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

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

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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

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

Boiling Crab Saigon]
13892 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove

Cajun Corner [Little Saigon]
15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster

Cafe Artist [Little Saigon]
14281 Brookhurst St., Suite A, Garden Grove


Artist Seafood [Little Saigon]
7402 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach

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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.

Uses for Loose Tea

Before you toss the collection of loose tea that’s taking over your cupboard, try one of these suggestions for using it up:

Combine with some spices and dried fruit, add a tea ball infuser, and you have a nice little present.

Use for tea-smoked duck in the grill or smoker.

Brew them, and use in braising liquids, gravy, or sauces.

Combine them for a new tea blend.

Relax in the bath using green tea or herbals in the water. Wrap the tea in a piece of cheese cloth to avoid making a mess.

Green tea leaves absorb odors. Try some in the fridge.

Save them for iced tea instead of hot. Your least favorite might taste different and really good cold.

Brew some and add the leaves to potting soil.

Try a few leaves added to an incense burner. Green tea has a nice, light aroma.

Tea stained eggs are lovely. Hard boil, crack all over, and soak in a strong brew. Peeled, they’ll have a marbelized look.

Poach pears in a strong tea for the most flavor.

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Help! What do I do with all the loose-leaf tea that I have that I don’t LOVE?

Cooking Backward

An amateur chef living in Vegas has made a hugely successful career out of reverse-engineering recipes from Applebee’s, Starbucks, and other national chains and processed-food manufacturers, the Kansas City Star reports, in a piece picked up this week by the San Jose Mercury News. Todd Wilbur, 43, approaches his job—cracking the secrets of foods like Boston Market’s meatloaf or Duncan Hines’s yellow cake mix—with a true chowhound’s obsessiveness. As the article explains,

First he eats a dish at the restaurant and photographs it with his cell phone. He might ask the server about the dish’s ingredients. Then he orders the dish for carryout, requesting that garnishes or sauces be packaged separately.

Back home at his kitchen ‘lab,’ Wilbur begins the dissection by putting sauces through a sieve and rinsing them, which makes it easier to identify the chopped-up chunks that remain. He chills food for clues to the fat used in cooking. He scours the Internet and cookbooks for similar recipes that might serve as a starting point. Then the trial-and-error begins.

Dear God, why am I not Todd Wilbur? Not only does his job sound incredible (um, except for the whole Applebees/Starbucks/Duncan Hines part), but he’s had single days when he’s sold nearly 80,000 cookbooks on the QVC channel (plenty of titles on the bestseller list only move around 2,000 copies a week, according to one publishing insider). And Wilbur’s site gets a respectable 10 million page views every month. He chalks up his success to the fact that “Americans … eat out so much that some restaurant dishes are like old family favorites.”

OK, actually that last part is a little disconcerting, given the kinds of restaurants he’s talking about. But Wilbur is certainly doing these IHOP-ophiles a favor by creating healthier, more delicious versions of the real thing and encouraging people to make ridiculously easy stuff like pancake mix and fettuccine Alfredo instead of buying it.

I’m into some of the sweets recipes he has on the site now, but if he does end up doing a “fine-dining” edition, I’ll be all over those savories, too. Anyone here ever tried reverse-engineering a fave dish?

The Eternal Quest(ion)

It’s the enduring dilemma for a modern urban world—how to get a reservation at the hot restaurant of your choice for 8 p.m. Saturday night?

Apparently it’s a dilemma that can be solved for $35.

A mini-furor has erupted over the New York company that offers reservations at hot restaurants for a fee of $35 per table, or an annual membership of $450. PrimeTime Tables is run by Pascal Riffaud, a former concierge who leverages connections to top restaurants for a fee, and has been in operation for over a year. A post on Urban Daddy threw light on the somewhat shady situation, while a series of posts on the food blog Eater brought greater attention and concern over the ethics of Riffaud’s enterprise. Reader response is mixed—some are bothered, others have no problem with the system (and are keen to sign up).

