Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate Bar

Resting in the shadow of salted everything, the chocolate covered potato chip fad seemed to be a popular item on etsy alone. It didn’t seem like a terribly marketable concept, either. Large chip companies couldn’t manufacture them due to heat issues and ingredient sourcing, and most chocolatiers seemed to find them gauche, their eyes lit by the sophisticated salted caramel or ganache. Luckily, Chuao has picked up the chip and developed their newest bar, an easier to eat, more sophisticated version of the popular snack. As their full-sized bars and pods are, this bar is no exception to their stunningly molded cocoa bean design. It’s a visually appealing bar, not to mention that it matched perfectly with my new 70’s era rec room color and design scheme- burnt orange and wooden bar nibble bowl for the win. Professional food stylist, I am not.

Using kettle chips for an unctuous crunch and milk chocolate for a mellow sweetness to contrast the saltier elements, the bar is a smashing success. The chips are broken up into small shards, which enable them to be layered within the bar and bring a massive crunch to every bite. We didn’t have a single one that wasn’t loud and crispy, just like eating regular chips. There was a slight oiliness to the chips that brought out the richness of the bar, and the saltiness was a superb counterpart to the sugars in the chocolate.

As far as saltiness and crunch went, I found this to be more successful than the Panko bar, though equally enjoyable. It’s a bold, sassy bar with nothing to hide or disguise, like certain mommy blogs or Michael Jackson. This just packed in more chunks of chip in each bite than the Panko did, for my salt-craving tastebuds, anyhow. Yet it’s not too salty so as to detract from the wonderfully milky, sweet 41% milk chocolate that mad scientist/genius chocolatier Michael Antonorsi blends together. It has a firm snap and texture that easily cut into strips without crumbling (not to mention surviving the drive from Washington, DC to Massachusetts in a small bag) and was the perfect pairing for the salty chips, though I would have preferred a deeper, more complex flavor. It’s missing some of the more dark, caramelized flavors I’m drawn to. I think milk chocolate was the right choice for this bar. Anything else would have overwhelmed the flavor of the chips.

At $6 a bar, this is a unique yet approachable selection or gift for eaters wishing to make a successful foray into stranger chocolates without splurging on these $19 Neiman-Marcus Pringles knock-offs. It’s not the weirdest flavor combination I’ve ever had, but it carries a nostalgic set of flavors tied to comfort in a contemporary pairing, which makes for an incredibly succulent snack or dessert.

Press Preview of Ballo at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

A few weeks ago, Keepitcoming Love and I received an invitation to a press preview of Ballo, Mohegan Sun’s newest restaurant to hit the casino. Ballo is an Italian restaurant, but with quirks and features that are very different from your standard family-style joint. At night, it transforms into a social club, where music pumps through ecclesiastic arches in the walls and guests are able to literally dance on the tables. Located in the core of the casino, Ballo thrives in the spotlight with open arms and a tight embrace.With a tentative opening date of September 12th, 2011, this will be Mohegan Sun’s second foray into Italian dining, up with Todd English’s Tuscany, but with price points, owner John J. Tunney III emphasized, that emphasize simplicity rather than spending. With a mozzarella bar and a plethora of antipasti, one can spend $15 or $150 in an evening and still sample the wide variety the restaurant has to offer.

Ballo-matching hard hats firmly in place, we stepped inside and met with the charismatic Tunney, for a tour of the facility and a taste of what was to come. While Ballo’s tables are not quite ready to dance on yet, at least, not unless you’re looking for a face full of sawdust, it is blatantly obvious that when this is ready, it is going to be a big deal, with an emphasis on big. The space itself is around 16,000 square feet, packed full of alcoves, private dining rooms, and its centerpiece, a massive carrara marble bar.

Ballo borrows small accents from Italian culture and architecture. Chairs that resemble those at schools or libraries, brick and marble construction in the Cistercian architecture, and dramatic lighting not out of place in a Rospigliosi opera. However, the visuals are not all that tantalize. Inside the kitchen, we met Executive Chef Matthew Adler and Chef de Cuisine Shaun Golan, both young, eager chefs with a diligence in their swift movements and grace in their preparation.

