Soft serve ice cream at fast food restaurants is no astounding aberration from the Holy Grail of All Things Caloric. Restaurants like Shake Shack and Culver’s have turned it into a feat for the stomach and palate, with gourmet flavors of frozen custard and seasonal offers. And yet there’s nothing so quintessentially paired such as the classic hot fudge sundae from McDonald’s. Burger King has recently gotten into the soft serve game and sent me a gift card to try all of their new sundaes and shakes. Lacking the resources and time to write a fudge-stained suicide note, I decided to try them throughout the month and report my findings.
Good news- I’m no longer MIA!
It’s been a whirlwind of a week for us. My new website is in its final stages of development. We’ve been spending some good quality time with family and friends, too. We started off last weekend by taking a trip down to my mom’s to start my birthday celebration and celebrate my father’s wedding, and throughout the week, extended the partying for a few days here and there.
Today’s my birthday and I figured I ought to kick off the bacchanal with a good breakfast. I’m a closeted oatmeal lover. As soon as the air gets nippy and the nipples get snappy, I’m heating up a cup of Quaker in the communal microwave. Today was different, though. To adequately prepare myself for the fall season, I prepared a cup of Rokit Fuel, a new brand I spotted at the school convenience store the night before.
Word on the streets (okay, a customer service survey) says Sonic may be rolling out some new Philly cheesesteak inspired grilled cheese sandwiches. A somewhat mismatched combination, but anything with jalapenos and barbecue sauce deserves at least one try. Priced at $1.99 they look like they won’t break the bank, either.
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, sautéed portobello mushrooms and two slices of Swiss cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, jalapeños, hickory BBQ sauce and two slices of Cheddar cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions and two slices of American cheese
Definitely something I’d be willing to snack on!
There are certain flavor profiles that I automatically reach for when I’m looking for a snack. If I’m in the mood for chips, the spicy flavor is usually my first draft pick. With sweet snacks, it’s a little different, because there’s usually a much wider range, but I do know that if I ever see a cookies & cream flavored confection, that’s the one I end up taking home. Such is the case with this new Chex Mix flavor. I’ve never seen a C&C flavored snack outside of chocolate bars and ice cream, and wondered how this would shape up.
According to the prestigious publication, Convenience Store Decisions, this debuted in July after a positive response to the homestyle Muddy Buddies flavor and is the first salty snack mix to incorporate a cookies and cream flavor. So stop dreaming, Funyuns. As excited as I was to try this, actually eating it was just disappointing. Let me put it to you this way. I originally bought this as a small treat for Keepitcoming Love on our drive to Mohegan Sun, but had the foresight (hunger) to try it ahead of time. Miss Love is our resident cookies and cream aficionado, and this was so weak that giving it to her would have seemed like an insult.
It was awful. For a product that has the potential to incorporate a variety of textural and flavor nuances throughout a bite or two, this was upsettingly one-noted. Each piece was coated in a filmy substance, a finely ground dust in greyscale that I’m assuming is the cookies and cream condensed to a powder with the texture, but not the expertise, of a dessert at wd-50. Even on the pieces that seemed to be more grey, as though they contained more cookie, the flavor was overly sweet and lacking in any chocolate flavor. The package screams that there are “real cookies” in it, as opposed to the plastic “my first kitchen” ones I use when I make Chex Mix. I’ve already called witness protection and the FBI, as it appears as these have been processed through a woodchipper and slid into my plastic bag. Real cookies, my ass.
Perhaps the most aggravating element in this was the “sweet creamy coating” on the Chex. I’m not stupid. I know that any substitute or clever wording for chocolate (in this case, white chocolate) is a way to imply chocolate without having it in the ingredients. At the very least, I expected white mockolate. This didn’t even rise to the level of Palmer-esque confections. The coating caused it to fail as a portable snack, as it left a cocaine-like residue all over my desk. That wasn’t so bad, because at least the cocaine-esque stuff made me look like a cool, edgy person, but the flavor was downright unpalatable. As a cereal, the powder sank to the bottom and left an oily sheen on top. It was creepy stuff and made my teeth hurt.
I’m annoyed that the essence of the Chex Mix in itself is an endearingly haphazard, thrown together sort of affair and with that philosophy, neglected to include its flagship ingredient. Would it have been so hard to throw some pieces of Hydrox or co-brand with Kraft and use “real Oreo pieces” in there? I’m disappointed that a snack like this had so much potential and then dropped the ball. With a slim market for cookies and cream snacks, this isn’t helping other brands branch out into similar versions.
