Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rubio's Sesame Soy Fish Taco

After I wrote about Rubio's new shrimp tacos on Monday, a reader sent me an email saying that I should give their (relatively new) fish tacos a try. About the only thing I like more than pleasing my readers is eating fried seafood tacos.

There are two varieties: the "Sesame Soy" and the "Avocado Corn." The latter of those two comes with, not surprisingly, an avocado corn salsa. So I decided to get the first. (Which comes with avocado slices, but I asked to hold them.) It took several minutes for the tacos to be ready. This never bothers me - at least it makes it more likely that the tacos are being fried to order. (It's always suspicious when you order a fish taco and it's ready in 30 seconds and not too hot.)

This taco was definitely hot, a decent-sized piece of fish with a crispy batter, topped with a sesame soy sauce and a creamy wasabi sauce, along with some mixed greens.

If I really liked that crispy shrimp taco the other day, I loved this taco.

The batter was crunchy and the fish inside was juicy and flaky; the sweet soy sauce played nicely off the slightly spicy wasabi. I felt like I could have eaten a half dozen of these.

Part of me doesn't even want to go back and try another one; I feel like there is no way they all can be this good. On the other hand, if I can get another one and it's even close to being this good, it will be worth it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Burger King BK Toppers

Last October I tried Burger King's "BK Topper" in the Western BBQ offering and was pleasantly surprised. While I did not care for the stale bun, I thought the crunchy onion rings and tangy barbecue sauce were a nice combination. The meat was, let's just say, not terrible.

I'm not a Burger King fan. I won't go into all my thoughts on the place, it's just my least favorite fast food chain. Everyone has to have one. So I hardly ever go there (despite the fact that two years ago I had a Whiplash Whopper that turned out to be one of the best "big chain" fast food burgers I have ever had). But Elizabeth really likes their Original Chicken Sandwich and every once in a while has a craving for one. The other day we got a flyer in the mail that BK is doing a buy-one-get-one-free promotion for the Original Chicken Sandwich. So we decided to head there.

I decided to try two different BK Toppers: the Bacon & Cheddar and the Mushroom & Swiss.

I'm not entirely sure why I ordered this version. You know, since I don't like mushrooms. (I've never been too bright.) I guess I figured that I've had some mushrooms lately that I didn't mind and that maybe I was actually start to not mind them. 

But these mushrooms were terrible. I tried two bites and wiped them all off. I liked the cheese, though.

The bacon & cheddar burger tasted better. The bacon was relatively crisp (for fast food bacon) and the cheese, while not as good as the Swiss, was better than I was expecting.

I don't mind these burgers. That's damning with faint praise, sure, but considering how much I loathe almost everything from Burger King, that's almost a compliment. They're only $1.99 each, and I like them more than the Whoppers and Chef's Choice burgers that cost twice that price.

The meat in these burgers isn't terrible, but the buns are. With a softer (or, I guess, fresher) bun, these burgers would probably be my favorite thing I have ever had at BK. As it is, I will just get one of these BK Toppers from now on whenever Elizabeth wants her Original Chicken Sandwich, but I'll never seek them out on my own. At any rate it's nice to have something at BK that I don't hate.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rubio's "Shrimp With Attitude"

Last week, Rubio's debuted two new shrimp tacos: a "Salsa Verde Pan-Seared Shrimp Taco" and a "Smoky Red Chile Hand-Battered Shrimp Taco." I have been enjoying Rubios promotions for many years - especially their crispy shrimp tacos that come out every year. I particularly wanted to try the latter of the two new tacos: "Hand-battered shrimp... cooked in seasoned beer batter and topped with a smoky red chile sauce made with guajillo, ancho and red jalapeño chiles, along with Rubio’s white sauce, a cilantro/onion mix and cabbage." 

Elizabeth and I stopped by the other day for lunch. It was on the early side and nobody else was in the place. We got ourselves some chips and tomatillo, spicy, and chipotle salsas. The last of those was my favorite.

A fountain Vanilla Coke for her ("This is much better than a can") and a cup of water for me. My cup filled me in on the glories of a siesta.

The hand-battered shrimp taco only contained three shrimp. They were good-sized shrimp, but I would have liked at least one more.

But the shrimp were still delicious: crispy, juicy, plump shrimp. The sauces worked wonderfully together and the cabbage provided a nice crunch. This isn't the best shrimp taco I've ever had, but I can say without hesitation it is the best one I've ever had from a chain.

