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

The Spice That Binds

The Spice That Binds

A vanilla primer. READ MORE

Top Chef, According to Bourdain

Chef and author Anthony Bourdain redeemed this season of Top Chef for me with his funny, tell-it-like-it-is assessment of the Top Chef contestants. Not only do I love the show again, but I love Anthony Bourdain.

His guest post on Michael Ruhlman’s blog cuts to the chase in typical Bourdain style:

Betty: Forget about. Very limited skills—and it showed.

While the candor is refreshing, it’s the longer, more thorough summaries where Bourdain really shines. He’s looking not just at cooking skills, but at everything that goes into making a chef—leadership, knowledge, skills to manage not only a kitchen but a budget as well, not to mention the ability to inspire a little fear and a lot of allegiance.

Mikey: Easily the guy who I’d most like to hang out with…. Technical skills? Crude. Chef material? Not a leader. Not a decision maker. And WAY too friendly with everybody. No killer instinct. Let this guy run a kitchen and the food and booze would be running out the back door with his cooks—who he’d probably be drinking with.

Elia: A solid cook. Technically skilled, resourceful, yet conservative…. Chef material? Not just yet. Why not? Her insistence on making everything to order ‘à la minute’ during the ‘Hollywood cocktail party’ was a really bush league move.

And what does Bourdain think of this season’s finalists?

Marcel: Diagnosis: Is there ANYTHING this guy doesn’t want to foam? So slavishly devoted to what Ferran Adrià was doing TEN YEARS AGO it’s … scary and sad. This is a very talented kid—with enormous potential for culinary artistry and he’s got BIG balls.

Ilan: So Ilan cribs his offerings shamelessly from Andy Nusser. And he’s a manipulative, conspiratorial, vindictive, weasely little shit…. (Hardly impediments to a career as a chef). These are classic assets.

Trust me, you’ll want to read the entire post to appreciate every last bit of Bourdain genius. Not to mention the brouhaha this post kicked up in the comments.

Abuzz About Honey

It’s hard not to like honey, and a couple of food bloggers have fallen hard for the golden sweet stuff recently. January, it seems, was all about honey.

Just back from New Zealand, home of manuka honey among others, Wayne of 101 Cookbooks takes you through everything you need to know about honey—from polyfloral to monofloral varieties. A trip to the recent Fancy Food Show in San Francisco allowed for some serious sampling of honey from around the world. Want to hear about the Sardinian “bitter honey,” leatherwood honey from Tanzania, or Javanese mango blossom honey? You’ll be drooling halfway into his account.

If you’ve already got your honey and are looking for some interesting things to do with it, Lara at Cook & Eat has been experimenting with honey as well. Check out her blog for recipes such as honey roasted chicken, honey walnut tofu with sweet mango wontons, or a delicious honey elderflower glacé.

Though if honey was January’s flavor of the month, perhaps David Lebovitz is ahead of the curve. His wonderful piece on French honey, particularly honey from Brittany, was posted last October and includes book suggestions for further reading.

Apparently the French start these trends, even when it comes to honey.

Organic Food: It’ll Kill Ya

“Warning: Consuming organic foods could be hazardous to your health,” trumpets a fascinating special report from Eating Well magazine, which skeptically examines arguments usually leveled against conventional agriculture.

“It’s loaded with pesticides that are dangerous to your health!” you cry confidently. Yeah, sure. Except that no scientists have ever proved that low-level exposure to pesticides is harmful. And thanks to runoff and acid rain, most organic produce contains some pesticides anyway.

“Well, then, organic produce contains more nutrients,” you assert. Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Organically grown tomatoes do contain more flavonoids—but they’re so much more expensive at the grocery store that consumers tend to buy (and eat) them so sparingly that overall consumption of nutrients is probably lower.

On and on the article goes, demolishing sacred nutritional tenets with logic and careful reporting. In the end, there are no easy answers; the story concludes that some organic fruits and vegetables are worth the premium pricetag, while others are just pricey retail therapy for anxious consumers. It’s nice to run across a story that draws a line between the two.

Behind the Scenes at Alinea

Behind the Scenes at Alinea

A step-by-step journey into Alinea, one of the most talked-about kitchens in America. READ MORE

Chaat Spots

Chaat, tasty Indian snacks, of excellent quality can be had from several establishments around town. saucy_girl likes Chaat Café, which, while a chain, is one of the tastiest places for chaat in the Bay Area. Pei loves the papri chaat there and would eat it every other day if she still worked nearby. Atomica seconds the recommendation for the papri chaat, and suggests the bhel puri.

katya thinks Real Ice Cream is a great choice for traditional chaat, with a large menu of chaat to choose from. Especially try the sev puri and ragada pattis, and don’t miss the ice cream if you have room, in flavors like rose petal and cardamom. Amber Café is another choice for excellent chaat, though the menu is small.