In the heart of Mohegan Sun’s Casino of the Earth, new kid on the block Ballo’s sprawling, exuberant scale may appear to be as over the top as any Vegas establishment, but is a perfect example of big things coming in big packages. This is a quality that restaurant maverick John J. Tunney III, owner of Ballo, emphasizes in his cuisine and brainchild. At a press lunch this afternoon, we got a chance to experience Ballo’s menu and see the newly finished restaurant in the flesh.
As we tour the restaurant, the boyish Mr. Tunney points out in a flustered, yet noticeably pleased manner, the pieces of the restaurant that were recently finished yet appear as though they took months to create. The name of the restaurant spelled out in carved metal on the floor. The slender decorative touches on the Corinthian columns. All small details that make a big splash in the atmosphere of Ballo.
High-profile customers can have their library lounges and butler doors if they so choose, complete with hired security, yet with the option to hang out at the bar or dance in the back as well. A middle coffeehouse-style area has comfortably zany zebra print chairs and candlelit tables for close contact and a comforting oasis from the bustle of the casino. No one room feels staid or added on at the last minute. Each area presents its own set of unique possibilities for customizing your dining experience.
We washed these down with a selection of drinks, including Ballo’s signature cocktail, the Ballo Limonata, a delicately spritzed mixture of limonata, Spirit Vodka, and a frozen blood orange sphere. Refreshing and quenching with a neat twist on ice cubes and less dilution.
Later, we retreated to the rear, to a back room that makes a fine case for coming back, with integrated speakers and Renaissance curtained DJ area. A little dark in the afternoon, but not cavernous. This area was where we ate our meal, a special tasting menu presented by executive chef Matthew Adler and chef de cuisine Shaun Golan.
I started off dinner with a quartino of the house red, a tangy Cabernet Sauvignon. Ballo serves wine in 8 oz. quartinos, a pleasant and generous portion compared to the standard 5 oz. restaurant pour and priced like a typical glass. This is poured in 2 oz. portions from an individual pitcher that prevents the likely dribbling that comes with great, galumphing glasses of wine. With this, I was able to replenish as I pleased (though our server was so attentive there was no need to) and pace myself throughout the lunch. I enjoyed the cab. For a house wine, it was neither overly complex nor hiding poor quality under the house name. It is worth noting that Ballo boasts a wine list of over 60 wines, 16 of them offered by the quartino, and all of them Italian.
Bread was passed around along with the burrata, freshly baked Italian loaves hot from the oven. This was ripped off in healthy chunks, and served with a mixture of herbed garlic olive oil and butter. A traditional start to the meal and like the burrata, an excellent sponge for the leftover pesto. We followed this with another antipasti dish, crispy artichokes with arugula and lemon. These were lightly crispy on the outside and yielding on the inside, and small enough to pop in your mouth. If all my vegetables were prepared in this fashion, I’d likely be more inclined to go vegetarian. The artichokes were not breaded, and I suspect that as a result of this, did not sop up excess oil. Light and tender, the mild flavor of the artichokes was perked up by the addition of tart lemon juice and pickled scallions. More scallions and a hair more salt would have been preferred.
Following this was a dish of pork meatballs with broccoli rabe, ricotta salata, and marinara sauce. Our server said there was pancetta floating around in this somewhere, but any additional ingredient would have died an anonymous death, smothered in the rich marinara and savory cheese. Pancetta or not, these were delightfully nostalgic for all at the table, at least, those of us with marinara running through our veins. The meatballs erred toward the large side with an airy, moist texture and a rush of oregano and garlic. The sauce was equally bold with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a smooth texture. Three of these sat in a miniature skillet. Believe me when I tell you that it took all of my restraint to not inhale each one.
The lunch took a slightly different turn after our trio of appetizers, and we were brought out a communal sweet sausage pizza to share amongst us. With a mozzarella and pecorino blend pooling in crannies left between strings of caramelized onion and chunks of pepperocini, this was a hearty yet controlled pie. With so many unctuous ingredients, one would expect something richer, sopping with oil and overspiced, but this seemed almost delicate. A meat lover’s special for the lady in Louboutins. It was sweet and fragrant, with a hearty crust and a light scattering of sausage.
It is worth noting that taking on a pizza project in Connecticut is as risky as taking on lobster in Maine or maple syrup in Vermont. While nothing could replace some of my beloved New Haven eateries, this was a worthy contender and offered up some creative deviation to the by-the-book apizza standard 50 miles west.
Our next dish was a small plate of fresh ravioli, the shell of which is housemade daily on premise, filled with mascarpone, ricotta, and parmesan, and covered in more tasty pesto. A tangy and comforting dish. However, the pasta shell was a little thick for its sweet, milky contents.
