REVIEW: Panda Express Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast

Panda Express Garlic Lover's Chicken Breast

I might be one of the few people on Earth who eats the fortune cookie before digging into a styrofoam takeout tray of Panda Express food. I prefer to know my fortune before knowing what faux Chinese food tastes like just in case I get a fortune that says, “You have paid for this meal, but get ready to pay for it again.”

During my latest visit to Panda Express to pick up their new Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast, I received an extra fortune cookie. After opening each cookie and reading their fortunes, I wondered if one of them was trying to tell me something.

The first one said, “Your warmth radiates on those around you.” It was a fortune I received before, and I didn’t think anything of it. However, the second one said, “People in your background will be more cooperative than usual.”

That fortune made me wonder if the amount of garlic in Panda Express’ new entree would make the people in my background be more cooperative than usual because the people in my foreground are frozen by my garlic breath.

Along with a vampire-repelling amount of minced garlic, Panda Express’ Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast also includes broccoli, red bell peppers, baby corn, white meat chicken, and a savory black bean sauce. However, despite what appears to be a cockblocking amount of garlic, the dish isn’t as garlicky as I would like.

But, there’s enough garlic to make baby corn taste better. Although, there’s not enough garlic in the world to make them less creepy to eat. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something weird about eating undeveloped corn. It’s like the vegetable equivalent of balut. It doesn’t even taste like any corn I’ve had, and I’ve had it cobbed, canned, creamed, and sold to me in popped form in a movie theater for seven dollars a bag.

The black bean sauce wasn’t noticeable and I didn’t even know it existed until I did some research for this review. To be honest, if this entree is supposed to be for garlic lovers, it should have some kind of garlic sauce. As for the rest of the dish, the broccoli is always a welcomed addition because it makes me think I’m eating something healthy, the red bell peppers were just there for color, and if you’ve had Panda Express’ Mushroom Chicken, then you know what the chicken’s texture is like.

Personally, I wish this dish was call Breast Lover’s Garlic Chicken, because that would make me giggle like a 12 year old boy. Overall, I thought the Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast was decent, but I don’t see myself ordering it again because the amount of garlic flavor it has doesn’t make me feel like its aroma would radiate on those around me.

(Nutrition Facts – 5.8 ounces – 180 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 790 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.)

Other Panda Express Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast reviews:
An Immovable Feast

Item: Panda Express Garlic Lover’s Chicken Breast
Price: $6.59
Size: 2-entree
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Broccoli. Lots of garlic pieces. Good source of protein. Corn on the cob. Panda Express’ Orange Chicken.
Cons: Despite the amount of garlic pieces, it wasn’t garlicky enough for me. Baby corn freaks me out. Black bean sauce wasn’t noticeable. Balut. Getting fortune cookies that warn you about the Chinese food you just ate/are about to eat.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Caramel Frosty Shake and Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty Shake

Wendy's Caramel Frosty Shake

Wendy’s and I have an interesting relationship with each other. I don’t mean to sound like an old man, but when I was growing up, there wasn’t a Wendy’s to be found in New Jersey, lending it a mystique not found in your more prevalent chains like McDonald’s or Burger King. I remember the only one I knew of was on the way to Snowvania, which is what they called Vermont in those days. We would go there on our annual ski trip. You couldn’t get real skis because of the war, so we had to buy two snowboards and tie them to our feet.

Now, we’d stop at the Wendy’s on our way every year or so, and my sister and I would each get a Frosty, or as we called them in those days, thickshakes. “Give me five thickshakes for a dollar!” you’d say, and a smiling Ella Fitzgerald would bring them out to your motor car. Oh, did she have gams, that Ella! Anyway, once we finished our thickshakes, my sister and I would hollow out the bottoms and wear them on our ears, which was the style at the time.

But the point is, I’ve always liked Wendy’s, partially because of their scarcity when I was a kid, and partially because they actually make their burgers plain in the first place instead of what McDonald’s used to do; i.e., making them with the works and then just scraping that shit off when you dare to ask for a plain burger. Like that’s the same thing, jerks. Anyway, Frosties have always held a special place in my heart due to my childhood memories, so when I heard they were rolling out new Frosty Shakes, I was all over that like reality show stars on professional athletes.

