One reason why I may go to Buffalo Wild Wings & one reason why I may never go back

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I'll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, if it's available at the Chico location.

Online trivia is probably the biggest reason why I’ll go back to Buffalo Wild Wings, which appears to be available at the Chico location.

Buffalo Wild Wings completed its expansion to Chico this week. Judging by photos of early lines and posts in my Facebook feed, it seems a lot of people are happy about the development. Although I love saying “The game is on!”, thanks to the eatery’s unceasingly repetitive TV commercials, I don’t know if I would go back after a visit to the Natomas location in May 2014.

Why I may go back – While I was generally impressed by the huge bar area with a standing wall of giant TVs and the beer selection (although I think Sierra Nevada was largely missing), the food is pretty standard for this type of quick-service restaurant and the prices are higher than I think they should be (the Chico menu lists a wing combo at $16.79, otherwise fries and slaw cost extra). Ultimately, there was only one compelling reason why I could become a repeat customer and that’s online pub trivia.

When I dropped by the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the old familiar blue consoles of Buzztime trivia. I first played Buzztime when I was living in the Midwest from 2001-05, but no Chico tavern has offered it for more than a decade … until now.

With the blue console, a bar patron plays quick, 20-minute trivia matches with clues broadcast on one or two TVs scattered across the bar. The questions are nearly always multiple choice and the difficulty level is closer to the earlier rounds of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” than “Jeopardy!” After every question, you can see how you’re faring against other barflies. When the round ends, the scores are calculated across North America and you can see your nationwide rank.

There are multiple types of games in the primary trivia channel, but there are other channels including virtual poker. During football season, many sites offer QB1, which allows contestants to win points if they correctly guess the offense’s play.

During my visit, I was the only one really playing trivia (everyone else seemed to be focused on an MMA match featuring a fighter from Sacramento). Still, it was fun to play while I ate and had some soda.

I can get my fix through a number of online and smartphone apps that are available, such as QuizUp, but Buzztime can be a little more sociable as the pacing of the games aren’t rigorous. While you want to ring in promptly when there are questions, there are frequent breaks to continue conversations with your friends (if you have any) and to order more food and drink (which is what I’m sure B-Dubs and other bars want you to do).

Several of my friends and I have gone to live trivia at some Chico restaurants, which is generally fun, but can be quirky. Online trivia like Buzztime is generally available anytime, so it may be easier to get a bunch of friends and just go.

Here's why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings -- the restaurant making Bud Light as its "Beer of the Month" in May 2014.

Here’s why I may never go back to Buffalo Wild Wings — the restaurant making Bud Light as its “Beer of the Month” in May 2014.

Why I may never go back – While I was generally uncomfortable with the prices, there was one incredulous discovery that baffled me. As I was leaving, I saw that the restaurant’s “Beer of the Month” for May 2014 was Bud Light.

I’m not a fan of Bud Light (although it’s not unpalatable), but that’s not the primary reason why I was turned off to the point where I may never go back. Bud Light is _the_ most popular beer in America by far. Although sales have reportedly dipped recently, a Vox chart shows it outsold its nearest rival (Coors Light) nearly 3:1 in 2013.

Given such market dominance, Bud Light doesn’t seem to really need to be highlighted as a “Beer of the Month.” It’s a default, go-to beer for a lot of people — you would expect nearly every bar in the country to offer this product. It’s like naming Christmas the Holiday of the Month for December, salt as the Seasoning of the Month or if Little Cesar’s named its ever-available pepperoni pizza as the Pizza of the Month.

One possible factor is that Budweiser’s owner Anheuser–Busch InBev advertises the brand quite heavily. Maybe there was an advertising consideration when Buffalo Wild Wings made such a banal selection for its beer of the month?

If you do choose to sample the exotic and unknown Bud Light, Buffalo Wild Wings offers these tasting notes for the American-style light lager — “Subtle fruity and citrus taste notes with a fast, clean finish.”

The price of this special brew was $4.25 in 2014, which wasn’t too bad, although one may find better deals on far more superior beers elsewhere in Chico.

Postscript – After writing all this, I checked the restaurant’s beer menu and found the _two_ beers of the month:

Here are  Buffalo Wild Wings' beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

*sigh* Here are Buffalo Wild Wings’ beers of the month, as seen on Aug. 10, 2015.

It’s disappointing to see Bud Light nab this spotlight again. Buffalo Wild Wings also has an odd definition of “Import,” as Goose Island is a Chicago brewery. It’s worth noting who Goose Island’s owners are — Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB InBev _is_ based in Belgium, so maybe that was a criteria in defining “Import.”

On a slightly positive note, Sam Adams remains its own independent company. At least there’s that, although Sam Adams seems to have similar issues to Bud Light.

