The CHOW Blog rss

Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Space Madness

OK, first of all, I didn’t even know that Valentine’s Day was celebrated in China. Now I find out that not only is it celebrated, but marketers in Shanghai are pushing a new food fad for couples to eat on the most romantic day of the year: space potatoes.

The BBC features a piece titled “Lift-Off for Chinese Space Potato,” in which it describes how the seeds of a purple variety of sweet potato accompanied Chinese astronauts on China’s second manned space mission, Shenzhou VI.

Experiments exposed seeds to radiation, different pressures and weightlessness.

After returning to earth, the seeds were later grown on terra firma.

Promoters say that exposing the seeds to space makes for a more hardy and nutritious plant. Ohhh kayyyy. Connoisseurs say there is little difference in flavor between the space potatoes and their earthbound counterparts, although the texture is reported to be a tad more “glutinous.”

Here’s to the lovers of Shanghai, who may be waking up on Valentine’s Day to a piping hot bowl of space potato congee and a glass of the most famous space drink of all.

Pop-Up Love

Take a break from all the roses and talking teddy bears tomorrow at one of Altoids’ temporary Anti-Valentine’s Day pop-up shops. Offering samples of the company’s new chocolate-dipped mints (plus lots of free swag, including free lattes and cupcakes from hipster-approved local bakeries), the shops are, of course, a big marketing gimmick, but the cynics among us (yes, you, and you too) appreciate the whole love-stinks angle as an antidote to the whole red-plush commercialization of Feb. 14, also known as “Buy Stuff or You Won’t Get Laid.”

The shops, which will be open through Valentine’s Day, can be found in Chicago (and here’s some feedback from Apartment Therapy and Chicagoist), New York City, and Miami.

A free latte and, even better, a free cupcake (plus a handful of mints) sounds swell. Now, if only Charmin were still running that much-appreciated, monthlong Times Square toilet installation. Because even more than a cupcake, nothing says “I love you” like a clean place to pee.

In the Beginning, There Was Water

The first thing human beings ingested? Water and ice. The latest? Deep-fried Coca-Cola. The Food Timeline was created by New Jersey reference librarian Lynne Olver to aid students intent on researching food history, and it’s a neat tool even for looky-loos. How else would we know that humans started eating apples sometime in 8000 BCE, but didn’t figure out how to make kimchi until the seventh century? Or that sushi arrived on our plates about 700 years before we filled our cups with coffee? Or that the prototypes for hot dogs came along about 100 years before the Aztecs invented salsa?

Me, I’m just excited that Space Food Sticks made the Food Timeline cut.

From “Top Chef” Hopeful to Wine-Store Mogul?

Twentysomething sommelier and one-time Top Chef villain Stephen Asprinio is nearing completion on two ambitious ventures, Slashfood reports. He’s launching the first, a “concept wine boutique” called Tastevin, in L.A. this spring; his goal with the shop is to create an unstuffy place for folks his age to discover good but affordable wine. As Slashfood explains,

The shop will be 1,000-square feet and will offer 40-50 boutique wines, none of which will be over $25 per bottle, on a rotating basis. The major selling point is that every wine they offer will be ‘on tap,’ thanks to a cutting-edge computerized wine tasting system that allows every buyer to taste up to three different wines before they buy them, ensuring that they get one they like every time. Not only will they be able to taste the wines, but brief, current descriptions of all the wines will be offered via audio wands. The wands will be similar to the audio tours offered in museums, but will be equipped with short descriptions of the wines and their history. This eliminates the need to clutter the space with all kinds of signs … many buyers in the target demographic can feel intimidated by the prospect of dealing with a wine expert or someone who will try to upsell them into an expensive bottle they’re not interested in.

Sounds pretty great. Though of course I wish it didn’t: If you watched season one, you may remember the perpetually designer-suited Stephen as the pretentious git who once declared that he’s in the top three percentile of everything he does. A talented chef, by all accounts, but one whose (deliberately?) arrogant persona made him the object of many viewers’ ire.

What about that second project? It’s another idea aimed at a younger crowd, and this one I’m not so sure about: a contemporary Tuscan restaurant called Forté d’Asprinio, scheduled to open this summer in Palm Beach. It’s supposed to appeal to “adventurous palates,” but as Slashfood explains, the real distinguishing feature is the fact that “not one member of management or the kitchen staff, including his executive chef, will be over the age of 30.” Eh? Apparently Stephen is willing to face the inevitable age-discrimination charges so that he can, as Slashfood puts it, “give other up and coming culinary stars a chance to showcase their talents, while at other restaurants they might be held back simply based on the seniority of older chefs.”

What do you think—do young chefs need this kind of leg up these days?

The Expanding World of Pinot Noir

The Expanding World of Pinot Noir

New Zealand gets in on the Pinot action. READ MORE

Dating a Restricted Diet

He’s a vegan; she’s a steak and potatoes kind of girl who dislikes anything leafy or green. Is there any hope for this relationship?

A recent Slashfood post about dating with dietary restrictions inspired a slew of interesting comments—from those with restrictions and those who would, or would not, date them. Here are some of the highlights:

I started dating someone who cannot have milk products about two and a half years ago. At first it was hard to adjust … but it … has actually made me a better thinker in the kitchen—I have to be much more experimental and it has turned out to be great. So I guess it is sort of what you make of it—It would be hard for me to decide that Humboldt Fog is more important than human interaction.

