When it comes to breakfast foods, I’ve always been a Waffle-Crisp-or-bust sort of kid. Growing up, sugary cereal was pretty much the only option. Eventually, I got so sick of it that I just stopped eating breakfast altogether. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started consciously eating the mainstays instead of cold pizza or Froot Loops.
I’ve noticed a great deal of people who’ve had periodic cravings for this mysterious thing called lox as of late. I had no idea what it was and felt a bit out of the loop. Nobody at our table even had a clue what it was (so before anyone jumps at my throat with the whole WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!? rouse, my parents are equally at fault here). So when a regular-looking breakfast plate arrived at our table much to my surprise, I felt like I copped out a bit here. However, a quick Google search dutifully informed me that lox is basically salmon, and my fears were quelled. For some reason, I’ve never had salmon before in any capacity either, so my meal still counted.
I’ve never had a more enjoyable breakfast (save for that one time I got a hella-rad Star Wars watch in the bottom of Waffle Crisp on my birthday).
After a series of misfortunate events (stomach viruses, unexpected closings, derpy meetings), I took to the depths of Shafer for a new dish to try. I wasn’t too optimistic about Fried Chicken Mondays yielding any results, but the Vegan/Vegetarian section saved the day! (Props to Kat for the swipe.)
Tofu strikes me as the perfect diet snack: bland, virtually tasteless and filling. After finding out that it’s low in calories and relatively healthy for you, this only makes more sense. Soaked in ginger sauce and served with vegetables, I could hardly complain. Going vegetarian would be a whole lot easier with this, which makes the fact that you can get almost anything made as a tofu-substitute totally awesome. Being a diehard carnivore, this wasn’t really my slab of meat, but it wasn’t intended to be, and that’s perfectly alright.
Also, as a bonus to make up for the fact that I didn’t get any of Tori has stashed away (at least not today, anyway), I also had a few slices of Shafer’s Baked Ziti pizza. Granted, throwing a few reject noodles on a really nice looking slice of cheese hardly counts as inventive cooking, but I’m always down for a slice.
Apparently, if you live within the confines of any urban city for longer than 6 months, getting Boba tea is more common than showering. Arguably the successor to the whole kitschy frozen yogurt store craze that’s been sweeping the suddenly health-obsessed nation, Boba tea offers something completely different for the same price as your “must-have” double shot Carmel Macchiato with extra whip/all the foo-foo trimmings. That, and it comes in just about every flavor of smoothie every conceived ever. Rad.
Upon first sip, I instantly shot back to the first time I bought a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans from my local Blockbuster (RIP) at my Dad’s behest. On the very first try, I got this weird tapioca-reject that was supposed to be buttered popcorn. Hardly Orville Redenbacher quality. Taro is exactly that odd blend of confusion and vanilla-whatever in liquid form. As for Boba, I immediately assumed I was getting melty Milk Duds in the bottom of my drink or something, but instead was met with this jelly-tastic barrage of chewy globular pudding. Again, rad says I, but my American tongue accustomed to chocolate-everything didn’t quite know how to handle this mixture of flavors at first. Hindsight 20/20, it wasn’t all that bad.
Overall, I can see why this thing caught on somewhere, somehow. Granted, I’d hardly go out of my way for one of these. Falling somewhere between a step-up from any McFlurry and a demotion from a typical Tropical Smoothie drink, you kids need to get on this, even if just once.
Day 4: Key West Salad (Jerk Chicken, Scallions, Dried Cranberries, Pineapple, some weird dressing)
I like a good ol’ fashioned Caesar Salad just as much as the next dude. No frills, no bullshit, no surprises. Not gonna lie, I’m a pretty simple soul when it comes to what I put in one of these if the mood strikes me. Every time I saw this Key West thing advertised at Croutons, I went back to my boring default lunch with a gag-face that would make the ’90s proud. Today, I became a man (as far as salad-selection goes) and took the plunge into this friendly-yet-ominious concoction.
Yes, I’ve technically had hundreds of salads before. However, I’ve never consumed jerk chicken (spicy, yet satisfying in a way that no buffalo-derivative could ever hope to achieve), scallions (this weird additive that only added more weird texture) or dried cranberries (haters gonna hate). Though it was a lot better than I originally thought it was going to be, I still got a whole mess of beef with this. Salads should not be sweet. I should not be forced away from my delightful indulgence of spicy chicken by the throngs of villainy in the form of sticky cranberries and sweet juices. That shit just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. Maybe I’m missing the point here. Either way, I was annoyed by the juxtaposition, and will hardly be storming the gates to get one of these ever again.
Something good did come out of all this though. My disposition on pineapple before? Couldn’t stand. My disposition on pineapple now? Tolerable, but not my first pick.
Graced by the presence of Shane (of MollyandtheGirls fame), I endeavored to Jamaica House on Broad St. to indulge in one of jamaican cuisine’s mainstaples. Not to be thwarted by a stomach virus earlier in the week, Shane bounced back to make the trip after all.
