Nachomission test kitchen, San Francisco bay area, CA

Happy National Nacho day peeps! (Wait. Is it National Nacho day or National Nachos day? I’ve seen it both ways all over twitter and have spent some time questioning which is grammatically correct to no avail. But I digress…). Did you get your nacho on today?

In honor of this wonderful occasion, I decided to write up something a little different today for your reading pleasure. It’s really easy to be a critic – to sit back and critique what someone else has done – so this time I put myself to the nacho test. That’s right. I whipped up my own batch of nachos at home and will now share with you both the positives and negatives of that experience. I learned a few things, and am anxious to try again soon with the wisdom of experience in my pocket. On one hand, I have a new respect for restaurants who make nachos because sheesh, it isn’t really all that easy to get them just right. But on the other hand, I feel even more qualified to maintain a high standard with my reviews. I believe that with just a few tweaks, my nachomission test kitchen nachos would be every bit as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant.

First, I had to decide on the ingredients. A no brainer given that I have clear preferences for my nacho basics and toppings. I chose: extra thick chips (you need a good solid chip that won’t give under the weight of the beans and cheese), refried pinto beans, whole black beans (as a vegetarian, I picked two proteins. Why not? Most nachos with meat also include beans so there is nothing to stop me from getting my double protein on), shredded cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, green onions (of course), black olives (of course, again) and shredded lettuce (a somewhat rare but awesome nacho topping that provides the perfect combination of coolness and crunch).

Nachomission test kitchen, precook

Nachomission test kitchen, pre-cook

First, I assembled the chips, beans (both kinds) and cheese in an oven-safe dish. Layer chips, beans, cheese. Repeat. Repeat again. It’s so important to integrate the beans and cheese throughout the chips so every bite contains tasty goodness. There is nothing worse than a sad, dry, empty chip.

After baking for about 15 minutes, the cheese was bubbling and the beans were sizzling. I was so excited to now pile on the nacho toppings. First, I sprinkled on the green onions. They are most tasty when just slightly warm and they settled nicely into the piles of melted cheese. Next, I scattered the sliced black olives, also better when a little warm. Next in line was the shredded lettuce. And finally, the topping trifecta – pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. I positioned them in an almost triangular fashion with generous scoops of each oozing into one another. And……Voila!

Nachomission test kitchen, post cook

Nachomission test kitchen, post-cook

Now, regarding the things I learned and would do differently next time, do you see the problem with this picture? I used a rather deep dish pyrex dish and the edges were so high, that I had a hard time getting at the chips. Note to self has been taken – use a dish with low sides next time.

But don’t you fret, my nacho readers, it would take a lot more than high dish sides to keep me from diving into these nachos head first. And, if I do say so myself, they were super tasty! The flavors blended nicely and I was really pleased with the combination of both refried pinto and whole black beans in the same bite. The toppings were all incredible and the pico de gallo provided quite a spice punch. I didn’t second guess my decision to omit jalapenos for a second. I’m about as happy as I can get when I have a mouthful of nachos covered in green onions, black olives, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Nachomission test kitchen, post cook close-up

Nachomission test kitchen, post-cook close-up

A couple of additional learnings – somehow I used cheese that wasn’t full fat and that was all kinds of wrong. You need full fat, stringy, gooey, greasy cheese for nacho perfection. Believe you me, I won’t make that mistake again. In addition, the top layer of refried pinto beans got a little dry while in the oven. The piles underneath were more moist and the proper consistency but the top layer had problems. Perhaps they need to be in the bottom layers only? Or, they need to be covered in that gooey cheese to stay moist. I’ll be making some modifications in this area on my next attempt.

Well, there you go, my friends. Considering it was my first homemade attempt – not bad! Could they be improved? Absolutely. But did my nacho loving co-eaters and I devour every last one of them? You better believe it. Stay tuned for Nachomission test kitchen’s second attempt at some point in the not so distant future.

And again, Happy National Nacho(s) day. I never need an excuse to eat nachos but if you do, you have the perfect one today. Enjoy! And if you find an especially tasty nacho spot, don’t keep it all to yourself. Let me in on it!

Advertisements

Take 2! – Tied House Brewery & Cafe, Mountain View, CA

My nacho friends, you are witnessing history. This is my first ever “Take 2” review. A “re-review”, if you will. And in summary, let me say: Yay! You go, Tied House!

Some of you may remember my first review of Tied House nachos. Although they were full of promise, they didn’t quite measure up. I previously took issue with the fact that Tied House nacho toppings were literally that – some tastiness sitting on top of the chips, but not interlaced well enough within and throughout the pile.

Yesterday I found myself at Tied House’s happy hour once again. And am I ever glad I gave their nachos a second chance! Now I don’t know if it was just coincidental that I had a much better plate of nachos served to me this time or whether they have made some nacho building policy changes. And I don’t care. I was just glad I was there to enjoy them.

Tied House nachos

Tied House nachos, Take 2!

First of all, the chips seemed fresher. They were still the store bought type, but they didn’t have that stale-ish crunch that I encountered last time.

