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January 28, 2010

Today is free burrito day at Chipotle’s newest Capital Region location in Clifton Park.  So you should pack your car full of family and friends and pick up some burFREEtos.

Officially you can get tacos, burrito bowls, fajita burritos, salads, chips, and sodas for free too.  If you have never been, and perhaps thought it was just a tad too expensive for a fast-food chain, this is your chance to see what all the fuss is about.

It is no secret that I get very excited about Chipotle.  When the store opened in Latham I was invited to a special tasting for the [cough] media.  Who would ever have thunk that what I do is even remotely considered journalism.  But afterwards I ran down the menu ingredient by ingredient and weighed in on their promise of “food with integrity”.

Incidentally, that post on the restaurant’s ingredients turned out to be my second-most-read post in 2009.

So today I’m going to try to do two things.
1)    Convince those people who have not tried Chipotle to give it a chance.
2)    Convert those people who have tried the restaurant and had a bad first impression.  And by bad first impression, I mean that they still prefer Moe’s.

Why am I doing all of this?  Because I believe in what they are trying to do.

The founder of Chipotle was on Oprah recently.  His name is Steve Ells.  “Access to sustainably raised food shouldn’t be a luxury,” he says. “It should be an everyday occurrence.”

I often go to the restaurant with my one-year old daughter, and recently we have been sharing a burrito bowl.  For less than $10 we are nourished on beef raised without hormones or antibiotics, cheese and sour cream made from the milk of cows not treated with rBST, and beans that are increasingly coming from organic sources.

This is wholesome, nutritious food.  Not the crap that you get at most chains.

And I understand that even at the modest price given the quality of its ingredients, Chipotle will remain a special treat for some.  In the future I would like to write more on how sustainable foods can be an everyday occurrence regardless of your budget.  I suspect organic whole grains, legumes and value vegetables will play a major role.  But I digress.

Do not write it off as a chain.  Do not dismiss it as pretentious.  Do not fear the ghost of Billy Mays.

Come today, wait in line (they generally move with surprising speed), and try the food for yourself.

“But” you may say, “I’ve tried the food, and I still prefer Moe’s.”  I have heard this before and I find it difficult (but not impossible) to understand.  Moe’s has a lot of perceived choice, where the menu at Chipotle is very simple.  Moe’s has a giant salsa bar, so you can load up on a variety of different flavorings for your food.

Frankly, I’ve always found the meat at Moe’s to be nasty.  But I recognize I’m an ideologue and that some people prefer ground beef to grilled steak or braised and shredded brisket.

The truth is that while the Chipotle menu may look simple, there are an almost infinite number of variations.  It is not mentioned on the menu, but you can split meats.  If you wanted beef two ways you can have ½ barbacoa and ½ steak.  Or if you wanted a complex braised meat burrito you could order ½ carnitas and ½ barbacoa.  The anti-red meat burrito could be ½ chicken and ½ carnitas.  You get the picture.

Bottom line is that it’s up to you.

Since it is up to you, a lot of the success of your burrito is in your hands.  Ideally every single item on the line should be at its peak.  But we do not live in the world of ideals.  And it is necessary to take a critical eye to how the food looks at the moment you are ordering and adjust on the fly.

For example, Chipotle cooks their beef to medium rare.  Crazy, I know.  After it sits on the line, the meat can cook through and look brown.  If you are patient, they should cook up a new batch at your request.  But if you are in a rush, you are best to change your order.

Look at the food.  Engage your senses.  Use your judgment.  What follows are my tips for a better burrito.

Initially the Chipotle employee will want to load up the burrito with rice.  I do not let them do that.  Too much rice is a flavor killer.  A few tablespoons to a quarter cup is sufficient.  I make up the lost volume by asking for extra scoops of the much tastier and more healthful vegetarian black beans.

The most forgiving proteins are the braised meats – barbacoa and carnitas.  They are actually cooked off-site and finished in the restaurant.  They hold very well.  That’s not to say they cannot be mucked up.  Once I saw dry carnitas.  I do not even know how that is possible.

As far as salsas go, the beef can really stand up well to the hottest salsa.  The carnitas pairs best with the medium tomatillo salsa or the medium corn salsa which both have a respectable kick.

The rest is up to you, although I have found the cheese and sour cream to be too cold at Chipotle, lowering the temperature of the burrito.  One day, I’m going to be super fussy and ask that they put down the cheese between the rice and the beans, so that the piping hot beans temper and melt the cheese into the rice.  Although I have yet to pull the trigger on that plan.

And if you like a lot of salsas, I’m sure they will gladly pack sides of each of the salsas on the line for you to bring to your table.  Chipotle is very accommodating to its particular clientele.

That kind of appeals to me too.

