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

The Best Story About Wine Labels You’ll Read This Week

E/The Environmental Magazine fronts a tastefully busty brunette holding a glass of red vino to add a bit of pizzazz to an informative cover story on organic wines.

The wines are apparently hitting their stride, with U.S. sales of certified organic wine and those made with organic grapes hitting $80 million last year, up 28 percent since 2004. Moreover, the Organic Trade Association expects organic wine sales to grow about 17 percent each year through 2008.

As is usual with these sort of write-ups, the piece spends a good deal of its time sorting out its terms—”made from organic grapes” versus “USDA organic” versus “biodynamic,” and so on. A lot rides on sulfites—although the stuff occurs naturally in the winemaking process, winemakers who add a bit of the preservative to their wine blow their shot at a straight-up organic certification.

E also dedicates a sidebar to the all-important issue of whether organic wines, in addition to helping save the planet or whatever, also taste as good as their nonorganic counterparts. The verdict, as rendered by Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, is pretty positive. Other critics are less kind, but the article’s reasonable conclusion is that organic wine has the potential to be as good as wine produced by more industrial processes, and that a lot rides on the particular winemaker and the particular year.

The Stink of Progress

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kraft is ringing in the holidays with a pricey gimmick—scratch ‘n’ sniff ads in a special edition of People.

The magazine’s copy features stories about the holiday habits of dead-eyed celebs as well as suggestions on how to celebrate the season (I’m thinking buy Kraft products is probably the message here). Five of the ads sprinkled throughout the magazine contain microscopic fragrance capsules mixed into a special varnish. If consumers want to experience the industrial-dairy-fresh fragrance of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, they can have a whiff with a scratch and a sniff.

I dunno, I’m thinking one could use the scented ads as perfume. A little Chips Ahoy behind the ears? Cherry Jell-O on the pulse points? Is that crappy snack food, or is that the smell of progress?

God’s Own Flapjack

At the Prather Ranch stand at the Ferry Building farmer’s market, you can get big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, topped with whiskey-laced maple syrup, served alongside a richly flavored sausage made from heritage pork. For $7 it’s enough food to feed two chowhounds. Really. The pancakes are tender and slightly tangy, some of the best Melanie Wong has had in a long time. And the sausage is satisfying and juicy.

These are the people who brought you pork from pigs fed on organic hops. They would not do you wrong.

Prather Ranch Meat Co [Embarcadero]
One Ferry Bldg, Shop #32, San Francisco
415-378-2917
Locater

Board Links
Pancake Breakfast @ Prather Ranch (San Francisco)

Secret Garden

Pepito’s is one of the most boring-looking stores on the street. But be a true Chowhound like rworange and go inside, and you’ll discover that the little Mexican grocery store is actually mostly a restaurant–with a surprise secret garden patio in back, shaded by trees, complete with fountain and flowers.

The enchilada suiza is recommended–stewed chicken in a complex mole sauce, topped with a little cheese and crema. Chips are thin, crisp, and deliciously lardy. Carnitas tacos are great, too, full of juicy, crispy, porky carnitas. J T likes the caldo de pollo (but recommends against the caldo de mariscos).

And cough up an extra 35 cents for a piece of rich, golden pound cake full of plump raisins, from the pan dulce case.

Pepito’s Deli [East Bay]
1087 23rd St., Richmond
510-232-7949
Locater

Board Links
Richmond–Pepito’s Deli – Sitting on the patio by the fountain eating the best enchilada Suiza & thin lardy chips ($2.50)
Richmond–Pepito’s Deli Mexicatessen – Mexican / Southwestern food & a patio

New Rochelle Mexican Update: Pork on Parade

New Rochelle, Westchester’s hot spot for Mexican chow, is loaded with rotisserie pork right now. “There seems to be a local mini-trend for tacos al pastor–I’m seeing the notices everywhere,” observes JSexton, whose favorite is the tender, peppery, brightly flavored version at Little Mexican Cafe. adamclyde loves its slight char, robust but not overpowering spicing, and touch of sweetness from the pineapple that crowns the rotating tower of meat.

But there’s lots more than al pastor at Little Mexican. Anything from the wood grill is a good bet–chorizo, carne asada, and cecina (dried salted beef) come out nice and smoky. Guacamole, mashed to order, is perfect. Their mole is deep and soulful–and not on the menu, but those in the know enjoy it with chicken or enchiladas. They’re on the top of their game right now; check ‘em out.

