Archives for posts with tag: Fries

Before the introduction of Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, my biggest hang up with going to Taco Bell was their lack of fries. Since I can remember, and from what I’ve heard before then as well, fries have been my favorite food. I judge fast food and regular restaurants by the quality or lack thereof (I see you In-N-Out) of their fries. I will make substitutions if food I order does not come with fries. I have strong opinions on the best fry shapes. I have an ongoing desire to go to McDonald’s one day and eat a whole basket of fries and nothing else (around 3 large orders). So it goes without saying that as much as I love Taco Bell, when I ate there, I was choosing fast food, but foregoing the opportunity to eat fries, which always caused at least a small pang if regret if the Taco Bell wasn’t paired with a KFC or Long John Silver’s. With the introduction of their new fries, I no longer will suffer from that feeling. Without wasting any more time, let’s review into this important development.

Taco Bell offers the fries as a regular side with nacho cheese, and a nachos-like portion served in two sizes: Supreme (small) and BellGrande (large). The Supreme and BellGrande versions are fries “dusted with bold Mexican seasonings [topped with] seasoned beef, diced tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream and that warm and magical Nacho Cheese Sauce.” The Supreme size is $2.49 and BellGrande is $3.49. You can also get a box of fries with a cup of Nacho Cheese Sauce for $1.

I ordered the BellGrande portion. Words can’t express my excitement as I waited for my food. I kept trying to peek into the kitchen to see when my order would be finished. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only two minutes, I got a bag with the food. I rushed to my table to empty the contents, and my first emotion was disappointment. The size of the fries container was small in terms of both fries and toppings. I thought the BellGrande portion would be larger and I expected more toppings. At least at my initial glance, I’d rather have saved the $1 difference between the Supreme and BellGrande sizes.

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Getting into the actual food, these were standard fries.  Coming out of the kitchen, they were crispy and looked to have an extra layer of batter on them. Obviously, they weren’t cut in the back, but they seemed to be acceptable fresher type fries. There was a small amount of spice scattered on them, but I can’t recall it standing out in any way. I’d have liked a more aggressive shake of the seasoning because I think it could have really elevated the fries.

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After trying to fries alone, I tried one with just some Nacho Cheese Sauce. It was standard Taco Bell nacho cheese, a little spicy and kinda cheesy, which I generally enjoy. I thought the pairing went well together and would consider the $1 fries option in the future. The fries were still crispy after a dip in the cheese and the flavor complemented the fries. If you want something plainer, and control over the amount of topping on the fries (as well as the option to prolong the crispiness), the $1 option is a good order.

I then started digging into the meat of the dish, literally and figuratively. The tomatoes didn’t really add much. The BellGrande Fries are meant to mimic nachos. However, unlike chips, which have a broader base and can be used to scoop up other foods, the fries need the toppings to adhere to them. Tomatoes don’t adhere to fries at all, so I resorted to using a spork, which was a lot of effort for tiny tomato pieces that weren’t really necessary to the dish. They weren’t strong in taste nor did they have enough of a textural contrast to be there. If Taco Bell wanted to add a vegetable, I think a pepper would have worked better.

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The beef is standard Taco Bell ground beef. I can’t remember the last time I had ground beef on fries, but it’s a great addition and hit the marks I was expecting from the fries in terms of replicating a plate of nachos. In addition, not that I wanted the Nacho Fries to be filling since I was ordering a lot of other food, but if you were looking to make the fries a focal point of your meal, then the beef adds some heft to the plate.

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After a few bites, I realized I needed a utensil even when I wasn’t trying to eat the tomatoes. The fries were getting pretty soggy and messy, and using my hands didn’t seem to be a viable option anymore, especially since I was taking pictures and notes. Using the spork also let me mix and match bites to try out different combinations and prevented the fries from getting boring by replicating the same bites throughout the meal. I’ve complained before about food getting boring, but the choose your own adventure aspect here let me pick around and choose the best bites, which usually was the fries with the Nacho Cheese Sauce and some ground beef.

