Candy Bars – Ranked

Ed. note: Little known fact — yours truly is a candy bar connoisseur. A maven of the vending machine; a champion of cheap chocolate. Are candy bars mostly terrible and terrible for you? Of course they are! But when you need a little sugar spike, there’s nothing better. Here’s a buying guide for your Halloween shopping, or the next time you need a quick fix:

THE TOP 10

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Reese’s Sticks – not that easy to find but worth it. Gossamer light in the hand and on the palate — the perfect combination of wafer crunch, sweet, savory, peanut and chocolate…with a slightly salty finish. Positively addictive.

Almond Joy – three words: almond, coconut, chocolate.

Mounds – almost as good as with almonds, Mounds always taste fresher than the competition in any candy machine. Same with Almond Joy. (As with AJ, you have to buy into the whole sweetened coconut thing, though.)

100 Grand Bar – sort of an outlier, very dense, with just the right rice crispy crackle, a good long chew, and a solid chocolate finish. Like Reese’s Sticks, something you should grab when you see it. Occasionally, they can be hard and stale, which might (understandably) turn you off to the whole experience. But persevere, and find a packet that hasn’t been sitting around for a year, and you’ll find yourself (occasionally) craving one. If you don’t believe me, ask this candy bar critic!

Reese’s Cups – it’s the sweet/savory/salty thing that sets them apart.

Snickers Almond – in case you haven’t guessed, almonds improve everything. Even a Snickers.

Snickers – some classics never go out of style.

Hershey’s Krackel – so much better than Nestle Crunch (not sickly sweet + crunchier), so much harder to find, too. Don’t believe me? Then trust this blind taste test by people with homemade cat masks over their eyes!

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Twix – I was on the fence about Twix. Something that looks like turd and tastes like a cookie should have no place in the pantheon of purely worthless-yet-craveable candy….but sometimes you just want one.

Nestle Crunch – If I had made this list 25 years ago, Nestle Crunch would have been at the top. But something happened over the years. It became too sweet and blander at the same time. (No doubt because the amount of cocoa butter used these days is practically nil.) Still will grab one occasionally, even though I almost never finish it.

WILL DO IN A PINCH

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Kit Kat – Kit Kats made anywhere but America are great. In Japan, they’re a thing (see above). In Europe, they’re wonderful. Here, they taste like sugar on sugar on sugar wrapped with sour chocolate.

Mars – I have no idea what that fluffy white stuff taking up all the room in a Mars bar is, but it’s not sickeningly sweet (at least compared with some fillings), and the almond kick makes it worth it. The retro Mars Bar made by our very own Ethel M Chocolates is a thing of beauty.

Payday – Payday’s are always dry and stale, but there’s no denying the appeal of peanuts on (even stale) caramel.

Baby Ruth – NOT named after the Yankee slugger; WAS named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter!   My issue with Baby Ruth’s is they always shatter into dozens of pieces of cheap chocolate the moment you bite into them. Probably the messiest candy bar this side of a Butterfinger. Never try to eat one anywhere but outdoors or over a sink. The ice cream bar they make, however, is very good, even if it does the same thing.

Hershey’s Almond Bar – they do something to American chocolate that always makes it taste a little sour when compared to the stuff you get in Europe. Hershey’s is the biggest offender, but the almonds (as usual) make up for their shitty recipe.

Mr. Goodbar – Nothing more than a Hershey Bar with peanuts, but I’ll eat peanuts on anything.

THE WORST

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Heath Bar — hard, teeth-cracking toffee and that’s it. A total mess to eat with no big payoff. The best use for a Heath Bar is putting it into ice cream. The only good thing you can say about a Heath Bar is it’s better than a Butterfinger.

Bit-O-Honey – is not a candy bar. It is stale, rancid, ROCK HARD honey wrapped in plastic. When they can’t think of any better use for all that bee vomit they have lying around, they sell it to the Bit-O-Honey factory. The best use for a Bit-O-Honey is patching a tire.