“I don’t care if you’re serving a hamburger or a Porterhouse, service should still be the same.” And at this moment, it was. We sampled Ballo’s signature caprese, joining other tantalizing menu items like crispy artichoke hearts with arugula and lemon, tagliatelle baked with prosciutto cotto and Parmesan, and a broccoli, caciocavallo, and chili pizza. Pasta is made on site daily and ingredients are sourced locally and served “pantry-style” where the food is prepared quickly with the least amount of touch and delivered in an open area.

Taking this mindset to the plate, I found it to be exquisite. Chef Adler deftly prepared plates of caprese faster than dealers outside deal cards, and we consumed the very essence of what Ballo has to offer. In a few small bites, so many delicious flavors were released. The caprese consisted of fresh burratta, an impressive and rare ingredient due to its freshness and inability to keep past 24 hours, housemade pesto, and roasted orange cherry tomatoes. Each bite exemplified the perfect preparation of its components. It was so aromatic, kicking my nostrils into high gear, and seemed so simple. While the whole is obviously preferable to the sum of its parts, I have a sneaking suspicion I could eat the cheese all day and slather the pesto on all of my sandwiches. It was a creamy, gooey snack, with a robust nuttiness from the pesto and the natural sugars in the tomato accentuating the salt in the cheese. A little more charred snap to the tomato’s flesh would have been preferable, but as it goes, it’s better than any bar snack I’ve ever had. If, by that bite alone, this is tantamount to all of the offerings from Ballo, I am positive that I will be back in the future.With such a quirky concept, it’s not yet clear as to how the public will receive Ballo. I do not know how it will fare three, six months from now. I am incredibly curious to come back and taste the selection. But if Tunney and his staff continue to dream big and emphasize ingredients and detail as we saw today, I predict that Ballo will dance well into the next decade of higher-end, unique casino restaurants that don’t break the bank. It may be an interesting road, but as for most things in bocca al lupo, patience and innovation will pay off.

McDonald’s S’mores Pie

There’s nothing worse than having a bad day, unless, of course, you’ve planned to have an excellent day and shitty things keep getting in your way. It’s one thing to wake up grumpy and tired on a rainy morning and have to go to class, but in the case of today, I woke up bright and early, ready to start the day and run errands, only to have traffic set in on the way to run errands, watch a crazy, homophobic homeless woman get arrested at the post office and hold up the line, wait in terror while the internet briefly crashed, and cry as all the soccer moms in Northampton tried to snatch up the last BOGO free range, skinless organic chicken breast deals at the grocery store.

I made a detour at McDonald’s on the way back, thinking that at the very least, fast food or a visit from my old friend, Mr. DSM-IV 307.50 could cheer me up. Remember, kids, it’s only eating your feelings if you feel better afterwards! To my surprise, I saw a new item on the menu, one I’d seen and lusted over last winter. It was the s’mores pie! Originally debuted in Canada along with a host of other seasonally inappropriate treats, it looked like a delicious way to beat the heat. I figured Adam from GrubGrade must have sent over some LTO vibes after chatting with me on Facebook.

After the grill stopped working due to a surprise rainstorm, thus nullifying my plans to s’more this bad boy while I s’mored, we just ate it at room temperature, freezing a hunk for later. I’m not sure if the glorious wilderness of Western Massachusetts happens to be breeding grounds for special McDonald’s test markets or at the least, unloading sites for the excess of Canadian pies, but either way, I felt special. The box informed me that this was indeed a limited time offer, along with a dipped cone a la DQ and a brownie sundae milkshake. When I got this home, it was still very hot and insulated in its pie parka, and it hadn’t cracked or oozed at all. The pie was visually attractive, with a stripe of chocolate running down the center.This is a far tastier and more substantial offering than the other pies McDonald’s has to offer. The pie crust seemed to be a hybrid of the standard flaky crust with some sort of graham flavoring mixed in, as it had a hint of flavor other than grease and sugar. I liked it. It was crumbly and made a good shell for the filling. The orientation of the innards is a little difficult to maneuver, as like the Arby’s Outside-In Cinnamon Bites, the filling is applied in two horizontal parts, bisecting the pastry, rather than combined or one on top of another, like a traditional s’more.

