|KFC is reportedly spending $50 million to market its new original recipe boneless chicken (a 10-piece mixed bucket is $14.99). I admit, I do like the commercials that show people thinking that they’ve accidentally eaten the bones.
The boneless chicken comes in both white and dark meat. After eating a piece of each kind, I concluded that the chicken is good but not great. Despite the so-called original recipe flavoring, it’s much different than eating a regular piece of original recipe chicken. The skin is too thin and you really lose that fried-chicken goodness.
Put another way, if I wanted to eat chicken tenders–which is pretty much what the boneless are like–then I’d order chicken tenders. It doesn’t help that KFC asks you what kind of dipping sauce you want for your boneless chicken.
|Pizza Hut loves experimenting with crusts. First we saw the Stuffed Crust Pizza, then the Cheesy Bites Pizza, then the Double Deep Pizza (remember the rolled-over crust?) and now the Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza ($12.99 for a single topping). It’s like the Cheesy Bites version in that you’re supposed to pull off the crust to eat separately, but the cheese is not rolled up in the dough this time.
Out of the aforementioned kinds, this was my favorite. The circular crusts hold a cheese-blend made up of provolone, asiago, mozzarella, fontina and mild white cheddar. It’s got so much flavor that I wish the rest of the pizza had the same blend. I would probably order this again.
The new pizza was launched in early April and will stick around for up to three months.
Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category
Chocolaterian Cafe, which opened late last year on Atwood Avenue, seems to have something for everyone, with its wines, Just Coffee, a window into the kitchen and weekly live music. And of course, the main attractions–the “sweet” and “savory” items on the menu. Ready to indulge?
The Ugly Cookie ($2.25) is a fantastic mixture of toffee, pistachios, cocoa nibs and oats. Calories aside, I could have eaten 10 of them had it not been for the relatively high price for its size. I also tried the brownie ($3; moist and had the right sweetness), the lemon ricotta ($1.50; not much flavor), the lemon tart ($5; tasty because it wasn’t tart) and the Badger Bait ($2.50; a wonderful nexus of chocolates).
What came as a surprise to me was that my favorite item at the patisserie was salty, not sweet. I ate perhaps the best quiche ($8) I’ve ever had. The egg was perfectly fluffy, the crust perfectly flaky, and together they were harmonious. I also enjoyed the turkey panini with asparagus and morel ($9), though it was a tiny sandwich.
Some parting thoughts: Apparently it’s not much of a destination for the breakfast crowd, as the cafe was once open at 8 a.m. Tuesday to Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday, but now it opens at 10 a.m. those days. Also, the staff makes a big fuss if you try to pay with a credit card for any tab less than $20. At least there’s an ATM on site.
Chocolaterian Cafe is open Tuesday-Sunday. I’ve found more parking on the Winnebago Street side, where there’s also an entrance.
Is frozen yogurt the new cupcake? Just a few years ago, Madison saw an explosion of places that serve cupcakes, either standalone or in addition to their other offerings. Now we’re seeing a wave of frozen yogurt places in town. I took the hit to my waistline to review them all.
Two CherryBerrys–one across from West Towne and the other in Monona–popped up not too long ago. The premise is self-serve. You pick from among 14 flavors (the birthday cake is too sweet) and add toppings such as gummy worms or fresh fruit. The cost per ounce is 45 cents. The interior is bright and energetic; it seems like it would be a fun hang-out for the after-school crowd (hence CherryBerry’s description as a “yogurt bar”).
Forever Yogurt has a visible location on State Street where it intersects with Gilman and Broom, though the space is quite small. It’s also self-serve (Mountain Berry is very good) and has more toppings than CherryBerry (mmm, Cap’n Crunch). However, it’s the most expensive of the group at 49 cents per ounce.
Red Mango is the veteran in this category, having opened three years ago on State Street. It’s the only one that’s not self-serve, and it only has a handful of flavors (the pomegranate was very disappointing) and toppings, which start at 75 cents each(!). There’s nothing that would entice me to return to this place, especially since Forever Yogurt is only a block away.
