Oct 4, 2017

Preview of Exclusive National Taco Day Taco Bell Test Kitchen Dinner

It's National Taco Day today and as part of the festivities at Taco Bell, they're holding an exclusive dinner for 32 lucky fans tonight at their Test Kitchen at Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, CA. It's a reservation-only event that was fully booked in seconds.

Fortunately, I was able to attend a media preview of the event to learn what's going to be on the 5-course taco-focused menu as well as try a few of the dishes.

The items I tried included tortilla chips and cheese crisps with five signature Taco Bell sauces (four with an extra bump in flavor), including discontinued Salsa Verde (I'm sure you could probably locate some Lava sauce at Taco Bell HQ as well). Regular guacamole was also included.

The sauces are as follows: Mild with roasted garlic, Hot with hatch chilis, smoked Fire, Diablo spiked with Dos XX, and Salsa Verde. Of the five, the one that offered the most distinctive flavor was the Diablo with Dos XX.

The cheese crisps, which were made with a roasted blend of cheddar, parmesan, and cotija, serve as a fine stand-in for regular chips while offering up a more distinctive, stronger flavor.

Next, I had the Margarita Shooter & Mini Chicken Taco as an amuse-bouche (literally "mouth amuser" in French). I didn't have the alcohol but the taco was a nice mouthful with shell that reminded me of the since-departed Crunchito.

One of the main dishes was called "A World of Tacos," which was a plate of three tacos, each one inspired by the cuisine of country where Taco Bell is located. Represented were South Korea, Japan, and India.

For South Korea, there was basically a bibimbap taco featuring a crispy rice shell (inspired by stone pot bibimbap), Baja Blast bulgogi, ssam sour cream, kimchi slaw (which was more of a non-fermented kimchi-inspired slaw as the Taco Bell head chef felt that kimchi was maybe too polarizing for some palates), and toasted sesame seeds.

The Japanese taco, featured a crispy taco-seasoned ramen taco shell, wagyu beef, wasabi sour cream, cabbage slaw, pickled cucumber and peppers, and nori (I think there was a bit of a mix-up and the nori, which came with crisped rice, ended up on my Korean taco).

Finally, the Indian taco consisted of a curry-spiced Naked Chicken Chalupa shell filled with berbere sour cream, tikka masala, and grilled mango pico de gallo.

Of the three, the South Korean taco was my favorite as it really tasted like bibimbap but in portable form, The three tacos alone would make for a pretty filling meal left alone part of a five-course meal (I was told that the advice to diners would be to give everything a taste and chow down on your favorites).

The last thing I tried was a deconstructed take on a Taco Supreme that they were calling "Elements of a Taco Supreme." It featured a crispy masa cake, "steak two ways" (a filet mignon cooked sous vide and then seared plus shank braised in Taco Bell beef seasonings), sour cream caviar (which I didn't get because they were having problems with the "spherication" of the sour cream; I was told it's quite labor intensive and I received sour cream dollops instead), charred Romaine lettuce, cheese crumble, compressed tomatoes, and Taco Bell au jus (made with Taco Bell beef seasoning and steak drippings).

The tried to wrangle all the different ingredients together for the perfect bite but it was the masa cake and beef steak that really made me think of a Taco Bell crunchy taco.

The dishes I didn't get to try were:

- "This Side Up" Caesar Taco Salad - A Cotija shell that you crack over a roasted green chile Caesar salad featuring citrus, taco-seasoned pepitas, and pico de gallo.

- Watermelon Fresca Freeze - An aqua fresca-inspired frozen drink that they'll be market testing at some point in the future. It's on the dinner menu as a palate cleanser.

- Tacos All Day - A connected line of three tacos; one for morning, midday, and late night. For morning, there's a Naked Egg Taco filled with chorizo, potatoes, cheddar cheese, and pico de gallo. For midday, there's a taco shell filled with seasoned beef, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. Lastly, for late night, there's a taco shell filled with nache cheese fundido, seasoned beef, crispy onions, pickled jalapenos, and Firecracker sauce.

- Trio of Dessert Tacos - A hot chocolate cookie taco with horchata-spiced ice cream and pepita brittle; a brown butter cookie taco with salted caramel ice cream and candied pretzel; and a lemon burst cookie taco with Mora & Limon ice cream, and pistachio crunch.

If this sounds like your thing, Taco Bell plans to do future Taco Bell dining events in their Test Kitchen as they find appropriate occasions to do so but you'll have to be fast and really lucky to score a seat.

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