The Hungry Man Eats

Category Archives: Eating Out

Chili’s Burritos and Procrastination

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We have reached the point now though where I have let nearly five months slip by without posting anything, which is a crazy long time to go between posts in the blogosphere. Now I am resisting the temptation to half-ass this post because right now I feel that posting just about anything is better than letting another day go by where I have posted nothing. This is actually a good way for me to feel surprisingly, but given the depression I have been fighting for a while now, for the longest time I had zero interest and motivation in posting anything, let alone half-assing it.

 
A while back I wrote about dining at Chili’s and how I had high hopes that their other main dishes would be an improvement on the one I had. Since that occasion I have let nearly ten months and about a half dozen trips to Chili’s occur. An interesting recent development that also had me deciding to wait just a bit longer to write again about Chili’s was the late summer addition to their menu of burritos.

 
Up until this point, one of my knocks on Chili’s was that they didn’t have as much of a variety as I would have preferred on the “Mex” side of the “Tex-Mex” continuum, though that may just be my personal complaint as they have things like tacos, quesadillas and fajitas on their menu already.

Their burrito offerings include:
• Grilled Smoked Chicken Burrito
• Smothered Prime Rib Burrito
• Smothered Smoked Chicken Burrito
• Smothered Carnitas Burrito

 
Of these choices the only one I have had is the Smothered Smoked Chicken Burrito. Now the elephant in the room of a question when it comes to discussing burritos is: “How does it compare to Chipotle?”

 
As I did not have the grilled option which would be the only option you could pick up and eat as you would with Chipotle, I can’t really compare with them. A better comparison would be how it measures up against an Enchilado style burrito from Baja Fresh. Now none of the burrito options from Baja Fresh really match this burrito from Chili’s, but the Burrito Ultimo and this burrito both contain rice, so they would be the closest in similarity.

 So let’s dive in and compare and critique:
• The Chili’s burrito was more generous with the chicken than the Baja Fresh burrito, but the pieces of chicken in the Baja Fresh Burrito were bigger.
• The Chili’s burrito has little in the way of veggies, they add pico de gallo as one of the fillings, but Baja Fresh includes green peppers and onion.
• Spiciness: Not much with the Baja Fresh burrito, but you can add as much or as little of their sauce options from their sauce bar to compensate. The Chili’s burrito has more kick to it with their smoky pasilla-honey chile sauce not just included as one of their fillings, but also as one of the ingredients they top it with.
• The Smotherings: Not a fan of the Baja Fresh sauce they use to smother it with or the cheese they use, it almost has a burnt bitter flavor. The Chili’s toppings taste much better (“Smothered with sour cream sauce & melted cheese. Topped with pasilla-honey chile sauce & chopped cilantro.)
• Sides: The Chili’s burrito comes with a cup of black beans on the side, the Baja Fresh burrito comes with a side of pico de gallo and some tortilla chips (that are usually a bit soggy from the sauce and cheese they smother it with). Personal preference here, I like the black beans from Chili’s myself, but sometimes they come out rather watery and it is more like a bean soup.
• Price: The Chili’s burrito as ordered cost $11.69, the Baja Fresh burrito with chicken usually costs under $7.00 and making it Enchilado style is usually $2 more.

 
My summary to all this is that the Baja Fresh burrito is a good bit cheaper and you can customize your sauce options more, but that the Chili’s burrito tastes better, almost exclusively because of the smoky pasilla-honey chile sauce. I think it tastes better than any of the sauces you can get from Baja Fresh.

 
So to wrap all this up, if you are in a Chili’s and want a burrito instead of the other Mex style offerings, by all means go for it! If you are not in a Chili’s and have a craving for a burrito, you can likely find something you will enjoy that costs less from some other place, go there instead…

Longhorn Steakhouse: Eating There is Never a Mis-steak

 

Tilapia and Grilled Shrimp with Mac and Cheese

Tilapia and Grilled Shrimp with Mac and Cheese

I recently had the good fortune to eat out at the Longhorn Steakhouse, indeed I have been there multiple times over the past three years or so. I am not the sort of person who goes and gets the same thing at a restaurant every time I go, so I have had the opportunity to try a variety of their meals.
In my opinion, to compare where I think Longhorn Steakhouse fits in in the grand scheme of steakhouses you may have tried, I would slot them in one step above Outback (with higher prices to match) and two steps below Ruth’s Chris (pricy, but you get the quality that you are paying for).
Enough chit-chat, how was the food? Let’s take a closer look at those dishes that I have tried as well as others I have dined with:

 

Wild West Shrimp: I have had this twice, once on its own as an appetizer and once more with the Best of Longhorn Sampler. I was one of the first things I ever tried from Longhorn, and gave me an excellent first impression (even though it wasn’t steak) as prepared on its own, I was impressed with the spicy crispy coating that was enhanced by the cherry peppers. It had more kick than you would have expected from a steakhouse appetizer, but was not so much spiciness that you found yourself going for your drink constantly. The portion was large enough that you could easily have this dish in the place of an entrée. The ranch dressing was a good compliment to the shrimp, I would not have thought of combining the two.

