Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stacked Sandwich

Almost a year ago, I read about Stacked Sandwich on one of my favorite blogs and decided I needed to visit the place. But I never did. It wasn't just my laziness: until last month they closed at 5 PM, and they aren't open on Sundays (the day I am most likely to go out for lunch) or Mondays. (They are now open until 7 PM Tuesdays-Fridays, which I'm sure is better for some people but is still too early for me to get dinner.)

Located on 1st Ave in Arcadia, in a location that was a pizza joint for most of my life, Stacked Sandwich has perhaps the most interesting sandwich menu I have ever seen in the San Gabriel Valley. Many of the sandwiches are stuffed with fries, several have a garlic-mayo sauce, and one is even advertised as being "simmered in a habanero Jacuzzi."

And the names are nothing short of fantastic: Whacked Stacked, Black Dog Saloon, Agent Orange, Rev. Pablo Pastor, and Chicken Little's Big Brother.

I selected the top two sandwiches in the above photo: the Portly Pastrami and Beef Barchetta. Take a look at the menu description of the latter and you see if that doesn't appeal to you.
The pastrami was shaved nice and thin. It was fattier than I normally like, but high quality: the fat was not noticeable, it disappeared in each bite with the grilled onions and gooey cheese. And every bite was delicious. Encapsulating the sandwich was the perfect roll: a touch firm on the outside, firm enough to hold together the messy, juicy guts of the sandwich, but also perfectly soft inside, soft enough to know that the bread is there to be a component of the sandwich, not a distraction.

The Beef Barchetta was outstanding. The meat wasn't anything spectacular, but it was good enough, and combined with all the other ingredients - especially the onions and horseradish sauce - it blended into one of the best flavor combinations I have experienced in quite some time, a mouthful of flavors both strange and instantly recognizable. The fries, I have to say, did not add much to the sandwich in terms of taste. I think it was one of those cases of the chef thinking about what he could do, instead of what he should do.

The pastrami sandwich was very good, but I can name you at least a half-dozen places within ten miles of me who do very good pastrami sandwiches. I am not sure I can think of another sandwich like the Barchetta.

I dipped a bite of the sandwich in the provided broth but I didn't get the point: it wasn't bad, but it added nothing to the sandwich, it actually distracted from the delicious flavors.

Writing about the order of fries that came with each sandwich is bound to be out of place, like analyzing the last five minutes of No Country For Old Men or Christian Laettner's performance on the Dream Team.  But these fries were actually really good... fresh out of the oil, crispy, with just the right amount of seasoning.

In lieu of fries, however, you can get a salad or a soda with your sandwich. Next time I will definitely go that route, particularly if I get a sandwich that includes fries in it.

I think everyone should try out Stacked Sandwich at least once. I have heard it described by quite a few people as the best sandwich they have ever had. I certainly wouldn't go that far, but it was really good and it beats any of the chain restaurants that Arcadia and Monrovia are full of.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pizza Al Pollo Asada, Foccacia Verdure, and Another One Bites the Dust at Trader Joe's

The other evening I headed down to Trader Joe's to get some things for dinner. There was a slight drizzle and it was colder than I remember it ever being in late March, so I had no desire to cook anything on the grill, and the idea of cooking something in a hot oven sounded good.

I noticed a product I had never seen before, a "Pollo Asado" pizza, promising to be made on a corn masa crust with grilled chicken, refried beans, jack cheese and tomatillo salsa. I'm always up for trying a new TJ's product and, like most of them, the price tag on this one was attractive: $1.99.

I followed the instructions at home. Unfortunately, the instructions yielded a disappointing pizza. The crust was soggy mess and at least half the toppings were cold. I reheated it a little more, but by the time the toppings were warm - not hot, just warm - the crust was burnt in lots of places (and yet still cold and soggy in others). I added some roasted pepper salsa to the slices to try to disguise the taste of the crust.

Maybe there is some trick you can figure out to make this work, but I don't think I will ever buy this again. But, as I mentioned, it was only $1.99, so it wasn't that big a deal. (If this had been one of those $8.99 CPK frozen pizzas, I would have been a lot more upset.)

I also picked up a package of focaccia verdure, a vegetable-stuffed piece of foccacia resembling something like a pizza with crusts on the bottom and top. Think of a very thick quesadilla. I've eaten them a few times - they are better cut up and served as an appetizer than as a meal, in my opinion - and I even wrote about them a year ago.