Finally we come to Menchie’s, located in Middleton and West Towne. It also has 14 flavors (the salted caramel was fantastic), and little cups are easily accessible so you can sample whatever you want. I also like the display case for the toppings, which is built like a jelly bean “shelf” you would find in a candy store and keeps the toppings from spilling into each other. It was priced in the middle of the pack at 47 cents/ounce.
In the end, I give the slight nod to Menchie’s over CherryBerry, but you really can’t go wrong with either. I recommend not going overboard mixing the flavors and toppings. In fact, try to keep like-flavors together, such as fruit flavors with fruit toppings or chocolate with chocolate.
One other note is that I found it interesting that both Red Mango and Forever Yogurt used to be open late on Fridays and Saturdays, but now both close at 10 p.m. Apparently students have stronger cravings for salty foods like pizza than for sweets.
|I knew it was a matter of time for Taco Bell to start selling a Cool Ranch taco. After all, the original Doritos Locos taco has been selling super well, even though I previously noted that the shell doesn’t have enough flavor.
In this case, the Cool Ranch version ($1.39) actually tastes like the chip it’s patterned after. In fact, you can see the Cool Ranch seasoning. Still, I’d like to point out that when you bite the taco shell, meat, cheese and lettuce together, you won’t taste the Cool Ranch at all. But I guess it’s a fun marketing gimmick.
A funny note: the Cool Ranch taco was supposed to be available last Wednesday, but most stores didn’t sell it until Thursday, causing outrage among Taco Bell fans.
|I admit, I really like the sausage burritos at McDonald’s, and now there’s a version with steak (officially called the McSkillet Burrito with Steak and selling for $1.89). For some reason, this item is not even listed on McDonald’s website. Anyways, the steak had decent flavor, although there could have been more of it. I don’t think there’s any compelling reason to switch from the sausage version, which is only $1.
Another new item is the Fish McBites, which are vastly different from the regular fish sandwich. These are meaty, not dry at all and make for a nice snack. I also like that the carton is designed to hold two sauces on the sides. It currently comes in snack, regular or sharable sizes.
The idea of a sandwich shop serving roasted meats certainly got my attention. Located on State Street where BW3s used to be, and close to competitors Potbelly, Erbert & Gerbert’s, Jimmy John’s and Full of Bull (now closed), Roast Public House stands out for its unique sandwiches.
Take the Cajun BBQ Brisket ($9), for example. The Bell’s Two Hearted-braised brisket was tender and oozing with flavor, and the meat is topped with cole slaw, something I always like to have on that type of sandwich. Meanwhile, the Turkey Spinach Dip Panini ($8) was as-a-whole awesome; however, I should note the turkey was super dry but saved by the homemade spinach dip and melted cheese.
On my next visit, I’ll probably get the Giambotta ($8), made of pork shoulder, cherry pepper pork gravy and vinegar peppers. All sandwiches come with kettle chips, though you can add fries or cole slaw ($1) or soup or salad ($1.50).
Even common appetizers have a delicious twist. The Signature Fries ($5) can be made one of three ways, including with gravy. I ordered them with nacho cheese, olives and tomatoes, and it was a hearty way to start the meal, although I wish the dish had more cheese on it.
As for the chicken tenders ($7.50), they are encrusted with sweet potato and served with a Sriracha lime aioli and chipotle sauce–both are fantastic (I was dipping other foods in that sauce).
Roast Public House serves lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. It can get crowded quickly, and the downstairs–which has just a few tables–is really meant for private parties.
Restaurant reviews are both easy and hard to write. Look how may food writers we have in Madison, both in print and in blog form. The barrier to entry is low–just go to a restaurant, take a photo or two and tell the world what you think.
On the other hand, the inherent difficulty is that what you write is open to intense scrutiny. Half the readers will agree with every one of your opinions, and the other half will think you’re an idiot–I know this personally.
