REVIEW: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

I have a confession, dear readers.

I am a weenie.

That’s right: I’m the guy who needs a tissue after a single Flaming Hot Cheeto. I’m the guy who thinks playing Doritos Roulette is cruel and unusual punishment. And Thai food? More like “I want to die food.”

And I’ve been mocked for it my whole life.

That’s why taking on the challenge of Taco Bell’s new Dare Devil Loaded Grillers, which come in three escalating levels of spiciness, was a personal quest for me. If I can handle these, maybe I can regain some self-respect. No longer will I quiver before a bottle of Sriracha.

So without further ado, allow me to channel my inner Dante and dive into these three tortilla-wrapped circles of Hell.

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First up was Mild Chipotle. The wrapper seemed to mock me with its condescending tone and mellow yellow colors. The insides were kinda squished together, but between the many, thick layers of tortilla were scant amounts of beef, plenty of gooey cheese, strangely damp wads of red corn chips, and the tempting beige sauce.

Flavor-wise, the toasty, grilled flour of the tortilla and the slight edge of the cheese dominated all else, with the sauce backing it up with a savory creaminess that had a palpably high fattiness. Little meatiness could be found, and the chips got too soggy to lend any sort of fun crunch. Regardless, as a fan of quesadillas, this tasted a lot like a pleasantly zesty one.

As for the spice, after finishing a bite I noticed a relaxed buzz in the back of my throat, but nothing even my greenhorn tongue couldn’t handle.

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Kicking it up a notch (shame on Taco Bell for not working in the phrase “kick it up a nacho” somehow), I bit into the Hot Habanero griller. Aesthetically, it looked nearly identical to its plain-Jane little brother, except with a much thinner and angrier looking orange layer of creamy sauce.

Compared to Chipotle, the taste here was like a “hot beef injection.” Wait, wait. That’s not what I mean. Don’t Google that, please. But anyway, the noticeable tang of the pepper made the smoky, seasoned beef flavor much more prominent here, with undertones of garlic and black pepper. Our “chipper” friends manage to pop in with a brief, hot corniness, too.

The heat was a slow buildup, so much so that I thought I was safe until my tongue and throat started to tingle and whimper like a dog who played with a porcupine (thank my German Shorthair, who took a faceful of quills to bring us that analogy). Fortunately, the steady burn wasn’t nearly intense enough that a long swig of milk couldn’t wash it out.

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But then it was time for Fiery Ghost Pepper. It was to be my personal final boss: my Bowser, my Ganondorf, and my last mine in a tense game of Minesweeper. Unlike its creamy siblings, this one just oozed a sinister, bubbly red liquid (okay, maybe I imagined the bubbles).

In terms of flavor, I was barely able to sense a salty combo of meat and corn chips before the acrid acidity of the sauce took over, with the harsh, concentrated pepper flavor overwhelming and seeping into all else. Even the formerly friendly cheese betrayed me and became pasteurized magma.

Et tu, nacho?

To seasoned veterans of seasoned spice, the heat may not quite be “1,000,00 Scovilles,” but it was enough to make me say “Sco-ly s***!” My tongue went numb to flavor, my throat resonated with capsaicin, and trying to wash it down with milk was as futile as Smokey the Bear crying tears of disappointment onto a forest fire.

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For a total price of $3, the Dare Devil Grillers were a fun novelty, but outside of Chipotle, I can’t imagine buying any for an actual meal (though they are large enough for one), since the burn takes way from the familiar flavor, which you could easily get from many of Taco Bell’s other items.

Since I can see my word count here is already starting to rival Dante’s Divine Comedy, too, and since I’m still nursing a crispy tongue, I think a brief haiku summarizing each Griller will suffice:

Chipotle, my friend:
Cheesy, zesty mayo-filled
Beef quesadilla

Habanero, oh!
Peppered meat, slow-building heat
(That sounded dirty)

Ghost pepper: need Tums
Like Pompeii, heat buries taste
Ow ow ow, owww, ow!

(Nutrition Facts – Chipotle – 420 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 940 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Habanero – 380 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Ghost Pepper – 400 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 970 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers
Purchased Price: $1 each
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Chipotle)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Habanero)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Ghost Pepper)
Pros: Flavorful beef with cheese and toasty flour tortilla. Unbeatable value. The sinful goodness of “palpably high fat content.” Conquering your personal Ganondorf.
Cons: Pain and heat mask flavor as you move up in heat. Only difference between Grillers is flavor emphasis. Soggy chips. The crushing betrayal of “pasteurized magma.”