Elizabeth went for the pan-seared shrimp taco. She said it was good, but she liked the hand-battered shrimp version better. She added a few pieces of onion and some of the tomatillo salsa to the taco for the last two bites, giving it a little extra flavor.

I do not know how long these tacos will be around, but I hope I am able to stop by for a couple more of them. Rubios has come out with some really good promotions over the years, but this hand-battered shrimp taco might be my very favorite.

Here's the video of Ralph Rubio assembling the tacos that I watched the other day. Maybe you'll want to try them, too:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Papa John's Pizza

A few months back, Elizabeth and I had just finished shopping at Ralph's. After putting all the groceries in the car, Elizabeth wheeled the shopping cart a few feet away to a designated area. "There's something in this cart," she said, referring to one of the other recently abandoned carts. Long story short, it was someone's portfolio wallet.

I unzipped it to see if the guy lived nearby. (He did not.) There was some cash, several credit cards, and a checkbook. So I took the wallet back inside and gave it to the store manager. "Thank you," he told me. "That's very honest of you. Go buy yourself a lottery ticket, you've got some good karma coming your way."

So I bought several tickets. Twice a week. For months. I did not win a single thing. Not one single dollar. They say the odds of winning a prize are 1 in 40. It's not unreasonable to say I bought at least 200 tickets without winning.

What's the point of this anecdote? Well, karma may not have returned the favor in the form of a cash prize, but I did win the next-best thing*: I won two pizzas in Papa John's "Million Pizza Giveaway," as well as a pizza and a two-liter bottle of soda for a contest that I still am not clear on, something about correctly predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl coin flip. I made no such prediction, but I don't think that's the point.

Although I have only had Papa John's three times in my life,** I consider it vastly superior to Dominos or Pizza Hut. But it's still chain pizza. I just don't have any room in my life for chain pizza. Well, you know, unless it's free. The other evening when Tracie was over at my place and we started to get hungry, I suggested we use some of my pizza coupons. That sounded good to her and Elizabeth. (Murph was over, too, but he had just stopped by to borrow DVDs of The Shield and he took off before we got the pizza.)

I think the coupons were good for a large pizza with one topping, so I ordered one large cheese, one large (thin crust) chicken and banana peppers, and one large pepperoni and green pepper. The pizza was ready in 15 minutes and we drove down to pick it up.

For those two pizzas on which I got a second topping, I had to pay the difference, bringing my total for three pizzas and a bottle of soda to a whopping $2.78.

I loved the thin-crust pizza. It was as crispy as any chain pizza I have ever had, a cracker-like crust reminding me of St. Louis-style pizzas I have had in years gone by. But the toppings weren't very good. The chicken was dried-out and the peppers lacked any real flavor. I sluiced the two slices I ate of this pie with Tapatio, which helped a lot. 

My favorite topping to add to pepperoni is green onion, a delicious flavor combination I discovered many years ago at La Fornaretta,*** which will always remain my favorite pizza I have ever had in Pasadena. But Papa John's does not offer green onion on pizza. My second-favorite pairing with pepperoni is bell pepper. So that's what I ordered on this pizza. 

It was good. I mean... it's pizza, of course it's going to be good. Would I ever order one of these if I had to pay for it? I don't think so.

Elizabeth likes plain cheese pizza, so that's what I ordered for her. I didn't eat any of it on this evening, but the next day - there were a lot of leftovers, as you might imagine - I added some Tabasco Buffalo sauce to it. It was fine. Not bad, but my least favorite of the three pizzas. I see why they included garlic sauce**** with this pizza - it needed a lot more flavor.

It's hard to complain about three large pizzas that cost me less than three dollars. So I'm not going to. Like I said, I greatly prefer Papa John's to the other pizza chains. If any of the chains was going to offer me three free pizzas, I'm glad it was this one. But I don't think the pizza is anything special. Being that the South Pasadena Papa John's is half a block from Big Mamma's - probably my favorite pizza in the San Gabriel Valley - I don't ever see myself paying for a Papa John's pizza.

*Now that I think about it, that's probably not actually the next-best thing. The next-best thing would have been a Tuscan villa or a 1957 Corvette or bunch of gold bars or something like that. 

**Actually, I've bought Papa John's three times but only eaten it twice. Once in Great Falls, Montana, after a minor league baseball game, I was walking back to the motel and picked up a Papa John's pizza. But I ended up talking on the phone for a while that night and never got around to eating the pizza. I woke up in the morning with the entire pie still on the table. 