But then I learned something that tempered my enthusiasm: Frosty Shakes were actually replacing my beloved Twisted Frosties, where they would blend M&Ms or Butterfingers in. I have mixed feelings about that, because those things were seriously damn good, yet are also the reason I can no longer comfortably fit into 28-inch waist jeans without my Strippercize DVD. But it does create some pressure on the Frosty Shake, because if you’re not as good as what you’re replacing, well, SOMEONE is in for a few curse words muttered into my dashboard and a scathing blog review. I’m just saying.

Wendy's Caramel Frosty Shake 2

This isn’t the first time Wendy’s has offered Frosty Shakes, but they have added two new flavors — in addition to the original chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, you can now get your fill of caramel and wild berry. As always, I will be reviewing the one that doesn’t even play at being healthy. It does, however, aspire to a higher class of caramel by name-dropping the Ghirardelli brand. I sort of question the wisdom of that — you don’t go to Wendy’s expecting kobe beef and watercress on your burger, so are you really going to care that the caramel in your two-bucks-and-change shake is associated with the finest chocolatiers in the world? I’m not sure it was worth shelling out for the brand name, but that’s the ghost of Dave Thomas’ business, not mine.

For starters, I have to give Wendy’s credit for sheer visual appeal. You know how fast food always looks great in the ads and then like a lump of reheated turds when you pull it out of the bag? Well, I’ll be damned if this shake didn’t look nearly as good in real life as it does on TV, which is impressive. This probably varies by the server, but the whipped cream on mine was plentiful and even had criss-crosses of caramel covering it, a nice touch. (Mind you, it’s summer, so that’s going to last about 3 minutes before it melts into a blob of goo.) But taste is what really matters, and this… this tastes good.

It’s thick enough that I initially had trouble getting some through the straw, though this would likely be substantially less difficult for groupies, congressional aides, and certain Jersey Shore cast members. But once I did, I was impressed by how vivid the flavor was. This isn’t watered down in the slightest — that’s pure caramel.

Wendy's Chocolate Frosty Shake

It’s almost a little overwhelming, and I can see people who are just kind of “enh” about caramel thinking it might even be a bit too strong, but I really dug it. It’s rich, very sweet, and lingers on your tongue like a dog who won’t go away after you feed him scraps, but it’s okay because he’s pretty cute and doesn’t look rabid. Also, the whipped cream melts into the shake and dilutes things a bit while lending an extra little creaminess to the whole thing. I would’ve ordered another if not for the fact that it’s so filling, and also because there’s a warning label cautioning that two will cause instant cardiac arrest.

Though the caramel Frosty Shake is the main attraction, I also sampled the chocolate variety just so I could give you a broader accounting of the overall line. I know, I really spoil you guys. Though not quite as impressive, it’s still pretty good. It’s nearly as thick as the caramel variety and has copious whipped cream with chocolate sauce drizzled over it. Also very creamy, but while it’s not quite as sweet as the caramel, it tastes very distinctly of chocolate syrup. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like it quite as much — familiarity breeds contempt and all that, and it’s almost like someone just emptied half a bottle of Hershey’s syrup into a vanilla milkshake.

I don’t know that I’ll ever stop mourning the loss of my Twisted Frosties (you could mix M&Ms into a chocolate Frosty!), but the shakes go a long way toward healing that rift. It’s convenient to be able to expand the size of your ass without having to burn all those precious calories lifting a plastic spoon to your mouth again and again. Assuming you’ve got belt notches to spare, pick one up with your next plain cheeseburger — I don’t think you’ll regret it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 small shake – Caramel – 680 calories, 15 grams of total fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 330 milligrams of sodium, 126 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 102 grams of sugar, 11 grams of protein. Chocolate – 610 calories, 14 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 109 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 98 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein.)