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I’m not a big fan of sour cream and don’t really need it on my nachos. The sour cream did nothing to persuade me to eat it more in the future. If you like sour cream, then it’s fine here, just like it is on nachos. Some guacamole would have been nice instead, and it would have had a similar texture.

The Nacho Fries become messier and messier as I went along and looked pretty gross as I was finishing. Nachos are never exactly an aesthetically appealing food, but with everything combined and congealing at the bottom of the plate, it was not pleasant to look at.

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When eating, I made the mistake of not eating the fries fast enough. I’m a slow eater in general, plus when I eat for the blog, I need to take notes and pictures as I go along. However, under the weight of all the toppings, the fries got soggy very fast. My recommendation is that if you order the fries along with other food, eat the fries first.

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The fries were more filling than I anticipated from initially looking at the container. Granted, before this Taco Bell order, I had eaten Burger King’s Flamin’ Hot Mac n Cheetos, but I still think these serve as a solid base for a meal.

The summary of the experience here is good and bad. It was a good first effort by Taco Bell on the fries front. The fries were acceptable, if not great, and I feel like the base components of the fries, Nacho Cheese Sauce and ground beef worked well together and provide a solid foundation from which to move forward.

The biggest negative is that the fries got soggy very fast. Even the fries that weren’t under a mountain of cheese and beef lost their crispiness fairly quickly. Unless you’re fine with soggy fries, these need to be eaten immediately. I wouldn’t even recommend ordering them at the drive thru at this point. After the fries lose their crisp, it’s a big soggy mess. I’m not sure if they need to fry these twice or if the sogginess is from a lack of quality, but they need to work on building a stronger fry.

Also, I don’t think this was a good value at the price. I must have misunderstood the commercial, because I thought it was available with chicken or steak. At the price point offered for BellGrande, I expected one of those meats. Ground beef as the only meat option was slightly disappointing. It’s also an easy fix. Chicken and steak would add another texture and really make the taste better while also reducing some of the mess. Taco Bell already sells those meats, so it’s just a matter of adjusting the pricing.

I offer a qualified endorsement here. Taco Bell has laid the foundation for future success with some small tweaks. If you’re excited like me to try the new addition to the menu, then it’s definitely worth your curiosity. I trust Taco Bell to make improvements to make these even better in the future.

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Countries, cities and regions are frequently linked to their famous foodstuffs. When you travel to that place, or go to a restaurant serving that particular cuisine, there’s always a local delicacy that you have to try; otherwise, did you really visit that location and eat what the locals eat?

Thus it is with Montreal. While the city is also famous for its French cuisine, bakeries, and smoked meat, in my humble option, poutine reigns supreme above all other local foods. I’ve had the chance to visit the city several times, and no visit is complete without one (or two, or three…) meals featuring poutine. Therefore, on my last visit this spring, even though I had already eaten poutine and a smoked meat sandwich for lunch, after a full dinner I needed to make a stop for one last fix at Montreal’s most famous poutinerie: McDonald’s.

I knew McDonald’s in Montreal had poutine, little did I know I arrive soon after the release of their Three Cheese and Bacon Poutine, also known as a Poutine au bacon et 3 fromages to the locals. Their regular poutine contains gravy and cheese curds over their regular fries, but this edition also contained bacon pieces and a shredded cheese blend. The price for this delicacy was 5.24 CAD, and after adding a medium soda and tax, the total was 7.74 CAD which is $6.39 USD as of this writing.

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One potential flaw in my plan for this snack: I purchased the food then walked back to my hotel before eating it. I hustled back, but it was still in the bag for 5ish minutes. While I held the bag open to reduce moisture and forestall sogginess, some sog was inevitable.

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Of course, the presentation of the poutine didn’t help keep it crispy. It was served in a box with a lid. I understand wanting to keep the whole mess contained so there was no leakage in the bag, but closing the box only created more humidity. The other issue is that the poutine took up all the space in the container, so it was difficult to pick around to choose my bites. If I’d eaten at the restaurant, I probably would have dumped it on my tray, and I think it would have been a better eating experience.

