Monday, August 31, 2009

Special Post: KFC Double Down Chicken Sandwich

To hell with the header on this one. NinjaDebugger here, carving off a year of my life for the edification of my viewers. The KFC Double Down chicken sandwich is demoing in Omaha, apparently, and I could not let this opportunity pass me by. It is, after all, three of my favorite things, with no bread to get in the way.

As I eat this thing, I can taste the months rolling off me. It's crazy, but holy shit, it's also good. Like, really good. I'm led to believe that the Colonel's Sauce on this is the same stuff they use on the regular chicken sandwich. I don't care. It's just barely spicy, kinda tangy, and goes incredibly well with the breading and bacon flavor. It's like someone turned my favorite chicken dinner into a sandwich without getting all that bread in the way to kill the meat flavor. I'm not even sure this sandwich could get better with pickles on it.

This is why America is going to fall. Because we can't stop killing ourselves with new and ever more delicious things. I just finished one, and I already want another. Cooks just keep getting better at targeting our tastebuds. We're all going to hell, and the stuff in this handbasket couldn't taste better.

Monday, August 10, 2009

McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe

Restaurant: McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe
Address: 302 S 38th St
Genres: Vegan/Vegetarian/Organic
Check Constraints: No split checks, 18% gratuity for 5 or more
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Coconut Curry Nachos ($7.95)
  • 1/2 Falafel Sandwich ($6.95)
    • Cup of Lentil Soup
  • Carrot Cake ($3.95)
To call McFoster's "unique" is grossly understating the point. Located in a renovated 1930's gas station with a Tudor fronting - and oddly enough, a tower - the restaurant has been serving up an eclectic blend of vegetarian, vegan, organic, and generally planet-and-diet-friendly meals for over a decade now. Full disclosure requires me to say that I eat here fairly regularly. In fact, this is the first restaurant in Omaha I ate at, when I was visiting Moogle ages ago.

Almost every aspect of this place is in a realm somewhere outside the normal dining aesthetic. There are almost always fresh flowers on the table. Their drink menu includes not only wine and beer, but a wide range of smoothies and teas. Their menu, while not as expansive as Wheatfield's, still covers a lot of culinary ground. The decor trends somewhat activist, with posters on the walls advocating ecologically-sound living and a generally populist mystique. It is an extraordinarily difficult place to review, precisely because it seems to exist in some space outside the spectrum, in some zone where they're proud to be exactly what they are, with or without approval from the populace at large.

To some extent it's a shame that they don't promote themselves more, because the food here is pretty darn good. Like the rest of the place, it's all a touch removed from the normal conception of the dish. For instance, the falafel here is (I am pretty sure) baked, not fried, and has a different texture and slightly different flavor from the Platonic Ideal of falafel (the Ur-Falafel, if you will). Does that mean it's bad? Not in the slightest. The half-sandwich comes with three falafel balls and a half-pita full of dressed lettuce. Like most dishes from McFoster's it comes with a selection of random edible goodies on the side - in this case pickled onions, pickled parsnips, cabbage strips, and two waffle-cut carrots. These little bonuses vary from dish to dish; I'll let the others tell you about theirs. The falafel here can be a little crumbly at times but this day it was moist and just perfect.

The appetizers here are split into vegan and non-vegan. Having had the nachos here before I opted for the curry coconut ones this time - it wasn't much of an improvement. The curry sauce didn't add much flavor and mostly pooled at the bottom of the plate - still, the salsa was freshly-made and delicious, and the blue corn nachos do well with the cheese and serrano peppers on top.

The soups here (like most places) vary from day to day - in fact, I should mention that all specials get written on the chalkboards at the end of the two wings of the building, from soups to entrees to desserts. I went with the lentil today, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was very hard to tease apart the flavors of the dish. You'd expect lentil, but I think there was artichoke in there, as well as some other tantalizingly familiar flavor that I couldn't quite place (but you could say it was on the tip of my tongue). The carrot cake, which I got with the lemon mousse frosting, was moist, full of currants and/or raisins, and delicious. All their desserts are made on-site (by our server, in fact), and they're almost always worth getting.