Around the corner at Taqueria El Chino Estilo Quitupan, look for above-average al pastor and standout carnitas, moist, rich, and flavorful. Pastelandya, a tiny tortilleria, draws crowds of locals for its al pastor tacos, which it bills as a specialty.

Some other Mexican notes from New Rochelle:

- At El Michoacano, don’t miss the carnitas. It’s a Michoacan specialty that you’d expect this past hound favorite to do at least competently, but adamclyde says their version absolutely kills–deep, moist, decadently rich, with unexpected sweetness from sauteed, almost caramelized onions and peppers.

- Mexican Corner Kitchen makes terrific chicken enchiladas with mole, generously sauced and stuffed with moist shredded chicken, reports cant talk…eating. Rice is better than average, cooked in chicken stock and sprinkled with cilantro. House-made horchata (made on premises) is worth a special trip. Carnitas and al pastor tacos are quite good but not great, says adamclyde. Past reports from this neighborly, diner-like joint praise pozole, tamales, and sopes.

- El Trigal bakes a lovely tres leches cake and corn muffins. Watch for the “Pan Caliente” sign that lights up when fresh stuff comes out of the oven.

- La Herradura: Mexican yeast bread pizzas are “strange but kinda good,” says JSexton. Also recommended: aguas frescas (including great horchata) and batidos (shakes). Other offerings are hit-or-miss.

Little Mexican Cafe [Westchester County]
581 Main St., near Centre Ave., New Rochelle, NY
914-636-3926
Locater

Taqueria El Chino Estilo Quitupan [Westchester County]
72 Centre Ave., between Main St. and Westchester Pl., New Rochelle, NY
914-636-9615
Map

Pastelandya [Westchester County]
220 Union Ave., between 2nd and 3rd Sts., New Rochelle, NY
914-576-1951
Locater

El Michoacano [Westchester County]
485 Main St., between Lawton St. and North Ave., New Rochelle, NY
914-654-9315
Locater

Mexican Corner Kitchen [Westchester County]
497 Main St., at Lawton, New Rochelle, NY
914-633-9696
Map

El Trigal Mexican Bakery [Westchester County]
216 Union Ave., near 2nd St., New Rochelle, NY
914-633-9516
Map

La Herradura Mexican Restaurant [Westchester County]
563 Main St., between Centre Ave. and Division St., New Rochelle, NY
914-235-2055
Map

Board Links
New Rochelle Mexican–a report (finally)
Cheap Mexican, Peruvian, Columbian, Ecuadorian in Port Chester
Tacos al pastor in New Rochelle, Little Mexican Cafe
Mexican Roundup in New Rochelle

A Meatless, Frankless Surprise at Dash Dogs

At Dash Dogs, even those who shun hot dogs and meat can find a worthwhile bite. Vegetarian sliders–made in-house from portobellos, squash, bread crumbs, and eggs–come with the same eclectic choice of toppings that come with dogs. “Tasty isn’t even the word for them. Amazing!” sighs foodluv, whose favorite toppings include avocado salsa, cilantro aioli, corn relish, and wasabi mayonnaise. Veggie dogs also rock, adds wleatherette.

Dash Dogs [Lower East Side]
127 Rivington St., between Essex and Norfolk, Manhattan
212-254-8885
Locater

Board Links
Looking for a good veggie patty in the Lower East Side

Home-Style Cantonese Food

At Tasty Garden, henrychan888 finally found hearty home cooking like Grandma used to make. For example, the salty fish with steamed ground pork–a lot of places just don’t serve it because of the strong smell. Tasty Garden serves it alone or with a rice hot pot.

The same dish is served at Phoenix in Alhambra, says cfylong, where they also have minced squab on lettuce leaves, another home-style dish. Phoenix Inn in downtown Chinatown is the original location of Phoenix restaurant, notes monku, and still has the same owner. The must-try dish there is the boneless salted chicken.

Chinese restaurant scout Chandavkl points out a hot spot of four very good Cantonese restaurants within walking distance of one another in Monterey Park: NYC Seafood, Seafood Village, LYL Garden and Lucky City. Most of these have lunch specials and fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

Tin Tin has reopened after remodeling, says kure–they have good specials up until 6 p.m.

Har Lam Kee is a good Cantonese joint, says Will Owen, and cheap too.

And at Embassy, Ciao Bob reports having had many a fine meal.