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Anyway, onto the actual eating experience. Upon taking the poutine out of the bag, I was greeted with a cheesy and bacon aroma. It was loaded with cheese, but I didn’t notice the traditional cheese curds. Instead the three cheese blend looked like it came from a bag of shredded cheese that you can get in a market. This doesn’t make it automatically bad, but without the curds, this isn’t really poutine. It’s more akin to disco fries. Of course, after some digging, I did find cheese curds buried underneath the initial layer of cheese, so they made sure to cover all their bases.

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I tried a bacon piece before I dove into the full experience. To their credit, the bacon wasn’t just bacon bits from a plastic container. It looked like McDonald’s actual bacon chopped up into good sized chunks. They were smoky and salty, and generally maintained their crispness as I ate.

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The layer of triple cheese on top, by now fully melted and solid posed as a real obstacle to digging down and getting some fries. It was thick, and the plastic fork may not been have been the best utensil for the task. I did sneak a plain fry on the side, and not much needs to be said about it: fresh McDonald’s fries are delicious.

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The poutine was really salty. I kept reaching for my drink as I ate. The bacon was a nice touch to break up the flavor, but of course added to the saltiness. As mentioned above, I was surprised we got whole curds. Not because they don’t belong, but because in McDonald’s interpretation of poutine, I figured the three-cheese blend would be enough. I can’t pretend to be an expert in cheese curds (I’ve only eaten them on poutine), but these met my standards in terms of cheesy flavor and squeakiness.

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Taking all of the components together, cheese was the biggest flavor, as the curds and cheese blend were the star of the dish. The next strongest flavors were unsurprisingly the salt and smokiness of the bacon. The fries were in the background, mainly as a vehicle for the more assertive toppings and the gravy as well had a slight beefy oniony flavor, but I really only  tasted that when it was isolated with the fries. The poutine was so cheese forward that I’m not sure that extra layer of cheese was necessary, or at least if McDonald’s wanted that cheese to make this their dish, then a smaller amount could have been used. It was hard to pick around the cheese to get non-cheese bites.

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As I continued to eat, I ran into the inevitable poutine problem (exacerbated by the walk to the hotel): eating poutine is a race against the clock. The fries are only getting soggier as they soak up the gravy and the gravy combines with the cheese to create humidity which saps crispness. The box also didn’t help, as the pouting filled the confines, so there really was no access to outside air. By the end, this was a soggy mess, with congealed gravy, which made some of those last bites undesirable. There were some untouched, fries that somehow stayed crisp on the bottom, and they were a nice reprieve.

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The Bacon and Three Cheese Poutine was a large portion of food, which I consumed after eating a full meal. Is it something I’d eat all the time if it was available in the U.S.? No, probably not. It’s a large, heavy side dish to add to a meal, plus poutine is something you want to eat immediately, and I usually save my fries for the end. However, if you really want to indulge and can handle being stuffed to the gills, then it’s worth it. Sure, this isn’t a traditional poutine, and if you have one chance to eat it in Montreal, you’re probably not stopping at McDonald’s, but if you find yourself in a McDonald’s in La belle province, treat yourself to something you can’t get back home.

 

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Wendy’s burgers. On the one hand, they are damn tasty. Dave Thomas certainly didn’t cut any corners when he designed them (get it?!), and he left a lasting legacy of an underrated burger. On the other hand, they are really messy. Messy to the point where I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve eaten one without it either falling apart or getting all over my hands.

Wendy’s also has been at the forefront of the bacon craze, or at least more so than the fast food giants at McDonald’s and Burger King. They introduced their applewood-smoked bacon a few years ago, and they seem to make more of an effort to feature their bacon and make it more than an afterthought. Putting those thoughts out there, let’s just say I was looking forward to the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger with cautious optimism that Wendy’s would not let me down.

She doesn't look like the girl in the commercial...

