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

Say No to NaCl

You might be forgiven for not knowing that it’s National Salt Awareness Week, especially because the nation in the title is the UK.

We’ll take note of it here anyway, since in the U.S. it seems to be “National ‘Hey, Packaged Food Isn’t So Good for You, Even If It’s Organic’ Week.”

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) doesn’t want us to give up our Himalayan pink salt or our jinx-removing black salt.

Instead, CASH is focusing on processed food with “unnecessary amounts of salt. The organization has issued a list of products to boycott. The list includes such salt fests as Unilever Peperami Sticks (with a whopping 4 grams of salt per 100 grams) and, unsurprisingly, a product called Quaker Salt and Vinegar Snack-a-Jacks. It has salt right there in the name!

Time to Cut the Baby?

In the impressive-but-unappetizing category is an award-winning cake from British cake designer Michelle Wibowo. I’m sure it tasted fine, but who wants to eat a cake in the shape of a newborn baby?

As noted on the blog Cake Fun, Michelle has a YouTube video that shows the cake’s assembly—speeded up so that it fits into three minutes. While it is an interesting thing to watch, the design itself—an eerily lifelike baby complete with swaddling blankets and a little newbie cap—is a bit off-putting. I mean, really, is this for a baby party? Who wants to eat a facsimile of the guest of honor?

The Great Atherton Wine Caper

The New York Times, never known to miss an opportunity to coddle up to the six-figure earners among its readership, has filed a humdinger of a story about the theft of roughly $100,000 worth of wine in California.

Among the bottles taken from a swanky private residence in Atherton was “a rare $11,000 1959 magnum from the Chateau Pétrus in Bordeaux, France.” The hand-wringing over the skyrocketing value of wine (and the relative weakness of the good old-fashioned U.S. dollar) is entertaining enough, but then a wine importer takes it to the next level.

Unlike missing art and antiquities, hot wine has no official registry. ‘Something like an Amber alert would be very useful,’ said George Derbalian, the president of Atherton Wine Imports, an importer of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

For those not in the know: Amber alerts are general mobilizations of public agencies and private citizens for the purpose of locating abducted children.

While there’s no doubt that an Amber alert system for wine would be very useful for wine importers and wealthy California landowners alike, it does open the question of whether it’s cool to suggest that the theft of privately held and well-guarded luxury goods holds the same moral stature, as, say, an eight-year-old duct-taped and thrown in the trunk of Hannibal Lecter’s Mercedes CLK-class coupe.

It would have been nice had the quote from Mr. Derbalian been run as follows:

Unlike missing art and antiquities, hot wine has no official registry. ‘Something like an Amber alert would be very useful,’ said George Derbalian, the president of Atherton Wine Imports, an importer of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

While no other prominent figure in the California wine community was willing to go on the record and say something as transparently douchebaggy as Mr. Derbalian, there is a general feeling among collectors and importers alike that there is more that the state could be doing to protect the playthings of the wealthy. ‘As opposed to building roads or providing health care to the children of migrant workers,’ added Mr. Derbalian, a visible sneer tracing its sinister outline across his thin, cracked lips, long ago sapped of their youthful fullness by decades of nihilistic hedonism.

But I guess the Times still has a way to go before their copy desk lets that sort of thing through the fine mesh of their editing process. To the paper’s credit, the article ends with a final jolt of moral clarity.

The case has lingering overtones for Sergeant Wade, who also was working on a case in nearby East Palo Alto, a city that has long wrestled with high crime rates.

‘An 18-year-old girl was shot point-blank in the head and I received no calls about it,’ he said. ‘The wine theft? A gazillion. It kind of shows you where people’s values lie.’

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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.

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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
415-979-9946
Locater

Real Ice Cream [South Bay]
3077 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
408-984-6601
Locater

Amber Cafe [Peninsula]
600 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View
650-968-1751
Locater

Chaat Paradise [Peninsula]
165 E El Camino Real, Mountain View
650-965-1111
Locater

Vik’s Chaat Corner [East Bay]
724 Allston Way, Berkeley
510-644-4412
Locater

Chat Patta Corner [East Bay]
34751 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
510-505-0400
Locater

Chat Patta Corner [East Bay]
in Dana Bazar
5113 Mowry Ave., Fremont
510-742-0555
Locater

Board Links

Favorite Chaat places in the bay area??