Other Wendy’s Caramel Frosty Shake reviews:
On Second Scoop

Item: Wendy’s Caramel Frosty Shake and Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty Shake
Price: $2.39
Size: 12 oz.
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Caramel)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Chocolate)
Pros: Five different flavors. Ella Fitzgerald’s gams. Fast food places that make your burger plain. Visually-appealing whipped cream. A milkshake that brings me to the yard. Copious quantities of caramel. Rich chocolate syrup.
Cons: The war. Sacrificing Twisted Frosties. Pointless corporate name dropping. Difficult to get any through the straw unless you work in the entertainment industry. Ridonkulously unhealthy.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate

Dunkin Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate

Summer is upon us, which means it’s time for me to scatter mousetraps in the grass and encourage neighborhood children to run barefoot through my lawn.  But it also means it’s time for Dunkin’ Donuts’ annual annoying commercials touting their cool, refreshing products, because seasonal slumps are bad and we all associate donuts and coffee with winter, and also AA meetings.  But mostly winter. 

Now, I’ve liked plenty of DD’s warm weather offerings (Vanilla Bean Coolattas are my crack), and you can’t fault them for wanting to keep profits up during the time of year when you’re statistically least likely to crave hot coffee and a Boston Kreme.  But do their ads have to be so damn lame?  On the list of things I never thought I’d be nostalgic for, John Goodman’s voice is pretty close to the top, right under “swimming until I feel like puking.” 

Seriously, I’d rather they shoot a spot featuring the desiccated corpse of the “Time to make the donuts!” guy than keep up with their current crop.  And does this failure to connect with me as a consumer have any correlation with their repeated inability to comprehend the phrase “small iced coffee, skim milk and sugar”?  So many questions.

But we’re not here to answer them, we’re here to talk about DD’s latest offering, Frozen Hot Chocolate, and also probably to kill some time at work.  (No one is judging.  You’re worth more than what they pay you anyway.  Bastards.)  On the surface it sounds completely incongruous — the appeal of hot chocolate is that it’s, well, hot, or at least warm enough to melt those tiny marshmallows — but it wouldn’t be the first pair of opposites that somehow manage to make it work.  Right, Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat?  Right.

That being said, I’m not going to lie — I went in with some skepticism.  Your mileage may vary, but to me part of the inherent comfort factor of hot chocolate is tied to its visual appearance.  A truly great hot chocolate must be served in a mug, ideally one you grew up with or that was given to you by family or friends, with marshmallows dotting the surface and visible steam rising from the top.  Ideally you should still be able to see the wet gloves you used to make an anatomically correct snowman in your neighbor’s backyard while he was shoveling his driveway. 

With that in mind, I’m afraid the standard clear DD cup that my frozen hot chocolate came in was a poor substitute, but in the interest of reviewer integrity, I made a point not to knock down the score simply because of its subpar visual appearance.  Although I still blew on the top a few times before taking a drink.  Force of habit.

Dunkin Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate Top

My first impression of the taste was that it was pleasant, but also distinctly familiar.  Obviously it’s sweet, very much so, with a relatively creamy milk chocolate flavor that gets a little darker in some parts of the drink than in others, likely due to it not having been mixed thoroughly.  The texture is deceptively thin — appearances to the contrary, you’re definitely drinking a full-on beverage, not a Frosty or milkshake.  I highly recommend getting it with the whipped cream if you’re willing to stomach the calories, if only to maintain the illusion that you are drinking something vaguely hot chocolate-y.

Oh, as for that familiar taste I mentioned?  I didn’t figure it out until I was almost finished, at which point it became both obvious and impossible to ignore, like when you first realize C-3PO is gay.  The big revelation is that the frozen hot chocolate tastes almost exactly like not-completely-mixed chocolate milk.  For all I know maybe regular hot chocolate would taste the same way if you iced it, but I wasn’t expecting that and it surprised me.

It’s worth pointing out that DD’s Frozen Hot Chocolate isn’t bad, just a bit underwhelming.  I can’t quite shake the suspicion that when they take the empty cup behind that vaguely sinister-looking equipment lining the counter, they’re just dumping a few cups of Nestle Quik and some milk in it, spraying on some Reddi Whip and calling it a day.  (You laugh, but sub-contracting out of things is a proud American tradition.)  Still, as long as you’re willing to pay three bucks plus for some very cold, very creamy chocolate milk with whipped cream, you can’t go wrong.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 small cup – 430 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 95 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 77 grams of sugars, 7 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 2% vitamin C, 25% calcium, and 8% iron)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate
Price: $3.17
Size: 16 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: “Time to make the donuts!” guy.  Wasting time at work.   Anatomically correct snowmen.  Creamy chocolate.  Plentiful whipped cream (if requested).  Nestle Quik.
Cons: Current DD commercials.  Not as visually appealing as regular hot chocolate.  Doesn’t taste fully mixed.  You can make and freeze your own chocolate milk for a lot less money.  The continued absence of MC Skat Kat on today’s music scene.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Berry Almond Chicken Salad

