The CHOW Blog rss

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

White Castle ready to enchant, nauseate your V-Day sweetie

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that if you want to make your Twin Cities V-Day really special this year, you’ll take your loved one to one of the area’s 15 White Castle restaurants for a romantic bag of those atrocious little greasebombs known as Slyders.

Farce? Satire? Fact. The restaurants are annually transformed into fine dining venues featuring:

... candlelight, tablecloths and wait staff in the decorated dining room. For the first time this year, all 15 Twin Cities White Castles are participating, and it’s one of the hardest tables in town to get, with suburban locations filling up fastest.

People love it. They pull up in limos and rented Rolls-Royces. They blindfold their husbands and wives to lure them into the trap. They hire harpists.

It’s an “aw, shucks” feature story that the papers around here have been jumping on for years like trained newts. The tragedy of it all is that there’s a fast-food restaurant in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area that actually makes pretty damned good hamburgers from fresh ground chuck … but it’s not White Castle. It’s Culver’s.

Merguez Sausage

Merguez, a spicy, delicious Tunisian sausage traditionally made from lamb and beef, has many fans. Depending on your wallet and your willingness to consume trafe, you have several excellent merguez options around the Bay Area.

A huge hound favorite is Fatted Calf. They sell merguez (and other charcuterie so good it would entitle the maker to knighthood in certain countries) at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. Of course, merguez is traditionally halal, but the Fatted Calf version is full of tasty pork fat. You are warned. It costs about $9 per pound.

Fabrique Delices merguez, which is sold at farmers’ markets around the area (and often appears on the menu at restaurants such as Chez Maman and Couleur Café), is of top quality but dubious halal-ness. It costs $10 to $15 per pound.

Baron’s Meats offers a house-made, halal version, made entirely of lamb–even the casings. It costs about $5.99 per pound.

Finally, Salama Halal Butcher sells a bona fide halal merguez, made of a combination of beef and lamb, for $3.99 per pound. Gary Soup notes that it’s less spicy and less fatty than the Fatted Calf merguez, and not quite as tasty, but it’s reasonably priced and assuredly authentic, if you’re into that kind of thing.


Fatted Calf
510-653-4327

Berkeley Farmers’ Market [East Bay]
Center St. and Martin Luther King, Berkeley
510-548-3333
Map

San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market [Embarcadero]
The Ferry Building
Foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero, San Francisco
415-353-5650
Map

Baron’s Meats
1650 Park St., Alameda
510-864-1915
Locater

Baron’s Meats
(In the Star Grocery)
3068 Claremont Ave., Berkeley
510-654-1915
Locater

Fabrique Delices [Citywide]
Stands at 13 Bay Area Farmers’ Markets
510-441-9500

Chez Maman [Potrero Hill]
1453 18th St., San Francisco
415-824-7166
Locater

Couleur Cafe [Potrero Hill]
300 DeHaro St, at 9th St., San Francisco
415-255-1021
Locater

Salama Halal Butcher
604 Geary St., San Francisco
415-474-0359
Locater

Board Links

Will work for merguez sausages.

For Fans of O’Rourke’s Diner, a Heartfelt Good Morning

Finally, some good news for fans of O’Rourke’s Diner, a hound landmark destroyed by fire in August. Its chef and owner, Brian O’Rourke, is putting in breakfast shifts at the Coppertop, a year-old eatery a few blocks south of his gutted diner. For those who’ve missed Brian’s omelettes, breads, and unflagging positive vibes, he’s at the stove from 7 to 11:30 a.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays.

O’Rourke’s was not insured, which has complicated its recovery from the fire. But its hungry supporters have been raising money to rebuild the place, and they’re aiming to reopen sometime in summer. For occasional progress reports, check out the fan website.


Coppertop Bar and Grill [Middlesex County]
344 Main St., between Court and Washington, Middletown, CT
860-343-9111
Locater

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RIP O’Rourke’s

Bacon Inspiration

The unofficial “year of the pig” may be over, but the food world’s obsession with pork—particularly the fatty cuts—doesn’t show signs of flagging. Case in point: The cookbook Seduced by Bacon is now in its third printing in a little over four months. Author Joanna Pruess chalks it up to the fact that people just can’t get enough of the crispy, chewy, fatty stuff—but perhaps the book’s awesome title also has something to do with it.

I have to say that I personally have a hard time thinking of this particular meat as seductive, if only because I don’t want to Freudianize my lovely childhood memories of Dad cooking bacon on weekend mornings. But I recently went to a reading and tasting for Pruess’s book, hosted by the New York City–based Unwind with Wine club, and since then I’ve been unable to shake the memory of the scoop of pecan, brown sugar, and bacon ice cream they served for dessert (it had serious chunks of bacon in it, and the perfect balance of sweet and smoky flavors). Call it seduction if you must, but I’ve also been eating—and craving—much more bacon than usual, and experimenting with some of the tips that were shared at the event.

If you’re planning on makin’ bacon this weekend, you might be interested in trying a few new things, too:

• Cook bacon in the oven to keep your kitchen clean! Only 3 percent of people do it this way, Pruess says, but in her opinion everyone should. It’s a good way to “reduce shrinkage” and conserve more of the drippings.

• Speaking of drippings, use those every chance you get. Pruess’s husband, restaurant critic Bob Lape, who is a contributing author to the book, suggests making popcorn on the stovetop in a pot coated lightly with bacon grease. (I tried it on Super Bowl Sunday and was a little disappointed that the finished product wasn’t smokier and more bacony, so I’d say really go to town with the drippings.) Another journalist who attended the event said her Jewish grandmother in Louisiana fries leftover Matzo balls in bacon grease.

Anyone else have tips on bacon prep?

