March 12, 2010

Shrimp at Taco Bell?

Never have I been so surprised at Taco Bell as the day I saw the words "Pacific Shrimp" on the menu.

Specifically, "Pacific Shrimp Taco." It's a soft tortilla bearing six shrimp, lettuce, salsa and the Bell's infamous "Avocado Ranch Sauce."

At first thought the shrimp taco seems downright dangerous. Eat a bottom-dwelling crustacean from a fast-food joint previously called out for its poor-quality beef? Sounds risky.

I can't evaluate any health concerns related to the marine decapods, but I can tell you the Pacific Shrimp Taco is more appetizing than expected. It's by no means the best bang for your buck on The Bell's menu, yet it could provide a fairly tasty change of pace for all you Lent-observing Friday Taco Bell frequenters.

The salsa, tortilla, lettuce and sauce are all pretty standard. Let's skip right to the shrimp, the heart of the meal. They're about as rubbery as you'd expect. Less so than chewing gum but more so than fresh crustaceans.

Our tiny aquatic meat is saved, fortunately, by a shockingly tasty flavor. Taco Bell says they're "marinated in a mix of spices," whatever that means. My translation is that the shrimp pack a low heat that builds steadily as you eat your taco.

They aren't overly fishy, either. Everyone's worst cheap-fish nightmare is that it will cause seafood-burps all day. I'm proud to report my afternoon was free of tuna-tasting belches.

The shrimp are a little pricey, however. I paid nearly $3 for my Pacific Shrimp Taco, a bit steep considering its five-bite size. Perhaps Taco Bell should consider a price-saving "Atlantic Shrimp Taco" for its East Coast patrons.

When it came time to sink or swim, the shrimp taco manages to stay afloat with three sporks out of five. Tenderize the shrimp a little and cut down on the amount folks have to shell out for one, and this shrimp/spice combination would be a winning cocktail.

March 8, 2010

Second Annual Golden Spork Awards: The best foods of 2009

Hot on the heels of last night's Academy Awards, I'm proud to present the Second Annual Golden Spork Awards. This year's Golden Sporks will honor the foods Rick's Food Critique reviewed in 2009.

Close foodie followers will notice several tweaks to this year's awards. First, the timing. We've moved the presentation from last year's New Year's Eve slot to March in order to align with the Oscars. Hopefully this will sate any hunger for flavorful prizes that lurks in your belly after last night's fawning over tasteless films.

More importantly, the awards themselves have been modified. The first Golden Sporks were handed out to the four best foods reviewed in 2008, while the four worst foods were also cited. This year's awards will recognize the best foods in seven distinct categories, including "Best Supporting Beverage" and "Best Dessert in a Leading Role." We'll wrap up with the prestigious "Best Picnic," which is the best overall food reviewed in 2009.

The worst foods list is not completely gone, though. We'll start out with a brief "Put a spork in them" dishonorable mention roll call.

Put a spork in them: 2009's foods to forget

Burger King's Burger Shots Outgunned in every category, these should have been put out of their misery before ever reaching a menu.

Nabisco bags Someone at the snack giant seems to think people should use scissors or have a hard time getting to their crackers. The bags are impossible to open sans-tools without ripping and spilling food everywhere.

Golden Spork Awards: The top foods reviewed in 2009

Free Food: Mars Real Chocolate Relief Act In the depths of the economic recession the chocolate maker implemented a plan to send free candy coupons to anyone filling out an online form. People and M&M's everywhere smiled joyously.

Short Payment (Best sub-$1 food): Taco Bell Triple Layer Nachos They may have been a bit small and a tad soggy, but for 79 cents you didn't care.

Seasonal Food: Cadbury Creme Egg An old-time Easter favorite that always brings back memories of tummy aches and clucking bunnies.

Snack/Candy: Reese's Dark The dark side can be a wonderful thing. A rare knock-off that works better than the original.

Best Supporting Beverage: Pepsi Throwback/Mountain Dew Throwback While not the most balanced drinks, the sweet nod to real cane sugar in soda is too meaningful to ignore.

Best Dessert in a Leading Role: Yogen Früz Green Tea Frozen Yogurt
Not the gimmick it first appears to be, this luscious blend of flavors and textures surprised everyone to upset Wendy's Toffee Coffee Twisted Frosty.

Best Picnic: Five Guys By far the best overall eating experience of the year. Free peanuts, great fries, a slew of burger toppings and flavor that will knock you on your back. This is what eating a burger was meant to be.

March 5, 2010

Twix Triple Chocolate

My most-loyal readers will no doubt remember the high esteem in which I hold Twix bars. I find them to be both the ultimate workplace candy and one of the top candies for any occasion.

Not only is the combination intrinsically appealing -- cookie topped with caramel and chocolate is virtually unbeatable -- you get twice the fun. The old "two for me none for you" ad campaign is too selfish for my tastes, but it gets the point across. Biting into that second Twix to quell the disappointment of finishing your first bar is absolute bliss.

So imagine my glee when I discovered Twix Triple Chocolate staring me in the face at a gas station. Twix injected with the morbid appeal of death-by-chocolate? I didn't think the combination could lose.

(That's in sharp contrast to my photography skills, which I knew would be soundly defeated in their attempt to bring you a glareless photo of the Twix Triple Chocolate wrapper.)

For the most part, I was right. Triple Chocolate Twix is much more successful than other variations of the candy, including the lackluster peanut butter version.

Here's the blueprint: Take a normal Twix bar and turn the cookie chocolate. Then remove its encased caramel and replace it with with a chocolate substitute. Cover it all in -- you guessed it -- chocolate.

The chocolate cookie is old news, being virtually lifted from the peanut butter variety of the bar. So is the chocolate coating. The real star of Triple Chocolate Twix is undoubtedly the chocolate caramel topping the cookie.

I expected it to be something like the fudge in the fine Snickers Fudge, which is to say solid and rich. Instead it was caramel-gooey and pleasantly sweet. I won't argue it isn't rich since it still tops off a massive helping of chocolate, yet it doesn't push the bar into bellyache-inducing territory.

My only complaint is that the three chocolates blend together somewhat, leaving your taste buds picking up a cocoa combination rather than three distinct flavors. I'd like to see the outer coating or the cookie changed to a dark chocolate, making this a Twix to truly remember.

Even so, we're talking about a four-out-of-five-spork bar here. Rest assured, they didn't fudge this one up.