Once again it was delicious, cooking up perfectly in less than 15 minutes. And it was on sale for only 99 cents - great, right?

No, not great.

And anyone who has been loyal to Trader Joe's for years can guess why.

There was only one of these left in the freezer case and it was marked down to 99 cents, so I had not hesitated to grab it. But waiting in line to pay for the groceries I started to think about that.

"Why is this so cheap?" I asked the guy at the checkstand. "You're not getting rid of these, are you?"

"I think so," he said. "How much is this?"

"99 cents."

"Yeah, we're almost surely getting rid of them."

So, yet again another item I really like at Trader Joe's is probably being discontinued. This doesn't sting like the goat cheese empanadas or the chimichurri sauce, both of which were the best I have ever had. But it's just as annoying as the disappearance of the chicken chile verde, mojito simmer sauce, lemongrass chicken stix, and quite a few other items over the last decade.

I dream of a world in which you don't fall in love with TJ's products only to have them disappear forever. I haven't found it yet.... but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning —

UPDATE 2:43PM - I was just at TJ's a half hour ago and what did I find? The lemongrass chicken stix - probably the first time I've seen them in over a year. Cool. Now if they would just get back those empanadas and chimichurri sauce.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fast Food Review: Burger King Chicken Tenders

Hearing that Burger King was redoing their chicken tenders into something resembling nuggets was like hearing that Luke Walton was being traded or Glee was moving to a new night: I could not possibly care any less. Burger King is my least favorite fast food chain by a country mile, and their chicken is one of my least favorite things on their menu. Their chicken fries are one of the worst things I have ever eaten.

Interestingly, the new product is still called "tenders," even though they look just like nuggets. But Burger King is advertising them as having a new seasoning, along with the slogan "Crispy. Tender. New." So I figured I would give them a try. I ordered eight pieces for $1.99.

Unfortunately, they taste just like rounder versions of the chicken fries. They were not hot, they were not crispy, and they were not tender. The breading was bland and room temperature and the chicken was only slightly juicier than beef jerky. The word that kept coming to mind as I ate them was "pathetic." They are pathetic, shriveled little versions of the chicken nuggets that you find at many fast food joints.

The "zesty" sauce that accompanied the chicken was very tasty, similar to the Popeyes Deltas Sauce I love. But it still wasn't enough to make the chicken edible.

The Carl's Jr. turkey burger I had the other day was the worst thing I have eaten so far in 2011. These new Burger King chicken tenders are the second-worst.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wendy's Premium Fish Fillet & Other Weekend Eats

Over the last two or three weeks, roughly a dozen people each day have stumbled upon this blog by searching for Wendy's fish sandwich. I did a post on that limited-time promotion two years ago, but those pictures weren't very good. The sandwich is out again, though, and I am nothing if not a servant to my readers, so I decided to try it again. Saturday afternoon, Elizabeth and I went to Wendy's for lunch.

Wendy's fish sandwich was not part of last year's Fast Food AdLentures, but I will tell you right now it's better than any of the sandwiches I tried then. The fish is crispy and hot. The fillet has no dark or tough spots in it; it's all tasty white fish.

I also had some spicy chicken nuggets off the 99-cent menu. As usual, they were tasty.

Now let's back up to the start of the weekend.

My friend Tracie came over Friday afternoon to have some wine and enjoy the nice afternoon. She was taking a couple days off work to celebrate her birthday, although I'm not supposed to say which it is. (She has two different years that she is considering claiming, neither of which is correct. Perplexingly, one of them is actually one year older than she is. Sometimes I think I will understand Sanskrit before I get women.)

I sent a text to our friend Tim to see if he was around, but he was busy. He offered up some of his wine: "I'll leave a garage key, help yourself."

Part of me felt bad drinking Tim's wine without him.

But a larger part of me did not.

I wandered over a took two bottles from the scores in his garage.

A couple hours later on my patio, enjoying the late afternoon light, listening to live Dylan recordings on YouTube, I sent Tim a text:

"The '70 Mouton-Rothschild is great... thanks!"

He replied a minute later: "That's good to hear. When I refilled the bottle with Thunderbird I thought it would be obvious."

Elizabeth arrived home around 7 and gave us a leftover carnitas taco she had from lunch, from Pueblo Viejo in Mid-Wilshire Los Angeles. It was tasty. Nothing special and VERY salty, but I hadn't really eaten anything all day and I had a few glasses of wine in me, so it was a nice treat. The vegetable salsa was delicious. The tortillas were cold and stale, but what can you do when they are 6 hours old and have been sitting in the fridge?