And more importantly, there were layers and layers and layers of melted stringy cheese and yummy beans through and through this piled up nacho assemblage.

All of the other tasty parts that I enjoyed last time were still present. The guacamole was once again good as was the salsa fresca. And you know, even the cheese seemed more flavorful this time but perhaps I was so overjoyed with the layered experience that I transferred this positive bias onto the cheese. I don’t know and again, I don’t care. I was up to my elbows in scrumptious nachos and loving every minute of it.

And I may have mentioned it last time, but I feel the need to give props once again to the half priced nachos at happy hour. I don’t find this to be all that common. And at Tied House, they will serve you a huge, full order of nachos for only about $5.

I’m thrilled to report that I can now happily recommend Tied House to anyone in the Mountain View area wanting to get their nacho on. This time around, I’m giving them 4 out of 5 smiling nachos. Thanks for the yummy nacho goodness, Tied House!

Smiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nacho

Rock Bottom Brewery, Campbell, CA

Dear Rock Bottom Brewery, your nachos are a mixed bag. Love, Nachomission

“Brewery nachos” at Rock Bottom are listed with the following description on the menu: “Housemade tortilla chips with black beans, melted Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro and red onions. Served with salsa. Add guacamole, chicken or beef.”

Now you *know* I love a housemade tortilla chip so this was a great leadoff in the description. The idea of pepper jack was intriguing and I’m always on board with black beans. But wait, “add guacamole”? You know, guacamole really should be standard. Afterall, it is core to the goodness. Foundational, if you will. And it should be non-negotiable.

I arrived at Happy Hour time, around 4pm on a weekday, and took my seat at a table outside. My cheery mood quickly faded however when I found out there was no special on the nachos. They were $9.50. And I had to pay $1.25 more for the guacamole. What the….? And to make matters worse, as I was still simmering to a low boil over the lack of happy hour discount, I encountered a totally sticky table. And then something wet dripped on my leg from under the table. I don’t know what it was but it was blackish in color. I’m afraid this knocked my opinion down several pegs before even being served.

As I sat trying to get over the sticky, dirty liquid situation I found myself in, I was served my nachos. It was a presentation that is unparalleled. I have never seen anything quite like it. There was a large rectangle cutting board with parchment paper on top and a huge
Rock Bottom nachos

Rock Bottom Brewery nachos

amount of nachos topping that. These nachos were wrapped around a bowl of salsa like some sort of festive, colorful, tasty, culinary wreath.

The crispy homemade chips were indeed very tasty. They had the right crunch factor. The cheese was tasty, but it was pretty standard. There was some pepperjack but I couldn’t identify it in taste. It may just have been jack, actually, because I didn’t see any pepper pieces or taste any tang. I just noted some melted white along with the orange cheese. And regarding the cheese, there just wasn’t enough. Let’s face it – you are never, ever going to read a review of mine that reads “there was too much cheese”. As long as it is good cheese, the more the better!

The black beans were good but they suffered from the same issue as the cheese – they were few and far between. They were sprinkled rather than piled. Peppered rather than scooped. Every bite of these nachos was spicy and I suspect the beans for this fiery goodness even though there were also jalapenos. I’m going to guess the beans were cooked with chili powder as I took note of some red specs on them. Bold and tasty!

The guacamole was good but again there was a major stinginess factor here. 2 small scoops? Really, Rock Bottom?? That’s all

Rock Bottom Brewery nachos close-up

I get for paying $1.25 extra? I would have expected more than that if it had come complimentary. Especially considering the proportion to this large, cutting board slab of nachos. Only a few lucky bites involved a dip in the guacamole before it was gone.

Now let’s get to the salsa in the middle. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I didn’t like the flavor at all. I couldn’t place the initial taste but it wasn’t good. Fruity? Sweet? I don’t know. I had two dips in an attempt to identify it and decided I wasn’t subjecting myself to any more dips to place the flavor. I’m willing to do a lot for my readers but that’s where I draw the line. I will gladly say that the salsa fresca sprinkled onto the pile itself was quite good and head and shoulders above what was in the bowl.

Now I wouldn’t be the nacho reviewer you’ve come to love if I didn’t make one more comment regarding this experience. As previously mentioned, I sat outside. And let me tell you, there were flies. Many, many flies. They were everywhere! Constantly swarming, and attempting to land on the nachos themselves! The horror!!

Overall, these nachos were tasty but they could use a few improvements. The portion was huge overall but the toppings were not proportional. And, in the end, I just couldn’t overcome the ambiance issues. Shoo-ing away flies while my elbow sticks to the table and drops of black liquid drip onto my leg somehow made the experience less enjoyable. Go figure.

 I give them 2 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Smiling nachoSmiling nacho

Rock Bottom Brewery, 1875 South Bascom Ave., Campbell, CA 95008

Tied House Brewery & Cafe, Mountain View, CA

Before I dive in to the details, let me sum up my overall nacho experience at Tied House in one word: “Meh”. Were they great? No. Were they terrible? No. Some parts were good, and some parts could have been better. The experience started out well, but unfortunately, it then took a gradual slide down a negative slope.