But the inside is excellent for a fast food dessert! We both loved the silky textures of the filling, which was filled all the way to the edges of the pie instead of leaving gaps of crust. The marshmallow had a gooey consistency without being gummy or overly liquidy, and tasted like Lucky Charms marshmallows. It wasn’t really a marshmallow cream or a fluff, but tasted like marshmallow dough or something. That had a strong meringue and vanilla flavor in that magically delicious way. The chocolate wasn’t so much of a syrup or fudge, but more of a chocolate pudding, grainy, thick texture and all. The flavor was a little bland, but it was even better when chilled in the freezer. The filling seized up to the hardness of a Starburst and the crust’s texture became more prominently crispy like an actual graham cracker. For 79 cents or two for $1.39 at my local McDonald’s, it was not only a good value but a tasty treat. It wasn’t overly sweet or heavy and made for a delicious hot and cold dessert.

PopChips Jalapeno Potato

“Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing “Embraceable You” in spats.” -Woody Allen

Let’s go right ahead and add hot peppers to that list. While I can’t deny the irresistible appeal of George Gershwin, the sweet sultry smack of spices and heat knocks the song right off my personal list of wonders of nature. While perusing the fare of the Fancy Food Show, I came across the latest from PopChips. In its four years of business, I feel like a proud cousin, once removed, for I’ve watched their quirky snack go against its regal siblings, the Dorito, the Cheeto, the potato chip, with an angle unlike any other. It has imitated, it has trailblazed, and now, it is a teenager, and with its jalapeno potato flavor, is rebelling from the norm in a most delicious fashion.
Starting with the advertising, it’s worth noting that the conspicuously innuendo-laden pins and coupons will do everything to draw me in. The PopChips folks gently pressed “nooner, anyone?” buttons into my hands and weighed down my arms with lanyards that proclaimed, “bite me!” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The jalapeno potato flavor really pushes this new image, the edgier side of PopChips– ironically taking the “potato” descriptor as an afterthought while making sure you know what it tastes like. Its grassy green package mirrors its grassy scent. Someone developing this flavor did an excellent job of really coaxing some of the more organic scents from its slice. It reeks of garlic, of body odor, of a beat poetry class at Hampshire College, and it succeeds in its endeavors. We were reminded of flavors that translate less delicately to the untrained tongue. We’ll go with cumin.
The chip’s texture is a throwback to its hippie upbringings. Regarding the mouthfeel, I can’t say that I’d necessarily pick these over a greasy bowl of chips, as the texture is crispy at first but gummy if it sticks in your teeth, but the flavor makes too much of a difference to worry about that. Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of this chip’s flavor is its usage of dehydrated vegetables. Without tasting like the pathetic veggie packet in a ramen noodle bowl, the chips carry bold, tangy, fresh flavors that, with very little flavor dust and no artificial coloring, carry a lingering sweet heat to the tongue. These chips punch with a set of homemade brass knuckles. I was impressed with these, and chomped down the bag with a tear in my eye. Whether it was from the poignant moment of seeing a company I love blossom, or the delightful heat in these chips, I do not know.

Arby’s Jamocha Oreo Shake

As I type this at the highly respectable hour of 3:55 in the morning, I am reminded as to why I really ought to drink coffee at a more polite hour. Last night, we were at a wedding of some dear friends, and I happened to slurp down a gin and tonic and coffee in succession, and then wildly dance to Rihanna and Creedence Clearwater. And now it’s four in the morning and I’m wandering around the house like a zombie, considering pulling an all-nighter but hoping that my own prose will bore me to sleep.