Levain – Oatmeal Scone Paradise on the Upper West Side

“Heaven,” suggests Dave Feldman, “is a warm oatmeal scone at Levain.”


Levain Bakery [Upper West Side]
167 W. 74th St., between Amsterdam and Columbus Aves., Manhattan
212-874-6080
Locater

Levain Bakery [Suffolk County]
354 Montauk Hwy., Wainscott, NY
631-537-8570
Locater

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Fruit & Nut Scones

Heads Up: All’Angelo on the Scene

The dynamic maitre d’ from Valentino, Enoteca Drago, and Il Grano (and a figure about as controversial as Nozawa on the LA board), Stefano Ongaro, just opened a small restaurant, All’Angelo (named for his father) with a small bar and wine rooms.

The fare is high-end Italian, and kitchen talent looks promising: Mirko Parderno in the kitchen has cooked at Valentino and Dolce. The staff is also well seasoned in the city’s top rooms, and friendly to boot.

Make sure to check out the bathrooms, featuring the latest in European designer fixtures, including a square toilet.


All ‘Angelo [Melrose District]
7166 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
323-933-9540
Locater

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Guinea pigging out at All’Angelo on Melrose
Truffles at All’ Angelo

Scarfing Down Spicy Mudbugs

Reporting on yet another Vietnamese-Cajun restaurant in OC (indie pub Squeeze OC has a story on the trend), MeowMixx says the little critters at Rockin’ Crawfish indeed rock.

The standard order is: seafood (crawfish, of course, or Dungeness crab or head-on shrimp, all very fresh) in a spicy boil with corn on the cob. The crawfish in particular are extra large and extra tasty. Unfortunately, the Cajun spices seem to be mostly garlic, even the “spicy” orders. And while oysters are good, MeowMixx’s group got a bunch of dud clams. Oysters are $13/dozen; clams $9/dozen; crawfish $7/pound; Dungeness crab $11/pound. Four people can eat well for $100.

Cajun Corner makes it nice and spicy, but their crawfish isn’t always the freshest.

Boiling Crab is usually a good spot, but their crawfish have been on the small side lately. Now that they’re about to be in season again that will hopefully change, says “Hershey Bomar”.

The Squeeze story also mentioned Cafe Artist and Artist Restaurant as having spicy seafood boils.


Rockin’ Crawfish [Little Saigon]
9211 Bolsa Ave. Suite 120, Westminster
714-894-4536
Map

Boiling Crab [Little Saigon]
14241 Euclid St. #C-116, Garden Grove
714-265-CRAB
Locater

Boiling Crab Saigon]
13892 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove
714-636-4885
Map

Cajun Corner [Little Saigon]
15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster
714-775-7435
Map

Cafe Artist [Little Saigon]
14281 Brookhurst St., Suite A, Garden Grove
714-839-2200

Locater

Artist Seafood [Little Saigon]
7402 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach
714-375-7211
Locater

Board Links

Rockin’ Crawfish–oh, yeah

Poached Pear Epiphany

Junie D says she’d always intended to make poached pears, but never got around to it until recently. And then: “ECSTASY. Really. I just never knew…or imagined…I ate three of the four and drank the syrup and licked the bowls.” She adapted Patricia Wells’s recipe in Bistro Cooking:

4 bosc pears, peeled

1/2 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 bottle pretty good, dry red wine
1/2 cup cassis liqueur
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer. If the liquid doesn’t totally cover the pears, turn the pears while cooking. Cook about 30 minutes. Cool and refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

280 Ninth makes what he calls “racy” poached pears with candied celery (which he says has a sweet-sour flavor and a pleasant crunch):

2 lemons

4 cups cold water

1 cup Moscato (or white wine)

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup apricot jam

4 Bosc pears

8 celery ribs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 375F, with rack in middle. Remove zest from lemons, cover with 2 cups water, boil, drain and rinse. Repeat once more. Pat zest dry. Squeeze 1/3 cup lemon into bowl, whisk in wine, sugar, and jam until sugar is dissolved. Halve and core pears lengthwise. Spread out celery in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Pour in wine mixture. Place pears in dish, cut side up. Spread zest around them. Bake uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes, basting once or twice, until pears are tender. Remove pears and pour liquid, zest, and celery into pan and reduce until syrupy, about 15 minutes. Serve, cooled, with sauce spooned over pears.

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Poached Pear Epiphany

Papayas, Ripe and Sweet or Savory

Papayas are ripe when they are just slightly soft, like a ripe pear. Ripe papayas are wonderful with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

Pureed with orange juice, they make a thick, delicious smoothie, and a smoothie of nothing but perfectly ripe papaya and milk is popular in Asia and outrageously delicious, says kobetobiko. They’re also great with pureed with yogurt and honey, or cottage cheese, or vanilla ice cream.

marlie202 halves papayas, adds a bit of butter and cinnamon to the cavity, and bakes them.

On the savory side, try them with feta, or with ranchero cheese, salt, and lime juice.

piccola likes them in salads with dark greens, water chestnuts, almonds, and a spicy dressing (like chili-lime or sesame-ginger). Theresa makes a composed salad made up of successive layers of watercress dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, buffalo mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, cubed papaya, and Parma ham.

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Papaya–what is your favourite way to use one

Canned Foam

There’s a new product, Coffeehouse Classic, made by Simply Sublime Foods, for foaming cappuccino. It comes in a can like whipped cream and 20 seconds in the microwave transforms it to foam. It’s fun, it’s magic, and it’s tasty, says rworange. There are two flavors, Madagascar vanilla and hazelnut, as well as plain; all with zero fat and zero calories.

You could decorate a dessert with this stuff, too.

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Coffeehouse Classic cappuccino foam in a can & other sprays–Seriously cool.