Suggested Retail Price: $2.99 for a 10-ounce bag
When the UN’s Trials for Crimes Against Cheese get rolling, Kraft executives will be the first against the wall. If only they could have been stopped before committing arguably the worst of their crimes: Bistro Deluxe pastas.
Let’s back up for a moment. Bistro Deluxe is basically fancified mac ’n’ cheese. It’s a marketing tour de force: The flavors I sampled were presented in sleek, metallic bags containing the two entrées, Creamy Portobello Mushroom (Cavatappi Pasta with Portobello Mushrooms in a Creamy Three Cheese Sauce), and Sundried Tomato Parmesan (Penne Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes & Basil in a Parmesan Cheese Sauce). Both are relatively simple to prepare: Boil water, boil pasta in water, add the tiny little dehydrated scraps of tomatoes or mushrooms, drain the hot water, squirt in the petroleum-by-product-looking cheese sauce, stir it around, and eat. In theory, each bag serves three people, but your diners would need to be fairly small and unhungry for this to work.
The portobello mushroom flavor is indistinguishable from the $3 Kraft version of mac ’n’ cheese. The dehydrated mushroom pieces taste far more like pasta water than mushrooms: There’s no woody musk, no pungently seductive fungal notes that play a melody against the rhythm of the pasta. And the three-cheese sauce? Apparently composed of Kraft Singles, Kraft Singles, and Kraft Singles.
Still, it’s a soaring culinary masterwork when compared with the sun-dried tomato variety. The tomatoes do ring out with a taste, but it’s an uncanny combination of cheap marinara sauce and bouillon cubes. The Parmesan cheese sauce is heavy and gritty rather than creamy or indulgent, offering an unhealthy experience with none of the fun.
Presented as merely mac ’n’ cheese, these two meals would be adequate and disappointing, respectively. Presented as the make-at-home incarnation of bistro cooking, they marinate in their own shameful hubris.
Suggested Retail Price: $4.99 for a 16-ounce tub
The Dallas-based gelato chain Talenti has been slowly pushing its product into new markets over the past few years. Should you be fortunate enough to spot its attractive, clear plastic tubs in your local grocer’s freezer, you’d be well advised to scoop up as many as you can carry off.
Talenti gelato has a light, almost feathery texture that yields even to a humble kitchen spoon. The stuff is smooth, and unlike some luxury ice cream products—Ben & Jerry’s, for instance—it’s not so rich that the primal experience of sin overwhelms the flavors.
This is a fortunate thing, as Talenti’s flavors range from good to sublime, based on the three that I sampled. Belgian milk chocolate is a surprisingly subtle creation, the creaminess and tiny cocoa bite intertwining pleasantly on the palate as I hoovered the stuff down my gullet. Double dark chocolate is better still: The more profound cocoa clout is welcome, and tiny, flavorful chunks of chocolate kick the quality into the stratosphere. Best of the three, however, is the simple Mediterranean mint, which tastes like an actual mint leaf and lulled me into a kind of gelato trance state.