I’ve consumed a wide variety of animal meat in my time. Beef, chicken, pork, lamb, deer, pheasant, squirrel, and probably a few others in between. Whereas I was expecting a unique flavor to match the high praises of this curious dish, I found myself a bit surprised to discover that ox tail had a pretty common flavor to it. I could have easily mistaken it for any salisbury steak or beef dish in Shafer. It lacked the diversity or ‘out-there’ factor I’d been preparing for. That’s definitely not to say that it was terrible in the slightest. Not at all. It complimented the cabbage/beans/rice that it came with quite nicely, and made for a decent lunch. In the end, I was just stoked to finally be eating with pleasant conversation and ’80s funk in the background.
The moral here is this: some (like myself) may go into trying new foods from different cultures with the express intention of making a profound discovery. But if we preach that originality is dead in just about every other area of our lives, than we shouldn’t be let down when it comes to the exotic dishes we passively daydream about not blowing us out of the ballpark. Being in the city, Richmonders certainly have a better shot of experiencing these new things, but the McDonald’s factor still rings true: no matter where you vacation, voyage for business or randomly stumble upon in your travels, there will always be something vaguely familiar around the corner.
(and trust me, I’m sick of going to FL/WI/everywhere only to find the same restaurants/shops/excuses to leave the house as home. Go on an adventure instead.)
Day 7: Garbanzo Beans w/ Acorn Squash and Zucchini
Every single second of this was a bad idea. These looked terrible, smelled terrible and tasted terrible. I don’t know what possessed me to get an entire bowl, but I was done in less than 30 seconds. There was no way I was sticking that out. I managed a whole three bites before I came to the realization that the shame and remorse were nowhere near worth it.
Vegan section of Shafer, I back you most days. I get mystified at all your quirky names for things and exotic hummus flavors. I always wonder what it would take to officially feel like I belonged walking away from you with a plate of roots and protein-addled good for you food. Yours is a realm I hold in high regard, but this piddly nonsense deserves some explanation. How does it work? What does it do? Why can’t my bull testicle-conquering stomach even stand to be in it’s presence for more than a minute? Explain this tomfoolery, I beg of you.
The closest I’ve ever come in contact with this dessert was seeing a few ads on Nickelodeon way back in the day for the doll of the same name. Everything and nothing about this looked appealing, all at the same time. The Smokehouse at Busch Gardens has a funny way of making you do eat things you really don’t have the stomach/wallet/patience for anyways, so I figured I might as well.
To be blunt, cake = good, strawberries = good, whipped cream = good. But throwing them all together? Total overkill. I couldn’t muster the courage to bring this one home, but my loving father (who ironically mentioned that we should all pay our respects to the nutritional information placard at Hardee’s that same morning) decided that $4 was enough of a reason for me to man-up and chow-down. I could taste the shame and self-hatred in every swallow, but I soldiered through. There are worse ways to spend lunchtime, and in even worse places than a theme-park on Easter while the rest of the world is having awkward brunches with bickering relatives they despise.
Before you call bullshit, let me ‘splain myself. The purpose of this challenge is to try new foods and such that I’ve not yet had, and by definition, I, like most of the world, have not consumed the recently released trial version of Pepsi Next. As a diehard Coca-Cola fan, I can say that my intentions were partially motivated by this challenge and the convenience of free samples in the Compass, but moreso by the continued affirmation that all Pepsi spin-off products are, for the most part, total crap.
Coat-tailing off the recent ‘less is more’ trend that’s the swept soft-drink nation, this beverage gets its hype from the fact that it contains 60% less sugar. Boy, oh boy. Nothing says “Hey! Let me risk wasting $5 on a 12-pack of something I know will probably suck, but is totally going to hit the spot because that less sugar is soooo awesome!” Please. Have you learned nothing, PepsiCo? People are very much of the all-or-nothing mentality. If I want a cheeseburger, I’m either getting the supersized artery clogger Monstertruck 5-layer with twice the FDA-recommended amount of bacon or a salad. Likewise, if I’m getting a soda, I either want my sugar all real or all non-existent. Coke has the right idea. Their signature regular? All the way. Coke Zero? Ba-ba-boosh. Hell, Diet Coke is glorified flavored water, and you can ask my two-cans-a-day-for-40+ years Grandfather if he’d have it any other way. 60% is not enough to get even the most health-conscious throats salivating for your sugar water, and not even a swanky new label/name or a free canvas bag can make up the difference.
Some will contend that Pepsi Next really isn’t any different from Pepsi. Fair enough. But those folks are clearly not as concerned with where their money goes for the subtleties in flavor that they so righteously deserve. But hey, we can’t all be adamant about the little things, right? That’s where I come in. When it comes to cola, I’ll be belligerently outspoken so that you don’t have to!
So, where does this latest abomination stand in the grand battle for soda supremacy?