 
Best of Longhorn Sampler: This combines the Wild West Shrimp with their Grilled White Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms and their Firecracker Chicken Wraps. In this setting, the shrimp did not shine as well when I had it, the coating was not crispy and the shrimp seemed smaller. The stuffed mushrooms were generously stuffed with cheese as well as floating in a “creamy blend of four melted cheeses” The picture online does not show the ocean of cheese than flows into every corner of your plate, even in the places where you do not want it (like forming a pool for your chicken wraps as well as seeping under the dish on the plate the shrimp sits in), that said, the cheese tastes good and the white cheddar they use is actually rather sharp. The chicken wraps stood out here, going well with the avocado –lime dipping sauce they also serve with the sampler (I think I even prefer this sauce to dip the shrimp in). For only $10.99 this would also be a good substitute for an entrée.

 
Primetime Burger: At $13.99, it is pricy for a burger, but it has a lot going on. It is a half-pound beef patty with shaved prime rib on top of that along with sautéed onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese too. You also get small cups of au jus and horseradish sauce along with it. In theory this sounds excellent, in reality it tastes excellent, but reality will also bring you a messy, self-destructing burger with all these fillings and sauces. The bun just can’t handle all this stuff so be sure to have a fork at the ready. A note about that bun, it has a really cool looking Longhorn logo branded in the top of it. It looks cool, but it smells weird and tastes awful. You have been warned… I almost forgot that the parmesan garlic fries are top notch with this burger, you will not be leaving any behind.

 
Flat Iron Steak: It is a cut of sirloin that has been marinated in…something? It’s hard to tell exactly what as this marinade is rather lacking in flavor. That said, it still makes for an adequate cut of sirloin, but of all the dishes I have had from Longhorn, this one is the least impressive, and it is not one I would recommend, but if you must get it, the rarer the better, otherwise get a plain sirloin with a topping/sauce, or step up to a higher cut of steak.

 
White Cheddar & Bacon Stuffed Filet: Speaking of higher cuts, we now move to the filet. I have had this dish twice. The first time, I believe that it was on one of their promo menus with two other stuffed filet options for a bit lower price than what it goes for now, and I could also swear that it was bigger back then. The second time I had it was after it joined the regular menu, still tasty but smaller and over the $20 mark. By all means if you like bacon and cheddar and a filet mignon, go for it! But if you are in it simply for the filet, you would be happier with…

 
Flo’s Filet: I personally have not had this dish, but whenever my mom goes to Longhorn, she gets this dish every single time. Of the filets she has had over the years at different restaurants, she says that it is the best one she has had outside of the ones they have at Ruth’s Chris.

 
Brown Butter Lemon Tilapia & Grilled Shrimp: I am one of those difficult people, take me to a steakhouse and you will find me getting something from the seafood section of the menu rather often. “Why get the fish when their specialty is steak?” Two reasons: I really like seafood and usually the seafood quality is as good as the steak quality at most steakhouses (steer clear of the chicken dishes though…) Tilapia is not a very exciting type of fish, mildly flavored and undistinctive, it is the Toyota Corolla of seafood, reliable and not too pricy. It’s what you do with the tilapia that makes or breaks it. With this dish, everything came together well, the brown butter lemon sauce complimented the fish without overpowering it and the rice below soaked up the excess sauce. My only complaint was that the shrimp that top this dish were over-seasoned, and by that I mean way too much salt. If it was just a cook with a heavy hand, no big deal, but if the shrimp are that way again, than I will have to call it the main flaw in an otherwise great dish.

 
Longhorn Salmon: Do you fear cooking fish at home? Worried that it will make your place smell fishy? Afraid you will overcook and ruin it? If so, then this salmon dish is for you. The salmon is cooked well, the bourbon marinade is delicious and one I would buy if I saw it in the grocery and it does not cost too terribly much (7 oz. $16.99, 10 oz. $19.49) But if you are ok with cooking up some salmon at home, get a sauce you like and cook it up in your own kitchen for half the price. You can easily create your own version of this one at home, choose another dish.

 
Chocolate Stampede: They say that you may need a friend to share this one with. They are not lying about this. This is one of the biggest desserts that I have seen in a chain restaurant. That said, it is only $8.49, so split two ways it is only $4.25 each, add a third person to the plate (there will still be plenty for everyone) and you are now under three bucks a person. It is rich and the dark chocolate parts are as dark as they look. Unless this dessert is your meal, bring friends.

 
Brownie Sundae: For some reason it is not listed on their website, so I have no link to it, but this is one of the best desserts I have ever had. They use two Ghirardelli chocolate brownies served warm and topped with hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. Those brownies are the perfect amount of moist, really really dark and chocolaty and when the ice cream melts on top and below them in the dessert glass, it makes for heaven on earth. My words simply cannot do this dessert justice, if you want dessert at Longhorn, get this one!

