The CHOW Blog rss

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

The Obesity Germ

Obese people have more “super-digesting” intestinal bacteria, which are extremely good at extracting calories from food, and fewer of another kind of gut microbe than non-obese folks, say two studies released today in Nature. As the A.P. reports, the researchers aren’t sure yet whether having more of the calorie-loving germ actually makes you fat, or if people who are obese just produce more of that bacteria for some reason. Still, growing evidence (registration required) of this link between microbes and body mass has scientists excited about potential new treatments for obesity.

But other recent research and media reports have focused on food cravings and compared seriously overweight people to drug addicts. A small study
released in October found that obese people have the same brain responses to food (or even the idea of food) that junkies do to drugs. Even when the “hunger center” of their brains indicated that they were physically full, obese people had their memory and reward centers activated—the same parts of the brain that “light up” for drug addicts when they get an irrepressible craving for their next fix.

Can both theories be right? Well, sure; it’s entirely possible that, say, some people do have addict-like cravings for food that lead them to overeat, become obese, and consequently grow more super-digesting bacteria. But a look at other research into food cravings makes the drug-addict comparison look a whole lot less compelling and more sensationalized: Researchers have known for a while that food cravings activate the same brain areas as drug joneses, not just in obese people but in everyone. And since 100 percent of young women and 70 percent of young men report food cravings, it’s not just the obese who are affected.

Are there any studies of these issues that you’re more inclined to believe than others? Or is viewing obesity as a disease just an invitation for Big Pharma to develop more drugs that we don’t really need?

Sour Grapes

Sour Grapes

A vinegar primer. READ MORE

European Union: Robust Gastropub Chow in East Village

European Union won the war–a long and rancorous campaign to secure its liquor license. Now the East Village gastropub is winning hearts and minds with well-chosen beers and wines and a pan-European menu of hearty, drink-friendly chow by executive chef Sara Ochs (formerly of Esca), served in a cool industrial space. “I have been consistently impressed with almost everything on the menu,” admits jonasblank, a once-skeptical neighbor.

Recommended: wild mushroom pasta, grilled bavette steak (with artichoke gratin), romaine salad with crispy shallots and lemon, fish (hake, skate, shrimp, squid) and chips, Catalan-style lamb “cassoulet” (with white beans and garlic sausage).

The don’t-miss dessert is chocolate absinthe cake, but you also won’t go wrong with linzer-filled doughnuts or cannele de Bordeaux with chamomile cream. And Jill confesses that her normally civilized circle of friends went fork to fork over goat’s milk cheesecake with honey-roasted figs.


European Union [East Village]
235 E. 4th St., between Aves. A and B, Manhattan
212-254-2900
Locater

Board Links

European Union (E.U.)–Report

Bonita Branches Out; and Other New York News

The owners of Williamsburg’s Bonita have just opened a second restaurant in Fort Greene, where most hounds are happy to have it. Pozole is a highlight, hearty and flavorful. Other early favorites include albondigas, guacamole, adobo pork (a special), tequila-soused tres leches cake, and steak tacos and chicken enchiladas with fresh house-made tortillas. The tequila lineup is deep and worth a shot. Some complain of pallid seasoning, but the kitchen still seems to be tweaking.

Meanwhile, another Brooklyn Mexican spot has closed. El Huipil in Red Hook will be missed for its moles and other homey chow from Mexico’s Guerrero state. Its owners are reportedly leaving town for North Carolina.

In Queens, the Manhattan Vietnamese restaurant Thai Son (see also ChowNews #236) has opened a second location in Elmhurst, replacing the departed Pho Binh. Early reports suggest it’s a rough shakedown for the new kitchen, but they’ve been open less than a month, so stay tuned.

Long Island City’s Lil’ Bistro 33, which has won a following with a deft blend of Asian ingredients and French technique, is temporarily closed. It’s moving to new, larger digs in Astoria.

And Cobble Hill’s similarly named Little Bistro, whose own brand of East-West fusion never quite caught on, has gone out of business.


Bonita Restaurant [Fort Greene]
formerly Cino’s
243 DeKalb Ave., between Clermont and Vanderbilt Aves., Brooklyn
718-622-5300
Locater

Bonita Restaurant [Williamsburg]
338 Bedford Ave., near S. 4th St., Brooklyn
718-384-9500
Locater

El Huipil [Red Hook]
116A Sullivan St., between Van Brunt and Conover, Brooklyn
Map

Thai Son [Elmhurst]
formerly Pho Binh
40-10 74th St., near Broadway, Elmhurst, Queens
718-476-6805
Map

Thai Son [Chinatown]
89 Baxter St., between Walker and Bayard, Manhattan
212-732-2822
Locater

Lil’ Bistro 33 [Astoria]
19-33 Ditmars Blvd., near 19th St., Astoria, Queens
718-609-1367
Map

Little Bistro [Cobble Hill]
158 Court St., between Amity and Pacific, Brooklyn
Map

Board Links

Bonita in Ft. Greene
Bonita in Ft. Greene
Help! Quick meal in Redhook
Authentic Mexican at El Huipil
Thai Son Vietnamese Cuisine Jackson Heights
Little Bistro closed?