REVIEW: Lay’s Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips

Lay's Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips

In what seems to be an annual tradition, Lay’s brings us four new flavors in the 2015 edition of “Do Us a Flavor” contest. The concept is, admittedly, pretty awesome. I’m a sucker for new flavored potato chips and four ordinary everyday people like you and me get a chance to see their own flavor ideas become a reality. It’s a win-win-win for the contestant, the consumers, and Lay’s.

The winner gets to live forever in potato chip dignity (or infamy) with a million in his or her pocket. Our taste buds get to enjoy new flavors. And Lay’s gets a public relations boost.

Besides, there are worse yearly traditions like the annual physical checkup or Christmas with the in-laws (yes I’ll take more egg-nog!). Unlike those events, I really look forward to this promotion. And it appears it’s working. The fervor at several Targets was evident because there were rarely any available when the new flavors first reached its stores. I had to settle for a bag of seven-layer dip Combos, which are pretty damn swank in its own right.

On a mundane Wednesday, I walked into the Target near my work looking for some supermarket sushi (don’t judge, I know most of you out there buy it too). I decided to give the chip aisle a look-see and voila!!! I found the Lay’s Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries. And like an article, there’s a byline… “Submitted by Angie Fu.”

Angie Fu seems like a nice person, she is photogenic and looks like those clip art photos one uses in those damned team-building slideshow presentations. A quick look on the internet tells me Angie Fu is a senior manager of production and product development at a cosmetic company. She has a penchant, like my wife and I, for truffle fries with parmesan sprinkled on top. Can Lay’s deliver? Will the translation be applauded like the Ant-Man adaptation or derided like the recent Fantastic Four movie?

I opened the bag and was a bit unsure because it smelled more of sour cream and onion chips than the familiar earthy and mellow musk of truffles. Subsequent inhales left me even more confused because the garlic and onion notes began to overwhelm my nostrils.

The Wavy chips are my favorite and I feel Lay’s smartly chose this shape because the ridges not only have a pleasant texture, but they are also like “dusty” ledges that herd that flavor powder to a single intense point. It really underscores whatever flavor the chip is carrying.

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However, these chips are a double-edged sword. The chips, as always, were crispy and delivered that snap. But the flavor was like a roasted potato with a strong dairy finish, like a sour cream. If there was truffle, it was faint like a ghost. The cereal milk left over from Grape-Nuts has more character. The chip really tasted like a cheddary-sour cream and onion chip.

Don’t mistake my comments for this being a bad chip. If you’re looking for a cheddar/sour cream and onion chip, these hit the penthouse. Yet, I wanted what was promised and the taste of roasted potato, cheddar, and sour cream (loaded baked potato sans bacon?) was not what I had in mind. There’s visible flecks of parsley, which were the only evidence they existed. I was clearly disappointed and gave the bag to my wife, who also remarked on the strong creamy cheddar-like flavor the chips imparted.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I can’t help it. Truffle has a distinct and luscious profile. I was excited to see the flavor and I was ecstatic when the photo of those wonderful fries with truffle oil doused on it and parmesan scattered like delicious confetti. My experience with these chips was akin to chatting it up with someone at a bar with moody lighting and when you walk out, you realize it’s your sister. AGGGGHHH! My sister is a decent person but she’s not the person you want to…well, you know.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 330 milligrams of potassium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Wavy Do Us a Flavor West Coast Truffle Fries Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 7.75 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Wavy shape is the way to go for a profound flavor. The annual “Do Us a Flavor” promotion. Alexander Fu-Sing’s vintage Kung Fu films.
Cons: The profound flavor is more “sour cream and onion” than truffle and parmesan. The annual scream into your pillow Christmas festivities with your in-laws. Imagining Angie Fu’s warm smile turn to a frown because of these chips.

REVIEW: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade

McDonald’s McCafe? Strawberry Lemonade

Part of me feels guilty for buying McDonald’s new McCafé Strawberry Lemonade because I’m probably driving some little girl’s lemonade stand out of business and killing her budding entrepreneurial spirit.

But part of me doesn’t feel guilty because I’m probably teaching her valuable lessons of business innovation which will allow her to up her game and develop sound marketing and costing principles for future lemonade stand expansion. So you might say I have mixed feelings about my purchase. Just like I have mixed feelings about the taste of McDonald’s newest McCafé beverage.

The fast food chain says that their new take on lemonade is “hand shaken for a perfect balance of sweet and tart,” but neither of those points are actually correct. The woman making my lemonade didn’t shake it so much as she pushed a few buttons on a big machine with strawberry lemonade in it, which is a real bummer because everyone knows lemonade is a lot like martinis -— better shaken, not stirred.