I’m the one with the restrictive diet. I have a horrendous stomach. Luckily my boyfriend has been really great about asking me what he should and shouldn’t put into our dinners. When we eat out, he always looks at the menu for things that I can’t have just to be sure that I don’t order them by mistake. So sweet.

I dated a guy once who pretty much only ate chicken nuggets, steak, fries and vegetables. No bread at all. I couldn’t stand it. It put a real damper on our relationship.

Medically restrictive I can deal with—I can cook around diabetes and GI problems. Learning up-front that he was a vegan/vegetarian? Absolutely a deal-breaker—I’m a deep-south steak & potatoes kind of girl.

I also have a restrictive diet. I am allergic to vegetables and bread. I eat meat. That limits some of the places and it has cost me dates. One guy told me it was not “worth his time” to wrangle around my dietary needs, another just walked away from the table.

I don’t even like to dine with people who cannot enjoy a full range of foods. I guess ordering out in a restaurant is okay, eat what you want, but for a partner, or cooking for other people in your home, very annoying.

Even though I’m now in a serious relationship I cannot nor will I date a vegetarian or a vegan. If you are a picky eater, that is remarkably unsexy and you are gone too. As far as lactose or gluten intolerance, those are things I can work with, but veggies are out of the picture the moment I know they are vegetarian.

When I started dating my current boyfriend, we were both veg. I’ve come back to the dark side with a vengeance and will eat burgers and pork products like no one’s business. He’s not offended by my omnivorousness, and I’m not put out by his not wanting to eat meat. What someone eats or not eats shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

I once dated a man who disliked all vegetables besides potatoes. I dealt with it at the time—but in hindsight I realize it never would have worked. Medical or ethical food decisions I can respect, but it’s no fun to cook for a picky eater.

What do you think? Ever been driven crazy by the dietary restrictions/preferences of a partner—or been the restricted partner yourself?

Stocking the Minimalist Kitchen

Stocking the Minimalist Kitchen

Ban clutter: All you need are these 10 basic tools. READ MORE

Paletas to Stimulate Your Palate

Mexican ice creams don’t just soothe your tongue with bland creaminess, they wake it up with flavors like spicy mango, chamoy (kind of an apricot-chili taste) or jackfruit.

On the Eastside, La Mich has an amazing range of flavors, including vanilla raisin, butter strawberry, and the spicier options above. They also serve Mexican coffee and hot chocolate.

Mateo’s may not have as much variety, but it’s staked out some turf on the Westside, scooping up leche quemada (burnt milk), guava, and chocolate.

La Mich Paleteria [Inland of LA]
1026 Huntington Drive, Duarte
626-359-6333
Map

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars [Culver City-ish]
4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City
310-313-7625
Map

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars [Midtown]
4222 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
323-931-5500
Locater

Board Links: Wicked cool ice cream flavors

A Sort-Of Spinoff of Sushi Gen

There’s a new sushi bar in Little Tokyo, Takumi, with an old hand behind the counter: Hiro, who worked for eight years at the crushingly popular Sushi Gen down the street.

Takumi’s fish is super fresh, tender, and moist, says chowmominLA. They have honjake salmon, higher quality than the regular kind–nicely marbled and not too fatty. Albacore is tender and moist, and yellowtail flavorful. Toro comes two ways in one order: the first piece plain and simple, the second seared in a way that transforms the fattiness without sacrificing the flavor, and sluiced with a citrusy, sweet-soyish kind of sauce.

Sushi averages $4.50 per two-piece order, with honjake salmon at $5.50 and toro at $10. There are also affordable lunch specials and bentos–sushi moriawase lunch includes eight pieces of assorted nigiri and six small pieces of tuna roll for $12.50.

The dinner menu has a lot more cooked items than at lunch. There’s an omakase option for $80 that includes sushi, sashimi and cooked dishes–according to the customer’s taste.

Decor is very light, new, and modern.

A sushi place is only as good as its chefs. Kawasaki-san, formerly of Sushi Go 55, is reportedly at Azabu in Whittier–for the time being. Meanwhile, at Go 55, the new chef is good, says Jerome. Sashimi pieces and portions are smaller than at Sushi Gen, but it’s quite fresh. While there, be sure to check out the fried oysters, which HPLsauce thinks are the best in the city, so far.


Takumi [Little Tokyo]
333 E. 2nd Street (SW entrance of Little Tokyo Village), Los Angeles
213-626-1793
Locater

Sushi Gen [Little Tokyo]
422 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles
213-617-0552
Locater

Sushi Go 55. [Little Tokyo]
333 S. Alameda St. Ste. 317, Los Angeles
213-687-0777
Locater

Azabu [East LA-ish]
13119 Philadelphia St., Whittier
562-789-0881
Locater

Board Links

Watch out, Sushi Gen
Going to Sushi Go

Huitlacoche Quesadilla at Doña Tomas

Doña Tomas is still making excellent food, says deelish–especially the terrific huitlacoche (corn smut fungus) quesadilla that one could eat at every meal, every day. Chiles rellenos are also excellent, not breaded or deep fried, just stuffed with smooth, meltingly yummy goat cheese and roasted. The masa is fresh and tastes of sweet corn. Earl Grey feels the service is sloppy, and the food is only very good, not great. And Mari likes the juicy, crispy carnitas, despite the fact that they are rubbed with Mexican oregano.

For dessert, try ice cream served with baked apples, raisins, and pecans, sprinkled with cajeta.


Restaurante Dona Tomas [Temescal]
5004 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
510-450-0522
Locater

Board Links

Doña Tomas–Recent Reviews?