Wendy's Berry Almond Chicken Salad

Upon hearing about the subject of my latest review, a friend said to me, “fast food salad = irony.” I didn’t know how to react to that because, despite my zealotry for good grammar, I still have no sense as to when something is actually ironic. All I know is, A) every time I use the word irony, someone is sure to tell me I’m wrong, and B) calling something ironic and calling someone Hitler are somehow equally effective at starting internet comment board flame wars.

So is it ironic that a fast food place makes salads? Would it be ironic for a fast food place to make a really good salad? What if the fast food place were called “We Make Terrible Salads”? And all they played for background music were Alanis Morissette songs, but never “Ironic”?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I do know that Wendy’s new Berry Almond Chicken Salad is absolutely delicious. I recently ordered the full-size salad for lunch. A pre-made serving of greens and berries had been sitting in the fridge in the back, but the chicken was freshly cut and added, and I received the almonds and dressing in separate packages.

Wendy's Berry Almond Chicken Salad Dressing

As you can see from the photo, the salad included hearty servings of strawberries and blueberries, and the fruits’ texture and color suggested that they were fresh and never frozen. The greens were crisp and seemed to have a solid assortment, though I have no idea if there were truly 11 varieties, as the Wendy’s website claims. Asking me to pick out a dozen types of greens is like asking me to name a dozen Alanis Morissette songs. (Actually, I might be able to do that. It’s more like asking me to name a dozen Alanis Morissette ex-boyfriends. Ryan Reynolds, Uncle Joey from Full House… you know what, let’s just say I can’t name that many greens, OK?)

The warm and appropriately-sized chicken wedges were juicy and flavorful, which was to be expected since the chicken was just a diced up breast from one of Wendy’s regularly tasty chicken sandwiches. The asiago cheese shavings added some sharpness without being overpowering, and the almonds contributed much-needed crunch and a subtle nuttiness to the salad. I thought the only thing that didn’t really work was the raspberry vinaigrette; it wasn’t tart enough to bring a new taste dimension to the table, and its sweetness just sort of distracted my attention from the real stars, the strawberries and blueberries.

Another complaint: the salad container was packed to the brim, and I imagine most people will have a very difficult time tossing this salad without spilling anything. Also, by not addressing this salad-tossing problem and thereby compelling me to mention it, Wendy’s has forced me to use a lot of self-restraint in not making any salad-tossing jokes. Luckily, I’ve managed to get to this paragraph’s back end without any slips of my tongue. (…goddammit.)

On the positive side again, the Berry Almond Chicken Salad contains only 450 calories and 16 grams of fat. $6.99 might feel pretty expensive for any item on a fast food menu, but it is tasty and filling enough to be worth the price. I would definitely recommend you go out and try it. And if a normally salad-phobic, fast-food-burger-loving guy strongly recommending a fast food salad isn’t ironic, then I don’t know what is. (No, but seriously. I really have to figure this irony thing out.)

(Nutrition Facts – Full size – 450 calories, 150 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 1300 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, 38 grams of protein, 80% vitamin A, 70% vitamin C, 30% calcium, and 15% iron.)

Item: Wendy’s Berry Almond Chicken Salad
Price: $6.99
Size: Full size
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Lots of fresh strawberries and blueberries. Crisp and varied greens. Chicken was warm, juicy, and flavorful. Asiago cheese added sharpness and almonds added crunch. Only 450 calories and 16 grams of fat. Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” was about Uncle Joey.
Cons: Raspberry vinaigrette didn’t really work. Pretty pricey. Salad was hard to toss. I have no self-restraint. Not understanding irony. Comment board flame wars.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Jalapeños Cheddar McChicken Sandwich

McDonald's Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken

For me, the smell of sliced jalapeño peppers is inextricably linked to the spring of 1996. One evening, during the waning days of ninth grade, I had joined a small group of friends at the movie theater to catch a screening of Down Periscope. (Look, the first Mission: Impossible movie wasn’t out yet, so we were pretty hard up for national-security-related entertainment.) As magnificent as the on-screen pairing of Kelsey Grammar and Rob Schneider in a submarine promised to be, I certainly had not come for that cinematic gem. I’d shown up because it was my very first co-ed outing. There were BOYS there. Woooooo!