Really, to have an “accurate” review, you need to visit the restaurant several times on different days/meal times and have your opinions corroborated by others. But, who has the time (and money) to do that?
Anyway, I was reminded this week of the scathing November New York Times review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar (owned by Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”). I remember thinking, “wow, this author is really laying on the hatred of this place,” but I didn’t think there was any malice behind his thoughts.
Subsequently, Guy Fieri defended his restaurant to the likes of the Today Show and E! News, saying that the writer, Pete Wells, had an “agenda.”
What I see is that Wells was brave enough to write negatively–albeit in extreme abundance–on a popular establishment (or more to the point, a well-known chef). In Madison, we have several restaurants that have such a loyal following that I don’t think we’ll ever see a negative review from any writer for fear of the backlash.
If you have a chance, read the comments that follow the story. They’re fairly polarizing and entertaining, and a lot of great points are made.
Here’s Fieri’s Today Show appearance:
Dan Fox and Chad Vogel are currently renovating the space that once housed Underground Kitchen, site of their upcoming restaurant, Fox & Bird. In the meantime, they’re building their names through special meals, such as the upcoming Slow Pig event in March and last week’s Valentine’s Day dinner, held Thursday and Friday at the Livingston Inn and a reprise of last year’s Century Dinner.
It was a fun evening that began with appetizers and cocktails in a parlor room, continued on to a luxurious five-course dinner with wine pairings and concluded with desserts and coffee in that same parlor room.
Chef Fox is a master of the heritage pig, and the pork belly appetizer was my favorite–I enjoyed it while sipping an old fashioned and a cognac-based cocktail made by Vogel. By the way, those were just two of several creative libations he was crafting that night. I would have had more, but I knew five glasses of wine were on the horizon.
The meal, in order, with my thoughts:
- Crawfish Lemongrass-Coconut Bisque – The pork and crawfish dumpling was a wonderful touch to a superbly seasoned bisque.
- Smoked Duck and Foie Gras Pin-Wheel – Prior to the evening, I never would have thought to eat foie gras with beet-apple compote or candied orange, but they all complemented each other perfectly.
- Ossabaw Speck-Wrapped Black Bass – Nice, light dish, with delicate accents from the squid ink reduction.
- Grapefruit-Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chop – Loved the lamb, but I didn’t care for the bed of roasted carrot, beet and French Puy lentils, which opposed the lamb too much. I also was surprised that despite this dish taking more than 30 min. to be served to us, the lamb was very rare.
- Future Fruit Farms Brown Butter Peak Cake and Bitter Chocolate Cake - Most memorable part of these two desserts? The candied rose and beet petals. Flowers can apparently be tasty, too.
While these dishes may not necessarily be served at Fox & Bird, it’s a great preview of things to come. To see more photos, please visit our Fox & Bird Flickr set.
Craving a fish boil? Have a hankering for some lamb? The new Buck & Badger, which took over for the space once occupied by Ian’s Pizza last November, is your destination for northern comfort foods.
Among the animals I ate in my visits to this lodge-like restaurant were duck, boar and bison. First, though, I want to talk about my surprise favorite, the beer brat corn dogs ($8.95). The brats were juicy, the breading was the right thickness and you get three tasty mustard sauces for dipping.
I did like the pan seared duck breast ($15.95), despite the pitifully small portions. I didn’t care for either of the sides, as both the sweet potato gratin and the carrots were under-cooked.
I can’t remember the last time I had boar, but I’m sure it had more flavor than the bland boar burger ($9.95, no sides). What saved this sandwich was the tasty boar bacon and the Gruyere cheese. I ordered the burger medium but got it rare.
The buffalo pot pie ($14.95) is worth ordering again. It contains a hearty amount of stew meat, mushrooms and potatoes, and the flaky puff pastry has a buttery goodness (though you have to use a knife to cut it). For the less adventurous eaters, Buck & Badger has five different salads on the menu.