 
Random Thoughts and Quick Points:
• Their side salads are above average for a chain and their croutons are uniquely flavorful.
• The mac and cheese you can get as an upgraded side is almost too cheesy ad rather salty.
• Their service pacing is almost always too fast, I guarantee that if you get the side salad ahead of your main course, your main course will come out before you are halfway done with your salad.
• Usually a good dish to try that tells you how good a steakhouse is would be the prime rib. I have not tried the one at Longhorn yet. I promise to rectify that error as soon as possible.
Don’t want to spend an arm and a leg at a fancy steak place, but want something better than a Sizzler or an Outback, Longhorn will fulfill your needs.
Hungry Man Eats Score 85/100

Chili’s: Mostly Good, But I Have a Beef With Them

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     I recently had the good fortune to have a dinner out at Chili’s, the last time I had a chance to go to a Chili’s was over 10 years ago, so they are not in my rotation of places to go out to eat, chain or otherwise. I could not even remember what I had the last time I went there, and my only recollection of it was that it took forever to get seated, the service was slow and the food unmemorable. That said, the outing to that aforementioned Chili’s was on only its second Friday night it had even been open, so we were just asking for complications to a smooth dining experience. We went to the same location, for me it had been nearly 11 years since the last time I was there or to any Chili’s, so I safely assumed that any growing pains it had from being a recent addition to the local dining scene were long past.
      It was a rather meh start to the meal as the server was rather slow to get to our table, we had arrived at an awkward time as it was still a bit before 5:00 late Sunday afternoon.
If you have had a chance to get to a Chili’s in the past year and a half or so you have likely noticed something called a Ziosk. What is this thing on your table? According to Chili’s: “Ziosk tablets enable guests to see menu items, play games, view news, order food and beverages and ‘pay on demand;’ giving guests control over their dining experience. Ziosk is fully integrated to the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, which enables guests to easily order desserts and drinks and also pay their check when they choose.”
      I fiddled around with it a bit while we were waiting for our server to appear, as we were approaching the 10 minute mark, I decided to click the call server button to see if that was what we needed to do to get any kind of service. Apparently not. About two to three minutes later most likely of his own volition and no slave to a lowly machine, our server appeared. Now if it was me running a restaurant or Chili’s where I had something newfangled and unique for a customer to interact with (and possibly spend more money while doing so), the first thing I would instruct my servers to do would be to first welcome you and then say something like “Would you like to tell you about our Ziosk’s?” while pointing said machine out on the table. Get a yes or no answer and proceed accordingly.

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      Now when you, the customer, do something on the Ziosk that requires the server’s attention, it starts flashing a red light at the top of the device. I have no idea what a server may do to make it stop blinking, but our server did none of those things. Through a good portion of our meal, the light just kept blinking, perhaps as a warning light to the machines to not meddle to deeply in the affairs of man, or perhaps it was doing its best imitation of a lighthouse blinking a notice to passing ships in the distance that our table was near and to stay safely out to sea, at least that worked, throughout our meal our table stayed shipwreck free. It shut off automatically after an hour, the only true symbolism being that our server was lazy/oblivious. Score: Humans 1, Ziosk 0.
      Now, about the food, whenever an opportunity comes along to have fresh guacamole made tableside, the answer is almost always yes. The server whipped up a fresh batch of guacamole right there for us, the only thing he did not do was slice open an avocado or two right there in front of us. I only mention that because I have been to other restarants that do that, and you know exactly how fresh your avocado is. That said, it looked really fresh and was a truly appetizing shade of green. It was a standard preparation, I just wish it had a few more jalapenos as I prefer my guacamole with some kick. There was also a red salsa that accompanied the chips for the guacamole. The salsa was a smooth pureed blend that had a pleasingly mild flavor, doesn’t sound very exciting but most mild, non-chunky salsas I have come across in restaurants have less flavor than this one. The chips came out warm, they were fresh tasting but also rather thin and fragile, they were fine with the salsa, but the guacamole was too much of a match for them. I broke so many chips while trying to scoop ever shrinking reasonably sized quantities of guacamole that every other scoop was sending a rescue chip in after the broken piece left behind from the last aborted scoop. Score: Guacamole 1, Chips 0.