The Jamocha Oreo shake from Arby’s didn’t have this nocturnal affect on my brain, despite the fact that I drank it in the morning as I would my regular cup of joe. Actually, the only symptom of strangeness I had was the mental association the coffee flavor bought me. Arby’s uses very, very cheap coffee in its shakes, which has an adverse effect on how I perceive it to taste. Very, very cheap coffee reminds me of hotel lobbies and convention centers, with a burnt pungency to its nose, but hotel lobbies and convention centers make me think of nice things, like vacations. In this reverse logic, I somehow managed to equate a milkshake from Arby’s with high-quality, non-recession based activities. I drank it over the course of three days.
I’m not sure why I was given a large shake instead of a small, as I requested. It could have been the good graces of the Arby’s gods shining down upon me, rewarding me for driving to Chicopee, or the evil fates of Hellfire’s spawn, condemning my arteries to a destiny more torturous than I’d originally decided to subject them to. Oh well.
The shake was visually appealing, with wide zebra stripes of chocolate fudge running horizontally through the cup. It was one of the first products I’d tried where the real life item resembled the press release. The fudge was a tier better than Hershey’s syrup, too, with a rich viscosity and flavor, providing a strange contrast to the crappy coffee flavor. The Oreo flavor was bolder than I’d originally expected- the shake maker was obviously “on” that day and included chunks of Oreo not only on top, but in a fairly thick bottom layer. The pieces started out crunchy and fresh, and the larger ones were difficult to suck through the straw. With those, I had to strain and suck really hard on it, and with the pressure building up from my lips, the contents eventually exploded all over my mouth. Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? I spent ten minutes cleaning the grey goo off my face.
Strangely enough, the combination of rich chocolate, Oreos that got progressively mushier, and cheap coffee grounds was appealing in its own way. Although I couldn’t enjoy more than a few sips at a time, the shake had a consistency and flavor that I enjoyed. I feel like it’s far better than the shakes from other fast food restaurants, and has a unique and iconic flavor that sets it apart from the standard Neapolitan trio.

Triple Double Oreo

I think one of the most common responses to my begrudging mentioni-er, casually handing someone my-er, passive-aggressively bringing up this website is a generally rhetorical question about my weight. How do you not gain weight? (I don’t) How do you keep off weight? (Prayer and vomiting) And, the coup de grace, how are you so beautiful and sexy? (God made me in his image, obvs- bangable to the max, son.)
I like to think I have both the best interest of marketing and personal taste in mind when choosing items to review for this site, yet also the interests of my friends, family, personal trainer, and mortal enemies in my thoughts as well.
Talkin’ to you, Scorpion.
But sometimes, solely for my own curiosity, I’ve just got to suck it up and review products that are neither fancy nor fit-making. I texted my mom while buying these Oreos in the grocery store. “For tonight’s post, which one of these would shame you less? Oreos? Or frozen pizza?” I typed, vapidly scanning the latest California Pizza Kitchen bastardization and the new Freschetta “Pizza, Cookies, Leftover Cereal and My Cousin’s Homemade Strain of Purple Diesel” kit for stoners and binge eaters. She said the Oreos, and off home I trudged. Little did she know that these were no regular Oreos, but mutated Oreos for the obese and biracial demographic. A cookie to bring home to Mom, assuming you’re Fat Albert. Yes, I’m referring to the underground marketing American Beauty, the Triple Double Oreo, brought to you by Michele Obama’s doppelganger, Ochele Mobama. Sounds a little evil. (Nabisco, why dun u answer my calls?????)
“Triple Double”, as the artist’s depiction presents above, is not three layers of Double Stuf creme. That would be, and is confirmed to be, pretty fucking gross. Though it’s worth noting that the white creme gloopily adhered to the cookies while the chocolate creme slid off in a solid mass. In this review alone, I have more fodder for a sociology paper than I did the last semester of college. It is a triple layer of cookies, that is to say, three cookies, sandwiching two layers of creme in chocolate and standard hydrogenated flavor. Got that? Soon we’ll move onto card counting, Raymond Babbitt.
Don’t banter over the linguistics in the comments form, people. I’ve already consulted with Noam Chomsky on this one, whereupon receiving the email and attached sexy Oreo pixxx, he shot himself in the head. So the crab play on cookies with a quacker on filling pretty much confirms my theory that Nabisco is just phoning it in at this point. They’re not very interesting at all. For starters, you’ll see that the filling flavors are simply ones we’ve had before, but now they’re crammed in a package in a lopsided formation worse than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Though it’s clear that the Italians, with the exception of one Pauly D, would not touch these.
They couldn’t even bother to make a separate middle cookie for these, that’s how little thought there is invested in this new selection. That being said, I was surprised at how happy I was with the textures inside the cookie. The closest parallel I can draw is to the Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Cup, with a layer of mush surrounding a layer of crunch. There is more crunch on the outside, but the inner texture is a welcome change from the gritty stickiness of the creme. The flavor of the two cremes is indistinguishable, and the overall flavor ends up tasting like a bulkier Oreo. Without milk, it was painful to consume, so I went with scotch instead. I imagine it would be better with the libation of your choice.
After the last bite, I was left feeling fairly apathetic, left only with a lust for the Crunchy Cookie Cup and a slight need to go run a few miles. The gym was closed, so I compromised by lighting the remainder of the package in front of the weight machines in a ritual sacrifice. If you’re craving a crunchy cookie with a crunch in the middle and a special filling, the Oreo Fudge Cremes are probably a better choice, unless you’re just dying to play a one-man pointy-edged version of Chubby Bunny with these behemoths.