I should stress that although there is a bar (it’s where you used to choose your slice of pizza at Ian’s), it’s primarily a restaurant. That’s because the bar area is really small, has no atmosphere and the owners want you to go to another one of their establishments, the Ivory Room, after your dinner (show your receipt for free cover). Plus, there are no drink specials here.
Buck & Badger is open every day for lunch, dinner and carryout.
I was actually happy to see The Continental close this past summer. In its final months, the service had greatly deteriorated, and I was never impressed by the menu. The succeeding establishment is Veranda Restaurant and Wine Bar, which comes with street cred since owners Nick and Rose Marie Schiavo had done a great job at the now-closed Cafe Continental downtown.
My assessment after Veranda’s first six months of operation is that it ranks between The Continental and Cafe Continental as a restaurant, meaning that it’s good but could be better. Plus, many of the dishes are overpriced.
Pasta dishes like the Penne a la Vodka ($10; add chicken, shrimp or Italian sausage for $3) were delicious–this one being rich in flavor. Veranda evens adds a bit of Asian flavor with a Cold Sesame Soba Noodles dish ($9), though I didn’t try it.
The flatbreads are another great choice, despite their price. We ordered the basic one with fresh Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ($11, add sausage or pepperoni for $1). In this case a dining companion didn’t want the tomato sauce on it, but our waitress said none of the flatbreads had sauce. Of course, she brought out the dish with tomato sauce in it and said she was wrong, yet she still didn’t do anything about it. Still, this flatbread had a nice crisp crust and plenty of toppings. Others, like the Fontina, Prosciutto, Tomatoes and Onion, will set you back $14 (a lot for basically a small-sized pizza).
There are numerous small plates on the menu, though I’m not sure how many you can order since they cost as much as $24 each. One that wasn’t satisfying was the bulgogi-style Grilled Short Ribs ($12), as there was barely any meat on the endless bones. Another was Rose Marie’s Original Spiedini ($14). The four tiny rolls of breaded sirloin and two pieces of mozzarella–while all very tasty–should have been half the price.
I guess a good time to come would be happy hour, when appetizers are $2 off and drinks are $1 off. Otherwise, Veranda is open for lunch every day, dinner Mon-Sat and brunch on the weekends.
Wings Over Madison is the newest entry to the somewhat crowded field of chicken wing joints here in town. If you recall, there’s already a Buffalo Wild Wings, a Wingstop, a Quaker Steak & Lube and a Pizza Extreme (which also sells wings) on campus; Wings Over Madison also is targeting mostly college students despite its location off-campus on University Avenue next to Qdoba (finally, something took that empty space!).
Location aside, I really did like the wings and the sauces. Regarding the latter, you have a whopping 25 sauces and dry rubs from which to choose. I ordered the 25-wing B-1 Bomber, which allowed me to choose up to five sauces. Decisions, decisions.
Luckily, I really enjoyed all five of my selections; in fact, I barely tapped into the cup of bleu cheese. My favorite was the Golden BBQ. It’s slightly sweet, though still different from the Honey BBQ sauce. This one is a safe bet if you’re on the conservative side.
The Citrus Chipotle was much milder than I expected, but it pairs really well with chicken. Speaking of the chicken, the wings were meaty and juicy, unlike the shriveled up pieces you may find elsewhere. You also can order them boneless.
Now, I think dry rubs work on ribs, but I wasn’t sure how they would be on wings. One bite into the savory, smoky-flavored West Texas Mesquite removed any doubt. The Garlic Parmesan also is a dry rub; it’s super tasty but fortunately not overpowering that it kills your breath.
Out of the spicy ones, I only tried the Jet Fuel. On a 10-point hotness scale, I’d give it a 6 or 7. You also can choose AfterBurner and Red Alert.
Wings Over Madison is open every day, including very late on Fridays and Saturdays. There are a few tables inside, but it’s primarily a take-out or delivery place.
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