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       On to the main dish… Whenever I dine at a Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant, I generally choose the beef or steak option over chicken, when done right, it can be a better experience then even the most perfectly prepared chicken. Also, chicken is a very standard, at home kind of protein to eat, but good quality beef or steak prepared over a grill like you can often get in a restaurant is more special, especially with how expensive it is getting these days. That logic is why I selected the Top Shelf Beef Short Rib Enchiladas for my main dish, not just to choose beef over chicken, but also because I wanted a bit better of a beef than the seasoned ground beef which would have come with the plain old beef enchiladas. Unfortunately, the beef in this dish was some of the most disappointing beef I have ever had in a Tex-Mex dish or any dish for that matter. I should have taken a picture of one of the more unpleasant looking morsels, but given the high picture resolution of today’s screens on electronic devices, I refuse to be held responsible for dropped coffee mugs and shattered monocles when people see and react to a larger than life piece of such unpleasantness staring them in the face. Three words will have to suffice: Gray, fatty, flavorless. The only positive thing I can say about the beef was that it was tender. That said, everything else about the dish was actually pretty good. The green chile sauce was tangy and flavorful, the three cheese blend was everything you could expect from multiple cheeses playing together nicely, they were not particularly generous with either the corn and black bean salsa or the pico de gallo, but what I tasted was also flavorful. The black beans and rice that came with the dish were also better than what you may sometimes get from places like this, the rice was not dry and the beans were not watery, both were necessary to fill out the meal as the enchiladas themselves were on the small side. It cost $11.89 for this dish at the Chili’s I went to, but I would pay that much again right here and now to remove the memory from my mind of biting in to the fatty beef and the resulting mouth feel. Score: Everything else about my dish 1, Beef 0
      After all that I split an order of their Skillet Toffee Fudge Brownie, this was a fine dessert with a rich chocolate flavor and the toffee added a crunch and flavor that complimented the chocolate well. It cost $7.39 which seems a bit pricy, especially compared to the entrée, but seems that inexpensive desserts even at chain restaurants are a rarity these days. Score: The dessert itself 1, its price 0.
       My overall impression of Chili’s, aside from the beef fiasco, is tentatively positive, I came away from the beef fiasco thinking not that the food quality was poor, but instead that I simply selected poorly and that I would have likely enjoyed almost any other dish that I would have selected. They also have some delicious looking hamburgers that I would want to try out the next time I go. The food there, other than their desserts is a good value, eyeballing their menu I spotted no meal pricier than $18.99 and a good portion of their dishes were actually under $12.00. The jury is still out on Chili’s for me, but I have a feeling that once I find a main dish better than what I had this time that I will have better things to say…
Hungry Man Eats Score: 66/100
http://www.chilis.com

Uncle Julio’s Fine Mexican Food

Ceviche

I recently had the good fortune to have dinner out with friends at Uncle Julio’s. Uncle Julio’s describes themselves as a “border style Mexican food” restaurant. It’s a chain, but not a very big one with only 19 locations, most in Texas, Virginia and Illinois.

Their website states ”The combination of Mexican cooking expertise with fresh, locally grown Texan ingredients created a new style of fare that is far from what you find elsewhere as “Tex-Mex.” Uncle Julio’s is proud to stay close to its Mexican heritage by offering high-quality fare that mirrors the original cooked up by cowboys on the plains a century ago.” Okay Uncle Julio’s, we will take you at your word that you are a “border style Mexican food” restaurant, but your description basically screams that you are a “Tex-Mex” restaurant. Perhaps that is just your fancy way of telling us that you would prefer to be called a “Mex-Tex” restaurant? Or maybe you’re just disappointed that “On the Border” was already taken.

Enough discussion about the name and how they describe themselves, let’s talk about the food.

In my opinion, the standout dish they serve at Uncle Julio’s is their fajitas. They include beef or chicken (or both with the combo) sautéed peppers and onions, guacamole, pico de gallo, Mexican rice, frijoles a la charra and cheese and sour cream (which cost extra). The fajitas for one cost $19.79 for the combo plus cheese and sour cream. The same combo I the fajitas for two costs $34.99, but the serving size on the fajitas for one is actually plenty for two people, especially if you have been partaking in the free chips and salsa they provide. I strongly recommend getting the beef only version as the chicken has a tendency to be a bit gristly and it is also cooked with the skin on. That will help with keeping it moist, but it is not so good to eat. Also, the beef is just that good that it is well worth choosing over the chicken because it is really tender and flavorful beef. If you get the combo you will just find yourself wishing you had more beef and fighting your tablemates over the last strip of beef.

I mentioned the chips and salsa, and they serve one of the top salsas I have had, it is not a chunky salsa and some people may find it to be a bit on the runny side, but it has one of the best flavors of any salsa I have tried. Be warned that one of its main flavors is cilantro, so if you are not fond of cilantro, than you will not be a fan of this salsa.

I usually get the fajitas and share them with whomever I come with but this trip I ended up getting a soup and an appetizer and calling it my dinner.

I started with a bowl of shrimp and lobster soup. This was their soup of the day on the Friday I was there and it is not clear if they serve this soup everywhere or not as they made no mention of it on their main website. They were generous with the seafood and the soup had some nice spicy kick to it that would be especially great on a cold winter day.

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For my main dish I ordered the Ceviche Royale (pictured above) which contains shrimp, scallops and tilapia, along with tomatoes, onions and cilantro marinated with lime and lemon juice. It comes with some large tortilla chips to pile the ceviche on. Unfortunately I am no ceviche aficionado, as this dish is the only place I have had it, so I can’t really say how it measures up compared to other recipes and restaurants, I just know that I find this dish to be a delicious alternative to the fajitas.

Uncle Julio’s also has some fine drink choices, they are known for a drink called the Swirl which is a frozen margarita/sangria combo. Their margaritas are also good, either on the rocks or frozen and they have a reasonable selection of Mexican Beer (I chose Pacifico the evening I went)

If you find yourself equidistant between an Uncle Julio’s and an authentic Mexican place, go to the authentic Mexican place. But for a chain restaurant, Uncle Julio’s more than holds their own and they are usually rather large (and noisy) and can easily accommodate large groups. They also have outdoor seating (at least at the locations I have been to) and if you can score an outdoor table on a nice day that alone makes everything taste that much better.