Tasty Garden Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
288 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
626-300-8262
Locater

Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine [San Gabriel Valley]
208 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
626-299-1238
Locater

Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine [Chinatown]
301 Ord St., Los Angeles
213-629-2812
Locater

Har Lam Kee Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
150 E. Garvey Ave., Garfield, Monterey Park
626-288-7299
Locater

Tin Tin Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
7621 Garvey Ave., Rosemead
626-573-1983
Locater

Embassy Chinese Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
a.k.a. Embassy Kitchen
218 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel
626-286-8148
Locater

NYC Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
715 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-9898
Locater

Seafood Village Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
684 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-0088
Locater

LYL Garden [San Gabriel Valley]
500 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-289-8329
Map

Lucky City [San Gabriel Valley]
415 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
626-307-7338
Map

Board Links
Authentic home cooked Cantonese joints/restaurants in L.A.?

Lubricating Rice for Flavor and Texture

Many hounds like to toast long-grain rice, especially basmati, in oil or butter for a few minutes before adding water or stock to enhance its flavor. Whether you choose a neutral oil, olive oil, or butter depends on your taste and the dishes you’ll be serving the rice with. DanaB says she sometimes sautees rice in lightly browned butter, which gives the rice a nutty, extra-buttery taste. You can saute until the rice turns tranluscent or until it’s golden, again depending on taste. Fleur uses the method for texture as well as flavor, saying it comes out perfect, with the grains always fluffy, but separate.

Board Links
Do you pan-toast your rice before cooking?

$3.99 Lunch Specials at Thai Patio, and Beef Jerky for Dessert

Thai Patio has replaced the old strip-mall Palms Thai. The $3.99 lunch special is, of course, a deal–pad kra pao, fried tofu with basil, peppers and onions, is nicely spiced and tasty, but the straight-from-the-bag salad and fried wonton wrappers on the side are forgettable, and it comes with anemic white rice–not jasmine.

Lad nah chicken ($6) has a good gravy-noodle ratio, and the noodles carry the elusive char flavor of wok hay. The chicken is sliced white meat, and the gravy is nice and garlicky and rich with soy sauce.

Chowpatty checked out Thai Patio for dinner and enjoyed some of the more expensive dishes, like red curry with shrimp (about $18). It’s great, with a strong but pleasant flavor of kaffir lime. Steamed trout comes in a pungent sour broth that’s light and flavorful. The only caveat, she notes, is that you need to explain carefully if you want your food spicy–they seem to be catering to a clientele, shall we say, not that familiar with Thai spicing. But once that was accomplished, she had an excellent, assertively flavored meal.

Oh, and there are Thai dance performances on weekend evenings (at about 9 p.m.).

After dinner, the natural place to go for dessert is just a couple of doors down, Ban Khanom Thai. pandapenny describes some favorites:

Sakoo sai moo–tapioca balls filled with ground pork/peanut/radish eaten with bird chili, cilantro, and lettuce

Khanom sai sai–toasted coconut ball surrounded by salty coconut cream

Khao tung–Thai rice cracker flavored with dried shrimp, green onion, cilantro

Khanom tien–garlicky, white pepper center surrounded by a chewy glutinous rice flour goo

Klong kang–fried dough of rice flour/coconut milk tossed in a sweet syrup flavored with white pepper and green onion

Galamah–coconut/rice flour candy (sometimes flavored with Pandan)

Cotton Cake–colorful steamed cupcakes that smell of flowers

Thai beef jerky–dried and fried with coriander seeds

Thai Patio [Thai Town]
formerly Palms Thai
5273 Hollywood Blvd., at Hobart, Los Angeles
Locater

Bhan Kanom Thai [Thai Town]
5271 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
323-871-8030
Locater

Bhan Kanom Thai [East San Fernando Valley]
12714 Sherman Way, North Hollywood
818-255-3355
Map

Board Links
Thai Patio in Thai Town

Great Carrots, Braised and Glazed

Chowhounds rave about Marcella Hazan’s braised carrots with Parmesan, even though the recipe takes two hours of hanging around near the stove. “I’m a lifelong carrot hater but these would convert anyone,” says cheryl_h. “The caramelized, concentrated flavors are just superb. I would never have thought carrots could taste this good.” Not content to fuss over carrots on the stove for a couple of hours, miss louella successfully adapted the recipe for the oven; she explains how here.

HillJ braises sliced carrots in white wine and chicken stock until fork tender, then sautees them in butter with nutmeg and black pepper.

Procrastibaker boils carrots until they’re tender, then sautees in butter, glazes in honey, and seasons with paprika.

Board Links
Looking for best glazed carrots recipe.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: Vegetable and Salad Recipe Reviews
How have you changed/simplified Marcella Hazen recipes (with great results)?