She doesn’t look like the girl in the commercial…

As I mentioned in my last post on the Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken Sandwich, I dined in for this meal. At this point, eating at the restaurant is probably the only way to ensure the best possible experience, and from now on, I’ll only note this if I get drive-thru or something extraordinary (good or bad) happens. And in this case, I stayed for a bit after I finished eating, and the server took my tray! That was quite nice and unexpected! Anyway, I got the meal, medium size, which was $7.48 before tax, and my whole meal (including the Chipotle Chicken Sandwich) was $9.54. Not too bad considering the massive amount of food I consumed. Let’s just say I earned my salad dinner that night.

I really like the colors here

I really like the colors here

The sandwich came in a box, but with no paper wrapping around it, which made me a little nervous. At first glance, this is a pretty sandwich. With the contrast in colors between the ciabatta, lettuce, burger and cheese this actually looked fake, like it was a plastic model used for the commercial. The burger was easily the most attractive sandwich I’ve had so far. It also smelled damn delicious. While this is probably entirely due to the bacon, I couldn’t wait to tear into this thing.

The bread isn't real!

The bread isn’t real!

Neat

Neat

The Wendy’s marketing department says the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger is “a quarter-pound of hot ‘n juicy beef topped with roasted, chopped tomatoes, creamy, rosemary garlic aioli, fresh spring mix, natural Asiago cheese and applewood-smoked bacon between a toasted Ciabatta bun.” I took a quick bite of the bacon before I dug in. It was nice and crispy, with a good smoky flavor. I knew this already, I just wanted a piece of bacon before I began. Upon first bite, the first thing I notice is the Ciabatta bun, and not in a good way. It tasted stale. I can’t believe it had gone bad already since this promotion just started, but this bread was not good. Bread is the easiest part of the burger, why do we keep screwing this up?! This is especially egregious when you make your bread part of the marketing of the sandwich. And of course, the aioli also starts seeping out of the sandwich after that first bite, so my expectations have gone downhill pretty fast.

Sandwich guts!

Sandwich guts!

However, after I got over the bread, and the aioli didn’t turn into a flood, this was a really good burger. Aside from the taste of stale bread, everything was really well balanced, and nothing outshined the bacon, which was the obvious star here. I’d have liked the burger to not be as dry as it was, but I understand I may not get the freshest food when I eat lunch at 2:30PM. I also want to point out the tomatoes. Normally, fast food tomatoes are barely tolerable. They provide a contrast to the burger, but they’re generally mushy and not ripe. Half the time I wind up taking it off because it’s too gross. Here, the tomatoes  added to the experience. They were chopped up, actually red, and had some flavor. What a concept! Also, the spring mix is better than the usual limp piece of lettuce. The color was fantastic and it added a nice bite.

Spillage

Spillage

The aioli was like a creamy Italian dressing. I really liked it, and it was noticeable when I took a bite without it. Between the stale bread and the dry patty, bites without sauce were not good. The patty also could have used some seasoning, even if it was just salt. No reason for the burger patty to taste so plain.

Luckily I didn't gnaw my fingers off while taking this

Luckily I didn’t gnaw my fingers off while taking this

There were some drawbacks here, but a fresh piece of bread and some salt could fix them, so it’s not like they ruined the experience. This was a fantastic burger. It was filling, had a great taste and wasn’t messy. While eating, I was enjoying it so much that several times I had to stop myself to make sure I was writing notes and taking photos. If you like bacon burgers, get to Wendy’s before they take this away. It’s worth the trip.

Before, I end, two more two quick notes. First off, just like last week, somehow there was also a hair on this burger. Luckily it was a small strand on a piece of bacon that was outside the bun, so I could just rip off that piece and continue eating. But seriously, two burgers and a hair on each? That was disgusting and all the good service in the world can’t overcome that. Use those hairnets.

The happier note: I hated when Wendy’s changed their fries a few years ago. Their old fries were wildly inconsistent (ranging from excellent when fresh to borderline inedible when not), but the new ones tasted like frozen fries (which they are, but still shouldn’t taste like it). They traded uniformity for potential. I’m happy to note that eating them during this trip for the first time in over a year, they were decent. Still way too much salt, but they aren’t something to be avoided in favor of chicken nuggets anymore.