The menu description sounded great: “Smothered with house made black beans, melted cheddar & pepper jack, jalapenos, & Cascade Amber beer salsa; sour cream & house made guacamole”. I didn’t know what a Cascade Amber beer salsa was, but I was certainly game to find out. I always love seeing the term “house made” and viewing it twice in one description was double the pleasure. I was in.

Tied House nachos

And sure enough, upon delivery, I was impressed. What a beautiful plate of nachos they were… and piled mountain high! I immediately observed the whole black beans, tangled up with the melted shredded cheeses. On the side were good size scoops of sour cream and guacamole. And topping the pile of chips, beans and cheese was the yummy looking salsa. Oh, how the sight of salsa fresca

Tied House nacho close-up

thrills me. I saw chopped tomatoes and fresh green onions. And, always there to spice things up, there were pickled jalapenos.

I should point out that the (beautiful) plate of nachos pictured above is a full order ($10.25). They also offer a half order ($7.15). I was there for during happy hour when the nachos were half priced so why on earth would I select the half order? I wouldn’t. It would have been absurdity.

Brace yourself, faithful reader, because now we come to the point in our story where that gradual downhill slide starts. I grabbed a chip covered in topping, anxious to taste all the goodness. The first thing that deflated my hopefulness on the taste was the fact that the chips were *clearly* not house made. House made salsa, yes. House made guacamole, sure. The chips? Not so much. They were industrial chips. (And I can almost hear your collective gasp). I imagined a super-sized bag in the Tied House kitchen from a warehouse store. I don’t want to come right out and say they were stale, because that may be a slightly unfair statement. But I will say they were teetering on the brink of being past their prime.

The positives for the overall taste factor came from the guacamole, the cheeses and the green onions. Yay! You go, green onions! You never disappoint. The salsa was pretty good, and had a flavor I couldn’t place which must have been the Cascade Amber. But the flavor of the nachos as a whole was very mild. Maybe a little too mild. There was no flavor kick whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to mellow nacho flavor, as long as it is interesting. These were a whole lot of mellow with only a small dash of interesting.

And here is my other major complaint about these nachos – they take the word “topping” too literally. The tomatoes, green onions, and even the beans to some extent, were on the top layer and the top layer only. As I continued to dive in, I was soon left with only a stal…. ahem. past their prime, dry, pile of chips. Not good. Not good at all. I’m sympathetic to the fact that it’s tricky business to get the right amount of toppings intertwined throughout the nacho tower. But Tied House could use some improvement on this front.

So, once again, I’m left with a nacho experience that left me less than thrilled. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t quite good enough either. There is potential there and there were certainly some good elements. I’m optimistic that with a few tweaks, Tied House could serve me a winning plate of nachos in the future. All things considered, I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos.

smiling nachosmiling nachosmiling nacho

Tied House Brewery & Cafe, 954 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

The Old Pro, Palo Alto, CA

The first thing that struck me about the nachos at the Old Pro was their price. $11 just for the veggie version (pulled pork, chicken or steak for an additional $4). I’m willing to pay a price for good nachos, as long as they measure up. The description on the menu had my nacho-loving mouth watering so I placed my order with high hopes.

Old Pro nachos

The Old Pro nachos

Upon delivery, they looked promising and I was ready to dive in. Immediately I saw the black olives (!) and single good-sized scoops of sour cream and guacamole (hello mexicali grill! take note). There were gobs of gooey, stringy, melty cheese. The jalapenos were raw rather than the usual pickled variety. Interesting choice on their part, albeit risky.

The only ingredient that had me worried at first glance was the salsa. What was this juicy, thin, liquid-like substance topping my Old Pro nacho tower? Sure enough, one bite validated my salsa concern. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I don’t think it was made in-house. You know what it was like? That big tub of Chevy’s salsa they sell in a 2-pack at Costco, for those of you that find meaning in that reference.

As I kept eating, I was pleasantly surprised to find some beans buried in the layers of my nacho pile. Well, hello whole pinto beans! Where were you hiding? You sure are tasty and they shouldn’t hide you or be so stingy with your quantity.

The chips were ok. Meh. Not special. Not home made.

And here is how the raw jalapenos played out – every bite of these nachos was spicy. Every. Single. Bite. It may have been the salsa, but I’m looking at you Jalapenos. Now, I like a bit of spice so this didn’t dampen my experience. But for those of you who place yourself more in the mild category (the spice slow-lane, if you will), I’d suggest skipping these nachos or at least requesting no jalapenos.

Overall, these nachos had all the right ingredients, but somehow the taste just wasn’t there like I expected it to be and they fell a little short for me. It was like… the nacho sum wasn’t greater than the nacho parts?… There was no nacho gestalt? … Ok, forget it.

Let’s face it: I’m apathetic about these nachos. If I’m back at the Old Pro, I may order them again. But they definitely won’t be the thing that gets me back in the place. (For some, that honor may go to the mechanical bull. A story for another time…).

I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Smiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nacho

The Old Pro, 541 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301