Also, the strawberry lemonade is really only the “perfect balance” of sweet and tart if your definition of balance means tasting more tart than sweet, which for a lot of people isn’t the preferred ratio for fruit-flavored foods and drinks (thus, why we have Sweetarts and not Tartsweets.)

Still, the strawberry lemonade is definitely refreshing and unexpectedly sophisticated in its flavor. The tartness, while outweighing the sweetness, isn’t mind blowing like a Warhead, and actually tastes reminiscent of eating a Lemonhead and a Swedish Fish at the same time.

There’s definitely a nuanced strawberry flavor that rounds out the lemon’s acidity, while the three slices of strawberry I received in my lemonade made for a favorable presentation that I really doubt most little boys and girls setting up lemonade stands this time of year can match.

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Still, I can’t get past the tartness, nor can I get past the big machine of lemonade that serves up one of the most quintessentially homemade beverages with what I can only describe as “questionable” freshness. The strawberries, while aesthetically very nice to stir around with your straw, are actually pretty insipid and obviously frozen, with a thawed-out sliminess that screams for added sugar. More than anything else, I thought that added sugar would have helped bring out the inherent fruitiness of the strawberries, and justified the $1.79 I paid for a small.

There’s been a lot of McDonald’s Secret Menu talk as of late and I’d like to add a little tip to the conversation. If you’re lucky to live in an area where McDonald’s soda dispensers come equipped with both Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Strawberry Fanta, you can get a sweeter, more strawberry-y lemonade drink for less money.

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I like what McDonald’s is trying to get at with their McCafé Strawberry Lemonade, even if the execution is off and the tartness overpowering. Given my guilt over contributing to the decline of brother and sister lemonade stands, I can only hope that our country’s next generation of venture capitalists responds by correcting this imbalance and reclaiming the lemonade market through fresher strawberries and more sugar.

(Nutrition Facts – Small – 120 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: Small (12 oz.)
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: More sophisticated flavor than usual takes on lemonade. Nuanced strawberry taste. Comes with real strawberry and lemon slices. Chilled and refreshing on a hot day.
Cons: Too tart for general lemonade drinking public. Strawberry flavor isn’t as concentrated as it should be. Pricey. Questionable freshness, including lack of discernible pulp. Supporting corporate giant over youthful small businesses.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

“Ganache” is such a French word. It’s so French that if you say it into a mirror three times, French Candyman appears. Instead of a hook hand he has half a baguette on his stump and he doesn’t murder you, he gives you cigarettes made of young cheese. Then you have to watch an entire Jerry Lewis movie and make small talk with his mistress while he looks for your bidet. And then you have to drive him to the airport to get back to France. It’s kind of a hassle, honestly.

The Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar tries to French gourmet up the grocery proceedings but also keeps it real down home by featuring USA’s favorite swine meats. It says what’s in it right there on the packaging: “A rich combination of dark chocolate ganache, pieces of uncured bacon, and a hint of smoked salt.”

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The ganache is tucked inside the bar in tiny pockets, along with the pieces of pig. The particular bar I had was very fragile and almost immediately featured a diagonal crack that allowed the insides to leak out and made it look like it was bleeding chocolate blood.

Fun fact: In old black and white films, Dracula would use chocolate syrup in place of blood. Another fun fact: In the commercials, Count Chocula drinks human blood in place of milk in his cereal.

The bar boasts a 70 percent cacao rating thing, and, yes, it’s bitter. It has a smooth cacao flavor which crescendos into an acrid bite when the pools of ganache touch the tongue. There’s maybe a facsimile of smokiness—which actually comes off as a bit sour—but the tenor changes with a subtle touch of saltiness. It’s a complex hit that might even include the sixth taste, umami, or the seventh taste, your mommy.

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The experience is a bit tough to describe because while it’s a combination of all these interesting things, I also found it not that pleasant. I imagine it is a little bit like what Coca-Cola tasted like when it was being sold as a cure-all tonic. There’s not much sweetness involved and it tastes a little bit like medicine.

Ironic, isn’t it, that this product has “uncured” bacon in it, because medicine “cures” diseases and this tastes like medicine and “uncured” is the opposite of “cured.” Haha. Good one, dude. Good one. … *cricket sounds for ten seconds* … “It’s like raaaaaaaain on your wedding day/ It’s the freeee riiiiiide….”