Taco Bell’s bland Cantina Bowl a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’

Taco Bell sign

FILE-This Wednesday, June 6, 2012, file photo shows a Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

When I hear the word “Cantina,” I often think back to the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars.” In the case of Taco Bell’s new Cantina Bell™ menu, the comparison is apt because I also think of Obi-Wan Kenobi describing the town of Mos Eisley as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” (it’s the town’s motto!).

That’s the most positive endorsement I can give Taco Bell’s newest offering. Instead of trading on a snacky gimmick like the Doritos Locos Taco and its nacho cheese encrusted shell, Taco Bell appears to try something new … and fails miserably.

Up front, I will grant that we shouldn’t necessarily expect greatness from a fast-food menu — although the food should at least be somewhat enjoyable. And, unlike Taco Bell’s previous effort to add Fritos to burritos and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s effort to throw everything in a bowl and call it “Famous,” at least Taco Bell appears to make an effort for a more gourmet offering. Unfortunately, my expectations of the Cantina Bowl were buoyed by Taco Bell’s descriptions and they were ultimately and utterly dashed by the final, underwhelming product. The Cantina Bowl is neither enjoyable to eat nor very flavorful.

Taco Bell says the Cantina Bowl contains “citrus-herb marinated chicken [or steak or veggies], flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn and pepper salsa, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly prepared pico de gallo, all served on a bed of cilantro rice.” Based on the description and photos, it sounds like something you might get from Chipotle (except if you didn’t have much say on the ingredients).

It would seem like there are a lot of flavors on that list — if only calling something flavorful would make it so. Unfortunately, the flavors never blended into a delicious melange. The end result was so bland, I was rushing for the Fire Sauce to make it palatable.

If the ingredients in the dish didn’t mesh well together, one may hope for some individual elements to stand out. Unfortunately, I opted for the “steak” instead of the chicken and it seemed like the only thing to stand out (and not for the right reasons).

After a few bites, it tasted like I was digging into the meat from a frozen dinner (specifically, the Marie Callender’s Old Fashioned Beef Pot Roast). Unfortunately, the frozen meal provides a better experience at about $3 than the bowl at $7 (including drink).

The similarities were uncanny — the chunks of beef in the bowl had a similar grain and texture and the gravy/sauce was practically identical. It is similar to the steak that Taco Bell uses in its regular burritos, but its flaws stood out more here because it could be isolated from other ingredients.

The rice merely reflected what little other flavors were in the bowl while contributing nothing more than the texture of watery grains to the dish. Again, this is very similar to the rice from a frozen dinner.

As I ate through the bowl, I pondered The Onion’s joking take on the five ingredients in the Taco Bell kitchen. Basically, the joke is that Taco Bell just remixes the same five or so ingredients and calls it something new. In the case of the Cantina Bowl, I believe they added some new items (like the corn salsa), but other ingredients — like rice, lettuce, steak and tomatoes — seemed like the same ones that Taco Bell uses in its everyday tacos and burritos. That’s a problem because the taste expectations were much higher for the bowl and entire Cantina Menu than the regular menu where we know what we’re getting … for better or worse.

The apparent use of stock ingredients plays into the presentation — it looked nothing like the promo photos (but what does?). It looked hastily assembled at the eatery at the Chico Mall and the plain ol’ ingredients were easily discernable. The photos and review from Brand Eating provide some good context.

The lettuce was the same light green shred that you might see in the chain’s tacos and just as paper-y bland. Most of the sauces and salsas glooped up into the lettuce, which could have been an opportunity to get enjoy the sauces on their own merits. Unfortunately, the only sauce that stood out was the creamy cilantro dressing. It had a thin consistency, but had added a little tang of flavor.

I couldn’t really get a taste of the guacamole. The corn salsa and “flavorful” beans added little more than the texture of corn kernels and tiny, firm black beans.

I prefer Mexican food (or Taco Bell’s version of it) to have some spice, but the Cantina Bowl had no heat at all. Reviewing the list of ingredients, there are only a few items that could really contribute spice (perhaps the salsas, the cilantro dressing and the beef) and they failed to deliver.

Adding the Fire Sauce helped perk things up, but it was still a slog getting through the rest of the meal and I was happy when it was done. I probably should’ve stopped eating it, but that’s a habit I need to get back into.

I must give Taco Bell some credit for trying something new to try to compete in a space normally held by Chipotle and similar restaurants. I also liked that they touted that if you don’t like it you can return it for something else (which really should be standard customer service, but is still appreciated).

I was so disappointed by this underwhelming offering that I strongly considered taking Taco Bell up on its offer for a new dish, but I was in a hurry that night (and I wasn’t in the mood for more food).

Ultimately, like the Mos Eisley cantina, Taco Bell’s Cantina Bowl is something that people should probably avoid.

Bottom line — Stay away from this uninspiring, flavorless Cantina Menu offering from Taco Bell that just never comes together. Although it may appear to be fresher and more “gourmet” than other offerings on the restaurant’s menu, appearances may be deceiving and more costly.