From that, we moved on to another pasta dish, a lusty tagliatelle doused in bechamel with chunks of proscuitto, and broiled with an end consistency of a savory toasted marshmallow. This achieved a nice bite to a normally saucy dish and added an additionally smoky note that the prosciutto certainly couldn’t have done on its own amongst all the cheese. The flavor was rich and the sauce a bit grainy, but flavorful. We found that the pasta held the sauce well and was cooked just a bit less than most mushy al dente offerings, with a firm structure.There was a brief rest in between the tagliatelle and this steak course, and a well-needed one to digest and chat amongst ourselves. When this came out, a hush descended over the self-proclaimed carnivores of the group as we tucked into a filet mignon with heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, arugula pesto, and a balsamic reduction. This was a steakhouse standard prepared with Italian accents. A great cut of steak, elevated even higher with a thick crust and a buttery, smooth cut, cooked medium rare and very moist. The steak knife was almost superfluous, and the steak was seasoned minimally, as all steaks should be. The fresh tomatoes were sweet, but somewhat excessive. The pesto was the only low point of this dish. This was now the third dish in our menu with pesto, and this manifested itself in a peppery, earthy version that dominated most of the flavors in the steak and vegetables if applied too liberally.
Our savory courses settled in our stomachs, we moved on to coffee and dessert, of which there was thankfully only one course. Illy coffee was served along with miniature cannoli with a double garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and dark chocolate chips, baked by resident chef-of-all-trades, Mr. Adler himself.
The cannoli, yet another Wooster Street facsimile treading dangerously close to its granddaddy, was a slimmer cigarillo-type pastry, lacking the bready, oily crust and choking globs of cheese that make its larger version so delectable. Still a sumptuous offering, with a spiced mascarpone filling and a crispy, wonton-like shell. A quiet, classic way to end the whole affair, as blended and solid as the artful quotes filling the walls, Thoreau interpretations by Tunney’s brother.
As our lunch wound down, Tunney lingered, not wanting the party to end and the music to die down. He chatted with us, cards were exchanged, and his smile fell a bit as we left. Tunney expounds upon his ideas as we walk out. “Everyone has a story,” Tunney tells us as we wait outside, not wanting to leave the splendor. “And we want to hear it.” Hear them he will. The man with the golden restaurant touch opens Ballo tomorrow to the public, ready to whirl Mohegan Sun visitors around the dance floor and delight the senses. Be there, or be square. This is one dance you won’t want to miss.
Because the one thing my diet is lacking in are the alcohol-tinged balls of quintuple bypass survivors. I think, on my ever-expanding list of things I genuinely have no interest in putting in my mouth, sweaty balls, or really, the vast majority of testicles, are close to the top. When I saw this in the stores, though, it was hard to resist. Being a lover of all things malty and chocolatey, I figured I’d give it a swirl. And since Ben and Jerry’s have had some deceptively decent flavors lately, how bad could it be?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Wheat Thins are the leather-jacketed Milhouse van Houten of the snack food world. If Chester the Cheetah’s smug grin embodies the malice of a well-executed Bart Simpson prank, and Smartfood is the snack of choice for Lisa, Wheat Thins just get carried along with the excitement. But not any more, according to a gorgeous hand-written love note I received with my samples. Wheat Thins aren’t going to take it sitting down any more.
That’s not to say that the flavors don’t work well, though. What’s obnoxious about barbecue-flavored snacks is tempered down and savory here, with a flavorful, albeit somewhat tame smoky flavor, and what’s dry and bland about healthy snacks is accentuated. Speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy wheat or barbecue, I was in a risky demographic. Surprisingly, I really liked the flavor of these, especially how prominent the honey flavor of the Wheat Thins was when paired with the barbecue.
Burger King is debuting its expanded dessert menu, and you can celebrate the end of summer with a free soft serve cone from Burger King! Until October 9th, anyone who purchases a BK Value meal will receive a free small soft serve cup or cone.
I feel the need to preface this by promising that by no means will I sneak insect puns into this review. That shit just bugs me. All right. Now I’m done. We can start now.
A gift from Keepitcoming Love, joining Percy Pig and his motley crew of DSM diagnosable friends is the binge-eating Colin, who “is what he eats.” Well, I suppose that’s sound advice. I got tested last week for a genetic study and was found to be one part cold Lunchables Pizza Kickers, one part Nat Sherman Fantasia, one part rhymes with “vagina” and one part Fruit 2 0 ‘n’ vodka, so I guess it works for all of us. But in Colin’s case study, which reads more like a rejected Grimm brothers fable for latter-day Augustus Gloops, he ate so much chocolate cake that he eventually turned into one, and from that day on, changed his shape, color, and flavor depending on what he ate.