Where is the bacon? It’s in little torn up pieces in a sea of chocolate ganache, represented by the hints of salt. Catching them in my mouth here and there, texture-wise they sort of felt like balled up pieces of wet tissue paper rolled between my fingers to make wispy strands. Without it billboarded on the front, I would never have guessed bacon was involved in this product.

The chocolate is really a stronger flavor here and overpowers just about all the bacon qualities. It’s a fine, bold dark chocolate taste, but with the bar and the insides being all chocolate, all day it’s a bit overwhelming. Maybe if I say “ganache” three times backwards into a mirror it will dial back the intensity? “Ehcanag, ehcanag, ehcanag.” Nope, that just summoned Opposite French Candyman. He’s exactly the same as French Candyman but his skin is inside out and rides a bicycle backwards. Pretty cool.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 bar – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Dark chocolate central. If you need that fix, it has it. Complex flavors.
Cons: Not very sweet at all. Bacon gets lost a bit, tastes like medicine.

REVIEW: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Doritos Jacked 3D

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Doritos Jacked 3D

*A scene from Doritos headquarters*

“Okay, boys. After years of dark magic, Ouija boards, and one ill-fated incident involving a cheese-toothpaste hybrid, we’ve finally crafted the perfect recipe for appealing to the “Xtreme” chip market:

Bacon – the cornerstone of annoying Internet food memes

Cheddar – the preferred finger coating of Cheetos-loving gamers everywhere

Ranch – because nothing evokes the rough-and-tumble, Chuck Norris-esque aesthetic of cow ranchers like ranch dressing”

And with that, Bacon Cheddar Ranch Doritos Jacked 3D (I need a breather just writing that name) were born. If the Powerpuff Girls were made from Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice, then these must be the Powerpuff Girls’ 25-year-old brother who plays World of Warcraft in their parents’ basement.

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But I won’t judge these on the stereotypical nature of their ingredients alone. Opening the bag and huffing deeply, a corn scent predominates, with a little edgy cheesiness that tickles my nostrils.

Like a paleontologist discovering the elusive Doritosaurus, I extract one of the bizarrely shaped artifacts. It looks like a symbol straight out of the Stonecutters Clan.

Upon my first munch of the thick, crunchy pyramid, I’m first hit with a strong corn flavor. But this corn is glazed with a savory cheesiness that quickly ramps up into the recognizable, biting sharpness that is typical of cheddar snacks.

And that’s it.

Wait, what? That can’t be. As it stands, these are Phantom Menace levels of disappointment. Maybe they should rename them “ChedDar Jar Binks Doritos.”

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I continue frantically shoveling corn triangles into my mouth hoping for a more intense experience, and slowly but surely, I get it.

As my mouth swells with the amalgamated ball of chewed, cheesy corn (yeah, this sounds really gross, but don’t lie: you know exactly the feeling), I notice a smoky finish to the cheddar cheese. It reminds me of the toasty, salty, and paprika-y flavor you get at the end of a barbecue chip.

I’m guessing this is the “bacon,” and it’s so subtle that you’d think a bacon fairy casually sprinkled her little pixie dust of bacon bits over the bag. I call her Oinkerbell.

I’m having trouble detecting any ranch, though. The closest thing is the aftertaste left by the 3D-oritos (a much better name, in my opinion). I’m not the best at estimation, but for about 2 geologic eons after eating them, my throat was plastered with a peppered, garlic tomato flavor. I’m not sure if this is “ranch,” but it is enough to leave me hoping for an actual bottle of cheese-toothpaste to rid my breath of this oily flashback.

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All in all, these were “so-so,” at best. I love the texture, extreme width, and fun shape (they look like someone set the font on their chip word processor to “Wingdings”) of the Doritos, but the tame cheese flavor isn’t memorable enough to prompt another buy. It’s just a kitchen-sink combination of old flavors that isn’t focused enough on a single one. You’d be better off buying Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch to get a more distinct and focused palate experience.

Unless, of course, you’re an archeologist looking for a thematically appropriate snack to bring to the company “Quetzalcoatl Barbecue,” in which case these hieroglyphs are a good, mindless nosh for summer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I only have a few more months to perfect my ChedDar Jar Binks cosplay. George Lucas will be proud!

(Nutrition Facts – 13 pieces – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Doritos Jacked 3D
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 11.5 oz bag
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Corn is made better with cheddar. Snacks shaped like RPG runes. Imagining a Doritosaurus/Jurassic World crossover.
Cons: Corn isn’t made that much better with cheddar. Scarcity of bacon flavor. Surplus of bacon memes. Not getting a kick out of ranch. Probably getting kicked out of Skywalker Ranch.