Mini-Biscotti

Get excellent traditional mini-biscotti (called cantucci di Prato) at Emporio Rulli. They’re delicious and small, the right size to serve with coffee after dinner, says Melanie Wong, who notes they’re better dunked in coffee than in vin santo.

Danilo Bakery does a respectable job with mini-biscotti, though not at nearly the level of quality of Rulli.

rworange is “crazy in love” with the biscotti at La Biscoterria. Mini biscotti direct from the bakery are fresh and delicious, and their pre-bagged biscotti sold in markets are no match at all.

Dianda is beloved by hounds for things like their Italian rum cake and almond torte, but skip the sweet, cakey biscotti, say bernalgirl and Mari.

Emporio Rulli [Marin County]

464 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur

415-924-7478

Locater

Danilo Bakery [North Beach]

516 Green St., San Francisco

415-989-1806

Locater

La Biscoterria [Peninsula]

2747 El Camino Real, Redwood City

650-366-2747

Map

Dianda’s Italian American Bakery [Mission]

2883 Mission St, San Francisco

415-647-5469

Locater

Board Links

Where to buy good mini-biscotti in SF?

King of Thai Noodle House #2

China thinks King of Thai Noodle House #2 has the best Thai food for the money in the city. Som tum (green papaya salad) is very satisfying–tart, roughly shredded papaya with tiny pink dried shrimp mixed in. Kao pad gang khew warn (stir-fried rice with green curry paste, chicken, long beans, bamboo shoots, and basil) is very flavorful, with lots of lean chicken and basil. Dishes ordered medium come out quite spicy–a welcome piece of news for non-Thai hounds who seek “Thai spicy” and are leery of getting gringoed. Lunch for two, with tea, after tip, is around $18.

King of Thai Noodle House #2 [Richmond]

346 Clement St., at 7th Ave., San Francisco

415-831-9953

Locater

Board Links

King of Thai Noodle House #2 Yum!

Where to Get Beef Roll in Little Saigon

Small and nondescript, Chinese Peking packs in families enjoying the great food, says meltedcheese. “One of the waitresses there works at several Chinese resturants and says that Peking is her favorite for the food.”

Be sure to get the beef roll, the first item on the menu–flatbread rolled up with really good beef, some onion and a sweet, hoisin-y sauce and cooked till crisp. Lots of places do this well in the San Gabriel Valley, but it’s more rare in OC.

Another standout dish is what sounds like fen pi, or liang fen–translucent sheets of mung bean starch in a really tasty, oily red sauce.


Peking Chinese Restaurant [Little Saigon]
8566 Westminster Blvd., Westminster
714-893-3020
Locater

Trying to find the name of a dish at Chinese Peking in Little Siagon and a short review

La Barca’s Got Culinary Chops

No secret what the specialty is at Birreria La Barca: It’s the birria. An order gets you a nice pile of braised goat meat (juicy and tender) in an incredibly flavorful broth, house-made refried beans, rice, tortillas, and the usual accoutrements, says Clare K.

La Barca may execute its meals better than any other regional Mexican restaurant, says Eat_Nopal, with the exception of some blah dishes that pad out its menu, like chicken cordon bleu (??!!) and taquitos.

Service is swift and polite.


Birrieria La Barca Jalisco [East LA-ish]
10817 Valley Mall, El Monte

626-452-2121
Locater

Board Links

I walked 7 miles for goat…

Bacon Brittle

You read that right: bacon brittle. Not peanut brittle. Bacon brittle.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having some of your pancake syrup flow onto the savory side of the plate, you might understand why hounds are crazy for the porky version of this old-fashioned confection. Some have become downright addicts. missclaudy made and ate so much in the space of a couple days she feels like she was in her own bacon candy version of “The Lost Weekend,” “though I did manage to crawl to the store to buy more bacon.” And she’s got all her friends making it.

Chowhounds have been tweaking away, and Pistou has come up with the ultimate recipe:

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crispy cooked bacon, in bits (about 12 oz. uncooked bacon)

Grease or butter a large nonstick baking sheet, or line with a Silpat mat. In a heavy medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan, increase the heat to high, and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 290 degrees. Immediately remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla, baking soda, salt, pecans, and bacon bits. The mixture will foam quite a bit. When the foam subsides, pour the hot mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet and, working quickly, spread thin using a silicone spatula or two forks. If the brittle starts to set up before you have spread it out thin, set the baking sheet in a hot oven until the candy softens and continue to spread. Cool at least 10 minutes before breaking into pieces. Store in a covered container.

Board Links

Bacon Brittle

Simple Curry Soy Stir-Fry Sauce

This stir-fry sauce created by opinionatedchef is great–you can keep it on the pantry shelf at room temperature. It’s basically a sauce for stir-fried veggies–just chuck it on at the end of cooking. ptrefler suggests adding some cayenne or chili-garlic sauce if you like a spicier sauce.

Stir-fry Sauce

3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/3 cup cold water
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup curry powder (Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder recommended)

Add some water to cornstarch to make a paste, then add all remaining ingredients and mix well. Store at room temperature, but mix well before each use, as cornstarch will settle on bottom in a thick mass.

To use: Stir-fry vegetables at highest heat; when done, add enough sauce to coat, stir, and bring to a boil to thicken cornstarch. If the sauce is too thick, immediately add some water and stir well.

Board Links

EASY Curry Soy Stir Fry Sauce To Keep on Hand