The guys at Eater do a great job of summing up the situation:

What we can tell you is that this site is not more legitimate than the ticket scalpers who cruise outside Yankee Stadium during the playoffs. In fact, browsing through PrimeTime’s listings is unsettlingly similar to the experience of getting a little too close to cheating on a spouse. It is as if you are about to do something you’ll likely regret—and the one thing you are absolutely certain of is that you can never, ever, be seen doing it in public. On the other hand, they’ve got an impressive stable of reservations to offer.

The New York Times jumped into the fray last week, with an article (registration required) that includes negative feedback from the industry. Restaurateur Danny Meyer is quoted as saying the service “undermines the beauty of the dialogue that takes place when a restaurant and its patrons have a healthy, dynamic relationship” (one can only assume Mr. Meyer hasn’t tried to make an 8 p.m. Saturday reservation at any of his own restaurants lately—nothing very beautiful about that dialogue, if you ask me). Even Waiter Rant cries foul on that one. “Gimme a break. I think Danny’s been spending too much time reading his own book.”

While New York debates the ethics of scalping restaurant tables online, out on the West Coast it’s low-tech, traditional, and slightly more affordable. Restaurant critic Michael Bauer, on his San Francisco Chronicle blog, Between Meals, asks whether the practice of slipping the host a twenty to get a table is back in play.

Which answers another eternal question—the difference between New York and San Francisco? Fifteen dollars, apparently.

My Dinner with Mr. Gullible

The BBC asks: Got a million Thai baht handy? (That’s about 29 grand, for those of you not plugged into the current exchange rate.) Care for some fancy eats? Book your table for an 11-course dinner in Bangkok, served by six three-star Michelin chefs.

The event, modestly titled “Epicurean Masters of the World,” is purportedly designed to showcase Thailand as an upmarket tourism destination and investment target. But the menu is rightfully catching some flak for its almost entirely European flavor:

Creme brulée of foie gras with Tonga beans

1990 Louis Roederer Cristal

Tartare of Kobe beef with Imperial Beluga caviar and Belons oyster

1995 Krug Clos du Mesnil

Mousseline of pattes rouges crayfish with morel mushroom infusion

2000 Corton-Charlemagne, Jean François Coche-Dury

Tarte Fine with scallops and black truffle

1996 Le Montrachet, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

And so on, and so on. Now, there’s no doubt that the meal will be delicious, and that the expense will be relatively minor for the kind of brain-damaged plutocrat who might actually consider signing up for this kind of thing. But before you buy your tickets for Bangkok, take a moment to ponder the following proposition: what else could you do with $29,000?

1. Take 70 close friends and relatives out for sushi at Masa in New York.

2. Grant 14 business-starting micro-loans to farmers and entrepreneurs in India’s Virdarbha region.

3. Rent out a grocery store, bring over 100 of your friends, and just throw produce at one another until the cows come home.

4. Hire your own three-star chef to prepare exactly the same meal for you for five days in a row.

“Epicurean Masters of the World”? More like “Marketing Masters of the World.”


Quirky Quercus

The debate between those who prefer natural corks and those who believe that corks made from synthetic materials can help prevent the off flavors and general undrinkablility of wines affected by cork taint is wrapping up.

The winner? Neither. The lowly screw top, once reserved for the likes of Night Train, has increasingly been adopted by innovative wineries like Bonny Doon.

But in the January/February issue of Audubon magazine, Susan McGrath argues that the popularity of screw tops and synthetic corks is threatening an ecosystem that shelters an amazing amount of biodiversity.

In Portugal, the low-impact harvesting of cork has been going on for centuries in a pastoral area that also houses wildlife (like eagles and lynx) and domestic animals. But the beauty of the area is also drawing developers, who might find it easier to push out farmers if cork becomes unprofitable.

The article quotes Domingos Leitão, a Portuguese ornithologist:

The irony is great, Leitão muses. The world is becoming more aware of the shortcomings of intensive agriculture. Sustainable products are gaining space in the pantry. People have a more sophisticated understanding of biological diversity’s importance. The wineries themselves are reducing their water and herbicide use. ‘And yet wine drinkers are switching to synthetic stoppers—petroleum products—with barely a fuss.’