Hungry Man Eats Score 82/100

Le Pain Quotidien: A Tale of Two Restaurants

Smoked Salmon and Scallion Omelet

For those of you not in the know, “Le Pain Quotidien” is French for “The Daily Bread”. It is a European style restaurant with communal tables as well as some standard single party tables. A specialty of the restaurant is their fresh baked bread, but really all of their food is fresh and delicious.

So what exactly is up with that title? You’ll see soon enough…

Restaurant #1: Le Pain Quotidien: Delicious Food and a Warm Atmosphere

I have been to Le Pain Quotidien four times now for breakfast with a friend and the majority of the time it has been a delightful place to grab a meal. Each time I have been there has been for breakfast/brunch, so I have not yet had an opportunity to try their lunch and dinner style meals. They have some excellent omelets and I have had the good fortune to try their ham and Gruyere omelet as well as their smoked salmon and scallion omelet which is pictured at the top. Their omelets come out with a small side of greens with a vinaigrette style dressing on top, a small container of what I believe is fresh sour cream and two slices of their fresh bread, a portion of one of their baguettes and a slice of their wheat/sourdough style bread.

They do a great job with their beverages as well, their fresh orange juice tastes like it was fresh squeezed and their coffee is towards the top of my list for great tasting coffee coming from a sit down restaurant, a hot pot of their coffee goes great with any of their breakfast items and their iced coffee/latte more than holds its own flavor wise, see that work of art below…

There is a reason I have been to Le Pain Quotidien four times now, it all about their fresh food and quality ingredients. It’s one of those places where I am confident I could order anything off of their menu and enjoy it.

LPQ Iced coffee

Restaurant #2: Le Pain Quotidien: Why Do You Hate Your Customers?

I have been to Le Pain Quotidien four times now for breakfast with a friend and the majority of the time it has been a delightful place to grab a meal. Regrettably only on three of those occasions was I served food…the fourth time they could not be troubled to acknowledge the existence of my friend and I as we sat outside for 22 minutes before we gave up on them and went to Starbucks instead. Its one thing to move along to another place to eat if the first place is full and they have no room for you, but it is a failure on the part of the restaurant if you show up and have to leave because they have not succeeded in their mission to feed you.

The only thing that would give Le Pain Quotidien even the slightest excuse for their failure would be that it was Mother’s Day, however we took a quick peek inside to see how busy were and they were only about two-thirds full at 10:00 am. And even then, if it is Mother’s Day and you are open for breakfast, you better be properly staffed, otherwise you did a crappy job of being ready for the day.

Le Pain Quotidien is one of those restaurants where you seat yourself, for better or worse, it is up to the wait staff to be on the ball to know that you are there and somebody new rather than the people who are responsible for the dirty dishes that are still on the table from the last occupants that they have let sit for 20 minutes.

On the day we weren’t served, we did choose to sit outside where they had three tables, one was clear, one was occupied and one was still cluttered with the dishes of the previous party. At a minimum we figured that somebody would be out just to clear the dirty tables, especially when the occupied table left a few minutes after we arrived. No such thing, they must not have needed the dishes and silverware too bad as nobody appeared…

Of the three occasions we did get served, twice the service was great, interestingly on those two occasions we were there around 9:00 am, the poor service seems to be a bit later in the morning when the crowds pick up a bit more. When I say bad service though it wasn’t that the server was rude, sick or incompetent, it was that they were slow, slow in all stages from drink orders to bill arrival.

For a restaurant that hypes up its communal atmosphere wants to be the place you come to relax and enjoy food, it has the most unhappy looking customers of any restaurant I go to, perhaps because they are enduring some level of staff neglect.

I went and did some research to see if other people have had the same sorts of problems. As of May 19, 2014, there were 30 reviews on Yelp for the location I went to adding up to an average rating of only three stars. The breakdown is as follows:

5 Stars – 3

4 Stars – 10

3 Stars – 5

2 Stars – 6

1 Star – 6

Of the 30 reviews, 7 of them dinged the service in some way, but 8 of the reviews had complimentary things to say about the service, most of the lower ratings were for service issues, most of the higher ratings praised the food (and the service as well in a few cases).

So how about the food? We covered the good above, so here is the not so good: It is on the pricey side for what you get and serving size seems wildly inconsistent. I have had three omelets, and none of them have been the same size, the one pictured up top is the largest one I have been served, the smallest one looked like it came from a kids menu. The plate of food above was a $13.75 meal, the pot of coffee was another $3.50. Also on one of the visits, my friend selected their French toast. It was made from their sourdough wheat and when it came out it looked like something you would have seen on the cover of Gourmet magazine, it looked like it was going to be the best French toast ever. Regrettably, it tasted like you licked a magazine page, it was rather flavorless and blah, my friend sent it back.

When it comes down to it, it looks like the service is what makes or breaks your experience at Le Pain Quotidien, hope you get the first restaurant experience from above, but if it appears like you are actually getting the second experience instead, I’m sure there is a Starbucks nearby that would be happy to have you.

http://www.lepainquotidien.com/

Starbucks Ham & New York Cheddar Sandwich

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Once more unto the breach! I have had success with Starbucks sandwich selections before, their the BLT Chicken Salad Sandwich,and their Egg Salad Sandwich, so I decided to sample their Ham and New York Cheddar Sandwich to see if it was worth my time and money.