I also made a snack for myself and Elizabeth: Trader Joe's caramelized onion and feta cheese pastry bites with some sauteed spinach.

Saturday afternoon, Elizabeth and I sat on our patio and had some wine. But then it started drizzling. So we headed over to Tim's place.

I put out a collection of cheeses, all from Trader Joe's. 

 Toscano with cracked black pepper. This was the surprise hit.

This is one of my favorite cheeses from TJ's, if not my favorite: English cheddar with caramelized onion.

Irish cheddar with porter.

The Parmesan was interesting; it did not have the nutty flavor I love so much in Parmesan, it was much more subtle, like an asiago. I still liked it, but I didn't love it.

Jarlsberg: nothing fancy, but a good standby.

After a while Tim decided to fry up some tacos and taquitos. He had roasted a chicken a couple days earlier and had plenty left, so he shredded the meat and placed it in tortillas, then fried them briefly.

They were a delicious treat, made better with some spicy Pico Pica hot sauce.
For dinner Sunday night (our lunch will get its own post later in the week) I cooked a bag of Trader Joe's mini meatballs in a pot for about 20 minutes, steaming them with a bit of beer and a touch of chili sauce. Remember the Irish cheddar with porter? I sliced up some more of that, placed it on top of the meatballs in a soft roll, wrapped the sandwich in foil and baked it in the oven for about ten minutes.

The sandwiches were great, the slightly spicy meatballs mixing nicely with the melted cheese and the barely-toasted rolls.

In the afternoon I had gone over to Tracie's to borrow her vaccum (it's a powerful Dyson, much better than the weak little machine we have). She had gone over to her parents' for a birthday brunch and her mom had baked a lot of cupcakes. She gave me two leftovers and Elizabeth and I ate them for dessert. (Well, Elizabeth had a couple bites of one; I ate all the rest.)

It was a nice dessert to end the weekend.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kathleen's Restaurant

For more than a year now I've explored the dining options in the area of Lake Ave, north of the freeway. But I've never been to Kathleen's. I've passed by it many times and even checked out the menu online; from the appearance of the facade - and the prices of the entrees - it seemed to me a fancy place, slightly pretentious, and more than a little out of place in that stretch of fast food joints and cheap chicken stands.

The other day, however, I met my parents for lunch at Kathleen's and discovered that most of my assumptions were wrong. Just like they usually are. From the outside of the restaurant, I imagined the inside would be dark, with lots of wood, maybe candles flickering or a fireplace. It looks just like a regular coffee shop.

It is obviously popular with the senior citizen crowd. I was the youngest person in the room. My parents were younger than the average age of the diners... and my parents are old.

My mom said the bread was fantastic. It was good, certainly, but nothing better than that.

My dad selected the beef dip. (He had said as soon as we walked in that he already knew what he wanted.) He ate the whole thing and said it was good.

My mom had the Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing on the side. It's a pretty big bowl and she was barely able to eat half of it.

On a board in the front of the restaurant were a few specials listed, one of which was the Reuben. It was the day after St. Patrick's and all I'd eaten the night before was a chili dog and tater tots. Corned beef and cabbage sounded good so that's what I ordered.

I really liked it. The corned beef wasn't anything special but it wasn't fatty, which is what often happens when you order it in a coffee shop. The sauerkraut was delicious and they didn't overdue the Russian dressing, there was just a touch of it.

When I ordered the sandwich, the woman asked me if I would like cole slaw, potato salad or fries. I asked "Which are the best; are you guys known for any of them?" She answered that the fries were the best, which surprised me, but I still ordered them and they were indeed tasty. The potatoes were no higher quality than your standard frozen potatoes, but they were fried up crisp with nice spices - mostly salt - on them.

I liked Kathleen's; it was both less formal than I expected it to be and the food was slightly better. The service was outstanding, the waitresses constantly filling my water glass and asking if everything was okay. In fact, I don't remember the time I had such outstanding service at lunch.

But there is one thing about which my assumptions were correct: it's overpriced. Lunch for the three of us - two sandwiches and one salad, one iced tea (my dad and I both drank water) - was $50 (including tax and tip). I can think of quite a few restaurants with comparable food that would be half that price.

I wouldn't mind returning to Kathleen's, but within two blocks of it are The Hat, El Taquito, Fatburger, La Chona, and El Pollo Unico - all much better, all much less expensive. I imagine I will visit all those places many more times before I return to Kathleen's.