Reese’s Nutrageous – How could something born as the love-child of a peanut butter cup with a Baby Ruth Bar crossed with a Snickers be such a mistake? Totally out of balance, there is too much and not enough going on at the same time.

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Butterfinger – there is no excuse for Butterfingers in the candy bar kingdom. Gertrude Stein was really describing a Butterfinger when she said “there is no there, there.” Just fake chocolate surrounding something that resembles shredded yellow paper soaked in fake fake butter. People who like Butterfingers are not nice human beings. (NO ONE DENIES THIS!) They’re the types that leave stale food in the office refrigerator for weeks, don’t pick up their dog’s shit, and cheat on their taxes. The last time I saw a guy eating a Butterfinger he was beating his wife and urinating on his neighbor’s lawn.

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Milky Way – You can’t hate Milky Ways the way you loathe Butterfingers. They’re too innocuous. Just a bunch of tasteless fluff taking up space so not-enough caramel can be covered with fake chocolate. Milky Ways are to candy bars what Kenny G is to jazz.

Three Musketeers – Remember when you’re a kid and you came home from trick or treating with a big pillowcase full of goodies and you dumped them on your living room floor to behold your ill-gotten booty. Chunky was a big thing back then and you were fascinated by its tiny brick of hard chocolate (but turned off by the nuts and raisins inside). Snickers were prized and Almond Joys were the Holy Grail. And Three Musketeers….? Well, they were the flotsam and jetsam of your haul. The first thing to be jettisoned. The ones always left at the bottom of the sack. Why? Because they SUCKED! “Fluffy whipped nougat” my ass. They sucked in 1964 and they suck today. You know a candy bar is shit when even an eight year old can’t be talked into eating it.

 

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The Bellagio Turned 20 Yesterday and No One Cared

Image may contain: 9 people, including Samuel DeMarco, people smiling, people standing

The Bellagio Hotel and Casino turned 20 years old last night at 8:00 and no one gave a shit.

Not a peep from its corporate parent; no parties; no press releases; no kudos from the casino industry that has become one gigantic fat cat because of the ground it plowed.

As long as we’re mixing metaphors, think of it this way: until Steve Wynn planted his flag and took his casino to “11”, restaurants were considered small fish swimming around in a large gambling pond. When he decided to ring his casino with nine superb eateries — Sam’s, Shintaro, Le Cirque, Circo, Jasmine, Aqua, Olives, Prime, and Picasso — it was big news in the culinary world. As I’ve written before: when the Bellagio opened, the gastronomic ground shook in the High Mojave Desert and the whole world felt the shudder. Something big, really big was happening here; something that would change Las Vegas’s culture and reputation in huge ways, and the food world in many small ones.

To be fair, what Wynn wrought was simply a more extravagant version of changes that had been underway for the previous five years. Wolfgang Puck was the original pioneer, along with Gamal Aziz (the MGM F&B executive who first expanded its culinary horizons with Emeril Lagasse, Mark Miller and Charlie Trotter). Together with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — the first upscale national chain to come here in 1989 — they proved that there was gastronomic gold in our tourism hills, and that people (mainly Boomers who were coming of age) had cash to spend on good restaurants — not just the coffee shop, steakhouse, buffet and “continental” dining rooms of decades past.

I turned 40 in the 90s, and like many of my age bubble, I looked at fine dining as a signifier of the good life I aspired to. And like many of my contemporaries, I started making some real money in those years and had cash to spend on things I had previously only dreamed of.

And spend it I did, and to the Bellagio I went — on October 15, 1998, with my then-wife — to walk around and take in the magnificence of it all. Sam’s (headed by New York chef Sam DeMarco) looked like a set from a Flintstones cartoon, and had tweaked American classics like hot dogs and grilled cheese and burgers like Vegas had never seen before. Memories have dimmed but I recall appetizers served in all sorts of fun, odd dishware, incredible mini-burgers, and wonderful fried seafood. “Too hip for the room,” were my thoughts then and I turned out to be right. Despite great food and a super-groovy decor, what Bellagio wanted/needed was a mediocre steakhouse (to catch the overflow from its superb one downstairs), and that’s what Sam’s was replaced with after a couple of years into its run.

