Can Qdoba rescue brown rice -- from itself?
The term "flavor profile" isn't usually heard in reference to brown rice -- unless "tastes an awful lot like water-logged wood chips" is considered a valid flavor descriptor. But Qdoba, the runner-up of Colorado's homegrown, fast-casual Mexican chains, is introducing seasoned brown rice as an option in its restaurants. And I may set aside my personal grudge against the bane of grains and give it another go.
I trust Qdoba that much.
There are very few uber-nutritious foods that I don't like or won't try more than once, but unfortunately for the brown rice industry, those sticky, gummy little grains have been on my "nuh-uh-nope" list. I realize that the combined colon-scraping and complex carb super-powers of brown rice are incredibly and undeniably beneficial, but I have tried regular brown rice on at least a dozen different occasions, and no matter how it's prepared, I'm always disgusted by its overly chewy texture and its taste of wet tree bark. I even tried making it at home once, and it broke my rice cooker.
If any restaurant can do it, Qdoba can.
Brown rice sucks water like a kid with a garden hose, and then turns that water into a slick, gummy sludge that literally turned my rice cooker into a slimy swamp and killed it dead, and the resulting batch of rice was still so chewy and flavored like boiled trees that I gave it a trash-can funeral, and haven't touched the stuff since.
But when I heard that Qdoba -- one of my stand-by local eateries -- was introducing brown rice to its menu, I figured the company couldn't screw it up any worse than I could, and perhaps the fast-cazh wizards behind the scenes could work some transformative magic that has long-eluded me.
Qdoba put out an interactive poll in May 2011, and three out of four consumers surveyed said they would choose a lower-calorie item if taste and portion size were comparable; Qdoba's research showed that diners continually seek new flavors and menu variety. (I could've told them that for the low price of a free burrito.) The upshot? Brown rice is now on the ticket, a cost-savvy choice as well as allegedly a crowd-pleasing one. Qdoba is using roasted garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, onion and a hint of red chiles to jazz up the freshly-made brown rice.
"Developing healthier menu options continues to be one of our top priorities, however, we refuse to sacrifice taste in our creations," says Ted Stoner, Qdoba's head chef and director of strategic product development. "Our new brown rice was inspired by popular flavors from Mexico like fire-roasted tomatoes and two types of red chiles, which complement our adobo marinated steak and chicken, our slow-simmered pork and many other menu items."
And nothing sells new menu items like making sure people hear that they are both delicious and healthy.
"In addition to offering vital nutrients such as iron and several vitamins and minerals, Qdoba's brown rice is lower in sodium and calories and higher in fiber than our cilantro-lime rice to help fit our guests' wide variety of taste and dietary preferences," says Stoner.
Diners can choose Qdoba's regular cilantro-lime rice or the new seasoned brown rice with any entrees, including burritos, Naked Burritos and Mexican Gumbo -- or smothered with way too much guacamole, since that's how I order everything at Qdoba.
Putting aside the grudge I've been carrying against brown rice for murdering an innocent kitchen appliance, I'm genuinely interested to see if Qdoba can turn those woody, nashy little grains into something worth getting excited about.