Whereas the first two sandwiches were salad style sandwiches that would require additional prep work before even reaching the point where the filling would meet the bread, a ham and cheese sandwich requires little more than assembling your ingredients between two slices of bread. This can be an endeavor fraught with difficulty, and a thoughtless distribution of the ingredients could be all the difference between a transcendent mingling of the ingredients in your mouth and the culinary equivalent of having your tongue slapped by a scorned lover. Even matters as simple as the layering of ingredients in your sandwich can make or break your sandwich. I don’t know about you, but when I have a sandwich, I prefer to have my cheese layer on top of my meat layer. It’s just always been my preference, I think it is because I prefer the meat to be the first thing I taste in a bite followed by the cheese as the secondary flavor along with the other ingredients. I remember this one time where I got a sandwich that had the cheese layer on the bottom and the meat layer on top, I was very worried about how my sandwich was possibly ruined. I looked at how difficult it might be to take the sandwich apart and get the meat and cheese layers in their proper sequence, when I suddenly realized my problem. The poor befuddled clerk and given me my sandwich upside down! Oh how I laughed! I turned the sandwich over, wondered how the poor clerk had managed such a silly blunder and enjoyed my sandwich. Note in the picture above the sandwich half on the left is in its proper upright position, but the sandwich half on the right is askew (must have come that way from the sandwich factory).

Well enough of that tomfoolery, how was the Ham and New York Cheddar Sandwich?

They describe it as: “This sandwich brings out the ham in Gotham, the apple mustard from the Big Apple. But the featured attraction here is the New York Cheddar cheese, soft but oh-so-sharp. It’s all a nod to one of the world’s great cities between two tasty slices of cider wheat bread.”

The flowery words stand in great contrast to the pedestrian everydayness of the sandwich. The ham a very basic baked ham that had no smokiness, no honeyed overtones and was a minor flavor contributor to the sandwich that bears this ingredients name. The New York Cheddar cheese only really brought forth its cheddaryness when I tore off a corner of it and sampled it in isolation. The apple mustard was where the flavor was and I was left wanting more of it, it was the flavor highlight. The arugula was good too, the stereotypical pepperiness of it came through and played well with the other ingredients. The wheat bread more than succeeded in doing its job of keeping the sandwiches innards from escaping and making a mess, and was fresh too. The arugula distribution within the sandwich was something that made me laugh, and then sadly chuckle as I rearranged it properly, see the pic below…

Arugula

I paid $5.99 for this sandwich, and was unimpressed. When you have an everyday style sandwich made in mass quantities for a retailer like this, you will get an everyday unexciting sandwich as a result. What you should do is march on over to your nearest grocery store, buy the variety ham that sounds good to you, buy the variety cheddar cheese that also sounds good to you, a mustard of your choice and some fresh lettuce too and a loaf of bread to hold it all and then make a weeks’ worth of sandwiches from the aforementioned ingredients and enjoy a more flavorful and far cheaper experience.

If you are out at Starbucks and find yourself craving a ham and cheese sandwich, do yourself a favor and grab a BLT Chicken Salad Sandwich instead or order one of their breakfast sandwiches with ham as an alternative.

100 Montaditos: Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

100 Montaditos

I am pleased to announce the arrival of a new restaurant near my work and even more pleased to have sampled some of their wares. The restaurant? 100 Montaditos! One of my co-workers who has a daughter attending the University of Miami had been to one of their numerous locations in Miami and loved the place. So last summer she heard that a location was to open not too far from our workplace and she kept an ear to the ground and an eye on the place and then lo and behold they finally opened this Monday. It took little convincing to make the trek and try them out…

 
So just what is a montadito? It’s most basic definition is: small sandwich. Expanding on the description a bit, it is a canapé style tapa consisting of a small sliced roll filled or topped with pork, ham, tuna, etc. The restaurants definition can be found here.

 
Why the name 100 Montaditos? Well, check out their menu, there are 100 sandwich varieties (5 of which are dessert style montaditos) offered not counting their other offerings like salads, appetizers and other platters. They also have some reasonably priced beer, wine and sangria offerings as well as some happy hour specials.

 
For my first trip there I had the good fortune to try these four montaditos:
• #22 Tuna, hard-boiled egg, piparra (mild pepper from Spain) and mayo
• #54 Garlic pork loin, brie cheese and bacon
• #65 Serrano ham, mozzarella and pesto
• #80 Anchovies, manchego cheese, piquillo pepper, arugula and mayo

 
#22 was a bit dry, they used a light hand with the mayo and the unadorned tuna was not the moistest I have had, but the peppers added a small bit of pep to the proceedings.
#54 was not very garlicky but the pork was tender and the bacon and brie were good compliments to the pork.
#65 had an excellent flavor with the ham and mozzarella combo, but they added so little pesto that its main contribution was its green color rather than any significant flavor.
#80 had exactly the flavor you would expect from a 3 ½ inch long sandwich than contained 4 anchovy fillets, a true salt and unami bomb and more than a little oil got out to coat my bread. The piquillo peppers were a good balance to the anchovies, but unless you are a true anchovy lover, this sandwich may be a bit much for you.
There are so many other options (96 more montaditos!) to try that I won’t be bothered at all if I happen to not like one as much, there will be dozens more waiting to be sampled.