I consider McFoster's to be a kind of Omaha institution. It's been here for a while, it does its own thing and lets people take it for what it is, and hopefully it will be here for a while longer. It may not be your cup of tea, but I encourage everyone to give it a try.

  • 2 sides of Garlic Bread ($5.50)
  • Chicken Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Lentil Soup
  • Chocolate Tofu Cheesecake ($4.25)
  • Chocolate Rice Milk Malt ($3.95)
The first time I went to McFosters was after a long day of walking around the Henry Doorly Zoo. Unfortunately, this meant that I was hot, sweaty, and beyond exhausted, so I wasn't able to properly consider the menu and order something that I would like. This time around, I had carefully considered my options ahead of time, and had a much better experience.

Those nachos, frankly, would be absolutely fabulous as nothing but chips, the cheese, and the well blended salsa. Other toppings are absolutely unnecessary, as this is one of the few salsas that I have ever actually liked. The garlic bread, unfortunately, had barely a hint of garlic, and I couldn't even taste that, and it needed some butter pretty badly. It's not so much "garlic bread" as "BREAD with a subtle brush of parmesan and garlic flavor". It was also either badly overpriced, or I got double charged. I'm not sure which. It doesn't matter, I won't be getting it again.

I was also not a fan of the lentil soup, which I found overly gritty, in addition to the odd and unpleasant aftertaste. The other appetizer, the Happy Red Pepper Hummus, was damn good stuff. Wheat flatbread and a nicely textured hummus that was just right on the moistness, with a very strong red bell pepper flavor. I liked it even better than the strongly cumin-flavored hummus that I tried the first time I came here.

Luckily, the soup and garlic bread were pretty much the only bad parts. I am officially granting Rice Dream the status of "acceptable for use in malts", as I could barely tell that there was any difference between the malt and a proper moocow malt, and it certainly wasn't a bad difference, it was just different.

On the other end of dessert, tofu does not make an excellent cheesecake. It does, however, make a pretty good mousse, which the cheesecake tasted more like, and even if I didn't expect to get mousse, I was satisfied with it. Tofu is made out of magic, I am pretty sure.

And that leaves just the main course. I did not expect a hell of a lot from the chicken sandwich. I am pretty satisfied if I get a bun and a reasonably sized chicken breast that isn't burnt, and is possibly breaded. What I -got- was a breast that came off the godzilla of chickens. Free range chickens must be immense, because this is the first chicken I have had in a long time that was larger than the leaf of lettuce that came atop it. It was cooked plain, grilled with no seasoning whatsoever. Normally, that would be very uncool, but there was this little metal shot glass of dill honey mustard, and holy fucking shit, the stuff was "grab a bottle to take home" quality. In fact, I think they'll give you a discount if you bring your own bottle. I know they do for takeout. In any case, this dressing was so good that I would happily have just eaten a spoonful of it. In fact, I -did- eat a spoonful of it, after using the spoon to spread the stuff over my chicken. An astounding sandwich, much better than you'd normally get for the price.

Do yourself a favor, go here and try some things you wouldn't normally try, even if you're usually a carnivore, like I am. It's worth every penny. I spent like thirty dollars here on lunch, and I don't regret it at all.

  • Curry Tuna Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Dahl Soup
  • Slice of Pineapple Rhubarb Pie ($5.95)
Since everyone's telling their stories, I actually found this place through a friend of mine way back in high school. She was a big fan of the smoothies and other drinks.

The salsa was really pretty good. It had a nice cool flavor before the spicyness hit. The veggies/beans in with the nachos were also pretty fresh and crisp. The hummus I don't remember as having a strong or otherwise outstanding flavor or texture, but it wasn't bad either.

The dahl soup reminded me of some of the hummus from the Mediterranean place, actually. It probably had similar spices and a reminiscent texture. The soup had a thicker consistency, but not as thick as hummus. Despite the long list of spices the server mentioned, it had a fairly subdued flavor, which was pretty good. I don't think it would have worked as well if the flavor was much stronger. I would probably get this again over the other soups.