Since matzo soup was conspicuously absent from Shafer’s lunch time lineup, I decided to give this dish a try instead. Finely grated and seasoned rice, with add-ins for good measure, I was pleasantly surprised. Granted, the add-ins were fairly limited (being a vegan item and all), but I’m sure with more ingredients things would have been better. Also, getting this at Shafer as opposed to, say, I don’t know the restaurant down the block named after it might have been a better option, but no regrets.
Overall, this stuff is just really salty. Maybe it was the batch, but I found myself overcompensating with blueberry smoothie to counterbalance the sodium overload that was going on in this bowl. By no means was it a disaster though. I had a way better time eating this than any regular bowl of chicken/rice/whatever that they usually offer over there. This could probably attributed to the fact that grated rice is just fun, but not in the fun-sized M&Ms “we know you really want 12 packs of these anyways!” sort of way. More like a “you know you totally want to play with your food, but you’re an adult now so instead revel in the delicious nature of your culturally saavy and distinguished dish…that you could still totally play with” sort of way.
Props to Lacey for making my command food decision for me, and for her lack of ice-cream cone-making skills.
Day 11: Spinach & Artichoke Dip w/ Grilled Margarita-Infused Chicken
Today’s choice was a weird one. After countless hours of thorough contemplation, I couldn’t remember if I’d ever tried Tori’s favorite appetizer at Chili’s. Every possible occurrence of such happening was either shot down or met with an ‘I don’t know’ from both camps, so we decided that it was fair game. But, just to be safe, I went ahead and ordered this chicken dish that was apparently somehow garnished/cooked with margarita mix. Therefore, today’s items were two that I was about 60-70% sure I hadn’t had before, making for a combined success all around.
Upon first taste, it was abundantly clear that I’d never had spinach & artichoke dip. I would have remembered that delicious dive bomb of awesome. Whoever had the brilliant idea to take one of childhood’s most despised foods and turn it into a fun, delectable dip that anyone could responsibly overcharge for and get away with it was a genius. I lapped up every drop, which was ironic considering that the express reason behind me never having any of Tori’s was not that she wouldn’t share even one drop of the sweet ambrosia, but rather that I couldn’t handle the uncanny resemblance to nacho dip, leaving me to write off the dish entirely. I was missing out, and if you haven’t tried this stuff before, you most certainly are too.
As for the margarita chicken, I wasn’t terribly impressed in terms of the whole margarita thing, but definitely enjoyed it overall. Not a bad decision in the slightest.
Props to my new amigo Sidney (after last night’s Tumblr meetup) for some hella-awesome service. You should check out his YouTube channel Hydration = Happiness, mainly because his most recent video has had me rollin’ all week.
Honestly, the most sound piece of wisdom I’ve heard all month was when Kat pointed out the ignorance of the alarming amount of people asking “How was your Easter?”. After all, Christianity isn’t the only major religion in the world that celebrated a major holiday last weekend (and, thanks to my new knowledge, still is for another two nights!) So, as amends for the Passover-derp that most Christians are guilty of committing every year, I decided to pay my respects to the almighty bubala mainstaple: matzo!
Conveniently available to me in both soup and cracker form (we are a country that loves it’s choices, after all), this dish made me forget about my mountain of pizza located just inches away. As you know, my friends, that is a damn-near impossible feat for anyone or anything to achieve. The flatbread accompaniment was quite dry/tasteless, but since Wikipedia informs me that is indeed the point, I’ll venture to say that it was the DRIEST bread I’ve ever had the fortune to have! (If you’re gonna have a niche market, you might as well get extreme with your sentiments, right Rick Santorum? oh wait that’s right how did that work out for you again?) Soups are meant to be more than your typical brothy fanfare. Chicken Noodle being the exception, a bowl of specialty soup should stand out as more than the average go-to sickness suppressor. In this case, the bar has been set, and I’m looking at you Progresso/Panera/soup places of everywhere. If you haven’t stepped your game up to this or something as righteous in comparison, your soup is no friend of mine, and that’s some advice even the Soup Nazi would back.
Today’s lunch was one of the more tumultuous and mortifying trips to Shafer I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Shane’s remark about me having the palate of a four-year-old hermit, combined with the presence of my superiors and a slightly professionally-compromising view made the pressure to make today’s dish count all the more dire. Granted, anything would have been a welcome deviation from the Shafer status quo, because something about eating pepperoni pizza and having your tastebuds momentarily convinced that you just inhaled a PB+J just isn’t right.
I’ll be the first to admit it, I had to ask what falafel was. Finding out that fried hummus was actually a thing had me stoked. If we can have deep fried oreos, this one’s a no-brainer. I actually ended up enjoying it more than regular hummus. Yams were another beast entirely. How I managed to skate through 19 thanksgivings without them, I do not know. Ironically, it was as if someone had thrown a pumpkin pie and a swig of milk in a blender and let it solidify on a plate. Mildly awesome, says I. In theory, vegetables shouldn’t taste this good, but if pizza made the cut, then there’s really no excuse.