 
I will definitely be back to try them out for happy hour to see how their sangria measures up.

 
Hungry Man Eats Score: 75/100

100 montaditos logo

 
100 Montaditos 1776 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA, 22209 (703) 835-9232

 

 

Dinner at Brio Tuscan Grill

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I recently had the good fortune to take a friend out for dinner on her birthday, for the second year in a row, she chose Brio Tuscan Grill and it was well worth the repeat visit.

The ambiance and interior didn’t have a strong Italian feel to it, I actually had more of a Cheesecake Factory vibe from their décor but without as cavernous of a feel to it, they have an open kitchen which you can observe from most spots in the house.

The meal started off with a very mild disappointment when I was informed that they had run out of Peroni, which is a pale lager from Italy. If I am eating out a restaurant that has a specific type of ethnic cuisine and I am in the mood for beer, I will choose a beer from the same place that the food is from, hence Italian/Tuscan food = Peroni. They had no other Italian beer options (on draft at least) so Sam Adams Winter Lager it was, not a terrible substitution to have to make at all.

When the drinks were brought, they also provided us with a basket containing a warm half loaf of sourdough bread and several flaxseed crackers with butter on the side. The bread was crusty with a mellow sourdough flavor and the crackers seemed to have a slight roasted garlic flavor to them as well.

We each ordered something for before the main course, I chose the Shrimptini off of the light menu and my friend selected their Caesar Salad. The Shrimptini came with about a half dozen medium size shrimp that seemed to have been lightly coated in an Italian tasting dressing served on a bed of shredded lettuce with cocktail sauce on the side. A flaxseed cracker for garnish hung jauntily off to the side of the glass. My friends Caesar Salad had crisp romaine lettuce and as delicious dressing with a subtle but pleasant anchovy flavor. Although my friend normally dislikes anchovies, she liked the flavor they provided to the dressing.

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For the main course, my friend chose the Pasta Fra Diavolo with shrimp described as:”Campanelle with a spicy tomato cream sauce and green onions.” The campanelle pasta was a fine pasta to use as it took the sauce on well and had lots of ripples and ridges for the sauce to stick. The last time we went my friend ordered this dish and we both thought it may have been served with penne pasta instead. The sauce had some pep to it, but you weren’t going to find yourself reaching for your water glass to quench a fire in your mouth, it provided a low grade smolder instead.

For my main course I chose the Shrimp Verduta (pictured at top) described as: “Angel hair tossed with shrimp, garlic, sundried tomatoes, roasted artichokes, caramelized onions, Feta and spinach, topped with pesto bread crumb.” What the description from the menu does not state is that the sauce in the dish is lemony, like what you would find in a piccata dish and that there were also several thin slices of lemon as garnish on the top. It was almost too lemony, though my opinion may be colored as I accidentally ate two of the lemon slices that were on top (they really blended in and hid themselves). Other than that it was a dish I would gladly recommend to others.

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For dessert, we each got a dolcino style dessert, my friend picked the Milk Chocolate Caramel Cake, described as: “A decadent chocolate cake, layered with milk chocolate ganache, caramel, rich chocolate frosting and vanilla whipped cream” I selected a peanut butter mousse with chocolate ganache, interestingly I could not find this option listed online, perhaps it was a unique selection for the location I was at. Hers is on the left in the picture above, as she was the birthday girl. Her dessert was moderately chocolaty and the chocolate ganache and caramel were just as noticeable flavor wise as the chocolate in the cake. My peanut butter mousse was not very strongly flavored, the chocolate ganache overpowered the peanut butter flavor, a touch more peanut butter flavor would have been welcomed.

The meal was very, very good and the prices were reasonable, if perhaps a dollar or two more than you would think you should be paying for the size dishes you got. Brio Tuscan Grill is a restaurant I would gladly take friends, family and dates to and would feel like most items on the menu would be as good as the selections we got.

Hungry Man Eats Score: 86/100

Brio Tuscan Grill has over 50 locations with an almost nationwide reach excluding the west and northwestern most states.

I Hop, You Hop, We All Hop For IHOP! Sandwiches That Is…

Ham and Cheese Griddle Melt

When you think of IHOP the first thing that usually comes to mind is pancakes, French toast or maybe a Belgian waffle or even crepes. But not breakfast sandwiches, most other places known for their breakfasts have had some sort of variety of breakfast sandwiches on their menu for many years. Earlier this year though, IHOP made a major addition to their menu with their Griddle Melt series of sandwiches. They were initially available as a special add on to the menu and then at some point this fall they were added permanently to the menu. I have seen 4 of the sandwiches since they started offering them, unfortunately only three of them are available on the menu at present. I will tell you why I think that is unfortunate in a bit…

The four sandwiches are, with IHOP’s own description below:

