since I've grilled my own sandwich. 

I loosely crumbled the sausage and cooked it in a pan. I sliced a few pieces of French bread and threw some globs of goat cheese on them, topping it with the sausage and chopped basil. While the french fries were cooking I grilled the panini on the press. 

The sandwiches were quite good but the sausage was nowhere near as spicy as I'd been led to believe. My reason for using the creamy goat cheese was to offset the expected heat, but it never came. There is no question I would make these again - hell, maybe even for lunch today - but next time I will try adding some pepperoncini, or maybe even grilled jalapeno. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Slaw Dogs

There are very, very few things I like more than a good hot dog. From Lucky Dogs on Bourbon Street to Sabrett dogs on the steps of the Met; from a corn dog the size of a Maglite at the Montana State Fair to a Dodger Dog on a weekday afternoon in Chavez Ravine, I love hot dogs. 

For most of my adult life I rarely went north of the 210 Freeway on Lake Ave. Other than the occasional run to Popeye's or the nights when friends wanted to shoot pool at the Rancho, there was never any reason to. But the last few months I've been exploring the area. Cabrera's, The Hat, Perdue's. I noticed there was a Philly Cheesesteak shop just north of Orange Grove but I never felt any need to go there, as I have always been  satisfied with Philly's Best.

But not long ago a joint called The Slaw Dogs opened up in the old cheesesteak location, offering an abundance of hot dogs and toppings. And Belgian fries. I read about it a few weeks ago and filed it away in my mind in the queue of places I wanted to get to, in the category of looks-great-but-don't-need-to-go-immediately. Then last week I got a text from my buddy Tim that he was having lunch there: "Market Dog - today's special: spicy chicken sausage, cumquat chutney, curry catsup, mint grilled onions and pickled habaneros." 

Woah. That was a shot to the gut, like the first time I heard Van Morrison or saw City of God. Something new is clearly in play here. Any place that would try to pull off a dog like that immediately earns my affection, regardless of whether it's good. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

Elizabeth and I both had Monday off; it was 81 degrees and we were hungry. I suggested The Slaw Dogs and she agreed. The menu is a little overwhelming at first - there are 11 different links from which to choose, ranging from regular beef dogs to Calabrese sausage, and more than three dozen toppings.  We decided to each get one of their special dogs. I ordered the "Picnic Dog," grilled with onion rings, potato salad, pickles and barbecue sauce. Elizabeth went with the #1: chili, cheese, mustard, onions and cole slaw.

"We have a special," the girl behind the counter told us. "Belgian fries with parmesan, garlic, and truffle oil."

"Yes," I said, "we will definitely have some of those." 

I also noticed Mexican Cokes in the fridge, those Cokes made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. They always taste better that way, but even more so on a warm day. We each ordered one and took a seat to wait. 

The food was ready in about ten minutes, my Picnic Dog greeting me almost literally, the onions rings, potato salad and pickle arranged to resemble a face. Too cute by half? Probably. Still kind of funny? Definitely. And it was damn good. I had asked before ordering if those flavors went well together and was told that yes, it actually does taste like a picnic. Which was true.

The fries were fantastic but pretty decadent. I am not sure if I would order them again this way; I could sense my breath the rest of the day as strongly as if I had eaten a container of Zankou garlic sauce. From now on I think I will stick to the regular Belgian fries.   

I had a bite of Elizabeth's dog, and it was even better than mine. The chili and cole slaw were great. It's tempting next time to load up a dog with a ton of bizarre condiments, but I think I'm going to make my way through the ten special dogs on the menu before I start making my own creations. Next up for me will be the "Green Monster," with green chili, chipotle mayo, grilled onion, pepperjack cheese and garlic salsa.

I'm hoping this place sticks around for a long time because it's exactly the kind of place I love: non-chain, great service, and an original menu idea.