But no matter, on that opening night, it was magical, as was Shintaro, the sushi bar with back-lit jellyfish floating above it, Prime (then and now, one of the most beautiful restaurants in America), Picasso (headlined by Julian Serrano – San Francisco’s best chef, lured here by Wynn), Aqua (helmed then by a seafood wünderkind named Michael Mina), and finally the jewels in the crown: Le Cirque and Circo. Never before had any hotel (in Vegas, in America, in the world) seen so much kitchen, menu, architectural, and cooking talent in one hotel at one time. It was a murderer’s row of restaurants, and  every chef, manager, restaurateur, and dishwasher in America couldn’t help but take notice.

And notice it they did. And within two years the Venetian and Mandalay Bay came on line to compete, and within five years the whole culinary world, from Parisian chefs to Food Network stars, were knocking on Vegas’s door asking to be let in.

And do you know how Mirage Resorts International (Bellagio’s corporate parent) celebrated this groundbreaking birthday yesterday? With crickets.

Nada. Nothing. Bupkus.

Not a tweet, not a mention, nary a “Hey, it’s Bellagio’s 20th birthday!” press release.

Why? Because they don’t give a shit. Like all casino corporations, this property is just another profit center to them. They’re not interested in legacies or histories or nostalgia. (They’re also probably not interested in celebrating anything invented by Steve “Tennis Shorts Testicles” Wynn.) The entire gambling industry, indeed the entirety of Las Vegas, is built on the here and now. Long term memories are not conducive to shilling any of the products Vegas is selling. Short term memory needs to be as short as possible — the better to keep you at the table and looking forward to winning something (YOU WON’T!), or induce you to spend money on something you don’t need, or mindless entertainment that’s like chewing gum for the eyes.

Lest I be seen as being too hard on the hotel’s owners, it must be pointed out that Las Vegas as a whole didn’t give a shit about Bellagio’s birthday, either. Maybe because the revolution in started in our food scene has faded considerably in the past five years. The Guy Savoys aren’t clamoring to come here anymore, and all we get these days is hype fatigue from Giada opening a fast casual outlet in Caesars (who the fuck cares?), David Chang slapping his name on something, or Gordon Ramsay phoning it in with another licensing deal.

Yes, the days of having Grant MacPherson, Mark Poidevin, Kerry Simon, Serrano, Mina, and DeMarco all in their kitchens at the same time are long gone. But Las Vegas eats so much better today than it did in 1997, and even in eclipse, our restaurants are still world-class — something no one thought possible until Steverino flung open those doors exactly two decades ago, and told the world it needed to come to Las Vegas to eat.

You shoulda been there; it was really something.

{From L-R in picture at top of page: Grant MacPherson, Mark Poidevin, Todd English, Dawn Varming, Steve “Tennis Shorts” Wynn,” Kerry Simon, Michael Mina, Sammy DeMarco, Julian Serrano}

The Worst Thing About Social Media

 

 

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Social media has afforded the world’s bravest cowards a flea market for their artistry – Mark Leibovich

Was thinking recently about the most destructive thing about social media, aka Twitter and Facebook. No doubt, the candidates for the worst side of it create a very crowded field. Narcissism and negativity are rampant, as are trolling and digging up people’s past…and deciding years later that you were deeply offended by something….in 2005.

For every good thing the interwebs have spawned (#metoo; heightened awareness of racism, world understanding), there’s been a counterbalance of empowerment of ideas and people that used to reside in the little holes where they belonged (conspiracy nutbags, truthers, chem trail hysterics, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, etc.)

But the thing that bothers me most are people who take offense at something, and then try to get someone fired from their job. (I’m not talking about Harvey Weinstein/Charlie Rose levels of predators that deserve their comeuppance.) I’m referring to the individual (and mob) mentality that empowers without hesitation, a person’s right to take some offense (a racist tweet, a salacious photo, a contrary opinion) and then run to a person’s employer with pitchfork in hand demanding that they know “the kind of person who is working for you.”