  • The Bacon and White Cheddar Melt (shown below): “This hand-crafted breakfast Griddle Melt is layered with bacon, fresh spinach & green onions in a classic omelette, then topped with melted White Cheddar and fire-roasted tomato spread on grilled artisan sourdough bread.”
  • The Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper and Cheese Griddle Melt: “That’s this new, hand-crafted breakfast Griddle Melt with sautéed spinach and onion in a fluffy omelette, layered with roasted red peppers and melted Provolone, Parmesan and Pepper Jack cheeses on grilled sourdough artisan bread.”
  • The Ham and Egg Griddle Melt: (shown at the top of the page) “This Griddle Melt takes traditional ham and cheese to a whole new level! Grilled artisan sourdough bread is stuffed with a fluffy omelette, sliced ham and melted Swiss and American cheeses.”
  • The Western Griddle Melt: “This new hand-crafted breakfast Griddle Melt is layered with smoked ham, sautéed peppers and onions in a classic omelette, then topped with sliced ham and melted cheese on grilled artisan sourdough bread.”

Bacon and Swiss Griddle Melt

Although still listed online, the Western Griddle Melt is no longer being offered on their menu, perhaps it is still being offered somewhere out there in some fortunate IHOP, but alas it is not on the menu at the IHOP I frequent. That’s a shame because it was my favorite, I have tried all but the Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper and Cheese Griddle Melt, and the Bacon and White Cheddar Griddle Melt (which replaced the Western Griddle Melt) sounds like a tastier option that it actually is.

My thoughts on each:

  • The Bacon and White Cheddar Melt: The first few bites were good, but the flavor profile got old quickly. Like most red blooded people, I like bacon, but I got really tired of the taste of bacon by the time I polished off this sandwich, the cheddar cheese was not as good of a compliment to the other ingredients as American cheese might have been. The veggies didn’t really work either, I could not detect the green onions, the spinach was ok, but the “fire roasted tomato sauce” tasted more like a blah topping from an off brand TV dinner veal parmesana. The main taste sensation I got was one of salty bitterness (salty bacon and the bitter sharpness of the cheese and tomato sauce). Can’t really recommend this one, even for the bacon lovers out there. The picture was amusing though as the sandwich halves were held together with pink plastic swords making me feel strangely like more and less of a man at the same time…
  • The Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper and Cheese Griddle Melt: I didn’t try this one but my dad has. He liked it as it was not as massive as the others and had a good blend of cheese and veggies. I promise to try it the next time I get a sandwich from IHOP.
  • The Ham and Egg Griddle Melt: A fine combination (though I swear the egg used to have diced ham in it) The grilled and buttered sourdough bread really shines with these fillings, I often make a variation on this at home on the weekends with a ham egg and cheese sandwich on whatever bread is around. Worth getting from IHOP if you are in a breakfast sandwich kind of mood.
  • The Western Griddle Melt: The best of the bunch, get it if you can still find it. The sautéed peppers, onion and ham in the egg give this sandwich its excellent flavor and it also comes with the extra ham layer that the ham and egg version above has. This was also the most massive of the Griddle Melts offered (perhaps a reason why they no longer offer it?) and the seasonal fruit is the recommended side instead of the hash browns just so you can eat it all.

One very small word of caution, regardless of the time of day, there is a chance that one of these Griddle Melts may also come out with an unexpected addition not mentioned above, a dill pickle spear, welcome with most sandwiches, but not so much at 8:00 in the morning. Consider yourself forewarned.

 So if IHOP is the destination of choice and the pancakes, waffles, etc… just aren’t striking your fancy, grab a Griddle Melt instead.

An Inscrutable Lunch and Boring Website Info

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So I have been tooling around with the website a bit and for some boring technical reasons I have reverted back to the original look of the page for now.

You may have also noticed that I added a new page to the tabs at the top, it contains links to all kinds of assorted interesting pages, do be sure to check it out.

So what is the deal with that picture of lunch? It came from one of the food trucks near where I work, I don’t remember it’s name I just remember that it was a yellow Korean-American BBQ truck and they called the dish I ordered “Chicken Teriyaki”

Lets take a closer look shall we? Starting in the upper left hand corner we have a basic green salad with no dressing. In the upper right corner we have chicken wing(singular), it looked a lot spicier than it actually was. On the bottom left we have two unknown food objects(UFO’s) on top of a bed of white rice. The UFO’s looked fun, the squiggle of sauce looked spicy and delightful, however much to my dismay, the UFO’s were less flavorful than they looked, on a very mildly disturbing note, even after eating the UFO’s I still had no idea what they were, even after tasting and consuming them. On the bottom right side we have the chicken teriyaki, it was actually very delicious and left me wanting more of it. Not pictured is a small plastic bottle of frozen dessert, i only know it was dessert because the word dessert was the only English word on the bottle, when it mostly thawed it was a sweet tangy yogurt like substance, rather tasty…This meal set me back $10.00. The odds are I won’t get it again for as much as I enjoyed the chicken teriyaki portion of the meal, the rest seemed like very interesting looking filler.

The Hungry Man Eats Score: 59/100 (The chicken teriyaki part of the dish was 85/100)

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