Sebby likes Chaat Paradise–its divey atmosphere doesn’t detract in the slightest from the great chaat. Unlike many chaat places, they have table service.

Lots of hounds recommend Vik’s Chaat Corner for masala dosa and other snacks that taste “just like home”–if you’re from Mumbai. sfoperalover says the best time to go is a weekend afternoon at around 5 p.m., for minimum crowds and maximum bounty of the kitchen.

Melanie Wong’s absolute favorite place for chaat is Chaat Patta Corner, whose delicate pani puri shell are individually made to order. They’re incredibly thin and absolutely fresh, and you can choose the heat and sweetness level of your toppings. Everything is of remarkably high quality and freshness, and the proprietors are very sweet.

Chaat Cafe [Financial District]
320 3rd Street, San Francisco

Real Ice Cream [South Bay]
3077 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

Amber Cafe [Peninsula]
600 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View

Chaat Paradise [Peninsula]
165 E El Camino Real, Mountain View

Vik’s Chaat Corner [East Bay]
724 Allston Way, Berkeley

Chat Patta Corner [East Bay]
34751 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont

Chat Patta Corner [East Bay]
in Dana Bazar
5113 Mowry Ave., Fremont

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Favorite Chaat places in the bay area??

Rocker Oysterfellers? But I…

rln is very impressed with the hors d’oeuvres at Rocker Oysterfellers, like delicious pulled pork sandwiches and duck on crostini. (Even the crostini themselves are tasty, delicately flavored with olive oil.) Baked oysters in butter and garlic are perfectly cooked, and prepared so as not to overwhelm the flavor of the oysters.

The standouts at this place, though, are the fancy-shmancy takes on American classics, like macaroni and cheese topped with dungeness crab, or French fries with aioli. ChefGirl412 sums it up: “This place is awesome.”

Rocker Oysterfellers [Sonoma County]
in Valley Ford Hotel
14415 Highway 1, Valley Ford

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Rocker Oysterfellers, Valley Ford Hotel

Ouest Revisited: Eggy Ecstasy, for Starters

Hounds can’t stop talking about two delicious, comforting appetizers at Ouest. One is crispy poached egg with smoked duck breast and bitter greens. The other is a rich truffled “omelet souffle” with mousseline sauce.

This kind of hearty, well-conceived chow has won a devoted neighborhood following for Ouest, a five-year-old American bistro. Smart orders include roasted and braised meats and poultry, including roast chicken, grilled pork chop or rib eye, braised short ribs, and crispy pan-roasted squab. Also recommended: prosciutto-wrapped halibut, roast sturgeon with mushrooms and truffled rice, and a knockout appetizer of cauliflower custard with poached lobster, mushrooms, and leeks. Some find the dessert choices lackluster and dated.

Ouest [Upper West Side]
2315 Broadway, between W. 83rd and 84th Sts., Manhattan

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Big W’s Bar-B-Que Finds a Place to Park

Big W’s, which once dished up first-class barbecue from a truck, is now paying less for gas but more for rent. In a former deli around five miles up Route 22 from its old parking spot, it’s serving the same deeply smoky ribs, chicken, and pulled pork, among other things. Standout sides include slow-roasted potatoes and sweet, tangy, porky beans. “I drove 35 miles for the ribs–and I will do it again,” testifies steelydad.

Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Que [Dutchess County]
formerly Village Deli and Market
1475 Rte. 22, Wingdale, NY

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big w’s (wingdale/dover plains) is open!
big w bbq

Sweet Stone Crabs at the Lobster Place

Stone crabs are here, and the Lobster Place has landed some champs. “Oh, man, was it good!” sighs skeetereats, who favors the tender knuckle meat over the prized claws.

The store sells mustard to serve alongside. Don’t bother. The crabs are sweet and delicious without embellishment. The season runs through March, but the supply is unpredictable, so call ahead.

The Lobster Place [Chelsea]
75 9th Ave., at W. 15th St., in Chelsea Market, Manhattan

The Lobster Place [Greenwich Village]
252 Bleecker St., at Leroy, Manhattan

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If you’re craving STONE CRAB CLAWS…