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

“Top Chef”: Cooking Up Controversy

Well, things have certainly gotten ugly fast, haven’t they? In the lead-up to this week’s Top Chef, Bravo was gleefully calling the episode the reality cooking show’s most controversial yet. I don’t know how controversial it was, but I certainly found it dark and disturbing.

It would now appear that the conspiracy theorists have been going full-throttle both in the Television Without Pity forums and at the blog Amuse-Biatch.

As Charlus of Amuse-Biatch says in his post today, “It’s time to bring in Oliver Stone.” Charlus then goes on to present screen-caps from the episode in question which seem to indicate Elia had a full head of hair during the whole course of Cliff’s attack on Marcel. What does this mean? Well, to put it bluntly, it means that after Cliff’s attack and Marcel’s subsequent escape, the rest of the cheftestants went off and had a high old happy time shaving their heads.

Bravo, on the other hand, tried to cut the episode to show the reverse chronology—that what started off as lighthearted head-shaving turned into something disturbing. Why would they do that? Well, if I’m correct in predicting that Elia is the winner, I think Bravo undertook to make Elia’s involvement (or passivity) in Clippergate seem less offensive. And they failed.

Reality-show manipulation is nothing new, but it is always rather disgusting.

In Trouble Again, Naturally

The world of labels can be so confusing: “natural,” “organic,” “no preservatives,” and my favorite, “wholesome.” The meanings of these words range from regulated terminology to meaningless marketing fluff. And while it’s difficult enough for consumers to keep a handle on them, even the world’s largest retailer is having trouble.

According to BusinessWeek, Wisconsin officials are investigating Wal-Mart because of complaints that the megastore is labeling items as organic that aren’t. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based small-farm advocacy group, has some damning photos on its website, evidence that Wal-Mart still needs to get up to speed on its natural-food products and terminology.

Especially since it seems to be trying to lure the upscale healthy consumer by opening up ersatz Whole Foods stores.

Vietnamese Building Blocks

Vietnamese Building Blocks

Stepping "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen." READ MORE

Bacon in a Glass

Bacon in a Glass

CHOW's guide to smoked beers: rich, toasty-tasting ales that are made with malt smoked prior to brewing. READ MORE

Sausage Factory

Up in Sonoma County—the same bucolic northern California county where foie gras activists have threatened French chefs and charcuterie makers—the pig farmers of industry biggie CorcPork, Inc. have been hit by a lawsuit from the Animal Legal Defense League and the East Bay Animal Advocates.

Their beef? The confinement of pregnant and nursing sows in “farrowing crates,” which are narrow metal cages too small to allow the pigs to turn around. They are so small, in fact, that the pig can’t do much of anything beside stand in place. The state’s leading pork packer, Clougherty Packing Co., a subsidary of Hormel, is also named in the suit. Clougherty sells bacon and sausages under the Farmer John label.

As quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, the suit alleges that “roughly 9,000 of CorcPork’s pregnant sows are crammed into small stalls on concrete floors amid their own feces without being able to take a step.” Without denying the existence of the pens—which are common practice on industrial farms—Clougherty spokesperson Steve Duchesne responds, “This is the continuation of the seemingly endless attacks by these extreme animal rights organizations against responsible livestock farmers.”

Size Matters

Across the pond, where obesity numbers are the subject of just as much scrutiny as they are here, a British watchdog organization has declined to ban a Burger King commercial that seemed to imply that manly men don’t like to eat healthy.

“Manthem” is a catchy paean to big fat cheeseburgers and a rejection of “chick food.” According to a piece in the Guardian, UK health groups “complained that the Burger King ad encouraged excessive eating of unhealthy food.”

“[Burger King] argued that it did not believe it was promoting excessive eating as the ad never showed anyone with more than one burger in their hand.

Although the Advertising Standards Authority did clear the King on health issues, the organization dinged the fast-food giant on truthfulness: Apparently the burgers portrayed in the television ads were noticibly larger than the ones you could actually get at Burger King. Burger King was told to pull the ads until it “corrected the misleading impression of the size and composition” of the burgers.

Sucking the Marrow Out of the Goat Bone

The buffet at Turmeric Restaurant is totally respectable, says Soup, especially the fish curry and the goat. The goat is beautifully gelatinous, with big pieces of bone from which to dig out the marrow. The dishes reveal complex flavors and are not at all stewed to death. The heat level is very controlled, and gives the food a sense of sophistication. Also: the dessert fruit salad contains pomegranates.