The curry tuna sandwich was a lot smaller than I expected. It came on bread smaller than your average sandwich bread. I got the soup instead of a side, which made the plate seem a little meager. If you're hungry, it might be wise to get the soup in addition or get an appetizer or dessert. The curry flavor was not very strong, but it made the tuna a strange yellow color. I had to stop and remember what I got that would be yellow. The bread was pretty good. It was a multigrain, so it had lots of texture. There were some veggies on top of the tuna. The tuna is made with "veganaise" (vegan mayo), which has always sounded frightening to me. I had avoided it so far on other visits, but I really couldn't tell any difference. The vegetables on the side included a small, yellow, edible flower. It turned out to be quite peppery.

The pineapple rhubarb pie was quite tasty. It was less sweet than your average pie (and pretty tart), but it was still delicious. The crust was a little crumbly, but still good. It may have been wheat based as well, but Cham brought up a good point that they don't make the crust with butter/dairy. The texture is going to be different, but they still make a good crust.

  • Tropical Green Goddess Smoothie ($5.95)
  • Avacado Deluxe Sandwich ($8.95)
    • Cup of Roasted Tomato Soup
    • Sour Cream + Chive Fries (+$1.00)
  • Slice of Pineapple Rhubarb Pie ($5.95)
As the only one who went after a Smoothie, I must note that they are both very tasty, and... kinda expensive. The Green Goddess was pinapple and banana, less banana flavor than for thickness/creaminess. There was a note I couldn't quite pick out that had to be wheatgrass (which I'm not actually sure what it should taste like.) I liked it a lot, but my mind shies away from a six dollar smoothie. It's very conflicting.

ND is right about the salsa, it was very good for the nachos. I liked when I could get a real taste of the coconut curry, as I'm a fan. The hummus was stellar, as always (I came here once the same previous time ND did) and the Roasted Tomato soup was so very good. It still surprises me how much I enjoy the flavor of roasted tomato soup nowadays, given my childhood. Why did nobody give me these decent foods when I was younger?

The Avacado Deluxe sandwich is on a surprinslgy small piece of bread, but it's packed with a lot of soft, smooth flavors. I got the real cheese, because sure, and even the broccoli worked well with the overall flavor of the sandwich. It's a strange experience for a sandwich, I'm not sure what to compare it with, but I do know it was good. The sour cream and chives fries were extra, so I figured them a specialty. I don't remember the flavor being too strong, but the fries themselves were fine. Maybe less with the extra dollar next time.

I finished up with the pinapple rhubarb pie, and continued with the weird difficult to describe experiences. It was indeed tart, and getting ice cream on top helped make that work out reasonably well. On the overall, I'm pro this place, but getting the variety and the experience does mean laying out the cash. Pick carefully for your tastes, and I don't think you will end up disappointed.

  • Veggie Lasagna Special ($8.95)
  • Happy Red Pepper Hummus ($4.25)
To follow suit: I was introduced to this place a while back by Cham and had an unfortunate encounter with the carrot cake. However, I snagged a forkful of Cham's carrot cake from this time around and that was apparently a one-time mistake on their part.

It's called Happy Hummus because--well--it has a smile. By my recollection, they use olive slices for eyes, a bean for a nose and a waffled slice of carrot for a mouth. The hummus was made with garbanzo beans blended with red bell pepper and served with whole wheat pita triangles. It had a good hummusy flavor with a hint of olive oil and a pleasantly strong taste of the red bell pepper. The pita triangles were denser than pita I've had in the past and had a flavor of their own which accented the hummus very well.

I was surprised at some of the ingredients in the veggie lasagna--things that don't layer well. There were bits of green and red bell peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini (but notably no eggplant), but there were also crunchy chunks of broccoli and cauliflower and crunchy, crinkle-cut slices of carrot. It was more tomatoy than cheesy, so unfortunately it didn't cohere very well and was difficult to eat, but I still managed to find the bottom of the dish.