One boy in particular, a 15-year-old upon whom my friends and I fixated daily was in attendance, and he had a jones for some nachos that night. Being a popcorn-and-Junior-Mints girl, the concept of fast food in a movie theater was still a novelty to me, so when my crush brought his plate of nachos and cheese buried beneath a pile of jalapeños into the theater, the distinctive spicy aroma of the chopped peppers was all I could smell. It was intoxicating… He was sitting so close to me, and the fragrance of jalapeños mingled in the air with the scent of CK One and hormones.

So what does all that have to do with a chicken sandwich? Well, this particular sandwich is loaded with chopped jalapeños, and it was the magical portal through which my olfactory nerves whisked me back to that little Midwestern multiplex. At first whiff, I knew I was gonna enjoy this chicken sammich.

It’s a fact that McDonald’s isn’t exactly a place known for its spicy foods. It’s also a fact that in Southern California, it’s illegal to operate a dining establishment without jalapeños somewhere on the menu. I’m sure I read that somewhere. In general, McDonald’s is trying to break away from the norm and create truly unique flavor combos, and their Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken sandwich is the latest creation to make the regional rounds in California before (perhaps) breaking into other markets. I’m sure people in other states have the ability to appreciate jalapeños as much as we do… I mean, if jalapeños have been movie theater snacks for close to 20 years in the Great Plains then that should certainly be enough evidence. But here in Cali, we’re ride or die homies with our peppers 4 life, and McDonald’s knows we don’t play.

McDonald's Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken Wrapper

My first hint that McDonald’s is really serious about their new jam was the wrapper. Stamped there, in bold, red font is the name of the sandwich, and the accompanying sketch of a pair of jalapeños shows McDonald’s means business. Upon unwrapping it, I quickly discovered that this sandwich is just like a regular McChicken sandwich, except in place of mayonnaise they’ve added a generous portion of jalapeño sauce and a thick slice of white cheddar cheese. The jalapeño sauce contains actual chopped jalapeños, which provide a good amount of heat to each bite, and the melted white cheddar (while not exactly bold) is smooth and not waxy. When combined with the umami of the seasoned, crispy breaded chicken patty, the flavor profile is complex and delicious … Not at all how I would describe most sandwiches from fast food joints, let alone McDonald’s.

McDonald's Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken Pulling Off Its Top

As for the serious jalapeño commitment indicated by the wrapper, I’d characterize the jalapeño sauce’s level of spiciness as “lip spicy” more than anything. It didn’t exactly threaten to liquefy my insides (something for which I’m grateful, since my Teflon esophagus and cast-iron stomach are both on back-order through SkyMall), but it was sufficiently zesty. I think the jalapeños themselves were probably pickled, but I could barely taste the tartness beyond the kisser-searing wall of spice. The cheese was really the only downside. I’d say it was closer to American cheese than cheddar, and there was no flavor to speak of, despite the warm, melty texture. Just like that memorable night at the movies seated beside the JNCO-clad object of my adolescent affection, the cheese didn’t really amount to much. (I think he didn’t like any of us.)

It’s comforting to know that for about a buck fifty, I can revisit the past, and this time, Frasier, Deuce Bigalow, and a janky-ass submarine are nowhere in sight.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 sandwich – 360 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 1220 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.)

Other McDonald’s Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken reviews:
Brand Eating

Item: McDonald’s Jalapeño Cheddar McChicken Sandwich
Price: $1.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Lip spicy. The aroma of jalapeño slices. Sky Mall. Cartoon jalapeños show they mean business. Mission: Impossible. Seasoned, crispy, breaded chicken patty provides nice touch of umami. Movie-going in mixed company. Tasty and cheap. Ride or Die.
Cons: Not available everywhere in the US-of-A yet. The cheese was bland and didn’t really taste like cheddar. Kelsey Grammar and Rob Schneider. The amount of spice doesn’t represent real business. JNCOs.