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

If You’re Not Ready to Commit: Opus’s Bar Menu

From the many raves about Opus, you’d think that the tasting menu was the only way to go. But the new bar menu has a bunch of outrageously tasty small plates that don’t require as much of a commitment of time and money, says woojink.

Stuffed poblano pepper on a spicy ragout in a crust is a cool take on a chile relleno–spicy and really great. Fried pork belly sandwich with fried egg is like a fabulous alternate-universe version of an Egg McMuffin. Lamb meatballs–spicy, delish. Seafood salad with shrimp, octopus and squid satisfies; pan-fried soba with shrimp is like very good Japanese comfort food.

Some of the dishes are also on the a la carte menu. They’re all between $7 and $13.

Opus Bar & Grill [Koreatown]
3760 Wilshire Blvd., at Western, Los Angeles 90010
213-738-1600
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Fried Pork Belly Sandwich with Fried Egg, Pan Fried Soba with Shrimp… GREAT Bar food

Freeing Beautiful Bundt Cakes from Their Pans

Unmolding bundt cakes intact can be difficult, especially with these newfangled pans with lots of intricate details. Here are some pointers:

Regardless of what your recipe tells you, it’s best to allow your cake to cool for at least half an hour before you attempt to unmold it. No bundt pan is truly non-stick, no matter what its coating. It’s important to grease and flour your pan extremely well, reaching into every nook and cranny of the design. Chowhounds recommend using a pastry brush to coat the inside of the pan liberally with shortening or melted butter, then dumping in a good amount of flour (or cocoa, if you’re baking a chocolate cake) and shaking it around until you’re sure it has coated every surface of the pan–then tap the extra out into the trash. Alternately, use a very generous coating–no simple spritz–of Baker’s Joy or Pam for Baking (oil sprays with flour incorporated), which also release cakes from fancy bundt pans beautifully.

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Can you help me avoid a bundt cake disaster?

Green Coffee, Man – Roast it Yourself

Dig coffee? Got your top-grade burr grinder, your insanely cool espresso machine, your classic-yet-retro-yet-perfect French press? Still itching to be even more hardcore and insane and into coffee than the dude next door who just bought his two-thousand-dollar shiny Italian espresso machine? Well, time to roast your own beans.

Got that? Roast it yourself.

First you need green coffee beans. The top source for most users is Sweet Maria’s. They’ve got sixty green coffees in stock, all of them of very high quality, says srgoodman. Their website has loads of roasting tips for the beginner, too.

Sweet Maria’s is the place for a decent value on good-quality beans, and a huge selection, agrees scot. There’s also another option: the Green Coffee Cooperative, which is a little hit or miss on selection. But when they’ve got the goods, it is cheap, cheap, cheap. He’s roasting for espresso, so fineness of bean matters less to him.

An easy way to try out roasting yourself is with a cheap hot air popcorn popper–the kind you can get in a thrift store for a few bucks. It roasts beans decently well, says srgoodman. The next step up? A stovetop popcorn maker, with a crank and internal rotor that stirs the beans while they cook. moto says it’s perfect for gas stoves with good ventilation. This device is available through Sweet Maria’s, as is K. David’s excellent book on home roasting.

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Best Green Coffee

Crunchy Jalapeno Slices (and Okra Pickles, Too!)

Trappey’s brand jalapeno slices are brilliantly crunchy, says oltheimmer. They use a cold brining method that leaves their jalapeno slices as crisp as a good kosher pickle. They’ve got the best pickled okra, too, which also emerges crisp from the same cold brining method.

Trappey’s is available at many local groceries, and at Cajun Grocer.

He’s also heard that Cajun Chef uses cold brining for their jalapenos, but he’s never been able to find the stuff.

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Which brands of Pickled Japalenos are crunchy?

One Last Bite of Christmas

If you’ve always secretly wanted to nosh on delicious-smelling Christmas-tree branches, why not cook with them? Chef Josh DeChellis of NYC’s Sumile asked himself that very question this holiday season. The “skateboard-riding boy-wonder” gave Grub Street his recipe for pine-smoked anago fillets with juniper-berry and tree-branch sauce.

Mmmmm. Now to get my hands on a tree…. I figure if I don’t burn my house down trying to smoke fish with dried-out needles (all the trees I’ve seen on the curb are looking mighty crispy already), I’ll be able to keep the holiday cheer going well into February. Anyone else have favorite pine-needle recipes to share?

Free Brewski with Your Thai Chicken Pizza?

A new California law legalizing free beer tastings at bars and restaurants went into effect on January 1, according to a recent AP story (via Slashfood). Until now, the wine and spirits industries were allowed to give out free samples at watering holes around the state, but beer manufacturers could offer tastings only at their own breweries and private tasting rooms.