Turmeric Restaurant [Peninsula]
141 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale

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SF for 4 days

Nami Nami

Nami Nami an izakaya-style restaurant, the kind of place to drink sake or beer and eat Japanese drinking snacks, which are some of the best bar food in the world. snewdl likes the beef tongue, topped with finely shaved raw onions and tiny threads of red pepper. The cod is also excellent, broiled until the skin is crisp and served snowy-white on a bamboo leaf. Tasty garnishes include dried persimmon and mysterious red pickles. Also good: duck breast with mango and a salad of chrysanthemum greens with tofu skin. Happy drinking!

Nami Nami Kyoto Style Japanese Cuisine [Peninsula]
formerly Kamei Japanese House

240 Castro St., between Dana and Villa Sts., Mountain View

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nami nami in mountain view

Mac and Cheese with the Works – Chiles, Kielbasa, and More

A whiff of smoke makes all the difference at Waldy’s. Their wood oven is the secret to their excellent penne with Roquefort and croutons. It’s awesome stuff, declares jakew8, and relatively cheap at $7. Other baked-penne options: two cheddars, sausage-broccoli rabe, and mozzarella, tomato, and vodka.

Good gives macaroni and cheese a border spin, spiking it with green chile. Underneath its tortilla crust, it’s beautifully creamy and cheesy, says janethepain, avoiding the “baked top only with nothing but greasy cooked noodles on the bottom” pitfall.

At Home, tomatoes, fresh herbs. and a tangy mix of cheeses are the ticket, says FoodDemon. The version at nearby Deborah comes with or without turkey kielbasa, but either way it’s super, says cjthekid.

A Southern touch works wonders at Melba’s, whose Tres Macaroni and Cheese combines cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack, and Mama’s, which adds a welcome note of garlic.

More hound-endorsed mac and cheese can be found at City Bakery, Artisanal, Ditch Plains, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, Blue Smoke, and Virgil’s.

And in Brooklyn, the bewitching version at DuMont and DuMont Burger has hounds thinking unlikely thoughts. “I could give myself a facial in the DuMac and Cheese,” muses awesomechoi.

Waldy’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Penne [Chelsea]
800 6th Ave., between W. 27th and 28th Sts., Manhattan

Good [Greenwich Village]
89 Greenwich Ave., at Bank St., Manhattan

Home Restaurant [Greenwich Village]
20 Cornelia St., between Bleecker and W. 4th, Manhattan

Deborah [Greenwich Village]
43 Carmine St., between Bleecker and Bedford, Manhattan

Melba’s Restaurant [Harlem]
300 W. 114th St., at Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave.), Manhattan

Mama’s Food Shop [East Village]
200 E. 3rd St., just west of Ave. B, Manhattan

City Bakery [Flatiron]
3 W. 18th St., between 5th and 6th Aves., Manhattan

Artisanal Fromagerie and Bistro [Murray Hill]
2 Park Ave. (entrance on 32nd St.), Manhattan

Ditch Plains [Greenwich Village]
formerly Yumcha
29 Bedford St., at Downing, Manhattan

Schiller’s Liquor Bar [Lower East Side]
131 Rivington St., at Norfolk, Manhattan

Blue Smoke [Gramercy]
116 E. 27th St., between Lexington and Park Aves., Manhattan

Virgil’s Real Barbecue [Times Square]
152 W. 44th St., between Broadway and 6th Ave., Manhattan

DuMont [Williamsburg]
432 Union Ave., between Devoe St. and Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn

DuMont Burger [Williamsburg]
314 Bedford Ave., between S. 1st and 2nd Sts., Brooklyn

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Best mac and cheese?

Near Hartford’s Airport, Jumbo Grinders Good to Go

Mammoth meat-and-cheese sandwiches, made fresh, are the draw at Second Poquonock Giant Grinder. The Italian combo is stuffed with an inch-and-a-half-thick layer of provolone, ham, and salami–sliced just before they build the sandwich, reports satisfied customer gordon wing.

“A massive sandwich–I could feel the heft when I picked it up,” he adds–and that’s the half grinder, an eight-incher that costs just $5.65. The full-size model measures 16 inches and costs $11.30. “You’d have to be starving to tackle that one,” Gordon advises. Also on the menu: pizza, salads, fried chicken, meatballs, and more.

If you’re flying out of nearby Bradley International, a grinder would make a great pre-travel option. Just don’t try to bring one onto the plane if you’re close to the weight limit.

Second Poquonock Giant Grinder [Hartford County]
75 Old County Rd., between Denslow St. and Halfway House Rd., Windsor Locks, CT

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Giant Grinder Shop near Bradley International Airport