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

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
Locater

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

Southern Spice Bistro (Andhra Style)

The Andhran dishes at Southern Spice Bistro shine with a fiery heat and brightness, says Melanie Wong. Complimentary rasam is refreshingly zippy and packed with flavor, but still light, an excellent palate cleanser for the meal to come. For appetizers, cut mirchi pakora–battered, deep-fried whole yellow wax peppers ($4.95)–are tasty, with the full medium hotness of the chili peppers coming through. Special biryanis, served on weekends, are a good bet. In chicken dum biryani ($9.95), beautiful, loosely packed long grains of fragrant basmati, stained yellow with aromatic spices, surround succulent pieces of chicken. It comes with a cooling raita and a mirchi salan full of deadly hot whole green chilis.

Andhra-style food is known throughout India for being spicy, and this place does not disappoint. It’s not one-note heat, though–the spicing is fascinatingly complex, suitable for spice-loving hounds who aren’t into just sitting around licking a habanero.


Southern Spice Bistro [Peninsula]
2700 West El Camino Real, Mountain View
650-948-0123
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Southern Spice Bistro, Mountain View

Alluring Lemon Rice at Jackson Heights’ Maharaja

Maharaja in Jackson Heights, celebrated for chaat and sweets, also lays out some fine hot vegetarian dishes, including first-rate palak paneer (Indian cheese with spinach). But E Eto is seduced by its lemon rice–something of a cross between biryani and a Persian polo rice dish, deeply aromatic yet not overpowered by spice. “I’ve never seen that before on another menu,” he adds, “and it seemed interesting. Was it ever.”

Another worthwhile bite: special naan with dried cherries. “An interesting surprise for your palate,” E Eto promises.


Maharaja Sweets and Snacks [Jackson Heights]
73-10 37th Ave., between 73rd and 74th Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens
718-505-2680
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Maharaja Sweets and Snacks, Jackson Heights

Miss Mamie’s Revisited: an Uptown Soul Survivor

After years of unpredictable meals at Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, Ora grudgingly gave the joint another shot–and was blown away. Smothered chicken, deeply flavorful down to the bone, was the star of an overflowing platter of freshly prepared, piping-hot soul food. Also delicious: cabbage and macaroni and cheese. “Perhaps they have a new chef? Maybe it was an ‘on’ night?” Ora speculates. “All I know is that I will be back.” emu02, fresh from two successful visits in recent months, recommends ribs, shrimp, just about all the sides, and banana pudding for dessert.

Sister restaurant Miss Maude’s has also been up and down, but a recent order of first-rate greens and mac and cheese suggests it’s once again up, says Uptownflavor.


Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too [Morningside Heights]
366 W. 110th St., between Columbus and Manhattan Aves., Manhattan
212-865-6744
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Miss Maude’s Spoonbread [Harlem]
547 Malcolm X Blvd. (Lenox Ave.), near 138th St., Manhattan
212-690-3100
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Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too—110th St. off Columbus Ave

Stellar Pork Hash at Brooklyn’s Pies-N-Thighs

They sling killer hash at Williamsburg’s Pies-N-Thighs. Tender, juicy pulled pork is griddled with onions and potatoes, topped with two eggs over easy, and finished off with a dollop of salsa. Best hash ever, declares chompchomp. Look for it on the weekend brunch menu alongside first-rate doughnuts, catfish and grits, and biscuits with sausage gravy.


Pies-N-Thighs [Williamsburg]
351 Kent Ave., entrance on S. 5th St., Brooklyn
347-282-6005
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Union Picnic or Pies ‘N Thighs?

Gotta Go to Go’s

To get to the sushi bar at Go’s Mart, you have to push your way through a bunch of shelves holding Japanese videos, refrigerated cases of sake, beer, and soda, and possibly other customers trying to make their way out. It’s worth it for a truly great unsung sushi joint, says kevin.

The bar itself seats only about eight, plus there are a couple of two-tops and one four-top.

Ankimo sashimi arrives beautifully sliced and cold, living up to its reputation as the foie gras of the sea. It’s sauced with sweet miso that complements it wonderfully.

Buri, a type of wild Japanese yellowtail, is a thing of beauty. Kawagishi toro is like toro tartare, no sinews or fibers–just beautiful bliss, melting in your mouth like pure butter.

But sushi isn’t the only pleasure at Go. There’s Kobe beef, straight from Japan. Thinly sliced and seared with a blowtorch, it’s delicious, with a beefy savor that kicks in later and lingers.

Grilled toro steak is pretty great too–and covered with gold leaf and a light ponzu–but doesn’t reach the heights of the regular or kawagishi toro.

Go’s Mart [West San Fernando Valley]
22330 Sherman Way # C12, at Shoup, Canoga Park
818-704-1459
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Go’s Mart Sushi, Canoga Park–a little long