WHERE: Chipotle, Clifton Park Centre, 22 Clifton Country Road in Clifton Park
WHEN:   Thursday, January 28, 11 am until 8 p.m.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 28, 2010 9:41 am

    I agree, Daniel B. I cannot understand the vitriol directed at Chipotle–on Table Hopping blog, for example. I can only conclude that many people writing to Steve Barnes simply have no taste. I know that sounds like an elitist arrogant food snob but as you point out, Chipotle’s ingredients are OBJECTIVELY superior, not just subjectively! Taco Bell is just short of garbage, Moe’s blows, and the other places people rave about are local one-store places that can’t and shouldn’t be compared to a restaurant that’s trying to bring superior ingredients to the fast food masses. They also complain about the price, as if good ingredients should be the same price as crappy ingredients.

  2. January 28, 2010 2:25 pm

    I have drunk the Chipotle Kool-Aid®, even visited the Iowa farm where some of Steve Ell’s happy pigs are raised. But here’s the thing. Their fresh salsas aren’t very interesting, the servers aren’t particularly generous with them, and the jarred hot sauces available for self-adjusting your flavor taste, well, jarred.

    Moe’s, on the other hand, has some exceptional good sauces and you can ladle them on until your mouth is afire. Hola!

    Since you are on a high level with your Chipotle-ness, Profusser, try asking them to put a few sauces out for their customers to apply themselves instead of requesting from the server. (And that’s another thing. To me the magic is in combinations–tomatillo for tartness, ancho for smokiness and plenty of the plain hot stuff–but you feel a little greedy asking the Chipotle server for more than one.)

  3. R.J. permalink
    January 28, 2010 5:31 pm

    Daniel, I sent you an e-mail, but thought I should try here as well. We need to know the city or town you are currently living in for the WingDing article. Feel free to e-mail me. Thanks.

  4. January 28, 2010 7:37 pm

    I’m not a fan of Moe’s, by the time I see those burritos when my husband brings home take out dinner, they look and taste like mush. I fell in love with Chipotle on a summer road trip, and am ecstatic to have them in our area. While I’m not a fussy eater, I can’t see how anyone could miss the difference with the fresh ingredients: lime in the chips, cilantro in the rice, and braised in flavor in the meats.

  5. Don permalink
    January 28, 2010 7:57 pm

    Darn. Wish I had read about this before going out for dinner at the new crepe place in Crestwood, rather than after.

  6. Sarah M. permalink
    January 28, 2010 9:47 pm

    So your little show here is only to direct people to your personal chain of restaurants? Is that cool?

    Just kidding, Ron! Chipotle 4ever.

  7. Elyse permalink
    January 29, 2010 9:25 am

    Dear Daniel,

    I am a relatively new reader and a fan of your blog. I have also relocated to Albany after a long stint on the West Coast (Seattle- not nearly the food mecca that the bay area is, but not too shabby). I usually find your commentary right on (especially your column about wine shops in the times union), albeit quixotic (in a lovable way). I love your “mission”and pretty much everything you stand for in this blog.

    However, I am puzzled and disturbed by your love for Chipotle. Their sustainability model is excellent, but it doesn’t make up for the way their food tastes, or rather, doesn’t taste. It is totally bland. I’d expect higher standards of Mexican food from someone who spent some time in California! Did you forget what it’s supposed to taste like?

    My opinion was not formed by a bad first impression of the place. There was a Chipotle in Seattle that I frequented every once in a while for the entire 10 years I was there. Fine for a quick bite when it was convenient, but not very tasty and absolutely not worth going out of my way for.

    Also I’ve never eaten at Moe’s so I can’t compare. As far as I know you can’t get a decent burrito around here, which is fine with me- I’m more of a taco eater (and I make a damn good taco).

  8. January 31, 2010 11:58 am

    Taste is subjective and to my tastes, Chipotle is good. I disagree that their fresh salsas aren’t very good, they taste like salsa should taste which is not predominantly of heat, that’s what hot sauce is for.

    If you feel greedy asking for more than one kind of salsa, that’s on you. That doesn’t really have anything to do with Chipotle’s model. I don’t eat cheese or sour cream on my burrito so I always get several salsas. No one’s ever made me feel weird for asking and the servings are more than generous. Have you seen the ladles they use for the salsa? Looks about 1/4 to 1/3 cup to me which is a very generous amount.

    The one thing I was surprised about was how many calories and fat there are in the tortillas. I think I am going to switch to the bowls because of it. My favorite combination is the flavorful and tender carnitas and tomatillo and corn salsa.

    And now I am likely to spend the rest of the day thinking about carnitas…

    One other thing, I’d say I am not your typical fast food eater. I don’t eat it at all actually. Personal choice I made many, many years ago. But I have relaxed my standards to be able to eat Five Guys, which I love and with Chipotle I can have that fast food experience without feeling like I have relaxed my standards at all.

  9. February 8, 2010 10:47 pm

    BurFREEtos! You’re funny.

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