Antipodes Still Water

As of this very moment, at 11:59 on August 2nd, 2011, Eastern Standard Time, New York Magazine tells me in a year-old article that I am just now reading that the hipster subculture has died out. In the last few weeks, I have seen no androgynous boys rock the Spirit Hood, nor Kurt Hummel look-a-likes in keffiyahs, and for that, I am grateful. But while the human world is starting to recede from the bespectacled dead end of modern-day society and reembrace the gentle lull of tiny hats for full-sized heads and the ever-sexy Bermuda madras shorts, the fancy food world has taken a direct leap into the belly of obscurity, where the need for artisanal waters is fierce and the casual dropping of the word “kefir” is abundant and chilling to the bone.
To commemorate the passage of this bottom-feeding beast, I decided to uncap a bottle of one of my most prized samples, not an All Girl Summer Fun Band autographed 40 of PBR, but a bottle of Antipodes, artisanal still water from New Zealand. The website informs us that it’s sourced 327 meters below the surface in an undisclosed, James Bond-esque location in New Zealand. You probably haven’t heard of it. Before this harvesting, we are informed that it has spent “decades under enormous pressure in vast underground caverns” before being brought to us. At this point, I’m not impressed. I can name no less than six Asians off the top of my head that have spent two decades of their life in the same way, and they’re doctors and lawyers now! And its cover letter reads like a valedictorian speech. It practically quotes Nelson Mandela.

I can post this if it’s not pornographic or obscene. You be the judge!

I videotaped this because with all of these pressured terms being thrown around, I expected a little more boom for all of my effort. Alas, nary a hiss, and I’m now wondering if this water bottle just mentioned the decades of pressure to get a break from the ‘fam with the help of DCF. Haters. The water is in a comically large bottle, large enough, I assume, to accommodate the translation of War and Peace on its side. It is rather unwieldy and in the process of videotaping its underwhelming hiss of air, I spilled what I’m going to guesstimate as being about $50 worth of water on the cat tower. I’ll never recover financially.
This is like $800 bucks right here.
I tested the water in true American fashion, a blind taste testing, hoping to imitate a cheaper version of the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris. It was up against the very tap water that courses through Massachusetts, and to really see how fine-tuned my taste buds were, the last bit of Smirnoff vodka that we had. Never say that I don’t enjoy my work. To my chagrin, it was incredibly easy to pick out the Antipodes from the tap water and vodka, and when compared, there really was a significant taste difference. The tap water had a faintly chlorinated flavor and weak, flat mouthfeel. The Antipodes was very clean-tasting in comparison and had a rounded, distinct texture. The vodka was sdfklj iojtooajajoggfgfgfkfdjfklhhh………………I had to have another three to make sure I was getting the correct sample.
I was impressed with Antipodes as it really did have a distinct flavor that made it taste more refined from regular tap water, but something about the product just seems pretentious. I would buy this again, but can’t help to think that I’d be lumping myself in with skinny marathon runners and stuffy Fox Fires fans who lug these bottles to their races and concerts and pull them out at the very end to pose for cameras and jealous friends. “Oh, hey, Poland Spring? That’s great stuff, I’m really into Antipodes right now. Yeah, I get it imported. It’s just worth it, you know?” So for the aesthetics and marathon runners, I think I’ll pass on this a second time. But if I ever get a hankering for it again, it’s a mere 9,258 miles and 327 meters below the sea.