June 22, 2013

Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder

It's all about the bun. And the habanero.
It pains me to tell you this, but McDonald's just finished a "buy one give one" promotion for some uber-fancy Quarter Pounders.

The pain, of course, is that I didn't tell you while the promotion was still going on. My apologies. It was for three days only, and I barely had the chance to slip in and take advantage of the deal myself. If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's that I have the chance to write about the new burgers.

This "buy one give one" idea is an interesting one. I'm not sure how to look at it. Was it an attempt to introduce more people to the new McDonald's food? An effort to combat overeating while still giving away free food?

If so, it wasn't effective. Because the recipient of my Quarter Pounder to give was ... me.

Technically, I purchased a Bacon and Cheese Quarter Pounder and gave myself a Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder. We're going to spill our pixels on the latter today. The Bacon and Cheese version was fine -- red onion slices, American cheese, the now-ubiquitous applewood bacon. It was just nothing to blog home about. I've had burgers that taste exactly the same from half a dozen fast food joints.

That Bacon Habanero Ranch, though. That burger's something new. Something I don't remember seeing before. Habanero on a burger!

The searing and sweet taste of habanero seems to have been generally considered too bold for the popular American palette. While jalapenos have found their way into seemingly every restaurant on earth, their more intense orange brethren have been largely eschewed. It's been a shame, a shame I'm happy to see end.

I am, however, a little surprised to see McDonald's ending it. The house that Ronald built has never stood out to me as a risk-taker in the food wars. I guess they introduced apples in Happy Meals a few years back, but I don't think tossing in the most popular fruit in the country can be considered daring.

Habanero on a burger is a whole new story. Unsurprisingly, Mickey D's hedged its bets, watering down the intense spiciness of habaneros with a cooler ranch flavor. It's a tasty sauce, and I'm willing to forgive the timidity in light of the big step that is putting this pepper into fast food.

Outside of the habanero sauce, there's really only one thing worth talking about. Not the bacon. Not the white cheddar cheese. The bun.

At some point, McDonald's invested a great deal into upgrading the Quarter Pounder bun.

Remember when it had the approximate consistency of cotton candy? When it looked like it would dissolve when it got wet? Those days are over. The bun is larger, heartier and more satisfying. I haven't had the chance to check if classic Quarter Pounders wear their tried-and-true buns, but this one is magnificent in comparison.

This is a burger worth four sporks out of five. I'd buy it even if it wasn't free.

June 14, 2013

It's a nice day for a wide-ranging post-wedding post

Today we'll talk about some eateries in the state of the Golden Bear.
Jetting and driving across the country have their downsides.

The main one being that I haven't had a chance to post a new food review in weeks. I went through a minor life change -- marriage -- that had me first flying from Indiana to Syracuse for the ceremony. Then the new wife and I winged from Syracuse to San Francisco for a week that involved driving up to beautiful coastal Mendocino California. We flew back to Syracuse before proceeding to drive across Upstate New York, Ohio and Indiana in order to make it back to Bloomington, where we keep our home.

After that? Rest. Lots of rest.

If it sounds like a whirlwind way to end May and start June, it was. It was also a period of time that wasn't exactly conducive to taking my normally arduous food critiquing notes.

Fortunately I still have enough gray matter left to give a rundown of our trip's high culinary points. They're not going to be as detailed as my usual super-in-depth reviews, but they should be sufficient to give you a flavor of the last few weeks.

I should also mention that we hit restaurants that were all over the map, literally and figuratively. There was fast food. There was haute cuisine. There was a grocery store.

The details of the rehearsal dinner and wedding won't be making it into this post. I either wouldn't do them justice or would bore any of you who were there with too much detail. So we'll just hit the other high points of the last few weeks.

Final meal at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
A few hours before the wedding, my groomsmen and I convened in downtown Syracuse for a last supper at the famous barbecue joint. We sat at the bar and ordered a combination meal that included ribs, beef brisket, chicken, baked beans, cornbread and mac and cheese. We passed plates and bowls around for a real communal setting that was delicious. You couldn't ask for a better end to single life.

HRD Coffee Shop welcomes us to San Francisco
Acting on my best man's recommendation, my new wife and I stopped by HRD Coffee Shop on the morning of our first full day in California. They have coffee, but they also have some of the best-smelling Korean food I've encountered. We ended up getting a spicy pork Kimchi burrito. I won't spill too many pixels on the place, because it's been featured on Food Network and in a few other publications. Just know to get that burrito. It was the best thing I've eaten this year.

21st Amendment Brewery
We grabbed a lunch at this brewpub, which isn't too far from HRD Coffee Shop. Everything was good. The french fries rose above all else with an exceptional balance between crisp outside and soft inside.

Albion River Inn Restaurant
We did both breakfasts and dinner at the restaurant for this inn that hangs on the craggy shoreline of the Mendocino coast. The view while eating was spectacular, even when fog was rolling in off the ocean. The dinner matched it -- I had a piece of salmon cooked to perfection. Where I was really blown away was the breakfast, however. One day the breakfast special was a shrimp and cream cheese omelet, a concoction that sounds strange and tastes outstanding. The Thanksgiving Coffee Company, located up the coast in Fort Bragg, makes an Albion River Inn Blend. It's subtle and smooth and everything you want on vacation.

Whole Foods
On our way back down to San Francisco we stopped to grab coffee at Whole Foods. I gaped at the prices. I felt bad for a kid who knocked over a bottle of wine. It was OK.

In-N-Out Burger
This place was hopping, even though I got there at 9 p.m. to pick up a late dinner before retreating to our pre-flight hotel room. Sorry In-N-Out Burger, but that's my biggest impression of you. It was the end of my trip, I was tired, and I was blown away by how busy you were.