***The pizza was called the Mt. Etna and it was amazing. La Fornaretta closed many years ago and is now the reading room for the Church of Scientology's Pasadena location. It's disappointing on many levels.

****You may have noticed two containers of garlic dipping sauce in the pizza boxes. Elizabeth loves that stuff and I accidentally threw one of them away. I may have seen her angrier at some point in the last few years, but I don't remember when.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fast Food Review: Carl's Jr. Southwest Patty Melt

The last time I wrote about a Carl's Jr. Six Dollar Burger, a reader made a great point in the comments - it was going for $5.99 in his or her local market. Remember when the Six Dollar Burgers debuted, the whole point of them was that they tasted "like a burger you would pay six dollars for in a restaurant." Now they're burgers for which you actually have to pay six dollars. 

Carl's Jr. just released a "Southwestern" version of the burger, in a patty melt no less. (If I were to choose my least favorite Carl's Jr. commercial, which would be quite hard, it would probably be the "flat buns" commercial of a few years back that advertised the patty melt. If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky.) The burger comes with sliced jalapenos, grilled onions, pepperjack cheese, and Santa Fe sauce. I picked up one yesterday; you can opt to get the Southwestern Patty Melt in a single or double version as well, but I went for the Six Dollar. (It wasn't quite six bucks, but $5.43 with tax.)

No surprises when I unwrapped it: the bread looked nice, golden and toasty, but ugly meat poked out from the sides.

Not a lot of "grilled onions" on this one.

But plenty of jalapenos.

First the good news: I was blown away by how spicy this particular burger was. I've eaten enough fast food burgers purporting to be spicy to know that blandness is more common than spiciness. But this thing had plenty of heat. And the melted pepperjack cheese was as good as any cheese I've had from a national burger chain. The combination of all the things made this one of the more enjoyable Carl's Jr. burgers I have ever had.

But that's a relative statement; it was still a Carl's Jr. burger, which means that strange, freezer-burned taste to the meat. I know some people who love that taste, and I respect that, but it's not for me. Of course it didn't help that earlier in the day I had eaten the best restaurant burger I have had in months (more on that one of these days), but even without that, I still would have been underwhelmed by the dull, flavorless patty. I don't know why Carl's Jr. doesn't do something to improve their burgers; can you imagine how much better the burgers would be if they put the same effort into the beef that they do with their hand-breaded chicken tenders?

If you like Carl's Jr. and you like spicy food, I imagine you will enjoy this burger. But I won't be getting one again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Whole Foods Sushi

If I told you the search terms that most frequently lead people to this blog, the results would not surprise you: certain fast food promotions, at least a dozen specific Trader Joe's items, and some Pasadena restaurants that I have written about. But something that surprises even me is that every day, quite a few people stumble upon this blog by searching for "Whole Foods Sushi." (I just Googled it myself and was astounded that a post I wrote almost three years ago came up so high. My daily views back then were probably 5% of what they currently are.)

So I thought I'd take some better pictures and write about Whole Foods sushi once again. On Monday, Elizabeth and I had stopped by my parents' house; my mom also had the day off. We ran down to Whole Foods to pick up a few things and decided to get some sushi for lunch.

We got a dim sum combination platter, vegetable egg rolls, a spicy tuna roll, cucumber rolls, and "spicy Pacific salad roll."

The only one of the dishes I had not had before was the spicy Pacific salad roll, containing tuna, avocado, carrots and cucumber, wrapped in lettuce. In a little cup was an orange paste, a color not of this world, that I think was supposed to provide the spiciness. It did not. The tuna was fresh and overall the dish was pleasant, but extremely bland. If the sauce had contained some kick it would have improved things. The nine dollar price tag seemed much too high as well, but complaining about Whole Foods' prices reminds me of that old fable about the woman and the snake ("Lady, you knew I was a snake when you picked me up").

The dim sum and the egg rolls were pretty straightforward. I reheated the former in a skillet of hot oil for about two minutes; the latter for one. They were both tasty but did not have a whole lot going on. (I liked the shu mai the most out of the lot.)

The noodles, mushrooms and peas were actually every bit as good as the dim sum, which I did not expect. 

The spicy tuna roll is often good at Whole Foods, as long as it has been prepared recently. This one tasted like it might have been out for a few hours. It was still good, but it could have been better.

The cucumber roll, on the other hand, was very fresh and I loved it.

All things considered, Whole Foods sushi is reasonably priced for what it is, as long as it's good. The reason Elizabeth and I don't get it nearly as much as we used to is that far too often we were dissatisfied with it. But this lunch was good.