It’s hard to know what to make of the new law, though. The main backer of the legislation is Anheuser-Busch (the maker of everybody’s frat-party favorite, Bud Light, plus several new lines of flavored malt beverages). California microbreweries, worried that the law would give big companies like Busch an unfair advantage—presumably because they could afford to give away more beer than the small fries, thereby worming their way into the public’s hearts—opposed to the bill at first. The state’s Small Brewers Association withdrew its opposition once limits were put on the tastings (8 ounces per person per day at each location); still, that hasn’t quelled the fears of some microbrewers.

But then, this other opposition group—the California Council on Alcohol Problems, a religious coalition—is pretty annoyed. Or at least its lawyer is. As he puts it,

What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we’re talking about beer here.

Looks like somebody’s been drinking too much light beer and/or flavored malt beverage.

What about other states—anyone seen beer manufacturers giving away free samples in bars? Not even the beer geeks have mentioned anything one way or another.

Waiter, There’s a Gingersnap in My Salmon

What will The Lede, The New York Times’s nascent quirky-news blog, use for stories once the holidays are truly over? A few days ago, it filed some crucial coverage of the Swedish Gavli-Goat arson story (the goat in question was a giant straw effigy plagued by vandals; it’s now impregnated with fire-retardant chemicals to ward off mischievous match-wielders). And now, just breaking: High Levels of Holiday Spices Found in Puget Sound! Yup, the residue of all those Christmas cookies had to go somewhere. As blogger Tom Zeller Jr. writes,

Now, researchers at the University of Washington have detected something yummy in Puget Sound: During the weeks between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9, they found spikes in the levels of cinnamon and vanilla—attributable, they suspect, to an uptick in holiday baking.

And according to an AP wire report, the researchers were also “able to estimate that people in Seattle and a few outlying areas served by the sewage plant scarfed down the daily equivalent of about 160,000 butter- or chocolate-chip-type cookies and about 80,000 cookies containing cinnamon during the Thanksgiving weekend.”

Draw your own conclusions … more lebkuchen with that crab cake tonight?

Burst in Your Mouth

Burst in Your Mouth

Gear columnist Louisa Chu experiments with two new lines of chemical additives used for molecular gastronomy dishes. READ MORE

Cemitas by a Mexican Sandwich Genius

Moomin has had cemitas poblanas, those lovely sandwiches from Puebla, at most of the usual suspects around town: the taco trucks at Venice and Centinela, at Venice and Sepulveda, and at Pico and Cotner. A cemita with everything from La Zandunga doesn’t look much different from the usual cemitas: a seeded roll split and toasted, finger-thick segments of cheese, avocado, thinly sliced white onions, three whole chipotles in thick red adobo and a few slices of what looks like headcheese.

But one bite vindicates the genius sandwich artisan behind the counter at La Zandunga. “The balance of crisp toasted roll, smoky sweet spice of the chipotles, and unctuous richness of the cheese and the avocado makes the choice of meats nearly irrelevant,” says he. “Nearly, but not entirely. The sliced meats have both a porcine saltiness and a toothsomeness that most deli meats lack. It’s all melted together into a crispy molten mass that both tantalized and satisfied from first bite to last.”

They also have pambazos, another kind of sandwich dunked in salsa. But only after 6 p.m.

Pambazos and cemitas are $5 each.

In the same minimall, an Ensenada-style taqueria called Super Taco has replaced Mama Voula’s. Their selection of homemade salsas is excellent, and their fish tacos are fried, if a little limp. They’ve also got pretty appealing-looking tortas, on well-toasted rolls with black beans and the rest of the usual fixings.

La Zandunga Meat Market [West LA-ish]
11933 Santa Monica Blvd., at Stockton, Los Angeles
310-996-1066
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Super Taco [West LA-ish]
formerly Mama Voula’s
11923 Santa Monica Blvd., at Stockton, Los Angeles
310-478-9464
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Rostiseria La Zandunga is seving fantastic Cemitas (and might just have Pambazos as well)!

Japanese Deep-Fried Skewers at Sushi Yoshi

Kushi-age, Japanese deep-fried skewers, are a favorite in Japan, but at many places in the Bay Area they tend to come out excessively heavy, with oil soaking through the crust in an unappetizing way. Enter Sushi Yoshi. It’s surprising that deep-fried items at a sushi restaurant would be so good, marvels yamada3, but these have the perfect combination of crunch, body, and light crispiness in the breading. The juices from each bite of chicken blend beautifully with the faint sweetness of the oil. Have a Kirin Ichiban to go with them–these kushi-age are the bar food of the gods.

Ebi-furai (deep-fried jumbo shrimp) are also incredible–“better than many ebi-furai in my hometown of Nagoya, which is famous for ebi-furai,” says yamada3.


Sushi Yoshi [East Bay]
39261 Cedar Blvd., Newark
510-797-3835
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Kushi-age