Of course, it goes much deeper than that. What they’re really trying to do is deeply hurt someone, literally where they live — Interfering with someone’s income for nothing more than taking offense at something a person wrote. No one actually DOES anything to these people — no dicks are whipped out; nothing happened face-to-face — it’s all because someone read something they disagreed with, be it relatively benign (“you and your opinions suck”) or something deeply anti-Semitic, pro-police, Beyoncé-critical, or simply that you made a lot of really bad jokes.

This came into focus for me recently when a couple of valued, smart FB friends — who have weighed in with opinions on some of my more controversial postings — told me that their employers received messages along the lines of “You’d should know what kind of (racist, sexist, insensitive, opinionated, asshole) ____ ____is.” All because this person made a comment on my Facebook page the offended party didn’t like.

This sort of behavior has become all too common over the past several years and has taken internet trolling to a new low.

When did this become okay? When did disagreeing with a person’s opinion become a license to try to make them lose their job? It’s elementary to the point of absurdity that the punishment sought (by the outraged person) has no relation to the crime.

So what if someone you work with thinks Harvey Weinstein is getting a raw deal? Or Mario Batali wasn’t doing what thousands of other less-famous chefs have done? Or Bill Cosby is innocent? (HE’S NOT!) I’m sure a significant % of people I’ve worked with in my life held some deeply racist or sexist opinions about certain things. But as long it didn’t interfere with their job, why give a shit? Who even cares if they belong to a “Ship All Brown People Back To Where They Belong” organization (aka Republicans), or a “All Women Are Simply Repositories For My Sperm” chatroom (aka college fraternities)?

Everyone knows the interwebs created a forum for assholes of all stripes to vent their twisted opinions, but acting like a jerk in some Reddit forum pales in comparison with going out of your way to get someone fired from their job.

I’ve had my own experiences with this. Two TV producers and networks got bombarded with negative info about me because someone didn’t like something I said on the internet. (A dust-up with a troll who called me an anti-Japanese racist, and trying to put the Batali thing in perspective, if you’re interested.) As did the City of Las Vegas — because the person who runs Eater Vegas (press-release regurgitator Susan Stapleton) didn’t like some tweets I sent out about how much it sucks. (IT DOES!) Think about it: they didn’t like something I said, so they went out of their way to get me tossed off some TV shows and fired from my day job — none which had anything to do with whatever I said.

Ten, twenty, fifty years ago no one acted this way. No one even thought of acting this way. Someone offended you, you ignored them, someone (a public figure perhaps) said something you disagreed with, you wrote a letter to the editor and griped to your neighbors. It’s one thing to vote someone out of office (politicians are fair game, after all), but private citizens, even in a public forum, have a right to express themselves without fear of financial repercussions.

“It’s just too easy to do it, now,” The Food Gal® says. And she’s right. The ease which allows women to band together to stop workplace misogyny also allows one or a dozen committed ax-grinders to take a hatchet (or carpet bomb) to a person’s reputation and income. And short of illegal harassment or libel, there are no rules, no morality judgments, or punishments for this behavior.

Besides the grotesque imbalance of power this dynamic has caused (a stranger being able to directly communicate with your boss about things that have nothing to do with your work), what this does in the long run is drive opinions back into the closet — the exact opposite of what the internet was supposed to foment through the broadening our horizons.

One of the reasons I think Trump support runs so rabid is because conservatives had/have been driven underground by all the liberal p.c. correctness, and opinion-shaming. They can’t express themselves freely anywhere but Fox News and Trump rallies for fear of being shouted down (or worse), so they clam up on social media and let themselves go wild when they have plenty of back up. But the point is, everyone should feel comfortable to express themselves, no matter how marginalized they may be, without fear that something they think, or say, no matter how wacky, is going to cost them their employment. The freedom of speech this country was founded upon demands it, and civilized behavior should require it.

Everyone should be able to speak without fear in America.

Except frat boys. Those dudes are fucking idiots.